§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
I beg to move, as an Amendment to the Address, to add at the end the words:—But this House humbly expresses its regret that Your Majesty's Gracious Speech contains no reference to the pledge given by Your Majesty's Ministers that they would make proposals for the reconstruction of the Second Chamber without delay, and humbly represents to Your Majesty that it would be improper to proceed with measures so vitally affecting the safety of the State and the interests of Your people as those named in Your Majesty's Speech whilst the constitution of Parliament is still incomplete and Your Majesty's subjects are deprived of the usual safeguard of constitutional government.The history which led up to the complaint which is made in the Amendment is somewhat important, and, although it is perhaps a little tedious to consider in detail what was the official promise in Sessions which are now past, I am encouraged to believe that the House as a whole may not be sorry to be reminded of the facts which are relevant and material in order to arrive at a conclusion upon the complaint which is contained in the terms of the Amendment. Let me remind the House in the first place of the first appearance as a definite promise of any mention, so far as I know, of the reform of the constitution of the Second Chamber. It is as long ago as 21st February, 1910, when the King's Speech contained one sentence devoted exclusively to the question of the reform of the Second Chamber. 311 The sentence was a very short one, and it was in these terms:—These measures, in the opinion of My advisers, should provide that this House" [House of Lords] "should be so constituted and empowered as to exercise impartially in regard to proposed legislation, the functions of initiation, revision, and, subject to proper safeguards, of delay."This meant, and was understood by everyone to mean, that there was a definite promise two years ago that a measure would be introduced that Session with the object of reforming and reconstituting the House of Lords. The Government at that moment was new to its responsibilities. A very great change had taken place as the result of the Election of 1910, and the Cabinet which so lightly undertook to redeem the pledge in 1910 had made a mistake, not altogether dissimilar to that which a well-known statesman is said to have made. The Government altogether forgot the Irish party. In those days, after the King's Speech, it is not unreasonable to assume that a number of what I may describe as disciplinary conversations took place, and while the Resolution dealing with the powers of the Second Chamber is definite, no Resolutions dealing with its reconstruction were brought forward. It was indeed a surprise in every part of the House but one that no reference at all was made to that reform which was definitely promised in the sentence I have read from, the King's Speech. The Leader of the Irish party commented on that omission with simplicity and frankness. He said:—I am glad the Prime Minister has dropped all reference to reform in his Resolutions. Had he promised a scheme of reform, I should not have been able to support him.I wonder whether at that moment the Prime Minister recalled those celebrated words of Mr. Gladstone:—It is disastrous for the Liberal party to assume consideration of a measure in respect of which the Irish party can say, 'Unless you do this, and unless you do that, we will turn you out to-morrow.'4.0 P.M.
So although in this last Session of Parliament the matter happened to be dropped, yet one Member of the Cabinet contemplated the change which had taken place in the Ministerial programme with some anxiety, not indeed anxiety for the country, not indeed anxiety for the Constitution, but an anxiety which was limited and which purported in its expressions to be limited to the for- 312 tunes of the Liberal party. That was the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Sir E. Grey); and he said that if that was done, which in fact was done in that Sesison, if, in other words, an indefinite postponement was sanctioned by the Government of the proposals in relation to reform, then it would spell death and damnation to the Liberal party. Immediately afterwards the Prime Minister, to reassure him, made a speech, and, on March 29th, he said:—The Veto Resolutions are not a complete settlement. The problem of reform calls for a complete settlement, and, in our opinion, that settlement does not brook delay.Later in 1910 the Bill was introduced with the celebrated Preamble which excited enthusiasm in so very limited a corner of this House.Whereas it is intended"—these were the sanguine words—"to substitute for the House of Lords, as it at present exists, a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of heredity basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation.I should have thought we might all agree that eighteen months ago, and just before the General Election, it was a platitude that such substitution could not be immediately brought into operation. But we were denied, as the House will remember, the opportunity of elucidating the Preamble in the House of Commons, by the circumstances under which the election so hurriedly took place. All that the country then knew, at the time of the election, was that in the opinion of the Prime Minister, the settlement did not brook delay, and when they construed the words of the Preamble, that the substitution could not immediately be brought into operation, they would know that although it could not be immediately brought into operation, it was to be brought in with the least possible delay, that was possible as a result of the election. And indeed this consideration is evident. Why was the Preamble put into the Bill at all? The Preamble was put into the Bill, as everyone must know, as a result of a definite Cabinet decision, as a result of consultations of the Cabinet, which had in the King's Speech of 1910 put in a definite pledge, and they knew that as a result of what had happened in 1910 that they had been forced to withdraw that definite pledge and not carry it out. It may have been thought surprising under these circumstances that the Government should have made the same mistake again. The explanation was a very 313 simple one. The Government was convinced that the country was not prepared to sanction the Parliament Act unless some measure of a reform of the Second Chamber was promised, and it was rightly, as I venture to think, anticipated that the promise of reform would reassure the country against the risk of important and undiscussed proposals becoming law. But there was a second reason. It was necessary to pretend that the hereditary system was to be corrected, in order that supporters of the Government in the country might use those coarse arguments, of which I might single out the eldest of the litter as the most illustrative, and necessary also to justify those vulgar caricatures of individual Members of the House of Lords which must have caused so much pain to the sensitive, though recently awakened taste of the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Lloyd George).
Whatever the explanation may be, the fact was obvious and I think it will be admitted by all parties in this House that the tactics completely succeeded. Whenever any candidate standing in the Unionist interest for the last Parliament inveighed against the Parliament Bill accusing it of establishing a Single-Chamber Government, he was met, whenever and wherever that charge was met, by the reply, "It establishes nothing of the kind. The Government are under a strict obligation to reform and reconstitute the Second Chamber," and I should be strictly correct if I said that it was met on the platform of every individual Liberal candidate who was loyal to the pledges given by those who sit on that bench. There is a distinction, I agree. I advance then the proposition, and make bold to say it is one from which no one can dissent, that the whole electioneering campaign against the hereditary principle was dishonest unless it was followed up by a reform which would correct the hereditary principle of the Second Chamber. Exactly two years have passed since this reform was promised in that Session, and I would invite the attention of the Prime Minister to this simple question: did a single Minister warn the country that the execution of the Preamble would be postponed to Home Rule, so that Home Rule would be passed with the Constitution in suspense, and if it be true, as it is true, that no Minister gave the slightest indication to the country that this would be so, is it pretended that that was a circumstance which the country was not entitled to know and that might well play a decisive part in determining the 314 conclusion of the country by the reformation of the Second Chamber?
The Prime Minister since the Election has admitted that this obligation, which was to be carried out without delay, is absolutely an obligation of honour. On 3rd April, 1911, he said:—The Government regard themselves as bound, not only in honour, but by the strict letter of their pledges, to give effect to the Preamble as and when the proper time arises.[HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear.] I do affect to ignore that the passage from that extract which evokes such enthusiasm from these benches is the temporal qualifying provision "as and when the proper time arises." The enthusiasm illustrates that the unanimity which prevails on the other side of the House is premature, because in the same speech the Prime Minister defined when that occasion did arise. He went on to say:—When the first part of our task is done—That was defined in the Parliament Act—then and not until then, shall we proceed to the accomplishment of the other part of our task.Let there not be the slightest misunderstanding as to what the first part of our task was. I have allowed myself the pleasure of reading the whole of that speech through again, and there is no reference in dealing with the first part of the task to any one of the proposals contained in the King's Speech, and no reference to any single measure except the passage of the Parliament Act. So when the Prime Minister said in April of last year, that when the Parliament Act was passed, the Government would then proceed to the accomplishment of the reform of the House of Lords, that of course would mean during the pressent Session of Parliament. We are not in controversy that the first part of the task has been concluded. We are not in controversy that the Prime Minister said that when the first part of the task was concluded then he would pass to the second part. Is it possible that there have been further Irish conversations which have resulted in a still further postponement? I think the House will agree that there must have been, because on 3rd May, the elections being well over, the mask is quite evidently thrown off, and we are told when we are to expect this reform. The Prime Minister said:—I have said more than once that the Government regard it as an obligation of honour to propose within the lifetime of the present Parliament, if time permits, a scheme for the reconstitution of the Second Chamber.315 I might almost repeat the eloquent phrase which the Prime Minister used of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition the other night, and say we are getting on. In March, 1910, before the Election and when the mandate was to be one from the country, we are told there would be no delay. In April, 1911, we are told that it was an obligation of honour, and in May, 1911, it was to be carried out in this Parliament if time permits. It will become a little necessary to revise our ethical category. We shall no longer be able to establish a simple dichotomy, and instead of saying that there are honourable and dishonourable men, we shall have to say that there are, first, honourable men, and, second, dishonourable men, and, third, honourable men if time permits. I think it was Becky Sharp who said that she would have been a very honest woman if she had had £5,000 a year. The Government may very well say, "We will be very honourable men if time permits." I venture to say that in the subtle records of Jesuitry no more flagrant shuffling from a plain and positive undertaking was ever attempted to be justified by a responsible Minister. Since it is necessary for us to attempt to follow and understand their view, let us adjust our minds to these new standards of undertakings of honour. Let us ask ourselves now, Will time permit? It becomes a relevant and interesting question. The House of Commons has not troubled much about it before, because it has never been made dependent upon the condition of time. Now it becomes necessary to ask what are the commitments of the Government, and it becomes necessary to be informed are all the commitments of the Government to be carried out prior to the carrying out of this pledge? [An HON. MEMBER: "Certainly."] An hon. Gentleman who is not, I think, authorised to make an official reply, says "Yes." In the immediate connection, I entirely agree with him. What are these commitments? Home Rule, Welsh Disestablishment, and I understand that the Prime Minister has given a definite pledge to introduce into the present Session of Parliament a new Licensing Bill.
§ The PRIME MINISTER indicated dissent.316
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
I may have misunderstood, but I do not think I did. What I read was a correspondence between the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Leif Jones), in which he made the clear and explicit promise that during the lifetime of this Parliament he would introduce a new Licensing Bill. I am perfectly familiar with the distinction between England and Scotland and between English legislation and Scottish legislation. To put the matter perfectly clearly, during the lifetime of the present Parliament.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
That, of course, is a mistake, but it does not affect the argument. During the lifetime of this Parliament is obviously the commitment I am considering. I understand there is also a pledge, at the same time, to introduce during the lifetime of the present Parliament a new Education Bill to redress Nonconformists' grievances. I understand that is also in the nature of an explicit pledge. Besides, then, the measures of which I have spoken, we have a new Licensing Bill, a new Education Bill, and a franchise proposal, in addition to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has obscurely intimated that he is to be permitted, before this Parliament ends, to renew his benevolent and well-informed activities in relation to land. I would like to ask the Government why they did not tell the country that they were going to pass all these measures, if time permit, before they carry out the obligation of honour which brooks no delay? Holding, as we do, as we clearly hold, that even the precarious and uncomfortable majority which the Government enjoys—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—yes, uncomfortable majority which the Government enjoys to-day, would not have existed at all had this been the expressed programme of the Government, it is not surprising that the resentment which exists in the country is widespread, as it is bitter, at the abuse of power—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—for which it has enjoyed many recent opportunities—an abuse of power obtained on pretences which I say perfectly plainly is a palpable farce. I would like to know, is there or is there not now, whether time permits or time does not permit, any definite pledge on the part of the Government still to carry out this reform, and, if so, when is that pledge to be carried out?
317 As to the date on which that policy is to be carried out, no delay was dreamt of two years ago. Perhaps the Prime Minister will inform us what is his proposal. If he considers himself still pledged, what does precisely the pledge mean? Does it mean that he will introduce proposals, and then, if his followers decline to accept them, he will withdraw them and go on as if nothing had happened, or does it mean that the Government is going to carry that reform through the House of Commons? We were told by responsible Ministers that the Government stake their whole existence on carrying out that reform of the House of Lords. [The Prime Minister was understood to assent.] The Prime Minister, I understand, assents, and I am glad to have that assent. Having obtained that assurance, which will be so gratifying to the Labour party and to many supporters of the Government below the Gangway, I do not wish to say, or suggest even, that the right hon. Gentleman does not intend to carry it out, but I venture to say they will never carry such a reform, and never can carry such a reform, through the House of Commons. The Government to-day, if every Member supporting them voted for it, have ten fewer than we who sit on these benches; and the Irish party, through the lips of their leaders, and, so far as I know, the lips of very responsible Member of the party in this House, have proclaimed themselves either hostile or else indifferent to the reform of the House of Lords if Home Rule is passed. The view of the Labour party has been declared over and over again, but I think the Government may with great reason expect that they will, with their usual consistency, change their opinion. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] If I am asked why, I say it is because such consistent loyalty has been shown by the Labour party. But it does not end with the Labour party. The Prime Minister must surely know that at least a portion of his own followers will not support him in the Lobby in favour of carrying out this Preamble. Even the Patronage Secretary will not follow him into the Lobby to reform the House of Lords. The Patronage Secretary is a politician, who only speaks after deep consideration; he is a man accustomed to measure his language, and he is reported in the "Scotsman" of 15th January, 1910, to have made this statement:—I do not want the House of Lords reconstituted: I want it abolished.318 That Minister, who does not want reconstruction himself, is to marshal the forces of progress into the reconstruction Lobby. The Lord Advocate, not to be outdone in this competition, made a speech, reported in the "Linlithgowshire Gazette" on 16th April, 1909, in which he said:—For the past thirty years I have expressed my own personal conclusion that it is unnecessary to have more than one Chamber in this country. I came to that conclusion very deliberately.The Prime Minister is, of course, at liberty to stake his own existence upon his power to carry through the reform and reconstitution of the House of Lords, but after all though he believes in the reform and re-constitution of the House of Lords, it does seem a little hard to stake the existence of the Patronage Secretary and the Lord Advocate, who do not believe in it, and said they do not believe in it. But I venture on this prediction that if and when the time comes that the Government put that proposal to the hazard, only a miserable fragment, only the rump of the House will follow the Government into the Lobby. Let me justify the description of the constitution of the party who will go into the Lobby I have given. It will consist of the Cabinet, with the exception of the Patronage Secretary, Under-Secretaries, Private Secretaries, a few grateful Knights, and a handful of expectant Baronets. What is our position, whether there is a reform of the House of Lords or not? The powers of the Second Chamber are now fixed. You have a constitution so partisan in your interests, so loaded in your favour, that you have nothing to gain by reconstitution and you could only lose by an extension of the powers of the House of Lords. That will be a formidable argument when the question is taken up by the present Government. The Government have always said that the present arrangement as to the powers of the House of Lords is not a final arrangement. I do not say that the present adjustment of power as between the two Chambers is final. The Minister for Foreign Affairs on 4th March, 1910, said:—Whatever is done with the House of Lords is without prejudice to the consideration of what a proper Second Chamber could do, and the power it could possess.The First Lord of the Admiralty, speaking as recently as last May, said:—When this Bill is law it will be open to the House to consider whether there may not be a less dilatory and more convenient method of adjusting differences than the methods of the Bill.Therefore it follows that the Constitution by the admission, of the Government is in 319 suspense to-day. It follows, by the admission of the Government, that the Second Chamber, when reformed and reconstituted, will only possess powers which do not belong to the Second Chamber as it is constituted to-day. How can the Government possibly justify the passage of Home Rule toward the Ulster Unionists, or Welsh Disestablishment to Churchmen, during the fleeting period in which the Second Chamber is paralysed by the disability which it has never suffered before, and which it will never suffer again? What claim to respect can laws have which are demoralised by such a vice of origin? Is it not evident that the whole of this pretentious superstructure of this proposed legislation totters entirely on a subsoil of chicanery and log-rolling? Of all the measures which the Government ought not to pass during the suspension of the Constitution, the one measure they have no right to pass is the measure of Home Rule. These considerations are entirely personal to the Prime Minister. I have read with the utmost attention the speeches he has made for a very considerable time past on the subject of Home Rule, and I have come to the conclusion that he has always in his heart been a convinced opponent of Nationalist Home Rule. He has through all his career, however, been so loyal a party man that he has always in crises subordinated his convictions when the Liberal body required the Irish vote. Wherever and whenever the Prime Minister has been a free agent he has fought the battle of Ulster. Let us consider. He was a Gladstonian when Mr. Gladstone described the Irish party as marching through rapine and bloodshed to the dismemberment of the Empire. He was a Gladstonian also when Mr. Gladstone allied himself with the men so described. He was a Gladstonian when Mr. Gladstone said that it would be a disaster to the Liberal party to undertake office if the Irish party could say, "We shall put you out if you do not do this or that." The Prime Minister was a Gladstonian when Mr. Gladstone took office under those identical conditions. That being his record under Mr. Gladstone when Lord Rosebery hoisted in 1891 the anti-Home Rule standard, which so endeared him to the Irish party—
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
The Prime Minister's first speech on the subject was in 1891. 320 The Prime Minister, the moment Lord Rosebery's campaign was made clear, was the first—
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
The Prime Minister was the first of the impetuous crowd which rallied round Lord Rosebery when Lord Rosebery definitely said that Home Rule was to be wiped off the slate.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
I think Lord Rosebery's speech was made in 1901. [HON. MEMBERS: "1891."] The speech made by the right hon. Gentleman was in 1891. There is no confusion, and if the right hon. Gentleman will wait a moment he will see exactly what Lord Rosebery said and exactly what he said. Before I pass to this extract let me make this observation. The Prime Minister was the first Member of the present Government to make the statement, from which he has now receded, that the Liberal party must not assume office if it was dependent on the Irish vote. The right hon. Gentleman gave an estimate in the Debate in the House a few nights ago when my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition quoted a statement. Turning to us, the right hon. Gentleman said, "You are the party which is dependent on the Irish vote." Surely that is the most maladroit tu quoque ever used in Debate. We are not introducing Home Rule in dependence on the Irish vote, having pledged ourselves not to do so. You are. In the second place, the Prime Minister said that "the difference between the circumstances now and the circumstances when I made that statement are that we have to-day a majority in Great Britain." The answer is that that is not what the Prime Minister said. The Prime Minister hurried to embrace Lord Rosebery's phrase of the "Predominant Partner." When Lord Rosebery used the phrase, "Predominant Partner," he did not say Great Britain. He said in express terms, "You must convince England." I have got it here. This is what he said:—Before Home Rule is conceded by the Imperial Parliament England, as the predominant member of the partnership of the three Kingdoms, will have to be convinced of its justice.321 In 1899, at Darwen, the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister went out of his way to say:—I adopt and I accept the standard laid down by Lord Rosebery that you must convince the predominant partner.I will undertake to prove, and make absolutely clear by a quotation, that when the Prime Minister said to his constituents in 1901. "You must have an independent majority for Home Rule," he meant a majority independent in the sense that the Irish party could not turn them out of office. In the exultation of 1906 the Prime Minister was rash enough to explain what he meant in 1901, and he has forgotten the explanation. Speaking at Ladybank this is what he said:—I have for some time held the opinion that the Liberal party should not assume the duties of office unless it can rely on an independent Liberal majority in the House of Commons.How did the Leader of the Irish party take that? The Leader of the Irish party, speaking four days afterwards, said:—Mr. Asquith has made a very foolish speech. He only spoke for the Liberal Imperialists who to-day are few and in the future will be fewer. Those Liberal Imperialists will disappear, and the Liberal party will be run by men of the stamp of Lloyd George.The Prime Minister, wholly undismayed, explained and justified this statement in 1906. He was delighted with it, and he was proving to the constituencies how right be had been in the claim he made, the claim which he had made the other night, and which the Leader of the Irish party resented in the contemptuous language which I have just quoted. The right hon. Gentleman said in 1906 at Henley:—Three or four years ago I was bold enough to say that, in my opinion, the Liberal party ought not to take office unless they had a strong and decisive and independent majority. The Liberal in the next House of Commons will be master in his own house.Is the Prime Minister master in his own house to-day? I make bold to say that the most humble household drudge, whose labours are sweetened by the anticipation of 9d. for 4d., is more mistress of her own destinies than the Prime Minister is of his to-day. The Prime Minister talks about the Albert Hall pledge. Did he ever tell the country at the Albert Hall that he had recanted the views so solemnly and so frequently asserted that the Liberal party should not introduce Home Rule until they were masters in their own house. The case of the Prime Minister now is that feeling has altered in the country. That was the eloquent plea that was put forward by the First Lord of the Admiralty at Belfast. The First Lord of the Admiralty I can 322 understand, but I do not understand how the Prime Minister can say that this change in public feeling has taken place. The right hon. Gentleman wrote a letter to his constituents in 1902, eight years after the last Home Rule Bill had been defeated in the House of Lords. What was the right hon. Gentleman's testimony as to the change that had been produced in those eight years. The right hon. Gentleman said to his constituents:—The eight years which have elapsed since the failure of the Home Rule Bill have done nothing to conciliate, and not a little to harden and stiffen the adverse judgment of the British people.That is not a platform speech or extempore rhetoric, but in a reasoned letter which he wrote to his constituents on that immortal occasion which gave birth to the Liberal League. Home Rule had become even more unpopular than at the time the House of Lords rejected it, and when the constituencies endorsed the action of the House of Lords in so rejecting it. We proceed from the year 1902 to 1906, and we ask ourselves did anything happen in those years which in the opinion of the Prime Minister showed that the country had changed. Obviously no. So far from that being the case in 1906 the Prime Minister rushed forward at the very beginning of the election and declined to compromise his prospect of victory for Free Trade by associating it with the unpopular cause of Home Rule. And observe what the Prime Minister was led to do then. If the Government formed in 1906 had run its normal course it would have been in power until 1911, or, at the outside until 1912, and the Prime Minister was prepared to pledge himself not to introduce Home Rule until the year 1912, having previously said that no change had taken place in the mind of the country. That means that the most extraordinary coincidence of modern times has taken place, and that in the year 1911, when the Liberal party could not exist without the Irish vote the Government have quite honestly and quite independently realised that the Irish question has really assumed a pressing form. It may be true, but it is the most amazing coincidence of modern times. Then under those circumstances, and when the Unionists in Ulster are threatened with Home Rule, Belfast is treated to dull and pompous lectures about legality. They are told that they are threatening to defy the law should a Home Rule Bill pass under those circumstances. Why, Sir, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is still upon that Front Bench, and what was his career when he was complaining of a similar grievance 323 during the years which preceded 1906? I express no opinion as to whether he was right or whether he was wrong. I express no opinion as to whether we had exceeded and travelled beyond the terms of the mandate which the country gave us at the time of the election, which I agree took place mainly on the subject of the War. I do not argue whether we exceeded that mandate or not. The Chancellor of the Exchequer thought we had exceeded it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that our Education Act, because we had so exceeded our mandate, was one that law-abiding citizens were entitled to resist, and he encouraged the people of Wales in a campaign of lawlessness. I do not remember that the Prime Minister or any other Member of the Front Bench, whose indignation is so excited today by the similar position of Belfast, ever made any protest against the conduct of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The difficulty which exists to-day is one which springs from an abuse of the whole theory of government by majority. The only reason why minorities submit to government by majority is that in nineteen cases out of twenty if they do not submit they can be compelled to do so. The conclusion flows from that that there must be some correspondence between the character of your proposals and the strength of your majority. What is the position today? The party of which I am a Member represents the majority of the English constituencies. The Government is kept in office by a coalition, and yet we are told that at this moment and with the pledge that was so solemnly given in regard to the mandate that the Government, dependent on this slender moral basis, may introduce the most far-reaching measures of incalculable consequences on which the country as a whole was never consulted. I hear some dissent from the Irish Benches. When I say the country was never consulted surely the hon. Gentleman who interrupted me does not mean seriously to tell me that he maintains that the English constituencies were so seized of the main points of this Home Rule Bill as to entitle the Government to pass the Bill over their heads without further consideration. [A NATIONALIST MEMBER: "Certainly."] An hon. Member says "Certainly." If I am not mistaken he is one of those Members who were prepared to vote for the Irish Councils Bill until it was rejected by a National Convention in Ireland. He claimed that there was a mandate for that 324 Bill, but when it was submitted to the Irish people the House recollects what happened to it. I undertake to say that there are not many Members on those benches to-day who would be prepared to say that they absolutely guaranteed that this Home Rule Bill would pass an Irish Convention if the Customs and Excise were withheld. If that is true, how futile it is to say that Home Rule or any other of these measures was submitted to the country. What would be said about the party on these benches if we claimed to deal with Tariff Reform when there had been no reference to it before the election except one sentence at the Albert Hall?
