HC Deb 30 November 1932 vol 272 cc892-956

I beg to move, That this House is of opinion that a reform of the Second Chamber, both as regards its powers and its composition, is a matter of vital public importance which should be dealt with without delay. 7.30 p.m.

I rise to propose this Motion most wholeheartedly in the belief that the present National Government will be prepared to show courage in tackling this problem which no Government has shown for the last 20 years. The issue which we have to face to-day is an issue between single-chamber government and double-chamber government. That is the problem. When, 20 years ago, the Parliament Act was passed, its framers themselves never contemplated a system under which for ever we were to have, literally speaking, one all-powerful House and a second House that really had no tangible power whatever. The whole history of our own Constitution and the whole of the experience of other countries show one thing to be perfectly clear beyond all else, that a revising chamber is definitely necessary if the hasty legislation passed by Parliamentary majorities which are in only for a short time, is to be checked and referred back to the people who are the final judge. The Socialist party have shown quite clearly to-day by the Amendment which they have tabled, that as far as they are concerned they believe definitely in single-chamber government. I can appreciate their point of view. I am opposed to it. We have to consider the country as a whole and the Members of this House who do not believe in single-chamber government but who have been prepared during easy times to drift onward believing that the time would never come when there would be a definite revolutionary Government with a majority on which there could be no check.

While asking the Government to deal with this problem and to tackle it boldly, I should like to deal briefly with one or two points in regard, both to what the restored powers of this House should be, and to the composition of the restored House, if composition on restoration takes place. I am debarred from dealing in detail with the question of finance which comes, of course, to be discussed on a private Bill at a later stage, but I can say that no scheme which has been proposed by any body of persons suggests in any way that the substantial control of Parliament over revenue should be touched so long as that legislation, whatever it may be, is primarily revenue legislation. When we go beyond that, we come to a very wide question. We come to the question of how the new House shall deal with ordinary legislation. To-day, supposing any Government were to propose and were to carry in this House a Measure such as the abolition of the second chamber itself, they could, without any reference to the people and without the question ever being raised in the election issue, within two years revert definitely to what actually was single-chamber government. Not only that, any legislation which you could consider or think of, legislation of which the electors had never dreamed, could never be held up and could never be referred back.

I say most definitely that, if the Government are to tackle this problem, they should, in my opinion, and in the opinion of my friends, lay it down that a constituted second chamber should have the power to refer back hasty and ill-considered legislation to a General Election before such legislation can become law. Certain safeguards ought to be made regarding that matter. Perhaps if you had a limited House, it might be laid down, to make quite certain, that merely important Measures were dealt with, that not simply the majority vote in the Second Chamber against legislation could refer it back to a General Election, but that it might have to be a majority of the whole Second Chamber provided the Second Chamber was of a reasonable size. I know that it will be said by my hon. Friends: "Oh, yes, if you are going to do that and give power to a second chamber to refer back legislation to a General Election you will never have any anti-Conservative legislation passed at all." I know that that point will be put up. I suggest that the answer is a very simple one. A reconstituted chamber would be very careful. If it had any desire to maintain its own prestige, it would be very careful not to refer back to a General Election legislation on which the electors appeared likely to support the Government in the House below and not the chamber which sent it back for consideration. If they were foolish enough to be obstructive in that way, not only would the prestige of the second chamber go, but they would be paving the way for the abolition of their chamber as it stood. They would be careful undoubtedly. In past days before 1911 legislation time after time was referred back, and, when the election came, the people showed that their view was the view of the upper chamber, rightly or wrongly, and not the view of the existing Government. You will get that again.

We come to a. further point. If you are to deal with the question of the power to refer back legislation to the electors for their consideration, the question of the composition of the new Second Chamber at once arises. It is extraordinarily necessary in the interests of both Houses that the Second Chamber should be a limited chamber in order that we can get away from the old swamping practice which is not only degrading to the Second Chamber itself but degrading to this House. After all if your second chamber is to have any power at all, it is an iniquitous thing that that which appears to be a power, should be thrown into jeopardy by a Government constantly announcing that it can create new peers. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Sir J. Withers) is, I believe, going to deal with the question of swamping when he seconds this Motion, so I will not say any more on that matter.

I now come to the real difficulty which, time after time, has divided the Conservative party—I say it deliberately—in this House in the past—the question of composition. We have to bear in mind that it would be fatal to the Second Chamber to make it a mere replica of this House. If we did that it would have no power. It would merely lead to friction, and it would have no prestige whatever in our Constitution. So we have to bear that point in mind. We have further to bear in mind that the object and functions of a second chamber are totally different from the functions of a. legislative chamber. It is a revising chamber and one which requires different qualities from those which are needed for the initiation of legislation. It is a chamber which requires fairness of outlook, and it must be, at any rate, in its best sense conservative, and not revolutionary. [Hon. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Yes, I thought that my hon. Friends would smile, and I propose in a moment or two to deal with a certain argument which they will raise against my suggested composition on those lines.

For the moment, I want to deal with that which is of vital importance, namely, the question of the hereditary principle. You have, I submit, two alternatives, either to abolish the whole hereditary principle, which, I say deliberately, would be fatal to the prestige of the new chamber, or you have to have a really substantial hereditary element in that chamber. If you try to compromise, and simply put in a few hereditary peers just to gild the pill, you get all the worst elements of both systems. You will lose your prestige and gain no real power by so doing. I propose saying a word or two on why many of us hold that the hereditary principle is defensible and can be defended most strongly both on the platform outside and in this House. In the first instance, provided you have a limited number of hereditary peers and a limited House, and provided your limited number of hereditary peers are selected by the peers as a whole, you will have the best of the bunch and the pick of the order of the peers. There are very few on any benches who would deny that those who sit regularly in the Second Chamber do their job very efficiently and well. If that is so, surely for, at any rate, part of your chamber it is very advisable to have the pick of those men continuing to sit. As a Conservative, I much prefer to take up a thing which works well in practice than to be led away into some mere paper, theoretical scheme which may have no effect whatever and may work all wrong.

There are further reasons which can be adduced for a substantial hereditary element. You must have some form of traditional continuity if your new House is to maintain its prestige at all. After all, the Upper Chamber has a certain revising atmosphere about it. It has men in it who have a certain inherited sense of judicial fairness and of revising legislation. Very often hon. Members who are far from being Conservative stand up and speak most strongly in favour of the traditions and privileges of this House, and they do it because they realise that the traditions of this House are a very great part of it. Suppose that this House were to be reformed on an entirely different basis, it would lose, simply from the fact that it had broken from its traditions and come on to something new, a tremendous amount of its prestige, and I suggest that it would lose a considerable amount of its power for legislative purposes. That applies also, I maintain, to the upper House. I say in all sincerity that you cannot define atmosphere. It cannot be done. But the intangible things of life are very often important and mean the most in the long run, and if you have a real traditional element running through your Constitution it not only makes your Constitution favoured in the eyes of the people but it makes it work.

There is another point in that connection upon which I wish to say a word. You have a certain inherited tradition of public service in the Second Chamber. In a material age and at a time when we hear so much about the lust for profit and the lust for advancement, it is not at all a bad thing to embody anew in your Constitution the idea that high position and responsibility demand active service for the State. Undoubtedly, if you embody the spirit of service you are embodying something which cannot be bought with money and which often cannot be obtained by practice. You are embodying something which in many instances, is a traditional feature. It is a peculiar attribute of the hereditary system that it does produce those traditional features of fairness and broadness of vision which you do not always get in all elected assemblies.

There is only one further point upon that matter with which I should like to deal. It is a point which I know will be raised by same of my hon. Friends on this side of the House. It is all very well to talk about heredity, but you will never get, we shall be told, the people of this country to accept any strong second chamber which has an hereditary flavour about it at all. I agree that the people of this country are very averse to having, as their actual techni- cal rulers, certain persons who have shown themselves by their public actions unworthy of respect and credit, but I have never discovered in the country, wherever I have been, any objection to the best elements in the hereditary system playing their part in the government of this country. Leaders in the Labour party cry out against the present system and the present Peerage, but their rank and file in the country do not dislike the present Peerage qua Peers; they dislike them because they are Conservatives. We should have just the same objection raised by my hon. Friends to any House of Lords if that House had anything in the nature of an anti-Socialist majority. They would not welcome them any more warmly because they happened to have been appointed in some other way.

I have dealt at some length with the hereditary side because it is the side which has appealed a good deal to a number of my hon. Friends who have been working with me on this matter, and I think that the case for the retention of a substantial element of the hereditary side, say, one-half of the new House, should be very carefully considered by the Government. In regard to the outside elements, I do not propose to say very much. It is possible that the Government may decide that some form of an elective element for the other Members should be adopted. The suggestion has been put forward by the committee of which I am a member that the outside element might be elected by means of the county councils. The advantage of that would be that there would be geographical representation in the new House, and in those parts of the country, particularly in the north, where Socialist opinion is strong. Socialist opinion would be represented in the new House.


Also through the county boroughs.


Yes, and by means of the county boroughs, so that that element would be even more represented. Those are the arguments in favour of the suggestion. It is, of course, an objection to any form of elective principle that an elected House or an elected Senate are not always ideal when they have to face unpopularity and when they have to face a delicate situation. There are hon. Mem- bers who would prefer to see the outside element a nominated element. That is an idea which has a good deal to support it and a good deal of fairness to recommend it. The only difficulty in regard to the nominated element is who, in the first instance, is to nominate? It is perfectly easy, once you get nomination and as the nominated members fall out, for the Prime Minister of the day to appoint the successors, and by the law of averages you would get the thing working out pretty fairly. But who, in the first instance, is to select the large number, 150, who might have to be nominated? My hon. Friends and myself are not wedded to any particular scheme, but we have suggested in a recent report that the Privy Council would be a fair body to select the first batch of nominated Peers. It was rather interesting when we studied the matter to discover that there were more Privy Councillors outside the Peers—of course, Privy Councillors who were Peers would take no part in the nomination—who were ex-Members of the House of Commons and who were not members of the Conservative party than were members of the Conservative party. Therefore, it is probable that both Liberal and Socialist elements would get considerable fairness from that method of election.

However much hon. Members may think that we who press this question are die-hard Tories, we realise perfectly well that you do want a bigger representation of the Opposition in the Second Chamber, but we maintain at the same time that by the very nature of the Second Chamber, by its judicial and revising capacity, it must not be a chamber likely to be subject to the violent swings of popular opinion. It must not be a chamber likely to have anything in the nature of a revolutionary majority but must be a chamber which puts the brakes on the wheels and not one which shoves the car along faster. Various tentative suggestions have been put forward to the Government on behalf of the Committee of which I was a humble Member. We do, not suggest that these suggestions are the last thing, but they are our unanimous conclusions. We sunk our common differences, and our differences were varied, because we wanted to see something done, and we ask this House and the Government to sink their differences and to devise a scheme in this Parliament which will work, and do something to check the folly of drift which we have had for so long. The old Latin tag: "Finis coronat opus" (The end crowns the work) is as true to-day as ever it was, and I ask this Government and this House to go forth with determination to conquer the difficulties that lie before them in achieving their policy and, finally, to bring it within a very short period to a successful and glorious conclusion.

7.52 p.m.


I beg to second the Motion.

As long as I can recall, I can remember discussions about the House of Lords. One recalls the Peer's song in "Iolanthe" which, in a jolly way, declares that: The House of Peers, throughout the war, Did nothing in particular, And did it very well. One recalls also what happened in 1911 and the trouble which occurred, which roused everybody on all sides to a great state of fury. We have had various inquiries from time to time, commissions have reported and schemes have been put forward, but nothing has transpired, and the matter now is being debated very much in the same way as it was 50 years ago. What are the complaints about the present House of Lords? They are twofold, first as regards the personnel, and secondly as regards power. The complaints about the personnel are that the House consists of a very considerable number of Members, over a thousand, something like 1,200, and only about 10 per cent. of them attend the proceedings. The rest of them simply use the honour as a social distinction.


Not so large, 700.


