§ 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).
§ LORD COURTNEY OF PENWITH
My Lords, there was an observation made last evening by the noble and learned Earl who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench (Lord Halsbury) with which I felt great sympathy. He said he experienced much difficulty in this discussion in the absence of a concrete scheme, and consequently did not feel that he could deal with the subject with any practical efficiency. I have felt that greatly throughout this debate, and when my noble and learned friend went on to say that he proposed to vote in favour of going into Committee I confess I thought that as that last shadow of apparent opposition to the Motion before your Lordships had been removed, we could almost dispense with these proceedings and go to the next stage.
The discussion has necessarily been rather academic, and we might get to realities in Committee. A little reflection, however, has led me to think that that is a rash conclusion. We are not yet prepared to consider the matter in a real practical fashion in Committee. I see it suggested in some newspapers that we may go into Committee on Monday. The first, the second, and even the third Resolution may be passed, but the crux of this business lies in the way of dealing with the question in a practical manner, and we are not at all advanced, so far as I can see, with any suggestions which at the present moment could be accepted as practicable or could be put into operation. We are therefore just entering on the study of this great question, we are making pre- 372 parations, we are providing contributions for discussion, and we are doing very little more. What is the question which lies at the root of this debate and was the origin of the Select Committee of two or three years ago? It is the sense of the growing divergency between the two properly co-operative parts of Parliament. They ought to work together; at one time they did work together in a fashion, and of course they do work together in some fashion still; but the difficulty of working together has of late years been very considerable.
I do not impute blame to any person or Party. It has arisen, probably, from the natural development of things. But it has come about that what I may call the plane of movement and life in this House is entirely different from that of members of the other House. The line of intersection of practical action grows more and more difficult to reach, and it is that which is driving people to consider how the difficulty of arriving at co-operation between the two branches of the. Legislature can be overcome. We are driven to the consideration of that problem. It may be difficult for some of your Lordships to appreciate the sense of separateness which attaches to the proceedings of your Lordships' House. Perhaps you will forgive me for expressing the impressions of one who came here after a more or less busy life of twenty-four years spent elsewhere. One seems to come into the presence of a land-locked pool, a place which storms cannot reach, so bounded by breakwaters, natural and historical, that the ordinary tides of life scarcely break in upon it.
I know, of course, that many of your Lordships in your earlier years have been brought into closer contact with multitudes of men. Some of you have even special means of information as to what is the development of opinion elsewhere, but any one who watches from within the progress of your debates and who tries to enter into sympathy with the movement of the mind of this place must feel how much estranged it is from the movement of mind elsewhere. There are whole classes and more than classes of His Majesty's subjects leading lives and enduring experiences that can scarcely be appreciated in this Assembly. No voice from them reaches your Lordships except at secondhand.
§ LORD COURTNEY OF PENWITH
Can it be denied that there is no one to speak from experience of the way in which half the population of these islands live? You can speak, of course, from a certain degree of intercourse with them. I am not imputing blame in any way, but that is one of the defects of this Assembly which has led to the difficulties of legislation with which we are confronted. No wonder that, under those circumstances, there should arise, on the part of the Liberal Party especially, a sense of the immovability and inaccessibility of your Lordships' House which causes them to question whether means could not be developed for securing some effectual result to their desires, even if those desires may not meet at once with your Lordships' appreciation and approval.
My noble friend Lord Marchamley spoke last night in a very powerful way of the experience of the Liberal Party, with whose fortunes he has been intimately connected, with regard to schemes which found a large measure of favour elsewhere but were negatived in this House. It was no wonder that, when the great election of 1906 happened, and the majority returned at that election found that projects of legislation sent up to this House were set aside one after another, the thought should have arisen whether this obstacle could not be overcome. The Resolution which went by the name of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman was submitted to the other House and approved by a large majority, sketching out a plan for overcoming the difficulty which I have endeavoured to put before your Lordships. It was called the Campbell-Bannerman Resolution, but I believe that, as a matter of fact, the original suggestion came from the late Mr. Bright. The plan which he originated, and which in some measure is now before us, was a somewhat rude and crude suggestion. I doubt whether it could stand by itself. I am not sure whether it is intended to stand by itself.
If I am thought to be disrespectful in so describing this suggestion, let me recall that Lord Marchamley has confessed that he disapproved of the suggestion as a solution from the first, although he was Chief Whip of the Liberal Party at the time it was brought forward. I confess that I find great difficulty in reconciling the suggestion, if it is to be taken absolutely and nakedly by itself, with the language 374 and attitude of some of His Majesty's Ministers at this moment. I am not so much alarmed about the suggestion as some members of your Lordships' House appear to be. It strikes me, indeed, as a little inconsistent that one should hear it denounced as involving perils to the character of the Legislature, and then to be at once told that it is impossible to adopt it, and that, if it were adopted, it would be repudiated and set aside again immediately after its adoption. If those conclusions are right, then I confess that the terrors excited by the suggestion are to my mind a little overstrained, and, if I might venture on the epithet, I would say that the alarms and anxieties expressed are somewhat inartistic, that they are quite beyond what is necessary or appropriate to the occasion. I do not look upon the suggestion as final. It is a contribution to the settlement of the fundamental question of reconciling in some way the character of the two Houses, and I accept it as a suggestion and as not very much more.
There are other ways of overcoming the difficulty to which I have called attention. In former generations, as I have said, the disaccord was not so great, not so pressing as it has been of late years, and the disaccord might be abated by some development, of the composition of your Lordships' House such as is involved in the recommendations of the Select Committee, and, still more, in the suggestions which were considered, but not adopted, by that Select Committee. And, again, the disaccord may be abated by some movement elsewhere bringing the disparity and divergence between the two branches of the Legislature within a range that really admitted of practical treatment.
We are concerned here with the composition of this House, but I shall not scruple myself to make a slight reference in passing to the other branch of the Legislature. The difficulty arises because the House of Lords deals sometimes summarily, too often in a very unfriendly way, with the legislation that comes to it from another place. When I look down the passage which separates the two Houses I sometimes think that if, indeed, we were convinced that there was sitting at the end of it the true council of the nation, we should wait upon its conclusions with 375 much attention. But one of the causes of the divergence with which I have been dealing, one which we cannot overlook, arises from the growing conviction which is pressed upon all men of the inconclusive Authority which attaches from time to time to the Resolutions adopted elsewhere. When we have got great elements absent there, as great elements are absent from your Lordships' House, when the representation of those which are represented is distorted, and when, moreover, the final conclusion is unsteady, untrustworthy, and liable to be negatived after a very short interval, we cannot attach to the conclusions so adopted that peremptory authority which requires their being sanctioned at once when brought to your Lordships' House. It is admitted on all hands that there must be some scope of attention, of discussion, of delay, something to be got over, from time to time, before such conclusions are finally ratified.
Will your Lordships allow me, before I pass from this subject, to mention two little facts of arithmetic which seem to me to have a very considerable bearing upon the question of authority to be attributed elsewhere? Your Lordships have seen the figures of the late General Election, and I am not going to enter into any examination of their total or into any comparison, but I am going to ask your Lordships to consider this simple aspect of them. The majority elsewhere—not, perhaps, the Ministerial majority, but the majority against your Lordships, to put it bluntly—is 122. If you picked out from the last General Election the sixty-one or sixty-two seats won with the least majorities by supporters of the Ministry and added those majorities together, you would find this result, that by shifting 8,000 voters from the Liberal ranks to the Conservative ranks the whole of that majority of 122 would be wiped out. You may look upon that as very encouraging to some of your Lordships who would like to have another fight soon, perhaps to get those 8,000 and wipe the majority out. But let me add another fact. If you took the same number of seats won by similar majorities returning Conservative Members, and added those majorities, you would find again that the transfer of less than 8,000 voters from the Conservative to the Liberal side would double the majority of the Ministry. With those facts in your mind, I think it would be impossible to attribute 376 that permanence of authority and abiding character to the decisions elsewhere which are really wanted to give them force. There remains with me the conviction that there lies, perhaps, the greatest defect in our representative system.
