HL Deb 27 April 1910 vol 5 cc760-5

My Lords, I rise to ask His Majesty's Government whether they will grant a Return stating—

  1. 1. The number of Bills brought before the House of Lords, whether introduced in that House or the House of Commons, from 1906 to the present time.
  2. 2. The number of such Bills passed by the House of Lords.
  3. 3. The number and titles of such Bills, which having been before the House of Lords, were dropped by His Majesty's Government.
  4. 4. The number and title of such Bills rejected by the House of Lords.
I have ventured to ask for a Return which seems to me to be of very great importance, and as there exists some little misunderstanding as to what precisely I ask for, perhaps I may be allowed a short time in which to explain.

In the first place, I would like to point out that what I refer to are public Bills. One of the principal reasons given for the destruction of what is known as the Lords' Veto is the unfair treatment that Liberal measures are supposed to receive at our hands. This is a very grave charge, and in view of what is before us I think it is desirable than an official statement should be given showing what we have actually done. We have had experience of the difference between general statements and particular statements. The former, of course, are not always very easy to meet, but the experience we have had of the particular statements that have been made against individuals is that almost in every case there are important omissions, and often gross misrepresentation, which entirely alter the character of the charge that is made, and refutation is a simple and easy matter. Perhaps I might be allowed to state my own experience.

Your Lordships will remember that there was a campaign of Peers during the last General Election in which many of your Lordships took a not inglorious part. I was one of those who took part in that campaign, and I am bound to own that the exaggerations which I met with made my position one of considerable difficulty. Take the many decorative posters that offended the artistic eye during the whole of that campaign. In localities where a peer was known it did not very much matter, because the people knew what to expect and were not disappointed; but in localities where Peers were not known there was a considerable amount of disappointment when the audiences realised the difference between a Peer in the flesh and a Peer on the posters, and I think many of them were inclined to agree with the description of this House which was given by Mr. Redmond. Speaking soon after the Prime Minister spoke at the Albert Hall, he referred to the fact that for the first time for over a century the Nationalists had the best opportunity they had had of trampling on and tearing up the Act of Union, and the only obstacle in the way were three or four hundred common-place, obscure, unrepresentative old gentlemen. The audiences on those occasions would always listen to what one had to say, and while they could judge for themselves of the exaggerations in the posters they felt that there might possibly be an equal amount of exaggeration in the picture of the Peer as painted by the speakers on the platform. I should like to take this opportunity of recording my own experience with regard to those who differed from my political opinions in the audiences I addressed. I had occasion to address audiences sometimes consisting of a majority of those opposed to me in politics, and in no single instance did I fail to meet with courtesy and fair play.

What is it we are charged with? In the first place, we are told that our motives are always mean, selfish, and sordid. The attribution of motives is not a very powerful argument, because, obviously, no one knows our motives but ourselves, and if others accuse us of sordid and selfish motives we can imagine where they get their ideas from. Then we are supposed always to be opposed to progress. That is absolutely untrue, and for proof that it is untrue you have only to compare the Statute Book of to-day with the Statute Book as it was on the accession of the late Queen Victoria. I will undertake to say that in no country during a period of the same time has there been so much social progress, so much improvement in the conditions and in the welfare of the people, as has taken place in that time in this country. When I was a Member of the House of Commons it was an interesting controversy between the two parties as to which Party was responsible for these measures of improvement; and while I do not propose to argue that point now I think I can safely say that the Unionist Party have no need to be ashamed of its share. But no matter which Party has the credit for the inception of those measures, your Lordships have the credit of having passed all of them.

Then we are told that we set ourselves against the will of the people. That is not true either. We always endeavour to carry out the wishes of the people, but we always like to make certain what really is the will of the people. It is a remarkable fact that when in 1906 a large majority of the electors supported the Liberal Party, they were then supposed to show great intelligence and political integrity; but when, after four years experience of a Liberal Government, they changed their opinions and voted the other way in large numbers, then we are told that it is beer in the boroughs and feudalism in the counties. The reason of the change, my Lords, is neither beer, feudalism, plural voting, nor undue influence. We say that the reason for the change is to be found in the disappointment felt by the electors at the failure of the Government to carry out the lavish promises made at the last election and distrust of the methods employed.

