HL Deb 16 March 1910 vol 5 cc277-366

Debate on the Motion, That the House do resolve itself into a Committee to consider the best means of reforming its existing organisation so as to constitute a strong and efficient Second Chamber, resumed (according to order).


An Amendment has been moved by Lord Stanmore, to substitute the words "Upper House of Parliament" for "Second Chamber." I will proceed to put it.


May I say one word as regards the Amendment? I do not see any great objection to the Amendment, but on the whole I prefer the words in the Motion as being more clear and as being there already. I hardly think, if my noble friend will listen to the appeal, that it is worth while making any alteration in this document at this moment.


I feel that I have done my duty in calling the attention of the House to what I consider a grave and dangerous inaccuracy. I believe my noble friend means very much what I mean, and if the House takes that view I certainly shall not press the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


My Lords, the noble Earl on the Cross Benches who has placed the Motion on the Paper which we are engaged in discussing has, I think, rendered thereby a conspicuous service to this House and to the country. When he referred in his memorable speech two nights ago to those members of your Lordships' House who had interested themselves in this question in the past he modestly refrained from alluding to one Peer who for more than a quarter of a century has identified himself with this movement, and who more than any one else is responsible for the change in public feeling on the matter. I mean to himself. In good report and in evil report the noble Earl has adhered to the views which he first put before your Lordships, I believe in the year 1884, and for my own part I firmly hope that in the decision at which your Lordships' House may arrive the noble Earl may reap the reward of his foresight and convictions.

I observe that it is a common thing to express regret that the advice of the noble Earl was not acted upon at an earlier date and that your Lordships did not proceed to consider the question of your own reform long years ago. That is a feeling which I do not altogether share. For great reforms an atmosphere of reform is wanted. You require some external stimulus, either in the pressure of public opinion or in the force of events. Great reforms, either in this country or in any other, have never come like thunder from a clear sky. It is only when there is a certain amount of electricity in the air, when there has been a prolonged, and perhaps profound, atmospheric disturbance that the minds of the people are attuned to the acceptance of great change. For my part I venture to think that this moment is not inopportune for the consideration of this question, but that it is, on the contrary, extremely favourable. We have recently had a General Election which turned very largely upon the subject of your Lordships' House. A great deal of popular and public interest has been excited on that question. Many noble Lords have been impelled thereby to devote to the subject more attention than perhaps they had previously given to it. If it be said that it is useless for a Party in opposition to consider the question of constitutional reform and that such a proceeding can only properly emanate from a responsible Government, I think the reply to that is that it is not impossible that these condi- tions may be realised at no very distant date, that His Majesty's Government are themselves, by their policy, endeavouring to remove that disability from our shoulders, and that if your Lordships find it in your power, as I trust you may do, to arrive at any general agreement on the principles of this question, there is good reason to hope that that agreement may at no very remote period in the future become the basis for legislative action taken by a responsible Government seated on those Benches in this House.

But, my Lords, although I have argued that the situation is a favourable one, and although the circumstances that I have described have brought it very rapidly to the front, I also agree with those noble Lords who have contended in debate that it is unnecessary and that it would be unwise for us to proceed with any desperate or unreasoning haste. It is unwise because, in the first place, it might suggest that we were inspired by a feeling of panic, which I am sure is not at all the case; and, secondly, because no sensible man, to whatever Party he may belong, would imagine for a moment that such a question as the reform and reconstitution of one of the branches of the Legislature of the oldest and most famous country in the world can possibly be concerted in a debate of either a few days, a few weeks, or even a few months.

We have heard a great deal in this discussion about the sifting and winnowing that will have to take place in order to eliminate the superfluous members of your Lordships' House. That we all acknowledge to be in itself a very delicate and very difficult task; but I think a not less delicate and difficult task will be the sifting and winnowing of all the various plans for the reform of your Lordships' House, with some of which we have been made acquainted and which probably nearly every noble Lord who sits on this side of the House has in his pocket, but which I think for the most part we shall do well if we put on one side on the occasion of this debate. After all, what we have to do here is to put our several ideas for what they may be worth into the common stock, not to attach ourselves too closely to any individual scheme to which we may have given publicity in the past or which we may favour now, but to arrive if we can at a general agreement on the broad principles of reform which, if they are accepted, may later on provide the basis of a concrete plan. That I understand to be the object of the noble Earl on the Cross Benches in putting his Motion on the Paper, and in that object I believe he has the support of the great majority of your Lordships' House.

My Lords, there is another criticism to which I should like to demur. The noble Viscount, Lord Morley, in his speech the other evening taunted us, very amiably as is his wont, with the transformation scene that had taken place between our attitude in November last and our position to-day, and he implied—I think he directly charged—that because the great majority of your Lordships' House thought that you were competent to reject the Budget last November and to refer it to the people, and because a good many of us defended that action of your Lordships on platforms throughout the country, therefore we regarded, or regard, the constitution of this House as above reproach, as beyond amendment, and that there has been some change of attitude, some inconsistency, a sort of deathbed repentance on our part in now coming forward and advocating measures of reform. My Lords, I do not think that that taunt can fairly be applied to the great majority of noble Lords who sit on this side of the House. There are a good many of us to whom it cannot possibly apply, and in whose cases it leaves our withers entirely unwrung.

For many years, I should say for the last twenty or thirty years, there has been a strong and stalwart body in the rank and file of the Unionist Party, both in this House and in the other House of Parliament, who have been steady and sincere advocates of the reform of this Chamber and who have not changed their opinions one iota in anything that we may say in the course of this debate. The noble Viscount will, I am sure, remember that in the old days when I had the honour of being a member of the House of Commons with him, every year there used to appear on the Paper of the House of Commons a Motion in the name of that agreeable and innocuous Vandal, Mr. Labouchere, in favour of the abolition sometimes of the hereditary principle and sometimes of the House of Lords. I do not think that anybody took it very seriously, least of all the author himself. But in looking up the debates on those occasions I find that in 1888, 1889, and 1890 I was myself responsible for putting an Amendment on the Paper of the House of Commons in favour of the reform and modification of the hereditary principle. On one occasion I had the honour of being followed in debate by the noble Viscount opposite, who chaffed me not upon the adequacy or inadequacy of our schemes for reform, but only, and with perfect justice, on the rather slow paces that were at that time taken by our leaders.

About the same time the noble Viscount, Lord Midleton, who is now seated here, and I co-operated, I remember, and we had the audacity to put forward in the pages of a magazine proposals in which the idea of service as a test for the admission of hereditary Peers to this House was, I think for the first time, elaborated on a considerable scale. We proposed a House of Lords with 300 members—I think that total is rather favoured by the noble Earl on the Cross Benches—with a proportion of fifty elected from outside. What is of more moment, some noble Lords may remember that at the same time we sent a round-robin to the late Lord Salisbury which was known as "the wail of the eldest sons." It was signed by twenty-three eldest sons of Peers who were at that time in the House of Commons and of whom as many as seventeen now have the honour of being members of your Lordships' House. If for no other reason, respectability was attached to our pronouncement by the fact that the first signature to it was that of the late Duke of Devonshire, then Lord Hartington, and of the twenty-three as many as eleven signed a declaration in favour of a modification of the hereditary principle. I do not mention these excursions of our salad days in the smallest degree with the idea of advertising our old programme or of extolling our own prescience. I merely mention them in order to show that on the part of a great many of us there has been none of that tardy conversion to which the noble Viscount opposite referred.

There is one regret which, as an old advocate of this change, I should like most sincerely to confess, and that is that neither now, nor then, nor at any time of which I am cognisant, have we received any support whatever in these ideas and views from the members of the Party opposite. I listened the other night with all respect to the speech of the noble Viscount. There was not in that speech, which was the official utterance from that Bench, any hint of any sympathy with reform of the House of Lords. What concerned the noble Viscount opposite was the relations of the two Houses and the institution of steps which would secure the subordination of this House to the House of Commons. And even in that argument I think there was some contradiction. Your Lordships will remember that at one moment of his speech the noble Viscount was found to argue that in reality we had single-Chamber Government in this country—in other words, that this House is a weak and negligible factor—and almost in the same breath he was found contending that the so-called Veto of your Lordships' House is a dangerous and unconstitutional weapon which ought to be taken away.

Both in the speeches to which we have listened from the Government during the last few months and all the way through this agitation, if agitation it has been, there has not been the slightest recognition on the part of the opposite Party that there is any national and Imperial side to this question, that it is not the victory of one Party over another, either us here or you there, that the country desires, but that the great majority of the thinking men in the country, the very men whom the noble Viscount rather unfairly disparaged the other evening, are saying all this time "A plague on both your Houses. Why don't you get to work and put an end to all these excursions and alarums, clear away the weaknesses and blemishes which everybody admits exist in your Upper Chamber, and give us something like stability and peace in our Constitution in the future?" I venture to say that that demand is becoming more articulate and more audible every day in the country, and yet, when we look to the reply that is made from the Ministry, they are perfectly dumb.

Two nights ago, Sir Edward Grey made a speech somewhere in London, and in that speech, which was partly devoted to the subject of your Lordships' House, he argued that a Government which had obtained only a majority of something like thirty in its first Division in the House of Commons, was not strong enough to reform the House of Lords. Good heavens! Is it strong enough, then to destroy it? What an admission! Their numbers are not sufficient to execute the necessary repairs in the fabric of the Constitution of the State, but they are sufficient to take the axe and crow-bar and batter it to the ground. On the first night of the session we had an equally disheartening reply from the noble Earl who leads the Government in this House. In his view, the counsels of what I should describe as of prudence and common sense cannot prevail because, he told us, the two Houses are to be regarded as in a state of war. I venture to say that that is a purely artificial and concocted belligerence, and I am sure there is no less willing participator in the fray than the noble Earl himself.

I think we may, in this respect, derive a lesson from other nations much more excitable than our own. I was reading in the papers only a day or two ago an account of a duel that had taken place in Italy. An excitable Italian Deputy had insulted, or was thought to have insulted, a General in the Parliament there. A duel ensued between the two. There was a most desperate encounter and the Deputy wounded the General in the cheek. What happened? When this climax had been reached did they separate in grumbling solitude and say that a state of war existed between them in the future? Not a bit. They met on the scene of combat, they shook hands, and with the emotionalism of southern people they actually embraced. I am not suggesting that we should indulge in any such transports as that. I am not prepared myself to embrace the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I am still more convinced that he is not prepared to embrace me. But for the two great Parties in the State, after this historic encounter in which everybody admits that neither side has gained a substantial victory, and in which, therefore, there ought to be no sense of humiliation on either side, when they come back again to stand on their dignity, or for one of them, at any rate, to stand on its dignity, and refuse to consider the welfare of the institutions in which they are jointly interested, does seem to me a melancholy illustration of the frailty of human nature and the faults of the Party system.

I will, if your Lordships will permit me, draw a more pregnant illustration still from quarters that are, perhaps, of greater interest to ourselves. A year ago I was in South Africa, and there I saw, not merely the leaders of two parties, but the captains of two armies, the champions of two races, who, a few years before, had been engaged in a bloody and devastating war, laying aside all animosities, burying their ancient tales of wrong, and co-operating together in order to create a new Constitution for their country. My Lords, if Boer and Briton can do that in South Africa, why cannot Liberal and Conservative do it here? The task there was much more delicate and complex than anything that confronts us here. They had to bind up the wounds of the battlefield. We merely have to heal the contusions of the platform. They were engaged in building up a new Constitution. All that we have to do is to patch up an old one. They were engaged in creating a new nation. What we want to do is to preserve all that is best in one of the oldest and most famous nations of the world.

But I suppose it is no good talking like this. We are officially told that we are officially at war with each other and, therefore, instead of co-operating together, as sensible men ought to do, we are reduced to this impotent strife which can only result in detriment to the country and injury to both the Parties in it. The Government are the best judges of their own conduct, and I dare say it is an impertinence on my part to venture to criticise them as I have done. I think myself they are mistaken. I think that history will not lightly exonerate the heads of a great Party, sponsors and creators of this House just as much as we may be, if in a fit of petulance or simulated resentment they stand aside while the fate of this House is being discussed and affect a scornful indifference to proposals that are being put forward for its improvement. However that may be, our path, I think, is clear. I hope we shall not let slip the opportunity, the great and golden opportunity, as I regard it, that has been presented to us, and I trust that in these proceedings the majority of your Lordships' House will sincerely, honestly, definitely, and finally commit yourselves to the broad principles of a serious and acceptable scheme of reform of this Chamber.

There are many of us in this House who took part in the recent General Election which, as I have said, turned largely on the question of the House of Lords. I think we did so with much advantage and pleasure to ourselves, and not altogether without satisfaction to the people. Anyhow, the House of Commons appears to have been so much impressed with, if not the popularity, at any rate the propriety of our proceedings that their first act at the commencement of the session was to extend the period of our activity in the future right up to the day of the polls. I own I am aghast at the vistas of rhetorical activity that this seems to open up before us, and which, I observe, struck a chill into the intrepid bosom of my noble friend Lord Newton, though I think that was a simulated indignation on his part—[Lord NEWTON: Not a bit.]—because I believe he occupied almost every night between the rejection of the Budget by this House and the issue of the writs in making admirable and convincing speeches in the country which were largely responsible for the result that was attained. Whether that does or does not add to our burdens in the future, I think it is a good thing for your Lordships' House, because it will help to put an end to the childish nonsense that we hear talked about the alleged difference between the Peers and the people, the sham distinction between the classes and the masses. If your Lordships appear, as I hope you will continue to do, in the future, on the platform in the stress of a General Election those preposterous ideas cannot continue to prevail, and I believe the time will come when that unthinking act of the House of Commons the other day will be regarded as a striking incident in the history of the British aristocracy, and as having started them on a career of fresh contact and of fresh influence with the people.

What was our experience at the General Election in relation to the House of Lords? Each man can, of course, only speak from his own experience, which is necessarily limited, but I think most noble Lords on this side will agree with what I am about to say. In the first place, we found the keenest interest to hear the question of the House of Lords discussed, and a perfectly good-humoured and truly British desire to hear the case of the Peers stated by a Peer himself. Secondly—and here, of course, I can only speak from my own experience—there did not appear to be any resentment at our action in referring the Budget to the people. On the contrary, the people showed by their votes that we had correctly gauged their views, because, as we all know, they have returned to Parliament a majority believed to be hostile to that measure. Thirdly, I would say this, that the country showed itself absolutely resolved to have a Second Chamber of some sort. I do not deny that there may be a section or sections of the community who, because they are interested in some particular object in the way of which stands your Lordships' House, may be opposed to the existence of any Second Chamber in this country. That is true of the Socialist Party; to some extent it is true of the Labour Party; and I believe, for the time being, at all events, of the whole of the Irish Party. But obviously these are the interested and selfish views of fractions, I might almost say factions, of the community; they are not the views of the country as a whole. I doubt if any of your Lordships will deny the proposition that this country, democratic as it is, is not prepared to entrust its destinies to the unfettered control of a representative Chamber, even though that Chamber be elected by itself.

If the country desires a Second Chamber, is it not clear also, from all our experience, that it desires a Second Chamber that shall be reasonably efficient and strong—not so strong as to override and overawe the House of Commons, but strong enough to be courageous and independent—the precise virtues that have more than once been claimed for your Lordships' House in the course of this debate—able to discharge with efficiency its functions as a revising and suspensory Chamber, and sufficiently representative to represent in this House those sides of the national character, those aspects of public feeling, and those departments of public activity which are not, and from the nature of the case cannot be, properly represented in the House of Commons? I believe that that is a fairly correct statement of the views of the country on this subject.

Then I would say this—and here, again, I think I shall be endorsed by noble Lords behind me—that during the election there was no subject more certain to evoke cheers than the advocacy of the reform of the House of Lords; and at the same time there was no subject which excited less enthusiasm than the proposals of His Majesty's Government. I believe that Lord Marchamley, whom I see in his place and whose recent pronouncement was quoted on Monday by the noble Earl on the Cross Benches, correctly represented the views of the great majority of the Party whom he recently shepherded into the Liberal fold when he denounced the Campbell Bannerman proposal to which we understand the Government have pinned their faith. I can only say that I never met a Liberal who, in the frankness of personal intercourse, did not regard that particular proposal for the destruction of the Veto and the emasculation of the House of Lords as otherwise than illogical and absurd. Surely there is something intensely grotesque in denouncing as a House of hereditary incompetents your Lordships' House, and then leaving it to exist still as a Second Chamber, still as a House of Lords, in order that you may pour your recruits into its disabled and discredited ranks. Is there not also something eminently unjust in the attempt to deprive your Lordships of the greater part of your constitutional and legal rights, and to leave you to sit in this Chamber with your privileges gone and only your disabilities left? And I would say, too, that there is something almost shabby and mean in the attempt to use a passing Parliamentary majority in order permanently to stereotype the superiority of one Party in the State. For these reasons I believe the particular proposals which represent the policy of the Government have not the smallest chance, whatever may be their immediate future, of being permanently incorporated in the Constitution of this country. I am surprised, though I cannot profess to be sorry, that the Government have pinned their allegiance to proposals which seem to us at all events to be so illogical, so indefensible, and so manifestly unfair.

Then, my Lords, I doubt very much from what I saw whether the country entertains any real objection to the exercise by your Lordships' House of your constitutional rights—be they legal or constitutional, I do not dispute that point—with regard to Finance Bills, Money Bills, and Supply. I have no doubt they would object to the wanton and frequent and unscrupulous use of those rights; but the whole case of noble Lords opposite is that our action was a single and unprecedented one, so that that argument cannot apply. So far as I can judge, the electorate saw and see no reason why the Second Chamber of this country should not enjoy the same privileges as regards the treatment of finance which are possessed, for instance, by the Senates of the most democratic countries in the world, the United States of America and France, which are enjoyed by the Second Chambers which we have given to our most important Colonies, and which indeed form part of the Constitution of every considerable State in the civilised world.

I believe that the particular cry that we are upsetting the balance of the Constitution, which we first heard from the Woolsack, is one which has not aroused any general response in the country, and that it would have needed even more than the persuasive eloquence of the noble and learned Lord himself to convince a public meeting of the proposition that he placed before your Lordships' House in November last. But even if this be true, there remain certain faults and blemishes in your Lordships' House as to which the country is, I think, convinced, and as to which it does desire amendment. The first of these can be dismissed in a couple of sentences because there is almost universal agreement on the matter. It is that this House is needlessly large. You are indeed the largest Senate in point of numbers in the world. And there are a considerable number of your members who might be relieved of their legislative duties without considerable sacrifice to themselves and without detriment to the State.

