§ Debate resumed (according to order) on the Motion 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 925 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; and
§ 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;
§ 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 LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD LOREBURN)
My Lords, it was naturally to be expected that this debate should travel a good deal beyond the text of the Resolutions standing in the name of the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, for we stand undoubtedly in a very grave Constitutional crisis, and its gravity is admitted on all sides. I feel that I ought to address your Lordships on this subject relating, as it does to the Constitutional usage and the Constitutional position of this House.
There are really two questions which have been debated so far, and they will be, I suppose, debated to-day. The first is, "Why have the Government recommended and advised a Dissolution of Parliament?" It is undoubtedly a very serious neglect of duty to advise a Dissolution without adequate grounds. The second question is, "What would be the effect of the Resolutions placed on the Paper by the noble Marquess?" I wish to discuss these subjects as simply and as concisely as I can, and to follow the example of those who have preceded me in the debate in avoiding both rhetoric and recrimination.
I come therefore to the first question as to why we have advised the Crown to dissolve Parliament. I will give my own reasons which I have no doubt are also the 926 reasons that animated my colleagues. I think that Lord St. Aldwyn said our case was a dishonest case. I suppose lie must have meant the phrase in a Parliamentary sense, but he grounded that censure upon the supposition that we are advising a Dissolution of Parliament as an indirect method of obtaining Home Rule for Ireland, which he thought we did not dare to ask the constituencies directly to grant. It is not so.
It is perfectly true, as I have said here before and elsewhere, that I hope most heartily the outcome of any General Election may be Home Rule for Ireland. I have been devoted to that cause for twenty-five years, and I am devoted to it still. I will not enter into the merits of a question which would be foreign to the present discussion; but may I ask your Lordships who are opposed to this view to take two things into consideration. Have your Lordships, especially those of you who have been members of the House of Commons, ever considered what is the present state of public business in the House of Commons, and what it has been for the last fifteen or twenty years. It would be a very serious thing for this country, whatever view you may take of the predominance of this House or of its relations to the other House, if the House of Commons, which is the primary representative Assembly, were to lose in reputation or in usefulness, and be unable to discharge its necessary duties to the country. It would be still more serious if as a result of the time and labour, useless, fruitless, and disappointing, that is exacted from members of the House, the class of men who enter it were lower than they are now.
There is one other point of view which I may be allowed to present. It is this. Do your Lordships consider at any time how desirable it would be for us all, if we could agree about it, to settle this Irish question in view of Imperial interests? I think it is true that we shall never get a complete accord such as we should desire with the United States of America unless we can get rid of this Irish difficulty, which has been a reproach to this country for a long time. I think it is also true that we shall never have that completely harmonious friendship with our great self-governing Colonies, or fellow States, if I may so call them, where 927 there are a very large number of men of Irish blood devoted to their country, unless we can find some such solution of that problem as has been recommended by the Parliament of Canada and by the Parliament of Australia. I pass from that subject, only saying that quite recently there has been a very remarkable movement in the Conservative Press and also among leading Conservatives, somewhat younger in age and therefore with more hope of the future, for an advance in that direction. But, my Lords, it is not for the sake of Home Rule that we have advised the Dissolution of Parliament.
Our reason has been that it is necessary in our opinion to bring to an issue at once irreconcilable divergences of principle as to the redress of admitted grievances arising from the relations between the two Houses of Parliament. We have learned by experience that it is impossible for a Liberal Government to maintain office with self-respect or with usefulness to the country unless some remedy can be provided for the grievance which is now admitted. We have also learned that it is impossible to reach any agreement as to the remedies which we could honestly recommend to our friends and supporters in the country.
Let me briefly recapitulate our experiences which have led us to that conclusion. Prior to 1905 the Conservative Government was in almost uninterrupted power for twenty years. Then we came in and found heavy arrears awaiting us, and we set to work, supported by an unprecedented majority in the House of Commons. My Lords, there were many difficulties. One was the education difficulty. That also contains an admitted grievance. It has not been disputed that there is a legitimate grievance with regard to the education system. We brought in a Bill in 1906. We found ourselves powerless to carry it through this House. We tried again and yet again by making concessions, and we found that we then could not pass our altered proposals through the House of Commons itself because the concessions would not be accepted by either Party. Then comes the Scottish Land Bill—a Bill in my humble opinion necessary for the purpose of ending, or helping to end, a state of things which leads to emigration and depopulation in the country districts of Scotland. I 928 introduced that Bill into this House myself, and I offered on the Second Reading to accept any reasonable Amendments. I stated, what was the fact, that I was authorised to make all reasonable concession to meet opposition. Your Lordships would not even give it a Second Reading. The next Bill was the Licensing Bill, dealing with the subject which is at the very root of all social reform, and without which no social reform can be effectively entertained. That was refused a Second Reading. Finally, the Budget was thrown out in 1909. I do not speak of minor Bills.
We had then to consider our position as a Cabinet. For 100 years, my Lords, I believe I am right, this House has never thrown out a single Bill introduced by a Conservative Government. I will not say that I have gone through the pages of Hansard, but I have a pretty fairly accurate political knowledge, and if any of your Lordships can suggest a single Bill introduced by a Conservative Government which during 100 years has been thrown out by this House I shall admit his authority, but I do not think that one can be suggested. That being the position, we found that in four years four great Bills of ours had been thrown out in succession, and the last of them was, as we thought, a Bill the rejection of which was contrary to all Constitutional usage. We were finally driven to a General Election by what we regarded as a flagrant invasion of Constitutional right, and then we resolved, and publicly stated our resolution, that we would and must postpone all other business excepting necessary or uncontroversial business and retain office only for the purpose and on the condition that we could settle this business of the relatior between the two Houses. We obtained large majority on that subject. We have devoted the time of the House of Commons this year, except so far as it has been taken up by the Budget, practically to the Veto Resolutions. The Parliament Bill which is before your Lordships is merely the echo of those Resolutions. Their principle has been before the country since the year 1906 and was fully ratified at the last General Election. Now, my Lords, how was that received, notwithstanding the last General Election, in the House of Commons by the leader of the Conservative Party? Mr. Balfour said with regard to the first financial Resolution that it was a perfectly ludicrous 929 and absurd suggestion. He said with regard to the Resolution relating to general legislation—I say it is the most absurd and unconstitutional method of dealing with a great constitutional case that eau possibly be conceived.It was very obvious that our proposals had no chance of being accepted by the Opposition in the House of Commons, and I think that your Lordships in candour will admit that they had very few chances of being accepted by this House of Parliament either.
Then came the great tragedy of the death of the late, King. There was a chance of peace. No one in the country more welcomed it than His Majesty's Government, and no member of His Majesty's Government more heartily welcomed the prospect, if it was possible, than myself. We proposed a Conference which was accepted. Eight picked men, representing both sides of politics, met. They were all, I believe, every one of them anxious to reach a settlement of this business if they could. After twenty-one meetings lasting over four months they were obliged to announce the failure of their negotiations, and we had to abandon that Conference as without hope of fruit. The Government had again to consider their position. What were we to do? Were we to lay aside our policy of adjusting the relations between the two Houses and to proceed with other regular and ordinary legislative business? No one has ever suggested that, and had we even been allowed to do it it would have been a dishonourable thing to think of doing when you consider the issue there was before the country at the last General Election, and the promises and pledges that all Parties had given on the subject.
Were we, then, to try again for some compromise or joint settlement? What encouragement was there for an attempt of that kind? Our proposals had been scouted by Mr., Balfour. the Leader of the Opposition, and by all his friends in the House of, Commons. No alternative proposals whatever had been laid before the country except. those of Lord. Rosebery, and Lord Rosebery's proposals were confined to the composition of the House of Lords. They did, not embrace anything relating to the deadlock or machinery for removing a deadlock in the relations and 930 powers of the Houses of Parliament, and it is now, by the very presence of Lord Lansdowne's Resolutions on the Paper, obviously admitted, as has been freely and unreservedly admitted in debate, that it is vital for the settlement of this question that you should consider not merely the composition of the House of Lords, but also the powers of the two Houses of Parliament and their relations one to the other.
We had, I say, not heard of any proposal being placed either before Parliament or the public except the proposal relating to the composition of the House, and nothing relating to its powers. The utmost efforts of the Conference had failed. "You could not have eight men, or four men on either side, in whom their respective Parties more thoroughly trusted. I know that of my own colleagues, and I believe it frankly and fully of the gentlemen who represented the Conservative Party, that you could not have, men who were more really and honestly anxious for an honourable settlement if they could obtain it. That failed, and failed, as your Lordships may recollect; Mr. Balfour said—I am paraphrasing his language—for the reason that from his point of view he could not accept the proposals and ideas put forward by the Liberal negotiators without betraying his Party. My Lords, I believe it has been publicly stated that that is exactly the same frame of mind on our side. I agree that common consent is the best way of settling every difference. I believe above all that it is most desirable, because it is most durable, when you are trying to settle the Constitution difficulty. I think each Party ought, so far as they can, to try to meet the other, especially on matters of this kind. But a time comes when you find that consent is unattainable, and when you find it is unattainable one view or the other must prevail. It is impossible to prevent the question being settled in the only Constitutional way. There was only one course open to us when we considered most anxiously what we should do by all the light we had to see by. That was to say to the country, "You must decide. Our differences are irreconcilable. We tail do nothing more by way of accommodation, and the matter must be determined by the country itself."
The decision to advise the Dissolution of Parliament, although it had been anticipated a few days before, was not announced 931 until Friday last, November 18. On Monday possible authority in this House, gave us day, November 21, Lord Lansdowne laid on to understand that there were to be 300 or the Table his Resolutions as to meeting a 400 members of the House of Lords, and deadlock. Nothing of that kind had ever been, to my knowledge, announced before. Now, if that had been announced a month ago or twelve months ago in my opinion it would not have altered the situation. In point of fact it was not disclosed to Parliament or laid before the public in any way until after the Dissolution had been declared. You admit the grievance under which we lie. Nothing is placed before the country to meet it except the general Resolutions as to the composition of the House of Lords, which admittedly do not cover the whole ground. You meet us in Conference and we are unable to come to terms; and then three days after we are driven to a Dissolution out come these proposals to adjust the relations between the two Houses. It may be that it was inevitable that they should not come forward at any earlier date—I am not concerned with that. Things will be exactly as they have been. In point of fact they were not published When there is a Liberal majority in the until three days after the Dissolution had House of Commons, I have no doubt been announced. In those circumstances is not rather hard to say that we ought not to have dissolved, but that we ought to have considered these Resolutions?
If we were now to advise the postponement of a Dissolution we should spend, perhaps, having regard to the magnitude of the subject, another twelve months in perfectly fruitless negotiations, and then at the end we should be, as we are at the present moment, obliged to appeal to those who are our masters and the masters of the House of Commons. That view is confirmed by an examination of Lord Lansdowe's proposals. I say that, hard as the grievance is under which are propounded in the Resolutions of Lord Lansdowne. You must take them in connection, of course, with the Resolutions of Lord Rosebery which deal with the composition of this House. See what is the effect of the two together. Lord Rosebery's Resolutions do not prescribe the number of members of the House of Lords, nor do they say how many members of the new House of Lords will consist of hereditary Peers selected by other hereditary Peers. But Lord Lansdowne and Lord Curzon also referred, rather in the nature of commentators on the text, to the Resolutions of Lord Rosebery, and Lord Lansdowne speaking with the highest 932 possible authority in this House, gave us to understand that there were to be 300 or 400 members of the House of Lords, and about one-half of the number were to hereditary Peers. That means an over-whelming Conservative majority, because the composition of this House ensure that few, very few, Liberals will be returned out of the 150 or 200 hereditary Peers. It interenches the Conservative Party in a majority in this House. It is to a House so composed, dominated by an overwhelming Conservative majority, that the scheme of Lord Lansdowne's Resolutions is to apply.
