§ LORD FARRER
My Lords, in rising to move that an humble Address be presented to His Majesty in reply to the gracious Speech from the Throne I am sensible that the kind indulgence which this House invariably extends to those who are entrusted with this most responsible duty is more than ever necessary at the present juncture in public affairs. A condition exists to-day which has been described by the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, once leader of this House, as more serious than any within living memory. That veteran statesman Lord Wemyss—I do not think he is here to-night, but I am sure we all rejoice that he is still among us—recently told us in a letter to the public Press that he had had an experience of forty-two years in one House and of twenty-seven years in the other. But even he does not carry his memory back to the period of 1832, the only period of modern English history which I think can be in any way compared to the present. 7 I assure your Lordships that, in the quaint, charming, and almost biblical language of our Standing Order No. XXVIII, so far as I am concerned "all personal, sharp, or taxing speech shall be forborn," and I hope also that "as nothing offensive is to be spoken, so nothing will be ill-taken." For no reasoning man who cares for the welfare of his country can help feeling that pure Party strife will have to be banished if the deliberations which must form the chief subject of debate this session are to result in permanent good to our country.
The first paragraph of the gracious Speech informs us that the relations with all foreign Powers continue to be friendly. Those who have lived through the storm and stress of the last ten or fifteen years, to whatever Party they belong, will not, I think, minimise the importance of these words, or fail to subscribe to the sentiment of thankfulness that the greatest of British interests—the peace of the world—remains unbroken. With regard to the affairs of South Africa, so many of your Lordships have had a sad experience of that part of the world that they will not fail to be thankful for the assurance that the date of the Union is now fixed, that the first United Parliament representing the consolidated electorate is about to assemble, and that this Parliament—the fruit of concession and goodwill following a period of lamentable strife—is to be opened under the happy auspices of the visit of the Prince of Wales. No one in this Assembly will fail to re-echo the sentiments of the gracious Speech that the welfare and future progress of that great people may be assisted by the consideration of His Majesty in sending his son to inaugurate this happy and bloodless ceremony. In our late debates we heard more than once of—Freedom broadening slowly down from precedent to precedent.Those who recollect the splendid poem from which those oft-quoted lines are taken may also recollect the previous stanza—It is the land that freemen tillThat sober-seated Freedom chose,The land where girt by friends or foesA man may speak the thing he will.It is, I believe, the devout hope of all of us that that noble ideal of a country pictured by Lord Tennyson may follow the Prince's visit to South Africa, as it has followed his "precedent" in Australia, where the United Parliament was opened by His Royal Highness in 1901.
8 Turning to the great Empire of India, which, though perhaps in recent years it has not loomed quite so much in the public eye as His Majesty's South African possessions, yet contains nearly 295 millions of His Majesty's subjects, we are told that the Legislative Councils have entered with good promise upon the enlarged duties and responsibilities entrusted to them. The recent debates in your Lordships' House on this subject were serious, prolonged, and deeply interesting. I believe that all who listened to them felt a certain awe at the vast interests involved and the huge problems opened by those debates. The whole questions of Western and Eastern civilization, of the gradual assimilation of the ideas of each by the other, and the proper limits of autocratic government were debated in this House, at great length, and I think we may congratulate ourselves that they were debated without Party passion, and the result was practically arrived at by consent. It must, therefore, be a satisfaction to all to hear that the results have promise of success, and of adding fresh lustre to the work of those who, I think, are often too little considered—that vast Civil Service of India, who patiently spend their lives for their country's interests, without open show or reward, and are content with Henry Lawrence's celebrated epitaph that they have "striven to do their duty."
From the survey of the distant parts of the world, the world which the weary Titan bears upon his shoulders, the gracious Speech turns to domestic matters, which have, perhaps, absorbed in recent months a greater, though I do not say a disproportionate, share of public attention. We are told that with the utmost desire for economy a substantial increase has been found necessary in the Navy Estimates. Those who sit on this side of the House are sometimes accused—not, of course, in this House, but outside in the country—of undue parsimony in matters of this kind; but insurance, as everybody who has to do with finance knows, is one of the most difficult and complicated problems that can be conceived. Only those who know the risks can fully settle what premium they are willing to pay; and having said this it must, of course, also be true that the premium to be paid must depend on the length of the purse. There is one point in connection with this that we cannot too often consider—namely, that defence is not the only expenditure which is increasing very rapidly. 9 Even in our own marvellously wealthy country your Lordships have often been reminded by Leaders of the House on both sides—I remember two cases at any rate: Lord Salisbury and Lord Rosebery—as well as by all those who have held high administrative positions in the financial affairs of this country, that the purse of no nation is unlimited, and I sometimes think of the Latin maxim we were taught at school: Magnum est vectigal parsimonia.
I recollect very well that in the first debate in which I had the honour of taking part in your Lordships' House, the late Lord Salisbury pointed out that if a nation doubled its national expenditure in twenty years and trebled its local expenditure in the same time it could not possibly go on for ever in that ratio without serious trouble and disaster; and so many of your Lordships take great part in the local affairs of this country that they must well know how serious is the local burden. No system of taxation, I believe, can be found that can ultimately meet this vast expenditure. I sometimes have listened to diatribes on this subject in other places, but I do not believe the matter has been better expressed than in the immortal words of Mr. Micawber in "David Copperfield"—My other piece of advice, Copperfield,' said Mr. Micawber, ' you know. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six; result, happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six; result, misery. The blossom is blighted, the leaf is withered, the God of Day goes down upon the dreary scene, and—in short, you are for ever floored.'My Lords, I now approach the final paragraph of the gracious Speech, which, perhaps, in some ways may be likened to a postscript of a lady's letter as containing the matter most interesting to all of us at the present time. It is, of course, impossible to pretend that "differences of strong opinion" have not arisen and are not arising on this question. But I think we shall all agree that this is not the moment to accentuate those differences. It will, I hope, be agreed that the statement made in the gracious Speech is a clear and unequivocal expression which will afford your Lordships with all convenient speed the opportunity of discussing at full length this grave question. As I have said before, the tremendous nature of this crisis in our history is, I am sure, fully appreciated by everyone in this House. Nor do I for one desire to question the good faith of any of 10 the methods by which this matter has been raised. A good many wild and whirling words have been heard outside, but the very fact of the variety of opinion expressed by members of your Lordships' House is proof, I think, that change is in the air, that it is hardly resisted in principle, and in some quite unexpected quarters is recognised almost as desirable. I will give a few instances.
The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, who presides over the Committees of this House, in a letter to the public Press the other day talked of the need of a breath of fresh air, following, I suppose, the advice of his late leader, Lord Beaconsfield, who began a speech with the words, Sanitas, sanitas omnia sanitas. In thinking over Lord Onslow's letter I happened to recollect that the windows of your Lordships' House, in which the noble Earl spends so many hours, actually open to the outer air. There is, therefore, nothing betwixt the wind and our nobility; while in the adjoining Chamber the fresh air is, I understand, admitted through medicated cotton wool, and even so the influenza germ, which œquo pede pulsat pauperum tabernas, regumque turres, rages there with a virulence quite unknown here. Then, again, I see that several of your Lordships belong to, or at any rate attend the dinners of, that grand-sounding body, the British Constitutional Association. At a dinner given in honour of Mr. Harold Cox—alas, I was going to say, no longer M.P.—it was suggested by one of your Lordships that those who sit on Party Benches have to "pool their consciences," and that a series of items—each, I suppose, on his own pillar like St. Simeon Stylites—is the ideal form of government.
