§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (THE EARL OF CREWE)
My Lords, owing to the withdrawal by the noble and gallant Field-Marshal Lord Roberts of the Motion which he had placed on the Paper I am 778 able to ask you to-day to give a Second Reading to this Bill. But before saying anything upon it I ought to express the regret which we must all feel, on Lord Roberts's account, that he felt himself unable to proceed with the discussion of a subject in which, as we know, he takes the profound interest of an expert, and as to which on this particular occasion he had, I think, looked forward to a discussion of great importance. On the other hand, in view of the state of public business and of the condition of public affairs generally it is possible, perhaps, that the noble Earl may have not wished at this moment, when Party passion, I our afraid, may be beginning to run high, to discuss the question of national defence, more particularly as the objects which he has in his mind are certainly not Party objects and his views are not by any means universally shared by noble Lords opposite.
Now, in regard to the Parliament Bill, the origin of this particular controversy goes back four years. It goes back to the winter of 1906 when the first Education Bill of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's Government failed to pass into law. The Bill failed to pass into law after strenuous attempts to arrive at a compromise, but compromise was found impossible and the Bill was lost. It was lost owing to the unwillingness of your Lordships' House to include in its provisions principles upon which, as we believed, the mind of the country had been most clearly expressed at the General Election of the preceding winter, and, as your Lordships will all remember, its loss was received not merely with regret but with no little indignation on, the part of those who had its success at heart. On December 20, 1906, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, speaking in another place, said—A way must be found and a way will be found by which the will of the people, as expressed through their elected representatives in this House, will be made to prevail.Then in the King's Speech, when Parliament met on February 12 in the following year, that thesis was developed by the then Prime Minister in words which will be found in the pages of Hansard The almost immediate sequel to that challenge, for I think I may so call it, was the Resolution which the House of Commons passed on June 26 of the same year. That Resolution read— 779That in order to give effect to the will of the people as expressed by their elected representatives, it is necessary that the power of the other House to alter or reject Bills passed by this House should be so restricted by law as to secure that within the limits of a single Parliament the final decisions of the Commons shall prevail.That Resolution was carried on a Division by 434 against 149.
Perhaps I may be permitted very briefly to remind your Lordships of what the terms of the plan at that time were. Speaking generally they were these. When a disagreement occurred between the two Houses a private Conference was to take place; and if agreement was not arrived at through that Conference, the Bill was lost for the time. It could be reintroduced either with or without amendment after a period of six months, and if the two Houses again failed to agree a second Conference was to be called. If agreement was then not reached, the Bill was to be reintroduced and passed by some rapid process, and a third Conference might be held, but if agreement was then not reached, the Bill was to become law over the heads of your Lordships' House. The remainder of the plan consisted in a provision for quinquennial Parliaments—that is to say, Parliaments of which the ordinary duration would be four years, for reasons with which your Lordships are all familiar.
Well, my Lords, as the controversy proceeded, the relations as between the two Houses I fear did not improve. The Plural Voting Bill had already been rejected by your Lordships' House very summarily, and not less summarily the Licensing Bill of 1908 received its short shrift at your Lordships' hands. In 1908, also, fresh attempts were made at a settlement of the education question, but those attempts proved to be again a failure. Then came the unprecedented rejection in 1909 of the whole financial arrangements for the year. The General Election followed, but the Government, although returned to power, found itself in no degree nearer the capacity of carrying controversial Bills than it had been all through the Parliament preceding. That, my Lords, is in brief the reason and the justification for the introduction of this measure.
Now, it is desirable to explain in what, essentials this Bill differs from the earlier 780 proposals which I have described. I will do so by going rapidly through its operative provisions. The first clause deals with finance. It gives to the other House complete control over Money Bills, but it contains the important provision and makes the important admission on which your Lordships laid stress in your famous Standing Order of 1702—namely, that it was riot proper to annex to a Money Bill matter foreign to or different from matters of aid or supply. The force of that Standing Order is admitted in Clause 1, and the decision as to whether a Bill is a Money Bill or not is left by Clause 1 to the Speaker of the House of Commons—an impartial authority, at any rate an impartial authority so far as the memory of any man now alive goes back, and to whom in the opinion of His Majesty's Government that immensely important duty may be fitly entrusted. But I may perhaps venture to say that if some other tribunal within Parliament could be found which could be expected to carry out these duties with equal authority and equal impartiality, that is not a matter which we should regard as vital to the Bill.
The second part of the Bill deals with general legislation, and the effect of its provisions is that if a measure passes in another place during three successive sessions spreading over two years it will become law. In the earlier proposals much was said about conferring between the two Houses, and it is a matter upon which the late Prime Minister dwelt at length when he introduced his proposals The Bill which is before us does not explicitly provide for the holding of Conferences, but in the opinion of the framers of the Bill the holding of Conferences is a cardinal matter in relation to the whole question. Nothing, I think, is more curious to any one who takes the trouble to look at the history of the relations between the two Houses than the gradual decline and final disuse of the practice of Conferences between the Lords and the Commons. The causes may be numerous, but one cause undoubtedly was that the later Conferences which were held—I am speaking for the moment of formal Conferences—seem to have become so rigid and so unnatural in their character that it was felt that the practice carried with it little of value. But I do not hesitate to say that in my opinion one of the reasons why the relations between the two Houses have 781 hardened and crystallised into their present condition—a condition, that is to say, of something like perpetual conflict when one Party is in power and of perpetual acquiescence when the other Party is in power—may be traced to the complete abandonment of this habit of conferring. Conferences between the two Houses are of old date. They go back, I believe, to the reign of Edward III; and from the time when the Commons' Journals were regularly kept, I am told that within the 150 years from 1547 to 1702 any one who searches the Index to these Journals will find that upwards of twenty pages of the Index are given up to reports of the Conferences that were held between the two Houses on every variety of subject and covering the widest possible field. I therefore do not hesitate to say that the revival of the custom of frequent Conferences between the two Houses is of the very essence of the proposals which we are placing before your Lordships to-day.
Then, my Lords, I would call your attention to an important change from the former proposals, and it is that relating to the identity of the: Bill to be sent up on a later occasion—identity except so far as may be agreed—as compared with the proposal originally made that the Bill might be amended in another place and sent up as the same Bill. It seems to me that the real issue as between the two Parties—and this I gather from what has been said in this House and on many platforms—the real issue as between the two Parties with regard to these proposals is, "What is the real value of delay and of opportunities for consideration for the purpose of amending Bills?" That is to say, are you more likely to get a Bill into a final shape that sensible men, its principle having been approved, will agree is the best shape—are you more likely to get it into such a shape by delay, consultation, and consideration than by a process of summary rejection, followed, perhaps, by a General Election, and if not by a General Election by a Referendum, as I understand is proposed in a Motion on the Paper by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh.