I pass away from that to what is more immediately before us. The discrepancy in the two Houses may necessarily lead to legislation to bring about a solution of the differences between them, or it may be amended by an alteration in the character of the two Houses, so as to bring them more in accord with one another. The subject on which we have been engaged for two or three nights, and the subject of the Select Committee's consideration and Report, was really the amendment of the character of this House so as to bring it, if not more in accord with the other House, more in accord with the main elements of the national will, to give it more authority, and to make it an element which would work more easily in conjunction with the other branch of the Legislature. To reform this House is to increase its authority. You, my Lords, have increased your authority in recent years. No observer of public life can avoid acknowledging the conclusion—it may be distasteful or it may not—that the authority, not the power, of your Lordships' House has certainly increased in recent years. I am persuaded that if you went on to amend the composition of the House along the lines suggested by the Select Committee you would tend not only to remove the divergence between the two Houses, but to increase not the power but the authority of the House of Lords.
When the Select Committee was appointed there was a refusal on the part of His Majesty's Government to take any part in its deliberations. I do not at all complain of that refusal. I think it was not only intelligible but was absolutely justifiable. It was quite their proper line of action to take. They had enough in their hands in relation to the work in which they were engaged, and could not embarrass their own political task by entering into discussions in a Committee of your Lordships' House in which their supporters would be largely out-numbered. But I felt at the same time that there was no reason why independent followers of His Majesty's Government should not join in the Committee's deliberations. The noble Earl on the Cross Benches, in his speech on Monday, 377 spoke as if some courage was exhibited by the three of us—my lamented friend Lord Selby, my noble friend Lord Ribblesdale, and myself—who joined in the deliberations of the Committee. I am not conscious of any particular bravery in that transaction, and I believe His Majesty's Government approved of our co-operating in the discussion of this great question.
The work of the Committee may be roughly described as an attempt to bring this House a little more into contact with the actual life of to-day, by bringing in elements that are not at present in it and diminishing that overweight of authority and prescriptive right with which your Lordships are now really embarrassed. I think the Committee entered upon their work in a really workmanlike and businesslike spirit. My noble friend below me (Viscount Morley) made a peroration to his speech by quoting some sentences of his own from his work on Cromwell. I may say in passing that I felt how much easier it is to get near the central truth of things in writing a book than in making a political speech. My noble friend did get near the truth when he said that to call out of empty space an artificial House, without the hold upon men's minds of history and ancient association, without defined powers, without marked distinction of persons or interests, and then to try to make it into an effective screen against an elected House, to whose assent it owed its own being, was not to promote union but directly to promote division and to intensify it.
I must confess at once that, recognising the maxims laid down by my noble friend, I put wholly out of consideration any scheme of absolute reconstruction of this Chamber, or creating a perfectly new Second Chamber, and of substituting for it something quite unlike it which I find bruited about in certain journals and among some of my friends. That is not a scheme of action which pursues historic tradition or is imbued by the spirit of past association. I do not think it would be a scheme of action which would really be in accordance with the prevailing modes of thought and ideas of this nation and country.
The emergency does not demand such a policy, and it could not be accomplished. We must proceed in a slower fashion. But if we do not want revolution we do want something, and in my view the result of the 378 Committee's labours was not adequate to the necessities of the situation. We do not want a complete change, but we want something more of a change than the Committee were able to agree upon. Their recommendations were inadequate and inconclusive. There were other suggestions which might have received support from a Committee representing the whole of your Lordships, but this Committee was composed mainly of noble Lords from the other side of the House.
The Committee felt that the numbers of this House were too large, but they did not venture to suggest what the limitation should be. When practical action comes to be adopted it will have to be laid down at starting that the number of the working body of Peers in future should be certainly under 300, and as little above 200 as can conveniently be managed. But if you adopt that as a maximum it follows that the notion of having 200 elected members from, the body of Peers at large is egregiously exaggerated. It is much too large a number. You cannot form a House of 250 members which shall contain within it those new representatives you desire to introduce, and retain within it 200 elected members of this House. With some hesitation I suggest that a number more like eighty would be an adequate contribution from the body of Peers to the composition of the Lords of Parliament. If you started with a maximum of 250, that proportion would give great, but not too great, power to the selected Peers, and it would be enough also to satisfy all reasonable claims.
I think the Committee were too liberal in their range of the qualifications to be possessed by Peers selected for membership of the Second Chamber. No doubt there are certain offices of weight and authority the holders of which are prima facie extremely well qualified to assist in the deliberations of the House; but I think that in their list of qualifications the Committee descended too much into details. On the other hand, I think the Committee might have been more liberal in the matter of life Peerages. To trust to the good sense of the Minister in the selection, or to require some declaration on his part that he would select on the ground of fitness by reason of experience or service, would be much better than to attempt to tie the Minister down by drawing up a list of specified qualifications.
379 But the real crux of the matter lies in the answer to the question—How are you going to define those persons who are to come in from the outside and in what fashion are they to enter? On that point the Committee were pretty evenly divided. In my opinion, until we get some distinct proposition from one side or the other put forward with authority, as to the definition of the persons to be brought in from the outside, we may go into Committee of the Whole House on the Resolutions and yet have gone but a very little way towards a solution of the difficulty. It is suggested that there should be a grouping of county councils and county borough councils who should be entitled to send a Peer to the House for every quarter of a million or half a million of the population. But that proposition involves a difficulty which I should like to avoid—that is, the carving out of new constituencies and the bringing together for the election of Peers persons who had been chosen for purposes entirely different.
There was a third solution laid before the Select Committee which would certainly bring into the House a new and vital element and at the same time would avoid these difficulties of election and the parcelling out of fresh constituencies. It was suggested by Viscount St. Aldwyn that at the commencement of every Parliament the House of Commons should be entitled to address the Crown to appoint, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, eighty Peers as an addition to the House of Lords. These eighty Peers were to be chosen from different parts of the United Kingdom, and to represent all the great spheres of commerce and manufacture, labour as well as capital, working men as well as employers, and it was well said that a House of Lords containing these elements would command respect and ensure sympathy, for it would have within it representatives of every form of activity and energy throughout the kingdom. That proposition was lost by only seven votes to eleven. In my opinion it is somewhat on that line we shall have to proceed when the question of reform comes really before us. At the same time the suggestion is open to obvious objections. For one thing, you would have to entrust a great deal to the discretion, capacity, and public spirit of the Prime Minister in the selection of the eighty Peers, and it might be difficult to ensure that his selections would realise 380 the ideal of the noble Viscount who made the suggestion.
I venture to make another suggestion. It is not my own suggestion, but a suggestion that was derived by putting together the thoughts of two or three friends with whom I have discussed the matter. It is that at the commencement of every Parliament the House of Commons should be entitled to nominate fifty persons to sit in the Second Chamber, who would be chosen by the method of proportional representation, so that every section of opinion in the House of Commons should have its proper share. These fifty persons so selected should be recommended to the Crown to be summoned as Peers to sit for two Parliaments. If that were done you would have 100 Members in the second and subsequent Parliaments, for fifty would be nominated at the commencement of each Parliament. The nomination of these fifty persons would work out at something like one person for every thirteen members of the House of Commons. Under such a system, in the case of the present Parliament, the thirty-nine Labour Members in the House of Commons would be able to send three persons to the Second Chamber; the Nationalists would be able to send seven; the Ministerialists twenty; and the Opposition twenty. But if the system were in operation at the commencement of the last Parliament, the disposition of the fifty would be different because the last House of Commons was composed differently from the present. You would, in fact, have had thirty Ministerialists, ten members of the Opposition, seven Nationalists, and three Labour Members; and, putting the two together, you would have had serving in this Parliament, fifty Ministerialists, thirty supporters of the Opposition, thirteen Nationalists, and six or seven Labour Members, making up 100. In that way you would have a representation of every part of the country, and a representation of Labour and Capital. If we had such a composition as that the authority of this House would be greatly developed, and the weight attached to its co-operation would be immensely increased. The scheme which I have outlined involves no creation of constituencies; and you would not have to call persons to act together who were not accustomed to act together. The county councils have been chosen for 381 totally different purposes, and, if they were made the elective bodies, their election in future might be affected by the fact that they would be called upon to perform this duty. They would be free from that.