How would it work in ordinary legislation—not financial but ordinary legislation? When there is a Conservative majority in the House of Commons there will never be a difference between the two Houses at all. The consequence is there will never be occasion for a Joint Session. Things will be exactly as they have been. House of Commons, I have no doubt there will be plenty of constituted, and many Joint Sessions will be plenty of differences between the two Houses so constituted, and many Joint Sessions will be desirable. The whole crux of the question is how is a Joint Session to be composed. It is left designedly vague and indefinite in the Resolutions of Lord Lansdowne. He told us that he had left it vague on purpose. I make no complaint; I only call attention to the fact. It may be that the two Houses in their entirety are to meet. If so, one knows what chance any of our proposals would have unless there is an of Commons. It may be that it is to be done by delegation or committee of both Houses. If so, how can we possibly tell what the result will be except that the delegates of the House of Lords are sure to be in an overwhelming preponderance Conservative? How are we to know what the result will be unless we have some conception of the relative numbers of the delegations and whether or not any fair chance by that or any other method will be given to the Liberal Party in Joint Session? Those are very crucial questions. Those are the very pinch of the proposals, and we are told absolutely nothing and have no encouragement held out to us that we should get any satisfaction by means of a Joint Session or that there will be anything in its construction which will enable us to look forward to a 933 more happy fate than we have hitherto enjoyed under the present system.
The same observations apply to a Referendum. That only conies into play, according to the text of Lord Lansdowne's Resolutions, if there is a difference between the two Houses, and if that difference relates to a matter which is of great gravity and has not been adequately submitted to t he judgment of the people. Then, again, when there is a Conservative House of Commons and a Conservative House of Lords no difference of opinion whatever will arise, and no Referendum will be needed; but when there is a Liberal majority in the House of Commons, almost any proposal, I am afraid, will appear to be matter of great gravity and will have to be settled by a Referendum. Under the Resolutions, I submit, the proposal for a Referendum is wholly one-sided. It will not apply when there is a Conservative House of Commons; it will apply when there is a Liberal House of Commons. But in the course of his speech Lord Lansdowne hinted that there might be—although there is nothing of that kind appearing in the Resolutions—there might be also means by which outsiders could claim a Referendum, even though both Houses were agreed. How or upon what conditions has not been pointed out. If I may restrict myself to my own opinion, I admit there may be cases in which the Referendum might be useful. They must be very exceptional cases, cases of a kind to which the ordinary procedure of Parliament is for some reason inapplicable.
Without expressing a view on the subject of the claim of women for the vote, on which no Party is agreed, and upon which, therefore, by a General Election conducted on Party lines it seems almost impossible that a decision can be arrived at representing the opinion of the constituencies, I can conceive that on a subject of that kind the Referendum might be useful in a very rare and almost unique case. But if it is ever to he carried into effect it ought to be by special Act of Parliament applicable to the particular and separate question, and not by introducing the Referendum into the general Constitutional system of the country. I am not a Conservative, and I am not in the least afraid of change. I do not wish to pose as a dealer in Conservative argument; but I want to say that, if you introduce the 934 Referendum as part of the working Constitution of this country, you must either restrict it to the case of a difference between the two Houses of Parliament, in which case it will apply only to Liberal Bills, or you must allow outsiders by some method undescribed to appeal against both Houses of Parliament through the Referendum to the country. I do not know whether your Lordships contemplate a step of that kind. It would amount to government by plébiscite instead of Parliamentary government to which we have been accustomed, and I cannot help thinking that a great deal of very grave argument and reflection would be needed before we commit ourselves to any such proposition. It would destroy the sense of the responsibility of the House of Commons and it would be a more far-reaching and revolutionary change than as yet has been proposed in regard to our Constitution. I believe it would be unsound and dangerous.
There is only one part of these Resolutions left to which I would refer—namely, that relating to finance. It has been so fully dealt with by my noble friend, Lord Crewe, that I have really nothing more that I can add in regard to it. It does seem to me that it really concedes very little to the House of Commons, and probably on the balance this proposal in regard to finance takes more from the House of Commons than it gives to the House of Commons in the way of control. If all these Resolutions were adopted and applied to-morrow I am afraid they would amount to no Substantial abatement whatever of the grievances under which we admittedly suffer. Those grievances are that we, the Government of the country, are powerless and are unable to have our proposals carried, not on a rare single occasion, but often, and unable even to have our proposals considered beyond the Second Reading. These Resolutions of the noble Marquess do really nothing, and not only do they do nothing but they proceed upon lines absolutely contradictory to the lines upon which our best-considered proposals go—on lines consolidating and strengthening the Conservative majority in this House, or at all events leaving them of equal strength in their conflicts with the House of Commons when a Liberal majority is in power. They take away from the Crown the only power that exists at the present time—an extreme 935 power, I quite admit—by which this House can be checked. Every authority in this country is liable to be checked. The House of Commons is liable to be checked by Dissolution. The Crown is liable to be checked by refusal of Supplies. This House is liable to be checked by the creation of Peers and in no other way. The creation of Peers would be valueless, as a remedy if the Resolutions of the noble Earl were passed, and the Resolutions of the noble Marquess were added to them. I have tried to state to your Lordships, I hope without passion, the reasons by which we have acted. On these reasons we shall have to be judged by the country, and we are prepared heartily and willingly to accept the decision of our countrymen.
§ LORD CURZON OF KEDLESTON
My Lords, I rise to address your Lordships under the impression which is always produced, certainly upon me and I believe upon almost every one of your Lordships, by the speeches of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. He is invariably so courteous in manner, so moderate in tone, so widely remote, as he claimed at the commencement of his remarks, from anything like rhetoric or recrimination, and so mild in the admonitions which he addresses to those of us who sit on this side of the House, that really when we listen to him we feel almost tempted to say, in scriptural language, "Almost thou persuadest me to be" something which I am not. But as I listened to the noble and learned Lord the one feeling that prevailed in my mind more than any other was, Is it possible that the noble and learned Lord, so gentle and so persuasive as he is, can really be the colleague of Statesmen, occupying a position scarcely inferior to his own, whose style and whose attitude generally is unfortunately modelled, if I may say so, on that of howling Dervishes rather than on that with which the noble and learned Lord invariably enchants this House.
I do not, of course, say that the language of the noble and learned Lord ought to be interpreted in the terms of the language of his colleagues. I am sure he would shrink himself from any such suggestion. But at least your Lordships must remember when discussing this issue that His Majesty's Government speaks with two voices. There is the voice of sobriety and moderation and reasonable 936 argument which we hear from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, and, I may also add, from the noble Earl the Leader of the House, and then there is the voice of coarse invective and unscrupulous misrepresentation to which we are becoming daily, I may say, more and more habituated in the platform performances of some of the colleagues of those two noble Lords. The noble and learned Lord commenced his remarks as, if I may say so without impertinence, he has done on previous occasions, by recapitulating according to his own ideas the events of the past five years-1905–1910. We are familiar with his views upon that branch of the question. They have been answered many times with greater or less effectiveness from these Benches. I do not propose to endeavour to repeat the operation to-night. I would not venture to say that the argument of the noble and learned Lord in that respect is inappropriate to the present discussion, but I do say that it is not directly germane to the consideration of the Resolutions which the noble Marquess has placed upon the Paper.
We have only heard one speech so far this afternoon, but I think your Lordships who were present yesterday could not fail to have been very much struck by the general course which has been pursued in this debate. For my own part I have been much astonished at the general consensus of opinion that has been exhibited. Those of us who sit on this Bench hardly expected that the noble Marquess, in putting his Resolutions on the Paper, would meet with the unanimous approval that has at any rate so far been exhibited on this side of the House. The noble Earl who leads the House appealed yesterday to those noble Lords who sit on the Back Benches on both sides to favour us with their views, and he may perhaps have expected that there would be some rift in the lute on our side, or at any rate that the Government policy would receive support from his side.
But what happened? Only three Peers spoke from the Opposition back benches last night, and not one of them expressed any approbation of the policy now being pursued by His Majesty's Government. There is a noble Lord, Lord Ribblesdale, who always speaks not merely with great charm and ability but with absolute independence on this question. He told us 937 that he accepted, I think he even said he swallowed whole, the Resolutions of my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition. Then there was Lord Weardale. He is a noble Lord whose democratic sentiments are unimpeachable and whom, in the old days in the House of Commons, I would describe as a good Party man. But the noble Lord, having been translated to this House, told us last night that he protested most strongly against, the circumstances under which this issue was being referred to the people without adequate discussion in either House of Parliament, and he, also as a democrat and on democratic grounds, put in a strong plea for the Referendum which forms part of the proposals of the noble Marquess. Then we had the speeches of the two most reverend Prelates who represent the leading ecclesiastical organisation in this country. They of course did not speak on Party lines, but it is perfectly clear from their speeches that they hold that it is not on the lines of political cleavage or by Party warfare that this question can be settled, but rather that it should be by co-operation and contribution on the part of both sides of this House that it will ultimately be determined.
Up to this moment then there has been a wonderful consensus of opinion among all those who have spoken in this debate except the speakers on the front Government bench. There has been a consensus of opinion that the situation has been materially altered by the Resolutions placed on the Paper by the noble Marquess even at this late date—a date inevitably late, not owing to any fault of our own, but owing to circumstances outside our control. There has been a general agreement that these Resolutions provide a basis for statesmanlike discussion in your Lordships' House and possibly even material for agreement at a future date. There has been a general agreement that a Dissolution has been forced upon us—I say this in spite of the defence that has just been offered by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack—in a wanton and in. an inexcusable way, and, further, that this General Election is about to be fought on false and distorted issues in which the country will be asked to give its verdict upon a situation of which it is not fully seized and upon a policy that has never been thoroughly debated in either House of Parliament.
938 Yesterday I took note of one admission which fell from the noble Earl the Leader of the House. It was the passage in which he said that if his Party were returned to power there would be opportunities given by which the Parliament Bill would be discussed freely over an ample space of time with abundant opportunity for amendment in both Houses of Parliament.
§ LORD CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I am very glad to hear that statement on the part of the noble Earl, although I am not certain that it will have been read with equal satisfaction or concurrence by Mr. Redmond. I was glad to hear it because it disposes once and for all of the silly rumours that have been floating about that even if the Government were returned to power they propose by violent, coercive, and unconstitutional methods to force these proposals upon your Lordships' House. But in making that admission the noble Earl gave away the whole case for the Dissolution of Parliament. Is it not an absolute inversion of the ordinary theory of our Constitution and indeed of representative institutions in general? Surely the Constitutional procedure is to introduce a Bill into the House of Commons, to debate it there and allow amendment, and to bring it up here and then, if it is rejected or, in the opinion of the Government, crippled in its passage through this House, to take the matter to the arbitrament of the polls. But here the Government are doing exactly the opposite. They are having recourse to this ill-timed and stampede General Election upon a measure which has never been discussed in the House of Commons, which until a day or two ago was never brought before your Lordships' House, which, I venture to say, is wholly misunderstood by the electors at large, and with the terms of which probably not one man in 10,000 who is going to vote at the forthcoming election is in the least degree acquainted. If this be so, surely I am correct in saying that at the forthcoming election the issue which is going to be presented to the country is a false and distorted issue.