It is useful in discussing the question of delay and consideration on the one side, and a more immediate appeal to the country on the other, for the purpose of improving a Bill or of deciding its fate, 782 to consider one or two concrete instances. I believe it is to the benefit of both Parties, and, what is more important, to the benefit of the country, to get out of the region of abstract Constitution-making, because what the country is most interested in is "What is likely to be the effect of these proposals or of any other alternative proposals in their practical import and in relation to the fate of Bills before Parliament" Now Parliament is not an end in itself; it is a means, a machine for doing certain things for the nation. It is a machine for doing three things. It exists for the purpose of keeping a check on the Executive; it exists for the purpose of raising money for the public service; and it exists also, although it is not its primary object of existence, for the purpose of passing legislation. I ask your Lordships to consider what would have been the probable fate of one or two well-known measures either under our proposals, or under the proposals which I understand to he generally those of the other side.
I will take first the Home Rule Bill of 1893, a favourite battle-horse, I need not say, of noble Lords opposite, because it is a measure which above all others is supposed to have vindicated the judgment of your Lordships' House. I say without hesitation that the Home Rule Bill of 1893, looking back at it horn this distance of time, would not have passed either test—it would not have passed the test of a General Election or of a Referendum, which I understand would be the proposal, according to Mr. Balfour's speech at Nottingham, for dealing with the question. Neither would it have stood the test of the proposals under the Parliament Bill. The Home Rule Bill of 1893, supported by the majority with which it was supported, would not have stood the test in the then temper of the country of three sessions of discussion. Therefore, I think that we may regard ourselves as quits as to the merits of the two systems on that particular question. Then I will take a Bill of noble Lords opposite—the Education Act of 1902. I presume that the Education Act of 1902 would have passed this House very much in the forth in which it did pass for the simple reason that even if the House of Lords had been reformed according to the ideas of noble Lords it would not have become the subject of discussion between the two Houses; but if Lord Balfour's plan had been in force, 783 and if the Act of 1902 had had to be submitted to a Referendum it certainly would not have been the law of the land at this moment. Therefore from that point of view our proposals, I think, are kinder to the legislation of noble Lords opposite than the proposals of a distinguished member of their Party, supported, as I understand, by many other distinguished members.
Next I come to the Education Bill of 1906. I say without hesitation that if the Education Bill of 1906 had had to go through the processes enjoined by this Parliament Bill, it would have come out, as I believe, a satisfactory measure, and a measure which would have given us a settlement of our elementary education question for ninny years to come. But here again I am making a present to noble Lords opposite, because if that Education Bill had been made the subject of a General Election or of a Referendum the Bill which would have been put to the country would have been the Bill in its House of Commons form. That, I think, is quite evident. If you differ you can only put one measure to the country, and the measure which you put to the country, is I assume, the measure as it passed the House of Commons. That would have undoubtedly involved the carrying of the Education Bill of 1906 in a form which would have been very much more satisfactory to many of those who support us on this side of the House, and very much less satisfactory to those who hold the views of noble Lords opposite. I venture to think that the Parliament Bill does not come very badly out of a comparison of those three cases; and I believe that noble Lords opposite have not attempted to realise the immense effect upon a measure of delay and discussion—long delay and repeated discussion—both in another place and here. I believe that in this country, as far as we are able to know the mind of the country, the danger of anything like cataclysmic legislation is an absolute minimum. Hurried and violent legislation is in my view thoroughly foreign to our national temperament. And if noble Lords agree with me it is hard to see what danger they find in our proposals. But, of course, noble Lords take some wild speech made by some quite insignificant person and point to it as indicating the probability that revolutionary changes—changes of the kind desired by the Social Democratic Party—are likely to be the result of passing into law this moderate 784 and harmless piece of legislation. Well, my Lords, I think I have shown that to describe this measure as in any sense a measure for the establishment of a Single Chamber is an absolute misnomer. If there is anything in what I have said—and I shall be interested to see if noble Lords opposite attempt to deny it—as to the power and force of delay and discussion, this is not a measure for the establishment of a Single Chamber.
To this policy of delay and discussion various alternatives are suggested, alternatives which may themselves involve some delay and discussion, but which cannot be taken as if they would necessarily involve the same amount of delay and discussion as we have provided for in this Bill One of these alternative methods of proceeding was alluded to by Mr. Balfour at Nottingham. It is what is known as a joint sitting—that is, that the two Houses in the event of disagreement may meet and the combined vote of both together decides the question. The idea of holding a joint session is not a new one, and I am very far from saying it is a bad one. I ought to be the last person to say it is a bad one, because, as is well known to your Lordships, the plan of a Joint Session forms part of the South Africa Act, for which I had the honour of being responsible last year. Section 63 of that Act provides for the holding of a Joint Session in case of difference. But I am bound to point out this; that when you talk of a Joint Session between the House of Commons and the House of Lords, however constituted, the problem which you have to face is not quite the same as that which presents itself in South Africa. The two Houses in South Africa are respectively 121 and 40 in number. For them to meet and discuss is a comparatively simple affair. But when you come to joining to a House of 670 members another House, which, so far as I am able to gather, may be at least 400 in number, you collect together an enormous public meeting; and your difficulty is not merely the physical difficulty of getting them together, but the intellectual difficulty of carrying on a discussion between the members of a body so enormous. Therefore, in a country like this, where both Houses are large, where the Party system prevails to the extent that it does, and where both Houses are not elected Houses, the system of Joint Sessions—although, as 785 I say, I do not decry it—offers difficulties which I think your Lordships ought very carefully to consider before you plunge into it as a definite policy. Your Lordships must also remember that when you speak of a Joint Session much depends upon the numbers of the Upper and more Conservative House I say more Conservative House because, without entering into the question of number or degree, it will, I am sure, be admitted by noble Lords opposite that they mean the Upper House to be Conservative in its complexion. Your Joint Session, in that case, if the relative numbers of the Upper House are very small, may come much nearer to single-Chamber government than the proposals which we are now putting before your Lordships. On the other hand, if the proportionate numbers of the Conservative House are going to be very large, then there would not seem to be very much difference between the future position and that of which we complain to-day.
I do not propose on this occasion—I do not know whether we may have an opportunity of doing so before the House rises—to enter into the question of the Referendum. It is a question which, as everybody knows who has attempted to study it, bristles with difficulties. But here again I would just ask your Lordships to consider this—Are you quite sure that the clean-cut operation of the Referendum, with the possibility, in fact, almost the probability, that the question which is asked of the country for that purpose will be couched in a somewhat extreme form—are you quite sure that the establishment of the Referendum in this country would make for moderate legislation—if that is what you desire—to so great an extent as the proposal which we have included in the Parliament Bill?