Then there is, of course, the scheme of Lord Rosebery's Committee, in which so many of your Lordships on the opposite Benches took part; there was the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Newton, whose speeches, if I may say so, often delight the House with their wit and humour; and there are the more serious mathematical propositions of my noble friends Lord Courtney and Lord Avebury. I only mention these facts to show the number of persons on both sides of the House who have proposed schemes of reform. I have tried to digest all these, and I even turned up the Abbé Sieyes, that constitution maker in general. I battened upon Stubbs, Hallam, Tod, and Erskine May, but they are severe 11 reading, and much to my joy I found a reference in the pages of the last named to that prince of writers and Tories, Sir Walter Scott. Indeed, it was to one of his best novels, "Rob Roy," that I was referred for his views on the ancient Scottish Constitution. I was glad to find that "Rob Roy" was referred to. Of one of the greatest American Ambassadors to this country, Mr. James Russell Lowell, this story is told: Oliver Wendell Holmes was supposed to be dying. Lowell went to see him and said, "How are you to-day, Oliver?" to which Holmes answered, "I don't know and I don't care, James; I am in the middle of 'Rob Roy.'" Well, in the middle of "Rob Roy" Andrew Fairservice, the typical Scots gardener, gives his opinion of the efficient Parliament, and with the permission of the House I will read his views on compromise as carried on in the British Parliament—And this is what they ca' explaining—the tane gies up a bit, and the tither gies up a bit, and a' friends again. Aweel, after the Commons' Parliament had tuggit, and rived, and ruggit at Morris and his rubbery till they were tired o't, the Lords' Parliament they behoved to hae their spell o't. In puir auld Scotland's Parliament they a' sate thegither, cheek for choul, and than they did na need to hae the same blethers twice ower again. But till't their lordships gaed wi' as muckle teeth and gude will, as if the matter had been a' speck and span new.On looking up the history of this I found, much to my surprise, that in the old Scots Parliament they did all sit cheek by jowl. Do not let me for a moment be supposed to suggest that Andrew's solution is the right one, but I believe it to be historically true.
I hope I have shown what great varieties of opinion as to remedies there are even among your Lordships' own members; but I venture to hope that it is common ground that we should approach this question with all sincerity and sobriety of thought, and, above all, in an historical and not a polemical spirit. The noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, once suggested that when passions were greatly excited the study of astronomy formed the best possible sedative, because it inevitably made the observer feel what a small insignificant speck he formed in the vast unexplored masses of the universe. So with our deliberations to-day. We are only one of the twenty generations which have existed since Parliaments were formed, and I hope that we may not be one whit 12 less competent than our ancestors to deal with these questions when they arise. It has been said, I think by the historian Green, that Englishmen are so much occupied in making history that they seldom read it. There never was a time when it was more necessary to read history than to-day. We have behind us in this Mother of Parliaments 700 years of splendid traditions from the date when the Great Charter of 1216 put into definite writing those financial conventions which had been growing up as customs. In the words of the historian—The vague expressions of the older charters were now exchanged for precise and elaborate provisions. The bonds of unwritten custom, which the older grants did little more than recognise, had proved too weak, and the Baronage now threw them aside for the restraints of written law.Human nature, especially English human nature, does not change very materially with the centuries, and we have hitherto found out methods of compromise to suit altering circumstances—not, I am proud to think, slavish copies of other nations, but original, living, and satisfactory working methods. It is, I believe, the desire of every Member of this House, without exception, that such methods may again be found, even if the Act involves compromise, and even though many of us may in the abstract prefer custom or common law to rules and Statutes. It is with the earnest and confident hope that such a way may be found that I beg to move that the following humble Address be presented to His Majesty:—"Most Gracious Sovereign, We, your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."
LORD SAYE AND SELE
My Lords, in rising to avail myself of the great honour given me of seconding the Address in reply to His Majesty's gracious Speech from the Throne, I cannot claim from your Lordships the indulgence you invariably give to those in my position under the First Offenders Act, for, although my offences have been but little ones, I have on one or two occasions trespassed for a few moments on your Lordships' time. Neither do I dare to ask for special indulgence, because I have been engaged recently in the country 13 strongly deprecating your Lordships' action in this House in a matter of common knowledge to all of us. But I shall plead with your Lordships on the ground of the record of my family—a record, save for my small offences, of silence for nigh on a hundred years; and this should guarantee your Lordships to some extent against a lengthy outburst of verbosity on my part on this occasion.
The satisfaction which His gracious Majesty must feel at our continued friendliness with all foreign Powers is doubtless shared with all respect by his loyal subjects throughout the Empire; and if the visit of any royal personage to our shores is an emblem of our friendship with the country from which he hails, then, in the words of the classic, we may say with fervour Ut veniunt omnes, which, I believe, liberally translated is "Let 'em all come."
My Lords, I turn to the paragraph in the gracious Speech relating to South Africa. However we may differ in politics, however sharply the line may be drawn between this and the other side of the House in many matters, here at any rate we are on common ground, rejoicing with common patriotism at the ending of strife and turmoil in South Africa. When I first put this uniform on [the noble Lord wore the uniform of a Colonel in the Royal Scots Fusiliers] it was on January 22, 1879, the day of the Isandlwana massacre of the 24th Regiment by the Zulus. A few weeks after that I landed at Durban, and for the greater part of the next two years was quartered in the Transvaal. I only trouble your Lordships with this personal reminiscence in order to emphasise how clearly I recollect, not only the deep-seated illwill of the Boer for the Briton, but also, to my regret, the like feeling in no way diluted of the Briton for the Boer. My Lords, on the mess table of my old regiment there lies at this moment a Union Jack enclosed in a casket. This flag flew over Pretoria during the siege of 1881. It was buried at the close of the siege to prevent its falling into the hands of the Boers, and it was subsequently dug up and brought to England by the regiment. Can any one doubt—indeed, does not every one know—that if that same flag was taken back to South Africa and hoisted in the same place on the same pole in Pretoria it would be reverenced to-day by Briton and Boer alike. And in the Speech from the Throne 14 the crowning point of this glorious history is foretold. It will be in the recollection of your Lordships that in the year 1900 His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales—at that time Duke of York—was designated by our late beloved Queen to open the first Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, and that, in spite of the grievous event which afflicted our Royal House on January 22 of the following year, that expressed wish, by the command of His Majesty, was carried into effect on May 8. And now, my Lords, at the bidding again of his Royal Father, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales is about to give further personal service to his King and country by opening, in the name of His Majesty, the first session of the new Legislature of South Africa.
The paragraph in the Speech relating to India will be noted with great interest by those of your Lordships who were present at the debate last year. Not only will the speech of the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for India be in vivid remembrance, but also the speeches of other noble Lords who, if they expressed gloomy forebodings, at least impressed us not only by their transparent sincerity but also by their devotion to the country which, in responsible positions, they had served with so much benefit to India and such credit to themselves—and if those gloomy forebodings prove, as the gracious Speech would happily seem to suggest, to be unfounded no one will more gladly hail them false prophets than the noble Lords themselves.
The next paragraph, my Lords, will be read with the deepest satisfaction by all classes throughout the length and breadth of this great Empire. While showing an earnest watchfulness over the resources of the nation, it recognises, in the cause of peace, the paramount necessity of a strong Navy. Whatever Government is in office those sentiments will always prevail, and Britain will never lack men to carry them into effect; and if one great man has just left the Admiralty Board whose work has been thorough and unflinching, another has succeeded him in whom the Navy has, and the country will shortly have, the greatest confidence. I pass over the next paragraph with simply an expression of deep admiration for the Treasury officials, who were left late last year in rather the position of a schoolboy whose promised 15 parental allowance has been lost in the post, who has got home for the holidays, no one quite knows how, and is awaiting the coming term with a light heart.
With a sigh of relief, in which your Lordships will doubtless join me, I turn to the last paragraph of the gracious Speech, and on this I would say but a few words and those with the deepest respect. I allude, of course, to the recent action of your Lordships' House and the outcome of that action. Patriotism finds its home in no particular Party; the desire to do that which is best for our country prevails in all our hearts. Here, then, again, is common ground between us. If we during the past four years have experienced feelings nigh akin to despair at the fate of many of our measures, you who differ from us must often have felt heavily oppressed by the weight of your vast but unrepresentative majority. With all respect, I liken noble Lords opposite to the trustee of a trust with a very wide investment clause, which carries with it deep and heavy responsibilities; and we on this side of the House are like a trustee with a very narrow clause, which scarcely allows us to get for our trust a beggarly three per cent. Surely we should all welcome relief from this manifestly unfair state of things, and if a Bill can be framed through which and by which a Second Chamber will come into existence which will faithfully interpret the will of the nation—which I humbly submit your Lordships' House as at present constituted does not do—then surely patriotism will prevail over party. Parliament will be secured against sudden and unnecessary upheaval, and a two-Chamber Government will be in vogue be the majority in another place Liberal or Conservative.
§ Moved, "That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty in reply to the gracious Speech from the Throne."—(Lord Farrer.)