700. In that case, the attendance is 20 per cent. On special occasions the Members of the House of Lords are known familiarly as backwoods men, who come to swamp everybody else, without any real knowledge of the question at issue. The next point is that nearly all the peers are of the same political opinion. Those are the two points upon which most objection is taken to the present constitution of the House of Lords. With regard to the powers of the House, I suggest that at the present time they are powerless. If a strong Government comes in and passes a Measure three times in two years, it can become law against the will of the House of Lords. Therefore, really the House of Lords are powerless. They are powerless in another way, because the number of the House not being settled any Government in power could at any time appoint a large number of peers to swamp a hostile majority in the Lords. Recently the names of those selected for appointment in 1911 have been published in the Press. Therefore, the creation of peers is not an empty threat It was actually suggested in 1911. Those are the criticisms of the House of Lords as at present constituted.

Let us look to the other side of the picture. What ought the House of Lords to be? My suggestions are (1) that they ought to be an independent body containing all shades of political opinion, fairly represented, (2) that they should be much fewer in number, a workable number of something like 300 to 350, and that people who go there should understand that they are there for work and not merely for social distinction, and (3) that the numbers should be definitely ascertained so that there could be no swamping. What should the function of such a House be? Obviously, it should be a body to make the nation think twice of any serious change. With regard to ordinary business it would examine, revise and pass it, but on any very serious point of departure it might well give the nation an opportunity to reconsider the matter or, as we say, sleep over it. I should like to suggest, as has been suggested by the Mover of the Motion, that in a revised House they should have power by an absolute majority to compel a general election on a point of very great importance.

As regards financial powers, I do not think that anyone has suggested that the right of the Commons in ordinary financial matters should be interfered with. The only suggestion made is that that power should not be used for tacking on some political purpose not necessarily for the raising and expenditure of revenue. What are the alternatives (1) The House of Lords can remain as at present, (2) it can be abolished, or (3) it can be reformed. There is practically no difference between remaining as at present and being abolished, because under the present law, as I have said, if any Government sends up a Measure three times in two years the thing is done. It is all very well to look at the matter from one point of view and say that the powers of the House of Lords will be used from only one party point of view, but it might be used from the point of view of all parties. It is just as serious a matter to my hon. Friends opposite as for moderate persons on our side. A strong Socialist Government might come in and bring forward some Measure which might upset the social order. That is one side.

I would ask hon. Members to consider what might be done by a Government such as we have now. They might seek to abolish the trade unions. In an extreme case, the politics of the world being what they are now, they might propose to establish a Fascist regime. That has been done in other countries, why not here. Therefore, it would be for the benefit of both sides and all parties that. the House of Lords should be reformed, to avoid violent changes which either side might suggest. All moderate men want reform of the House of Lords but, unfortunately, they have never been able to agree upon details. Everybody wishes that the House of Lords should be reformed and have said so for 50 years, but; no one has ever been able to agree how it is to be done.

A small number of presumptuous persons, of which I was one, lately put forward a report, and I would suggest that hon. Members might take the trouble to read it. I have received to-day a copy of a very nice little book entitled "House o f Lords or Senate?" written by two eminent Members of Parliament. That is quite a different proposal to our own, but, never mind, it is not for any particular body of persons to decide on the details. The Government in power must consider the various proposals, formulate their policy and bring it before this House. We earnestly beg the Government not to delay any longer. It is time the reform was undertaken, not only in the interests of our party, but in the interests of the party opposite. I hope that they will bring in a Bill this Session, and that there will be no more inquiries, but action. One thing the Government must remember, and that is that not only must it satisfy this House and the House of Peers, because any Measure has to pass both Houses, but it must also satisfy the demands of the ordinary reasonable man in the street.


I beg to move, in line 1, to leave out from the second word "that" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words: the House of Lords should be abolished. 8.1 p.m.

I am sure that I shall carry the whole House with me in paying a tribute to the speech of the Mover of the Motion. I commend him most heartily upon the way he has presented his case, and if his case could be won by enthusiasm I must confess that I should have been converted by the hon. Member but, unfortunately, it requires more than enthusiasm; meritorious as it may be. Let me make one point clear at the outset of my remarks. This issue has not been raised by us but, let it be observed, by the Conservative party. Whatever responsibility may rest upon anyone in relation to the ultimate issues that may supervene upon this discussion, the Conservative party must accept all the responsibility. We on this side of the House have little interest in raising such an issue, since the primary purpose of this Parliament above all others, in view of our social distress, is to apply its mind daily and hourly to the social and economic problems now before the country. Unfortunately we are precluded from devoting the next 2 hours to a consideration of that problem and are called upon to discuss the problem of the reform of the Second Chamber. The hon. Member has moved the Motion in definite terms; that this question of the reform of the Second Chamber: is a matter of vital public importance which should be dealt with without delay. What is the urgency? Why is it so necessary to proceed without delay? Why are we, in the beginning of the second Session of this Parliament, to put all other things on one aide and tackle this abstruse question of the reform of the Second Chamber? What is the hurry? Is there a dispute between the House of Lords and the Government? Is there a deadlock? Has the House of Lords suddenly come to life and defied the Government? Is there some conflict between the policy of the Government and the policy desired by the House of Lords? What is the issue? What has created this tremendous necessity for action; and speedy action? Most of us are able to guess the reason. To-night we may be firing the first shot in a battle which may soon be joined, and no one is able to foretell what the reverberations of this first shot may be. It may well he that many institutions held dear by hon. Members opposite will be swept away. The responsibility for raising the issue rests upon their shoulders, not upon ours. Why is this issue raised to-night? I have already asked whether there is any conflict imminent between the House of Lords and the Government—


We think it is much better that it should be dealt with at a time when there is no conflict.


The hon. Member, as usual, shows intelligent anticipation. Clearly he is in daily dread lest the House of Lords may suddenly go Bolshevik. Is this issue raised because supporters of the Government think that the Government are not carrying out their mandate on this particular problem? The hon. Member for Cambridge University (Sir J. Withers) is very fair in argument, and I am sure that he will not controvert this proposition, that whatever else was raised during the last election as a matter of mandate to the Government, this problem of the reform of the Second Chamber was not.


indicated assent.


The hon. Member who agrees that there was no mandate in respect of this matter is urging the necessity for a revising chamber to prevent hasty legislation, and actually concluded his speech by demanding hasty legislation on the part of the Government on the reform of the House of Lords. He demanded immediate action; without a mandate from the people. What is the reason? The hon. Member and his friends know the reason. They are not quite sure, or perhaps I should say they are quite sure that their presence on those benches as a Government is not going to be unduly prolonged. There will come a time when we shall be able to go to the country and hon. Members opposite are not quite sure that the merits of their administration will produce so overwhelming a convic- tion in the minds of the electors of the country as to return them to power after the next appeal. It may be that we shall have a Socialist majority next time, and the hon. Member and his friends are exceedingly anxious to avail themselves now, in good time, of their temporary and evanescent majority to dig themselves in politically behind the trenches at the other end of the corridor. It is quite clear, and easy to prove, that they are anxious to ham-string the next Labour Government before it enters upon office.

This is not the first attempt that has been made to arrive at some acceptable compromise for dealing with the reform of the House of Lords. Ever since 1910 the House of Lords and their political associates in the House of Commons have chafed under the restraint imposed upon them by the Parliament Act of 1910, and they have made up their minds that that restraint is to be removed as speedily as possible. The hon. Member who moved the Motion made no bones about it; he made it abundantly clear. He was much more candid than the more experienced hon. Member for Cambridge University. Since 1910 there have been four attempts. There was the Bryce Conference of 1917. That Conference failed to achieve unanimity, and the only thing which emerged from it was a letter written by Viscount Bryce to the Prime Minister of that day. Another attempt was made by the Coalition Government in 1922. Their proposals were laughed out of court. In 1925 the late Viscount Cave presented proposals very similar to those of 1922. The principal difference was that in 1922 the proposals were put forward officially on behalf of the Coalition Government but in 1925 they were put forward by Viscount Cave in his personal capacity.

Lastly we have; he present proposals which, for want of a better word, I will call the "Salisbury proposals." Even now there is no agreement. Many hon. Members have received a copy of another version written by two hon. Members of this House, both of whom, by the way, are at the moment Members of the Government. Let me refer to the main difference. The hon. Member who moved the Motion emphasised with tremendous conviction the necessity for safeguarding the hereditary principle in connection with a proportion of the members of the proposed Second Chamber, and that is embodied in the proposals of the Committee over which Lord Salisbury presided. It would have been a little more helpful and more candid, by the way, if the Committee which drafted this Report had made it clear that the Committee was constituted not of Members of the House of Commons but of Conservative Members of the House of Commons. In their report the hereditary principle is emphasised to a certain degree—in regard to one-half of the proposed new chamber. What do their Conservative opponents say? On page 98 I read: It is for this reason that those who genuinely believe in an effective system of bi-Cameral Government are convinced "— this is the point— that the total abolition of the hereditary element in the House of Lords is unavoidable, much as they might otherwise wish to retain it either in whole or in part. Therefore one section of the Conservative party rejects the hereditary principle while another section, for whom the hon. Member who moved the Motion speaks, emphasises it very heartily, endorses the hereditary principle, and desires its retention. There is a split in the Tory party. If I were asked to state my own opinion I should say that I find considerable ground for agreement with the Resolution carried in this House in 1649. I am so devoted to tradition and that kind of thing that I like to find my views fortified by the views of our ancient predecessors in this House. This is what they said in 1649: The House of Peers in Parliament is useless, dangerous and ought to be abolished. I am not arguing against any second chamber. My Amendment concerns only the House of Lords. No second chamber such as is proposed, and certainly not the present Second Chamber, could be acceptable to a democratic body like ours, if it were only for the reason that it is thoroughly undemocratic in character. To us here any possible second chamber that could be adumbrated could only be remotely acceptable if it were somehow or other broad-based upon democratic principles, principles as democratic as the House of Commons itself. Clearly if it is to be broad-based on those principles, the main guide should be this: It should be somehow or other elective. If it is to be elective I do not care whether it is elected at the same time as the House of Commons or not. If it is to be elective, clearly its Members can be elected only on the basis of some political principles.

What is going to happen? There are four alternatives possible. I take for my division of parties what is so well and easily put by Lord Salisbury in his report. He divides parties into Conservatives and non-Conservatives, which is a simple division and so easy: it does not require too much investigation. But what will happen? You may have a Conservative House of Commons and a Conservative second chamber, in which case what sort of revision will there be? You will be in exactly the same sort of position, on broad principles of policy, as you have now, because both sections in both Houses will be of the same political conviction. Or you might have a non-Conservative House of Commons and a non-Conservative second chamber, in which case again there is no revision. Or you might have a Conservative House of Commons and a non-Conservative second chamber, in which case you get what? Deadlock, on broad principles. Or you could have a non-Conservative House of Commons and a Conservative second chamber, in which case you again get deadlock. The result is that if you accept the only principle that is acceptable to us, the elective principle, you are either bound to have the situation that no effective revision is possible, or a position where on broad principles you get repeated deadlock. That is exactly what is happening now. Here is the National Government. It has been in office for about 15 months. It has an overwhelmingly Conservative complexion. During that time—I am not raising an old fiscal controversy—there has been a tremendous change in the fiscal policy of this country. Yet when that tremendous change took place only 170 Members of the House of Lords turned up even to discuss it.


As the system had to be altered anyhow it was hardly worth while their attending.


If a Bill involving a complete revolution in our fiscal policy was to be presented to the House of Lords, a revising Chamber doing its job as it ought to do it, called by Providence to do its job, surely it would have said, "No, we cannot allow you to pass this Bill."


It could not reject the Bill; it was a Money Bill.


A Money Bill can be rejected but cannot be amended. [Holy. MEMBERS: "For a month."] Yes, for a month. My whole point is that here is a second chamber in respect of which hon. Members opposite are claiming that its chief merit is that it prevents the Government of the day from carrying legislation that has not been submitted properly to the people of the country. Yet when a revolution in our fiscal policy was presented to the House of Lords they were so indifferent that only 170 of them turned up to discuss it, and even then they were docilely acquiescent and did not even say "Boo" to it.

