§ Mr. GERALD HURST
I beg to move,That, bearing in mind the Preamble to the Parliament Act, 1911, as to the intention to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, it is desirable to remodel the House of Lords by increasing its representative element and reducing its hereditary character.850 It is the judgment of history that a two-Chamber Government is essential to any well-ordered community. There is no great civilised State, in fact I believe there is no civilised State of any size to-day, which does not accept and practise some form of two-Chamber Government. That judgment of history is based upon the bed-rock of experience Experience shows that it is a good thing that measures passed often under the sway of emotions, often passed in haste and without full consideration, should be subject to review and amendment; and that is especially the case in Britain where there is no security such as exists in certain countries by way of a referendum or the requirement of a certain proportion of votes in favour of any measure, before making organic changes. You can, given a large majority in this House, alter any law, however fundamental it may popularly be supposed to be, with the same ease with which you alter or repeal the most trumpery piece of legislation from past times. No party in this country, and I believe no political leader, has ever advocated one-Chamber Government. There has only been in English history one experiment in one-Chamber Government. That was the unfortunate experiment between the year 1649 and 1657 which is famous in the annals of the House of Commons for the intrusion of soldiery into its midst, and that experiment led directly to the reintroduction by Oliver Cromwell of a second Chamber. He took pains to select as members of his new second Chamber people whom he described as "men fearing God, and of good conversation." In that way the Puritans described men who would vote as they were told. With that one solitary exception this country has always practised, as have all other great civilised States, two-Chamber Government.
Looking back upon history it is very difficult to say that system has been in any way a mistaken one, or a failure. Although there have been many cases when good reforms have been delayed by the House of Lords, there is no case where any great measure on which the will of the country was strongly expressed was ever permanently blocked. Many measures have been usefully stopped there, and an enormous number 851 have been usefully amended and in the ordinary practice of Parliamentary life such as private Bill legislation I do not imagine that anyone will contradict the view that the existence of a second Chamber is not only desirable but essential where you have an overworked House of Commons. It follows therefore, I hope, that I am on common ground when I say the time has arrived when we might seriously consider the fulfilment of the promise of a reformed House of Lords as set out in the Preamble of the Parliament Act, 1911, which has been accepted, I believe, by all parties. Certainly that promise has been given and repeated time after time by leaders of the Liberal party and it is one which has for many years past been one of the objectives of the Conservative party, and although I see on the Order Paper two hon. Members on the Socialist benches have tabled an Amendment which suggests that they are wedded to the hereditary principle and the continuance of the present House of Lords, I imagine even on that side of the House the view is shared to a very large extent that we have not an ideal revising chamber at present, and that there is room for reform. In fact I notice that in noble self-abnegation the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) has himself tabled an Amendment abolishing the hereditary principle altogether. So that I think we are all in agreement that some reform is necessary, and the question we have to face is whether the time is not opportune now for bringing that reform into operation.
Sixteen years have passed since the Parliament Act was passed. The heated passions which then prevented a quiet and detached view of the constitutional position have long since disappeared, and, although possibly controversial issues might he touched by efforts to fulfil that other promise in the Preamble of the Parliament Act, better to define the powers of the House of Lords, the meaning of money Bills and so on, no reversal is sought in this Motion of the main constitutional effects of the Parliament Act. The object of this Motion is to reform the personnel rather than the powers of the House of Lords, and to reform the personnel of the House of Lords has never 852 been a party question at all. I think also that at the present time, when we are coming more and more to the view that apart from certain emancipating measures like the Trade Union Bill we do not want to see a great vista of legislation in front of us, but most of us I believe consider that the time has come for Parliament to devote more attention to matters of administration and finance than to legislation, there is one of those rare periods of leisure in our legislative history when we can set our house in order without intruding upon the competitive objective of legislation.
If that is the case, may I submit why I contend that it is 7ery desirable that this reform should be taken in hand'? I base that view upon the potentialities of the political situation, while the House of Lords still remains a purely hereditary assembly. There is at present very great danger of one political party stepping into power on a wave of public emotion caused by one particular issue, as, for instance, the Socialist Government coming in on the Free Trade issue two or three years ago. Elected on that one issue, it can, during the course of five years of office, direct its activities to all sorts of Measures which were certainly never within the orbit of political opinion at the time when it obtained its mandate from the country. In the course of five years, all sorts of events turn up which are never contemplated when the House of Commons is elected the first instance, and it is therefore quite competent for a House which no longer represents a majority of the people to bring in in three successive Sessions a Measure on which no clear voice has ever been expressed. One can imagine all sorts of contingencies, but it is conceivable to think of a party which is elected on one issue, then after it has been in office for a year, undertaking some great revolutionary legislation never contemplated by the electorate, possibly involving vast schemes of persecution and expropriation, a Red terror or a White terror. These things, at all events, are legally possible, and having regard to the great fluctuations which come over the public opinion of such a universal democracy as ours, it is possible to envisage all sorts of schemes which might be brought in by a party happening to have a majority in the House of Commons which are very 853 detrimental to the interests of the great mass of the population and also antagonistic to their wishes.
Those are potentialities which I think everybody will recognise. I submit that, for two reasons, the, House of Lords is totally unfit to act as a Second Chamber in face of these potentialities. It is not a question of the ability of the members of the House of Lords. I do not suppose that any reasonable man will deny that that Chamber is probably supreme in its wealth of oratory, in its knowledge of men and affairs and in its experience in imperial and foreign politics. Therefore, it is unfitted for its purpose not because of the quality of its personnel but because it is almost entirely an hereditary body. I should like to develop the hereditary question first. It is unfit as a Second Chamber because so long as its personnel is based almost entirely upon the hereditary principle it cannot and never will command the confidence of the great mass of working people in this country. Things used to be different in the earlier days of English history. Shakespeare is full of contempt for the mob and of admiration for what he calls "degree." As late a political philosopher as Burke described the House of Lords in phrases which showed the admiration with which he and the detached political philosophers of that era regarded the Second Chamber. He said:Nobility is a graceful ornament to civil order: it is the Corinthian capital of political Society.Those views have long since passed away. It was inevitable that they should pass away, quite apart from the prejudices which have been served up in the political arena from time to time during electioneering propaganda, particularly in 1910. It was inevitable because we have become such a complete democracy that the ordinary man in the street, however much he likes, and he very often does like and admire some popular Peer whom he happens to know, yet in the main, looking at the House of Lords as an institution, he regards it, and quite rightly, as an indefensible institution, and incompatible with general democratic principles. I suppose there are no more cherished stock quotations known to the English people than lines from Burns and Tennyson in which they 854 disparage rank and birth. How often have we heard the cliché,Kind hearts are more than coronets.That was the sort of thing which the people of the Victorian period delighted in. I am sure hon. Members will agree with me, especially after the squalid electioneering in 1910, that, however just and wise the views taken by the House of Lords might be in any quarrel with a passing majority of the day in the House of Commons, however just and wise their cause might be, that cause would never have a hearing with the great mass of the electorate, because of the intense prejudice felt by democracy against a House of Parliament which is almost entirely composed of persons who derive their title from hereditary right. That is the reason why I am asking for support of my Resolution. I do it on the ground that owing to that prejudice it is impossible for the House of Lords as at present constituted to play that important and decisive part which a second chamber ought to play in framing the legislation of this country.
The second reason why I suggest that the House of Lords as at present constituted is unfit for its functions is because it is possible to pass any Meaure by the simple process of swamping the House of Lords with Peers. In the old days it was regarded as a most etxtraordinary thing to suggest that a majority in the House of Lords should be overborne by the creation of new Peers. The threat in 1832 to pass the first Reform Act by means of the creation of Peers was regarded as a most extraordinary innovation. Those theorists of the moment who thought that was not a liability to which an hereditary Second Chamber was subject, were quite wrong. They used to think that no Prime Minister would advise the Crown to override the House of Lords by the creation of Peers. They imagined that 300 or 400 persons would never be discovered who would accept peerages for that simple purpose. The events of 1911 disproved those theories. The Prime Minister of the day was willing to advise the Crown to over-ride the House of Lords by creating Peers, and far from Liberal politicians being unwilling to make the great sacrifice and becoming Peers, they simply jumped at it. The most candid ones said they 855 would do it to please themselves. The less candid ones said they would do it to please their wives, and the least candid ones said that they would do it to save the country. At any rate, they were all willing. I have no doubt that if the time ever came when a Socialist Government found the House of Lords a barrier to their legislative schemes, they would have the precedent before them, the same course would be taken, and they would get their supporters to make the same great sacrifice.
§ Mr. HURST
If Socialist Members did become Peers for the sake of their cause, they would be able to tell their constituents that, although they went to the House of Lords and ceased to be Commoners, it must be remembered that the benches in the House of Lords were coloured red and that they would be sitting upon Russian leather.
