§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.7 a.m.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
It may be a convenience if I review briefly what I will call the modern history on this subject, which happens to have taken place almost precisely over the period of years in which I have had a fairly active interest in political problems. I go back to the year 1905 when, after ten years of office, the Conservative party was tired and split, and there came the famous General Election of 1906, which, for the first time for many years, gave the Liberal party not merely a majority, but a swollen majority, and they arrived here in a condition of, shall I say, turbulent pride. They had obtained office by a series of interesting speeches and interesting pictures of Chinamen in chains, which one of their more active leaders, now the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), subsequently described as a "terminological inexactitude," a phrase suited to his mastery of the English language. The Liberal party's new allies, the newly-formed Labour party, had also won seats on their support of what was known as Shackle-ton's Bill. The great majority did a double somersault on that Bill and, to their great surprise, the House of Lords did not throw it out. That laid the foundations for the general strike of 1926.[Laughter.] If the Trade Disputes Act had been passed into an Act of Parliament in 1906 in the form in which it was originally supported by the Liberal Government of that time, there would not have been a general strike, for very obvious reasons, and the hilarity of hon. Members is merely the measure of the want of knowledge of those who laugh.
That Parliament was an interesting combination of Midas and Demos, or, in more up-to-date terms, proletarians and profiteers. One half of the profiteers spent their time in denouncing the House of Lords, and the remainder tried to get into it, many of those in the latter category having a degree of success which 1526 led to their now playing a rather undistinguished part in another place, for the Liberals were not very successful in those whom they picked for that job. Then commenced the process—I am quoting the old cant phrases of the time—of filling up the cup of Liberal indignation because Measures promoted by the Liberal party were rejected in another place. I remember that some Bill, of which I have forgotten the details, but which had some reference to Scotland, was brought forward.
There developed the interesting political struggle of 1908, when the Liberal party wanted to stop the rest of us having such refreshment under such conditions as we desired. They promoted the famous Licensing Bill which, I suppose, provoked the most active and violent political campaign that I remember. Ultimately the House of Lords threw it out, to the great joy of the nation, and I well remember that astute politician the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping expressed the view that if there had been an election shortly after that, the Conservatives would have won. I have not the slightest doubt that on that occasion the House of Lords much more correctly interpreted the feelings of the electorate than the House of Commons.
It was at that time of grave difficulty that that ingenious stategist, who, I am glad to see, has returned robust and well from Jamaica, although his eloquence has not yet honoured us. I refer to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) —came to the conclusion that the most ingenious way of exciting enthusiasm among the people was to put taxes on them, and he invented what was known as the "People's Budget" The Finance Bill which gave expression to that had an interesting career, the Committee stage starting in June and finishing towards the end of November. It was the most remarkable Finance Bill that ever has been or is ever likely to be, and I believe that the most interesting part of it was the arguments used by the Opposition in trying to find out how much the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs did not know about his own Bill, especially the part around which the struggle took place, the famous Land Taxes, which ultimately went to the grave with the assistance of most of their 1527 authors. Once again the House of Lords was justified, for it will be remembered that the House of Lords rejected that Finance Bill and subsequent events proved that they were right. But that became the occasion for the onslaught on the powers of the House of Lords subsequently embodied in the Parliament Act, 1911.
I would like to bring to the recollection of hon. Members what was the final act which enabled the election of 1910 to be won by the Government of that time. The Irish Nationalist party, which was then a very important factor in the House, controlling some 70 votes, was opposed to the "People's Budget" I well remember that a friend of mine—an enthusiastic Home Ruler, although in other respects reasonably normal—had undertaken to address in the neighbourhood of Stafford, where he and I then lived, a meeting under the auspices of the local women's Conservative association in opposition to the "People's Budget" He wrote to the ladies two or three days before the meeting saying that although his views with regard to the Budget remained quite unchanged, he was afraid he could not speak against it because the United Irish League of Great Britain had ordered support instead of opposition. A deal had been done between T. P. O'Connor and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, and no doubt others, as a result of which the Irish Nationalist party switched round and voted for that which it had previously opposed, so that after the General Election its votes were available for the great task of destroying substantially the power of the House of Lords in order that later on the Home Rule Bill might be presented to them and forced through, as it subsequently was, under the provisions of the Parliament Act.
That is the somewhat immoral history given, I think, with reasonable accuracy, of this Act which I am now proposing to amend. Of course, before it actually became law there was another struggle. I am told that a list was made up of 600 distinguished gentlemen who were to be made Peers, in order to provide the necessary majority in another place if the existing majority had continued their struggle. I never knew why the battle was called off by the then majority 1528 in the House of Lords, but I suppose the photographs of their new colleagues had been published, and they thought that it was better to lose some of their powers than to have those new colleagues —because all the profiteers were going in there.
What is the present position? It is rather stupid. If a Bill passes this House and is for some reason disliked in another place, it can be rejected and there is no conceivable power to bring about its early adoption even though it may be vitally necessary. There are respects in which the Parliament Act has made the House of Lords too strong. It is given a power of delay for a period of two years and there is no means of overcoming that power. I cannot see how it would be possible for Peers to be created for the purpose of swamping a majority in another place. I should imagine that if any Prime Minister possessing a majority in this House and finding an important measure rejected in another place, went to the Sovereign and said "I wish to advise you, Sir, to create 300 Peers if necessary, in order to swamp the majority in the House of Lords," the proper constitutional reply of the Sovereign would be, "No. The remedy for that situation has been prescribed by Parliament and is contained in the Parliament Act of 1911, and it would be improper and unconstitutional for me to accept advice from you to violate the Constitution by legislating without the consent of Parliament as a whole."—because that is what the Sovereign would be doing in those circumstances. I have always taken the view that the Parliament Act, while not limiting the right of the Prime Minister to ad vise the Sovereign with regard to the creation of Peers in reasonable numbers in the ordinary course, definitely debars the Prime Minister from tendering advice for the creation of a large number of Peers for the purpose of swamping the existing majority in another place. That seems to be the very best Constitutional doctrine.
Therefore, in one respect the House of Lords is too strong. In regard to normal legislation it can, in certain circumstances, hold a Bill up for two years and there is no constitutional means of preventing it doing so. In other directions, however, its powers are too small, I want to correct both failings. The real weakness of the other place to-day is that the Members 1529 have lost faith in themselves. That is the real tragedy. It is not that there is a lack of ability. I think that, on balance, perhaps our standards are higher than theirs, but no one can deny that, taking the other place as a whole, there is an extraordinarily high standard of knowledge, experience and public service. There is, however, a woeful want on the part of its Members of faith in themselves, and the result is that their revising work is not being done properly to-day in many respects. I cannot understand how anyone can object to a second Chamber. I cannot imagine that hon. Members opposite object to a second Chamber.
§ Mr. Williams
The hon. Member who is going to move the rejection of this Bill says he objects to a second Chamber. Is that on the assumption that the House of Commons is always right?
§ Mr. Williams
They were right last night—never mind about the people's vote—in the judgment of the hon. Member who voted in the minority.
§ Mr. Williams
Then the vote which he gave last night was wrong. This is an intolerable doctrine. That is to proclaim the doctrine that minorities in this House have no rights at all, and that whatever they do is wrong. [HON. MEMBERS:"No"] Then what do hon. Members mean? Do they mean that whenever the House of Commons says a thing that thing is true? When the House of Commons says a thing, it is not necessarily true, or right or just because the House of Commons says it. It may be right or it may be wrong but, fundamentally, its only virtue is that for the moment effective power rests in the majority in this House. The doctrine preached by the party opposite, apparently, is that, automatically, everything we do is right, on the theory that we here represent the voice of the people. There is not an hon. Member who is honest with himself, who will say that he is able to assure himself on any new controversial 1530 issue of what his constituents really think. How are hon. Members to find out? I remember that with respect to the Sunday Cinemas Bill, for instance, I received 600 resolutions and telegrams asking me to vote against it, and I did not receive one in support of the Bill, I voted without hesitation for the Bill, and my constituency was the first in the country to take a poll under that Measure, and by a majority of two to one it voted for Sunday cinemas. That shows how difficult it is from the representations which reach a Member of Parliament to find out what one's constituents think on a particular issue.
That is why I strongly hold the view that once elected to this House we are not delegates, we are the representatives of the whole body of the constituents sent here by them on the assumption that, perhaps, on balance, we are a little wider-minded than they are, and once here we have to exercise our own judgments. But it is folly to claim that in every vote we give we necessarily represent the views of our constituents. Personally, I think it is the duty of Members of Parliament not to adopt the American method. Hon. Members may know the story of the gentleman who was seeking election to Congress and who appeared before the caucus to give a statement of his views. He concluded by saying "Those are my views. If you like them, all right; if you do not, I can change them" That has never been my conception of the duty of a Member of Parliament. I think it is his duty to lead his constituents, and to take his own definite stand on what he believes to be right. If he does it too frequently, and his constituents do not like it, then at the next Election, out he goes. But in the meantime he has been honest. I am not, however, going to assume that what we do is necessarily right.
From time to time, Parliament does things, or proposes to do things, which are violently resented by the people. Is it not desirable that there should exist somewhere in our Constittition, a conservative body—I use the word in the wide sense, and not in the narrow party sense—empowered to say to the elected representatives of the people, "Before you take this step, the people must have some opportunity of expressing their views and of saying whether they like it or not?" That seems a very democratic 1531 proposition. How long do we here for certain represent our electors? I should think on the night of the poll and no longer, so rapidly does opinion change on a great many issues. No one is entitled to say that on any issue at all he is expressing the views of the majority of his electors. Therefore, though we are in power and there is no check on our authority, up to a point, to do these things, that does not mean that they are right. It does not mean that we have a moral right in doing them, though we have the legal power to do them. I say quite definitely that this country cannot lose and can only gain by having somewhere in its Constitution some body in a position to say, when issues arise which are acutely controversial, and with regard to which the final will of the people is not known—and I am very certain that the continuing will of the people is almost invariably right, though their current opinion is very often wrong, because mass or mob psychology produces curious effects for a moment, and a wave of emotion will pass over the country, which will be all in favour of something for a few weeks, and then gradually, when greater knowledge comes, the enthusiasm passes, and the opinion of the nation is reversed—
§ Mr. Marshall
Then, according to that doctrine, the party to which the hon. Member belongs does not represent the will of the people?
§ Mr. Williams
I have not the least doubt that during the lifetime of this Parliament Measures may be passed having large majorities in the Division Lobby which, if you could submit them to a referendum, would not get through. That is true of every party, manifestly, but, that being the case, when a Measure arises which involves a big change, in respect of which there is an acute controversy, I say that it is an abuse of the power of the elected representatives of the people to force that change into law until you have really ascertained whether the mass of the people permanently want it.
§ Mr. Marshall
In view of the importance of the Measure that was discussed yesterday by which the State sought to spend £1,500,000,000, does the hon. Member not think that that should have been referred to the people?
§ Mr. Williams
If ever there was an issue which was plainly put before the people at a General Election, it was the issue of rearmament. It was put before the people by both parties. The one party, the party opposite wanted to use the armaments at that moment to close the Suez Canal. So far as we were concerned, I did not quite take the view of the general majority. I wanted to leave the whole Abyssinian job alone, but, at any rate, what I did say was, "If we are going to have another scrap, let us be ready for it" I, personally, do not want another war. I am not so enthusiastic for war as are the hon. Members opposite, who, in the last three years, have wanted us to fight Japan, Italy, and now apparently, a combination of all the Fascist Powers of Europe. No, Sir, if ever there was an issue squarely put before the electorate of this country, at an election, it was the issue of rearmament at the last General Election.
§ Mr. Mander
Does not the hon. Member remember the Prime Minister stating at the last election that he could give an assurance that there would not be any great armaments?
§ Mr. Williams
When the present building programme is completed, we shall have a Navy of about half the pre-war Navy, which the Liberals thought was necessary and we shall have an Expeditionary Force of less than five divisions, compared with the six divisions which Lord Haldane made provision for. I do not know what the hon. Member means by "great armaments" The word "great" is relative.
§ Mr. Williams
Well, in five years that is £300,000,000 a year, and you can make it any figure you like by multiplying the period sufficiently. It is at present the bad practice, since Stalin invented it, to have everything planned to last five years. Taking the view that somewhere in the Constitution there ought to be embedded a power to say, "No, you must think again; you must ascertain somehow or other the will of the people," I say that the old system was frankly bad. Under the old system you had two Houses of equal power, and there was 1533 no means of resolving a dispute except by the patently absurd means of the creation, or the threat of creation, of a large number of peers to outvote the existing majority in the House of Lords. It was once done, if I remember aright, in 1707, or round about then.
§ Mr. Williams
Yes, in 1715, and that is why the Scots came in with Bonnie Charlie, to stir things up.
§ Mr. Macquisten
The Act was passed because it was thought that if the Whigs came back, the Stuarts would return, and so the House of Lords was packed to prevent that.
§ Mr. Williams
It does not matter who pretended. The next occasion was when Mr. Asquith was Prime Minister, and he obtained from His late Majesty King George V a promise of the creation of a very large number of Peers.
§ Mr. Williams
Yes, there was a threat in 1832 in connection with the Land Reform Bill. I had overlooked that for the moment, but at any rate, that is a very crude method, and it assumes, what is not true, that the House of Commons is necessarily right. It was an unsatisfactory method, with no scientific basis behind it. From time to time suggestions have been made for an improvement, and—
§ Mr. Williams
I am not saying that in that particular case there was not a measure of justification for the action taken. What I am saying is that the whole theory behind the creation of peers in large numbers is that of necessity in a dispute the House of Commons is right. That is manifestly absurd, as is shown by the fact that the whole of the party oppo- 1534 site spends practically the whole of its time in trying to demonstrate that in any action which we on this side now take we are wrong. The solution proposed by Mr. Asquith and his colleagues was that the House of Commons was not necessarily right, but that it was bound to be right if it said it three times, and provided that it took at least two years to say it; and during those two years you were not permitted to change your mind at all. If hon. Members will look at the Parliament Act, they will find that under it you could not amend any Bill which had been sent forward under the Act, except by inserting Amendments with regard to the date consequential on the change of date between the time when the Bill in question was first sent to the Lords and when it was last sent to the Lords. That is an extraordinary Conservative doctrine, that what you believe in 1935 you must believe, without the slightest modification, in 1936 and in 1937, that you must still say that it is true, although, in fact, you know that it is not true, and that the House of Lords must say it is true, and it becomes an Act of Parliament. That, it seems to me, is not very intelligent.
Is there a solution? The solution that was urged by the late Lord Balfour when he was Leader of the Conservative party was the solution of the referendum. I will not dilate on that solution at any great length, because I think my hon. and gallant Friend who is proposing to second this Motion wishes to discuss that matter. At any rate, the late Lord Balfour urged the referendum as a solution. What is the general argument, the practical argument, against the referendum? First of all, it is very costly. A referendum is a general election without candidates, with, of course, the members and prospective candidates from the different parties in the constituencies taking a full part—a very costly and difficult proceeding and something which would be quite novel in this country. We should have to work out a new kind of Corrupt Practices Act to deal with the referendum, and for myself I cannot see a referendum being conducted without an expenditure of £1,000,000 or £2,000,000 on the part of the various political parties and the State, with judgment being pronounced in a state of emotional excitement; and though in many countries it has been used with great success, it seems to me to be rather too cumbrous, so cumbrous indeed that 1535 we should be afraid to use it sufficiently often.
Is there any other solution? Can we obtain, not the opinion of all the people, but the opinion of a representative cross-section of the people? A dispute arises between the two Houses of Parliament, and there is no means at the moment of arriving at a quick solution. In a major issue it would take two years to find a solution. In minor issues it is another matter. We appoint a small committee, and we send a message to the Lords saying that we do not agree with them and we do not like their Amendments, and after a while one side or the other gives way, especially as we usually do these things towards the end of July and we all want to get away anyhow, so that we do not have much trouble over these little things. But when you get to a major issue, you have to have a delay of two years, which is too long. You ought to have a means of arriving at an earlier decision, one way or the other, so as to remove the uncertainty.