I have not said anything yet about the Preamble of the Bill. Your Lordships are very familiar with the phrase so often spoken in Committee by my noble friend the Lord Chairman, "that the Preamble be postponed." That is what I have done in these few observations. We have always admitted "that the Preamble be postponed" is also our policy. But the postponement of the question of the reform of the House of Lords, either in a speech or as a matter of policy, does not mean, and cannot mean, that we are unmindful of that aspect of the subject. There are 786 more reasons than one why we cannot—speaking of ourselves as a Party—neglect this question of the reform of the House of Lords. When the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, was speaking last Thursday he stated--though whether he was speaking for the whole of the Party opposite, or even for the Front Bench I am not certain—that the Party opposite would not accept this measure and that if it became law, and they came into power later, they would take the first opportunity of reversing it. That is to say, that if the Bill passed through this House in its present state, any scheme of reform winch noble Lords opposite might initiate would be taken, as I understand, as in excuse for adding to the powers of the House something which had been taken away from it by this Bill. If that is so, it is from our point of view a good reason for our attempting to assist in the work of reforming the House while we have some voice in the matter, because in the other event I am quite sure we should have no such voice. Then again, the Bill as it stands provides a further reason for making the reform of your Lordships' House desirable. We do not want to rush legislation through Parliament. We know very well that any attempt so to use the provisions of this Bill—even if they could be so used, which I greatly doubt—would only recoil upon those who so attempted to use them.
As I have said, we desire to substitute delay and revision for hurried Party rejection. Delay and the function of revision mean that you desire the best minds that you can find to be applied to that revision. The theory of this Bill is that the delay and the process of revision will, if the country does not like sonic particular points or provisions in a measure, cause such pressure to be put upon the House of Commons that at its next consideration the measure will have to be modified; and it is quite evident that if such pressure is to be brought to bear, and if it is to be useful pressure, the higher the character, the more brilliant the ability, and the larger the experience of those who sit in the Upper House, the stronger that pressure will be, because the power of ultimate and final rejection does not exist if this Bill becomes law. It would be as wrong to say that the character of the Upper House in these circumstances was no longer of importance, as it would be to say that because a Constitutional Sovereign is not an absolute 787 despot therefore his character and capacity are a matter of no importance.
There is another point. Some little time ago Mr. F. E. Smith—one of the most brilliant, though, I think at times inconvenient supporters of noble Lords opposite—stated that in his opinion the measures of both Parties should be given an equal chance of becoming law. We do not attempt anything so ambitious. Our Bill falls far short of Mr. Smith's ideal. Under it our measures will have to go through this dragging process described in our Bill, while yours, I imagine, will go through on the indiarubber tyres on which they have always passed through this House. I quite admit I do not think that is very fair, and if the House of Lords can be so reformed as to afford some check, I do not say as complete a check as this, but at any rate sonic check, to the possible extreme and wild legislation which may be proposed by noble Lords opposite and their friends, and if that can he brought about by some reform of the constitution of the House, that supplies a third reason why this matter of reform ought not to escape our notice. We still maintain the proposal for quinquennial Parliaments—that is to say, it is practically only during the first two years of a Parliament, when it may be reasonably supposed, I think, to possess the confidence of the country, that the process by which measures can be made law during the lifetime of a single Parliament will be in practical operation.
These are the proposals in the Bill. They have been, as we say, and as we honestly believe, forced upon us by the repeated action of your Lordships' House. It seems to us as if your Lordships had of late years learned what I cannot help thinking is the fatal lesson that it is worth your while to reject our measures on Party grounds in the hope that before they can come up again something may have turned up. It may be a forced election—perhaps not altogether a very popular thing in itself. It may be a cycle of bad trade—that is all to the good. It may be a wave of unemployment—also all to the good. Those things, as we all know, make any Government unpopular. It may be some heavy national expenditure involving new taxation. That again may be expected to make for the unpopularity of a Government. If you can reject our measures some of these things or all of them may 788 turn up, and may give you a chance that our Bills should not become law. As I say, I venture to think that that is a disastrous game to play. It is a game that cannot be played for ever. And, admitting as you do the essential unfairness of the present. condition—because it has been admitted in varying degree by members of the Party opposite—I cannot think that this House desires to go on playing it indefinitely. But I am bound to say that among the reform proposals which have been brought forward from the other side of the House I have not seen an indication of any which, so far as we are able to judge, would materially alter or amend this state of things. Therefore, in asking the country to support us in the passing of this measure we have to ask—I frankly admit it—that the matter should be taken out of your hands and that the power to deal with it may be given to us. I only beg the House to believe that we ask this in no factious spirit and we ask it with no desire to lay our ancient institutions in the dust. What we do ask the country to do is to restore a reasonable measure of freedom to the chosen representatives of a free nation.
Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª—(The Earl of Crewe.)
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, there was one passage, at all events, in the speech which we have just heard to which many of us listened with entire concurrence—I mean the opening words of the noble Earl, in which he expressed his acknowledgments to my noble and gallant friend (Lord Roberts) for the manner in which he has removed his notice from the Paper in order to make way for this discussion. It is within the knowledge of all of us that my noble and gallant friend had made the necessary preparations for the debate which was to have taken place this evening many weeks if not many months ago. He would have received a very large amount of support in the House, many Peers having arranged to come here on purpose for the debate, and therefore I think that to the noble and gallant Field-Marshal himself and to his friends and supporters our acknowledgments are due for the manner in which they have consented to stand on one side this evening.
I wish, in the next place, to thank the noble Earl for having made a speech at 789 all this evening. I carry in my mind a memorable occasion on which he moved the Second Reading of a very important measure by a slight and graceful gesture of hand and hat. To-night he has been more indulgent to us and has given us a speech which I think must have seemed to most of your Lordships a very temperate and persuasive speech. I except, perhaps, one or two sentences in his peroration. I venture to say that if we were now commencing a. long discussion, or a long series of Parliamentary discussions, upon this Bill, the speech of the noble Earl would have formed an invaluable introduction or preface to the debate. But the noble Earl forgot that he has warned us off anything like full discussion of this Pleasure. He has forgotten that terse phrase in which lie told us that the Bill would be here for us "to take or to leave." He has forgotten the intimation that any alternative schemes or proposals were not to be regarded as in order for the purposes of this discussion. Well, if that is so, if those are the conditions under which we are to discuss the Parliament Bill, are we greatly assisted by the noble Earl's dissertations upon such subjects as the value of Conferences, the possible use to which joint sittings might be put, or the desirability of having recourse to the Referendum? All these are full of interest to us but when are we going to be allowed to talk about them?
