Order of the day read for resuming the adjourned debate on the Amendment proposed by the Earl Cawdor to the Motion for the Second Reading, viz.—
To leave out all the words after 'that' for the purpose of inserting these words: ' A Select Committee to be appointed to consider the suggestions which have from time to time been made for increasing the efficiency of the House of Lords in matters affecting legislation, and to report as to the desirability of adopting them either in their original or in some modified form.'
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships long from listening to those whom we are all anxious to hear, but it does seem to me on all grounds right that something should be said from the Episcopal Bench in this debate. Owing to a variety of circumstances it is undoubtedly the fact that the Bishops today take a less prominent and constant part in the debates of your Lordships' House than was taken by the Bishops of fifty or 100 years ago. A reference to Hansard would make that clear. The main reason—there are several reasons— is the wholly good one of the vast multiplication of diocesan work which necessitates the bishops remaining for the most part in their dioceses.
But as the present constitution of Church and Realm stands the Bishops 4 are vitally concerned in all that affects the House of Lords. Some of your Lordships may have heard comments—I have —upon the fact that in the sentence which prefaces enactments the first reference made is to those who sit upon the Episcopal Bench. The enactment is made by the King—By and with the consent of the Lords, spiritual and temporal, and the Commons.The reason, I suppose, is that, as a matter of mere history, in the various elements which go to make up this House the Lords spiritual were the earliest to have a certain and an assured place. The facts as to the summoning of lay peers to Parliament have varied from time to time. Not all the lay peers have always been summoned, and the position of the lay peer in early days was less assured than in later times as regards the certainty of a place in the deliberations of this House. From the first Bishops were always summoned. Take the office which I have at present the honour and privilege of holding. However inadequately its duties or responsibilities may be discharged this particular office is, as a matter of fact, the most deeply rooted of any in the origins of Parliamentary history and the participation in Parliamentary action. I mention that simply to show how deeply concerned Bishops must necessarily be in all that affects the constitutional life and the constitutional organisation of the House of Lords.
There is, however, another fact which gives the Bishops a distinctive right to speak on any matter affecting the constitution of the House of Lords. We heard a great deal last night about the need of independence and detachment from mere Party ties. I venture to contend that the Bishops, speaking generally, go far towards satisfying that requirement. Whatever may have been the case in the past, there can now be no question at all that the Bishops are largely independent of direct partisan allegiance. With regard to my twenty-five brothers on the Episcopal Bench, I should find the greatest difficulty in stating to which Party all, but five or six, should be assigned. No doubt there is one great group of questions as to which the Bishops have allied themselves in action mainly with the 5 Party now in Opposition—questions affecting the religious life of England and the continuance of the arrangements for its security. But in regard to another great group of questions, questions of social reform, it is indisputably the case now, whatever it may have been in the past, that the Bishops, who are not infrequently spoken of outside as an appanage of the Tory Party, more frequently give their votes to the Liberal than to the Conservative Party.
Take my own case simply as a specimen. Other examples would easily be found.—I have looked into the records of the years which preceded the retirement of Lord Salisbury from the office of Prime Minister—a time when there happened to be no great ecclesiastical questions, but many important social questions—and I find that, out of eleven divisions, I voted eight times against Lord Salisbury and, on two out of the three occasions when I voted with the noble Lord, the front Liberal Bench went into the same lobby. I claim no credit or discredit for those votes. I merely urge that so far as they go, they afford evidence that the Episcopal Bench contributes something to that impartiality or balance upon subjects of general controversy which we are told that this House ought to show.
This being so, the question is—What ought to be the attitude of the Bishops in regard to the proposals now before the House? Personally I have a little I difficulty in understanding why it was specially opportune that the question of the reform of the House of Lords should be raised just now. I am not averse from the question being raised, and I think great good may follow from the debate. But even if the changes that are foreshadowed in the Bill are such as to bring the House of Lords, in theory, more into touch with national life —a proposition which I am not at this stage prepared either to affirm or deny —I am not clear that any evidence has recently been given of the House being specially out of touch with national life.
References have been made to what took place on the Education Bill last year. I should not be at all sorry to take that Bill as the touchstone to decide this particular question. I believe the action taken by the House of 6 Lords on the Education Bill was in consonance, on the whole, with the opinion of the people of England. If the issue, complex and difficult as it was, could have been submitted to the country we might have been proved to be wrong; but my belief is that in regard to some of the details upon which the Government insisted as vital to the Bill, the mind of the country was with those who resisted the Government rather than with those who supported them. I am speaking, of course, of the details and not of the main groundwork and intention of the Bill. Therefore, I am not clear as to what exactly are the grounds upon which at this moment it can be said there is a special necessity or special opportuneness in raising the question of the reform of the House of Lords. But we have now to decide whether we shall give the Bill forthwith a Second Reading, or whether we shall first send the matter to be weighed and discussed by a Committee of the House. Personally I have no doubt that of those two courses we ought to select the second, and adopt the Amendment of Lord Cawdor. Whatever good items there may be in the Bill of Lord Newton, and I think there are very many, for the Bill is exceedingly clever, ingenious, and, as I think, fair, they are not really ripe for our voting upon them without further examination having first been given in the only way in which adequate examination can rightly be given to such a subject. But, if a Committee is to be formed, it must be a weighty and representative one, really adequate in size and importance, and it must take the matter in hand, not with a view of shelving it, but with a view of trying to arrive at a solution of some of the questions at stake.
That being the question before us, the Government cut across it with another proposition altogether. We are asked to wait until we see the Government's proposals for dealing with the question of differences which may arise between one House and the other. I am most ready to listen to such proposals. I think there is a very real need for the consideration of that subject. I am by no means inclined to make light of the difficulties which have arisen or may arise on that question. 7 I confess I have the very greatest difficulty in understanding what kind of proposition is likely to meet that particular case, the more so after hearing yesterday's debate. But the point that is clear is that, however important that question is, it has really little or nothing to do with the question before us at this moment.
Let us suppose that there had been no friction in the past and no chance of friction in the future between the two Houses. The occasions of friction have not been very many, but let us suppose that the two Houses always worked together in perfect harmony; it would still be perfectly possible to say that this House, with its long record of antiquity and its somewhat curious manner of growth to its present condition, might require some reconsideration in the various parts that go to make its construction, and that it might be desirable to secure by some changes, even more promotitude, thoroughness, and efficiency in its work than it at present possesses. The two propositions appear to me to be on totally different lines, and not to contradict or overlap one another in any way. But, if the Government think we could better consider the question of our constituent elements as raised by the Bill if the House knew beforehand what they are themselves going to propose in regard to occasions of possible friction between the two Houses, I wonder why we are not new forearmed and strengthened by being told what the proposals are.
The Government's proposals were list night foreshadowed in somewhat vague and general terms, but with obviously a large reserve of detailed knowledge on the part of the two noble Lords who spoke on behalf of the Government, and I find it a little difficult to understand why if those propositions are already prepared your Lordships should not at once be informed what they are. It was very fairly and truly stated last night by my noble friend Lord Crewe that when those propositions were made it would be necessary that the Opposition in the House of Commons should have ample time to consider them. I quite agree, it is obviously necessary. But would they not have a chance of being con- 8 sidered even more adequately if the propositions were laid before us now, and if they were thus open to examination by the public some little time before the discussion in the House of Commons takes place?
I am certainly not averse from the discussion of possible modifications in the construction of the House of Lords. Indeed there are some parts of the noble Lord's Bill to which I for one cordially assent if it be thought desirable that changes should take place. There is, for example, one comparatively small proposal of the noble Lord which affects the Episcopal Bench, which I have read with great interest. Undoubtedly at this moment, owing to the circumstances of the case, the Bishops are in a somewhat peculiar position with regard to the proportion of the members of their body who have a seat in this House. The Bishops are increasing in number as new dioceses are formed, and it is an indisputable difficulty and disadvantage that at present Bishops newly appointed have to wait many years before they obtain a seat in this House, while it might easily happen that one or two senior members of the Bench who find it more difficult to attend the House would be ready, or even glad, that the younger members should take their place. I believe this House, the Church, and the Bishops themselves would gain if some well-considered and reason able change in that respect were brought about. But that is not to say that, for the sake of effecting a change, one amongst many, which I believe might quite possibly be wholesome, it is clearly necessary now to take the whole matter in hand and, if I may use a disrespectful word, set to work up on a general tinkering of the Constitution.
If the question is brought before us at all, I think it ought first to be considered by a Committee, and if a committee is appointed I hope the weighty words last night of the late Lord Chancellor will be borne in mind, that we are dealing, not with the framing of a new body in a new land, but with an ancient institution which may or may not need reform in some of its details, but which ought at all events to be handled with the utmost reverence, care, and scrupulous regard both to the past 9 history and to the present conditions which attach to the constitutional life of the House of Lords.