What about schemes? We all have schemes. I do not think that any two men have the same scheme. There have been a good many Royal Commissions dealing with this question, and many people have written books and articles about it. Most people s conceptions of the Second Chamber resemble the House of Peers in Iolanthe in its fancifulness, without any of its charm. I do not suggest that my scheme is anything more than a mere tentative proposal showing, however, that a revised and reconstituted Second Chamber is now possible. It may be necessary to retain the hereditary element for the simple reason that, unless it is so retained, it may be impossible to get a Bill creating the new House of Lords through the existing House of Lords. Moreover, the preservation of some hereditary element may be more in keeping with English Constitutional practice. The scheme must, in the second place, not involve direct election or direct representation. We do not want to have a House of Lords a mere replica of the House of Commons. We want in the House of Lords men who are unwilling or who are unable from various reasons to stand for the House of Commons, but who, in fact, represent large interests or large services to the State.
856 My idea is that the Second Chamber should consist of 250 to 300 men, that a proportion of them might be nominated by the county councils and the borough councils, that a certain proportion should be nominated by associations or institutions representing trade, industry and labour, that a certain number should represent capital and labour employed on the land, and that others should represent finance, art, education, medicine, literature and the law. I include the law because we are always hearing that there are no more typical trade unions than the Inns of Court. Therefore, in order [...] show how perfectly trade unionism may be run it is as well to have those great societies represented. As far as the representatives in the Second Chamber are concerned, I do not think they should be elected for more than ten years, because we do not want to have a Second Chamber consisting entirely of old men. We want to have it revived and rejuvenated at intervals. I suggest that there should be 60 persons nominated for life by the Crown, with a retiring age, selected from persons who have held high positions in diplomacy, or who have acted as Governors or Governors-General of various Colonies and Dominions. Then there would be the Law Lords.
The representation which I suggest in place of the hereditary element would have the enormous advantage of being unable to be swamped by the creation of Peers ad hoc on the recommendation of the Leader of the party in a majority in the House of Commons, and it would have a second advantage of not being disabled by its hereditary character from appealing to public opinion. As far as the Bishops are concerned, having regard to our recent experience I think it may be doubtful whether representatives of the various religious s bodies do not lose their hold over men's hearts and minds by intermingling in political and industrial disputes. Of course that is only a detail. Peers would be eligible to sit in the House of Commons and women would be eligible to sit in the Second Chamber, and it would be an improvement to merge the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council with the House of Lords as the supreme Court of Appeal for the whole Empire. That, of course, is only my own view. No doubt every hon. Member will have his own conception of what ought to be done.
857 My submissions are these: First of all, the time is ripe for a change. Secondly, the change is perfectly feasible. A generation which has settled a federal Constitution for Australia, a unitary Constitution for South Africa and the intricate framework of the League of Nations, need not be baffled by the difficulties confronting it in finding a Constitution for the House of Lords. I say also that it is desirable that the change should be made, and that the best way of making the change is to reduce the hereditary element and increase the representative character of the House of Lords. The issue on which this House has to vote to-night, bearing in mind the Amendment on the Paper, is whether we are going to maintain the present unreformed House of Lords, based on the hereditary principle, which is apparently the system that commends itself to the hon. Members for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) and Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle), or whether we should adopt the truer and sounder policy, and that is to take immediate steps to devise a Second Chamber more compatible with democracy and, at the same time, a much more effective barrier against hasty and ill-considered legislation.
§ Mr. CAMPBELL
I beg to second the Motion.
I wish particularly to say that the views which I express are not the views of the Committee of which I am the honorary secretary. The views I express are entirely mine. Some of you may have seen the views of that Committee. We asked each one separately to express his view. I am now expressing my views for what they are worth. We all know the history of the Lords and Commons Committee, and we all know the history of the 1911 Act. Therefore, I shall not waste time by going into those matters in great detail. But I want to point out the reason why many of us in this party, and I believe in all parties throughout the country, consider that this is a most important subject, and why we are very anxious to see something done, if possible this Session. The reason is that if one goes thoroughly into the matter, one sees the effect of the Parliament Act. The effect of the Parliament Act is to take away from the House of Lords any power to reject or delay for any 858 longer period than one month, any Bill which in the opinion of the Speaker conforms to the definition of a money Bill. Further than that, it makes it possible for a majority in the House of Commons, without an appeal to the country and within the lifetime of a single Parliament, to pass into law in two years any Measure that it pleases. That is to all intents and purposes single chamber government.
I have a very great admiration for the House of Lords as it is. I think that we have in the House of Lords a body of men—we will not compare them with men in this House, because that would be unnecessary—many of whom have done great service to the country. There are in the other House men who have risen in all spheres of life, in political life and in law, or as ambassadors, and they are men of outstanding ability and proved intelligence. On the other hand there is no doubt that there are quite a number of them who would never be any good at anything. I hope hon. Members will realise that I am trying to be fair and looking at the thing squarely. In all assemblies, even in trade unions and Conservative associations, there are good men and bad men. On the other hand, had I been one of the Peers—I am not and never shall be—I should lung ago have set about doing something in the House of Lords on the question. I believe that the reform of the House of Lords should have started in the House of Lords. It is still not too late. On that point I would like to have the views of some of my right hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench, because this is a question which they should initiate. We in this House may have our own opinions as to how many peers should be retained, and so forth, but it is up to the Peers to say, "Here there are so many of us. We are quite willing to cut our House down to such and such a number, and, if you wish, have representative peers." It is a question for the peers to decide to a great extent. If they do not do that it is up to us to take the initiative.
I wish particularly to point out the very important things that should be remembered in any scheme that is adopted. First, the majority of people in this country must have the last say. That is one of the first things and one of the most important things. Another thing is 859 that all parties are not properly represented in the House of Lords. I would like to see a far larger proportion of gentlemen who have perfectly opposite views, but who have just as much right to their say as anyone else in the country. The maximum amount of authority in the new Chamber should be power merely to prevent undue haste in the passing of far-reaching laws by delaying. They should refer questions, if necessary—that is, if the two Houses, after discussion, cannot agree amongst themselves—either to the country or to a referendum. These things could be worked out in more detail later. Then I am very strongly indeed in favour of having women in the House of Lords as in this House. Some of them are very good, and some are better still.
Any reform of the House of Lords brings with it the necessity of amending the Parliament Act. In that respect I would strengthen the hand of the Speaker (who at present has the uneviable task of defining single-handed the meaning of a Money Bill) by associating with him the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice of England. I would like to have a Committee set up, or perhaps the same gentlemen could decide, and tell us definitely what a Money Bill is. At present it seems a very indefinite quantity. If you ask learned men what a Money Bill is you will find among them great difference of opinion. I am merely expressing my own ideas on this subject, because I think it is a good thing to have as many views on it as possible.
I do not quite agree with my hon. and learned Friend, in some respects, in my idea of a reformed House of Lords. I should limit the number to 300 or 400. I should have a small number of Royal Princes and a few representatives of the Church. Of the remaining Members, or the principal Members, one might say, I would have one-third hereditary Peers chosen as is done to-day in Scotland and Ireland. If one-third were hereditary Peers, I am told that would mean a sixth part of the present House of Lords. I would have another one-third elected by county councils in one manner or another. I also thought of having one-sixth nominated by the Prime Minister of the day for the tenure of his Government and one-sixth by the Leader of the Opposition so that he would 860 have his own people in there if necessary. I think those nominated by the county councils, for instance, should be Members for at least seven to ten years so that they would not be, as we are now, rather too dependent upon constituents. It is a good thing sometimes to be dependent on constituents, but one of my constituents whom I see sitting on the Labour benches will not vote for me whatever I say to-night, and one likes to feel a little independent of them from time to time. It is my belief that Cabinet Ministers should be allowed to speak in both Houses on matters appertaining to their own Departments only. That is the scheme which I would like to put forward. I think there is a great deal in it which, with good will, might be accepted on all sides of the House. Doubtless there are certain things to be discussed and criticised, but what I am anxious to see is that something is done to reform the second Chamber and that it is done as quickly as possible.
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
I beg to move to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the wordsin the opinion of this House, the proposed changes in the House of Lords are intended to gerrymander the Constitution in the partisan interests of the Conservative party, and that the present Government has no constitutional right to proceed with such proposals since it does not represent a majority of the electors and since such proposals were not submitted to the people at the last election.The hon. and learned Member for Moss Side (Mr. Hurst) used one, and I thought only one serious argument with which I shall endeavour to deal before I proceed with she rest of my speech. He imagined that a Government might be elected which, after sitting here for a number of years would get out of touch with public opinion and he argued that in those circumstances some Second Chamber was necessary in order to reject Measures passed without the public will being ascertained. That argument is an exaggeration. It is a hallucination. There never has been a time in which this House has been compelled to keep more closely in touch with public opinion than to-day. There never has been a time in which we have been so continuously supervised and watched by the public outside as we are to-day. That is the 861 experience of all. One of the reasons for that is the rise of the Labour party, because now for the first time the people of this country find that the main attention of this House is concentrated upon questions which go right into their daily lives and homes. Apart from that, there is the multiplication of agencies. We have the newspapers, our political associations in our constituencies holding regular meetings and watching what we are doing, all manner of organisations, trade unions, chambers of commerce, employers associations, organisations formed to forward particular causes like the women's organisations—hundreds of them—so that the streets for half a mile round this House are honeycombed with their offices and their paid officials form practically a profession by themselves.