We are face to face not only with the announcements of the noble Earl himself, but with an even more striking and memorable announcement which was made to the country on Saturday last by no less a person than the Prime Minister, who told his audience that negotiations were at an end, and that war had begun. How then are we to deal with tins Bill? It is in the view of most of us on this side highly open to criticism, but it contains, nevertheless, the admission of two or three principles which might very well have formed the basis of discussion, if discussion had been permitted—I mean the admission that it is necessary to find some machinery for dealing with what we commonly speak of as deadlocks between the two Houses; the admission, which is to be found in the Preamble, that the ultimate settlement of these great Constitutional questions implies that there shall be a reform of the House of Lords; and again, the claim which, within reasonable 790 limits, many of us are inclined to admit, that the other House of Parliament is entitled to a preponderance in the region of what I may call pure finance. There is a certain amount of common ground at these points; and that being so I am under the impression that if a full and free discussion of this Bill had really been open to us, if we had been promised an opportunity of amending the Bill and sending our Amendments down to the House of Commons, a considerable number of your Lordships would have been in favour of giving the measure a Second Reading. I should, I say frankly, have taken upon myself to advise those who might care to know what my opinion was to take that course. The Bill would, in that case, have been thoroughly debated, the House of Commons would have had its opportunity of commenting upon the changes which we recommended, and an attempt would then, no doubt, have been made to arrive at an understanding. The noble Earl very likely will tell me that the kind of course which I had in my mind is altogether too dilatory for himself and his friends. I must say that if that rejoinder is made I am bound to ask your Lordships whether there has ever been in the history of Parliament a case of a Bill of the kind of importance which this Bill possesses being hurried through either House of Parliament within the space of seven days. Our debate, therefore, must, to a certain extent, be an unreal debate, and our criticisms, if we attempt any, must be in a sense perfunctory criticisms, and all that we can do within the time at our disposal is to indicate in general terms the points to which we attach most importance.
I will accordingly venture in a very few sentences to tell the House how some of us are struck by the main provisions of the Bill. I take, in the first place, the clauses dealing with the question of finance. Now, I think it is perfectly obvious, whatever one's feelings may be on this point, that the scheme of the Bill is an entirely incomplete and badly thought-out scheme. We may go far in the direction of admitting the preponderance of the House of Commons, where the legislation is purely financial legislation, but we are all of us quite aware that there are many Bills which, although nominally financial measures, in reality are directed to purposes quite other than financial 791 purposes. I am speaking, of course, not only of that which is known in the text-books as "tacking"—that is what I take it the clause in the Bill is aimed at; but we all of us must have in our minds the case of other Bills in which it cannot be said that the matter complained of is, strictly speaking, foreign to the purpose of the Bill, but of which it can be said with perfect truth that the consequences other than mere financial consequences of the Bill entirely outweigh and over-top the purely financial results.
I find in this Bill in the first place what seems to me to be a very inadequate attempt to guard against tacking in the stricter sense of the word. If your Lordships will look at the end of the first clause you will find a definition of a Money Bill which ends with these words—Or matters incidental to those subjects or any of them.That is a loophole through which any provision, however mischievous and dangerous, could easily find a way. Then to come to the other kind of abuse which many of us desire to guard against. There is no attempt, so far as I can see, in this Bill to deal at all with the more insidious plan of presenting, under the cloak of finance, measures so framed as, for instance, to discriminate unjustly between one set of persons and another—to penalise a certain trade, a certain profession, or to bring about great social or political changes. The only safeguard I find against tacking of any kind is the reference of the point to the Speaker of the House of Commons. I desire to express my concurrence in all that was said by the noble Earl as to the respect due to that high official. No one feels that respect more than I do, but what I think we have to remember is that the Speaker of the House of Commons is an official of the House of Commons. He is not in a judicial position as one who might hold the balance or whose business it was to hold the balance between the two Houses of Parliament. His business is to watch over the privilege of the House of Commons and whenever he sees what seems to him an invasion of that privilege to stand up for his own House. If it had been possible to insert in this Bill a provision which really would effectually safeguard us, not only against tacking of the more technical kind, which I attempted to describe, but against 792 tacking in the broader sense, I for one should have been ready to suggest that your Lordships might well forgo the Constitutional right which you at present possess to deal with Money Bills of a purely financial character. The concession would obviously be a considerable one, and it is one which could not be for a moment entertained unless the kind of abuses to which I have referred were effectually guarded against.
Then may I say one word as to the clauses dealing not with financial but with ordinary legislation? They seem to me to fall very far short indeed of anything that is due to a self-respecting Second Chamber in a properly balanced Constitution. All that Clause 2 would leave to the House of Lords is an opportunity of interposing comparatively brief delay when it regarded a measure as inexpedient in the public interest. It is true that this House would be given the right of three rejections in two years, but those rejections would take place with the knowledge that there was hanging over us, whatever happened in the third year, the inexorable right of the House of Commons to end all further discussion and to pass the Bill into law over our heads. I noticed in a remarkable speech delivered by the Prime Minister on Saturday last that he apparently attached what I conceive to be a very exaggerated importance to this opportunity of delay winch would be accorded to us. He said—Where the two Houses differ we provide for such opportunities of Conference and such an interposition of delay as would effectually frustrate any attempt by a scratch majority to rush unpopular legislation out of touch with public opinion.I confess that when I read that statement I referred to my copy of the Bill, and I searched it in vain for any mention of the word Conference. But I have no doubt the Prime Minister had in his mind what was said by the noble Earl in his speech just now. The noble Earl evidently contemplates, and I think rightly contemplates, that there would be more frequent and more regularised resort to procedure by Conference, and if that is his view I entirely agree with him, and I agree that such procedure should be made as little rigid and difficult as possible.
But, my Lords, just let us consider for a moment on what sort of terms of equality should we confer with the other House of 793 Parliament if it were a part of the Constitution that supposing our Conferences came to nought the Bill was nevertheless to become an Act over our heads. The noble Earl was eloquent upon the value of delay. He said that nothing was more alien to the intentions of his colleagues than that a Bill should be rushed through Parliament—if we are to talk of rushing what are we to say of this Bill being rushed through before Monday next?—but under the Bill a measure of any magnitude might be sprung upon the country and, let us say, in the second or third year of a Parliament might be passed into law by the sole will of the House of Commons. I wonder whether the noble Earl can point to any precedent for a Second Chamber constituted upon those lines—I mean a Second Chamber which discharges its functions upon the understanding that not only the Second Chamber itself but the constituencies are to be of no account and that the sole power is to devolve upon the popular House of Parliament. I believe that you may search precedents in vain for any arrangement which would thus put the entire control over public affairs in the hands of one House. But if a scheme of this kind is, as I believe it to be, full of danger when you are dealing with ordinary legislation, what are we to think and what are we to say when we become aware that the same procedure is to apply even to what I should call capital legislation—I mean legislation dealing with the Constitution of the country, dealing with such questions as the disestablishment of the Church and the breaking up of the Union between these islands? Do not let us lose sight of the fact that this danger is not by any means an imaginary one. We know perfectly well, and the noble Earl knows perfectly well, how we stand at this moment with regard to the question of Home Rule for Ireland. The Prime Minister spoke of scratch majorities. He has done so more than once within the last few months, and perhaps not unnaturally, as he lives and has his being under a sense of the inconvenience which may be experienced from a scratch majority.