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, the two noble Lords to whom we have just listened will, I have no doubt, hardly expect that we shall entirely concur with the whole of the observations which have fallen from them. But, nevertheless, we may, I trust, be permitted to congratulate them upon the manner in which they have discharged a not very easy task; and if I may go a little further I would single out for admiration the sobriety and 16 moderation of the language in which they referred to some of the extremely controversial topics dealt with in the gracious Speech from the Throne—language which forms an agreeable contrast to other utterances which have occupied public attention during the last few weeks. Whatever may be the future destiny of this House, we may be permitted to express the hope that the two noble Lords opposite will have many opportunities of taking a useful part in our deliberations.
We shall certainly concur, and concur unreservedly, in what they said with regard to the first paragraph of the gracious Speech—that in which we are informed that His Majesty's relations with all foreign Powers continue to be of a friendly description—and we shall concur not less cordially in their observations upon the second and third paragraphs which deal with the intention of His Majesty to allow His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to visit South Africa for the purpose of opening the new Parliament which will shortly assemble there. His Royal Highness will add yet another to the many services which members of the Royal Family have rendered to the Empire upon occasions of this kind. We trust that his visit will be interesting and instructive to him, and I think we may say without hesitation that His Majesty could not have chosen a more gracious or appropriate mode of signifying to his South African subjects his personal good will towards them and the sympathy which we feel with these great and rising communities. I noticed a few days ago a very interesting statement that an effort was being made in South Africa to inaugurate the new Parliament by combining in one Government a number of the foremost public men of the country without reference to Party. I gather that a sufficient amount of opposition has developed itself to this proposal to make it impossible of adoption. The matter clearly is one which only those upon the spot who are familiar with the local conditions have a right to comment upon. All that I think we can say upon the subject is that we should have rejoiced if it had proved practicable for the statesmen of South Africa to follow on this occasion the precedent set in similar epochs in the history of Canada and Australia; and if the attempt has, as I am afraid we must believe, not succeeded, it seems to me none the less creditable to those 17 concerned in making it. May I interject the remark that the new South African Parliament will include a Senate which will be empowered, among other things, to reject money Bills?
The next paragraph in the Speech has reference to another question of local self-government in another part of His Majesty's Dominions—I refer to His Majesty's statement as to the first assemblage of the new Indian Legislative Councils. The noble Lord who seconded referred to the deflates which took place in this House when the Indian Councils Bill came up for consideration, and he said with great truth that there were some of us who then regarded with a certain amount of misgiving the proposal to give to India institutions following so far and so fully the Parliamentary model as we understand it in Western countries. We should have been culpable, having those feelings, if we had not expressed them, but the noble Lord is quite right when he says that no members of your Lordships' House will more cordially rejoice than we who offered those criticisms if it should prove to be the case that our misgivings were unfounded, and therefore we welcome the announcement that these new councils have entered with good promise upon their enlarged duties. I trust the noble Viscount opposite will not think me needlessly critical if I express slight astonishment that he should not have advised His Majesty to add to this part of the Speech some reassuring words, if they could be spoken, upon the general condition of affairs in India.
Many of us regard those affairs with very grave apprehensions. Public opinion has been shocked by a series of outrages directed against persons of all classes and stations from the Viceroy downwards. We cannot regard these occurrences as merely accidental outbursts of fanaticism; and, indeed, that evidently is not the manner in which they are regarded by the Government of India. In a speech delivered by the Viceroy on the occasion of the first meeting of the Legislative Council at Calcutta Lord Minto said:—The progress of the work on which we have been engaged has been marred by a succession of abominable crimes which have forced my Government into one repressive measure after another; and yesterday, on the eve of the assembly of this Council, a faithful and gallant public servant was brutally murdered within the precincts of the 18 High Court and in the broad light of day. A spirit hitherto unknown to India has come into existence—a spirit opposed to all the teachings of Indian religion and traditions, a spirit of anarchy and lawlessness which seeks to subvert not only British rule, but the government of Indian chiefs, to whom I am deeply indebted for their loyal assistance.My Lords, those are very grave and very disquieting words. I think we may regard them as affording ample justification for those repressive measures to which Lord Minto refers, and in particular for the recently introduced measure for restraining the licence of the Indian Press—a measure which I venture to say has not been resorted to an hour too soon. There can be no doubt as to the part which the Indian Press has played in the propagation of these anarchical and seditious doctrines; there can be no doubt as to the entire inadequacy of the law as it stood to deal with such offences; and I think I may also say that there can be no doubt that the proposals of the Indian Council do not err upon the side of severity. One word more about India. I think public opinion here has been a good deal puzzled by the announcement, made simultaneously, I think, with the introduction of the Press Bill, that a certain number of persons who had been deported on account of their connection with seditious movements were to be set at liberty. I feel that these are matters which we are not in a position to judge from a distance, and therefore I for one am ready to wait for the explanations which I have no doubt will be forthcoming and to assume that the Government of India had good reason for taking a step which, at first sight, is somewhat difficult to explain.
Now, my Lords, I pass to the subsequent paragraphs of the Speech. We learn in the first place that the financial measures which have become necessary are to have priority over all other business that will come before Parliament. That is an interesting statement, and I may be permitted to say that His Majesty's Government appear to have adopted the only course which, as businesslike men, they could have adopted, and that I tender them my respectful admiration for the manner in which they have disregarded counsels of a very different kind which they have freely received from many of their followers and supporters. Parliament is to be asked to complete the provision which was made in the last, session for 19 the year which is about to expire; in other words, to overtake the arrears which have grown up inevitably in consequence of the rejection of the Finance Bill of last year by your Lordships' House, and I notice with some satisfaction the moderate language in which this question is referred to in the gracious Speech, and in which it was referred to by noble Lords opposite. Your Lordships will remember the prophecies which were indulged in by colleagues of the noble Earl opposite with regard to the consequences which were to follow from our postponement of the Finance Bill. There was to be chaos, inextricable chaos; there was to be a hideous loss to the taxpayers—a loss which could be expressed only in millions of pounds sterling. I am delighted to find that all these vaticinations appear to have been unfounded. With regard to the fact that there are arrears to be overtaken, may I be permitted to make one or two observations? In the first place, do not let it be forgotten that even if your Lordships had passed the Finance Bill in December last, the finances of the year 1909–10 were already many months—I should say probably five months at least—in arrear. So that our action has resulted only in the addition of a few weeks more to an already existing arrear. That is one thing to be borne in mind. In the next place, I greatly doubt whether any arrear has been occasioned which cannot be overtaken by the efforts of those indefatigable officials who are entrusted with the management of our financial affairs. In the third place, I suggest that if any inconvenience has arisen to the public, it might have been very much mitigated and diminished if His Majesty's Government had thought fit to avail themselves of the offer we made to them, the offer, I mean, to facilitate by special legislation the collection of any of the non-contentious taxes which were necessary in order to prevent the accumulation of a deficit. You were in no mood to accept that offer when we made it, and the arrear and inconvenience have no doubt been proportionately augmented. Of the Finance Bill of 1909 all that I will say is that our opinion of it remains unchanged. We remain convinced that in principle it is open to the criticisms which we offered during the long discussions last year. We are also convinced that it is open to the further criticism that you have fixed your taxation at many points so high that the revenue is becoming inelastic and is ceasing 20 to respond to the extra demands you are making on those who have to pay. But, my Lords, if the Finance Bill finds favour with the new House of Commons and comes back to this House, I apprehend that we shall have no more to say, and will not only be ready to pass it into law but that we shall quite understand that you should desire to expedite its passage by all legitimate means which may be open to you.
But, my Lords, there are other matters in regard to which, I think, you may find this House not quite so accommodating. I venture to mention one to which no reference is made in the Speech from the Throne, but which, nevertheless, arises out of the proposals embodied in that Speech. I mean the question of Home Rule for Ireland. Home Rule for Ireland was given a good deal of prominence during the electoral campaign, but it was rather a fitful prominence. It was ostentatiously obtruded on the public in the Albert Hall speech, no doubt, from the point of noble Lords opposite, with very excellent results, for we all know that a large number of elections were won by the Irish vote, influenced by the prospects that were then held out. After that the matter was allowed judiciously to drop somewhat into the background. During the last few days, however, His Majesty's Government must have been painfully reminded of the existence of the difficulty by the storm of ultimatums which apparently have been flying about the purlieus of Downing Street. But one thing I venture to say is clear, and that is that Home Rule forms an essential feature in the policy which His Majesty's Government is going to ask Parliament to adopt. It is the veto of the House of Lords that has stood in the way of Home Rule, and the veto of the House of Lords is to go, amongst other reasons, in order that the way may be clear for Home Rule. So the sequence is clear and distinct; first, finance; then, what I would call, for want of a better word, the sterilisation of the House of Lords; then Home Rule for Ireland.