We sit in this House, but the walls of the House are transparent and every act which we do here is watched by millions around us. In those circumstances, if it happens, as it may happen occasionally, that any Government passes fundamental legislation in which it defies the public will that fact is hound to be fully realised. The punishment of such a Government can be left to the people at the first general election which follows and the legislation can be repealed. But for the hon. and learned Member to picture this extraordinary House of Lords consisting of superior persons and snobs of every kind—this extraordinary conglomeration of people, none of whom, he says himself, are to be directly elected, none of whom is to represent the people—and to say that this unrepresentative body ought to be set up to protect the people against those representatives whom the people themselves have elected, shows the grotesque absurdity of the whole argument. The hon. and learned Member for Moss Side and the hon. Member for North-West Camberwell (Mr. Campbell) pictured what would be the condition of the country if there were no Second Chamber. The hon. and learned Member for Moss Side began by a sort of historical nightmare of single-chamber government. He seemed to be entirely unaware of the fact that, in the most important issues of policy, we are living under single-chamber government at the present and nothing that he suggests would prevent it. In the whole realm of executive policy the power is in the hands of this House and 862 of this House alone, because the decisions are made in our discussions on Estimates with which the other House is forbidden by law to interfere.
Look at what we decide as a single chamber. The size of the Army, expenditure on education, expenditure on social reconstruction, the problems of Imperial defence, the problems arising in the vast and limitless realm of foreign affairs, are all decided by this House acting alone. Take domestic policy. Finance, which raises the fiercest political fights of all, which raises questions which go to the very roots of society, is by law the sole prerogative of the Commons. I think the hon. Member for North-West Camberwell seemed to think that this was a very dangerous position, and that special precautions must be taken. I do not know whether he recollects what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his last Budget speech. This is what he said:In this time of acute financial temptation since the close of the war, every Government, Coalition, Conservative, and Labour, has maintained the strictest and severest finance.And the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), speaking as an ex-Prime Minister in the same Debate, said:The finance of all Governments since the war has constituted the most remarkable achievement in the finance of any country in the world.Let hon. Members read those passages, and then let them consider the position in France, where they have a Second Chamber something like the type which the hon. Member has pictured, and with powers over finance, and where the refusal of that Second Chamber to permit the tightening up of the taxation of wealth has been acknowledged by everyone to be one of the main contributory causes of the ignominious spectacle in finance that France bas presented since the close of the War.
Now I come to a proposal made by the hon. Member for North-West Camberwell. There have been very few proposals descending to particulars as to the powers of the new House of Lords as against its composition, but the hon. Member did make one proposal, which was that the power of the Speaker to determine what is and is not a money Bill should be taken out of his hands and should be 863 handed over to a Committee containing the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice, or some other Judge of the Supreme Court, and the Speaker.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
What an extraordinary proposal, a proposal which runs counter to the whole experience of the last 100 years. If there is one thing that has been accomplished during the last century, it has been that the absolute impartiality of the Speaker between the different parties is now an acknowledged convention of British Parliamentary life. We all of us accept the impartiality of Mr. Speaker, but, we do not all of us accept the impartiality in political questions of any Judge in a Court of Law. Still less do we accept the impartiality in political questions of a Lord Chancellor, who is a political officer, and who himself would be a member of the Cabinet that was responsible for this legislation, and in the case of a recent Government the position was held by certainly one of the mast venomous and embittered partisans in the politics of the day.
I now come back to the main argument of which the hon. and learned Member for Moss Side made use. He said that this House has no right to pass Bills on which the opinion of the people has not been clearly expressed. What right then has this House to pass the Bill of which he is the advocate to-night? I read the speeches in the House of Lords, but I have not found a single sentence in which there has been any attempt to show that the people demand or support this proposed legislation. I have searched into what was happening during the last General Election, and I think I am right in saying that only one Minister made any reference to this question then, and that was the Prime Minister, who, in a speech in Perth, made a very few vague and non-committal observations which passed practically unnoticed by the public. They had no effect upon the electorate, because they were made four days before the poll, and they were made on the day of the publication of the Zinovief letter.
In these circumstances, what is the position? The hon. Member's argument is that this House must be prevented from 864 passing Bills into law on which the people have not been consult ed, and yet at the very same moment the proposal is that there shall be a Bill passed making a fundamental change in the whole structure of the Constitution, a proposal which I say, in itself stultifies the very argument on which the hon. Member has defended it. I do not think the hon. Member was fully frank in his proposal. He told us that be only proposed to alter the personnel of the House of Lords, and had no proposals with regard to their powers. He knows that any alteration of the personnel is intended to be the preliminary to an alteration of their powers, and every speech in the House of Lords, including the speech made by the Lord Chancellor on behalf of the Government, stated distinctly that there would be an alteration in their powers and a strengthening of their right to interfere with the legislation of this House. What does this mean? The hon. Member's speech made perfectly clear what is the motive force behind these proposals. These proposals—and he himself will scarcely deny it—are aimed at the Labour party. They mean that if the Government are defeated in an open conflict in the constituencies, then they wish still to be able to shelter themselves behind the House of Lords, packed with the representatives of plutocratic interests and class prejudice.
The whole of this idea that a defeat in th6 constituencies is to be counteracted in another place, is undemocratic. It is mean. It is a denial of every principle of Parliamentary Government. It appears to me that we on this side of the House in the constituencies already labour under great disadvantages, the balance is already sufficiently tilted on the side of the Conservative party. You have practically all the newspapers which during an election, at the last moment, can divert the minds of the people to some stunt, true or untrue, favourable to yourselves. [An HON. MEMBER: "You do not think much of the people!"] I am saying that you have advantages, and I am pointing out what they are. I said the newspapers. You have the bulk of the wealth, so that at the last election the expenses of Conservative candidates were more flan twice those of Labour candidates. You have the motor car on election day, and you have the great party funds accumulated in the past by selling titles to the wealthy, the vulgar 865 and the vain. What we have got to set against this is that we have the voluntary zeal of our workers. We have the unpaid labour of countless thousands of poor men, and we have the rising youth of the land. Our position is this, and this is what the Amendment states, that if with these legitimate and honourable weapons we are able to win a victory in the open fight in the constituencies, and we are returned to this House with a majority behind us, then when we have got that majority, we are entitled to the same rights of governing as the party opposite. If there is to be a blockage of the free path of our legislation if any proposals of this kind are carried out, then what a Parliament has done, by another Parliament can be undone, and one of the first tasks of a Labour Government will be that the House of Lords will finally disappear.
§ Mr. THURTLE
I beg to second the Amendment.
I would like, first, to deal with the point made by the hon. and learned Member for Moss Side (Mr. Hurst), when he said that a second Chamber system of government is common ground between the two sides of the House. We have not specifically stated in our Amendment that the Labour party stands for single Chamber government, but, as a matter of fact, this party is committed to the idea of single Chamber government. In regard to the proposal now before the House, we take this point of view: We would rather stand by the Devil we know than the Devil we do not know. We would rather stand by the House of Lords as it exists at the present time, than a new House of Lords probably with new powers, and, speaking entirely for myself, I would rather have the honest stupidity of the hereditary Peer than the enlightened cunning of the ennobled industrialist. It is quite clear that the motive behind this Resolution, as my hon. Friend has said, is to strengthen the House of Lords. Reform is what is suggested, but what is really suggested is the strengthening of that Chamber, and it is not desired to strengthen that Chamber on broad national grounds, but to strengthen it purely from partisan motives. It is desired to strengthen it as a bulwark against the Labour party. There is a rising tide of Socialist opinion in this country. The Conservative party 866 is afraid of that, and wants, if it can, to erect a constitutional bulwark against which that tide of opinion will dash itself in vain.
That is the burden of all the argument which has taken place within the Conservative party itself. You read innumerable letters in the "Times," "Daily Telegraph," and such papers, and that is the theme of all those letters. They say, in effect, "A day of judgment is coming to the Conservative party. Let us prepare for that day of judgment by erecting a constitutional barrier which will prevent a Labour Government when it is elected carrying out the things which the people have elected it to carry out." The Resolution is astute in this respect. It has not made any mention of alteration of powers, and the hon. and learned Member who moved it, expressly said that he did not want to see any alteration in powers; but, later in his speech, I think he gave himself away, because he did say that he wanted the House of Lords to be a stronger barrier against rash legislation, and certainly the hon. Member who seconded the Motion expressly declared that he did want additional powers given to the Second Chamber. It is quite true, as we all know, that members of the House of Lords would not look at any scheme for the alteration of their personnel unless there were some additional powers conferred upon them. They complain frequently—and I admit there is a certain amount of reason about it—that at the present time they are reduced to the ignominous position of being a mere Chamber of registration, and it is quite certain that that body would never for a moment look at any scheme of reform unless some additional powers were given to them. The Labour party, and, indeed, the great mass of the electors of this country, will not tolerate the giving of any additional powers to the House of Lords. If the Conservative party think that either the Labour party or the people of this country will stand that kind of thing, they are living in a fool's paradise. There is no demand for increased powers, except from the Conservative party. There is no demand even from the Conservative party, except, if I may make a distinction in reaction, from the most reactionary section of that party. There is no demand from the 867 general body of Conservative Members for any alteration in the existing arrangement of the House of Lords. As far as the mass of the people are concerned, if there is any demand at all, it is not for a more efficient House of Lords, not for a House of Lords with greater powers, the demand is for the abolition of the House of Lords itself. If ever the House of Lords is so misguided as to attempt in future to interfere with any first-class proposal brought into this House by a Government representing the people, the House of Lords will speedily find what the feeling of the people is on this point.