There are many things in old structures, whether they be buildings or bodies of men, which probably we would not place in exactly the existing form if we were constructing them anew, but with which the history and life of the country are inwrought, and which we should be very loth to sweep away merely in order to make something fresh and new, and possibly better proportioned. The conditions are analogous to those of the contrast, which I have often felt to be real and significant, between one of our old cities and some new town, say, in the United States or one of the Colonies. For many practical purposes the new town, with its broad, straight, level thoroughfares at right angles is much better suited for such requirements as the rapid progression of tramways, for the provision of central railway stations, and the like; but our old cities, such as Oxford, Winchester, or the City of London itself, with the peculiar angles and twists and turns of their streets, inconvenient in some respects as they may sometimes be, are linked with the English life of the past, and have associations which endear them, indirectly and perhaps half consciously, in the popular regard. The analogy seems to me not an untrue one in considering anomalies which can be discovered in the Constitution of England or of this House, and if a Committee is appointed I trust that the utmost care will betaken, in dealing with the various aspects of the question, to consider not merely the apparent necessities of the passing hour, but the place which we hold in the History and in the life of England.
§ THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
My Lords, as I understand that time this evening is especially valuable I think the House will not desire that I should take up any of its time in commenting upon the weighty and important speech to which we have just listened. I will at once proceed to make those observations which occur to me as necessary upon the position in which we stand at, the moment. Before I refer either to the Bill or to the Amendments of which notice has been given, I 10 desire to call the attention of the Government and the House, but especially of the Government, to the difficult and, as I think, unfair position in which this House has been placed by the course which they have adopted. In His Majesty's gracious Speech from the Throne, the first paragraph relating to the business of the session was as follows:—Serious questions affecting the working of our Parliamentary system have arisen from unfortunate differences between the two Houses. My Ministers have this important subject under consideration with a view of a solution of the difficulty.Reference was made in both Houses of Parliament to this paragraph of the Speech, and it was spoken of in both Houses as the most important question of legislation to be dealt with. It was open to us to infer from those expressions that the proposals which were going to be made by the Government were likely to be of a somewhat drastic character, and I am bound to confess that I heard nothing in the speech of the Lord President of the Council last night which was in any degree inconsistent with that inference.
On the first night of the debate on the Address, the noble Marquess the Leader of this House pleaded for time. He said that the differences between the two Houses which made necessary the consideration of this question by the Government had arisen just previously to Christmas. "What," he asked, ''would have been said if the Government had come down in February with a cut and dried scheme?'' Well, February has passed, March has passed, April has passed, we are now not far from the middle of May, and now we are told that not until after Whitsuntide—and we do not know how long after the Whitsuntide holidays—shall we know what these proposals of the Government are. My noble friend Lord Crewe regretted this delay, and he attributed it to the state of business in the other House. I venture to doubt whether the state of business in the other House is the only cause of this delay, and whether it may not have been in some degree due to the fact that the Government have not, even after this long interval of time, completely made up their minds to come to the House with a cut and dried scheme.
11 My noble friend said that when these proposals were submitted to the other House of Parliament, the friends of this House in that House would require time for their consideration. I cannot admit that. These proposals, whatever they may be, do not directly affect the House of Commons, but they will directly and immediately affect this House, and it is due to this House that they should be laid before us at the very earliest opportunity after they have been formulated. We should have no complaint to make if the Government had come down to this House and told us—as they might have told us, probably with truth—thatthey found this question one of greater difficulty and less urgency than they had supposed at the beginning of the session, and that they had determined to postpone its consideration until another session. But we shall have every reason to complain if the announcement of these proposals is deferred until the fag-end of the session, when, under any circumstances, this House would have scanty time to consider them. We shall have still greater reason to complain if they should be submitted to us concurrently with a number of controversial measures which we shall be called upon to pass under a veiled threat—a scarcely veiled threat—that if differences should arise between us and the other House of Parliament, the Government are prepared with a short and summary way of settling those differences.
The noble Earl the Lord President of the Council has placed upon the Paper a general proposition to the effect that it is inexpedient to consider any proposals for the reform of this House until satisfactory means have been found for adjusting differences which may have arisen between the two Houses of Parliament. But I can find in the speech of my noble friend no word in support of the proposition. In the opinion of my noble friend this is a very good House as it stands, and a House which is able to transact the business which comes before it very well and very efficiently. In his opinion it has only one fatal and incurable defect—a defect which cannot be cured by any conceivable process of reform—namely, that it contains too large a Conservative majority, and that it cannot 12 be relied on to pass without Amendment or without any appeal to the country every measure that may be submitted to it by a Radical House of Commons.
I submit that the question of the reform of the House of Lords and the question of the adjustment of differences between the two Houses of Parliament are distinct and separate questions. I cannot admit that the former could not with advantage be discussed until the other has been disposed of. On the contrary, it is in the highest degree important that if we are about to consider the relations between the two Houses which together compose the Legislature of this country, we ought to have a full knowledge of the existing and proposed constitution of both of those Houses and of the authority which each of them possesses or is capable of possessing. But, by the speech of the Lord President, we are given to clearly understand that the Government intend to have nothing to do with the reform of this House; they have no proposals of their own to make, and they decline to consider proposals which are put forward from any other quarter. We are given clearly to understand that there is nothing which will content them except the unrestricted and uncontrolled legislative supremacy of the House of Commons.
It may be, my Lords, although nothing has yet fallen from the Government which would lend colour to such a supposition, that the proposals of the Government when made to us may involve something of the nature of a referendum. If that should be so, I entertain no doubt that such a proposal would meet, I will not say with a favourable, but with a perfectly fair and candid consideration here. Even if that should be so, I can conceive no reasons why the door should be closed to any attempt to carry into effect reforms in this House which might bring it into closer touch with the other House of Parliament and with the people, and so render resort to such an untried and cumbrous constitutional innovation less necessary or less frequent.
I am not going to inflict upon the House any constitutional essay, nor am I going to try to describe what in my view might be a more satisfactory or an ideal Second Chamber, but I wish in a very few 13 words to indicate what are the elements of strength and of weakness that exist in the present constitution of this House. It is admitted that, in consequence of the exercise of the prerogative of the Crown, this House contains a large number of men of administrative ability and experience, through the inclusion within its walls of men who have rendered good service to the State in civil, military, and judicial capacities at home, abroad, and in the Colonies. The presence of such men cannot but be an advantage to the deliberations of any legislative Assembly.
It is admitted that the House of Lords is not an unpopular institution in the country. The number of Members of your Lordships' House who have previously been Members of the House of Commons is a proof that close connexion with this House is no bar to the confidence and support of numerous constituencies. On the other hand it is, I think, generally admitted now that the almost exclusively hereditary basis upon which this House rests, the absence from it of any representative character, its too close connexion with and over-representation of the landed interest, its comparative dissociation from certain interests, such as industry, commerce, and labour, and the consequent predominance within this House of one political Party, its unwieldy size, involving the occasional attendance of a large number of Peers who take no habitual part in its proceedings, and many of whom may be unfit to do so—it is admitted that these are elements of weakness. I think it must also be admitted that they are elements which bend in themselves to produce that incompatibility of temper between the two Houses which leads to differences, and makes those differences difficult of adjustment.
All these elements of strength and weakness have been more or less recognised by my noble friend Lord Newton in the Bill before your Lordships. But the discussion which has taken place has shown that the concrete proposals contained in that measure have not yet been sufficiently examined to secure for them general acceptance on the part of a very large number of Members of this House. I agree with my noble friend Lord Cawdor that it would 14 be unwise, by giving a Second Reading of this Bill, to commit ourselves at the present time to the acceptance of many of the principles which it contains. I agree with him in thinking that it may be a preferable course to refer these and any other proposals that may be made to the consideration of a Committee such as that which was suggested, unfortunately without result, many years ago by my noble friend on the Cross Benches, Lord Rosebery. I shall therefore vote for the appointment of the Committee suggested by my noble friend, Lord Cawdor, and afterwards I hope to give a vote—which I shall give with far greater satisfaction —against the dilatory Amendment which has been suggested by the Government.