On behalf of my hon. Friends here I want to say that we take a most serious objection, an unfaltering and unalterable objection, to any proposal, this or any other, for emphasising in any way whatever the hereditary principle as we now know it in the House of Lords. We object completely to granting to the Second Chamber either a veto or a suspensory veto. We object absolutely, beyond reconciliation, to giving to a second chamber any sort of control over finance. That belongs first and foremost and absolutely to the House of Commons. Whatever proposals may be forthcoming, be they these proposals or Lord Salisbury's proposals or any other, hon. Gentleman Opposite may take it from me that we of the Labour party will unanimously give to such proposals our irreconcilable opposition, for to us no authority can rest in anyone outside the duly and properly elected representatives of the people in the House of Commons.

I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will not mind my saying that I think such a Motion as this is a little unworthy, and I will state why. One likes a straight deal in politics. One likes to have a straight fight and a fight without any unfair handicap on the one side or the other. See what the Conservative party has at this moment. It has an overwhelming Press in its support. It has behind it the representative wealth of the nation. It has at its disposal overwhelming social influence and prestige in the countryside. These are heavy handicaps against us and in their favour. When we fight them we shall have those handicaps against us. Why do they want to weight the dice even more heavily against us by preserving for themselves and their political friends, beyond a peradventure, at least one-half of the suggested new Second Chamber? One-half we are told is to be appointed by people whose only immediate and obvious merit—though they may have others—is that they happen to be the eldest sons of their fathers. Clearly, by us, representing as we believe the working class of this country, such a proposal cannot be entertained. For us there is no merit in the retention of the present House of Lords as we know it, and for that reason I beg to move this Amendment.

8.27 p.m.


If the hon. Member for South-Eastern Essex (Mr. Raikes) had not left the House I should have liked to have joined with the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) in congratulating him on the forcible way in which he put his case as the Mover of the Motion. Like the hon. Member for Caerphilly I, too, have been interested in the variety of new opinions coming from one quarter of the House on this question of the reform of the House of Lords, and I cannot help feeling that some at any rate of the Conservative party have made a considerable advance in this sphere of politics since 1910. I find here in a book which has already been referred to the following words regarding the original crisis which caused the Parliament Act. During the Parliaments of 1906–1914 the House of Lords, by continually mutilating Bills introduced by a party that had been returned by a big majority at the polls, laid itself open to the charge that it was acting as the mere henchman of the Opposition party in the House of Commons. One would have expected such words in a Liberal or Labour account of what took place in 1910, but we find them in a book written by two eminent members of the Conservative party in the House of Commons. I understand that they have not written this work in any sense as Ministers, but to find such words in it shows that time and history do teach something. They may be speaking for themselves, and so am I—I do not know who can speak for anybody else. The opinion, I have quoted, is at any rate that of Members whose opinions we have learned to treat with considerable respect, and I put it forward as that and nothing more.

They go a great deal further than that as the last speaker has pointed out. They go contrary to the Salisbury Committee in putting forward, in the strongest terms, a plea for the complete abolition of the hereditary principle on the ground that a great industrial democracy could not possibly regard a House which contained a hereditary element—even if it were only a part—as anything but a permanent Conservative block put in the way of their desires. I do not suppose that the authors of this book share that feeling with regard to the hereditary element but they know that the bulk of the nation will so regard it. Therefore, in order to pave the way to what they desire, they are prepared to make that great sacrifice. That, I think, is a great advance. It means that not every Conservative regards the hereditary principle in the same light as the gentleman who writes so entertainingly in the "Evening Standard" and who thinks that legislators can be bred like shorthorns or cocker spaniels. We have got a little beyond that stage and that is a great advance.

Nevertheless, I feel that behind all these proposals, from whatever quarter of the Conservative party they come, there is one common element which is important. First and foremost, they want to get rid of the Parliament Act. After that, apparently, it is thought that you may do what you like with the constitution of the House of Lords. It may be necessary to pay some kind of price to get rid of the Parliament Act, but the point is to get rid of it and to put back some chamber able and willing to destroy decisions of the original chamber when it does not happen to like those decisions. I can only regard the differences of opinion between the authors of this book and the authors of the Salisbury Report and the Mover and Seconder of this Motion as corresponding to different degrees of optimism as to how much they think people will stand. Some Conservative Members think that they can get back the whole of the pre-Parliament Act powers without any alteration whatever in the House of Lords. They are the super-optimists. Others like my hon. Friends who have spoken here think that it is necessary to make some concession, though they do not want to give too much. Others like the authors of the book to which I have referred realise that it is necessary to pay a very big price, but the prize is so wonderful that they are prepared to pay it. They say on the very last page of the book that they part with the hereditary principle with the greatest reluctance. They regard it in the light of an old friend who has served them well in the past but has now become out-at-elbows and rather shabby. They do not like to be seen about with him, so they are prepared, in this emergency, to part from him with regret. That is what they are doing.

I can only regard any attempt of that kind with the greatest suspicion. The Mover of the Motion laid emphasis on removing the swamping power of the Crown to create peers, to dispose, in the last resort, of resistance by the House of Lords. I think he made a constitutional mistake in assuming that the Prime Minister had only to give his advice in that matter to the Sovereign in order to get an immediate creation of as many peers as he wanted. That is historically inaccurate. If hon. Members read the history of those times they will find that the Sovereign of the day laid down definite conditions, which were his own conditions and not the Prime Minister's, on which alone he would consent to the creation of peers. There is that safeguard. It ought not to be forgotten that the whole object of these proposals is to give the Second Chamber a power which is almost unthinkable in these times, the power of forcing a Dissolution if it should choose to do so. That is one of the most important powers that could be given to any body. I do not know that anyone will dispute the suggestion that these proposals would give to the Second Chamber the power to force a Dissolution. To give an absolute veto of the kind proposed would mean that a second chamber could make it impossible for the House of Commons to get on with its work, and the Prime Minister of the day would have no alter- native but to dissolve. That is one of the most important features in these proposals.

Why is it suggested that this reversion to the days before the Parliament Act is necessary? It is said in this book that in these days of almost universal suffrage much greater and more sudden changes in public opinion may occur than those to which we have been accustomed in past history. That is true enough. It is also said that a comparatively slight change in the mind of the electorate may lead to a change in the House of Commons out of all proportion to that change in the country. That, also, we know to be true. It is not only true in my own experience that there has been this Parliament or any other particular Parliament which has been unrepresentative of the people since the war; I think they have all been unrepresentative of the people since the war in one way or another. What we lose on the swings we gain on the roundabouts. Under this electoral system there has always been a discrepancy, and I am prepared to grant that.

I am prepared to go farther, and to grant the danger that when that happens the majority of the moment may seize the opportunity to impose upon the country measures for which they have no mandate, or which have not been sufficiently explained to the people at the election. I think that has happened in the last 12 months, quite clearly but I do not draw the conclusion which the Mover of the Motion does, and I think he has gone a very long way about to remedy the evil which he sees. He appears to take it for granted that it is in the nature of things that the House of Commons, because under the present electoral system it may be unrepresentative, is always going to be like that, and that you are to set up some completely different authority to prevent it doing what it does, even in the last resort to prevent it doing anything at. all, because that is what it comes to. Surely it would be a far more democratic proceeding to begin by devising an electoral system which would produce a House of Commons as nearly as possible representative of the electorate and, having done that, to let it act and legislate upon that assumption.

We all know that human institutions are fallible. You will never get a House of Commons which is completely and perfectly representative, but neither democracy nor any other system of the kind will work at all unless you are ready to take it for granted, when you have taken all the precautions that you can to get a fair election, that that House of Commons has the right to legislate. I think you must do that. I have been very much disappointed, and I may say shocked, with the proceedings of the present Government, which I was elected to support, during the last 12 months, but I have never suggested, nor have hon. Members opposite, that some exterior power should come down and say, "No, you must never do that." We have all been prepared, although reserving our right to object, to accept the fact that this majority will rule as it chooses, and if it is wrong, well, its Nemesis will come at the hands of the electorate at the next election, and in the end that is the only safeguard which we can possibly have.

In these matters there is one distinction which I should like to draw. I believe that a newly-elected House of Commons—and I am going back as far as that very old book on the British constitution by Walter Bagehot—is the nearest thing to the sovereign power in this country which we can possibly have, and that is right, but it is undoubtedly true that as the term of the five-year Parliament goes on towards the end—by-elections will probably show it—it is beginning to lose touch. A revulsion of opinion may have taken place against it in the country, and the atmosphere is very different. There is a case for saying that you ought to have some check on it, at any rate in its later years. Of course, you have it under the present constitution, because the present House of Peers has a complete power of veto, as good as it ever had before the Parliament Act, except for money Bills, for the simple reason that there is not time in the last two years of a Parliament for any Government to go through the various stages which they would need to surmount the veto of the House of Lords. The process is never actually gone through, because the Government of the day know where they stand and do not try, but I think the Mover and Seconder of the Motion did not give sufficient emphasis or do sufficient justice to the actual powers which the present Second Chamber have.

They are very considerable. The powers of the Second Chamber, in my view, should be those of delay and revision, and nothing else. It has the power of delay absolutely during the last two years, for all but money Bills, and it has a very considerable power of delay throughout the period, because any House of Commons knows that it is in for a stiff fight with the other place on any particular matter, and unless it is absolutely of the first importance, it will not lightly provoke a battle. They know the tremendous waste of their own valuable Parliamentary time that is involved, and they will meet their enemy while they are in the way with him, and make some compromise. It is very important. The revising power is going on the whole time. All of us who have been any time in this House of Commons have seen how Government after Government—the Governments of hon. Members opposite as well as others—have found that House quite a convenience on occasion. They have not quite been able to get ready in time for the Report Stage in this House, or perhaps there is some suggestion of the Opposition which has not been fully digested, and they make the offer across the Table, which is freely accepted, "We will undertake to deal with this in another place." It is very useful, and I should like to preserve that kind of function for the Second Chamber.

I am quite aware that functions of this kind—the function of delay within the life of Parliament, and the function of revision, which probably means revision on matters not of absolutely first importance—in no sense put the other House on at all an equal footing with this House. I know they do not. I do not want them to, I have no ambition to see a bicameral system in which the two Chambers are on an equal footing; but I recognise, in the subordinate capacity which I have indicated, the very real value which can be possessed by the other Chamber. Very often I have gone away from Debates here and read what has been said in the other place, and I have been very much indebted, and sometimes more informed by what I have read there than by what I have heard here. That may happen, because there are very eminent and useful people there. There is no good denying it, and I want to face that fact fully; but for all that, I cannot imagine anybody who calls himself a Liberal, to whatever section of the party he belongs—I do not mind whether he sits on a Government Bench or not—being willing, as he would be by accepting this Motion, in effect, to consent to the undoing of the carrying of the Parliament Act before the War, which perhaps, with the single exception of the Reform Bill, was the greatest and the hardest fight the Liberal party ever had to go through.

I cannot imagine their consenting to that, and I cannot help seeing, in all these proposals, that the reform of the constitution of the House of Lords—and really I do not think I am misinterpreting the hon. Members who support this Motion—is quite subsidiary to the restoration of the veto. To restore the veto is the first thing, and then perhaps they would be able to do this or that. So long as the reform of the constitution is bound up with the restoration of the veto, I say frankly that I would rather have the present House of Peers. The present House of Peers has learned by long experience how to walk circumspectly. It knows that if it strained its powers too far, it might be endangering its whole existence; but if you got an elected House, elected by these new and complicated methods that are suggested, such as election by county councils and borough councils—somehow or other, I cannot envisage that as an ideal second chamber, but that is one of the proposals that has been put forward—they would have an entirely new arrogance. They would say, "You say you represent the people, but, after all, so do we," and in a sense it would be true. The result would be lamentable, because you would have two Legislatures legislating the one against the other and leading to complete deadlock. Therefore, I cannot see, in any of the proposals that have been put forward on this matter, any real hope for a proper constitutional reform.

If hon. Members would say, "We accept the Parliament Act; we are merely trying to improve the Second Chamber," that would be a very different thing, and no doubt there are some things they could do at once. I think they could quite properly, even this Parliament, give a power of selection of life peers other than the present Law Lords, who are the only life peers. The House of Lords is impoverished because many who ought to be in it and who would be glad to go there do not do so because they happen to have sons whom they do not want to saddle with what might be in some cases the intolerable handicap of a title in future. Many Members of the party opposite might be in that position. They might want to put some of their best men in that place, but they would not be able to do so. That is a situation which has to be met, but it is a comparatively minor reform which does not make much difference to the constitutional position. This Parliament has no right to make any major constitutional reforms—any major alterations either in the powers or the constitution of the House of Lords.