My Lords, I have nearly done, but I should like to add one thing more. I have not overlooked the fact that some solution of what is called the deadlock must be in some way devised. If we had got this Assembly reconstructed in the fashion I have suggested there would at least be open to us the mode of settling differences between the two Houses which is familiar to the Colonial Secretary, since it is found in our latest colonial Constitution—the mode which is familiar to students of other Parliaments—that of bringing on critical occasions the two branches of the Legislature together to vote on the question at issue. If the House of Lords were recast in the fashion I have suggested, keeping up, as it would largely, its connection with the past, you would be able to avoid that crude and rude, and rough and ready way of overbearing one House by the simple authority of the other, by bringing them together and letting the majority of both determine what should be done. It could not be done now, because the majority of your Lordships' House is so overwhelmingly on one side as to repel the suggestion at once, but if this House were recast and reduced the scheme might be put into force. It may be that some other mode will have to be adopted. At all events, I have submitted to you my own thoughts, and I hope that, whatever happens, some solution will be arrived at which will make this and the other House long continue to co-operate as branches of the Legislature—something which shall enable them in the future to maintain the pride that they have had in the past in the working of our Constitution, something that shall make them perhaps feel that it is not altogether a mockery when they are asked to join in the petition for increasing, maintaining, and preserving the efficiency of the great council of the nation now assembled in Parliament.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, the noble Earl on the Cross Benches must, I think, be hard to please if he is not satisfied with the manner in which his Motion has been received by your Lordships' 382 House. I have followed the debate as carefully as I was able, and I have not detected in the speeches which have been delivered any note of dissent either from his Motion that we should go into Committee, or, indeed, I think, to certainly two out of the three Resolutions which he has put upon the Paper. After hearing my noble and learned friend (Lord Halsbury) say last night that he did not intend to raise any objection to my noble friend's Motion, I think we may take it for granted that up to that point at all events the way is clear.
And I confess that I can scarcely myself conceive a frame of mind in any member of the House which would make him go to the length of voting against the Motion of my noble friend on the Cross Benches. To vote against that Motion would really be equivalent to a declaration that the person who so voted believed that we could dispense with a strong and efficient Second Chamber; and that your Lordships' House, as we know it at present, is so perfectly constituted as to be incapable of any improvement of any kind. However devoted your Lordships may be to the service of this House, I can scarcely imagine that any of you will go to the length of affirming those two propositions.
I would myself go rather further and say that everything that has lately happened—every incident in the political life of this country, almost every speech that is delivered—goes to show how essential it is that we should in this country have a Chamber which is strong and efficient. Have we not been told within the last few days that owing to the temper of the other House of Parliament it is impossible to arrive at a reasonable adjustment of the financial difficulties which we are at present encountering? Have we not been told that there is a state of war between the two Houses—a state of war precluding the kind of reasonable accommodation to which, but for that state of war, we might have looked forward? And only in the debate last night a remarkable statement was made to the House by no less an authority than the late Whip of the Liberal Party—the noble Lord opposite, Lord Marchamley. What had the noble Lord to tell us? Some one had, I think, referred to the existence of the conscience of the Whips. The noble Lord was here last night to tell us that there was no such thing as the conscience of a Whip.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I mean, of course, a political conscience. I would not suggest the lack of a conscience of another kind. Not only has the Whip no political conscience, but he has to take orders—I think I am correctly quoting the noble Lord—from his superiors, and, acting under those orders, he has to tell the flock whose movements he directs that they are, if necessary, to vote that black is white.
§ LORD MARCHAMLEY
I said a Chief Whip who was obliged to call upon his followers to vote for any proposition self-evidently false, such as that black is white, would do so with the same alacrity as if he really believed in it.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I am content to leave the matter there. Now, my Lords, at this particular moment, this uncompromising organisation is to dictate that the Constitution of this country is to be pulled to pieces; under its dictation, a Legislative Chamber which is already, according to the Secretary of State for India, virtually all-powerful, a Chamber which is more easily swayed by political passion than your Lordships' House, is to order not only that the Constitution is to be fundamentally altered, but that, as the most rev. Primate pointed out to us the other night, for the first time in the history of this country, the functions of Parliament are to be modified by Statute. And this use of the power of the House of Commons is to take place at a moment when the Government of the day has just received at the hands of the electorate of the country a slap in the face which I take it many Governments have not experienced in the course of our political history; and all this is to happen at the instance of the majority—I think my noble and learned friend (Lord Halsbury) would call it a sort of a majority—which was so mercilessly analysed by the noble Earl on the Cross Benches, which was also severely dissected by the noble Lord to whom we have just listened, and which is of such a precarious character that His Majesty's Government do not dare to put their forces in the field, and probably will not venture to put them in the field unless the arts practised by the successors of the noble Lord opposite are freely applied. All these things seem to go 384 far to justify my noble friend on the Cross Benches in his desire that this country should be provided with a strong and efficient Second Chamber.
May I, although reluctantly, say one word with regard to my own attitude towards this question? I cannot pretend to have worked in the field of House of Lords reform as long as the noble Earl or as long as some of my noble friends behind me; but, at any rate, this is no death-bed repentance on my part. I was a member of the Committee presided over by the noble Earl and I signed more than two years ago the Report containing that often-quoted Resolution which, unless I am mistaken, forms the basis of all the proposals put forward by my noble friend. I ask your Lordships to remember that that Report was signed long before the Finance Bill of 1909 was dreamed of by anybody. I say, then, let us not be deterred from following the course on which we then embarked, nor, on the other hand, let us be terrified by alarmist impressions into proposing to this House far-reaching and reckless schemes of a kind to which none of us would have listened two or three years ago. We on these benches desire at any rate to take this question up, and, learning whatever there is to be learned from recent events, to deal with it according to the best of our powers.
The noble Viscount opposite expressed some curiosity to see whether I should support my noble friend on the Cross Benches because, as he correctly reminded the House, when I was speaking in the debate on the Address a few weeks ago, I suggested that your Lordships might be well advised, before putting forward any proposals of your own to examine the proposals which were about to be submitted to the country by His Majesty's Government. The noble Viscount seemed to think that I had shifted my position. But it is not I who have shifted my position so much as His Majesty's Government who have shifted theirs. When I made the speech referred to we had in our hands the gracious Speech from the Throne in which it was clearly indicated that His Majesty's Government intended to deal not only with the powers of this House but with the constitution of this House. I was therefore ready to wait and to see what the proposals made by His Majesty's Government with regard to the constitution of the House might be. But, 385 my Lords, those proposals have faded away. They have been relegated to a very dim distance and I think my noble friend on the Cross Benches was unanswerable when he gave the House the reasons for which in his opinion it was extravagantly improbable that we should ever hear any more of them.
At this moment we are face to face with the original proposal of His Majesty's Government, a policy which will give us what we have a right to describe as Single-Chamber Government in this country, and that being so I feel we are entirely at liberty to produce and to discuss any suggestions which we may have to make as to the manner in which the separate question of the reform of this House might be dealt with. I have observed that it is a common feature in all the many proposals that have been made for the reform of your Lordships' House that the working House should be greatly diminished in numbers, and that with that object a very considerable proportion of the number of Peers who now sit in it—a proportion which I suppose would vary from one-fifth to one-half of the total number—should be relieved of their duties and deprived of the privileges which they now enjoy as members entitled to sit and vote in the House. That is a very serious proposal, not only when regarded from the constitutional point of view, but also when regarded from the personal point of view. It is suggested that we are to ask a great number of the members of this House, for no fault of their own, to surrender privileges to which undoubtedly most of them attach the greatest value. I believe that that sacrifice would be deeply felt—I believe it would be deeply resented by many members of this House. It is all very well to say that a great number of the members of this House are irregular in their attendance. Judging from a recent return, they are much less irregular in their attendance than some people would have us believe. But, surely, the explanation is not far to seek. They have many other calls upon their time; they know perfectly well that if they come here they will on many occasions find either not much work to do or not much opportunity of taking part in the work which is proceeding, and they therefore prefer to attend to the many calls and the many duties which require their presence in other parts of the country.