I take up my papers this morning, being a diligent student of the utterances of His Majesty's Ministers, and there I read a very lurid and highly-coloured picture of 939 the issues on which His Majesty's Government are going to appeal to the country. I may, say they do not in the least agree with the picture which we have just had from the noble and learned Lard on the Woolsack. I read, in the language of the Home Secretary, in that full-blooded style which we all appreciate, that the cause of the Dissolution is because your Lordships' House oppose a dead blank wall of arbitrary refusal to the policy of His Majesty's Government. Is that consistent with our attitude on the present occasion in the proposals we are now discussing? In language more picturesque and even less associated with facts, the Chancellor of the Exchequer says that the reason why the Government are going to the country is that 600 men chosen by nobody—I must say I thought about forty of them had been chosen by the present and the recent leaders of the Party opposite—in whom are included the whole of the Bench opposite and five or six members of the Cabinet, arrogate the right to govern, and claim to possess superior wisdom to, 45,000,000 people.
I put to myself and I put to noble Lords this question. Let us suppose that an intelligent foreigner came to this country at the present time and that he was taken, as intelligent foreigners always are, to see the sights of the metropolis; that in the course of the afternoon he was permitted to read the election address of the Home Secretary and that in the evening, in order to complete the day's entertainment, he was taken to Mile-end or St. Pancras. Supposing that after that he came down to your Lordships' House in order to see the 600 tyrants who, to use the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, have never done a. decent day's work in their lives, who do nothing all day long—this includes the front Bench opposite—year after year, but hunt and shoot and ride—I do not identify the description in my own case and I dare say it is equally fallacious in that of other noble Lords—and supposing he were to listen to this two days' debate in which we are now engaged, What would such an intelligent foreigner say? I suppose his first remark would be, "It is a mad world, my masters, in which we live." But surely he would go on to say that the system of government under which such a thing is possible must be one of the worst systems in the world; and if he went beyond that and were examining the conditions 940 under which a reform of this system of government were possible surely he would be more likely to look to the temperate and valuable and reasonable discussion which has been going on for the past two days in this House than to the random utterances of the platform to which I have referred.
In the course of his remarks the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack reproached us, as we have more than once been reproached before, that it is so late in the day that we have come before the country with these proposals for dealing with the relations between the two Houses. He asks—Why did you never look into the question before? He almost hinted, although of course he did not adopt phraseology so unpleasant, that this was a death-bed repentance on our part. Of all the charges brought against us that is one that personally afflicts and distresses me most because it is the one that seems to me to be least consistent with the facts. What are the facts of the case? At the last General Election I suppose there is scarcely one of us interested in the matter of the House of Lords who spoke about it who did not say that the reform of the Constitution involved as an indispensable corollary the readjustment of the relations between the two Chambers. We went on to say, and still hold, that the reform of the House was the indispensable preliminary to taking up the second part of the programme. And why? The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack himself supplied the answer. He told us not ten minutes ago that the real crux of this matter in the future will be the determination of the joint sitting between the two Houses—the proportions that come from one House or the other, the adequate representation of different parties and interests. Yes, quite true. But the whole claim of the House of Lords to adequate representation in the joint sitting must depend on whether we are or are not a reformed Chamber. If our numbers are reduced and if our composition is improved surely we should be entitled to a different form of treatment from that which we might have if we remain as we are. Therefore it is that we have, wisely I think, always put proposals for the reform of the constitution of the House in front of proposals for the readjustment of our relations. The second question cannot be decided till the first is out of the way.
941 I think there is a further answer to the noble and learned Lord. As soon as the election was over the noble Earl upon the Cross Benches did introduce his Resolutions for reform, and 1 am in the recollection of the House when I remind them that the first three we did carry with no difficulty, though after adequate discussion, and that the remaining three we were prepared to take up when that melancholy event occurred to which allusion has been made, then it is asked, Why did not you proceed at that moment with proposals to deal with the relations of the two Houses? Is not the answer clear? The Conference had taken up the matter. The great majority of the members of your Lordships' House know very little what went on and I am sorry to say are never likely to know what went on in the Conference; but is there a single man in this House who is such a simpleton as to believe that these eight statesmen met twenty-one times, for several hours at a time, extending over four or five months, without discussing the relations of the two Houses? It is a matter not only of legitimate inference, but I might almost say of general knowledge, that that was the main subject of their discussions if at such a moment we had acted in the manner in which the noble and learned Lord seems to think we ought to have acted, and proposals had been introduced for dealing with this branch of the question, should we not have been at once accused of a gross breach of etiquette, of infringing the sort of Constitutional truce which had been agreed upon between both Parties and of taking upon ourselves that particular function which the Conference had been set up to carry out. The Conference then broke down, and the noble and learned Lord himself admitted that it was within a very few days of the breakdown that the noble Marquess tabled his Resolutions.
It is quite conceivable that His Majesty's Government are not altogether very pleased with our tactics. I think that emerged from something said by the Leader of the House yesterday when he was kind enough to tell us what he thought the tactics were we ought to have pursued. At once we realised, I do not like to say the cloven hoof, but at any rate the inner meaning of the suggestion of the noble Earl. He said we ought to have discussed the Government Bill, and that either we might have accepted it, and moved a limited number of Amendments—Amendments which he 942 himself told us only a week ago would be treated with no courtesy or consideration on his side—or we might simply have accepted the Second Reading, in which ease of course we should at once have been taunted by His Majesty's Government, and still more by their followers in the country, with having accepted their policy and with having thrown up what the noble Earl, Lord Carrington, in an access of felicitous and hilarious gaiety, last night described as the hereditary sponge; or, as the noble Earl went on to say, we might have rejected the Second Reading of the Bill. No doubt that would have been equally agreeable to His Majesty's Government because then we should have given them the very excuse for a Dissolution which they are now wanting. The tactics of the Government, if I rightly describe them, have been frustrated by the action of the noble Marquess. They have only themselves to thank if this action does not entirely satisfy them, but I think it has fulfilled its purpose of placing before this House and the country in clear and unmistakable terms the fact that there is alternative on our side, a serious and statesmanlike alternative; arid that, as the result of this debate, it meets with a great deal of popular acceptance on both sides of your Lordships' House.
I may perhaps be permitted to make a few observations upon those parts of the proposals of the noble Marquess to which the Lord Chancellor has referred. The first is that of the Joint Sitting between the two Houses. It has been, I think, a very remarkable thing that that particular feature of the proposals has met with almost universal approval. I do not think it has excited a dissentient voice on either side of this House. It is, as we know, a plan that is adopted in our Colonies, and it is adopted in a rather different form in the Constitution of France. The only criticism that was passed upon it by the Leader of the House yesterday was, if he will allow me to say so, rather a petty and ineffective criticism. He said, "What are you going to do if these two bodies are going to meet each in plenum? How are you going to find a hall adequate for such numbers—you may have to engage Olympia for the purpose?" Even if such 'a thing were contemplated, there does happen to be in close proximity to your Lordships' House an ancient and historic hall, which has been the scene of many of the most 943 famous events in British history, which would be perfectly capable of accommodating even such numbers. But I could not help thinking, while the noble Earl was making this suggestion, whether the consideration is one which might not in the future be pertinent to him. We have very often heard the suggestion that it might one day be the duty of His Majesty's Government to add a very large number to the members of your Lordships' House, such a number, under the schemes which have been contemplated, as would amount to 500 Peers. Five hundred Peers added to the present number of your Lordships' House would compose a total of 1,100 men. It is conceivable, therefore, in these circumstances, that the problem of engaging Olympia is one which some day may present itself to His Majesty's Government. But, after all, is not all this really rather beside the issue, and is it not perfectly certain that no one would contemplate the two Houses meeting in plenum? Is it not perfectly certain that when they did meet, if ever they did meet, there would be delegations sent from the two Houses of Parliament?
Then the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack says, "How are we to know that a reasonable and fair delegation would be sent up from the House of Lords? How do we know that the contributions that you send would not swamp whatever Radical majority there might be in the House of Commons" It is true that one cannot answer that question definitely at the present moment, but surely it all depends on the spirit in which an agreement, if agreement there ever be, is arrived at? Surely it all depends upon the degree of confidence in which either side feels justified in reposing in the sincerity of the other? Of course, if you think that these Resolutions are merely setting up a new plan under which, with a simulacrum of reform, our Party are merely desiring to stereotype the predominance of their own side or to reproduce the existing conditions of which they, just as much as you, complain, then it is no good discussing the matter further. You are quite entitled to object to our proposals, but if you assume—and there is no one to whom I may appeal with greater confidence in a matter like this than to the Lord Chancellor—that we approach this matter in the spirit of fairness and sincerity and with a desire to arrive at a solution which you have claimed for yourselves, is it not 944 a little unfair to us to suppose that we are going at every stage to "queer the pitch"? I believe that in this matter there must be a certain give and take between the two Parties, and we are just as much entitled to ask from the noble and learned Lord an admission of our sincerity as he is, when he speaks to us in this House, to claim it from us.
Then I pass on to the next question to which the noble and learned Lord referred —the Referendum. There is no one on this side of the House who would not at once admit that the Referendum is a novel, difficult, and complicated question. It is not a question on which we can derive very much assistance from the practice of foreign countries, because, although the Referendum does exist elsewhere as we all know, its existence there can really only be quoted as a precedent rather than an analogy. But may I, in the few observations I still have to make, endeavour to combat one or two, at any rate, of the misapprehensions to which I think the suggestion of the Referendum has been subjected in the debate in your Lordships' House. The noble Earl the Leader of the House said yesterday that he thought it would be an unsuccessful expedient because few people would vote. Is that a reasonable anticipation? In this country you have political interest developed in our democracy to a degree that exists in no other European and, I would add, in no American State. To such an extent is this the case that at the last General Election you had, I believe, an average of over ninety per cent.—I believe in many cases it was ninety-four and ninety-five per cent.—of the voters going to the poll. Is it, therefore, any less likely, when you have an issue submitted to the people by Referendum, an issue with which they are certain to be familiar in advance, which must have excited a great deal of Party interest, that they will treat the matter so cavalierly as to be unwilling to place their votes on paper, or, if there is to be a poll, to go to the poll? I submit to you, with deference, that the suggestion that the Referendum would be burked or shirked by the people is one as to which we need not feel any apprehension at all.
Then as to the question of cost. The Chancellor of the Exchequer goes about making speeches in which he says the cost will amount to two millions sterling, which 945 is at the rate of 5s. 8d. a head for an electorate calculated at seven millions of persons. Is it in the least degree necessary that, if you have a Referendum, the whole of the trouble of a General Election, its long delays, its numerous meetings, its expenses both personal and official, should be reproduced? It may, perhaps, be too much to expect that a Referendum could be carried through by the Post Office in a single day, though I do not think myself that is altogether incredible. At the same time I think it is quite certain that, with a few days' time, a small staff of officials would be adequate for the purpose, and that, instead of costing something like two millions sterling, the cost would not be more than between £150,000 and £200,000. And that, observe, would not fall on individual candidates as the cost of an election does now, but would, naturally, be borne by the nation as a whole.
Then, there is the difficulty which has been raised as to the manner in which the issue shall he presented to the people by Referendum. I do not in the least dispute the seriousness of the difficulty, as all must know who have had the experience of standing for popular election. It is a very difficult thing to put a complicated issue in a form, though it is often tried by hecklers in the body of a hall, which demands or requires the answer "Aye" or "No." But the difficulty experienced in putting the question for Referendum would be as nothing to the difficult), that is experienced at a General Election now. At a. General Election you have a perfect congeries, a huddle and muddle of programmes and policies, of Bills and cries, and on these you invite your elector to give a decision one way or the other. But what does he do? The utmost he can attempt to do is to strike a rough-and-ready balance between all the various conflicting considerations that appeal to his mind. What he generally does is to decide to give his vote in favour of a programme or Party or Party leader or individual candidate who is soliciting his suffrages. That is the way he gets out of his difficulties and that is the rough-and-ready system by which we solve these Constitutional problems. But these difficulties, serious as they are in our present system, would be nothing like so serious under the Referendum. Clearly the class of questions which go to Referendum would be much more easily put in a 946 concise and compact shape, admitting of "Aye" or "No," than are all the mixed and complicated issues that go before a General Election. I hope, therefore, we shall not be unduly disturbed by that apprehension.