Let me read another sentence spoken by Mr. Asquith early in the present year. He said—There were conceivable cases where you have a scratch majority combining under the coercion of Party exigencies for a particular and transient purpose.Have we not just seen an announcement 794 by the head of one of the groups upon which His Majesty's Government depends that he has arrived here from America with a large sum of money in his pocket in order to take advantage of Party exigencies and the difficulties of the Government of the day? I ask the noble Earl—how would the plan of this Bill do what Mr. Asquith apparently expects it to do, namely, frustrate the operation of a combination of groups, a scratch majority, bent upon taking advantage of the necessities of the Government of the day for a transient purpose? One other word with regard to this portion of the Bill The whole scheme of the Bill is, on the face of it, an interim arrangement. The Preamble looks forward to the time when this House shall be differently constituted, and evidently to a different arrangement in regard to dead-locks when that time shall come. I find in this Bill no indication of the manner in which we are eventually to pass from that interim arrangement to an arrangement of a more permanent and thoroughly thought-out character. That seems to me to be a defect to which attention should be called.
I come now to the question which must be present to all our thoughts. Why is it that these violent things are to be done? The noble Earl gave us at the beginning of his speech a recapitulation of what he regarded as the facts of the case. He went back four years to what I will not call the rejection of the Education Bill, but to our inability to come to terms over the Education Bill, and he said that upon that occasion the House of Lords was going against the principles which had been clearly expressed by the country at the General Election. Was that quite the case? What happened w hen His Majesty's Government returned to the charge and resumed their attempt to legislate on the subject of education? Why, the whole of the principles which were supposed to have been affirmed by the country at the General Election were thrown overboard by His Majesty's Government. You had a Bill connected with the name of Mr. McKenna; you had another Bill connected with the name of. Mr. Runciman I think there was a fourth Bill which was under informal discussion but which did not see the light, or, at any rate, did not come to this House. When the noble Earl cites these subsequent 795 attempts as illustrations of the difficulties interposed by the House of Lords in the way of useful legislation lie forgets that neither the McKenna Bill nor the Runciman Bill ever came near this House. All that those two Bills prove is that His Majesty's Government on consideration thought it desirable to mend their own hand very considerably. Then I come to the Licensing Bill, which I need not discuss at this moment. Assuming that we threw out the Education Bill and the Licensing Bill, does that justify the statement made on Saturday by the Prime Minister that in almost every attempt which the House of Commons made to give effect to the wishes of those who elected it it was systematically thwarted, baffled, and defeated by the House of Lords? I should like to ask the noble Earl how many Bills which the people have really shown any desire to get have the House of Lords thrown out, and how many Liberal measures promoted by His Majesty's Government, some of them very far-reaching measures indeed, have passed into law, not only without opposition by this House, but with all the assistance we could give to make them into good and practicable measures?
The Prime Minister is usually conspicuous for the sobriety of his language. On this occasion, it seems to me that he went rather beyond his usual tether, and it is perhaps fortunate that upon the particular occasion on which his speech was delivered the noble Earl opposite, the Minister for Agriculture, was also present in the chair. If I may put it this way, I would say that if the Prime Minister supplied the poison, the noble Earl immediately supplied the necessary antidote. I have read the Prime Minister's words. Now I will read the noble Earl's words. The noble Earl explained that the policy of His Majesty's Government was what he called "a policy of results," and he added that during their five years they had had peace with all its attendant blessings, loyalty and contentment in South Africa, India wisely governed, the maintenance of a magnificent Navy, the creation of an Army—he did not say a magnificent Army; I have no doubt he had the fear of the noble and gallant Field-Marshal, Lord Roberts, in his mind. And then the noble Earl went on to say they had also laid land reform, labour legislation, old-age pensions, and a term 796 perance and people's Budget. And now pray let me invite the attention of the House particularly to the climax—Two questions remained to be solved, Home Rule for Ireland and the Education problem Those until quite lately were in the lap of the Lords.So that this famous indictment of habitual obstruction is whittled down by the noble Earl to two measures—two measures in five years. I would venture to ask him whether he is quite sure that these matters are in the lap of the House of Lords? I do not quite know whose lap the Education Bill is in—it has been in a good many different laps—but I am quite sure the noble Earl knows, or, if he does not, lie will very soon find out, whose lap the Home Rule measure lies in.
I return reluctantly to the question which I put to the House a few moments ago, What is it our duty to do with this Bill? and I come to this conclusion, that all we can do is to avail ourselves of the few remaining days, I might almost say the few remaining hours, which are left to us in order to endeavour to put on record if we can, in a simple form and in an intelligible shape, the proposals which we ourselves would be inclined to lay before the country for the settlement of this part of the question. I say this part of the question because I regard the Resolutions of the noble Earl on the Cross Benches as having taken us as far as we can go at present in regard to the question of the constitution of the House of Lords. I thought the Prime Minister, in the same speech, was perhaps rather unduly severe upon my noble friend. He said my noble friend's scheme was to all intents and purposes a "ghost," and then, by a rather splendid confusion of metaphors, lie said, "the parricidal pickaxes" were already at work on the fabric of this House. I do not know how one would operate on a. ghost with parricidal pick-axes. In the leading ghost case, which is to be found in Shakespeare's Hamlet, the officer in command of the guard proposed to attack the ghost with a partisan, whatever a partisan is, but I suppose it must be something different from a parricidal pickaxe. But the Prime Minister was not content to leave the matter there. He charged my noble friend and your Lordships' House with doing what he called applying a thin coat of democratic varnish to the "ghost." I must say that any attempt to varnish a 797 ghost would require a considerable amount of ingenuity.
The Resolutions which, before our proceedings terminate this evening, I shall venture to lay before the House will, then, have reference not to the question of the constitution of this House, but to the manner in which deadlocks between the two Houses, persistent differences of opinion, might be dealt with. And let me add this observation. We on this side have always been in favour of making some change in our procedure for the purpose of meeting that particular difficulty. I say that because the noble Earl opposite told us the other evening that he had never heard, that lie had not the faintest idea, that that was a part of the case we were interested in. I looked up the speech which I delivered in this House, I think, in March of this year, and I find I then stated as clearly as I possibly could that in our view both questions demanded attention—on the one hand the constitution of this House; on the other, the procedure to he resorted to in the case of differences between the two Houses.