An hon. Member opposite asked me just now what would be the attitude of the Unionist party in relation to the proposal to reform the House of Lords. I think I am entitled to say, in reply, that we offered, formally and repeatedly, to co-operate when the fate of the Parliament Bill was in suspense, and when it might have been possible so to alter your proposals in relation to the Parliament Bill as to deal once and for all time with both the definition of the powers and the constitution of the Second Chamber. The right hon. Member for East Worcestershire (Mr. A. Chamberlain), who was entitled to speak on behalf of the Opposition, made this proposal more than once, but it was rejected on every occasion. No party was ever treated with more contempt and more contumely than we were in that critical time in the history of our party. To-day that page is closed. It is closed by your deliberate and irrevocable decision when you decided that you would pass the Parliament Act in order to enable you to carry Home Rule. We warn you that a programme planted, as this is planted, upon the ruins of the Second Chamber, will not succeed, nor will a Government visibly declining in prestige, in unity, and in popular support, be able to rivet these crazy proposals upon an unconsulted electorate.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Sir J. Simon)
The right hon. Gentleman will, I hope, allow me to begin by expressing from this side of the House our sincere congratulations on his appearance as a speaker from the Front Bench opposite. He has shown the House this afternoon, what indeed he has shown us before to-day, that he is of all its Members the most remorseless and diligent exhumer of other people's speeches. No coroner's officer-that ever lived took such pleasure in 325 searching for disjecta membra. Some of the quotations which he has brought forward referred to the personal view of the Prime Minister, and obviously it is right for the Prime Minister, and not for one of his subordinates, to deal with them. To one or two of them, however, I will refer in a minute or two. If you are going to attempt to prove the case expressed in this Amendment to the Address, that which is primarily important is what happened before and at and during the last General Election, and not what happened at the date of the foundation of the Liberal League. Whatever else it is necessary to prove, to establish the proposition which the right hon. Gentleman is trying to support, he has got to prove—and it is my submission that he has not even attempted to prove it—that the Government, in giving Home Rule for Ireland priority to any proposals for the reconstitution of the Upper House is breaking some pledge or perpetuating some injustice. We are agreed that that is the point, and I will address myself without delay to it. Whatever may be the value of the quotations read by the right hon. Gentleman, he has not brought forward a single quotation supporting that proposition.
Let us see whether the whole contention which the right hon. Gentleman put forward is not based on an assumption which is wholly without foundation. It is based, and as it appears to me it must be based, on the assumption that if Home Rule were to be postponed until the House of Lords is reconstructed upon Liberal lines, the difficulty of carrying Home Rule would be increased and the obstacles put in its way when it left the House would be greater. That is a complete misunderstanding. We have, as the result of a long and fierce struggle, limited the unlimited veto of the House of Lords, and, whatever be the future composition of that body, it will never recover that unlimited veto. We have in our minds and are not likely to forget the experience of the 1906 Parliament, when for four years, in spite of the fact that our majority in this House was of an unexampled size, not one single Government measure, which on its Third Reading was divided against by the remnants of the official Opposition, ever reached the Statute Book. In these circumstances no confusion could be more complete, no misunderstanding wider from the fact, than that to suppose that the reconstitution of the internal composition of the House of 326 Lords, as we understand it, is going to restore its unlimited veto. The language of the much-criticised Preamble makes that perfectly plain. It refers to the prospect of reconstituting the Upper House, and it goes on in express terms to state that the substitution there referred to must involve a measure for "limiting and defining" the powers of the Second Chamber. It has never entered into the mind of those responsible for the Parliament Act, it has never entered into the contemplation of the Liberals who supported it, and it has never been dreamt of by their supporters in the country, that we who for years have suffered under the unrestricted powers, which in our view the House of Lords has abused, are going as the result of the reconstitution of that body to restore to it its unlimited veto.
It is quite true that if Home Rule for Ireland is passed up to the House of Lords in this Session it will be in circumstances which involve some handicap on one side or the other. But who has got the handicap? Does any hon. or right hon. Gentlemen opposite suppose that if we reconstituted the House of Lords, as we propose to do, the result of such reconstitution would be to make it more bitterly opposed to Home Rule? It is perfectly true that even at this moment there is some inequality in the position as between the chances of Liberal legislation and the chances of Conservative legislation. In spite of the Parliament Act that disparity exists. But does any human being suppose that any proposals of ours for reconstituting the House of Lords are going to increase that disparity? I noticed that the right hon. Gentleman, amongst his choice extracts, did submit one quotation bearing on this point, but he skated over it very lightly, and I am not surprised. He said that he was going to read a quotation from a Member of the Government which would show that it was contemplated by those responsible for the Government that this reconstitution of the House of Lords might vary the powers as given under the Parliament Act. That is true. The quotation was from the First Lord of the Admiralty to the effect, if I followed it correctly, that in the event of such reconstruction it might be that we should find methods less dilatory—not more, dilatory—and more convenient for carrying legislation through the Lords. We have had enough experience of deadlocks and are not prepared once again to create a deadlock between the two Houses. Whatever 327 may be the proposals put forward for reforming the internal composition of the House of Lords—and I understand that the right hon. Gentleman himself agrees that they are urgently needed—they are not likely to be proposals which will in the least degree restore that unlimited power for mischief which in the past the House of Lords has possessed.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
Will these reform proposals, if and when they are introduced by the Government, leave the powers of the House of Lords as they are to-day, or will they modify them in one direction or the other?
§ Sip J. SIMON
I do not complain of the right hon. Gentleman's putting that question, but really his intervention, though perhaps intended to assist, merely obscures the real point, which I stated when I began, and which the Leader of the Opposition agreed was the point at issue. The whole case which the right hon. Gentleman seeks to make depends on the assumption that such a reconstitution of the House of Lords as is contemplated by the Government is a reconstitution which would give to the House of Lords greater powers to throw obstacles in the way of legislation than they possess to-day. It will do no such thing.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Are we to understand that under the newly constituted House of Lords there is to be no method by which there will be an appeal to the people?
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I thought that until the last half-dozen years no constitutional authority had suggested that the House of Lords had any right to insist on an appeal to the people. The party opposite are supposed to be in special charge of the Constitution. I should have thought that a Constitution which was representative in its nature, and which depended essentially upon the periodic choice of those who represent the constituencies, would have met the case. But the right hon. Gentleman has been good enough to put a question to me, and, without impertinence, might I submit a question to him? I have said that so far as we are concerned, we do not contemplate, and do not intend, that there should be any restoration of the unlimited Veto of the Peers in any way. The question which I would venture respectfully to submit to him, not for immediate answer, but for consideration, is this: "If, and when, 328 the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends return to power, do they or do they not propose to repeal the Parliament Act?"
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
If the right hon. Gentleman would like an answer now I am perfectly ready to give it. It will be with us a debt of honour, which we will keep, that we shall not repeal the Parliament Act except simultaneously with a reform of the Second Chamber.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will see that my question was relevant to the Debate, and I am indebted to him for an answer which also is perfectly relevant. [HON. MEMBERS: "Now for your answer."]
§ Sir J. SIMON
I may have misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman, but I am in the recollection of the House, and I thought I dealt with the point which he had put to me. I dealt with it as best I could. I frankly admit the answer given to me is a satisfactory one, and requires no supplementary correction in the Press. I desire to point out to the right hon. Gentleman why, in particular, I thought the question one which he would wish to answer. It was because of something which was said by him in the first day's Debate on the Address. He then told us, he having just been present in the House of Lords at the formal opening of Parliament, how that spectacle, that pageantry, had impressed his mind. He said, in effect, that in his view it was a melancholy thing to see that stately pageantry, reminding us of the past, kept up when—as he regards it—the real spirit and meaning of such events has flown. I think there were some Members on this side who know what the right hon. Gentleman meant. In the old days, the good old days, before the abolition of the Veto—good old days never to return—a leader of a Conservative party in the House of Commons, although he was in a minority, listened to the King's Speech framed for him by his Liberal Government with very different feelings. He witnessed a stately pageantry, and he reflected to himself that it was all very well for a Liberal Ministry in the House of Commons to propose legislation, but that he and his friends could trust the House of Lords to prevent it passing. I think we have begun to understand why it is that the right hon. Gentleman feels there is an uncomfortable change. He 329 returns here from that melancholy spectacle prepared to shed a tear to the memory of the stately pageantry of the past.
That which I submit is the central fact of the situation is, that it does not enter into the proposals of the Government at all to restore to the House of Lords its unlimited powers. That fact, as I conceive, meets the whole pith and kernel of the attack which is made by this Amendment. There is, it is quite true, one other aspect of the matter which might be put forward. It is one which has been very frequently put forward in the course of discussion in the country, and it has from time to time been suggested as an argument in support of the right hon. Gentleman's view in this House. It is sometimes said—and I should like to know whether it is persisted in now—that the fact that this Government is going to introduce Home Rule as a first obligation after the passing of the Parliament Bill, was obscured from the electorate, and is a breach of faith to the country. Is that suggested now? Some things have been said so often that I am quite confident that hon. Gentlemen opposite must really suppose them to be true. I desire to call the attention of the House to the extraordinary way in which perfectly honourable people will persuade themselves in quite a short space of time that history is quite different from what we thought it was. Let me, if I may, give one example, an example which we shall admit at once to be one associated with perfect good faith in statement. I can show in a sentence that it is amazingly wide of the mark. I see opposite the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire. So recently as the Vote of Censure Debate of August last year, when the Prime Minister was speaking, the right hon. Gentleman interposed in order to make a statement. The Prime Minister had just been saying that he did not believe there was a single hon. Gentleman on the Opposition Bench who had not again and again asserted to the electors, with every circumstance of solemnity and clearness, that Home Rule was the immediate consequence of the passing of the Parliament Bill. Thereupon the right hon. Gentleman opposite interposed to say:—The right hon. Gentleman has said that there is not a single Member on this bench who in the course of the General Election did not mention Home Rule. In my case I only said anything about it in one single speech."—[OFFICIAL REPORT (1911), Vol. xxix., Col. 815.]330 We all allow, nobody more than I, when the right hon. Gentleman says that that he is expressing candidly and clearly his memory, so far as his memory serves, of recent events. But I had the curiosity to look this up, and if this is one single speech, it is a single speech which has been repeated a great many times. I looked it up in the files of "The Times," and, as one would expect, a statesman of the right hon. Gentleman's position is reported with reasonable fullness even at election time. I find—with one single exception to which I will refer in a moment—that there is no single speech of the right hon. Gentleman during the election of 1910, in which he did not refer to the specific point that the Government, in his view, were under the immediate control of the hon. and learned Gentleman, the Leader of the Irish party, and that Home Rule was coming as a consequence of the passing of the Parliament Bill. He said so at Glasgow on 25th November, at Edinburgh on 29th November, at West Bromwich on 1st December, at Darlington 2nd December, at Newcastle-on-Tyne on 3rd December, at Oldbury on 8th December, and at two other places. Really, the right hon. Gentleman is not doing justice to his own powers of repetition. I promised I would mention the one exception, and it is fair to do so. It is the only one I can see. It was on 28th November, when the right hon. Gentleman went to Edinburgh in order that he might address the Scottish Tariff Reform League. I can quite admit that probably he had all time laid out for him, and did not refer to Home Rule at all. So much for the suggestion that this matter was not emphasised constantly, repeatedly, and vehemently by right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
It is said, "Ah, yes; but what about your own side?" I thought I heard the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken say that there was only a single reference by the Prime Minister to Home Rule in the course of a long election.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I will simply take a single test. It is not possible that one should attempt to make a complete list, but I take one single test that any fair-minded man in the House will recognise to be sufficient for the purpose. Polling began on 2nd December. I do not propose to take the date after the size of the Liberal majority was ascertained, when it 331 was suggested that the declarations became clearer. The first day's polling was on 2nd December. I have the "Times" newspaper for 2nd December. I find on looking into it that on that day the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary was speaking at Portsmouth. The "Times." headed the report of his speech, "Home Rule and the Referendum." The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War was speaking in his own constituency, and the "Times" headed the report of his speech, "Mr. Haldane and Home Rule." The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal party in the House of Lords was at Exeter, and he is reported as arguing in favour of the granting of self-government to Ireland. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was speaking at Wolverhampton. He was in terms refuting the suggestion that the then Leader of the Opposition had put forward, namely, that he should undertake to submit Home Rule to a Referendum. I say, in the face of that, it is a fable, however honestly entertained by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, to say that this question was not put before the people of this country by both sides as an immediate legislative proposal to follow as the result of, and consequent upon, the passing of the Parliament Bill. To assert the contrary is really to forget most recent history, although it is history in which we have all had a part. I take one further fact—and really the Leaders of the Opposition have taken up a most curious position in respect to this matter. They one and all prophesied that once the Parliament Bill had passed a Home Rule Bill would be introduced. Let me take one example. The right hon. Gentleman, the Member for St. George's (Mr. A. Lyttelton), speaking at the very beginning of the election, said:—The Parliament Bill once passed, the Radical Government, if faithful to its pledges, will carry Home Rule.They all said so. There is a row of prophets—major and minor. They, every one of them, prophesied the very thing which has come about. They now come down to this House and go about the country, and go through the solemn pretence—although I believe they have persuaded themselves—of asserting that the very thing which was about to happen is a monstrous fraud upon their own expectations. So far as I can observe, this particular attitude of the Opposition is unique in two important 332 particulars. In this matter, in prophesying that Home Rule would follow the Parliament Bill, they all said the same thing—and it is true!
Although that is the single example of a thing which was both unanimously said and correctly stated by the leaders of the Opposition at the last General Election, they are anxious now to forget all about it. Let me for a moment go a stage further back. There has never been a time in the discussion of these Veto Resolutions and the proposal which they endeavour to embody when this very question and this very issue had not been prominently brought up. I go back to 1910, when the Veto Resolutions were proposed. On the 24th April, 1910, there was moved as an Amendment to the Veto Resolutions, before ever the Parliament Bill was founded upon them—an Amendment was proposed to exempt Home Rule specifically from the operations of them and the Opposition all voted for it, and, what is just as much to the point, we all resisted it.
I take the next point, when this time last year an Amendment to the Address was put down in the name of one of the hon. Gentlemen who represent Salford, and he actually, in that Amendment to the Address, referred to Home Rule as "an object, the attainment of which is openly avowed as one of the main reasons for altering the existing Constitution." Hon. Gentlemen opposite are quite at liberty to say Home Rule is a very foolish proposition, but they must excuse me for saying that if they come down here and take this preliminary objection why the cause of Home Rule should not be heard, those of us who are acquainted with the Courts will begin to suspect that they are like most other persons who take preliminary objections, namely, that they have nothing to say on the merits. Let me take the next fact. When the Parliament Bill itself was introduced, it is in the memory of all of us, a specific exemption was moved by the official Opposition in the interest of excluding Home Rule, and again they all supported it, and again we all rejected it. The Bill went to the House of Lords, and the House of Lords, amongst its other modifications, proposed a modification in the same sense. The Bill came back here and again we rejected it; and finally, in the very pinch of this controversy, at the moment when the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. F. E. Smith) was not for the moment on the best of terms with all the other occupants of the Front Bench 333 opposite, the reason and the overwhelming reason in the mind of the leaders of the Conservative party why the die-hards should not die was this, that if they did die what would happen to Home Rule? The truth is there never has been a more amazing piece of make-believe than that this House and the country and the community at large did not perfectly understand for good or for evil that the Parliament Bill was, amongst other things, designed to carry Home Rule as the first object to which it was intended to be put.
The right hon. Gentleman referred in one of his quotations, and it is the only one I will deal with now, to the suggested inconsistency in the refusal of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to carry Home Rule in the situation such as existed in 1902. Well, I will leave my right hon. Friend to deal with that at such length as he pleases, but I make this one observation, and anybody who fairly studies the situation can judge it. The situation to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred was a situation in 1902 when the majority returned by Great Britain was opposed to Home Rule and when the majority against Home Rule in Great Britain could only be counteracted by bringing in the vote of the Irish party. It was a situation in which there were, I think, 315 Unionists in this House and 274 Home Rulers from Great Britain. The situation in this Parliament is exactly the reverse. The situation at this moment is that a majority of the representatives of Great Britain in this House declare themselves in favour of Home Rule.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I will deal with that. Does the Noble Lord suggest that the majority from Great Britain is not an independent majority?
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
The Irish Members will wait for an opportunity when they can conscientiously agree.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I do not want to repeat the question if the Noble Lord thinks he has answered it, but I submit to the judgment of the House that he has given no answer. The only terms upon which this Government can be turned out is if—
§ Sir J. SIMON
The only terms upon which the Government can be turned out is if the Irish Members vote with you. I thought high constitutional doctrine demanded that in these matters the Irish vote did not count. I thought your full-blooded Unionist was a man who said, "An Irishman shall have no Assembly in his country where he shall be represented, this is the only place to which he shall come, but when he comes here he does not count." The real truth is that this contention which the Noble Lord has just put is another of the make-believes which form so large a part of the stock-in-trade of the Conservative party, and which goes so far to explain, if I may respectfully say so, their singular want of success in the country. They tell the sober British electorate that the Constitution is bursting to pieces. Nobody believes them. They tell the sober British elector that they are in the midst of a revolution; he knows it is not true. Their most characteristic exponent in the Press, who, until recently has been content with giving us doses of hysterics every Sunday, has now gone further and gives us an epileptic fit every twenty-four hours. I say, with great respect to hon. Gentlemen opposite, this is not the way to win elections. The British people are much more sober and moderate people than those who appeal to them in this way day after day, and this language of exaggeration goes a long way to explain what possibly the individual deficiencies of hon. Gentlemen opposite would not explain why they lose elections.
§ Sir J. SIMON
If the right hon. Gentleman is content with his present position, so am I. Now, Sir, the last and the most grievous of these make-believes, which, as I think, we of the Liberal party have some reason to complain of, is that which is at the bottom of the interruption of the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University, and which is at the bottom, at any rate, of one of the objections of the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. F. E. Smith). It is the suggestion that when we bring forward as we do our Home Rule policy we are doing it not from conviction or conscience, but as the result of a discreditable job. The association of the Liberal party with the policy of Home Rule is too long and too deep to be touched 335 by such taunts as that. For a quarter of a century this party has been a Home Rule party. For a quarter of a century at every election and in every one of your newspapers you have denounced us as separatists. For a quarter of a century you have claimed the name of Unionists, just in order that you might wrap round yourselves your mantle and thank Heaven you are not like those who are Home Rulers. On Home Rule the Liberal party was split in 1886, and it endured twenty years in the wilderness because it had been devoted to that idea.
§ Sir J. SIMON
We lost when Home Rule became the Liberal policy many who had hitherto belonged to the Liberal party. We do not doubt they left us from motives of sincerity, and that it was a real sacrifice they made. We make no insinuation against the honour and good faith of honourable men. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Trinity College, Dublin (Sir Edward Carson), at a date and in circumstances not precisely ascertained, abandoned the amenities of the National Liberal Club. On our side we are entitled to claim, and we do claim, at any rate, the treatment which honest people maintaining opinions they have long shared, should receive from honourable men. We shall bear with great composure the taunts hon. Gentlemen opposite level against us in this regard for two reasons — first, because it is only one more proof how utterly they misunderstand the real mind and temper of their own countrymen; and, secondly, because we believe that the golden moment which was spoken of by Mr. Gladstone twenty years ago has returned, and it will be our consolation and satisfaction, in spite of the taunts of hon. Gentlemen opposite, at length to effect by a tardy measure of justice a real reconciliation between the Irish and the British people.
§ Mr. RONALD McNEILL
This may be an unwise moment for an inexperienced Parliamentarian to attempt to push his barque out to sea, and I am sorry that the first words which I should have the honour of addressing to this House must have the appearance of a confession of stupidity. I confess, after listening to the Solicitor- 336 General's speech with much attention, that I find myself utterly unable to discover where the relevance of that speech lies in regard to the Amendment moved by my right hon. Friend below me. The speech of the Solicitor-General has been mainly taken up discussing what particular direction the reform of the House of Lords may take when it is undertaken by the Government to which he belongs, How is the direction which that reform may take relevant to the question as to whether or not the pledge is being fulfilled that the House of Lords should be reformed in one direction or another within the lifetime of the present Parliament? As a newcomer to this House, and as one who accepts the constitutional doctrine, I am surprised to hear from so high an authority the new doctrine of mandate. We have heard a good deal in recent years about the doctrine of mandate, but it appears now that the mandate given by the constituencies is given not on a programme put forward by the Government of the day, but on speeches made by members of the Opposition throughout the country. We know that the procedure of the party opposite has sometimes been an attempt in that direction. For instance, they are not ready to take the intentions of some future Unionist Government from the responsible leaders of that party; they are more anxious to take it from the imaginative statements of the Lord Advocate.
Although I confess I could not follow the relevancy of the Solicitor-General's speech to this particular Amendment, I should like to say a word upon the point which the hon. and learned Gentleman dealt with, namely, the mandate derived from the speeches of Unionists throughout the country. The Solicitor-General quoted from the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for St. George's, Hanover Square (Mr. Alfred Lyttelton), and then he said the Gentlemen sitting on the front Opposition Bench are a row of prophets. May I give my own personal experience in this matter, because, after all, the experience of such insignificant Members of the House as myself has some bearing upon this matter. At the last General Election I was contesting a seat in Scotland. I am not fortunate enough to possess that eminence which enables one's speeches to be quoted from the Front Bench opposite like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire, so may I state that in almost every speech I made I did my best 337 to bring home to the people whose votes I was seeking the fact that if the Liberal party were returned to power it would mean the bringing in of a Home Rule Bill. In almost every speech I made I emphasised that fact to the best of my ability, and I called special attention to the speech of the Prime Minister at the Albert Hall, to which reference is made on every occasion when the Liberal party wish to protect themselves in this matter. It appears to me that the learned Solicitor-General takes up a very narrow legal point in this matter—in fact, he appears to apply what the lawyers call the doctrine of estoppel.