I think there is a method of obtaining a cross-section of public opinion. It is the method of the referendum, but without bringing the whole of the electorate, the whole of the 31,000,000 people whom we have enfranchised. I have not been able to ascertain how many people would take part in my referendum, but the persons concerned would be those who are members of local authorities—the rural district councils, urban district councils, county councils, county borough councils and municipal borough councils. There are, I think, 1,700 local authorities in England and Wales, and though I am not certain how many there are in Scotland and Northern Ireland, it would make a total of more than 2,000, and if the average membership numbered 30 that would give a specialised electorate of some 60,000 people. I do not comthit myself to that figure, because I have not worked it out, but it is a fair guess as to the magnitude of the body of people to whom I wish disputes between the two Houses to be referred.
People ask "Why should Members of Parliament be overruled by those who are only town councillors?"I reply" Why should Members of Parliament be overruled by people who are not even as much as that, the ordinary electors?"— 1536 because we are a democratic country and believe in representative institutions, and ultimately the mass of the people are our masters, and rightly so. I would go to a section of the people who have been chosen by the people, the elected representatives of the people—I am quite willing to take out the aldermen if desired, and make it solely the representatives of the people who are to pronounce judgment when a dispute arises between the two Houses which is of such a character that it cannot be resolved by the informal methods which ate used to resolve such disputes to-day.
It is clearly not an undemocratic proposal; we are only not consulting the whole of the electorate because of the cost and the difficulty. Those to whom we should appeal would be 60,000 elected representatives of the people, a body comprising very large numbers of members of all the political parties, and also a very large number of persons who do not take an active share in party politics. I propose that those people should vote secretly by ballot, and that the Clerk of the Crown should be, in effect, the returning officer. The form of the ballot paper is prescribed in the Schedule to my Bill. A simple question would be put, "Are you in favour of a particular Act being presented to His Majesty for the Royal Assent?" and they would put a cross opposite the "Yes" or "No" according to their views. Then the clerks of the various councils would return the ballot papers to the Clerk of the Crown, who would act as returning officer, and the procedure prescribed would follow. If anyone criticises the drafting of the Measure, I must admit that I am not quite satisfied that I have worked it out as well as they ought to be worked out all the minor administrative technical details.
I cannot see why anybody should object to this proposal. Many people have said "I think your Bill is rather a silly Bill," and I have replied "Why? Can you think of a better?" Here we have a problem which has not been solved. We do not want a dictatorship in this country. The Fascists and the Communists would both like to abolish another place. The greatest check on a dictatorship in this country is another place. We all know what the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) has said. I know that he is in trouble with his 1537 party about it, but there are other members of his party who take the dictatorship point of view; they think that if they have a majority they are entitled to do as they like, to pass a general enabling Act, and subsequently to legislate by decree. I think it is essential to have a body, conservative in the best sense, who could say "No, you must not do these things until the people have had an opportunity of judging". I want another place that will reject not only Liberal and Socialist measures.
§ Mr. Williams
Not many. The hon. Member's party were very lucky when they were in office, As a matter of fact, if they had rejected the Road Traffic Act, 1930, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton East (Mr. Mander) would be able to take all his constituents to Grimsby. Now he is pressing for Amendments. Why did the House of Lords pass that deplorable Measure? Because they lost faith in themselves. [Interruption.] Some of the Socialists are not now too keen on the Coal Mines Act, 1930. No, the House of Lords was amazingly kind to the Socialist Government of 1929–31. [Interruption.] The trouble over the Education Bill did not arise there, but in this House. It was the Roman Catholic members of the Labour party who torpedoed that Bill. I was not here, but my recollection is quite fresh on the subject.
§ Mr. Williams
If I remember aright, a former Member for Tower Hamlets, now dead, was the man who moved the critical Amendment which wrecked that Bill and subsequently Sir Charles Trevelyan resigned his office. Having made three tries and failed, his party not supporting it, he got "fed up"and "chucked the job," if I may put it in the language of the street, which is not the language of the reverend gentleman the Member for Coatbridge (Mr. Barr). I want a second chamber which will reject even measures sent up by a National Government. If we could have retrospective action by the second Chamber, I could send them a nice little list of Measures, some of which I voted against. My trouble in this matter is that I am like Cassandra—I always say what is going to happen but others will not believe 1538 it. In the scheme I have put forward I make no claim to perfection. After all, many other people have tried to put forward reforms. Lord Asquith, by the Parliament Act, committed himself to a further Measure. There have been many Prime Ministers and many administrations since his time, and the heads of nearly all those administrations have promised in the most solemn way to deal with this problem. I know that my Bill deals with only one aspect of it, that of relationship and the powers of the two Chambers. For the reasons I have mentioned I think that an alteration in the composition of the other Chamber is necessary, but a Bill to bring that about ought to originate in the other Chamber. Just as we initiate the legislation which determines the method by which we are elected, so a Bill to alter the composition of the other Chamber ought, as a matter of courtesy, to originate in the other Chamber. I do not expect that my Bill will become law this Session. This is a propaganda Bill, if I may say so. I am offering to this House what I believe to be a workable solution, and it is no answer to say that my Bill is imperfect unless you are able to put forward some better solution, and point out how the real difficulties are going to be met when they arise in the future.
§ 11.44 a.m.
§ Captain Alan Graham
I beg to second the Motion.
The proposer has already dealt with most of the constitutional history of this subject, but there are one or two aspects of it which I should like to stress. A great American writer has well said:The qualifications of self-government in a society are not innate. They are the result of habit and long training and for these they will require time, and probably much sufferingMost of us in this House, and, I believe, in the country are already convinced that this is entirely true of our ancient constitutional trinity—King, Lords and Commons. We feel that that arrangement is best for us, and any diminution or upsetting of so clearly balanced an arrangement would be bound to bring in its train considerable suffering.
We know that single-Chamber government is little more than a reflection of mob rule. The proposer has already pointed out the mercilessness of single- 1539 Chamber government towards minorities. Minorities, in every country where there has been single-Chamber government have suffered, and it is precisely in accordance with our traditional insistence in this country upon fairness for the representation of minority opinion that there should be time for second thoughts. The fickleness of democratic assemblies and mobs is proverbial. The classical example was when the Athenian Assembly decided that the male inhabitants of the island of Melos were to be put to the sword, and sent a trireme to convey those instructions. Not very long afterwards the Assembly completely changed their minds, and sent another trireme to overtake the first trireme and countermand the order. Unfortunately, the sailors of the second trireme were not as efficient as those of the first, and by the time they reached the island they found that the voice of the people had been carried out before the voice of the people had changed its tune, and all the male inhabitants of the island of Melos were dead. That happened many years ago, but it shows the disastrous result that may arise from a national decision being taken in a moment of temporary emotion, and the need for second and wiser thoughts being allowed to prevail.
In my view it is, therefore, essential for the common weal of every nation, that in the legislative machine delay should be made possible for the purpose of revision. This function of revision, until the passing of the Parliament Act, 1911, was fulfilled with varying degrees of success by the other House, but since the Parliament Act not merely have those powers been in some respects severely truncated, except for the somewhat unsatisfactory power which is in one way being extended, namely, the power of delay, but, as the proposer said, the Second House has definitely lost confidence in itself. One of the additional reasons for that, frankly, has been the lack of respect and of consideration for the revising Chamber, and neglect of the principle of giving time for the second thought. This it has suffered at the hands, not of Governments of the Liberal or Labour parties but of the Conservative party. It has been taken too readily for granted that legislation passed by the Conservative party in this House did not need the same amount of time for revision 1540 and care which legislation passed by other parties needed when it went to another place. There is, therefore, a greater duty upon the party which now forms the majority of the National Government, and a greater urgency, to do what it can to repair some of the damage which has been inflicted upon the Upper House.
During the time of the passing of the Parliament Act, the late Lord Oxford said that the reform of the House of Lords brooked no delay. In 1920, during the celebrated Paisley by-election, referring to the House of Lords, he is reported to have said:It seemed a paradoxical thing to Radicals to make the admission that they have to acknowledge that on two or three of the most critical and crucial occasions it was the House of Lords and not the House of Commons that had proved itself the true friend of freedom. All were agreed that the present Constitution of the House of Lords could not be justified. He regarded it as a matter of urgency"—in January, 1920—that for the present Second Chamber there should be a much smaller Chamber, constituted partly by nomination.Owing to its present unstable constitution, not merely has the House of Lords lost confidence in itself but because of that, where you had a dispute between the two Houses, it is extremely improbable that the Upper House would have the courage to stand out against the lower House, or to obtain for its point of view the necessary support in the country. Consequently, it is necessary either at once to reform its composition or to devise some other method such as that in the Bill in order to create a healthy constitutional way out of a real difference between the two Houses. It is admitted that the present Parliamentary practice of a Bill going backwards and forwards, shuttlewise between the two Houses, works in cases of minor Measures, but in the case of a Bill of a very controversial nature, or of overpowering national importance, it is definitely unsatisfactory. It means either the abdication of its responsibility by, or the humiliation of, one House, or, what is worse, the placing of an intolerable burden, and sometimes humiliation, upon the Throne. That is something which we have every desire to avoid in the future. King William III was constantly having to give way either to the House of Lords or to the House of Commons. It is very humiliating when the only solution is a rather abject surrender.
1541 An early method that was used in the endeavour to get rid of difficulties between the two Houses was the joint conference between them, but this method has a great deal of cumbrous machinery and rules attached to it, and is generally considered now to be not worth doing. It has fallen into disuse for 150 or 200 years. A method which has also been put forward is that of a joint sitting of the two complete Houses, but the impractical size of the united bodies puts that out of court. One is continually forced back to search for some other method of resolving difficulties, and one inevitably turns to the solution favoured by my late honoured chief, Lord Balfour—that of the referendum. There are certain objections to the referendum. It seems rather as though the two legislative bodies wish to abdicate from the responsibility of taking their own decisions. At the same time, we must remember that in all human institutions and arrangements there are many defects, and that one has to arrive at a conclusion based on the sum of the advantages to be gained. This is, therefore, especially well worth while when we are considering the political health of the nation. A referendum among the sober-minded nationalities, say in the Northern half of Europe, undoubtedly spreads a sense of political responsibility among the citizens to whom the supreme decision is referred. It would not be a complete abdication from decision on the part of the legislative Chambers because they would already have arrived at their own decisions, and it would be only because those decisions were different that the matter was placed before a cross-section of the population, to whom it is referred in the Bill, and of whom the proposer spoke.
Failing any alteration in the composition of the Upper Chamber, and failing the discovery of some satisfactory new method for solving these problems, then, if we are agreed as to the existing imperfections, it becomes our duty to take up the one instrument that lies ready to our hand. It is not a perfect instrument, but at all events it would do a great deal in my view towards helping us out of a position which is definitely dangerous. Ever since the passing of the Parliament Act, our Constitution has been put out of balance, upset; it is not functioning as it should. As Mr. Asquith himself said, the Upper Chamber has proved itself the 1542 guardian of freedom in this country, and I take it that if democracy is to continue, as we all wish it to continue, we must see that the methods of safeguarding freedom are safeguarded by us.
§ 11.57 a.m.
§ Mr. Tinker
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day six months."
In thus moving the rejection of the Bill I am merely following the ordinary procedure. In listening to the Mover and Seconder, one was thankful for their historical review of the present position of the Houses of Parliament. I think it is well that it should be placed on record, because the time must surely come when the whole position will have to be reexamined in the light of present circumstances. I take it that neither the Mover nor the Seconder has any idea in his mind to-day of the Bill being carried; I take it that their only object is that this matter should arouse public attention. I say that because they pointed out various things in the Bill which they say would be almost impossible to work, and therefore we on this side are not left much chance for an examination of the Measure itself. I was expecting from them whole-hearted support of it, but the Mover himself said he could not see how it could be worked, but that the time had to come when some change must take place, and this seemed to be the most likely opportunity. The Seconder also stated that it seemed that we were shirking our duties; that we were passing on to other people something that we felt we were not able to do ourselves. I think there is something in that, because, if the House of Lords does want reform, it is up to the Commons to face it boldly, and not give the power to someone else. We ought ourselves to determine what the change ought to be, and to set about making that change.
Let us see what the Bill itself says. It deals with two aspects of the case, the Money Bill and the Public Bill. In the case of the Money Bill we have the power now. I take it that no alteration is asked for in the case of Money Bills, because within one month's time, if the House of Lords do not agree to a Money Bill, it becomes automatically, by the usual process, the law of the land. I take it, therefore, that, whatever happened, there 1543 would be no need to submit a Money Bill to the local authorities.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
If the hon. Member will read Clause 5, he will see that it says that Sub-section (1) of Section 1 of the Parliament Act is repealed, so that all Bills are covered by my proposal.
§ Mr. Tinker
We have already that power, and I understand that the hon. Member wishes to repeal the power that we have.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
I would ask the hon. Member to make this point clear. Does the Bill mean that the veto of the House of Lords over Finance Bills is now to be restored—that the Act which destroyed it is to be repealed, and that we shall have to depend upon local authorities to determine the passage of a Finance Bill?
§ Mr. Williams
Sub-section (1) of Section 1 of the Parliament Act says:If a Money Bill, having been passed,and then it describes the procedure. I am proposing to repeal that because I think it may very well be the case that the gravest challenge to the liberty of the people may be something contained in a Finance Bill, and I see no reason why the House of Commons should regard itself as superior to the people in finance or anything else.
§ Mr. Williams
It is not a revolution; it is merely a restoration of powers. That is clearly laid down in the Bill, if anyone will take the trouble to read it.
§ Mr. Williams
If the right hon. Gentleman will look at the Schedule, he will see that the postion is made clear by taking a Finance Act as an example.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
The hon. Member is proposing to repeal the Parliament Act without having said a word about it in his speech.
§ Mr. Tinker
It seems to me to convey the idea to the House of Commons that it has no right to be here. I hope that the Mover and Seconder will not be returned at the next General Election, because, according to them, we have no right to be here, but should delegate our powers to 1544 someone else. If that be so, this Chamber, according to the Bill, ought to pass out of existence altogether.
As regards Public Bills, I agree with the Mover and Seconder that the present position is untenable. For us to pass a Bill here, and then, because the House of Lords objects, to be compelled to wait two years without the possibility of any change taking place in that interval, seems to me to be ridiculous. The Bill proposes that in that event the Measure in question should be sent back to a body of persons who are called the local authorities. I do not know whether the Mover and Seconder have realised that under the Franchise Act every person who is 21 years of age has a right to vote at a Parliamentary election, but that in the case of local government elections it is only householders and certain other persons who have a vote. The proposal is that the Act which gives the franchise to everyone shall be ignored, and that a certain section of people, chosen by a more limited electorate, shall have the power to overrule Parliament. That seems to me to be ridiculous. I expected that the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) would have put forward a much better case, because there is no question about his ability. His great ability is never shown better than when he is interrupted, for he is then so ready with his quick repartee that it is very bad for the interrupter; but on the general question I think that in his cleverness he loses the thread of what he ought to be dealing with, and over-reaches himself, as he has in the case of this Bill. To my mind, the way that the Bill has been put this morning is hardly worthy of the hon. Member.
Dealing with the general question, I agree that the House of Lords needs some reform. As I have said before, I want to abolish it. I think that, if there is any reform of the House of Lords at all, it should take the form of its being done away with altogether, and that the House of Commons should deal with the matter. Let us see what the House of Commons does. If the Debate is read by the people in the country it is well that they should know how the Commons examine a Measure. First of all, there is the formal introduction and the First Reading, and the Bill is printed. If it is a major Bill, time is given for a thorough examination before it is argued on the Floor of the 1545 House. The Second Reading takes place, there is a wide survey of the whole field of the implications of the Bill and a thorough examination is given to its general principles. Then we pass to the Committee stage, and anyone who has dealt with the Committee stage of a Bill must admit that no better examination could be given of anything. It is given line by line, almost word by word. Then there is the Report stage, and we see how the Bill looks when it has been reprinted, and then it gets its Third Reading. If after that 615 elected representatives have not the ability to make it fool-proof, it is time they were removed altogether. Then it goes to the House of Lords. If it is the other side that is in office, all that is done is the correction of some grammatical errors. This word or that is in the wrong place. If it is a question of grammatical errors, we could have a committee of schoolmasters to put the words properly. If it is just a matter of perfect wording, it could be done without altering the main principles of the Bill. So to my mind there is no need for the other Chamber. That is why I think, if this Debate arouses any feeling at all, the other Chamber should be dealt with by removing it altogether.
