§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Sir GERALD HURST
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The object of the Bill is very simple. It is to substitute for the definition of a Money Bill which is contained in the Parliament Act, 1911, a definition which I think can fairly be described as much more accurate pint much more calculated to give effect to the intention of those who framed the relevant Section of the Parliament Act. Although it is a simple proposal, it is of vital consequence to the State. There is a very real danger, of which many people are acutely conscious, that the very loose definition of a Money Bill contained in the Parliament Act may enable a Government to tack on to a Money Bill proposals of a political nature quite alien to the ordinarily accepted meaning of a Money Bill. This Bill makes no change whatever in the constitutional theory. It does not affect in any way the vexed question as to the powers and personnel of the House of Lords, and to those hon. Friends who have put down an Amendment seeking to defer the consideration of this Bill until a wider and larger scheme for the total reconstitution of the House of Lords comes into being, I would say that there are four short and conclusive answers to any such suggestion of postponement.
First of all, there is, I believe, no disagreement on the subject-matter of this Bill among Conservatives and Liberals, at any rate among Conservatives and thoughtful Liberals, whereas, with regard to the larger attempts to reform the personnel and powers of the House of Lords. you very rarely come across more than two or three Conservatives who are in agreement with any specific proposal, and for a Friday morning it is much more appropriate to bring forward a Measure on which there is a very large volume of general agreement. The second answer to any suggestion of postponement is that, even were it possible, which it is not, to arrive at general agreement on the larger question among Conservatives and 682 Liberals in this House, it does not follow in the least that any such agreement would be reflected by agreement in another place. It is so very easy for us to devise schemes for reforming the House of Lords when we know there will be no chance of their becoming law unless they meet with the approval of the majority in another place, which is very unlikely. How many men to-day describe their fancy constitutions for the House of Lords, with so many hereditary peers, so many elected or selected or nominated peers, and say, "That is my ideal House." But the short answer to any such proposal is, in the words of the Psalmist:Except the 'Lords' build the house, their labour is but lost that build it.It is not much good our building up an ideal House of Lords if the House of Lords will not have anything to do with that ideal. The third answer to any idea of postponement is that there would not be any chance whatever, I am afraid, in view of the infirmities of human nature, of getting the Government to accept any private Member's proposal for the reform of the House of Lords. The reform of the House of Lords has been under consideration since 1911, and it may be under consideration 50 years hence, whereas the subject matter of this Bill is simply the substitution of a careful, scientifically drafted formula for the existing formula, and one within a very narrow compass, which it is inconceivable that any National Government should refuse to accept.
As to the object of this Bill, one starts with asking what was the common aim of all parties in this House when the exception of Money Bills from the general provisions of the Parliament Act, 1911, was formulated and accepted. There is no doubt what that intention was. In April, 1911, Lord Oxford—Mr. Asquith, as he then was—said in this House:Tacking political on to financial proposals ought not to come under the existing machinery of this Clause.In other words, the intention of Section 1 of the Parliament Act was limited to Money Bills. It was never the idea of the framers of the Parliament Act that that Section should be used as a cloak for political reforms, and unscrupulous though the Liberal Government of that day may have been, they had no inten- 683 tion of making that Section a cover for anything other than what is normally regarded as a Money Bill.
What has been our experience as to the working of Sub-section (2) of Section 1 of the Parliament Act? I think a dispassionate observer of past history would arrive at the conclusion that that Sub-section is very much too vague, and that it affords no guarantee whatever against tacking objects foreign to the idea of a Money Bill on to a Money Bill within the meaning of the Act. One has only to see the very great difference of opinion as to various Finance Bills that have been brought forward from time to time to see how indefinite that definition in fact is. According to Lord Ullswater, whose statement will be found in the second volume of "Speakers' Commentaries," the so-called "People's Budget" of 1909 would not have been certified as a Money Bill, but according to another very competent judge, the late Lord St. Aldwyn, better known as Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, it was essentially a Money Bill. That shows how two very able, dispassionate, and trained minds examining the same problem may arrive at different results. Lord Snowden's first Budget of 1931, the last Budget he brought in during his Socialist days, contained a very elaborate provision for land valuation which had nothing to do with the finance of that year. Mr. Speaker certified that as a Money Bill, and, of course, one bows respectfully to that Ruling, which was no doubt a right Ruling.
§ Mr. HOLFORD KNIGHT
Did not that Finance Bill make provision for assessment, the first step towards the imposition of taxation, and was it not, therefore, a Money Bill?
§ Sir G. HURST
The Bill contained many follies, but it did in fact contain a very elaborate system of land valuation, and although, as I say, I respectfully bow, as we all do, to the decision arrived at by Mr. Speaker when he certified it, the other point of view was, I will not say right, but was at least arguable, and there were in fact letters in the "Times" from authorities on this question, like Sir John Marriott and Mr. Topham, to the effect that, in their view, there was much to be said for the idea 684 that it was not a Money Bill. But let me take more concrete illustrations even than those. In 1916, 1917, 1918, 1921, 1923, and 1924 the main Finance Bills of the year were not certified as Money Bills. That is very remarkable, because according to the ordinary man's conception of a, Money Bill, the main Finance Bill of the year would naturally come within that ambit, and the reason, I imagine, they were not certified as Money Bills was that under the existing definition in Subsection (2) of Section 1 of the Parliament Act of 1911A Money Bill means a Public Bill which in the opinion of the Speaker of the House of Commons contains only provisions dealing with …Then follow the specified subjects, and I imagine that they were not certified because although they were primarily Money Bills, there may have been in them one or two minor provisions not of the character of Money Bills. It is a remarkable contrast that, while those main Finance Bills of the year were not certifiable, during the same period, in 1922, 1924 and 1925, three Bills dealing with diseases of animals were certified as Money Bills. In 1917 the main Finance Bill of the year was not certified, but the Army (Annual) Act (1916) Amendment Bill, simply because it contained provisions with regard to the maximum price to be charged for billeting, was certified as a Money Bill.
These illustrations will satisfy any dispassionate observer that the present definition is of an uncertain and vague character and allows for the omission of a large number of Bills that an ordinary man would conceive to be Money Bills, and it includes other Measures which certainly did not conform to the normal conception of the words "Money Bill". The object of this Bill is to substitute the formula which has been drawn up by Lord Salisbury's Committee, and I suppose that it is an open secret that the one gentleman mainly responsible for the drafting of the formula was Lord Sumner, than whom there can be no greater master of legal definition. This formula does not depend on whether or not a Bill contains only provisions of a certifiable character. It defines a Money Bill asa Public Bill which according to the certificate of the Speaker of the House of Commons contains only provisions which what- 685 ever their form have in substance no other intention than the raising, variation or remission of revenue through the imposition, repeal, remission, alteration, or regulation of taxation;and so on. You do not in the substituted formula look to the form so much as to the substance. I am not setting out this formula as the last word in perfect definition. It is like any other, open to criticism and amendment, but at any rate, it creates a basis for the framing of a perfect formula. It is right to look to the substance rather than to the form of the Bill under consideration in order to decide whether it can properly he classified as a Money Bill. There is no difficulty in collecting from the actual contents of the Bill, by reading it from end to end, an opinion as to whether the substance is a Money Bill whatever the form of the Bill may be. As I have said, however, this is only a basis for discussion and amendment if necessary, but I venture to say that it is a basis better conceived and better adapted to our ideas of what a Money Bill really means than the very vague definition which at present is the law under the Parliament Act of 1911.
