My Lords, I pass now to the Resolution dealing with Money Bills. It commences with an intimation that—
the Lords are prepared to forego their Constitutional right to reject or amend Money Bills-which are purely financial in character.
That is a renunciation which I have no doubt seems to a good many of your Lordships to go further than we have a right to ask you to go. Our Constitutional right to reject; Money Bills is, in my belief, unassailable; but I should like to ask your Lordships whether you are in the habit of exercising it, whether you are likely to exercise it, in the case of Money Bills which are really, to use the words of the Resolution, purely financial in their character. I can call to mind no case in which a desire has been expressed on this side of the House to reject a Money Bill purely of a financial character, and my impression is that when your Lordships have desired to interfere with Money Bills it has been for the express reason that those Money Bills were, in your opinion, not of a purely financial character, but embodied provisions
directed to purposes other than financial purposes.
§ The Resolution contains two provisos—the proviso that effectual provision is to be made against "tacking," and the proviso that if any question arises as to whether a Money Bill is of a purely financial character it shall be referred to a Joint Committee of the two Houses. As to "tacking" I do not suppose that there is very much difference of opinion between the two sides of the House. Your Lordships will have it in your minds that what we mean by "tacking" is, to use the language of the often-quoted Resolution of 1702, the addition to a Bill of aid and Supply of something "foreign to and different from the matter of the Bill." By that, of course, is meant an attempt to force some incongruous measure through the House of Lords by the expedient of grafting it on to a Money Bill. That practice I do not think is defended on either side of the House, and we assume that the safeguards which to some extent now exist against that practice will be continued and will be made effectual. But we go on to propose that when, apart from "tasking" in the stricter sense, a question arises as to the character of a disputed Bill the question should be referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses. We have added this separate proviso because, as I said a moment ago, it seems to us that it is not enough that there should be precautions against "tacking" in the strict and narrow sense of the word, but that there should be an opportunity given to this House of dealing with Bills in which "tacking" in the stricter sense does not take place, but which, although, no doubt, Financial Bills and dealing with finance, are Bills calculated to produce political and social effects, the importance of which is far in excess of the mere financial operation of the measure.
§ Here, again, we encounter the same difficulty of arriving at a definition of that which is and that which is not a Money Bill of a purely financial character, and it is quite clear that this difficulty of definition is a very real one. We arc ready to concede that Bills of aid and Supply in the narrower sense of the word belong to the House of Commons, but we object entirely to the extreme claim that any Bill beginning with the usual financial Resolution in Committee of the House of Commons or containing provisions involving expenditure out of the rates or taxes 847 is to be treated as a Money Bill. I think it is clear that between these two extremes there must lie in the region of finance a certain amount of debatable ground on which each House of Parliament properly conceives that it has a right to intervene. In our view the only way of arriving at a decision with regard to these extremely difficult and controversial points is that there should be a tribunal created for the purpose of adjudicating upon them. In our view that tribunal ought not to be a Court of Law, because we conceive that the questions which would come before it would be concerned not so much with the strict interpretation of carefully drawn provisions of an Act of Parliament as with a broad and common-sense view of that which is just and reasonable as between the two Houses of Parliament. We propose that such a Committee should be set up and we propose that it should be presided over by the Speaker of the House of Commons. For reasons which I gave two or three days ago, we object very much to the idea of making the Speaker of the House of Commons the sole arbiter in such cases as this, but we admit that if there is to be a Standing Committee of this kind it could not have a more dignified president, or a president with greater Parliamentary authority behind him, than that high official.
§ My Lords, the only other point that arises in this Resolution arises in connection with the last paragraph of it which provides that should the Committee come to a conclusion that the Money Bill before them is not of a purely financial character and should not therefore be dealt with as Money Bills are dealt with, the Bill should go forthwith to the joint sitting for disposal. We inserted that provision because in our view it would be unreasonable to claim that what I might call a mixed Bill involving money and other things besides should be dealt with by the Referendum.
§ I have now given you in broad outline, and 1 am afraid very imperfectly, an account of these Resolutions. I quite admit that our real difficulties will begin when we come, if we ever do, to fill in the outlines. I admit that frankly, but that does not seem to me to be a reason why an attempt should not be made to fill in the outlines. What I venture to submit to the House is this, that, until Parliament has tried to find a 848 settlement on these lines, we have no right to throw up our hands in despair and to say that this House of Parliament, or, indeed, either House of Parliament, is to be denied legitimate opportunities of discussing one of the most momentous questions which has been raised within our recollection. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House do resolve itself into Committee in order to consider the following resolutions upon the relations between the two Houses of Parliament:
§ That in the opinion of this House it is desirable that provision should be made for settling differences which may arise between the House of Commons and this House, reconstituted and reduced in numbers in accordance with the recent Resolutions of this House.
§ That as to Bills other than Money Bills, such provision should be upon the following lines: —
§ If a difference arises between the two Houses with regard to any Bill other than a Money Bill in two successive Sessions, and with an interval of not less than one year, and such difference cannot be adjusted by any other means, it shall be settled in a Joint Sitting composed of members of the two Houses.
§ Provided that if the difference relates to a matter which is of great gravity, and has not been adequately submitted for the judgment of the people, it shall not be referred to the Joint Sitting, but shall be submitted for decision to the electors by Referendum.
§ That as to Money Bills, such provision should be upon the following lines:—
§ The Lords are prepared to forego their constitutional right to reject or amend Money Bills which are purely financial in character.
§ Provided that effectual provision is made against tacking;
§ Provided that, if any question arises as to whether a Bill or any provisions thereof are purely financial in character, that question be referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses, with the Speaker of the House of Commons as Chairman, who shall have a casting vote only.849
§ If the Committee hold that the Bill or provisions in question are not purely financial in character, they shall be dealt with forthwith in a Joint Sitting of the two Houses.
§ —(The Marquess of Lansdowne.)
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR. INDIA (THE EARL OF CREWE)
My Lords, the noble Marquess has made some preliminary observations upon his Resolutions with his accustomed clearness, with moderation, and, indeed, with a certain degree of admission, not merely of the difficulty of the subject, but in some degree of the case of those who are opposed to him. Before I say a word on the general subject, I should like to say something upon the rather arbitrary and complicated proceedings which have led up to the introduction of these Resolutions. We understood from the noble Marquess that the object of your Lordships was to secure a discussion of the whole question before t he Dissolution took place, and I venture to think that in bringing forward these Resolutions in the way in which he has, the noble Marquess has not gone the best way to achieve that object. Two other courses were open to him, either of which I think would have been preferable to the one which has been adopted, and both of which, if I may say so—of course using the word only in a Parliamentary sense—would have shown a little more candour and would have been more in conformity with the Parliamentary practice of your Lordships' House. It was open to your Lordships to read the Bill a second time, and, having done so, to move in Committee a limited number of Amendments.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
I will deal with the noble Marquess's point in a moment. It was open to your Lordships to read the Bill a second time, and, having done so, to move in Committee a limited number of Amendments comprising precisely the same points as those raised in these Resolutions. The noble Marquess who interrupted me a moment ago says the Bill could never have got into Committee. There was no reason why a general discussion of the Bill should not have taken place on Monday and Tuesday, and it would have been quite as easy to go into Committee afterwards for that 850 limited purpose as it is to deal with these Resolutions. It is quite true that, when you know a Bill is going to be proceeded with with a view to becoming law, an interval of time may reasonably be asked for to move Amendments of all kinds. But it is only the particular subjects touched on in these Resolutions which your Lordships desire to bring before the House; and you would, I think, have achieved precisely the object which you are achieving now, and would have done so in a more regular way, if, for the purpose of that discussion which we are told is so vital, you had taken the whole of Monday and Tuesday. The other alternative would have been to throw out the Bill. We should then have had Monday's and Tuesday's discussion, and your Lordships might have thrown it out with all ceremony last night. You might then have proceeded exactly as you are doing now, and the noble Marquess could have gone on with his alternative policy. From one point of view it does not greatly matter to us. Our Bill, we understood from the first, is to be killed. It does not matter to us whether its throat is cut or it is smothered in cotton wool.
But when we arc told, as we have been, that we have stifled discussion and prevented the matter being brought before your Lordships' House, I am bound to point out that you Lave lost the whole of one Parliamentary day and a portion of another which you might have given to the discussion of the entire subject. We are told—and the statement is cheered by noble Lords opposite—that we have attempted to evade and avoid the discussion of this subject. The form which discussions take in this House is only nominally in the hands of the Government; it is really in the hands of noble Lords opposite. They have only to raise a question and ask for an opportunity for its discussion and discussion takes place whether we desire it or not. The noble Marquess only had to invite us to introduce the Bill and we at once agreed to do so. It seems to me that this question is going to receive quite an unusual amount of discussion. I certainly do not complain of that, because it is a question of enormous magnitude. It is being discussed here—I quite admit only in outline—this week; it is going to be discussed for weeks before the country on a thousand platforms, and a vast number of statements of varying accuracy will doubtless be made about 851 I am not prepared to say that the statements made on either side will be entirely accurate; if they are they will be very unlike statements which are usually made at General Elections. But assume, if your Lordships will honour us by doing so for a moment, that after the General Election things remain as they are. The Bill that we shall bring in will have to go through the whole period of a long Parliamentary discussion in both Houses, Amendments will be moved, and it will receive that measure of discussion which everybody knows an important Constitutional Bill, whether it be a Home Rule Bill or any Bill of the kind, always receives. On the other hand, if noble Lords opposite are fortunate enough to cross the House and to find themselves in charge they will bring in a Bill founded on the noble Marquess's Resolutions. That. I have no doubt, will pass practically in the form in which they bring it in. We may discuss it, but I have no doubt we shall not be permitted in any way to amend it; but there, again, the subject will receive a full measure of discussion, and I confess I am at a loss to understand what is meant when it is said that discussion is stifled. The tone adopted by the noble Marquess and also, I think, by my noble friend on the Cross Bench, suggests that the Bill is being forced into law now by means of the guillotine. That is not the case. The subject is going to be discussed for weeks before the country, and it will occupy heaven only knows how much of the next session of Parliament whichever Party is returned to power.
The noble Marquess in his Resolutions brings forward his alternative proposals, and I quite admit that they are proposals which ought to be most fully examined and discussed. They come, no doubt, as a startling novelty to a great many people both in your Lordships' House and outside it. All the propositions which are laid down by the noble Marquess are, of course, familiar to those who have made a particular study of this subject, who have studied the comparative history of the subject in different countries and are familiar with the various devices by which the Parliamentary machine is framed under different systems. But I suspect that, coming from the noble Marquess, they must be regarded as new—by some people even as alarmingly new when they have regarded the established order of things 852 as likely to last for ever, and when they perceive the sweeping changes, at any rate on paper, which the noble Marquess proposes to introduce.
I do not wish to take up much time in discussing the details of these Resolutions because I have made far too many speeches during the last few days, and I would very much rather that other noble Lords took up the tale on this occasion. But I would like, if I may be allowed, to make one or two general observations on the proposals of the noble Marquess. I said something two days ago upon the proposition of a joint sitting, and I repeat what I then said, that the idea has many attractions. It is familiar in some of our Constitutions in the Dominions overseas, and undoubtedly it has a common-sense air about it. But bearing in mind the proposed constitution of your Lordships' House—a number of 300 or 400—if that number is to be added to the number of members of the House of Commons I may remind your Lordships that it may probably be necessary to hire a hall of the nature of Olympia for the purpose of discussion, and a close discussion of the details of a Bill in such circumstances will not be a very simple matter. And when the noble Marquess opposite meets that difficulty by saying that delegations of both Houses might meet together for the purpose, I would remind the House that it is not an easy thing to suggest any means by which a delegation of the House of Commons could sit for such a purpose —that is to say, for the purpose of arriving at a final solution of a question—because the members of the House of Commons are equal, and there is no particular reason why a Member representing one constituency should be allowed to have a final voice in the solution of a question rather than the Member for another constituency; and although I can conceive the possibility of a delegation being appointed from your Lordships' House as it now exists, I foresee great difficulty in doing so if the House is elaborately reconstituted on the lines I have seen suggested.
The Referendum seems to have become a new, but in a very short space of time a favourite child of noble Lords opposite. I ventured the other day to caution your Lordships against rushing too boldly into advocacy of the Referendum. It has an attractive sound; it sounds thoroughly 853 democratic. An appeal to the will of the people by vote is obviously in itself a democratic thing; but. I venture to think that the difficulties in regard to the Referendum do not diminish when one begins to examine how exactly it is to be brought into operation in a country like this and in a manner for which there is no precedent whatever in any foreign country. Nobody has ever attempted to use the Referendum as a means of settling difficulties between two Houses of Parliament, at any rate on the gigantic scale on which it is proposed to be used here. As a rule it has been used for entirely different purposes. In Switzerland it is only used for one purpose to which the noble Marquess stated that it might be applied here. In a case in which the two Houses of Parliament have passed a measure, it is open to a certain number of citizens—I think the number is 30,000 —to demand a Referendum, so to speak, against Parliament. There it is not used for the purpose of composing differences between the two Houses. Speaking generally, where it has been used in other countries, it has been used quite independently of differences between Houses of. Parliament and to ascertain whether the people want a particular subject dealt with by Parliament. That, I confess, seems to me the most reasonable and practical way of using it—that is to say, at the time of an election the country is asked to declare separately whether it wants to express an opinion on a special subject—it might be religious education or woman suffrage, or some question of that kind. But there, again, it is not used for solving a political crisis, and it seems to me that you will have great difficulty in using it on the enormous scale on which it would have to be used for this purpose.
The noble Marquess said that, in his judgment, the cost of a Referendum had been greatly overstated. It is quite true in a sense that if you take the Referendum say by Post Office, without any of the apparatus that accompanies a Parliamentary General Election, the cost would not be anything approaching the figures which have often been stated. But you are in this dilemma. When taking your Referendum it you take no trouble to bring the question before the people but merely send the papers round, you will get very few answers, and the results may be almost ludicrously unsatisfactory if it is a question of deciding the fate of an 854 important measure. But, on the other hand, if you are going to take all the steps to bring the question before the people—by meetings, placards, and the usual paraphernalia of a General Election—you will find yourselves running into something nearly approaching the cost of a General Election. That is the dilemma. to which noble Lords opposite may be able to supply an answer, but I confess I know of none.
Then, my Lords, what is going to the Referendum? Matters of great gravity; and the noble Marquess has indicated that in his view "matters of great gravity" include Constitutional questions in the main, although they may also include some others. This question of gravity, I confess, seems to me to be an exceedingly difficult one. About the gravest question which I think the country could be called upon to decide, or at: my rate one of the gravest questions—noble Lords opposite, I am sure, will admit it—is that of a tariff. It is obviously of the most far-reaching character. A tariff, if you compose it wrongly, may inflict more discomfort and loss upon a. larger number of individuals in this country than could be inflicted by any other measure which it is possible to conceive. Therefore, one would think that a. tariff was one of the subjects which a Party should not be allowed to settle entirely of its own will. without an appeal to the country and knowing what the country wants. But you cannot, I take it, put a tariff into a Referendum; at least, I cannot conceive by what machinery it could be clone. Yet, on the showing of the noble Marquess opposite, a Tariff Reform measure is one which, above all others, ought to go to the country before it is decided by Parliament.