That is really all I have to say to your Lordships, except this. It seems to be essential that the House should have time to consider the Resolutions which I shall move later in the evening, and I propose, therefore, to move the adjournment of the debate until Wednesday, and that upon that day we should enter upon a discussion of the Resolutions.
§ Moved, That the Debate be adjourned until Wednesday—(The Marquess of Lansdowne.)
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
I certainly do not rise to oppose the proposal of the noble Marquess, but I do not exactly understand the nature of the procedure which he contemplates for Wednesday. Are these Resolutions to be moved as Amendments to the Motion for the Second Reading of the Parliament Bill? I do not precisely follow what, course the noble Marquess proposes to take.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
that I propose to do this evening is to move the adjournment of the debate.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
Then we are to remain, I am afraid, in darkness until 798 Wednesday as to the intentions of the noble Marquess I have no desire to oppose the Motion, but, I should have thought it would have been for the general convenience of the House that the noble Marquess should state what his intentions are.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, my noble friend is not entitled to speak again. Perhaps, therefore, though I am a very inadequate substitute, the noble Earl will allow me to answer his question. The proposal which we on this Bench make is that the debate be now adjourned. On Wednesday, if the House permits us, we shall lay before it Resolutions of which my noble friend will give notice to-night. We move that the debate be now adjourned because we are not allowed to discuss this Bill in the ordinary method. The proper way to discuss this Bill, and the only way worthy of your Lordships' House and of the enormous importance of the subject, is to discuss it first upon Second Reading and then upon the subsequent stages. Were that course pursued we should be able to lay before your Lordships' House and before the country, in regular form, the details of the proposals which we think ought to be made in reference to the Government's Bill. The noble Earl has refused to your Lordships the Committee stage of this Bill. We are to be asked Aye or No, and nothing else, upon Second Reading. That is an intolerable position. If we are not allowed to lay our proposals with reference to this Bill in detail before your Lordships after the Second Reading, we will lay them before the Second Reading; and it is not our fault that the usual procedure of Parliament is to be varied. The noble Earl's colleagues in another place have very well known methods, which they freely use, of stopping discussion. Hitherto it has not been possible for the Government to stop discussion here. But it appears that they have thought out a new scheme. Not only is there closure and guillotine in the House of Commons, but then e is to be closure and guillotine in the House of Lords, and the only method open to the Government is the use of the Royal Prerogative and the Dissolution of Parliament. It is our business to see that the country is not misled by a procedure of that kind. It is our business to treat in detail the proposals of the Government, if not after the Second Reading, then before the Second Reading, and my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition has 799 moved the adjournment of the debate in order that we may have this opportunity, which, if the Government had their way, would be absolutely denied to us.
§ THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (EARL BEAUCHAMP)
My Lords, it must be realised that by the Motion of the noble Marquess the House has been placed in a really remarkable position. Never before in the history of this House has such a Motion been made in such a sudden fashion with regard to an important measure presented by the Government of the day. The complaint which has been made since Friday last by noble Lords opposite is that His Majesty's Government have not given sufficient time for tile discussion of their measure, and now, forsooth, the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition moves a Resolution of closure and guillotine upon this House. The noble Marquess's proposal is that this debate should be closured to-day and that we should meet again on Wednesday in order to discuss the Resolutions which meanwhile he is going to put down on the Paper of the House. I confess that I do not understand the reasons for this delay. We have just been told by the noble Marquess that this matter of the relations between the two Houses is one upon which he has well-considered opinions, and that he has mentioned these opinions already in debate in this House. No longer ago than March last he mentioned what his opinions on that subject were, and yet he is unable to produce Resolutions embracing those opinions before Wednesday next. In this connection there is a very hackneyed expression which so exactly meets the case that I can hardly forbear repeating it, and saying that this is, indeed, a deathbed repentance. For our part we are perfectly ready to go on with the discussion of this subject, and we are surprised that, after the desire so frequently expressed for a discussion of this question, noble Lords opposite should now run away from it.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
My Lords, I am sure I express the feeling of every one in this House when I welcome my noble friend who has just sat down in his new character as an ædile at the Table. I only rise to say a word on the Motion for the adjournment. My noble friend is shocked at the unprecedented nature of the Motion. I really do not know whether 800 it is unprecedented or not. I have never been very well versed in precedents, and shall go down to my grave without studying them very carefully. But if this is an unprecedented position whose fault is it? I envy my noble friend his talents and his position in the Government, but much more than all I admire his courage.
What has happened with regard to this business? We have been kept chained and mute for the last four, five, or six months under the black shadow of the Conference from which we hoped so much. Now my noble friend the Leader of the House meets the House with an intimation scarcely veiled that we shall have a Dissolution in a few days. Then how does this precious Bill come to us? One would think from the language of my noble friend the aedile that it was put with almost frantic eagerness on the Table of the House by my noble friends opposite What is the case? They never meant to bring it forward at all. It was on the challenge of my noble friend that it was brought forward; it was under the pressure of a majority in this House that it was brought forward. Reluctantly and at the very last moment it was brought in, and brought in in such a way that even if my noble friend had not moved the adjournment there would have been no possibility of adequate discussion.
You do not seem to realise what you are doing. You bring in a Bill of this kind with the trivial elegance with which you might introduce a turnpike Act or the mysterious local government measures which are moved by the dozen by some lower official of the Government. What you are attempting to do is none of these things. You are attempting to do away with one estate of the realm without substituting anything in its place. You have the face to tell us that we are acting in an unprecedented manner when in the last four, five, or six dying days of the session you bring forward this Motion without any option to us but to say Yes or No to any of the provisions of the Bill.