What lies at the bottom of this demand for the reform of the House of Lords? Is it not that there is a danger that a House of Commons elected on one issue might, with its majority so obtained, create an absolute revolution in an entirely different department of politics? It is proposed here that a House of Commons elected on a great popular cry, on an economic issue, should come out into the constitutional field and make an enormous change for which it has no mandate whatever, and for which the Seconder of the Motion frankly and properly admitted that it had no mandate. That seems entirely to dispose of the Motion, the whole essence of which is a demand for immediate action. It would clearly be not merely unconstitutional, but, in the ordinary sense, not quite playing the game if a Government which had obtained an enormous majority upon an economic issue, which had used its full powers not only to pass very revolutionary legislation in the economic sphere, but to hurry it through by every means in its power, should leave as an inheritance to its successors a future in which any legislation they might propose was under the threat of change, delay and absolute veto by some other body to which they had restored powers which long ago it was considered that they should not have. I hope that the Government will realise that they cannot possibly enter on any such gross abuse of their powers. If they should undertake any kind of legislation of this kind, they may be perfectly certain of receiving the most strenuous resistance from, I believe, Liberals of every denomination in the House; they will also receive the greatest resentment from the great mass of people who supported them on quite other issues.

8.49 p.m.


I once remember reading a speech delivered by the late Mr. Gladstone, who was one of the most distinguished Members this House ever had. In that he said that Toryism was mistrust of the people qualified by beer, and that Liberalism was trust of the people qualified by prudence. I challenge clever scholars in the House to tell me the difference. So far as Socialists are concerned, they have nailed their colours to the mast. We say that the only kind of reform the House of Lords deserves is chloroform. Some of us have in our time had the opportunity of studying the history of this august assembly, and I have listened to some of the Debates out of curiosity. I go there in the same frame of mind in which I go to Madame Tussaud's—to see the curiosities. I find that the men who are supposed to control our actions, the people who tell us when we are doing wrong, are conspicuous by their absence when their judgment is supposed to be for the advantage of the State. They are never there when they are wanted. Some of them would never be there if they were really necessary. I cannot understand how there can be any compromise upon a principle.

The principle we stand for is that government should be by consent of the governed. We have 22,000,000 electors in the country, of whom 15,000,000 are working people, and they have a right to say for the moment what kind of Government they shall have. At the last election they were led up the garden. They were led to believe that if they voted for what was called a National Government they would save the pound and a lot of other things. What do we find now? The pound has not been saved. To-night the pound stands worse than it did when the Government came into office, and the great financial geniuses have not been able to restore its stability. Where are all those clever men who have gone from here up to there What contribution have they made to the restoration of our prosperity? The only contribution they have made is a sonorous one. When they are on the benches they are suffering from political myopia. We say that the men and the women who are good enough to make the wealth of the nation are good enough to make the laws of the nation. Before I became a Member of this House and a trade union official, among my other crimes I was a bricklayer's labourer. I used to carry the bricks and mortar up the ladder and the chap on top used to do the work. When I came into this House I was told that I should have to wear another size in hats, but I discovered that the people here were no better than I was. Perhaps they were better educated than me, but I knew when I was hungry, and the people I represented knew how many beans make five, but they could not get them.

The hon. Member who moved the Motion is anxious to preserve some of the old relics of the past. He wants to keep some of the old aristocracy of the country in their proper place just as they used to try to keep us in our proper place Let us…. Bless the squire and his relations, Live upon our daily rations, And always know our proper stations. The House of Lords have to be preserved so that we may have continuity of legislation—have all those things continued which they wish to be continued, which are the things the workers want to get rid of at the earliest possible opportunity. We sit here for hours. I have watched the House of Lords this week. They have sat 15 hours in the week. And they are the people who know all about it!


It is because they do not talk nonsense.


No, and they cannot even talk sense. All they talk about is their own interests. Whenever a Bill is brought in dealing with landlords or any vested interest they turn up in their hundreds, but if we bring in a Bill for an improvement in the conditions of the people, we find a beggarly array of empty benches in the House of Lords. The other night they were discussing slum clearances. How many were there? Not 40 out of the 700. That shows the interest they take in the common people; and yet we are asked to preserve them. They ought to be preserved in spirits! Another lot ought to be in homes. They have on occasions been brought out of lunatic asylums to vote against Bills, as I can remember; and even now some of them have to be taken home in bath chairs. And I am asked to agree to a proposition that this sort of thing ought to be continued, that the Mother of Parliaments ought to be kept in durance vile by a collection of congenital idiots?

Another thing—we are interested in finance. We have got so little of it that we know more about it than the people who have a lot. The House of Lords are to have the right to say whether or not taxation shall be levied on the common people. That also means they will have the right to say how much taxation they themselves shall pay. It will work both ways—heads they win and tails we lose, every time they get a chance. If you go back on your previous decision that the House of Commons shall be supreme in matters of taxation you are asking for trouble, and you will get it. You cannot expect a repetition of what happened 12 months ago at every time of asking. You will not have another General Election like that, one. There will be a revulsion of public opinion and the more you pile on the agony the bigger the revulsion will be. You have asked for it—not us. I have never hidden my opinions either on the public platform or anywhere else. I do not believe in second chambers at all. If this were a proposal to be acted on even hon. Members opposite would be afraid to face their constituents. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Of course, some of you may be living in bug hutches, and can make sure that you are going to be re-elected as a consequence of the policy you are now pursuing. The House of Lords is only trying to create an antagonism between the common people and the select people whom you want to try to bring forward. A second chamber is unthinkable in my view. I may be wrong; I hope I am right. We have no second chambers in the case of local authorities.


There are aldermen.


But aldermen have no right to dictate to the council. They are only a small minority, and they have no authority to over-ride the decision of the council. I happen to be an alderman myself. Aldermen have no right to take part in elections, except as Returning Officers in order to declare the result, and they cannot take part in the election of other aldermen, being disfranchised in that respect. If there is going to be any control the men who are continually doing the work of administration and legislation are the men who ought to have the veto—if there is to be any veto If 16,000,000 or 17,000,000 out of the 22,000,000 electors take the trouble to go to the polls and to record their votes, why should their decisions be over-ridden by a crowd of gentlemen, more or less respectable, some of whom only claim the right to govern because they claim to be the sons of their fathers, though a lot of them would have difficulty in proving it? After we have carried through our election campaigns, have placed our programmes before the people and have been elected, these gentlemen, some of whom have never taken part in political or national affairs to any extent, come forward and claim the right to say what we shall do and what we shall not do, how far we shall go, and when we are to stop. That is an insult to the intelligence of a real democracy, and because we object to it we want one chamber. The people have been given the right to say what kind of Government they want, and that Government ought to have the freedom to carry through legislation in accordance with the views of the people expressed at the polls.


I am sure the House will not wish me to follow the hon. Member—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]


Neither do I.

9.2 p.m.


—for though some hon. Members found it an entertaining speech yet the hon. Member did not apply himself to the question of a possible reform of the Second Chamber, and therefore I may be forgiven for not traversing his arguments. It seems a very strange thing that anyone can deny the need for an effective Second Chamber of some sort. As far as I know, in all history there is no instance of successful single-chamber Government, and such nations as have had the blessings of a balanced constitution either through bicameral or tricameral Government, and have abandoned these necessary balances, have relapsed almost immediately into some form of tyranny.


May I remind the hon. Member that Scotland had only one Chamber?


I am prepared to accept the hon. Member's observation, but I would also draw attention to the fact that the state of government in Scotland before the Act of Union was not ideal.


Not at all.


A single chamber is of itself a despotism. It is returned for a fixed period of years, with nothing to over-ride its decisions except its own will, expressed by itself. If that is not a despotism, there is no meaning in the word despotism. It is as a barrier against tyranny of that kind, the tyranny of single chamber government, that hon. Members on this side of the House wish to put up some form of effective balance. We wish to return that effective balance to our Constitution which was unfortunately removed from it during the course of the last 106 years. With all respect to the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith) I submit that we have, in fact, single chamber government now. It is all very well to say that the Second Chamber can delay legislation other than money Bills for two years, but almost any form of Bill can be sent up to the other place in the form of a Money Bill. We have had more than one such Bill in the last two years, and I will give instances. First of all, we had the Land Taxes. In their intention, they were primarily not a Money Bill. Hon. Members of the Opposition will admit that their primary object was political. In this Government we have had our Tariff Measure. No Conservative will maintain that Tariffs were purely a Money Bill. Their object was to promote the industry of this country and not purely to raise revenue. Therefore the Tariff Measure was a political Bill. Even so, had the other place wished to throw it out they had no opportunity of doing so.


In both those cases, the Speaker's certificate was necessary.


I entirely agree with the hon. Member as to the certificate of the Speaker, but the definition of a Money Bill is so loose that almost anything by clever draftsmanship can be constituted a money Bill. The hon. Member for Caerphilly stated in supporting the Amendment that he could not see why we were wasting our time during an economic and financial crisis on what appeared to him to be an academic Motion directed to the suppression of Democracy. This is not purely an academic Motion. It is for the greater liberty of the people, and not the less that we should have bi-cameral government. As a measure of social reconstruction it is necessary to have some sort of effective check to prevent the long term policy of any Government, whether it be one of hon. Gentlemen opposite or our own, being upset violently every five years. That check can be obtained.

The assumption that a second chamber is invariably wholly hostile to legislation of a particular sort, is unjustifiable. In the days before the Parliament Act, a very large number of Meaures which were probably highly objectionable to the majority of the Second Chamber were allowed to pass through it, in spite of its absolute power of Veto, because the Second Chamber as constituted was sufficiently intelligent to recognise that this House in certain circumstances can, and does, reflect the will of the people. The Second Chamber has, in fact, never set itself out to defy the will of the people. In 1911, during the passage of the Parliament Act, two elections were fought on the question of the House of Lords, and in each case the Liberal party lost more and more seats until, from having one of the biggest majorities of that time, they had to pursue a precarious hanging on, with the aid of Labour Members whose party was then in its infancy, and of about 85 wild Hibernians. Even then, the House of Lords was expressing the will of the people and not defying it. It was possibly not expressing the will of Southern Ireland, but nobody has ever been able to do that.


The Irish Members did, when they were here.


The same Irish Members are endeavouring to express the will of their people in Ireland now, with singular lack of success.

A violent attack has been made to-night upon the hereditary system. I agree with the Mover of the Motion that the hereditary system is a necessity. I cannot see any reason why it should be less effective than popular election. I do not wish to reflect upon this honourable House, because I am very proud of being a Member of it, but I submit that there have been times when this House was not an advertisement for the infallibility of the electorate. A non-elected body has certain merits, in that they have not invariably to keep one eye on the next election, before they make up their minds upon any proposal. It is in order that we may have some better balanced body that we are supporting this Motion tonight.

I want to emphasise once again that the restoration of an effective Second Chamber will make for greater liberty, and not for less. Failure to restore it will make for less liberty in an increasing degree through the years. Whatever mandate we had at the last General Election, if we had not a mandate to preserve the liberty of the subject, we had no mandate at all. I hope that hon. Members will remember that, in the words of the poet, Whenever mob or monarch lays Too rude a hand on English ways, both this House and the strengthened Second Chamber will be there to protect the liberties of our people.

9.12 p.m.


The few remarks which I have to make will be from a different point of view from any that has yet been expressed. I oppose this Motion, but not in the least on the lines suggested by hon. Members of the Opposition, though they will, I hope, be grateful to me because I shall make relevant certain parts of their speeches which were not relevant, so far as I can see, at the time that they were delivered. Much of what was said from their Front Bench was directed to attacking the present House of Lords, which up to this time has not been defended. T wish to do what I can to mitigate the zeal for intemperate and subversive reform which animated the hon. Member for South-East Essex (Mr. Raikes) and the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Sir J. Withers). I shall not go back as far as the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones), who had indeed to go back to 1649 in order to get his political principle.