386 My noble friend Lord Newton dealt with this question of the expulsion of what, I think, he called the undesirables in that light, humorous vein which always delights the House; but as I listened to him I could not help feeling that there was a tragical side also to this part of the question, and I wondered whether among the Peers who listened to him there were not many who were proud of the circumstances in which they had been called upon to take part in our business, anxious to transmit that great position intact to those who will come after them, and who would feel something like dismay at the prospect of seeing the doors of this Chamber suddenly shut in their face. At any rate, I feel, and I feel strongly, that common decency requires that a proposal of this sort should not be encouraged, certainly should not be imposed upon the House by members on this Bench until those whom it most affects have had the amplest opportunity of informing us of the manner in which they regard it. For that reason, among others, I am glad that my noble friend on the Cross Benches has taken up this question. His connection with it, as he told the House, is one of old standing. I think he rather prides himself upon his complete detachment from Party ties. He is free from that incurable obliquity of vision which my noble friend Lord Newton attributes to the occupants of both Front Benches—an obliquity of vision which I think he will continue to attribute to them until he himself finds his way to one Front Bench or the other.
I must also say that I think my noble friend's procedure in this matter should commend itself entirely to the House. It is a deliberate and a respectful procedure. He asks us to-night to advance one short stage and one short stage only. Next week he will ask us to accept from him the three Resolutions which are now upon the Paper; and I understand that when he has ascertained your Lordships' views, when he has had the opportunity of considering what has been said during the course of these discussions, he will proceed to put other Resolutions before us and endeavour to obtain our adhesion to those. That being so, I feel that to-night it is not necessary for us to deal minutely with questions of detail, and that all we need consider is the general and broader outline of the issue before us. For that reason I must decline the challenge, if 387 it was one, thrown down by the noble Lord who spoke last, when he said that we really should not be able to advance matters until we had a fully developed and concrete scheme to lay before the House.
May I, however, indicate in the most general terms one or two of the conditions which it seems to me should be fulfilled by any scheme of reform which would be likely to find general acceptance by your Lordships? In the first place, I venture to say that in voting for this Motion I do so looking forward, not to the abolition of this House, and the substitution for it of a wholly different House of Parliament, but to a scheme of reconstruction which shall maintain the fullest continuity between the House us we now know it and the House as we may know it hereafter. I trust that that continuity will be preserved, and that those traditions to which many of us cling will not lightly be tampered with. My noble friend on the Cross Benches has always recognised to some extent at all events, considerations of that kind. I take one sentence from the Report of his Committee, a sentence which, unless I am wrong, was drafted by his own hand. He expressed his view that we do not require a new and symmetrical Senate, but that it should be our object to preserve, as far as possible, the fabric and position of the House of Lords within the Constitution with such modifications as the circumstances of the time and the needs of efficiency seem to require; and I notice that in the Resolutions which he will move next week, he speaks, not of the abolition of this House or of the creation of a new Senate, but of the "reform and reconstruction of the House of Lords."
I fully admit that it is not always easy to draw the line between changes which you can describe as reforms and changes which could be more properly described as revolutionary in their effect. All I can say as to that is that I hope we shall keep well on the right side of the line which divides the two. I hope that, if I may use a homely simile, we shall regard the present House of Lords as a going concern, possessing a substantial and valuable goodwill which ought not lightly to be sacrificed or thrown aside. I hope that, if we get rid of some of our superfluities and if we bring in new blood, we shall at any rate not part entirely with the old House and the old traditions, and for that reason let me say in passing that I should greatly regret any alteration in the name by which the Second Chamber might 388 hereafter be known in the Constitution of this country. It is a name with which many honourable traditions are associated. It is not a name, I venture to say, of which any member of this House need for a moment be ashamed.
I know we are told that we have to reckon with a widespread antipathy to the hereditary principle. I venture to doubt whether that antipathy is quite so widespread as is supposed by some people. I know we shall be told—I think the noble Earl told us that in certain parts of the United Kingdom with which he is familiar that antipathy is deep-rooted and irreconcilable. It may be irreconcilable in certain parts of the country; but if it is I do not believe for a moment that you are going to buy it off merely by tampering with the constitution of this House and adding a few members of the learned professions or a few county councillors to its strength. The irreconcilable antipathy which we are told exists will continue, and under some of the plans which have been suggested to us it will concentrate itself upon any survival of the hereditary principle which we agree to leave still in existence. But, apart from this irreconcilable antipathy, there is a great deal of what I may call suspicion, natural suspicion, of the hereditary principle and of the manner in which it operates in your Lordships' House; and I cannot help hoping that it is possible to deal with that kind of antipathy, that natural suspicion, on the one hand, by proving to the country by our legislation that we are able, in spite of the hereditary principle, to understand the requirements of the people of this country, and to meet them in a reasonable manner, and also by so adjusting our system of reform that the hereditary principle alone and without other tests of fitness shall not hereafter suffice in order to qualify a Peer to sit and vote in this House. That is the effect of the third Resolution to which the noble Earl will ask us to assent next week.
It is upon those lines that I am ready to advance, but I am not prepared to renounce the hereditary principle in the sense in which I see that Sir Edward Grey has lately renounced it, nor am I prepared to admit, nor, I think, is Sir Edward Grey prepared to admit, that the recent verdict of the country can be regarded in any sense as a verdict against the hereditary principle. I go so far as to say that if, after appealing to the country, as we did last autumn on the 389 Finance Bill, we were to proclaim, because those feelings have been encountered by some of us in the country, that we were prepared to surrender the hereditary principle, we should stultify ourselves in the estimation of a great many of those whose opinions are most worthy to be taken into account. I will only add that in my opinion a scheme of reform will not fulfil the conditions which I have endeavoured to lay down if it is one which would merely leave to us a small and insignificant group of hereditary Peers submerged by other Lords of Parliament collected from various sources—a small knot of Peers which might be exhibited hereafter as an interesting but impotent survival of a bygone political age.
I would venture to suggest that there is a second characteristic which I should like to find in any scheme of reform accepted by your Lordships. It should be, if possible, a simple scheme and one which could be readily understood by the people of this country; and for that reason I greatly distrust many of the proposals which I have seen for collecting in this Chamber a number of interesting and conspicuous personalities taken either from public bodies or from the arts and sciences or from different religious denominations. What I think we have to remember is that eminence of this kind does not necessarily imply aptitude for the everyday work of Parliament. There is all the difference in the world between the expert and the legislator. I should not like to see this House composed largely of experts.
I am afraid I must add that there is another apparently attractive suggestion which does not, however, greatly attract me. I mean the suggestion that we should add to our ranks a number of representatives of our Dominions over seas. Surely an Imperial Parliament is one thing and a Second Chamber another thing. I should moreover like to ask those who are most familiar with public opinion in the great Colonies whether those Colonies themselves would greatly care to be associated with us in the everyday work of our legislation. They have their own public business to attend to and we have ours, and although I yield to no one in my desire that these Colonial statesmen should receive every honour that we can offer them, I cannot help thinking that this particular honour is one of the least appropriate. I do not think the Colonies would part with their 390 best men in order that those men should attend regularly in your Lordships' House, and I do not think the Colonies would be grateful for the amount of representation which from the force of circumstances we should be able to give them by admitting what must necessarily be a small number of their public men to this Assembly. That is a proposal which I admit is picturesque and attractive, but I do not regard it as really a practical one.