Now, my Lords, I come to what is a very serious charge. The noble Earl the Leader of the House stated the objection the other day, and it was repeated by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. Lord Crewe said the Referendum was really a negation of the system of representative government; and that was followed by the noble and learned Lord when he said that it would destroy the sense of responsibility of members of the House of Commons. Of course, that is a serious charge to bring against it, although I am not certain that that sense of responsibility at the present moment remains altogether unimpaired. What does the charge mean? I suppose it means that Members of Parliament would say, "Never mind what we do, never mind what vote we give. The matter will be settled by the people, and therefore we may be indifferent." Mr. Lloyd George put it in rather more crude language. I imagine he meant the same thing when he said yesterday that the Referendum would be a device for insulting the House of Commons and debasing and diminishing its authority.
I remember many years ago reading the circumstances under which the Referendum was introduced in Switzerland. Exactly the same apprehensions were expressed on that occasion—that it was going to destroy all sense of personal and individual responsibility. It has had in Switzerland, and I believe it would have here, exactly the opposite effect. I myself believe that it would stimulate the sense of responsibility of individual Members of Parliament, because they would feel that they might be called to account by a Referendum of the. people at no short date afterwards. And still more, I think, it would go a long way to prevent that log-rolling and that wire-pulling which is one of the curses of the Party system in the form it has taken in this country. I own I share the surprise of the noble Lord, Lord Weardale, that the Referendum is looked upon with so much suspicion by noble Lords opposite. It is essentially democratic in its character. Its basis is the belief, to which we all, on both sides of the House, give expression 947 in our public utterances, that in the last resort we accept the will of the people, and I am at a loss to understand why, when it is put forward in this proposal, it should be greeted with so much doubt, and, apparently, with so much dismay by those who profess to be the real representatives of the democracy in this country.
I do not think that, while I am speaking of the Referendum. I need allude to one other argument against it which has been uttered, not, it is true, in this House, but in a more congenial atmosphere outside. Yesterday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the Referendum was "a one-sided Party dodge, by which the Party with riches and vested interests would crush down the democracy with the sheer weight of gold." I confess I do not understand that. The Chancellor of the Exchequer's conception of society in this country is that it consists of two classes —one, the rich, who are mainly composed of noble Lords and their friends on this side of the House, and the other, the poor, of whom he is the sole spokesman and champion, and that it is his business in the world to rehabilitate society by placing the heels of the pour on the necks of the rich. That is an intelligible, though I think a fundamentally fallacious, view of society. But how he applies it to the Referendum, how the gold of the rich is to come in and crush the poor in the Referendum, I fail altogether to see, and how the democracy is to be injured by being asked to pronounce upon any political issue that may for the time being be before the country I altogether fail to comprehend.
My Lords, only one other point which the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack referred to. It is really connected with the point I was taking just now about the suspicion with which the noble and learned Lord appears to regard our proposals. He was talking about the proportions that might be adopted in a reformed House of Lords as affecting both this House and the Joint Sitting, and also about the circumstances under which the reference might be made and recourse might be had to the Referendum, and he pictured a House of Lords composed in much the same manner and proportions as now, and he advanced certain calculations which led him to think that a reformed House of Lords would have about the same Conservative majority as now. Was the 948 noble and learned Lord entirely fair to our Party when he made that calculation? Did he really do justice to the proposals of the noble Earl on the Cross Benches? Does lie not remember that the other day when we were discussing the matter it was agreed and accepted on both sides that a reformed House of Lords is not to consist in the main of hereditary Peers; that there is to be not only a large infusion but I think it was said that at least one-half of your Lordships' House was to he nonhereditary and was to be recruited from outside by popular methods? Is it not to be supposed that the Party opposite will have at least as much chance of obtaining a majority as we shall? It may be if they are in power they will have a greater chance. Is it not the case also that even among hereditary members there will be members qualified by official position? Is it not certain that all the noble Lords opposite, who, as one of them remarked to-night, adorn that Bench, will be included even in the hereditary portion of the reformed House of Lords? I think, therefore, that the noble and learned Lord was a little unfair to us in this respect.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
May I explain that the only ground on which I did assume, I think legitimately, that there would be an overwhelming Conservative majority was this. As I understood, the idea was that one-half of the new House of Lords would be elected by the present Peers.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Then I beg the noble Lord's pardon. I understood so. No numbers were named at all by the noble Earl who proposed it, but, as I understood, Lord Lansdowne intimated the opinion that about one-half would be hereditary Peers. The consequence was I was brought to assume that the Peers would vote according to their opinions, and their opinions would be Conservative as they are now.
§ LORD CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I quite accept what is said by 'the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, but I think lie has misinterpreted what fell from my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition. The scheme of Lord Rosebery does indeed propose that of the reformed House 949 of Lords about one-half shall be hereditary Peers, but it was not proposed that the whole of that portion should be elected by your Lordships' House. There is also the element of official qualification. Opinions differ as to whether a large or a small proportion of that hull should be returned to the House of Lords by that method; but, be it large or small, it; is perfectly certain that noble Lords opposite will have as ample on opportunity of qualifying under that test as we who sit on this side of the House.
Well, my Lords, I think I have followed the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack through the greater part of the criticisms which he directed against these Resolutions. May I say this in conclusion? We commend these Resolutions as an honest and sincere attempt, not merely to reform the constitution of this House, but, to give a Liberal Government who may be in power in the House of Commons in future a better chance for themselves and for their measures than, we are ready to admit, they have hitherto enjoyed. They do present a clear and definite alternative in our view to the policy of the Government as outlined in the so-called Parliament and in so far as they are vague and undefined—and we admit that—we say that is a necessary concomitant of the present stage of their evolution, and noble Lords opposite must give us sonic measure of trust as to the manner in which we shall translate them into practice if one day we are a Government and no longer in Opposition. They have this further advantage, that they do preserve in the Constitution of the country the existence of a Second Chamber, which is not merely a Constitutional figment or a miserable phantom, but which would be a serious and solid feature of our political system. They are also based on the democratic principle which we must all accept as the last resort in controversial issues that the voice of the people shall prevail.
The noble and learned Lord told us more than once that the whole question of the future of this House resolves itself into two chapters. That is true. It is a book with two pages. On the first of these pages you have to write your scheme for reform of this Chamber. On the second page you have to write the manner in which you propose to adjust its relations with the House of Commons. Very well. Now contrast our scheme with that of the 950 Government. Whitt is written on their first page? Nothing at all—only the dim, misty, nebulous outline—it is barely an outline—of a reformed House of Lords as remotely indicated in the precious Preamble of the Parliament Bill. On their second page is inscribed the continued existence of an unreduced and unreformed House of Lords still possessing all the anomalies which they continually denounce on the platform and exercising only tile discredited and relatively petty functions of procrastination and delay. On our first page is written the constitution which is proposed to us by the noble Earl on the Cross Benches. It is a serious and sincere attempt to provide a better Second Chamber. On the second of these pages will one day be written, we hope, the Resolutions of the noble Marquess which I am now supporting. I would almost stake the whole of my political existence on the prophecy that when the final adjustment comes it will be more in the direction of the pictures painted on the two pages of our book than in the direction of that which is depicted on the single page of the book of His Majesty's advisers. And, my Lords, if that be the case it will be a sufficient justification for the proposals the noble Marquess has put upon the Paper, and of which we ask the acceptance of the House of Lords.
§ THE EARL OF DUNMORE
My Lords, I am sure that no member of your Lordships' House can join in this debate without feeling a sense of deep responsibility, since we are called upon to discuss Resolutions relating to what is surely the gravest Constitutional issue which has ever been before us. I take part in it because I feel that it is the duty of every one to endeavour to get a clear issue, to endeavour to get our attitude towards the Government's proposals put perfectly plainly before the country —a proceeding which I cannot but believe His Majesty's Government are most anxious to avoid. Only tai o or three days ago the noble Earl the Leader of the House informed us that a Dissolution would take place next week, a Dissolution based apparently on the hypothesis that your Lordships were going to amend or reject a measure which I think I am quite justified in saying His Majesty's Government had no intention should ever get to the Committee stage in this House. It throws a remarkable light on the present Cabinet's conception of Parliamentary government that they should give no adequate time for the discussion of a 951 vital Constitutional question in this House, or, I might say, in either House, simply because a purely informal Conference of eight men failed to come to an entire, agreement upon that subject. All politicians are not George Washingtons, and platform oratory, even when that platform is occupied by a Radical Cabinet Minister, is not the surest guide to knowledge. The deliberations of the Conference we all know must have resulted in a considerable amount of agreement after twenty-one sittings, yet, in spite of this, when the Government very unwillingly assented to the demand from this side of your Lordships' House and produced the Parliament Bill they presented it with the extraordinary statement that it was to be taken or left, that they were not prepared to listen to any reasoned criticism or to accept any Amendments. The action of His Majesty's Government has resulted in this House being called upon to consider measures vitally affecting its own powers, not only within the inadequate time allowed it, but under the shadow of an impending Dissolution.
My Lords, it is impossible to discuss this question without comparing the Government's proposals with the Resolutions that have been put forward by the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, and in doing so the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack talked about the balance of power which at present exists between the Crown, the Lords, and the Commons. If I remember rightly, the Lord Chancellor referred in even more eloquent terms about a year ago to this same balance of power when he was deprecating our action over the Finance Bill. I think he referred to it at that time as the "envy of other nations." Well, my Lords, this Parliament Bill utterly destroys that balance of power which, in the Lord Chancellor's words, is the envy of other nations. We on this side of the House, in the proposals put forward by the noble Marquess, agree in the readjustment of that balance of power, but we propose to increase the power of the people to deal with those questions which affect their every-day life and their well-being. The Radical Party on their side propose to decrease the power of the people and to increase the bureaucratic power of the Ministry of the day. On this side of the House we recognise that the two Houses of Parliament are the servants of the electors of the country, and all we ask is that when those Houses interpret divergently the 952 wishes of those electors, the issue should be put to the nation at large to decide. The cry which was often in the mouths of the older Liberals in old days was, "Trust the people." My Lords, their new cry, as voiced only last Saturday by the noble Earl who presides over the Board of Agriculture is, "Trust Asquith." Indeed, the two opposing policies of the Parties can be summed up thus: The Radical Party ask for a blank cheque to be given to the Ministry of the day; we wish to put all the power into the hands of the people. The Radical Party are placing excessive powers in the hands of the Cabinet, and we must remember that these excessive powers will necessarily reside not only in a Radical Cabinet, but in any Cabinet, however composed. I for my part frankly declare that as a supporter of representative government I should not care to see even a Unionist Cabinet possessed of these omnipotent powers over Parliament and people.
Under this Parliament Bill it is proposed that any measure which passes the House of Commons three times is to become law whatever view the Second Chamber may take of it. I was, unfortunately, not here last night, but I read in The Times this morning that the noble Earl, Lord Carrington, asked, "What is the objection to that?" I might ask the noble Earl in return, "Why pass a Bill three times in the one Parliament? Is the same House of Commons going to alter its opinion—or rather, whatever the opinon of its members may be, are they going to be permitted to vote according to their consciences and free from their Party Whips?" We know what the Party system has come to. There are very few members of the House of Commons who dare take an independent line. I think the only member of that House I have met who was really independent was Mr. Harold Cox, and we all know that his independence resulted in a very quick termination of what we had hoped would be a brilliant Parliamentary career. The fact is that the power of the private member of the House of Commons to exert any influence on legislation to-day has been reduced to a vanishing point. He is whipped into the Party Lobby in support of closure Resolutions which have probably had the effect of preventing any free discussion on measures which he has been sent to the House of Commons by his constituents to study and examine and vote upon. Can his vote be said to represent his opinion or the opinion 953 of his constituents, who have probably never even seen or heard of or discussed those measures? His vote represents one thing and one thing only, and that is the opinion or the policy of the Prime Minister of the day.