I venture to express my amazement at the audacity of a Government which assumes the right to make such proposals to Parliament upon the strength of the elections which have lately taken place. What have you got to show as the result of those elections? You have a not very 21 emphatic pronouncement—if, indeed, it be a pronouncement at all—in favour of the imposition of certain taxes, and this pronouncement has been accompanied by the virtual disappearance of the whole of your official majority. Compare for a moment your Parliamentary position as it stood, last autumn and as it stands now. You then disposed of legions strong enough to trample under foot not only your official opponents, but your own irregulars, who had to be reckoned with at times. You have now—your Whips proclaim it—the two great Parties evenly balanced, and in order to establish a majority at all you have to invoke the aid of allies whom you do not admit to your council table, who ostentatiously proclaim their detachment from you, who dictate terms to you in the most peremptory language, and who, if they follow you at all, do so because they think that by doing so they can achieve ulterior aims which are not in all cases the aims you desire to attain. Do you think this a sufficient mandate to justify you in pulling the Constitution of this country to pieces, in breaking up the Union, and in setting up single Chamber government? I use that last expression advisedly, because I say that if the words contained in the latter part of His Majesty's Speech have any meaning at all, that is what they mean. It is a sentence of death upon the House of Lords. To complete the solemnity of the occasion, the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack might have produced the black cap when he read the fatal words.
What is the crime for which this House is sentenced? We find some description of it in the words of the Speech:—There have been differences of strong opinion between the two Houses, and serious difficulties have arisen.What does that mean? Does it not mean simply this—that your Lordships have had opinions of your own and have had the courage to adhere to them? All that is to be at an end. We may have any opinions we please, but they are not to avail. Two things are to happen. This House is to be subject to the House of Commons in regard to all ordinary legislation. That is founded upon the old charge made so constantly against this House that it obstructs the legislation introduced by Liberal Governments. I am not going to enter into that at length to-night, but 22 I will say this: that we have met that charge again and again in this House and out of this House, and we are ready to meet it whenever it is repeated. We have been able to show that if we have rejected Bills, they have in some cases been Bills which you did not dare to refer to the people of this country. We have shown that in other cases, as in the case of the Home Rule Bill, the people of this country approved and vindicated the course which we took. We have shown that yet in other cases, when you have attempted to legislate on subjects with which this House has dealt, your second proposals and your third proposals differed totally from your original proposals. We have shown—and to my mind it is a very convincing piece of evidence—that Liberal Ministers have constantly boasted of their wonderful achievements in the way of legislation for bettering the lot of the people of this country, and we have shown how entirely inconsistent language of that kind is with the theory that the House of Lords is always there to obstruct your legislative proposals.
The other limb of the Government policy is one by which this House is to be deprived of all right of dealing with finance. Why? Are we habitual criminals in dealing with finance? The whole point of the charge against us in the month of December last was that we were doing something when we rejected the Finance Bill which we had never done before. It was a single occurrence, one act of interference, one solitary decision not to take the responsibility of passing a measure which His Majesty's Government themselves described as an extraordinary measure, without obtaining an expression of the views of the people of this country upon it. And, after all, is the noble Earl quite sure that We are going to be convicted of that offence? If public form counts for anything, the present House of Commons contains a majority of members opposed to the Finance Bill of last year. But we know the arts which can be used for the purpose of disarming hostility of that kind, and you may get your Bill. If you get your Bill in the House of Commons, you will get it here, and you will be very lucky to get it. But do you mean to tell me that a victory of that kind is a victory which will justify you in overturning the Constitution of this country? When you have won it, ought you not to consider a little the 23 means by which you have won it? Ought you not to consider a little the not very creditable figure which you have been cutting during the last few days while these negotiations with your so-called supporters have been in progress? And then ought you not to ask yourselves whether on the strength of a victory so obtained you have the right so to manipulate the Constitution of this country that the people who have pronounced a not very decisive verdict upon this occasion will never have a future opportunity of pronouncing any verdict at all?
If your Lordships will bear with me for a moment, I should like to say two or three words in regard to the plan of House of Lords reform which is indicated in the gracious Speech. Its language is at some points a little oracular. In the first place the House of Commons is to have undivided authority over finance. I hope the noble Earl when he follows me will be able to give us some idea of what he means when he talks of finance. Finance may mean a good many different things. It may mean Supply, Ways and Means, the provisions that used to be included in the Customs and Inland Revenue Bill, but it may also mean any measure dealing with ordinary legislation in which there lurks some fragment or soupçon of finance. Which is it that you mean? We have had some experience in this House—a rather painful experience—of the manner in which the present privilege of the House of Commons in regard to finance is interpreted. Is the intention of His Majesty's Government this, that supposing we had, for example, a measure of social legislation of first-rate importance, involving, as all such measures must, the expenditure of public money—money of the ratepayers or taxpayers—is it your intention that the House of Lords is to be warned off such measures, and is not to have any right to deal with them in an effectual manner at all? That is a plain question, and, by the way, it is a question which you will be obliged to face, because we understand that these proposals are to be embodied in a Bill. It is to be a Bill defining the relations of the two Houses. In your Bill you will have to let it appear plainly and distinctly what it is that you intend when you talk of "undivided authority over finance." I go further. I am not at all sure that it will not be necessary for you to set up some kind of 24 authority which will be able to decide whether a particular measure or a particular provision in a measure is or is not a measure of finance. It would be of no use to let each House interpret your Rule in its own fashion, and it would be an outrage to allow one House to have the interpretation of it, and to impose that interpretation upon the other House.
The other proposal, that the House of Commons should be given predominance in legislation, is perhaps less ambiguous, because we gather from the words that follow that all that is to be left to the House of Lords is the power of initiation, of revision, and, subject to proper safeguards, of delay. I do not know whether your Lordships will be very grateful for permission to initiate measures which the other House may put calmly into the wastepaper basket. I do not know whether you will care very much about exercising functions of revision which may be wholly ineffectual. As for delay, I presume that means that we are to have a revival of the plan proposed by the late Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman—a plan which after all only came to this, that any Bill which the House of Commons chose to read nine times would automatically be imposed "willy-nilly" upon the House of Lords. I hope we may have some information upon these points.
But I find other words of a most suggestive character in this paragraph. We are told that "this House"—which I understand to be the House in which we are sitting—[A Voice: "No"]—there seems to be a doubt; perhaps the noble Earl will give us a ruling.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
It is the House in which His Majesty made his speech.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Exactly; that was my interpretation. This House, then, is to be so constituted as to exercise these threefold functions with impartiality. Surely that is an entirely new development. A few days ago none of us had any reason whatever for believing that it was intended to deal with the constitution of this House. I paid some attention to the speeches delivered by His Majesty's Ministers during the electoral campaign. There was one exception—Sir Edward Grey—who made it clear that 25 in his opinion the hereditary principle was out of date and that some form of election was necessary for the establishment of a properly constituted Second Chamber. But that was not the view of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister made several interesting announcements on the subject, but he made one which was particularly categoric and distinct in reply to the inevitable Scottish heckler. The heckler asked him—What are you going to do in order to improve the House of Lords? The Prime Minister's reply was distinct—We are not going to improve the House of Lords at all. What we are going to do is to deprive the House of Lords of its veto.And it is curious that that attitude of the Prime Minister is entirely in accord with a very remarkable statement which he made in the course of the Albert Hall speech. He had been strongly condemning the action of this House, and then he went on to say this—It may well be that a process of evolution or substitution may in course of time give us a body better fitted than the House of Lords for the judicial exercise of its functions.So that if there was to be any alteration at all in the constitution of the House of Lords, it was clearly contemplated that that should be the result of a gradual process of evolution which would take some time to accomplish. All that is changed. You are now apparently going to introduce this session, perhaps try to pass this session, a Bill dealing not only with the powers but with the constitution of the House of Lords. Is it not evident that second thoughts have occurred to His Majesty's Ministers? Is it not likely that, when they read the extraordinarily violent statements made by some of them with regard to this House and to the absurdity of the hereditary principle, it occurred to them that there was something indescribably ridiculous and grotesque in proposing to solve this great constitutional problem by leaving us with a House of Lords which would be a futile expression of the hereditary principle, et preterea nihil? That really was the proposal which held the field for a time. I have no doubt those second thoughts did occur, perhaps rather late in the day, and that that is the explanation of the fact that this proposal for dealing with the constitution of this House has been pitchforked into the Speech at the last moment.