No case has been made for any reform of the, House of Lords or increase of its powers. What is the reason given by the hon. and learned Member who moved the Motion? He wants an effective House of Lords as a safeguard against undue haste and precipitancy in legislation. He is apparently afraid that proposals brought before this House will not be adequately examined and discussed. I submit to hon. Members that that is an absolute travesty of the facts. Is it not common ground that the trouble about procedure in this House is not that the question is not discussed adequately, but that it is discussed ad nauseam. If there is one criticism more than another which can be brought against this House, it is not that it is too rapid, and gets legislation through too quickly, but that it is altogether too slow. Any serious student of our political affairs knows that what is causing anxiety to people who want to do things by means of Parliament is that if there were a Government in power with ideas, a Government with a programme—I do not accuse the present Government of having ideas or a programme—the machinery of Parliament would be found so cumbrous and so slow that that Government would not be able to deliver the goods to the people. That is the real thing worrying people who consider the Parliamentary position at the present time. They do not want to see any clogging of the Parliamentary machine, anything making it more difficult to get business through quickly, but, instead, they want a revised procedure which will enable us to pass our legislative proposals more quickly. I would warn the Conservative party, if I may be so rash as to do so, that if they 868 attempt to interfere with the House of Lords as it exists at the present time by reforming it and giving it increased powers, that will inevitably lead to a demand for the abolition of the House of Lords itself.
If we are going to have a House of Lords strengthened, with greater powers, the position of a Labour Government would become absolutely intolerable. Every proposal would have to be considered with the thought that the House of Lords might interfere with it. We would be hampered in all our legislative proposals. We might bring forward a proposal in the full belief that we would get it through the House of Lords, might discuss it for weeks in this House, tramping through the Division Lobbies night after night, and find, finally, all our labours wasted through the House of Lords ignominiously rejecting the proposal. That would be an intolerable situation for a Labour Government to be in, and no Labour Government is going to sit down under it. There is no real case against Single Chamber government. We believe in democracy and in the right of the people to rule. Hon. Members opposite give lip service to that principle. If we believe in the right of the people to rule, what case is there for a Second Chamber? It is said we could pass legislation which does not command the support of the majority of the country. That might have been true 100 years ago, but it is no longer true to-day. We now have a great and powerful Press in the country, which can act in a very effective way if the Government of the day attempts to pass through this House a measure which is manifestly unpopular. We have a great development of the means of communication. Hon. Members can keep in closer touch with their constituents than used to be the case, and their constituents can keep in closer touch with them. There is a great development of the organisations to which my hon. Friend referred; and the postal service is used much more generally now to bring home to Members what their constituents think about given matters. On small matters which do not arouse any general interest we are frequently flooded with postcards and circulars from our constituents, and it is quite certain that if there were any strong feeling against a given proposal, it would 869 be quite easy for the electors to make that manifest and deter the Government from pursuing that particular line of policy.
At the present time we have a single chamber system of government. Every time a Tory Government is in office we have a single Chamber system of Government. Nominally we have two Chambers, but in actual practice the Second Chamber does the bidding of the Conservative caucus. Take last year, when the Mines (Eight Hours) Act was passed. If ever there was an occasion when the House of Lords might justly have protected the people of this country by saying, "This is a rash and ill-considered Measure which is being passed through with undue haste and precipitancy" it was then. The House of Lords did nothing of the kind. It allowed that Measure to go through, as it allows every Measure to go through which is brought forward by a Conservative Government, and closured Labour peers as an hon. Friend reminds me. As soon as a Conservative Government comes into office there is art "all-clear" signal put up in the Upper House. I am certain that as soon as a Labour Government conies into office again, there will be a danger signal put up there. That is an intolerable position for the Labour party to be in. The Labour party is not going to tolerate that. I am only a back bench Member and I have no particular authority. It is an idea of mine always, if I can, to discuss a question on its merits. I hate having to refer to authority. I would prefer to discuss a question on its merits. On this occasion I am going back on my general rule. Feeling that I am only an obscure back bencher, I want to lean on the support of a great constitutional authority and I am going to support myself on a constitutional authority which I think will be accepted in all quarters of the House. I refer to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in the First Reading Debate on the Parliament Bill said this:I do not believe that a bi-cameral system is necessary to the stability of the State.Speaking in the election which preceded that—and of course hon. Members will notice that he is still more expansive and vigorous under the influence of the hustings—he said: 870Lord Lansdowne has referred to Measures which the House of Lords allowed to pass, but the British people are not Hotentots, they are not a lot of children, and they do not want the tutelage of the House of Lords.This is the final quotation I will give from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Referring to the other House he said:A played-out, anachronistic Assembly, the survival of a feudal arrangement, utterly passed out of its original meaning, a force long since passed away, it only now requires a smashing blow from the electors to finish it for ever.If the present Chancellor of the Exchequer could say that in 1910, I think we, representing a great insurgent democracy, which is hungry for social reform and social justice, can certainly say the same thing to-day. We echo what the present Chancellor of the Exchequer said in 1910, and for our part, if the House of Lords does dare to step in between the expressed will of the people and the attempt to carry that will to its logical conclusion, we would like to see the House of Lords swept away. The British people are, so far as the ancient institutions are concerned, a very tolerant and indulgent people. They allow these institutions to exist long after they have outlived their usefulness, and I think the British people may be prepared to afford the same kind of treatment to the present House of Lords. As long as the present House of Lords is content to regard itself as a harmless museum of antiquity, as long as it is content to be an interesting survival of the pomp and pageantry of a bygone day, I do not think there will be any great desire on the part of the people to interfere with its existence. But the moment the House of Lords presumes to stand between the people and their elected representatives, I am quite certain the great mass of the people of this country will see to it that it is swept entirely out of the Constitution.
§ Sir ROBERT SANDERS
I think it was a surprise to find the Labour party taking such an interest in a matter of constitutional principle. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"]
§ "Quis tulerit Gracchos de sedition querentes."871
§ Sir R. SANDERS
Which I may interpret: "Fancy the authors of the general strike being such sticklers about constitutional principle." The criticism I would venture to offer to the Amendment is that it is mistaken as to the facts and incorrect as to its law. It makes two assertions; first, that this question was not put before the country before the last election; and, secondly, that that being so, the Government has no right to bring in a Measure to deal with it. First of all, let me deal with the question of its not having been put before the country before the last election. There was a little book brought out in June, 1924, a few months before the election, called "Looking Ahead." That book was brought out from the Unionist Central Office. The foreword was written by the Prime Minister, and in the foreword he said:We have endeavoured to reduce the Unionist position into the most concise shape of a paragraphist statement of out views.That was about as official a pronouncement of Unionist policy as you could get. In that official pronouncement the following words occurred under the heading "House of Lords Reform"The Unionist party holds unswervingly to the conviction that the existence of an effective Second Chamber is essential for the purpose of securing the revision of hastily prepared Measures, and of safeguarding the considered judgment of the people. It recognises that the establishment of an effective Second Chamber means a reconsideration of the composition and powers of the House of Lords in the light of modern conditions.For a political pronouncement, that seems to me unusually clear. I think it establishes my right to say that the issue was put clearly before the people of the, country as the adopted policy of the Conservative party some time before the last election. The Amendment which is now before the House lays it down that it is a constitutional practice that a Government has no right to bring Measures before the House of Commons unless these Measures have been announced to the country at the General Election preceding. That is not the Constitution of this country at all. It may be right and it may be desirable that it should be so, but, as a matter of fact, to speak in technical terms, the sovereign power of this country at any given time 872 does not rest with the electors of this country but with Parliament, and when Parliament is once elected, according to the Constitution of the country, it has power to do anything. Hon Members have referred to the fear which is felt on this question by hon. Members on this side of the House. The Labour Government, if and when such a thing exists, may bring in Measures to which the people of the country object, and that is a very real fear, It is a perfectly constitutional thing, as the Constitution stands at present, for any Government when in power to pass any Measure which it can get through the House, however objectionable it may be. It would be perfectly constitutional for the present Government to pass a Measure disfranchising everyone who is a trade unionist. It would also be perfectly constitutional for the Labour party when in power to disfranchise everybody who was not a trade unionist. This could all be done within the limit of our present Constitution.