The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading spoke of the ability of the other Chamber. Whenever I go to the House of Lords to listen to their Debates I am pleased that I am a member of the House of Commons. At least there is vigour and some reasoning and some drive in our speeches, but when you go to the House of Lords it is more like a Sunday school than anything else. That that body should have power to determine what the Commons should do appears ridiculous. I hope we shall reject this piece of proposed legislation. I will wind up with a quotation from a right hon. Gentleman who has been mentioned by the hon. Member for South Croydon. He has had various roles in his career, but I am in agreement with him when he says:Mr. Winston Churchill was good enough to give the world his candid opinion of the House of Lords. Here it is—a played-out, anachronistic assembly, the survival of feudal arrangement, utterly passed out of its original meaning, a force long since passed away. It only requires a smashing blow from the electors to finish it for ever.I agree with that. I hope that this Debate may bring to the notice of the 1546 electors the position of the Lords, and that when the next election takes place we may determine to remove them once for all and let the House of Commons be the real place to do what the people elected us for, and control the destinies of the nation.
I was asked whether the Government did right last night and, if so, why I opposed them. They did right in this sense, that they are sent here by the majority of the people and they do what they anticipate the people want. We are sent here by that section of the community from which we come, who think this is not a proper form of government, and therefore we are sent to oppose them. We do not do it on all occasions. Sometimes Bills come before the House on which there is common agreement. When I oppose them it is because a certain section has sent me here to oppose when I think I ought to oppose.
§ 12.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
I beg to second the Amendment.
The Bill has been moved and seconded in a competent, logical and entertaining manner. I take no exception to anything that the Mover and Seconder said, remembering that they represent particular interests and that we represent other interests.
§ Mr. Smith
If the hon. Member is going to apply his smartness in that way, I want to point out that it is not becoming to him. I only wish that his smartness was applied in the interest of the people instead of in the way in which he applies it at 2.50 every afternoon when the House is sitting. I want to remind the House 1547 that this House represents between 200 and 300 years of struggle by the people of this country for a say in life. That struggle of the common people whom we represent was always resisted by the barons, the lords of this country, and now that the people have reached their present position, now that those who have not received the benefits of Eton, Rugby, Liverpool and other places can return to this House Members of the party representing the movement that has its roots in the struggle to which I have referred, Members like the hon. Member for South Croydon are proposing to take the power away from them. The same kind of people who have resisted the people's rights are now plotting and intriguing with people from other lands in order to take these rights away from us. Recently, we had an example of it, when a man who came into this country dare not travel through the country in his own name, but had to go on the railway in the name of Mr. Smith, because he realised what he would be faced with, because of the feeling in this country.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Who is that?"]—Read this morning's newspaper.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Which newspaper?"]—If hon. Members are keenly interested, it is Herr von Ribbentrop, who proceeded to Lord Derby's house in the name of Mr. Smith, because they realised what would happen if he travelled in his own name.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have given Rulings on this subject before. I have ruled that insinuation must not be made against the representatives of other friendly countries in this country.
§ Mr. Smith
I shall certainly respect the Ruling. Had I that in mind I would probably have reconsidered whether I should have mentioned the name. But in view of the fact that we have been treated this morning to a historical survey of the development of this House, I considered it necessary, after listening to the provocative speech of the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) to remind the House and the country that after a 100 years of struggle there are people who are now proceeding to undermine the results of that struggle. The hon. Member for South Croydon treated us to a historical survey of Parliamentary evolution. I have a fair knowledge of that, but I never thought 1548 for one moment that the general strike would be exhibited as an example of something which happened in 1905. The hon. Member said that the House of Lords had lost confidence in themselves. I hope to prove that the hon. Member is taking steps to restore that confidence by back-stair methods. He spoke about taking a referendum of cross sections of public opinion. Why only a cross section? Why not a referendum of the whole of the people instead of just a few people? I am asked whether I would support it, and that is quite a reasonable question. Certainly I should not support it, and for reasons that I shall give. If we are to have a referendum why not apply the principle of it to the whole of the people instead of to a relatively backward number of people to whom the hon. Member wishes to apply it? That is what the hon. Member has in mind. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member is going to be so provocative, other things will be said about him and the interests he is representing in this House—interests which he represents so well at 2.50 every afternoon. It is quite evident that the hon. Member is concerned about only one aspect of this subject, and that is the aspect to which I have referred.
What is proposed in the Bill? The hon. Member dealt very little with the Bill; practically the whole of his speech was devoted to a historical survey of the development of this House. When the hon. Member's speech is read in the morning it will be seen that he said very little about the merits of the Bill. Clause I proposes that if any Public Bill, having been passed by the Commons and sent up to the Lords, at least one month before the end of the Session, is not passed by the Lords, and in the case of a money Bill not passed without Amendment, then the Clause shall operate. I understand that the present position is this: If the House of Lords do not pass a money Bill within one month without amendment, it gets the Royal Assent and passes into law. As to Public Bills which are not money Bills, if they are passed three times, once in each of three consecutive Sessions by this House, and are rejected by the Lords or passed by them with Amendments to which the Commons do not agree, the Bills secure the Royal Assent and are passed into law on the third rejection by the Lords, unless the Commons direct otherwise. That is the 1549 position with which the hon. Member for South Croydon has not dealt.
For 26 years the present arrangements have been satisfactory. Why alter them now? We are not conservative, we are not static; but we realise that the present method is far more in the interests of the people than the method proposed in the Bill. It is proposed by the group of Members who always oppose the people's interests, who are mainly responsible for organising groups against municipal development proposals going through this House, to submit questions of this character to the people. The fact of the matter is that they always oppose what is in the interests of the people, and, particularly, what is in the interests of the working classes. They and most of the people they represent live in the South, in beautiful country. Hon. Members might ask, what has this to do with the Bill? [HON. MEMBERS: "Precisely."] I hope to prove that it has a good deal to do with the Bill. Take the case of Sheffield or Rotherham or many other industrial parts of the North of England, places that produce the wealth which has made this country great. They are suffering from a legacy of the industrial revolution. Thousands of people are living in houses that are a disgrace to Parliament. What are many of these municipalities proposing? Only a few weeks ago some of them proposed to introduce a Bill which would give them the right to clear ground which had been left as an eyesore as a result of a slum clearance scheme. What did the hon. Member for South Croydon do? He organised a group of reactionaries to block the proposals.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
That statement has not the slightest foundation or warrant. Most of the hon. Member's speech seems to be a personal attack on me. The opposition to a certain Clause in some five municipal Bills was not organised by me. My name appeared fifth on one of the Instructions without my consent. I was asked to attach my name, but I said that I had not studied the problem and did not propose to take any action with regard to it. The hon. Member has no right to make allegations of that kind.
§ Mr. Speaker
On these occasions I usually allow a very wide discretion to hon. Members when speaking on questions of this sort, but I do not think that this matter has anything to do with the present Bill.
§ Mr. Smith
It has a good deal to do with it, Mr. Speaker. Hon. Members who are supporting this Bill this morning are chiefly responsible for the blocking of the Bills of the character of those of which I am speaking. Rotherham, Sheffield and several other municipalities were proposing to deal with eyesores in the districts where, as the result of slum clearance, bricks have been left lying about.
§ Mr. Smith
What I am saying is, that those who are proposing this Bill were chiefly responsible for organising groups of Members in this House against proposals for dealing with districts in the North of England. Hon. Members opposite opposed these proposals. The hon. Members who are proposing this Bill oppose all municipal Bills which are in the interests of the people.
§ Mr. Speaker
As I have said, this really has nothing to do with this Bill, which is to amend the Parliament Act.
§ Mr. Smith
As a result of an analysis of this Bill, I am confident that the evidence that I am putting before the House has a good deal to do with the Bill, and I propose to deal with that matter later on. The Bill which hon. Members are proposing this morning is a continuance of the policy which they pursue on municipal Bills. Take Clause 1. Whenever a Bill goes to the Lords from the Commons and is not passed, then, unless the Commons direct to the contrary, it shall be referred to a poll of the members of the county, county borough, urban district and rural district councils. What an expense! The hon. Members who always claim that they want to save the rates are conducting a campaign in the London district where the administra- 1551 tion of the London County Council is a credit to the party that has had a majority during the last three years. These hon. Members, who are now carrying on propaganda campaigns in this election, and who want to reduce the rates of London, as they say at election times, are now proposing an increase in the rates by the introduction of this proposal. The proposal is absurd and reactionary, and I hope that it will not be supported by the House to-day.
Local councillors to whom the hon. Members wants to give the right to vote in a referendum, are elected to do local work, and not national work. Many of them are too pre-occupied on the local administration, and, therefore, cannot hope to give attention to other matters. I am not making a criticism of the individuals concerned. Many of them are as sincere, loyal and devoted in the discharge of their work as are any hon. Members of this House, but just as we are pre-occupied, provided we are taking our work seriously, in representing the people in this House, so they are preoccupied and wrapped up in the local administration. Therefore, this is a reactionary proposal. It is taking steps backwards to suggest that they should have a say in questions of this character. What do the councillors of Eastbourne, Brighton and Croydon know about the problems of Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow and many other industrial centres? Yet this Bill of the hon. Member for South Croydon proposes that Eastbourne, Brighton and Croydon councillors should have a say in what is to take place in the North of England, where the southern councillors have no responsibility. We all here have a national responsibility, but the councillors, on a question of this kind, have no responsibility at all, not even a feeling of responsibility, and yet the hon. Member proposes to take away from the national assembly the right to deal with questions of this kind, and place them in the hands of reactionary local councillors in places like Eastbourne, Brighton and Croydon.
§ Mr. Crossley
I am afraid that I agree with the argument which the hon. Member is putting to the House, but how is it that so many local councils are constantly sending to this House resolutions on national subjects?
§ Mr. Smith
That is a perfectly legitimate intervention, and the reason that they are doing it in most cases is, that they are dealing with specific issues arising out of their work. It may be that there is a growing number of resolutions coming from local councils. We have to remember that there is a growing feeling in local councils with regard to what takes place in this House. For example, as far as the North is concerned, we have a legitimate grievance against the maintenance of the unemployed being placed to the extent that it is upon local rates. Therefore, it is unquestionable that councils which have to contend with difficulties of that description should send resolutions here asking the House of Commons to consider their local difficulties.
This Bill proposes that a poll shall be conducted in accordance with the provisions of the Representation of the People Act, and also that a poll shall be taken between two o'clock in the afternoon and six o'clock in the evening. May I remind the hon. Member for South Croydon, if he has any knowledge of local affairs at all, that the local councillors are already making enough sacrifices, and are pre-occupied in their local work, without having Additional work of this character put upon them. If he knows the North of England in particular, he will realise that, as far as labour representatives are concerned, it means a very big sacrifice on the part of ordinary working men who sit on local councils. They are already sacrificing enough without any responsibility of this kind being put upon their shoulders. The hon. Member knows that this is a proposal to take advantage of the pre-occupation of local councils in the hope that, instead of only having Bills blocked in the House of Commons, they will be blocked by the whole of the reactionary councils, in the south of England in particular. It is proposed that every Public Bill affected in this way shall be submitted to a referendum of this description, but the hon. Member did not say very much about the ballot paper, an example of which is printed on the back of his Bill. There is not a word said on that ballot paper about the merits of the Bill that is to be referred to the referendum.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
May I ask the hon. Member whether any statement about his merits was made on the ballot paper issued at Stoke-on-Trent?
§ Mr. Smith
If the hon. Member is trying to apply his smartness, I want to encourage him to continue that smartness in the way that he applies it at 2.50 every afternoon in this House. Does the hon. Member propose that the case for the Bill should be submitted to the local councils? It is not proposed to place the merits of the Bill on the ballot paper. Is it, however, proposed to send a copy of the case to the local council before they consider it?
§ Mr. Smith
If the hon. and learned Member and his constituents would read that paper and more people followed their example, the government of this country would be placed in far more competent hands than it is at the present time. If it is proposed to send out particulars of the case, what about the additional expense? How many councillors in the south of England would read the case for the north? We know the vast amount of correspondence that comes to this House, and we have only to examine the waste-paper baskets to see what happens to much of it. The hon. Member knows that that would happen in this case. A vast amount of expenditure would be placed on the rates in order that these Bills could be submitted to the councils. The people in the localities elect their councillors, they know their needs and problems and they trust their representatives to send Bills to this House which in the interests of their people should become law. This Bill would increase the cost of administration. It is a proposal aimed at the democratic rights of the people, and I hope that it will not be supported.
§ 12.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Macquisten
This has been a very interesting discussion. I did not hear the whole of the speech of the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams), but what I did hear justified the encomiums that were passed upon it by the hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill. It displayed historical know- 1554 ledge, logic and power in presenting the case. I should have liked to have congratulated the last speaker, but I am sorry that he has lost faith in local government so much that he would not give local councillors a chance of expressing their opinions. I am rather distressed at that. I should have thought that he would have been one of the strongest supporters of local bodies, and that he would have been glad to give them an occasional chance of expressing their views on what is happening in this Assembly.
§ Mr. Macquisten
But they would have a definite power under this Bill, and it would be very beneficial for them to have it. It is suggested that they would not be acquainted with the subject with which they were called upon to deal. That argument is discounted by the fact that wireless could be used, as it is used now, in explaining Bills and policy. Leaders of parties to-day reach the people in a way that was never possible in the past in connection with the discussion of political matters. Therefore, there is not the same objection that there would have been hitherto in having a referendum of the kind suggested.
The word "democracy" has been used in this Debate. That is a word which is often used in this House. It is one of the unfortunate things from which we suffer. There is really no democracy in this country. Democracy was a term used in ancient Greece, where every man represented himself. They went to the market place and each man voted for himself. They had the same system in Russia, in their little assemblies. Instead of democracy, what we get is representative government, which is a totally different thing. What is representative government? Once the elector has marked his voting paper and the member has been elected, then, as the hon. Member for South Croydon said, he is no longer a delegate, or he ought not to be. It is only where the trade unions are concerned that a man has to vote exactly as he is told. In the House of Commons Members have the right—except in certain cases where, after they are elected, their actions are very closely supervised—to vote as they like. Even supposing we do not vote in a way that commends itself to certain sections of our constituents, we may get 1555 an indignant resolution from a self-elected association, but for all practical purposes we are free agents. That is the essence of real representative government; we are not tied down.
§ Mr. A. Jenkins
Has the hon. and learned Member any evidence that would justify his statement that trade unionists are compelled to vote as they are told?
§ Mr. Macquisten
If a trade unionist voted in opposition to his trade union he would find himself in very serious trouble.
§ Mr. Macquisten
I think it is common knowledge. If I had the hon. Member in the witness box on oath I would soon get the admission out of him. Everybody knows that the trade unions hold a very powerful position, and a dictatorial position in the Labour party to-day.
§ Mr. Macquisten
We are elected with powers similar to those of attorneys to do what we believe to be the best in the interests of those we represent. Those who give us that power are entitled to have two names on the power of attorney so that reference can be made to some other party if the member goes against the wishes of his constituents. For example, if any hon. Member intended to go away to some distant place and he gave power of attorney to someone to act in his absence on his behalf, he would be wise to have two names associated with the power of attorney, otherwise he might find himself in difficulties on his return. I know of one case where a young man was going out East and he gave power of attorney to another man, a friend, who told him that his investments would be well looked after. But when the man came home he found that all his stocks and shares had disappeared, and also the attorney.