I am not going to ask the noble Earl to 26 reveal to us his intentions or the intentions of his colleagues as to the manner in which the new House of Lords is to be constituted. It obviously would be an improper question to ask, and moreover I feel quite sure he would not be able to answer me if I did ask the question. But I am going to ask him another question which seems to me reasonable. We are informed that the proposals dealing with the House of Lords will be laid before us with "all convenient speed." Now what does "all convenient speed" mean? Whose convenience is going to be consulted? We should like to know. Is it to be the speed of a Parliamentary train or is it to be a mile a minute? Are you going to think of the convenience of the exectuioners or the convenience of the victims? I confess I rather like the sentence, because I cannot help detecting in it an announcement by the Prime Minister—a useful announcement—to some of his supporters and perhaps to some of his colleagues that he intends, as they say in Scotland, to "gang his am gait." But I will ask the noble Earl a question specifically. Is it the intention of His Majesty's Government that this Bill is to be not only introduced this session but, if possible, passed into law this session? I think that is a pertinent question. I assume that His Majesty's Ministers know their own minds on the subject and are prepared with concrete proposals, but they have got to get finance out of the way first. Then they have to bring in their Bill, and then they have to get their Bill through the House of Commons.
Now what I am anxious to know is whether it is in contemplation that we should take this Bill dealing with this. House, as we sometimes take Bills, in the very last days of the session, and whether we shall be expected to proceed with it then. Are we to be invited, if I may so put it, to perform the ceremony known, I believe, in Japan as the "happy despatch" in the inside of a fortnight at the beginning of the month of August? I think the noble Earl will encounter a considerable amount of opposition to any idea of the kind. The noble Earl and his colleagues accused us of being revolutionary because we refused to give our concurrence to the Finance Bill until the people of this country should have had an opportunity of passing judgment upon it. What epithet should we apply to His Majesty's Government if they reply 27 by attempting to overturn the Constitution and by endeavouring to rush their proposals through Parliament, perhaps with the assistance of extra-constitutional methods which I believe have not been resorted to since the reign of Queen Anne?
There is one further observation which I wish to make on this part of the Speech. I earnestly hope that when I indicate these apprehensions as to the proposals of His Majesty's Government they will not regard me, or regard those who sit near me, as desiring in any way to shirk the discussion of this question of House of Lords reform. We admit—many of us at any rate admit—that there is a House of Lords question. This House contains members who have made that question their own. There is my noble friend on the Cross Benches (Lord Rosebery) who has devoted for many years past a special amount of attention to that question. There are other Peers like my two noble friends who sit near me, who took up this question of House of Lords reform even before they were Members of this House. There is my noble friend Lord Newton, who was instrumental in procuring the appointment of the Committee which dealt with the matter and produced an important Report destined to be often referred to hereafter. I will go as far as this. I will say that in my belief there are not many Members of this House who would not approach this question with an open mind tempered, perhaps, by a sense of the extreme gravity of the problem we are discussing. I will, however, take upon myself to say that there are two things which this House does not want. We do not want to have a sham House of Lords, a House of Lords which would be a mere tawdry and ineffectual simulacrum of what a Second Chamber ought to be. Neither do we want to see a brand new Senate set up in the place of this House, a Senate the powers of which would be co-ordinate with those of the House of Commons and would necessarily come into conflict with them.
But if you are able to show—and you may be able to show—that this House is unwieldy in point of numbers, that it is not constituted in such a manner as to conduce to the efficient discharge of business, then I say we are ready to consider whether we cannot do something to render it more efficient. If you can show that there are Members of this House who for various reasons are unable to give 28 a proper attention to the discharge of their Parliamentary duties, we are ready to consider whether means cannot be discovered of relieving them of those duties; and if you can show—and I dare say it is possible to show it—that under our existing system we are exposed to finding the two Houses involved in a deadlock, I say let us like reasonable people try to discover means by which they can be extricated from such an unfortunate position. In all these matters I believe that you will find many of us on this side ready to co-operate with you if you will accept our co-operation. If you will not accept our co-operation, then I think it will be for us to consider whether at the proper time we should not lay before the public proposals of our own for dealing with these points. But I venture to press this upon your Lordships—that for the present His Majesty's Government are seized of this question, and it is for them first to lay on the Table of Parliament their proposals for dealing with it. I trust that my apprehensions and misgivings may prove to be groundless. I trust that we shall find that, if you are going to lay hands on the Constitution of this country, you are going to do it, as the noble seconder said, in a spirit of sobriety and moderation, and that there will be no trace of petulance or of vindictiveness in your treatment of this immense issue. I trust that you will deal with it in a manner consistent with the dignity of both Houses of Parliament, and that you will do nothing to deprive this country of the safeguards which it at present possesses against precipitate and ill-considered legislation by the other House of Parliament.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (THE EARL OF CREWE)
My Lords, it is my first pleasant duty to associate myself with what has been so gracefully said by the noble Marquess as to the manner in which my noble friends behind me discharged their respective tasks of moving and seconding the Address. That task is at no time a very easy one, and it was less easy than usual on this occasion, for reasons with which we are all familiar. It fell to the lot of my noble friends behind me rather to describe a situation than, as has often happened in previous years, to run through a list of legislative projects, and, in view of the special difficulty of their task, I am sure we shall 29 all agree that they discharged it with marked ability. The oftener that both of them take part in our future debates I am sure, the better your Lordships in all parts of the House will be pleased. This is the first time, as far as I can recollect, when the Leader of the Opposition, in commenting on the Speech from the Throne, has not found occasion to make any remarks on foreign affairs. That is an omission for which I do not blame the noble Marquess.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I merely said that I associated myself with what had been said by the two noble Lords.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
It is indeed a happy fact that the state of affairs in Europe and in connection with foreign politics generally should be such that no particular comment is thought to be necessary by noble Lords opposite. But there is one event connected with foreign affairs—a very sad event—to which I am compelled to allude for a moment. Your Lordships may have noticed that an attack was made on Boutros Pasha, the Prime Minister of Egypt, on the afternoon of yesterday. It was a political crime of the type with which in different parts of the world we are only too familiar; and I deeply regret to say that Boutros Pasha died this morning, and that Egypt has lost in him a hardworking, honourable, and distinguished statesman. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has lost no time in conveying to the Egyptian Government and to the relatives of Boutros Pasha our warm sympathy with the loss, the sense of which must come home to every one who has at heart the welfare of Egypt. Then the noble Marquess spoke in sympathetic terms of the paragraph in which the approaching visit of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to South Africa is announced. Those of us who recollect the debate which took place on the Union Bill of last year will remember how uniform in all parts of the House was the sense of gratification felt at that Union, and we all feel that it will be its appropriate crown that the illustrious Prince, accompanied, as I trust he will be, by the gracious presence of Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales, will be able to undertake once more the task which he carried out so acceptably in inaugurating the Australian Commonwealth. The noble Marquess made one or two observations, 30 framed I need not say with the discretion which is habitual to him, with regard to the future political situation in South Africa. That, as he truly remarked, is a matter for the South Africans themselves. But I am glad to be able to say that as far as my knowledge goes, whether or no the future Government of South Africa takes in any degree the form of what is known as a coalition or not, yet I am convinced that the statesmen of all parties in South Africa are approaching their difficult task in a spirit which argues well that we may be able to hope that at any rate no undue spirit of racialism or extreme party feeling will disfigure the politics of the South African Union.
The noble Marquess made a more extended reference to the affairs of India, and he commented on what he considered was an omission from the Speech—namely, that we had not placed in the Speech some definite allusion to the condition of the country. The noble Marquess made that fact the text of some observations of high interest. It is perfectly true, lamentably true as the noble Marquess has said, that secret organisations for criminal purposes, which have been the cause of more than one attempted crime and of more than one successful crime, still exist in India; but in spite of that it is the definitely expressed opinion of the Indian Government and of those best qualified to judge, that there are hopeful signs of an increasing sympathy with the Government in India. The Indian Government believe that the better opinion in India is beginning to assert itself; and this is not surprising because we know that it frequently happens in parallel cases that it is not until that more sane and sober opinion which is always perhaps, too little prone to assert itself is aroused by the perpetration of crimes such as these, that it is possible to discover how strong that opinion really is. I trust that this may be the case in India, and undoubtedly it is the opinion of the Indian Government that it is.