Any reform such as that outlined in this Motion would do three things: it would certainly take a great deal of time; it would undoubtedly create—which would be deplorable—a division among the supporters of the National Government, and would create divisions between Members of the Conservative party in this House, and perhaps in another place. It would not be regarded by the great mass of the people as in any sense a contribution to the great problems which they are looking—and looking successfully—to the present Government for solution. Those are not conclusive reasons, because it may well be that the electors are taking a short view of their interests. It is strange that the House of Lords as at present constituted is logically anomalous; but our country and our Constitution are full of anomalies, and insight can often see behind a logical anomaly practical and workmanlike conditions. We do not destroy and remodel our institutions according to theory, but we preserve the old forms, and our Constitution models itself to perform the functions which the new circumstances require of it.

The present Second Chamber, as has been pointed out, has no absolute veto within the first two or two and a-half years of Parliament. I believe that to be right. I think that the powers of delay under the Parliament Act have been very much underrated by some of those who have taken part in this Debate. The general force of public opinion in this country, if given a reasonable time, is overwhelming, and, if a Measure can stand up for two years before public opinion, can be reintroduced, and the Government which has reintroduced it can still retain in this House its effective majority, I myself should have very little fear that such a Measure, whether right or wrong, had not the substantial support of the people behind it. I believe that those powers are very considerable indeed, and, as has also been pointed out, after the first two years of a Parliament the veto is an absolute one.

I believe that great advantages flow from the fact that our present Second Chamber is in its constitution anomalous, and that it contains much wisdom among its effective Members. It is because it has anomalies in its constitution that it can recognise, against the individual opinion of its Members, the authority of a majority of this House. I do not know whether it was the first, but no doubt the most famous occasion on which that was done was at the time of the Reform Bill of 1832, under the advice and direction of the Duke of Wellington. It was done on the well known occasion of the disestablishment of the Irish Church in 1869, and it has been done repeatedly, and, indeed, perhaps, increasingly since. I find great difficulty in seeing how a reconstituted—and I will give my hon. Friends the benefit of the assumption that it would be a rationally reconstituted—Second Chamber could act in that way. What right would a Member who had been sent there by a county council have to say, "I am not going to act according to my opinion, although you sent me here to represent you; I am going to stand aside because of a certain result or a certain state of affairs in the other Chamber"? I think it would be difficult to find examples from other parts of the world where a second chamber, deliberately rationally constituted for the purpose of a second chamber, has considered itself entitled to stand aside, as it were, and give the authority of a majority in the other chamber its way.

We have in the House of Lords a Second Chamber which works—and, I suggest, works effectively—according to the spirit and sense of our Constitution. It has considerable powers, which are used to revise and amend, and which cannot and will not be used to thwart the will of the people, but which can on a proper occasion be used to ensure that public opinion has time—one year, or, if necessary, two years—in which to make itself felt with regard to any Measure of importance as to which the will of the people may be at any rate in doubt. Judging by the test of practical working, I say that there are no grounds for the Motion which has been moved, and that we should do well to preserve what we have inherited, instead of seeking some conglomerate and at present undefined body which would represent no principle that has yet been put forward in an intelligible form.

9.21 p.m.


I do not think that any good purpose would be served by my replying at any length to the two speeches which have come from the Opposition Benches, but I noticed that the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment to the Resolution did not see fit to announce on behalf of his party that they were committed to single-chamber government. It would, I think, be interesting, before this Debate draws to a conclusion, to know whether the opposition of the Labour party to any second chamber is absolute, or whether, as was rather indicated by one passage in the hon. Gentleman's speech, they would be disposed to take a second chamber based on the elective principle.

If I may say so, I think that the two most arresting speeches that we have heard in opposition to the Resolution were those of the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith) and of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Crewe (Mr. Somervell). I should like in a very few words to stress what I think was the point of view of most of us who have been studying this matter and who have produced a report.

It has been suggested that our sole purpose was to do away with the Parliament Act, and to give the smallest quid pro quo in the form of liberalising the composition of the Upper Chamber. That, so far as I am concerned, is quite untrue. I certainly should not be prepared to vote for extending the powers of the Upper House so long as it is composed as it is at the present time, but, when the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough says that it was our purpose to enable the Second Chamber to resist a decision of this House, that, of course, is perfectly true. I am unable to see the value of an Upper Chamber if it must necessarily register whatever decision is come to by this House. The value of the House of Lords in the past has been that it has shown a. remarkable power of distinguishing between Measures passed by this House which really represented the consensus of opinion of the country and those which did not. There have been remarkable occasions of that kind, such as that on which the House of Lords threw out Mr. Gladstone's Home Rule Bill and a subsequent general election showed that the people of the country shared the opinion of the Lords. I am quite willing to admit that on that occasion the House of Commons may have been wiser than the House of Lords and the people, but that hardly an argument that can be put to us from those who constitute themselves the protagonists of complete democratic government.

We have endeavoured to put forward two alternative schemes. One is based upon the elective principle, and the other is based upon the principle of nomination by whoever is the Leader of the strongest party in the House of Commons at the time. I confess that, so far as I am concerned, I think that perhaps the old-fashioned admiration for the principle of election is somewhat less strong than it was. I should have thought that to some hon. Gentlemen here the suggestion of nomination would make a very great appeal. We find at the present time that there is in this House a very large majority of those who are now accused of conspiring against the liberties of the people. I am inclined to think that hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Benches would be well advised to consider whether, in the long run, it would not, be in the interests of Oppositions of both the right and left that you should have a system of nomination so that when a Government has been in office for some time it will be able to appoint a large number of representatives of its party to the Upper House. I do not know whether we are sure that because all of us here have been successful candidates at the last Election there are no people who can with advantage take a share in legislation except those who are successful in contesting a popular constituency. Personally, I would suggest that all parties alike would benefit very greatly if they were able to find seats in the upper Chamber for those Members of their party who very frequently contribute very largely to the formulation of the policy which is to be put forward, but who are not, whether for reasons of health or disposition, suitable candidates at a General Election.

May I remind the House of what the actual proposals are? We are suggesting that there should be a reconstitution of the Upper House on a basis which will secure a fair and an adequate representation of all shades of political opinion. The accusation which has been brought against the Upper House, is, I think, primarily, that it is predominantly Conservative, and only in a secondary degree that it is hereditary. I feel that at the present time the House of Lords does possess very considerable powers, but the utilisation of those powers is made almost impracticable by the fact that there is an overwhelming majority of Conservative Peers there, and so it is quite impossible for the House of Lords to secure a fair consideration of any Amendment in Commons legislation, because this large Conservative majority gives the impression—it may be a fair impression—that their criticism is not wholly impartial. Speaking for myself, I can say that I will not be a party to increasing the powers of the House of Lords without a very great modification of its personnel. I regard that modification, with possibly the democratisation of its personnel, as being the first and most urgent necessity. We have brought forward this Motion in order to ventilate a subject which was described as one that brooked no delay a quarter of a, century ago. We have brought this matter up early in this Parliament in order that there should be an exchange of opinion between all sections of opinion here.

I am sorry that there are indications, not so much from the speeches made this evening as from speeches made in the country, that apparently make it almost hopeless for us to look for any constructive suggestions from the Opposition Benches. I hope that the same will not be true of the Liberal party. I should deprecate any attempt by my own party to avail themselves of their present majority in order to carry out some measure of reform of the Upper Chamber which was not agreed to by reasonable and moderate men of other parties, and which was not likely to secure from the reasoned judgment of the country unanimous assent. I hope that in the course of the Debate this evening we may have an opportunity of ascertaining what are the chief criticisms of the proposals which have been put forward by us. We are not in any way wedded to the details of the proposals. If valid criticism of them is made, we shall be the first to be willing to consider it, but I would ask the House to regard this Motion as one which brings up a grave and a weighty subject, and one which at the present time this House is in a particularly favourable position to consider and discuss.

9.31 p.m.

The SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir Boyd Merriman)

I am certain that I am expressing the views of every Member of this House when I say that we are extremely grateful to the hon. Member for South-East Essex (Mr. Raikes) for bringing forward this Motion, not only because it has produced a very interesting Debate, but also because it has enabled us to listen to a most attractive speech from him which was wholly admirable both in matter and manner of delivery. If I do not attempt to follow him or subsequent speakers in detail in regard to the various possibilities in the way of reform of the House of Lords, it is simply for this reason, that I am determined that my intervention in this Debate shall be of the briefest possible description. I am not going to interfere with the newly-restored rights of private Members for more than a very few minutes, whether my intervention is timed by inches in the OFFICIAL REPORT or by the stop-watch.

Let me say one word, first of all, about the Amendment. I agree with the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Molson) that it was not made wholly plain whether the Amendment was intended to convey that the Opposition are absolutely determined to have another place abolished altogether, or whether they object to the hereditary principle being introduced into a new revised chamber. If it is the first, let me answer the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) who went back to 1649 for his principles with another quotation from the same period. Oliver Cromwell said that the uncontrolled domination of this House was the "horridest arbitrariness" in the world. We all know where we can find that quotation. We have been most kindly provided with it in one of the books to which reference has been made. If, on the other hand, it is intended to object to the retention of the hereditary principle in a new revised chamber, then I say the Amendment cannot be accepted, because that would be to prejudge the question as to 'how the revision of the Second Chamber should be brought about, and would be wholly premature. So, I say quite definitely that I must invite the House to reject the Amendment.

With regard to the Motion itself, as the hon. Member for Doncaster reminded the House a moment ago—though he a little over-stated the period—it is precisely 21 years since the Preamble of the Parliament Act was passed, and Mr. Asquith, as he then was, said that reform brooked no delay. But I am not going to suggest that, because that delay has survived its infantile ailments and has attained a healthy majority, it is to be allowed to be prolonged indefinitely until it dies from old age. While recognising the supreme importance of this question, as everyone at present does, we must be realists in this matter. This House, after all, was mainly elected to deal with a supreme national crisis. No one can pretend for a moment that the issues raised by this Motion, if legislation were attempted, would not necessarily involve an enormous amount of Parliamentary time. A Bill dealing with this situation, quite plainly, would have to be the major Bill of a Session. Everyone knows that the time of the House, so far as this Session is concerned, is mortgaged up to the hilt to deal with the things that we were primarily sent here to deal with. Can anyone say that the difficulties with which we are now confronted will not be present with us next Session or, for the matter of that, in the Session after next?

I should be trifling with the House of Commons if I were to give any sort of promise, in reply to the questions addressed to the Government as to whether they can undertake to deal with this matter during the lifetime of the present Parliament, which would fetter the Government in the disposal of their time to deal with the grave economic issues which we were sent here to deal with. On the other hand, allow me to say that, if it is found possible to deal with this matter during the present Parliament, nothing could be more useful than that this Debate should have taken place. It has enabled Members to put forward freely their contributions to a solution of the problem.

9.38 p.m.


I will not detain the House for many minutes, because everyone has seemed to agree that this was to be a Debate in which Members who do not sit on these two benches should take the most part, but we have been challenged by three Members who apparently do not quite understand our position. My colleagues here think that that is not the fault of our spokesman—I only say that in his defence—but I want to make two or three things quite clear. We are definitely and unalterably opposed to the hereditary principle, and, if there is to be any reform, we want that swept away root and branch. The second thing is that we do not want, and we would not support, but would fight against, the establishment of any second chamber which had the right to override the decision of a Parliament which has gone to the country asking for a mandate to carry out a certain policy. We deny the right of any other assembly to upset the decision of such a House. We do not agree that any other body should be appointed to upset the decisions of the elected House, always provided that it has kept faith with the electors on the policy and programme put before them. This House would be doing entirely differently from that if it was to embark on a policy of House of Lords reform, because we think the Government have no mandate for it and that it was not put to the country at all.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to elucidate who is to interpret what is the mandate of the House of Commons?


Certainly not another Chamber, indirectly elected, at the other end of that corridor, either partly hereditary or partly elected or wholly elected in any particular way. If this House does not execute its mandate in a proper manner, the electors will turn it out when they get the chance. You cannot create a kind of deity that is going to decide these things. The people at the other end of the corridor are only men like ourselves, and they have no more omniscience than we have.