What the noble Marquess said was that Bills which were in appearance Money Bills, but which carried. with them important political and social effects, were just those which ought not to be treated as purely Money Bills and upon which the country ought to be called upon to decide. I understand that among the many and various definitions of Tariff Reform which I have heard during recent years the one thing which is put forward is that it is not so much a project for raising revenue as for producing important political and social effects. The political effects are to be produced by Colonial preference, and 855 the social effects are to be produced by curing unemployment. But this measure is to be run through Parliament by an energetic Lower House and an acquiescent Upper House without the country having a word to say in the matter.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
I do not know whether at the General Election the details of the tariff are likely to be mentioned. I should think it exceedingly doubtful. The noble Lord I have no doubt carries them in his head, but I do not think he will be allowed to produce then on a platform during, the coming election. I shall look out for his speeches, as I always do, with interest, but I do not expect to find in them the details of a tariff.
One word more on that point. It may be said that a tariff, after all, is a thing which may be passed by one Parliament but the next Parliament may reverse it. That is not so. That is one of the things which makes us especially anxious not to place you in a position to be able to pass this tariff, because when you have once passed it, it will be exceedingly difficult to get rid of it. You will enter into engagements with foreign countries and with our oversea Dominions—almost obligations of honour which cannot be broken—and yet the country is not to have a word to say as to the manner in which you choose to do this. What it seems to me to come to is that Liberal measures are to be subject to the Referendum: Conservative measures are not. It is hardly to be supposed, whatever may be our abstract opinions of the virtue of the Referendum, that we can agree cheerfully to assent to sonic of the main objects of our political programme, if that is the word, being subjected to this peculiar disability, whilst yours are to go free. A tariff, for instance, is not to go to a Referendum, but a measure like the abolition of plural voting has to go. The abolition of plural voting may be right or wrong, but it conies under the head of Constitutional questions, and therefore falls under the ban of the noble Marquess. But nobody can say that it approaches the magnitude of Tariff Reform or of half a dozen other things.
The real difficulty of the Referendum, as I suspect your Lordships will find when 856 you advocate it through the country, is that many people will regard it, if it is to be treated as a subject of frequent or general resort, as something like the negation of our system of representative government. I do not deny that there may be cases in which a. Referendum would be a way in which the opinion of the country might be properly ascertained. There are just a few questions—they are only very few— which can be replied to by "Yes" or "No," and unless you can put them into that form or nearly into that form the Referendum loses much of its value. But if it is to be understood that the Liberal Party is to be perpetually subjected to this uncertain method of appeal, you will find yourselves with a diminishing responsibility on the part of Members of Parliament in a. way which, I think, would be most unfortunate. It would be a grievous thing if members of the House of Commons were to feel that it did not matter very much what they did or in what form they legislated because the whole thing had got to go to the country in the form of Referendum. Therefore I beg your Lordships to pause before you dash into this as a regular policy in the manner which seems likely from the Resolutions of the noble Marquess.
On the question of finance I have very little to say. The noble Marquess has pointed out that, although the express foregoing of the right of rejecting Money Bills appeared to constitute some abrogation of the privileges of your Lordships' House, yet, as a matter of fact, joined with the other provisions of his Resolutions which strictly limit the Money Bills to Bills dealing with money and nothing else, his proposals do not go very far. And yet I observe that they have caused some alarm. I notice that this supposed touch of weakness on the part of the noble Marquess received a severe reproof in the columns of The Times this morning. It was hinted that the right of rejecting Budgets was, in the opinion of many noble Lords, not one lightly to be parted with. The noble Marquess spoke of habit. I quite agree that if the rejection of Budgets became to your Lordships a habit in the sense in which people speak of the morphia or cocaine habit, it would be a misfortune from every point of view. Therefore I am disposed to agree that, so far as the right of rejection is concerned, your Lordships will probably think that you are not giving up a great deal. But on the Constitutional 857 right of amending Money Bills as explicity alluded to in the noble Marquess's Resolutions, I think I ought to point out that that is a right which, if it exists at all, has not been exercised for a very great number of years, and I think that the noble Viscount opposite, Lord St. Aldwyn, will confirm me when I say that it is a right which has never been at any time admitted by the House of Commons as existing.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
Therefore it cannot be said that your Lordships are giving up very much if you forego the so-called right of amending Money Bills. I think I have covered roughly the grounds covered by the noble Marquess's Resolutions. I hope the discussion which follows will be of a general character and that it will not be confined to an expression of the views of those who sit on the two Front Benches, but that we shall learn in the course of the debate what is the opinion of representative members of the House at large. It seems to me that the object which noble Lords opposite desire to serve by this preliminary discussion—namely, to bring the subject before the country—will be better served in this way than if we confined ourselves to the making of formal speeches by those members of your Lordships' House whose opinions are tolerably well known.
§ VISCOUNT ST. ALDWYN
My Lords, the noble Earl who has just sat down is always so fair and courteous in his speeches in this House, even under difficulties, that I confess I was surprised at some of the remarks at the commencement. of his speech. The noble Earl charged my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition with a want of candour. I am sure my noble friend has not been guilty of want of candour in his observations on the Parliament Bill. Then the noble Earl went on to say that my noble friend had also been guilty of an arbitrary proceeding. Undoubtedly there has been an arbitrary proceeding in the course of this week, but it has been on the part of His Majesty's Government.
For what have they done? They introduced the Parliament Bill into this House on Monday, telling us they would not accept any Amendment, and that not merely the debate on the Second Reading, but 858 also the full consideration of the Bill in Committee, must be finished in a week. I say that looking to the great importance of the question at issue, it would have been absolutely impossible for this House properly to have discussed the measure and to have formulated and introduced Amendments to it in the time allowed before the 'Dissolution. The noble Earl has told us that my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition has proposed new and sweeping changes on paper. I will deal later with the suggestion that they are only on paper. But I wonder whether the proposals in the Resolutions are not familiar to the noble Earl? Far be it from me to inquire into the proceedings of the Conference. I know nothing about them, but I suspect that those proposals must have been under discussion at the Conference, and therefore that the noble Earl had ample time to consider them.
I am anxious—if I may be allowed—to go somewhat beyond the proposals actually before your Lordships. It is impossible, in discussing them, not to allude to the Resolutions carried by the noble Earl on the Cross Benches (Lord Rosebery)— which form part of our proposals for dealing with the question—and, moreover, I think it is only fair, if we can do so within the limits of order, that we should be allowed some opportunity of comparing the two alternative policies which are proposed by the two sides of the House. It has been suggested more than once, and notably by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, that the proposals from this side of the House are too late. Well, I confess that they are late in the day. Speaking for myself, I heartily wish they had been made a year or even two years ago. But the noble and learned Lord was amply answered by the noble. Earl, Lord Rosebery, the other day. The noble and learned Lord. asked my noble friend why he, as Chairman of the Committee of your Lordships' House which considered this matter, did not make proposals upon it to the House of Lords in the year 1909; and the noble Earl replied that as he did not consider the recommendations of the Committee adequate for dealing with the question he was unable to make any such proposals to the House. That, I confess, was the position of myself and other noble Lords who took an active and prominent part in the proceedings of that Committee; and I have always thought 859 that the inadequacy of the 'recommendations of the Committee was largely due to the deliberate refusal of His Majesty's Government to take any part in its proceedings.
But we are also told that the proposals now made by my noble friend are a sham. That was not said by the noble Earl opposite. He is far too courteous to make any such suggestion. But it has been said by his colleagues, and by colleagues of high position. I have no authority to speak for any one but myself; but I will say this, that in considering whether these proposals are really meant to solve the great question between the two Houses of Parliament, and the difficulties of which noble Lords opposite complain, I think authority ought to be attached to what was said by Mr. Balfour, the Leader of the Unionist Party, at Nottingham. Mr. Balfour said, in the first place, that it was not wholesome that there should be two Chambers so diversified in political complexion as our two Chambers were in 1906. He went on to say that there should be a Second Chamber; that it must be a real Second Chamber; that the Second Chamber should be greatly diminished in number; that it should be composed of Peers elected by their brother Peers, of qualified Peers, and that others, not Peers, at least equal to half the Chamber should be brought in from the outside, representative of great bodies of external opinion, owing their position to other causes more in harmony with modern theories of government than hereditary right. That, I contend, is an undertaking to endeavour to carry a thorough reform of the House of Lords.
When we are told that we do not intend any such reform, that we wish the House to remain as it is now, a sort of fortress of one political Party, I venture to say, in view of these declarations of Mr. Balfour, that the charges are absolutely unfounded. Mr. Balfour went on to say that the House of Commons must he dominant in the relations between the two Houses, that deadlocks must be remedied, and he added —and this is a matter of vital importance —that if the two Houses dissented on a matter of sufficient importance the arbiter must be the people. That is the position. In the circumstances it is not fair to charge my noble friend who has proposed these Resolutions, or the Party on this side as 860 a whole, with an endeavour to meet this great Constitutional question with a sham set of proposals never intended to make any real change in the political complexion or power of the House of Lords.
We have admitted that the matter requires to be dealt with, that there is a grievance in the present position of a Liberal Government owing to the difficulty which they have in passing measures through this House which, in their opinion, are necessary for the good of the country, and which may be rejected by this House, or modified in a way of which they do not approve. We have not only admitted the difficulty, but we desire to remove it by the Resolutions we have already passed, and by those now before the House, consistently with the freedom of the people to control the proceedings not only of this House, but of the House of Commons as well. Take the proposals already carried for the future composition of your Lordships' House. Mr. Balfour said plainly that the element from outside, whether elected directly or indirectly, or nominated by the Government, or appointed in some other way, must be at least half of the members of your Lordships' House. He also said that this House must be greatly diminished in number. It is not fair to say after that that it is intended to put this House on an absolute equality with the House of Commons in any Conference or joint sitting of the two Houses.
We have not attempted to define the proportionate numbers. It is impossible to settle the proportion between the two Houses in a Joint Sitting until we know how this House is to be composed, and of how many members it is to consist. I gather from the speech of the noble Earl opposite the other night that he is enamoured of his own proportion of one-quarter for the Upper Chamber which he enacted in the South Africa Act. It may be that noble Lords on this side would desire a larger proportion. That, as I have said, is a matter to be decided when the composition of this Chamber is settled. But it is clear that in the joint sitting contemplated by these Resolutions the House of Commons would be predominant. The noble. Earl opposite said that the two Chambers together, under any conceivable arrangement, would be too many in number for a joint sitting, and he rather threw cold water on the proposal of delegation. But 861 why should there not be a delegation from each Chamber—a large Committee—for the purpose of joint discussion, and why should not every member of both Chambers, at the end of the discussion, vote as he thought proper? It would be perfectly possible to make an arrangement of that kind.
The noble Earl went on to criticise the Referendum. I agree with him, as every one must who has considered the matter, that there are great difficulties in any form of Referendum. But other countries have faced these difficulties and overcome them, and why should not we? One thing I think is essential. If the Referendum is adopted, it must be fair to both political Parties. You cannot adopt the Referendum in regard to measures which are dear to the hearts of noble Lords opposite and refuse it in the case of measures to which they object when the Unionist Party are in office. The noble Earl said that a Referendum would not meet a political crisis. I agree. The object of a Referendum is to avoid a political crisis and to obtain assent to or rejection by the country of one particular measure without incurring a political crisis. The noble Earl said that you would not get, except at great expense, an adequate vote on a Referendum. Why not? I thought there was such a burning desire in this country for the legislation proposed by noble Lords opposite. Do they tell us that the people at large will not take the trouble to vote in favour of it, or if it is as objectionable as some think that those who do not like it will not vote against it? I believe a Referendum could be worked quite easily subject to the enactment of some body like a Joint Committee of both Houses, with the Speaker as Chairman, to prepare the proper question to be put to the people after a sufficient minority of the members of both Houses had claimed a Referendum on any particular measure. The noble Earl touched on the question of Tariff Reform, on which I am in some degree in sympathy with him. No doubt you cannot refer the details of a tariff to time people, but what would be easier than to put to the people the simple question—Will you have Colonial Preference.? Will you have import duties on manufactured goods? Those two questions could be easily settled by any tribunal, and a vote Aye or Nay upon them would practically decide Tariff Reform.
§ VISCOUNT ST. ALDWYN
The noble Earl entirely failed to see that my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition had provided for this very case in what he said with regard to his intentions as to Money Bills My noble friend said that Bills dealing with finance and producing political or social effects far in excess of the measure itself should not be considered purely Money Bills. That is a proposal which would enable the policy of Tariff Reform to be put to the people in the simplest way that could be devised.
The noble Earl went on to the Resolutions dealing with finance. I do not think he was quite satisfied with them, but I do not see why they should not be as agreeable to His Majesty's Government as the proposals in the Parliament Bill. They certainly do remove the control of pure finance from this House. I think they ought to do so. It was because I held this opinion that I was unfortunately unable to agree with my noble friend near me when last winter he moved the rejection of the Finance Bill. But; nobody contends that this House should be allowed to amend Money Bills properly so called. The noble Earl seemed to criticise the insertion of the word "amend" in my noble friend's third Resolution, but he would not, of course, wish this House to amend Money Bills, and therefore it is just as well to say that this House should not do so, As for the. rejection, I think that, safeguarded as it is by words which really are more favourable to the desires of noble Lords opposite than they ever supposed, I think the proposal of my noble friend with regard to Money Bills is a very fair settlement of the question of finance between the two Houses. I do not know that I need trouble your Lordships with any further discussion of these Resolutions, but I venture to say that, having regard to their actual proposals, I cannot imagine why it is impossible for His Majesty's Government to take them into fair consideration instead of putting the country to the trouble and expense of a Dissolution.
What fairer basis for a settlement could be suggested than the basis afforded by these Resolutions? The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said the other day, "What you suggest is impossible; we cannot deal with the matter in this way—it 863 would take at least twelve months." Twelve months would never have been better spent by the two Houses of Parliament, for no one ever spoke a truer word in this House than my noble friend Lord Selborne did the other day when he said that no permanent settlement of this question on pure Party lines was possible in this country. It is a great question, and you may deal with it, if you like, on Party lines; but if it is settled on Party lines against the will of one of the great political Parties, when the country has had a little experience of the legislation which the present Government will doubtless carry into law, the pendulum will swing back very rapidly in the other direction, and a new Parliament will be elected which will put an end to the Parliament Bill.
I really cannot understand how His Majesty's Government hope to settle the question by Dissolution. Supposing they are returned with a large majority as they anticipate—will the country have voted in favour of the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill? That is impossible. The Bill would have to come before the new House of Commons and be considered by them, and nobody could tell how it would emerge. But if His Majesty's Government are defeated their Bill goes, and the question conies to the Unionist Party for solution. And supposing that the Government are supported by a largely diminished majority, can they pretend that that would give them strength from the country to pass the Bill they desire? This is the more true because I do not think that the issue is being fairly presented to the country. I will not say too much about such absurd statements as that the fight is whether the people shall govern themselves or be governed by 600 Peers. If that merely came from the minor speakers and writers of the Party opposite one would take no notice of it at all, but unfortunately it is repeated over and over again by Ministers in the highest position in the country.