Then the noble Marquess alluded to the Press Law in terms of approbation. The heads of that Act were submitted by the Indian Government to the Secretary of State, and were approved by him. The full text of the Act will in a few days from now reach this country and will be examined by the Secretary of State in Council, and after it may have received any amendment he may consider necessary, will come into 31 full operation. The essence of the law is that in all eases the proprietors of newspapers will be required, or may be required, to deposit security which will be liable to forfeiture at the discretion of the Executive. If transgressions are repeated the printing presses will be liable to be seized and forfeited as well as the security. There is an appeal provided for in the Act to a special Bench of Judges. It is hoped by the Indian Government and by my noble friend behind me that this law will have the effect of checking a vast amount of the mischief which beyond all contradiction has been caused by the irresponsible Press in India.
The noble Marquess spoke, moderately but still somewhat critically, on the act of the Indian Government with reference to the deportations and to the recent release of some of those who had been deported. He quoted from a speech by the Viceroy of India in another connection, but in that same speech, unless I am mistaken, the Viceroy stated for public information the reasons which had induced the Indian Government to come to the conclusion that these remissions might properly be made. I am sure that noble Lords opposite, including two ex-Viceroys, will agree with me that Indian Governments have regarded this power of deportation as strictly an emergency power, only to be used in cases of extreme necessity. Because you cannot deny that the procedure of arresting and detaining men for an indefinite time, without charge and without trial, and without, any intention of putting them on trial, is one which is foreign to our usual procedure. It is certainly the opinion of the Indian Government that in these particular cases deportation at that time produced the effect it was intended to produce—a salutary effect. But it would be, I think, hardly fair to say that because Anarchist plots are going on—Anarchist plots always having to be distinguished from a general seditious feeling, it must be remembered—these men ought to be indefinitely detained until you are certain that these underground currents have altogether ceased to flow. That, I think, would be a hard thing to say and something of a shock to reasonable public opinion. The noble Marquess expressed himself as quite willing to trust the Indian Government in this matter, and I hope we may venture to leave the matter there, and to believe that they 32 have acted in the best interests of order in India in taking the course they did
With these observations I leave that part of the Speech which deals with affairs outside this country. The noble Marquess naturally devoted no small part of his remarks to those paragraphs in the Speech which are especially addressed to the House of Commons as dealing with finance. It certainly seems to me, so far as I have been able to judge from such attention as I am able to pay to the public Press that the position of the country with regard to finance has not been entirely appreciated. It does not seem to have been altogether understood that the subject which must have the very first claim on the attention of the Government is not the provision of Ways and Means, but the Services of the year; and for this reason, that you can get on well enough for an indefinite time, although your doing so may produce great inconvenience and much loss—you can get on so far as provision of Ways and Means is concerned, for an almost indefinite time, by borrowing; but what you cannot do without definite powers from the House of Commons is to spend any of the money which you borrow or which you raise in any other way. Therefore, the first necessity of this session is the provision of supply for the Public Services.
I digress for a moment from the financial question to say a word about the Navy. The Navy, to which I do not think the noble Marquess specifically alluded, was made the subject of a great many speeches in the course of the General Election. I do not propose to say anything here about a particular kind of speech made by some speakers—not by members of your Lordships' House—with reference to the Navy. It is always a temptation, no doubt, at such a moment to a certain class of persons of a certain order of mind, to treat it as a sort of common form of political controversy to assume that your opponents are indifferent to their national duty. Therefore I think we may sweep all such dusty electioneering rubbish aside. But altogether apart from that, it certainly cannot be denied that the position as regards the Navy Estimates which we shall have in due course to present, is a serious one and will involve considerable further sacrifices on the part of the taxpayers of the country. I do not propose on this occasion, for very obvious reasons, to discuss naval questions at all. I have no 33 doubt that when all the facts of the case are in the possession of noble Lords opposite, they will desire to have a full debate on the subject. We shall be quite ready then to meet noble Lords in any critical observations that they may care to make, and I state with no little confidence that, in my opinion, we shall be able to show that we have in no way neglected our duty in regard to this important branch of the defence of the country.
Now, my Lords, I return for a moment to the question of Supply. It will be necessary in another place—I say this really because the noble Marquess's observations on this and on the concluding paragraph of the Speech were, I think, in some degree framed with a desire to obtain information as to the course of business—that, in the first place, the Supplementary Estimates will undoubtedly occupy some little time. But the noble Marquess rather twitted us with having foretold a condition of financial chaos and seemed to think that affairs were, as a matter of fact, proceeding with ordinary financial smoothness. On the contrary, the situation in which we find ourselves financially is most extraordinary and unprecedented. The first thing to be dealt with is the War Loan, £21,000,000 of which is due to be redeemed on April 5, which means that provision has to be made for issuing Exchequer bonds to that amount before Easter. In addition to that the Exchequer have borrowed another sum of £21,000,000; that is to say, £21,000,000 which ought to have been raised by this time and would in the ordinary course have been raised by this time by the ordinary process of taxation, but which has not been raised because your Lordships did not pass the Finance Bill. That means that powers must be taken to issue Exchequer bills running for a longer term. It will also be necessary to appropriate the whole available balance from the Sinking Fund for the purposes of the Treasury. Altogether some twenty-five millions have to be found before Easter, and if noble Lords opposite consider that to be a usual and normal financial position for the country I am afraid I must beg to differ from them. Also, I should like to point out that it is not merely a question of accounts and passing measures rapidly through another place, but it also definitely means a heavy dead loss to the Treasury and to the country. And it is a loss which will be felt, and the confusion will be felt, not merely this year, but, in the 34 opinion of those best entitled to speak, it will undoubtedly affect the collection of the taxes for the year 1911–12. That being so, I do not think that the noble Marquess opposite is entirely justified in speaking, as he did, with something almost approaching pride, of the action of your Lordships' House and its effect upon the finances of the country. The whole position is in some degree complicated by a fact for which I do not hold noble Lords opposite responsible—namely, that Easter this year falls on the 27th of March. And therefore all these matters have to be settled some days sooner than would have been the case if the moon had behaved in a different manner.
The noble Marquess next touched upon a matter to which, as he said, no reference was made in the Speech—namely, the subject of Home Rule for Ireland. I have no desire to discuss the question of Home Rule for Ireland at this moment, although I am always willing to do so at the appropriate time and place. But the noble Marquess made an allusion to what the Prime Minister said on this subject at the Albert Hall. Now, I would ask him to remember what occurred. When Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's Government assumed office at the end of 1905 there was a general understanding which, at any rate, bound so many members of the Government that it might be regarded as a Government understanding, that what was known as a Home Rule Bill would not be brought forward during the course of the then Parliament. That was the common knowledge of every one. The Prime Minister, Mr. Asquith, had, after Parliament was dissolved through the act of your Lordships, to meet his supporters again. He either had to repeat that declaration or to say that it no longer held good. It is open to noble Lords opposite to say that we ought to have repeated that self-denying ordinance. What the Prime Minister did was to say that it no longer held good, that he was free—as every Prime Minister and every Government are free on every other subject in the world—to bring in a measure, if he thought fit, before the Dissolution of the present Parliament. What the impropriety of such a proceeding was I confess I cannot see. It seems to me the most natural, almost inevitable, course, and it was one, I think, which was expected, not only by the supporters of the Government, but also by its opponents.
Then the noble Marquess went on to taunt us in a kindly way on what, I think, 35 he called our allies—the two Parties who in the House of Commons are neither the Liberal Party nor the Unionist Party—and he made some comment upon our relations with them. I could not help thinking that, when the noble Marquess was speaking, he seemed to be under the impression which some of his supporters in the Press and on the platform appear to have had—namely, that he and his friends had won this election. I should like also to make one other observation. The noble Marquess twitted us with the fact that the Nationalist Members in Ireland are likely to vote with us in another place. You speak of an alliance. Is such a thing entirely new and unknown in our politics? I have never heard that noble Lords opposite and their Party have refused the votes of anybody who was good enough to walk into the same Lobby with them. I will go a great deal further, and say with the utmost confidence that if these despised so-called allies of ours were to see their way to walk into the same Lobby with the friends of noble Lords opposite I do not think we should find them saying non tali auxilio. They would gladly welcome their co-operation if it offered any opportunity which would place them on these Benches.