In old days Bills before Parliament did receive some criticism and examination by members of the House of Commons. Today a Government Bill can no longer be said to represent the free discussion of a Legislative Assembly. Such a measure comes up to this House as the product of the decrees registered by a small Committee composed of the Ministry of the day. I would recall what was said on this point with great clearness by the present Home Secretary, although it is interesting to note that the statement was made before he had attained Ministerial rank and thereby joined the ruling caste. In 1905 Mr. Winston Churchill said—The House must remember the increasing power of the Executive and the decline of Parliamentary authority";and he went on to say—We have borrowed front foreign nations almost every device which could weaken a representative institution, and we have rejected almost every safeguard which could control executive Government.The proposals of the Government in the Parliament Bill go a great deal further in the direction of weakening Parliamentary authority, and now, at a time when legislative control is more than ever required in the interests of the nation, His Majesty's Government come forward with proposals which would put more absolute power into the hands of the Cabinet of the day than has ever been extended at any time to any governing body either in this or any other country which possesses Constitutional Government. Under the Government scheme the only check which would exist on the House of Commons, or the chance majority which ruled it, would lie in the prospect of an election two or three years off. My Lords, this is no check. The Prime Minister and his Cabinet, if they found themselves in a tight place—the sort of tight place that His Majesty's Government have been in ever since they got into power—would say to themselves, "Two or three years is a long way off; people's memories are short, our delinquencies will he forgotten, and in any case in those years we hope to bring forward new proposals which would obscure the people's judgment."
954 It is true that this Parliament Bill is adorned with a Preamble giving some undefined powers to an undefined Second Chamber at some undefined future date. But, my Lords, is it likely that extreme politicians of the type of Mr. Lloyd George or Mr. Winston. Churchill, having once tasted the sweets of unbridled power, will consent to a restriction of those powers? If that was their intention why do they set up what is actually, whether intentionally or not, a single-Chamber Constitution? Why do they do that if they intend at sonic future date to revert to a double-Chamber Constitution? There is an answer to that, and it is that they intend in the interval to pass into law measures of which they know the country would never approve. It is a very transparent scheme, and I do not believe that anybody in the country will be deceived by it. They have Only to read and inwardly digest Mr. Redmond's very frank speeches in order to see the origin and aims of those manœuvres. Another point that we have to consider is this. When these unpopular measures have been passed, when Ireland has been given Home Rule, will there not still be factions in the house of Commons who will put pressure on the Prime Minister and demand, as the price of their support, other privileged legislation for themselves at the expense of the rest of the community, and. in order to pass those measures will not the Cabinet be forced to still go on exercising these powers?—powers which could only be checked by some such method of appealing to the people as is afforded by the Resolutions which we are discussing to-night.
My Lords, there are other grave disabilities in this Bill. The first thought of a Government under the Parliament Bill must be to introduce its most unpopular and its most controversial measures as rapidly as possible, allowing as little discussion as possible before the two years elapse during which they possess an absolute power of putting those measures on to the Statute Book. There would he even less discussion than there is at present in the House of Commons. The closure would become an absolute Party necessity, and free discussion would become a. thing of the past. The Parliament Bill in itself is a very good instance of the unjust, undemocratic, pernicious sort of measure which, having received no consideration and no kind of criticism in the House of Commons, could be forced on an unwilling country. Under 955 that Bill, presented to your Lordships with the remarkable statement that it is to be taken or left, that it is to be passed without the alteration of a single comma, a measure can be passed into law without having received one hour of examination in the House of Collations. My Lords, how very simple the process of future legislation is going to be. Before a. measure had even seen the light of day the all-mighty Minister could put forward a closure Resolution securing its passage through all its stages without one hour of debate. Yet His Majesty's Government say they are so satisfied with their Bill that they are unwilling to listen to any criticism or to accept any Amendments. If we go back in the history of this country to the only time when we enjoyed the "blessings" of single-Chamber Government, we find that the first act of the Long Parliament was to abolish the House of Lords. The next day they abolished the Monarchy, and the next month they set to work to draw up a list of offences to be adjudged high treason. Very naturally, the first thing they did was to make any criticism of themselves an act of high treason.
There were many other alternatives which might have commended themselves to His Majesty's Government, but in view of the attitude which the Government have taken up, in view of the fact that they are unwilling to listen to any reasoned criticism of their Bill, I am glad that the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition has taken the only course which was open to him of putting plainly before the country the proposals which he advises this House to accept, proposals which I myself am perfectly willing to support. The Resolution dealing with Bills other than Money Bills in its proposal for a joint sitting of the two Houses follows very closely on the proposal for which the noble Earl the Leader of the House made himself responsible the other night, and which is to be found in the Union of. South Africa Act passed by His Majesty's Government last year. I know that it was said several times last night that a joint sitting of the two Houses would, under present conditions, be no use. The noble Lord, Lord Curzon, referred to it just now in regard to something the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack had said. It is true that the proposal is of no use with a large Unionist majority in this House. But why then have the Government never shown any 956 inclination to join in the reform of your Lordships' House? I honestly believe that the last thing which the Liberal Party want is to remove the anomalies in the constitution of your Lordships' House, because it would result in depriving them of the weapon of abuse of the hereditary system which they find so useful for platform oratory at General Elections. But, my Lords, they know perfectly well that, in accepting the Resolutions of the noble Earl on the Cross Benches last March and again last week, we have abandoned once and for all the principle that a man shall sit in this House simply because he is the son of his father, and there is no reason to-day why a more permanent representation of the Liberal Party should not find their way on to the Benches opposite. We on this side of the House would welcome them, for we are fighting for no Party privileges but for an effective Second Chamber, and if the noble Earl opposite, the Prime Minister, Sir Edward Grey, and others were free from the shackles of their Hibernian allies they would jump at this opportunity of a settlement. Instead of this, we are asked to remove the one check on the other House which makes democratic Government possible.
Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to quote one short sentence from Burke in dealing with a great Constitutional question. He said—It must always be the aim of an unconstitutional Minister that a House of Commons which is entirely dependent upon him should have every right of the people entirely dependent upon that pleasure.My Lords, does it not seem as if the prophetic soul of Burke foresaw the aims and intentions of His Majesty's present Government, a Government which the noble Earl admitted only the other evening dare not accept any amendment to their proposals because they knew, even before the noble Marquess's Resolutions were put forward, that the one Amendment which your Lordships in this House would insist upon would he to make some provision whereby grave and vital issues should be referred to the people. The other night when the question of the reform of this House was being discussed some noble Lord—I think it was Lord Newton—said that the naked and brutal truth was that many of us have got to go. Well, my Lords, I would add this: Let us all go if necessary, but if we do go let us go as 957 honest men fighting every inch of the way, not for our privileges, hut for what we know to be right and just and best for the government of the country.
§ LORD COURTNEY OF PENWITH
My Lords, I enter upon the discussion of these Resolutions with a feeling that unreality attaches to the whole debate. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has, in fact, intimated that we are wasting time in continuing the discussion, because the issues presented to this House and to the country and the claims put forward on either side are quite opposed to one another; they are really irreconcilable; there is no way, he said, of bridging the distance between the proposals of the Government and the proposals of the Opposition, and therefore there is nothing for us but to go to a General Election by which we can hasten the decision of the question. But, my Lords, I find it rather difficult to reconcile the position of my noble and learned friend with the invitation which was addressed to us by the Lord Privy Seal to engage in this debate. He must surely have thought that some purpose could be served when lie invited speeches from independent members of your Lordships' House or lie would not have invited such contributions to the debate, so that in his mind, at all events, some reconciliation must have seemed possible; and despite the apparent opposition between the plans of the Government and the plans proposed by the noble Marquess opposite, despite tile apparent absolute contrariety of their schemes, I confess to the opinion that the discussions in this House and out of this, House, the discussions during the progress of the General Election and the debates in Parliament in the coming year, will in the end probably lead to some solution differing from the propositions both of the Government and of the Opposition but possibly combining sonic of the features of both.
At the commencement of this Parliament, indeed before the elections were completely over, surveying the situation as it then was, I ventured to express an opinion in print that we were in face of continual discussion of varied propositions, of Resolutions, Bills, and counter-Resolutions, of schemes brought forward apparently with little preparation, at all events with little notice, and of a repetition of something like what was experienced in the 958 Reform debates more than forty years ago. At that time we had Resolutions laid on the Table and then withdrawn; other Resolutions were substituted; then came Bill after Bill until at last out of the hubbub and continual debates in the House of Commons and in this place there resulted the Reform Act of 1867. So, my Lords, despite the language of my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack, who rather discouraged all attempt to maintain the debate to-night, I conceive that some good may vet come out of it, and that some contribution towards the solution of the problem which has occupied our minds and the minds of the country and must occupy them for some time to come may yet be forthcoming.
What, after all, is the question that we have to consider? It has been put again and again, but I think it deserves restatement. We have in some way or other to get over the growing divergence between this House and the other House of Parliament. At one time they worked together as auxiliary Flits of a fairly effective Parliamentary machine, but they have ceased to work together. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has called attention to the impossibility of passing Liberal legislation, and His Majesty's Government have proposed a scheme for getting over that, difficulty. Now, what is the idea of that scheme?. The noble Earl the Lord Privy Seal said that we must take the two Houses as they are and try sonic method to secure the efficiency of the Parliamentary machine without entering on the question of an reconstruction of its parts, and the Parliament Bill is itself, no doubt, an attempt to get over that difficulty. It proposes to take the House of Commons as it is and the House of Lords as it is, and to provide that any Bill which is passed by the House of Commons and which practically survives two years may pass into law despite the resistance of this House. That, in short, is the scheme of His Majesty's Government. Can that be accepted as a way of bridging over the difficulty? My noble friend the Lord Privy Seal urges that it can.
Before I proceed to that point let me say that the idea lying at the heart of both sides is that Parliament should become an effective machine—to do what?—to fulfil the mind of the nation. That is what Parliament has to do, and the test of all 959 schemes for the reform of either House or for a reform of the relations between the two Houses is how far they tend to promote the efficiency of Parliament to fulfil the mind of the nation. I may say parenthetically, repeating what I have said perhaps too often before but what I believe is worth saving again, that in my opinion you cannot bring Parliament into effective working for the purpose of fulfilling the mind of the nation in a way that we can trust and rely upon except through a reform of the methods of the election of the House of Commons itself. That, my Lords, is the primary necessity, and the more the problem is reflected upon I believe the more the truth will be forced on all thinking minds.