There is another point. The harm done by this House to Liberal legislation has been infinitely exaggerated and the corrective is often administered by innocent speakers like the noble Earl, Lord Carrington, who never ceases to sing the praises of the great deeds of the Liberal Party. But I need not dwell on this. What I want to know is what authority have His Majesty's Government for presenting 864 the Parliament Bill to the country as the one infallible basis upon which this question can be settled? Do they in their inmost minds really believe it? They might have believed it last spring; they could not have believed it when they consented to enter into Conference. Then they must have felt that at any rate other proposals deserved fair discussion. Can it be supposed that if, in the first meeting of that Conference, they had said to the members who represented the Unionist Party— "this Bill, the whole Bill and nothing but the Bill is what we demand" the Conference would have lasted an hour? It is absurd. They must have discussed other proposals, doubtless more favourable to our views than those which they place before the country. Is it fair to the country, is it fair to themselves, is it an honest political proceeding to hold out this Bill as the only means of settling this great question when they themselves have been ready, on certain terms I suppose, to settle it in some other way? Will they tell us that it was on the proposals of this Bill that the representatives of this Party disagreed with them? I do not believe they will say anything of the kind, and unless they say it I venture to say that the case they are bringing before the country is a dishonest case altogether.
Why are they doing this? We know very well. We had it hinted by the noble Earl the other day; we have since had it stated more plainly by the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and we see it in full in Mr. Redmond's manifesto to-day. Why they are pressing on this Bill and insisting on the country giving them powers to pass it is simply because they think it will enable them to carry Home Rule for Ireland. No plan of Home Rule has ever been placed before the country by His Majesty's Government since that absurd Bill which fell stillborn in the House of Commons. Have they any Bill.? Have they any plan? Have they in their own minds made out what they would propose as a scheme of Home Rule for Ireland? Whether Home Rule, whether federation, whether Mr. Gladstone's plan or some totally different plan no one knows. They dare not propose any scheme of the sort to the electors of England; they dare not bring any such scheme openly before the English constituencies. They want to pass this Bill, and then to pass a Home Rule Bill without the assent of England. That is the reason which compels them to proceed as they are doing.
865 But if the Parliament Bill ever becomes question which we are discussing to-day law it may have results perhaps even more will ever be arrived at on the lines of the harmful than Home Rule for Ireland. It will deliver the country, in its Constitution, in the whole of its future, to the unchecked domination of a Single Chamber elected on a democratic. basis. Hitherto, it has been the right and duty of your Lordships' House, when the House of Commons passed a. Bill of grave importance the principle of which has never been accepted by the people, to consider whether it would not be justified in rejecting that Bill that the question might be referred to the people. It may very well be that in some other way the opinion of the people on a Bill the principle of which they had not sanctioned could be obtained, as it is obtained in other countries, before the Bill becomes law; but I will venture to say that it is absolutely necessary-for the future welfare and safety, not only of the United Kingdom, but of the Empire that there should be some means of ascertaining that will.
I remember the House of Commons longer, perhaps, than any man who sits in it now. I take the greatest pride in the House of Commons, I would stand up for its privileges in every way, but history has shown that in many important cases the House of Commons has been absolutely wrong and has acted against the wishes of the people whom it was supposed to represent. You propose in the Parliament Bill to cut down the period of existence of the House of Commons. You propose to make the period quinquennial instead of septennial, but I am not quite sure whether, when the House of Commons gets such powers as it is proposed to give it, the day will not come when it will prolong its own existence for any term it likes. This, at any rate, is quite certain, that in our times the rapid and complete changes in public opinion might easily deprive the House of Commons of any real authority from the people within a period of much less than five years.
If that should occur, what is it that you are proposing? You are proposing, in the name of political, freedom, to substitute arbitrary rule for Parliamentary government—the arbitrary rule of a Single Chamber, governed itself by a Prime Minister and a Party caucus, and deprived of the liberty of free debate. I do not know what the fate of my noble friend's Resolutions may be or what may be the result of the General Election, but I am quite sure that no permanent settlement of the great 866 question which we are discussing to-day will ever be arrived at on the lines of the parliament Bill.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, the Motion before your Lordships at this moment is that the House go into Committee to consider these Resolutions, and on that Motion I desire not to give a silent vote. We have been reminded, and reminded again in the striking and eloquent speech to which we have just listened, that this is one of the occasions, comparatively rare, I suppose, in our public life, when we are dealing with a matter deeper and further reaching than the ordinary political controversies of debate. I suppose every political question, every Bill that is to become an Act of Parliament, from a Budget or a Land Bill down to a Tramway Act, has in some degree a Constitutional aspect. But here the relation is not indirect and incidental; it is direct and fundamental. The problem we are handling, handling on its surface rather than at its depths, is nothing less than this, the nation's mode of governing itself, the way in which the nation means that its whole affairs shall be handled. We have got down to what the most stirring and original poet of our time—if we may give a political application to his far wider words —callsThe imperishable plinth of thingsSeen and unseen, which touch our peace,—which "touch our peace" and, therefore, concern everybody.
In the end, of course, this matter must be decided by the people at large. That is what we all want. The democracy, in a democratic age, must shoulder and carry its own responsibility, but it is often forgotten that to the poorest classes it matters most in the long run how the country is governed, because if the land is ill-governed and wrong laws are passed, it is they who in the end must pay the penalty. All history shows that under a weak or clumsy form of government, or the passing of wrong laws, the rich man. will somehow or other find means of protecting his own interests. The well-to-do man may be less well-to-do, perhaps, than lie was before, but the poor man will ultimately suffer grave wrong. It is they who are really hardest hit by bad or ill-considered laws. I apologise for such commonplaces, but they are not empty aphorisms. They definitely apply to the discussion which we have before us to-night.
867 Parliament sitting here in. Westminster has varied duties, and among the mostimportant of these is—the word Parliament reminds us of it—that we should. discuss in public the great issues on which the people outside Parliament must ultimately vote, and thus secure that those pending issues, after public discussion within our walls, shall be more clearly and more widely understood. To prevent or to curtail the right debating of these questions here in Westminster and, therefore, the right presenting of them to the public, is, it seems to me, a violation of our duty and a belying of our very character as a Parliament.
It is obvious that very few subjects can be more important than the constitution, character, and function of either of the two Houses of the Legislature and its relation to the other. In a country like ours, which has hitherto had an unwritten Constitution, it is necessarily a matter of the gravest perplexity and of difficulty, especially in periods of change, and it is one which eminently calls for quiet, persistent, and well-informed. thought. It is, therefore, exactly one of those subjects which responsible voters outside will understand better after it has been thoroughly ventilated and calmly discussed in public in both Houses of the Legislature. And yet it has proved extraordinarily difficult, for whatever reason, to obtain in this House an opportunity for such full, fair, and effective discussion of the suggested changes as would help people outside to understand better what is proposed and to weigh it wisely and. vote aright. When I say full, fair, and effective discussion I mean discussion of a practical sort, in which the two Parties genuinely co-operate, and especially in which time Government of the day takes the. full share belonging to the Executive. It is notorious that we have had nothing of the kind. When the noble Earl the Leader of the House says he is at a loss to understand how anybody can feel that there has been no adequate opportunity of discussion, I find it a little difficult to follow the course of his mind.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
May I correct the most rev. Primate? What I said was that before the matter was settled there would have been an endless amount of discussion.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
I misunderstood the noble Earl. I thought him to say that 868 already there had been an adequate opportunity of discussion. Three years ago an important Committee of your Lordships' House sat and discussed one of the two branches of the question—namely, the character and qualifications of the members who should form part of the Upper House of Parliament; but that Report, important as it was, lost half of its weight because it had been found impossible by His Majesty's Government to take part in the Committee's deliberations. That Report lay for a long time on the Table of your Lordships' House; in my judgment far too long. I should have desired to have had Resolutions like these, based, I suppose, on that Report, brought forward. long ago. But it remained on the Table untouched, largely owing to the fact that effective discussion was extraordinarily difficult in face of the lack of interest in the subject shown by the Government of the day.
At length, last March—not last week—the distinction is an important one—a far-reaching Resolution affecting the hereditary rights of the Peerage was proposed, debated, and carried, but, again, the importance of that discussion was enormously diminished by the avowed indifference of the Government to the whole question. Then, in April last, certain Resolutions were proposed by the Government and debated. But where? Not in this House. No such opportunity was offered to us. Then came the lamentable death of the King, and public disputation was necessarily suspended. But during five long months eight prominent Statesmen sat with closed doors and deliberated on these matters. When the announcement was made that these eight men had failed. to arrive at a satisfactory solution of the question, the announcement was followed by expressions on the part of both Parties that those prolonged deliberations had not, in their judgment, been wasted, but that from the holding of such Conferences great good would come. I am entirely of that opinion. But only with one important qualification. One of the good things which we are waiting for and desiring could not possibly come out of that Conference. I mean the better informing of the people at large as to the issues which are going to be put before them. That Conference, whatever good influence it may have, could not, from the nature of the case, inform the people as to the merits of the case.
869 After that Parliament reassembled, and those of us who wanted that the matter should be investigated, discussed, and ventilated were startled, and even staggered, to learn that a Dissolution was immediately to take place without any opportunity being offered to this House to discuss, far less to amend, the proposals of the Government. That calamity was averted by the action of the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition. Indeed it is only by a very wide departure from our ordinary methods of procedure that we are able now to squeeze in before the Dissolution comes and the curtain falls any discussion whatever on the great subject of the Government's Resolutions with regard to the relation of the two Houses of Parliament. I do not wish to suppose that anybody desires that the electors throughout the United Kingdom should give their votes without knowing what the particular issue is or what its outstanding points really are, but I do say it would have been lamentable, lamentable in no ordinary degree, had the opportunity been denied to this House, to noble Lords opposite, to the leaders of the Opposition, of showing how far they have been led, led, it may have been, by these recent discussions, to go towards the sort of solution which the Government has suggested. That opportunity is now theirs, and I hope they will use it for the country's sake, for the voters' sake, so that decisions may not be given on a confused or a misunderstood issue.
I am not going into the merits of the Resolutions which we can discuss in Committee, if we go into Committee. It is obvious that they go very far along the same rails as those of the Government, and the country ought to know that. Of course there will be, there already have been, eager and vociferous taunts about the hour at which these Resolutions see the light. Even the Prime Minister, with all the weight of his great office and of his great personality, condescended to a gibe, which I venture to think he will, on consideration, feel was scarcely worthy either of his office or of himself, when he spoke of the action of the noble Marquess and his friends as t he action of men who were "to be hanged in a fortnight." The Prime Minister and the noble Marquess sat together for many weeks in the Conference room; I know nothing of what passed within those walls; but I venture to a confident belief that that sort of taunt found no expression 870 there. I think it is at once a worthier and a truer interpretation of the Resolutions now put forward by the Opposition to believe them to be the outcome of the quiet Conference discussions from which the Prime Minister told us that he hoped so much.
My Lords, of other speeches made within the last few days I prefer to say nothing. The responsibility which rests just now upon public men—and especially upon members of that. Conference—for the exercise of scrupulous fairness of statement, sobriety of utterance, and avoidance of what can mislead or needlessly inflame men's minds is so immense as to be almost overwhelming. But so grave is it, and so capable is the occasion of being misused, that I am certain a warning is not out of place. On one sentence only of a notable East-end speech I should like to say a word. The orator, himself a member of the Conference which for a time hushed all our tongues, reminded his hearers of the raising of the battle-cry at Nottingham, when the Parliament war began in 1642. The speaker added—"You know how that ended." Yes, my Lords, we do; but I am not so sure that the speaker fully remembered. That conflict, after years of miserable strife upon either side, ended. But how? It did not end at Whitehall. Pendulums, in unbalanced hours, swing far. It ended, not at Whitehall, but in the reaction of later Stuart clays, when not only the moral life, but the political reputation of this country sank to one of the lowest levels known to our history, when the ideals of progress and of freedom for which men had died were held in open contempt, and when cleavages in our common life were created and widened of which the baneful effects towards that very cause of progress and freedom remain with us to this day.
I was impressed, as I think many of your Lordships were, by the speech of my noble friend Lord Selborne a few nights ago. He reminded us that a controversy of this sort is not settled by one Party triumphing over or trampling upon another, and his words have a peculiar weight in view of the South African story in which he has borne so conspicuous a part. It is absolutely true of the controversy in which the country is at this moment. engaged. The controversy is constantly spoken of as though it were a conflict 871 between a party of the Peers on the one side and the people of England on the other. My Lords, the controversy is nothing of the kind. The differences, such as they are, are between one half of England and the other half, and no mere overriding of the minority—and there is not a very large numerical difference between the minority and the majority after all—will do what the nation needs. At such an hour we want, above all other things, that the people shall think clearly and vote fairly. Hence the immense gain of the discussions which are ours this week.
I venture to join in the appeal made a few moments ago by the noble Viscount. It is an appeal which I am quite certain many thoughtful men of either Party desire to make just know—an appeal to our Statesmen to avoid at an hour so grave and in face of issues so momentous any words which might needlessly embitter the controversy and might confuse the issue before the country; and in view of the common interests which are at stake, for everybody to be as fair as they will like to know that they have been when they look back upon it in after years. We look to these public men to help people outside to realise honestly the true facts of the present situation, to see as clearly the long bit of road whereon the controversialists go alongside and can travel together, as the hit of road where they diverge and part company. Thus only, by joint action, and by genuine contribution from either side of something that is needed for the whole, something that people must take pains rightly to understand—thus only can we promote the sort of settlement which has been the pride of English common sense and common reasonableness in many a former controversy, a settlement in keeping with the traditions of our slow-fashioned continuous history, a history without parallel among the nations of the world. I hope your Lordships will agree to the Motion of the noble Marquess.
My Lords, if I ask your Lordships to allow me to say a few words at this moment it is a little in consequence of the invitation addressed to us by my noble friend this afternoon, that the House, and particularly the independent members of it, should speak on this subject. I must say that when this House met a few days ago I viewed with great regret and considerable misgiving the position in which those with whom I generally act 872 in politics found themselves. Here was a great controversy connected with the constitution of the Second Chamber and with the relations of the two Houses of Parliament, true not by any means a new question, but one which has been brought more prominently to our notice within the last few months, suddenly to be referred to the judgment of the constituencies with only a very limited and insufficient discussion.
In what position did we find ourselves? Twenty distinguished men forming the Cabinet had arrived at certain conclusions with regard to the settlement of this question, and had formulated those conclusions in a Bill known as the Parliament Bill. Subsequently the matter was referred to the further examination of eight eminent men representing the two Parties in the State. But those discussions, of which Parliament and the public outside know nothing whatever, are really the only discussions that have taken place with regard to this momentous change in our Constitution, and I maintain that the constitutional right of Parliament to deal with this matter after full discussion in both Houses was a condition precedent to any General Election. Therefore I confess I viewed with very great regret indeed the situation in which we found ourselves when this House reassembled, and I am accordingly glad that my noble friend has given us to-night an assurance that he and the Government will welcome a full discussion of the proposals put before us by the noble Marquess. No just cause suffers from discussion; no just cause is ever lost by free discussion amongst the British people, and I am perfectly certain that the case, in my judgment a very strong case, which we, the Liberal Party, have with regard to this matter, when fully and fairly discussed, would have given cause for reflection in all parts of the country, and we might have arrived at a settlement which would have been satisfactory to all Parties.