The second feeling in the country is a feeling of regret that no machinery has ever been devised by which the Liberal Party when it is in a great majority, as it is now, as it has recently been, and as it may be again, in the House of Commons, can obtain an adequate reflection of its predominance in this House. My Lords, may I say in all sincerity that we on this side regret that just as much as you do. We regret the spectacle which we often see of the rather naked condition of the benches opposite. We know very well that it gives an air of one-sidedness and of unreality to our proceedings. We sympathised with the noble Earl the leader of the House, when, in a speech which he delivered some time ago he complained of the feeling of depression which settled down upon his own spirit because of the surroundings in which he found himself, and we know that the disparity between the two sides paralyses and sterilises our debates. There is not one of us who does not welcome the plentiful infusion of new blood to those benches, and we rejoice that the stream continues to pour in with undiminished force. But as we see the incoming current gradually changing its hue and assimilating itself to the larger stream which it joins, although we may express no surprise I can assure your Lordships that we feel great regret at the result. I believe that if any scheme could be devised—and I think such a scheme is a necessary part of any measure of reform—by which the Liberal Party could be assured of a more permanent representation in this House, it would meet with a most ready acceptance from those who sit on this side.

Then, my Lords, there is the well-known and admitted objection to the mainly hereditary composition of your Lordships' House. I say mainly because I think that the extent of the hereditary basis of this House is apt to be somewhat exaggerated, and that the public hardly realise the fact that as much as one-fourth of this House is not constituted upon an hereditary basis at all. There are the twenty-six Bishops, who represent their sees, and who may be said to come here on the ground of personal service; there are the six Law Lords, there are the sixteen Scottish and the twenty-eight Irish Peers who, although they are elected out of the hereditary Peerage, yet come here not as hereditary Peers, but by right of election. Finally, there are no fewer than eighty members of your Lordships' House who have been sent here for the first time in their own persons by recent Ministries, both Conservative and Liberal, who may beget hereditary Peers in the next generation, but who are not hereditary Peers themselves and who, in many cases, having no heirs and no families, are more like Life Peers than anything else. If you add all these together you have no fewer than 150 members of your Lordships' House who are not here by virtue of hereditary right at all. I am in agreement with the general propositions of the noble Earl on the Cross Benches, but I think, if he will allow me to say so, that he rather overstated his case against the hereditary principle both in the estimation in which it is held in the country and in its effect on the policy of the State.

Now, I have some figures here which I should like to give to the House. I suppose that if the argument about the absurdity of the hereditary principle were sound the last person whom a popular electorate ought to return to Parliament would be the eldest son of a Peer. If a man is absurd as a legislator in this House when his father is dead, he ought to be equally absurd as a legislator in the other House while his father is still alive. Now, in the recent election the number of eldest sons who stood for the House of Commons was thirty-six, and of these no fewer than twenty-four were returned to the House of Commons, twenty-two of them representing the Party who are described as the hereditary foes of the people. The number of younger sons of Peers standing for the House of Commons was forty, of whom twenty-three were successfully returned—a rather less proportion, so that the country, if any inference is to be drawn from proportion, rather preferred the elder sons to the younger sons, thereby giving the seal of their approbation to this most vicious principle. Then the country actually had the chance of returning Peers to the House of Commons for there were three Irish Peers who stood for popular constituencies. Two of these, drawn from the Party to which I belong, were elected, and the third drawn from the Party opposite was rejected. Finally, the number of seats that were won from the Radicals by eldest sons of Peers was nine, and the number gained by the younger sons of Peers was seven. Those figures—which I give for what they are worth; I do not want to push them too far—indicate a somewhat different aspect of the attitude of the electorate towards the hereditary principle from that which finds currency in a great many speeches that we hear.

I should like now to consider the operation of the hereditary principle in our Constitution. I put aside for the moment the question of antiquity, although I think in an ancient country like ours that is by no means to be disregarded. I put aside also, the unchallenged application of the principle of heredity in the case of the Throne. I say only that I think a very good case can be made out for the hereditary principle on the ground of proven utility in the service of the State. I think it would be absurd to say that the hereditary principle justifies the House of Lords, but I think it might not unfairly be contended that the House of Lords has justified the hereditary principle. It has given the country a House of Lords which, at any rate, over the broad field of its history, has seldom been wanting in wisdom and courage. It has given to this country an upper class which, on the whole, has honourably and fairly trained itself in the responsibilities of government. It has saved this country from the danger of a plutocracy or an upper class of professional politicians. It has given us a Second Chamber which has been strong enough to resist the clamour of popular passion, but not strong enough to offer permanent obstruction to necessary change. I think all these claims can fairly be made for the hereditary principle. I do not wish to push them too far; but I think they justify our desire to retain for the hereditary element a fair share, I will not say a preponderating share, in the future composition of a reformed House of Lords.

I admit that were we now constructing a Second Chamber we should not dream of basing it on the hereditary principle. I quite admit that the principle is open to attack, criticism, misrepresentation, and abuse, which weaken its force and give it an insufficient hold upon the confidence of the people. I would go further and say that to some extent it is an historical anachronism. In the past, when the great landowners represented the chief force of the State—a force so strong that it could stand up successfully against the King—it was a natural thing that the hereditary principle should be the basis for the Second Chamber. Now other interests have come to the front, the balance of society has been changed, and that which might have been desirable and proper as the sole basis of a Second Chamber two or three hundred years ago has ceased to have the same efficacy and justification. For these reasons I agree that the hereditary principle ought no longer to be the main basis of the constitution of a reformed House of Lords; but I hope very much that the hereditary principle will not be banished from its association with this House. I am sure nothing is further from the intentions of Lord Rosebery than to suggest anything of the sort. [The Earl of ROSEBEEY: Hear, hear.] I am sure he would agree with me in holding that it is desirable, in any scheme of reform, that the hereditary Peers should retain, either by process of election or selection, or subject to such tests as the wisdom of the House may decide, a considerable, although not necessarily a preponderant share in the composition of this House.

There is another reason why we should not depart too hastily from precedent in this matter or bring about too violent a rupture with the past. We are rather apt to talk in this country as if the only persons interested in the House of Lords were the electors of the United Kingdom. But there is such a thing as the British Empire. The proceedings of your Lordships' House are studied probably quite as closely—I dare say more closely—across the seas than they are in this country; and the point of view from which this House, and, indeed, both Houses, are regarded in our Dominions is not less important than the point of view from which they are regarded at home. Remember this. The members of the House of Commons are elected exclusively by the voters of England. Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, and are chosen, almost exclusively, on domestic grounds; and yet these members are charged with the government of the whole British Empire.

You may ask—How is it that this astonishing constitutional anomaly has survived through all these years? It is due to two facts. In the first place, to the fact that the Colonies themselves have year by year acquired an increasing measure of self-government, which has enabled them to override the mistakes and to snap their fingers at the sometimes injudicious interference of the House of Commons; and, secondly, to the fact that the Colonies have always looked to this House as containing a truer perception of Imperial and Colonial feeling than the House across the way; as a place where their case is stated with experience, is regarded with sympathy, and is judged with authority. As one who has served the Empire in foreign parts I cannot exaggerate the importance of this consideration. It is quite a mistake to suppose that, because the Colonies are Liberal or democratic in sentiment, therefore they have an inherent dislike to an aristocratic Second Chamber. What they want in a Second Chamber is character, authority, and experience. If they found that a Second Chamber composed exclusively of Dukes was more infected with the Imperial spirit and viewed their standpoint with greater sympathy, they would vote for a Second Chamber of Dukes. Anyhow I am quite certain they would sooner have a Second Chamber of Dukes than a First Chamber of demagogues.

If these considerations apply to great democratic communities like the Colonies, how much more do they operate in the case of an ancient and aristocratic continent like that of India. If you ask the potentates of Asia or the Princes of India to which House of His Majesty's Parliament they look with greater respect and greater sympathy, I very much doubt whether they will reply the House that sits across the way. The House of Lords is regarded throughout India with enormous veneration and respect. This is largely due to the fact that the composition of this House rests on a basis which is familiar in every stratum of Indian society; and I beg of you to be very careful that in your scheme for reforming this House you do not destroy that respect, that veneration which is essential not merely to your Constitution but to the maintenance of your Empire. You cannot afford in the pursuit of any merely Party interest to ignore the point of view of the Empire, and it is impossible for any Party to remodel the Constitution in order to satisfy its domestic interests at home without any regard to the impression that may be produced in those wider areas across the seas.

I have been defending the retention of some share of the hereditary Peerage in the future composition of this House. We are then confronted with the difficulty of how to fill up the remainder. My noble friend Lord Salisbury made a most able and powerful plea yesterday for the principle of Peerages nominated by the Crown on the advice of the Prime Minister. I would gladly see a number of such Peerages to be filled at the rate of so many a year for a term of years, placed at the disposal of the Prime Minister of the day, because it would enable him to fill up the gap on the opposite benches which I have already deplored. But I hope that in considering the question of replenishing this House from outside you will not lightly dismiss the idea which was favoured by Lord Rosebery of election for a portion at any rate of your Lordships' House. For a purely elective Second Chamber I have no sympathy whatever. I hope your Lordships will have nothing to do with it. We do not want two Parliamentary Kings of Brentford in this country. We feel that it is almost impossible to imagine an elective Second Chamber which will not steal away some of the prestige and authority of the House of Commons, or which will not land us in periods of recurrent constitutional strife. But though election may be, in the opinion of many of us, the worst of all suggestions as the exclusive basis for a Second Chamber, I yet hold, and I think that many of your Lordships will agree with me, that it is worthy of consideration as a basis for a portion of a reformed House of Lords.

I argue this question on the widest grounds of expediency and public interest. What do we want to secure in reforming the House of Lords? In the main, I take it, we desire to broaden the basis of this House in public esteem, and to bring it into closer contact than it is in now with the life, the aspirations, and the needs of the democracy at large. A freer use of nomination, as recommended by Lord Salisbury, may, as I have said, enable a Radical Minister to put more Radical Peers on those Benches. But will it attach the democracy to the House of Lords, or make the House stronger in the support and esteem of the people? It is not our business at this stage to work out a plan. The noble Earl who opened this debate deliberately refrained from doing so. I should be most averse myself from direct election to this House by popular constituencies. But the noble Earl indicated a scheme which is well worthy of serious consideration. He indicated that it might be possible to group the county councils and the county borough councils, and that they might choose, let us say, a committee out of their number, which might elect or return a Peer to this House. That might be done on a certain scale of population. We may imagine that with a population of 42,000,000, which, I believe, is that of the United Kingdom at the present time, and with a Peer from every 500,000 of the people, you might in that way return eighty-four Peers to this House. That, at any rate, is a feasible plan.

I do not wish, however, to say anything more about plans now, because really plans must come at a later stage. We shall then be at liberty to discuss and to analyse them. All that I have ventured to contend is that the arguments against election are not so powerful as to rule that principle out of your Lordships' consideration. For my own part, the essence of all reform is that we should endeavour to render your Lordships' House more popular—I do not mean more popular in the narrow application of the term, as enabling it to catch votes at an election, but more popular in the sense of being more deeply rooted in the confidence and esteem and support of that which is, after all, the source of all political momentum, all strength, all power in this country—namely, the democracy itself.

The noble Earl concluded his speech two nights ago by an appeal to your Lordships to rise to the level of the occasion and, by voluntary sacrifice of some, at any rate, of your privileges, to lay the founda- tions of an enduring Constitution in this country. I venture to think that that appeal will not fall on unwilling ears. In the long and glorious history of this House your Lordships have shown no reluctance to surrender any of your prerogatives which were open to misrepresentation or abuse. In 1868 you abolished the right to vote by proxy; in 1881 you disabled the bankrupt Peer from sitting and voting in this House; in 1876 you instituted a Life Peerage; in 1888 Lord Salisbury, the most powerful Prime Minister of recent times, proposed a scheme for a wide extension of that principle. In 1907 you appointed a Committee to consider your future constitution, and in 1908 that Committee both as its first act and its last act passed by a unanimous vote the important principle which figures as the third Resolution on the Paper. These are, I think, indications of a sincere desire to subordinate private interests to the public good, and of your willingness to surrender any of your privileges which can no longer be properly defended or beneficially maintained.

But there is, after all, another side of the question. It is, I think, rather too hastily assumed that your Lordships are being asked to give up a great deal, and that you are going to get nothing whatever in return. That is not at all my view of the case. I believe your Lordships would gain at least as much as you would lose. Let me put the point. Take the case of a British Peer. The British Peer at present is compelled to be a member of your Lordships' House, whether he wishes or not. He cannot stand for the House of Commons; if he is a member of the House of Commons and succeeds to a Peerage, he is turned out of that House, and he cannot resign his membership here. Take the case of an Irish Peer. If an Irish Peer is not elected a representative Peer, it is true that he can stand for Parliament, but he cannot stand for a constituency in Ireland, where he is best known and for which he would most likely wish to sit. He has to come and find a constituency in this country. And if he is not elected for the House of Commons here, or if he does not wish to stand for the House of Commons here, and if at the same time he does not succeed in being elected as a representative Peer, he is excluded from Parliamentary life altogether. There are sixty Irish Peers at present in that position. Then take the case of a Scottish Peer. He is in the worst position of all. A Scottish representative Peer is only elected for a Parliament. He may lose his seat. He has done so. He may fail to get elected at all. In that case he cannot even go to an English constituency; he is allowed to stand for nowhere. He is a sort of pariah dog in the Constitution and cannot anywhere find a Parliamentary kennel in which to lay his head.

Well, all these disabilities which I have described, whether they apply to the British Peerage, the Scottish Peerage, or the Irish Peerage, must inevitably be swept away in any scheme of reform. All those disabilities will be removed in return for the sacrifice that your Lordships are requested to make. But then what will happen to a Peer in the future? A Peer may hope for election or for selection as one of the representatives of the hereditary Peerage in this House. If he fails in that object he might have the honour to become a Peer nominated upon the advice of the Prime Minister by the Crown. Or, in the third place, he might stand as a Peer for one of those larger constituencies, and might come up to this House as the Peer, for instance, for the City of London, or Lancashire or Yorkshire. Or, if all those avenues are shut to him, and he still desires to enter public life, there will remain entrance to the House of Commons. I hope I have demonstrated that if a good deal is taken away a good deal also may conceivably be added, and my own opinion is that, if your Lordships are willing to accept these sacrifices, what you surrender with one hand you will win back with the other. And if your attitude is favourable towards these counsels of reform you will place this House on a new foundation, which will not merely enable it to resist the shocks of Party strife in the future, and drive down fresh and living roots in the support of the people, but will give to the order to which you belong new and wider fields of activity, and will increase your popularity and your influence in the country at large.


I feel that I am at some disadvantage in following in debate so acknowledged a master of oratory as the noble Lord who has just sat down. I welcomed from the bottom of my heart the first words in the opening part of the speech to which we have just listened. The noble Lord invited your Lordships to join with him in an investigation with regard to a reconstruction of this House on the principles of the Resolutions which are before us, and he also asked us to throw our ideas into the common stock, so that we might together, on a non-Party basis I should imagine, help each other in the benevolent work of bringing about a reconstruction and reform of this House on a broader basis. But only a very short time passed before the noble Lord, driven, no doubt, by the fire of his own eloquence, proceeded to discuss, not the Resolutions which are before the House, but statistics of the General Election, matters concerned with the Budget, Chancellors of the Exchequer, and other inflammable matters of that sort; and shortly afterwards the noble Lord proceeded to criticise my noble friends who sit behind me with regard to propositions which we well know have not yet been placed on the Table of this House, and which we shall be able to meet in debate when they are put forward. I do not propose to follow the noble Lord in that polemical course, and I regret that he himself departed for a time from the original intentions which he had marked out in his speech.

My noble friend on the Cross Benches, Lord Rosebery, not in the memorable speech with which he delighted this House and the country on Monday last but on a previous occasion, told us that your Lordships' House was the one assembly where a man might speak his independent thoughts and be listened to with patience and even with sympathy by his opponents. My Lords, I believe that never before, in my time, at any rate, has there been an occasion on which independent thought and unbiassed opinions were more necessary than now, for we are surely discussing a subject the inevitable outcome of which will touch the very foundations of our Constitution. The noble Viscount the Secretary of State for India told us the other night, very appositely, that the propositions of the Government were not before us. He meant, I presume, that we have not before us the results of the final and definite determination of a united Cabinet. That is undoubtedly a disadvantage in discussing these measures. On the other hand, in my humble opinion at any rate, it is not without advantage to the orthodox followers of my noble friend, because it places them in discussing this subject in a position of greater freedom and less responsibility, and it enables them to put forward their objections, if objections they have, to any possible scheme before it is finally announced and definitely laid before this House and the country. And surely that is also an advantage because it enables objections, if objections should exist, to be answered, and the dissentients, if dissentients there be, to be satisfied, and in that way the unity of the Party—if Party unity is in any way threatened—would undoubtedly be maintained.

But whatever ultimately may be our opinions on the Government scheme which is not now before us, of one thing I am well assured, speaking as a Liberal, and that is that to the propositions which have been laid before us by the noble Earl and which will be moved by the noble Earl when we go into Committee the most orthodox of Liberals can give his consent in the most unqualified manner. How often in the past, on platform after platform, have we not heard the hereditary principle as applied to the House of Lords denounced? I remember the noble Viscount, Lord Morley, my earliest teacher on this subject, borrowing a phrase of John Wesley's and applying it to the House of Lords. He told us that the time had come—I think it was very nearly thirty years ago—when this House must be either mended or ended. The reconstruction and remodelling of this House has over and over again during the past twenty years been advocated by Members on both sides; and we have heard speeches on this matter from some of the most distinguished leaders of the Liberal Party both inside and outside this House.

The noble Lord opposite, Lord Curzon, said something about legislating in a panic. I do not for a moment say he said that; but I have seen it stated in some influentia journals that the position which is now taken up by this House is the result of a scare as to what is going to happen hereafter. I looked up the meaning of the word "scare." In the dictionary it is defined as "a momentary panic over some trifling cause." Well, my Lords, Lord Rosebery, Lord Onslow, and other noble Lords have been advocating this matter since 1884. How, then, can it be said that this action is being taken in a state of panic? If that state of things had obtained during those twenty-six years, I think the nervous systems and the bodily health of my noble friends would not have been so flourishing as I am happy to see they are to-day.