I turn to a third characteristic which I hope will be present in the reformed House. I trust we shall insist that it shall be so constituted as to be as independent as possible. We may be—we are constantly taxed with it—we may be a one-sided Assembly now, but we are independent. We are sometimes told of the manner in which the Whips control our proceedings. Those of us who are, so to speak, behind the scenes know how very little truth there is in that allegation. A Peer no doubt often owes his admission to this House to Party considerations, but once in this House he takes his own line, and is very apt to disregard the attempts of others to steer his course either to the right or to the left. I dwell upon this because it does not seem to me that the independence of the House would be likely to be increased if we were to carry out one of the proposals which I remember came before the Committee—I mean the proposal that there should be a certain number of Lords of Parliament who would come in and go out with the Government. It seems to me that it should be a sine qua non that, whatever different categories of Peer you admit to this House, the tenure of their position as Lords of Parliament should be sufficiently secure to render them thoroughly independent. For that reason I should hope that any Lords of Parliament so appointed would be allowed to retain their position as Lords of Parliament, if not for their lives, at any rate for a term of years sufficiently long to give them what I think Mr. Gladstone once called durability of tenure.
I come now to the size of the reformed House. I think there is pretty general agreement that this question requires consideration, and that in order to be efficient the House must be made considerably smaller. Its unwieldiness in point of number seems to me to be one of the most serious difficulties with which we have to contend. Since I have been a 391 member of it something like 140 Peers have been added to our ranks, and I do not think it would be inaccurate to say that it probably never has occurrred to those who have bee responsible for these additions to the roll of Peers that it was desirable to take into account not only the fitness of the individual, but also the dimensions of the Assembly of which he was to be made a member. I do not know of any other case in which additions are made to public bodies—big or little—without any reference whatever to their existing numbers and to their efficiency from that point of view. A reduction in the number of this House would beyond all question have the effect of increasing the feeling of responsibility of each individual Peer, and for that reason alone would, I think, greatly add to its strength and authority.
Then, my Lords, may I say one or two words as to the constitution of the reformed House of Lords, and I shall certainly, with the permission of the House, avoid details, because these clearly would be more appropriately considered when this discussion advances to its later stages. I wish in the first place to express my strong hope that in any new scheme it will be provided that a considerable portion of the reformed House shall be elected by the hereditary' Peers themselves. I will tell your Lordships why I press this proposal. I know that it is open to objection, I know that we may be told that if the hereditary principle is objectionable this arrangement would give you a kind of quintessence of the hereditary principle. But I recommend this suggestion, because, as I said a moment ago, I feel very strongly the extent of the sacrifice which we are asking those whom, for the sake of convenience, I will describe as the back-bench Peers to make, and this seems to me to be the only concession that you can make to them in return for that great sacrifice. I feel that the more strongly because I believe that unless you do something of this kind there will be no door open to the House through which we shall be able to admit that very valuable class of Peer who is, perhaps, not very widely known in public life, but who holds a useful and honourable position in his own neighbourhood, who is engaged in the local affairs of the county in which he lives, or perhaps in the affairs of the Territorial Force, and who might possibly disappear altogether from our midst unless there were some opening of this kind through which he 392 could have a chance of gaining admission to your Lordships' House.
In the next place let me say that I entirely concur with what has been said by some of those who have addressed your Lordships as to the expediency of allowing a certain number of Lords of Parliament to hold their seats by virtue of what we commonly speak of as qualifications—I mean official experience and position in public affairs. But I am bound to add, and I do not think the noble Earl will differ from me, that we found this one of the most difficult problems which we had to deal with when we were framing the Report of this Committee. The preparation of an adequate list of qualifications is an extraordinarily puzzling task. The further you go the more intricate become the problems which confront you, and I am, on the whole, disposed to believe, and there I am in agreement with the noble Lord who spoke just now, that the schedule of qualifications should not be too long, and that it should comprise only those whose antecedents and experience make it perfectly clear that there is no occasion to require them to submit themselves to election by their fellow Peers.
Now, my Lords, I come to what I suppose is the most difficult of the points which we shall have to take into consideration. I mean the question of the manner in which this House might be reinforced by additions from outside. And let me say at once that I am deeply convinced that, unless some proposal of this kind finds a place in our scheme of reform, it is really not much use to continue the discussion of the matter. But there will no doubt be a wide divergence of opinion both as to the source from which we should draw what the noble Earl aptly called "the breath of fresh air" and as to the volume of that breath. Is it to be merely the reviving current which come in when we induce the officials of the House to open one of these windows on a warm evening, or will it be the fiercer gale which, when the doors are opened at both ends, sweeps along these benches and causes untold misery to many of us?
It may perhaps be desirable that we should consider and endeavour to clear our minds as to the objects for which this reinforcement from outside is held to be desirable. I think there are two. In the first place, it is necessary that we should have 393 such reinforcement in order that we may do something to remove the disastrous disparity in number between the two sides of the House. It is becoming more marked as years go by, partly because of the increase in the total number of Peers, and partly on account of the large number of Peers who take an active part in our affairs. But the result is that, however sincere and impartial we may be, the country is profoundly convinced that we are not impartial. As my noble friend Lord Newton said, appearances are against us. It seems to me that we must do something to remove that disparity. And it is a disparity, remember, not only in number, but consequentially in debating strength. We can not only outvote you, but we can out-talk you. The result, I am afraid of the relative weakness of your Benches, is that on many occasions the other side of the case is not quite adequately put forward. We should greatly prefer to be encountered by a little more resistance and to have fuller statements than we sometimes obtain of the merits of Government proposals rather than to be allowed the kind of walk-over which too often is the end of our debates. The second object for which it seems to me we require an outside reinforcement is—I use the word in fear and trembling because my noble and learned friend (Lord Halsbury) is behind me—in order that this House may be brought into closer connection with political opinion outside these walls. I am persuaded myself that we are, in fact, much less out of touch than people suppose. but I do not think the country quite realises it, and, therefore, I for one am in favour of a change which shall bring us outwardly and visibly into closer touch with the democracy of this country.
How is this closer connection to be brought about? We have had suggestions, very important suggestions, from the noble Earl (Lord Rosebery) and from my noble friend Lord Curzon, as to the possibility of having recourse to election. I desire, and I do not think it is an unreasonable request, to await the precise proposals which, no doubt, at some future time, will be submitted to us. I cordially appreciate the caution with which my noble friend behind me treated the question of outside election. He was, I think, at pains to explain that he did not contemplate any thing like popular or direct election. He sketched to us an ingenious scheme of indirect election, on which he proposed to rely. I only desire to suggest, for the consideration of the House, 394 that there are one or two difficulties inherent in these proposals which we shall have to examine, and which we shall have to meet. In the first place, I would ask whether it is quite clear that, by resorting to indirect election of this kind we should do very much towards redressing that disparity in numbers to which I referred a few moments ago. It seems to me quite likely that your eighty elected members would not by any means all represent one political Party. They might be equally divided, in which case the disparity would remain as bad as before. Then, I suggest that we should think very carefully before we import into the affairs of the great municipalities a political element which most of us desire, if possible, to keep away from them. It would be a disservice to our great municipalities, supposing any other way of arriving at the desired end is open to us, if we were actually to go out of our way to encourage them to take sides in the politics of the day, and I own to some feelings of misgiving as to the possibility of working side by side a system based partly on heredity and partly on election. I do not feel convinced that the two systems would run kindly and operate smoothly side by side.