Now what is the gravamen of our case? It is, in the first place, that this is an hereditary House. Surely the day is past when it is possible to contend that an hereditary House is a proper institution in a modern constitutional State? It is admitted now by noble Lords on the other side of the House—I agree after compulsion—that that is an impossible proposition, and they are therefore prepared to make considerable advances in the direction of 873 change. In my opinion those advances do not go far enough, because I think that the hereditary principle is one which is generally condemned by the people of this country. But, apart from that contention, what is the other consideration which is properly the subject of debate and of difference between the two Parties in the State? It is that the Liberal Party day by day see the ranks of the Tory Party packed with well-filled benches in your Lordships' House, 500 members ready to come down at the call of the Whip, while we, an unfortunate remnant on these benches, find ourselves unable to give that support to Liberal measures which is essential and proper in the interests of Liberal legislation. My Lords, that is an unfair position, and one to which the Liberal Party in this country will never assent and they cannot be expected to. It is a situation which is becoming worse every day, and it is consequently absolutely necessary that a solution should be found which should enable Liberal legislation passed by the House of Commons to proceed with success through the Second Chamber and become law- in accordance with the will of the people.
Those being the objects in view, I maintain that there was no reason whatever why Parliament should not have had the right to fully discuss the proposals. That is my main proposition, because I am certain that this country is never going to be hustled into a hasty decision on this question. The country will always expect those whom they send to Parliament to return to them only with a case that has been thoroughly debated and fully matured, and for which we are able to give reasons and conclusions that are absolutely conscientious and sincere. if I, as a Liberal Member of Parliament, were asked by my constituents whether the Parliament Bill had been discussed by Parliament, what should: I be able to say? I should be obliged to answer No, and that is why I ask my noble friend and his colleagues to at all events go as far as this, not to allow their Bill to be regarded as an unchangeable ultimatum incapable of modification or improvement, for if they do they will drive thousands of hesitating electors into the opposite camp. Let them be as firm as I am in their convictions to-day, but do not let them suppose that the deliberations of twenty eminent members of the Cabinet are sufficient to settle this matter without 874 further reference to Parliament. That should be understood as soon as possible.
Now, my Lords, I come to some of the proposals contained in the Motion of the noble Marquess. I am certainly not here to support them as they stand, and I have very little to say except with regard to one of them—the Referendum. I have always been a friend of the Referendum. I have not been converted to it by the noble Marquess. I have constantly advocated it in public meetings before it ever entered the mind of the noble Marquess, who has adopted it with some precipitation, it seems to me, in view of the dangers that confront his Party. We have heard a great deal of the risks and difficulties of the Referendum. I do not think that it is such a difficult matter as my noble friend seems to think. It is certainly not that extraordinarily expensive method to which he refers. I very much doubt, if the matter were gone into, whether it would be found that a Referendum, properly conducted, would cost more than £200,000 or £250,000—a large sum of money, I admit—but everybody knows that the Referendum would not be an instrument to which recourse would be had on every possible occasion. It would only be in those cases where the two Houses were unable to agree, and I hope those cases would be few indeed.
We have been told that one of the objections to the Referendum is that certain desirable measures would never be carried. It is sometimes said, for instance, that Home Rule would never be carried by Referendum. My Lords, I deny it. I am a life-long Home Ruler. I have been faithful to the cause of Home Rule when many of my right hon. friends were not quite so zealous with regard to it. I am as faithful now as I ever was to the cause, but my belief to-day—and it is a belief which I shared with my illustrious leader, Mr. Gladstone, in the old days—is that Home Rule is only to be obtained by convincing the people of its necessity and justice, and not by irregular methods or force. I believe, if that method had been employed and had continued to be employed with real persistence, that in the end we should have seen Home Rule carried in a. way that would have satisfied Ireland and been a cause of prosperity and peace to the United Kingdom. There is another subject which it is said would never under any circumstances be acceptable 875 to the country in the form of a Referendum—temperance reform and the licensing question. Again I say I do not at all share that view. I believe that if a Licensing Bill which appealed to the moral sense of the people were referred to the judgment of the people free from all other considerations, it would enlist sympathy and support from many unexpected quarters and receive their sanction and support. Therefore I say that in my opinion the Referendum would afford a means of carrying these measures of reform that we so much desire to see.
I quite admit, however, that the Referendum would be a bar to certain legislation of what I may call a wild or irrational character. I think I shall be in order when I say that the Women's Suffrage Bill would in all probability not receive the sanction of the country if referred to them in the form of a. Referendum, because it is admitted on all hands that Woman Suffrage, however much it may be desired by a certain distinguished minority of women, is strongly opposed by the great majority of women themselves. It is certainly not supported by the great majority of men, and in those circumstances I am bound to say that a Women's Suffrage Bill referred to the people by means of the Referendum and refused by them, would be properly refused by them. It is very desirable that these different forms of settling a dispute between the two Houses should be thoroughly debated, and I ask the Government most sincerely not to bar out of consideration this desirable alternative of the Referendum. My own belief is that the people of this country when they come to examine this matter more closely will come to the conclusion that, on the whole, the most democratic, the wisest, and the easiest solution is to refer grave issues between the two Houses of Parliament to the judgment of the people themselves. The people should decide, and as a democrat myself I ask that suitable machinery for recording their decision should be brought into being.
§ THE EARL OF CROMER
My Lords, I think your Lordships on this side of the House must have listened to the speech we have just heard not merely with interest but with a certain amount of partial approval. I am sorely tempted to follow my noble friend into dealing with Women's Suffrage, but 1 am afraid I should be slightly out of order if I did so. It is 876 difficult to take part in this debate without, to some extent, repeating in other words the remarks which have been made by others of your Lordships who can speak with far greater authority and eloquence than myself, but I entertain so strong an opinion upon the subject now under discussion that I am unwilling to give a silent vote, and I would therefore ask your Lordships' indulgence while I very briefly explain my views, more especially on the question of the treatment of what are called Money Bills.
My Lords, there is a very marked difference between the proposals of the Government and those contained in the Resolution of the noble Marquess, not merely in respect to the tribunal which shall decide whether a Bill is or is not a Money Bill, but also in respect to the attributes of that tribunal. It is quite conceivable that as regards the special point to which I am about to allude, the Bill and the Resolution mean the same, thing, but we have to look not to what the Bill means, but to what it says, and in respect to what they say there is a great difference between the Bill and the Resolution. The definition laid down in the Bill brought in by the Government is rigid; the Resolution of the noble Marquess is to a far greater extent elastic. In the proposal of the Government it is laid down that if any Bill is certified by the Speaker only to deal with the imposition of a tax it is to be considered a Money Bill, and that therefore the right of the Second Chamber to intervene is barred. I conceive that under the strict terms of the clause the Speaker will not be able to go by one hair's breadth outside the text of subsection (2), Clause 1. He will not be able, in any way, to consider the indirect or ulterior consequences if the Bill is passed into law. He will not be able to take cognisance of the fact that the ostensible may be very different from the real objects of the Bill. He will only have to certify to a fact, and that fact is that the Bill only deals with the imposition of a tax. If he is to be allowed more latitude than this, then I maintain that the extent of the latitude which is to be allowed to him should in some way be indicated in the Bill itself.
To state a reductio ad absurdum, under the terms of this clause, rigidly interpreted, if the House of Commons proposed to impose a special tax on all bald men, or on all men with red hair, the Speaker 877 would be obliged to certify that the Bill only dealt with that tax, and with no other subject, and would be forced to certify that it was a Money Bill. But, my Lords, it is easy to conceive a case which is far less imaginary and absurd than this. Take the case of the Super-Tax. The imposition of that tax did not encounter any serious opposition in either House of Parliament. Yet it is quite clear that in adopting it Parliament has sanctioned a novel and very important principle of fiscal legislation which will require the utmost care and watchfulness in its execution. Supposing the House of Commons were to impose a tax of 50 or 100 per cent. on incomes which exceeded a certain amount. Under the strict terms of this Bill the Speaker would be obliged to certify that the Bill contained nothing beyond the imposition of the tax. He would be unable to take into consideration the fact that the tax was not imposed for revenue purposes, but in order to equalise incomes. I know I shall be told again, as I have been told before, that the common sense of the House of Commons and the pressure of public opinion outside will always be able to prevent a Socialistic enormity of this sort being perpetrated. But from what we know of the views entertained by the extremists of the Radical Party, and from what we know also of the pressure which they are able to exert, it appears to me that common sense is a very weak reed on which to rely in order to save, not only land-owners and capitalists, but all who possess property of any kind, from the Jedburgh justice which the sworn foes of these classes, if they had the power, would certainly mete out to them.
My Lords, so long as we were living under an unwritten Constitution we could afford to rely on common sense. It was in the essence of such a Constitution that a few rather vague general principles should be laid down, and that then reliance should be placed on the common sense of all concerned to exercise the rather shadowy powers vested in them with caution and moderation. But for good or evil—and let me say I think very much for evil—the unwritten Constitution has broken down. The relations between the two Houses have to be defined. In that case I say they should be defined with the utmost precision, if precision is possible; or, if that is impossible, as I believe is the case in respect to Money Bills, then on the face of the Bill a 878 certain elasticity should be allowed to those authorities who have to interpret the general intentions of Parliament. Under the Resolution of the noble Marquess a certain degree of elasticity is secured; it introduces the very important words that a Joint Committee of the two Houses may consider whether the Bill is "purely financial in character." These words manifestly open the door very much wider than the rigid text proposed by the Government. It cannot, indeed, be said that the definition of the Government is wanting in precision, although it appears to me to be wholly wanting in elasticity. On the contrary, it is disastrously precise. But, my Lords, at what cost is this precision gained? It is gained, I maintain, at the cost of sweeping away in one sentence of one clause the principal guarantee which the existence of a Second Chamber secures. It is gained at the cost of placing the Second Chamber of this country in a. position of marked inferiority to its counterpart in any other civilised country in the world. If the text of the Bill now under discussion is rigorously interpreted, I venture to assert that there is no fiscal enormity—indeed, I may go further, and say that by skilful drafting there is scarcely any important change in the general legislation of the country—which cannot be abstracted from the cognisance of the Second Chamber.
We have recently been discussing how the Second Chamber should in future be composed, and the noble Earl the Leader of this House has given the Resolutions which we have passed a partial blessing, and has even gone so far as to say that they contain some modified elements of virtue, but that the time for discussing them has not yet arrived. Really, my Lords, if this Bill in its present form is to become the law of the land it matters very little how the Second Chamber is composed, for whether it be wholly hereditary, or wholly elected, or, as your Lordships wish, partly hereditary and partly elected, it will certainly be shorn of all real power. I maintain that the clause of the Bill on which I am now dilating by itself virtually constitutes all the most essential features of single-Chamber Government. I am, of course, perfectly aware that we are told in the Preamble of the Bill that a reformed Second Chamber will in due time be created; in other words, we are invited first to shiver the ancient Constitution of this country to atoms, and then we are told that we are to take up 879 the fragments and out of them we are to patch up some sorry make-believe of a Second Chamber which is to take the place of the priceless institutions which have been handed down to us by our forefathers —institutions which have weathered the storm when the whole of Europe was in convulsions, and which have so far been the envy and admiration of the whole civilised world.
I am very fully convinced that many of the members of the Liberal Party are quite sincere in their intention to create a Second Chamber, and I am also very fully convinced that if this Bill passes into law their efforts to create an effective Second Chamber will be in vain, for their very honourable intentions will be baulked by the extremists of their own Party, who do not wish for any Second Chamber at all; and, moreover, the work of destruction accomplished by this Bill will be so thorough and complete that my firm belief is that any reconstruction will be well-nigh impossible. Indeed, my Lords, there is a great deal to be said in favour of not attempting any reconstruction. I am not at all sure that it would not, in the general interests of the nation, be wiser to act as I think the noble Earl on the Cross Benches suggested in a speech he made sonic months ago—that is to say, to bring the appearance more into harmony with the reality, and openly and avowedly to set up a single-Chamber system instead of attempting to delude the country with the idle simulacrum of a Second Chamber which would be perfectly impotent. What is the use of having a drag chain hanging outside the coach in order to lull the passengers into a false sense of security when it is perfectly well known that at the critical moment the drag would be unable to act in order to arrest the speed of the vehicle down-hill?
From the first moment this question began to be discussed it surely must have been apparent to every thinking man that the only statesmanlike way of proceeding was to allow the work of construction to proceed pari passu with that of destruction. We are now told that the execution of this programme was impossible because the Conference has broken dawn. The breakdown of the Conference is indeed infinitely to be regretted, and I quite agree with what was said the other day by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh, that it is also very much to be regretted that we cannot be informed of the reasons of the failure. I 880 admit that, speaking from a brief, it is easy to make out a very strong case to show that inasmuch as the eight very distinguished gentlemen who recently considered this question were unable to arrive at an agreement, therefore there would be even a less chance of agreement if the circle engaged in discussion were enlarged. This aspect of the case was stated the other day with his usual ability by the noble Earl the Leader of the House, but I must be permitted to say that I think this argument rather savours of what is generally called special pleading, and that it is stronger in appearance than in reality. It is surely conceivable that the four gentlemen on either side, though reluctant to pledge their followers to a course of action on some important point when the opinion of those followers was unknown or doubtful, would have been in a very different position if the whole question had been discussed publicly. They would then have been in a position to know what were the extreme limits of concession on either side. To my mind it is nothing to the point to indicate that there is a large Conservative majority in this House, or to allude to former utterances of individual members of this House.
My Lords, we have recently been hearing a good many witticisms on the subject of death-bed repentances. I notice in this morning's papers that one of the most irrepressible colleagues of the noble Earl opposite made some witticisms on this subject. I will read what he said because it is a good illustration of what the noble Earl the Leader of the House called the inaccuracies of the various accuracies of electoral speeches. The Home Secretary said that the Resolutions of the noble Marquess were "vague, complicated, panic-stricken trash." For my own part I may say that I am not in the least ashamed to own that circumstances alter cases. It will be admitted that no question can be settled until an opportunity for settlement arises, and it is only now that an opportunity for settling this matter has arisen. I believe that there are many amongst us who, if they had been brought face to face with the question, would in no wise have been scared by the hobgoblin of consistency, that least cardinal and most frequently violated of political principles.
The country wanted, and I believe still wants, this question settled by an amicable settlement. I do not believe there is a sensible man either inside or outside this 881 House who, if he had been brought to close quarters with the question, would not have been sobered by the magnitude of the crisis and by the enormous importance of the interests at stake, and who would not therefore have been prepared to make very large sacrifices of his personal opinion in order to arrive at a settlement. However, my Lords, the Government, most unfortunately to my mind, have decided not to make any further attempt to come to an agreement. In the words of the Prime Minister they have declared war. Regardless of the historic past and noble traditions of this House, of which noble Lords opposite equally with ourselves are members, they have decided not to endeavour to persuade but to coerce the House of Lords. I think that is very much to be regretted. Moreover, I feel perfectly convinced that there are many who are not of our way of thinking now who, if their Bill eventually becomes law, will rue the day, and that at no very remote period. It is perfectly impossible for any human being to predict what the ultimate consequences of the grave step of passing this measure into law will be; but that they will be very serious cannot for one moment be doubted. Whatever they may be, I venture to assert that the real responsibility will rest, not with your Lordships' House, but with the Government of the day in having needlessly precipitated a crisis which I firmly believe not only could have been avoided but would have been avoided by many, probably by most, of the eminent Statesmen who preceded them in the guidance of the historic Party to which they belong.