The present test, I have no hesitation in saying, is very unsatisfactory. Anyone can frame any type of Bill with a political object and cloak it in the guise of a Money Bill. Certainly, a Socialist Government, with the advice of men like their late Law Officers, with all their learning and passionate Socialist convictions, would not have the slightest difficulty in framing a Bill of the most revolutionary character and having nothing to do with finance, but calling it a Money Bill. The Socialists very often say that when they are in power they will nationalise the banks, the land, and industry. Any of these political and subversive objects could very easily be put in the guise of a Money Bill. Let me give an illustration. In order to nationalise the banks, it would be very easy to bring in a Bill imposing some sort of surtax, income tax or capital levy upon all persons who held shares in banking companies until such time as the shareholders were willing to transfer their shares to the State in consideration of State bonds or for no consideration at all. There would be nothing easier that to prepare a Bill for the nationalisation of banking, or the land, 686 or industries, or anything else in such a guise as that.
A Bill of that sort would come within the definition of a Money Bill in the Parliament Act because it would contain primarily provisions dealing only with taxation. Under the substituted definition in my Bill, it would not be certifiable as a Money Bill, because., in reading the Bill from end to end, it would be perfectly plain that, whatever its form, the substance of the Bill was not a Money Bill in the ordinary sense at all, but a political Bill.
It will be a great danger to the. State if it is possible to avoid the necessity for complying with the requirements of the Parliament Act as regards ordinary legislation, that is to say, the need to pass a Bill three times in successive Sessions before it becomes law when the House of Lords is opposed to it. It is a great danger to the. State if that machinery can be evaded by the very simple device of bringing in a. Bill of the most. far-reaching and revolutionary character and calling it a Money Bill and giving it the guise of a Money Bill. It is a great danger to the State, and I beg my hon. Friends, who are disposed to support the idea of deferring consideration of the present suggestion, to consider the extreme unlikelihood of the Government bringing in shortly a more comprehensive Measure for the reform and reconstruction of the House of Lords and meeting all the problems connected with it.
I would have my hon. Friends remember that time is fleeting, and that, although the nation responded so nobly to the call made upon it in the election of 1931, and although it may do so again in 1936 one cannot guarantee that the Socialists will be excluded from office for ever. Unless this simple Measure is made law during the early part of the life of this Parliament, we are deferring what is our duty, and our duty is undoubtedly to make some provision against the dangers of revolutionary Socialism. If and when the Socialists ever come in again, there will be a very different Socialist Government from the last. During the last Socialist Government the timings that they did which attracted most interest was the introduction of bathing in the parks and that sort of thing. The next time it will not be a question of 687 bathing in the parks, but the nationalisation of the banks. We have only to read the propaganda which emanates from the Socialist papers or the London School of Economics to realise that the next Socialist Government will be Socialist in something more than name. We have to face a real menace, and we should take such steps as we can to lessen the dangers of the revolution if and when that time arrives.
This is something much more than a constitutional question. Those of us who represent constituencies which depend on the well-being and the maintenance of British industry must be alive to the fact that the well-being, the very livelihood and the safety of those great populations for whom we are the trustees depends upon warding off revolutionary legislation. Looking back on the great progress that has been made in past years in regard to wages and labour, hours of labour, conditions of labour, holidays, amenities, housing, public health and all those things, one feels that all the progress which has been made will be thrown away if we allow our country to be caught in the vortex of revolution. Where there is the servitude, the squalor and the hunger which is involved by Socialism, there is no satisfaction to anybody to feel that all classes share those conditions in common. We have a great responsibility to the great masses of people for whom the coming of revolutionary Socialism will make all the difference between progress and relative well-being—greater well-being than that enjoyed in any other country in Europe—and a state of hunger and servitude. It is our bounden duty to take such steps as we can to safeguard them from those evils.
The constitutional safeguards formulated in this Bill are very simple. I have already drawn attention to the first Clause, which substitutes a better definition for the existing definition. Subsection (3) is to substitute for the Speaker as the sole judge of whether a Bill is a Money Bill or no the decision of a Standing Joint Committee of both Houses, with three Members from each House and the Speaker in the Chair, to give the casting vote if necessary, and his will be the certificate. The Public Bill Office will have no difficulty in sorting out from Bills which pass this House 688 those which are likely to be Money Bills, and there will be no difficulty in the Committee meeting and deciding whether or not such Bills are certifiable. Although we may continue to be fortunate in our Speakers yet all men are fallible, and I imagine that Mr. Speaker himself, who now has the great responsibility of deciding whether or not a Bill is certifiable, would not find it unwelcome to have the assistance of chosen experts from the two Houses of Parliament. It would be an additional safeguard.
Mere constitutional machinery, however, does not in itself provide an absolute safeguard against revolutionary legislation. Undoubtedly the strongest safeguards against. Socialism are the love of country and the right judgment of the great masses of people, and in times of emergency, such as the War and the General Strike and the last General Election, we were able to appeal, and not in vain, to those great qualities in the masses of English people. But although moral defences are the strongest defences law helps, and we have only to remember the remarkable effect of Mr. Justice Astbury's decision in Reed's case during the General Strike, and the remarkable influence of the speeches on the legal question made in this House by the present Secretary for Foreign Affairs and by other learned members, to realise that in a law-abiding country like ours law helps. Therefore, I urge upon the House not to rely entirely upon the moral factor, but to realise the desirability of giving effect to what was undoubtedly the true intention of the framers of the Parliament Act of 1911, and of defining Money Bills in such a way as to protect this country from that very special machinery in cases where Bills are not genuinely Money Bills at all.
This is a perfectly feasible Bill, a short Bill and one which can be accepted without any difficulty; and it is also a Bill well within the mandate which the Government received at the last Election. It is idle to say that Protection was the only question on which this Government received a clear mandate. It received a clear mandate, in addition, to do whatever lay in its power to avert the horrors of Socialism in our time. That was the appeal which the ordinary Conservative member made to his constituents, and it was an appeal which met with a ready 689 response, and I venture to say that this Measure is well within the Mandate. If it is carried by this House, and if, as I hope, it is accepted by the Government and accepted in another place, it will in my belief and in the belief, I think, of all people who study this matter dispassionately, be a real step upwards to those serene altitudes of peace and security to which all thoughtful Englishmen aspire.
§ Sir HENRY CAUTLEY
I beg to second the Motion.
Except for those persons who desire to see the Second Chamber done away with, the Bill, I believe, will re- ceive almost universal assent. The Parliament Act which it seeks to amend treats a Money Bill as different from Bills of ordinary legislation. It has been found by experience that the definition therein of a Money Bill is not sufficiently clear, and that under it Bills of very far reaching importance, which have more in them than arranging for the imposition of taxation and the collection of revenue, can be included. That being so, there has been a tendency, which began long before the Parliament Act was brought in, to wrap up in a false garb, in what is called a Finance Bill, matters of legislation which have little or nothing to do with finance. When it is realised that this Bill only seeks to carry out and make clear the objects of the Parliament Act I believe it will receive very much less criticism than any single proposal in the various measures which have been suggested for dealing with the functions or the constitution of the House of Lords itself. By long practice and ancient history this House has secured an absolute control of finance.