It appears to be thought that because the Prime Minister on one occasion, did make a reference to Home Rule, and say that his advent to power would be followed by some measure of local self-government for Ireland, therefore the constituencies in every part of the country were fully seized of his intention of bringing in a Home Rule Bill. I attempted to the best of my ability to bring that point home to the electors, and I constantly met Liberal opponents who said they were Liberals but they were not Home Rulers. I tried to point out to them that if they were Liberals but not Home Rulers they were bound to vote against the Government candidates, and I was told, with that copious amount of mixed metaphor which the provincial Radical Press has an unlimited supply of, that I was raising a red herring and drawing a bogey across the trail. I feel confident that had I been successful in bringing home to the constituency which I contested the true state of the case, instead of occupying the position I now hold I should have been representing the constituency of the hon. and gallant Member for Kirkcudbrightshire. The Solicitor-General appears to have avoided the real point which my right hon. Friend brought against the Government in his Amendment. He told us at the outset of his speech, and he extracted from my right hon. Friend assent to his statement, that the real point at issue is whether or not any pledge with regard to the Preamble of the Parliament Act has been broken by the Prime Minister and the Government. The Solicitor-General told us that he intended to examine that question, and intended to show that there had been no such broken pledge, but he immediately went on to those irrelevant matters which he called the make-believes lying at the bottom of Unionist policy, and he never returned in the whole course of his speech to an 338 examination of that which, after all, is the one and only point in this Debate, whether that pledge was given and whether it was being kept. I venture to say that no answer has been given as yet, and no answer is likely to be given, to the case put with so much force by my right hon. Friend who moved this Amendment, namely, that a definite, binding pledge was given by the Government that they were going to reconstitute and reform the House of Lords, if not actually in the present Session of Parliament, at all events in the lifetime of the present Parliament.
I claim that my right hon. Friend has shown, first of all, that that pledge has been broken by the reform of the House of Lords not being immediately undertaken; and, secondly, giving a wider extension to its interpretation, it is likely to be broken by not being undertaken during the present Parliament. What I wish to impress upon the House is rather a different aspect to that urged by my right hon. Friend, who laid stress upon the point that the Prime Minister has said that this reform "will brook no delay." What is the inference to be drawn from a reform which on the authority of the Prime Minister brooks no delay? Surely it is that the part of our Constitution which requires reform so urgently is not at present in a fit position to perform its constitutional functions. It is admitted that so far as the Second Chamber is concerned it has been crippled and put out of gear to such an extent that it is incapable of performing its constitutional duties, but the matter does not rest there. It is admitted on the other side that, while the House of Lord's is so crippled, this House is not itself properly representative of the people. That point was put as clearly as possible by the hon. Member who moved the Address the other day, when he said that this House cannot claim to be really representative of the democracy until a Bill for the simplification and extension of the franchise becomes an Act of Parliament. That was a statement which was loudly praised by the Prime Minister and it was cheered by the party opposite, and there has in fact been no demurrer to the statement that this House is totally unrepresentative as far as the democracy is concerned. We are, therefore, brought to this conclusion, that at this time when the most important legislation of recent times is to be carried through this House, both Houses are unfitted, for one reason or another, to perform their functions properly. Under these circumstances, one 339 would suppose that very great care would have been taken by the Government to see that the democracy outside should, at all events, have the very fullest and the most minute information as to the intention of the Government and the nature of their policy. Strangely enough, this is the time that the Government choose for showing their confidence in the people by keeping them in the dark.
What does the country know about the policy of Home Rule at the present moment? Whenever questions have been asked in this House upon this point we have in the past been given the formula, "Wait and see." More recently, however, we have been told that patience must be exercised. Why should the House of Commons be called upon either to exercise patience in a matter of this kind or to "wait and see"? When it is a question of foreign affairs, it is a totally different matter, and it is perfectly reasonable in regard to foreign questions not to gratify our curiosity in this manner; but why in regard to Home Rule should this argument apply? If we are a self-governing nation, why should the people, who have a right to know what the policy of the Government is, be told that they should have patience or that they should wait and see? Are we to be told that it is an impertinent curiosity if the people inquire of their Government what they intend to do? Are we not even allowed to draw some inference from speeches which have been made? If we are to draw inferences, I should like to impress one upon the House. Little as we know of these specific proposals of Home Rule which are going to be put forward, I think we can draw the inference that the Government measure will be a repeal of the Union. It seems to me to follow that it will be nothing short of the repeal of the Union, judging from the language used in the House last week by the hon. Member who moved the Address. That hon. Member quoted a passage from Mr. Lecky, the historian, in which he said that the Union when carried was a crime and a blunder. That statement passed without any demurrer from hon. Gentlemen opposite, and I suppose we may assume from that that the party opposite believe that the Union is going to be repealed by the Government. On this side of the House we recognise the authority of Mr. Lecky as one which in the coming Debates on this question will always be received by us with the utmost respect. For that very reason I wish the hon. Member had borne 340 in mind that Mr. Lecky himself was a most distinguished ornament of our party on this side of the House, and that he was a supporter till the day of his death of the Union. I should like to give a quotation from the earliest book written by Mr. Lecky, giving an opinion which I think is really the governing consideration in these historical Debates. In his Essay on O'Connell, Mr. Lecky says:—By a singular fatality the great advocate of repeal did more than anyone else to make the Union a necessity. He destroyed the sympathy between the people and their natural leaders, and he threw the former into the hands of men who have subordinated all national to ecclesiastical considerations, or into the hands of reckless, ignorant, and dishonest adventurers.In other words, as we shall find when we come into closer touch with the Home Rule legislation, and when we dive into these historical researches into the past, the history which really governs this question is not, as Nationalist people urge, the history of the eighteenth century, but the history of the nineteenth century. It is not the events which preceded the Union, or the methods by which the Union was carried, which govern this question. It is the events which have occurred since the Union was carried, and which, in the language of Mr. Lecky, makes its repeal for ever impossible. It appears to me that the postponement of the reconstruction of the House of Lords, of which we complain, is deliberate. The Government see that they can, by means of this crippled constitutional machine, carry legislation which they could not carry with an efficient constitutional machine. It is for that reason a great many people in the country—far more, I think, than the learned Solicitor-General is able to realise—deny all moral validity of legislation carried by the constitutional machine as it at present exists. After all, legislation which is carried under the constitutional machine as it at present exists is not the product of constitution, but of violence. I noticed an anecdote in one of the papers the other day describing, with that picturesque language which our journalists sometimes use, how, on the opening day of Parliament, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer was observed, when coming down to the House, to stand for a moment in a contemplative mood before the statue of the Lord Protector. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman was mentally drawing a comparison between the action of the Lord Protector and the action either of himself or of his titular leader, but I think the comparison is fairly complete. That is why we urge that this 341 legislation carried in Parliament as it is at present is the product of violence. After all, where does the difference lie? Oliver Cromwell, I believe, came into this House and ejected this House at the head of a company of halberdiers. The present Government have equally violated the constitutional sanctity of the other House, not by ejecting them with a company of halberdiers, but by threatening them with a battalion of Limehouse lords. It appears to me the violence is equal in either case, and it is for that reason many of us refuse to recognise the moral validity of Acts of Parliament so carried.
The Government make matters worse because at this very period when the Constitution, as we maintain, is in abeyance, they proceed by the most provocative methods they can devise to put their intentions before the country. Take, for example, the dealings of the present Government with Ulster. Could anything possibly be more provocative than either the methods which they adopt or the missionaries whom they send? They began some months ago by sending over to the province of Ulster—a Nonconformist province, it must be remembered—the Under-Secretary of State for War, and that right hon. Gentleman began by outraging the Nonconformist conscience of Ulster, which still attaches some sanctity to the Day of Rest. I believe even in this country at the present time the Nonconformist conscience attaches some sanctity to the Day of Rest. Well, they do also in Ulster, and it was therefore singularly bad taste, to put it no higher, of a Member of the Government, for the first time, I think, in our history, to hold a political meeting upon the Sunday in that part of the country where Sabbatarianism is still as rampant as it is in Scotland, if not more so. This right hon. Gentleman having announced he intended to stand or fall by Home Rule, the platform immediately collapsed, and a good many people in that neighbourhood who are apt to draw omens drew the worst possible omen for the policy of the Government. The point I wish to urge upon the House is the impropriety of a Member of the Government going to that part of the country where the Sabbath is still regarded and holding a political meeting on that day.
What are we to say of the still more provocative action of the First Lord of the Admiralty? Speaking in the House the other day—from what source he derived his statement I do not know—the 342 Prime Minister declared that an audience of 10,000 addressed by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in the Albert Hall a short time ago was an ignorant and credulous audience. Well, what was the audience of the First Lord of the Admiralty when he went to Belfast? To begin with, the ignorant and credulous audience of the Albert Hall, so far as I know, had nothing whatever to do with the avoidance of the 13th day of the month for the summoning of Parliament. The substitution of another day for the 13th some, at all events, would be apt to describe as both ignorant and credulous. The audience in Belfast, I daresay, was not ignorant and credulous; it may have been learned and judicious; but a certain portion, an unknown portion of the First Lord's audience, is still being wanted by the police. I do not know how many there were, but there were a considerable number of his audience who, if I may borrow a very telling phrase from the gracious speech from the Throne, made "provision for the temporalities" of other people. However, the First Lord, surrounded by a little coterie of Knights who have been decorated by the present Government, was able to address a purely Nationalist gathering. How was he able, in spite of his intention to provoke the people of Ulster, to make his speech to that little coterie of Knights and that gathering of Nationalists? The First Lord required and received three things. First of all, he obtained a safe conduct from the Ulster Unionist Council. Secondly, he brought some 4,000 troops over 100 miles, and I gather from an answer given to one of my hon. Friends at Question Time to-day that in the course of the next week or so we shall know what the public has to pay for that protection given to the First Lord. Armed with this safe conduct from the Ulster Unionist Council and protected with 4,000 troops, the right hon. Gentleman effected his escape from Belfast by leaving the football field by devious back paths and taking a special train from Belfast to avoid the dangerous necessity of waiting an hour for the ordinary train.
The right hon. Gentleman, if he had had his way, would have been still more provocative because he wanted to go to a still more distinctly Unionist part of the City of Belfast. He wanted to go to the Ulster Hall and hold a meeting there. I cannot myself understand how it was that as soon as his intention was made known, and the danger which it would lead to was 343 also known, the Government could not have taken steps to prevent him provoking a breach of the peace. We have seen, I think the right hon. Gentleman himself, stopping a boxing contest because it was likely to lead to a breach of the peace, and we have seen the Home Office defending the action of the police in preventing a blasphemer on some common from provoking breaches of the peace. Yet here we have the right hon. Gentleman going to the most inflammable part of the country in order to stir up bad blood among the people of Belfast with the very great danger of provoking a breach of the peace. I am exceedingly glad the Ulster Unionist Council took steps to prevent the right hon. Gentleman from appearing in the Ulster Hall, and I think the fact that he was only just able, under the very difficult circumstances I have described, to hold the meeting in another part of the town without an actual breach of the peace is the greatest possible defence and justification for the action of the Unionist Council. This approval I find was expressed not merely by Gentlemen who sympathise with us on this side of the House, but also by Liberals who thoroughly understand the position obtaining in Ulster. There was a gentleman, Mr. Arnold White, who was the Liberal candidate, I think, against my hon. Friend the Member for North Derry, and he wrote to my hon. Friend and said:—I rejoice to see that the standing committee of the Ulster Unionist Council have acted on the principle that strategic defence is only obtained by tactical attackHe gave the very strongest proof I suppose he could give that he approved of the action of the Ulster Unionist Council by sending a cheque for the expenses to which my hon. Friend might be put. Although the action of the Ulster Unionist Council was approved by Liberals like the gentleman whom I have quoted, and of course universally by Unionists who understand the conditions in Ulster itself, I observe with great regret, that it was regarded very unsympathetically by the Labour party. It was with great disappointment I saw a speech made by the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) in which he was exceedingly unsympathetic to the action of the people of Belfast in regard to this matter. I think his expression was that:—The men of Belfast require to be taught a lesson.The men of Belfast have been taught a lesson; they have learnt their lesson 344 and learnt it very well, and they have learnt it from the Labour party.
After all they were only doing exactly what the Labour party had been doing all over the country in another direction, and I think it is very disappointing that hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite, who have no words too strong regarding the employment of the military in dealing with labour disputes, should not object to the employment of military in the city of Belfast when the democracy of that part of the country are trying to assert their own opinions by precisely the same methods as obtain among trade unions.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
A moment or two ago I quoted a statement by the Mover of the Address to the effect that this House was not at present representative. We know, from the gracious Speech from the Throne, that it is the intention of the Government to simplify and extend the franchise. But even in this matter of the extension of the franchise the Government at the present moment is behaving, as in other respects, in a grossly unconstitutional way. They are being grossly unconstitutional in the matter of their own status and in the matter of Cabinet responsibility. The learned Solicitor-General objected to my right hon. Friend unearthing old speeches. I do not know how one can say what the intention of statesmen may have been in the past or how one can compare their actions with their promises unless you look back upon what they have said in the past. It may be perfectly true that a good many of the speeches we have to bring up from the Parliamentary Debates or from the columns of the "Times" are, in the opinion of hon. Gentlemen opposite, not only dead but stinking. In this matter as regards the franchise, I want to unearth a speech which is not so very old after all. Some few years ago the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, while still a Member of the Government, was making speeches which foreshadowed the policy of Tariff Reform, and at that time the present Prime Minister made a speech in this House with reference to the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. He used these words:—It is not only without precedent or example, it is an entire departure from the traditions and rules of our public life that in a matter of this kind, and of this importance, responsible Ministers should be allowed not merely to emit on public platforms discordant opinions, but to pose as propagandists of two wholly irreconcilable views of public policy.345 And the right hon. Gentleman concluded:—I protest against a practice which if once allowed, will put an end to Ministerial responsibility and Cabinet government.Can you possibly have a more direct and forcible condemnation of the action which, it is notorious, is being taken by Members of the present Government with reference to the extension of the franchise? It has been made public property that on one of the principal Government Bills this Session an Amendment may probably be moved, and certainly will be supported, by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other Members of the Cabinet. That is a very much stronger case than the one to which I have referred, because here you have a principal measure of the Government. In the case I have quoted, in 1903, there was no idea of immediate legislation. There was no Bill in the Government programme affected by the attitude or divergent views of the Cabinet. But here we have divergent views with reference to a Bill which is to be brought in as one of the chief Government measures of the Session. A few months passed and, as we know, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham resigned his office in order to obtain greater freedom to push his opinions. But still the exact constitutionalism of the Prime Minister was not satisfied, because it appears there were certain Members of the Government of the day—I think Lord Lansdowne was one of them—who connected themselves in some way with an organisation the object of which was the promulgation of the policy of Tariff Reform. The constitutional exactitude of the Prime Minister was such that he supported a Vote of Censure which was moved on the Conservative Government. It was moved by the then Leader of Opposition, and I should like to read a passage from the speech of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. He said:—There is surely something left—there is surely still some little force in the recognised doctrine of collective Ministerial responsibility.Then he went on to say that the continued connection of these Cabinet Ministers with this heretical organisation was part and parcel of adestructive and unconstitutional process.Then Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, after anticipating that, in the course of Debate, some sort of assurances would be given with reference to the particular opinions of the Prime Minister of the day, 346 (the late Leader of the Opposition) used these words:—I should think it must be unnecessary to point out that the assurance, if given in the affirmative, that there is still a clear distinction between the two policies, will have little weight unless the Prime Minister can tell us he has invited the resignation of their offices of those of his colleagues who differ from him on this vital point.So that the doctrine laid down by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman was that where you had a difference of opinion, not with regard to a Bill then coming before Parliament—a much stronger case—but merely with reference to a general policy which might or might not be adopted by his party as a whole in the future—where you had that difference of opinion it was the duty of the Prime Minister to invite his colleagues to resign their offices and that, unless he did so, any assurance given by him would carry no weight. On this same Debate on this Vote of Censure it is not surprising to find that it fell to the present Chancellor of the Exchequer to put his point in much more picturesque language than that of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. The right hon. Gentleman said:—What was the position at present? Here was the Volunteer Fleet of the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for West Birmingham, raiding the high seas. Had it the Prime Minister's commission, or was it a piratical commission?I think at the present moment there is a brigantine, named "Votes for Women," which is raiding the high seas, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer being her skipper. Are we not entitled to ask the right hon. Gentleman who is in command of that vessel, has he the Prime Minister's commission, or is it a piratical commission? I think the Prime Minister himself would find it very difficult to say that he has actually given a commission to this skipper to raid the high seas in favour of a policy which he has declared would be disastrous to the country. Then the Prime Minister himself, if I may conclude with a quotation from him, made a very interesting speech upon this unconstitutional position of the Cabinet. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham had resigned his office, and had become the subject of eulogy by the Liberal party. The present Prime Minister held up the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham as an example, because he said hewent out into the wilderness as a missionary, regardless of consequences, determined to convert his fellow subjects to what he believes to be true.347 The Prime Minister said, and I will draw the attention of the House to these words:—That is the position, and the only position which history and posterity will regard with honour or even with tolerance.What is to be said of the Members of the present Cabinet who are prepared to carry on their legislation openly in hostile groups one with another? When the Prime Minister said that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham walked into the wilderness because he disagreed with his colleagues, and that was the only position which posterity would regard with honour or tolerance, he used words which justify the action we are taking to-day. He was speaking that time from these benches, and he was supposing what might happen in the course of time, and what actually did happen. He said:—When a Liberal Government is sitting on those benches (Treasury), if it pursues the same ambiguous strategy as he and his colleagues are pursuing in relation to Home Rule and Disestablishment, or in relation to any other question, I care not what, the right hon. Gentleman, it he is sitting on these benches, will have abundant opportunity, and, in my opinion, will have ample justification for moving a Vote of Censure upon them.The Amendment which has been moved by my right hon. Friend to-day is an acceptance of the invitation held out by the prophetic foresight years ago of the present Prime Minister. The Amendment which we are supporting to-day is a Vote of Censure on the Government for their ambiguous policy with regard to these questions which the Prime Minister referred to in that speech. I will conclude by saying, in the right hon. Gentleman's own words, that, by his own showing, the Vote of Censure which we are supporting has ample justification.
§ Mr. BARNES
In the very interesting speech to which we have just listened the hon. Gentleman has travelled pretty well over the whole ground of politics. He has ranged over the high seas, he has travelled over the constituencies of Great Britain and Ireland, and he has dealt with the question of "Votes for Women" and with that of Cabinet responsibility. But he has had very little to say about the present Amendment. In the course of his speech, however, he made a reference to the Labour party, and with that I will deal first. He quoted a speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, the Leader of the Labour party, in reference to Belfast. I do not think he quoted the exact words of the speech, but he said that 348 my hon. Friend had stated that, in his opinion, the people of Ulster should be taught a lesson. I accept those words as being true, but I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman said in reference to them. He charges the Labour party with doing the same thing as the people of Belfast or Ulster had threatened to do. I challenge him to prove his statement. The Labour party, so far as I know, has never, in its whole history, said or done anything against the freedom of speech on the part of everybody. If the hon. Member had had cognisance of what took place last year he would have known that my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) on one occasion got up in this House to move the adjournment on a question of the freedom of speech on Streatham Common. That freedom of speech was to be exercised by a man who held opposite views to my hon. Friend, and was in the habit of giving expression to them in a manner wholly repugnant to the feelings of my hon. Friend. The only reason we had for complaining about what had taken place at Belfast was that the same measures were not taken at Streatham Common as were taken at Belfast, that is to say, that the forces of the Crown were not brought to bear in securing for the poor man on Streatham Common the same freedom of speech as was secured for the Cabinet Minister at Belfast. I do not know whether the hon. Member has correctly quoted my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, but I venture to give that general view of the attitude of the Labour party in regard to free speech, and I have no hesitation in saying that if the hon. Member for Leicester were here, he would corroborate what I have just said. Before leaving that point I may say that it by no means follows, that the hon. Member for Leicester has said anything which would lead anybody to believe that he was in favour of the military going to Belfast. As a matter of fact, the subsequent proceedings at Belfast showed the sending of the military there was altogether unnecessary, and that the police and the men on the spot could probably have dealt with any disorder that might have taken place consequent upon the First Lord of the Admiralty going there.
But I did not get up to deal with the speech of the hon. Member. I got up to offer a few observations on the Amendment, to state very briefly the attitude of the Labour party in regard to that 349 Amendment, and one or two reasons why I think we should be amply justified in voting, as we shall do, heartily and unanimously against the Amendment. First of all, let me point out that it seems to be a feeble and evasive Amendment. It does not raise Tariff Reform or Imperial Preference, or any of those things which have been associated for so long with the right hon. Gentleman and his party. I think the right hon. Gentleman was wise in not bringing these things forward, because their nakedness has so often been exposed here. The Amendment raises the question of the House of Lords. It is quite a new thing on the part of right hon. Gentlemen opposite to be so eager for the reconstitution of the House of Lords. I have been in this House now for six years; for three and a-half years of that time, if not for nearly four years, I do not remember hearing a single word from the opposite side of the House as to any dissatisfaction with the constitution or the powers of the House of Lords. Apparently, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite were quite satisfied with them until two years ago. The Amendment blames the Government for not doing something which I submit the Government had, and still have, no mandate from the people to do, and I think it also carries with it the relegation of questions in which the Labour party and many others are vitally interested to a dim and distant future. I am not going into the question of the speeches made by Cabinet Ministers and other people, because I daresay if hon. Gentlemen in this House were to examine the speeches of any single one of us a great deal of inconsistency would be found—it would be found in speeches I have made I have no doubt—and I am not at all concerned as to whether or not Cabinet Ministers have spoken consistently for the last two years. Facing the matter broadly, it is a question whether or not the Government have carried out their pledges, or at all events what was in the mind of the average man prior to the election two years ago as to what they were going to do. The Government, before going out of office at the back end of 1909, said they were going to limit the powers of the House of Lords in regard to legislation, and that they were going to abolish the Veto of the House of Lords in regard to finance. That was the policy laid down by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman two or three years before that time. That was the policy upon which the present Government went to the country in 350 December, 1909. In the beginning of 1910 the King's Speech contained this paragraph:—Proposals will be laid before you 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.I submit that has been done. It is now the law of the land, and therefore, broadly speaking, the Government have carried out what they went to the country on in December, 1909. I quite admit that the Government are pledged—they pledged themselves for reasons best known to themselves in the beginning of 1910—to reconstitute the House of Lords. But there is no time limit within which that was to be carried out. If the right hon. Gentleman looks through all the speeches—I think I have read most of them—and if he will look at the King's Speech, to which reference has been made to-day, he will find no time limit within which this pledge to reconstitute the House of Lords is to be carried out. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the first intimation that this House had of any intention of the Government to reconstitute the House of Lords was contained in a vague reference in the King's Speech of 1910. That was quite vague to the average Member of this House, and in regard to it the Government had to give explicit explanations before anybody understood it. While I agree that the Government are pledged to carry out something in the nature of a reconstitution, I submit that would be a very convenient thing to relegate to the last Act of this Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman has pointed out that there may be difficulties; that assuming that the Prime Minister still intended to carry out his pledge—and I have no doubt he is—there will be difficulties on this side. He quoted the Lord Advocate and the Chief Whip as being two Members of the Government who had given expression to opinions altogether contrary to or inconsistent with the reconstitution of the House of Lords, and he said it might be possible that unless the Government bring forward some democratic proposals—if you can apply democratic proposals to the House of Lords—that they may have trouble in this House. That is quite likely. But supposing the Government get over all these difficulties and bring forward proposals which will bring in, shall I say the Lord Advocate and the Chief Whip, we can assume that they 351 will deal pretty drastically with the House of Lords. What will happen? We may assume the right hon. Gentleman opposite will be against that particular proposal, and he may take it from me that we of the Labour party will also be against that particular proposal, and therefore I should say that the country itself will have to decide.