§ VISCOUNT RIDLEY
My Lords, the noble Earl who has just sat down has dotted the i's and crossed the t's of the remarks addressed to the House by the noble Lord opposite, Lord Weardale, but it will not have escaped the attention of the House, I think, that not one word in reply to Lord Weardale's appeal has been uttered by any member on the benches opposite. Lord Weardale, who has, I believe, hitherto been known as a good Party man and a consistent supporter of the Government, has addressed to his leaders an eloquent appeal to desist from the mad policy which they are now pursuing. He has pointed out to them that they are pursuing a course which has no precedent in history, that they are asking the electors of this country to consider a Bill which has been entirely unconsidered by those whom they have elected to consider 882 such measures, and. he has made an appeal to them to somewhat modify the rigorous attitude they have taken up. That appeal, my Lords, has fallen on deaf ears. I am not astonished that there has been no answer given, because there is no answer to give. Noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite have taken up a position which is not only untenable, but which I believe in their heart of hearts they know to be untenable. I remember seeing at the Brussels Exhibition a waxwork group of His Majesty's Ministers. It was a very handsome group, and I venture to say that for all practical purposes in this debate that waxwork group would have been about as useful to answer Lord Weardale as the noble Lords who sit on the Front Bench opposite. They have not followed the real instincts of their own convictions, but have allowed themselves to drift under impulses that are stronger than their own. If Lord Weardale gets no answer because there is none, there is no reason why this House should not seriously consider and place before the country the position as it seems to itself.
I am one of those who think that from many points of view this House might well stand upon its own record, that its past history shows it has nothing to be ashamed of in what it has done, and that on the great occasions when it has exerted itself and taken decisions sometimes at variance with the other House it has been shown in the main that the House of Lords has interpreted faithfully the will of the people. It can also recall with satisfaction that. many of the great reforms have been initiated by the House of Lords rather than by the House of Commons. We are not concerned at this moment, however, with the historical record of the House of Lords, upon which your Lordships might well be content to stand. We are concerned with the actions of a Government who pay no attention to history or to precedent and are ready to inflame the passions of the people by every device and artifice they can think of. Your Lordships have to meet a situation in which false issues have been created, and in meeting that situation we have to deal with the facts as we find them now.
If you were starting to create a Constitution for this country. I do not suppose that there is any member of this House who would create the Constitution as it is now. Neither the House of Commons nor the House of Lords would be created as it 883 stands now if you were creating a new Constitution, and the action this House has already taken admits that, whatever we may think of the past history of this House, we are not so blind as not to see that there are changes which can be made for its improvement, and, I would venture to think, for its strengthening. But it must not be thought, and I for one would not admit, that the charges brought against this House in support of this so-called Parliament Bill are in any sense well founded. It is not the case that the House of Lords has resisted the will of the people. It is not the case that it has opposed a "blank veto" to all Liberal legislation. Your Lordships have, as a matter of fact, taken a share in passing all the Liberal legislation for which the noble Earl opposite took credit to the Government. And if, looking at facts only, the House will turn its recollection to the chief measures with which the Government has been concerned since it came into office, I think it will be seen that the House of Lords has not decided finally against the will of the people, and, in the second place, that the proposals made by the noble Marquess in the Resolutions now before the House are proposals which would in every single case have met any difficulties which might have arisen in regard to those measures.
Your Lordships have been accused of having resisted the will of the people with regard to the Education Bill. I have often asked which of the Government's Education Bills represented the will of the people, but I have never yet succeeded in getting from a Liberal an answer to my question. If the first Education Bill represented the will of the people, why were two others brought in of quite a different complexion and with quite different principles underlying them? Disestablishment of the Church in Wales is another of the great causes in respect of which the House of Lords is supposed to stand in the way, but since the present Government came into power they have not brought in any Bill for Welsh or any other disestablishment. It is all very well to say that the House would not pass such a Bill if it were brought in. The Government, for reasons best known to themselves, have not dared to bring in a measure which they say the people are panting for. In regard to Home Rule, one of the great causes which they say this House stands in the way of and as to which they say your Lordships are the enemies of 884 the people, the Government's solution of the question by the Irish Councils Bill was not thrown out by the House of Lords but by the Irish Convention under Mr. Redmond. As to the great issue of the Budget, if the House of Lords did delay "The People's Budget" the result of the election was that your Lordships acquiesced in the will of the people; and as to all the smaller measures which this Government has introduced since it came into office there is not one which the House of Lords has finally refused, or which could not, by the process suggested of Joint Conferences or Referendum, have been satisfactorily settled by the ascertainment of the will of the people.
The real truth, it seems to me, is that there is no answer to Lord Weardale's question as to why there is a General Election at this moment. It does not arise because the Government have failed to pass any of their measures into law. Since the last election no Bill of any importance has been rejected by the House of Lords, and the chief measure upon which the Government are going to the country is one which has not been produced in the House of Commons and has not been debated in either House. The Parliament Bill is the Bill on which they are going to the country, and the real truth surely is that the Government are not so anxious to pass particular measures into law as to placate their allies at as cheap a price as possible, and if that price be the destruction of the ancient House of Lords, that is a price they are perfectly willing to pay.
The noble Earl who leads the House argued against the principle of the Referendum which is embodied in these Resolutions. I am but a young student of Constitutional history, but I do not suppose that any one can have paid any attention, however slight, to these great Constitutional questions without agreeing that the introduction of the principle of the Referendum would be a gigantic step and a very bold experiment. The Referendum as suggested in these Resolutions is one which does not find a place on exactly similar lines in any Constitution in the world, but this country has led the world in Constitution making ever since it was a country. We are faced with a problem which is different from that presented to any other country, and surely the experiment of the Referendum is one which might well be tried. It has been found to work well on different lines in other countries, and I for one am 885 delighted to support it, not so much on its pure merits as a piece of Constitution making, but because it does seem to me a clear and direct way of solving deadlocks between the two Houses and one to which no real democrat can possibly object. I do not believe that the awful picture of expense which has been drawn up will in any case prove to be a true one. Once you have established the principle of the Referendum as an ultimate source of reference of any question arising between the two Houses, it will probably be found in actual practice that the prospect of a Referendum will be a large factor in determining an agreement between the two Houses, and if you once establish the practice it will in all probability not be very frequently made use of.
The noble Lord, Lord Weardale, thinks that by means of a. Referendum he will be able to pass Home Rule, licensing reform, and many other measures dear to his heart. I do not quarrel with his prophecy, although differ from it. But in any case, whatever he or I may think of the merits of the particular measures which may or may not be passed by a Referendum, there can be no question whatever that if they are passed by such a Referendum they are passed by the will of the people and not by the will of a chance majority; and bitterly as I may be opposed to the noble Lord's idea of Home Rule being carried by Referendum, I can imagine no more satisfactory way of settling big Constitutional questions than by ascertaining the wishes of the majority of may fellow-countrymen.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
May I ask the noble Viscount one question purely for information? I gather from what he has said. that the kind of Referendum he contemplates is a Referendum which would be needed for the carrying of such a measure as the imposition of a tariff?
§ VISCOUNT RIDLEY
I do not care to go further than the actual words of the Resolution, and I imagine that at this particular stage it would be impossible to define the exact phraseology and the methods for the carrying out of the Referendum. I was only dealing in the very vaguest way with the Referendum as a means of obtaining by vote the opinion of the people on a particular question.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
I beg the noble Viscount's pardon. I thought I caught the phrase, "the majority of my fellow-countrymen."
§ VISCOUNT RIDLEY
I do not quite follow the noble Earl's point, because I fail to see how you could pass anything without the approval of a majority of my fellow-countrymen; it could not be done by a majority of the countrymen of some other nation. Perhaps I should have used. the phrase "the majority of the electorate." I am glad to find teat the noble Earl in dealing with the Referendum apprehends that it may be applied in the case of any question with regard to the imposition of a tariff. He laid great stress upon that argument, and I am glad to hear from him, as a member of a Party which has been loudly proclaiming for a long while that Tariff Reform is dead, that he has some apprehension that there may in the near future be a tariff against which it is necessary to guard. But leaving that on one side, surely the Referendum could not be put into practice in the case of measures which are in their essence purely financial. I do not see any argument against the proposition that, on whatever questions you may have a Referendum, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to put into practice the Referendum in the case of financial measures which it is not possible. long to delay. It is quite true that in the. last two years we have got accustomed, for various reasons, to His Majesty's Government keeping the Budget hung up for a very long time, but, as a matter of regular practice, I feel perfectly certain it would. be against general convenience for purely financial measures to be subjected by means of a Referendum to the vote of the people.
But, my Lords, whatever may be the merits of the Referendum or the noble Marquess's proposals for dealing with this question as an alternative to the system proposed by His Majesty's Government, our proposals have in my mind the supreme merit that they do not leave untouched, as the Parliament Bill does, the anomalies upon which the Government case has been rested. The Government have rested their case against the House of Lords very largely, if not entirely, upon the anomalies in the composition of this House, its hereditary character, and so forth; and when it comes to the utterances of their colleagues and subordinates on public platforms it is those aspects, and even more personal aspects, of the House which are made the theme of invective and ridicule. If there is anything anomalous in this House, not one step have His Majesty's Government 887 taken to alter it or to co-operate in altering it, and the Parliament Bill leaves untouched all those anomalies, if they be anomalies, upon which the main portion of the case of the Government is framed. On the other hand, the scheme of the noble Marquess marches on truly progressive lines, and realises that a scheme for solving this question must deal with the House of Lords limited in numbers and reformed, and if it were only for that reason I should feel that the noble Marquess's scheme had great advantages over the scheme of the Government.
Then if it is contended that these Resolutions are vague in character and need defining in particular, I would not only say that it is necessary that Resolutions of this character should deal with generalities, but I would venture to say that any one who carefully compares the Resolutions with the text of. the Parliament Bill —which I dare say a great many people have not read—will find that the looseness and vagueness of the Parliament Bill is far more acute than any vagueness which rests in these Resolutions. My Lords, I only rose to give my hearty support to the general scheme contained in the Resolutions of the noble Marquess. I am not learned in Constitutional law, but I am animated to-day by a feeling of the unreality of the discussion in which we are taking part. I have no doubt that there will not be that unreality in the discussion which takes place in the country. There will be no answer in the country, as there has been no answer in this House, to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Wear-dale, as to why this election is taking place. But it will be seen, if the attempt is made, as I suppose it will be made, to present the issue before the people as an issue of the Peers versus the People, that that is not the issue, and that the real issue is as to two alternative schemes for dealing with the great Constitutional question—on the one side the majority of the Peers fighting for a real reform, and on the other His Majesty's Government fighting for a measure which is no reform at all, but which destroys the powers of. one House while leaving to it all those privileges of caste and position which have been most abused by members of the Government.
My Lords, I earnestly hope that the House will accept the Motion of the noble Marquess on the 888 Front Opposition Bench and go into Committee to discuss the weighty and well-considered Resolutions which he has placed on the Paper. We have heard very little to-day as to the details of these Resolutions, but that will come, no doubt, later in the debate. At the same time some points have been brought prominently forward, among others the merits of the Referendum and the effects of its introduction compared with the Bill of His Majesty's Government. So much has been said in favour of the Referendum that I feel rather diffident in alluding to the subject again, but objections have been raised—I do not think so much here as outside—to the Referendum on the ground that the country will have already given its voice on the particular questions to which the Referendum would be applied, and that therefore it is superfluous to ask for that opinion again. That objection appears to me not at all sound.
At a General Election a great many matters come before the electorate, and in ordinary circumstances if one wishes to elicit the opinion of a man on any particular subject one does not confuse his ideas by asking him his opinion on three or four other things at the same time. At this election, for instance, we shall have Home Rule, Tariff Reform, the education question, and the Church, and others of which no doubt every one will hear enough and more than enough in the next few weeks. All these have attractions for different electors in various degrees, some of whom also may be influenced by the fascinating prospect held out to them of absorbing or assimilating other people's property, a bond of union described by an American politician as the "almightycohesion of public plunder." It may well happen that an elector gives his vote for a candidate although not agreeing with him on all the questions but agreeing with him on the majority. It may be that he thinks one question of such transcendent importance that he may not have troubled himself much about the others and may not have formed a decided opinion on the particular measure proposed to be submitted to him by the Referendum. For instance, a man might be so devotedly attached to Free Trade as to give his vote for a Free Trade and Home Rule candidate without much considering the question of Home Rule. I naturally use this illustration because it is one that comes home to every loyal subject of His Majesty the King in Ireland, but the same would apply in other instances. But 889 when the Home Rule question came to be submitted to him by Referendum and his thoughts were turned away from the question of Free Trade, the elector would see that there was no half-way house between the Union as it stands and the separation of the two countries, and he might then give his vote on the merits of the question. I hope, therefore, that the House will fully consider this point of view.
I quite admit that there arc difficulties, but there is no question with regard to which you cannot find difficulties. What the House has to consider is whether the outcome of these difficulties is so great that either the present state of things or that under the Bill as introduced by His Majesty's Government would be preferable. I certainly believe that the acceptance of the scheme of the noble Marquess would have a most beneficial effect, and that in any case it would not constitute such a breach in the Constitution of the country as would the acceptance of the Government's Bill, under which the vote of this House would be nullified by a majority in the House of Commons which might not fully represent the opinion of the country. I therefore support the Resolutions of the noble Marquess, and I feel sure they will receive the support of the country at large.
§ [The sitting was suspended at a quarter to eight and resumed at nine o'clock.]
My Lords, there was once a large and rather quarrelsome family who went, about a great deal in their motor car in a hilly country. They had a brake fitted to their car which acted automatically whenever they were bordering on an unconstitutional or illegal speed. At last this family became impatient. They said, "This hereditary brake is becoming unendurable; it is more than 800 years old; it stopped us when we were rushing down Education Hill; it stopped us again opposite a public house whose licence we intended to withdraw, and, worst of all, it stopped us when we were scorching down Finance Valley on our way to the Bank to draw out our yearly income and our unearned increment." Now any reasonable family holding these opinions would have tried to get another brake. But these people just took their brake off and went out driving without one in their hilly country with their new Irish chauffeur at the steering 890 wheel. They ran over a great many people before they came to utter smash. Unfortunately those in the car were not the only persons who were hurt in the collision which eventually stopped them. Whether the smash took place when they were descending their first hill, or later on, I do not at present know. Yet there were plenty of good brakes in the market, the Elected or Selected Brakes, and the Referendum brake. The best of them, in my opinion, was the Referendum brake.