The third point we make is that no one has yet said a word as to why this thing should be done now. This business has gone on for a very long time and now, suddenly, we are apparently to do something to prevent hasty, ill-considered legislation. Why should it be hasty, ill-considered legislation when it is one or perhaps two particular parties that may be bringing it forward? The House of Lords never interferes with the august decisions of this majority anyhow, and I have never known it interfere with the decisions of a Conservative House of Commons. We believe quite sincerely that the people who are bringing these proposals forward have one object only, to cripple a possible Socialist majority in this House. The gentleman who writes under the initials A.B.B. in the "Evening Standard" is quite right. He interprets the minds of those who are bringing forward these proposals better than they do themselves. He wants this huge majority to be used in order that, if the Socialist obtain a majority, there shall be a body at the other end which will stop their legislation. I can only wish them joy of their task if they attempt to stop the will of the British people. The British people can be roused, and they always are roused when they think they are not getting a square deal. We should have preferred that this business should not be brought up at this juncture, but that we should be considering the economic questions which call more loudly for decision than anything else at this time.

9.44 p.m.


It was not unexpected that Conservatives should draw both first places in the ballot, nor was it unnatural that they should choose for the subject of those Motions two great institutions, the Navy and the House of Lords. In the first instance, the Motion broadly said, "Hands off the Navy," and one might have expected that their second Motion would say, "Hands off the House of Lords." But, curiously enough, a very different Motion has been put down. I do not believe it represents the real feeling of the Conservative party. I believe the hon. Member for Crewe (Mr. Somervell), just as the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. Buchan) did when the subject was last debated, more truly represents the views of Conservatives than the Motion that we are debating. However that may be, it is not for me to say. My function is rather to speak for the small group who represent a large number of voters outside who were in part the cause of the very remarkable Conservative majority. In friendliness to my colleagues—I can assure them that the friendliness is very real—if we see in the subject and the Motion something which endangers the continuation of that support in the country, we are bound to call attention to it. It would be our function in all such circumstances to show, I will not say the red light, which has, perhaps, a sinister interpretation, but, at any rate, the amber light of caution. I can assure my hon. Friends that the pursuit of this subject would seriously alienate the support of a very large number of persons who supported them last year. I do not know if there has been any speaker before in this Debate who successfully went through both the 1910 elections, and who can remember the strenuousness of the fight and the bitterness involved. I pray that the National Government may be preserved from any controversies of that type.

It will be found, I believe, that the National Government is needed after this Parliament, and I look forward to a continuation of the associations which made this very fine Government last year. Therefore, it is my duty to utter a warning if there is real danger. Any device for reforming the Second Chamber always means one thing. It means providing a second chamber with greater powers than the present one possesses, and it also inevitably means that that chamber shall be one which represents one party in the State. I have never seen any proposal suggested which did not have that effect, however little it might have been desired. To offer that in these days as a solution of the second chamber difficulty is not one which, I believe, the country would enjoy. What have been the reasons given for this proposal? All the reasons have been based upon fears of what might happen, and not a single point upon the experience of what, in fact, has taken place. Against those fears I want to place the realities of experience. Surely, it is true that if you place impediments to the natural flow of popular will you will probably produce a blockage and a worse flood thereafter. We saw this in the first years of this century. I do not know whether Conservatives rejoice now at the rise of the Labour party and the downfall of the Liberal party, but I attribute it in considerable part to the behaviour of the Peers in the earlier days of the century. It was because the Liberal party was compelled to occupy time and to waste it by not achieving things when there was an urgent need for useful legislation. It was because of that that another party was assisted into being, and whether the Conservative party are glad of that or not, the plain Fact is, that you cannot have a second chamber which stems the natural flow of popular will without creating far worse dangers than you actually attempt to avoid.

The whole proposition is based upon the fundamental fallacy that the danger of democracy in Great Britain is that legislation will proceed too rapidly. The danger of democracy is precisely the reverse. British democracy is an extremely slow-moving machine, and, in fact, it tends to move far too slowly for the ordinary progress of social organisation. What is the basic cause of most of our difficulties in these days? It is simply that men operating in other spheres than politics have been able to get on with their job far faster than we have. Scientists and engineers have transformed the material possibilities of life, and while that has been going on the politicians have lagged behind, and social organisation has not kept pace with the processes of modern invention. That is in part the result of democracy. A competent aristocracy, whatever its disadvantages can proceed snore rapidly than democracy. Everybody knows that to implant new ideas into democracy is a process which takes years and years. I do not care what idea you choose to select. Yon may take Christian ethics if you like. This has taken longer than most. You may take the vanity of wealth. There has been enough preached about the vanity of wealth, but democracy has not yet learnt that wealth is not a thing to be desired. Take into consideration internationalism, Socialism or any of these modern ideas, the amount of progress they make in a complete democracy is always too slow to be of adequate avail for the needs with which their advocates seek to deal. That being so, I ask the House not to proceed either with this Motion, or, still less, with the fulfilment of the legislation which the Motion demands.

There are real grievances in the present system. I have always felt that the Peers have a real grievance in the fact that a number of extremely competent and useful men are not enabled to play their full share in the political life of this country. There is a definite political waste because some of the most able of the Peers are not able to play the part which they would certainly play if they could enter this House. That is a real grievance, and I am not sure that it is not a grievance which is largely at the bottom of the demand for reform. It is the possession of an honourable consciousness of capacity for public service which makes them wish to be able to play a more notable part than they at present are able to play. That is a kind of evil which could properly be remedied, but the proposal that we should strengthen the Second Chamber at the expense of this Chamber, or a proposal which would abolish the perogative of the Crown to create Peers, an essential constitutional safeguard—I ask the House not to proceed with any such ideas.

9.54 p.m.


I want to sum up, as shortly as I can, what has already been said. First of all, perhaps it will be a surprise if I tell the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition that I have come, after long years of sitting opposite him, to a point at which we agree. That is to say, I think that the hereditary primo-genital recruitment of the House of Lords has become perfectly absurd. The three points which we should look upon are these: We want primarily wise counsellors for the King and the State. We have to choose them in one way or another. There is the hereditary way of choosing them, the elective way of choosing them and the nominative way of choosing them. In recent years the hereditary way has become absurd. Can one see any reason for making legislators of grandchildren and great grandchildren of a nobleman who has occupied the position of Lord Chancellor for two years, or, even for a less time, or of a, General who has conducted in years past a campaign in Africa, or of a person who, for reasons more or less unavowable, has found the graces of the Prime Minister and, to the general surprise of the public, appeared in the Honours List in January One can find reasons why these people were honoured, but why should their sons, grandsons and great-grandsons become hereditary Peers? It is absurd. It was not the custom in the early days of "Barons by writ".

When Edward III had to deal with families which had been for several generations sitting in Parliament, but were Barons who had become entirely obscure and useless, he stopped calling them. On looking through the old Peerages one finds innumerable cases where Baronial families who had been called for generation after generation, suddenly, although they had not in the least died out in the male line, ceased to be called. The reason was obvious. The King no longer thought that they were fit persons to advise him in Parliament. That practice, unfortunately, ceased when the unhappy system was established of creating Barons by Patent. Then, a Baron by patent, succeeded by his heirs male and sometimes by his heirs general, came into being. I think it is an absurd thing that by the decisions of Tudor and Stuart lawyers we should be landed in the present position of hereditary Peerages. There was an attempt made in the middle of the reign of Queen Victoria to place Lord Wensleydale in the House of Lords for a life Peerage, but the House of Lords struck against it and refused to acknowledge him. That was a most unhappy incident.

What I want to see is that any distinguished person who has served the State and who is likely to be of great advantage to the King in council should be in the position of being in the Second Chamber. There must be a second chamber and I regard almost with pity the people who talk about unicameral Constitutions. Nothing worth while has ever been done by a single chamber.


What about Scotland?


I do pot know whether my hon. Friend will say that the Constitution of Scotland was worked well.


Quite as well as the Parliament of England.


That may be, but let me proceed. We want to see wise councillors for the King and the State, and I must confess that I cannot see why the son or the grandson of somebody who has been a distinguished lawyer in the reign, say, of George IV, is likely to be a more deserving person than somebody who to-day has shown himself of general help to the State. There are many people who are not in the House of Lords simply because they cannot, from their family position, think of leaving their sons or their grandsons loaded with a ridiculous title. A person who has no fortune but great ability is often obliged to refuse to go to the House of Lords because he thinks of his sons and his grandsons. The whole hereditary question seems to me to be now condemned in a House of 700 Peers many of whom are there for the most unavowable reasons.

What are the alternatives? There is the electoral and the nominative principle. Looking at the matter from the point of view of wishing to get for the King and the State wise counsellors, I cannot say that I think the electoral principle would be suitable. When one looks at the sort of person one would like to see in the House of Lords, one thinks of the man who has governed with distinction a great colony for ten years or the man of science whose mind has fathomed all the difficulties of economy, and such individuals are not likely to be the sort of person that the County Council of Leicestershire or Staffordshire would elect to be their representative. Probably the greater part of such a county council would not have heard of the man's name. On the other hand, would such people like to go canvassing against each other? Take a person who has returned from a colony where he has been governor: can one imagine him going to members of a county council and pointing out what a fit person he is, and what a deserving Member of the House of Lords he would be? It would be an undignified position, which men of honour would not consent to take.

There remains the third alternative and one which I face with some difficulty, namely, a nominated second chamber. There one has to deal with the unscrupulous Prime Minister who might load the Second Chamber with nominees quite unsuitable, mere party hacks, mere persons who have been kicked out of the House of Commons because the House of Commons has no further use for them. There is that very great danger, but I think with the hon. Member who spoke first that there are ways of restricting a nominative second chamber so that it might be useful. There are second chambers in some States Which have been recruited in that way, and I believe they have been justifying their existence. The question is, what should be the check on an unscrupulous Prime Minister who would try to load the chamber with his own partisans? I think, on the whole, that the suggestion made by the mover of the Motion is the right one, that some such body as the Privy Council might have jurisdiction. There is enough honour and enough sense of their duty to their country among the Privy Councillors and people of that status to prevent them passing for party reasons persons unfitted for promotion who might be proffered to them by an unscrupulous Prime Minister. I think that something might be done in that way. I cannot see any salvation for our Constitution unless we have a good second chamber. The hereditary second chamber is doomed, elective second chamber methods would be unsatisfactory, and I think that a nominative second chamber is the solution.

10.5 p.m.


The hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir C. Oman) will allow me to say that in condemning the hereditary principle I am sure that he does not express the views of a very large number of his constituents. I do not propose to follow the hon. Member into the enchantments of the Middle Ages but to come back to the terms of the Motion.

The Leader of the Opposition spoke, as he so often does, of the will of the people; and he seemed to think that this is some sort of Machiavellian plot to thwart the will of the people. I want to assure him that we stand here, just as much as he and his friends, because we were chosen by the will of the people, and we should be failing in our duty if we attempted to thwart the will of the people. The sole object of those who take an interest in this matter is to carry out the will of the people efficiently and effectively by providing an efficient machine for giving effect to the will of the people. Some of us take the view that the other place as at present constituted is not an efficient machine for carrying out the will of the people. We desire to reform it. The speeches delivered to-night make it quite clear that there are only three possible courses. You can maintain the status quo, a course advocated by the hon. Member for Crewe (Mr. Somervell). You may abolish the House of Lords altogether, a course advocated by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. M. Jones), and you may reform it. I think too much attention has been paid to the details and form of the particular machinery. That is a matter upon which, obviously, there are many diverse views.

One of the reasons why the Motion is brought forward is that in the future—and it may take a long period of time—these different views may be reconciled and some workmanlike and efficient scheme brought forward which may have a wider measure of agreement. The hon. Member for Caerphilly asked: "What is the hurry? Why do you want to bring this matter up now? There is no crisis, there is no quarrel between this House and the other House. We have not yet started blackguarding each other." It is for that very reason that we are bringing this matter forward now. We are Tories, Conservatives. We do not wait for reform until it is forced upon us by a crisis. We march ahead. We say that if you set about a difficult and delicate piece of work like this in a clear and calm atmosphere, when you are not hustled and hurried, the chances are that you will make a much better job of it than if you wait until a quarrel actually arises. The Leader of the Opposition said that they will not accept anything but an elective second chamber.