§ Mr. Macquisten
No, he was an Englishman. That was a case where he would have been well advised to give power of attorney to a Scotsman. The country is entitled in its own interests to 1556 have protection against its attorneys, to see that they do not abuse their power. Reference should be made to some other authority if the Member is upsetting the wishes of his constituents. Reference has been made to what might happen in a general election. If Henry VIII had had a general election the Reformation would never have taken place, because people would have voted against it. The House of Commons again and again does things that are not in consonance with the will of the people. The D.O.R.A. Regulations, which interfere so much with private life, would never have been passed if they had been submitted to the mass of the people. It is wrong to say that we in this House at all times carry out the will of the people.
Why was the Parliament Act passed in 1911? There was a certain class of person who for many years carried on propaganda on Henry George's theories. It was ultimately accepted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). Unfortunately the House of Lords had not the proper instinct of self-preservation. I remember when the Trade Disputes Act was passed in 1906. That was an Act which did worse harm to the trade unions than was ever done before, because it made them irresponsible by putting them above the law. The worst thing you can do for any association, organisation or institution is to confer irresponsibility upon it, then the extremist ruler. I remember reading in the Press reports of the Lords debate that this was a trap for the House of Lords. Lord Lansdowne said that this was an issue which had been carefully designed to put the House of Lords in conflict with organised labour, but the House of Lords would choose their own battleground. They passed the Bill. If they had rejected it they would, at any rate, have gone down in an honest cause, the liberty of Englishmen. But they chose their own battlegound in 1909. It was their own selfish interest, the question of land and land values. That was unfortunate. Of course they lost. It was a very bitter disappointment to me, because I am a sound believer in a Second Chamber. I also believe to a large extent in the hereditary principle. We all do. If a municipality has a city engineer with a very competent and capable son and the old man 1557 retires, the son will be appointed. Members of the town council will say that he comes of good stock. Then there is the advice often given to a man when selecting a wife—always to go and look at her mother.
The Kings of England were very great in old days. I remember reading of one monarch, I think it was Henry VII, who must have had a tremendous hold on the affections of the people because he not only did not object to their bearing arms, but actually insisted on every one of his subjects being armed. There could be no greater evidence of complete accord between ruler and ruled than that, because it showed absolute confidence on the part of the King that the people would not rise against him. At the same period in Scottish history if a man were found with a pistol or a claymore hidden in the thatch he was hanged because it was thought that he either had committed murder or was about to commit murder. These facts of history emphasise that Englishmen are the only men who meet and reason. Englishmen are always ready for compromise. They will meet and discuss and come to a decision that does not meet the views of either parties. No one insists on having all his own way. That is why I as a Scotsman have a tremendous reverence for Englishmen. We in Scotland may have discussed to begin with, but we generally fought instead of compromising. The Irishman, of course, worked by secret societies and assassination, and the Welsh, we know, cheat one another. The English have a great gift for compromise. That is why the Englishman gets on so well in foreign places. Englishmen can get on with coloured labour and be much more popular than anyone else. Americans can't handle coloured workers. In our constitution we have King and Lords and Commons, and it is upon that triangular unity that firm tripod that all our liberties have been built.
I would like to say to hon. Gentlemen opposite that they are making a great mistake in saying that they will not have a second Chamber, because if there is no second Chamber there is very much less chance of their ever winning victory at an election. People will say that they are wild fellows and that if once they are given full control there will be nothing to check them; and the Member for 1558 Bristol advocates that policy. The great advantage of a second chamber is that it gives time for consideration and with a second chamber in existence people are more inclined to give a party a chance knowing that they cannot wreck the foundations of society and of the State.
How was it that we came to have this admirable constitution which has lasted for hundreds of years and made Great Britain the envy of the whole world? It was built up on fair play and on justice between man and man which exists in this country to an extent not found anywhere else. And how was it impaired? It was all done by a Welshman, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. It was a Welsh trick that destroyed the Englishman's ancient constitution. He said in a speech that he had set a trap for the rats and the large rats had gone into it. He made the speech in Welsh. That was the purpose of the 1909 Budget. It was a trap to catch the House of Lords. They entered it with both feet. They did a very stupid thing in rejecting it. They should have let it go through and the Liberal party would have passed away earlier. How was that situation brought about? It was because the Irish held the balance of power and this was done by the Liberals in order to get round that. Of course the result was that we ultimately got the Home Rule Bill. I always regarded that as one of the most shameful things in British history. The final surrender was made to a murder gang. We heard a lot about the lawlessness of Sir Edward Carson but he broke no law. It was a stupid statement that is made again and again about Sir Edward Carson as he was then. He fulfilled the law in every particular. According to the law if you can get two Justices of the Peace to sign a paper you can raise volunteers in Ulster, and the repeal of the Arms Act in 1906 by the Liberals to oblige the Sinn Feiners allowed him to import arms. It was illegal to try to stop him as the Liberal Government tried in vain to do, and it was shameful to try to get the British Army to attack the King's friends for the sake of the King's enemies. He never broke the law and that is why he was not indicted. He was too good a lawyer himself to break the law.
1559 It was to buy the Irish vote that the Parliament Act was passed, and it has left this country in a very peculiar constitutional position. Suppose the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) and his friends got into control, the first people whose heads would fall on the block would be those of hon. Members opposite. The hon. and learned Gentleman and his friends would have no use for them. If you get these extreme doctrines there is bound to be reaction. I hate anything in the nature of dictator-ship, I do not care what it is. I have no use for Fascism or Communism; both are an abomination. I want to keep our institution and our liberties, our liberty of speech and freedom of thought. Voltaire once said "I hate everything you say, but I would fight to the death that you should have liberty to say it." When you get Communism or Fascism, that is one thing which is not allowed. There is no free expression of opinion of any kind in these countries either at home or abroad. We do not know what is happening in countries under these dictatorships; we do not know whether the people are satisfied and happy or not. They dare not say anything; their lives are worth nothing if they lift their voices. We do not know what is going on inside these countries. There seems to be no doubt that there has been a bust-up going on in Russia where a good many good Communists have gone to their final account.
A real second Chamber does afford protection to liberty. The ideal, of course, would be a complete referendum to all the people, but that would be a very costly business. The proposal in the Bill is not costly; it would not mean more than the expenditure of a few thousand pounds. In fact, there would not be so many people to circularise as the hon. Member represents in his division—I take it that he represents some 50,000 electors. This would be one of the cheapest possible ways of doing it, and it would afford a check of some kind. It would give the House of Lords some confidence. After 1906 they got an overwhelming knock-out in 1910 and 1911 by the prejudice built up in the country by the eloquent tongue of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, who 1560 held them up as an object of universal opprobrium and ridicule, whereas they are a decent and able section of the community who are most anxious to do their duty. There is no body of men more anxious to do their duty to their fellow-citizens than the House of Lords, but they got such a terrible knock-out in those years, and the sword of Damocles has been hanging over their heads all the time, that they are now living in a state of fear. How many times has this House differed from the Lords in an Amendment to a Bill? How many times have we accepted Lords' Amendments? The Labour party when they were in power frequently said in the last stages of a Bill that the matter could be put right in the House of Lords. That frequently occurred.
§ Mr. Tinker
The only time the Labour party accepted Amendments by the House of Lords is when we knew that the Bill would fall if we did not accept them.
§ Mr. Macquisten
That is not the case, because many times hon. Members opposite have said that the matter could be put right in another place. And, indeed, that is quite a rational procedure. Acts of Parliament are not always well drawn. There is never a day passes but you find a Bill which is full of obscurities and difficulties. I sometimes contrast the drafting of Bills in the present day with some of the old Statutes of the fifteenth century drawn in the time of the Stuart Kings. In those Statutes you get in a few lines the meaning in plain broad Scotch, you know what it is intended to convey, and you think what wonderful draftsmen they were. If we had men like that at the present time how simple an Act of Parliament would be. Go to the old Law Reports of the sixteenth century of the Court of Session in Scotland and you find the most beautiful productions, short and concise, instead of the long-winded reports of to-day. They are terse, short and plain. Modern Acts of Parliament are fatuous, as most Statutes are. Customary Law fits you like your skin, because it grows with you, and statutory Law fits you like your clothes. It all depends on your tailor. It is a case of too many tailors spoiling a suit just as too many cooks, it is said, spoil the broth. What we want is an advisory body. Sometimes when a fellow gets elected 1561 to a public body it takes him a little time to recover his equilibrium; he thinks he is such a tremendous chap that he can do what the Old Book says he cannot do—add a cubit to his stature. You want to have some break on the exuberance of people, some means of checking it. It was wise that there should be some check on absolute and unrestrained power, otherwise it may lead to destruction.
§ 1.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Mander
I want to express the views of the Liberal party on this Measure. Nothing could be more appropriate on this Bill than that it should be supported by the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten), one of the chief humorists in the House. The Bill is nothing but a joke. The hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) introduced it in his usual interesting and amusing way. His efforts were worthy of a better cause. A number of different proposals have been brought forward for the reform of the House of Lords, some good, some bad, but this is the most fantastic of all the schemes ever introduced. It endeavours, under a carefully camouflaged screen, to repeal the Parliament Act and restore the veto of the House of Lords. We are entirely opposed to anything of the kind, and shall vote against it in the Division Lobby.
The hon. Member for South Croydon indulged in a most carefully selected history of the events of the years before the War, and I can only imagine that he is still smarting under the three resounding defeats which his party suffered, once in 1906 and twice in 19to. The hon. Member is still unwilling to accept the fact that they were defeated then and that the whole balance of the Constitution was changed as a result of the Parliament Act which was passed by the Liberal Government at that time. In a democracy the House of Lords is, in theory, completely indefensible, as are a great many things in English life, but that does not matter as long as they work. We look at these things from the point of view of whether they are practical, and not whether they fit in with strict logic. I cannot help feeling that the existing system might well be left for the present, for there are much more urgent matters to be attended to. I think that as long as the House of Lords continues on the admirable lines described in the 1562 well-known words of Gilbert, when he said, at a time when Britain really ruled the waves:The House of Peers throughout the war,Did nothing in particular,And did it very well.It can better be left as it is at present. It contains a number of very distinguished men who can be helpful in revising Measures, and as long as we have the power to pass any Finance Bill and to pass any other Bill we desire within a period of two years, I think that, while the matter is illogical, it is much better to leave the House of Lords as it is, rather than to waste an immense amount of time in substituting a House with a different constitution, but with very much the same powers as it has now. For those reasons, hon. Members on these Benches propose to go into the Division Lobby against this Bill.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
The hon. Member said that this is rather a silly Bill, but he did not devote any part of his speech to it. Will he be kind enough to tell me why it is silly that the referees I propose should be precisely the people who, in France, elect the Senate?
§ Mr. Mander
I will not go into that matter at any length, but I will deal with one point. The hon. Member would introduce a political element into the local elections throughout the country. Party politics would enter those elections and people would be elected because of the role they would play in the event of a referendum. I think that would be very undesirable. It is far better for the good administration of the State that local authorities should continue to elect their members in a non-party spirit—[Interruption.]as many of them do at the present time, to deal with purely local affairs.
§ 1.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Marshall
I have listened carefully to the discussion that has taken place, and I wish to congratulate the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) for giving the House what to me, at any rate, is new political philosophy. The hon. Member laid down a political doctrine which, if applied to the present Tory party, would put it in rather an unrepresentative capacity in this House. I can imagine some of the hon. Member's friends saying "Oh, Lord, save me from the hon. Member for South Croydon," as far as that political philosophy is concerned. The hon. Member 1563 said that when a man is elected to this House, he ceases from that moment to be in a representative capacity, and that as he goes along he gets further and further away from the ideas of the people who sent him to the House. If that be the case, it naturally follows 'that it cannot be said of every Measure brought up in the House that it is representative of the opinions of the people who sent here the hon. Members supporting it. If that be applied to the question with which we were dealing yesterday, it means that the Tory party is asking the country to spend £1,500,000,000 without a shred of justification and is doing that in a purely unrepresentative capacity. If that be the doctrine that is laid down, I can imagine some very strong things being said at the next Tory party conference.
It seems to me that every argument used by the hon. Member for South Croydon was an argument for the abolition of the House of Lords. The Bill is a denial of representative Government. It would make of the local councillors House of Lords' representatives for the purpose of any referendum or any issue that might be referred to them in that connection. I have been a local government representative for about 15 years, and I should look with a great deal of interest on such an experiment. The local government representatives would have referred to them issues about which they knew very little and on which their information was probably wrong in some cases. As a matter of fact, one could obtain the same results by totting up on a piece of paper all the Tory local governments in the country and all those governed by Labour majorities, and that would be just as useful as giving those people ballot papers on which to register their opinions. Who would inform these people as to the intricacies of any issue that might be referred to them? Does the hon. Member propose to establish study classes, Fabian research committees or Primrose leagues in order that the various local government representatives may be informed on the very complex and important issues that might be referred to them? Let me take as an illustration the last Finance Act which was submitted to the House. It contained a Clause, which I confess I was unable to understand, in which there were eight references to other parts of legislation, and I venture to say 1564 that there were not more than a dozen Members who understood what it all meant, at any rate without some very extensive study. Is such a thing to be placed upon the shoulders of representatives of local authorities for them to express an opinion on it and to give the country a wise decision? It is an impossible proposition. The Bill is not an expansion of representative government, it is not a solution of a constitutional difficulty; it is adding one difficulty to another.
The hon. Member for South Croydon said that the House of Lords has lost faith in itself. If that be so, why not abolish it? If it has lost faith in itself, it means that in any legislation which it obstructs or rejects it is not sure of itself and is not sure that it is acting in the best interests of the country. It seems to me that in such circumstances, the best thing would be to wipe the anachronism out of the way. If the House of Lords has lost faith in itself, let me say that the people have lost faith in the House of Lords for some considerable time. During the whole of the time in which I have taken an interest in political matters, I can say truly that the people of this country have had very little faith in the House of Lords being able to perform any useful functions.
I congratulate the hon. Member for South Croydon on his conversion to the principles of Lenin in this matter. What he really proposes to do is to take representative government and responsibility away from this Chamber and to set up soviets in all parts of the country to which important political issues would be referred. I would sooner see the responsibility resting upon this House and upon the shoulders of the people who have been elected to bear it. Difficult though some of them may be, it is our bounden duty to discharge the duties and responsibilities which we have been sent here to discharge. The hon. Member for South Croydon spoke about reform of the House of Lords. I do not think there is a case for the reform of the House of Lords though there is a case for its abolition. I can see the possibility of a reformed House of Lords becoming far more dangerous than the present House of Lords. From that point of view, I would oppose any proposal for the reform of the House of 1565 Lords. I consider this Bill to be unnecessary and a Bill which, if carried into effect, would alter in an almost revolutionary manner the powers and responsibilities of Members of the House of Commons. There is no telling where such a change would end.
There is something to be said for submitting great constitutional issues to the people by referendum, but to select a few people and constitute them into a sort of local House of Lords would be the very worst kind of procedure. In my case for instance, it would give me two votes. I would have a vote in the ordinary course, and then I would be able to go to the local council and give a further vote possibly affecting some great issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) put another grave objection. If the House of Lords rejected a Measure for the nationalisation of the land one can imagine what would happen under these proposals. The industrial north would be in favour of it, but the agricultural areas in the south would vote against it. There would be no point in submitting an issue of that character to representatives of local authorities. No provision is made in the Bill for informing the representatives of local authorities of the complications of an issue to be submitted to them. Generally speaking, the whole scheme is ill-conceived and, so far from doing any good, it would be a retrograde step in Parliamentary government to pass a Bill of this character.