Matters concerning the relations between the two Houses in dealing with finance were brought to a head when the House of Lords threw out what was called the People's Budget in 1909. I venture to say there is no doubt that the reason the House of Lords threw out that Bill was that in their opinion it was not a genuine Money Bill, but sought to carry out matters of extraneous legislation under the guise of a Money Bill. Whether they were right or wrong may be a matter of opinion, but I venture to think that most constitutional lawyers at that time, and even now, will take the view that they were right. However that may be, 690 the House of Lords, in the following year, stated definitely that they forewent any claim to reject or to amend a Money Bill. In a Resolution which Lord Lansdowne brought in it was declared that the House of Lords were—prepared to forego their constitutional right to reject or to amend Money Bills which are purely financial in character, provided that effectual provision is made against tacking.It would be necessary to hear persons to decide what was a Money Bill and also what tacking was, whether it was merely the tacking on a Clause which was not financial or whether it included the far more subtle kind of tacking which consists of including non-financial matters with financial propositions. I myself strongly support that view. I think that it carries out the intentions of the Parliament Act which was that in a Money Bill tacking should be avoided. The practice had been growing up for some little time before 1910. It has been continued since, and as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Moss Side (Sir G. Hurst) has shown by the decisions that have been given upon former Finance Bills, it is being continually used even now. The practice has grown up of adding more legislation, and putting it into a Money Bill so as to get it passed into law without review, criticism or amendment by the Second Chamber. If we desire to carry out the intentions of the Parliament Act, as we do, there is a case for the definition which is contained in the Bill which is now before us. The operative part of the Bill is found in the few words on lines 17, 18, 19 and 20 of page 1, which are as follow:which whatever their form have in substance no other intention than the raising, variation or remission of revenue.In other words, all that this part of the Bill proposes is that nothing shall be considered except the substance of the Measure concerned. The Speaker is not to decide by the form or by the name of the Bill whether it is a finance Measure; he is to look at the substance of it, and; if the substance is finance, then it is a Money Bill. If it is something else, although in form it is a finance Measure, in substance it seeks to secure some other ulterior object, and it is not to be a Money Bill and Mr. Speaker is not to give his certificate. I submit to a common sense assembly such as we are 691 that that is a common sense view of what was intended by the Parliament Act, and that it ought to be carried out. This Bill concerns the functions that fall upon Mr. Speaker under the Parliament Act. It is considered by many, and I share the view, that it is too great a responsibility to leave to the Speaker alone to decide what is, in many cases, a difficult matter to decide, even under a definition which is so skilfully drawn in the Bill that we propose. The decision should be entirely a matter for some Parliamentary body, and ought not to be left, as has been suggested, to some outside body of eminent judges and lawyers, or some body of that kind. I think that it is essentially a matter for a Parliamentary body to decide, and I cannot think of any better suggestion than that which is contained in the Bill, which is that of a Joint Committee formed of three Members of the two Houses of Parliament, with Mr. Speaker as chairman. That is the best and most impartial body that can possibly be formed for this purpose. The suggestion of a body of lawyers is, apart from the political grounds, undesirable. In cases of difficulty it is true that the responsibility which Mr. Speaker has at the present time is to remain with him and that in the most difficult cases he will have the responsibility. I cannot see any way to avoid it. If I could, I should have suggested some way of dealing with it. Mr. Speaker, as in the past, will be succeeded by people of ability. The responsibility must rest upon them, and I have not the slightest doubt that it will have to remain there in the future.
I cannot see what is the object of the Amendment which is down in the name of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crook-shank). It must have a dilatory result; in fact, I go further and I say that, if his Amendment were carried, it would destroy this Measure. I do not believe that he disagrees with the object of the Bill. His Amendment shows that he wishes to defer dealing with the Bill until some Government—this Government I suppose he means—brings in what would be the most contentious Measure of modern times. In case of conflict between this House and the Second Chamber, this House would take a stand in regard to the matter, and 692 I should support it. If we are to reform the Second Chamber and raise all sorts of questions as to its powers we must first consider whether it is desirable to have a new Constitution in this country or not. That will raise questions as to whether you are to restore the old veto. In my view, that is undesirable if not quite impossible to obtain. If it were put into a Bill and carried, the same difficulty would arise in the future that arose in the past, and then we should require another Parliamentary Bill to deal with the situation. I beg the hon. and gallant Member not to press the Amendment which he has put on the Paper, and which can only have the result of destroying the Bill, and not of furthering the object which I know he has at heart, namely, the alteration of the character, functions and composition of the House of Lords itself. The Bill is designed to remedy one defect, which is clear and admitted by most people who wish to see Second-Chamber Government maintained, and I do not think we should do anything to prevent that being accomplished.
§ 11.46 a.m.
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words:this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which would alter the position of Mr. Speaker with regard to the existing privileges of this House until such time as a comprehensive measure of reforming the House of Lords can be introduced by the Government of the day.In introducing this Amendment, I must express considerable regret at having to disagree with the two hon. and learned Gentlemen, stalwart Members of my own party, who have initiated the debate today; but, after all, this is a Friday, and it would be very unusual if someone did not oppose a private Member's Bill today—almost as unusual as if I did it. There is, however, a great deal to be said on the opposite aspect to that which has already been dealt with. The hon. and learned Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley) to some extent begged the question by saying that this was an admitted evil with which it was essential to deal. I am not so sure about the admitted evil. Quite frankly, I think that this is just the sort of question which can only be attacked by the Government of the day. It is generally understood 693 that there is only one small portion of the Constitution of this country which is in writing, and that is the Parliament Act of 1911, and I do not believe that it is the function of private Members on Fridays to undertake, in however small a way, to deal with the Constitution of our country.
Personally, I am no advocate of delay with regard to the question of the House of Lords. I have never disguised my profound hope that time and opportunity will before very long be found for dealing with that very difficult problem. But I do say that, if you hold that view, arid if you want to go into the fundamental questions which these issues raise, it is silly to attack to-day just a very small point which very probably, when the proper future arrangements between the two Houses have been dealt with, may not come up for discussion at all. I would say, if I may be allowed a digression, that a Bill of this nature, which seeks to amend an existing Statute, is, perhaps, a little different from other Measures which break new ground. I should say that an amending Bill of itself ought to demonstrate one or other of the following propositions—that the Statute which it seeks to amend is fundamentally wrong; or that it is ineffective for its purpose; or, again, that it causes a grievance to some section or other which it is vital to redress; or, finally, that the Statute which it is desired to amend is unworkable. I think that, before anyone recommends amending legislation, they ought to satisfy themselves that their amending Bill is going to deal with one or other of these aspects of the original Statute. With regard to the present Bill, I would ask, is the part of the Parliament Act which it seeks to amend fundamentally wrong? I cannot bring myself to that view. Whatever else can be said about the Parliament Act, it is beginning to grow as part of our constitutional machinery; it comes of age this year.
It is to be remembered that what we are talking about this morning is not the procedure with regard to Money Bills, but the far smaller point as to the description of what a Money Bill is, and, as a matter of fundamental right or wrong, I cannot accept the view that that part of the Parliament Act is fundamentally wrong. So far as I know, there is no grievance 694 to anyone under the present description —I will deal with that point again in a moment; it is not ineffective, and it certainly is not unworkable. There has been no trouble, so far as ordinary people can find out, with regard to the actual wording of the definition of a Money Bill. It is very hard, of course, to get any evidence on that point. Naturally, one is not in a position to find out anything about the present occupant of the Chair or his immediate predecessor, but, if I may go back to Mr. Speaker Lowther, in his case there might have been a grievance to this extent, that he was Speaker of this House when the Parliament Bill was enacted, and thereby new responsibilities were put upon him which could not have been present to his mind when he accepted the office at the beginning. That, however, could only have applied in his case. All subsequent occupants of the Chair are perfectly aware that the responsibility for dealing with Money Bills under the Parliament Act is thrust upon them, and they have many other duties, obligations and responsibilities; and, if they themselves did not feel capable of accepting them, then I presume they would decline the offer of the Speakership. But, from the fact that they have accepted the Speaker-ship, they are aware of this particular difficulty, and, as I have said, so far as we can judge, they have not found it to be overwhelming. In the case of Mr. Speaker Lowther, however, we have on record what he thought about it. If I might trouble the House with just one quotation from his own comments, he said:I had felt that., in the case of a Bill which raised serious party controversy, the duty cast upon the Speaker was somewhat invidious, and his decision might bring upon him severe criticism from one or other party. The assistance of two specially selected members seemed, however, to provide him with a safeguard, and to this I agreed. As events turned out, although I had frequently occasion to consult those gentlemen, no difficulty ever occurred in the matter, for the Clause was so carefully and elaborately drafted that I never had much doubt as to the category in which the Bills which I had to consider fell.That is the only possible evidence that there is with regard to this matter, because Mr. Whitley has not published his recollections yet, and I trust, Mr. Speaker, that it will be many years before any such writing may fall from your 695 pen. Therefore, I say that the only evidence that we have comes from what Mr. Speaker Lowther said, namely, that he had no difficulty in considering these Money Bills.