I take it that what the Mover and Seconder of this Motion mean is that such proceedings will be unfair and objectionable, and it is for that very reason that I want to have some power behind the House of Commons that can prevent Measures of that kind being passed which, although they may concur with the wishes of the Parliamentary majority today, may be against the wishes of the people as a whole. The hon. Member who spoke last, and the hon. Member who seconded the Amendment spoke of this as an illusory fear, because they contend that the power of the Press is sufficient to stop any legislation which is repugnant to the wishes of the people as a whole. I do not believe it. I believe if once the Labour party get into power with a large majority they would pass any Measure they please, however objectionable it might be to the electors of this country. I may be doing them an injustice, but that is my opinion, and that is why I am supporting this Motion. I conceive that it is possible that a Labour party might get a majority at a general election, not on concrete proposals but on vague generalities—[HON. MEMBERS: "What about the Red Letter!"]—and promises and when their concrete proposals were put forward one after another of them might be found to be objectionable to the majority of the 873 people of this country. I myself have an enormous belief in the innate conservatism of the people of this country, and although they may be led away sometimes by specious promises, when concrete proposals for a complete change are put before them, the majority of the people are usually found to be against a big change in any direction.
A second Chamber ought to have the power to see that Measures shall not become law until the people of the country have shown that they consent to them. I also wish to have a Second Chamber which will have authority and respect enough from the people of the country to enable it adequately to exercise those powers. That is the reason why I am supporting this Motion. I am not going to enter into details as to the composition of a future Second Chamber, but I should he quite ready to support any reasonable proposals as to the future composition of the Second Chamber if that body were given adequate power. I am a practical man, and I do not think that any House of Commons is likely to sanction or give all the powers I would like to give to the Second Chamber as it is composed at the present time, nor do I think that there is any great chance of carrying through the present Second Chamber any proposal to abolish the hereditary system altogether. It is because I am a perfectly practical man that I want to see something on the lines proposed done in regard to this question, and to see it done quickly. That is why I support the Motion now before the House and I hope it will be carried by a large majority, and one which will show the Government that on this side of the House we want to see this question dealt with, and dealt with before long.
§ Mr. ELLIS DAVIES
I welcome the speeches which have been made from the Government side of the House because they show that the Conservative party are agreed that the Second Chamber should be reformed, but they are in a state of uncertainty as to the method by which the Second Chamber should be reformed. I do not quite understand the speeches that have been made by the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment, and I am curious to know what is the position taken up by the Labour party upon this matter. I rather gather that the hon. Members who moved and seconded the Motion are in opposition to the reform of the House of Lords and they imagine that they will 874 be able to abolish the House of Lords under any circumstances. I have sat here as a Member of this House for the best part of 20 years and in my early years I shared the same optimism, but experience has shown me that there is very little chance of interference with the House of Lords except by way of reform.
A question has been raised as to what ought to be the function of a Second Chamber. The Mover of the Motion is in favour of giving rather extensive powers to the Reformed Chamber. Of course all this must depend upon its constitution, its personnel and the system under which they had to be elected. I agree that the constitution and the powers of the Second Chamber must be such as to attract able men. Ever since 1910 the methods of the House of Lords have been excellent while on the other hand its constitution might very well have been taken from one of Gilbert and Sullivan's operas. When, on the other hand, we try to decide how to constitute a new Chamber, we are met by serious difficulties. There is a proposal, in the Motion before the House, that it should be popularly elected. The Bryce Conference as is well known discussed four proposals—one, that it should be a popularly elected Chamber; the second, that it should be elected by the county councils and borough councils and the third, which, if I remember rightly, was the one ultimately adopted, was that it should be elected by various bodies, including a Committee of this House. It would, of course, be very desirable, in a new Chamber, to have direct representatives of the people, but I confess I have never been able quite to understand how that is going to be effected. If the country were divided, as was proposed, into 20 or 30 large districts with proportional representation. I do not quite understand how anyone who was not put up by the Party machine, or who had the support of a trade union, could possibly be elected; the expense would be so great, the physical labour so immense, and the disadvantage under which the candidate would be working in regard to control of the Press, would make it impossible for anyone, except a very rich man, or as suggest, a party representative, to be sent to the Second Chamber.
I have stated already that it is essential that whoever are elected there shoulds 875 not only be men of ability, but should, by their character and position and their representative views, be able to command the respect and confidence of the general mass of the public. The second proposal was that the House of Lords should be elected by the borough councils and the county councils, but when that was submitted to the Conference, for serious discussion it was found that it would be impracticable. The third proposal, and the one which was adopted, was really an attempt at compromise. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wells (Sir R. Sanders) that the hereditary element cannot under present conditions be abolished; it must prevail, in any event, for a certain time. The proposal was that a part of the new House should be constituted by the present House itself, and it was suggested, and I think with a good deal of force, that the persons who would be elected are those who at the present moment are doing the practical work in that House as it is, that is to say, a class of men who, on account of their character, ability, position and administrative experience, would be found in any Second Chamber, by whatever means it might be constituted. A second suggestion was that a Committee should be formed from this House, who, at the beginning of every Parliament, would elect a certain number of representatives. That, in any event, would secure that the verdict of the country, as expressed in this House, should be immediately and effectively represented in the House of Lords. A. third proposals was, I believe, that the country should be divided into districts, and that a Committee formed of Members of Parliament in those districts should select their own representatives, either from within or from outside the House.
I think it follows from that that where a body of that kind is formed, which is not immediately responsive to the varying changes in public opinion, we cannot extend to that body very much more power than is at present centred in the House of Lords. It was agreed, and I think it will be agreed here to-night, that they should have no power to deal with financial Measures. The question of the definition of what is pure finance is of course a very difficult one, which will have to be met. They would, however, 876 have the right to initiate legislation, and they would have the right to delay legislation—and I think most of us will agree, who have had a little experience in this House, that it is not always a disadvantage to delay legislation which has been introduced into this House from the other side. In addition to that, they would, after conference with this House, have the right to refer a matter to the country; or possibly we might agree on some form by which, there having been a discussion between the two Houses, and failing agreement, tile majority of this House should ultimately decide. Of this I am quite sure; we cannot abolish the House of Lords in our lifetime. An hon. Member asks, what about the modern Liberals? The hon. Member who moved the Amendment belonged to the same party as I did when we fought the election of 1910, and perhaps I might remind him that, even with the aid of the Nationalist votes in this House, we had not a clear majority against hon. Members on the other side even on the question of the House of Lords. This is not a matter of Liberalism but of practical politics. I agree that we have a one-chamber Government, and I do not believe in one-chamber Government. I believe in two chambers, and a two-chamber Government. But I believe in retaining the real authority in this House. If we can find by some other method that we can have the great advantage of the opinion, the experience, and the character of some of the finer men in this country, it will be in every one's interest—in our own interest as well as that of the other House—that we should call them to our assistance whenever we can.
§ Sir JOHN MARRIOTT
I should at any rate like to associate myself with my hon. Friend the Member for Denbigh (Mr. Ellis Davies) in his very clear and emphatic declaration that he, as representing the Liberal party, does not believe in single-chamber government. I should like to hear from the responsible Leaders of the Opposition whether they assent to the same proposition or non It is perfectly tree that the Amendment which has been moved, with, if I may respectfully say so, marked ability from the Front Opposition Bench,, does not specifically raise this question of single-chamber government; but the whole 877 argument of the Seconder of the Amendment, at any rate, went to show that only single-chamber government would be tolerated by a Labour Government, unless indeed, the ether place were content to remain in complete powerlessness and impotence throughout all time. That is the argument that is put forward. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman he Leader of the Opposition will give his views to the House to-night, and I hope he will make his position in this matter, and that of his party, absolutely clear.
It is perfectly true that, as I read it, the gist of the Amendment raises a rather different issue. Its proposers object to our discussing this question at all, because they are pleased to say that there was no mandate at the last General Election. I am not going to elaborate that point, because I can add nothing to what was so admirably said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Sir R. Sanders), and I associate myself, both on constitutional and on all other grounds, with everything that fell from his lips to-night. On the question, however, of the authority of the mandate, I would venture to point out to the House this, and the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) will, I think, be the last person to deny the truth of what I am about to say. The House and the country know perfectly well that this question of the reconstitution of the second Chamber has been, by the admission of all parties, calling for settlement for the last 15 years. Ever since the year 1911 we have been confessedly living under the torso of a truncated Constitution. The Preamble to the Act of that year, as all Members of this House will recollect, announced, with all the solemnity that can attach to a Preamble, the intention of the authors of that Act, supported by the hon. Member for Keighley, to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of an hereditary basis.
The Resolution moved by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Moss Side (Mr. G. Hurst) to-night, practically reaffirms the Preamble of the Act of 1911, which was passed through this House by a Liberal majority. Does the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) repudiate that contention or not? Do those associated with him on those 878 benches deny the desirability of increasing the representative character of the Second Chamber? If they do not deny it, they ought to vote for the Motion of my hon. and learned Friend. If they do deny it, they can do so only on one of two grounds. They can take the position that the present House of Lords is so good a Chamber as to be incapable of improvement—is that their contention I seemed to detect in the argument of the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle) that he did rather like the House of Lords, as a present constituted. Some of us on this side of the House do not take that view at all. We do not take the view that the Second Chamber, as at present constituted, is the best of all possible Second Chambers. But if that be not the ground on which the Socialist party oppose this Motion, do their responsible leaders take the line that We are to have no Second Chamber at all; that a Second Chamber is useless?