If urgency exists for finding some means of adjusting differences between the two Houses, it has arisen solely from the events which have taken place within the existence of the present Parliament. I am far from saying that a case may not be made out for endeavouring to find some improved machinery by which differences when they arise may be more easily adjusted. But if this necessity exists it is a new necessity. Up to the date of the present Parliament means of settling differences between the two Houses have always been found. The course of progress and of reform has never been permanently obstructed by the action of this House. This House has never permanently thwarted the clearly expressed will of the country, even in matters in which it held distinctly different convictions and opinions. Instances are not wanting in which experience has shown that this House has been a more faithful and more accurate exponent of the real will of the people than the House of Commons. Take the case of the last reform of the House of Commons. It is true that this House delayed the passing of the Franchise Bill; but it delayed it only for one session, and almost simultaneously with the passing of the Franchise Bill in the next session a Redistribution Bill was passed, to the great satisfaction even of the House of Commons and the great satisfaction of the country.
I am not surprised that not much reference has been made by speakers on the Government side of the House to the 15 history of the Home Rule Bill. I hope that this House and the country will not forget that history. No more striking and conclusive proof of the advantage and necessity of a Second Chamber—even an unreformed Second Chamber—has ever been given than that afforded by the history of that measure. If that measure had been passed it could never have been repealed except through the stress of something approaching to revolution or civil war. But for the action of the House of Lords that measure would have been passed; and it would have been passed, as the result has proved, against the will of the country. The Government are again raising the question of Irish Government, but I shall be very much surprised to find that even this Government or this House of Commons proposes to reintroduce either the Home Rule Bill of 1886 or that of 1893.
The action of this House in the case of the Act for the disestablishment of the Irish Church was a proof that it did not hesitate to defer to the clearly expressed will of the people, even when that will was decidedly opposed to their own strong convictions. I desire to call attention to the canon which was laid down in the most weighty and authoritative words by the late Lord Salisbury in the debate upon that measure, a canon which I believe this House not only acted upon then, but has been prepared and is still prepared to act upon on any similar occasion. Lord Salisbury said—Again, there is a class of cases, small in number, varying in kind, in which the nation must be called into counsel and must decide the policy of the Government. We must decide by all we see are und us, and by the events that are passing. We must decide, each for himself, upon our conscience and to the best of our judgment, in the exercise of that tremendous responsibility which at such a time each Member of this House bears, whether the House of Commons does or does not represent the full, deliberate, and sustained convictions of the body of the nation. But when we once have come to the conclusion, from all the circumstances of the case, that the House of Commons is at one with the nation, it appears to me—save in some very exceptional cases, save in the highest cases of morality, in those cases in which a man would not set his hand to a proposition though a revolution should follow his refusal—it appears to me that the occasion for the action of this House has passed away, that it must devolve responsibility upon the nation, and may fairly accept the conclusion at which the nation has arrived.16 So long as this House accepts that canon for its conduct I do not believe it can go far wrong. Cases may arise in which it makes mistakes in forming its view as to the true opinion of the people. It may from time to time interpose delays in necessary legislation; it may cause friction irritating to the Party which may be in power, but it will never permanently obstruct the settled will of the nation, and it will never permanently obstruct legislative reforms clearly and evidently desired by the people, even if in some cases those reforms may be, in its opinion, unwise.
My Lords, that is the extent of the claim made by this House. This House has never claimed, and it does not now claim, to act upon its own convictions in defiance of the opinions either of the House of Commons or of the nation. So long as this House remains an integral part of the Legislature of this country I trust that it will so remain in fact, as well as in name, and that it will continue to discharge those duties which are the true functions of any Second Chamber, and will use its judgment, where the gravity of the case requires it, to secure that the will, the true will, of the people should be ascertained, and, when it is ascertained, that it should be acted upon.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
My Lords, I can truly say that when I contemplated this debate, and almost throughout its course last night, I had no intention of adding to the intolerably long speeches which at various times I have addressed to your Lordships on this subject. But the very genial and kindly references made in the course of the debate last night to my former action in this matter made it appear to me, on reflection, unseemly to give a silent vote, and therefore I am anxious to explain the grounds of my action this evening. I speak as a Member unencumbered by the responsibilities of either front bench; I speak entirely as one who has addressed himself in former days to this subject, and as one who has spent some forty years more or less in this Chamber, without having had any option of being a member of any other.
Now, we have three propositions before us, because I regard the proposal of Lord 17 Heneage as depending on that of Lord Newton, and therefore I class them as one. And so I take, in the first place, the Bill of Lord Newton. I do not think we can express in words our indebtedness to my noble friend for bringing this subject forward. If this Bill had no other operation it has at least furnished an interesting and suggestive text for a debate not unworthy of the traditions of this House, and in itself I think it contains many valuable suggestions not, as the noble Lord himself admits, entirely original, but furnishing a compact code for the House of Lords reformer, which he may carry in his pocket, if he may not carry it elsewhere.
I am sorry, therefore, that I am unable to vote for the Bill. My reason for that is exceedingly simple, and though some noble Lords have spoken very freely of their intention not to vote for the Bill I do not think they have given the reason which I must allege for refraining from doing so. My view is this, that, under present circumstances, a Bill of this kind is not a practical measure. Who can look at the present structure and condition of the House of Commons and believe for one moment that even if the Bill were passed unanimously by this House —of which, I may say, I do not see the slightest prospect—it would stand the least chance of securing even a First Reading in the other House of Parliament? I do not believe it would get beyond the Bar of the other House. I am not at all sure that it would get through the central lobby, such are the feelings by which the majority in the House of Commons are animated towards this highly respectable Assembly. And therefore I do not think that it comports with the dignity of this House to address itself seriously to a measure which deals so largely with its internal constitution and conditions, only to send it down the lobby to be kicked out and treated with contempt by the other House of Parliament. That, I think, is a complete and sufficient reason, whether we agree with the provisions of the Bill or not, for not voting for the Second Reading on this occasion. It will, I take it, be one of the documents which will he put before the Select Committee which has been moved for by my noble friend Lord Cawdor, and therefore it will receive the same examination that 18 it would receive from the Committee of Lord Heneage. To pass the Second Reading, to continue the discussion upon this Bill, to carry it in a practical form and send it down a concrete Bill, approved by this House, to be treated with contumely by the other House of Parliament, is not a course, I confess, to recommend itself to me.
Now, I come to the proposition of my noble friend Lord Cawdor, which I view with a gloomy satisfaction. I view it with satisfaction because I have myself twice endeavoured to bring forward a similar proposition before your Lordships, and on each occasion I was defeated by no less than two to one. On the first occasion I received the resounding rebukes of both front benches. My own leaders chastened me with no unsparing hand, and I need hardly say that from the Conservative benches the buffets were not unequal to those of the Liberal front bench. On the second occasion I did succeed in obtaining the somewhat reluctant support of my own leaders, but I again encountered the stern and unbending resistance of Lord Salisbury, whose name we all remember with respect in this House. It is therefore with extreme satisfaction that I read on the Notice Paper the Motion of my noble friend, and feel confident that under these better auspices the Motion of which I first dreamed twenty-three years ago will at last be carried safely into port.
I said a gloomy satisfaction. My gloom does not arise from any jealousy of the success of my noble friend as compared with that of my own futile efforts. That was not in my mind. My gloom arises from another circumstance. In the year 1888, when I urged this question upon your Lordships, I devoted the greatest part of my speech to urge upon you the question of opportunity. I begged of you then, when a Conservative Government was predominant and all-powerful in both Houses of Parliament, not to neglect that opportunity which might not occur again. I was wrong; it did occur again. It occurred in the ten years of Government which lasted from 1895 to 1905. Those two golden opportunities have been lost. I do not know that they will ever return. But 19 I hope, without desiring too ardently the success at the polls of my noble friends behind me (the Opposition) that an opportunity will recur, and that they will avail themselves of it if there be still time to reform what are, at any rate, the somewhat glaring anomalies of this House.
Now I come to the third proposition on the Paper, to which, though it was moved by a distinguished relative of my own, I confess I am not able to give any more cordial benediction than it has received from other quarters. It would have given me unbounded satisfaction to pour the humble ointment of my praise over him, and to say that his Amendment both satisfied my logical sense and was congenial to my own opinions. But I confess the more I think of it the more it seems to me that that Motion has nothing whatever to do with the Resolutions which were moved from this side of the House. What have the relations of the two Houses to do with a question of strictly internal reform? I want you to consider for a moment the analogy of the other House. The House of Commons has passed in the last eighty years three great Reform Bills, all for the purpose of broadening the basis upon which it rests, and so immeasurably increasing its own power. Suppose on each one of those occasions the House of Lords had demurred from even considering that project of reform until the relations between the two Houses had been adjusted. I should like to know what would have been the treatment accorded to that demand by the House of Commons.