The noble Marquess behind me quoted a phrase from the remarkable, I might almost say extraordinary, speech delivered by my right hon. friend the Prime Minister at the National Liberal Club on Saturday. I make every allowance for the exuberance 801 of a speech made under the hospitable auspices of the National Liberal Club, where I have so often enjoyed myself in past days. But I am a little shocked that the noble Marquess did not mark the most significant part of that speech, which was accentuated by my noble friend who spoke last. Tile Prime Minister quoted Dr. Johnson as saying that nothing concentrates a man's mind so much as the knowledge that he is going to be hanged, and he applied the remark to your Lordships' House. My noble friend opposite spoke of a deathbed repentance This is the spirit apparently in which this great Government approaches this vast Constitutional question. They regard the 1 louse of Lords as simply a culprit to be hanged without shrift and without repentance, and only with the rather trite consolations of my noble friend opposite to cheer its last hour. I have always understood that when a man is going to be hanged he has, besides the opportunity of concentration of mind some little mercy shown to him in the disposal of his last moments. He is admitted to certain indulgences. My noble friends opposite, having put on the black cap, are not inclined to any such leniency. We claim that we shall employ the few hours we are told we have to live to the best purpose that, in our judgment, we can, and we will not allow any other necessities to override that which dictates to this ancient Assembly the right to present its own case to the country without being gagged by an ultra-Liberal Government.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD LOREBURN)
My Lords, the question before your Lordships' House at this moment is that this debate be now adjourned. I will only say a very few words on what I call the fringe which the noble Earl added to the point under discussion. He has spoken of our precipitancy and desire to avoid discussion. Let me remind your Lordships what is the history of the question of the reform of the House of Lords and the adjustment of the relations between the two Houses.
The noble Earl has been, I admit, a pioneer, a protagonist in this business all his life. He dropped it, I suppose, as an impossible task daring the period of twenty years of Conservative ascendency preceding 1905. In 1905 when a Liberal Government came in the noble Earl took 802 no step. The year 1906 passed. In 1907 Lord Newton brought the matter forward, and the Committee which was appointed reported in December, 1908. Why was nothing said about all these proposals for reform during the year 1909? Lord Newton put down a Motion relating to the subject, but only to one side of it—namely, the constitution of the House, and it constantly disappeared from the Paper. It seemed always to vanish. If I were not aware of his want of reverence for the Whips I should have supposed that the Whips had exercised some influence upon him not to bring the matter forward in the year 1909. Your Lordships will remember that at that time a raid was contemplated upon the Budget, and that might not be a convenient time to draw attention to the supposed shortcomings of your Lordships' House; you do not go to confessional just at the time when you are about to stop a mail coach. Why did not the noble Earl himself bring this forward last year?
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
If the noble and learned Lord wishes to know I will tell him why. The noble and learned Lord seems to be better versed in the matter than the Prime Minister, who appeared to think that we had never embarked upon a discussion of this matter until last week. I did not bring forward the Report of the Committee because I thought it was rather for the majority of the Committee, with whom I did not wholly agree, to take that step.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
That is an explanation of the conduct of the noble Earl. Why did nobody else bring it forward? I am not speaking in personam towards the noble Earl. I am discussing what he has put forward now to the effect that the Government are responsible for not giving adequate time to this House to discuss the question. The whole of last year was available for the purpose, and no noble Lord who took an interest in the subject brought it forward. The noble Earl did not bring forward until a comparatively recent time proposals relating to the constitution of the House. He has not at any time brought forward proposals relating to the adjustment of the relations between the two Houses, which I understand he thinks an essential ingredient in a final settlement.
803 The fact of the matter is, we have had experience during the last five years which has led us to the conviction that we cannot ourselves usefully carry on the business of this country while the relations between the two Houses remain as they are. We have brought forward Bill after Bill and have been disappointed to find them successively rejected by your Lordships' House. It is necessary, in my humble opinion, and that of the Government, that this thing should come to an end one way or another, and that we should either cease to be Ministers of the Crown or that we should be endowed with powers which we do not possess. If now we were to protract this discussion and proceed on the lines of the Resolutions of the noble Earl or the yet unseen proposals of the noble Marquess, we should be embarking on a very long journey indeed, and it might be twelve months before we came to any conclusion. It is necessary that this thing should be settled one way or another. If it is settled adversely to us we shall willingly quit office; if it is settled in our favour we shall then be able to carry into effect the projects and the policy upon which our hearts are set.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, the question before the House is whether this debate shall be adjourned and I shall endeavour to keep myself strictly to that point. If I may venture to say so, I think part of the speech of the noble Lord at the Table and the answer of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack are beside the particular question which we have in hand to-night. There are two great branches of this question—the constitution of this House, and the relations between the two Houses. We are concerned to-night with a Bill which refers only to the relations between the two Houses. It is because that important Bill has been brought forward at such a time as this that the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition has taken the course which he has proposed. It is no use to twit us with not having brought forward at an earlier date proposals from this side to regulate the relationship between the two Houses and the powers of this House. We were obviously bound to wait until the Bill of the Government was before us. The noble Earl himself, in his introduction of the Bill, detailed the history showing how those Resolutions in one form or another had been before the other House 804 of Parliament for some years, but during the whole time that those Resolutions were before the other House there was the condition precedent that they were to be incorporated in a Bill and that the Bill was to be brought before Parliament for consideration and discussion. I say this House was bound to wait until the Government had brought forward their Bill dealing with this part of the question. No one was more astonished than I was to hear that there was to be a Dissolution upon the question—apparently, as the Government think, upon that question largely by itself—before they had afforded this House an opportunity of expressing its opinion upon those proposals.
I venture to think that the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition did a reasonable and right thing in challenging the Government to bring forward the proposals in this House in order that we might discuss them in an intelligent way. But in promising to bring the Bill forward the noble Earl the Leader of the House announced that we were to have no opportunity of discussing it in detail, that it must be practically taken or left. I understood to-night that there was an indication that on one or two minor points Amendments might be accepted. But look at the position in which this House has been placed. No more important question could possibly be brought forward, and we are expected in four or five days, not only to get through the Second Reading stage, but also the Committee stage of the Bill with the certainty announced to us that anything we do of any importance in Committee will be taken no notice of. It seems to me that the course taken by the noble Marquess is a reasonable one, because it avoids on the one hand committing this House prematurely to the Second Reading of the Bill without an opportunity of amending it, and yet enables us, even though it may be at a late hour, to put forward the proposals which would have been put forward as alternative to those of the Government if we had had the ordinary power of discussing the Bill in Committee. That seems to me, in the difficult circumstances in which we have been placed mainly by the action of the Government in announcing the Dissolution as they did, a way out of the difficulty.
This is not the time to discuss the Bill itself, but perhaps I might make this 805 remark—that I believe the Preamble to the Bill to be wholly without precedent. It is generally supposed that the Preamble to a Bill leads up to the contents of a Bill. This Preamble is quite a different thing. If you look at the two clauses of the Preamble you will see that—it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular … basis.and then they go on—And whereas provision will require hereafter to be made by Parliament …The ordinary course of a Preamble is to prepare the way for what is in the Bill itself, not what is to be at some future time, more or less of a nebulous character. If a Preamble of this kind appeared in a Private Bill it would be struck out under the Standing Orders of the House, and there is neither sense, nor reason, nor precedent for the insertion of such a Preamble as this in a Bill of this kind. It arouses the suspicion in our minds, at any rate in my mind, that the Preamble was an afterthought, that it was inserted for the sake of saving the face or salving the conscience of sonic members of the Government who are not very happy in regard to the policy which is announced in their name. I conclude by saying that, in view of the ultimatum that was issued to us the other day that we could take this Bill if we liked, we could leave it if we liked, but we were not to amend it, it seems to me that the noble Marquess has taken a wise, reasonable, and. statesmanlike course, and one for which, I think, the House owes him a great debt of gratitude.