I will put that aside for the moment and deal with the proposition of the Lord Privy Seal. He says that if you take the House of Commons when newly elected you can certainly be sure that in those early days it does fairly represent the will of the nation; that since the scheme of the Parliament Bill can only apply to measures brought in at the commencement of a Parliament, introduced in the first session of a Parliament, the Bill therefore secures that the will of the nation, as we can trust it to be expressed in tire first session of a Parliament, will be secured; and that the Government are therefore helping to the fulfilment of the will of the nation by the introduction of the proposed machinery, because it applies to decisions of the House of Commons which can only be taken when the House of Commons is newly elected and fresh from the hustings. My noble friend, in continuing that argument, had to meet the awkward precedent of the election in 1892. In 1892 the election did result in a majority of the House of Commons in favour of Home Rule, and a Home Rule Bill was brought in in the first ensuing session of Parliament—Mr. Gladstone's Home Rule Bill. The Lord Privy Seal admits that although there was a majority of forty in favour of that Bill immediately after the General Election and in the first session of the Parliament, yet that Bill had not really behind it the will of the nation. He practically admits that, not merely from the experience of what has happened since its rejection but from other considerations. He came frankly to the conclusion that the Home Rule Bill of 1892, although passed by a majority of forty in the first session of Parliament after 960 the General Election, a General Election which turned mainly upon the issue of Home Rule, still did not represent the will of the nation; but he met the difficulty by saving that after all there was no real danger whatever of that Bill being passed. It had only a majority of forty, there was opposition to it in this House, there was also strong opposition to it in the other House of Parliament, and in the course of two years in accordance with the inevitable attrition of political Parties there was a falling off of a number of its supporters here and there, and less cohesion amongst the adherents of the Government Party. The noble Earl says that all these things, which must be expected and which did happen at that time, would happen again, and that if a Bill were produced under similar circumstances, although supported by a majority of forty, as that Bill was, it would in the future, as in that case, not come into operation because the majority of forty could not be expected to be kept together during the necessary interval before the Bill would pass into law over the heads of this House.
It is quite true that in the Parliament of 1892–95 the majority did melt away, it is quite true that in the third year the Government were defeated, and so there is force in the argument of the Lord Privy Seal that there is no real danger at the present time of a Bill becoming law because it is supported in the first session of a Parliament if it has not also the support of the country at large. But my noble friend is guilty of the fallacy of importing considerations of what is likely to happen in the future leaving regard to the maintenance of conditions which have existed in tire past but without having regard to the fact that those conditions would not be likely to exist in the future. Conceive a repetition of our experience of that time. Conceive a House of Commons elected under the Parliament Bill and having a majority of forty. The fact of the Parliament Bill having become law would altogether alter the situation and change the conditions tending to the maintenance of unity among the supporters of the Government. If it could have been said in 1893, "We have a majority of forty in favour of the Home Rule Bill; let us only stick together for two years and the Bill is law," they would have stuck together for that period and the Bill would have become law. So in tire future if you are 961 able to say at the commencement of a Parliament, "We are few in number, it is true, but we have only to keep together for two or three years and our Bills will become law," that influence itself would tend to keep the numbers together and the Bills in the end would become law. Therefore, my Lords the argument of my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal is entirely falsified by a consideration of the fact that if the Parliament Bill became law it would introduce a tremendous motive for cohesion and discipline in the ranks of Ministerialists which would keep the majority together and ensure the passage of their Bills despite the failure of support outside. So that we would not be free from the danger that a Bill might become law though not supported by the will of the nation.
I will refer to another case as illustrating my point. I allude to the period of the Education Bill of 1906. Education was a very prominent question on the hustings before the Education. Bill of 1906 saw the light. That Bill was introduced and supported by a considerable majority, not so large a majority as that commanded generally by His Majesty's Government but by a considerable majority. But the subsequent conduct of that Bill and the attitude of the Government in relation to it showed a conviction on their part that there was some doubt as to whether they could claim the will of the nation as really being behind the provisions of that Bill. If they had been quite sure of it, the simple plan would have been to have had a General Election again with regard to it, or, at all events, to have intimated some line of action showing that they relied upon that power. But it was notorious—it was confessed at the time—that the Government, strong as they were, powerful as they were in the House of Commons, elected as they had been largely on the question of education, were still uncertain how far the country was in sympathy with them on the simple question of the fortunes of that Bill even in the reduced form in which it ultimately was hung up between the two Houses. If the fortunes of that Bill had been put in the form of a Referendum to the people of this country it was uncertain as to what would have been the result. You cannot rely on a decision of the House of Commons elected as it is now, even when taken in the first session of a Parliament, being a certain 962 exposition of the Will of the nation, and such a decision cannot be accepted as the expression of the popular will simply because it is maintained for two years.
It is for these reasons that so many of us have felt hesitation with regard to the acceptance of the Parliament Bill in the simple form in which it has been put forward in your Lordships' House. It commits us to the dominance of a majority in the House of Commons who would be kept together by the sense that their power depended upon their keeping together, and yet that majority could not be trusted even at the outset as representing the will of the nation. My Lords, I come back to the conviction which I spoke of earlier in my speech, that unless you get an alteration in the method of election to 'the House of Commons so as to make it accurately reflect the mind of the country you cannot really solve this problem. It has been said with truth that nobody in this House other than occupants of the Ministerial Bench has said a word in favour of the provisions of this Parliament Bill. The three noble Lords who have spoken from this side have demurred to the acceptance of the Government measure. My noble friend below me, my noble friend behind me, and my noble friend Lord Mac-Donnell, the last one differing from the others on many points, all demurred to time acceptance of the Parliament Bill; they all thought that it could not be taken as it stood. That conviction is not confined to members of this House; I believe that the same view is taken by some of the members of the House of Commons who sit on the Government side.
Early in this year there appeared suggestions of Joint Sittings and Joint Committees. A formal suggestion of that kind appeared in the column devoted to Parliamentary Correspondence in The Times, and it afterwards turned out that the scheme of joint siftings through Joint Committees was time conception of Liberal member of the House of Commons whose name was given. I am personally aware that in looking favourably upon that scheme he was not alone; he had friends in the House of Commons who took the same view. If a conviction of the inadequacy, not to put it too high, of the Parliament Bill is thus felt here and elsewhere, may not that explain the origin of the Conference? There is a 963 vulgar but very effective phrase about a man who had "bitten off more than he could chew." I am inclined to think that it did occur to some of the leading members of the Government that in the scheme of the Parliament Bill they had gone somewhat further than they could get general support for, and that it was desirable to consider what modification could be entertained. If the Parliament Bill is a thing that cannot be touched, if it is a thing that must be taken as it stands without any change in principle and with no real change in any leading feature or detail of it, how can the invitation given by the Prime Minister to members of the Opposition to meet him in conference be explained? The Prime Minister must, by asking them to come into conference, have practically confessed that sonic little abatement of his own scheme was possible. It is no use asking an enemy to confer with you about a proposed plan if you have made up your mind that your plan is absolutely unalterable and cannot be modified in any single detail.
When Mr. Asquith invited the Opposition to come into conference he must have felt that he was confessing that some alteration was possible even if it was not desirable. I say that must have been in his mind, and he did this, or, at all events, the Government did this, absolutely on their own initiative. I do not think it had been proposed in any quarter before they gave the invitation—certainly the Opposition did not ask to be invited—and although Mr. Asquith is rightly claiming that the setting up of the Conference was generally approved after it was constituted, I do not think there was anything like a popular or even an appreciable demand for its being set up before it was set up. Well, that is the attitude which the existence of the Conference must be held to betray on the part of the Government. But, of course, there is a correlative attitude on the part of the Opposition when they came into the Conference. They must be held also to have thought that there was a possibility of coating to some agreement, or they would not have agreed to confer. There must have been some departure from the attitude of stiff repugnance, some falling away from the attitude of non possumus. Whether they had the scheme which has now been put on the Table by the noble Marquess opposite fully conceived and in their own minds or 964 not, I do not know; but when they were ready to come into conference they must have been ready to confer and to agree about something; they must, therefore, have had sonic idea of meeting the Government in some way or other and of something or other coming out of it.
The Conference was a novelty in our Parliamentary experience, and I am not quite sure that our experience of it will lead us to desire it to be repeated. We are in a state of very great difficulty in consequence of its having been held and having broken up without anything being known about what happened. How can there be any fruitful discussion in the country; how can the issues be properly placed before the electors; how can writers and speakers endeavour to make plain the issues before the nation when they do not know precisely the issues which divided the two Parties at that Conference? I confess I have a strong opinion that there ought to have been made public, not all its discussions, not all that was proposed or suggested, but at least what was the irreducible minimum of the one side and. the inexpansible maximum of the other. What was the difference which they were unable to bridge over and which caused the Conference to he abandoned? Did the Opposition refuse to consider the Bill unless subject to modification? Did the Government refuse to consider any modification? Did the Opposition members of the Conference bring forward the scheme of the noble Marquess opposite? Did the members of the Government declare that it was absolutely inadmissible? Many days were occupied; many things must have been said; there could not have been any clear issue at first; there must have been an approximation on one side arid the other, and we ought to know what degree of approximation was really reached. I had good reasons myself for believing that it would be necessary—and I think it will be necessary—in some way or other to modify the Parliament Bill before it became law, and we would like to know whether any modifications were suggested.
The alternative of Joint Sittings is, of course, a complete change. It may have been proposed at the Conference, and, if so, it must have been proposed pretty early and Joint Sittings must have been considered. I hen must have come the question of how they were to be held. A 965 Joint Sitting as a scheme for the solution of the difficulty is one which primarily commends itself to many minds. The noble Earl the Lord Privy Seal confessed that he liked the idea. Joint Sittings as a solution of difficulties between two branches of the Legislature exists, as we know, in Australia. It exists also under the new Constitution of South Africa, for which the noble Earl the Lord Privy Seal is in some measure responsible; so that he has a double reason for looking kindly on the suggestion of Joint Sittings. But, of course, as has been pointed out again and again, the acceptance of the idea of Joint Sittings really depends upon numbers. It is quite true that a joint sitting of the present House of Commons and the House of Lords reduced even to 300 members would be impossible. You can have no real consideration of questions arising in an assembly of that kind; and if you are going to create delegations or committees to which questions in difference should be referred, you will enter upon a scheme of very elaborate and very difficult legislation. If you are going to construct those committees by any permanent plan or scheme, the composition of the committees, the conditions under which they will sit, the force to be attached to their conclusions, whether they should be referred back to the original Houses which delegated powers to them, are all questions that will have to be considered. All these very grave questions are not touched upon in the Resolutions put before us by the noble Marquess opposite, and the absence of these details makes it, I think, impossible for us to say Aye or No or form any kind of favourable opinion of the Resolutions. If you arc going to the country with the alternative scheme of Joint Sittings, which has so much to recommend it, then you must put before the country a scheme which shall he workable without the complete reconstruction of our Parliamentary machine, without the separation of different classes of laws into two or three categories, and without the construction of permanent committees to which differences of opinion could be referred. You must at least put forward a scheme which will be apprehended by the nation. At present the scheme of the noble Marquess is sadly lacking in all these respects.
There remains, my Lords, the proposal which is put forward in the Resolutions 966 of the noble Marquess and which may be considered as a possible modification of the Parliament Bill or of any other scheme—I mean the proposal of the Referendum. If your Lordships will allow me, I should like to devote a few words—and I will make them as few as possible—to the question of the adoption of the Referendum as a means of settling differences between the two Houses, or as a means of correcting mis-legislation agreed upon by both Houses. The noble Marquess opposite, though there is nothing of that kind in his Resolutions, declared that he intended that the Referendum should be capable of being invoked in order to prevent legislation being passed which was not approved by the nation. There is, as I have said, nothing of that kind in the Resolutions as they stand, but no doubt it could be introduced into them. Let me say, in passing, that it does not necessarily follow, as my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor seemed to imply, that in that case it would be necessary to go outside Parliament to get authority to cause the reference to be made. It is not necessary to get an outside authority to say, "You two Houses have passed a law which we believe the country does not approve of, and we demand that that law should be put to a popular vote in order that the approval of the nation should be tested." That, as your Lordships know, is in operation in Switzerland, but it is quite an unnecessary part of the scheme that outside authority should be invoked to bring that power into effect. It could be clone by enabling the minority in either House who oppose the Bill, if of adequate proportions, to claim a Referendum in order to determine whether the legislation was or was not in accordance with the popular will.