We had already a difficult position to maintain in dealing with those Bills as it was, but if the proposition of my noble friend the Lord President is correct, then the case for making that demand to the House of Commons is infinitely stronger than the demand of the House of Commons (which, after all, is that voiced by my noble friends opposite), to have our internal reform postponed to the adjustment of our relations. Why? You might have said to the House of Commons, "You go on increasing your own power by this Bill, you are adding strength to strength, you are completely overshadowing us, you have 20 entirely deranged the balance which was intended by the Constitution to be established between the two Houses; what compensation do you propose to give us for that? In what way do you mean to adjust the relations between the two Houses, so that they may remain as they were originally intended to be by the Constitution?" That would have been a legitimate demand. But now, after centuries in which the House of Lords has existed—and existed, in my opinion, to its own detriment—without any tangible effort of reform, when it does pluck up its energies and resolve upon appointing a Committee for inquiring into the best means of making itself more efficient, down comes the Government, and at its back the House of Commons, and says, "No, we shall do nothing of the kind; we place you under an exhaust receiver until we are inclined to take other measures."
The metaphor has often been used, and not unfairly used, in this discussion that we are engaged in an ill-assorted marriage with the other House of Parliament. Let me work that metaphor out in connection with this subject for a moment. We are engaged in a singularly ill-assorted marriage with the House of Commons at this moment. Sometimes it happens that, when a Conservative Government is in, the relations between the couple are more as they should be. But suppose, taking that metaphor to be the fact, a husband were to say to a wife, or whichever the predominant partner of the marriage is—and I am not prepared to dogmatise on that subject—supposing the predominant partner were to say to the weaker partner—and no one denies in this House that the House of Commons is infinitely the predominant partner, if only from its power of the purse—supposing the predominant partner were to say to the weaker partner, "I must tell you frankly that I observe your endeavour to amend your ways with the greatest dissatisfaction. I am promoting a divorce suit against you "—not improbably in an American Court—" and it does not answer my purpose that you should amend your conduct so as to impede my course and to make the court less inclined to decide in my favour." Would not the weaker partner be justified in replying, 21 "You are at perfect liberty, as you like, to endeavour to adjust our relations to your own special wishes, but for heaven's sake do not prevent me adjusting myself!" I honestly think that this is a fair definition of what the Government's position is in regard to this matter.
I think we have some right to complain that this ancient House, with it roots deep down in the past history of England, roots which, I do not think, are immediately likely to be wrenched up, is not to be afforded any opportunity of reconsidering its own constitution until the Government in its wisdom, before or after the Whitsuntide holidays, or some time in August or during an autumn session, whenever it may suit their purpose best, shall think fit to declare their intentions with regard to us. I hope my noble friends opposite will not object to my saying that their course in reference to this House has not been wholly free from ambiguity. It may remind some political humourist of the immortal course taken by Mr. Snodgrass on a famous occasion—Mr. Snodgrass, in a truly Christian spirit—I wish to give you the exact words, not my own imperfect recollection—and in order that he might take no one unawares, announced in a very loud voice that he was going to begin, and proceeded to take off his coat with the utmost deliberation.It was on 20th or 21st December that the Prime Minister, in a speech of which I have no reason to complain, because I think it extremely probable that in his position in the House of Commons I should have wished to make the same speech myself, said—The resources of the British Constitution are not wholly exhausted, the resources of the House of Commons are not exhausted, and I say, with conviction, that a way must be found, a way will be found, by which the will of the people expressed through their elected representatives in this House will be made to prevail."A way will be found," says the Prime Minister, but months have passed over us and bleached our heads without any announcement being made. The way that has been found has been a subterranean way so far; I hope it will not prove to be a mine. But, at any rate, it is not, perhaps, an adequate or satisfactory way of dealing with a great constitutional 22 question. It has been followed by warm speeches which usually announced, in their perorations, that, though the House of Lords was a detestable thing in itself, yet there was such complete confidence in the energy of the Prime Minister and the plan that he had in his pocket that there would be no difficulty in dealing with it when the time came. This complete confidence in the Prime Minister has now subsided into complete silence and a constant series of inadequate postponements. I myself, and I think many of your Lordships, have expected almost daily since the session began to see the Prime Minister marching to the bar of this House like a second Cromwell, followed by such civic and municipal attendants as he thought it right to engage, and, walking up to this table, saying, in the old spirit, "Enough of this foolery" and bundling away the mace under his arm like an umbrella. As a matter of fact, we have had no such appearance, no such historical scene, no such advantage as that. We have only had the concrete plan of a well-known and eminent journalist which has received its meed of discussion in a leading article in The Times and is, I trust, not unworthy of a mention within the walls of this House. The plan propounded was this—I think The Times discussed it seriously or I should not have thought of mentioning it—that the existing Members of the House of Lords, those who wished to continue to sit here, should each pay £400 a year, which should be devoted to finding satisfactory stipends of £300 to the other House of Parliament. That was the plan, which, I believe, is to be submitted to The Hague Conference. That would indeed have been a glaring and glowing exemplification of the old expression, "Robbing Peter to pay Paul." There would have been two Houses—the House of Peter and the House of Paul. The House of Peter would have been the contributory slave to the House of Paul. How long the funds would have been found adequate, how long the gentlemen who were prepared to pay £400 a year for doing nothing here and licking the feet of their oppressor would have lasted, I myself am not in a position to state; but I rather think that, if the stipends of the House of Commons had depended 23 on the £400 a year raised from surviving Members of this House, they would have had a very meagre salary indeed.
I am sorry to say that the Government, not having adopted this plan, which promised such commercial advantages to the other House, are beginning to be suspected of a somewhat more insidious and sinister strategy. There is a gradual suspicion growing up—I am sorry to say it has long lurked in the guilty recesses of my own mind—that the constant series of measures of a somewhat drastic character affecting property which are almost daily promised by the Government, and which, in view of the legislative embarrassment in the other House, constitute somewhat of a puzzle to their own supporters, are not intended so much for the benefit of agriculture or of society as a whole as for the purpose of what I may call "snowballing" your Lordships' House. The calculation appears to be that if enough of these measures are introduced and flung at the head of this House, oven though it may not be possible to carry them out to a legislative conclusion, at last the victim, faint and damp and shuddering, may be induced to succumb.
When we look at the record of the Government's legislation on land we shall see that they are not wholly free from suspicion on this account. Last year English land engaged their attention. How did they deal with it? I remember very well the way in which my old master, Mr. Gladstone, dealt with questions like this—the exhaustive, painful, conscientious inquiry with which he embarked on those measures, some of which your Lordships cid not approve, but which at any rate bore the marks of laborious and conscientious investigation. That is not the course of my noble friends opposite. Something had to be done, so they picked up by the wayside the derelict Bill of a private Member—so private, indeed, that, to my great regret, he has altogether ceased to be a Member of Parliament—and brought it under the consideration of Parliament with the greatest pride, as of a hen which has aid an unusually large egg, as the product of their own unaided ability. In some mysterious recess of Parliament, I think it was in Grand Committee, this 24 Bill, which was wholly unsuited and without any relation to the Scottish system of agriculture, was extended to Scotland, and there you had a British Land Bill passed by the Government in its first session.
But that has not at all satiated their energies. Land is now to be dealt with in the second session in both countries again, without, so far as I know, any greater inquiry, any further investigation, or the slightest evidence of any requirement for it. In Scotland there is a great but silent enthusiasm, which has communicated itself only to the Prime Minister and the Lord Advocate, for a measure which shall extend the most disastrous form of agriculture known to mankind, the Highland crofting system, to the prosperous regions of the Lowlands. I do not say that that is altogether without support. I study the Scottish Press, and I find one constant and unvarying source of support, and only one. It is that which comes from those particular Socialists who are called the "single taxers," who write ingenious letters in support of this measure in the western papers and sign themselves "Single Tax." I do not say these measures may not be very good when they have been sufficiently revised, but I only point out that the constant series of introductions of these measures, which never seem to go much further in their legislative progress—and, after all, we are near Whitsuntide and little has been done—are evidence that the Government is rather disposed to what I may call "snowballing" the House of Lords by measures of this kind than of attacking it in face and in front. I do not altogether blame the Government for this course, because I know myself from bitter experience the difficulty of dealing with the House of Lords. In 1895 I was extremely anxious to appeal to the country on the subject of the House of Lords, but none of my then colleagues were willing to address a similar appeal, and so it came to nothing. And all appeals of that kind must necessarily come to nothing unless you can stir the country sufficiently in your favour to make that movement irresistible.