The fact is, this question of reforming the House of Lords has been gradually ripening in the minds of the country, and the time has come when we must offer a definite opinion and probably take a final decision on the subject. The propositions of my noble friend on the Cross Benches are simple, but they are far-reaching. They will form, as I believe, the bases of a measure which may be brought in at some future time. They may not be the only propositions which will emerge in the course of our debate, but the results of these propositions, if your Lordships accept them, will, I conclude, be the basis of decided action in the future. They would be laid before the country at the next General Election as propositions and Resolutions only, and if the country accepted them the Government returned would embody them in a Bill, and then that Bill would be laid before your Lordships' House and the other House of Parliament for consideration. All I can say is, if that be the destination of these Resolutions I for my part will give them my warmest support and approbation, and I cannot for the life of me think why they should not have the support of any orthodox Liberal.

I should like to refer to a matter which, though not one of major importance, is yet worthy of consideration. I am presumptuous enough to take upon myself to mention this matter because it is an idea which has not been ventilated in your Lordships' House, and though it is well known in connection with other Senates I have never yet heard it proposed definitely for application to your Lordships' House. The question I refer to is, At what age should a hereditary Peer be qualified to take his seat as a Lord of Parliament? A Peer, as we all know, if he succeeds in his minority, takes his seat in this House at the age of twenty-one. That is not the case in many Senates. Take the Senate of France, for instance. That has been one of the most successful Senates which the world has ever seen, and it has fully justified its institution after the troubles of 1870. It has full powers of legislation; it has full powers over finance; it inaugurates legislation, and it embodies some of the most distinguished men of France who are proud to be members of it. What age has a Senator in France to be before he is fully qualified to take his place? Forty is the age fixed. It may be said, of course, that that is somewhat too advanced an age.

Noble Lords will remember the cor- respondence which appeared in the newspapers some years ago when it was contended by many that men were "too old at forty." That theory has somewhat disappeared, and it is a theory which could not be advanced in this House considering the notable examples we have to the contrary. My noble and learned friend the late Lord Chancellor, who is going to take part in this debate, is one of the most distinguished members of this House, but if I may say so without presumption, he could not possibly have been too old at forty. In fact, I go a little further and say that if he takes up a hostile position towards those who are advocating these Resolutions, they would find that besides "not being too old at forty," he was very much too young for them at eighty-five. I have ventured to state this proposition so that it might be considered whether the age of future Lords of Parliament might not be somewhat advanced. A Senate is surely not senile because it insists that its members should come to it with mature opinions and matured judgment. Nor could it be said that it is in its dotage because it demands as a qualification some experience and action in public affairs. It might be said, in opposition to this, that it would be a self-denying ordinance for our younger members. I say, on the contrary, it would be an advantage to our younger members, because it is obvious they would be in the position of elder sons. They would succeed as Lords of Parliament at thirty-five or forty instead of at twenty-one, and during that period they would be in a position, if they could get a constituency to elect them, to sit in the House of Commons. I think that some of the most illustrious members of this Assembly would have been glad if they had had an opportunity of serving during the years between twenty-one and thirty-five in the House of Commons, and obtaining that closer touch with the people of this country which membership of the House of Commons so often brings about.

I was very sorry yesterday to hear noble Lords opposite for whose opinions I have the greatest respect say that the House of Commons had become degenerated, and they dwelt upon the degeneracy which in their opinion existed. The House of Commons, like any other body may do foolish things. It may produce foolish members. That is regrettable, but at the same time it is transient. Although I am a profound believer in a Second Chamber as an absolute necessity in constitutional government, I am a House of Commons man to the tips of my fingers. The House of Commons is the best school that any one can go to. It teaches moderation and self-control, and, moreover, it forms the character of men who in their youthful days are members of it. Character is a quality far higher than mere talent, and in my humble opinion forms the one antidote to that universal cleverness as opposed to wisdom, which in my view is the prevailing vice of the present generation. I have ventured to make this small suggestion as to the limit of age at which Peers might become Lords of Parliament. I do so with the utmost diffidence, because I am well aware that I have not the position nor the influence to press upon your Lordships any vital alteration in the constitution of this House, but I did think that it was a matter which might come under discussion in the course of our debate, and I am thankful to the House for having allowed me to place it before them on this occasion.

I come now to what I consider to be a subject of the supremest importance with regard to any reform of this House—a subject which though not tabled in the Resolutions before the House must be in everybody's mind, and to a certain extent must dominate the whole course of our proceedings with regard to the reform of this House. The subject to which I refer is whether or not we are to include the question of deadlocks between the two Houses in any scheme or in any Resolutions which we put forward. Deadlocks are well known to every country in which there is a two-Chamber system of Government. The solution of the difficulties which they create has been often discussed by constitutional writers. They are the inevitable results of the two-Chamber system, and they are often the desirable results of that system when they call the attention of the country to legislation which it is not yet ready to accept. I think that deadlocks are the inevitable result of that system of government, "one person and two Houses," which Cromwell so warmly advocated. Many schemes have been put forward to meet this difficulty. One scheme, probably the simplest scheme with regard to deadlocks between the two Houses, would be to deprive the Second Chamber of the powers by which deadlock is brought about. Whether we agree with that proposition or not, no one, I think, can deny that it is a very serious one to make, and that it goes to the very root of our Constitution and of the two-Chamber system.

I would ask even the most vehement reformer in this direction, Is it necessary that the ultimate Veto, either financial or legislative, should be taken away from the Second Chamber? I ask that question in the interest of the unwritten Constitution. The other day the most rev. Primate, with his usual wisdom, drew the attention of the House to the priceless value of the unwritten Constitution, a possession which has been handed down to us by the wisdom of our ancestors. The advantages of an unwritten Constitution are obvious. It has often been said that the two Houses of Parliament combined are like the celebrated steam-hammer. The two Houses can crack the nut in some vestry reform and at the same time possess the power of checking and determining a dynasty. That is the power of the unwritten Constitution, and I should think its advantages would be manifest, not only to moderate men, but even to the extremest of extreme Radicals. But in establishing a written Constitution, which is the only other way in which we can deal with the matter, we must, as I shall venture to show, also establish a supreme Court. I would ask to be permitted to give an illustration of what I mean.

Take what is called the financial Veto. Following upon the action that was taken with regard to the Finance Bill last year, I have heard moderate men on both sides of the House say that they were prepared to consider—I do not say they were prepared to accept—the laying aside of the financial Veto of this House on certain conditions. What were those conditions? Inevitably that you must have a clause in the same measure which would define "tacking," and which would render "tacking" impossible in the future. Otherwise it is obvious it would be intolerable if a Government, a chance majority of the day, were able to send a Finance Bill, which we were unable to deal with, and join to it some measures which go much further than any finance questions. But, my Lords, let the greatest Parliamentary draftsman of the day make that clause; let it be passed by some of the wisest statesmen of the time as satisfactory; yet I am certain that in a few short years you would have a Finance Bill sent up here, not for our rejection, because the power would have gone, but containing measures which this House would undoubtedly say were "tacking." The other House would say, "They are not 'tacking.'" What would be the inevitable result? You must have a Court of Appeal, and if you have a Court of Appeal to deal with a statutory obligation, what is that but a supreme Court to which you are referring the Constitution of the country? Therefore I think I have shown that, even in a minor subject with regard to the financial Veto, even touching the very fringe of the subject of limiting the powers of this House, you must inevitably establish a written Constitution and also its companion, a supreme Court.

Then I come to what has been called the legislative Veto. For my own part I dislike the word "Veto" altogether. Veto does not, in my humble opinion, define what are the powers of rejection or moderation possessed by this House, and I dislike it personally because it reminds me of the French Revolution, of tumbrils and guillotines. The abolition of the so-called Veto has been advocated in certain quarters, and in very eminent quarters. I am not referring to my noble friends in the Government of the day, but to the leaders of the Labour and the Irish Parties—not unimportant factors in the present Parliament. What do these leaders advocate? They advocate that the legislative Veto should be taken away in its entirety from your Lordships' House. There is no talk with these gentlemen of reconstruction. There is no talk of re-modelling and making your House better. They say openly, and quite rightly from their point of view, that they wish to establish a Chamber which would find it impossible to object to measures sent up by a majority of the House of Commons in one Parliament, and in one Parliament alone. That is a proposition which may receive the assent of many in this country, but I do not think it can be denied for a single moment that if you deprive the Second Chamber of its Veto in general legislation—and this fact was dwelt on in one of the most striking passages in the speech of the noble Earl on the Cross Benches—you must inevitably reduce the Second Chamber to a lower level than any other Senate in the world. That may be right or wrong, but it is the inevitable fact. Is it right that this Imperial Senate—for, after all, it is an Imperial Senate, or ought to be—is it right that a body of such supreme authority should be placed on a lower level than the Senates of other countries and the Senates of our own Colonies?

What are we really seeking to do in these Resolutions and in the re-modelling of the House which my noble friends have advocated? I conclude that we are seeking to reconstruct the Second Chamber so that it should be "strong and efficient." In order to be strong you must be efficient, and to be efficient you must of necessity have the power to be strong. How do those who wish to re-model this Chamber seek to make this House strong and efficient? By giving it the only strength which any constitutional governing body can possibly possess, and that is the confidence of the people whom it seeks to govern. The Government could not deny that in reconstructing this Chamber the object which they have at heart is to give it the confidence of the people; but if, in reconstructing this Assembly, you take away those powers which every other Senate in the world possesses, you are obviously establishing your new Chamber, not on the confidence of the people, but on the distrust of the people. That, my Lords, is surely a very unhappy foundation on which to build our re-modelled Chamber.

I heard with pleasure my noble friend Lord Morley the other day using, and I have heard other noble Lords in the Government use, not the phrase "abolition of the Veto," but "limitation of the Veto." The limitation of the Veto is a very different thing from the abolition of the Veto. Limitation has long been considered by constitutional writers, and is in practice to a certain extent in other Senates. The limitation of the Veto consists in finding some means of solving the deadlocks which occasionally arise between the two Houses. There are many ways of bringing that about. I do not commit myself to any one of them. There is the Referendum. There is the reduction of the Upper Chamber to smaller limits, and when a great conflict ensues between the two Houses the two bodies sit together, and if the Government of the day obtain a large majority at the joint sitting—perhaps two-thirds or three-fourths—in favour of their proposals then the will of the Government of the day should prevail in one Parliament. This is what my noble friends desire to do by taking away the Veto. I venture to think that they can obtain the object which they have in view without depriving this House of those powers which every other Senate in the world possesses.

If you submit to the country at the next General Election two policies, one of doing away with the ancient powers of rejection always held by the House of Lords and possessed by every other Senate in the world, and the other of remodelling and bringing it up to date by the limitation of the Veto on constitutional, accepted, and well-known lines, so that a Bill may even become law against the objections of the Second Chamber even in one Parliament—if you were to contrast those two measures and place them before the electors the country would say that the one policy was destruction and the other evolution, and I have not the slightest doubt that the policy of evolution would find most favour with public opinion and would be more in harmony with the great traditions of our ancient and historical Constitution, the freest Constitution the world has ever seen.


My Lords, the noble Lord in the speech to which we have just listened passed a eulogy, which for all I know may be well deserved, upon the House of Commons. Let me mention to him an incident that occurred to me the other day when I was addressing a large popular audience at Sheffield. I said "The House of Lords wants reform." They all cheered that. Then I added "The House of Commons wants reform a great deal more." They cheered that much more loudly. My views on the subject now under discussion have been so fully stated, with far greater eloquence than I can command, by the noble Earl on the Cross Benches, that I should have been very well content to remain silent had it not been that I had been asked to present a petition to your Lordships' House from the British Constitutional Association.

This Association is a body of some political importance, and may be held to be very fairly representative of a large body of what is known as moderate opinion. Its president is Mr. Harold Cox, whose name must be familiar to your Lordships. Mr. Harold Cox is not now in Parliament, and the fact that he is not constitutes in itself a somewhat weighty indictment against the Party system as it is now worked and gives also some point to the remarks made by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, yesterday, as to the very great desirability of finding a political home for independent politicians. When Mr. Harold Cox was in Parliament he could hardly be said to have belonged to any particular Party. Indeed, he presented the rather unusual spectacle of a Parliamentary politician who only voted with the Party to which he nominally belonged when he happened to agree with them, and the instances of agreement were, I believe, rather rare. Nevertheless, Mr. Harold Cox's great abilities and high character won for him the respect and esteem, not only of his friends, but of his political foes. I think, therefore, your Lordships will agree with me in holding that the views put forward by Mr. Harold Cox and those acting with him are deserving of respectful consideration. Without quoting at length from what the Association say, I may say that they pray that your Lordships will on no account consent to any diminution of your legislative powers, whether in the matter of finance or in any other matter, and they express the hope that your Lordships will boldly undertake such reformation of the constitution of your House as will add to its weight in the country.

During the last few months I have had, perhaps, somewhat exceptional opportunities of gauging what is called moderate opinion in this country, the opinion of those enigmatical persons who are sometimes called the silent voters. They are an extremely important body, but, owing to the fact that they are lacking in organisation, their importance is often rather obscured, and perhaps they do not receive that amount of attention from the Party leaders and managers which on the whole they deserve. I have very little doubt that these moderates exercised a very great influence at the last election. I believe that thousands of voters who in 1906 either voted for the Liberals, or, as I think was more frequently the case, did not vote at all, voted for the Unionist Party in 1910. I have received in the course of the last month or two a very large number of letters from people of this class. Many of them do not agree with the entire political programme which finds favour with noble Lords who sit behind me, but, so far as I can judge, the predominant feeling in their minds at this moment is that the danger of being governed by a single Chamber is so great that all other matters sink into insignificance beside it. I believe that it was this that rallied the class of which I speak mainly to the Unionist Party during the last election.

Let me also mention, incidentally, another point that I observed in the very numerous letters I received from this class of person, and that is, that a great many of them are evidently so disgusted with the state of politics now that they wish to withdraw from any part in political life altogether. Of course, there are always a certain number of people of this description, but I cannot help thinking that the tendency of this body to increase is rather marked at present. It is not an altogether satisfactory symptom, for it will be an evil day for this country when the moderates withdraw altogether from taking a part in politics, and thus leave the field more clear than it is at present for the work of the political agitator. Of the imminence of the danger of a Single Chamber there really can scarcely be a shadow of doubt. His Majesty's present Government appear to have a greater genius for destructive than for constructive policy. By incurring huge liabilities for expenditure without a shadow of a notion as to how the liabilities were to be met when they fell due, they shattered at one blow the whole fiscal system of this country.

The Government seem, so far as we can at present understand, to be about to deal with the Constitution on very much the same lines. We do not indeed as yet know the whole of their programme, but we know enough of it to be aware that they propose to knock down all the barriers which have heretofore existed against hasty and ill-considered legislation, and then they hold out to us a shadowy hope that at some future time they may be able to erect some feeble barrier in the place of that which they have destroyed. In other words, what they wish to do is to set going an enormously powerful steam engine without any brake and without any safety valve, and then to trust to the off-chance of being able to supply these necessary parts of the machinery at some later time. I cannot think that this is a wise or a statesmanlike policy. Moreover, I do not in the least believe that His Majesty's present Government will ever be able to provide those important parts of the machinery, and for the very simple reason that, whatever views may be held amongst the moderates of then Party, the extremists of their Party, who have evidently got the upper hand, will never allow them to do anything of the kind. It is impossible to blame the extremists, for their position is not only perfectly comprehensible but perfectly logical.

An eminent Frenchman, Montalembert, once said that England was fortunately not the slave of pedantic logic. As one who has had some part in carrying out that extraordinary jumble of contradictory ideas which sometimes goes by the name of British policy, I have often wished that the British nation was a little more logical. It is certain, however, that the extremists among the Radical Party cannot be charged with any want of logic. From that point of view their habits of thought are purely Continental. They know what they want, and how to adapt their means to an end. They know perfectly well that unless the Second Chamber is either swept away or reduced to a nullity there is not the ghost of a chance of ever carrying out the whole of their political programme.

Noble Lords opposite often lament that their Party is in such numerical inferiority in this House. That has been very fully recognised by noble Lords on this side, and we all hope that as a result of the discussion now going on something will be done to remedy this defect. But whatever is done by His Majesty's Government or by any other Party in the State with a view to constituting a reformed Second House, I feel perfectly certain that nothing short of sweeping away the Second Chamber or reducing it to a nullity will ever produce a majority in favour of some of the most fundamental propositions of the Radical Party. Once give a man security of tenure and let him express his unbiassed opinion, then, whether he enters this House by the hereditary principle or by any possible form of election, you may depend upon it he will be opposed to many of the fundamental principles of the Radical Party. I remember some twenty-five years ago, when Home Rule was under discussion, an eminent Radical writer said:— As to the House of Lords, make 500 sweeps Peers and pass the Bill. The late Lord Salisbury, with that remark- able sense of humour which he possessed, said he though the idea was very well worth considering, but he wished to point out that, judging by all experience, it would be necessary before long to appoint 1,000 more sweeps to out-vote the first 500, who would certainly have crossed the floor of the House.

My Lords, I venture to think the most essential point in all these discussions is that the powers of this House should remain intact. I cannot but think that the question of composition, important though it certainly is, falls into the second rank, and must be regarded, if not exclusively, at all events mainly, from the point of view of how those powers can best be maintained intact. When I speak of powers I cannot for the moment agree that any distinction can be made between powers over general legislation and financial powers. Indeed, I cannot help thinking that in the course of these discussions occasionally too much importance has been attached to a technical definition of what is known as "tacking." I observe that those organs of the Radical Press which are in favour of a weak and emasculated Second Chamber recognise that some adequate guarantees ought to be taken against tacking. I do not believe it would be in the smallest degree possible to construct any guarantees that would be adequate, and if we get guarantees on paper I am convinced that they will be perfectly illusory in practice. Within the four corners of a strictly Financial Bill, which cannot, ex hypothesi, be interfered with by your Lordships' House, it will be perfectly possible to destroy almost every existing institution in this country. What, I should like to know, is to prevent a Socialist House of Commons from destroying private property by placing an Income Tax of 20s. in the pound on every man who has over £500 a year? That would be a purely financial measure and would not come at all under the definition of "tacking."

The noble Lord opposite, Lord Ribblesdale, alluded yesterday to the possibility of coming to some compromise on this question, particularly, I think, on the question of finance, when we know the scheme of His Majesty's Government more fully. I should be the last to Bay a word against compromise. It is always a word that is balm of Gilead to the moderate politician. I think I remember many years ago reading a very able work by the noble Viscount opposite in which he launched some rather fiery literary anathemas against people who believed in compromise. I remember perfectly well agreeing with him at the time, but I have changed my opinions a good deal since, and so, I have no doubt, has the noble Viscount. I am very doubtful whether on point this any compromise is possible. The divergence between us is too great to be bridged over by any possible concession on minor points. The nation must decide on this essential point. I do, therefore, hope that for the present, and until the nation has decided, we shall resist any attempt to diminish the financial powers now possessed by the House of Lords quite as stoutly as we should resist any proposal to diminish the control over general legislation. But, my Lords, I think it is generally conceded that in order that this resistance should be effective some reform must be made to bring this House more in touch than is at present possible with the people of this country.