Now I come to the last subject—that with which the remainder of the Speech deals—namely, the relations between the two Houses. I am not sure whether it was on this or the previous subject that the noble Marquess commented on the mildness of the language used in the gracious Speech. That, I think, follows precedent. It is not usual, I think, for His Majesty's advisers to insert imprecations or strong language of any kind into the gracious Speech. But on this question our position is exactly as we stated it before the Dissolution of Parliament. It was stated by my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack in the course of the debate on the Budget. It was stated by myself in winding up that debate, and it was restated by the first authority of all, the Prime Minister, in his speech at the Albert Hall. That position is that, unless we can obtain guarantees of a statutory character, or, if you like, statutory guarantees—I think that was the phrase I used myself—statutory guarantees that the state of things which has obtained during the last four years will not be a permanent state of things, we cannot either retain or assume office; that is to say, that our retention of 36 office is for the purpose of obtaining those guarantees. That is, of course, the reason why, contrary probably to all precedent, no propositions of general legislation are to be found within the gracious Speech.
It is generally admitted—it was admitted by the noble Marquess just now, and, I have seen it admitted, I think, in a hundred speeches—that the present composition of the House is not in conformity with the powers which it claims to exercise. That is to say, your Lordships opposite, the majority of the House, in acting as you do, are conscious that you are acting with a certain lack of authority. I read a great number of speeches, many of them made by noble Lords opposite who do not often appear on the public platform, some of whom, I think, must have felt like the Homeric gods at the Siege of Troy, coming down to take part in the combats of mere mortals. All through those speeches I noticed that consciousness—a sort of apologetic consciousness—of a lack of authority on the part of the House of Lords which they felt constrained to admit; there is, that is to say, a general agreement that something has got to be done. That has been the opinion of many noble Lords in different parts of the House for a long time past. My noble friend Lord Rosebery has often, I think, expressed his astonishment that during all those years when your time was so ample and your authority so undisputed in both Houses of Parliament you never made a serious effort to deal with the House of Lords question. The result of that, of course, is that the question has not remained and could not remain where it was, that it is no longer a question—or, if you like, a question only—of the reform of the composition of the House of Lords, but it has also become a question of its power.
If I rightly apprehend the noble Marquess's observations it is not the intention of noble Lords opposite to propose any discussion of this subject until they have seen, at any rate, the main lines of our proposal. I have noticed that the noble Lord opposite, Lord Newton, has once more put clown on the Paper a Motion for the discussion of the Report of what is known as my noble friend's (Lord Rosebery's) Committee. I had long wondered why that discussion never took place before. I am told there is a practice which obtains among horticulturists of latter days of placing the bulbs of certain 37 plants in ice in order that they may flower at some time of the year at which they would ordinarily not be supposed to bloom. I was under the impression that this Motion of my noble friend was, if I may use the expression, now at last going to be taken out of cold storage, and going to be allowed to bloom in your Lordships' garden.
§ LORD NEWTON
I will take it out whenever it suits the noble Earl or the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
I was going by what the noble Marquess said. He seemed to indicate that no discussion will take place. I do not at all quarrel with his view, I may say in passing, because it may be more convenient to discuss the question as a whole and at one time. That being so, I should venture to assume that the noble Lord's Motion will not be put down for a very early date. That brings me to the question of the noble Marquess as to the time at which these proposals of ours will be considered. I think it is due to ourselves and to Parliament as a whole—I say frankly that I think it is especially due to this House—that at any rate the outline, and, if possible, more than the bare outline, of our proposals should be placed before the, country as soon as possible; but when the noble Marquess asks me when they should reach this House in the form of a Bill, that of course is a question which I cannot venture to answer because I cannot say how long the discussion may occupy in another place. I have no doubt there will be a full discussion there. I also most cordially agree that there should be full discussion here, and I have not the least doubt that, if the Bill did not reach your Lordships' House in time to give it that fair measure of discussion which it will undoubtedly deserve, you would probably refuse to consider it at all. Whether your action in so doing would be of a just character would depend upon the dates and circumstances which we are not yet able to foresee. Then the noble Marquess asked me if we hoped to pass the Bill this session. I think I can be hardly expected to give to that question an answer beyond the general one that any Government which brings in a Bill hopes to see it passed. After all, this Bill may obtain such a measure of approval from your Lordships' House that you will desire to pass it, and if so you undoubtedly will pass it. More than that I cannot say. The noble Marquess, I feel 38 sure, did not expect any very definite answer from me when he asked me to foreshadow, even in the baldest outline, the contents of that Bill. I am afraid I must ask the House to wait until our proposals have been laid before the country, and I do so not merely because it is unusual to discuss the provisions of a Bill in any way before it is introduced, but because anything I might say, knowing how little I could say, would be probably of a misleading character.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I did not press the noble Earl for a full account of the contents of the Bill.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
I did not say a full account, but if I remember aright the noble Marquess put one or two searching questions to me as to the meaning of certain words which appear in the gracious Speech. I can only say in conclusion that I hope when we have laid our proposals before your Lordships' House they will be considered, as I am sure noble Lords opposite would desire to consider them, on their merits, without any undue manifestation of Party spirit, and with a desire to arrive at a result which will be of a permanent character and for the benefit of the country at large.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
My Lords, I did not intend to take, any part in this discussion this evening. There is, however, one topic so urgent and so vital to this House which is discussed in the gracious Speech and on which I unfortunately do not find myself in full agreement with my noble friend behind me, that I feel it my duty to detain you for a very few minutes while I endeavour to lay stress upon it. Were it not for that I might have been tempted to delay for a moment to consider the various tempting topics which have been raised by my noble friend opposite, such as the announcement made to the Irish on the Irish question at the Albert Hall. With the interpretation of that announcement I for one agree with the noble Earl, but as to the interpretation which was placed on it by others I should say that was a different matter. I think the noble Earl was accurately interpreting what was said by the Prime Minister. I do not think the Prime Minister is bound in the least by any of the comments that may be placed on it by others; but at the same time it cannot be denied that un-contradicted interpretations from authorita- 39 tive quarters in other considerable parties of the State were placed on those words and must have had a considerable effect on the electoral vote. I say I do not consider the Prime Minister is in any way responsible for those interpretations.
I should also have liked to wander for a moment into the inquiries, so tempting to one's curiosity, as to what was the nature of the statutory guarantees which the Prime Minister was entitled to demand before, as I understand, he could ever face Parliament again. If my noble friend had thought well to dilate on them and to go into more detail on that subject, I am quite sure he would have spoken to a rapt and fascinated House. Nor am I tempted to dwell on one particular portion of his speech which relates to the measures soon to be introduced with regard to this House, and its relations with the other. As a matter of privilege and courtesy it would seem that a measure affecting the constitution of this House should properly be introduced in this House. There does not seem to be any intention of pursuing that procedure, and so we must be content with the somewhat languid promises held out of, at some future time—ranging from the end of summer to the beginning of winter—being permitted to examine a measure so vital to our existence. Whether that very tardy progress adumbrated by my noble friend will be altogether congenial and agreeable to those fiery horses of the sun of various colours that now drag the chariot of State is a matter into which I will not pause to inquire; but when I see that the coalition—the, what am I to say?—the other members who are accessory to the support of the Government in the other House, are anxious, without a moment's delay, without waiting for the necessary Supplies on which my noble friend has laid such, almost tearful, stress, to be allowed to fly with bared fangs at the throat of this House, I cannot guess, because I am not in their counsels, how agreeable that tardy progress, as of Cleopatra down the Cydnus, of this immaculate Bill will be to the supporters of His Majesty's Government who do not sit behind them, but who form part of the Irish or Labour contingent.
After all, we meet in a very strange condition of affairs. This election is unique, so far as my experience goes, in being an absolute disappointment to every Party 40 engaged in it. My noble friends behind me, I do not doubt, counted, with the guileless enthusiasm of their natures, on obtaining a majority over the Government. The Government, engaged in great financial measures beloved of the masses, and also engaged in a vast constitutional contest from which they could hardly be restrained by any counsels of moderation, also reckoned on preserving the unlimited confidence of the country. The Government were also disappointed. The Irish party, always solid, always homogeneous, was also disappointed. It finds itself no doubt still an Irish party, but with a small collection within its bosom of what I believe in savage warfare is called friendly natives—who are, I fancy, about as friendly to the general body of the Party as a friendly lawsuit usually is to those who are engaged in it. The Labour Party also finds its numbers considerably reduced. Therefore, we may say that no Party in the State has any reason to congratulate itself on the result of this election except in so far as it has been rendered more compact by its results.