Of course, there is a tremendous lot of confusion, both in this House and outside, with regard to the whole question of Money Bills, and it is, perhaps, a pity that in the wording of the Parliament Act some other definition should not have been thought of—say something like "Privileged Bill"—which would have distinguished, as one has to distinguish now, between what ordinary people would think was a Money Bill and what is a statutory Money Bill under the Parliament Act. Many hon. Members who have not studied this matter very profoundly would probably assume —though the assumption would be wrong, as so many assumptions are —that any Bill which originated in Committee of the Whole House, with the King's Recommendation, was automatically a Money Bill under the Parliament Act. That is not the case. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Moss Side (Sir. G. Hurst) assumed—and, in fact, it seemed to be rather a grievance with him—that a Finance Bill or a Budget ought automatically to be a Money Bill under the Parliament Act; but the very fact that that is not the case is due to the careful drafting of the words of the Section which we are discussing. I do not want to weary the House with a great number of lists of Bills, and will only refer hon. Members to the relevant pages of the current edition of Erskine May, where they will find an ample number of Bills described of both categories—Finance Bills which were not certified as Money Bills under the Parliament Act, other Bills which originated in Committee of the Whole House and were not certified, and again, which is perhaps even more curious, Bills which have been certified although they may not have granted supply to the Crown and did not orginate in Committee or require the Royal Recommendation. It shows that there is bound to be a certain confusion of thought with regard to what is exactly a Money Bill owing to the fact that the word "money" is associated in so many people's minds 696 with merely the Budget and the Finance Bill of the year.
The difficulty that I see in the proposals made in this Bill is that you should try to ascertain, in spite of the form of Bills, what is their intention. I am surprised at two lawyers telling us that it is easy to ascertain what is the intention of anything or of anybody, because I am not quite sure that an inanimate object like a Money Bill would have an intention. It seems to me that it is obviously most difficult. For example, take our own affairs in this House. How often can you, Sir, sitting in the Chair be quite certain what is the intention of any speech that is delivered? We can all recollect cases of Debates having being specially arranged in order that a Minister may make some important statement because an important by-election is going on somewhere in the country. A casual observer in the House, someone in the Members' Gallery, would never have spotted that. It very often happens that considerably longer speeches than circumstances might otherwise seem to require are made in order to prevent, if possible, the second Order of the day, particularly on Fridays, coming under discussion. It may be even so in this case for all I know. I do not think you, Sir, would care to be given the responsibility of having to decide what is either the substance, the form, or the intention behind any such oration as that. So I say that is a wrong thing anyhow to try to define, because it is impossible to define.
But I make a much serious criticism ever than that. It may not perhaps apply to what my hon. Friends have said, but it certainly applies to a great deal of what one reads on this subject, though it is not always put into words. There is an underlying assumption at the back of a great many people's minds that you are going at some unspecified moment of time in the future to have to deal with a corrupt occupant of the Chair, who will so far forget his responsibilities and his duties that he will improperly certify a Bill which should not be certified. My hon. Friends do not agree with that, but, that is the underlying assumption behind a great number of people's speeches on this subject, and I most profoundly object to our legislating on any such basis as that. It is a 697 monstrous thing even to put into words. It is no good going back to the old days when Speakers were Members of the Government—I am not talking about that—but since modern practice has obtained one of the principal glories of this House has been the impartiality of the occupants of the Chair. They are selected with very great care, upright men of strict judgment, and even if they had not got it before, as soon as they assume that dignity, they show the utmost impartiality in their dealings as between one House and the other, as between party and party, and as between Member and Member. It seems to me monstrous that you should really be afraid that at some time or other that may not continue. If such a circumstance ever should arise, it will be quite time enough to deal with it when it does.
I do not agree with the suggestion of having a Joint Committee of both Houses to assist you, Sir, as the guardian of the privileges of this House, in the matter that is part of the practice of this House, that is, dealing with Money Bills. After all, at present, as I read the Parliament Act, making such a study of it as I am capable of, it seems to me that the decision that the Speaker has to make with regard to a Money Bill is one purely of fact, and very restricted fact at that. He has to decide that the Bill contains only provisions dealing with all or any of certain specified subjects, and, should any mistake be made, should the Speaker at some time come to a wrong decision on a question of fact, it seems to me that the House would find no great difficulty in dealing with him. There are ways and means of the House expressing its disapproval of some action of the occupant of the Chair. But, if you are going to make it a question of judgment of what the intention of the Bill may be, I cannot imagine how the House can ever then deal with that mistake, because what is one man's judgment may not be anothers, and you have no specific thing on which to complain of the action of the Speaker.
Anyhow, the proposal to have such a Joint Committee of Members of both Houses would be, surely and inevitably, to throw the Speaker into party politics. It would be necessary to take into account the relative state of parties in both Houses, and, unless and until something is done to alter the present Constitution, 698 powers and all the rest of it of the House of Lords, it is obvious what kind of committee will be set up. There are bound to be strong party views expressed there. Or are you going to have a committee of lawyers? If you are, my hon. Friend has kindly provided me with the answer. The Finance Act of 1909, which in Mr. Lowther's opinion would not have been certified under the Act had the Act existed, was considered by Lord St. Aldwyn to be the other way round, and, if the two lots of legal advice that were given on that Act differed, possibly it might differ in regard to this committee if the committee was a committee of lawyers. I am afraid it would be inevitable that members of the committee would have to be appointed taking into account the political weight of parties in both Houses, and I can see that, in the event of grave differences of opinion, Mr. Speaker would inevitably be drawn into a kind of political controversy, which is not the case under the present arrangement.
My hon. Friends have omitted to point out one of the changes in the definition, in line 22, after "for the payment of debt," the words "or other financial purposes." Perhaps someone who is supporting the Bill will go a little further into that, because that would make a considerable difference on minor matters. Here I come to another objection to the Bill. Owing to having repealed Subsections (2) and (3) of Section 1 of the original Act, there is no actual machinery by which the Speaker would give his endorsement. Something must be done.