Among those with whom I am most politically associated I have heard but one voice upon the subject. They say, "Above all things maintain your powers intact; that is what we care most about. As regards composition, diminish your numbers but do not on any account abolish the hereditary principle; supplement it by the introduction of an outside element, and, as regards those hereditary Peers who remain, adopt some reasonable method of selection." Those are, I understand, the lines generally of the proposals of the noble Earl on the Cross Benches, and they are, I cannot help thinking, the wisest lines on which to proceed. Of course, there are many different ways of bringing in an outside element, and I do not propose to deal with them now, for I have no doubt we shall have opportunity later on of fully discussing the question. Lord Curzon said he thought probably every noble Lord on this side of the House had a scheme for the reform of the House of Lords in his pocket. In that case I must claim to be an exception, for I have no sort of favourite scheme of my own; but the general lines sketched out by the noble Earl on the Cross Benches commend themselves to me more than any I have yet heard. At the same time I think it is of such vital importance to secure unity of action in this matter that I consider we ought to be prepared to make every possible sacrifice of our personal opinions in order that that unity of action shall be secured.

There is one point to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention. I do not suppose that anybody who has any respect or reverence for the past, or who wishes to preserve a statesmanlike continuity in the development of our institutions, can view without a pang of regret, and perhaps some feeling of apprehension, any attempt to lay hands on the time-honoured institution to which we belong. But as circumstances force us to do so, I would earnestly beg your Lordships to do so boldly. I feel certain that if we do not act with boldness in this matter we shall disappoint many of our natural allies and supporters in this country. The more boldly we act the stronger becomes our position for maintaining our legislative and financial powers, and that, I repeat, is the main point. On the other hand, if we deal weakly with reform we by so much strengthen the hands of all those who wish to take away our powers. Constituted as this House is, I find it very difficult to believe that we are likely to go too far in the direction of reform. I cannot help thinking that if there is a danger it may be that we shall not go far enough.

I should like to allude, before sitting down, to one or two points which arise out of the speeches that have already been made on this subject. The noble Viscount opposite, in the very interesting speech to which we listened two nights ago, dwelt on many points, some of which have been already answered by noble Lords behind me, but there were one or two to which I do not think any allusion has yet been made. If I understood the noble Viscount correctly, he held that there was some rather glaring inconsistency in extending electoral power, as was done some years ago, with the full consent of your Lordships' House, and then constituting a strong and efficient Second Chamber which would, to a certain extent, diminish that electoral power. The noble Viscount characterised this as a retrograde measure. He appeared, I think, to hold that we were taking away with one hand what we granted with the other. I really cannot see any inconsistency in these two measures. On the contrary, I venture to think that the creation of a really strong and efficient Second Chamber is almost a necessary corollary of the extension of electoral power, for surely all history and experience go to show that the wider the basis on which the electorate rests the more is it necessary to have an efficient brake in order to prevent any passing wave of ephemeral passion being misconstrued into a really matured expression of popular opinion.

No speaker, except the noble Lord, Lord Sheffield, has dealt with what appeared to me to be one of the strongest points in the arguments of the noble Earl the other day. I mean that portion of his very eloquent speech in which he pointed out that every foreign country—with the exception of Greece and Costa Rica—and all the self-governing British Colonies had strong Second Chambers possessing powers certainly not inferior to those we claim both over general legislation and over finance. Lord Sheffield, in reply to that statement, said that he did not think much profit could be obtained from looking at the institutions of other nations. My Lords, I admire the sturdy patriotism of the noble Lord, and of course I agree that the institutions of every country must be adapted to the habits and ideas of its inhabitants, but perhaps it is because I have lived so much abroad that I cannot altogether accept the idea that this country possesses an absolute monopoly of political wisdom. Surely we cannot afford to neglect the teaching of other countries. Is the democracy here so little headstrong, so little in need of control, that we can afford to neglect what is happening elsewhere? Surely not. Then the noble Lord went on to say, with reference to the noble Earl's remark about the Colonies, that it was quite true the self-governing Colonies now had Second Chambers, but he urged that if the choice were put to them whether they would rather have single-Chamber government or a Second Chamber composed of hereditary legislators they would unquestionably choose single-Chamber government. I have not the least idea whether they would or would not do so. But if this is the argument of the noble Lord and his friends, why in the world do they not co-operate with us in endeavouring to remove those blots from the hereditary system which they so much condemn?

In point of fact, the moment one touches this aspect of the question one realises how very difficult it is to come to close quarters with the Liberal Party on this matter. They instantly fall into two separate and distinct camps. One says, "We do not in any way want to destroy the hereditary character of the Second Chamber because we know that, so long as you are an hereditary legislature, you will possess no real power, and it will suit us very much better to keep you in existence as a sham Chamber than to have no Second Chamber at all." The other, if we may judge from a speech recently delivered by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, says, "We want a Second Chamber which is to be wholly elective." As regards that, all one need say is that in as much as the proposal of the right hon. gentleman and those who agree with him involves the taking away of all effective power from the Second Chamber, it really does not in the smallest degree matter whether it is constituted of hereditary legislators or of people entirely elected.

There are, as the noble Earl and Lord Cawdor remarked the other day, three ways of settling this question. One is to constitute a strong and efficient Second Chamber such as we wish. The second is to give single-Chamber government, which is the desire of the extreme Radicals. The third is to constitute a sham Second Chamber, which will delude the people who want some protection and lull then into a sense of illusory security. Unfortunately it appears so far as we can at present judge that it is the third of these proposals which finds most favour in the eyes of His Majesty's Government, and I entirely agree with what has fallen from other speakers on the subject, that, of the three proposals, this is incomparably the worst. I would infinitely prefer a single-Chamber, because if we were to have a single-Chamber government I think it is pretty certain that that institution would instantly set to work to dig its own grave, and that, before it had existed long, it would be swept away amid the universal indignation which its proceedings would arouse.


My Lords, I do not propose to address your Lordships at any length, because I am more concerned at present to show that in voting for the noble Earl's proposal I am not committing myself to any one of the three things that he wants to discuss. I want to make it quite clear that I am not committed to any one of them. I believe they would be all more or less mischievous, and the third, which he speaks of as the foundation of them all, I regard as the most mischievous of all. I cannot help thinking that the wide extent over which this discussion has spread has to some extent concealed the nature of the difficulties with which it is proposed to deal. Nothing could be easier than to say that this matter ought to be remedied or the other matter ought to be remedied, but until you have a concrete scheme placed before you it is impossible to discuss the problem with anything like practical efficiency.

I observe that all those who have engaged in this discussion have availed themselves very naturally, of this mode of discussing an abstract question. Such and such a thing is undesirable. Well, no one can say that any human institution is perfect. These are commonplaces that everybody will accept. I do not believe that it is possible to make an institution more consonant with our habits and more practically useful than the House of Lords as at present constituted. I am quite aware that there are some people who would say, This is an old obstinate Tory refuge; you do not want to interfere with anything. Well, there is something in not being too fascinated with everything that is new. But, on the other hand, I absolutely deny that it is a characteristic either of my friends behind me or of myself that we will not accept any improvement. Before we accept an improvement, however, and before we abolish something that is working well, it is practical wisdom not to get rid of that which you have until you know what is to be established in its place. My Lords, we have had what has been described as something which can be placed before you in the nature of a concrete system, and I think the noble Earl who moved this Resolution was induced to say that it was the unanimous Report of the Committee. I will show presently what sort of unanimity it was; in the meantime I would like to say that it was not unanimous. I myself dissented from almost every proposition, and, although I may be disposed of in the way I suggested just now, still you have no right to say that a body is unanimous when one member of it at all events dissents.

Let me say here, in passing, that I do not believe that the conflict which may be said now to rage on every occasion of a General Election around the House of Lords would be got rid of by any of the propositions which were submitted, as it is said, twenty years ago. I am quite aware that at one time there were a certain number of ambitious young gentlemen, the eldest sons of Peers, who objected to be turned out of the House of Commons because they were succeeding to their fathers' Peerages. They were young, and they will not repudiate the imputation. But one of the objections made, I think, to the Peers who succeed to their fathers is that they are too young when they succeed, and that these ambitious young gentlemen might be still members under a new system if the new system restricted the succession to a Peerage to persons of thirty years of age and over. Whether that would satisfy them or not I do not know. But if it would not, I cannot at all understand why they should be eligible for the House of Commons. Very likely the answer will be that they are elected. Yes, so they are, but is it perfectly certain that the people who elect them are all so intelligent as to recognise the intelligence of those whom they elect and their fitness for acting as legislators?

Let me turn now to what is described as this unanimous Committee, and let me say I am not at all endeavouring to criticise the noble Lord who was responsible for the appointment of that Committee. He made a most amusing speech last night, and I think we were all most grateful to him for relieving the heaviness of some part of this Debate with the jokes that he gave us. I do not mean to say there was not a great deal of truth in what he said; in fact, his speech was a great example of how to mix up with a good deal of fun a considerable amount of wisdom. I have therefore no complaint to make against the noble Lord. Now to go back for a moment to the Report of this Committee. They say— The Committee have fully considered various proposals which have been laid before them with the object of readjusting the political balance in the House of Lords. That, be it observed, is what had been put before the Committee. They continue— Within recent years the House of Lords has been criticised not so much for any alleged incapacity to perform efficiently its legislative functions as on account of the uneven distribution of political Parties within its walls. Let me say here that I heard that observation made in the House of Commons for a different purpose. I think my noble friend opposite who has a strong view on proportional representation was encountered by Mr. John Bright on one occasion when he was pointing out how very hard it was that the minority were not able to be represented. Mr. Bright said, with the common sense that distinguished him— Then let those who are in a minority preach their gospel to the country until they become the majority, but they must not ask to become a majority while they are a minority. Then the Committee say— It is obvious that difficulties between the two Houses must arise when a Government is in power which is supported by a large majority in the House of Commons and only by a small minority in the House of Lords. That is very likely and that undoubtedly is true. Let us see what are the Committee's remedies— The Committee have come unanimously to the conclusion that the existing evil could not be remedied by flooding the House with permanent Peerages, which do not by any means imply permanent politics— That is true— and thus not unfrequently help to defeat the objects which they were created to promote, and to increase the disproportion they were intended to diminish. They are also unable to recommend that a certain number of Peers chosen because they are supporters of the Government of the day should be summoned to sit and vote in the House of Lords for the duration of a Parliament or of a Government. They consider that such Lords of Parliament would be in a position anomalous as regards the House and unsatisfactory as regards themselves. I am reading this partly as an object lesson. We have to consider this in the abstract. There is a wish that the House may be improved. But notice what the improvements are that are suggested. Because the Government in this House are in a minority the suggestion is made that you should have a certain number of—what shall I call them? I really do not know—apprentices or something of that sort, for there is no security that they would be permanent, to assist His Majesty's Government while they are in office. Then the Committee go on— In order to bring the House more into harmony with changes of political opinion in the country— I have a question to ask presently about this matter of which we have heard so much. I have over and over again heard repeated the words "to bring this House in touch with the opinions of the country." It is such a delightful thing to have a phrase which ends a sentence and appears to have some meaning. Bring this House in touch with the opinions of the country! The Committee say— The Committee would then have proceeded to inquire whether another and more complete solution of the difficulty caused by a possible deadlock between the two Houses on a question of grave importance might not be attained by proceeding as a last resort to refer the issue to the electorate by means of the constitutional expedient known as the Referendum. But, though much might be said in favour of such a proposal, the majority of the Committee felt that to discuss it, or formulate an opinion upon it, would be beyond the limits imposed upon them by their Order of Reference. Let me look at the Order of Reference for a moment. It was moved— That a Select Committee be appointed further to consider the suggestions which have from time to time been made for increasing the efficiency of the House of Lords in matters affecting legislation, and to report as to the desirability of adopting them either in their original or in some modified form. The Committee met, and, among other things, they determined that there should be a preliminary committee appointed to consider questions which should be submitted to the Committee. I had not the honour of being a member of that sub-committee, and at the first meeting of the Committee that I was able to attend I found that it had already been decided as a preliminary matter that the right of succession to this House should be beyond the Inquiry, so that on future occasions when I attempted to discuss it I was barred on the ground that it had already been decided. That was the mode in which this question was deliberately decided in this unanimous Committee. My Lords, I confess, that for myself I do not believe—and perhaps I ought not to have been a member of the Committee—in your getting a better House than you have. I know some think that it ought to be made stronger. I rather think the noble Earl himself said it ought to be made stronger with a view to passing the Home Rule Bill.


To what occasion does the noble and learned Lord refer? I have no recollection of it.


If the noble Earl disclaims it, I will withdraw it at once. My impression is that I heard him say so.


That I wanted the House of Lords made stronger in order to pass the Home Rule Bill?




Then the noble Earl has a better recollection than I have.


I will pass that by. Another suggestion now, certainly not by the noble Earl, is that it should be made weaker for the purpose of passing a Home Rule Bill, but this time it is because the House of Lords is assumed to be the one block in the way of passing a Home Rule Bill. It strikes me very strongly that the reason why this House has for a good many centuries preserved itself, and preserved the country, is that, except on very great occasions, it has followed the lead of the House of Commons. But if you are going to make it so much stronger—and you must make it so much stronger according to your views—that it can from time to time override the House of Commons my impression is that you will have, as in other countries, continual conflicts between the two Houses. I want to know what is the intention of His Majesty's Government. I do not know why they should think it proper to move Resolutions or to bring in a Bill applicable to this House. What would be said of us if we were to send down a Bill for the reform of the House of Commons? Are they so proud of their institution that they think it cannot be improved? There are a good many people who think it might be improved very much. Well, what the proposals of the Government in regard to the House of Lords amount to, we shall see when they are proposed. But in the meantime it is denied that the House of Lords has any right to deal with finance. That is the great question which, at the Election and elsewhere, has been promulgated throughout the country. It seems to have been forgotten that by the 25th of Edward I it is enacted that no tax shall be imposed except with the goodwill of the Archbishops, Barons, Earls, and so on. That is still an existing Act of Parliament, be it remembered. I think it would be idle to go back again and discuss what we discussed on the Budget Resolution. I do not understand how any constitutional practice which has the sanction of an Act of Parliament can be said to be wrong. An Act of Parliament must exist until it is repealed by the two Houses of Parliament, and that Act still stands on the Statute Book and justifies what we have done. We have been denounced as having acted unconstitutionally, as having upset the Constitution, as having established a new precedent, and so on; but that Act of Parliament has not been mentioned. I do not think it was mentioned except when I mentioned it myself in the Budget Debate. Nobody else has ever referred to it. To say that this House has not the right to obey an Act of Parliament is a somewhat strong proposition.

Now I want to know why it is that the Government, having advised His Majesty to dissolve Parliament in order that the feeling of the country with regard to the Budget might be ascertained, do not now submit that Budget to the House of Commons. Is it not because they know that if they do so the Budget will be rejected by the House of Commons? What is the meaning of all these negotiations with Mr. Redmond? Why is not the question plainly asked at once? The Government majority may be turned into a minority. That is not to be done. I do not want to detain your Lordships longer because I hope we shall go into Committee on this matter. I think it would be naturally imputed to us that we were afraid of having a discussion if we refused to go into Committee. Having gone into Committee, I hope I shall listen with proper attention to what is put forward and then I shall form my own judgment. But I absolutely refuse to be considered as being committed to any one of the three Resolutions by now agreeing to our going into Committee. I do not believe that any actual scheme will be put before us as a whole, and if it is not I defy the wit of man to suggest how in three Resolutions, or in thirty Resolutions for that matter, can be solved the questions which come before us from time to time when we differ from the other House. What we have to do, I think, is what we have done hitherto—our duty, and our duty is to consider the questions brought before us and determine them, not, as is now apparently considered to be the proper thing, at the dictation of the Prime Minister of the time, but on their merits. This House has over and over again in my experience refused to obey the suggestion of a Prime Minister if it did not approve of a Bill. It has been my duty from the Woolsack from time to time to put the question when it has been against the wish of the Minister for the time being, and this has been in accordance with the right of freedom. Once it is laid down by the Prime Minister that we are to obey him and his Party—well, I for one, protest against any such system. I do not deny what my political convictions are, and I act according to them. But I repudiate the idea that the House of Lords should be under the thumb of any Prime Minister or political Party. I utterly repudiate that, and this House has over and over again asserted its independence.

I do not know what the views of His Majesty's Ministers are as to a Second Chamber. They speak on this question with two voices. One voice declares that it is impossible to get on without a Second Chamber; that it would mean "Sudden death and something else"—I will not repeat the other word that has been used in the presence of the Bishops—if the Second Chamber were got rid of. On the other hand, speeches have been delivered which can only be regarded as an attempt to raise class against class by intimating that the House of Lords has nothing at heart but to hurt and to oppress the people. At any rate, I shall reserve my opinion until the proposals of the Government are produced; and then I shall be able to deal in a concrete manner with that which is now airy, beautiful, and eloquent, but which has nothing to do, even in the smallest degree, with practical legislation.


My Lords, anything I say after the speech to which we have just listened must suffer very much in comparison. I notice that we do not get many Peers on the opposite side of the House to answer the Peers who speak on this side. I understand the House of Lords is either going to be done away with altogether, or else it is going to be reformed in such a way that all the "backwoodsmen," of whom I am one, will not appear in its debates any more. I therefore ask your Lordships' indulgence while you listen, if you will do so, to the swan-song of a humble backwoodsman. In approaching this question, I was very much struck with the spirit in which it was dealt with by Lord Curzon. The noble Lord did not approach it in a spirit of panic, and we cannot do better, in discussing it, than quote from a speech which he made, and which I always quote myself when I am upon a platform and wish to defend the existence of the House of Lords. It was a speech delivered at Oldham during the election campaign. He said— We have nothing to apologise for, nothing to extenuate, and nothing to be ashamed of. If that were true then, as I certainly think it was, how much more true is it now? That speech was delivered before the result of the General Election was made known, and before the new House of Commons sat. After that speech was delivered, in spite of every sort of misrepresentation, in spite of the extraordinary majority the Liberal Party had before, in spite of every calumny—for it is a calumny to say that we rejected the Budget in order to save our pockets, and it is a greater calumny coming from a Cabinet Minister—in spite of the fact that you had on the other side the marvellous luck of the old age pension story invented by Mr. Ure, there is no majority in the new House of Commons in support of the Budget. I am not saying that on my own authority. They are Mr. Snowden's words. He has said— It is no use discussing the matter; there is no majority in the House of Commons for the Budget. And the refreshing fruit which was going to be pressed to the parched lips of the multitude has had to be put away in the cupboard along with the family skeleton, which it is almost bad taste to mention now in the presence of a Radical.