I do not think that that contention would lie in the mouth of my hon. Friend who moved the Amendment, because he, like other Members, has been imprudent enough to commit his mature thoughts to a published volume. I refreshed my memory from that volume this afternoon, and I observe that, in that admirable work, he speaks of the proper functions of the Second Chamber. How can the Second Chamber have proper functions if there is not to be a Second Chamber at all. The hon. Member for Keighley went on to consider the constitution of this Second Chamber. He rejected the hereditary principle by implication. He rejected the nominative principle, and fell back on the elective principle—precisely that which is advocated by the Motion which he is asking the House to reject.
The Amendment moved from the Opposition Benches is an extremely evasive one. We, on this side, do not want to evade this question. We, or some of us at any rate, think that this problem is one which cannot be any longer evaded, or its solution with safety any longer deferred. I will state, very briefly, why I think it ought not to be deferred. My first reason is this, and it is a point on which I do not think anyone has touched to-night. It is the fact that, with quite exceptional unanimity, the whole civilised world has declared in 879 favour of the principle of Second Chamber Government. You cannot get over a great fact like that. It is not only our own Colonies, it is not only countries which have consciously modelled their modern constitutions on our own, which have adopted this principle of bi-cameralism. Countries which are ostentatiously opposed to the traditions of the English Constitution have also adopted it—I mean countries like the United States of America, the Modern German Reich, and the Irish Free State. No one of the countries in the civilised world—no great country—has adopted single Chamber Government. I believe there are one or two exceptions, such as Nicaragua, with a single Chamber Government, and one or two Balkan States; but I lay down, as a broad proposition, incapable of being denied, that the civilised world has decided—and even the Socialist party will have to reckon with the decision of the world on a question of this kind—in favour of two Chamber Government. Is that a reason for touching the House of Lords? I think it is a reason for attempting a re-constitution of that body.
In my view, the House of Lords, as at present constituted, does not make a satisfactory Second Chamber. No more than my hon. Friend below me am I going into any detailed plans of reform. I suppose there are as many different opinions on that subject as there are reformers; but there is a general agreement among all those who are genuinely anxious to have an effective Second Chamber—and those who do not want an effective Second Chamber must be prepared, as I have said, to face the opinion of the civilised world—on three points. The first is that the predominently hereditary character of the Second Chamber can, in this country, be no longer maintained. The second is that any reconstituted Second Chamber must contain an elected—I do not say directly or indirectly—but an elected element, and also a nominated element. The third point—I think it is common ground—is that there must be a drastic reduction of numbers. After all, our Second Chamber in this country is, at the present moment, in a constitutional sense, one of the weakest Second Chambers in the world. 880 It is also the largest Second Chamber in the world. I find some connection between its over-plus of numbers and its constitutional weakness. No one who has ever been called upon to take any part—as the last speaker was called on to take a part—in a practical scheme to be submitted to this House and to the country for the reconstitution of the Second Chamber, can be under any illusion as to the difficulty of the task that awaits him. Yet, I believe that the task is one which ought to be undertaken without undue delay, for two reasons. The first is because, in my view, the present Second Chamber is not really an effective House for revising purposes. The second is because our Constitution, of all the Constitutions in the world, is the most flexible, the most elastic, and, by reason of its elasticity and its flexibility, calls most loudly for the functions appropriate to a Second Chamber.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
In this present House of Commons there are 14 heirs to peerages, and, with the exception of myself, they are all sitting on the other side of the House. I notice with great surprise that not one of them is here to defend the order to which they belong. It is left to me, apparently, to step into the breach and defend this order, which I do not intend to do for one moment. Rather would I handle the dagger and hand it to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition to make an end to the order as a legislative body. I only want to make one or two observations for the special benefit of the Home Secretary. In the first place, however kind the present Second Chamber is to the present Government, it is a most reactionary body. I take the one test that it refused to allow Peeresses in their own right to sit in the House of Lords. When women have practically equal rights with men in this House and in the other institutions of this country, why is it that the Muse of Lords alone stands out against allowing Peeresses in their own right to sit in that House? That alone shows the country how reactionary and unfitted they are for the present State. I am sorry to say that the Mover and Seconder of the Motion, in their admirable speeches, if I may use that expression, ran away from their own Motion. I wonder what part the 881 Whips have had—I see the Chief Whip present—in inducing the hon. and learned Member to bring forward this Motion. Did this particular Motion figure at the top of the list on the cyclostyled paper which is handed out to Members on the day when the Ballot takes place for Motions of this kind? Is it a test of whether there is sufficient urge among Conservative Members to allow the Government an excuse to go forward with their proposals for the Second Chamber? I wonder whether the Government wish to do anything in the matter at all.
This Government sit in a direct minority of the voters of this country. If you count the votes given for Labour and Liberal combined, in opposition to the Conservatives, you will find that the Conservatives are in a distinct minority. The reason why they have their present unnatural majority is because they got in as the result of an electoral trick. They got in as the result of a panic created by the Zinovieff letter. I do not want to go into the details of that, but it swayed hundreds of thousands of votes and it was afterwards shown clearly to have been a forgery. It would be an outrage on the country if a Government so elected brought in such a Measure as has been proposed by the Mover and Seconder of the Motion. It would be immensely resented by the people of this country, because it would be supposed that the Government were taking advantage of their two or three years term of office to erect barriers against the democracy of this country for the future. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wells (Sir R. Sanders) said he believed the people of this country are innately Conservative. I profoundly disagree with that statement in the sense in which he meant it. The people of this country want to work through their constitutional machinery. If they feel that this Government is taking advantage of a chance majority to erect barriers against their democratic desires in the future, they will turn to constitutional means to deal with them. They are not Conservative in the sense of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wells. The Labour party is not officially committed at the present time to the policy of a Single Chamber. I am not sure from the Labour point of view that it would not be better to have a Second 882 Chamber properly elected and constituted. At any rate, I keep an open mind on that question, but if we are to have a reconstituted Second Chamber it can only be done safely—and I use the word "safely" advisedly—with the assent and assistance of those who sit on this side of the House.
A great deal of what hon. Members on the opposite side hold dearer than anything else—the survival of ancient pomps and ceremonies—are going to be swept away in the future. They may reserve a few years of tranquillity for themselves, but only a few years. If they will take a long view, they will agree with me that any change in the Constitution of the country can only be done with the assent of those who sit on these benches. If the Government want to act properly and squarely by the people of this country, they will try to get agreement on this subject and sit in conference with us. It is not sufficient for them to say, "We stand for the Second Chamber." There is a great deal mare in the matter than that. The House of Lords and the House of Commons and the whole Constitution do not matter so much as the desirability and the necessity of showing our people that they can do things, when they wish to see things done, by constitutional means and only by constitutional means. We must not weaken the belief of the mass of the people in constitutional methods and in the constitutional method of achieving their ends.
Mr. GOODMAN ROBERTS
There bas been a keynote in this Debate struck by the imagery of the hen. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle), who drew a somewhat unconvincing picture of the more conscientious supporters of the kind of Government he would like to see in office, hesitating in their legislation on the receipt of postcards showered down upon them in shoals by an outraged people. I really think the picture was one entirely in his imagination, and the reflection of what would happen if the kind of Government he would like to see in power did actually occupy that position may well make us realise that it would not be by postcards that the people of this country would have their will put into operation. The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) seemed more concerned, in moving his 883 Amendment, in displaying the reasons for the defeat of the Labour Government at the last General Election. He argued that we had no mandate for this proposal to reform and strengthen the House of Lords. For a democrat, I think he showed a singular lack of trust in the people. He complained that his party were placed at a great disadvantage He said the people to whom he appealed are easily diverted from sensible political thought and straightforward action by any catch-penny phrase in the Press, and though he conveniently forgot the great asset which the Labour party have in their possession in the involuntary support of a number of trade unionists who vote for the opposite side, yet he tried to make out that the people were very stupid persons and could he easily diverted at the last moment from what they really had in mind. He took the line that there was nothing that die people had given the mandate for in these proposals. First of all, the Preamble to the Parliament Act points out quite clearly that the Constitution was still left weak and needed reconstruction, and the country has ever since been in that curious position of having a debt of honour which, as the Prime Minister at the time explained, brooked no delay, unfulfilled and unredeemed. I welcomed the speech of the hon. Member for West Denbigh (Mr. Davies) and his declaration in favour of a Second Chamber, out it would come better from Members of the Liberal party if, at the time they were in office and subsequently to that time, they had helped constitutionalists in making the Second Chamber real and effective and making the country safe for democracy.