That will be put right if it ever gets to Committee, which I doubt. At present, Mr. Speaker, before giving his certificate, consults, if practicable, two Members to be appointed from the Chairman's panel at the beginning of each Session. In future he will have to consult six. I am not enamoured, any more than are a great many other of my hon. Friends with committees, but I do not see how Mr. Speaker can ever be able to decide. It is all very well my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Grinstead saying that the Public Bill Office should have no difficulty in saying whether Bills 699 are likely to be Money Bills or not, but they are surely not going to be asked also to decide what is the intention behind a Bill. It is difficult enough for Mr. Speaker to have to do that, but to ask all the clerks of this House to set their minds to that problem is preposterous. Instead of Mr. Speaker "shall" refer any question, it will, in practice, work out that he "must" refer every Bill in order to be quite sure that he is right. If you are going to give him statutory devices for which he has not asked and all Bills, or even put it into his mouth to say that some Bills have to go to a Joint Committee for decision and advice, hon. Members must not forget that it is not always very easy to get hold of three Members of this House and three members of the other House on the shortest notice to discuss, arrange and decide, possibly in a time of emergency, the difficult problem as to what kind of Bill a particular Measure may be.
For the benefit of those who are curious in these matters and who study the OFFICIAL REPORT with precision, I will give a very interesting fact regarding the existing situation. Under the present Act you are entitled, if practicable, to consult two Members of this House. Last Session, owing to the emergency, this House decided to pass very rapidly the Abnormal Importations (Customs Duties) Bill immediately after the Address was voted. The Bill was read the Third time, and passed, and certified by Mr. Speaker on the 19th November, the same day as the Committee of Selection was set up, the Committee of Selection being the body which has to nominate two Members to consult with Mr. Speaker, when practicable, about a Bill. I do not imagine that from its nature, there was any difficulty in certifying, but there was a case when, owing to the emergency, the Bill was actually passed and certified before the two advisers of Mr. Speaker were nominated or could possibly have been nominated. That shows that emergencies do sometimes arise when quick action has to be taken, and I shudder to think what would happen if we made it mandatory that consultation should take place with six Members, three from the other House and three from this House.
700 We cannot allow the Bill to get a Second Reading on those grounds. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Moss Side said that he had four answers to those of us who suggested postponing it, and that there was no disagreement about the Bill among Conservatives and Liberals. I am not so sure about that. But it does not follow that if we had agreement here with regard to larger Measures we should get it in the House of Lords. I should think that that is quite certain, but I do not think that it affects the consideration of whether or not the Bill should get a Second Reading. Then he said—and it is the oddest argument—that there was no chance of the Government accepting private Members' suggestions for the reform of the House of Lords. That is exactly what we say. A Bill of this kind ought not to get a Second Reading until there is a comprehensive. Measure of reform of the House of Lords introduced by the Government of the day. He has argued my case. The fourth reason, I am sorry to say, he forgot to give us. I do not see very much of a case. I congratulate him upon the very brilliant speech in which he introduced really good anti-Socialist propaganda. The General Strike, Protection, and almost everything came in, as we are entitled on a Friday morning, but I do not think he has sufficiently made out a ca-se for this particular Measure.
It is not a party question at all. It is not only a question of whether there is or there is not to be any reform or alteration in the relations between the two Houses, but something far more important than that, though I believe that it is true that a Labour Member put down a Motion to reject the Bill even before he had seen it in print. I hope that in regard to this difficult problem we may get same interesting advice—I will not say guidance—from the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee), who is to speak to-day. I am more than ever convinced that the problem of the relations between the two Houses must be dealt with sooner or later. It can only be dealt with by the Government of the day, and it is no good trying to take a lot of bites at the cherry, and particularly such a rotten bite as the one to-day. I ask that the matter should be most urgently considered by the Government.
701 I would urge the learned Attorney-General to represent to his colleagues in the administration that this matter is not one which can be allowed to drift indefinitely, and, where there are numerous varieties of opinions as to what ought to be done, I would commend to him a little pamphlet issued by two of his colleagues in which he will find very much of interest, and certainly an expression of opinion with which most people would agree, namely: that if you are to deal with the question at all, both Houses must decide What the respective powers of those Houses must be. At the moment the power of this House is to deal largely with Money Bills and finance. It is for that reason that I inserted in the Amendment words to the effect that the House should refuse to give a, Second Reading to the Bill because it would alter the position of Mr. Speaker with regard to existing privileges of that kind. I hope that the House will agree with me that this is not a delaying Amendment. If we can to-day clarify the atmosphere at all with regard to one small but difficult point in a very large and difficult subject we shall not have wasted the day, but to expect private Members, if I may use the word, to tamper with an important situation without, at any rate, a lead from the Government is something in which I could not willingly acquiesce. I hope that by accepting the Amendment which I propose we shall for the time being defer this question, and that we shall make it clear to the Government that we hope and expect that they are going to tackle the problem without any undue delay.
§ Mr. MOLSON
I beg to second the Amendment.
It may be to some people a matter of some surprise that I, a signatory of the Report of the Salisbury Committee who provided the draft which is included in this Bill, should be supporting an Amendment for the rejection of the Bill. Anyone who examines the Report of the Salisbury Committee will find that they considered that the question of powers and personnel should be dealt with at the same time. With a very great deal of what the hon. and learned Member for Moss Side (Sir G. Hurst) has said, I find myself in complete agreement, but I think he rather over-stated his case when 702 he suggested that the Bill would be any protection against that devastating rising tide of Socialism which he sees with an eye of apprehension, though, so far as I can discern, there is no sign of any sort of revival of that kind at the present time. The Salisbury Committee never thought for one moment, should that dire and dreadful day come, that any Second Chamber in this House would be able to prevent a revolutionary government, which was swept into power with the support of a large majority of the electorate, from carrying out any changes however disastrous they might be. I have sufficient confidence in the courage and the enterprise of hon. Members on the Opposition benches to believe that that would not be allowed to stand in their way.
Our reason for suggesting certain changes in the composition of the powers of the House of Lords was to enable there to be an adequate check against hasty legislation by a Government which did not at the time really represent the considered opinion of the country. If it is the considered opinion of the country, however foolish that considered opinion may be, then in that case it should always be the duty of the Upper Chamber, having drawn the attention of the Lower Chamber and the country to the possible disastrous consequences of that course of action, to let the responsibility rest upon the Lower House. Therefore, although I am in favour of these changes being brought about, I do not think that it would be wise to attempt to make of the Upper Chamber a sort of bolt with which to screw down the safety valve.
I oppose this Bill on the ground that it is inopportune. The powers and the personnel of the Upper House must be dealt with at the same time. What powers you are going to give them must necessarily depend upon what the composition is going to be and, so far as I am concerned, if it is not possible to deal with the mattter in that way, that is, to deal with the two at the same time, then I consider the most pressing need is to deal with the personnel. The great disadvantage from which the Upper House suffers is that there are not sufficient members of the Opposition for the very able spokesmen of the Government there to shoot at. The whole position of the House of Lords at the present time is prejudiced by the fact that there is 703 such a large majority of supporters of the present Government. In considering this Bill, I think we must also remember what was said in the Debate which took place on the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Essex (Mr. Raikes) on 30th November, and, in particular, some of us cannot remain deaf to the very earnest appeal which was made to us by the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman). Now the purpose of the Salisbury Committee was to make an appeal to the National Government to take up this matter. In their concluding paragraph they said,The Committee desire to press upon His Majesty's Government the urgency of the question of House of Lords reform, and respectfully submit recommendations to that end both in powers and personnel set out in this report.With that I am in entire agreement, but to introduce a Bill on the responsibility of private Members, and without any signification from the Government of their approval, and also with the knowledge that certain sections of the Government supporters would not be prepared to accept this Bill, is going a very great deal further than I should be prepared to go. I hope that the Government will consider this matter. I hope that it will be possible for them to secure some measure of agreement, at any rate among all the different parties who are supporting this Government. We might even secure some measure of agreement from that section of the Labour party which is in Opposition, and then I hope it will be possible to get through a comprehensive Measure which will ensure that the Upper House is reasonably representative of all sections of opinion in the country. When that has been done, I think it will be seen to be desirable that we increase in many respects the powers of the House of Lords, and, at the same time, I have no doubt that it will then be found necessary to define with greater precision and clarity exactly what is to be a Money Bill under the Parliament Act.