§ 1.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Raikes
I feel obliged to join with hon. Members opposite in opposing this Bill. I think my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) has done a public service in raising once again the question of House of Lords reform. That is a matter of imporance from the constitutional point of view, but I am bound to say that I cannot imagine a more unsatisfactory form of Bill to deal with it than the form of this Bill. The Bill defeats the real object of the House of Lords. The object of the House of Lords and of any second Chamber must always be, to revise legislation and to refer legislation back to the people in case the view of the people has changed between the time of a General Election and the passing of that legislation. There have been many occasions when a 1566 Government has come into office on the swing of the pendulum and the temper of the people has changed in a very short time afterwards. The legislation of that Government, after a certain period, becomes legislation which the people do not desire, and to which, in fact, they object. Until the passing of the Parliament Act, the House of Lords had power to hold up legislation until a General Election and the will of the people as shown at that General Election was then accepted by both Houses. Since the passing of the Parliament Act, the House of Lords has retained a certain amount of that power. It has a suspensory veto for two years in regard to non-financial legislation which is a considerable check as far as it goes, especially on any legislation produced in the latter half of a Parliament. At the same time it has no power over finance.
The hon. Member for South Croydon proposes a system under which, I submit, it would be impossible ever to discover the will of the people. He proposes to refer any dispute between the two Houses to local councils, but his local councils would not be representative of the temper of the country. When an issue was submitted to them some of them might have been in office for three years, others for two years and others for one year, and they would be representatives of a period considerably earlier than that of the crisis which called for their arbitration. Take two examples. Suppose a Labour Government in its first year of office were passing legislation which it had a mandate from the country to pass. That legislation might be held up by the second Chamber. It would be referred to local authorities most of whom had been elected at a period before the swing to Labour took place. They would not be politically representative of the temper of the country at the time when they were called upon to arbitrate. On the other hand, you might have a Labour Government which, having been in office for three years, was out of harmony with the country. In that case the reference would be to local councils who had been elected mainly in the first or second year of office of that Government. They would probably be, to a very large extent, representative of local Labour parties and they would be called upon to arbitrate at a time when, the country had swung the other way, Once again you would be referring these 1567 issues, not to the voice of the people but to persons who two or three years previously might have represented, to some extent, the voice of the people.
Whatever method of reform of the House of Lords we adopt, do not let us adopt the one method which makes it certain that the will of the people will be the last thing to be concerned in deciding these matters. I regard it as derogatory to Parliament that local councils should be called upon to decide matters of high political importance. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon is not in his place, because I propose to make one or two observations on that aspect of the question. He says that the local councillors are elected by the public and that in this way you would have cross currents of opinion which would show what the country wants. Judging by the number of people who vote at local government elections it seems to me there are no more unrepresentative bodies in the country than the ordinary local government bodies. I am only surprised that my hon. Friend did not include the parish councillor along with the urban councillor, the rural councillor and the others in his Bill, and then we would have had a complete picture. But I was shocked—I almost said that I was scandalised—by the proposal that there should be a secret ballot of local councillors when they voted in regard to matters of this character. If these local councillors are any good at all, surely they are good enough to be able to give their votes publicly. One's objection to a body of persons who were not at the time representative of the country being called together to vote secretly would vitiate whatever decision was made, whichever way it went, and I hold that if anybody in public life is worthy of being in public life, he or she ought definitely to be expected to vote in public and to justify the way in which he or she has voted to the country at the poll.
I think there is not very much more to be said in regard to this Bill, but the hon. Member for South Croydon was anxious to hear of alternatives to his Bill, if it was not considered satisfactory. I do not know that one is called upon to produce alternatives, but, personally, I do not like the present system. I believe in a stronger Second Chamber, I admit quite frankly, but I would sooner have the 1568 present system as it to-day than an elaborate system handing over the powers of both Houses of Parliament to local councils. If I were called upon to make further suggestions, I would suggest that Members on all sides of this House might well consider one proposal in regard to the Second Chamber, and that is that you should define the contents of a Money Bill in order to avoid tacking on to nonfinancial Measures a financial Clause. I believe that many hon. Members opposite would be prepared to accept such a proposition, because so long as the Parliament Act does act, we wish it to act as nearly as possible in the way in which it was framed to act. Beyond that, I should like to extend the suspensive veto from two years to three years, in which case I think it would be able to cover the objects for which it was placed in the Act.
Finally, I would like to see the numbers of the Second Chamber fixed, in order that you knew where you were, and in order that you could cut out those who are unfitted to sit in any chamber and at the same time make it impossible for the Second Chamber to be swamped by the creation of new Peers. Unfortunately, the hon. Member for South Croydon is not in his place. I wish he was here, but at any rate these suggestions which I have put forward, whether acceptable to this House or not, are far more reasonable than is this somewhat complicated Measure. Therefore, with great regret, because I hate to oppose any Bill produced by my hon. Friend, I feel bound to say that I hope the Bill will be decisively rejected.
§ 1.28 p.m.
§ Mr. MacLaren
It would seem, from the small attendance in the House at the moment, that there is no great enthusiasm for this Bill, but I must confess that I was provoked to smile when I listened to the speeches of its promoters. The hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) is leading in the promotion of the Bill, and nothing could have been more appropriate to make the thing absolutely ironical than that, because the area of the country which I represent in this House is promoting a Bill for certain local purposes, and before that Bill has even had a chance of coming before the Members of this House for a Second Reading, the hon. Member for South Croydon has 1569 been showing an industry that must, I am sure, be unequalled by that of any hon. Member who has ever been in the House, in going about and whipping up Members, with the result that a record number of names has appeared on the Order Paper of this House protesting against that Bill and asking the Members to refuse it a Second Reading. And this is the very gentleman, if you please, who is promoting this Bill to-day under the pretext of securing a larger field of appeal to a democratic decision. The very gentleman who is promoting an extraordinary campaign in this House to block a local government Bill is proposing that the decisions of this House should be over-ruled or at least equalled by the decisions of local authorities, through some kind of referendum.
I wish the hon. Member had been in his place, because I have been wondering of recent months what really are his activities in this House, who is inspiring them, and whether his enthusiasm is engendered by some spiritual conception of society, some new idealism, or whether it is from some other source that the inspiration is coming, because I notice that he is always blocking local government Bills in this House, and more especially particular Clauses in those Bills, which, when you examine them, you find that if they were passed into law, they would in some way curtail the activities of big vested interests, which makes one a little suspicious of the hon. Member for South Croydon in this-House.
We have heard a good deal to-day about a revising Chamber. I had intimate and close contact with this House during the whole of the disturbance over the famous Parliament Act, and I well remember the atmosphere of this House at that time. Sometimes when I come into the Chamber now and listen to the debates, I think we have been reduced to the sort of docile condition of school children compared with what the House was in those days. I remember that every night the good and respectable gentlemen of the Tory party turned it into a veritable bedlam. There was no rectitude or strict deportment in those days. Why? Merely because there was a Government out to attempt to do something with the most powerful vested interest known in any country anywhere, namely, the private land interest. The upshot was, as we have heard to-day, that the Lords threw 1570 out a Budget which pretended to tax land values. The Lords did not know it as well as I did. They believed that it was going to tax land values, but if they had only known the promoter of the Bill as well as I did, they would have known that he never went deeply into any principle at all.
The fact remains that they thought it was a challenge to vested interests, and, as the hon. and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten) said, if they had known the facts of the case and had had a keener sense of self-preservation, they would have allowed that Budget to pass unchallenged. It would not have effected anything in the country at all, although it pretended to be a Budget to levy taxation on the values of land, when, as a matter of fact, it did nothing of the kind. No one was more pleased than I was that that Budget was wrecked, but one of the greatest pleasures of that period was that the Lords did rise in their places and throw out the Budget. I remember well sitting in the galleries of the House of Lords, listening to Lord Lansdowne, and I remember that he quite solemnly warned them that there was danger in the second Chamber taking upon itself the right to throw out a Finance Bill. I remember also the cynical manner with which that great personality, one of the greatest personalities of his age, the late Bishop of Oxford, Dr. Gore, rose and told that Chamber that they were right, no doubt, in their indignation, and that under the pretext of defending the Constitution they would throw out the Budget, but he warned them that the moment they did so they would be throwing out any sense of dignity or importance which they had ever had in the Constitution. They threw out that Finance Bill, and then we know what happened.
The Parliament Act was passed, and ever since that Act has been on the Statute Book there have been all sorts of moves made to underpin Parliament. I will warn those who contemplate doing anything with the Parliament Act really to leave it severely alone, because if there is anything that would arouse the people of this country, it would be any attempt to pass into the hands of the House of Lords any power over finance Measures in this country. I will take this opportunity to say what I really think about a revising Chamber. Let us put aside this talk about the House of 1571 Lords being a revising Chamber. It is nothing of the kind. To a very large extent it is dominated by a strong desire for the preservation of historic vested interests. I have believed more of late years in a revising Chamber than I have ever done before. I mean by that a Chamber in which there shall be men who will have no regard for any specific vested interest but will have as their main objective to make clear the will of Parliament. This House is passing Bills week in and week out, and I am as sure as I am standing here that if the average Member were examined on the Bills he had voted upon he could not define any of the Clauses. We are simply avalanching Bills upon the State, with Clause after Clause complicated, Bills full of references to previous Acts. The average Member, if asked "What does this or that mean?" could not tell you.
What happens when Bills are passed? How often does a Judge in the Law Courts scratch his head when he looks at a Clause? If the judges were free to express their opinions about this House and how it is passing Acts of Parliament they would say something which would shock and horrify the State. I remember the late Lord Carson, speaking of one Bill he was asked to review in the House of Lords, saying in his forceful manner that he had looked at it from the South, the East, the North and the West and he was still in a mist, and he wondered how anyone could look wise after he had considered the Bill and what was in it. The practice of throwing on the country enactments, couched in involved language is becoming a menace. Very often the idea which the Government had in its mind is not clearly expressed in the Bill when it passes into law, and the judge who has to make decisions on that is not sure whether the will of Parliament meant this, that or the other thing.
If people are really serious about a revising Chamber they ought to set up a Chamber or a body of men to whom the draft of a Bill might be submitted and who should be asked, "Does this embody the intention which Parliament has in its mind?" So that when the Bill became law it would be a clear statement of policy and would embody in no uncertain manner and in clear language the intentions of Parliament. That would be a revising Chamber, but to call this thing 1572 over there a revising Chamber—well, in 1937, can we take it seriously as a revising Chamber? I remember an occasion when Stoke-on-Trent promoted a Bill which proposed to take in an area which shoots right into the side of Stoke-on-Trent like a spear point, a little place called Newcastle-under-Lyme, represented in this House by a very well known right hon. and gallant Gentleman, and although he and I are perhaps the only two remnants of a real, clear-thinking political party in this Chamber he fell foul of me on that occasion. The hon. Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb), whom I am glad to see in his place, also took part. There was an effort to destroy the intentions of the people of Stoke-on-Trent.
§ Mr. MacLaren
I will deal with that. I wish the hon. Member had not made that interjection for his own sake.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)
If the hon. Member looks at the Bill he will find that it does not apply to Private Business,
§ Mr. MacLaren
I was only giving an instance of the conduct of a revising Chamber on a Bill. It has been argued that something should be done to strengthen the revising Chamber. The Bill from Stoke-on-Trent was brought into this House and passed the Committee stage, occupying about 12 sittings of the Committee. It was a great fight, conducted at much expense. Then the Bill went to the Lords, and I went there to see what was happening and watched the operations of that revising Chamber. The right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) had an advantage over rue in that he could "collar" the Members of that honourable House from the Throne side of the Chamber, while I was penned at the other end and could not get at them. I noticed how he whipped them all in. That great revising Chamber destroyed that Bill inside 35 minutes, by a speech delivered by a gentleman who did not know the contents of the Bill. They call that revising, but I have another name for it. The whole of the fight, such as it was, in the House of Lords was carried on by the most extensive whip- 1573 ping-up of peers to get them to attend. There were Members in that House whom I had not seen there—
§ Sir J. Lamb
On a point of Order. Is the hon. Member entitled to discuss on this occasion the merits of another Bill?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I have not at present heard anything of the merits of the other Bill. So far the hon. Member is discussing the action of the two Houses.
§ Mr. MacLaren
The Opposition of the House of Lords, which was very successful in destroying the Bill was brought about by an extensive whipping-up of Members. I noticed Members present on that occasion whom I had not seen since the Finance Act quarrel and the Home Rule Bill quarrel. If we want a revising Chamber, and I believe we do need one in this country, we must have some kind of Chamber of responsible legal minds, if you like, not interested in promoting any interest in the country other than the general interest, and in seeing that Bills embody the real intentions of Parliament. If we are going to have such a chamber it will bear no resemblance to the complexions of the present Chamber. A certain amount of latitude has been allowed in this discussion. When the hon. Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) was wandering into the archives of Scottish legal history I wondered how far he would be allowed to go, and I do not intend to go, as he did, into these museum-piece arguments. Let me say in closing that if there is to be an attack on the Parilament Act I hope it will be an open one, not a furtive, subterranean one, and that those who are anxious, for whatever reason, to change the Parliament Act will take the precaution to see that the person who promotes that Bill in this House shall be someone other than the hon. Member for South Croydon.
§ 1.45 p.m.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir William Allen
I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) except to say that it is an historical fact that no matter what Government has been in power in this House it has always used the other House as a revising Chamber, to what extent it is not necessary to say. The custom has been recognised by every Government. I am very interested in the historical side of this issue. It has been mentioned by every speaker, and 1574 the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) gave us a very interesting résumé of the history of the position. No part of the country is more responsible for the curtailment of the power of the House of Lords than that part of the British Isles which I represent. When Mr. Gladstone was in power in the 'nineties he thought it advisable to change his entire attitude and parliamentary programme with regard to my country. At one time, there was no one who gave the political opponents of the Government of that time a character which was, to say the least, much to be deprecated but, having changed his mind, Mr. Gladstone decided to give them all they wanted. His Home Rule Bill passed this House, and I well remember how eagerly we waited for the decision of the House of Lords. It was late at night. We were hoping for the best, from our point of view, and when the news came that the House of Lords had rejected the whole of the Home Rule Bill there was great rejoicing, and bonfires were set alight. For the moment, we were safe.
It seems to me that that was the beginning of the idea of the curtailment of the power of the House of Lords, remember taking part in this country in the election of 1906. Some of us came over from Ireland in order to impress upon the people of this country the necessity of returning a Government that would keep Ireland still part and parcel of the British Empire. We were not listened to. Why? Because the people of this country thought that they had got rid once and for all of that particular matter, and there were other things which interested them more, locally and nationally. At all events, a great majority was given to the Liberal party. There is no doubt whatever that the country never for a moment dreamt that that party would use its power on such a great national issue as I have mentioned.
A reference was made by the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) to the trick played by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) in 1909, when he got the House of Lords to fall into a trap. That position was used in order to curtail the power of the House of Lords, and the Liberal Government went on to consider that great international issue and to use the curtailment 1575 of the power of the House of Lords for the purpose of passing it. Neither in 1906, 1909 or 1911 did the people of this country have the slightest idea that Mr. Asquith would use his power of curtailment of the House of Lords for the purpose of foisting on my country the Act of Parliament that was passed. Something has been said about the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs gave way, but all parties have used this power, and no one party is to be condemned more than another; nor is the right hon. Gentleman to be condemned any more than a great many Conservatives on this side of the House.
We are examining the Measure to-day from the historical point of view. The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) mentioned our being elected by the people and it being therefore sufficient that this House should decide all legislation. He said he was entirely opposed to the House of Lords. I hold that on a great constitutional issue such as that which I have mentioned, or on a great Bill such as the Government of India Bill, or what I sometimes call the iniquitous Statute of Westminster—I believe that if that had been presented to the people they would never have passed it—the House of Lords is there to protect the people, and to determine the will of the people when the Commons does not represent that will. That has been demonstrated in my lifetime time and time again, when this House has passed legislation which has not had the acceptance of the people. The House of Lords stands as a barrier in order, when its turn comes, to interpret the will of the people. It has done so in the past, and I hope that it will remain to do so in the future.
§ 1.53 p.m.
§ Mr. G. Hardie
I always like to hear the burr of the North Ireland speech from the hon. and gallant Member for Armagh (Sir W. Allen). He has given a survey of the historical methods used in connection with the matter we are now discussing.
§ Mr. Hardie
I expected that retort. I am sorry that people should be so lacking in a sense of humour that they put the 1576 most serious things in life on the basis of a joke.
§ Mr. Hardie
There has been no change from the experience of the past. Some people are never taught by their experience.