May I deal with the question of the mandate? This mandate does not rely upon what was said in the Preamble in 1911. It was granted by the people of this country last May in their attitude towards the Constitution at the time of the general strike. At that time there was a direct challenge made to the Constitution. It was connived at by the Leaders of the Opposition. The people, on the other hand, rallied to strengthen and uphold the Constitution against the revolutionary element which tried to subvert it, and, in my view, it is the primary duty of the Government, shown by the 884 public in their remarkably united action at the time, to make this country safe for democracy by strengthening the Constitution. That must be done by an amendment of the Parliament Act which will make it very clear that an appeal to the country must precede the automatic passing of any Act which has been twice rejected in another place. The hon. Member for Shoreditch said that would mean that the position of the Labour Government would be intolerable if the House of Lords was strengthened and was entitled to do that. If this is opposed by hon. Members opposite the only reason can be that they intend to force Measures through the House without a mandate. That admission, made by the hon. Member for Keighley, and not welcomed and not liked by hon. Members who now interrupt me, is one that is fraught with very grave possibilities of danger to the country, and it is not for any party reason, but for the reason that I believe before grave changes take place the country should have a second opportunity of expressing its view that I support, without bothering at all as to what the personnel may he, something which is going to mean the strengthening and the making really effective of the powers of the Second Chamber which we have at present. I do not want to boggle over the question of the hereditary or the democratic element. There will be time enough when it comes to be discussed to deal with the details of the constitution of the Second Chamber. Then I shall be very glad, if the House will listen with the courtesy they have shown to-night, to express my views upon that subject. But, in the meantime, let me say this. If the Government fail to amend the Parliament Act and to make the Second Chamber effective, they will be betraying the mandate which was conferred on them at the time of the general strike, when the public rallied to the Constitution which it is their desire not to see overthrown but strengthened.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MacDONALD
I should like in a very few words to bring the House back to the question before it. The House will observe that in the preamble of the Resolution which has been moved, the statement is:To call attention to the powers and constitution of the House of Lords.885 The hon. and learned Member who moved the Resolution quite properly put powers before constitution. That is really the question before us. Hon. Members opposite are interested not so much in the constitution of the House of Lords; what they are interested in is to get for the House of Lords certain powers. The powers that they want are not vested in a purely hereditary House, and in order to get the powers which they want, they are prepared to sacrifice the hereditary principle. The hon. Member for York (Sir S. Marriott) is one of those interesting people who is living under a great delusion. He is really under the impression that he is in favour of a Second Chamber. He is nothing of the kind. He is in favour of a Single Chamber when his party is in office, and two Chambers when the Opposition are in office.
§ Mr. MacDONALD
He is also under the delusion that the whole of the civilised world has had beneficial experience of a Second Chamber.
§ Mr. MacDONALD
The hon. Member knows perfectly well that that is not so. It is a good long time since I read his book on the Second Chamber. It happened to be my fate to have it in my hands before most people had it, in order that I might either give him a puff or otherwise, and I have not had occasion to refer to it since those days. If my recollection serves me aright, the hon. Member in that book did what everybody who has seriously considered the question of the Second Chamber has done; he discovered, as we have all discovered on going into this question, that there is no case where a Second Chamber has been effective against the First Chamber, but there has been friction, and that only when Second Chambers either have no power worth speaking of, or happen to be, of precisely the same political colour as the Lower Chamber, have Second Chambers been attended with a reasonable amount of peaceful legislation and co-operation. The hon. Member knows that perfectly well.
Take our own Dominions. The Second Chambers in our Dominions are elected 886 in a variety of ways; in Canada in one way, in the Commonwealth of Australia in another way, in the States of Australia in another way, and in others in different ways. That variety of election gives a difference of character to the persons elected. The hon. Member for York knows perfectly well that His Majesty's representatives in our Dominions have had no greater problem placed before them, and have got into no more unfortunate situations than in trying to unravel the tangle that again and again has been created on account of the existence of Second Chambers. I remember, years ago, when I happened to be wandering about in Queensland, going into Brisbane in the middle of a tremendous fight between the then Governor-General and the Government of Mr. Kidson—the Government of the day. I happened to be in the place when that most unfortunate and deplorable friction was solved. I remember perfectly well how bitter was the memory left behind, and how damaging to Queensland politics at the time that friction was. There is no case—I do not know of any—where you get an effective Second Chamber, the sort of Second Chamber that is in the minds of hon. Members opposite. and that Chamber works well with a lower Chamber elected directly from the people, as is this House. That is the experience of the civilised world and by that experience we stand.
You can put up a case—and I think a very good case can be put up, although I do not agree with it—for a Second Chamber of certain limited powers. I have always held, and hold very strongly still, that a Chamber with nothing more than a power of revision of legislation might be a very economical part of a country's constitution, but a Chamber that acts upon political principle—certainly not! If the burden on the minds of hon. Members about the constitutional position really is a constitutional burden and not a party burden, it is very curious that no attempt has ever been made to take this question outside the realm of party politics. Hon. Members have never tried to get this matter settled by the House of Commons. They want only to get it settled by the Tory party. The committee that has been working at this has been a Tory party committee. The powers that have been moving behind 887 the Throne have been Tory party powers. The deputations that have gone to the Prime Minister have been Tory party deputations. The Resolutions that have been carried from time to time, ever since 1922, have been Resolutions carried by the Tory party. There never has been a single argument developed by anyone in favour of a change, but before it was finished has become a Tory party argument and a Tory party argument only. What is wanted is that we should have a constitutional change at the present time in the interests of the Tory party, and effected in this House by a Tory party majority.
Do hon. Members think that the country is going to accept the professions that have been expressed to-day by these clear, good, impartial constitutionalists, a body that has never been conspicuous for its support of the Constitution? As an hon. Member has shown, the connection between the Tory party and the Constitution began after the general strike. I regret very much to say that I am a little older than the hon. Member who has just spoken. I regret it most profoundly. When I was nearer the very happy stage of life of the hon. Member, I sat where the Noble Lady the Member for Sutton (Viscountess Astor) is now sitting. I remember perfectly well those days, when the Tory party was not a constitutional party. I remember very well when the Tory party was doing its best to create armed rebellion in Ireland, when we were told that the decision of the people was as nothing, and that the majority vote in this House was not worth the paper on which it was to be printed next day.
Hon. Members should speak with a little more care about the Tory party's devotion to the Constitution when it does not suit its own partisan purposes. What we find to-day is this. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wells (Sir R. Sanders) brought a deputation to the Prime Minister and informed the Prime Minister that they could not make up their minds whether the hereditary principle was going to last or not. I believe I have the figures he quoted. He said that 33 were against the hereditary element and 25 were for it. Then he went on to explain why the 888 matter was urgent. It was urgent, not because they were opposed to the other place and the constitution of the other place as it is now. No, they were concerned with the constitution of the other place at the present time, because they wanted the other place endowed with more power. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Exactly. They want more power to protect the country? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Really I cannot believe it.
§ Mr. MacDONALD
I was perfectly certain of that. I was not going to say it in such a nice trite way as that in which the right hon. Gentleman has been good enough to express himself, but that is it. It is to protect the country against us. It is to protect the country against their political opponents. Therefore, if I were sitting on the other side of the House, and if I wanted to change the Constitution for some reason, then, according to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wells, I should be perfectly entitled to force by a majority which might happen to be behind me a constitutional change of the most vital and important character for no other reason than that I wanted to protect myself against the Tories. [HON. MEMBERS: "He was speaking for himself!"] He was speaking for the party. Therefore, to put it in a way that is perfectly plain, the Tory party want to remain in power after it has been kicked out of office. Really, the country knows quite as well as the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends what is good for it. He and his Friends are beginning to see the end of their tether and, lice wise men, they are considering how they can put their estate under trustees who are trustworthy. But they are making the mistake of imagining that their party estate is the nation's estate. I deny that. It is nothing of the kind. Moreover they make this mistake. They assume that in a very special way they are the impartial arbitrators of national destiny, and that if they got a second chamber to suit them, then that second chamber would suit the country. I quite admit that with all the historical power which right hon. and hon. Members opposite have had it is very difficult for them to see that times have changed. But, whether they like 889 it or not, they have to admit that those on this side of the House, those who represent Labour and who represent Socialism, have just as genuine a concern for maintaining this country healthy, strong and powerful as they themselves have, and the legislation against which they desire to protect the country is only objectionable to them because it does not come from themselves. That is the only position that one can take. The idea is this, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wells said, in that wonderful, that precious interview with the Prime Minister:What was more possible than that without a majority in the country they"—that is the Socialists—might have as the Conservatives have now a considerable majority in the House of Commons.There is no use talking about the figures, because the right hon. Gentleman has admitted that he and his Government represent, not a majority in the country, but a minority of the country. The right hon. Gentleman has admitted it, and the Prime Minister was wise enough not to contradict it. That being so, the position that hon. Members opposite are in is this: They see the end of their tether. They are afraid of what is going to happen. They have got a very shrewd idea that after the General Election is going to come the judgment, and that they are not going to come out of that judgment very well, and that they are going to find themselves on this side of the House, whoever may sit on that side. Therefore, like a wise and far-seeing Tory, the right hon. Gentleman made a plot to interview the Prime Minister, and he said: Unless you take precautions to gerrymander the Constitution in the interests of our party, you are going to have democracy working in this country, and, therefore, although we are in a minority—and that is where my mandate comes in. I am rather inclined to agree with the hon. Member for York in the matter of mandates, and I think the right hon. Gentleman from Wells rather admits two sanctions for mandates. One is that a Government may have power to do a thing, but it has got no right to do it, and the two are not at all the same thing.