At all events, we of the Labour party are in no hurry to deal with the House of Lords. We are quite content to leave it as it is in the meantime as a quaint, interesting, and antiquated, but somewhat irritating, relic of a bygone barbarous age, to be shorn of its powers in proportion as the more educated opinion outside develops a more intelligent and reliable people. That is our attitude in regard to the House of Lords. We have never hidden it. We think one House is quite sufficient, but until public opinion is ripe for that, the best of all possible things in regard to the House of Lords is to let it alone and not waste time in dealing with it on any lines at all. I notice that the right hon. Gentleman, when speaking to his Amendment, left himself on pretty safe ground. He never went into details as to how he would deal with the House of Lords. He never told us, for instance, that he was disposed to send the Bishops about their business, or that he would abolish the hereditary principle and set up a House of Lords, or some Second Chamber upon a purely elective basis. The right hon. Gentleman was safe to-day in using very vague generalities and in raking over the dust-heap of past speeches of Cabinet Ministers and other people. I think it is very likely that when proposals come forward for dealing with the House of Lords, he and I, and his party and my party, will be found in the same Lobby, but for absolutely opposite reasons. In the meantime I would submit that this House is eager—at all events I know that many on this side are eager—to get on with the business for which we were sent here. I should define that business as being, first of all, Home Rule and social reform.
§ Mr. BARNES
I am not particularly concerned about Welsh Disestablishment, but I am going to support Welsh Disestablishment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I will tell hon. Members. I am perfectly 352 consistent. Welsh Disestablishment has been before the country for many years, and it has been an item in the programme of the progressive party for many years at successive General Elections. The people have been perfectly well acquainted with what would follow if the Liberal Government got into office, and therefore, for my part, although not very much concerned about it, I am going to support that particular item. The last speaker said that the people of this country were not in favour of Home Rule, and he drew the same distinction as was drawn by the right hon. Gentleman the Mover of the Amendment, between the people of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. That seems an extraordinary thing to come from a party which prides itself upon being, above all things, a Unionist party. I make no such distinction at all. I say broadly the "people of this country," and when I say this country I mean the United Kingdom. The people of this country made up their minds on Home Rule two years ago, when the Government were returned to office in December, 1910. It is said the Prime Minister occupies a rather invidious position in regard to this matter. The Prime Minster can defend himself, I am quite sure. I go back two or three years prior to the election of 1910. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. F. E. Smith) was in the House then, and he will remember the Debates which we had upon the Resolutions introduced by the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. The new Prime Minister was then in charge of the House, and on that occasion he said that one of the first effects of the passing of this Resolution into law would be that Home Rule for Ireland would become an accomplished fact. He spoke in favour of the Resolution from that point of view, and said he would support Home Rule when it fell to be dealt with. Therefore I say we are justified in voting for Home Rule: first of all, because the people, whatever they may have thought in 1902, or still further back in 1891, or at other periods, two years ago, and since then, have been in favour of Home Rule, and the present Government have left no dubiety as to what their attitude is in regard to it.
Apart altogether from Home Rule or constitutional tinkering, I am in favour, and I am interested, in the question of social reform. I daresay the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. F. E. Smith), just the same as every one of us, is bombarded every day by letters and circulars from 353 private individuals, public-spirited individuals, and associations of all sorts got up to protect the interests of this or that class. I get letters almost every day reminding me of certain Commissions or Committees which have examined this, that, or the other question, telling me that public opinion, has long been ripe for dealing with the question, and urging me to give my support to any Resolution which may be brought forward to promote those objects, and, generally speaking, putting things before me of which I am perfectly well aware, and of which the hon. Gentleman and his party are perfectly well aware. For instance, there is the Poor Law Commission, a Commission of disinterested and single-minded men and women, experts many of them in regard to the question dealt with, a Commission which sat for some years, presented reports, differing, it is true, in some respects but agreeing in regard to certain matters which might be and ought to be dealt with by this House. But my point is that if you shunt us on to the bare board of constitutional tinkering with the House of Lords, it will be good-bye for a generation probably to any idea of reforming the Poor Law.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
Does not the hon. Member think he could deal with these subjects, which he rightly describes as important, much more expeditiously if he also abandoned what he is pleased to call tinkering with Home Rule and Welsh Disestablishment?
§ Mr. BARNES
No, and not only that but public opinion is pledged to Home Rule and public opinion is not pledged to any particular form of dealing with the House of Lords, and not pledged at all to dealing with the constitution of the House of Lords in any form.
§ Mr. BARNES
That is one thing. I quoted Poor Law Reform as one of the things with which we might be dealing. Then again take the care of the feebleminded. I am glad to hear, for the first time, from the Ministerial Bench, that there is an intention of dealing with the question this year. I am glad to hear it because I have almost been giving up hope of anything being done this year, having regard to the crowded Session we are 354 about to commence, but here again is one of those things which ought to have been taken on long ago. A Commission has sat upon it and reported upon it, and all well-informed folk and public opinion outside of an intelligent nature is agreed as to the urgency, as well as the desirability, of dealing with it, and still we have hundreds of thousands of these feebleminded men and women roaming about the country, propagating their kind without stint, a burden to this generation and a danger to the generation to come. Here again I say this Amendment would keep us from dealing with a question of that sort. I pass over the question of the protection of youth, again in regard to which we have had a report which has pointed out the dangers, moral and physical, of boys and girls trading in the streets. That is a matter with which we ought to deal. Then let me come to the children. I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman saw only a month or two ago a Blue Book, which ought to be called a Black Book, issued by Sir George Newman, the medical officer of the Board of Education, in which he tells us that 63 per cent. of the school children go to school suffering from some ailment or another. Sixty thousand of them, he says, are suffering from consumption, or, as he calls it, tuberculosis—that is to say, 60,000 of these children are probably condemned to die before their schooling is well over. These are things which, it seems to me, ought to be dealt with as speedily as possible, and I say again that this Amendment would relegate them to a dim and distant future rather than bring them any nearer to being dealt with by the House.
It is perfectly true, as the right hon. Gentleman says, that dealing with the Irish question will delay dealing with these questions, but that is unavoidable. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] I can only repeat what I have said. This Government is pledged to deal with the Irish question. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who pledged them?"] Public opinion has pledged them. Two years ago I had the priviledge of opening a Debate, and I quoted speeches of our own and of Cabinet Ministers in the Election of 1910 in the light of which the General Election then took place which returned the Government to office with a majority of 124, pledged to deal with that particular question. What more do you want? The country, public opinion, the electors of this country, have pledged this Government to deal with the 355 question of Home Rule, and therefore, whatever effect that particular question may have upon the early solution of these other social problems with which we are primarily concerned, Ireland has to block the way until Irish Home Rule is granted. That is our position, and therefore on that point we differ in no wise from the supporters of the present Government. I think I have said sufficient to show that at all events we of the Labour Party are justified in voting against this Amendment. As to Home Rule and what particular proposals may be contained in a Home Rule Bill, that is not for me to enlarge upon at present. I noticed the references by the right hon. Gentleman and I think perhaps he was in hopes that he would be able to ascertain from the Government in advance something in regard to that.
§ Mr. BARNES
It is sufficient for me that the people of this country have decided for good or ill, and as I think for good, that the Irish people must have Home Rule. I am glad that after many days of agitation the people of this country have reached that conclusion. If the Home Rule Bill contains provisions for giving the people of Ireland control over their own affairs, while leaving to this House supremacy in Imperial affairs, I, for my part, would be content. I am not going to bother my head about those things in regard to money, of which a good deal of mention has been made recently. That, after all, is a small affair compared with the great thing at issue. I noticed the speech of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Winston Churchill) at Belfast—I thought it a very statesmanlike speech—in which he said that this country had traditions behind it and resources behind it which ought to put the question of money in a secondary and subordinate position when the question of a settlement of the longstanding grievance between the Irish and the English people came to be dealt with. I agree with that, and, for my part, although I might personally hope the Irish might be disposed to shoulder a good deal of financial burdens, even if it means that this country has got to pay out a good deal, I am readily content to vote for the Bill, and, after all, are not we doing that now? Is not the Government of Ireland even now a burden to this country? We keep the Irish police and a great many other 356 things there. Probably the Irish people, if they governed themselves, might be able to dispense with them.
I have travelled over Ireland for the express purpose of making myself acquainted with the Irish problem as it is to be seen on the spot, and the conclusion I arrived at was that the Irish people could govern themselves a great deal cheaper than we misgovern them, and therefore my conclusion is that, although Irish Home Rule may mean, in the first place, a continuance of the present expenditure or even an increase of it, I am optimistic enough to believe that in the future there will not only be a better understanding between the English and the Irish people, and therefore an easing of the international situation as well, but there will really be an easing of the financial burdens to this country in consequence thereof. I am going to vote against the Amendment because it raises a question in regard to the House of Lords, a vast question which, if we began to tackle it, would no doubt keep us at it for a long time, because we should have all these questions about the right of the bishops in the House of Lords, the question as to whether we should continue the hereditary principle in any shape or form whatever, the question as to whether you should have a Second Chamber popularly elected or not—all these questions would be raised and would probably keep us going for two or three years, and very likely wreck the Government in so doing. For my part, I am not content to start on that. I think that ought to be relegated to the last act of the Government, and then, when that time comes, we of the Labour party will be found in splendid isolation, because we shall be standing for one House of Commons, or one Chamber, representing the electors of this country, and having no Second Chamber over it at all, fancy Chamber or otherwise, to prevent the people getting economic or political emancipation. Therefore I shall vote against the Amendment, and our people will unanimously do the same thing.
§ Mr. CROFT
The hon. Member opened his speech by endeavouring to pour ridicule upon this party because the question of Tariff Reform and Imperial Preference had not been dealt with in the official Opposition Amendment. If he will look carefully down the list of Amendments, he will find there are three or four such Amendments, which we yet hope will be discussed, but I think there is one thing which he must recognise, and that is that 357 however keen he may be upon the first constructive work of our policy, the introduction of Tariff Reform and Imperial Preference, it is our duty to point out to the country that the Constitution at present is suspended and your existence on those beaches is due to trickery and not having carried out the whole of your Parliament Bill, including the Preamble. The hon. Gentleman has told us that Cabinet Ministers, and I think he said everybody else, need not be worried with regard to the inconsistency of their speeches, but he admits that a pledge was made. He admits that the reform has got to take place, although he thinks it ought to be relegated, as I understand, to the end of everything, or, in other words, Home Rule must be passed, the Church funds in Wales must be stolen, the Eight Hours Bill must be introduced, and, I suppose, the repudiation of the National Debt, and every other imaginable thing that we can conceive of, must be done first, and then this pledge can be redeemed, because, apparently, a solemn pledge of that description can be relegated until everything has been accomplished, and all the ideals that we on these benches cherish have been utterly smashed for all time.
The Solicitor-General, in the course of his speech, carefully ignored the Amendment of my right hon. Friend. I think, perhaps, this was due to the daily epilepsy he suffers from through reading one of the afternoon Unionist papers. He spent all his time in trying to prove that the people at the last Election gave a mandate for Home Rule, though they had never seen the measure, though the measure had never been drafted, and no one knows what the actual provisions will be on the vital questions involved. The hon. Member for the Blackfriars Division (Mr. Barnes) told us that public opinion was pledged on the Home Rule Bill, the main ideas of which they certainly knew very little about until the First Lord of the Admiralty went to Ulster. Even now, in regard to the particular points of Customs and Excise, we are not one whit wiser than before. The people have apparently given the Government a blank cheque to introduce whatever kind of Home Rule Bill they like, although it is well known that when consulted twice before they refused to have anything to do with a measure of this description. It was suggested by the Solicitor-General that the Mover of this Amendment wanted to see a still greater disparity in regard to the parties in the Second Chamber. I listened carefully to 358 the speech of my right hon. Friend, and I heard nothing that implied that kind of suggestion. It is a well-known fact that everybody on the Unionist Benches desires that there should be less disparity, but they desire to see a real Second Chamber, with functions which every civilised country in the world grants to its Second Chamber for dealing with legislation.
I think we have learned something from the speech of the Solicitor-General, and that is that the new House will have no power to refer a question to the people. Constitutional authorities have hitherto understood that the Second Chamber had the power to refer questions to the people. I should have thought that every country in the world admitted that when there was a deadlock between the two Chambers the proper course was to go to the people—at any rate, democratic countries where democracy more fortunate than ours holds sway. He made another observation, though I did not see the relevancy of it. He said, supposing the Irish Nationalists were against the Government, who would turn the Government out? I, for my part, have not the slightest hesitation in saying that we on this side would accept the assistance of the Irish party to turn the Government out on any question. Everybody knows that the Nationalists are entirely out of sympathy with the Government on Tariff Reform, and on every question except Home Rule. They are simply sitting there as part of a coalition, for the reason that they are able to dictate the policy of the Government. We have described the whole system as one of logrolling for a particular end. The whole point of the Amendment may be summed up in the statement that the people of this country gave a mandate at the Election that the question before them was the whole Bill, including the Preamble. When any of us, even the most humble member of the party, who spoke on the question suggested that the new Second Chamber would be a sham Chamber, we heard angry cries from the back of the hall: "The promise is, a reorganised Second Chamber." The confidence of the country was undoubtedly won on the promise of the reform of the Second Chamber. Not one in a hundred who listened to the speeches on either side believed that these great measures, Home Rule, Disestablishment, and others, which, although described as mandates now, were very coyly treated at the time of the Election—not one in a hundred believed that they were to be 359 passed through before the constitution of the House of Lords was altered. The Prime Minister on 21st February last year said:—We hold, as the Preamble of this Bill says, that there ought to be a Second Chamber, and that it should be a body which, unlike the House of Lords, rests not on a hereditary, but on a popular basis."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 1911, col. 1746.]Here is a distinct statement that the hereditary system was to end. I believe the whole Government support at the election was gathered owing to the fact that wild, unjust, and extravagant speeches were made against the occupants of that Chamber. They were referred to as being there merely by right of being the sons of their father, as backwoodsmen, and as robbers, and they were even on one occasion likened unto kangaroos in a famous speech in London. It is strange that those who made these speeches denouncing the Members of the House of Lords still allow the backwoodsmen to come from their fastnesses, still allow robbers to sit there, and still allow kangaroos to delay the wise legislation sent up from this House. All these things remain. These statements were apparently only brought forward for special electioneering purposes. The confidence of the country was won on the promise to reform the hereditary system. That is, I believe the real opinion of those who spoke much on the question throughout the country. There was no outcry whatever against the functions of the House of Lords. It was because under the hereditary system there was a large Tory majority. That Tory majority was brought about owing to the fact that Radical creations directly they got into the calmer atmosphere of the House of Lords allowed themselves to be Toryfied and to become of a different frame of mind. It is perfectly well known that if the peers of such creation had remained true to the party that rewarded them parties would have remained pretty fairly balanced, and we would have had the best Second Chamber in the world. On 2nd March last the Prime Minister himself said that the "Preamble was approved by the country in the course of the last General Election." Hon. Members who said "Oh!" on hearing that statement elicited from the Prime Minister the statement, "Well, if the Bill was, I presume the Preamble was also." In that statement the right hon. Gentleman emphasised the fact that the electors voted for the whole Bill. In the House of Commons the Prime Minister declared that 360 their pledge to reform the House of Lords was a pledge of honour, and no one will forget the indignation of the Prime Minister on the mere suggestion that this question could be put off for many months. We believed that these assurances were intended to hoodwink Parliament and to gull the electors while other measures were being rushed through. Even last autumn we found Members of the Government repudiating these promises made by the Prime Minister, and apparently they were unrebuked by the right hon. Gentleman. On 2nd November I asked the Prime Minister "whether his attention had been called to the speech of his colleague, the Lord Advocate, in Scotland, when he stated that 'to talk of the reform of the House of Lords was folly and moonshine.'"
§ The LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. Ure)
Will the hon. Member quote the words I used, and state where they were reported?
§ Mr. CROFT
I shall be delighted to read the actual words of the right hon. Gentleman. I read three or four reports at least. These are the actual words which I discovered in the "Scotsman," and they were borne out by the report in every other paper:—He would not trust the electors of Renfrew to reform the House of Lords. They would establish a Second Chamber with a sure Radical majority, and he would not have that, because it would simply be perpetuating the injustice of which he complained The only change would be the shifting of the injustice from their shoulders to those of their political opponents. Therefore, to talk of reform of the House of Lords was folly and moonshine, and no sensible man who ever bestowed five minutes' thought on the question ever dreamt of caring the mischief in this way.I assume the right hon. Gentleman was speaking for his Leader, and that he also was included amongst the sensible people. With reference to the speech of the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman which my hon. Friend quoted, I should like to know whether the Prime Minister or the Lord Advocate will be the first to go into the wilderness when they find so much divergence on this question. I think everyone will agree that the position is absolutely intolerable. I do not think that even the Solicitor-General endeavoured to point out that a pledge was not a pledge. I know it is rather difficult to be too particular in these days, when we find the Prime Minister considering that if Woman's Suffrage were passed into law it would prove to be a national disaster, while at the same time his more noisy colleagues are prepared to go and stump the whole country 361 in favour of a proposal which he believes to be fraught with disaster to the country. In the past it would have been difficult to conceive that Mr. Gladstone or any other great Leader of the Liberal party could have remained in the Cabinet on a basis such as this. When the pledge was given that the constitution of the House of Lords would be reformed, the country believed that the Government were going to fulfil the pledge. They believed that the Government were sincere. Now they are sitting there because they tricked the people, and they are bringing in measures of Home Rule and Disestablishment by backstair methods. Unless the pledge to reform the Second Chamber is redeemed, I think history will relate that they have departed from one of the greatest traditions of British statesmanship.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. PIRIE
The last speaker twitted the Government with not keeping their pledge. I am not here to defend the Government, nor am I here entirely out of sympathy with, or with a want of understanding of, the Mover of the Amendment which we are discussing. To a certain extent, if the Government are responsible for my attitude, I think the reason may be found rather in the reticence with which in the past they have been so much associated, and from which I had hoped that the veil would have been removed by the speech of the Solicitor-General. I am very sorry to say that I see no sign of the removal of this veil of reticence as to the future intentions of the Government. Therefore, acting according to what I consider my duty, I can only continue the feeling of dissatisfaction with which I read the words of the King's Speech in reference to the government of Ireland, and withhold support, as I have done hitherto, from the Government on this matter, and take no part in the Division in this House, unless, as I hope possibly before the end of this Debate some further assurance may be given as to the intentions of the Government as far as the provisions of the King's Speech are concerned.
It is a matter of great regret on my part for a man who has given up so many years of his life to a certain party to have to separate from that party even to the extent of abstaining from voting in the Lobby. But, after all, I have always placed nationalism before party, and I will always do so. It would not be in order, and I am glad of it, to declare my particular view on the Home Rule question 362 now, namely, the Scottish view. By what I can only call providential interposition next Wednesday the hon. Member for Stirlingshire (Dr. Chapple) has secured an evening on which the whole Scottish case will be able to be put fully before this House, before the whole United Kingdom, and before the whole British Empire, and Scotchmen all over the Empire, whether they live in the Far East, in India, Australia, or Canada, will read what takes place next Wednesday with the same interest as that with which Scotchmen will listen to it in this House. But I think I should be in order if I just touch on the reform of the House of Lords from the point of view on which I should like to see it carried out—namely, what I might call the federal reform of the House of Lords. I do not know that the last speaker was perfectly correct in saying that the Government are not carrying out that pledge, for if I could read between the lines I should say that no measure of Home Rule could possibly be a proper one unless it carries with it as part and parcel of itself the reform of the House of Lords. By that I mean that if you have Home Rule for the United Kingdom, and the creation, say, of a three-fold or four-fold Home Rule, or if you wish the creation, if it is demanded of five separate Parliaments, that federal solution of the question would, ipso facto give us a reformed Senate such as the Empire demands.
The strongest supporters of this scheme of federal reform are to be found in the Second Chamber. The House of Lords is not supposed to contain too many ardent supporters of Home Rule or too few Conservatives, but on the Front Bench, among the most distinguished Members of that Assembly, are to be found Imperial statesmen, to whom, if I attribute views which they do not hold, I humbly apologise, men of prominent position, whose views have appeared in the Press and have not been contradicted, and I have some authority for stating the view which I believe they possess. The first man to whom I will call attention is the distinguished Imperial statesman who has just given up the Governor-Generalship of Canada, Lord Grey. He is a man of wide Imperial experience as an administrator. He retained the Governor - Generalship of Canada longer than any other, and attained at least as much popularity there. He is a convinced federalist. Take, then, Lord Dudley, a man of Australian and Irish experience. He has been a federal Home Ruler. Take Lord Minto, a man of the 363 widest experience in Imperial affairs, who was Governor-General of Canada and also Viceroy of India. He shares the same views as those of the other two statesmen. When you come to think of this fact, that there are men of wide and varied experience in Canada, Australia, India, and Ireland itself, all at the heads of the Governments of these countries who favour a federal solution, surely it is a matter which the Government ought to consider most seriously.
I will lay down this as one great principle. The government of Ireland is not a question that can be isolated or treated apart from the government of the other portions of the United Kingdom. As a Scotch Member, I can only take up a position which I feel confident will be supported in Scotland. The hon. Member for Blackfriars, like many Scotch Members, seems to forget that he is a Scotch Member first and foremost. He spoke of social reforms and mentioned the reform of the Poor Law, the care of the feeble-minded, and the care of the children, than which no more urgent subjects can be brought forward. But he said the question of reform of the House of Lords would prevent those being carried out. I say that nothing is a greater detriment to those reforms being brought before this House than the congestion of business which exists in this House. This House is not capable of dealing with more than one or two big measures in one Session. There are half a dozen social reforms which are more than urgent. Therefore, unless there is a great devolution of business while this congestion exists, we cannot get any further in the reform of social questions.
As there will be an opportunity for bringing forward my views next week with regard to Scotland I need say no more at present than express the strong hope and view that the Government ought to adopt, even at the close of this Debate, a more frank attitude, and take the country more into their confidence. I have read the cursory allusions on the question of the First Lord of the Admiralty in Belfast. He dismissed the whole question in a distinctly airy manner and said it was to be a scheme of Home Rule on federal lines. That is not enough. We want a statement which will let us know what we have to expect, and without this information we cannot be expected to vote in the dark as the Government wish us to do. We are not a set of sheep here. We have been in that category for too long; but we intend to think 364 and act for ourselves, as I am very glad to be able to tell the Lord Advocate. I think it deplorable that in the King's Speech they could not have added the simple words "we intend to submit a measure for the better government of Ireland under a federal system." Those last four words would have made the King's Speech perfect in my eyes, and would have enabled me to vote, but on account of the omission of those words, I can only say that until the mystery is cleared up I shall be obliged to abstain.
§ Mr. MACKINDER
Surely we ought to congratulate the hon. Member who has just spoken on his independence. I am glad that he is not one of the pack of sheep and that he does not contemplate going through the gap, when the dog barks as I fear others may do. But there was a little difficulty in following the hon. Member's argument. The hon. Member is a convinced supporter of Home Rule all round. He wishes to see a federal scheme with perhaps as many as five Parliaments in this country. Then he tells us that inevitably and as a consequence we have to face the creation of a great Imperial Senate. I can hardly picture the constitution which the hon. Member is thinking of. The hon. Member is no doubt thinking of the cases of Canada and Australia and the other known cases of federation in the world. I was under the impression that with the exception of about one province in Canada, each of the provinces had two Houses, and also that the federal assembly consisted of two Houses. In other words that there was a complete bi-cameral Parliament at the federal centre, and there were also bi-cameral Parliaments in the provinces with one or two minor exceptions. Admitting that the same is the case with Australia, I see no example in the world, of which I can think, in which you have five Single Chamber Parliaments with a single Parliament in the shape of a federal Senate over them all. But I am bound to say that it seems rather strange, coming from the benches opposite, after all that has been said with regard to the House of Lords, and after all that the Lord Advocate has said as to his unwillingness to reform in the House of Lords, that we should be told that we are to set up the House of Lords to control the five separate Parliaments, for I can hardly conceive five separate Parliaments controlling a central legislature.