I would add one further word with regard to this matter of election. When we are told, as I think that we have been told, that it is commonly resorted to in the case of Second Chambers in foreign countries or in our own Colonies, we should bear in mind that in the case of many of those countries we are dealing with communities which have a Federal system, a system under which it is the duty of the Second Chamber not only to act as a check upon the popular and elected Chamber, but also to watch over and protect the interests of the Federated States, and to guard them against encroachment on the part of the central Government. That is, of course, a state of things which, unless noble Lords opposite are successful in carrying out the federation of the united Kingdom we do not contemplate in this country. I do not, however, desire to press these objections too far. All that I do suggest in this discussion, which is necessarily a preliminary discussion, is that these are points which we shall have to consider and face before we arrive at a conclusion; and, be that as it may, I remain of the opinion that some means must be found of reinforcing the new House of Lords from outside. 395 Is it quite dear that it is only in the direction of election that we can look for this purpose? I own that it seems to me that there are other modes which deserve to be considered. In the extraordinarily interesting speech delivered by my noble friend Lord Curzon I thought no passage was more interesting and instructive than that in which he showed that the House of Lords in its origin was not purely an hereditary Chamber, and that at the present moment it is far from being a purely hereditary Chamber. No less than one-fourth of the members of this House, as my noble friend pointed out, owe their presence in this building not to what is called the mere accident of birth, but to a different title. Should it not be possible to strengthen this non-hereditary element in your Lordships' House? At present all the appointments to the Peerage rest with His Majesty the King on the advice of his Ministers. Why should not it be possible that prerogative to be exercised hereafter in pursuance of some well-thought-out and reasonably restricted scheme for the purpose of bringing into this House from time to time a number of members who might adequately represent that particular set of political opinions which happened at the time to be inadequately represented in the House? Is there any reason why the Ministry of the day should not have fuller opportunities of advising the Sovereign to create Peers and also of nominating them to serve as Peers of Parliament? Again, I make the reservation that such Peerages would no doubt be held by a tenure which would give to every Lord of Parliament a position sufficiently secure and permanent to make him perfectly independent.
And closely connected with this question is the question of life Peerages. I have always been an advocate of life Peerages. I have never been able to see why, if it is desired to recompense an individual by the grant of a Peerage, it should be necessary also to ennoble his descendants for all time. And it does not seem to me beside the mark to suggest that, if the practice of creating life Peerages were to be resorted to, it would in that manner be possible without difficulty to add members to this House who might be adequate representatives of any schools of political thought, or of any great interests which it might be desirable to represent. And in that manner also, it would surely be possible, if 396 you wish to recognise the great municipalities, to single out for preferment gentlemen who have distinguished themselves in local administration, to make them life Peers and to call them up to this House for a term of years. All these are suggestions which one can only indicate in the most general terms, but which I cannot help thinking we ought to consider as the discussion proceeds.
To-night, all we can do is to indicate our attitude towards the proposal which is actually before us on the Paper, the proposal that we should go into Committee as suggested by the noble Earl, and in that respect I venture to think that the attitude of those who will support the Motion of the noble Earl compares not unfavourably with the attitude of the supporters of His Majesty's Government. The part taken by His Majesty's Government in the history of this question is, I cannot help thinking, not entirely creditable. They gave us no assistance when the Committee was appointed, and their present plans, so far as we are aware of them, are of the most elusive and unstable character. It is scarcely necessary to recapitulate the quick changes which have taken place in the policy of His Majesty's Government. We had at first the proposals connected with the name of the late Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman, which would have had the effect of depriving us of all power except perhaps that of delaying for a few months the passage of a dangerous measure. Then upon these they superadded the proposal to deprive us of all power of dealing with measures connected with finance, but we have never yet elicited from them a definition of their views as to what is or what is not a finance measure, or as to the means which it would be possible to adopt in order to enable us to obtain a decision when there is a doubt whether a particular measure is or is not a measure dealing with finance. Up to that point, however, the Government avoided altogether touching the question of the composition of this House.
Then came a change. During the course of the election campaign the Government discovered that for platform purposes nothing was so valuable to them as denunciation of this House and of the hereditary principle, and they realised that there was something almost grotesque 397 in using that language on the platform and in refusing to touch the hereditary principle when they came back to Parliament. Accordingly they made the proposal embodied in the Speech from the Throne, under which they were to deal not only with the powers but also with the composition of this House. But their more extreme supporters were not prepared to undertake the question of dealing with the constitution of this House, and before the ink was dry on the Speech from the Throne His Majesty's Government abandoned the proposal to deal with the constitution of the House, and fell back on their old position of dealing with the Veto alone.
There is a still later phase—because it is, I think, a new phase—that indicated by Sir E. Grey in a speech recently delivered by him. From that speech most of us inferred that the proposal to deprive the House of Lords of its powers is limited to the House, of Lords as at present constituted; and that it is his intention, when the House of Lords has been deprived of the Veto ad hoc, then to reconstitute the House and to restore to it some of the powers of which it is now sought to deprive it. My Lords, it is to these contradictions and changes that you have been driven by your desire to make terms with supporters whose support is such an unstable and inconstant quantity. To-night, after all this dodging, after all these attempts to shelter yourselves first in one position and then in another, we of the Opposition find ourselves face to face with this situation, that the Government are going in the space of a few days to ask us to concur with their proposals for depriving this House of all its powers and for setting up what will virtually be a system of Single-Chamber Government. That is a tremendous innovation. It means the virtual destruction of a House which, as has been truly said, has not only a great tradition in these islands, but looms large in the estimation of the British Empire. I ask your Lordships which policy is the more reasonable, the more patriotic, the more straightforward of the two? You, the Government, think, and we think, that this House is badly composed. We are ready to consider the question of its composition and to compose it better if we can. We are ready, when that has been accomplished, to deal if need be with the relations between the two 398 Houses, and to endeavour to devise means of extrication whenever an apparently insoluble difficulty may arise between the two Houses. That is our policy. That, I imagine, was your policy as lately as February 21, when the King's Speech was put on the Table. Between the two policies we are ready that the country should judge. We are content, to-night, as the first step towards the accomplishment of our policy, to support the Motion of the noble Earl to go into Committee, and, speaking for myself, I am prepared—and I believe many others are also—to support him not only to that extent, but to the extent of voting for the three Resolutions which he has put on the Table of your Lordships' House.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
My Lords, I need hardly repeat what was said by my noble friend behind me, that we do not propose to offer any opposition to the Motion. Any Motion brought forward by my noble friend on the Cross Benches with his unrivalled force of eloquence is bound to receive the respectful consideration of this House, and in this particular case we know that the cause is one to which he has for many years devoted close attention and profound thought. On general grounds we on this side of the House are perfectly satisfied that this question should receive as full discussion as your Lordships may desire to give to it.
Allusion has been made to the fact that we did not as a Government take part in the deliberations of the Committee of 1907. My noble friend behind me, Lord Courtney, has given an accurate description of our reasons for refraining from doing so, and he was also quite accurate in saying that, far from discouraging those who think with us from taking part in its deliberations, we were thoroughly glad that they should do so. I am bound to say that, after carefully reading the Report of the Committee, I do not regret our action. I do not think we should have been able to render any substantial service to noble Lords opposite. The variety of views expressed in the Committee was quite great enough without adding to those divergent opinions others which might have been propounded from these Benches. At the same time, there was a class of persons who might perhaps more appropriately have sought places on the Committee— 399 those whom it is proposed, as the noble Marquess gracefully put it, to relieve of their duties in this House. They did not find any very strong representation on the Committee. In fact, I do not know that in any of the schemes which are put forward the noble Lords who composed that Committee would not all find themselves members of your Lordships' House.
In our view the primary and urgent question at this moment is that concerned with the relations between the two Houses, but certainly, speaking for myself, I have never at any time disregarded the possible effect of the composition of the House, either as it now is or might be, upon those relations, and I have never, therefore, desired to check any such discussion as this, even if it had been in my power to do so. I do not propose, in the remarks I am going to make, to enter in any way into the discussion of the various schemes which have been alluded to in broad outline in the course of this debate. They have exhibited, I think, considerable divergences of opinion. The most rev. Primate spoke of that as inevitable, and seemed to be sanguine that all the differences of opinion which had been expressed might in some manner be reconciled, but I am not sure that he was not too sanguine, because on the Benches opposite we have heard different expressions of opinion which seem to me to cut very deep indeed as regards the principles on which you desire to reform this House. Neither do I propose to devote to-day any part of my speech to the discussion of the question which occupied so large a part of my noble friend's speech and was also alluded to by the noble Marquess and other speakers—namely, the Resolutions which were originally introduced in another place by the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman—or to argue now the question as to whether those Resolutions, if brought into effect, would as a fact constitute anything approaching single-Chamber government. I do not argue that now.