The Referendum is, I believe, the only possible solution of the problems with which we are confronted. It is an honest method of giving the people what they want, instead of what a coalition of. Parties may wish to force down their throats, and it would save us from the log-rolling that has been the curse of the United States. The Referendum would not benefit one Party more than another—it would be an advantage to the nation as a. whole. If every voter answered Yes or No on all questions on which the two Houses were unable to come to a satisfactory agreement, a far truer representation of the wishes of the people would be arrived at, than as the result of a General Election, when the issues are so crossed that all sorts of mandates are claimed by one side and denied by the other. With the Referendum the people would get what they want—they certainly do not get it now. No Constitutional change should ever take place without consultation of the people by this means. If this House is to lose the power of appealing to a General Election before passing a Bill, some other institution should be called into existence to prevent the people being deprived of their rights. The unequal distribution of seats as regards population is one of the chief evils from which the country is now suffering. With a Referendum all votes would be of equal value. Any attempt to equalise the voting power of Romford and Kilkenny would, of course, be resented by Mr. Redmond's Home, Rulers, but it ought to commend itself to English and Scottish constituencies. In Switzerland the Referendum has been found so convenient that it is used to settle all sorts of petty matters connected with local government as well, as the more important business affecting the whole country.
I have read a good deal about the Swiss Referendum, but as a variety of languages 891 are spoken in Switzerland and as there are twenty-two sovereign cantons in that country, each having its own laws and its own government, it is better perhaps that I should take illustrations of the working of a Referendum in Anglo-Saxon communities, whose language is the same as ours, and whose laws and customs are nearly all derived from those existing in this country. The Referendum is recognised in all the States of North America, except Delaware, for changes in the Constitution. And there is in that country a local Referendum which in some States has greatly developed. In Iowa the advance has almost reached the point which the Referendum has attained in Switzerland. The Referendum has been tried with satisfactory results in Australia, in New Zealand, and in Natal. There is one point about a Referendum which may appeal to Radicals and Socialists. You cannot say that there is anything hereditary about it. The noble Earl opposite, in his speech on Monday last, said that the question of a Referendum bristles with difficulties. I confess I thought that that might be the case until I read the Natal Referendum Act. That Act is short and clear: it is one of the easiest Acts to understand that I have ever read. There is no plural voting. The question is short and simple—"Are you in favour of the proposed draft South Africa Act? If you are in favour of that Act make your cross in the square opposite the word 'Yes.' If you are against it, make your cross opposite the word 'No.'" It would be a very easy matter to draft similar Bills suited to the circumstances of this country. I wished to bring before the British public the materials for forming an estimate of the value of a Referendum. Last March, in compliance with a request of mine, all the documents connected with the Natal Referendum were printed as a Parliamentary Paper. The reference number is Cd. 5,099 and the cost 1½d. But it is a very difficult thing to educate an electorate in ten days or a. fortnight as to what the Referendum means. We are now ten days from the first polling day, and that is a very short time in which to explain to the electorate the real meaning of a Referendum. I believe that the cost of a Referendum in this country has been greatly exaggerated. I do not for a moment accept Mr. Lloyd George's estimate of two millions. I put that statement away in the same pigeon hole with the statements about Chinese Slavery and German black 892 bread. I am glad to find that the Referendum is to be a plank in the platform from which the Unionists are going to appeal to the people. If once it is adopted in this country I feel certain that it will grow in popularity as it did in America.
My chief objection to the Parliament Bill is that it will give us Home Rule, and my principal objection to Home Rule is that it is a step to the complete independence of Ireland—a step that will be impossible to retrace and which will make our naval position absolutely untenable. I would suggest to all platform speakers at this Election that they should have a large map of Great Britain and Ireland hung up in front of them so as to be able to impress upon the electorate what the position of England and Scotland would be in case of war should Ireland be independent and on friendly terms with a foreign Power, and with Lough Swilly, Lough Foyle, Belfast, Greenore, and Dublin Bay affording protection to an enemy's mine-layers, torpedo boats, submarines, and small cruisers. How on earth could our trade reach the Clyde or Liverpool? I hope that our Glasgow friends will study that little question of geography. Look at the indented coast of the South and West of Ireland which gives unequalled shelter for small vessels, at short distances from one another, backed up by Cork, Youghal, Dungarvan, Waterford, Wexford, and Dublin, which are still nearer to our coasts. How do our merchant ships expect to get in and out of Liverpool, Cardiff, or Bristol if such shelters are available for an enemy's smaller vessels? Cardiff and Liverpool voters should think twice before voting for a Bill that will give Home Rule. No amount of International Treaties will prevent an enemy from strewing mechanical mines near our harbours if by so doing he thinks that he can starve us out and thus not only finish the war but dictate a Treaty of Peace. Recollect that it is not necessary that a vessel should be regularly built as a man-of-war in order to enable her to stop a merchant vessel. A very small gun mounted on a fast merchant ship commanded by an officer whose previous experiences at sea have been acquired in the merchant service, but who will then be holding a temporary commission in the enemy's Navy, is all that is necessary to stop or to sink an unarmed merchant ship. When I was on the coast of North America during the Civil War in the Sixties the 893 blockading squadrons contained numbers of vessels originally built as blockade runners which had been captured and armed by the Northerners.
If a similar vessel sighted one of our cruisers she would run for safety to the nearest Irish harbour. The enemy's cruisers on the coasts of Ireland will be like rabbits running in and out of their burrows whenever they see one of our cruisers or one of our merchant ships. You will not find a single naval officer who believes in the possibility of feeding England if Ireland was in alliance with a hostile Power. If perpetual peace could be guaranteed the question of Home Rule would, as far as it concerns Englishmen, stand upon a very different footing, but if Ireland was independent she could always dictate her terms in peace time by threatening to ally herself with another Power on any little difference of opinion that we had with her, and in that way Ireland would be completely the master of England. As Home Rule is to be the price paid to the Irish for their support of this Bill, I have thought it right to point out some of the dangers of granting it, and the necessity of a Referendum to the country with the home Rule Bill as a separate issue when it has passed the Commons. It would be far better to wait and to continue the policy of trying to kill Home Rule by kindness.
I deem the actual composition of a Second Chamber to be a matter of comparatively small importance so long as it retains the power of appealing to the people, either by Referendum or by a General Election, and that its membership has an element of permanency, which would, I conceive, he met by their being elected or selected either for life or for twelve or fifteen years. I cannot see anything in the Parliament Bill to prevent the House of Commons from passing another Bill to make themselves a permanent and indissoluble body. They have only to pass a Bill to this effect—
Whereas the country is in a disturbed condition the General Election is to be postponed until further notice.And whereas the disturbed condition of this country has raised the price of food and necessaries the salaries of members of the House of Commons are to be increased by £500 a year.This undoubtedly would be a Money Bill, and neither the Second Chamber nor 894 the people would be allowed to say a word in the matter. To remonstrate would be made High Treason. Bu tit the Resolution against "tacking" as formulated by the noble Marquess became law, such a Bill would be less likely to be put forward.
Towards the end of the Seventeenth Century some members of the House of Commons talked of sending Money Bills with Bills of Attainder tacked on to them up to the House of Lords. The history of former Single Chambers is one of bloodshed, murder, and sudden death, followed by the impoverishment of the people and the restoration of a Second Chamber. There being no legitimate means of destroying Government by a Single Chamber they have come to violent ends. We are in a state of revolution. The revolution has begun. What phases it will pass through is known to none of us. If we read the letters and diaries of people who have passed through Civil Wars and Revolutions without taking an active part, it is astounding to find how few of the writers realised the gravity of the events that they were witnessing, even though they were in the centre of the storm. When the Long Parliament and when the French States General first sat they were full of men with the best intentions, quite as good as those of the present House of Commons; they did not know where they were hurrying any more than do the members of the present Parliament. There were Girondins in the French Assembly, men who sowed the wind and reaped the whirlwind when unable to stop the movement they themselves had originated. There are Girondins on the Government side of both Houses who still have the power to stop a movement that will overwhelm them if they dally with it too long. And there are, too, in this country at the present moment Jacobins, men well known in public life, who have it in them to play the parts of Robespierre, Marat, Couthon, if they had the chance, and who if they found that they could not obtain or retain power by other means, would turn every town and village in England into a Tony-Pandy.
The noble Marquess, Lord Northampton, in a letter which appeared in The Times this morning, said that on the rejection of the Budget—The Liberal Party then decided, and can never withdraw from that decision, that no Liberal Government would accept office unless the ultimate 895 power of the Veto was taken from the Second Chamber. It is this that the Liberals are determined to fight for, and it makes all compromise impossible and all reforms by themselves useless.But if Lord Rosebery's and the noble Marquess's Resolutions become law, that power will be taken from the House of Lords and will be given to the people by means of the Referendum, which, according to Lord Northampton, is exactly what the Liberal Party ask for. If these Resolutions become law there will be a People's Veto instead of a Lord's Veto. and there will be no necessity to ask for guarantees from a higher quarter. These guarantees are to be found in the Resolutions moved by the noble Earl on the Cross Benches and by the noble Marquess in front of me. Your Party has won a great victory. It has brought the members of this House into a frame of mind in which they are prepared to surrender their hereditary privileges. Pause, ere you go further!
§ LORD RIBBLESDALE
My Lords, I think I shall follow the advice of my noble friend below me and not make a dash into the Referendum, which the noble Lord who has just sat down explained to us much more clearly in many ways than I have ever heard it explained before. Neither do I propose to follow the noble Lord into Lough Swilly or the deeply indented coast of Ireland in a gun-boat or in any other way. What he said about our being surrounded by Jacobins and Girondins would have made me feel thoroughly uncomfortable were it not for the extremely pleasant smile with which he accompanied this disagreeable piece of news. I was very sorry that the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, towards the end of his interesting speech, when he got to closer quarters with the Resolutions before us to-night, complained of suffering from a feeling of want of reality. To my mind these Resolutions of the noble Marquess and their full discussion by this House at the present moment are as real a thing on as real an issue for us all in this country as we have had before us since the Home Rule Bill of 1892 or 1893. Whatever may be the measure of consent, or quasi consent, or qualified consent on the two sides of the House, I think we may all agree that we are getting on wonderfully pleasantly with this debate. It is evidently possible, as Mr. Carlyle once said, to agree very tolerably except in opinion. I do not suppose that the two sides of the House 896 to-night are agreed in opinion, but even if noble Lords below me are right in saying that it is quite impossible that this great Constitutional difficulty in which we now find ourselves cannot be settled by consent, it is quite clear that in this House, at all events, the matter can be argued in a cordial and generous and fair spirit. Now on Monday night I thought we were on the verge of getting a little cross. I know that I suffered myself—and my noble friend below me, Earl Beauchamp, will perhaps corroborate it—from two or three spasms of noble irritation. But to-night an intelligent foreigner with Virgil at his fingers' ends and with two or three selected tributes of the noble Lord, Lord Curzon. to your Lordships' House in his mind as well, could not possibly say Tantœne animis cœlestibus irœ? as he might have done on Monday night.
Now I proceed to the Resolutions, and let me say at once that not only do I welcome them and thank the noble Marquess for putting them on the Paper and bringing them forward, but, speaking for myself, I am prepared to swallow them whole. That, no doubt, sounds a hardy and perhaps an indigestible proceeding, but, after all, I am taking this course on Lord Crewe's advice to us to do the same thing with the Parliament Bill, which, as Lord St. Aldwyn and Lord Weardale pointed out with great force, has not even been discussed in. the House of Commons except in a rudimentary way, and has only just flitted as it were into this House, but the clauses and Preamble of which are the Party ticket and the grounds for the General Election upon which the country is to be fought. When I say that I am prepared to swallow the Resolutions whole, I think it is also right to say that as regards the Government Bill I must admit myself to have become rather a waverer. Whatever the Conference did it gave us considerable time for reflection, and I became so convinced that we should have to find some sort of constitutional adjustment of the relations of the two Houses that, speaking for myself, I was prepared to go a very long way for the sake of a settlement by consent towards the Government Bill. But I am bound to say that, holding those views, I greatly prefer the Resolutions which the noble Marquess has put upon the Paper, and I prefer them for this reason: I feel that these Resolutions are altogether a more decorous and proper 897 approach towards the solution of this great Constitutional question, and I prefer them very much to the Parliament Bill for the further reason that they are not stamped with the hall-mark, as that Bill is, of a particular majority in this particular Parliament and in particular relation to the Irish vote and the Irish demand.
I feel now that I should like to put myself right with the noble Earl who sits on the Cross Benches (Lord Rosebery) and perhaps with the House for the line I took the other night when Lord Rosebery's Resolutions were discussed, and when he said that I had not made it clear to him what I meant. I should be sorry to think that I had in any way taken a wayward or an ungracious line that evening—wayward in the sense of being out of harmony with the self-denying ordinance which we have all affirmed by passing these Reform Resolutions. My mind has been much concentrated upon the present difficulties in which we find ourselves, and I have felt all along that the immediate crux of the. situation did not lie in domestic reform from within, but in presenting to the electorate alternative proposals which would bring about a Constitutional adjustment. It seemed to me that in the very short time at our disposal, owing to what I can only call this electioneering General Election, this could only be done by giving a Second Reading to the Parliament Bill and going into Committee. But now that these Resolutions have been put forward I quite admit I was wrong. I did not know at that time that the Resolutions were coming forward, and I was nervous lest in our passion for self-reform from within we should do anything which should jeopardise our time and our chance of getting alternative proposals, by way of arriving at some agreement. by consent., put fully before the constituencies before the 28th, when the Dissolution has been fixed.
The plan adopted by the noble Marquess the. Leader of the Opposition has been recommended by certain newspapers. The Spectator had, I think, two or three pages in small print of resolutions all on its own, which it strongly recommended the noble Marquess to move. For my own part I thought we should try to go into Committee on the Government 898 Bill because it is quite clear that Resolutions of this kind constitute an unusual expedient, and one which should only be resorted to by the noble Lord who may happen to be leading the Government at the time or the noble Lord leading the Opposition. Clearly no such Resolutions could properly have been moved or suggested by a backbencher. But if we could have got into Committee, whether or not the Government saw fit to discuss or have anything to do with Amendments, those Amendments would have been on record, and I believed the constituencies would have given our conciliatory and alternative proposals their full and fair consideration. But granting all this, I say that I think the Resolutions before us now do more even than we could have achieved in that way, and I shall therefore give them my hearty and ungrudging support. I quite recognise that it is an exceptional course. I believe the noble Marquess would be the first to say so, but it is an exceptional course which is justified by the exceptional circumstances which—and I say it in no disagreeable way—have been forced upon the House of Lords.
Speaking for myself I am not, I am afraid, a very ardent reformer. I have no desire to strike any doleful note, or to sing any sort of Swan Song. I hope we are a long way off that yet. The Resolutions which were passed the other night must inevitably have very great effect. Here again I make my amende to the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, for if he had not gone on with them those Resolutions could not have been grafted on to the Resolutions which the noble Marquess has now moved, thus providing for a reformed Second Chamber. It is quite clear that under these Resolutions, as Lord Newton said the other night, a large number of us will have to go, and personally I shall miss a great many things which I associate with the House of Lords and of which I have become fond. I do not want to be sentimental, but I shall miss the stationery, the quill pens, and even the superlative coal fires and draughts of your Lordships' House. I have been here all my life, but whether or not it is due to some inherited aptitude, I have intuitions about the House of Commons which make me put all these personal feelings on one side and desire above all things to secure a settlement of this question. I do not know that the Resolutions can effect that, but I believe, as one or two speakers have said 899 this evening and as even the noble Earl, Lord Crewe, said, they do provide a basis for a settlement by consent which I do not believe any Government or any constituency will altogether put aside.