Such a scheme of federation would indeed be topsy-turvy, and there is no 365 example of it in the world. We are bound to face the fact that the hon. Gentleman is contemplating something different from anything which we have in the world at the present moment, that is five separate Lower Chambers and a single Upper Chamber; and in the second place it must be contemplated that the Upper Chamber is the superior of the two sets of Chambers, the Upper and Lower. The hon. Member will find considerable difficulty on the benches around him in securing such a form of federal government; but the hon. Gentleman differs from the Government because he wants to know more about the principles of Home Rule which they are going to propose, and he tells us that in his belief the reform of the House of Lords must be an inseparable part of this consideration of Home Rule. We are going to discuss the question of Scottish Home Rule in a week's time, but I think we may say that there is one reason why we at any rate cannot consider Federal Home Rule with such a Senate as is applicable so long as the masters of the Government below the Gangway refuse to do so. They want Home Rule not as part of a Federal system; they want it because they wish one of the races in Ireland to control the other. It is a question of conflict between two races; it is not a question of devolution in Ireland, and that is the reason why we are not now allowed to consider the question of devolution, which they regard as a mere matter of mechanism in government, and they look upon devolution, giving administrative government to the separate parts of the United Kingdom, as being for purely local purposes. The hon. Member for the Black-friars Division (Mr. Barnes) enumerated a number of measures which he said he wished to see considered in this House, and which he regarded as being blocked by the proposal contained in this Amendment.
He remarked that if we took up these barren questions of constitutional reform, such as reform of the House of Lords, we are not going to have time to consider those most desirable though apparently more humble questions connected, for instance, with the control of the feebleminded, the trading of children in the streets, and so forth. The hon. Gentleman expressed exactly what we feel on these benches. But it is not we who raise these Constitutional questions; it is you on the other side of the House who have done so. We are only too anxious to proceed to those matters of practical social 366 reform. I cannot imagine any House of Lords which would throw out a well-considered measure to deal with the control of the feeble-minded or with the control of children trading in the streets. The hon. Member should blame his own party and not us. All we ask is that you, who have broken the Constitution, at any rate ought not to leave it in mid-ocean to sink, but should bring it to shore in order to alter it and render it seaworthy. There is one very curious thing in connection with this reform of the House of Lords which we ask for and with the after-history of the Home Rule Parliament, should it be established. There is to be a series of safeguards against the abuse of its powers by the Irish Parliament, and there is to be control by Parliament here. If you subsequently proceed to alter the constitution of the House of Lords, as we were told would be necessary, and if you proceed further to amend its powers, you will bring on to the stage a fertile source of quarrel with your Parliament set up in Ireland. Your Parliament to be set up in Ireland under the Home Rule Bill will have various limitations in its powers as safeguards for the United Kingdom. As the hon. Member who has just sat down pointed out, this reform of the House of Lords should not be subsequent, but a present part of the whole question. But according to your programme you will proceed to deal with the House of Lords, you will proceed to amend its powers, and in so doing you will introduce just one of those causes of quarrel which will occupy a very great deal of the time of this House, and further block the way to many desirable social reforms which the Member for Black-friars is so anxious to see carried.
It is because we believe the result of Home Rule and the result of future amendments of the House of Lords will be a fertile source of quarrel on the floor of this House in regard to the powers of the Irish Parliament, and because they will block the way to any social reforms in this country, that we ask you at the present time to complete the matter of constitutional reform of the House of Lords, and to give devolution under suitable conditions. One point of the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down has considerable force, namely, that we are to have an Imperial Senate when we are done with the question of Home Rule. Is there not confusion of thought here? This Senate is to be set up, according to the hon. Member, 367 as a central Parliament, under which, there will be four or five Parliaments in the United Kingdom—that is to say, that they are to deal with Scottish, Irish, Welsh, and English matters, and I suppose number five can only refer to Ulster, and these five Parliaments in the United Kingdom are to be under this new Senate. In Canada they have local legislatures, and they have a central federal legislature sitting in Ottawa—that is to say, they have what any constitutional system must have, a Parliament co-equal with the Parliament that site at Westminster—a Parliament of second instance in both cases. How are you to have an Imperial Senate in future which will be a court of second instance in regard to the United Kingdom, and a court of third instance in regard to the remainder of the Empire? Such a thing would be intolerable. If that is not to be the case, where is your difficulty in regard to devolution. You say this House is overburdened. The Foreign Secretary, in addressing his constituents, said that in Parliament itself there would have to be a devolution of power to local legislatures. What we want is devolution upwards and not downwards. No dominion of the Empire will tolerate that this Parliament, which controls local legislatures within these islands, should also be the controlling Parliament for the remainder of the Empire. Their Federal Parliament will be equal with our Federal Parliament, and over and above you will need some third body to control Imperial affairs. Anyone who reads the signs of the times knows that we are rapidly progressing—it may be for reasons of defence to mention only one reason—towards bringing the Colonies alongside of us in dealing with foreign affairs and with the interests of the Empire.
There seems to me to be abundant confusion of thought in the whole idea of an Imperial Senate which is at the same time to be a Parliamentary body over the local Parliaments within the United Kingdom, and also for Imperial purposes and to knit together the British Empire. I wish to ask a question which goes deeper than those tu quoque quotations from speeches made by one side or the other in this House. We have been told that we have a majority in the United Kingdom in favour of Home Rule. You worship majorities. If a majority is in your favour you believe you are right in proceeding to extremes. I have heard of Indians so fanatical as to throw themselves before the car 368 of Juggernaut and be crushed. For my part I do not worship King Demos; I am of a more rationalistic turn of mind. I state two, and only two, reasons as to why I should obey the majority: I am willing to obey the majority if that majority has all the physical force necessary to coerce me—if it is a considerable majority, if it is a virile majority. We hope, in this twentieth century, however, that we are rising above appeal to physical force. Then there must be some moral qualities in the majority. I should yield to that majority, because I believe that it represents some of the best elements in the country, and that it has thought out questions. Though it has come to a different opinion from that which I hold, I bow to the reasoned opinion arrived at by a considerable majority of the country.
But what is the character of your majority? I see the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Advocate on the Front Bench opposite. At Bo'ness, on the 14th April last year, speaking in regard to the destruction of the Veto, he said Irishmen ask for it because they desire Home Rule, Welshmen because they desire the Disestablishment of an alien Church, and Scotsmen because they desire to have a Land Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Yes, they all ask it for different reasons; they all support it for local reasons, as a means to an end, and not to the same end. I notice that England is omitted by right hon. Gentlemen, but the opinion of England is also to be taken into account, because England, after all, has more than 35,000,000 out of the total population of these islands. The opinion which England holds, at any rate, ought also to be taken into account. It seems to me that your majority is a majority not entitled to any very great intellectual respect. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] No; the question is coercion; the question is whether you wish to coerce a majority in England. You are not aiming at the same thing; you are aiming at three different things. If you all aimed at one object, and did not regard this proposal as a means to various ends, it would be something to be respected. But you are aiming at ends which are incompatible. The hon. Member for the Blackfriars Division told us that his object in destroying the Veto was to have Single Chamber Government—to get rid altogether of the House of Lords. Your aims are totally different. Under these circumstances, at any rate, we have to consider what certain portions of the country think 369 in regard to this subject. I want to go below this question of coercion by a majority. Your promises are local promises. The security given by the House of Lords is security for minorities in localities. What is the history of the Irish question? In 1798 you had war between the two races in Ireland. In 1800 you had the power to make war removed from Ireland. You had the great majority in the United Kingdom brought in as arbiters, and that majority has remained as arbiter since.
§ Mr. MACKINDER
That is not the point. Allow me to indicate the argument with which I am meeting that brought forward by the First Lord of the Admiralty, who then proceeded to say—
§ Mr. S. GWYNN made some observations which were inaudible.
§ Mr. MACKINDER
The hon. Member wants to divert me from my argument. I will answer in a moment, but I would like to pursue my argument. The First Lord of the Admiralty said at Belfast that in 1829 they had bluffed in their hostility to Catholic Emancipation, and that in 1869 they had bluffed in regard to the Disestablishment of the Irish Church, and also in 1886. He also mentioned the extension of the franchise as an argument that you are not now going to have an appeal from majorities to force. That is where the House of Lords came in. In the year 1800 you removed the quarrel from Ireland by setting up a policeman, and the policeman, the all-powerful policeman, was the Government maintained by the great majority of this country with the House of Lords and its complete constitution. You then proceeded to take the pistols away from the fighters. You disarmed the minority. You did it in 1829, you had to do it in 1869, and you had to do it in 1886. Having taken away the pistols and having disarmed your minority in Ulster, you now propose to withdraw the policeman. The position is an impossible position. Your House of Lords in the case of Ulster has played the part of seeing justice done to minorities—local minorities. At the present day you come to us with the composite majority made up of minorities, and, at any rate, in regard to the Irish question, drawn from a locality. The existence of the House of Lords and the Constitution of this United Kingdom has been for the purpose of seeing fair play between 370 majorities and minorities in localities. I know that there are some here present who so worship the ballot-box that they will tell me I am putting forward a bogey when I draw your attention, as I think we ought to at the present time, to the ultimate sanction of party Government.
An old Member of this House (Mr. Belloc) has written, along with another author, of its kind a brilliant attack on our party system—mainly and largely, at any rate, because he holds that there is collusion between our Front Benches. It it just because there has been justifiable collusion between our Front Benches that constitutional Government in this country has been possible. Why should minorities submit to the rough rule of majorities if they are only just minorities? They have submitted because there has been fair give and take between the Front Benches, and there has been that fair give and take just because there was an ultimate appeal through the House of Lords to the country. The minority had the power of forcing an appeal to the country. [An HON. MEMBER: "The Tory minority had."] An hon. Gentleman says "the Tory minority," but a minority, at any rate, had the power of forcing an appeal. As regards a Liberal majority, may I remind hon. Members of the position? You had certain institutions in this country erected as the result of history, built up by painful and long constructive efforts. Destructive effort is easy, and in order to prevent that it is necessary that you must have, and you always will have, a more or less Conservative Second Chamber. How comes it, then, that such gigantic powers were put in the hands of a party executive—powers such as the complete control over the police, over the Army and Navy, the power of public prosecution, and all the rest of it? We entrusted it with those powers simply because we knew that any majority that abused its power would be brought to book. You have taken away one of the constitutional methods of bringing the party to book. Take this method that is so often put before us of the two years' delay which there must necessarily be under the Parliament Act. How is the two years' delay going to act? How is the country going to make known its opinion in those two years by any constitutional method? You will allow as few by-elections as you possibly can, and you will take very good care, so far as death does not interfere, that those by-elections will not give a fair sample of the opinion of the country. How, then, is the country going 371 to show its opinion? Are you to have riots or as in 1867 by throwing down the palings of a park and an unconstitutional resort to force. That is what you are driving the people of the country to.
You remove the constitutional methods of expression, and, as a result, you will find, and probably find in this Ulster case, that you have gone down below those splendid conventions which we have erected in this country as the result of our history, and you are going back to the naked facts of party government. If it does come to such a resort to resistance then we may be perfectly certain that the resort will not be confined to Ulster. You cannot have resistance of the kind I speak of with a limited liability. The whole country inevitably will be involved. What we say is, and you may call it a bogey if you like, that you are driving us nearer and nearer to the point. What we say is that by removing this power of forcing a majority, with the gigantic executive powers of the country solely in its hands, back to its masters in the country, you are plucking out by the very roots all those conventions which we call our Constitution, and you are going back to the naked hostilities of marshalled parties in our own areas which, within the recollection of some still living, did, across the Atlantic, result in civil war You are destroying more than you possibly can rebuild quickly, and it is for that reason that we appeal to you to take into account the structure of the House of Lords in order that we may restore the powers to it which we agree at the present time it is too weak to exercise. Let the party opposite be warned. The position to which they are driving minorities, and one minority, is a very dangerous one. The triumph of our Constitution has just been what has been achieved in very few other countries. While you have had party government you have been able to mitigate the bad results of party government, and therefore to obtain a popular government, government by party which minorities would bow to and not resist. It is for that reason that we, at any rate, believe that you are doing something deeply harmful to our country. If you say that your object is simply to carry Home Rule, well, of all subjects it is the most dangerous on which to resort to the oppression of minorities. We would remind you that you are taking the opportunity also to pay your various minorities by passing Welsh Disestablishment, and that, at any rate, was not part of the same 372 question and extension of the franchise, and that, at any rate, was not part of the same question, conjointly with Home Rule and the suspension of the Constitution.
§ Mr. AGAR-ROBARTES
I have on the Paper an Amendment which does not go as far as the Amendment which has been moved by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. I presume my Amendment has no more chance of being reached than his Amendment has of being carried. My motive in putting down my Amendment was somewhat different from that which actuated the right hon. Gentleman in moving his. His is a hostile Amendment, while mine is a friendly Amendment. In fact, I may describe it as a very old friend. It is taken from the words of the King's Speech of February, 1910, for which many hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House voted, and for which I have no doubt they would vote again if they had the opportunity. Personally, I have never looked on the Parliament Act as a final solution of the constitutional question. As far as I can judge, there can be no finality in such a settlement. I was very glad to hear the Prime Minister in answer to a question take that view. The question which I personally want to ask, and to which I do not suppose for one moment that I will get an answer, is when do you propose to reform the House of Lords? That is a question to which many Liberals in the country, and some Liberals who are in this House, are anxious to receive an answer. Do the right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench imagine that they are permanently riveted to that bench? Do they imagine that right hon. Gentlemen opposite will never take their place? That I imagine can hardly be the case, for, although there are not any here, there are some who must have some painful recollections of the ten years during which they had to sit on the benches opposite.
Surely it is foolish for the Liberal party to let this chance of reconstructing the Second Chamber on a democratic basis go by when there is just a sporting chance of right hon. Gentlemen opposite changing places with them. That is a result which I only contemplate with the greatest uneasiness. What would be the result if that occurred? Without doubt the fruits of two General Elections would be destroyed. The House of Lords, as the Leader of the Opposition has told us, would be reformed. Let us imagine the gruesome picture of right hon. Gentlemen 373 opposite sitting on the Treasury Bench. The first effort of the Leader of the Opposition as Prime Minister, with the assistance of his two lieutenants, would be to reform the House of Lords. He would not compromise on the subject; he would immediately set about limiting the numbers of that House, and would thus destroy the Prerogative of the Crown. He told us just now that he would repeal the Parliament Act and reform the Second Chamber simultaneously. I quite accept that statement, but I very much doubt his ability to carry it out. I should not be at all surprised to find that the right hon. Gentleman had to pass the reform of the House of Lords under the Parliament Act It is hardly possible to contemplate that Lord Willoughby de Broke and his followers, Lord Selborne and others, who made a great rush the other day into the Division Lobby in order to add 500 Peers, would ever allow a reduction in the numbers of the House of Lords. Having reformed the House of Lords, the right hon. Gentleman would set about repealing the Parliament Act. Then, no doubt, the Liberals would find a Second Chamber constituted just as unsympathetic with the spirit of the age and probably just as hostile as the present House of Lords. I certainly hope that the Government will not underestimate the danger. I hope also that they will realise the difficulties which we on this side had to go through to ensure that the Parliament Bill should be put on the Statute Book. It involved a large amount of energy, and, in some cases, a certain amount of abuse.
It must be in the interests of the Liberal party to settle this matter once and for all, and to do it themselves immediately, so that the party opposite shall not have the opportunity, and by so doing to carry out the whole mandate which we received at two Elections. A part of that mandate has been fulfilled. The Veto of the House of Lords has been curtailed to a certain extent. But there is the second part of the mandate which has not been fulfilled, and which, in my opinion, reads thus: "Establish equality between the two political parties"; or, as the right hon. Gentleman opposite said: "Give us as good a chance, or as bad a chance, of passing legislation as our opponents enjoy." If right hon. Gentlemen opposite are too busy dealing with the Insurance Act, Tariff Reform, and so forth, and are unable to deal with the reform of the House of Lords when they come into office, even then we shall still be at a disadvantage as 374 compared with our political opponents. When they are in power they are able to pass their measures often without amendment. The other House passes them as a matter of form. But when we come into office, even under the Parliament Act, we still find difficulty in passing our legislation. It must be bad that all controversial legislation should be crowded into one Session. In the Speech from the Throne this year we have practically got back to the whole of the Newcastle programme, with the exception of Local Option, which has been conveniently forgotten. I appeal to the Government to deal with this question in the near future. Personally, I should like to see it done this Session; at any rate, I hope they will make some statement as to their intentions. Although I do not propose to vote for the Amendment, I cannot go into the Division Lobby with the Government unless I have some reassuring statement as to what they intend to do.
§ Mr. J. E. GORDON (Brighton)
As one who has had the honour of a seat in this House during three Parliaments, and who has only recently returned to its precincts, I may be allowed to express my surprise at one or two of the things that meet a Member who has known the Debates here, not only in the 'seventies, but in the late 'sixties. After having had to follow an active life, I have come back to this House no longer as the representative of a Constituency near that of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, but as representing a Constituency in England. Having lived some forty years in this country, I must say that what is going on in Parliament and elsewhere is not only a deep surprise to me, but causes undoubted pain to all those whom I have the honour of knowing outside Parliamentary circles, and whose interest in the State is well sustained and active. We Members of Parliament know that if one effort is made by our opponents it is to bring forward in the King's Speech revolutionary measures expressed in milk-and-water phraseology. That practice is so far successful in the country that a considerable proportion of the electors fail to see the real revolution and the danger of such action in the time through which the nation is now passing. The truth is, you cannot destroy the backbone of the Constitution without the whole body politic suffering severely. In times past there was a broader loyalty throughout the country not only to His Gracious Majesty, but to those gentlemen who 375 generation after generation served their country and their King upon that honoured bench opposite. Never was there less of that loyalty which ought to go out from all thoughtful citizens towards those who are the officers of the State, and who, living so near the sacred halo of the Crown itself, should feel that once they had sown their Parliamentary and political wild oats they were prepared to be the servants no longer of their party but of a united people, and the trustees of the deep interests of the entire nation. But the action of the party opposite is deeply adverse to minorities. The present minority have after all been a majority, and, if we read the omens of the day aright as shown in recent by-elections, will before long be a majority again.
Any man can govern, as right hon. Gentlemen opposite know, with the help of the official classes, the police, or even the military at Belfast. My hope had been that if any re-arrangement of political conditions were necessary in Ireland, with which country I have the deepest natural sympathy, a Minister of the Crown would not go over at the eleventh hour and speak a few empty words, when all the valuable information might have been handed round the country, and, had it been wholesome, would have been accepted by a great many of us. But that a Minister of the Crown, who no doubt boasts of ruling with the consent of the people, should be surrounded by bayonets and unable to sleep in the country, and should pass from shore to shore with undue rapidity, shows that the breaking up of the House of Lords and the non-reestablishment of our true Constitution has, in spite of the cynicism of the Solicitor-General, produced revolutionary conditions in our midst. No student of history or of practical life has ever yet seen in this country revolutionary action adopted by Ministers of the Crown. The responsibility of Parliamentary and constitutional duty rests upon all Governments with such a weight that, however frivolous and light the past history of a leading politician may have been, when he goes to the Admiralty, the Home Office, the Foreign Office, or any other great Ministry of State, he ceases to have revolutionary instincts. He finds that it takes all his talents and all his time to keep true harmony in the country, made up as it must be of diverse instincts, and he leaves 376 for ever and a day revolutionary action to more reckless and irresponsible men. If anybody doubts whether revolution is going on, and whether the disintegration of our country is rapidly proceeding, I ask whether there was ever a time when this country was more isolated in its foreign affairs. As the result of the break up of our Constitution we are suffering throughout the whole Empire, even down to our coal mines.
A spirit of violence has taken hold of some sections of our people. The organising classes look to the House of Lords to maintain that moderation of life which has been the glory of the English people and its greatest asset. What has that violence, which has invaded all departments and sections of society, produced? Peace? Never was England more closely threatened with the danger of war. Has it produced greater attachment to our Colonies? Where is the Englishman who thinks he has in South Africa a good field for himself and his sons? Where is the Englishman who does not see that only a few short months ago, but for some overruling Providence and a high national spirit on the part of our Canadian people, we had lost that great Dominion? The tendency of some of our politicians here is to glory in the gradual stripping from the centre of the Empire of those great territories, peoples and influences, which in their united condition have made up a great part of Anglo-Saxon Christendom. I heard the hon. Member for the Blackfriars Division (Mr. Barnes) complaining of the lack of prospect of social legislation. I agree. I do not see any prospect of social legislation until there is a change of Government. The House of Lords has been the home of social legislation. Think of the great legislation on behalf of the working classes, some in the 'forties and a great deal in the 'seventies. To-day, as in the past, when the Constitution is well balanced, when there is a Government that values our Constitution and uses both Chambers with impartiality, the House of Lords stands prepared to undertake the investigation of all the social legislation that the most active brains on the other side can produce. It is waiting for work. The old harmonious feeling is no longer cultivated by our opponents. Their idea is more of the tomahawk and the scalping-knife. If the House of Lords was in its old position, acting in harmony with this Chamber, while we were busy dealing with the more hysterical claims of the people, the House 377 of Lords would be busy putting into solid shape that social legislation which the hon. Member for Blackfriars so earnestly desires. I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonshire, who I think spoke last, and also with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberdeen. They have got uneasy political consciences. They are beginning to see the thin ice on to which the present Government are leading their various followers. The experience of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonshire is not perhaps quite so lengthy as my own, and he wonders why it is that Unionist legislation does not bring the Unionist Government into political combat Session by Session with the House of Lords. Surely the hon. Member must know, for the reason is apparent to every thinking man, that Unionist legislation is not aggressive. It is not a tearing kind of legislation. It brings differences into harmony; it is developing rather than of a volcanic kind. It is brought in by men who have already, in the creation of the Bills and in the pursuance of their policy, considered not only the majority, but also the minority of the day. Unionist legislation is brought in to help all classes. The record of their action, as we know, for the good of the working classes, is above reproach. The reason why Unionist legislation allows the House of Lords to adjourn more early than it need is because that legislation, being of a harmonious character, does not attack the life, the habits, or the interests of any class of the community. [An HON. MEMBER: "Oh!"] Well, the Education Act was a very valuable Act. I had the honour of voting for it, I suppose, a hundred times. There are schools in this country that are now enjoying an enormous improvement in their condition as a result of that Education Act.
If you ask me why the religious difficulty has not been settled by your own Leaders, I point to hon. Gentlemen on my left. [An HON. MEMBER: "The House of Lords."] The House of Lords has not stopped your Education Bills. You had three Education Bills, or, rather, four. You have had four Education Ministers. There is something rotten in the state of that policy. If I may be permitted to say so, the revolutionary action of this Government is having the most serious effect. Unrest! When was there a time when this country was so near to war? We are at this moment passing through a condition which, as the 378 Foreign Secretary says, may be absolutely destructive of our highly strung finance and industry, under which most of us have been brought, into existence—under which forty-five million people in our land are fed. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are a little too political. I heard the other day of one of themselves who was a soldier and a son of a soldier. He found when he entered politics that he had to unlearn the lesson of his class and his family, who had always thought that the world existed for the soldier. In like manner the politician of our day is a little apt to overestimate his value. This House can do a great deal of good when its efforts are the result of gathering the wisdom of the people—when it has learned, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Glasgow tried to impress upon us, the deep importance of governing not only on behalf of chance majorities, but on behalf of minorities, especially in view of the fact that the minorities of to-day may so soon change into the majorities of to-morrow!