I cannot understand how the House of Commons at this time, or any other time, can discuss this Bill seriously. I look upon it as a humorous matter—an idiotic attempt at humour, perhaps. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who spoke last was very serious, but I cannot understand anyone being serious about the hereditary principle. What is it showing now? Half the difficulties facing this country in regard to the need for rushing certain legislation through as quickly as possible are a result of the hereditary principle. You have only to go along to the other place from time to time and look at the hereditary Members in their various forms of mental decay. We have been told—
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present. House counted; and, 40 Members being present—
§ Mr. Hardie
It is quite evident, from the attendance in the House and the anxiety that there seems to be on the part of hon. Members to get away, that there is no real interest in this Bill, and that is why I emphasise what I have already said, namely, that it is a joke—a kind of mental calisthenics, it might be called. One could put up with that if it produced some result, but it does not; and the idiotic attempts at humour that are inflicted upon this House from time to time are receiving their crown by these proceedings.
If there were any argument to put forward for the continuance of anything hereditary, it would have been that those enjoying the advantages that hereditary can confer would always have greater mental powers than the other people, but that is not shown to be the case. The less said about our own Monarchy, going back to the Georges, the better, and the same can be said wherever the hereditary principle is sought to be applied. I cannot understand conscious, intelligent human beings thinking that they are going to get by heredity something born better than is born in what are called ordinary 1577 circumstances. Why do men claiming to be intelligent forget that mental powers of physical powers all come from the same source? While the economic conditions of the poor can destroy both, it has not been shown that where heredity applies, where the silver spoon is in the mouth from the day of birth, it has given any initial superiority anywhere that can be placed to the credit of the hereditary principle. Why should a group of people, because of the accident of birth, have the right to say to the majority of the people of this country what the law should be? There is no sense of democracy in that.
To talk about a corrective Chamber, or a Second Chamber, is to admit at once that the people in the first Chamber have not been doing their work properly. I can see no need for more than one Chamber, because in that Chamber you ought to have the people who know what has to be done and how to do it. A second Chamber involves an admission that there are grounds for suspecting slackness or carelessness of work. An efficient first Chamber is all that is required. Look at what is now taking place. We have been having in the House this week talks about the meticulous examination that is carried out in certain Departments, and yet, when the most ordinary questions are put to find out the results of this meticulous examination, no answer is forthcoming. Does not that show that it is the inefficiency of those who are running these Departments that brings about these mistakes?
Then we come to the question of the ragged way in which Bills are put together, and the trouble that is given to the judges in our courts in their interpretation. Why does not this House get rid of another thing that is even as had as the hereditary principle? Why does it not get rid of legal jargon? The hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) has been showing today that, if you go into the Library and look at the old Acts of the Scottish Parliament, you will find there the decisions of that House written down, and you will see in 10 lines, which everyone claiming to have legal authority ought to study, the whole principle of a week's discussion stated intelligibly and relating all the points one to another. I do not want to say that we are failing altogether in mental acumen, but we see that the 1578 system, so far as legal language is concerned, is decaying in that direction. There has been a tendency to what I might call a sort of diarrhoea of words, rather than putting an idea in concrete form. It is not only confusion of ideas; it is contusion of the mind.
Already, as a layman, I can see the difficulties that would arise if a Measure like this ever came up for comment by a bench of judges. Now we are told the way to get round the 1911 Act and get more power for the House of Lords is to try to get what is called a plebiscite into the hands of the people on a Bill which, perhaps, they have not studied, and yet they are to have the power to say whether the deliberations of this House are correct. Those who speak for the continuation of the hereditary principle are men who belong to a dull period mentally, away in the past. What would have happened to this country if it had not been for the power of the democracy getting these people in their places along there?—Imagine the average mentality. How many are there in the second chamber who really grasp things? Yet we are told that these people who are never in the country finding out the opinions of anyone are those who know the will of the people.
§ 2.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Crossley
I doubt whether Members on any side of the House will take the hon. Member's speech very seriously. I do not suppose he himself intended it to be so taken. I did not quite understand that this Bill was, in fact, about the House of Lords at all. It struck me as a Bill to impose upon local councillors the obligation in certain eventualities, which might occasionally involve the House of Lords, in being the instruments of a referendum—in the words of the Mover a cross section of the population. I have studied the arguments both in favour and against the Bill. I have listened to a very long, most learned and most humorous speech by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten). I listened to a great many what I thought irrelevant remarks by the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) and the hon. Member who spoke last, and I have listened to many other speeches. I regret having failed to hear the hon. Member on the third Bench below the Gangway, whom 1579 I always enjoy hearing and who, I am certain, managed to introduce land values into the discussion.
I believe hon. Members opposite are very much opposed to Fascism. They do not like it. I do not say this as an argument, but it is a strange coincidence. I should like hon. Members to study those countries which have become, or perhaps are becoming, endowed with the totalitarian form of Government. Let them take Russia. The Duma did not last very long. It was a single-Chamber Government. By the Weimar constitution the Reichstag, when it was in fact the Parliament of Germany, was a single-Chamber Government. In Spain the Cortés was a single-Chamber Government. Italy was the only totalitarian state which had double-Chamber Government, unless some hon. Members would call Japan to-day a totalitarian State. That is, to my mind, the strongest argument which leads me to think that there must be a valuable safeguard in second-Chamber Government. We may have adopted the wrong form of second Chamber. Many people to-day would prefer to see a Senate. Not long ago the Secretary of State for War and Sir Cuthbert Headlam wrote a book together pleading for a second Chamber which was largely elected, and only partially hereditary.
In spite of all the irrelevant and rather rude remarks of the last speaker, supporters of the House of Lords would argue that they are a body of men some of whom give up a great deal of their time to public service. They have certain very valuable delaying powers, but no powers to override democracy at the present time. They have only the powers of delay, of making us think twice or perhaps three times. The late Lord Chancellor, Lord Birkenhead said, "If you think three times then you are wrong." I think that those were his words. Members of the other House are average men, very much like us, and many of them come from us. I am reminded that many of them are not even hereditary. Of course, that is true. The law Lords are not hereditary, nor are the Bishops. Indeed, I confess, privately, that if the abolition of the Bishops in the House of Lords was proposed I would vote with hon. Members opposite every time. But that is merely my own private opinion. The hon. Member opposite 1580 talked about legal jargon, and there I felt very much in sympathy with him. When I read the legal jargon of some of the Departments, it makes me shudder. "In the case of John Jones, deceased, the coffin provided was of the usual character." That is a case mentioned by Sir Arthur Quiller Couch in a book he published on English. It is typical of the sort of jargon that is presented by all our Government Departments, particularly the Ministry of Health, and by our local authorities too
In so far as this rather discursive Debate has ranged over a wide variety of subjects, and in so far as it has proved that many of us here hate this gradually growing disease of ministerial and Civil servant and local government officer jargon, it may well have served a very useful purpose. The last remark of the hon. Member to which I would refer was his mention of the "dim and dull periods of the past." Those periods were the periods when we were winning our rights as a Parliament of the realm and the House of Lords helped us enormously to win those rights on behalf of the people. I still believe they played their full share in helping. Does the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) wish to intervene?
§ Mr. Crossley
I should have thought there were many periods, particularly the Lancastrian period when, if the hon. Member will read the Encyclopaedia Britannica, he will find that most of our Parliamentary privileges were first valued in this country; and for the hon. Member to talk about the "dim and dull periods of the past" appears to me to show a lack of historical appreciation on his part. There is one further argument that I wish to advance. This Bill if it passes would impose upon local councils an altogether new obligation. Already local councils are sometimes too much engaged in interfering with the tasks of the central Government and the National Parliament, which equally with them is elected by the people, but for another purpose, and a supreme purpose. I was delighted 1581 to hear the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent (Mr. E. Smith) say that he thought the duty of local councils was to stick to their local politics and to administer their districts in keeping with the law of the land, which was very properly decided by ourselves. I was a little surprised, because practically every resolution on national affairs which I have ever received from local governments has been from councils whose majority was composed of supporters of the party opposite.
For example, I have during the past year received resolutions on armament expenditure—not from my own local authority, because I happen to have an extraordinarily good Conservative one—on nationalisation of industry, on the means test, on foreign policy, and on the League of Nations. All those may be admirable subjects to discuss, but I have never yet understood that, with the exception of the means test, they have very much to do with local government. I was delighted to have confirmation from the benches opposite that they also consider it extremely undesirable that local councils should have their attention distracted to national affairs instead of sticking to that which is much more important to them locally. I am glad to have heard that coming from the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent. Won over by that argument from the general support which I would otherwise give to this Bill, because I believe that it would provide an additional safeguard against rather wild Left Wing legislation, won over by the hon. Member for Stoke. I thought it was proper to give to the House my reasons for not voting at all upon this Bill.
§ 2.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Williams
It is with no discourtesy that I do not follow the last speaker in his mental exercises about the War of the Roses and other matters of that kind. I have been moved to speak on a Bill which I had no intention to speak on when I came to the House. I have been moved to enthusiasm by the rather interesting and exciting speech of my hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander). He opposed this Bill with his usual vigour. We all hoped that we were going to have one of those speeches in which he takes on all corners, and it does not matter who they are as long as it means a war 1582 and plenty of wars. But the hon. Member rather faded away. It is due to the House that it should know some of the things that he might have said if he had shown his usual exuberence. I must quarrel with him by saying that he began his preliminary remarks with an inaccuracy. He seemed to think it was a glorious victory for the Liberal party when the 1906 election had a great deal to do with another place. The 1906 election had almost a purely Oriental flavour and very little else about it. There was the 1910 election. He rightly reminded us of those elections and of the effect of the different position of the two Chambers which has brought about the introduction of the Bill which we are discussing to-day. He reminded us that there were two elections, in the first of which the great Liberal party lost about 100 seats and in the second of which they did not do any better. He reminded us of a glorious victory.
That is exactly where he stopped, and he did not go on to tell us that the result of that election, and of the manipulation and manoeuvres of that election, was to reduce the Liberal party to the satellite group such as I see in front of me. He did not tell us of the constitution of the Samuelite group and of the considerable number who are known as the Labour party, and who, but for their blushes, would be prepared to call themselves Socialists or semi-Communists. I do not know what they like to be called, but that was the result of 1910. If he had been in his usual vigour he might have told us of all the difficulties, until to-day almost the only really vital force in Liberalism is the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). I believe that he is a supporter of the right hon. Gentleman, or is he a follower? He told us that the Bill was either fantastic or silly, or both. A person who claims all the virtues, and says that the Bill is fantastic and silly should explain why it is fantastic or silly.
§ Mr. Williams
No. Really no Member of the House would ever imagine that the hon. Gentleman, with his quiet, militant outlook, was fantastic. No one could ever say that the wars into which he might have flung us or any of these 1583 things would give him the name of fantastic. I entirely withdraw the statement, if he thinks that I intended to say that he was fantastic.
§ Mr. Williams
As the hon. Member claims no virtues, and I am supporting him, I must say that I disagree with him entirely. I may name one. He is the only supporter of the Samuelite Group present and taking part in the Debate this afternoon, and that is a virtue in itself. Why should this Bill be considered fantastic? It is the outcome, obviously, of hard work, industry and care, and if I had to say that it was fantastic, I should say that it was for this reason. I have a very firm belief that the highest use to which the vote of an ordinary man in a democratic state such as ours can be put is to return a Member of Parliament. In this Bill we are taking away the decision from the elected representatives of the people in the House of Commons and giving the final vote to the representatives of the county, county borough, urban district and rural district councils, and the Metropolitan Boroughs. Surely, that is an entire reversal of the ordinary matters of everyday life. When we delegate to local authorities, we do not delegate the most important matters to them. We do not delegate matters concerning the Army or the Navy or the primary features of taxation, but we delegate to them very important things in connection with housing, education and matters of that kind. For that reason, the wrong way to deal with this question is to delegate to a less authority than ourselves the powers which we possess under the Constitution of this country. If I were to say that this was a fantastic Bill, it would be for that reason. Many of us who would like to see a real Opposition in the House at the present time upon definite things, would like to see that good, old-fashioned Liberal principle elucidated even by the hon. Gentleman.
I come to the next point. He went on to attack another place. He admitted that they did nothing in particular, and advocated leaving them alone. I might have done that as a Conservative, as might other hon. Members who are Conservatives, but when you have the so- 1584 called representative of the Liberal party advocating leaving the matter alone and doing nothing, who has no ideas and is so completely bankrupt of thought or anything else, that he advocates merely doing nothing, can one wonder that that party carries little or no weight in this House and still less in the country. I firmly believe that, if our Constitution is to be amended, it should be done not by a private Member on a private Members' day, but in the first place, by the Government of the day, and, in the second place, every possible effort should be made to make the leading constitutional parties of this country take a part in the re-organisation, which they very well could do, if necessary. They are fundamentally capable of taking such a part in consultation with other parties.
Let me point out one or two of the difficulties which would arise if this Bill were passed. It would mean that you might quite easily have a Peer on any of these local authorities. That is a difficulty one should not pass over without any particular thought or care. There are many other points. Why not put in the parish council? Why are the other councils so superior to the parish council?
§ Mr. Williams
I am not dealing with the parish meeting, but the parish council at the present time. Because this happens to be a good system in France, it does not necessarily mean that it would be a good system in Great Britain, and we should not on all these occasions follow what may happen to be good in other places. Why should there be polling from 2 to 6 p.m. just because the only people called upon to poll are local councillors? I can conceive of a case—and there will be many of them—where very excellent miners working, on the shift system or other people so working might find it difficult to record their votes. I cannot see the object of having the ballot at a different time. I should have thought that it should have occupied the whole day, as many things required in an ordinary election are not necessary in this case.
There is another omission. Although the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) bears a name which is well known in Wales, he does not mention Wales in the Bill. Why is nothing to be done so that the ballot paper can be 1585 printed in Welsh in certain Welsh constituencies? [An HON. MEMBER: "He does not know what is in the Bill."] The hon. Member must be very innocent if he thinks that the hon. Member for South Croydon does not know what is in his own Bill. He knows what is in his own Bill and also what is in the Bills of other people. Apparently, he has great confidence in county borough, municipal borough, metropolitan borough and urban and rural district councils. I have been watching affairs, in my own quiet way, during the last few weeks in the House, and I have noticed that a large number of Bills promoted by local authorities have been objected to. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon has any part in that opposition, but certainly hon. Members who sit near him have. If, therefore, local authorities have to be watched so very carefully in these matters, are they really the people to set over us and to guide us in our doings?
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
The objection to certain Clauses of the Bills to which my hon. Friend refers are Clauses in Bills which are prepared not by the members of the local authorities but by town clerks and parliamentary agents, who will not have votes under this Bill.
§ Mr. C. Williams
I know that, but these town clerks and agents if they can persuade local authorities to put wicked things in their Bills now may have influence in the future. We should be careful before we hand over our ultimate destinies to these authorities. Another important point is that there are ever-increasing complaints from local authorities that we give them too much work to do and that they are always wanting more money from the Treasury and cannot get it. What will be the position of these local authorities who want money at the time when they are appealed to to do what is proposed under the Bill? If I had the imagination of any of those great Liberal leaders who never come to the House of Commons, to put the position into words and to draw pictures of the local authorities at the time when they are to be appealed to under this Bill, coincident with their appeals to the Treasury and other Government departments for assistance, I think the position would be very interesting.
1586 Is that what we want to do in the House of Commons? I do not take the view that things should be left alone. That may be all right for relics of the past, who do not want change, but we have plenty of difficulties of our own to solve, and when difficulty comes between this House and another place then will be the time to solve it. So far as I am concerned, although I recognise the danger of the position and the extraordinary brilliance of the speech which introduced the Bill, and which is recognised by everybody, I should like to be told how the Government look at the matter. The Attorney-General is going to speak. Perhaps we may have some guidance from hon. or right hon. Members who adorn the front Opposition bench. We need definite guidance from the Government. We know what is the effect of the 1911 Act, but as far as our party is concerned we have a vast number of able men who are holding constituencies by their own ability, leadership and judgment, and by the appeal that they can make through their work and their character, and if we believe in our cause we need not try to apply new machinery in this way or that. Let us leave that to the parties of the past who are rapidly going.