I desire to approach the question of the reform of the House of Lords from a different point of view from that of the noble Earl who opened this Debate. He gave the House one piece of advice about the Budget, and I ventured, in my humble way, to give quite a different piece of advice. I am glad you followed the advice I was rash enough to offer to your Lordships on the last occasion, in very good company be it said. What I suggest with great submission to your Lordships is that if we had played into the hands of the Radical Party—they kept on hoping against hope up to the last minute that we were going to pass the Budget that would have been the negation of the whole rights and privileges of the Second Chamber—this discussion about the reform of the House of Lords would be utterly and entirely out of place. The noble Earl told us that our children and our grandchildren would be grateful to us for having reformed the House of Lords. I daresay others will be; but if there is anything at all in the hereditary principle I am perfectly certain my posterity will be much more grateful to the House of Lords for having stood between the country and Socialism, which it was proposed to force upon us against the wishes of the majority of the electors. What I want, before we talk so much about reforming the House of Lords, is to hear a little more about the functions of the House of Lords. That seems to be the important point. Do those who think the present House of Lords is not all it should be suggest that if you have a new House of Lords its functions will be the same? Will the new House of Lords be equally able to reject the kind of Budget we were confronted with last session? It is no use labouring the point. We are already a very efficient body. I suppose we may say this within these doors. I constantly say it out of doors, so I suppose it is all right. I may quote the authority of a Statesman who we shall all agree is the greatest Member of Parliament now living. I allude to Mr. Balfour, who told the City the other day that the House of Lords is efficient. He said— Never have its duties been carried out at a higher level; never has it held more men of great experience, of great knowledge of affairs, of great public spirit. That must make us swell with pride. Not only that, but it happens to be absolutely true.

Before we go on to the question of the reformed House of Lords, I tell you that I am perfectly ready to go down to the country to-morrow and speak in any constituency you like—either in Scotland, or Wales, or England, or Ireland, if one is allowed a fair hearing, as I am sure one would be—and I am prepared on the public platform to take on the House of Lords question as it is at the present moment—backwoodsmen, Budget, black sheep and all. Very often I went down to meetings during the election where I was told with bated breath by the organisers beforehand to talk about anything I liked but not to mention the House of Lords. I always went straight on to the platform and dealt with the question at considerable length, and I found that the audiences which I had the privilege to address—I did not speak in Scotland but I spoke in almost every county in England south of the Tweed—took an extremely intelligent, though sometimes rather hostile, interest in the subject. Are we to go down, after this campaign, and tell the country that, after all, the rejection of the Budget—and when I say the rejection of the Budget I desire noble Lords opposite to understand I mean reference to the people, but rejection is shorter—are we to say that this was only a tour de force on our part, and that we really had no right to do it? Lord Curzon has explained, in a most statesmanlike manner and in an argument which must command the respect and adherence of those who heard it, that, after all, this is not a bad time to undertake reform; but do not let us stultify ourselves by the negation of the principle of heredity. Are we to tell the country, either that we consider ourselves unworthy sons of our fathers or incapable of begetting a suitable posterity?

I have been brought up in the midst of stock-breeding of all kinds all my life, and I am prepared to defend the hereditary principle in that or any other animal—whether the principle is applied to Peers or whether it is applied to foxhounds. If you desire to ennoble the blood, shall we say, of any particular foxhound, to place him on your book, you look in him for a mixture, a combination, of sagacity and good looks, having made due inquiries into the same qualifications in his immediate progenitors. I am perfectly aware of the unsoundness of the hereditary argument as it is applied to the scientific breeding of hereditary legislators; but, at the same time, although the scientific breeding of Peers may have been, to a certain extent, lost sight of, that is the very reason why the hereditary families who have taken an interest in the government of this country are as strong in the estimation of their fellow-countrymen as they are to-day. It is the very influx of fresh blood through marrying from what I believe are called "the people," whoever they may be—through marrying from outside—that has saved us from the weakness and debility that attach to a caste, and I do not think that any analogy can possibly be drawn between the nobility, or country gentlemen, or aristocracy, or whatever you like to call it, of 150 and 120 years ago and the French aristocracy. Any such analogy cannot possibly be regarded with anything except a feeling almost of resentment. The French aristocracy were weak, selfish, and tyrannical and I believe they richly deserved the fate they got.

When the French aristocracy were leading a life which was so entirely divorced from the aspirations of the people as to produce the French Revolution, that was the very moment that Mr. Pitt saw the danger of the Government of this country falling into hands which were of too patrician a character. He thought that the House of Commons was composed too entirely of patricians. I do not know what he would have thought of the last House of Commons. How he altered that has already been told us. He got a plebeian aristocracy and blended it with the patrician oligarchy in the House of Lords; he made Peers of second-rate squires and fat graziers; he caught them from the alleys of Lombard-street and clutched them from the counting-houses of Cornhill. That has already been told us in the words of a master in the opening pages of "Sybil." The democratisation of the Peerage and the influx of fresh blood from outside has been going on ever since. Radical Cabinets between them have had no inconsiderable share in appointing their own friends, those of their own political complexion, to seats in this House. Not only that, but the country-gentleman class, which has taken an interest in the government of this country, has shown a remarkable vitality. Mr. Lecky has said that there is no truer sign of the vitality of a class than the way in which it adapts itself to changed conditions, and that is what, I respectfully maintain, the class of country gentlemen has done. There is also a feature about the country-gentleman class which has been a very great disappointment indeed to a certain type of Radical who thought that the County Councils Act, and the Parish Council Acts, and other Acts of that kind were going to do away with the domination of what they called the squire and parson once and for all. But they revived again in a very remarkable way in the last election, and caused the wrath of Mr. Ure at the sycophancy of the "sleepy cathedral cities" and the towns where he thought the influence of the Peers was undue. I can well imagine the sentences in which Mr. Ure would have slobbered over the agricultural labourers and proclaimed them free men to the rest of the world supposing they had voted for the Radical Party.

But not only that. This class which is largely represented in both Houses of Parliament—what I may call, if I may say so without offence, the hereditary governing class to which the backwoodsmen may belong—are the very people who, when anybody wants anything done in the country, are looked to to do it. They are the only people who have made your Territorial Army possible. When you wanted assistance to get up the Territorial Army you had to go down to the country and appeal to the patriotism of the particular class which Mr. Lloyd George is doing his very best to destroy. The Red Cross Society, which is a pendant to the Territorial Force, is being run in exactly the same way. But the House of Lords has been democratised from within as well as from without. There is not the slightest doubt about that. I have not very much experience of this House myself, but those who have been here long will tell you that of late years the tendency of all members of the House of Lords to take an interest in, and to speak in, its debates is very much on the increase. It is very largely due, if I may say so, to the great kindness shown to the younger members of the House by our Leader, Lord Lansdowne, who has encouraged the taking part in debates and has been responsible for a great deal more attendance at this House than the younger men would otherwise have given. And the contention that used to be made by Bagehot and writers of that type that the best cure for admiration of the House of Lords was to go and look at it has fallen quite out of date. They talk about the non-attendance in the House of Lords. What about the non-attendance in the House of Commons? Is it worse for a Peer to go out hunting all day and to come up in the evening and take part in the division than it is for a member of the House of Commons to sit in a chair in the smoking-room or in some other place all the afternoon only waiting for the division bell to ring and then rush in to say "Am I to vote 'Aye' or 'No'"? I think that if the electors who are always shouting themselves hoarse on platforms about the blessings of representative Government were to come down and have a look at the House of Commons and see how things are carried on there we should not hear quite so much about the way in which things are carried on in the House of Lords.

In considering this question of the reform of the House of Lords we must not think only of ourselves; we must think of the point of view from which people outside the House of Lords approach this question. We must first of all, in order to clear up the subject, have regard to the point of view of the official Radical Party. I shall not labour the point. They have had a shocking bad time during this debate, and I think it would be almost cruel to rub it in. I cannot congratulate them on the show the friends whom they brought here for the purpose have made in supporting them. They say that they are proposing to limit the Veto of the House of Lords. That is only playing with words. No limitation of the Veto you can possibly propose, no method of dealing with the House of Lords of any sort that you can possibly propose short of what is virtually abolition, will satisfy your followers. They have already told you so. They are telling you so every day. None of us have seen the scheme you are going to produce, but you cannot produce any scheme which will satisfy your own Party unless it means practically the abolition of the House of Lords altogether. If you have a House of Lords without a Veto that means the abolition of the House of Lords. A House of Lords without a Veto would be like a grin without a cat, and just about as effective as that would be.

The Radical position seems to be this. You went to the country with one of the most magnificent majorities that any political Party ever had. You yielded to your extreme Party; you introduced at the bidding of the Socialists a Budget which the people did not really want. You now come back and say that the system of all civilised countries, which is good enough for all civilised countries, and which you yourselves thought was good enough for your Colonies—that that system is too good for the Old Country, and that you cannot govern England unless you are allowed to take up the same model as Lord Rosebery told us belongs to Greece and Costa Rica. The grievance that has been most insisted upon from the Radical Front Bench is that Conservative Bills receive what is called different treatment from Radical measures. Earl Carrington said that the question was whether the Radical Party should have a share in the legislation of the country. He said that they had got no share in the legislation of the country. That is not the view which is taken by his colleagues when they go down to the country to make speeches. There are two propositions entirely contradictory which they generally make in the same speech. They say, first of all, that they have passed more Bills than any other Government has ever done before. They say, secondly, that they were entirely crippled because of the House of Lords. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking at Cardiff, said that the present Government had carried more Bills through, in the course of two years, in spite of the antiquated procedure, than any Government that had ever preceded it. Mr. Haldane said not very long ago that whenever the nation had been in earnest with a measure the House of Lords had in the end been no obstacle. Then we had Lord Morley's memorable saying that for all great and effective purposes you have now got single-Chamber government. How hollow must all this attack upon the House of Lords be if that is really the case! It seems to me the position of noble Lords opposite in the matter of legislation is like that of Sir Anthony Absolute, who was compliance itself when he was not thwarted—"no one more easily led when I have my own way." Provided you have a House of Lords which will grease the wheels of revolution, butter the slide of Socialism, that is the sort of Second Chamber you would, no doubt, like to have. I want some Radical Peer to tell me what he means by legislation. Is legislation something which the people of the country really desire, or is it a thing to tickle the fancy of some Cabinet Minister? I defy you to point to any Tory measure which has been passed by the House of Lords which the people did not really want, or to any measure which has been rejected by the House of Lords about which the people of this country were really in earnest.

I had the privilege of speaking on a good many platforms at the last General Election. We came across three points of view with regard to the House of Lords. There were, first of all, those who said down with the House of Lords altogether! That is a perfectly intelligible view. I think a certain number of people, like the Socialists, do take that point of view. Now, I submit to those who are so anxious for the reform of the House of Lords that you are not going to buy off those people with any reform of the House of Lords that you may propose. I am told that this view obtains in Scotland. It obtains among people who are good friends with their landlords, and who may be thought, perhaps, to be of the same political hue. It obtains among people who will be your companions, your henchmen, your friends, who live for you, who will die for you, and do anything in the world for you except vote for you. Those are the sort of people whom you are not going to buy off with any reform of the House of Lords. There are others who wish the House of Lords to be elected by the same constituencies that elect the House of Commons. That consideration has already been dealt with by Lord Curzon. I do not think those people in the least know what they are in for when they propose that. I think they have at the back of their minds some sort of idea of a House of Lords in which Mr. Bernard Shaw and Mr. Keir Hardie would sit side by side and which would pass all the measures of the Socialists.

There is another class, which is a very large one indeed. I do not believe that half so many of the ordinary electors in this country take an overwhelming interest in the Constitution as a lot of people think they do. I believe it was Mr. Burke who said that the people of this country looked to the performance of a Constitution much more than to the way in which it was composed, and what they look to the Constitution of this country for is to provide a suitable system of national defence for them and to see to the social welfare of the country. I do not think those people are very much interested in this question of the reform of the House of Lords, and they are re-inforced by those who hold the same view as Lord Halsbury, with which view, I venture to say, I have the greatest sympathy. I know that I am laying myself open to the charge of being a hopeless and hide-bound Tory when I say that I have sympathy with those views. I do believe that the old House of Lords—we have already begun to talk about it as the old House of Lords—I do believe that the House of Lords as it is now would have weathered the storm, supposing that you had left it alone. It has weathered a good many storms before. Lord Rosebery reminded us what an agitation there was against the House of Lords in 1832, and he also told us of that very picturesque placard which Mr. Gladstone saw on the way up to London—a placard which must have made the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the President of the Board of Trade turn green with envy when they heard of it. But I have no doubt that down in Wales they express the same idea in the Welsh language.

There is a third class who think that the reform of the House of Lords will strengthen it and will be able to oppose an answer to unjust and unfair criticisms against it. All I have to say about that is that I listened most attentively to the speech of Lord Curzon, and that speech seems to me to be a most convincing defence of the House of Lords as it stands to-day. If you want to go down to the country and explain to an audience what a good thing the present House of Lords is you cannot possibly do better than repeat the speech of Lord Curzon. Nothing could have been more unanswerable, nothing could have been stronger. The difficulty we shall have in the debates next week with regard to reforming the House of Lords will be to find that point at which you can buy off the opposition of people who are opposed to the House of Lords as it is now, and also to make that point coincide with the point beyond which you cannot go without fear of destroying something valuable and something that you want to keep. Lord Newton seemed to knock a great deal out of his argument by the concluding sentences of his speech in which he said that supposing the whole thing were carried into effect he did not think that, after all, the House of Lords would be very much more efficient than it is at the present moment and that our decisions would be pretty much the same as they are now. If that is the case, I, for one, sincerely hope that we shall approach this question with the very greatest care, with the very greatest thought, and with the very greatest caution, with the idea, first of all, of preserving the continuity of tradition which has been such a valuable force to this House in the past.

In dealing with this ancient fabric you may, perhaps, put in hot water pipes and the electric light with impunity. You may even put in the vacuum cleaner, an instrument which I particularly dread, in order to get rid of the rubbish. But I did not like the rather drastic way in which Lord Newton, it seemed to me, proposed to set about it; and as a backwoodsman who is no doubt going to suffer by the process, I must say that I thought the noble Lord had, like Uncle Oliver in "The School for Scandal," an unforgiving eye and a damned disinheriting countenance. Lord Halsbury is believed to be the only adamantine Tory who is resolutely opposed to reform. There was one noble Lord who is not here because death has deprived us of his invaluable counsel and advice. I refer to Lord Robertson. I do not know whether your Lordships remember the very weighty speech he made on the same lines as Lord Halsbury when Lord Newton's proposals were first brought forward. I well remember that speech. In it he exhorted us to think more than once before we forsook the old paths. He further advised the House not to too readily catch at a scheme which would very likely give you a great many quick wits, which would pack the House with, perhaps, a great many of the picked intellects of the kingdom, for in doing that you would be changing what is a certainty for what is an uncertainty, and at the same time getting rid of people who are a valuable help. They are men who are trusted by their friends and neighbours, and for whom, as Lord Robertson said, the people in the country have a very great feeling of respect. They are men who, if they do not quite understand a question in the House of Lords, do not speak about it and perhaps stay away from the debate. I wish to thank your Lordships for the kind way in which you have listened to what I have had to say. I do not look forward hopefully to the future, because I think that everybody who is turned out of the House of Lords will have a great deal of difficulty in finding a constituency to send him to the House of Commons. You will go down to the party organisation and say "I have been turned out of the House of Lords. Am I any good to you?" And I should think they will very likely answer, "Not much."


My Lords, although the greatest courtesy is always shown to anyone addressing your Lordships' House, I do not think such toleration would have been granted had it become the custom for members to follow one another in succession, using the same arguments over and over again, in vain repetition, as is sometimes done in another place. It is the ambition of many men to be returned to Parliament by election, but the opportunity may not have occurred to some of us sitting in this House because of our having succeeded to a Peerage early in life, as was my own case. But I think, speaking generally, that those members of this House who have sat in the House of Commons are listened to as speaking with greater authority than those who have not had the privilege of sitting there. This, however, seems to me to be an occasion on which those who have not, perhaps, held an Office of State, or who have not sat in the House of Commons, but yet have taken their part in public life by serving on county councils or helping the old Volunteers and the modern Territorials, in fact those who have generally carried out the working details of Acts of Parliament, should express an opinion on this question of the reform of the House.

It has always been the pride of this House to carry out what is felt to be the wish of the majority of the people, and I think that time has proved that this House has not made very many mistakes in its judgment. Now that expressions of opinion have been uttered throughout the country to the effect that it is desirable that reforms should take place in the constitution of this House, your Lordships are showing, by the debate now in progress, that you are willing and anxious to consider what can be done to bring the House of Lords into accordance with the spirit of the day. Personally, I hope very much that this change may be effected without destroying the hereditary principle, because I feel sure that if the hereditary principle is entirely destroyed a very severe blow will be struck at our Constitution, a blow much harder than is realised or intended by many of those who advocate it, as far as this House is concerned. In the course of this debate it has, I think, been generally admitted that this House has become too large, and that it would be more efficacious if it were fewer in numbers. I feel that that objection could be got over by a process of election. If the principle is admitted that the fact of possessing a Peerage should not also carry the right to sit in this House, it would, I think, destroy at once the argument that there might be sitting here those who are not qualified to sit and vote in a Second Chamber.

In the Report that was published by the Committee of this House which sat to discuss this question of reform, the suggestion was made that a reduction might be made in the number of right rev. Prelates in this House. If that were carried into effect it would afford an opportunity to introduce representatives of other great religious denominations, who, like the occupants of the Episcopal Bench, would be recognised as not belonging to any political party, and who would speak with great weight on questions relating to education and social reform. Naturally any reform that effects a reduction of members of your Lordships' House would entail considerable self-sacrifice on the part of many who now have the right to sit here, but your Lordships' House is the very last Assembly in the world that would let personal consideration interfere with any reform that was felt to be for the advantage of the country. I feel sure that we shall all approach this question with the one wish to maintain the integrity, the independence, and the efficiency of this House, and at the same time to remove those causes which might tend to undermine the faith of the country in this Chamber. For these reasons I shall have pleasure in supporting the Resolution.

[The sitting was suspended at ten minutes to eight o'clock and resumed at a quarter past nine.]