None of us on this side of the House stand up permanently for the old House of Lords. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] We recognise the fact that the House of Lords, having served its day and generation so well—there is proof of this—that I am sure no Member on that side or this would like to deal with old servants without doing them full justice. We ask, What are the crimes that the House of Lords have committed in days gone by? What are we told? I was crossing the Atlantic about two years ago. I was in company with a Welshman who put that question to me. Dealing with the crimes of the House of Lords, he said there were twenty things that could be charged against it. Ultimately, after questioning him, I got him down to one, and that was the Education Bill. In reply I gave him the same explanation that I have ventured to give to hon. Gentlemen to-night. We are all democrats. We all know that we are not living in an ideal state. We all recognise the fact that human affairs are ever on the flow, and that we have come to a time in the world's history and in the history of mankind when man is perhaps unduly masterful, and when at least a section of the people have made up their minds to do without the restraint of their seniors, without the organising classes who give them their daily bread. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] Yes, the House of Lords in the olden days was unsuited to meet the natural needs of modern democracy. But the House of Lords has resigned its place. 379 The Lords have surrendered the hereditary principle. This House and the nation is anxiously waiting for some such body as the Amendment to the Address suggests; that the responsible Government of the day shall rebuild that valuable part of the Constitution, with all those moderating influences which have brought this nation to the top of international life. The country is calling upon the Government to fulfil its pledges and to create any Senate they like, but a Senate that will balance and check the unduly active thought and action of this Lower and democratic House. We all recognise, coming as we do from the centres of our national life, that this House is sent up by a large number of inexperienced voters. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh."] Yes, inexperienced voters.
This House is a place where every question should be discussed, where every proposal that comes from the ingenious brains of our fellows can be brought forward and ventilated and passed, like the air that enters this Chamber, up and out. But if this nation has to carry on the responsibility of Empire, and the industries which I think are threatened; if it has to feed a population of forty-five millions of people, it will not do for it to be unbalanced, for its political life to have no cheek. Trade, finance, national constitution—all these are things in which, if hon. Gentlemen opposite will allow me to say so, they have lost a sense of proportion in respect to. We here discuss matters sometimes very heatedly, and we go away in remarkable good humour. We are here dealing with the centre and kernel of national questions, but it is very difficult for this House to increase the wealth or the well-being of the community. That function is, to my mind, carried on more properly by the great organising classes who are responsible for the industries, and finance, and the continuance of our national life outside. If Members of this House are more and more inclined to become, as I think we are becoming, professional politicians, we ought to pay a little more regard to those who are carrying on the nation's work, producing its wealth, and helping its national development.
When I returned to this House last summer, I was fully impressed with the serious gravity of the great and dangerous changes that are taking place. This House and all its rules are drawn up for the conduct of ordinary business, and 380 there is no opportunity, when you have drawn up the programme and allotted so many days to this and that measure, to go outside that limit. National affairs ought to be focussed here and national aspirations voiced. I was glad to hear the hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberdeen speak up for his federal scheme. My instincts are with my native country; but I think that the claim for Scottish Homo Rule and anything else is possible when you have destroyed your Second Chamber. The whole thing teaches us and the Government that, however easy it is to destroy, the reconstruction of the Second Chamber is to them almost an impossibility.
The House will allow me to remind them that ours is a Constitution which has tended to that moderation which is so-essential in the highly developed modern state, and which has no written Constitution. The Government are now unable to re-write one. It is not more than two or three years ago that we had in the Guildhall testimony to the high value in which our Constitution was held. President Fallières, that experienced Latin statesman, a gentleman who had got beyond the "cut and thrust" of political partisanship, a man weighed down with the responsibility of ruling over a great Latin democracy, when he was entertained by the Lord Mayor told us in the most sincere way and in weighty and expressive language, on the eve of our breaking up our Constitution, that "he envied Great Britain and Ireland its wonderful Constitution that had brought us Tip from being a comparatively small nation to be the leading nation of the world." That testimony could not be beaten. It was corroborated by the President of the United States, Mr. Roosevelt, who followed him in the Guildhall, and whose language was of the same character. There you had two of the best living witnesses in the world praising our Constitution out and out. Yet this House has frivolously, lightly, and I think without due cause, now, not only broken down a large part of our Constitution, but it ventures to-night to say—with some honourable exceptions opposite—that it has no present desire to reconstruct that which has been destroyed. What strikes me as an English Member and a Scotchman is that we have the Parliamentary fishing rod fishing in very troubled waters. If the Government once begin to bring in Federal Home Rule to suit Aberdeen and Irish Home Rule to suit our Friends below the Gangway, they are 381 obviously not going to bring harmony either to Scotland or Ireland, because they are only going to let out waters of new force and influence. When we have these five or six new Parliaments created in these Federal districts, why then the picture of this House is that it shall be left with a sort of summer afternoon proceedings where there will be no bickering and no difficulty, and the Government of the day will grow younger every year instead of older, and that Parliament here at Westminster will have nothing but a pleasured state of Parliamentary life to enjoy. We know well that Parliaments in each country mean assemblies of masterful men. Different Parliaments can never produce Irish harmony or single Welsh harmony or one profound Scotch peace. Brains are necessary, Parliaments are bound to produce divergencies. I have had the honour of seeing most abundant proof of Ireland's rapid change by the knowledge that here in England she could get local county government for the asking, labourers' cottages for the asking, and land legislation for asking from the Unionists. However, they cry out for something like Home Rule. Can any reasonable man of education and knowledge, who sees that here at Westminster we act harmoniously, pretend that Parliament in such altered circumstances would continue to do so? I will not enter upon the question of Ulster or elsewhere. If we have masterful Parliaments in different sections of a very small country we shall have here not the ordinary difficulties which were harmonious before, but divergent and fierce Parliamentary conflict backed up by officialism of all those Federal Parliaments, and instead of political and national peace we shall embark upon a series of Parliamentary wars.
If ever, then, there should come a time when our Foreign Minister and other Ministers should rise from the Government Bench and tell us there are things in the world across a few score of saltwater miles which might challenge our national position here, what would be the result of those divergent Parliamentary feelings? The Minister would no doubt rise and call, I suppose, in England for men and money to defend the national rights, but if Parliamentary and personal differences had arisen in the sectional Parliaments there is no guarantee that other Chancellors of the Exchequer and other War Ministers and Prime Ministers of these countries would stand up and within twenty-four hours re-echo the money and 382 the policy which we must have to face our rivals in the field. I may be a Jeremiah, but mine is not altogether a singular view. Most of the electors and most of our citizens are busy about their private affairs. They have been accustomed by long tradition to say Ministers of the Crown will look after that—to say that Ministers of the Crown will stand up for our rights. But here we have a ministry that is breaking up things just as fast as Parliamentary time will permit, and if we do not have a reconstruction of the House of Lords and Senate to reject the eccentricities of this House, to which I have the honour to belong, national welfare under the Government fails, and our industrial and foreign affairs and our Colonies must suffer, and suffer disastrously.
§ Mr. CHARLES LEACH
I have listened with the greatest possible interest to the speech just delivered by the hon. Member opposite. I have listened to quite a number of speeches very informing, instructive, and suggestive from the other side, and I am bound to say that the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down is the strangest democrat to whom I have ever listened. He told us they were all democrats on the opposite side, but I hardly think their speeches will be recognised as democratic speeches by democrats. I will not follow the hon. Gentleman into the multitude of subjects on which he touched, nor will I attempt to defend the Government from the many charges he made against it. The Government is well able to defend itself. I want rather to call attention to the Amendment which we should have been discussing all day instead of the multitude of subjects that have no bearing upon it. I should like to congratulate the Opposition upon the subject they have selected as a vote of want of confidence in the Government. I should have thought that Tariff Reform was the one burning question to which they would have devoted their strength, but it seems that that subject is no longer the chief item of their programme. It may be that they are keeping that subject for great Albert Hall speeches when they are surrounded by their own friends. I should like to be present at the Albert Hall when the Leader of the Opposition makes his next speech there. It will be very interesting to see him with Tariff Reform round his neck, Repeal of the Insurance-Act upon his back, and the Referendum up his sleeve. I should also like to congratulate the Opposition upon the selection 383 of the right hon. and learned Gentleman who moved that Amendment. If they searched their whole party from top to bottom they could not have found a more suitable man to move it than the right hon. Gentleman. We all know his innate modesty; we all know how he chooses his language in such a fashion as to allay all anxiety and anger on the part of the Opposition. He generally says what he means, and he has no occasion to write to the newspapers to say he did not mean what he said.
I call attention for a few minutes to the Amendment, and here my congratulations must cease, and I join issue with the party opposite at once. The Amendment contains three things. It states that "It would be improper to proceed with measures so vitally effecting the safety of the State until the Upper House has been reformed." What are the measures referred to? Home Rule stands first. We have been told to-day, in language most eloquent and convincing, that this subject during the last twenty-five years has been in the programme of the Liberal party. I lived in Birmingham when Mr. Gladstone introduced his first Home Rule Bill. I was then a Home Ruler, though it was not so safe to say one was a Home Ruler in those days. I am still a Home Ruler, and probably shall be to the end of the chapter. We are told this is an improper procedure, but what about the party opposite? If I am correctly informed and read language aright, there have been moments when the Unionist party was willing to enter into an agreement with the Nationalists in regard to Home Rule, and doing it secretly, while we have openly advocated Home Rule for the last quarter of a century. The Unionist party said the same thing when the Government proposed to give the Home Rule to South Africa. They said the same thing in regard to Old Age Pensions, and when the great Budget was rejected.
I think it is high time that we began to govern Ireland according to Irish ideas. We have tried every other method ever since I have been in politics, and they have all failed. The whole Irish people, not only in Ireland, but in every part of the Empire, seem to stand opposed to our present policy in Ireland. I think I am entitled to say that you may take it as an axiom, that when the whole people are against you, there is something the matter with your proposals and your rule, and the 384 sooner you put it right the better. We want Home Rule with due and proper safeguards. We are anxious that no one should suffer, not even at Ulster, when the new Act is passed. In my judgment, Home Rule will not only give peace in Ireland, but it will secure the loyalty and goodwill of Irishmen in every part of the Empire. Another matter, it is said, is improper to proceed with is Welsh Disestablishment. I could say much upon that subject, but I shall reserve what I have to say until the question is before us in the shape of a Bill. Then there is the question of the franchise. I believe in one man one vote, and one woman one vote. There is in this Amendment a regret that there is no mention of the reconstruction of the House of Lords in His Majesty's Gracious Speech. Personally, I share that regret, and I wish there had been a proposal not only to reconstruct the House of Lords, but to reconstruct it entirely out of existence, for the sooner it is ended the better for all parties, for then we should have room to secure a proper House of Lords, which would command the confidence of the people. Why are hon. Gentlemen opposite so anxious to repeal the Parliament Act? Why do they wish to keep the House of Lords in its present position? They ask us when we are going to deal with the House of Lords, and when it is to be reconstructed. The Prime Minister said that work would be undertaken by the Liberal party when we have completed our work in this House. You do not build a house from the roof, you first lay the foundation deep and strong, and having done that, then by slow steps and degrees you finish your edifice.
This House is the foundation of all government in this country, and it must be put right. It must represent permanently all parts of the nation, and we can get this by what we know now as Federal Home Rule. When we have completed our work upon Home Rule for Ireland, then Scotland will come in, and then Wales, and afterwards England, and this House will be made representative of the Empire, in some way I am not able now to explain. That will be the time to deal with the Upper House, and I predict that it will be dealt with in a most radical fashion, and the Government who do this will have the confidence of all those who sit behind them. In this Amendment there is also a reference to safeguards. When did the party opposite ever provide safeguards for other people than themselves? When the Education Acts—under which so many of us 385 suffer and will continue to suffer until they are altered—were before Parliament did the party opposite express any anxiety then as to safeguards? Nonconformists are suffering from disabilities which must be removed, and if hon. Gentlemen opposite are wise they will assist us in removing those disabilities which keep us at drawn swords one against the other. What safeguards did the party opposite suggest when Temperance Bills were rejected and the great Budget to which I have referred. I trust that this House will reject this Amendment, and reject it with no uncertain sound. Let us strengthen the hands of the Government in its effort to carry out progressive reforms, in its determination to do justice, and to case the burdens of the struggling poor.
§ Sir JOHN LONSDALE
I intend to occupy the House but a very short time while I endeavour to state the case for this Amendment from the Irish Unionist point of view. We hold that the Parliament Act has left us with a mutilated Constitution, and we maintain that so long as it remains in that condition this House has no right to consider, much less to carry through, any scheme for political or social revolution. The view expressed by the Prime Minister in April last was that the country at the General Election had authorised the Government to improve our constitutional machinery. Of course we must not be taken as accepting that view, but if the Government did receive the mandate which they believed they received then their obvious duty is to give effect to it, and the question is whether they have discharged their mandate by passing the Parliament Act. We contend that by passing that Act they have not fulfilled their declared policy of improving our constitutional machinery. I think that is clear on the face of the Act itself. The kernel of the Government scheme is the reconstitution of the House of Lords upon a popular basis, and what have they done with that essential part of their scheme? They have wrapped it up carefully in the Preamble of the Parliament Act. They refuse to allow it to germinate, and in the meantime they are using the powers given them by that Act, not to improve our constitutional machinery, but to wreck the Union and despoil the Church in Wales. It has often been pointed out, and I think it is beyond dispute, that at the present time we have practically only one House of Parliament, because the other House has been reduced to a shadow, and yet the 386 Government profess to believe in a Second Chamber. The Prime Minister has on more than one occasion given the grounds for his belief, and he has told us that he supports the Second Chamber because it gives opportunities in the course of legislation for revision, for consultation, and for delay. The right hon. Gentleman has further stated thata reformed Second Chamber is necessary to secure that these functions shall be properly performed.I venture to think the statement which I have quoted from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman delivered in May last really amounts to a condemnation in advance of the policy which is being at present pursued by the Government. If the right hon. Gentleman regards it as essential to sound and safe legislation that it should pass through a process of revision, consultation, and delay in a reformed Second Chamber, how is it possible for him to justify the programme he has put forward for the present Session? We do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the functions of a Second Chamber should be confined to revision, consultation, and delay. We believe there should be a power inherent in the Constitution of securing an appeal to the electorate before any great social or political change is actually carried into effect. That power, as we all know, was vested in the House of Lords, and, as we all know, it has been taken away by the Parliament Act. We maintain that with a reformed Second Chamber that power must be restored, or there must be some other machinery for ascertaining the will of the people in regard to any great changes which may be proposed.
We deny that the present House of Commons has any authority from the electorate to pass a measure of Home Rule for Ireland. The Prime Minister claims that when a majority of this House has been returned by the electors, "after careful and elaborate canvassing and weighing of policies," they are entitled to assume that they have the support of public opinion. Yes, but will anyone assert that, so far as the Government and their supporters are concerned, the electors at the last election were given any opportunity for careful and elaborate canvassing and weighing of the policy of Home Rule? Everyone knows that the party opposite did everything they could to create the impression that Home Rule was not a matter of immediate concern. Many Members of the Government did not so much as mention it in their election addresses, and considerably more 387 than half of the Radical and Labour candidates followed their example. Even those who referred to the question at all did so in terms of studied ambiguity. Throughout the Election there was no attempt to answer the Unionist challenge that there should be a full disclosure of the Government's Home Rule policy. The return of the Government under such conditions does not justify them in claiming a verdict in favour of Home Rule.
We are told now, we were told by the hon. Member who preceded me, that the Radical party has consistently supported Home Rule since the days of Mr. Gladstone, and that hon. Members behind the Government regard it as a fundamental article of their political faith. I should like to ask how this profession is to be reconciled with the fact that it is only when hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway hold the balance of power that a Home Rule Bill is introduced into this House. The plain truth is that Home Rule appears on the programme for this Session in pursuance of a bargain between the Government and the Nationalist party. The Chancellor of the Duchy, who is, I fear, more to be commended for his candour than for his discretion, has told us that Home Rule is being brought forward because the Government were under a considerable obligation to the Nationalist party, who had withstood great obloquy for their support of the Radical Budget. It comes to this, therefore, that because the Nationalist Members, against the wishes and against the interests of their constituents, helped the Government to pass an unjust and unpopular Budget, the Government have in their turn contracted to pass a Home Rule Bill, knowing all the time that if they do not obey the commands of the hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway they will be immediately swept out of office. I ask the Government and I ask this House, is it to be expected that any measure, passed in such circumstances, under a mutilated Constitution, without a mandate, and in pursuance of a corrupt Parliamentary bargain, will be accepted by those who are opposed to it?
I tell the House that the Unionists of Ireland have made up their minds that if an Irish Parliament is set up in Dublin they will have nothing to do with it. They will not recognise its authority; they will disregard its decrees, and they will not make any contribution to its Exchequer. I believe it is beginning to dawn upon the 388 Government that this is no empty threat. I have no doubt the Chief Secretary has been kept well informed of the progress of the movement for resistance which is being organised in Ulster, and I doubt very much whether the right hon. Gentleman gave any support to the plan for sending the First Lord of the Admiralty to speak at the Ulster Hall. The Chief Secretary is in a position to know what unhappy consequences would have followed if the original intention had been persisted in, and if the deliberately provocative challenge to the Unionists of Ulster had not been withdrawn. He knows if anyone does, that the Protestants of Ireland are drawing closer and closer together for mutual defence. The Unionists of Ireland do not seek any ascendancy, and they make no claim to dominate the majority in Ireland, but they have determined as free men and as men who have always been loyal to the Empire, that they will never submit to a Nationalist ascendancy or to the domination of a disloyal faction. The First Lord of the Admiralty in the speech he delivered in Belfast the other day to the followers of the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Devlin), spoke as if there was only one nation in Ireland. I venture to think if the right hon. Gentleman will take a candid review of the circumstances of his visit, and if he will reflect upon the display of military force and the reason for his hasty departure, he must recognise that his whole speech was based upon a fallacy. Ireland is not one nation but two, and the two peoples are so deeply and so sharply divided in race, in religion, and in character, that all ordinary party divisions such as you are accustomed to in England are superficial by comparison. The one and only hope that these two peoples have of dwelling together in peace and amity is the maintenance of a system in which neither party can dominate the other—in other words, the peace and prosperity of Ireland depend on the maintenance of the Union. It is said that the Union has failed. We deny it. The Union has not failed, and those who proclaim the failure of the Union ignore altogether the great and beneficent change which has taken place in Ireland during the last twenty years. This improvement has been built upon a foundation of wise Unionist legislation, and it has proceeded in spite of all difficulties in its way. It has brought Ireland into what I may describe as the very threshold of abounding prosperity. If the Government, at this time of hopeful development, persist in their demands to 389 force Home Rule on Ireland, I can only say they will be guilty of a political crime of the first magnitude. I want this House to realise that the people of Ulster will offer the most determined resistance to any attempt to drive them out of their rights of citizenship in the United Kingdom, and the policy of the Government is leading us straight to a period of prolonged and bitter strife which must have disastrous consequences both on Ireland and on the Empire.
§ Mr. JOHN
One of the preceding speakers described the proposal with regard to the Welsh Church as an endeavour to despoil that Church. In my opinion it is not a case of despoilment, it is rather a case of liberating the Church. The hon. Member also stated that at the last election it was not generally indicated that the question of Home Rule was likely to be a matter of immediate concern. In that particular matter my withers are unwrung, because in my address to my Constituency I expressed a strong hope that we should speedily agree upon the granting of self-government for Ireland. Personally I have a very clear and unmistakeable mandate as far as that principle is concerned, and I cannot, in accordance with the terms of this Motion, censure the Government for not giving precedence to the question of the reconstitution of the Second Chamber over certain other items in their programme. I cannot censure them for not delaying the question of the Disestablishment and Disendowment of the Church of England in Wales, as my conception of the last election was that there was a distinct promise that that question should have attention prior to the Parliament Bill being passed. Legislation on this question was due last Session. The same observations apply to the question of the restoration to trade unions of powers of which they were deprived by the Osborne Judgment. I greatly rejoice at the determination of the Government to deal with the matter of the franchise, and, while I hope that the burden of this Amendment will have the careful attention of the Government, I trust this urgent matter will not be much further delayed. I must confess that I have always regarded the Parliament Bill as only a very incomplete and partial solution of our constitutional difficulties, and have ventured to urge that, both in order to keep faith with the electorate and to ensure permanent equality of opportunity to both parties in the State, it is incumbent 390 upon the Government not only to formulate and submit proposals, but—so far as may lie in their power—effectively to reconstitute the Second Chamber upon a basis entirely elective during the lifetime of the present House of Commons—assuming that to be of normal duration. Such reconstruction would give the Government an excellent opportunity of ascertaining the informed judgment and desire of the electorate upon its policy generally, and upon its Irish proposals in particular, without in any way curtailing the normal term of the life of the present House of Commons.
I must say that, in my judgment, the Government is not only justified in submitting to the House this year their proposals for the Government of Ireland, but that this was really incumbent upon them—always assuming that neither they themselves nor the representatives of Ireland were prepared to defer until next year the consideration of the entire question of national self-government with a view to dealing simultaneously with the four countries on federal lines. My anxiety that the Government should proceed as promptly as may be with the reconstruction of the Second Chamber arises partly from the desire that the Liberal party should occupy a position of more real equality with the Conservative party, but mainly from what I regard as the imminence of the adoption of a federal system of national self-government, in which a democratic Imperial Second Chamber might readily fulfil functions of the very first importance.