§ Mr. Williams
Your party expected to win by double the majority, and they are very unhappy about it. I would not have brought in that subject but for the hon. Member, because I do not want to hurt hon. Members above the Gangway. They are a little thin-skinned. I have said nice things about them, which is a good deal more than they deserve. I want to put the real Liberal point of view, which is not the point of view of the hon. relic—I mean the hon. Member, sitting in front of me. It is in the best interests of the country to realise that the House of Commons is the supreme assembly in this country, and if our party is to play its part in this House, as it has done so well from the country's point of view for the last 15 years, we must depend on the work we do in the constituencies. For these reasons I hope 1587 that the Government will not come out as too strong supporters of the Bill, for if they do, I do not know where I might be. The hon. Member for South Croydon has performed useful work in introducing the Bill. Although I agree with him on many things I am sorry that I cannot give the Bill the whole-hearted support which he deserves, but I do not think that the Bill is up to his own merits.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Moore
As the hon. Member is unwilling to accept the suggestions put forward by the hon. Member for South Croydon, has he any alternative suggestions for dealing with this problem, which is interesting the House and the country?
§ Mr. Williams
I am asked for alternative suggestions. If I had any alternative suggestions I should have taken the proper method, in my own time, to say what they were. I am afraid that the suggestions I should make would be entirely out of order, if I made them.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Moore
I appeal for your guidance, Mr. Speaker. Is it not within your privilege to decide what is and what is not in order, and not the privilege of my hon. Friend? He has apparently taken it upon himself to reach a decision as to what would be in order. I appeal for your decision.
§ Mr. Williams
I can assure you, Sir, that I should be the last to dispute your Ruling, but it would not be fair to you if I deliberately got up and said things which were not in order. I think I have been in the House long enough to know what is in order. In answer to the real question put to me by my hon. Friend, I would say that I think at the present time and for the last few years the British Constitution has been a tremendous success. When a thing is a real success and is working well, I do not think that that is the time to go fiddling about with it.
§ 2.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Rickards
May I first congratulate the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams)? I think we have had a very interesting Debate, and we listened to one of the wittiest and most interesting speeches. I would like also to 1588 congratulate the Seconder. I support this Bill, not as a Conservative, but as an Englishman. What is the danger the House of Commons is likely to have to face during the next generation? It has worked well in the past, but we must remember that in Georgian days Members on both sides of this House were drawn from the same class, whether they were Tories or Whigs. I think that one of the enormous advantages which the House of Commons to-day has over the House of Commons of former days is that it is much more representative. Take, for instance, the matter of coal. I have listened in this House with tremendous interest to hon. Members who have worked in coal mines. I was so interested by what they said that never having been down a coal mine I took the opportunity of going down one. I have learned a great deal from those hon. Members.
Just as the Membership of the House of Commons in the old clays was drawn from one class, so there was no great difference between parties. If you read about men like Chatham you will find that it is very difficult to remember whether they were Whigs or Tories. To-day there is a very great difference between parties. It would make an enormous difference if you suddenly replaced capitalism by a non-capitalist system. It is not a question of an extra 6d. on the Income Tax, or an extra 2d. on tea. It is a fundamental difference. The danger is that you may get a big swing to one side or the other. I remember some 30 years ago—this story is against my own side—when the Irish question and the suffragettes were to the fore, a lady came to my wife and said she wished to canvass for the Tory candidate. She said to my wife, "Do you mind telling me, has Home Rule anything to do with votes for women?" If one person in eight changed their political opinions, that change could send 400 Members from one side of the House to the other. That is why I should like to see a check provided, and that is why I, for one, should like to see proportional representation.
Take the case of Spain. I can speak Spanish, and I have lived for a considerable time in Spain. We are told that Spain is divided between Fascists and Communists. My own opinion is that eight-tenths of the people of Spain are neither Fascist nor Communist. They are not Fascists because there is no country 1589 in the world where people are more individualist. The Communists are said to be anti-Christian. There is no country where Christianity is stronger than in Spain. The trouble is that the extremists have got into power. That is why I should always like to see a check. It is not because I am a Conservative. May I ask hon. Members opposite who are in favour of single-Chamber government whether they can point to any time in which, or any country in which, single-Chamber government has been a success?
Let me refer for a moment to the Roman Empire, because we get more of our laws from Rome than from anywhere else. The Roman Republic worked fairly well with only one Chamber, the Senate, but that was balanced by the enormous amount of power in the hands of the consuls and tribunes. That led, in the first instance, to Augustus Caesar, who was a very fine man, but in three generations it led to a position in which the destinies of the country were not in the hands of a very fine man, but of a man like Caligula, who was a criminal maniac. Take the country nearest to us—France. There when we were building up two Houses of Parliament they had a Constitutional Assembly—one House. In that House there were representatives of the nobility, the Church and the third estate. They all sat in one House. What was the result? It was a dead failure and it led, as that position always leads, to despotism under Louis XIV. As usual despotism made a hopeless mess of things, and that led to the French Revolution. The French Revolution started with a single Chamber. What did that lead to? As always, it led back to despotism. They never got equilibrium in France until the Bourbons came back and they had king, church and two Houses of Parliament.
Having bored the House with remarks about ancient times in Rome, let me turn to the most modern State—Russia. After the Revolution, what happened? They started with a single chamber. That led, as hon. Members opposite know better than I do, to the despotism of Lenin and his clique. Now they seem to have gone one step further and, for good or evil, Stalin is just as much a dictator as anybody the world has ever seen. If you have single-chamber government it will inevitably lead, as the history of 2,000 years proves, to dictatorship. Therefore I say that, whether we like the House of 1590 Lords or not, it is better to have two Chambers, and if this Bill will help to make the two Chambers work together, I shall vote for it.
§ 2.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
The speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down has been characteristic of the Debate, that is, it has been far more penetrating in its examination of the subject than many hon. Members expected. It has been a very interesting Debate. I have tried to realise the main and the most serious argument which has been running through most of the speeches of those who support the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams). I think it is the argument that it is possible for this House, after it has been elected, to pass measures which were not before the nation at the election and which, therefore, misrepresent the wishes of the nation, and that in those circumstances the House of Lords should be able to reject the measures and so actually enable the will of the nation to be expressed.
That, I think, is a fair statement of the main argument for the Bill. My view, looking at politics as they are at the moment, is that such an argument is an exaggeration. Nowadays it is really a hallucination. Never have Members of Parliament been so closely watched by their constituents as they are to-day. It is not only our local political associations that are watching us but the newspapers comment upon us day after day, and there are all the other organisations which have been developed in the last generation, employers federations, chambers of commerce, co-operative societies and trade unions. Within half a mile of this House the streets are positively honeycombed with the head offices of these associations, formed to watch us, and having a staff of officials who almost constitute a new profession of their own. In these circumstances I am sure that if any party went far from the will of the electorate the electorate would quickly know it and the party would be punished at the next Election.
One remark is frequently made which, I think, again misrepresents the present electorate. The hon. Member who seconded the Motion spoke about the fickleness of mobs and comparisons were drawn with the island of Melos. That kind of argument nowadays impresses 1591 me as rather old-fashioned. I have fought a good many elections and I have gradually acquired a high respect for the modern elector. I do not know how many elections I have fought, probably about nine, and like many other hon Members I have lost some and won some, but at the end of it I have come to the conclusion, that whatever the result may have been, our modern electorate is rather different from that which controlled our fate when I first entered public affairs. First elections are rather a rag, a sort of joke; you enjoy it. But now elections are a very grim and serious business. You cannot make the same kind of popular, jocular and sentimental speech.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
The subjects which we discuss nowadays go right home to the daily lives of the electors, and they are a much more serious body of people than they were a generation ago. When I come to the Bill I discover that the proposal is that the House of Lords, which is mainly an absentee assembly—I found yesterday by going there that over 300 had not even yet taken the Oath—that this completely unrepresentative body, should be set up in order to protect the people against being misrepresented by those whom the people themselves have elected. That seems a grotesque absurdity.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Moore
Does not the right hon. Member admit that the present House of Lords consists of Members who are largely recruited from this House, members of the great professions and of industry, who have served the State and country well? Does he not think that they are equally as qualified as we are to judge of the country's need?
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
There are, no doubt, able and efficient members in the House of Lords, but only a small minority of them are recruited from Members of this House who have not been successful in deliberations of this House. When I first read the Bill I could not understand its purpose, and it was only when I heard the speech of the hon. Member for South Croydon that I realised what he pro- 1592 poses to gain. He was quite frank about it. He wants to give the House of Lords more courage and confidence, so that they will be able to act against Measures passed by this House with far greater vigour than before. He wants to make them stronger and, incidentally, I notice, without a word having been said by the Mover or Seconder of the Motion about it, that at the end of the Measure they propose to repeal the Parliament Act and give the House of Lords back a power which they have not effectively exercised for 200 years.
What does the hon. Member offer us in return for all this? The hon. Member offers us a referendum which is to be put to the members of local authorities, and that means exactly the same result as is already registered in the House of Lords. The local authorities are elected upon a comparatively narrow and restricted franchise. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] It is more narrow and restricted than in the case of this House. Moreover, as many hon. Members have pointed out, they are not elected on great national issues, but on purely local affairs, and the result, as a matter of fact, is that they are elected largely on personal considerations. Certainly in rural district councils and county councils the men who are elected are those who have sufficient leisure to fulfil the duties and who have comfortable means and local patronage and position. The consequence is that the authorities are overwhelmingly Conservative. I have taken the trouble to find out what this Measure would mean if at the present moment we accepted the hon. Member's invitation and set up the local authorities as a referendum for the Measures passed by this House. It confirms my view, that whatever may be our strength in this House, it is usually far stronger than it is among the local authorities, and that owing to the present special circumstances the local authorities are far more overwhelmingly Conservative than the House has ever been. I will give the House the figures. Out of 62 county councils, including London, four are at present Labour authorities.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
In saying that, does the right hon. Gentleman imply that the other 58 authorities are Conservative? Is it not the case that the elections are not contested on party political considerations?
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
They do it under various names, adapted to the locality, such as "Municipal Reformers" in London. Out of 83 county borough councils, 21 are Labour. Out of 282 non-county borough councils, 20 are Labour. Out of 29 Metropolitan borough councils, 15 are Labour. Out of 667 urban district councils, 86 are Labour.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
From our point of view, that is very much the same. It is a well-known fact that in local elections the Conservatives and the Liberals have combined in most constituencies. Out of 492 rural district councils, 10 are Labour. That is the assembly to which the hon. Member invites us to submit our Measures. This Bill is a Bill to strengthen the House of Lords and to give it power which it has not had in the lifetime of anyone here, and in the House of Lords and the other assembly to put the Conservative party in a permanent majority. We should have the choice of having our Bills rejected either by a majority in the House of Lords or by a Conservative majority in the local authorities. I do not know whether the hon. Member for South Croydon was in the House at the time, but I have sometimes heard him described as a potential Fascist.
§ Mr. Williams
Seeing that I spend most of my time opposing their rotten doctrine, do not see why that should be said of me.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
I see I have offended the hon. Member. The hon. Member would, at any rate, allow us to talk. As a matter of fact, his basic ideals seem to be far more similar to those of the new 1594 Soviet constitution of Russia. There they follow the hon. Member's proposals. There the people are going to be allowed to talk, they are going to be allowed to vote, they are going to be allowed to take part in deliberative assemblies, provided that, in the end, only one party is allowed to rule. The hon. Member for South Croydon is, fundamentally, a Bolshevist of the Stalin type. As he knows, we on these benches have lately rejected an invitation to form a united front with Bolshevists of any variety, and he will understand it, if I tell him, in the most comradely fashion, that we cannot ally ourselves with him on this Bill.
§ 3.11 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)
As far as the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down bases his argument on the firm conviction that his party would never succeed in obtaining a majority of members among the local authorities of this country, I accept the implication. I expect that he is right. My hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) told us that he was a political and masculine Cassandra, always prophesying woe and getting a gloomy satisfaction out of seeing his prophecies fulfilled. I would like to congratulate him on the good spirits which he manages to keep up in spite of the depressing effects of those gloomy prophecies, and I wish to join with other hon. Members in congratulating him on the very interesting and very entertaining speech with which he introduced this Bill.
No one can be long in this House without realising the immense amount of information possessed by my hon. Friend, and also his very great energy. Some people, of course, think that his energy would be better directed in different channels and to that extent qualify any tributes which they may pay to them in that respect. But one thing which I particularly admire in my hon. Friend is his faculty for reading Bills. Hardly a Bill appears which he does not read with the avidity and also with the understanding with which others of us read detective stories. He has a remarkable memory and when he reaches Clause 48 of a Bill, for example, he can still remember what is in Clause 5. He then proceeds to pick a hole in that Bill by showing that there is something in Clause 48 which is inconsistent with something in Clause 5, 1595 and in a high percentage of the cases in which he seeks to pick holes in other people's Bills, he is found to raise points which have to be considered. Now he has produced a Bill of his own and it is the turn of others to criticise.
I join with the right hon. Gentleman who spoke last in saying that although this Bill may not be a great constructive constitutional Measure which is ever likely to reach the Statute Book, it has been the basis of a very interesting discussion. That Debate has touched on a very large number of events of the day, all of them to some extent relevant, though some more than others, to the Bill before the House. We have discussed political history back to 1906, we have discussed the hereditary principle, with a slightly irrelevant aside about fox-hunting, we have discussed the Liberal party, past, present, and future, and we have discussed the activities of the hon. Member for South Croydon. The hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) said he hoped the Government would not come out too strongly in favour of this Bill, because, he said, if they did so, it would put him in a difficult position. I will take this early opportunity of assuring him that he will not be put in that difficult position.
It was not quite clear to me before I heard the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon what exactly was the main idea behind his Bill, but he has made that quite clear, and, of course, he is right in saying that in the event of a dispute between the two Houses, there may be delay and that eventually the Parliament Act may become operative. I cannot help but think that most Members of this House, though obviously not all, will agree, even if they agree with the hon. Member in thinking there is a problem to be solved, that to say that in the event of a difference between the two Houses the local authorities should decide is to put forward a solution which it is very difficult to regard as a workable scheme in our constitution. It has been pointed out that it would cover money Bills as well as general legislation, and that it would be in fact delegating to these outside bodies, elected for other purposes, the ultimate control over money Bills, should there be a dispute between the two Houses. I merely rise to say that the Government 1596 cannot support this Bill, and I do not think I am going beyond my province in saying that, after listening to the Debate, I feel certain serious objections to the proposal in the form in which the hon. Member has put it forward.
§ Mr. C. Williams
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman tell the House exactly how he intends to vote in the event of a division?
§ The Attorney-General
I am not going to vote. My hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon said that he thought there ought to be in our constitution a power which is able to say, "No, you must think again." If my hon. Friend carries this Bill to a division, it would not at any rate surprise me if this House said to him, to use his own words, "No, you must think again."
§ 3.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Levy
I sometimes wonder why, when private Members introduce Bills, they do not endeavour to get the general support, not only of this side, but of the side opposite. This Bill deals with the House of Lords. I remember some years ago a new Member who was successful in the Ballot asking what kind of a Bill he could obtain in order to introduce it to the House. The hon. Member was told there were Bills available dealing with subjects from the cradle to the grave, or, to put it into Parliamentary language, from birth control to the House of Lords. The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) ably explained the procedure on a Bill going through this House. He said that it was examined line by line and would be thoroughly well understood by nearly every Member of the House. I have a suggestion to make to the Attorney-General which I had hoped to be able to put to him before he replied. In order to make my point clear I would ask hon. Members to turn to Clause 5 of this Bill, where they will find a reference to:Sub-section (1) of Section one and to Section two of the Parliament Act, 1911.The point I want to make is that Bills often contain Clauses which refer to Sections and sub-sections of Acts passed in former years, and although he may reply that copies of all those Acts can be found in the Library of the House of Commons it is not always convenient for hon. Members to spend time in the 1597 Library looking up Acts in order to understand a Bill. The suggestion I make is that every Bill should have attached to it—or they should form part of it—extracts from the Sections of the Acts to which the Clauses of that Bill make reference. The majority of Members study Bills at home over the week-ends or when we get an early night, and often it is difficult to understand them, because we have not at hand copies of the Acts referred to in the Clauses of those Bills. I do not know whether it would involve expense or inconvenience to do what I suggest. I am not dogmatic about it, but I would ask my right hon. and learned Friend to give the point his consideration. When a Bill comes before us we ought to be able to study it in its entirety instead of piecemeal. Perhaps he will consider the point. It may be that it has been put to him before, and that there are reasons why what I suggest cannot be done. I am sure that every Member of the House would agree that such an arrangement would be very convenient if it were done. We should then not have to do what we have to do now, that is, refer to the Acts of Parliament which are upon the shelves.