There is one point in this matter not hitherto alluded to in course of debate; it is this—that whatever the measures 25 contemplated by the Government may be, however drastic, however radical they may be, they cannot be carried into effect without the consent of this House—except by a revolution. I, in my own humble efforts at reforming this House, never disguised this fact for a moment, that you cannot constitutionally override the will of this House except by a revolution. There was a revolution—a suppressed revolution—in 1832;the House of Lords was wise, and averted it; but you cannot, without a revolution, however peaceful, however bloodless it may be, overcome the resistance of this House constitutionally by the act of the other House merely. This point is, I suppose, familiar to my noble friends, and I hope they will bear it in mind in bringing forward their proposals for the revision of the relations between the two Houses. You cannot do this unaided; they must have the consent of this House; they must be able to stir up a feeling in the country to override the prejudices and the resistance of this House. It is for that purpose, I think, these various measures have been brought before Parliament. Beyond that point we are not particularly concerned to-night with the policy of His Majesty's Government; they have no suggestions to make in this debate except that it is ill-timed, and that they have something to put forward at a later period.
I am anxious, passing from that aspect of the case, to say a few words as to the deliberate conclusions I have arrived at in this matter after a longer study of this question, perhaps, than many noble Lords have been able to give to it. These conclusions are three, and I regard them as fundamental in the consideration of this question. The first consideration, I am afraid, will not recommend itself to the noble and learned Earl behind me, whom, I think, we heard with so much pleasure last night in full vigour, and in the echoes of whose voice I seem to think lingered a conviction that he was the last of the real Tories; and a real Tory, an honest Tory, and a Tory who is not afraid to speak his mind will always be a highly respectable character in any Assembly. But I am sorry to say I do not believe with him in the perfection of this House, and am constrained to think that its mainly hereditary constitution, however well it may work in practice—of 26 that I say nothing—is wholly impossible logically to be defended.
Again, as the noble Duke in his weighty speech has pointed out, the constitution of this House, owing to its great hold on property, and especially on land, has made it distinctly a Conservative Assembly. The noble and learned Earl last night, I remember, quoted with approval the axiom of John Bright that if you want to change the majority you must try and convince it into Liberalism. Well, I wish my noble friends opposite long life and all the prosperity that long life may give them as Ministers and men, but I do not in my wildest aspirations look forward to the day when they as live men will convince the House of Lords to Liberal opinions and bring a majority to that side of the House. I am afraid that if ever that should happen they will be like the Struldbrugs in Gulliver's Travels, doomed to lead a not altogether happy, but immortal existence.
The next proposition which I put forward is perhaps more congenial to noble Lords behind me, it is this—that the country, the thinking part of the country, would prefer a House of Lords unreformed to no Second Chamber at all. I think no one who has watched the course of a general election, which turns so often on temporary or even trivial matters, would wish to see a great majority in the House of Commons the sole disposer of the liberties and conditions of life of the nation. I will take two cases, telling against each side, and I cannot be more impartial. There was the case of the election of 1900, which was certainly carried out on the question of giving the then Government the strength to carry the war to a successful ending, and if ever there was a clear mandate it was that. It was afterwards utilised, as all Governments have, I suppose, utilised elections, for purposes widely different from that which inspired the election. Again, at the last election, as my noble relative, I think, said last night, the result was due to three causes—one the cry about Chinese slavery, another free trade, and another the education question. Well, there can be no doubt that my noble friends opposite will extend their mandate considerably beyond these matters and would be faulty if they did not; but no one can say 27 that the will of the nation was only consulted as to these special subjects at the general election, and that the representation of the country would be complete if there were no Second Chamber to check a majority so far as it can. I believe, then, that this House is better than no second Chamber at all, though I should like to see very considerable ameliorations in it.
I am sorry to say my third conviction is, perhaps, more painful to the self-love of the Liberal Party than either of the others preceding it. I am convinced by long experience that there can be no reform of this House except with a Conservative Government in power. The Liberal Party do not for obvious reasons wish to reform the House; I always found that my greatest enemies to that reform—I am not speaking of those in this House—were my Liberal friends in the House of Commons. They feared any reform which would strengthen this House; that was the last thing they wished, and that is natural in view of the permanent constitution of this House. Well then, a Tory Government, or a Conservative Government, is the only Government that can carry through a reform of this House—but will it? Is it in human nature for a Conservative Government to do so? When they are in power, what is more convenient to them than the constitution of this House? Surely it is perfectly obvious, however high you may raise the political standard of duty, a Conservative Government, when it comes in, will find more pressing, more urgent questions to deal with than this problem, which in any hands must be a difficult and thorny one.
But, my Lords, is there not a third party to this question beside the two great Parties in the State? It seems to me that there is a part of the nation which has a right to some consideration at the hands of both Parties, and of your Lordships as well; I mean that, thinking part of the nation who do not care to concern themselves very much with Party politics, but take a deep interest in the stability of our institutions. I cannot doubt that the thinking part of the nation desires a Second Chamber, more efficient and more logically defensible than this, more elastic, more 28 judicial, less partisan. I said more elastic, perhaps I should say more sympathetic. This House does not seem to me, and it has not seemed to impartial observers, to be sufficiently susceptible to influences from the nation itself. There was one speaker last night, I will not name him at hazard, for I might make a mistake, who put this immobility of the House of Lords as a special virtue and seemed to think that the more it resembled Stonehenge, a circle of stones immovable in character, impervious to changes of time and surroundings, the better the House of Lords would be. I cannot concur in that view of the House. I think of what happened recently. A great wave of feeling swept over the country—I am not going into the causes that brought this about—a great wave of feeling swept away the then Conservative majority in the House of Commons, and substituted an enormous majority of the other Party in its place, but that wave of feeling left this House absolutely unchanged, unmoved. Some few Peers were, no doubt, by the prerogative of the Crown introduced, but one swallow does not make a summer, or even a few. It takes a long time for a new Peer to become acclimatised to this House, and I cannot honestly think that the presence of the new Members of the House has very largely leavened it in the direction of popular demand.
When I say that the thinking part of the country would like something more judicial and less partisan, I think I express what is in the minds of many Members of your Lordships' House, even of those sitting on this side; they would desire to see a more judicial attitude towards large questions than is to be found in this House. It is a matter not of authoritity, it is almost a truism, that the House of Lords hibernates when a Conservative Government is in, and only wakens to life and action when Liberals come into office. That cannot be a safe constitution for this House. It cannot be one upon which you can firmly base a properly constituted Second Chamber. Of course, I know it will be said if a Liberal majority formed the permanent majority in this House we should hear no complaint from Liberals. That is perfectly true. I am perfectly certain that if my noble friends had behind them a party of 400 Peers they would 29 not attempt to reform this House, or readjust its relations with the other House. But then we should have the same complaint from the Conservative side. They would not be satisfied with the framework of this House, and we should be no better than we are at present. The inference I draw from what I have said is this—that if it be true that in either case there would be complaint of the Party character of this House, we should endeavour to keep out as far as possible the Party element from this high discussion with regard to our constitution and our future. It has been, I think, on the whole conspicuously absent from this debate. There has been more freedom of vision on all sides of the House than I ever remember in a discussion of this kind. Surely, it is not too much to hope, after the discussion we have had, that the House will lift itself higher than the level of Party, to a purer atmosphere, freer from prejudice, but not altogether aloof from the views of common men upon this earth, and devote themselves to this question without political bias, and with a sole regard to what is due to the nation, to the Constitution, and to the venerable Assembly in which they sit.
§ LORD COURTNEY OF PENWITH
My Lords, I feel that in rising to address your Lordships for a few moments at this point I am at a great disadvantage. I cannot hope to produce anything analogous to the wit and the felicity of language of the noble Earl who has just addressed you. What I have to say will be in unstudied and dull periods. I am one of those who have been described by the noble Earl as not sufficiently acclimatised to this Assembly. But I crave your Lordships' attention for a few moments while I follow up the speech of the noble Earl, with many of whose arguments I am in agreement, by questioning its practical wisdom.
What was really the conclusion to which the noble Earl arrived? It was that the reform of this House is most desirable in its own interest, that a Second Chamber is most desirable in the interest of the nation, but that reform can only be effected under a Conservative Government, and that a Conservative Government would never undertake the 30 duty. In other words, we are landed by the noble Earl in a position of complete impotence. Faults and defects are confessed, but we live in such a charmed circle that forces which could operate for good in removing them will not operate, and those who desire to effect some change are powerless for the purpose.