Take, for example, the Education Act of 1902, which is now frankly confessed by almost all Parties to have over-reached the national will. I do not wish to use the word in an antagonistic way, but it went beyond what the national will had determined upon, and it went beyond what the national will, if appealed to, would have approved. If a Referendum could have been invoked by a minority of the House of Commons opposing that Act, it could have been referred to the people and much mischief would have been saved by such a reference. That is a. way in which the Referendum could be worked even when both Houses concurred in 967 passing an Act which was opposed to the popular will. But the Referendum is not usually talked of in that way; it is more usually talked of as a way of reconciling differences between the two Houses and ascertaining which more correctly interprets the will of the nation; and it might be added on as a qualification under certain conditions of the operation of the Parliament Bill that, despite the provisions already contained in that Bill, an Act so approved should not become law, if an appeal were made by a sufficient number of backers, until the will of the nation had been taken on the issue. There are, no doubt, difficulties with regard to a Referendum, and those difficulties would have to be faced and considered. Referendum must, in my opinion, be a costly matter; it must cost money and it must cost time. Suppose you refer to the will of the nation to determine a particular question. I pass over the difficulty of ascertaining what the question is that is to be referred, and I assume that the question is already settled. But how are you going to obtain the will of the electors?
Is it conceivable that you could send by post letters to the electors containing the question and asking them to return it by post? That is, of course, quite inconceivable. You could not ensure that the answers that so came back were the free expressions of the will of the persons from whom they came. You could not even ensure that they came from them at all. The answers must in some way be verified; they must be answers made by those who are entitled to speak; there must be some proof of the identity of the person filling up the form. In fact, there must be some such local machinery as exists now when a poll is taken, in order in some way or other to secure the secrecy of the ballot to the elector, in order to verify the personality of the elector, and in order to ensure that he is acting free from coercion, free from bribe, and free from any power which should not be allowed to influence him in the exercise of his will. You must have booths to which the voter can go and vote, as now, before some officer appointed for that purpose. You would not have candidates necessarily, and you would not have meetings necessarily, or so much expense as is now incurred, but a good deal of that expense is voluntary, and the question arises whether it would not become almost as 968 essential, although voluntary, in the future as it is at the present time. Suppose that such a question as that of Women's Suffrage was put, as the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack suggested, by Referendum before the people. The electors would be asked to go and give their opinion for or against in the polling booths on a particular day. The opponents, I suppose, would be eager in bringing up those who would say No, and the promoters of the Bill would be eager in bringing up those who would say Yes. The literature on the subject would be unbounded, the meetings would be pretty numerous, and there would be a considerable expense—not perhaps two millions, but a very considerable expense in order to secure the vote on that question. There are other questions exciting still greater interest in which the expense would be more considerable, and in which there would be the same passion and energy, the same expenditure of labour and money, or pretty nearly as much, as is now spent on a General Election. Take, for instance, the question of Welsh Disestablishment. Consider the energy that would be displayed in bringing the electors to vote on that question.
Then consider a tariff. The noble Earl the Lord Privy Seal said yesterday that it would be impossible to refer a tariff to a Referendum. He used this as an argument against a Referendum. I do not quite know what he had in his mind when he talked of referring a tariff to a Referendum. Perhaps he thought of referring, article by article, the duty proposed to be charged to the approbation of the electors. In that case I confess it would be quite impossible, but in a more general way it is not only possible to refer a tariff to a Referendum but the thing has been done. In 1891 Switzerland made a radical change in the character of its tariff. The two branches of the Swiss Parliament agreed upon a new general tariff. The dissonants claimed a reference to the people at large. In the case of Switzerland the dissonants speak from outside and not from inside the Chamber, and the tariff so put to the people at large was approved, I am sorry to say, because it was a Protectionist tariff differing from the Free Trade policy of Switzerland. It was approved by a very large vote. That is an illustration of the way in which a tariff has been put to the vote by means 969 of a Referendum. Now just conceive the amount of money that would he spent on a Referendum with regard to a tariff in this country—the interests involved, the excitement occasioned, the meetings up and down the country. Candidates might not be necessarily required to join in them, but I think they would, and the cost would clearly be very considerable.
Switzerland herself has given us her experience of a Referendum which did involve pecuniary interests, and which led to a considerable expenditure of money and of time and labour. In Switzerland as your Lordships know, the railways have largely become nationalised. A law was passed by the Swiss Legislature in 1891, I think it was, which proposed to take over the Central Railway of Switzerland by the nation. The dissonants called for a Referendum; it was referred to the people, and the people negatived the Bill though it had passed both Houses in the Swiss Legislature. Some ten years afterwards a more general Bill was brought in for taking over practically all the railways of Switzerland. It again passed both branches of the Legislature; again a claim was made to refer it to the people; and this time the people by a. huge majority, more than two to one, affirmed the Bill. But on the second occasion, as no doubt on the first also, there was an enormous and profuse expenditure of money on literature, placards, meetings, and so forth. Railway interests were stirred up, and they did all they could to influence public opinion against the proposal by means of newspapers, journals, and pamphlets. On the other hand, those who wanted to nationalise the railways used the same exertions on their side. The expenditure of money was considerable, and if the Referendum were adopted in this country I cannot conceive but that it would be an expensive operation considering, the interests involved and the ardour with which such questions are agitated on both sides. But there is no difficulty in the way a machinery in carrying it out, and I think there is little or no difficulty in the way of principle. The Referendum is democratic to the last degree, but it is expensive and would involve practically the same trouble as a General Election.
It is said also that the principle of the Referendum would take away from 970 the character of the House of Commons and from the authority of Ministers. As to the authority of Ministers, I confess that objection is to my mind a recommendation. I want to have the authority of Ministers in this country diminished. I want to see their power abated. They have obtained through the evolution a our wrongful Parliamentary system a power which may not last, but which, while it lasts, is to be deprecated. As to the members of the House of Commons generally, I do not believe for one moment that the introduction of a system of Referendum would take away from the authority of those members. It would rather stimulate them, and if that further reform in the mode of election to the House of Commons to which I have referred were adopted, you would get a House of Commons re-invigorated, with fresh power, fresh authority, and fresh influence. Ministers would not have the same power, but you would bring back in the House of Commons the old forms of counsel and of consultation, the old spirit which did animate it in past days when it was really a House of deliberation and not merely a House of registration.
I think that this matter of the Referendum deserves the fullest consideration, and with sufficient safeguards it seems to me a thing that we might wisely adopt. It is simple, as I have said, and it is recommended by its adoption by the most democratic communities in the world. Switzerland has long had it in operation. The Referendum is in use in Natal, and it was used with reference to the South Africa Bill. The Referendum is in use in Australia, and was applied in reference to almost every stage of the Commonwealth Act. It is now in use, or will be very shortly, in Australia with regard to the respective changes in the constitution of the Commonwealth. At this very moment two Bills have passed the Australian Legislature—one for altering the relations between the Commonwealth and the States in respect of money contributions, and the other for enlarging the power of the Legislature in respect of industrial enterprise—which require to be approved by a Referendum before they can become law. These two Acts have both been passed by the Australian Legislature, and both will be referred in due time to the electors. In the United States the Referendum is not in operation in 971 respect to Federal matters, but it has been adopted again and again in State elections and with respect to legislation in States and the policy to be pursued within the respective States, and those who have taken the trouble to consult the latest edition of Mr. Bryce's book on the American Commonwealth will find a paragraph in which there is the most clear approval expressed by him of the operation of the Referendum in the States of America as enabling the electors of the different States to correct the crazes of legislators from time to time. This is the deliberate expression of opinion on the part of Mr. Bryce in reference to this matter. While the Referendum is open to the objection which I have not hesitated to state of time and money, it might be recommended for adoption in our Parliamentary system as auxiliary, perhaps, to Parliament, or as supplementary to Joint Sittings, but anyhow as a means of bringing the mind of the nation into its fullest influence and power in directing the legislation of the country.
My Lords, I apologise for occupying your attention so long, but I cannot conclude without again expressing my conviction that this problem of the reconciliation of the two Houses and the deeper problem which underlies that reconciliation —namely, the problem of making legislation the true exposition of the will of the people—can never he solved except by undertaking a radical reform of the mode of election of the House of Commons. That cannot he done, primarily, here; but if you will lend your influence to support movements elsewhere and in the House of Commons itself to make the House of Commons a real reflection of the mind of the nation in its different phases, its different modes of thought, its different appreciation of different questions, you will establish in the House of Commons a power so great that you would never dream of resisting its conclusions in this House, and there would be profound satisfaction on the part of the nation at large at the way in which it conducted its work. It was said by an old poet—it dwells in my mind because Mr. John Bright quoted it many years ago in one of his speeches—There is on earth a yet auguster thing, Veiled though it be, than Parliament or King.There is in this nation of ours something more august than Parliament or either, 972 House of Parliament—the will and conscience of the nation at large. That is what we are all trying to get at; that is what we are all seeking to ascertain. It is that to which we should all give effect in our legislation, but in order to do that you must reform the House of Commons itself, which is the real heart of the nation. In that reform, and in that alone, lies the first step towards the necessary reconciliation of the two Houses and the inauguration of a true Legislature representing the will of the people.
§ LORD BRASSEY
My Lords, I am at all times most reluctant to trouble your Lordships and especially so in the circumstances of the hour to-night. My words, therefore, shall be very few. I have had a long Parliamentary experience. Fifty years have elapsed since I first stood as a candidate for Birkenhead. I have seen many changes during that time. They have always been viewed with the direst apprehension, but my experience has shown that those apprehensions have not been warranted. To-day we are considering the Parliament Bill, in which is embodied the plan originally prepared by my lamented friend, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, and I desire to say that I am entirely in accord with the Government. We are all agreed that constitutional changes cannot endure unless by accord, and it is satisfactory to know that we have gone a considerable way along the road of agreement. Since the Bill was first introduced the noble Marquess has made further proposals, and I am bound to say that I view not unfavourably the proposal for a Referendum in regard to any grave matter. I fully appreciate the objections which were so ably urged by the noble Earl the Leader of the House, but the fact remains that it is vain to look to a General Election as a test of popular opinion. At the last General Election I made diligent inquiries in the various parts of the country in which I have interests, and I failed to elicit from the most experienced election agents any opinion as to what had really guided the electors in the votes that were cast. To-day the Prime Minister has said that at the coming election the sole issue is the Veto of your Lordships' House. But we are hearing on the one hand that the only issue is resistance to the Food Tax, and on the other hand resistance to Home Rule. I do most earnestly hope that the coming election is the last in which 973 attempts will be made to make political capital by stirring up hostility to Ireland. We are all influenced by our experiences; and having led a Jubilee procession two and a-half miles long through the streets of Melbourne with thousands of Irishmen wearing green scarves anxious to testify their love and reverence for their Queen, I cannot but attach strong faith to local self-government as a healer of differences.
§ [The sitting was suspended at ten minutes to eight and resumed at nine o'clock.]
§ LORD COLCHESTER
My Lords, I was not surprised at the failure of the Conference, being convinced, from the action taken by His Majesty's Government, that no settlement could be arrived at on the lines proposed. They say there is much from which they cannot recede, and there is much which cannot possibly be accepted from this side of the House. I think, therefore, that no arrangement could possibly have been arrived at except by means of concessions which would have been at the expense of the whole Unionist Party. The proposed change, practically to substitute one Chamber and to abolish the powers of this House, is the most momentous change in the Constitution which has been proposed for generations. I say this in spite of the minimizing speech of the noble Earl the Leader of the House. He has truly stated that the Government Bill provides for delay and discussion, but that does not suffice to remove all dangers of hasty and arbitrary legislation. Delay and discussion might avail between two bodies vested with equal powers, but otherwise one House might feel that, although it enforced Amendments, it would be at the mercy of the other House, who before the end of that Parliament would insist upon passing the whole Bill under consideration unaltered.