The Resolutions of the noble Marquess seem to me to have this very considerable advantage over the Parliament Bill, even the Parliament Bill taken at its very best, that they do not lay us open now, thanks, as I have just said, to Lord Rosebery for having stuck to his Resolutions—they do not lay us open to the charge or to the actuality of a single-Chamber Government, whereas, whatever the result, may be in practice, there is no sort of doubt that the Government proposals are logically open to the charge not of adjusting Constitutional relations but of substituting till such good time as in the Government view may best suit them a single-Chamber for a double-Chamber Government. Under these circumstances the noble Marquess anti his friends will have my hearty support in these Resolutions.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD or AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (EARL CARRINGTON)
My Lords, I feel certain that my noble friend and the House will forgive me if I do not attempt to follow him in discussing the reasons that prompt him to give an exceptional vote to the noble Marquess opposite in support of his Resolutions. I have been very much struck, not only in my noble friend's speech, but also in every speech that has yet been made in this debate, by the unfounded alarm and anxiety shown with regard to the policy of the Government. That disquiet was very clearly evident in the noble Marquess's outline speech this afternoon, and in the way that he discoursed so eloquently on the dangers consequent on popular election. The noble Viscount, Lord St. Aldwyn, also seemed to be extraordinarily apprehensive; but the person who seemed to have the greatest amount of alarm was the most rev. Primate, who was so terrified that lie was led to make a somewhat violent attack on the Prime Minister for quoting a harmless joke of the late Dr. Johnson.
It has been whispered that there exists in the minds of some noble Lords opposite the suspicion that the Government entertains unavowed but burglarious designs on the peace of this House, such as have 900 not been revealed in the language of the Bill as presented to your Lordships. If I am rightly informed in this, and if any of your Lordships suspect us of intending, if we come back to power with an ample majority, to supplement this Bill by further proposals of a penalising or vindictive nature, let me try to put your minds at rest. It is not the case. All that we ask and wish for, and even in the event of hoped-for triumph would demand, is, as Mr. Balfour said this afternoon in a great speech to his constituents the citizens of London, to tell the truth to the people of England. This alarm was. I think, also very plainly shown in the delightful speech made by the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition on Monday night. I think personally, though some of it was a little at my expense, that I enjoyed that speech as much as, if not more than, any member of your Lordships' House. It was a brilliant speech. He tried, with his accustomed dexterity, to get under his opponent's guard, and it was sparkling with sentences which were most exquisitely ondulés. Apart from this, allow me to say, with all respect, that I honestly thought that the matter itself was rather thin. He seemed to me, and I shall be corrected if I am wrong, to rely on the well-worn, well-known, familiar old platform argument that because the Opposition in your Lordships' House was graciously and kindly pleased to allow some Liberal measures to go through the House, therefore on that account they were justified in knocking some of our principal measures on the head, and performing that operation not only in the proper place, the public abattoir, but in private slaughter-houses—houses of their own.
The noble Marquess twitted me that I gave my leaders away on the occasion of a certain festive luncheon. Lord St. Aldwyn was also good enough to say that I was au innocent person. I am glad he used that epithet, and that he did not use the word "dishonest," which I very much regret was used in the speech of an antagonist who is always so courteous and so fair. I mentioned the results of five years' Liberal policy, and I said that they were satisfactory even in the difficult circumstances in which we poor humble Liberals live. I admit freely that we have had a very good harvest in our five years. We have had exceptionally fine crops, better than we should have had under ordinary 901 circumstances; but what is the reason of that? We have lived under extraordinary circumstances, because I must remind your Lordships that we had a majority of no less than 350 votes in our favour in the Commons' House of Parliament. I do not hesitate to say that that had a certain steadying effect upon your Lordships' House. of we had had ordinary weather, if we had had an ordinary majority such as we have now, not one-fourth of the Liberal legislation which has been passed would by any possibility have found its way on to the Statute Book. Now we are going into action for the second time in twelve months. I notice that the great Party opposite, the great Unionist Party, do not seem to be quite as united as, perhaps, they would wish to have us believe. There is a certain amount of anxiety; your Lordships seem to be a little uneasy in your minds. There are two great characteristics of the great Tory Party, with all its great traditions, which strike everybody. One is the loyalty of noble Lords opposite to the Party to which you belong, and the other is a pride in the order of which so many of your Lordships are distinguished ornaments. There seems to me to be signs of a conflict between these two great principles. It is no business of mine, but on-lookers sometimes see most of the game, and I must say that your leaders are driving some of your Lordships uncommonly hard.
What have noble Lords opposite been asked to do? You were dragged down to vote against the Budget. You did it, and you were told the reason why you were asked to do so was that the country was panting for au opportunity to turn out, to kick out, and get rid of this infamous Government. I used a moderate word; it is one that would not be called a harsh word compared with some of the expressions used against us in what is curiously called polite society. You were wrongly informed. You were beaten at the polls, and we were returned to power with a good majority, and I think every one will admit that we are considerably stronger in the country now than we were eight months ago. In seven contested elections we have not lost a single seat, and in the last election, which was supposed to be a very critical one, we kept the seat, on an old register, and we increased our majority by something like 500 votes. That hated and detested Budget is now the law of the 902 land, and the Second Reading of the second Budget was passed without any criticism and without a. word, in about a minute last night, in the other House. Now, you are invited, on the eve of a General Election, to agree to what Lord Curzon, I believe, called a magnificent, voluntary act of self-renunciation, but in plain English—and the time has come at last when we must use plain English—your Lordships have been asked, just before the General Election, to throw up the hereditary sponge. Noble Lords laugh. If your Lordships think that a laughing matter, of course I have nothing more to say, but I think independent Peers—and I see several independent Peers present—may fairly ask, "Is there no alternative to this? Are we going to be asked at a moment's notice to divest ourselves of our undoubted hereditary rights? Not only that, are we going to lose those rights for our sons and our sons' sons for ever?" That, in plain English, is what you are asked to do.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
I am very sorry to interrupt the noble Earl, but is he aware of the exact date of the renunciation of the hereditary privilege by this House?
§ EARL CARRINGTON
What I say is the absolute fact. You are asked at this moment to throw up your undoubted hereditary rights, and not only your own rights but the rights of your sons and your sons' sons for ever. You may split straws, you may laugh, you may do anything you please, but you cannot get out of that. Independent Peers may ask it there are no alternatives. No alternatives? Good heavens! Why, we have a masterly counter-stroke every two days; there is no end to the alternatives. Everybody has an alternative. The noble Marquess opposite seems not to be riding one horse, or even two, but to be trying to emulate the late Mr. Ducrow at Astley's in the difficult task of riding six horses at once. Independent members may find this confusing. Is it not worth while, in the middle of the Parliamentary chaos on the Opposition side, to ask what is in this gagged and guillotined Bill for which the Government have been asked, which they have laid upon the Table, and which has not been allowed to be discussed? Let us examine it.
Noble Lords will discover that there are only three great principles in the Bill. The 903 first clause says that Peers must not touch finance. Noble Lords opposite say they agree. They say, "We did it last year, and we are very sorry. We will never do it again. Once bit twice shy." Then Clause 5 says we are to have five-year Parliaments. Why not? Who objects to that? Noble Lords opposite may say, "We remember our great leader, Mr. Balfour, remained in office two years too long; he hung on like the oak leaves—he did not know he was dead." What was the result? The most terrible collapse that the world has ever seen, and the Conservative Party received such a staggering blow that it has not recovered, and will not recover for some time to come.
Then we come to Clause 2. Noble Lords say, "Oh, that is a terrible clause." What is in it? All that is in it is that if an ordinary Bill is sent up to this House three times in succession in two years, and your Lordships in your wisdom have rejected it, that Bill shall be presented to His Majesty and become an Act of Parliament, notwithstanding that the House of Lords has not consented to the Bill. Now what is the objection to that? What is there, after all, to object to in that? "Good Heavens," says Lord Rosebery, "why that means a Single Chamber!" Is not the noble Earl once more rather overstating his case? Some of us have recollections of a certain speech made in a Scottish town, not a hundred miles from Edinburgh, in which we were told that the Budget was the negation of Empire, of Monarchy, of family life, and all the rest of it. Then when this Budget was brought before your Lordships' House my noble friend was the first person to come to this Table and advise your Lordships to pass it into law. May not my noble friend have overstated the case again, may he not change his mind, and may it not be perfectly on the cards that he will, after his denunciation of the Bill, advise you again in all the circumstances to pass the Bill?
As regards the Single Chamber I will not trouble your Lordships with any words of mine. I think most of your Lordships heard the speech of the Leader of the House on Monday on the subject of a Second Chamber. In half-a-dozen sentences he knocked his noble relative's arguments straight off their legs, and with one smashing blow of the "parricidal pickaxe" he put his noble relative on his back and finished all his arguments. The time has 904 passed for counter-strokes and things of that description. No counter-strokes, no Conferences whatever, can bridge over the gulf that now yawns between us. The Tory House of Lords had little confidence in the Liberal House of Commons, and in return the Liberal House of Commons and the Liberal Party have now, I am afraid, very little confidence in the Tory House of Lords. This is a critical time, and the language of self-adulation will not avail us now. This Government was not chosen in any way by the people to reform the constitution of your Lordships' House at this moment; it was chosen and it was put into power under proper conditions to limit the powers of this House—those powers which are at present absolute, omnipotent, irresponsible, and uncontrolled; and all we want, all that not only the Government but the whole of our Party want, is to restore the Constitutional balance. We ask for fair play—that is all we ask for—and with confidence we invite the country to approve the Parliament Bill, the object of which, stated in one sentence by my noble friend, is to prevent for ever the indiscriminate destruction of Liberal legislation by your Lordships' House, of which the throwing out of the Budget last year was the climax and the crown.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF YORK
My Lords, I greatly regret that it is impossible for me to sustain the discussion at that level of engaging gaiety to which the noble Earl has just lifted it. The noble Earl the Leader of the House, at an early stage of the debate, invited those who are not officially connected with either of the proposals before your Lordships' House to speak, and the fact that I felt it right both to speak and to vote against the decision to which the noble Marquess invited your Lordships in the discussion of the Finance Bill, may, perhaps, be some indication that I do not approach this question with any Party bias.
I venture to agree with the noble Earl who has just sat clown that the rejection, or the reference to the people, of the Finance Bill by noble Lords opposite, if it did not disclose, certainly precipitated, the need for some readjustment of the relations between the two Houses of Parliament. It would have been only natural if the Government had presented before Parliament and the country the considered proposals with which they desired to meet that 905 demand. But this is precisely what the Government have not done. The electors of this country are to be invited to approach a. General Election on a grave Constitutional question which must. affect the destinies of this country for many years to come. I venture to think that. no General Election on a question of such great importance was ever approached by the people with less information as to the real issues which are at stake. The issue is not between the will of the people and the desires of this House. It is common ground that the people are our masters as much as they are masters of the House of Commons. The issue is not between the House of Lords unreformed, unreduced in numbers, and the representatives of the people in the other House. The issue is not even whether a reformed House of Lords, a House of Lords reduced in numbers, is to retain precisely the same powers and the same procedure in relation to the other House that the present House of Lords possesses. The issue is between two methods of dealing with a situation which admittedly demands reform.
I confess I have not noticed during this debate the traces of that "yawning gulf" of which the noble Earl has been speaking. On the contrary, what has impressed any independent observer has been the most remarkable signs of drawing together on the part of the serious and thoughtful men on both sides of the House. Therefore to present the issue as if it lay between Peers and people or between the hereditary and democratic principles is to confuse and not to present the issue to the people of this country. The people have surely a right to demand that if Parliament refers a grave question to their decision, Parliament shall have fully debated that question. The noble Earl the Leader of the House has told us that there have been ample opportunities of discussing this question; that there might have been serious Amendments moved to the Bill which he introduced into the House. I do not dwell upon the point—it has been repeatedly mentioned already—that the noble Earl himself informed us that if we did bring forward these serious Amendments they would receive very scant consideration at his hands. I would rather dwell on the fact that the Bill itself has never been seriously debated even in the House of Commons. Certainly the Resolutions and the whole scheme of Parliamentary reform which they embody, presented by the noble Marquess, have never even been 906 laid before the House of Commons, and this Parliamentary discussion would have been perfectly feasible if the ordinary procedure of Parliament had been observed and the questions as a whole had been discussed in both Houses of Parliament. With the utmost possible deference and diffidence, I think that even the Resolutions proposed by the noble Marquess might he amended or reconsidered in certain particulars with fuller discussion, but the difficulty is that all chance of giving them full and adequate discussion has been denied to both Houses of Parliament by the decision of His Majesty's Government to dissolve.
The noble Earl also said that there would be ample discussion of the matter all over the country, but the important question is, Upon what grounds is that discussion to be conducted? Is it to be conducted upon the grounds which have been debated to-day in this House—serious grounds—or is it to be debated by appeals to the least rational forms of class prejudice with which in certain very responsible quarters this great Constitutional debate has already been inaugurated? The noble Earl also declared that the adequate discussion of the Resolutions of the noble Marquess would take at least twelve months. That, I think, would be a valid criticism if there were any reason to suppose that these Resolutions did not represent a genuine desire on the part of the majority of this House to reform its constitution, its procedure, and its relation to the House of Commons.
As one who has no kind of opportunity of knowing the motives that led the noble Marquess to introduce these Resolutions I have been impressed—and I do not think any one who heard his speech or that of the noble Viscount, Lord St. Aldwyn, could have failed to have been impressed—with the obvious genuineness with which the noble Marquess and Lord St. Aldwyn spoke in submitting these considered proposals to the judgment of Parliament. If so I think the matters to which these Resolutions call attention—proposals for settling differences by joint sittings, proposals about a Referendum—whatever criticisms may be advanced against them, are certainly quite worth twelve months discussion, and equally certainly, perhaps more certainly, the election which took place at the end of such a serious discussion would be an election serious and deliberate, 907 and the results would have sonic chance of being stable and permanent. I am bound to admit that the noble Earl who has just spoken has some reason to complain of the grievance of the Party to which he belongs in the treatment which their legislation has sometimes received at the hands of this House. But, my Lords, assuming that his grievance is legitimate, it would be an excellent reason for presenting grave proposals before Parliament to remove that grievance; not for forcing an election upon the country without adequate discussion in Parliament on the points upon which it is to be conducted.
The Prime Minister has said in vivid language that negotiations have ended, and that war is declared. I presume, my Lords, that the first statement means that the Conference is regarded as having failed and that the situation is precisely where it was before the Conference began. But I ask myself, Is the situation precisely where it was? And the answer to that question is found in the Resolutions which the noble Marquess has presented. I venture to think that but for that period of pause, possibly but for those interchanges of ideas which took place within closed doors, these Resolutions might not have been placed on the Table of this House. At any rate, they present a new situation which certainly Parliament ought to have new opportunities for facing and discussing. War, I suppose, is an appeal to force when reason has failed. If it be true, as I have ventured to contend, that reason has not wholly failed, it is a very grave responsibility to produce the conditions of war before, at least, reason has had time to make its appeal to public opinion outside these doors.