My Lords, this is not the first time that the noble Earl who moved this Motion two nights ago has brought the question of the reform of this House to your Lordships' notice. It is some twenty or twenty-five years since he made his first speech on this subject, and if he had had his way on that occasion I presume that I and many other noble Lords in this House would not have had an opportunity of entering its portals at so early a stage in our lives. I feel, therefore, in a sense, that I am somewhat of an interloper in this Debate, and I trust that the few remarks that I shall venture to make to your Lordships on the subject of the reform of this House will be taken by noble Lords on this side with that amiability and kindly consideration which are invariably shown to noble Lords who speak in this Chamber.

In listening to this Debate I confess I have not been quite able to understand the exact length to which we are going and how far we are committed. So far as I gather from the Report of the Committee which has been presented to this House and from the words which have fallen from the noble Earl and other speakers, we are to have two bodies—one a body of Peers elected by their brother Peers, the other a body from outside elected by county councils. The noble Lord, Lord Newton, told us last night that he did not think that the election of Peers by their fellow Peers would on the whole be a workable proposition. In support of this view he adduced many arguments which seem to me very weighty, full of profound thought, and backed up by very considered judgment. On the other hand, the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, reminded your Lordships, with that profound and careful political instinct which is the hereditary quality of his house—we cannot get away from hereditary qualities—that it would be very dangerous and unwise to try to alter the balance which exists between the two Houses of Parliament. That seemed to me to be a very sound and a very right view to take. I therefore feel that, although the noble Marquess was not on this Committee, he represented the feelings and views of some who were upon it.

We therefore realise on the second night of this Debate that, although the noble Earl who initiated it told us that the Committee were unanimous, there are noble Lords connected or associated with this Committee whose opinions, I will not say are totally divergent, but at any rate present a great disparity. Since there is this difference between some of those whom Lord Newton rightly described as the most distinguished and celebrated of noble Lords in this House, perhaps it is not inappropriate and will not be taken amiss by noble Lords on this side if I put forward some suggestions that we should be cautious and careful in any alterations we make in the composition of this House. I feel sure your Lordships will realise that I do not wish to approach the consideration of the Report of this Committee in too critical a spirit, because I know from the slight Parliamentary experience I have had what an amount of labour, thought, and care the members of that Committee must have given to the subject.

It has been suggested, as I have already said, that a certain number of Peers should be elected from the whole body of your Lordships' House. I cannot help feeling that if this proposal was put into practice and there was a deadlock—and it is only when there is a deadlock between the two Houses that these issues are criticised and discussed—the very first criticism which would be made by the British public, or rather by those who are believers in Radical demagogues, would be this: that the representatives of the House of Lords had refused to accept one of their measures simply because they were the representatives of a small and narrow franchise, a franchise which your Lordships yourselves, in a way, have repudiated because you say that some of your number are not worthy to sit with you. We are told that it is difficult to defend the hereditary principle before the British public at the present time. I cannot conceive anything more difficult than to try to defend your position in this House as the delegates of noble Lords whom you have already said are not sufficiently qualified or sufficiently useful to associate with you in this Chamber.

Then, my Lords, there is the question of electing representatives to your Lordships' House by the county councils. I confess that I have grave doubts as to whether it is wise to employ local authorities for political purposes. After all, local self-government is still on its trial. We hope it may succeed and that it will be fruitful of good results, but the criticism levelled against local self-government is this, that the people take too little interest in their local affairs. I cannot help thinking that if you employ the machinery of a county council for the purpose which has been suggested, you are going, not to stimulate local feeling in matters appertaining to local self-government, but to intensify party passions in local bodies. Moreover, I am not enamoured of the suggested composition of the House. I feel that the two elements would work in harmoniously in combination. If there were a deadlock between the two Houses I feel that the elected Lords would come down to this House and, in virtue of their position would put forward the views of the localities which had elected them and would try to brow-beat the noble Lords who still remained here by virtue of the hereditary basis, and who endeavoured, as we do to-day, to keep in harmony with the general feeling of the country.

Experience has invariably shown that the elected representatives in a Second Chamber are far more reactionary in their views than hereditary representatives, and I foresee that the hereditary Lords will have to go on the platforms of England and justify, in their hereditary position, the misdeeds of their elected co-Peers in this Chamber. I cannot help feeling that this combination of the elective and the hereditary element will produce a hopeless internal contradiction, and that the new House so created will display a faulty mechanism instead of what we really want—a wholesome and a healthy organism. I believe you can get no better illustration of the views I put forward than in the present position of the French Senate. Originally there were some seventy or eighty life Senators. It was found that the views they expressed and the position they occupied were not in harmony with the rest of the House, and the life principle was accordingly abandoned after nine years of experiment.

In listening to this debate I have asked myself, What are the charges which can really be brought against your Lordships' House? In the first place, there is what is known as the "black sheep" argument. It is hinted that certain noble Lords in this House would be wiser if they did not appear in it. That may or may not be so. I am not quite concerned on that point, and I do not think the British public are either. After all, it is impossible in any assembly to assume that everybody can rise to the standard of, let us say, a lay bishop. I do not think, knowing the British public to a certain extent, that they attach much importance to that criticism, and I feel sure that that was not the message which the noble Earl brought from Scotland.

Now, my Lords, it is suggested that the size of this House is too large and that there are superfluous members. But the superfluous members generally do not come, and I have been at pains to understand why it is necessary to invent an elaborate system in order to get rid of those who do not come here when by the very fact of their not coming you have already got what you want. Then it is suggested that the attendance in this House is by no means that which some noble Lords would wish. That may or may not be the case, but I feel sure of this, that there are a great number of noble Lords who are willing and glad to come here when there are good debates, and that if the noble Earl on the Cross Benches would only promise to come here regularly and deliver in this House more of his eloquent addresses, he, at any rate, would have no cause to complain of the attendance of noble Lords. Indeed, we had a practical experience of that only the other day. The noble Earl, in addressing this House, was anxious for a moment to sit down during an interposition by a noble Lord, but so anxious were noble Lords on this side of the House to hear his speech that every available space was occupied and he could only find a means of repose by reclining in the arms of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury. But it is clear that you cannot expect a greater attendance of noble Lords in this House if we do not resort more to having divisions. I do not wish in any way to criticise my noble friends the Whips of the Party on this side of the House, but I feel sure they know well that it is useless to ask noble Lords to come continually to this House if after a long debate they are allowed to go home and are not invited to record their opinions in the Division Lobby.

It has been suggested as another charge that the work of this House has not been well done. I feel sure the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees will say that the work of this House that is done in Committee is excellent in every way. Noble Lords attend and do their work as well and efficiently as the work in Committee is done in the other House of Parliament. If the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor were here I would ask him whether he could not say that in debate the methods and the language employed in your Lordships' House were at least equal to the standard which he has known in the House of Commons. It has been asserted, and I think with some justice, that there are too many Tory Peers, and that the division between the Liberal Party and the Tory Party has been accentuated to a very remarkable degree. The Duke of Northumberland last night stated that that was due to the action of Mr. Gladstone in driving over to this side of the House a great number of his followers and supporters. I do not feel quite sure that that is entirely true. Nor do I believe that it would be wrong to add that in the opinion of many, in the opinion of most of his fellow countrymen, the noble Earl the mover of the Resolution might himself have attempted to redress that balance, but for various reasons has failed to do so. It would be presumptuous on my part to criticise in any way the political action of the noble Earl. Obviously the decisions which he makes are entirely his own affair. But I do say this: If it is true, as many think, that the noble Earl by his action might have redressed that balance, it is rather a strong order that the criticism of one-sidedness should be employed by one of his own colleagues on this Committee, Lord Newton, as one of the main reasons why some 250 noble Lords in this House should be asked to absent themselves in perpetuity.

After all, what is the gravamen of the charge against this House? It is based on the hereditary principle. I should like for one moment to look at facts with regard to that. This House—I am not speaking of the more distinguished members of it only but of the House as a whole—is prepared to transact the ordinary affairs of the nation in a businesslike and sensible manner. What is more, they set to work in a manner understood by the people of this country. It is because of this that in great crises, when we wished to discover whether we were in touch with the views of the electors, we proved ourselves to be right. That was so in the year 1893, in the year 1908, and, we believe, also in the year 1909. These are facts from which you cannot get away, and in the face of them I believe that the hereditary principle is merely an incident.

It has been said that the hereditary principle is out of harmony with the aspirations of the British public and is incompatible with modern democracy. The noble Lord, Lord Curzon, who spoke tonight with so much eloquence, was at pains to discover some method of reorganisation of this House. If I understood the theme of his argument properly, the one thing he was searching for, and rightly searching for, was that your Lordships should be in sympathy with your fellow-countrymen throughout the length and breadth of Great Britain. I do not believe that you will achieve that result by any mere cloudy verbiage in an Act of Parliament or by the reconstitution of this House in any way or form that you like. If you wish to be in harmony with the wishes of the British public, any re-organisation necessary must take place, first of all, within yourselves. The noble Lord dwelt upon the success of his campaign in the United Kingdom in addressing large audiences, and also reminded us that the House of Commons had now given us the priceless privilege of being allowed to confront and be confronted by our fellow-countrymen at times of General Election. I cannot help feeling that in the periods between one election and another it is really impossible for a Peer to come into close contact with his fellow-countrymen on any very big problem. People are apathetic and do not care. But at General Elections we are given an opportunity of meeting our fellow-countrymen at times of political excitement, when the British public have been pushed forward by demagogues to attack members of this House. I believe the fact that we can now grapple with our adversaries and can show that we are prepared to do what we can to solve those social, political, and Imperial problems which are before us, will do much to remove the impression that your Lordships' House is out of sympathy with the feelings of the general body of the community.

The noble Marquess reminded us last night that the power of the House of Commons was passing away. We know that the Executive to-day exercises an influence in the House of Commons which was unknown in previous years. We desire to preserve a check in this House which will counterbalance the lack of check which now exists in the House of Commons. I agree with my noble friend that we ought not to possess co-ordinate powers with the Lower House, but I desire to see this House as a complement to the Lower House. All we desire to do is to exercise a check at moments of crisis, and I do not believe that any noble Lord with any feeling of self-respect would dream of exercising functions in this House, if the so-called Veto was taken away from us. But surely, my Lords—and this is the point I wish to emphasise—the moment you declare that the basis of this House should be elective you weaken that check, and you weaken it at the very moment when it should be strongest. It is at moments of excitement that public opinion is excited and exasperated; and it is at such moments that it would be said, if the House were elective, that it was out of touch and sympathy with the source of its authority. One of two things will then happen—either your Lordships' powers will be entirely swept away, or we shall be told that we have to strengthen the sources of our authority, and, consequently, we shall have to broaden the basis of the electorate which elects us.

Then observe what will follow. If we decide to derive our authority from a more comprehensive electorate, the members of this House will claim co-ordinate powers with the Lower House. Then indeed, my Lords, we may look forward to a deadlock. The composition of this House will be entirely changed, and it will be no longer what I desire to see it—the complement of the Lower House of Parliament. Instead we shall see a great number of the members here representing bureaucracy and plutocracy. And upon my soul I do believe that it will be a very bad day's work for the democracy of England if they exchange the present composition of your Lordships' House for the nominees of the plutocrat and the bureaucrat.

Before I sit down may I say one brief word with regard to the hereditary principle? It is now asserted by many that personal service to the State should be the standard by which you should select noble Lords for this House. I confess that I do not very much like the principle of personal service to the State. I think it is a changing and ambiguous term, subject to constant changes as generation follows generation. I infinitely prefer the hereditary title. I believe it is far more in harmony with the inclinations and the wishes of the nation as a whole. I will tell your Lordships why. The individual himself has no natural rights whatsoever. All his rights are inherited rights. All the great Charters of liberty assert the hereditary rights and privileges and liberties of the British public. The lawyers who drew up the Charters were much too clever to base the liberties of the British people on anything except hereditary rights. The power of the House of Commons itself is based upon hereditary rights. What did the House of Commons assert last year when this House took upon itself to consult the people with regard to the Budget? The House of Commons asserted, rightly or wrongly, that they alone were entitled to initiate and control the finances of the country. They did not say they had an actual right, they asserted that they had a historic right, and they appealed to the precedents of three centuries.

My Lords, the conclusions I arrive at are these. You have on the one hand the hereditary rights of the people, and on the other hand the hereditary privileges and prerogatives, and I may add also the Veto, of the Crown. Why, then, are we to believe that our own title to a voice in the administration of the country is not as firmly established on the principle of heredity? If the noble Earl the mover of this Resolution tells us that the qualification for membership of this House should be based upon personal service to the State, and, as I understand, that is rather the view contained in the Committee's Report—


When did I say that?


Then surely he ought to drive his principles to their logical conclusion. He ought to say to his own countrymen in Scotland, and those whom he addresses at political meetings: "You yourselves and your neighbours have no right to exercise the franchise of this country unless you also can show some personal service to the State—let us say, for argument's sake, service in the Territorial forces of this country." But the noble Earl goes to his fellow-countrymen and says, "You have only rights," and he comes here and says, "You have only duties."


I have not said anything of the sort.


The noble Earl, no doubt, will have an opportunity before this debate is finished of expressing his views, and I sincerely hope he will tell us whether, if he claims personal service to the State from noble Lords, he is prepared to go the full length of his argument and invite the British public also to contribute some personal service to the State.

I frankly confess that I am in favour of the present composition of this House. I believe it works very well in practice. There may be a few criticisms to pass upon it, but I do not know that they are very weighty or very serious. I have grave doubts whether it is possible to combine the hereditary and the elective principle. I believe that that process is bound to break down eventually, and you will be driven to the absolutely illogical position of making this House into an elective Assembly on a broad franchise, thus turning it from an aristocratic into a bureaucratic and plutocratic body. I do not believe the democracy is going to be well served by that change. I for my part desire to accept the first Resolution which the noble Earl has brought forward, but I sincerely trust with regard to the other Resolutions, which seem to me rather to be based on the shifting shoals of expediency, that noble Lords will ponder deeply before, alter a few nights debate, we permit the noble Earl, pen in hand, to write the epitaph on the work of six centuries.


My Lords, I should have hesitated very much, as a new and recent member of your Lordships' House, to intervene in what is a full dress debate, a debate of primary and cardinal importance, a debate which is bound to have very far-reaching consequences, had it not been for some remarks which fell from the noble Earl when he was introducing the subject and moving the Resolution that is attached to his name, remarks in which he animadverted upon and criticised a certain communication which I recently made, short in character, to one of the London daily papers. Upon those grounds I venture to make a few observations. I can only say that they shall be as brief and contracted into as narrow a compass as possible.

This debate has travelled over a very wide and a very interesting field. It has ranged over topics so various in their form that it is almost difficult now to select any one that is not already worn and threadbare, and I venture to suggest to your Lordships that a large number of those topics might well have been left over to have been more fully debated when the proposals of His Majesty's Government with regard to the House of Lords were before the two Houses of Parliament. The great bulk of the noble Earl's speech was directed to a discussion of the comparative advantages or demerits, and also the relative characteristics, of one Chamber as apart from two-Chamber government. I propose to leave that topic almost entirely alone. It seems to me that upon it we are arguing very much in the dark. We are fulminating against and demolishing hypothetical bogies which may never have had an existence or may never be brought to light. I do not think we can take it for granted throughout this discussion that it is the object of His Majesty's Government to propose anything akin to a single Chamber form of government.

I am well aware of, and recognise fully, the declaration of the Prime Minister which was cited to the House by the most rev. Primate last night upon the question of the Veto. That was a text upon which many a sermon might be preached and Resolutions founded, but even if that were not the case I think your Lordships are men of the world enough to know that the contents bill of a newspaper is often very much more blood-curdling than the columns of that paper itself when perused. I am fortified in that opinion after reading the speech of Sir Edward Grey, which was published in yesterday morning's newspapers. The Foreign Secretary is one of the most important members of the Government. Sir Edward Grey is one of the coolest-headed members of the Government. Indeed, my Lords, so cool-headed is he that I sometimes think that his brain is a kind of cold-storage department from which ideas and phrases are derived in a congealed and frozen state, and were the Foreign Secretary ever to give utterance to a foolish or hasty or excitable sentiment I should almost lose faith in humanity. Sir Edward Grey has said himself that he was in favour of a two-Chamber form of Government. Therefore I think in a measure we can leave any discussion of that point on one side. I may say this, that if the Government were to propose anything in the nature of one-Chamber government, or any Legislature that was limited to one Chamber, I should myself oppose it just as much as any noble Lord upon that side of the House, and I believe it would find very few supporters likewise upon this side.

The noble Earl referred in his speech to some imaginary entity that he called a a Chief Whip's conscience. I can assure the noble Earl that such a thing does not exist. Any Chief Whip worth his salt has no political conscience whatsoever, nor does he hold the conscience of his Party in his hands, as was suggested by the noble Earl. He is a very valuable piece of Party mechanism. He does what he is told. When he is instructed to go he goeth; when he is instructed to come he Cometh; and when he is told he must whip for any self-evident proposition, such as that black is white, he does so with the same alacrity and eagerness as if he believed it. Therefore, my Lords, so far as the actions of the Chief Whip are concerned, no conclusion must be drawn from them. The noble Lord, Lord Newton, as is his wont, hurled across the floor in friendly fashion sneers at certain Lords elected to your House, who immediately they got their seats here lost all their previous habits and customs and political convictions, and could not help assimilating their views with those of noble Lords opposite. I, my Lords, am not one of those individuals.


The noble Lord has not been here long enough.


It is true that I have not been here long, but however long I remain in this House I can assure the noble Lord that I shall always remain a very ardent and earnest, and, I hope, a progressive Liberal. Every week of my life, I may inform him, I become more Liberal and Radical in my opinions. The noble Lord, Lord Curzon, in introducing this debate to-night, said that I had in my letter to the paper—I hope noble Lords will permit me just to refer to one paragraph of it—denounced the Campbell Bannerman Motion in the House of Commons. My Lords, I did nothing of the kind. I only referred to it incidentally to say that I was then in disagreement with it, as I am now, and that was then known to the leaders of my Party. I only expressed those views in order to attach to them a further expression of my opinion, in perfect good faith, an opinion which I desire to put forward as a humble and respectful warning to the Government and the Party to which I have the honour to belong, that anything in the nature of a single-Chamber proposal emanating from them would, so far as our Party is concerned, entail upon us untold perils and disasters whenever we were to endeavour to translate it at a General Election before an audience of our fellow-countrymen.