§ Mr. Levy
If the hon. Gentleman has any doubt about any point, I shall be only too pleased to make it clear. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) said on one occasion that if the audience to whom a man is speaking does not understand him, he must not blame the audience but himself, because he has not been lucid enough. If I have not been lucid enough, and the hon. Member does not understand what I am trying to say, perhaps he will give me the query, and I shall be happy to elucidate it.
§ Mr. Levy
I very much doubt whether the Bill will go to a Division, because, I gather, the majority of hon. Members do not support it; but some reform of the House of Lords is obviously necessary. Such a reform must be dealt with by the Government of the day. Many committees have considered this intricate subject, but have usually disagreed upon the fun- 1598 damental principles of the organisation of the House of Lords. It it a complicated matter which requires much consideration. Hon. Members opposite very often say that this country should be governed by a single Chamber, but I think they will, on reflection, come to the conclusion, whether they agree or disagree with the institution, that the House of Lords performs a very useful function.
With regard to the referendum to the county councils and district councils, the figures that the right hon. Gentleman opposite gave with regard to the constitution of these councils were very illuminating. I think that in several cases the electorate are to be congratulated upon the way in which they have discriminated in the election of the members concerned. One might go further and say that the admiration which the majority of people feel for local government bodies can be attributed to the type of councillor that has been elected in the past. There is always one thing to be said with regard to these councils, and that is that, if they do not do their job properly—in other words, if they do not fulfil the promises they have made—the electorate invariably know that, and they are not returned with the same majority a second time. My chief object in rising was to make the point which I have put to the Attorney-General for his consideration, and I hope that perhaps in due course he may be able to give me an answer.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
Having regard to the fact that the object which I had in mind, namely, the ventilation of this subject, has now been adequately served, I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Moore
On a point of Order. Is the hon. Gentleman who moved this Measure entitled to withdraw if there are others who have comments—probably pertinent comments—to make?
§ Mr. Speaker
I am afraid that the hon. and gallant Member did not hear me. I said that obviously the hon. Member had not the leave of the House.
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Moore
I desire to associate myself with the congratulations that have been offered to my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) on his introductory speech. It was one of the most informative speeches that I have listened to in this House. It gave me a knowledge of Parliamentary procedure in the past, and constitutional ideas about the future, which I had not formed before. I am very glad, however, to know that the Government are not going to support my hon. Friend. I think the Attorney-General was perfectly correct when he said that he could not give his vote for this Bill, and for one very pertinent reason, namely, that my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon has in my opinion approached the whole problem from the wrong angle. We all agree that a reform of the House of Lords is necessary, but we all agree, except some hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway, that the House of Lords is essential. We on this side believe that, given some adequate reformation of the House of Lords, it can serve a very useful purpose in the future.
I cannot agree, and I do not think the House itself will agree, with what the spokesman for the Opposition said in criticising the character, qualities and past history of the present Members of the House of Lords. I tried to interject and point out that the present House of Lords includes men of long service to the State who have distinguished themselves in this House. Among them I would quote Lord Snell, and I do not think that any hon. Gentleman above the Gangway will dispute that reference to him. There are in the other House men distinguished in science, in medicine, in the professions, and in industry, who are all qualified by their knowledge and experience and the development of their character to take a part in the legislation of the country equal to any part that we take here. One might say, as some critics above the Gangway have said, and I think the spokesman for the Opposition made a point of it, that there is a class prejudice in the Members of the House of Lords to-day.
One new Member of whom I am proud to be a friend and who has been lately ennobled started life, it is said, at 5s. a week as an office boy. Does that indicate class prejudice? Is it not a thing 1600 that everyone should encourage our boys to look forward to as the result of their efforts? Those are the men to whom the opponents of a second Chamber would deny the right to legislate in the interest of the country. I agree that the present House of Lords is probably over-weighted. As far as I can find out, there are about 700 living members of the peerage. I say "living" because Debrett says they are living, but there is no other proof judging by their attendance at the House of Lords, that they are all living. In that House, for which I have a great respect, as hon. Members can see, I find that then are 200 or 300 active, eager and knowledgeable members who desire to give their best to the State. Why, therefore, should my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon seek this rather cumbrous method of adjusting differences between this House and the other? Why should he not equip the other House, by a limitation of its numbers and an alteration of its composition, to fulfill the functions which he would like to see it perform in the interest of the country? I do not know whether I should be in Order in giving my view as to what that composition should be in case my hon. Friend feels inclined to submit another Bill at a later date which might find more general acceptance.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
Surely my hon. and gallant Friend realises that there are two entirely separate questions. One is who shall be in the Second Chamber, and the other is what are to he the relations between that Chamber and ours. I am attempting to deal only with the latter problem.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Moore
If the second Chamber were altered in its composition there would be no quarrel between us because then we would both have equal rights and equal powers. My hope for the future is that the House of Lords would have the right of challenging, amending, altering or in the end rejecting legislation promoted by this House, and if that drastic step had to be taken by the House of Lords because in a moment of enthusiasm or misguided effort we passed wrong legislation, as we sometimes do, the country would still have the protection of the House of Lords. And, if the position arrived when we were at loggerheads on a vital issue, then would come the referen- 1601 dum, not merely for the sake of tiding over temporary difficulties and involving the country in all these 60,000 ballot papers and 60,000 people to be rescued from their labours in the town and county councils, which to my mind is cumbrous and unnecessary. If we substituted a more competent House of Lords for the present one I believe the Bill would be unnecessary. One might say, How are you to make the House of Lords a more competent body?
§ Mr. Mander
Does not the hon. and gallant Gentleman realise that he is in great danger of being ennobled himself for his services in preventing any discussion on the Peace Bill?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Moore
As I felt compelled to make my small intervention on this Bill, I am doing myself out of an immense pleasure in regard to the hon. Member's Bill, which I hoped to move to reject, so I cannot accept the offer that he holds out that my situation in this House might be altered by nobility because it would remove me from the pleasure I always get from hearing him promote his rather idealistic but quite impracticable measures day after day. No, it is not for the purpose of ensuring that my hon. Friend's Bill is not moved, because I feel perfectly confident that if the Members of the House had heard his speech and then had heard mine in reply, there would have been no doubt in the minds of any hon. Member as to which side to take, for my convincing arguments would have carried the day.
I come to the question with which I was dealing when interrupted by my hón. Friend, and that is the question of how this Second Chamber of ours could be made a more useful assembly. I do not for one moment or in any way assert that it does not fulfil a most useful function at the present time. It does: it serves as a brake on democracy. Democracy has a habit unfortunately of being swayed by passion which is of only a temporary character, and as a result it evolves Measures and gives effect to Measures which on second thoughts and ultimate experience prove to be unsound. The House of Lords gives an opportunity for consideration and thought which is necessary. I am a democrat from the top of my head to the soles of my feet. I am a believer in democracy. The more I see of this House the more I am convinced 1602 that the House of Lords is necessary. Ninety-nine times out of 100 democracy is right, but sometimes it is swayed by passion or temporary emotion and goes wrong. Therefore I feel that in the House of Lords we have that great brake which is necessary to give time for discussion, time for thought and consideration, time for those second thoughts which so often prove right.
Therefore, while I am criticising in a kindly and friendly way the composition of the House of Lords, I do not in any way criticise its existence. I am not for a dictatorship, like hon. Members above the Gangway. They know perfectly well that were we to have a single Chamber here it would inevitably resolve itself into a dictatorship. You have an example on the far side of the Channel, in the Irish Free State. In the Irish Free State they have eliminated the Senate for one purpose only, and that is to give the decisions and dictates of Mr. De Valera widespread and complete domination throughout the country.—[An HON. MEMBER: "He is a decent fellow."]—He may be a decent fellow, and there are many decent fellows in this House, but we would not give them complete control over our bodies and souls. We like to preserve a certain amount of individuality and self-control and independence. I am not going to hand myself over to my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon or to the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton. I am for the individualism that a combination of two Chambers ensures.
I hope that before the Debate ends we shall have an indication from the hon. Member for South Croydon that he has accepted my advice and that he is going to withdraw this unworkable Measure, destroy it, and bring forward with the same eloquence and confidence and the same knowledge, a new Bill embodying some of the suggestions that I have put before him.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams rose—
§ Lieut.-Colonel Moore
My hon. Friend was ready to accept without knowing what suggestions I was going to make. That is not in accordance with my hon. Friend's habits in the past. He usually listens to those who have to speak, and sometimes he profits from them and sometimes he does not. On this occasion he has not even listened. What 1603 are the suggestions that I have to make in regard to the composition of the present House of Lords? I think that one at any rate would satisfy democracy—after all, democracy must in the present day always have its pound of flesh; but primarily one must fix a suitable number for a newly constructed House of Lords, 700 are obviously too many, since they would not be there and 200 obviously too few—so I would suggest having 400. I would divide that 400 into four equal parts. One hundred for the purpose of satisfying democracy would be elected by this House. This House is elected by the people and, therefore, you would have 100 elected indirectly by the people.
I would have the second 100 to be elected by Members of the Peerage themselves; by those who know their own Members and how they have served by their constant attendance and good counsel in the conduct of the affairs of the nation. I would have the third hundred, to adopt my hon. Friend's suggestion, elected by the great county councils and City Councils of this country, the great local governments that have done so much to raise the standard of the country commercially, and from every other point of view. As regards the fourth hundred, they should be elected by the great trade unions, professional organisations, doctors, architects, and Transport House, so as to bring in every section of the community represented in this country into that Second Chamber. Then indeed, you would have a Chamber adequately and fully representing every interest and every outlook, and it would have exactly the same rights and privileges as this House has to-day, in that you would have a second Chamber which commanded the complete support and confidence of the people.
When you had got that Chamber, you could wipe out the Parliament Act, 1911, and give them back again their former duties, privileges and rights, so as to ensure that, should any Measure be produced in this House upon which this country might feel that the House did not adequately and thoroughly represent its feelings, we should have a House with the same rights, duties and privileges to watch over the interests of the country, 1604 as indeed the House of Lords has so frequently done in the past. Very often it has been a better bulwark for the privileges and rights of the people than this House has been. I would like the Bill to be placed on a stronger foundation, and I would ask my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon to think it over again. He has my suggestions. He should also I think introduce into the numbers I have suggested, a further 50 to bring in the Churches. I include the Free Churches as well as the established Church, and I would bring in representatives of the Salvation Army. I would give representation to all who deserve well of their people [Interruption]. No, it would not be a Sunday School. I do not think that that is a particularly bright or appropriate remark. The Salvation Army probably commands more respect and admiration than many hon. Members in this House.
I conclude upon that note. If my hon. Friend will reconsider his Measure, reconstruct and redraft it, and re-submit it with that skill, conviction and eloquence which he has shown to-day, and which, indeed, he always shows, I for one will not only support him but will use such little persuasive powers as I possess to induce my Friends in this House to do the same.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Everard
I am surprised that the learned Attorney-General did not give us a better outline of the Government's views on the House of Lords. If he had been able to make a speech somewhat on the lines of the speech we have just heard, which at least gave us a concrete view, we should have known how the Government stand. The Attorney-General, of course, did not put forward such proposals, because a Bill on the lines adumbrated by the hon. and gallant Member, bringing in the Salvation Army, the free churches, the architects and every conceivable profession, could not be carried into operation. There is, however, no doubt that some alteration in the law and of the constitution of the House of Lords is necessary. It has been promised by different Governments for a long time. In the old days it was said—the words are now becoming stale—that the question brooked no delay. We have had a good many Governments since then, representing all parties, but none of 1605 ťhem has had the courage to put any definite, substantial proposals before the House. There have been one or two Bills pushed into the hands of Private Members to bring fonvard as a sórt of kite flying in the air, to show which way the wind was blowing, and on one occasion a Member of the House of Lords brought forward proposals for the reconstitution of that House.
This is a serious matter for the people of the country. I agree with the last speaker regarding the absolute importance of a Second Chamber. He was perfectly right when he said that we need some curb on our actions. Being human, we are obviously liable to err, and if we have no curb put upon our lapses into the difficulties which we of all parties fall, the people will not look up to democratic Government and to this House in the way they do to-day. I think most hon. Members would agree with me when I say that there are a great many things that the ordinary Private Member of Parliament supports, for which he does not care. That remark applies not only to our side of the House but to the other side, and to the remnants of the Liberal party. Why do we do that? At the back of our minds there is the feeling that if we do not support our party at a given time there may be a general election. The position in that event is, that with the ever-increasing electorate we are put to enormous expense. There are very few Members of this House who can afford to fight two elections in one year out of their own capital. It would be a very serious strain on the trade unions and the supporters of hon. Members opposite to fight two elections in one year. It is with that view always at the back of our minds that we often take a line in which we support the Executive on occasions when we should not ordinarily support them if we were not tied to them.
That is where the House of Lords comes in. On those occasions the Bill goes to the House of Lords. I do not for one moment wish to shield those Members of the House of Lords who take no part in the deliberations of the House and who do not carry out the obligations which high office has placed upon them. I would cut them out to-morrow, if I had my way.
Nevertheless in the House of Lords you have a nucleus of men with, in my 1606 opinion, the best brains in this country who are entirely independent of elections or of any party, or anything else. If they vote against a Measure which they do not like, they do not have to go to an election which will cost an enormous amount of money. They are able to give an impartial vote on the subject as they see it from their point of view. A Member of the House of Lords can disregard the party Whip far more easily than can any Member of the House of Commons. It is because we have these people of outstanding ability in the House of Lords who are entirely independent in the political sense that I suggest that the House of Lords is a very valuable institution when reorganised, and I consider that the Government ought to give serious attention to that matter. If something is not done in that direction, this country may drift on and on with an unwieldy House of Lords increasing in numbers until the people get so fed-up with that Chamber that it will disappear simply because of lack of effort on the part of any Government to reconstitute it. It is, in my opinion, a matter of the utmost possible importance that we should immediately take steps to reconstitute the House of Lords.
Now may I turn for a moment or two to the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith). I was extremely pleased to note that he took such a gloomy view of the effect of the propaganda of the Socialist party in the country as a whole that he looked upon the existing local councils outside London as wholly Tory bodies which were likely to remain so for many years to come. I hope he is right. I must say, however, that when he speaks of the country districts, I think he does not speak with any great knowledge. I happen to be a member of the rural district council in the neighbourhood in which I live, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that as far as that council is concerned I could not tell him whether the members of it are Conservative, Labour or Liberal. They are simply representatives of particular villages, generally people who have lived in their villages a long time, and have great knowledge of the different questions affecting those villages. Nobody has the least idea to what political party they belong, and I believe that is true also of county 1607 councils in the country. I am perfectly certain that in most county councils there is no question of politics.
§ 3.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Thurtle 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 the Question.
§ Mr. Everard
In speaking of county councils I cannot say anything with regard to the London County Council, of which I have no knowledge.
§ Mr. Thurtle rose in his place, and claimed to move "That the Question be now put."
§ Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.1608
§ Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put accordingly, and negatived.
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.
§ Second Reading put off for six months.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 2.
§ Adjourned at Three Minutes after Four o'Clock, until Monday next, 22nd February.