§ THE SECRETARY FOR SCOTLAND (LORD PENTLAND)
My Lords, if I may be allowed to say so, it seems to me that your Lordships have not before you so intimately as those who sit on this Bench the difficult position which we hold in this House. It is not unnatural, I think, that the Government should be somewhat surprised at the turn which this debate has taken. It is very present to the minds of those who represent His Majesty's Government in this House that the Bill is in the hands of the House to deal with as the House may choose. We have no power on this Bench to prevent the House reading the Bill a second time or refusing it a Second Reading, nor is it in our power to prevent the House proceeding to discuss the further stages of the Bill. It is more than evident, 806 however, to us on this Bench that your Lordships do not mean to accord this Bill that treatment. It is clear to us that you prefer to close this discussion on the Bill and proceed to discuss the Resolutions which the noble Marquess opposite has announced his intention of placing on the Paper. That being the case, it is necessary that it should be said that to the Government it is of no really serious consequence which method your Lordships choose to take in discussing this subject. You prefer to discuss the subject on your own Resolutions, which are to deal specifically with this branch of this great question and not with the other branch, the reform of the constitution of this House; but it cannot be mistaken by us that your action in this matter is equivalent to the rejection of the Bill.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
My Lords, before saying a word on the speech which fell from the lips of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, I wish at once to contradict in the most categorical manner the interpretation put upon the Motion of my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition by the noble Lord opposite. The Motion to adjourn the debate does not mean the rejection of the Bill. I will come presently to explain to the House why we have been forced to the line of action which we have thought it our duty to take. But fist of all I would like to refer to something that fell from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. I think my noble friend Lord Balfour answered fairly as to the delays which the Lard Chancellor said had taken place. I am perfectly prepared to be frank with the noble and learned Lord. I do not think the record of either House or of either Party in years gone by is what it might have been on this question of the reform of the House of Lords and the relations of the two Houses. I think valuable time has gone by when this matter might have been adjusted in calmer atmosphere, but I do claim that where both Parties and both Houses are to blame the lesser blame lies on this House and on the Party to which I belong, because we have taken steps in this matter when the House of Commons was silent and ventilated the question when noble Lords opposite would give us no assistance. Indeed I would remind your Lordships that the noble Earl who leads the House himself admitted the other night, when 807 twitting this House upon having too much neglected that side of the question which refers to the relations of the two Houses, that the House of Commons had entirely neglected that side of the problem which refers to the constitution of your Lordships' House, and with the House of Commons the Government of which he is so distinguished a member.
The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack spoke with genuine warmth on this matter; his feelings, I know, are deep and sincere, as are those of his colleagues on the Bench opposite; but our feelings are no less deep and sincere. I am afraid there does lie before us what was only too well described by the Leader of the House as a heated controversy, but surely the Lord Chancellor a little exaggerated, even from the point of view presented by his own colleagues, the influence which this House has exercised on the policy of the Government. The noble and learned Lord spoke of measure after measure which was desired by the people of this country being rejected by your Lordships' House, yet we have heard only to-night that the noble Earl opposite boasted on Saturday—and it was a proud boast for a Party leader to make—that there were only two subjects on which the Government had not been able to give effect to the will of the people—Home Rule and the settlement of the Education controversy. I think my noble friend behind me was justified in reminding the noble Earl opposite that as to those subjects we desire nothing more than that they should be subjected to the definite decision of the people.
I should like to explain exactly why we take the course of which my noble friend has given notice. The Motion before the House is that this debate should be adjourned. We have been asked, "Why adjourn the debate? It has only just begun, and it is open to you to say what you choose and present your views in whatever way you choose." The reason we take this course is that the debate is not a genuine debate. I can only describe it as a farce. Let me remind your Lordships of the words that fell from the Prime Minister in another place on the 18th of this month. He said—It is not, in the stage matters have now reached, a question of amendment or transformation. It is a question of acceptance or rejection as a whole.808 Not a single Amendment is to be made, even if it is one that commends itself to the general public opinion. How can we go through the farce of putting down Amendments to which noble Lords opposite would listen with civil and courteous demeanour, but none of which, though admirable they might say as abstract propositions, could be accepted, as the Bill is sacrosanct? We are not going to be parties to acting in such a farce.
What we desire is to take our part in enabling public opinion to form itself as to the methods of settling the question; and before we proceed with the Second Reading we wish to put down in as clear a manner as the limited time at our disposal allows the alternatives which we believe will commend themselves to the people of the country as alternatives which will give the great Party which noble Lords opposite represent what they ask for—namely, a fair balance in the Constitution as between the two Parties and the two Houses, but which will not in the process destroy one House altogether. When my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition was describing how the provisions of the Parliament Bill, if they became law, might operate, he omitted to point out one very significant fact, that the House of Commons might in the course of one or two Sessions become restive under the delay of two years. The Second Chamber would exist as a painted figment for the contentment of fools, who might believe a Second Chamber really sat here. But two years, when you are dealing with ardent and hardened legislators, who are going to reform heaven and earth and all that is under the earth, is a long time to interpose between a cherished project and its realisation.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
Will the noble Earl excuse me for interrupting him, but I would point out that the subject before the House is the question of the adjournment of the debate, not the general question.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
I am endeavouring to state the reason why we have moved the adjournment of the debate. The reason is that we shall not be able to develop our arguments with any effect in Committee. As the Bill is drafted, within two or three years the House of Commons might change the period of two years to one and one year to six months, and then 809 it would become obvious, as it must have been to all reasonable people at the beginning, that there would be no remaining utility in your Lordships' House. To the plan of the Government we have an alternative. It is this alternative which my noble friend has embodied in certain Resolutions of which he proposes to give notice to-night. Surely it is reasonable that members of the House should have one day to study Resolutions of such importance, and therefore we ask that they should be taken on Wednesday. The House will then have before it, on the one hand, the scheme of the Parliament Bill, and, on the other hand, the alternatives of the Opposition, which we should not be allowed to press to success in Committee on the Bill because the Prime Minister has said it is a question of acceptance or rejection.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
May I put one question? Why are you prevented from presenting your alternatives in the form of Amendments and inserting them in the Bill?
§ On Question, Motion that the debate be adjourned agreed to