The first practical question before your Lordships this evening is the comparatively narrow one, whether or not we should give the Bill before the House a Second Reading. For my part I shall support the Second Reading of the Bill, because it will go some way, though a little way, towards a reform of this Chamber. The late Matthew Arnold once said of this Assembly—The House of Lords takes up subjects too late, and when it takes them up it takes them up too feebly.If your Lordships send the question to a Committee instead of reading the Bill the second time you will be expressing the opinion that the subject is one to talk about, and not one to act upon. The defects pointed out by the noble Earl, and by the noble Duke in his eloquent speech, which expose this House to prejudice, which tend to diminish its authority, which make it an object of vulgar and ignorant talk, those very defects you are making permanent by refusing to take a step which may, at least, be one towards amending them. The noble Earl who has just sat down presented to the outer world the spectacle of a man who admits that something should be done, but thinks that nothing can be done with the machinery in hand; and he proceeded to raise a new prejudice—I was greatly astonished at his action —against this House by picturing your Lordships as trembling almost with anxiety at the prospect of the sort of legislation which will be sent to you by the present Government.
I agree with Lord Rosebery, and with other noble Lords who have addressed us, that there is nothing in the suggestion that the relations between the two Houses require reconsideration which should at all interfere with our undertaking now the question of reforming this House. If you improve the character of this House by removing the defects which 31 excite outside criticism, by dropping out Peers who ordinarily take no interest in the business of this House, by restricting its numbers so as to render them manageable—if in this way you improve the constitution of this House you largely assist in the improvement of the relations between the two Houses. I deprecate the statement made by the noble Duke that what is intended is to give an uncontrolled and unrestricted authority to the House of Commons. I believe the majority of the House of Commons do not desire that; the nation does not desire it, and I am quite sure that His Majesty's Government are not going to make any proposition of that kind. We have the famous dictum of Lord Salisbury, that this House does not defer to the other House because a large majority in that House votes on a particular question, but defers to the predominant sense of the people; and it may be that in that way we may find a solution. In my view, as I have said, there is a danger of making permanent the attacks upon the House which have been denounced as vulgar by refusing to take a step which, small though it is, will at least be a step towards amendment. Because I wish the House to remain as a Second Chamber, because I wish its authority to be higher, and because I wish to clear it of the prejudice which now attaches to it, I shall go readily into the lobby to vote for the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I know there are reasons for which it is desirable that this discussion should not be too much prolonged, and I shall not long stand between your Lordships and the division. I should have risen, if for no other reason, because I desire to express the great pleasure with which we listened to the speech delivered by my noble friend on the Cross Benches, and our satisfaction that he should have determined, as he put it himself, not to give a silent vote on this important question, which he has made so much his own.
I did not observe that some passages of his speech were received with equal rapture upon the other side of the House. They must, at any rate, have dispelled from the mind of the Lord 32 President of the Council the idea which he expressed last night, that there was some unreality about this debate. I do not think I have ever listened to a debate in this House of which the complaint that it was unreal could less be made. There was certainly no sign that the feelings of profound alarm with which some of my noble friends regard any attempt to deal with the constitution of this House were simulated feelings nor was there any trace of insincerity in the proposals laid before us by my noble friend Lord Newton and those who think with him, and who so earnestly desire that some effort should be made to add to the efficiency of this House and to increase its hold upon the confidence of the country.
We have been told that this discussion is in some respects inopportune. I do not share that feeling. I know that some of us may think, considering the violence of the manner in which this House has lately been denounced, that there is something undignified in our taking up the question of House of Lords reform at such a moment. I trust your Lordships will not be deterred by any feeling of that kind from taking up this question and considering it, if you think it one you really ought to take up.
Then it is suggested to us that we ought to await the production of the Government scheme. How long are we to wait for the production of the Government scheme? The proposals of His Majesty's Government are proposals semper cedentia retro. I do not wish to travel over the ground dealt with by my noble friend on the Cross Benches or to remind your Lordships of the prominence given to this subject in the gracious Speech from the Throne, or of the repeated postponement of the important announcement which we were led to expect. What reason is there for which we should await the production of the Government scheme? We do not know what that scheme is, but we know what it is not. We know that it is not a proposal which overlaps the proposals of Lord Newton. That has been made abundantly clear. The proposal of my noble friend is one designed to increase the efficiency of your Lordships' House; the colleagues of the noble Marquess 33 opposite have made the public well aware that it is very far indeed from their intention to do anything of the kind.
At one time I made a collection of those interesting obiter dicta, but they became so numerous that I abandoned the attempt to keep it up to date. But I do remember one of them very distinctly. The speech was made by Mr. Harcourt and he told his hearers that what concerned the Government was that this House should be rendered "inoperative." That was the word used, so that the Government are really pledged to this— that they will not only not increase the efficiency of this House, but they will do what they can to make it inefficient.
My feelings of alarm were certainly not diminished when I listened to the speech of the Lord President of the Council. I thought that the words in which he endeavoured to reassure us were very ominous words. He told us that we should find that the Government proposals still left the House of Lords with a wide field of usefulness, and either he or the First Lord of the Admiralty explained that that usefulness was to be found in the task of assisting the House of Commons. I am afraid, to use a simile suggested by the topics of the day, that your Lordships will find that this wide field of usefulness on closer inspection proves to be a very small holding indeed.
In my view the moment is not an inopportune one for discussing these questions. I agree with the noble Earl on the Cross Benches that what we have to bear in mind is the manner in which this important question is regarded by the thinking part of the people of this country, and I believe that that thinking part of the people are at this moment very largely occupied with the problem of the position of this House, and I for one am glad that we should endeavour to make our contribution to the solution of that problem. It is satisfactory to know that there is a very large amount of general agreement as to the lines upon which a reform of this kind should be dealt with. I believe that there is virtually no difference of opinion as to the necessity of a Second Chamber. I doubt whether on any 34 platform in this country, you would be able to maintain the thesis that in this country of all countries we could do without a Second Chamber. We sometimes refer to the precedents afforded by other countries, but I go so far as to say that if there were no question of precedent, that if this country stood entirely alone, it would be necessary for us to have a Second Chamber, and an efficient Second Chamber. I say that for this reason, that I believe there is no other country in which things are left so absolutely and entirely at the mercy of the chance majority of the day.
It is not only that the Statute-book is left at the mercy of that majority, but the very Constitution of the country is left at their mercy also. There is literally no limit to the extent to which what the late Lord Salisbury called the prerogative of destruction can be exercised by the majority of the day, and I am strongly under the impression that the danger is one which, far from diminishing, increases with every year that passes. One of our great safeguards against rash and ill-considered action used to be found in that privilege of free discussion upon which Englishmen so greatly pride themselves, but with every session of Parliament the limits of free discussion become narrower and narrower. I am not here to say that the guillotine and the closure, both of them by the way not English words, may not be necessary, but I state the fact, and I contend that the frequent use of those two terrible weapons renders it more necessary than it ever was before that there should be some check upon the omnipotence of the elected House of Parliament.
Another practical safeguard is tending to disappear—I mean the control exercised by the Minister over the legislative programme of the session. What do we see? The noble Earl on the Cross Benches has described to you the manner in which during the last few months measures of the utmost importance have been taken up heedlessly on the spur of the moment, by the Government of the day, in spite of the fact that they were not in the Government programme, and could not under any possible circumstances have received the previous examination which they 35 demanded. And so it conies to pass that the majority of the day, consisting, as it must often consist, largely of men entirely untrained to Parliamentary life, has at its foot the whole of the institutions of this country. I therefore assume, as I believe anyone may safely assume, that what the people of this country desire is that we should have a Second Chamber, and that it should be as efficient as possible for the work that is assigned to it under the Constitution.
Now, what is that work? Here, again, is it not fair to say that there is a very general agreement? None of us claim that this House should have the power of permanently obstructing the will of the people of this country; we claim for it that it should have the fullest opportunity of revising and examining the legislation which comes to it, the fullest opportunity of ensuring that the opinion of the country has not been misrepresented. We want a House of Lords which shall stand between the country and a rash and ill-considered decision, and which shall in doing so have behind it in full measure the confidence of the people of this country.
It is from that point of view that we ask ourselves whether the present constitution of this House is or is not capable of improvement. I am one of those who think with Lord Newton that there is room for improvement, and that it is our duty, at any rate, to investigate this question with an open mind, to see whether it is not possible to do something to increase the efficiency of this House, to give it a more representative character, and to secure for it an even larger measure of public confidence than that which it at present obtains. I say that not because I believe that the country desires to see radical changes made in the constitution of the House; certainly not because I believe that your Lordships have any reason for repenting of the manner in which you have lately dealt with measures coming from the other House of Parliament; but because I do believe it should not be beyond our power to deal effectively with some of what I cannot help regarding as the imperfections of our present system.