We have never said that.


The right hon. Gentleman was not present at the time but the hon. Member for Caerphilly said something to that effect.


I said that if we have to consider a second chamber the only principle upon which we can remotely accept a second chamber is on the basis of it being an elective chamber.


Will the hon. Member tell us whether the Labour party accepts an elective second chamber or do they want uni-cameral government? Is there so much virtue in the principle of election Is it geography only which can carry out the will of the people? Hon. Members of the Labour party will be the last people to say that. Have they ever heard of functional representatives? Many of their trade unions embody that principle. Is it not possible to have a functional second House? Would the Opposition object to that? We have to consider for what purposes a second chamber is necessary. We have been told that it is partly for revision and for the expression of matured judgments on the questions brought before it It is for delay, not unreasonable delay, but delay so that the opinion which is ultimately expressed may be the best. It does not end there. There are other purposes for which a second chamber is necessary. We in this House have to spend our time earning our living and courting our constituencies. We have to bear the burden and heat of the day, but in a second chamber you may find a place for eminent specialists. We are becoming more and more whole-time politicians, but in a second chamber you have a place for those who are not whole-time politicians but eminent specialists. You have a place where you may have a fuller and freer, a more expert and informed, debate than we can have in this House. You have a chamber which can give more time than we can to technical legislation. Therefore we must have a second chamber.

It is clear that there are criticisms which can be offered against the present Second Chamber. The hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) showed that, although I say nothing about the taste of his speech. I do not know whether he was speaking as an alderman or as a bricklayer's labourer, but his speech showed that there are criticisms. There is the criticism that you see empty benches. Of course you do, because the machine is not working properly. There is nothing to attract them. They are subject to the operation of the Parliament Act, and however eloquent and clever they may be their powers are limited. Therefore, we say that you must make the second chamber more efficient, and it should be undertaken now because it will take a long time. Many conflicting views have to be reconciled. I appreciate the point that this is not. a matter immediately relevant to the present crisis, but it is a matter which wilt take some time and which must be undertaken at some time. The Government have to make up their minds between three alternatives, to maintain the status quo, to reform or to abolish altogether. Clearly they will not abolish, and if they maintain the status quo are they not maintaining something which is not efficient? Therefore, ought they not to reform; and to set about it as quickly as possible.

10.12 p.m.


There are before the House two issues; first, whether we should have a two Chamber system or a unicameral system, and secondly, if we are to have a system of two Chamber Government whether we are to retain the present Upper Chamber in its present emasculated form or restore it to a higher level of efficiency. As to the first point, we have not yet been able to ascertain from the Opposition whether they would accept the principle of two Chambers; but as far as we can gather they do not. The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. M. Jones) was nearly definite on this point, but the Leader of the Opposition was by no means so definite, and it would be of interest to this House and to the country to know whether if and when the electors decide to put a Socialist Government in power as well as in office we are to be faced with the abolition of our present Second Chamber with nothing in its place.

The only remark of the hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir C. Oman) with which I agreed was that no country has really got on well without some form of Second Chamber government. Two-chamber government is practically universal throughout the whole civilised world and the United States of America, and I submit that this country more than any other requires two chambers because of its peculiar position. We have three parties in the State at the moment, but we seem to be slipping back to the position of having two parties. The result is that a comparatively small turnover of votes at a general election produces a large turnover of seats, and a vast majority can be given to one or other of the parties far beyond the wishes of the electors. That party may take the opportunity to carry out legislation for which it has no mandate. We have had a mandate for all the legislation that we have carried, to which the Leader of the Opposition has objected. But I would like here to draw the attention of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor-General, who I regret is not in his place, to the fact that I do not know that this House has any mandate for the bringing into being either of the Town and Country Planning Act or the London Transport Bill. We have to-day a situation which is different from anything we have had in the history of this country. We have an Opposition which is a revolutionary and not an evolutionary Opposition. The majority of its leaders—I will not say its rank. and file—are Republicans. One has only to study the earlier writings of the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) to realise that.


So was Joseph Chamberlain.


But Mr. Joseph Chamberlain in his old age learned wisdom. I need not expatiate further on that. The fact remains that a Socialist Government which obtain power as well as office could, and probably would, carry into law within three years, forms of legislation which would irrevocably ruin this country and very likely bring people almost to starvation. We had to face that during the last Administration, when the Socialists had not a majority, it is true, but owing to the more or less sporadic backing of a pusillanimous Liberal semi-opposition they were able so to shake the finances of this country, that this country, and the world with it, were on the brink of disaster. We know only too well from what the right hon. Gentleman and his colleague said in the country that, once they obtain power as well as office, there is no limit to the follies they will perpetrate.

Look at what they could do in a little over two years, as things are. They could abolish the Monarchy, and I have had no reply from the Opposition Front Bench to show that the majority are not Republicans. If one looks at a certain Socialist periodical edited by Mr. Thomas Johnston, the ablest villain in the whole Socialist party, one sees there a steady flow of gibes and jeers against every established institution in the country—against law and the Church, and against the Crown, which in any country that really respected itself would land that right hon. Gentleman in gaol for treason and sedition. That is the position today. Yet we are asked to perpetuate this position and snake it possible for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley and his associates to carry out all the enormities which they have promised, and not one of which they deny. I submit that it would be well for the Government to give earnest consideration to all these problems, not because my still, small voice has called upon them to do so, but because they are self-evidently of the greatest importance to the future of this country, and not to the future of this country alone, because on the future of this country and its prosperity depend the future and prosperity of the world. I have answered, I hope, the question of the hon. Member for Caerphilly and his associates as to why we bring forward this Motion now. We recognise the danger in which the country and the world stand as a result of the machinations, past and future, of the party that sits on the benches opposite.

As regards reform, we have had the hereditary principle very bitterly attacked, but with absolutely no show of reason behind the attack. We have had the hon. Member for Oxford University appealing to ancient history. I very much regret that Chichele Professor of History in my own University should have made such a speech. I would recommend the hon. Member to study not merely history but a little biology, in which case he would find that more and more the powers of heredity are coming to be recognised as having a very great deal of effect. One hon. Member said that one cannot breed legislators as one can breed cocker puppies. It is perfectly true that there are a few misfits in the other Chamber, but I would remind the right hon. Gentleman who leads the Opposition that a good many of those misfits are in the ranks of the Labour party's supporters in that Chamber. It is quite true that the hereditary system throws up a few failures because, fortunately or unfortunately, our hereditary peerage does not always seek its consorts from a eugenic point of view. If they had a complete sense of responsibility no doubt they would seek to ensure that their offspring were as worthy as they themselves, for the most part, are, but the fact remains that according to biology when you are breeding from good stock you undoubtedly throw up—to use the common expression—90 per cent. or more of the good stock, as against a very limited number of failures.


Is it not very seldom the case that the eldest son primogenitally, the first produced member of any particular body, is the competent one? I think it is usually the second one.


I happen to be an only child and therefore I can claim that I am also the youngest son, and all the sons. Having made what I hope is an adequate retort to the hon. Member, may I proceed to point out that if you take a good stock of horses or dogs, or anything you like to postulate, for breeding purposes, you will find that in a few years you have established a stock in which a majority are of eminent value. What we are proposing here is a scheme whereby the misfits and the failures are to be rejected from membership. We are going to improve the quality. We are going, not to breed eugenically but to choose eugenically, and I submit that the proposal deserves serious consideration. I agree thoroughly with my hon. Friend the Member for South Eastern Essex (Mr. Raikes) that we should retain, if possible, at least half of the reconstituted House on the hereditary principle.

As to the remainder, I am more in agreement with the hon. Member for South Bristol (Mr. Lindsay) than with any other speaker. I do not like the system of election by county councils or any of the systems of election which have been mentioned. I am not so enthusiastic either about certain aspects of nomination but I think there ought to be a certain amount of nomination, and I would like that nomination to be on the functional basis suggested by the hon. Member for South Bristol. In my recon- stituted second chamber one would have a limited number of bishops—the number would be drastically cut down but they would still be present. One would have representatives of other churches, not merely Christian churches, but also Jewish and Moslem, because of the many millions of our fellow subjects of the Empire who are of those races, and possibly other churches as well. One would have representatives of the arts and sciences—say, the President of the Royal Academy, or if he was too infirm or too busy to attend or was not interested in politics someone to take his place. There would also be the President, or someone appointed by the Society of Architects, and similarly by the Royal College of Music, by the British Medical Association, and so on.

I would widen the basis very much. I would introduce representatives of our Dominions and the larger Crown Colonies. Furthermore, I would give representation to large employers of labour, to the Federation of British Industries and similar bodies. I may say for the benefit of the Opposition I would give adequate representation to the trade unions. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I can understand the sneers of hon. Members opposite, but I would have, say, two members for each of the larger trade unions, one representing each of the medium-sized unions, while groups of small unions would nominate a member. On such a basis I believe you would get a second chamber which would be of the very greatest advantage to this country and to the world, because it would save this country from the not merely possible but certain consequences of the disastrous follies to be perpetrated by any Socialist Government if and when it achieves power as well as office.

10.26 p.m.


From time immemorial it has been the custom to speak of the House of Lords with a certain amount of contempt. This House has always regarded itself as the superior House. A certain very distinguished statesman of the earlier part of the 18th century, Lord Chesterfield, described the House of Lords as "a hospital for incurables," and the Duke of Wellington, in the earlier part of last century, said of the House of Lords: Nobody cares a damn for the House of Lords.




I am quoting the Duke of Wellington. In spite of these criticisms of the House of Lords it has steadily continued to fulfil the functions that the constitution has allotted to it. I am sorry that the Motion that has been proposed to-night has been proposed, and personally I shall not be able to vote for it. My motto in the matter would be: Quieta non movere"— "Let sleeping dogs lie." There is no general desire at present for the reform of the House of Lords. I do not believe that in the rank and file of the Conservative party throughout the country there is any general desire for it. The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. M. Jones) mentioned four separate occasions on which the reform of the House of Lords 'has been pressed to the front, this being the fourth. But nothing has ever come of these efforts, because, I argue, there is no general desire for the reform of the House of Lords behind these efforts. The lion. Member for Caerphilly also pointed out that this Motion was coming from the Conservative benches and not from his benches. 1 believe that it is not coming from his benches because they are satisfied that the House of Lords at the present time had better be left alone. that it is doing its work as well as it can be expected to do it. I do not put it any higher than that. The Labour party are satisfied that the House of Lords is not an obstacle to their work and to their efforts.

There are two ways in which the House of Lords can be prevented from permanently thwarting the will of the people. If a Measure goes to the House of Lords three times, and is rejected, it can be passed without their sanction. That is one method. The other method is the power that the Prime Minister for the time being has of making to his Sovereign a demand for the creation of a sufficient number of Peers to carry out the wishes of the Administration for the time being. Once only has there been any mass production of Peers, and that was in the reign of Queen Anne, when a sufficient number of Peers was created to convert a Whig House of Lords into a Tory House of Lords. On several occasions Ministers have threatened the House of Lords with the creation of Peers without its having been necessary to carry the threat into effect. William IV gave Lord Grey permission to create sufficient Peers to carry the Reform Bill into law, and King George V gave Mr. Asquith the promise to create a sufficient number of Peers to carry the Parliament Bill. You have, therefore, two safeguards against a permanent opposition on the part of the House of Lords to the will of the people.

I must say, with such knowledge as I have of the history of my country, that I cannot imagine that anything in the nature of a revolution would be prevented by any sort of second chamber that might be created. When the nation is determined, the House of Lords has to give way. There are no two events in the history of the nineteenth century to which the House of Lords were more opposed than the Reform Act of 1832 and the abolition of the Corn Laws. The House of Lords were not only opposed to the Act of 1832, which converted this country from aristocratic government to popular government; if one reads the Debates of the Houses of Parliament at that time they will see that the House of Lords thought that the Reform Act was the end of all things. But they gave in and passed the Act. Again, with the repeal of the Corn Laws, the House of Lords saw nothing but ruin facing them, but they gave in. We may always rely on the House of Lords, when it realises that the nation is determined on a particular Measure, to give in, because it has always done so.


There was a General Election before the House of Lords gave way on the Reform Act.