§ 12.21 p.m.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I rise to say a word on behalf of the hypothetical victim for whom is destined either the pole-axe of the hon. and learned Member for Moss Side (Sir G. Hurst), or the humane killer of the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. 704 Molson), for the hon. and learned Member for Moss Side made it perfectly plain that the sands were running out, the time was getting short, there was a danger that the National Government would soon lose their power, and, therefore, they must try to make an arrangement whereby any Socialist Government that came in should be snore speedily killed. I am bound to say that I agree very largely with the criticism of the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment that, after all, it was not very much of a pole-axe which the hon. and learned Member was putting forward. It seemed to me rather more like Mrs. Partington's mop. The idea that, because you have in the country a tremendous majority in favour of a certain course, by passing a Bill like this, in which you say a certain Bill shall be regarded as a Money Bill, you really put an effective dyke against the flood seems to be an optimistic view. If you are really going to have a situation of the kind which I suggest you are going to have of a Socialist majority in this House putting forward a full Socialist programme, and not, as the hon. and learned Member said, a Government with a Socialist facade—I think he was wrong there, because we had a Socialist Government with a stucco facade which the learned Member's friends have taken over—and if you are really going to have a House of Lords that is to represent the forces against it, you are bound to have a conflict sooner or later.
I should describe the Bill as a Bill for the promotion of a more speedy conflict between the two Houses of Parliament. The hon. and learned Member is afraid that, under the Parliament Act as it now stands, one or two Measures might get through on the ground of their being Money Bills; but in any case the time would come when there would be a conflict on some Bill about which there was no uncertainty. I think the matter was very fully debated on this kind of proposal in 1911, the Debates of which I have recently re-read, and I am bound to say I cannot think the phraseology of this amending Bill is very happy. The hon. and gallant Member for Gains-borough (Captain Crookshank) has already pointed out the difficulty of deciding what the intention is. It seems to me that there is no possibility of any Bill being certified as a purely Money Bill under this Measure. Take the legis- 705 lation we had given us in shoals during last year. It is nominally taxation, but I would suggest that no hon. Members opposite would say that tariff legislation is merely fiscal, but that they have engaged in a great national campaign with many ulterior objects concerning cementing the Empire, punishing Ireland and all kinds of things. If you have to look to the intention, when any Bill is introduced you always hear differences of opinion about the intention. I suppose a Free Trade House of Lords. We have to exercise imagination on a Friday morning, especially when a Bill of this sort is introduced. Let us suppose that the House of Lords had a Free Trade majority. I wonder if the hon. and learned Member in those circumstances would be so keen on his present Bill. I think the hon. and learned Member was not considering this matter really from a constitutional point of view according to its form, for his intention is to put up a barrier against Socialism. I think lie realises that that is so and it was a great consolation to us to know that it would be always possible to brief the hon. and learned Member to draft a Bill that would get through, because, as he pointed out, he could easily do it. I am well aware that one could get a clever lawyer to draft a Bill, but getting it through is another matter.
The hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough was unanswerable in his objection to the form of this proposed Amendment on the Parliament Act, 1911. To make Mr. Speaker the judge of intention is a very serious thing. It is more so when you are going to provide him with a small committee which apparently is going to argue the matter with him. There is to be a small standing joint committee of three members from each House. I noticed that in the proposal in another place there was to be seven a side. Let us suppose that there is no clash between the two Houses, that they are not divided between Lords and Commons on the question of procedure but that they are arguing about intention. Let us suppose that the representatives on the committee consist of two Labour Members and one Conservative Member from this House, and two Conservatives and one Labour Member from the Lords. You will have a very interesting political Debate presided over by Mr. Speaker. 706 Mr. Speaker in the event of an equality of votes is to have the casting vote.
If there is a clash between the two Houses it seems to me that neither House is going to run the risk of prejudicing its case by putting in an Opponent. Mr. Speaker, who is to give his casting vote, has to deal with these things quickly. It will be difficult to assemble his team, especially that part of the team from the other end of the corridor, because they do not sit very frequently and they do not sit very long. Then you will find that Mr. Speaker has given a decision in this House and has, therefore, prejudged the question, a fact which came out clearly in the Division in 1911. Therefore, it really comes to this that you are going to take up Mr. Speaker's time, whilst leaving the matter for his ultimate decision. He is merely to sit to hear partisans debating. At the present Lime Mr. Speaker is able to avail himself of any skilled assistance that he requires, and any advice that is needed. He can consult persons of authority in this House who are on the panel of chairmen and are fully competent to advise him. It seems to me that by this Bill you are merely going to make the Speaker listen to unnecessary debates, and I am sure that he hears quite enough already.
There is the further objection, that you are trying to take this matter outside the power of the House of Commons. This House has always claimed its own privileges, but you are now seeking to set up a body which is to be above this House and outside this House, from whom there is no appeal—a Statutory body that is going to lay down what the Constitution is to be. I think the hon. and learned Member for Moss Side is a great constitutional invader. He realises from his point of view the merits of dealing with this matter at the moment. But it was curious that the mover of the Bill did not show any signs that he had observed great friction since 1911. I cannot remember any vehement debates about Mr. Speaker having certified wrongly in regard to Bills. The urgency is entirely in the mind of the hon. and learned Member for Moss Side. I feel inclined to go down to Moss Side to see what has happened, and I advise the hon. Member who seconded the Amendment to go to East Grinstead and see what has happened there.
707 The Conservatives are a party of gentlemen and sportsmen who always want to change the rules before the other side goes in to bat. They say: "This is working all right when we are in, but wait until the others go in, and then we will change the rules. We will say that what is a 'no-ball' now is not a 'no-ball,' and we will lengthen or shorten the pitch." Therefore I suggest that it is really a waste of time to proceed with this Bill. The hon. and learned Member is putting up this little, frail barrier, and he says that it will be very useful to him to have the law on his side. I agree with him that when you are making a revolution or a counter revolution it is best to have the law on your side, if you can, but if you are dealing with realities I do not think that he can really suggest that if the Socialist tide comes along, and if it sweeps over this frail paper barrier of his, that he is going to stand against the popular voice of the majority. But that has been the habit of the Conservatives in the other House, although they have had to give way eventually. That is exactly what the trouble was over the Parliament Act of 1911.
The hon. and learned Member and his friends have always taken the line that no matter what happens in the constituencies, no matter what is said, they shall have the power at the other end of the corridor to say the last word. If the hon. and learned Member will read the interesting Debate that took place in 1911 he will see that Lord St. Aldwyn, speaking on the proposed swamping of the House with Liberal Peers, said for his part he was prepared to accept the Parliament Act rather than have a host of Liberal Peers who would sit there year after year mutilating everything that was sent up from the Conservatives in this House. That is exactly what his own friends had been doing to Liberal Measures for many years. The only effect of a Bill of this kind would be to make the contest between the two Houses more speedy and more inevitable. One hopes to live long enough to see the House of Lords abolished and single Chamber Government established. We shall certainly oppose the Bill, although we do not agree with the terms of the Amendment, which suggests that the House of Lords can be reformed. We do not think that it can be 708 reformed. We think that it ought to be abolished. I do, however, agree with a great deal of the arguments of the hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough, and I hope the Bill will be rejected.
§ 12.35 p.m.