Regarding the question in the first place from the purely party point of view, I regret that the Second Chamber, as at present constituted, it still entitled to reject the Naval Prize Bill and thereby hold up the policy embodied in the Declaration of London, a policy which I respectfully submit is an essential item in any scheme of international pacification. It is very clear, too, that somewhat straitened limits are set to the financial powers of this House, while, as the Premier pointed out last week, it was perfectly competent for the Second Chamber as it exists to-day to reject the Insurance Bill without the provisions of the Parliament. Act in any way applying. I contend that in grave matters of policy—domestic and external—the Second Chamber still enjoys powers much too grave to be permanently entrusted to a House which is still hereditary rather than representative. It is in the interest of Liberalism—and to us the 391 interests of Liberalism are national interests—that we should substitute for the existing Chamber a body frankly and unreservedly elective. I know that our Friends of the Labour party and certain other Members sitting below the Gangway favour the principle of a Single Chamber, and, failing this, prefer to have a Second Chamber limited in power and wholly lacking the moral authority which attaches to the elective principle. That is a somewhat Machiavellian policy and one which I cannot endorse. The obvious answer to it is that the policy upon which the Government has obtained office is the bi-cameral policy. Both sides are unquestionably committed to the principle of two Chambers. In discussing this matter I must express the sympathy I have always felt with the Labour party in preferring a Single Chamber. All my life I have been practically an advocate of a Single Chamber where the best intellect of the nation, peers and commoners, would be concentrated, and I would trust fully the undivided responsibility of such a Chamber for the care and the conservatism of its legislation. I would like to urge upon Members of the Labour party and upon Radicals generally who favour a Single-Chamber system the testimony of Sir Charles Dilke, a lifelong Radical and advocate of a Single-Chamber system. While contemplating with satisfaction the time when the veto of the House of Lords would be as obsolete as the Royal Veto, he stated:—I make an exception in favour of Federal Upper Houses. The Federal Upper House of the United States, the American Senate, is one of the most powerful bodies in the world. Switzerland may, in a sense, he said to have a double system of Upper Houses—strong and excellent bodies; Canada, alone of great Federal countries, has unfortunately adopted a nominated system which gives it a weak Senate, and deprives it of that real Upper House, which, if it had liked, it might have had.Sir Charles Dilke evidently welcomed the existence of a Second Chamber in Canada and preferred that it should be a strong Chamber. I trust that on this account Labour Members and Radicals will reconsider their opposition to the policy of reconstructing the Second Chamber upon a purely elective basis. The view we take is that the Second Chamber, when reconstituted, should be upon a purely elective basis, and I am somewhat sanguine that when proposals on these lines are made they will receive rather more sympathy from Members of the Opposition than has been shown to-day. A recent writer, after carefully reviewing all the methods of 392 constituting Continental Second Chambers, says that:—In conjunction with such devices as the retirement of sections of the Senate at stated intervals, and the fixing of a longer term for the Upper House than for the Lower one, the election of Senators from enlarged single-Member constituencies may be said to represent the last word of Continental experience for constituting an Upper Chamber.I trust that will do something to commend to Members generally the adoption of an elective system, and I feel that there is probably a large measure of agreement upon both sides of the House upon this question. The other consideration on which I based my plea for the reconstruction of the Second Chamber was the imminence of the adoption of a federal system. I have no doubt that Scotland will, this year, claim, and properly claim, that the Government should introduce a measure granting to Scotland self-government on lines practically identical with those adopted in the case of Ireland. It is superfluous to contend that Scotland is fit to govern itself, for it has time after time demonstrated its entire fitness to govern us. We in Wales would be equally ready to claim similar privileges and to face similar responsibilities. The one thing that Welsh Progressives are united upon is that they cannot consent to be left in single association with the Erastian and not very progressive representatives of England after the representatives of Scotland and Ireland have been withdrawn. I am glad to see that the Foreign Secretary, speaking on Saturday, expressed his agreement with that policy. He said:—We shall bring forward our measure of Home Rule for Ireland as the first great instalment of that devolution which is necessary to preserve the Imperial Parliament.The election of a senate of the type of a purely elective senate would provide us with a body eminently well-fitted to deal with that purely Imperial business, and likely in some measure to supervise the action of a Single Chamber. I am afraid we are now facing two years of strenuous and somewhat futile contention. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I mean futile for hon. Members opposite, for I do not anticipate there will be a very substantial outcome from their efforts. What has struck me has been the very large measure of agreement that really exists amongst both parties upon these great questions. There is undoubtedly agreement upon the common necessity of a Second Chamber. I believe there is a substantial measure of agreement upon the adoption of the 393 elective principle in connection therewith. I have no doubt the same is true of the extension of the franchise, after which there must be a redistribution of seats. Upon the question of national self-government, I believe that upon the lines of delegation and devolution there is a very large body of opinion opposite which considers that in that direction alone can be found the solution of the condition of congestion which obtains in this House, and which is the real cause of the restriction of debate which Leaders on neither side can possibly avoid. The differences seem to resolve themselves into differences upon procedure and precedent rather than upon principle, upon the sequence rather than upon the substance, and I would urge the desirability of recalling that admirable spirit which prevailed during the time of the constitutional monarchs which had the authority of the example set by Lord Salisbury and Mr. Gladstone in settling the terms of the Redistribution Bill which followed on the last extension of the franchise. Lord Acton declares thatthe Federal system limits and restrains the sovereign power by dividing it, and by assigning to the Government only certain defined rights. It is the only method of curbing not only the majority but the power of the whole people, and it affords the strongest basis for a Second Chamber which has been found the essential security for freedom in every genuine democracy.In Australia an elected Senate exists, and of that Senate it is said,Its members actually outdo the popular representatives in their zeal for the cause of the people—not only do not retard, but actually hasten the cause of reform or revolution.That is the kind of Second Chamber which commends itself very warmly to my temperament, and I hope would satisfy the Members of the Liberal Party. I trust also that we may have the cordial co-operation of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. F. E. Smith), and of the people generally when we proceed to constitute an elected Second Chamber upon these lines.
Mr. STANLEY WILSON
The hon. Member said that there was much agreement upon both sides of the House as to the necessity for a Second Chamber. I would remind him that the previous speaker who spoke from those benches said he hoped to see the House of Lords completely done away with, and swept out of existence. I agree that there is agreement on these benches on the necessity for a Second Chamber, but on the benches opposite there is the greatest divergence of opinion that has probably ever been seen in this House. I listened to the brilliant speech of my right hon. Friend (Mr. 394 F. E. Smith) who brought charges against the Government which neither they nor any of their supporters have in any way up to the present moment endeavoured to meet. The speech of the Solicitor-General certainly did not meet with my acceptance. There are many questions with which he did not deal, questions which he admitted himself he left the Prime Minister to deal with. Probably everyone in the House will await with interest the rising of the Prime Minister for him to explain away the remarkable change which has come over his opinions. It is absolutely impossible for the Government to justify the attitude they have adopted. How can anyone justify the fact that he had given an absolute definite pledge a year ago that the House of Lords should be reformed, and that now on the first opportunity since the Parliament Bill was passed there is no mention in the Speech from the Throne of reform in any shape or form.
The Government wish upon every possible occasion to avoid this subject, because there is such an immense divergence of opinion on their own side. The Government have now been in office for six years. During the first four years they were here with an enormous majority at their back, but at that moment there was no necessity for a Parliament Bill. It was not necessary then to destroy the Constitution. The reason was, of course, that the Prime Minister was in the ideal position, which I should think he very much wishes he occupied now, that he was independent of the Irish vote for his majority. At that moment we never heard the question of the destruction of the Constitution, brought forward as it has been brought forward since the last General Election. The principal objection they had to the House of Lords was the way that House dealt with the Education Bill and the Licensing Bill. The Constitution has not been destroyed for the purpose of dealing with those two measures. Those measures have not been heard of in the past two years, and I think they are not likely to be heard of in spite of any pledge that the Prime Minister may have given in regard to them. The Government dare not bring those two measures forward again—that same Education Bill which they brought forward some years ago and the Licensing Bill—because they know that they would not have a majority in the House for them. That, I think, justifies the House of Lords in the attitude that they adopted towards those Bills.
395 The necessity arose after the last General Election but one when the Government were returned to office dependent for a majority upon the support of the Irish party, and if the Chancellor of the Duchy were here he would tell us that the Irish are to be rewarded for the faithful support they have given to the Government. He said also it was admirable tactics to do so. The Solicitor-General told us that he and the followers of the Government were honest Home Rulers—Home Rulers by conviction. The last hon. Member made the same remark, and the hon. Member who spoke before him also made the same statement. If the Government and their supporters are Home Rulers by conviction, why on earth was it that from 1906 to 1910 we never had a Home Rule Bill? The Government had no wish to bring forward Home Rule. They know it is unpopular in the country, and they would not have done so at present unless they had been forced by the Irish Nationalists. The Solicitor-General dug up the old argument that we heard used on several occasions in previous Debates, that at the last General Election Home Rule was before the electors of the country. The Government may not have mentioned the subject. They avoided it in their election addresses. It was mentioned by a casual few supporters of the Government in their addresses, but by practically none of the Members of the Cabinet was it even mentioned. But their argument is, and the Solicitor-General's argument was, that it was we who put it before the country and told the country that the Government were going to bring in Home Rule. I agree that we did our best to do so, but the question is did the electors believe us in the statement that we made. My strong opinion is that they did not believe that Home Rule was before the country. It was my experience, and I think it was the experience of most of my hon. Friends on these benches, that if one addressed a large meeting of working men and one ventured to touch upon the topic of Home Rule one was always told to get on with the proper business, and that that was not the question at that election, that Home Rule was dead, and various things like that. I venture to say that every Unionist speaker was always interrupted if he touched upon Home Rule at the last Election. How then can the Government state that Home Rule was before the people?
396 The Government, by means of the Parliament Act last year, destroyed the House of Lords as an effective body. They gave the pledge, which has been mentioned many times, that their first duty would be to bring about a complete reform of the Second Chamber in order to make it strong, independent, and without bias. After a definite pledge such as that one would have thought that the subject would have been mentioned in the Speech from the Throne, but the fact of the matter is that they dare not even mention it in that Speech. They dare not mention it until the hon. and learned Member for Water-ford (Mr. J. Redmond) has had his way and has had his wants satisfied. No Government in the history of this country has ever stood in the humiliating position which the present Government now occupies. I never like to attack the Prime Minister during his absence, but I am always perfectly prepared to say anything to his face. The fact of the matter is that the reputation of the Prime Minister is completely gone throughout the length and breadth of the country. I hear a vague sort of rumour that there is possibly to be a new Leader of the Radical Government in this House, and that the right hon. Gentleman is going to relegate himself to that Chamber whose powers he has destroyed. At all events, I venture to say that the Government at the present moment stands utterly discredited in the eyes of the country. Every by-election that takes place shows either a great Conservative gain or a huge reduction in the majority of the Radical representative. While the Constitution remains as it is now the Government may pass legislation, but they will be inflicting upon the country the will of the Radical Government, and no longer can they by any stretch of imagination say that they represent the will of the people.
§ Mr. GILL
I recollect that some time ago the Member for one of the Divisions of Glasgow made use of the remark that while we on this side hold a majority, we had not the support of the people. I should have thought that if representative government means anything at all it means the rule of the majority. The hon. Member stated that he was only willing to support the majority if it had sufficient force behind it. That is an extraordinary doctrine, which will not be supported in the country. He also said that the majority in this House was a composite majority, and ought not to be taken notice of, because the Irish Members were going to vote for 397 certain things, and the Welsh and Scotch Members were going to have the measures they believed in. Every man in this House has had to submit to popular election, and I say that whether the majority by which he was returned was composite or otherwise he is just as much entitled to be taken notice of as any Member on the opposite side. I think everyone will agree that in future majorities will always be composite. The system of groups has been established, and I think it is going to stay as it is at the present time. The hon. Member asked why these people supported the Government. I might as well ask why Unionists opposed the Veto Bill. The reason why they opposed that measure was that they wanted to protect their self-interest. That is the manner in which the House of Lords conducted themselves in the past few years. It was purely and solely, in my judgment, to vote for their own self-interest.
§ Mr. GILL
Reference has been made to the subject of the mandate. It is said by hon. Gentlemen opposite that there is no authority to propose Home Rule. So far as I am concerned, I mentioned the question in my election address, and I spoke of it at the meetings I addressed. So far as the Conservative party are concerned, I would remind hon. Members that on every hoarding they had the Irish Leader dancing on the British flag, and they stated that Home Rule was to be bought by American dollars. There is no question that Home Rule was before the electors, and I cannot understand how it can be stated that it was not. Hon. Members opposite desire to restore the powers of the House of Lords to what they were previously. On that we join issue with them. We do not want to see the House of Lords restored to its former powers. That is quite candid, and the reason for that is we believe that they abused their powers. They did not use them for the benefit of the people. It is rather a strange thing that the Conservative party want a change so rapidly. The Veto Act has not been tried yet, but immediately that measure comes into operation they want to make another big change. I am opposed to any such change. I am opposed to the Amendment on the ground that when the Parliament Act was passed it was stated that within the life of the present Parliament a reconstruction of the House of Lords would be proposed. I am of opinion that the 398 present Parliament is going to last for several years, so that there is plenty of time to adopt a policy of that description. There will be plenty of time to deal with it in the last Session. We want to carry out certain social reforms, and we do not want to have the bitter opposition of the House of Lords. Reference has been made to Single-Chamber Government. That has been raised time after time as if there had never been anything in the nature of Single-Chamber Government previously. What was there but Single-Chamber Government between 1895 and 1906? The House of Lords did not interfere with the Bills passed by the Unionist Government. If they are to be considered a fair revising Chamber, one would have thought that they would paid more attention to the measures passed in those days. So far as Single-Chamber Government is concerned, I see no harm in having that in these days.
Reference is made to the manner in which Bills are passed in this House by the Closure. That is a matter that this House can deal with itself. It may require more reference of Bills or of sections of Bills to Grand Committees and the carrying over of measures from Session to Session. The object of this Amendment is to throw out the Government, and I ask myself the question is it worth it? I do not think it is. We have got to think of what change we should have. The change would be one to exactly what we had previously. We should have a Tory Government—that is if the Tories succeeded in getting elected at the polls. What is the hurry in regard to the reform of the House of Lords? From 1895 the Conservative party were in power for ten years, and there was no anxiety at that time about the reform of the House of Lords; yet it was just as bad then as it is now. It was as bad then as it has been since 1906. If it is necessary now to have a reform why should it not have been taken up in those days? The simple reason is because they had it all their own way. The parties in power could always get their Bills passed; they were never rejected. The House of Lords is supposed to be a revising Chamber. That is the only object in having a Second Chamber—to go through the different measures sent to that House for the purpose of seeing whether they can improve them. Is it necessary that there should be always in that House a Tory majority for the purpose of revising legislation? That is the opinion of my hon. Friends opposite. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why are you keeping it?"]
399 If you look at the scheme of Lord Lansdowne you will see that he takes care that they will get a House of Lords which would act on exactly the same lines, because the proposition made was that the hereditary peers should select a certain number of themselves, and then a number of men who had been Ambassadors, Consuls, and so forth, would form a section of the House—men like Lord Milner, who was very largely responsible for causing the South African war, or Lord Curzon, who created a great deal of unrest in India by the partition of Bengal, or Lord Cromer, who, after getting a grant of £50,000 from the country, spoke in the House of Lords against the poor old people in this country having 5s. a week granted to them. That is the class of men that hon. Members on the Opposition side want to see in the House of Lords for the purpose of dealing, as they say, with legislation of a hasty kind. I do not want to see a House of Lords of that description. We have had too much of it. It is about time that the people had a chance. To my mind it is now about time for the common people to have an opportunity of saying whether Single-Chamber Government, which has been condemned, although it was practised long previously, can be used for the benefit of the people. When the time comes for the reconstruction of the House of Lords, either by this or another Government, we on these Benches shall watch very carefully, and if this new House is to be made up of the privileged classes the measure shall meet with the most bitter opposition.
I feel like my colleague the hon. Member for Mid-Armagh that as we in the North of Ireland are likely to suffer most under the scheme laid down by the present Government, we should, on every possible occasion, give to the House our candid opinion as to the road along which they are leading the country. At present even the threats of the Government have caused unrest and unsettlement throughout Ireland, and anyone who has studied the subject during the past eighteen months must know that the gravest concern as to the future welfare of the country has affected all classes of the community. No one denies that the leading stocks and shares in Ireland have fallen steadily since the present First Lord of the Admiralty coerced the Government into bringing in some measure of their own—or promising it—in order to catch a 400 few Nationalist votes in North-West Manchester. From that day to this the unrest and the unsettlement have gone on, and, under the present Parliament Bill, even if it is hung up for two years, the people in Ireland must continue under the gravest fears for that long time without knowing what is going to happen. Hon. Members below the Gangway said this evening that they were perfectly frank in their election addresses in saying that they were in favour of Home Rule for Ireland. But did one single one of the hon. Members who spoke this afternoon mention to his audience what he meant by Home Rule for Ireland? Or had he the slightest idea in his own mind when the flippant phrase was flung off his tongue in the time of an election how much it means to the most loyal and law-abiding people in Ireland. [HON. MEMBERS: "Belfast."] The whole of the proposals of the Government, leaking out as necessarily they do, are to place the loyal people of Ireland under the regime of these gentlemen who in the past have prided themselves on their disloyalty, and have cheered the victories of England's enemies.
It is a serious matter, and so serious that I personally have taken interest, not so much in perambulating the country, trying to point out to the people of England and Scotland what it meant—I have left that to others—but in taking all possible precautions that under no circumstances whatever—and I think that quite recently Ulster has been able to demonstrate that when she says a thing she means a thing—whilst the Constitution is shattered, while unconstitutional means are being used by His Majesty's Ministers, Ulster will never, never submit to be governed by the Nationalist party. [HON. MEMBERS: "Law abiding" and "What! never?"] It was all very well for the Prime Minister and for the Government to say that if Bills have proved perhaps to be a mistake or faulty, or hastily framed, they can be rectified afterwards. I hope that this House will always remember that in dealing with the great question of Home Rule, and in dealing with a matter which affects the innermost lives of the whole people once you establish a Parliament with an executive responsible to it of Ministers and their officers, it will take years and years to undo what the present Government are promising the Nationalists for their support during the past few years. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Hobhouse) stated the other day, quite openly, that this question was being 401 brought forward by the Government, not for the good of Ireland or the good of the Empire, but in payment down to those who have supported their party in the past. If there was any demand for this great change on the part of the Empire it would come from the people in Ireland, and with, the exception of hon. Members below the Gangway and a few agitators in the country, there has been no general demand for separation or Home Rule in Ireland. Under our abortive Constitution, as it now stands, supposing, in regard to any one of the three great measures of the Government during the next two years Home Rule proved to be abortive; supposing that the Home Rule Bill is passed and evidence is forthcoming that we have done a wrong thing, then the Chief Whip on your side will say to you, "It may be wrong and ill-done, but unless yon perpetuate it and keep on fighting for Welsh Church Disestablishment or other measures within the two years, you cannot get either Welsh Disestablishment, or the reversal of the Osborne Judgment, or other measures." That is the position, so far as the Constitution is concerned. No matter how bad a Bill the Home Rule may prove to be after it has been passed, no matter how it may be shown to the people that a wrong thing had been done, the party opposite will have to swallow what is obnoxious to them. They will say, "We do not mind so much, but we must get our pet scheme before the two years has elapsed passed into law."
Where you have no revising Chamber, I personally, and my colleagues from Ulster, refuse to submit to so great a change taking place in our part of the country. If this House foolishly and hastily, in order to carry out a bargain, no matter how important it may be to them, sell those people—and I speak for the democracy of nearly the whole of Ireland, a word which is frequently used by hon. Members below the Gangway opposite—how do they suppose that Irish Unionist Members are returned to this House—such a course will be resented by Members from Ulster, returned by sincere and convinced people, who believe that the welfare of Ireland, of the Kingdom, and of the Empire is bound up in the system by which the whole United Kingdom has two Houses of Parliament, one checked by the other, and which ensures that the minority shall not unjustly suffer. You are catering for the minority now—the Nationalists are a minority in the United Kingdom, and in the majority you have in Ulster the most 402 loyal citizens of the Empire. I say, with the fullest sense of responsibility, that the Government have hitherto been dealing with weak-kneed people, who have yielded to pressure brought to bear upon them in the form of baronetcies and knighthoods, and otherwise. They are trying that game now in Ulster, and have received their first rebuff in exercising this compelling force when they offered a knighthood so that they might carry the day. Ulster will never be bought by your knighthoods. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who offered it?"] A member of the Privy Council, appointed by the present Government. [An HON. MEMBER: "Name."] I am not going to mention the name, but if the House will wait patiently, after a few days the name will be given in print by the gentleman for whom the honour was intended. I said the Government have dealt with weak-kneed people. They have come across those who can readily be brought to be the line, but when they rim across the dearest traditions of the people of Ulster they come in contact with a race who will not bow down to them, to the Nationalists, or to anyone who takes away from them that birthright which is involved in their forming an integral part of the United Kingdom, sharing its glories, and bearing their part, wherever they are wanted, in order to make the Empire greater, and to assist it in every way, instead of traducing it, as hon. Members, below the Gangway are so proud to do, rather than joining us like patriotic men, standing side by side in the endeavour to bring Ireland to its proper place, which should be second to none in our Empire.
§ Mr. CAVE
I have listened to speech after speech from the benches opposite, including the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bolton. In all those speeches no answer was given to the question put by my right hon. Friend who opened this Debate. It was this: The Government have given a pledge that in the course of the present Parliament they will introduce a measure for the reform of the Upper Chamber. Is that pledge going to be redeemed before or after Home Rule, before or after Welsh Disestablishment; before or after licensing measures, education measures, and all the other great changes for which pledges have been given? I understand the hon. Gentleman opposite is going to reply on behalf of the Government. Will he give an answer to that question? This Parliament sits for the first time under special 403 conditions. A measure proposed this year or next year may become law. Are you going to keep this pledge this year or next year, and, if not, when? Unless you bring in your measure shortly, we shall refuse to believe that you have an honest intention to carry out your promise. The Solicitor-General said that no priority has been promised to House of Lords reform over Home Rule. But, if that be so, the very nature of the thing seems to me to give priority to this particular change over any other. Admittedly the Parliament Act effected a change in the Constitution which was only provisional. It recited in clear terms that provision would require to be hereafter made by Parliament for the substitution of a new Second Chamber and for limiting and defining of the powers of the new Second Chamber. Therefore the change effected by the Parliament Act was only a provisional change.
Home Rule, I think by universal admission, is a proposal of great and far-reaching importance. Is it right, can you say it is right, to bring in a measure of that kind while you have upon your own admission embodied in your own Act of Parliament the statement that the Constitution is for the moment suspended, that you have only a provisional Constitution, and one which is on your own admission imperfect, for as it stands it involves the domination, the ultimate domination, of one Chamber over the other? You have said yourselves that you are Second-Chamber men; you have said yourselves that you think there ought to be a Second, a revising, Chamber. Is it defensible that you should propose to us the greatest change perhaps of our generation, and the most important which you could propose, while that state of things exists, and before you have brought in what on your own statements is a necessary complement to the Parliament Act of last year? It seems to me that, having admitted that your legislative machine is incomplete, you cannot bring in, you cannot properly bring in, a measure of the first importance without first completing your machine. I say even if you have not in terms given priority to the reform of the Constitution over Home Rule, yet in the nature of things that priority ought to be given.
In the second place, the learned Solicitor-General, whom I am sorry not to see in his place for the moment, said that, if the House of Lords were reconstituted, it would not follow that it would be less 404 favourable to Home Rule than the House of Lords as it now exists. In the first place, that is no answer at all, because if it be necessary to have a Second, a criticising, a revising Chamber, you ought to have the best revising Chamber you can get. You say that the House of Lords is not that. You say it is not fitted to fulfil the functions of a Second Chamber. You say too that there ought to be a Second Chamber. Then surely in this most important matter you should take care that there is a fitting Second Chamber to revise this great measure. Therefore to say that the House of Lords, if reconstituted, will not be less favourable to Home Rule than at present is surely no answer to the argument which I have advanced. In the second place, my view is that if you came to propose the reconstitution of the Second Chamber you would by the very weight and force of argument be compelled to consider what the powers of a Second Chamber as reformed ought to be. The moment you come to consider that you will be forced to this conclusion—that any Second Chamber in the world must have greater power than that which you have now left to the existing Chamber. In fact, the two things go together. You have said to the country that the Veto of the Upper House must go because the Upper House is not fit to have the Veto. But the moment you come here and propose a new Upper House, one formulated or framed on your own lines, and one which therefore you must think to be a fit Upper House, that moment you will be compelled by the very nature of things to give to that Upper House the real powers of a Second Chamber. Therefore it is not true to say, as the hon. Gentleman opposite said, that the purport of this Motion is to restore to the existing House of Lords the powers taken away by the Parliament Act. It would be much more true to say that we do desire, as indeed frankly I do desire, to see a Second Chamber with more effective power over legislation. We now argue that we have no such Second Chamber, because, quibble as you will over what is and what is not one-Chamber Government, the present state of things is this: that after a short interval, the House of Commons is supreme. Therefore you have not any Second Chamber with effective powers of revision or rejection. Anybody who says that he is a Second Chamber man must mean that he is in favour of a Second House with some effective power over legislation, and there can be no effective power in mere 405 delay. There must, to be effective, be some power of revision and some power of rejection. Therefore I think that is the answer to what the learned Solicitor-General said, that even if it be the fact that we have no right to assume that a Second Chamber reconstituted will be less favourable to Home Rule, more favourable to the Union, than at present, still at all events we should have a Second Chamber with some real power to go into the question, to consider the frame of the Bill and consider the merits of the Bill. If you had carried a Bill for forming such a Second Chamber, then we who believe in discussion and desire revision should be in a better position, and we are right therefore in pressing this particular Amendment.