We have been told by speakers on the Government Bench that the great 36 defect of this House is that it tends to become an appanage, as it is called, of the Conservative Party. When that complaint is made I ask myself what is the ideal Second Chamber which the Lord President of the Council has in his mind. Does he think that it would be possible to invent a Second Chamber which would always be in harmony with the Government of the day, no matter what Party may be in power? Or does he think that by any conceivable means you might have a House of Lords which should be Liberal when the Government is Conservative and Conservative when the Government is Liberal? It passes the wit of man to conceive that any such arrangement should be possible. Then what is it which the noble Earl and those who make this complaint mean when they bring that charge against this House? Is it not simply this—that the House of Lords is sometimes not able to see eye to eye with the Government when the Government is a Liberal Government?
I believe it, however, to be historically incorrect to say that this House has constantly stood in the way of legislation desired by a Liberal majority in the House of Commons. To establish that you have only to look at the legislative achievements, let us say, of the year 1906. His Majesty was advised to take credit for the long list of measures which passed through Parliament last session. Do your Lordships imagine that those were measures which would have been introduced and passed if a Conservative Government had been in power? A great many were measures which did not at all commend themselves to us in this House, but we recognised that they came to us supported by great weight and authority in another place, and we passed them, merely making such Amendments as were needed to make them worthy of a place on the Statute-book.
It is, therefore, a gross misrepresentation of the acts to say that this House is always to be found impeding and obstructing Liberal legislation. If your complaint is that we do not swallow your legislation in globo, then I say that you cannot devise any self-respecting Second Chamber which will be so complaisant as that. What a remarkable admission was made by the 37 Lord President last night when he said that in his view, no matter how courageously we amputated useless branches of this Assembly, no matter how vigorously we; supplied it with new blood from outside, it would still remain an obstacle in the way of the kind of legislation which he and his friends desired. That point was admirably put by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Robertson, whose brief speech contained as much pointed argument and wit as I have ever heard collected in so short an utterance.
What, then, are the weak points which we have to take into consideration? I should say that what the House of Lords most suffers from is that it does not always do its work so well as it might, and that it often seems to the public outside to do it less well than it does. We have in this Assembly a vast weight of experience and authority, but I admit we are not always successful in bringing the whole of that great weight of wisdom and authority to bear upon the subjects which come before us. And this House is not entirely to blame for that. To my mind that result has been largely due to the conduct of the Government of the day. There has been constantly denied to this House the opportunity, to which it is entitled, of dealing carefully and deliberately with measures brought to it from the other House. That has been a crying evil in the past, and we on this side cannot divest ourselves of some responsibility in thy matter; but never within the recollection of any Peer has that scandal been allowed to rise to such proportions as it reached at the end of the last session. At this moment we are threatened with a recurrence of that scandalous state of things—a recurrence which can scarcely fail to be upon an even more formidable scale. You have only to look at the program me of legislation announced at the beginning of this session, to consider the progress which has been made with that programme, and the fact that we have already almost arrived at the Whitsuntide holidays, and then to ask yourselves what chance there is of the business of the year coming before us either this summer or in an autumn session under circumstances which will render it possible for us to cope with it in a decent manner. I hope that is one of 38 the questions which will be covered by the reference to the Committee proposed by my noble friend Lord Cawdor.
Looking in other directions, I hope the Committee will be able to devise some means of regularising the practice under which the work of the House is practically transacted by a limited number of Peers who make it their business to keep in touch with public affairs. To my mind, if this House has suffered in pubic estimation, this has been largely due to the apparent indifference of so large a number of the Members of your Lordships' House. I am not going to suggest that the whole 600 Members should be here night after night, but I do say that public opinion is shocked when upon rare occasions what I may call "the regular forces" are reinforced by "the territorial army" that obeys the summons of my noble friend Lord Waldegrave.
I have always been one of those who have been glad to see this House reinforced from time to time by the addition of life Peers. A large amount of new blood comes to us from time to time, and adds usefully to our ability to transact, our business. But it is added in a somewhat haphazard fashion, and it may sometimes be said that the services rendered by those who are thus made recipients of the highest, honour are not always so obvious as they might be to the public outside.
To-night we have to choose between two policies. The policy of the Government is, as I understand it, that these anomalies, the existence of which they do not deny, should remain uncorrected. They desire that these anomalies should continue to exist, and that they should be available as part of the stock-in-trade of the frequenters of public platforms. They are accordingly, unless I misunderstood the noble Earl opposite, going to boycott the Committee which Lord Cawdor desires to have appointed. On the other hand, they have concealed either in the recesses of their minds or in the pigeon-holes of their Departments, some scheme which shall greatly restrict the powers of this House, and presumably convert it from being a Chamber with powers analogous to those of the other House into something which I have heard 39 described as little better than a debating club.
Our policy is surely the wiser one. We do not see our way to support the Second Reading of Lord Newton's Bill, although I for one welcome the courageous attempt he has made to grapple with the question. But there are features in his Bill which would not be acceptable to many of your Lordships, and I think we should approach the question with a better chance of dealing with it satisfactorily if we take the step advised by Lord Cawdor, and refer the whole question, including the Bill, to a specially appointed Committee. As to the spirit in which that inquiry should be approached, I agree with every word that fell from my noble friend on the Cross Benches. I trust that the Committee will address themselves to their task with a feeling not that they are called upon to invent a new constitution for the House of Lords, but they are to deal—and to deal respectfully—with an ancient institution which has done much good in the past, which, I believe, has a large hold upon the confidence and good will of this country and the position of which we on this side of the House, at any rate, desire to strengthen as far as we can.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (The Marquess of RIPON)
My Lords, the noble Marquess who has just sat down has intimated to us that there are reasons which render it desirable that this debate should be brought to an early conclusion. I therefore find myself in a position not altogether free from difficulty, because I should have liked to make some observations upon the remarkable speech of my noble friend on the Cross Benches, and particularly that strange imagination which led him to say, in his picturesque language, that the Government are engaged in "snowballing" this House. But time will not permit that I should follow him in that portion of his speech, and I will therefore refrain from doing so.
One point which struck me in the whole course of this debate was the complete and rapid conversion of noble Lords opposite to opinions which they have always hitherto repudiated. If you look back fat the history of the attempts 40 which have been made in this House from time to time to do something to improve its constitution, you will find that they have been one and all repudiated by noble Lords opposite at the time. From the day when this House, by what I have always thought was scarcely a constitutional proceeding, refused to allow Lord Wensleydale under a patent of a life Peer to take his seat here, down to the time when they were deaf to the siren voice of my noble friend on the Cross Benches; to the time when they actually set aside and repudiated the small proposals of their own great Leader and forced Lord Salisbury to abandon them, and down to the present moment, they have always been opponents of reform in this House. I am not an opponent of there form of this House; the ground upon which we object to the course which is now being taken is that we think that your Lordships are about to engage in this inquiry without that full knowledge of all the circumstances of the case which will enable you to come to a satisfactory conclusion.
We are very much indebted to Lord Newton for having brought this proposal before us, but I think that the present moment is inopportune. While I firmly believe that Lord Newton does desire the reform of this House, and while I recollect that he gave public notice of his intention to deal with this question in the present session before this session began, I am bound to say I do not think the same eager zeal has been manifested by others. There was one noble and learned Lord who spoke manfully, as he always does, of his opinions, but most of the others who have spoken in favour of reform, and particularly the noble Marquess who has just sat down, were very cautious as to what they said. The noble Marquess appeared to me to defend that which is the forefront evil of the present constitution of this House—that is to say, that the vast and overwhelming majority here is of one Party. I do not want to use strong language, but I venture to say that is a state of things that is utterly intolerable; it is completely out of date, and it has nothing to do with the present temper of the country and of public opinion. It is that great evil, amongst others, that requires reform.
41 But why do we ask you not to undertake this work at this moment? It is not because we do not wish noble Lords to reform this House; it is because, in the circumstances of the present moment, you have not, and you cannot have, the whole of the materials before you upon which you ought to form a judgment. When the proposals of the Government are made in the House of Commons with reference to the mode of dealing with differences between the two Houses, then your Lordships will see how you can best deal with those proposals and fit them in your scheme of constitutional reform if they commend themselves to your Lordships. It is surely admitted that it is a great evil that important measures should be lost by differences between the two Houses.
There are only two modes by which that question can be brought to a solution. One is by some arrangement for settling differences at the time and at once, and the other is by the process of a dissolution. That is really what is in the minds of a large majority of this House—that the people should have an opportunity of expressing their opinion upon measures of which you do not approve. What you mean, practically, is that this House should be able to force a dissolution. I venture to say that is no part of the function of this House. I cannot admit a remedy of that kind, a remedy which you can put in force whenever you please. So long as there is in this House a permanent majority of one Party you cannot expect a Liberal Government, or the House of Commons, to permit you to have a claim to force a dissolution whenever you please. You know that the time would come when the majority in this House would think an advantageous period had arrived for a dissolution, and the result would probably be that they would strive, by throwing out some measure, to force that dissolution upon the country. That is a process to which His Majesty's Government can give no aid; it is a process which they feel bound, on behalf of the country, to resist; and it is a process fraught with the greatest inconvenience and wholly unsatisfactory in its probable results.