It is a poor compliment to the people of this country to treat a General Election as if it were a mere arbitrament of force. Trust in the people ought to mean trust in the judgment of the people, and the best way of showing that trust is to secure that the judgment of the people is fully informed and therefore intelligent. I cannot but regret deeply that the Government have chosen to thrust this question in an unconsidered form before the people of this country. I have no means of appreciating the reasons which have led to this course, but as an independent citizen I cannot but be disappointed, and I am sure I am speaking for many not prominently 908 connected with either Party- outside—I cannot but be deeply disappointed that a great issue, one of the greatest ever submitted within recent memory to the decision of the people of the country, should have been presented to them with a haste which makes their judgment necessarily crude, and the verdict. which they return almost necessarily unstable.
§ LORD MACDONNELL OF SWINFORD
My Lords, I came down to the House this afternoon with the intention not so much of taking an active part in the debate as of asking the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition to remove from my mind, and from the minds of some noble Lords whom I have consulted, an obscurity which seems to us to attach to that portion of the second Resolution which deals with the question of proportion. But the noble Marquess in the course of his speech said that this question could not be settled until they knew how this House was to be composed under the operation of the Resolutions proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery. That statement made me doubt whether I ought to proceed with my intention. But the point will probably be met by what fell from the noble Viscount, Lord St. Aldwyn. The noble Viscount said that under the operation of these Resolutions this House is not to be placed on an equality with the House of Commons, that the House of Commons is to be predominant—and in support of that statement lie quoted some words of Mr. Balfour to the same effect. Now from the noble Viscount's statement my inference is—and I would ask the noble Marquess to say whether it is correct or not—that in the Joint Session for which the second Resolution provides the delegates from the House of Commons chosen to represent the view of the majority in that House will be in a majority over the delegates chosen to represent the view of this House. If that inference be correct a new and most important factor is introduced into the discussion here to-night. From the noble Marquess's silence 1 assume that my inference is correct?
§ A NOBLE LORD: Oh no.
§ LORD MACDONNELL OF SWINFORD
That being so, I will, with your Lordships' permission, make a few remarks upon the Resolution. To the first Resolution there is, as I understand from the noble Earl 909 who leads this House, no objection on the part of the Government. It declares that it is desirable that provision should be made for settling differences which may arise between the House of Commons and this House. The practice formerly was, as we have been told in the course of the debate, for conferences on points of dispute and difficulty to be held, but that lately they have fallen into abeyance. As far as I can remember there was general agreement on all sides of the house when the noble Earl who leads the House stated that that was a matter to which His Majesty's Government would give very favourable consideration. The second Resolution on the Paper provides that if a difference arises between the two Houses which cannot be settled there shall be a joint sitting. If I am correct in assuming that at that joint sitting the views of the Lower House, the predominant partner, shall predominate, I, for my part, cannot see what objection there can be to such an arrangement as that; but when you come later and say that certain subjects are excluded from consideration and made subject to a Referendum, then I think that very serious considerations arise.
What is meant by a Referendum? Are all subjects to be made the basis of a Referendum? Previous to a Referendum, is there to be no consultation between Members of Parliament and their constituents? I believe the Referendum is mostly practised in Switzerland, and there, so far as I can understand, it is an extremely conservative measure. The appeal is made not so mulch to the intelligence of the constituents as to their unwillingness to adopt any measure which conflicts with the existing state of things. In many instances it has happened that where the consent of both sides of Parliament has been obtained to a measure admittedly beneficial and then put to the Referendum, the effect has been a conflict with the decision which had been arrived at by the representatives. If you regard in a democracy the more ignorant and the more stolid portion of the population, the Referendum may be an instrument for the prevention of all progress. if, on the other hand, you regard in a democracy the more educated and more progressive part of the community, then the Referendum is out of place as conflicting with the system of representative government which is in force in this country. I think the 910 noble Viscount, Lord St. Aldwyn, said that Tariff Reform might be made the subject of a Referendum, and he instanced the ease where the question of Colonial Preference might be put to the voters. On such a matter as that I wonder what percentage of a rural constituency would be able to give any considered judgment. But if, instead of this question, you asked whether taxation of food or of raw material was to their liking, the only answer you would get would probably be in the negative.
As to the last Resolution with reference to Money Bills, I think that the matter is one which is very susceptible of adjustment and that the proposal in the Resolution of the noble Marquess offers a reasonable basis for discussion, and I myself would have no objection to its being tried. It has been stated more than once in the course of the debate that your Lordships have not had sufficient time to consider and to discuss this question. It is true that the matter has not been placed before you in the form of a Bill for many clays, but the Bill is nothing more in substance than the Resolutions which were passed by the House of Commons a long time ago, and which were laid upon the Table of your Lordships' House. Your Lordships have been seized of the fact that these proposals had been placed before you by the Government, and that later on they would be followed by a Bill, so that the objection that your Lordships have had no time for full consideration is hardly one which would be generally endorsed.
It has been stated that the real reason why these proposals are being pushed forward—it was stated by Lord Ellenborough—was that Home Rule might be passed without due deliberation and the safety of the Empire endangered. My Lords, I have for a long time been in favour of a measure of extended local government for Ireland—call it I-Ionic Rule, or Devolution, or by whatever name you please—but in the scheme which those with whom I am collaborating endeavour to express their views there is nothing more definite or more insisted upon than the integrity and the safety of the United Kingdom. The points brought forward as to the danger to our Navy or our Army or the safety of our Empire by giving to Ireland the power of making its own laws for purely domestic /natters is surely a very far-fetched idea. The Navy and the 911 Army and Imperial matters will remain as they are now. The only thing that will be effected be that the Imperial Parliament will be relieved of much of the work which oppresses it now. Larger questions will be discussed more fully and with wider knowledge, and small matters of local importance in Ireland, and, it may be, in Scotland and Wales if a similar devolution of power is extended to those countries, will be dealt with by the fuller knowledge which local persons can command. My Lords, I deprecate introducing into this question such a matter as Home Rule. That matter can be discussed on its merits when it arises; but it surely should not be taken as a factor in the discussion of Resolutions like these, or in the consideration of the Bill now before your Lordships.
§ LORD AMPTHILL
My Lords, the noble Earl the Leader of the House invited the back-benchers to take part in this debate, and it is to that invitation that I desire to respond. I rather think he had the idea that his invitation would lead to an expression of dissent from the policy of the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition from these Benches, but instead of that having been the case his invitation has recoiled on his own head, and he has met only with opposition from the ranks of his own followers. I should like to say at once that I give my most cordial support, for what it is worth, to the noble Marquess. I am with him heart and soul in his proposals. And I am no new convert to the principle which underlies them. I have long been in favour of a reform of the House of Lords, and I have for many years, both publicly and privately, fully admitted the grievance which is felt by members of the Radical Party at the disparity between the Parties in this House.
The noble Earl the Leader of the House complained—perhaps I ought not to say complained, because he made the remark in his kindest manner—the noble Earl said that I very often put interesting questions to him. If he were here, I should like to say that that is scarcely avoidable. The noble Earl takes upon himself, indeed he is obliged to take upon himself, in an unexampled manner, the whole burden of the work of the Front Bench in this House, and lie does so with a courage and a spirit which we all admire. Well, my Lords, I am afraid I shall have to suggest some other questions to him. I suppose I ought to reply to the last speaker from the Front 912 Bench, the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture, but as I am not so well acquainted as he is with the French language, nor vet so versed in agriculture, I am afraid I cannot attempt to reply to his exquisite onodulé oration, nor am I prepared to follow the noble Lord who spoke last on the subject of Home Rule.
First of all I wish to offer an answer to the noble Earl the Leader of the House on a point which I think has thus far escaped attention. The noble Earl doubted the existence of a Constitutional right on the part of this House to amend Money Bills. I thought we had clone with all that in the lengthy discussions which took place on the Finance Bill eighteen months ago. I believe that the position is this. The House of Lords has never formally acquiesced in the claim of the House of Commons that Money Bills should not be amended in this House. The House of Commons, of course, have passed Resolutions denying the right of amendment, but those Resolutions are not binding on your Lordships' House. The fact is that the right has fallen into desuetude, but that does not mean that it does not exist. Take a simple illustration. A man has, I believe, a right at law to use a revolver in his defence if attacked in his own house by a burglar, but if he is fortunate enough never to be so attacked, he does not forfeit his right to protect his own life in that manner. Before the great controversy over the Paper Duties in 1860, the right to amend Bills was exercised on a great many occasions. The facts and the circumstances were public property and were constantly discussed and debated at the time of the discussions on the Finance Bill, but I have not had an opportunity this evening of looking up any actual cases.
I do not think that the noble Earl the Leader of the House could have been quite serious when lie described the procedure which has been adopted by the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, as arbitrary and complicated. I prefer to think that he was doing a bit of electioneering, and, to use a common phrase, was "tipping a wink" to his followers on the platforms all over the country. I regretted, as most of us must have regretted, his use of the expression "want of candour." It was unlike the noble Earl. The noble Earl went on to say that two other courses would have been preferable, but he omitted to say that lie meant it would have 913 been preferable to the Government and to the. Radical Party. The first suggestion was that your Lordships might have amended the Bill in Committee. Why, the noble Earl told us in so many words that no Amendment would be admitted; and I think it must have struck many of your Lordships that no Leader of this House has ever been before in so humiliating a position as was the noble Earl when forced by his sense of Party allegiance to come clown and convey to this House a message so insulting and so outrageous. It would no doubt have been convenient to the Radical Party had they been able to say that the House of Lords in amending the Veto Bill had again adopted an attitude of defiance to the popular will and. had again mutilated a Radical measure. But I ask, as a matter of common sense, would those Amendments have been as convenient a method as the noble Marquess's Resolutions of explaining to the people what is the alternative policy offered by the Unionist Party? No doubt, it would leave been more convenient to the followers of the Government, but the alternative policy would not have been presented in so clear, or concise, or in so compact a form, and would have been capable of unlimited misrepresentation.
The other suggestion was that we should throw out the Veto Bill, and I do not doubt for a moment that that is what would have pleased the noble Earl and his friends best of all. It would certainly have been a most suitable course for Radical electioneering purposes, and we must forgive the noble Earl his disappointment that this course was not adopted. I think that most sensible people throughout the country will regard the method that has been followed by the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition as the most candid, the most convenient, and the most convincing method of explaining to the people of this country that there is a possible alternative to the Bill of the Government. In this connection I would ask your Lordships whether it is usual or in accordance with precedent—the noble Earl is an upholder of precedent—for Parliament to chuck Bills at the heads of the electorate with the remark that they need not be discussed in Parliament as they can be discussed for weeks in the country? As if you could discuss a Bill on a platform! On a platform there are generally only one or two speakers, and any attempt at discussion is invariably ruled out.
914 I pass on to several criticisms which were made by the noble Earl in regard to these Resolutions, and in connection with which I should like to suggest some questions for his consideration. On the point of Joint Sessions he said that it would be necessary to hire a ball the size of Olympia. Surely that was rather en unnecessary exaggeration. Even if both Houses sat together the total number would not exceed 1,300, and those who have any experience of public meetings know that a comparatively small building will accommodate that number. But I do not suppose that it entered the mind of anybody who has been seriously entertaining this proposal that the whole of both Houses should sit together. The suggestion is, of course, that there should be delegations, and I presume that it would be possible, when it conies to the discussion of details, that those delegations should be chosen by some sort of proportionate representation which would be fair to all Parties concerned. But what was the noble Earl's objection. He said that the members of the House of Commons are all equal, that they ought, therefore, all to have an equal voice. The question I should like to ask him is this: Do the members of the House of Commons have an equal voice now? Does he and do his friends in the Cabinet give them an equal voice? Have they had an equal voice in regard to the framing of this Veto Bill and the policy under which it is being disposed of? My Lords, the decision was that of the Cabinet oligarchy alone, and the members of the House of Commons had nothing like an equal voice in the settlement of that policy. It follows, therefore, that that argument will hardly hold water.
Then the noble Earl passed to the question of the Referendum, and said there was no precedent for it on so gigantic a scale. The noble Earl surely has no need to worry about precedents. For something like 700 years this country has been ruled by King, Lords, and Commons, and it has been understood during all that period that all laws must be made with the assent of all three. But now under the Veto Bill it is proposed that there should be two sorts of laws—the laws which are made by King and Commons alone, and the laws which are made. by King, Lords, and Commons. That is surely a considerable departure from precedent so far as this country is concerned. And so far as I am aware, 915 there is no precedent for such a distinction between one class of laws and another class of laws in any civilised country in the world. It opens up immense possibility of difficulties which it is only necessary to suggest in order to show how very grave the problem of dealing with them would be. How would the Courts of Law in this country treat these different kinds of laws? Is it not likely that they might not treat one class with the same respect as the other class of laws? Then, again, I should like to ask what precedent is there, either in this or any other country, for the position which it is proposed to assign to the Speaker under the Veto Bill? Again, what precedent is there for the proposal to establish the infallibility of the House of Commons? The principle of the Veto Bill is that whatever the House of Commons says three times is right, and, if I remember rightly, it was wittily remarked by a member of the other House that the only precedent for such an idea was to be found in the Snark, who said, "Whatever I say three times is right."
We are told that the object of this Veto Bill is delay and revision. That is a very extraordinary claim, seeing that the Bill in very specific terms precludes revision. It invites the House of Commons to send up a Bill again and again without revision, for if a Bill is revised in any essential particular it ceases to remain the same Bill. But the most singular argument of all to my mind was that you could not put a tariff into a Referendum. Who on earth would dream of doing so in the sense suggested by the noble Earl? Supposing there was a difference between the two Houses on the subject of a tariff, I cannot see any impossibility about referring the general question of principle, whether you will have a tariff or not, or whether you will have this or that tariff; but nobody would dream of asking the electorate to discuss every detail of such a tariff any more than we asked the nation to discuss every detail of the Budget. The noble Earl quoted the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition when he said that Bills for social and political objects were those which ought to be submitted to the people. Why, then, I would ask, did the noble Earl object to the Budget being so submitted? It was not submitted for the discussion of detail, as he seemed to think a tariff would have to be submitted, but for the verdict of the people on the general principle. The question submitted to the people was, Do 916 you or do you not wish to have a Budget which for the first time introduces Socialistic principles; do you or do you not wish that your Finance Bill for the year should be used as a "flexible instrument" for solving Constitutional problems—in other words, for introducing revolution. You say that this Veto Bill submits questions for the judgment of the people. The people do not come in at all in the Veto Bill, and it is on that ground that I think the Veto Bill is essentially an undemocratic measure. That, however, is not surprising, for the Radical Party seem nowadays to entirely ignore the sovereignty of the people. They forget them so far that they claim that the Radical Party ought to have their way; they do not often say it is the people who ought to have their way. But, as we have already been reminded in this debate, it is the people who are the masters, not only of the House of Commons, but also of this House. Therefore I agree entirely with my noble friend Lord Weardale when he said that the wisest and the easiest and the most democratic course is to refer questions at issue between the two Houses for the decision of the people. That is what this House is for. That is what this House has always done, and what this House will continue to do so long as it is preserved from the parricidal pickaxe—or shall I say the regicidal pickaxe—of the Radical Party.
§ On Question, the further debate adjourned till To-morrow.