I think the supremacy of one House is the very negation of Second Chamber government. The two things cannot possibly exist together. The present position of things cannot last, or at all events it can only last so long as you are able to say that you are not satisfied with the constitution of the Upper House. The moment you come here and revise the constitution of the Upper House, that moment you must give us a real two Chambers.
There is one matter very much discussed during this Debate about which I want to say a few words. It is said, and the learned Solicitor-General said, that Home Rule was an issue at the election, and he gave quotations by which he supported that statement. The question occurs at once, what Home Rule? What was understood by Home Rule by the thousands of people who used that phrase? I know what some people understood by it. I have here Publication No. 213 of the Liberal League. [An HON. MEMBER: "What is the date?"] 1905, a month or two before the election of 1906. I think I am entitled to refer to this, because the Prime Minister when before the election of 1910 he stated the objects of his Government, referred to what he had said before the election of 1908. What was said in November, 1905? The Foreign Secretary said:—Supposing that the victory of Free Trade over Protection had been accomplished, as he believed it would fee at the next election, what was going to be the policy of the Liberal Government with regard to Ireland? He would state what he thought that policy should be. It was this: large administrative reforms on the lines that had already received for the moment the approval of Mr. Balfour, and for a permanency the approval of Mr. Wyndham, and to which Sir A. MacDonnell had earnestly devoted his time and attention. To that development of local institutions in Ireland the next Liberal Government would be able to devote their energies.406 In the same speech he said that everybody ought to know that whoever voted for the Liberal party must be prepared to see the Liberal Government go on with Sir A. MacDonnell's policy. The Prime Minister himself the next day said that he would save his hearers a lot of time by simply saying that he associated himself entirely and unreservedly with every word that was spoken by the Foreign Secretary. Therefore the policy of the Government in 1906 was devolution or delegation pure and simple. No question then arose of Gladstonian Home Rule. In what speech of the Prime Minister or of any Member of the Government do you find a clear indication of a change of policy before the election of 1910? That this policy of devolution was advocated by many Members of the Liberal party I am certain. I could give any number of quotations from election addresses advocating devolution and nothing more. Indeed, to take the Irish Nationalists themselves, on two consecutive days the hon. and learned Member for Water-ford (Mr. J. Redmond) was speaking in America in favour of Colonial Home Rule or full responsible government for Ireland, while the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) was speaking in Canada in favour of devolution. There was in the country no fixed meaning attached to the phrase "Home Rule" at that time. Hon. Members have probably seen a very interesting publication called "Home Rule Problems," issued by a committee containing many Members of the party opposite, including some Members of the Government. In that book one writer, the editor, advocates Colonial Home Rule, while another able writer advocates devolution. Therefore I think I am justified in saying that while there may have been a general acceptance of the phrase "Home Rule," there was no consensus of opinion on the part of Members of the Liberal party as to what kind of Home Rule it was to be. The two things differ not in degree, but in kind. The difference between Gladstonian Home Rule or responsible govment with certain qualifications on the one hand, and Sir A. Macdonnell's policy on the other, is as wide as the poles. One is inconsistent with union: the other is consistent with it. When you find members of the same party, one advocating one policy and the other the other, you cannot say that there was general agreement even on the part of the party opposite in favour 407 of a real and defined reform in the methods of Irish government.
That is the reason why I quarrel with the statement of the Solicitor-General that the party opposite have been for a quarter of a century associated with the movement in favour of Home Rule. If you define your terms that is not true. They were associated first with one kind of reform; then, under Lord Rosebery, with another; and then back again under the present Government. If any Member of the Government knew what were their proposals in regard to Ireland before the Election of 1910, it must have been the Chief Secretary. In his election address the right hon. Gentleman did not say that the issue before the country was Home Rule. He said:—It is the work of representatives in the House of Commons to create a Second Chamber in place of the House of Lords. That is the great question of interest dominating the Election.That was not a chance phrase; it was a considered phrase in an election address. If the Chief Secretary for Ireland said that that issue dominated the Election, surely we on this side are not wrong in pressing upon the Government the view that, having regard to that and their other pledges, they are bound in honour to deal with this question of reform. An hon. Member opposite who has taken part in the Debate to-night (Mr. John) has made a statement which I should like to quote:—To attempt to pass an Irish Home Rule Bill, with the Second Chamber in a state of suspended animation, without the specific sanction of a General Election in which the electors were made fully conversant with the details of such a large measure, was to his mind utterly unthinkable.Yet the hon. Gentleman is amongst the Members who to-night are resisting this Amendment. I do not want to refer at length, but I must just refer, to the attitude taken up by the Labour party. Their views were expressed, I understand, by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Black-friars. If I rightly followed him, the view of that hon. Member was this: "I do not take much interest in Home Rule or in Disestablishment, but I do take an interest, and a good deal of interest, in matters of social reform. I am, however, prepared to vote for Home Rule, and indeed for Disestablishment, because I think the majority are in favour of it." His view, I think, is entirely in agreement with that expressed some time ago by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Barnard Castle 408 (Mr. A. Henderson), a very able Member of the party. He said:—We, the Labour Members, are not going to vote for Home Rule and Welsh Disestablishment for nothing If we vote for these measures we expect some measure dealing with matters in which we take an interest.The view then apparently is that hon. Members on the Labour Benches, though they are not much concerned in Welsh Disestablishment are going to vote for it, because, I suppose, they believe they are going to get something in exchange. I think that is the great danger of the coalition such as now governs this country. Some Members take a sincere interest in one thing; some in another. Some are anxious for Disestablishment. Others are anxious for greater powers for social reform. If each of those can get his own way he is willing to support the other! That is the worst form of Parliamentary Government that this country can know. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bolton said, and so did the hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackfriars, "We are interested in social reform, in reform of the Poor Law, and in some sort of aid for dealing with the feeble-minded, and matters of that kind."
So are we on these benches. We are very keenly interested in all these subjects. I agree, we agree, with the hon. Gentlemen opposite, that we ought to deal with matters of that kind, rather than to tinker with the Constitution.
In this matter of the reform of the Upper House I want to say that there is a real field for agreement. The Government expressed by their Preamble that they were anxious for a change in the constitution in the Upper House. They passed their Parliament Act upon that understanding, upon that basis, upon that promise. They passed it by means, which I think, will hereafter be condemned. They passed it by a threat to pack the Upper House in, order to destroy it. I sincerely believe that was a grossly unconstitutional plan. At all events, they passed it, but they passed it with this Preamble which we are now discussing, and upon a promise that they would give this change in the Upper Chamber their real and earnest consideration. I assume that the Government mean it. I do not myself think all the Members of the Government mean it. I do not think the Lord Advocate, whom I see in his place, was really in agreement with the pledge given by the Government, because what he said was, "That the reform of the House of Lords was the purest moonshine and humbug."
§ Mr. CAVE
Does the right hon. Gentleman desire to disclaim it? If the right hon. Gentleman desires to explain it, I shall be glad to read it. "If there was one of the institutions of the State whose faults could not be improved, let them sweep it away as an incumbrance." [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Although the Government retain a Member who can use words of that kind, we have hitherto given it credit for meaning what its Members said. But if the policy of the Government is that whilst adhering to the words of the pledge they are going to postpone its fulfilment until when we all know, and they know, it cannot really be fulfilled, then I think we can have some cause of complaint. My right hon. Friend said, "You will never pass a measure like Home Rule by trickery." Without desiring to use that word of those who guide the House, I do say that unless we have some kind of response to the appeal made in this Amendment, to the appeals made from these benches, and to the inquiry which I again press upon the Government as to when they intend to fulfil their pledge, then we shall have grievous cause to doubt their good faith.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY Of STATE for INDIA (Mr. Montagu)
It is scarcely necessary for me to make any exhaustive call upon the patience of the House, for as I understand this Amendment, it is a very simple one. The whole force of the powerful Opposition arrayed on the benches opposite has been directed again to the task of attacking the Government on nothing more important than the order in which they have chosen to carry out their election pledges. For the last three years, since 1909, the official Opposition Amendment to the Address has been directed to abusing the Government because the Government maintained the system of Free Trade, which we regard as vital and essential to our national prosperity. This year we are to be attacked, not because we will not embark upon Tariff Reform, not because of any mistake in administration, not because of any misfeasance—those charges are kept for the public platforms, where they cannot be refuted—but the importance and dignity of the Front Bench Amendment to the Address is reserved for the simple matter that we propose to deal with Home Rule, Welsh Disestablishment, and Plural Voting before we deal with House of Lords reform, whereas in the 410 opinion—the alleged opinion—of hon. Gentlemen opposite, we ought to deal with the reform of the House of Lords before we deal with Home Rule and the other matters. So hollow does this Amendment, with all respect, seem to me, that I can imagine that if the Government had decided otherwise, and decided to devote this Session to House of Lords reform, relegating to a subsequent period of this Parliament, Home Rule and Welsh Disestablishment, I can conceive the right hon. Gentleman, with equal eloquence and with equal force, coming down and humbly representing to His Majesty that, notwithstanding the pledges of His Majesty's Ministers at the last election, we did not dare to table our proposals for Home Rule, but were going on to the remoter proposals for reform of the House of Lords. I venture to submit to the House that if I can prove that the Government is entitled in this Parliament to table proposals for Home Rule, Welsh Disestablishment, and electoral reform, and if I can go on to prove that it is the natural and logical order in which to carry out their election pledges that these proposals should take precedent of proposals for the reform of the House of Lords, then I shall have completely answered the case of the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite. I shall deal, first of all, with the question whether we have or have not a mandate to deal with Home Rule. As I understand the theory of mandates, it is that the people elect one set of Ministers or another knowing full well the kind of policy that is associated with their names and professions, and, as a general rule, that the Ministry elected have a right to bring in a legitimate programme embracing almost everything which they have not definitely pledged themselves not to bring in.It very commonly happened, not always, but very commonly, that one question is entitled to absorb the electorate at a particular election, and is the Government which comes into office in consequence of that election to be debarred from passing measures, it may be even great measures, affecting, as they believe, the welfare of the country and the Empire? That is a preposterous contention.These are the words of no less a person than the late Leader of the Opposition. May I give two examples of what I mean? In 1900 the party which sits upon the benches opposite definitely, by exclusion, prevented themselves, or ought to have prevented themselves, from dealing with all questions of domestic legislation. They sought the support of Liberals in that election on ground touching a great 411 Imperial matter, and minor questions of domestic details were not before the public. Similarly, in 1906, the Government that now sits upon these benches sought the support of Unionist Free Traders by stating at the Albert Hall, before the Election, that Home Rule would not be introduced in the Parliament that would be elected as a result of the Election. The party opposite ought to have been debarred from dealing with education and licensing in 1900, and I submit that their crushing defeat in 1906 was largely due to the fact that they broke their pledges. We were debarred in the Parliament of 1906 from dealing with Home Rule. That is the reason of the pronouncement which the hon. and learned Member for Kingston just now quoted. There was no question then of dealing with Home Rule, because we had pledged ourselves not to, because we had relied upon the support of Unionist Free Traders, and it was not until Tariff Reform was thoroughly well beaten in that Parliament, it was not until it had already begun to take a very subordinate part at the fag-end of perorations in the speeches of hon. Gentlemen opposite, that the Prime Minister at the Albert Hall announced the intention before the Election of regaining his freedom to deal with the Home Rule question, and to obtain the freedom which we possess now, and in the Parliament of 1910 to deal with the Irish question. I do not rely in my contention merely on the theory I have mentioned. At the risk of wearying the House I should like to quote the many pronouncements from both sides, which make it abundantly clear that the elections of last December were fought upon Home Rule as one of the questions. May I read a short quotation from a speech by the Prime Minister on 25th November, 1910, long before the General Election. He said:—In a speech I made at the Albert Hall nearly a year ago, I dealt with some of the causes which we included in our programme. I affirm everything I said then. I spoke of Welsh Disestablishment, the abolition of Plural Voting, a better licensing system, a truly national education, and a proper solution of the problem of Irish self-government.He was followed on 9th December by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer at Bangor, who said:—As the Prime Minister has already declared, we have no intention of shirking Home Rule. After disposing of the Veto of the House of Lords, the first thing we hope to do is to reconstruct our present Imperial machinery in such a way as to free the House of Commons from trivial, local and provincial details.I have also a quotation from the Secretary for Foreign Affairs and the Secretary of State for War both on the 28th 412 November, before any polling took place, announcing our intention of dealing with Home Rule for Ireland. I should now like to come to the Opposition. A right hon. and learned Gentleman on the Front Opposition Bench is reported in the "Times" of 26th November, 1910, as having used these words, every word of which I feel confident hon. Members opposite will endorse:—For the country to send back the Government to power to abolish the Veto of the House of Lords meant that Home Rule for Ireland, the Disestablishment of the Church, a change in the franchise, and gambling with the souls of their children, would be at the beck of a body of log-rolling Irish Nationalists, Socialists, and English Liberals.That is the sort of language which is characteristic of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University. I do not quote it to draw attention to his choice language, but to call attention to the fact that the right hon. Gentleman was on that occasion an admirable prophet, because he sketched out precisely the programme of His Majesty's Government, which is the Veto of the House of Lords first, Home Rule for Ireland second, Disestablishment of the Church in Wales third, and then a change in the franchise. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the souls of the children?"] That is only the right hon. Gentleman's pretty little way of referring to the scandalous inequalities of the Education Act of 1902.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
Does the hon. Gentleman suggest it was approved in the General Election of 1910—the undenominational proposals of the Government?
§ Mr. MONTAGU
The Government is already pledged during the lifetime of the present Parliament to deal with the redress of the educational grievance caused by your legislation of 1902, and I venture to predict it will meet with the overwhelming support of the present House of Commons.
§ Mr. MONTAGU
We will test the fact whether we have a majority for it or not in the Division Lobbies of this House. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] If the right hon. Gentleman will permit me to develop my own line of argument, I will now give one quotation from the late Leader of the Opposition in a letter which he wrote to the candidate for Barnstaple:—The avowed intention of the Governmeut is in substance to abolish the Second Chamber: and then, without any reference to the electors, to grant a sweeping, measure of Home Rule for Ireland.413 The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire (Mr. Austen Chamberlain):—What was the Government going to do? If they had a majority, a sufficient majority, they were going to abolish the Veto of the House of Lords; next, they were going to establish Home Rule for Ireland.The Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords:—Mr. Asquith, to my mind, makes it perfectly clear that the first step that will be taken will be to deal with the question of Irish Home Rule.The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin:—They had it from the Prime Minister that the issue of this election meant that he and his colleagues would consider themselves entitled to carry through Parliament a measure of Home Rule.An Amendment to the Humble Address to His Majesty in recognition of the Speech from the Throne is a serious matter. I cannot understand how it is possible for right hon. Members opposite to use such arguments as have been addressed to the electors in these messages which I have read, and then come to the House and base their vote of censure on the Government on a pretence that they have no right in this Parliament to legislate on the matter of Home Rule for Ireland. Supposing for the moment, for the sake of argument, I were to concede that Home Rule, as a direct issue at the last election had never been made, supposing none of these speeches had been made, and none of these letters had been written, what was the last election about primarily? I do not think anybody will deny that the main subject at the last election was the Parliament Bill. We fought the election on the Parliament Bill. We won a victory for the Parliament Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "And the Preamble."] This Government sits now upon this bench because the country, the majority of all the electors in the country, desired the Parliament Bill to become the Parliament Act. What does that lead you to? I venture to submit most respectfully it is monstrous to suppose anybody is sufficiently interested in constitutional reform to want the Parliament Bill to take a place upon the Statute Book merely as an ornament or as a protest, or merely to mark the fact that we have won a General Election? It was asked for by the country, and it was advocated by those responsible for it as an instrument for the passage of Liberal legislation. The electorate were told if the Parliament Act is passed the Welsh Church will not be safe, and Home Rule will result. That was the warning addressed to the electorate. 414 Those responsible for the Parliament Act admitted frankly and freely that these would be the first fruits of the passage of the Parliament Bill. My opponent in the Constituency in which I fought a hardly contested election spoke at every meeting on the question of Home Rule. I am informed by a correspondent that only this morning, despite the stress of stormy weather, there was still seen upon the wall of that constituency the words, "A vote given for Montagu is a vote for Home Rule." The hon. Member for the Camlachie Division objected that the Government majority was a composite majority: that one set of hon. Members was interested in the passing of the Parliament Bill in order to grant Home Rule to Ireland; that another set was interested with a view to securing the passing of the Welsh Church Disestablishment Bill, and so on. But what was the object: it was to enable Liberal legislation to go through: it was to provide a key to that door which had been hanged in the face of Liberal legislation by the House of Lords.
Will hon. Members bear with me if I remind them of the event which led to the passage of the Parliament Bill? The electors of this country saw a Government returned with a restricted mandate concerning the war in South Africa introduce an Education Bill which had never been mentioned in the briefest outline, and they saw that Education Bill carried into law without so much as a single protest from the House of Lords. They saw, a few years, later, a Government pledged to the redress of the grievances under that Education Act introducing an Education Bill in 1906, and they saw that Bill destroyed by the House of Lords. The electorate saw the same Government introducing a Licensing Bill in 1904 which became law without any protest from the docile and even servile House of Lords, while the Licensing Bill of 1908, introduced to redress the wrong of 1904, was ignominiously rejected by the House of Lords. They saw Budgets introduced during the lifetime of the Parliament 1900 to 1906 which taxed corn and sugar receiving, in accordance with what was regarded as a time-honoured custom, assent without protest from the House of Lords, and they saw the first Budget that had even been so treated by the House of Lords—a Budget which financed the Old Age pensions—rejected. They had elected Ministers of their choice in the face of an electoral machine which was admittedly weighted against the people of this country and in favour of 415 property. They saw that Ministry of their choice, which, I venture to say, challenged comparison with any of its predecessors in administration in every single Department, hampered and crippled in its legislative efforts in a way which they regarded as no longer tolerable.
That is the genesis of the Parliament Bill. It was wanted by the country in order to obtain for non-Conservative Ministries something like the same opportunities for legislation as have been possessed by all Conservative Ministries in the past. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool seems to suggest that we are going to pass Home Rule under a constitution which we have destroyed. Nobody knows better than himself that the Constitution is not destroyed, and that we have not succeeded in obtaining for Liberal administration the same system of Single-Chamber Government as Conservative administrations enjoy. I should like to read to the House a quotation from a speech of the right hon. and learned Member himself, in which he draws attention to the fact that we on this side are very much mistaken if we think that we shall live in a constitutional paradise after the passage of the Parliament Bill. He warns us of the safeguards and of the powers reserved to the House of Lords. He told is eloquently only the other day that he had some process, known so far only to himself, by which even now he could force a decision of the electorate on the subject of Home Rule. In these circumstances it is idle to suggest that we are proposing to legislate concerning Home Rule on anything like the same terms as, let us say, a Conservarive Government, who found themselves on this side of the House would be legislating on Tariff Reform. We have got something like a chance for our legislation. We have not even yet got the same chance as the hon. and learned Gentleman has got. Therefore I maintain that I have proved that the country knew that Home Rule and the other measures were to be an issue at the last Election, and that we have not—for that would be the meaning of the charge of hon. Members opposite—so altered the Constitution as to give an unfair advantage to Liberal legislation.
I should like to address myself, for a few moments only, to the second part of my argument, that it is normal and natural to deal with the reform of the House 416 of Lords after dealing with the subjects which form the larger part of the King's Speech for this Session. Home Rule, Welsh Church Disestablishment, and Electoral Reform are not isolated measures. They are part and parcel, as I conceive them, of steps in the reform of Parliament, and electoral reform obviously will make this House even more representative of the people than it is at present. It will make it easier to get a vote, it will do away with the privileges of property which are maintained in the system of plural voting. Home Rule is not only to be an answer to the reiterated demand of the vast majority of the people of Ireland, but it will also be the first step in making this House more efficient to deal with the congested public business which awaits its attention. The first step is devolution to a subordinate Parliament. Even Welsh Disestablishment, which is of course, primarily a response to the often repeated demands of the overwhelming majority of the Welsh people, clears off from the attention of Parliament a measure which hampers and which makes a recurring demand upon our time, and so prevents us from dealing with other questions of interest in public prominence since Welsh Disestablishment was first thought of. They are all measures the passage of which will make the House of Commons more efficient for deailng with public business. But I do not suggest that after the passage of these Bills, after clearing the way for a better and a more efficient House of Commons, the time will not have arrived, in the lifetime of the present Parliament, for dealing with the reform of the House of Lords. It is obviously to the disadvantage of the Liberal Government to leave the reform of the House of Lords to some time when hon. Members opposite form an administration. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bonar Law) this afternoon told us that he would not repeal the Parliament Bill unless he reformed the House of Lords. I ask him this question for information: Am I not right, therefore, in assuming that if he reforms the House of Lords he will consider himself at liberty to repeal the Parliament Act? That being so, I suggest that the Conservative party have never tabled a scheme for the reform of the House of Lords on which they were united, and which did not possess as a feature that it preserved the state of affairs which was ended by the Parliament Act in a more plausible form, and which did not have these three qualities, that it 417 maintained the irresponsible nature of the House of Lords, the ascendancy of privilege in the House of Lords, and the undisguised prominence of the Conservative majority in the House of Lords? And when you consider that that is the scheme of reform, if he can carry a united party with him, that the Leader of the Opposition would consider would justify him in repealing the Parliament Act, it follows that it is in the interests of the Liberal party itself before it goes out of office, before there is any risk of the Leader of the Opposition coming into office to carry as it is bound to do by the pledge which it has given, the reform of the House of Lords on a real and democratic basis.
I want to address one last argument to the House. As I understand it, a new generation of voters now forms the majority, all of whom have profited by the general system of education inaugurated by the Act of 1870. Every voter, almost without exception, can now read and write, railways have been brought within the reach of almost every village in the United Kingdom, and cheap newspapers find their way into the most remote parishes, from one end of Scotland to the other. This new generation of voters is animated by a spirit which you call, on the other side, unrest, and which I prefer to call ambition. They make new demands upon the House of Commons. They find that the House of Commons is incapable of responding to those demands for three reasons. First of all, they find that it is difficult to get a House of Commons which is truly representative of their wishes, because the machinery is loaded against them by a system of plural voting and our cumbrous registration. They find also that the House of Commons is incapable of dealing with their demands, because it is overburdened with business which up to the present it has refused to devolute to subordinate Parliaments. They find it incapable of dealing with new demands, because there are still unredeemed promises made to generations now gone by. If you find that the machinery of legislation no longer commands the support of the people, if you find generation after generation again and again asking the same thing and being denied by the Houses of Parliament, if you find the electorate cannot obtain prompt attention for their needs because the House of Commons is over-congested with business, and has arrears of promises which it has to wipe off first, then you produce what is called disloyalty in Ireland, 418 and what is called Socialism in England. We want to wipe the slate clean, not by, as I understand it, resistance, and by denying and repudiating our liabilities, but by paying off liabilities of historic antiquity and passing into law those reforms which we have not yet been free up to the present to pass, in order that we may get to those new social and constitutional reforms, and, chief among those reforms, I venture to say, will be found the constitution of a new Second Chamber in accordance with the Preamble of the Parliament Act, as indeed the Government is pledged to reform the Second Chamber in order that it may become worthy of the new and ambitious House of Commons, which has been rendered by electoral reform and devolution capable of doing the work it has to perform.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned"—[Sir A. Griffith-Boscawen]—put, and agreed to.
§ Debate to be resumed to-morrow (Tuesday).
§ Adjourned at Ten minutes before Eleven o'clock.