We have had in the course of this discussion allusions to what was the 42 question that had to be decided at the last general election; and we have been told that there were three great questions before the country. Supposing that you insisted upon a dissolution, and public business was checked until it was brought about, do you really think you could have a sort of referendum at a general election? When the general election was over it would be easy to say, "This was not the question that was submitted to the electors, it was that." It is not only an objectionable method of settling questions of this kind, it is a method which in many cases would settle nothing at all. Therefore we feel that you should wait until you know what are the principles of the proposals of the Government in regard to differences between the two Houses, and then, with full knowledge of the facts of the case, proceed upon the inquiry which you desire.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, I do not rise for the purpose of exercising the right of reply, but rather for the purpose of meeting what I believe to be the general desire of the House. I ask your Lordships leave to withdraw the Bill. My reason for doing so is not that I am convinced by the arguments of my opponents, but that I rely upon the assurances of my noble friend, the Leader of the Opposition that the proposals in this Bill will be considered before the Committee. I do not profess to consider the appointment of this Committee an absolutely ideal solution of the question, but I am not going to stand upon forms. I will endeavour to console myself with the fact that this Committee is better than nothing at all, and, so far as I know, nobody before me has succeeded in obtaining even that concession.
§ Motion for the Second Reading, and Bill (by leave of the House) withdrawn.
§ Moved, "That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the suggestions which have from time to time been made for increasing the efficiency of the House of Lords in matters affecting legislation, and to report as to the desirability of 43 adopting them either in their original or in some modified form.— (Earl Cawdor.)
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (The Earl of CREWE)
I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name on the Paper.
To leave out all the words after the word 'That' and to insert the words, 'in the opinion
§ of this House it is not expedient to proceed with the discussion of various proposals for reforming the constitution of this House until provision has been made for an effective method of settling differences which may arise between this House and the other House of Parliament'"— (The Earl of Crewe.)
§ On Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," their Lordships divided:—Contents, 198; Not-Contents, 46.45
|Canterbury, L. Abp.||Lindsey, E.||Blythswood, L.|
|Lucan, E.||Boyle, L. (E. Cork and Orrery.)|
|Norfolk, D. (E. Marshal.)||Lytton, E.||Braye, L.|
|Bedford, D.||Manvers, E.||Brougham and Vaux, L.|
|Devonshire, D.||Morley, E.||Burton, L.|
|Grafton, D.||Morton, E.||Carysfort, L. (E. Carysfort.)|
|Northumberland, D.||Mount Edgcumbe, E.||Cheylesmore, L.|
|Richmond and Gordon, D.||Munster, E.||Clements, L. (E. Leitrim.)|
|Rutland, D.||Northbrook, E.||Clinton, L.|
|Wellington, D.||Orford, E.||Colchester, L.|
|Saint Germans, E.||Crofton, L.|
|Abercorn, M. (D. Abercorn.)||Scarbrough, E.||Dawnay, L. (V. Downe.)|
|Ailesbury, M.||Shrewsbury, E.||De L'lsle and Dudley, L.|
|Bath, M.||Stamford, E.||De Mauley, L.|
|Camden, M.||Stanhope, E.||De Saumarez, L.|
|Hertford, M.||Stradbroke, E.||Deramore, L.|
|Lansdowne, M.||Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.)||Desborough, L.|
|Salisbury, M.||Verulam, E.||Dormer, L.|
|Winchester, M.||Waldegrave, E. [Teller.]||Douglas, L. (E. Home.)|
|Zetland, M.||Westmorland, E.||Dunmore, L. (E. Dunmore.)|
|Wharncliffe, E.||Ellenborough, L.|
|Amherst, E.||Faber, L.|
|Ancaster, E.||Churchill, V. [Teller.]||Forester, L.|
|Brownlow, E.||Colville of Culross, V.||Gage, L. (V. Gage.)|
|Cairns, E.||Cross, V.||Hare, L. (E. Listowel.)|
|Camperdown, E.||Falkland, V.||Harris, L.|
|Carlisle, E.||Halifax, V.||Hatherton, L.|
|Carnwath, E.||Hardinge, V.||Hawke, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Hill, V.||Hay, L. (E. Kinnoul.)|
|Cawdor, E.||Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.)||Heneage, L.|
|Clarendon, E.||Hindlip, L.|
|Cranbrook, E.||Iveagh, V.||Hothfield, L.|
|Dartmouth, E.||Knutsford, V.||Hylton, L.|
|Darnley, E.||Milner, V.||Inverclvde, L.|
|Dartrey, E.||Ridley, V.||Kelvin, L.|
|De La Warr, E||Selby, V.||Kenry, L. (E. Dunraven and Mount-Earl.)|
|Derby, E.||Bangor, L. Bp.||Kenyon, L.|
|Devon, E.||Kesteven, L.|
|Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch and Queensberry.)||Abinger, L.||Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.)|
|Addington, L.||Knaresborough, L.|
|Drogheda, E.||Alington, L.||Lawrence, L.|
|Ducie, E.||Allerton, L.||Leconfield, L.|
|Dudley, E.||Alverstone, L.||Leigh, L.|
|Egerton, E.||Ampthill, L.||Llangattock, L.|
|Feversham, E.||Ashbourne, L.||Macnaghten, L.|
|Fitzwilliam, E.||Ashcombe, L||Manners, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Atkinson, L.||Meldrum, L. (M. Huntly.)|
|Halsbury, E.||Avebury, L.||Middleton, L.|
|Hardwicke, E.||Barnard, L.||Monson, L.|
|Harewood, E.||Barrymore, L.||Montagu of Beaulieu, L.|
|Harrington, E.||Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Monteagle, L. (M. Sligo.)|
|Jersey, E.||Belper, L.||Monteagle of Brandon, L|
|Kilmorey, E.||Biddulph, L.||Mount Stephen, L.|
|Mowbray. L.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.||Stewart of Garlies, L. (E. Galloway.)|
|Muncaster, L.||Robertson, L.|
|Muskerry, L.||Rosebery, L. (E. Rosebery.)||Sudley, L. (E. Arran.)|
|Newton, L.||Rosmead, L.||Suffield, L.|
|North, L.||Rothschild, L.||Templemore, L.|
|Oriel, L. (V. Massereene.)||St. Levan, L.||Tennyson, L.|
|Oranmore and Browne, L.||St. Oswald, L.||Teynham, L.|
|Ormathwaite, L.||Saltoun, L.||Tweeddale, L. (M. Tweeddale.)|
|Playfair, L.||Sanderson, L.||Tyrone, L. (M. Waterford.)|
|Poltimore, L.||Sandys, L.||Wemyss, L. (E. Wemyss.)|
|Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.)||Seaton, L.||Wenlock, L.|
|Ranfurly, L. (E. Ranfarly.)||Shute, L. (V. Barrington.)||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
|Rathmore, L.||Sinclair, L.||Wolverton, L.|
|Ravensworth L.||Somerhill, L. (M. Clanricarde.)||Wynford, L.|
|Redesdale, L.||Stalbridge, L.|
|Revelstoke, L.||Stanmore, L.|
|Loreburn, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Aberdare, L.||Headley, L.|
|Allendale, L.||Joicey, L.|
|Crewe, E. (L. President.)||Boston, L.||Knollys, L.|
|Brassey, L.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Ripon, M. (L. Privy Seal.)||Burghclere, L.||Overtoun, L.|
|Cole brook, L.||Pirrie, L.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Coleridge, L.||Reay, L.|
|Carrington, E.||Dunning, L. (L. Rollo.)||Rendel, L.|
|Chesterfield, E.||Elgin, L. (E. Elgin and Kincardine.)||Ribblesdale, L. [Teller.]|
|Chichester, E.||Eversley, L.||Save and Sele, L.|
|Craven, E.||Fitzmaurice, L.||Sefton, L. (E. Sefton.)|
|Kimberley, E||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Portsmouth, E.||Glantawe, L.||Tweedmouth, L.|
|Russell, E.||Granard, L. (E. Granand.) [Teller.]||Wandsworth, L.|
|Temple, E.||Weardale, L.|
|Hamilton of Dalzell, L.||Welby, L.|
|Esher, V.||Haversham, L.||Winterstoke, L.|
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.