I desire to point out that there was in my humble judgment a plan, practical and feasible in character, not infringing the dignity of this House, not trenching on any of its liberties, whereby Liberal principles embodied in Liberal Bills could be got through both Houses of Parliament; and, further, I thought by the adoption of that scheme Liberalism would be greatly benefited and buttressed throughout the country, and candidates standing as Liberals would be greatly advantaged thereby. I have, as the noble Lord said, only been a member of this House for a very brief period, but two things I have learnt to appreciate here. First of all, the great ability with which the debates are conducted, an ability of quite as high a level as we had in the House of Commons, that is, perhaps, praising it as much as I, as a House of Commons man, can; secondly, the fair-mindedness that seems to actuate every member of this Assembly.

But I wonder if noble Lords have ever realised the position of Liberals and Liberalism both in the House of Commons and throughout the country. I wonder if it would be too much to ask noble Lords on that side of the House to put themselves in the position of Liberals at the present juncture and under the present form of Government. The position of Liberals at present is absolutely intolerable. It could not possibly continue. No Party with any shred of self-respect, with any pride, with any dignity, with any sense of responsibility, would continue to occupy the position which the Liberal Party has been obliged to occupy during the last four or five years. We are engaged in continuous political warfare with noble Lords upon that side of the House, and with what I will call, I hope in no disagree- able way, the Tory Party in this country. Throughout the whole of that warfare the dice have been loaded against us, and noble Lords on that side of the House, and Tories throughout the country, are playing this game with us on the principle of "heads I win, tails you lose." We cannot possibly win. We go down to the electioneering sea in ships, and we strive, and we work, and we contend, and we fight, and we canvass, and we do all we can to secure a majority, and sometimes, my Lords, we do secure a majority in the House of Commons. During the last Parliament we had a phenomenal, a record, majority, the greatest that has ever existed, something like 300; but, my Lords, even if we had been able to secure Liberal representation in every constituency throughout the length and breadth of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, had we been able to return one solid homogeneous Liberal Party, we should have been no nearer our ends or our goal than we were during the last Parliament, and than we are at the present time. The Tory Party in the country, you noble Lords sitting upon that side of the House, are permanently in power, and you can prevent at any time our Bills from passing. You can alter them; you can distort them; you can maul and mutilate them, as we think; and you can reject them, and now you go so far as to think that you can send us back to the country whenever you, in your lordly wisdom, think right.

I ask you, my Lords, is that a fair state of things to continue, or to be allowed to continue? To use a familiar phrase, it is not what I call political cricket. I know the House of Lords have frequently expressed their willingness to bow to the will of the people whenever that will is made manifest. First of all, I would say the Liberal Party never did allow that the House of Lords ever had the right to send us to the country, or to force a Dissolution. But even if I were to allow that contention for one moment, you cannot have a Dissolution upon every Radical or Liberal Bill that comes up here from the House of Commons which is repugnant to your Lordships' feelings. Let me take one little instance. I am pursuing this line of argument—it may not seem very closely connected with the Resolution before us—in order to prove as far as I can that, however you reform this House from within, and whatever the constitution of this House may be so long as you have a Conservative—a Unionist—majority in it, and so long a it fails to be a reflex and a mirror of political opinion and public opinion outside, you cannot remove these grievances and these injustices under which Liberalism suffers at the present time unless you deal with the question of the Veto.

Let me take one small instance. Almost the first Bill that your Lordships rejected in the last Parliament was a Bill entitled the Plural Voting Bill, a Bill minor in its character, but for us Liberals a Bill of very great and vital importance. One can hardly conceive, amongst the numerous great topics that exercised men's minds during the last Parliament, that we could have a General Election on that Bill, important as we considered it; and on how many occasions would the House of Commons have had to send that Plural Voting Bill up to your Lordships in order to get it passed, even though your Lordships were assured by the fact that this Bill was continually coming up that the feeling of the country was in favour of it? I am an electioneerer of old standing, and I have spoken on as many political platforms as probably any noble Lord in this House, and not only on one side but on both sides, because I sat in two Parliaments as a Conservative Member. Perhaps I might borrow the noble Lord, Lord Ribblesdale's, phrase the other night when I mention that I do not see that that has anything to do with the subject we are now discussing. My Lords, I have seldom found any really unbiassed Conservative in favour of the continuance of a system by which rich men who had a multiplicity of this world's goods should go about the country purchasing voting power wherever they choose, and swamping the opinion of local electorates when elections are with us. Is it to be wondered at that Liberals rebel and chafe against this state of affairs, and that they cannot agree that a solution of it is found by having an election on all these minor topics?

The noble Earl says that all this is to be solved by the reform of your Lordships' House. I cannot see myself how reform pro- ceding from within this House can remove these great and glaring injustices that the Liberal Party suffers. I believe it has been quoted before in your Lordships' House that the late Lord Salisbury said, and it will bear quotation again, that there is only a certain amount of political power in this country, and that that is now enjoyed in the greatest degree by the House of Commons, and anything you grant to the House of Lords will act in depreciation of the powers of the House of Commons. I think there is a great deal to be said for that. But I think what we Liberals require first of all, and it seems a platitude to say it, is by statutory enactment—not by voluntary concession on the part of noble Lords, or by their permission, or from their kindness of spirit, but by Statute—to prevent this House from continually rejecting Liberal Bills, even when it is discovered that the country is in favour of those Bills. If that were once gained, and if we could in some measure devise a plan by which this Veto question could be dealt with, then I say reform ourselves, and do whatever we like in this Assembly; but the House of Lords should not stand against the continued wish and will of the people. I think we are all agreed upon this, that a Second Chamber should not be obliged to bow to any fleeting or spasmodic idea which catches the people and rushes them off their feet. Every great reform in this country ought to fight every inch of its march of progress; every great reform ought to work out to the fullest extent its own salvation. I venture to suggest that that has been done, and that your noble House ought not to stand in the way.

We are told that the House of Lords represents a national bulwark. With the greatest respect to it, I say that is not its function. It ought to be, to borrow a phrase from the great game of golf, a national bunker, difficult to get over, big and broad and hard to negotiate, but one which we ought to be able to negotiate under certain circumstances. So, my Lords, I venture to suggest that the province of this House is to delay, obstruct, oppose, retard, criticise, and thrash out Bills to the utmost extent of its ability; but the Liberal Party should have a statutory right, not only by Dissolution, to secure its own measures when its Bills are found to be the express wish of the country, great and small, passed into law. Therefore, the first step should not be exactly the reform of the House of Lords, but the devising of some form of machinery which should give effect to this great object and purpose.

I venture to think that your Lordships yourselves on that side of the House are willing and anxious to find out some method and some such plan. You cannot conceive your present position to be a satisfactory one. You cannot be comfortable; you cannot be happy, possessing the sense of fairness which you do, in the perpetuation of the present inequitable system between the two great Parties in the State; and I am sure it ought to be the wish of every noble Lord on both sides of the House to possess powers of criticising and dealing with Bills without the great paraphernalia of a General Election. In that way they might find a happy exit from an untenable position when they find that the will of the country is against them. I have no doubt that most of your Lordships have seen a plan adumbrated in one of the Liberal morning papers regarding the operation of a great Senate. Any such plan as that would have my most sincere support and assistance. But failing such a plan as that by the Government, which would be almost cataclysmic in its character, I venture to suggest that the plan I have elaborated is the only plan by which, suffering some delay, we Liberals could get our Bills through the House of Lords, and it is still my belief that it would be the wiser one at the present juncture.


My Lords, I am not going to quarrel with the noble Lord who has just sat down on account of his belief in the infallibility of the new leaders to whom he has so lately attached himself. We may feel glad that his political doubts are now at rest, and that he has found peace for his political conscience. I shall have occasion to express real sympathy with the grievance of the Radical Party, to which the noble Lord devoted the greater part of his speech, but all that I wish to say with regard to the noble Lord's remarks at the present moment is that it seems to me that his conception of the functions of a Second Chamber is as faulty as the metaphor by which he illustrated them. He chose a metaphor from the game of golf. I am not a golf player myself, but I have always understood that the object of a bunker was to punish a faulty player. In that case, if the metaphor be a true one, then the Second Chamber is perfectly justified in punishing unconstitutional action on the part of the popular Chamber.

I hope the noble Duke who opened the debate after dinner this evening will not think I am discourteous if I do not follow him into the mazes of his argument. His interesting speech, which was certainly not lacking in courage and was nothing if not original, seemed to me, if he will forgive my saying so, rather wide of the mark. As I understand it, the only question before us at the present moment is whether or not it is expedient that we should discuss the question of House of Lords reform. We have not even got to the stage of considering whether or not reform is desirable. The question which the noble Earl has put to us is simply whether we should discuss that question, and it seems to me altogether irrelevant and inappropriate to enter into a discussion of possible schemes of reform and their possible effects. I shall confine myself, therefore, to a few remarks on the question whether or not we should consider the subject of reform.

My reasons for intervening in the debate are, I hope, not immodest. I do not hope to be able to contribute anything to the argument on the question, but I have two distinct reasons for asking your Lordships' indulgence. The first is that I am one of those who have spoken on public platforms and on public occasions during the past few months, and in doing so I have advocated, after full deliberation, the reform of the House of Lords. I desire, therefore, to take an early opportunity of making good what I have said, and giving the best proof I can that I was sincere in saying it. My second reason is this. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Stradbroke, in his remark that this is an occasion above all others when all sorts and conditions of members of this House should express their opinion. I imagine that it is a case of quot homines tot sententiae, and that it is only from the mass of varying opinions of the members of this House, whether the most eminent or the most insignificant, that it will be possible to deduce any general principle upon which most of us are agreed.

I think it is all the more desirable that as many of us as possible should express our opinions because it is perfectly certain that whatever we do and whatever we decide we shall be grossly misrepresented. I do not doubt that the noble Earl the Leader of the House will say of our decision, as he has said of a former decision, that it is an imposture. We shall not easily forget that remark of the noble Earl in spite of the polished phrases and the smooth professions which he uses in this House. I dare say also that the noble Lord the Under-Secretary of State for War, who I regret is not in his place, will say, puffed up with all that knowledge and wisdom which are generated spontaneously in the brain of a half-fledged Under-Secretary, that he has noticed with astonishment and dismay the crass ignorance which prevails among the members of your Lordships' House, and I am afraid that there are other noble Lords opposite who will feel obliged also as a sacrifice to political consistency to indulge in the practice of fouling their own nest.

Well, my Lords, those misrepresentations, I think we can see already, will be of a threefold character. In the first place, we shall be told that those of us who advocate reform are insincere in our expression of willingness to submit to changes. Secondly, we shall be told that we are putting forward a new intolerable pretension or arrogant claim in saying we ought to carry out our own internal reform; and, thirdly, we shall be told, as we are being told already, that any expression of willingness to undergo reform is a confession that the action of the House of Lords in the past was mistaken and unjustifiable, that the House of Lords as an institution is indefensible, and that our opinions have undergone a complete transformation. In regard to the first of those misrepresentations we can only prove our sincerity by our actions, and that is why I agree with the noble Earl who introduced this question and those who support him in the view that prompt action is most important and desirable. I think that the second misrepresentation has already been disposed of so far as this debate is concerned. It has, of course, never entered the heads of any of those who are engaged in this movement for considering reform that any change will be brought about by Resolutions of this House. That extraordinary notion only exists in the imaginations of noble Lords opposite, and of the writers in the Radical Press. But the third misrepresentation demands, I think, some further argument. I confess I was very much surprised that the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for India should have adopted a gibe which forms the stock-in-trade of the crude writers in the Radical Press. I must admit that when I first saw it I regarded it as a somewhat feeble gibe, but since it has been adopted by the noble Viscount we must treat it, I suppose, seriously.

The noble Viscount said that any expression of willingness to submit to reform was a transformation, that it was a confession that our action in the past had been wrong, that it was an admission that the House of Lords, as an institution, was indefensible, and so forth. Well, my Lords, our answer to that is that we do not admit, not one of us admits for a single moment, that the House of Lords is indefensible either from the point of view of constitutional theory or on the showing of history and our past record. We are ready, every one of us, when the time comes, to defend the hereditary principle as it exists in this House at the present time. We are ready to defend it both in theory and in practice, even though we may be willing, on grounds of national expediency, that it should be limited to a certain extent. Our position is this. We admit, on the principle that no human institutions are perfect and that changing circumstances oblige corresponding changes even in the best of institutions, that there are things about the constitution of this House which might, with advantage, be changed. We admit that it would be possible and we believe that it would be desirable to effect improvement by some changes of the kind which has been suggested. Our position, further, is that we admit that this House is unpopular with a large section of the nation, and that that unpopularity is not likely to be transient. Recognising as we do that that unpopularity diminishes the authority of this House and impairs its usefulness as a national institution, we are willing to consent to changes which will enable us to discharge our functions without that friction which is so disastrous to national unity. I am speaking for those with whom I agree, of course, and I say that we are anxious to do so at the present time because we believe that there never was a time when national unity was of more vital importance.

It is agreed by men of all parties that the nation has reached a great and grave crisis in her destinies and we are meeting that crisis, not as a united people animated by one sole idea as to what is best for the nation as a whole, but as a conglomeration of bitterly contending factions; and feeling that the present constitution of this House is an obstacle to the attainment of that national unity, we are willing and anxious to submit as soon as possible to a change. That attitude, I maintain, does not in any way involve an admission of incompetence or of failure in the past. It is merely a recognition of the existence of changing circumstances and an expression of willingness to conform to them. It is an expression of our desire to avoid disaster, not to ourselves as individuals or to this House as an institution, but to the nation and the Empire at large. A business firm may change its methods or its system without in any way implying that it has been a failure in the past or that its work has been conducted on mistaken lines. We may take to building "Dreadnoughts" instead of the more antiquated form of battleship without in any way laying ourselves open to the charge that in years gone by our Fleet was inadequate and defective for its purpose.

Now, my Lords, what are these changing conditions which have brought us to this opinion? I think, in the first place, there is a profound modification in the old system of two Parties. That modification seems to me to be due to the disappearance of the old Liberal Party. There are Liberals, my Lords, but they sit on the Unionist side of both Houses, and the most prominent among them is the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition. I do not think anyone can deny that the old balance of Parties in the State has disappeared, and its place has been taken by a coalition on the one side of different Parties who have no real fundamental political principles in common. Whig and Tory, Conservative and Liberal, were agreed on fundamental principles; they did not wish to alter materially, certainly not to break up or destroy, the constitutional machine. They wished to continue to work it, and the only difference between them was one, not of principle, but of degree. The difference of opinion between them was in regard to the rate at which progress was to be ground out of the political machine, or a difference of opinion as to the order in which the material for manufacture should be subjected to the pro- cesses of reform. But now, my Lords, the differences are, I think, fundamental. Some of the new Parties which have arisen aim at the radical, fundamental reconstruction, not only of the Constitution, but of society at large.

In this respect I was very much surprised at a remark which was made by the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for India, to which, to the best of my belief, no reply has yet been made. The noble Viscount said that the policy of a strong and efficient Second Chamber is the taking back of extended political powers given to the people. That seemed to me, my Lords, a very surprising argument, and my answer to it is this. You want a stronger brake on the powerful motor-car of to-day than you wanted on the stage coach of days gone by, and yet by putting a strong brake on a motor-car, a considerably more powerful vehicle than a stage coach, you do not weaken it. The argument of the noble Viscount seemed to me to ignore the fact that the power of the people has been advancing and making progress. Those are the changed circumstances to which I was referring, together with the disappearance of the old Liberal Party and the substitution for it of a coalition of Parties of fundamentally different principles, which have brought about this great disproportion of Parties in your Lordships' House which is at the root of the whole grievance. And that is why this disproportion of Parties would be permanent if the present constitution of this House were to continue as it is.

As I said before, the unpopularity of your Lordships' House is not a transient one. I know there are some who pin their faith to the hope that it is merely a passing feeling, and that this House will once more stand exactly the same in the estimation of the nation as it did some years ago. Personally, I cannot believe that the unpopularity is transient. I do not see how it can be, unless the existence of these new Parties, the Radical Party and the Socialist Party, is also transient. On the contrary, they are growing in strength; there can be no denying that, and it seems that a fissiparous tendency is firmly established in the Party which favours more rapid progress or even revolutionary change. The old two-Party system, in my humble opinion, cannot possibly return to re-establish in this House the more or less equal proportion of representatives of the two Parties. Further, my Lords, I maintain that the unpopularity of this House is based on the most persistent and malignant of all human passions, that of jealousy, and that jealousy has been fanned into flame by the campaign of class hatred which has been so persistently and unscrupulously pursued by the friends of noble Lords opposite.

There are still further causes for the unpopularity of your Lordships' House. One of them, by no means a negligible one, is that the decisions of the Supreme Court of Appeal are associated with the whole body of your Lordships' House. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack was urging us some time ago to be content with what he called, and rightly called, if I may say so, a noble attribute of this House—the fact that your Lordships' House is the highest Court of Appeal in the country. Yet I think there is no denying the fact that it is that very noble attribute which as much as anything else is getting this House into unpopularity. The decision of the noble and learned Lords on such questions as the Taff Vale dispute, or the Church question in Scotland, or the more recent Osborne case, have done, in my humble opinion, as much as anything else to bring this House into unpopularity.


Will the noble Lord excuse me? I was not a party to any one of those decisions. It Was my noble and learned friend, my predecessor, who was concerned in those.


I did not in any way imply that the noble and learned Lord was a party to them.


Then I beg the noble Lord's pardon. I did not understand that.


There was no personal reference whatever in my allusion to the noble and learned Lord. I was only stating my belief that certain decisions arrived at by the House of Lords sitting as a Court of Appeal were unpopular.


I beg the noble Lord's pardon; I misunderstood him.


And that they were regarded by the people at large, who are not sufficiently well informed, as decisions of the whole House. I venture to think that if there are to be any changes it is worthy of consideration whether the highest Court of Appeal in the land should not cease to be called the House of Lords, so that there may be no further possibility of any such misunderstanding.

I now wish to state, quite briefly, why I desire reform. I desire reform because I wish to disarm that jealousy to which I have referred, and to mitigate that unpopularity. I desire reform because I recognise the validity of the grievance which arises out of the permanent alteration in the balance of the Parties. Since we are governed by a Party system, and since there is no question whatever of altering that system, it seems to me obvious that the permanency of an overwhelming majority of one Party in this House will never find favour with the people at large. It certainly will never find favour with at least half of our fellow countrymen. I think it is incumbent upon those who say they are in favour of reform to indicate at least in principle what they mean. I think I can do so very briefly by saying that I agree in principle with the propositions by which the noble Earl on the Cross Benches has explained his Motion. While I agree with the noble Earl that it is vital that historical continuity should be preserved and that the House of Lords should be reformed rather than that a new Second Chamber should be established, I am forced to recognise that no alteration of any kind is possible unless there is some sacrifice of the hereditary principle. Therefore, my Lords, I am willing, after long and anxious consideration, to see the hereditary principle limited, whether it be by qualification, by selection, by nomination, or by a system which embodies all three principles. I think that some such change would be a compromise thoroughly in accordance with the spirit of our laws, our customs, and our institutions, which to the best of my belief have all grown up and been formed by that spirit of compromise.