The House of Lords only gave way under the advice of the Duke of Wellington, because they knew that William IV had given permission for the creation of Peers. It was not a General Election that caused the House of Lords to withdraw their opposition. The study of the history of our country shows that it is undoubted that the House of Lords has in the long run seen that it was essential that the will of the people should be yielded to when the will of the people was clearly indicated.

10.33 p.m.


Those who have listened to the Debate, and especially to the speech of the Mover of the Motion, to which I should like to add my tribute, and to a number of the other speeches which followed, will agree that the restoration of the day for the discussion of Private Members' Motions has been amply justified by the quality of the Debate. There is one respect in which I am sure those of my friends who are interested in this Motion feel some disappointment. We had hoped to get some clear idea of the policy of the Opposition because of the fact that they put down an Amendment. The question was dealt with at the Labour Party Conference when, so far as resolutions can kill, the House of Lords was killed in two minutes. No speeches were made. Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note, As his corse to the rampart we hurried. To-night we thought, when they put forward a positive Amendment, that we should have some indication of their policy. We thought that no party could wish to abolish an institution like the House of Lords without having a clear idea of whether they were going to fill its place by some other institution, or whether they were going to abolish it permanently. There is no longer a silence such as prevailed at the Labour Party Conference, for we have had a series of speeches from the opposite side, but we are still left with exactly the same ambiguity.

We have heard a condemnation of the hereditary principle, but I have waited again and again for some justification of that condemnation. When did the House of Lords flout the will of the people when the Socialist Government were in office? What instance can they give? What occasion was there when it was done? As a matter of fact, all of us who went about the lobbies during the Socialist Government's term of office heard an entirely different complaint put forward. The complaint about the House of Lords, as then stated by them, was that under its very wise and prudent leadership it never gave them the chance, or the excuse, of going to the people to say to them that their will had been flouted. I have heard that more than once, and every Member who has been in this House has heard it too; and every Member on the benches opposite who was in the last Parliament knows perfectly well that it was true. I would ask my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Lovat-Fraser), when he says that they view the House of Lords with tolerance, to bear in mind that they passed a resolution in the party conference outside, and have put down an Amendment to-night, for its abolition. I can hardly imagine any clearer way of expressing a desire to abolish it instead of tolerating it.


I can speak of them with more authority than you can.


I have no doubt the hon. Member may be able to do so, but if he still holds to his opinion the only inference is that the Labour party never mean what they say. We wish we could find out whether, if they abolish the present House of Lords, they intend to establish another chamber in its place. Let me put this point, which my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Molson) tried to ascertain from the Leader of the Opposition. It is clear that under no circumstances will they tolerate a suspensory veto in the other Chamber—at least so long as a Government with a majority in this House keep faith with the electorate. How on earth can there be any security at all in a policy of that kind? As my hon. Friend opposite said, who is to be the judge?


The electors.


The Government of the day are to be the judges. We must all of us have read "Labour and the Nation." It was called by a Minister of the former Government a "dog's meal of scraps" or something of that kind—an infinite number of statements on many different subjects. Do they mean to say they would claim for any one of the subjects mentioned in "Labour and the Nation" that it had been before the electorate? When we come down to a practical consideration of this policy it is perfectly impossible to apply the test of the Leader of the Opposition in a way which would beget confidence in the electorate as a whole.

The truth is that we have the statement given that in no circumstances would the Labour party have any chamber with a suspensory veto, even if they have a second chamber at all. It shows what the real attitude of the Labour party may be in the end with regard to this matter. We must regard them in that case as the most undemocratic party in the State. If one disregards phrases that may be sonorous and yet are deceptive, and gets down to the actual facts, it will be realised that there is always one inherent characteristic in a democracy which all will admit, and that is—it has been so from the earliest days of democracy—a liability to be temporarily carried away by some wave of sentiment or some gust of passion. Instance after instance occurs to the mind of everyone. The attitude of the country towards the recovery of the whole cost of the War at the time of the peace negotiations was one instance. The very Motion of want of confidence put down by the Opposition the other day was based upon the assumption that the present Government had obtained their majority from a temporary wave of feeling in the country. No one for a moment can deny the truth of what I have said.

What is the inevitable corollary from that? It is that if you want to have a true democracy, a democracy in which the sober judgment of the people and the truth may prevail, you must give the people an opportunity of second thoughts on some great subject. That is what the party opposite deliberately and purposely want to deny them. That is what is done by the abolition of any suspensory veto. It is clear from the speeches and writings of Members of the Labour party. The speech of the Solicitor-General in the late Government, made at Edinburgh earlier this year, contained the statement that the Labour party wished to abolish the House of Lords as soon as they had the opportunity. In an article written by one of their publicists, Professor Laski, in the "New Statesman," it was stated that they wish the House of Lords to be abolished because they do not wish to have anything which would interfere even for a short time—I am quoting his own words—with the passage of Socialistic legislation. But that is not necessarily the will of the people; that is imposing your will on the people. That is not Democracy; it is Dictatorship.


How can there possibly be a majority on that side of the House if that is not the will of the people?


As I have said, and as the right hon. Gentleman has admitted, a democracy is liable to sudden swings through gusts of passion and waves of sentiment.


That is why the Government are there!


I say again that to use a power of that kind simply to impose your will upon the people is not Democracy, but Dictatorship.


How about tariffs?


I am going to deal with the question of tariffs. It is dictatorship of the kind which is at present found in the only considerable country which has single-chamber Government, and that is Russia. There is just this difference, that Lenin, when he established the Russian Government, looked forward to a temporary period of dictatorship of some 10 or 20 years, after which the people were to be allowed to express their opinions. The present crisis there shows what may be the result when the chance of giving the people a second thought is abolished. That is what will be done away with in the future by right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and a permanent dictatorship will be possible to the party in power. The right hon. Gentleman laughs, but I think he cannot recognise what the facts are at the present moment, and, at any rate, with any policy of that kind the beliefs of most Conservatives are in the most acute conflict.

We want, in the reform of the Second Chamber, to have a Second Chamber that should not be so one-sided, and a Government that should be based on the will of the people and the deliberate will of the people, whatever may be the party of the Government in power. That is why we want a reform both of the con stitution and of the powers of the Second Chamber. We do want to reform its constitution We think that at the present moment it is in its actions more representative of public opinion than most of its opponents or its assailants are willing to admit in public, but, at the same time, public opinion is, quite naturally, sensitive to the fact that it is at the present moment very one-sided in its composition. The authority of any great public body depends largely upon what public opinion thinks of it, and we wish that that great one-sidedness should be redressed. On the other hand, we feel that there should be also a difference in the powers with which it is entrusted. I would ask Members of this House quite briefly to consider the amazingly unsatisfactory position in which the country is placed at the present time.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Crewe (Mr. Somervell) said, in his very interesting speech, that a second chamber which has the power to delay for two years is in possession of a very powerful authority, that there are few bad Bills which could survive a delay of two years, and that, therefore, we ought to be willing to rest content with that power which the present second Chamber possesses. If that were all, I think it might be so, but it is not possible to deal in detail with the other kind of legislation to-night, and I should be out of order in doing so. I should, however, like to support whole-heartedly what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Wise). Not all, but most of the far-reaching Measures dealing with subjects that are not primarily financial can yet be so drafted that they will be certifiable as money Bills, and, therefore, can be passed with a mere month's delay. I say that with every confidence, and I doubt if anyone who has gone into the question of the Parliament Act can deny for a moment that Measures which are not primarily financial in their purpose can be passed as Money Bills, the House of Lords having no power to delay them for more than a month. That is a wrong state of affairs from any democratic point of view, and I say at once to the hon. Member for North Bristol (Mr. Bernays) that that applies just as much to a Tariff Bill as to any Measure dealing, shall we say, with the taxation of land values. It is a wrong state of government that should give no power of further consideration in the case of Measures of that kind.

I would make one more observation. If that is a dangerous state of affairs in itself, it is rendered infinitely more dangerous by the recent developments that have taken place in the procedure of this House also. Procedure by way of Orders in Council is not a novel device; what is new is the enormous development and wide extension of its use. Everyone who has been a responsible Member of this House knows perfectly well how great an effect can be exerted by acute and well-informed criticism of bad Measures produced by a Government, even when that criticism is applied by an Opposition which may constitute only a small minority of the House. They can expose faults, and very often secure either amendment or the rejection of such a Measure. Under the new extension and development of this procedure by way of Orders in Council, any Government, if they wish, can evade that criticism in this House, and the House itself can be made practically impotent as an effective forum of debate. As a bulwark against revolution, it may become a perfectly feeble safeguard. A rickety parapet at the edge of a precipice is worse than no parapet at all. Equally that should apply in support and reinforcement of the need there is for reforming the Second Chamber. I want to see a second chamber deal properly with the suspensory veto against legislation put forward by whatever party in this House, if it has reason to believe it is not wished for by the country as a matter of considered judgmen.


May I interrupt for a moment? Will the right hon. Gentleman answer this question On what grounds do he and his friends argue that a new Chamber consisting of 320 members, never mind how elected, is better able to interpret the mind of the public than 615 Members of this House?


I wish all questions were as simple to answer as that. It is obvious that waves of sentiment, which may send an enormous majority back here, are passing and temporary in their nature, and that has been adumbrated by the hon. Member himself in his speech when he said he anticipated a majority in a comparatively short time. Consequently, when you have a Second Chamber which has, an element which is either nominated, elected or hereditary, it means that it is not elected at the same time or subject to the same sentiments or the same waves of emotion which have sent back a majority to this House. That is the reason why I submit it is really time for the reform of the Second Chamber to be taken in hand.

Proposals have been out forward to which various hon. Members have alluded. They do not pretend to be the one and only specific or the only proper reforms. They are put forward as a contribution to the question. We believe they would constitute a very great advance on the present position, but, at the same time, we recognise quite well that there may be amendments or improvements to the scheme as put forward by us. Let it be made perfectly clear to the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Griffith), who said he did not wish to see a Second Chamber equal in authority to the first, that proposals such as we are advocating, if they did not give the Second Chamber equal authority to the first, would still give it some measure of power which would enable it to say to the country that they could pass judgment once again on a Measure to which it thought the country was opposed. It is for those reasons that we have put forward this Motion. We think such a reform is urgently needed. We do not pretend for a moment that it should take precedence of Measures vital to our immediate welfare in a time of depression like this, but we think it should be taken in hand as soon as those needs have been dealt with. We think a measure of reform of that kind would come in the ordered line of British constitutional development, and we think, at the same time, that it would serve the cause of true self government of the British people.

10.56 p.m.


There appears to me to be one thing outstanding in all the speeches that I have heard. The object of all those who ate seeking reform of the House of Lords is that the House of Lords which they have in their mind, whatever differences there may be among them, in regard to its make-up, shall be constituted in such a way as to prevent any Socialist legislation in the future. Their only difference is in detail. They differ as to what kind of organisation would be the best to preserve to them and to their class those privileges to exploit the people generally that they possess to-day. Any attempt in the future, when the swing of the pendulum takes us back to a Socialist Government, is to be resisted by this newly constituted privileged body which has no representative opinion behind it at all. That, no doubt, will soak into the minds of the people outside and, when they make up their minds, as no doubt they will, when they have exhausted, as they will very soon, all the possibilities that there are in selecting a representative House, such as this House is, to carry out their will in such a way as will enable them to live in ordinary decency, and when that new House of Commons, constituted as it must be of a majority of Socialists, elected by a majority of the people to carry out a Socialist policy, that policy is to be prevented from operating by this newly constituted House of Lords which is in the mind of those who have spoken to-day. When we reach that stage, that the people themselves are determined to have those Socialist principles operated for their benefit and for their good, I am afraid they will not permit any type of House of Lords that you can either imagine or set up to stand in their way and prevent their will. At any rate, I hope to live long enough to see that opportunity arise for the people and I am prepared to leave it to that democracy to see that their will is carried out whether it is opposed by any House of Lords that you may be able to set up or not.


rose in his piece, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.


It seems to me that the House of Lords is much better left as it is. It is one of those excellent national institutions—


Vote !


rose in his place, and claimed to more, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.






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.

The Orders of the Day were read, and postponed.

Forward to