§ Sir ROBERT HAMILTON
I would like to add a few words of criticism to the criticisms which have already been made upon the Bill. We always have an interesting and a clever exposition from the hon. and learned Member for Moss Side (Sir G. Hurst) when he introduces Bills, but I thought that his speech this morning was a little bit too disarming, and when he suggested that there was a large measure of agreement between the members of the party to which I belong and the Conservative party on this Bill, I was rather astonished. I looked at the backers of the Bill, and when I read the list of hon. Members there I failed to see one who had the least trace of what we call Liberalism.
§ Sir G. HURST
If my hon. Friend will look at the list he will see that it contains the name of the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. T. B. Ramsay). He is a Liberal.
§ Sir R. HAMILTON
I beg pardon. That is my mistake. But after all he is only one among a very large number, and I am not aware whether he sits on these benches or not. However, in his disarming speech the hon. and learned Gentleman went on to try to make out that this Bill practically introduced no change at all, that it was merely a re-definition of the existing state of affairs. But I do not think there is really any justification for the hon. and learned Member's contention, for what is it that this Bill really seeks to do? It seeks to make a very different and material alteration in the definition of what are Money Bills. There is no question about that. Secondly, it seeks to introduce a committee, with Members of the House of Lords on it, to advise Mr. Speaker. Those are two very drastic alterations. Those are the very points over which battle was joined 21 years ago.
I do not minimise for a moment the difficulties that there are in dealing with this question. Those difficulties were very fully realised during the Debates 21 years ago. But what the hon. and learned Member is seeking to do here is 709 to reinstate the very propositions which were then turned down. Let us look at the first one. The first proposal is to alter the definition of a Money Bill which is to be considered by Mr. Speaker. The existing Act says that Money Bills are Bills which, according to the certificate of the Speaker of the House of Commons, "contain only provisions dealing with all or any of the following subjects." Then the Act mentions the subjects. In the Bill before us the proposal is "contains only provisions which, whatever their form, have in substance no other intention than the raising, variation or remission of revenue." That is only putting in other words the proposal that was Debated in 1921, which turned on the words "the main governing purpose." Now it is proposed to substitute the words "whatever their form have in substance no other intention." That is a root-and-branch alteration, because it asks Mr. Speaker and whoever he may consult not to look at the Bill itself, but to go behind it and try to get what is the intention of the Bill.
It is rather interesting to observe that in the Debates to which I have referred an instance was quoted to show the difficulty of arriving at the intention of a Bill. The instance was quoted, I believe, by my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel). He chose the very unlikely possibility of a duty of 2s. being put on wheat, at that time considered a highly improbable event, and he said that some hon. Members would find difficulty in saying whether that duty was for the purpose of revenue or for the purpose of cementing the Empire. My hon. Friend the Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) referred to the same speech just now. He said that the duties which we have recently had put before us present themselves to hon. Members in various lights as to intention.
I was very much surprised to hear my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley) say that it was such a simple matter to arrive at what was really the substance and intention. Surely as a lawyer he must know that it is the duty of a judge to interpret a Statute, to look at what a Statute says, and not to go behind to see what the legislators said they had in their minds when they passed the law. A judge in 710 interpreting a Statute has to look at the Statute itself. I consider that the duty of Mr. Speaker is much the same. His duty in considering whether a Bill is a Money Bill is in the nature of a judicial act dealing with a very technical matter in which he and his advisers are particularly expert. It would be putting Mr. Speaker in an impossible position to ask him to go behind a Bill and try to interpret what was the intention, apart from what was in the Bill itself. I was considerably surprised to hear the arguments put forward by the hon. and learned Member for East Grinstead.
§ Sir H. CAUTLEY
The courts are constantly involved in disregarding the form of a, transaction and looking at the substance of it.
§ Sir R. HAMILTON
That may be, but I would like to hear the hon. and learned Member suggest to a judge that he should consider what was the intention in the mind of the Members of Parliament who passed a particular Act.
§ Sir G. HURST
If my hon. Friend will look at the Section he will see that it refers to the intention of a provision. It does not refer to the intention of the promoters.
§ Sir R. HAMILTON
It is rather difficult to draw that line of distinction. By introducing the word "intention" the hon. and learned Member is not making an improvement on the existing definition but is adding to the difficulty. On the other point of having a Committee to advise Mr. Speaker, the committee to be drawn from Members of both Houses, I agree very much with the argument so ably put forward by the hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank). But there is one point which has been omitted by him and by others. That is that if that procedure were adopted it would very largely weaken the authority of Mr. Speaker. It would be intolerable that Mr. Speaker, who is the guardian of the privileges and traditions of this House, should be overridden by a committee of that sort and have only a, casting vote. Suppose that Mr. Speaker took a different view from the majority of the committee. He would be over-ridden by the committee, and our traditional guardian of our privileges could be put in a position which would 711 be absolutely intolerable. To my mind that is the strongest argument of all against having a committee which Mr. Speaker can consult.
Anyone who looks at the Debates of 1911 will see what very great difficulty the House was in then in trying to arrive at a suitable means for assisting Mr. Speaker in his very difficult task. It was first suggested that it should be the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and the Chairman of Ways and Means who should form the panel to assist him. It was pointed out then that those gentlemen, suitable though they might be at times and unsuitable perhaps at other times, would hamper Mr. Speaker possibly if he was confined to consulting those two gentlemen. After a long Debate it was eventually decided that it would be much better for the House to choose, through the Selection Committee, certain people whom you, Mr. Speaker, might consult. These were to be people chosen on the ground of their knowledge of procedure and their ability to deal with these matters.
What has experience shown. Has experience shown this to be a good method? What complaints have there been? Why should we attempt to alter the method at the present time? It is now 21 years since this method was brought into practice and even at the beginning, when it might have been considered more difficult to apply it we had not a single occasion for complaint. Now when, with experience, one imagines that things have become easier, we never have occasion to find fault with any decision taken in these matters. I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Grinstead that there are what may be called inconsistencies. There must be inconsistencies, but that does not mean that the method which we have arrived at for dealing with the practical business coming before us is necessarily bad. We are known as a people who are often inconsistent in our ways of procedure, but because our ways of procedure are inconsistent and illogical, they are not necessarily bad. I think that in this case we are entitled to draw a very large argument from the successful experience that we have had of the working of the existing method.
712 To my mind, again, it is a very unfortunate suggestion that Members of the House of Lords should he associated with Members of the House of Commons in matters relating to finance. The argument originally for such a proposal was that it would prevent the House of Lords from being deprived of rights in the region of finance which they conceived to be theirs. That was the argument of the then Lord Lansdowne. Frankly, I cannot agree that the Lords have rights in finance in this House to the extent that they should be entitled to have three Members sitting on a committee to advise you, Mr. Speaker, on decisions concerning the privileges of this House. As regards the Amendment I think the argument is overwhelming that such a drastic alteration as is proposed in the Bill should not be undertaken lightheartedly by private Members on a Friday morning. This is a matter for the Government and it is part of a much larger question as the hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough has pointed out. I think it would be a very wrong procedure for this House to attempt to take what he called "one rotten bite at a cherry.' I should prefer to call it one bite at a rotten cherry. I do not agree with the hon. and gallant Member to the extent of hoping that this Parliament will deal with the reform of the House of Lords. A wish which is, I believe, prevalent in a good many quarters. I should like to take this opportunity of saying that to extend the "doctor's mandate," to the extent of making a vast constitutional change of this sort would be beyond anything that has been attempted yet and I believe that the country as a whole would regard it as a serious breach of faith.