But I am bound to add that I regard it as of supreme importance that the hereditary principle, however it may be limited or qualified, should be kept alive. My reasons for that belief can be stated in a chain of propositions which I will not delay your Lordships by explaining. The argument which impresses me is briefly this. It is a proposition which nobody disputes that our very existence as a nation depends upon the maintenance of the Empire. I imagine that there are very few who would dispute the proposition that the maintenance of the Empire depends upon the maintenance of Monarchy. Personally I cannot for the moment believe that we should be able to preserve the bonds which unite the Mother Country with her Dominions overseas or our peaceful association with the peoples of India if the golden link of the Crown were removed. I have never yet heard any argument to shake my belief that Monarchy cannot exist unless it is supported by an aristocracy, and I think it is self-evident that an aristocracy, to preserve its very existence, must have sufficient political power to enable it to hold its own against the overwhelming majority of the democracy. In brief, then, my Lords, I accept in principle the recommendations of the Committee which was presided over by the noble Earl, but I go a little further and say that we must make some substantial concession to the democratic demand for the elective principle.

Let me say that I desire to associate myself most strongly with the plea of my noble friend who opened the debate this afternoon, that this should be treated as a national and not as a Party question. To the best of my belief, we who are advocating reform are taking a step which makes it possible that this should be treated as a national question. What is the object of reform? The object of reform surely is to meet that very Party grievance of noble Lords opposite. Do noble Lords opposite think for one moment that we should have raised this question at all if we had not recognised that they had that grievance, and if we were not animated by a desire, which I claim is a generous desire, to remove that grievance? And yet noble Lords opposite meet us in a bitter Party spirit. We have all been disappointed by the attitude of the noble Earl the Leader of the House. His remarks have been quoted more than once. But I think even more disappointing was the utterance of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Sir Edward Grey, when he said that no limitation of the powers of this House could be too stringent for the purposes of the Radical Party. I have not got the words here, but to the best of my recollection that is what he said. Anyhow it is substantially what he said, and I think his words show an absolute failure to recognise that there is a national aspect of this question. It is more than disappointing to us that Sir Edward Grey of all people should regard this merely as a question which concerns only the advantage of the Radical Party.

Then we had the noble Lord, Lord Sheffield, who displayed the same spirit yesterday when he said, "If you begin to use your power to penalise legislation"—that was his view of the situation created by our action with regard to the Budget—"you must have your power taken away." It seems to me to be analogous to saying to a man who for forty years has not had occasion to use a fire-arm in self-defence against the assault of a burglar but is obliged to do so in the end, "You have used this power which has been lying dormant for forty years, and therefore we must take it away from you, and if you are ever attacked again you must not defend your life." Of course, the noble Lord supported his argument with the usual diatribe about the arrogant pretensions of this House to control finance, and so forth. It is easy to retort to the noble Lord that the arrogant pretensions, if any there were, were on the side of the House of Commons. The noble Lord seemed to forget that months and months ago the Prime Minister caused it to be understood that the Finance Bill would be used as a weapon against this House and as an instrument for bringing about a constitutional revolution. He also seems to have forgotten the famous utterance of the Chancellor of the Exchequer admitting that the Finance Bill was a trap designed to bring about the fall of this House. I earnestly hope that better counsels will prevail in the Radical Party, and that the friends of noble Lords opposite will see that those of us who favour reform do seriously wish to meet their grievance. And to noble Lords on this side of the House I would say, with all deference and submission, that if we are going to do anything at all, if we are going to convince our political opponents that we do wish to remedy their grievance, that we do wish to remove friction, that we are anxious to bring about national unity, whatever we do must be a substantial concession, not to democracy—for I deny absolutely that the Radical Party represents the democracy or the people of this country; it represents at most only one half of the people of the country—but a concession to that half of the nation who are in such bitter disagreement with us on this important and anxious question.


My Lords, as the hour is getting late and this debate has been considerably protracted, I hope to earn the gratitude of your Lordships by compressing the few remarks that I have to make into the smallest possible compass. The first thing I wish to do is to express my gratitude to the noble Earl on the Cross Benches for making this Motion. I concur entirely in the propriety of the remark which he made that he possibly was one of the best persons to make this Motion, because he sits upon the Cross Benches, and that the introduction of a discussion of this kind could be made and conducted with more propriety and with less Party feeling if it were started by him rather than by any of those who sit on the two Front Benches. I heartily concur with, and shall gladly support, the Motion to go into Committee, because I think that it is absolutely necessary to agree to that Motion. I think the very least everyone can do who has any real desire for reform and who does not look upon the constitution of this House at the present moment as absolutely perfect, is to agree to this Motion with the intention subsequently of discussing the Resolutions which the noble Earl says he is going to bring forward.

I do not intend to detain your Lordships by enlarging or giving the reasons why I am in favour of reform. I am one of those who have been in favour of reform for a long time, although, of course, I have seen all its difficulties; and Lord Curzon, I thought, spoke very appropriately when he said that reform of this House must be a matter of long time and could not be started unless there was some propelling force behind it. The time, I think, has come, and I quite concur that the noble Earl has embraced the first opportunity, and an excellent opportunity, which has offered of bringing the matter before the House in order that this House may, if it sees fit, reform itself and initiate changes without waiting for what comes from the other House. Our task, then, at least as I regard it, is how are we to provide the best possible Second Chamber for the country as a whole, and without any reference to Party or persons. That is the way in which I regard it, and at the same time—though I speak for myself only, of course—I am sure that I am expressing the opinions of a great many of your Lordships when I say that personal privileges and prerogatives and matters of that sort ought not in any way to influence our judgment. Certainly I hope they do not influence mine. I am perfectly ready to cease to be a member of your Lordships' House, but on this condition only, that I see a Second Chamber substituted for this Chamber which is a real Chamber—no sham, no mere registry office, but a Chamber which is so constituted as to be likely to act for the benefit of the nation as a whole.

Let me say at once with regard to the hereditary principle, which is always the first matter that comes up, that I contend that this House, constituted upon the hereditary principle, has done its work well. If you take the history of the last twenty years, where there has ever been a difference between the two Houses, the nation, when it has been called upon to pronounce, has pronounced on your Lordships' side and not on the side of the House of Commons, I even go so far as to say that the action of this House in regard to the Finance Bill, which your Lordships suspended last year, has been proved to be right. I am perfectly well aware that noble Lords opposite who maintain the contrary say that the present deadlock which exists is owing entirely to the action of your Lordships. One of the things which strikes me so much in this Government is their power of looking past all facts which are not convenient to them. In regard to this matter the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack and the noble Earl who leads the House made speeches, but I should never have known, no one would ever have known, from either of those speeches that there had been a General Election, or that there were such persons as electors in this country. Pray, why has such a change come over the House of Commons? Did your Lordships make that change? Your Lordships merely stated that you yourselves considered that the Finance Bill contained in it a number of provisions of which you could not approve, and which you did not feel sure that the country would approve. The result was a General Election. What happened? Are you responsible for what the electors did? And when we are told that this deadlock exists and that it is all our fault, I say put it down to the right cause—put it down to the action of the electors. The Finance Bill last year was read a third time in the House of Commons by 379 to 149. Can you do that now? If you cannot, pray by whose action is it that you are unable to do it? Is it not by the action of the electors? How can it in any way be attributed to this House? I leave that subject.

When you come to discuss this hereditary principle from the point of view of logic, I frankly admit I do not think you can defend it. The hereditary principle exposes us to all sorts of remarks in the country. Every Radical orator, and every Radical who feels possibly some want of confidence in his opinion about other things, feels certain about one thing at all events—that he knows and understands all about this House; and there is a confusion about coronets and gilded chambers and nonsense of that sort, which your Lordships know well form a large part of the stock-in-trade of orators on Radical platforms. We in this House know how absurd all that is. But there it is. It is perfectly true you may say those sort of things about this House, and therefore from the point of view of advantage of this House it appears to me that we ought to do anything that we can to put a stop to and prevent arguments of that kind. Then the enemies of a Second Chamber—and this is the point where I think the hereditary principle hurts this House—appeal to the defects of the constitution of this House as an argument which they apply to the disadvantage of a Second Chamber at all. They argue that because your Lordships are hereditary, therefore a Second Chamber has no right to have any powers—indeed, they go further.

This House is unfortunate in another particular. It is unfortunate in its title as a Second Chamber because of the word "Lords." We know that the mere word "Lords" can be made the occasion, and is made the occasion, of saying all kinds of things which are unflattering to the Second Chamber. Then with regard to another point which was taken just now by the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill. He said—and the Duke of Northumberland called attention to it also last night—that the fact that the judgments which are pronounced by by the House of Lords sitting as the highest Court of Appeal are constantly accepted by large bodies of persons in the country as being the action of this House sitting as a whole has added to the unpopularity of your Lordships' House. I need not point out that if you can only change the term by which the highest Court of Appeal is known, at all events you will take away one of the causes which exists of raising unfounded objections against this House.

Now with regard to a Second Chamber. There are no fewer than three parties with three different opinions with regard to a Second Chamber. I am speaking now of the various sections of the Liberal Party. First of all, there are the Labour Members. They would end this House altogether, for they are entirely opposed to a Second Chamber of any sort or kind. Mr. Ramsay Macdonald, in a speech the other day, said that a Second Chamber is inconsistent with democratic responsibility; and he said, further— I am in favour of the abolition of the House of Lords, but if I cannot get abolition then I will take the Veto, because that is the second best. Let us take away the Veto; let the Peers stay where they are; give them no power, but keep them as decoration. I respect the Labour Members for the frankness with which they always speak. I always understand what they mean. I own I find great difficulty at times in understanding the meaning of the Government. But there is no doubt about the meaning of the Labour Members.

What is the view of the Cabinet? It appears to me that what Mr. Ramsay Macdonald said very frankly and openly—"Keep them as decorations, but give them no powers"—is the view of the Cabinet. The Cabinet seem to me to be united against one thing, and that is against having a real Second Chamber possessing powers. I heard Lord Marchamley say just now that he thought a Statute ought to be passed to prevent your Lordships from stopping Liberal Bills. But why Liberal Bills only? Then, again, Mr. Asquith himself has spoken quite openly on this matter; at least, I thought it was open. He said— I myself am in favour of a Second Chamber. I see much practical advantage that may arise from the existence aide by side with the House of Commons of a body, not indeed of co-ordinate authority, but suitable in numbers and by its composition to exercise impartially in regard to our general legislation the powers of revision, amendment, fuller deliberation, and, subject to proper safeguards, of delay. We are not pro- posing the setting up of a single Chamber. We are going to ask the electors that the House of Lords shall be confined to the proper functions of a Second Chamber. The absolute Veto of a Second Chamber must be abolished. My Lords, that is a cloud of words, but what is the only meaning of it? It means that the Second Chamber is to have no power, and Mr. Lloyd-George spoke very much in the same way, only rather more fully. He said— This Cabinet is determined not to hold office unless full powers are accorded to it to pass Liberal and Progressive measures in the course of a single Parliament, either with or without the sanction of the House of Lords. That does not mean a single Chamber, but it does mean that if and when there is a conflict between the two Houses and the House of Lords persists in resistance after full opportunities are afforded to both Houses for reflection, then in the course of a single Parliament the will of the House which represents the people must and shall prevail. What is that except a single Chamber? Indeed, I do not know that I can adduce any stronger evidence against the wisdom and propriety of the proposal of the Government than that afforded by Sir Edward Grey. We were told just now that Sir Edward Grey's brain was like a cold-storage chamber, from which ideas issued in a refrigerated form, or something of that kind. He is so very cool and so very calculating that he seldom says anything. It is hardly possible, we were told, to get anything out of him at all, he is so reticent and so cautious. But what does he say? He says— I say that to confine ourselves to a single Chamber issue would result for us, politically speaking, in disaster, death, and damnation. Well, my Lords, this comes from a person whose brain is like a cold-storage chamber. I wonder if he had been a little more like ourselves what language he would have used. I should have said myself that there was a certain amount of strength about those expressions which he used. But having thus disposed of the proposal which, as I understand, is going to be submitted to this House, though why in the world the Veto and the Reform of this House cannot be treated together passes my wits, Sir Edward Grey says— As far as the House of Lords as at present constituted is concerned, no limitation of its powers can be too stringent. What for? For the general good? No. For the needs of Liberal policy. That is exactly what Lord Marchamley said—that a Statute ought to be passed to prevent your Lordships from interfering with Liberal Bills. That is the question, Sir Edward Grey says, at the moment for this Parliament. He goes on— But remember that the limitation must be regarded, in my opinion, as preparatory to, and without prejudice to, a full consideration of what should be the proper constitution of a Second Chamber, and what powers should be allowed to a Second Chamber so constituted. He proposes, in the first place, that your constitution should be abolished and your Lordships' power, and then he and his colleagues would proceed to create a new Second Chamber, and to decide what powers it was to have. Surely those words will bear only one interpretation—that the present Government or the present House of Commons is not only going to destroy the present constitution of the Second Chamber, but absolutely to create a new Second Chamber according to its own wishes, and to suit its own purposes. At all events, that has not happened yet, and I think that some time will elapse before it does happen.

The Secretary of State for India the other night showed us quite clearly what his intention is. He said he would do nothing to strengthen this Chamber. He indicated very clearly that it is his desire to weaken it. The greatest difficulty in carrying out his desire is that I do not see how this Chamber can be weakened unless you take away its powers altogether. May I ask your Lordships, if you take away the legislative powers from this House what powers has it got left? I am not aware of one. I should be very glad if the noble Earl, when he is speaking to-morrow night, would tell us what powers he is going to leave to this House when he has taken away all its legislative powers. We have heard of revision, consideration, and things of that sort, but all that is the province, as Lord Newton said last night, of a debating society; it is not the primary object of a Second Chamber.

My Lords, I have said quite enough for the purposes of to-night. We shall have a good many opportunities, I have no doubt, for discussing this matter both in Committee and hereafter, when, as I hope, it will take the form of a Bill. But in the meantime I entirely concur in one remark—I think it was the only remark of Lord Morley's with which I did concur—that your Lordships' constitution is a matter of comparatively secondary importance, and that what is of importance, not to your Lordships but to the Second Chamber of this country, is its powers. Those powers are at this moment very small indeed. You cannot find a Second Chamber belonging to any other nation which has powers so small; and I venture to hope—certainly I myself in my humble way shall do my best when these matters are discussed to ensure it—that at all events such powers as we have are neither taken away from us nor in any way diminished.


My Lords, some noble Lords have given this House the benefit of their reminiscences of Oliver Cromwell. I wondered why none of them reminded the House that Oliver Cromwell, though a staunch Nonconformist, was also a brewer, and that he would certainly have voted against the Budget and the Licensing Bill had he been a member of last year's House of Commons. The Long Parliament in 1640 consisted of about 500 Members; yet in February, 1649, when only about fourteen months older than an ordinary Septennial Parliament, there were only seventy-three Members present at the Division which abolished the House of Lords by forty-four to twenty-nine. The greater part of the absentees had been expelled from the House from time to time, or were afraid to be in London while the House was in a murderous mood. The same thing might happen again if there was no other institution which could insist on an appeal to the people. That Parliament had the unenviable distinction of re-establishing slavery in England. With all its talk of freedom, it sold thousands of freeborn Englishmen as slaves to the West Indies. After the battle of Worcester, in 1500, Englishmen were sold as slaves to the Coast of Guinea, the white man's grave. Its tyranny was ten thousand times worse than that of Charles the First, yet when it first sat its intentions were excellent.

In Greece at the present moment a single Chamber has to render obedience to a group of mutinous soldiery, though there are hopes that the Greeks may regain their freedom if a counter revolution can be organised by the Navy. I think that Servia may also be looked upon as a single-Chamber country. Its Council of sixteen is not the equivalent of a second Chamber. Its methods of dealing with a recent constitutional crisis are, it is hoped, not likely to be adopted by any other country. I do not wish to repeat historical statements already made by other noble Lords, but I think that I can safely say that this debate has shown that single Chambers have always led to unfortunate results that were never contemplated by the kings and peoples who established them. As there were no legal means of getting rid of single Chambers violence was the only remedy available. The tyranny of one man was preferable to the tyranny of the many, and the news of the dispersal of a single Chamber was generally received with delight by the people most interested. If once a single Chamber is established in England, I feel certain that before ten years have elapsed it will either be dispersed by an indignant mob or by the troops of a foreign invader. Human nature being what it is, single Chambers require an outside power to protect them against themselves.

It is well to look round and to consider the reasons that have brought the question of the Veto of the House of Lords into practical politics. There is a Budget that is said to be dead by some people, because the Government, notwithstanding all their threats, have not as yet dared to bring it before a newly-elected House of Commons, and there is a Home Rule question that was thought to have been killed by the General Election of 1895. These two political corpses are by an unhallowed union, certainly not one of affection, to be brought into contact with one another and galvanised into political life, and to be transformed into living laws, which are to be imposed on people who have already shown by their votes at the last Election that, if consulted, they would refuse to pass both these measures if put before them in a straightforward and simple manner. The referendum is the only means by which the people can be saved from the tyrannies and usurpations of a single Chamber. The House of Lords as it stands is not strong enough to do this. If considerably strengthened by being made elective it will be perpetually over-ruling the Commons, and there will be no convenient method of deciding their disputes any more than there is now. Automatically the Referendum would give that redistribution of power according to population that the country is so much in want of, and redress many of the injustices of the single seat system.

It takes three wagon loads of Romford voters to equal the vote of an Irish peasant at Kilkenny, but when a Referendum takes place the voter at Romford will feel that he has the same weight and importance as a voter at Kilkenny, and the large minorities of Irishmen and Welshmen who are now unrepresented, who have not even spokesmen to represent their views in the House of Commons, will find themselves restored to political life by a Referendum in which every vote will have the same value. The Referendum has been tried with success in the Anglo-Saxon community of Natal, and there is no reason why it should not be tried here. It would restore to the people much of the power that the House of Commons has deprived them of. It is not my intention to recapitulate the reasons that have been given for the reform of this House by other Peers. I rose chiefly with the intention of pointing out that the resort to a Referendum when the Houses disagree is a possible refuge from the despotism of a single Chamber and a democratic solution of the difficulties amidst which the country now finds itself.

Debate again adjourned till To-morrow.