Again we are told that we are the lethal chamber of Liberal legislation, and if I am granted the Return for which I ask, we shall have all these matters definitely shown to the public. If this House is the lethal chamber of Liberal legislation, at any rate the death rate is not a very heavy one. There was a letter written by Lord Avebury the other day in which he quoted from an article in the Fortnightly Review, from the pen of a Liberal, in which it was stated that 236 measures had passed the House of Commons and of these 232 had also been passed by the House of Lords. Therefore in view of the difference between these two estimates it is of very great importance that we should have a definite and official statement as to what actually has taken place. We cannot forget that there are great changes promised in the future the result of which no one can foretell. If those changes are to come, I maintain that they should not be produced by vague general charges incapable of substantiation, but that, in fairness to your Lordships and in the general interests of the country, the facts should be fairly placed before the electors.


My Lords, I hope the noble Earl will not press for this Return. As the guardians of the paper and ink of this House, we are bound, I think, to consider what the real value of such a Return as this would be. The noble Earl devoted a considerable part of his speech to matters which he would be the first to admit do not directly concern this House—namely, what he describes as the exaggerations and misrepresentations which accompany electioneering campaigns—although I am glad to know that he himself always met with the cordial reception which I am confident, knowing something of the neighbourhood in which the noble Earl lives, would be certain to meet him everywhere. But when you come to this particular Return, would it have any real meaning or value? As I understand, the noble Earl's one argument in favour of granting the Return is that if it is possible to show that you have passed two or three hundred Bills and have only rejected four or five, then the case as to undue harshness in regard to Liberal legislation is disposed of. Is that so? I will put a parallel to the noble Earl. His return for some reason only goes back to 1906. I think the starting point ought to have been 1895. He would find that during the years 1895 to 1906 no Bill coming from the House of Commons was rejected in your Lordships' House.


That is just the reason I did not ask for the Return from that year. I knew there were none.


Supposing during that whole time only three Bills had been thrown out by this House, and those three Bills had been the Education Bill of 1902, the Irish Land Bill of 1903, and the Licensing Bill of 1904. It is quite true that an enormous preponderance of Bills brought up from the House of Commons would have been passed by your Lordships' House, but the result would have been that no important measure of the then Government would have been allowed to pass into law. My argument, therefore, is that the purely numerical test is an absolutely misleading one. If it is of any value to the noble Earl to say at one of his public meetings that the House of Lords passed 300 Bills and only threw out four, he can say it. I do not think it is a very difficult argument to dispose of, or that it really meets the gravamen of the charge brought against your Lordships' House. Therefore I do not think that such a Return would have any real value, and in view of the fact that it would be actually misleading I must ask the noble Earl to be good enough not to press for it.


My Lords, I was rather surprised when I heard the noble Earl who leads the House express his unwillingness to grant the Return asked for by my noble friend. If it had been a difficult and expensive Return to compile I could have understood his opposing the request, but I take it that the preparation of these figures would be an extremely simple matter. The noble Earl complains that my noble friend only desires to carry the Return back to the year 1906, but I think there is an excellent reason for which my noble friend adopted that limit of time. It is constantly stated by the friends and supporters of the Government that the last four years during which they have been in office have been years of humiliation to them—that is the usual expression—years during which their position has become intolerable owing to the practice of this House in throwing out Government measures. That is a charge which my noble friend wishes to disprove, and he says, I think naturally enough, that it is impossible to disprove it unless you have authentic and official figures to which you can appeal. I admit, as the noble Earl has said, that a purely numerical test is not by itself conclusive. Supposing this Return were to be produced, everyone who studied it would, of course, have to distinguish between small, trivial, and unimportant measures and measures of an opposite character. The noble Earl would find, however, that this House has not only accepted the passing, but done a great deal to facilitate the passing, of a considerable number of measures of great importance promoted by His Majesty's Government, measures which at some points might have been expected to tread upon the toes of the particular class to which your Lordships are supposed to belong. I do not know whether, after the objection of the noble Earl, my noble friend will press for this Return. But I must say that if the Return is refused we shall draw our own conclusions, and when my noble friend reappears on the public platform I fancy he will be much tempted to comment on the manner in which this very useful information is being withheld from the House.


My Lords, after what has fallen from the noble Earl and the noble Marquess it is not my intention to press for this Return, but I should like to endorse what has fallen from my noble friend Lord Lansdowne. I quite realise that a numerical test is of no value at all, but as one of my requests was that the Return should give the names and titles of the Bills so rejected, obviously everyone would be able to form his own conclusion as to the importance of a particular measure. I am sorry we are not to have this Return, but after what has been said I will not press for it.