The argument has been seriously put forward however that because the National Government has a very large Conservative majority at the present time and do not know what may happen after the next Election, they had better get going while the going is good and get reform of the House of Lords while they have the opportunity of exercising great influence in that direction. I should like to know the attitude of the Government both with regard to this Bill and with regard to the wider matters raised by the Amendment. As far as I can appreciate the vastness of the change which any 713 attempt to reform the House of Lords would involve, it is inconceivable that such a policy should be entered upon without an appeal to the country. We must have a General Election before any such constitutional change is attempted. I do not think we need discuss that matter much longer on this occasion. We are only concerned at the moment with this Bill which deals with a small but very important portion of the constitutional question. As far as I and the party with which I have the honour to be connected are concerned we are stoutly and completely opposed to the proposal of the hon. and learned Member for Moss Side. If this Bill is in the nature of a kite sent up to find how the wind is blowing, I can assure him that it is blowing contrary to the direction for which he hopes. When it comes to a Division although I do not go the whole way with the hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough in hoping that this Government will introduce reform of the House of Lords, I shall vote with him on the Amendment because it will kill this Bill.
§ 12.51 p.m.
§ Mr. E. T. CAMPBELL
It gives me pleasure to support my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Moss Side (Sir G. Hurst) on this occasion because in 1926 he brought forward a resolution on the re form of the House of Lords which I had the honour of seconding. Since then neither he nor I have changed our views as to the necessity for such a Measure. Twenty-one years ago Mr. Asquith, as ho then was, said that the reform of the House of Lords was a matter which brooked no delay. Why, after 21 years, Members of our own party should be trying to delay it, I fail to understand. I am sure that those hon. Members are flattered to know that in this matter they are to get the unanimous support of my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Hamilton) who is leading and, in fact, at the moment embodying the whole of the Liberal party in this House. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I beg his pardon; I now see that there are two Members of that party in their places. It is a party with a great history. It is the party which is responsible for the Parliament Act. That they may take to their credit or otherwise, just as they wish. But when the question of the re- 714 form of the House of Lords comes to be decided, as likely as not that party will be defunct. I refer of course, only to the party and not to hon. Members individually. Then, those hon. Members of the Conservative party who are opposing this proposal are also to have the support of the Socialist party whose main object is not to amend but to do away with the House of Lords altogether. In view of that fact I suggest that their views on the amendment of the Parliament Act or any part of it are useless. They want to take a big blue pencil and wipe out the House of Lords altogether It is therfore our duty to see that they do not get the opportunity. In these days when some of us are getting on in years—
§ Mr. CAMPBELL
My right hon. and learned Friend suggests that we are all getting on in years but I do not think the remark applies to him. But in these days it is interesting to observe developments and it is perhaps a pity that two of the younger and most brilliant Members of this House should have formed a coalition on this question on this Friday morning with the Socialist party and the remainder of the Liberal party. In 1924 I was secretary of the committee of which the Seconder of the Amendment is now the honorary secretary—and a very capable honorary secretary too. The most important thing which we discussed then and the thing which we thought should be settled before anything else was the definition of a Money Bill. We thought that that was the crux of the question, and I remember receiving from 60 Members 60 different views. We have now got a committee of those Members of both Houses who are interested in this subject, and who have come to the one conclusion as to the wording of a Money Bill. That conclusion is embodied in the Bill which the hon. and learned Gentleman has brought in to-day. I do think it is a pity that in these circumstances the two hon. Members, who I know are just as keen as I am on the total reform of the House of Lords, should give the Government the opportunity which they have looked for, and which I presume they are still looking for, of delaying the whole question. It has always been 715 my mission in this matter to ginger up the Government and give them no reason at all for saying that we are so disagreed among ourselves that they can do nothing.
We have to remember that when a party comes into power or office at the General Election it is not necessarily the fact that the country wants that party in power, but that the country is dissatisfied with something their predecessors have done or have not done. Therefore, we have to legislate to try to make things so secure that no matter which party is in power they cannot just get away with anything they wish without some check. That check should be a Second Chamber, however formed. Though I agree that the final voice must be with the House of Commons and the people, yet I do think it is essential that steps should be taken so that we can definitely have some system of holding up hasty and ill-considered legislation. I hope that Members of the National Government who are keen on something being done by the Government will support this Bill. Let this Bill be accepted to-day and that will in any case give the Government an opportunity of taking it over. If they wish to formulate a Bill, they can do so in conjunction with this one, which can run along side by side. I have great pleasure in supporting this Bill, and I hope that even at this late hour on Friday the Amendment with be withdrawn.
§ 1 p.m.
§ Mr. CHARLES BROWN
I was very much interested to hear the remarks of the hon. Member for Orkney (Sir R. Hamilton). He evidently was afraid of some of the things that may be done in this House before the end of this Parliament. I do not know why he should be afraid. Ho helped to obtain the majority, and he ought to understand from his knowledge of politics and political history that when such a majority is obtained it will do what. it thinks wise and necessary in its own interests. The hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) devoted himself to a critical examination of these proposals, and I think the arguments he advanced are more or less financial. So far as I am concerned, it is not the proposals in the Bill which are significant. A good deal has 716 been talked about intentions. The motive behind the Bill is most important so far as this discussion is concerned. The hon. and learned Member for Moss Side (Sir G. Hurst) did not disguise his real intentions. He was perfectly frank, and I admire him for his frankness. He treated us to observations which we frequently get as to the real meaning of the last election. He said it was a sort of uprising of the people against what he described as the possible horrors of Socialism. Evidently at one moment he is prepared to trust the judgment of the people when they are making a sort of demonstration against the possible horrors of Socialism, but he looks to a future when he might not be so trustful of the expression of the people's opinion.
He trusts them when their action does not endanger the system of which he is a passionate defender, but, if they should change their views and want another course of action, he has apparently very little admiration for a democracy which would so act. He wants to take advantage of the situation at the moment to strengthen what he calls the constitutional safeguards against revolution. I would say to the hon. Member that if he will direct his attention to policies which would establish in this country what I call, for the sake of convenience, social justice as between man and man, he would not have any need to bring forward Measures of this description, nor to use the arguments which he has used to-day.
Whatever you may do along the lines suggested in this Bill, while leaving alone the social injustices which we see all about us, none of these constitutional safeguards which you seek to set up will be of any avail at all in the long run, nor will any steps that you seek to take to strengthen your class privileges and your class powers be finally effective. All I want to say to hon. Members who have brought forward and supported this Bill is that if they direct all their efforts and all their policy to establishing social justice in this country, they need have no fear of the future at all. There is much talk about the common sense of the English electorate, and more than once we have heard them flattered for what they did at the last election, but if hon. Members believe in their common 717 sense, the only thing they need do to ensure the safety of the State is to see that social justice is established and that the maldistribution of wealth is corrected. If they do that, they need not come forward with Measures like this nor make such speeches as have been made in support of this Bill.
§ 1.7 p.m.
§ Mr. SMITH-CARINGTON
I am glad to have the opportunity of supporting a Bill which deals with one of the most important aspects of the constitutional question. I can quite understand the Amendment which has been moved, but I do not hold any sympathy with it. In the first place, I am one of those—I may be old-fashioned about it—who think that the present personnel of the Upper House is excellent, but I realise that, 718 as a sporting nation, we have to give the other side a chance, and though they have frequently in the past recruited members to the Upper House, those members very soon learned wisdom when they got there, and their team dwindled and dwindled. However, we have got some day to try to give them a better chance of representation on a larger scale in that Chamber and on a footing—
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members not being present—
§ The House was adjourned at Twelve Minutes after One o'clock until Monday next, 19th December.