I say that the Government, whatever its majority in this House may be, has got obligations really to do the right 890 thing and to restrain itself from doing wrong things if it cannot justify the wrong for reasons above merely party considerations. That is especially strong, and I put it in as a plea. In those days when I sat where the Noble Lady the Member for Plymouth sits, I warned the Tory party then that the time might come when their unconstitutional advice and action might be brought up against them, that there were such things as chickens coming home to roost. I warn them now. They should not set an example in changing Constitutions, things they hold in such reverence. They should not change Constitutions by a party vote in this House, more particularly when, as the right hon. Gentleman has admitted, the party majority in this House does not represent a majority in the country. You can force this through, I know. You have got your 200 majority, slowly wasting. [HON. MEMBERS: "Very slowly."] Hon. Members have themselves taken precautions that it should not waste more quickly by, for instance, making it unnecessary for newly appointed Ministers to go to their constituencies. I can assure hon. Members, both above and below the Gangway, that if they wish to hasten the wasting process, I will back them up, and I will vote with them upon that. As quickly as you can, hasten the wasting process, but in the meantime may I beg a good old-fashioned Tory Government to put its purely partisan interests on one side, and to remember that by tampering with this machinery, which is not always rational, which is very often what we call a myth, they do untold harm, untold damage; and at any rate tampering never ought to be undertaken in political circumstances such as those in which we now are.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir William Joynson-Hicks)
I have never wondered why the right hon. Gentleman is the Leader of the party opposite. He is head and shoulders above them all in Debate. I wondered really during the earlier speeches what the ease was against this Resolution. The right hon. Gentleman put it on a much higher plane. He has appealed to us not to use our party majority in this House to alter the constitution of this country, but I think he has altogether forgotten what is proposed 891 by this Motion. In 1911 the Parliament Act was passed, and part and parcel of that Act was an obligation of the House of Commons to deal with the constitution of the House of Lords. The Preamble says:And whereas it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords, as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation.It went on to say:And whereas provision will require hereafter to be made by Parliament in a Measure effecting such substitution for limiting and defining the powers of the new Second Chamber.That is an obligation which, I well remember, the present Lord Oxford said some years ago brooked no delay. A good many things have happened since 1911. I do not say it was possible for the Liberal party to take into consideration an amendment of the powers and constitution of the House of Lords during the Great War, but hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have had time to consider the obligation which the Parliament of 1911 has put upon future representatives in the House of Commons. Therefore, I do suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he has gone a little too far in accusing us of mala fides in bringing forward a Bill to carry out those terms in this proposed Resolution. I quite agree that a great change in the constitution of the House of Lords, such as is suggested by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Moss Side (Mr. Hurst), is not worth while making unless the powers of the House of Lords are altered. I frankly say that. In fact, for the present purpose, the House of Lords is a very much more popular body than hon. Members opposite seem to think. We were told by the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle) that the House of Lords would disappear. I do not believe it will disappear. I believe if hon. Members opposite agreed to consolidate their thunder at the next General Election upon the House of Lords—but I agree they will not do it. They know quite well that cock would not fight. They think they have something up their sleeve which is far better—something that will appeal to the cupidity of mankind. [An HON. MEMBER: "You ought to know about cupidity!"] I 892 admit I know the meaning of the word. That being the case, the Government view is this, if any alteration is to be made in the constitution of the House of Lords the powers of the House of Lords must be altered. To-day the House of Lords practically has no power at all.
I entirely agree with the views which were put forward by an hon. and learned Member that we are living under a uni-cameral Constitution at the present time. We are the only civilised country which has only one Chamber. The right hon. Gentleman complained that in many of our Dominions the two Chambers did not work well together. I will take it from him that that is correct, but what should be the corollary of his statement? Surely it is that those Dominions should have got rid of their Second Chambers. As far as I know, there is not one single Dominion, there is not one single country, neither France nor the United States of America, which is proposing to get rid of its Second Chamber. There may be difficulties; there are difficulties between the First and Second Chamber in this country, but the mere fact that there are difficulties in working between one Second Chamber and another is not a conclusive, or, indeed, any argument for doing away with the Second Chamber altogether, and those great democratic countries to which the right hon. Gentleman referred have not proposed to do away with their Second Chambers. Why should he say to us, "Because there were difficulties in the year 19 and something"—I forget the date—"in Queensland between the First and Second Chambers, therefore there should be no Second Chamber at all in Great Brita-n, or merely an ineffective Second Chamber"?
I do share to the full the fears of some of my hon. Friends, which have been so frankly expressed, lest there should be at any time in this House a majority which could carry through and, the Second Chamber being ineffective, could pass into law, Acts of Parliament which did not really carry with them the full support of the country. The right hon. Gentleman told us that such a time may arise in the history of Parliament. He told us to-day that if by our majority' in this House we pass a Measure giving more powers to the House of Lords, we shall be doing it against the views of the people of this country. Let me 893 assume that for a moment. He has implored us not to do it, not to use our powers, saying it would not be fair to use our powers to pass a Measure into law when we know that it is not in accordance with the views of the people of this country. If the Lords have no power, and if they are to be kept in a state of subjection, is it not equally possible—I hardly like to make such a suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman as he has made to us—is it not equally possible that he might be some day tempted, after two years of government and with a large majority in this House, to pass something into law of which we on this side of the House would say, "You had no authority from the people of this country to do it."
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I will try not to do so. I have great respect for the right hon. Gentleman, but even he might be tempted--or pushed by his followers. [An HON. MEMBER: "As you are!"] What are the proposals that have been made? There are great difficulties before the Government, even assuming for the moment that the Government desired to bring in such a Measure as suggested. We are very glad to have had this Debates we are very glad to have had the views of some of our colleagues, we are very glad to have had the views of the party conferences on which the right hon. Gentleman animadverted just now. Why should we not have those conferences? I am sure he has had more than enough of party conferences from time to time. The only difference is that ours generally support their leaders.
I say frankly to my hon. Friends on this side of the House that there is no possibility of introducing a Measure for the reform of the House of Lords unless there is one of two positions; either a definite agreement, certainly among our own supporters, as to the conditions that reform should take, or a definite realisation that the proposals put forward by the Government after the very gravest care, consideration and inquiry and is one which those hon. Friends of ours would support. May I say, quite frankly, you cannot restore anything like full power to the House of Lords unless, as before 894 1911, you have electoral reform. That, I think, was admitted by the deputation referred to by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. There must be an alteration in the Constitution and the law. The hereditary principle must in some part, go. There must be an elective principle introduced. Some suggest that should be by direct election by large constituencies; some suggest by indirect election by county councils or parish councils. There should be a nominated element. Someone suggested to-day there should be 50 Members nominated by the Leader of the Opposition. It struck me as a somewhat weird proposal.
Then there is this—and this is the real crux—that the real final balance of power in a democratic country like this must remain with the Lower House which is representative of the people of this country. Provision will have to be made, too, in some way or another to keep the balance between the two Houses. Some suggest joint sittings, some suggestions have been made of conferences; others suggest that there should be power in the Second Chamber for either a Referendum or an appeal to the people. I say to my friends on behalf of the Government all these considerations are before the Cabinet. The Cabinet Committee has been sitting for some months. We have seen as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Sir R. Sanders) knows, him and his friends. We have seen Members of the other House, and if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald) had asked we would like to see him too. We did not send for the hon. Member for Wells. He asked to be allowed to come and said he had something to contribute to the general debate. If the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberavon has anything useful to contribute we will be glad to see him. If he has any real proposals to make for the improvement of the House of Lords we shall be very glad to hear what he has to propose. What course does the Government propose to take? With regard to the official programme of the Tory party it is ridiculous to say that this subject was not mentioned at the Election. Speaking at Perth in the middle of the General Election the Prime Minister in October, 1924, used these words:It is our duty to consider within the framework of the Parliament Act whether 895 it is practicable to make provision for improving the machinery of the Second Chamber, and for preserving the ultimate authority in legislation to the considered judgment of the people.This was subject to the predominant power remaining with the people of this country. That is as far as the Government has got or has tried to go. The Government is considering proposals at the present time. So far as this Debate is concerned I am authorised by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet to say that so far as the Government are concerned we do not desire to take part in any division, although we welcome the speeches which I am sure will guide us. I am not quite so certain that the speches made by hon. Members opposite will afford us equal guidance, but those speeches made by hon. Members on this side of the House will be most carefully considered by the Prime Minister, and by the Government, and the Prime Minister and the Government fully intend to carry out the pledges given to the people, and they are fully sensitive of the gravity of the position, and desire to see what can be done to restore to the other Chamber some of those powers of which they were deprived by the House of Commons in 1911 and which Parliament then declared must he taken into consideration.
§ Captain BOURNE
I do not agree either with the Resolution or the Amendment, but I should like to refer to one remark which was made by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith). He referred to the pride, Mr. Speaker, of your predecessor in the Chair—
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.