But I wish to say this quite categorically, that His Majesty's Government are in favour of a bi-cameral system in this country, not merely because we are convinced that the two-Chamber system is the one that suits this country best, but also for the very good reason that we are convinced that the great majority of the inhabitants of this country hold the same view. We have to consider, in dealing with this question, the House as it is. My noble friend's Motion 400 speaks of a strong and efficient Second Chamber. I think the House of Lords, as it now exists, fulfils both these conditions. Surely you are strong enough in all conscience! Look back on the history of the last four years. You have succeeded in getting rid of two, at any rate, of our most important projects of legislation, if not the most important. You have also very summarily disposed of various minor measures. You have introduced Amendments which in many cases we were unwilling to accept, but which we did accept. And finally, as the end of your exhibition of fireworks, you had what I think is technically termed a set-piece, which involved the rejection of the Finance Bill of last year. I do not know whether there is any Second Chamber in the world, however constituted, which can or does exercise more power. Therefore, if only strength is required, I submit that you are strong enough already. I have never been one of those who have spoken, in or out of the House, as though the House were anything but efficient. There is no need to labour that point. It seems to me that this House does its business well. It contains, as we know, a large number of members of the highest distinction, and Lord Onslow, as Chairman of Committees, will agree that its conduct of private business is beyond reproach. If strength and efficiency were all you require, you may well leave the House alone.
But we are told the hereditary principle is unpopular. I do not think the hereditary principle in itself is in the least unpopular in this country. Quite the contrary. I believe it is extremely popular, whether those who like it found their opinion on the lessons of history or on the analogy of the stud-book. Pedigree in itself is considered to be something of a recommendation to any man in this country, whether he be a member of your Lordships' House or not. Lord Curzon spoke yesterday of the number of eldest sons of Peers who obtained seats in another place. I thought that in some respects that was rather a dangerous argument for him to use. But it certainly confirms the opinion which I hold, that the members of your Lordships' House are far from being unpopular in the country. But, my Lords, what is unpopular is the uncontrolled exercise of hereditary power. It is that which, no doubt, has given your Lordships some pause, and has caused you to desire some measure of reform.
401 I was struck by an observation which fell from the noble Marquess, and I think it is one which your Lordships may well take to heart. It is this—that when you begin to combine in this House the hereditary element with an element of an entirely different character, the slightest exercise of hereditary power will, as the noble Marquess said, concentrate criticism upon that element in this House if that power is used in opposition to the wishes of any large body of people in this country. Then, again, on the hereditary principle, we have been taunted, very often good-humouredly enough, on the fact that the not inconsiderable additions of Liberal Peers which have been made from time to time to this House have not resulted in any permanent change, in anything like the same proportion, in its political composition. But it seems to me that involves not so much a charge against the noble Lords as a charge against this House, because it implies that the atmosphere of this Chamber is so asphyxiating that unless a man comes here fortified by at least a double dose of Liberal antitoxin he may in his own person succumb to its influence, and that, so far as his son is concerned, he is likely to be Torified into obscurity on the benches opposite.
The noble Lord, Lord Curzon, in defending the hereditary principle, spoke of what would be the opinion in the Dominions over sea, and also in India, if there were a serious departure from that principle. What he said about the views of the Dominions was, I confess, new to me. I do not know from what experience he spoke. I have no doubt he spoke from some. But I confess that during my communications, which have not been infrequent, with Colonial statesmen of eminence, I have never heard that point of view put forward. I have no doubt the noble Lord speaks by the card, but, as I say, that point of view has not fallen in any way within my experience. Then my noble friend on the Cross Benches, speaking of our Resolutions, asked what sort of a position should I be in if I had to write a Despatch to South Africa informing them that we were setting up a powerless Second Chamber, whereas we had recently assisted them in setting up a powerful one. But my experience of the Dominions is that they like to mind their own business and to leave us to mind ours. We most carefully and avowedly refrained from any inter- 402 ference or suggestion in the South Africa Act in regard to such matters as the composition and powers of the two Chambers; and, speaking generally on the Imperial aspect of the question, I say that if this question of the House of Lords is really an Imperial question, I should like to ask—would you desire to have the question of the composition of this House appear on the agenda paper of the Imperial Conference? The composition of the Imperial Parliament is an entirely different thing from the question of a Second Chamber, and I think that, so far as I am able to judge, the ultimate form which the House of Lords may take will not be regarded by the self-governing Dominions as a matter which can in any way inflict any grievance upon them.
As regards India, I speak with great diffidence in the presence of the noble Lord and the noble Marquess. We all know very well that India, unlike Adam and Eve, does not smile at the claims of long descent. But I should have thought that what India regarded most in looking westward was the illustrious position of the Sovereign, of that unequalled line which goes back through Stuart, Tudor, and Plantagenet Kings for 1,100 years to the dim ages of the Saxon Monarchy. I can quite believe that in India the novus homo is less thought of than the man of descent. But it had not struck me that the special fact that this House was of a purely hereditary character would be regarded in India as a matter of great and Imperial importance.
Now I pass to the consideration of a different aspect of this question. What is really at the back of these plans for reforming the House of Lords? What is the supposed necessity for it? I believe I know what is in the mind of my noble friend on the Cross Benches. My noble friend is convinced of the mischief of Party government as now carried out. To borrow that well-known and often stolen saying of the second Lord Shaftesbury, my noble friend thinks that all sensible men are of the same politics, and he might go on to say that what those politics are sensible men never tell. That is where the silent voter comes in, no doubt. I am perfectly certain that if my noble friend had his way he would place all those benches on a turntable and turn them into a position facing the Throne. I do not think I am wronging 403 my noble friend in saying that his idea of reforming the House of Lords is to obtain a House which would be entirely of a cross-bench character. That is to say, it would take an impartial view as between Parties—which, of course, is the most any Assembly can take, for an Assembly is not a tribunal and therefore cannot take an impartial view of a subject—and its composition would be such that it would not unduly favour one Party or the other. I fully admit the attraction of such an idea. I fully admit that if you could get a Second Chamber so minded it would be valuable in any Constitution, and I think I have been able to perceive from some of the speeches made opposite that that idea to a certain extent appeals to some noble Lords. At any rate, I may say that in some of those speeches we have had a great deal more of sweet reasonableness—of what I may call patriotic detachment—than I have had the advantage of enjoying during the last four years during which we have been sitting on these benches. In fact, while one or two noble Lords were speaking we on this side, I think, almost felt as people do when they are listening to a fine organ in a great cathedral. They feel elevated to unaccustomed heights of moral grandeur and capable of almost unheard-of possibilities of self-sacrifice. But you walk out of the church into the grey streets and the work-a-day world, and you find that, after all, you have to do the best with the tools that you have ready to hand.
Well, the tool that we have ready to hand in this country in our political work is the Party system. I do not for a moment deny the faults of the Party system. I sympathise with a great deal of what was said by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. It is quite true that in the conduct of elections, as now carried on, and, I suppose, as always carried on, there is much that is hateful to a man of fine honour and absurd to a man of fine humour. But we hear just the same lament when we are discussing religious questions. People say, "Oh, why must we suffer these controversies of Church and Chapel and why, when we are discussing such a question as education, cannot people take a detached view and speak of the really great things of this life and the next?" But the churches are the instruments, in the belief of those who belong to them, for carrying great moral ideas into operation. And so it is that we cannot in this country, situated 404 as we are, get rid of the Party system, which, after all, has its good side. It means common action between men who in the main agree; it means the contact of mind with mind; it means loyalty between one set of men and another set of men; and it also means that searching kind of self-examination which enables one to see that what one takes for principles are often only preconceptions or prejudices. What I ask is—Are you proposing, in reforming this House, to break up the Party system altogether? I fully believe that my noble friend on the Cross Benches and some other noble Lords would do so if they could. But is this proposed reform in that respect going to make any real difference?