But there is one feature of this election which is, I think, very worthy of your serious consideration as members of the House of Lords. There is no doubt that a majority of some 120 or 125—I forget the exact figures—are returned to Parliament animated by the greatest animosity against this House. Even then it requires a little analysis before we arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. There is a Government majority, I think, of two as against the Opposition. There is a Labour Party of forty, and—I am subject to correction in my figures—it is also solid as against the House of Lords. Then there is the Irish Party, or two parties, which are, I suppose, equally animated by the wish to remove this House; but with regard to this very important section of the majority of 124, in which I suppose eighty or eighty-two Irish are counted, we must remember that they do not wish the House of Lords removed for large constitutional purposes, but avowedly and solely because it constitutes an obstruction to what is called Home Rule. Bearing that in mind, we must remember that their purpose is only temporary, because after Home Rule is conceded, whenever that may be, I take it that that Irish Party will occupy itself no further with Imperial concerns, and will have little care or reckoning whether any House of Lords exists or not. I think 41 it must be said, therefore, that, analysing the majority against the House of Lords, the purpose of the Irish is in the main a temporary and not a constitutional one. I think we may further say that as regards a considerable number of subjects the Irish Party are more in sympathy with the House of Lords than with the House of Commons—questions relating to education, licensing, and so forth, on which the two Houses have been of late in considerable opposition.
I come to the point on which I differ with the noble Marquess behind me. I cannot help thinking that this is a golden moment for the House of Lords, a golden opportunity which may not recur, and that it is one which we should avail ourselves of with as little delay as possible in order to right ourselves with the public, and to put ourselves in a position to resist attacks which may weaken not the House of Lords as at present constituted but the Second Chamber, which is infinitely more important to the country, and so render a public service to the nation. I confess that when I heard the counsels of tardiness from my noble friend, and the counsels of not less leisureliness from my noble friend behind me, I felt my heart sink. Whatever you may say about the majority in the House of Commons, there is one thing every man will tell you who has had anything to do with the elections in Scotland, or I believe north of the Humber or the Trent—which he will tell you emphatically—and that is that wherever the Unionist candidates attempted to gain seats they broke their shins against the hereditary character of the House of Lords. That is the inherent vice of this House, which the country will not tolerate, which, however long you attempt to tide the matter over, you will never succeed in convincing them of the justice of, and that is the very root of the matter to which this House, in my opinion, if it is worth anything at all, should apply itself without delay. I do not wish to see this House forced under compulsion to take a measure which may seem accelerated by that compulsion, and which therefore may seem wanting in the dignity and self-respect which this House owes to itself. I say this is an opportunity which may not occur again of setting our own house in order—an opportunity, without waiting for the somewhat leisurely progress of the Bill which is to come before us, of placing our plan before the country, and 42 then allowing the country to judge between the plan of the House of Commons and our own. I take it that after all that is the real issue.
I hear thunders poured forth against what is called the veto of the House of Lords. There is no more a veto of the House of Lords than there is a veto of the House of Commons. There is a concurrent right of legislation, and if in the course of centuries one of the two branches of the Legislature has become either weakened or decayed, or is not in all respects up to the requirements of the times, it is for that branch to strengthen itself. It is then not a question of the veto, but a question of the constitution of our Second Chamber. It is for that reason that I heard with great pleasure, or read with great pleasure, in the gracious Speech from the Throne, that there was to be a measure introduced for regulating the relations between the two Houses, and also for reconstituting this House, as I understand it, for placing it in a position which can scarcely be called predominant with regard to the other House of Parliament. I rejoice, because it seemed to me that the Government had determined to abandon the fatal path on which they embarked a few years ago, when they brought forward those most unhappy Resolutions directed against this House—inept in form, but murderous in substance, because they tended to a single Chamber system.
It is perfectly obvious that when you had reduced this House to the position of lying passively down whilst a Bill is passed three times over its stomach—the process of what the Chancellor of the Exchequer calls going straight to the Throne without the intervention of the House of Lords—it was quite clear that when that had been established you would have had a single Chamber Legislature, and this House would have ceased to exist. I presume—though the language of the gracious Speech is not altogether promising, the undivided authority of the House of Commons over finance and its predominance in legislation hardly looks like the parallel course of legislation to which we have been accustomed—that the House of Commons' measure will not go on the lines of those Resolutions.
What I want to urge is this—that if under this measure introduced into the 43 House of Commons this House has to sit clown without resistance under the absolute predominance of the House of Commons, you will have very much the shadowy legislation portrayed in the Resolutions of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. I admit that it is courteous in a sense, it is right in a sense, to wait for the proposals of the Government, though they themselves would have shown perhaps a happier tone if they had introduced them into this House; but that I quite agree, in view of the conditions of their existence, is not practicable. Does that preclude us from taking such measures as we think fit to lay before the country our views of what the reform of the House of Lords should be? Suppose the proposals of the House of Commons or the Government should show a completely predominant House of Commons—I think those are the words in the King's Speech—and a completely subordinate House of Lords, will not the country say this is a Single Chamber that is proposed, and will not they say, What alternative is there to the proposals of the Government? Will it not then be necessary for the House of Lords to have some plan which it may show as the approved alternative of this House?
If the plan of the Government does mean a Single Chamber, as I cannot help fearing it may, is it not certain that it will not pass this House, even if it be the last act of authority this House is destined to exercise. If that be so, is it not certain that the competitive plans must go before the country at a General Election, and that we should be in a position, very unfortunate, very naked, if we had not a suitable plan of our own to put forward? Should not the nation be seized of the plan of the House of Lords to reform itself pari passu with the plan of the House of Commons to establish its predominance over the House of Lords? I should not have dilated so much on this subject if I did not feel most earnestly and strongly the vital character of the opportunity which is now before us. I believe the country expects it. I believe the country, while resolutely opposed to the hereditary nature of this House, is equally determined to have a strong and efficient Second Chamber.
If we in this House do not set our hands to the work, somebody else will do so for us. Suppose you proceed by Resolution. Suppose from this Bench, which exercises 44 the power in this House, a series of well-considered Resolutions were to be placed before this House, suppose the House resolved itself into Committee of the Whole House to consider these Resolutions, and after unlimited debate and discussion—I would not check that or diminish that in any way, you cannot discuss these matters too much—you were able to produce a series of Resolutions which recommended themselves to the country as being your deliberate views regarding your own future position, would not that be a great advantage? The one vital objection the country has to this House is its hereditary nature. You may say it would not look well that an election should seem to have driven you into recognition of this fact. You have indirectly already recognised this fact. You appointed a Committee at the instigation of my noble friend Lord Newton, of which the most remarkable result was that unanimously, and almost as it were spontaneously, that Committee came to the resolution that in the future the mere possession of an hereditary peerage should not entitle the bearer to a seat in this House. You have had that principle laid down by your own Committee; you have nothing to do but to affirm it as a House, and you have then taken the first step in the work of your own reform—a work which in my judgment, if it is worth anything, and I have sat in this House as long as most, is the prerogative of the House itself.
I urge this, not so much because of the House of Lords itself, but of something infinitely more important than the House of Lords, or any of its privileges—the existence of a strong and efficient Second Chamber which shall be able to keep the balance of the Constitution and prevent its heeling over to one side, as is desired by many in the other House of Parliament. We have to protect, by the constitution of an efficient Second Chamber, the country from a great tyranny. A great man, a great democrat, a great revolutionist, not inferior, if I may say so, in sagacity or wisdom to any of our present rulers—I mean Mirabeau—said to Barnave—I am sure my noble friend the Secretary of State for India remembers it—that of all tyrannies the most insupportable is that of a Single Chamber. It is because of that tyranny which seems to overshadow us, and which it is the aim of many should overshadow us, that I venture to urge your Lordships 45 not to delay, but to take your salvation boldly into your own hands and proceed with the task yourselves.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, nemine dissentiente, and ordered to be presented to His Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.
§ THE EARL OF ONSLOW—Appointed, nemine dissentiente, to take the Chair in all Committees of this House for this Session.
§ Committee for Privileges—Appointed.46
§ Committee for the Journals—Appointed.
§ Stoppages in the streets—Order to prevent, renewed.
§ Appeal Committee—Appointed.