I noticed in the speech of Lord Curzon yesterday that after speaking of the too great numbers which by agreement are to be found in this House, he said,The second feeling is a feeling of regret that no machinery has ever been devised by which the Liberal Party, when it is in a great majority in the House of Commons, can obtain adequate reflection of its predominance in this House.I do not, I confess, exactly know what is meant by an adequate reflection of its predominance, but I attach a general meaning to the words. Then the noble Lord went on—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 the most ready acceptance of those who sit on this side.That statement was received by noble Lords opposite in gloomy silence.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
I do not think I ever saw so many gentlemen, even in a place of worship, sitting in one place so silent.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
And I confess that when the noble Marquess was dealing in a more cautious way with the same subject there did not appear to me to be any very marked enthusiasm in the House. This seems to me to be the real position—the live question with regard to this matter of reform. Are you going to try, 405 and, if you try, can you, turn this House into a Second Chamber of which the actions on any particular subject cannot be precisely foreseen in the manner in which they are at this moment? During all the time that we have been in office the majority in this House has worked in absolute rhythm with the leaders of the Opposition in another place. That, I think, cannot be disputed. Are you going to turn this House into something of which that can in no way be said? I notice your Lordships claim full powers with regard to finance—at any rate, with regard to the rejection of all Bills containing money provisions, and those provisions themselves. That, of course, we contest, but I do not dwell upon that at this moment. Well, are you going to create a Second Chamber which, by any conceivable possibility, could deal with a Tariff Reform measure sent up by a large Conservative majority in another place in the same manner as you have dealt with our land value proposals? I confess that so far as I am able to study any of the schemes of reform which are put forward it does not seem to me that you are going to create a Second Chamber of such a nature as that.
Many speakers opposite have spoken of the independent character of your Lordships. I am speaking, of course, solely and simply of political independence—independence which is the result of study of a particular subject, and a conviction thus formed. If there is much such independence in this House I must say that we do not see many visible signs of it. The noble Marquess in speaking just now seemed to imply that dark struggles sometimes take place behind the scenes—grapplings between him and his supporters who insist upon steering their own course. But, my Lords, they never steer it our way. I think if there was anything in this House that could be called political independence it must surely lead to a few more protests against the strong action often taken by noble Lords opposite, and, I should have thought, to a little more cross-voting. I remember that on the first Education Bill of 1906 we had the great advantage, which I always recollect with pride, of securing in the final Division the vote of a man who, I think, carried more weight than anybody in the House—the late Duke of Devonshire. He brought with him, I think, one noble Lord to swell our 406 attenuated ranks. Then there was the independence of a noble Lord from Scotland, who recorded a vote—not in favour of the Budget, but against the proposal of the noble Marquess to refer the Budget, as he said, to the country. Post hoc is not always propter hoc, still it is the fact—whether pour encourager les autres or not I cannot say—that that particular noble Lord found himself at the election to the present Parliament relegated to that state of suspended animation peculiar to Scottish Peers which was so well described by Lord Curzon.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
He was a representative Peer. He is also an hereditary nobleman. I am speaking of the encouragements which are dealt out by noble Lords to independent action. Somebody, I rather think it was my noble friend Lord Rosebery, spoke of the superior independence of this House as compared with the other House, where a man could not speak his mind freely. In the last twenty-five years there have been three great political convulsions—in 1886 upon Home Rule, in 1899 about the South African War, and in 1903 on the subject of Tariff Reform. On all those occasions, so far as I can recollect, many men in another place spoke their mind with the utmost freedom, very often, I take it, running the risk of losing their seats, and in one case confronted with the most odious of all charges, that of lack of patriotism. The only occasion, it is quite true, on which a man could not speak his independent mind in another place was in 1903 on the subject of Tariff Reform, when it happened not to suit the book of noble Lords opposite and their friends to allow the question to be discussed.
The noble Marquess said—and I do not for a moment question his sincerity, of course, in this matter—that he lamented the disparity of numbers here and that he would like to see a little more resistance both in speaking and in voting. I am quite conscious how often it happens that, speaking for myself, I am not able to cope with the quality and the quantity of the eloquence of the Front Bench opposite. Nobody could be more conscious of that. But does this mean—I am really asking for information—that noble Lords want victory to be a little more creditable, but desire it to remain 407 equally certain? I cannot say that my noble friends behind me have always received the fullest encouragement from noble Lords opposite to take part in debate, even in this debate, but setting that aside, I am quite certain that the greater number of our supporters in another place and those who agree with us in the country believe that the object of noble Lords opposite in desiring to reform this House is to go on exactly as you have been going on as regards dealing with our measures, but to do so with less exposure to criticism, which, after all, is very often of a trivial kind—founded, I mean, on the existence in your Lordships' House of what are known as the black sheep, or of the supposed incompetence of some noble Lords to take a proper part in the business of the House. Those arguments are galling to noble Lords opposite, but they need not be anything more, because everybody knows that the absence or presence of those noble Lords never really affects your decision upon any political question.
However much you may wish to get rid of it, the deliberate opinion of a large number of people in the country will be that your Lordships, being Party men and having acted, not the least to your discredit, as such, merely desire to consolidate the power of the Unionist party, which you believe to be the best engine for good that could be politically devised, on a somewhat sounder foundation. And you are claiming more power, because all these schemes are calculated to limit the prerogative of the Crown in the creation of Peers. You may say that it is a weapon which could seldom be used, and which in many cases it might be difficult to use; but every writer who has written on the Constitution speaks of that power as the one check on the uncontrolled supremacy of the House of Lords, and with that check you are asking the country to part.
I come back to the real point at issue, which is the deadlock that exists between the two Houses. No one, I think, except my noble friend Lord Courtney has suggested any method of dealing with the subject of deadlocks, and I think it was evident that the method which he proposed would not commend itself to noble Lords opposite because it could be brought into operation only by a serious diminution of the numbers of your Lordships' House. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Halsbury, in speaking last night, was not far off the 408 mark when he said that such schemes of reform as appeared to be favoured on the bench opposite must have the effect of increasing rather than diminishing the number of deadlocks between the two Houses in future years. Surely one reason which has been in people's minds when they have hesitated so long to touch this question of reform of the House of Lords has been that any considerable reform must destroy, or at any rate weaken, in a great degree the unwritten understandings which have obtained between this House and the other. It may be that those unwritten understandings have been so rudely shaken by recent events that some who desire to reform your Lordships' House may think that they have been ignored and that, therefore, it may be possible now to proceed with reform.
But when you have succeeded, if you do, in reforming the character of your Lordships' House, if you put your scheme into writing, will not the House of Commons say, "How do we stand with regard to the privileges which we have explicitly claimed for more than 200 years as being the practice from immemorial times?" Take the Resolution of 1678, partly recognised and, though grumbled against, accepted in some degree by your Lordships' House. What guarantee is there, and who is going to give such a guarantee, that the new House will recognise in any way the Resolution of 1678 or any other Resolution which members of the new House of Lords might be entitled to say was directed against an entirely different Chamber in a different set of circumstances? Nobody could give that guarantee. The noble Marquess would not take so false a step, because it would imply that he possessed the same control over the new House as over the present one, and that is what I imagine the noble Marquess would not desire us to believe.
But, surely, it is a very serious consideration that in altering the House of Lords in this way you are tearing up, if it is not a bull to say so, this unwritten Constitution as it exists between the two Houses. I think for that and other reasons the House of Commons will undoubtedly claim to have its say in the manner in which this House is to be reformed. You have always claimed a very considerable say in the proceedings of the House of Commons with regard to its reform. In 1832 and 1884 your Lordships took strong steps to obtain your wishes with 409 regard to the manner and in some degree the character of that reform. It is no desire of ours to discourage full discussion on this subject. Like the noble Marquess, whose history of recent events and of our proceedings in this regard I cannot admit to be accurate, we say that we must take our own line, and we leave the outcome to the judgment of the country, setting our case before the country because, as we all know, it is for the benefit 410 of the country, and for that alone, that our whole Parliamentary system exists.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to: House in Committee accordingly: House resumed, and to be again in Committee on Monday next.
§ House adjourned at a quarter before Eight o'clock, till To-morrow, half-past Ten o'clock.