I was reminded of the phrase of a great writer, "Persuasion is the resource of the feeble, and the feeble can seldom persuade." This House would be feeble if it had to go into discussions with the other House of Parliament while having no power of rejecting the whole or any part of a Bill. I think at the same time that the sting of the proposal is in the suggestion that this could be done in the duration of "one Parliament." If it had been possible to have substituted "two Parliaments" I think it would have been 974 very much improved, and I do not believe it would have made any very great difference as compared with the present procedure, because this House is not usually in the habit of rejecting Bills which are passed by a substantial majority in two successive Houses of Commons. I think it ought to be necessary that the majority in both cases should be a substantial one, and not one reduced to such a point as to show that the opinion of the country had changed.
It is said that when the Conservative Party are in power there is no quarrel between the two Houses. I have been a member of this House a good many years, and I remember a Bill which had to do with the purchase and registration of titles, but which included clauses abolishing primogeniture in cases of intestacy. At that time the Bill was riot absolutely rejected, but certain clauses were struck out. I remember it well, because I voted against it myself, and the 'Bill was withdrawn by the Government. That was one case where a Bill of a Conservative Government was not passed by this House. It is therefore not true to say that when a Conservative Government is in power this House does not assert its independence. You may also remember that in 1867 Lord Cairns carried an Amendment (establishing minority representation in three-Member constituencies) to the Reform Bill against both Front Benches. The Government accepted the Amendment in the House of Commons, and it remained the law for a good many years. There were two or three other cases, such as a Poor Law Bill which was amended by a number of independent Peers interested in Poor Law management. That was in the time of Lord Beaconsfield, but what the effect of that clause was I do not remember. If it were possible to substitute two Parliaments for one I cannot see why we should not be in agreement on this matter, but I do attach importance to the majority being in some way fixed, and also to the question of the Referendum.
I cannot help thinking that some noble Lords opposite, when they speak of the Referendum, do no realise the extent to which they have gone with that doctrine. They use arguments against the Referendum, but those are arguments, if not against all popular government, certainly against democratic supremacy. We are told that the people would not understand 975 the Referendum, but the change proposed would simply mean that the direct will of the people would be ascertained without the interposition of the representatives. I do not see why, having gone as far as we have gone, the Government should object to it. I cannot understand the grounds on which the Government appear to shrink from the Referendum. It is important to provide against the use of power arbitrarily. In some cases a momentary majority is likely to have more power than a substantial majority. If the will of the other House is to prevail in the duration of one Parliament, then that is an arbitrary power which you will not find in any other Constitution in the world. The great men who founded the Constitution of the United States provided checks which they considered necessary to secure separate powers to each Chamber. In England we have always had a balance between the various elements. There has not been single and undivided power. I believe single and undivided power to be dangerous. In the proposals which have been brought forward we are asked to set up for the first time an arbitrary power. Against the setting up of that power I feel bound to protest, and I trust its mischief and its perils will not escape the attention and the judgment of the English nation.
§ LORD NUNBURNHOLME
My Lords, I confess, as a supporter of His Majesty's Government, that I was considerably surprised when the Resolutions now before the House were put forward in preference to the Parliament Bill which we have been authorised by the country to put before your Lordships. I think I am right in saying that this Bill has been considered in another place. When I was in that place I remember Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman bringing in Resolutions which foreshadowed this Parliament Bill. They were approved by the House of Commons of that day. They are approved by the present House of Commons, and since they were first brought into Parliament we have had a General Election. They have been spoken of on the platforms up and down the country, and no one can really say that this measure has been sprung upon the House.
My Lords, what is at stake? As far as I can see, it is this. You have on the one side a Bill which will give some chance of Liberal measures becoming law. I 976 regret myself that the Parliament Bill is so very mild. If a Bill has to come up three times in one Parliament, ample facilities are given for revision and conference during that time. I should have thought, my Lords, that this might almost have been rolled a Conservative measure. But I think the country will see through these Resolutions, which have been tabled to draw away the gaze of the country from the true object of this election. In the part of the country from which I come the people are determined to pot an end to the present state of affairs. They do not wish to have a House of Lords which will be stronger under these Resolutions than it has been before. Under these Resolutions the Liberal Party will have no more power or no more chance than at present of passing their measures into law; in fact, their position will be rather worse.
Whenever one of our Bills comes up from another place and your Lordships do not like it, you will ask for a conference. The chances are that in that conference the Government members of this House will be no more in number than noble Lords opposite. I do not think that anything will come from such a conference. The end of it will be that everything the Opposition does not like will be referred to the Referendum. It is the same thing as the last Budget over again. Your Lordships threw out that Budget. We went to the country on the Budget, and you then gave way and passed it. Well, I suppose that will happen every time a great, Liberal measure conies up from another place. You will refer it to the country, and then, if the electors approve of it, it will be finally passed into law. But is not this rather a cumbersome way of doing business? I do not think the country will stand your Lordships' view. I hope the country will give its support to the Bill of His Majesty's Government, which is the only measure that will give the Liberal Party a fair chance of passing into law their Bills for the advancement and welfare of the people.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, it seems to me that if there is one feature in this debate more outstanding than another it is that no adequate reason has as yet been given, either by the Government or any of the speakers, for the position into which the country has been suddenly plunged. No adequate reason has been 977 given to us why because of the failure of the Conference this sudden Dissolution should have been announced. That this is the one outstanding question which has interested the House is proved by the fact that it was the one to which the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack directed his attention and a great part of his speech. Whether lie successfully solved it or gave vow. Lordships a satisfactory answer is a. I different question, and one on which I want so say a few words. The noble and learned Lord was very impressive as to the gravity of the position and the seriousness of the Constitutional questions which have to be solved. I wish that at the next Cabinet Council he would impress upon some of his colleagues that if there are serious Constitutional questions to be solved it would be desirable that their speeches in the country should be directed toward them.
The noble and learned Lord said that there were two questions; first, why the Government had advised a Dissolution, and, the second, what was the Constitutional effect of the Resolutions proposed by Lord Lansdowne. As to the first he gave us a somewhat lengthy parenthesis about Home Rule. He denied that the idea of bringing in Home Rule was the object of the Dissolution. I am perfectly certain that there is no one of your Lordships who will refuse to accept in the most wholehearted way a declaration made with that solemnity and authority from the Woolsack. Whether there may not be a difference between the object and the result is a question to which. I shall address myself in a few moments. But the noble and learned Lord went on to say that the real necessity for the Dissolution was to bring to an issue what he described as the irreconcilable differences between the two Parties on the problems before us, and he quoted Mr. Balfour's speech at Nottingham as proving how irreconcilable those differences were. I want to ask this question—if the differences are irreconcilable now, were they or were they not irreconcilable last May? What has brought about the change? Why did it take twenty-one meetings and four or five months' deliberation to find out that the differences were irreconcilable if they were irreconcilable all that time? That is a plain, straightforward, simple question, but to it we have never had the semblance of an answer either in this House or the other.
978 The other point to which the noble and learned Lord addressed himself was—I think I am not misrepresenting him—that lie made it a grievance that up to quite a recent date nothing had been placed before this House as to the relative powers of the two Houses of Parliament, and he implied—I do not think lie exactly used the words—that we were only repenting upon our deathbed. I venture to say that there is not a noble Lard on this side of the House who will deny or who has ever denied the importance of the twofold questions of the Constitution and the relative powers of the two Houses. Bat I ask the noble and learned Lord bow and when, in the circumstances in which this House has been placed, we could have tabled our proposals before now. There were the Veto Resolutions in the other House of Parliament, which we were promised would be embodied in a Bill to be presented, I think, fist to that House, but at any rate to this House. The proper, regular, Constitutional position of this House was to wait until the proposals of the Government as to the powers as between the two Chambers were presented to this House before we made our proposals. It was absolutely impossible, however strongly we might feel, at any time in May or the following months or at any time before very recent days to table anything of the kind. I ventured to hope that the Conference might have a chance of solving some of those difficulties, or at all events might narrow the issue, might give a chance, when the result of the Conference was made known to us for moderate, Constitutional, sensible opinion to settle this controversy without all this difficulty and this appeal to popular feeling. It was out of respect to the Conference and to His Majesty's Government that none of us made any move at that time, because we hoped that the Conference would not fail. I think those of us on whom, to some extent at any rate, extreme Party ties sit lightly have in this matter of great importance a. grievance that we have been kept wholly in ignorance. Surely the mere fact that these discussions have taken place, surely the very admissions from the Front Bench opposite during these discussions show that if a different and a wiser course had been taken we might have got nearer to a settlement without all these appeals to popular passions and without a General Election.
979 As I understand it, there have always been two grievances which are strongly felt by the Radical Party—first, as to the constitution of this House, and, second, as to the powers of the House. I think during recent times we on this side of the House have proved that we are open to fair consideration of both those points. As to reform of the constitution, it is largely owing to the action of His Majesty's Government and their supporters that so little progress has been made in the matter. They boycotted the Committee; they have never given us officially the slightest help, and it has been obvious that the object of the great body of their supporters in the other House was not to reform the constitution of this House but to keep it upon its hereditary basis in order that they might make it an object of indignation and declamation throughout the country. We have again and again been willing to reform the constitution of this House, but we have never had the slightest encouragement from the Radical Party, either officially or unofficially, in the matter.
In my humble opinion the real problem which we have to solve consists of two parts. What we have to endeavour to do is to get a fair balance of power between the two Parties in the Second Chamber, whatever its constitution may be, and at the same time to preserve a reasonable and proper amount of independence in the Second House of Parliament. I say without fear of contradiction that the plan of the Government does not even attempt to find a solution of the first of those points. It proposes to make no change in the constitution of this House; and so far as the second point is concerned, the reservation of a reasonable amount of independence is absolutely killed if the Parliament Bill were to become law.
I venture to say that the object of those who favour the Parliament Bill as it stands is to grasp absolutely unlimited power for the House of Commons; That, in my humble opinion, is the fatal defect of the Bill as it stands. It abolishes all control, even that of the electorate, for the first three years of a new House of Commons. The Lord Chancellor pointed out most truly that the theory of our Constitution is that there is no independent and uncontrolled power in any part of it. The House of Commons is controlled by Disso- 980 lution, the House of Lords by the possible creation of Peers, and the Crown by the possibility of a refusal of Supplies. If this Bill were to pass there would be no power of control left over the House of Commons. The power of Dissolution would have disappeared. There would be no check, in the first place, upon legislation, and there would be no power of Dissolution, because it is the Government which recommends the Sovereign to dissolve Parliament; and if the House of Commons is to have power under the Parliament Bill for three years it is obvious that during those three years no advice to dissolve Parliament will be given. Therefore, whatever the scheme may be, however wild, however Radical, it would he legally—I emphasize that word— in the power of the first House of Parliament to legislate without control.
Within those three years there is, so far as legal check is concerned, nothing which the House of Commons could not do. I am not going too far when I say that during three sessions and those two years they might abolish the Monarchy; they might bring in Home Rule. I am not afraid of their attempting to abolish the Monarchy; but I say fearlessly that it is not right that, even in theory, it should be legally in their power to do such a thing. It would be legally in their power to bring in a scheme of Home Rule. It might not be, and I accept the assurance of the Lord Chancellor that it is not their object, but it is a result which is hoped for by some of their supporters. I need not make more than one quotation. Mr. T. P. O'Connor is reported in to-day's newspapers as having said that a Liberal majority would bring the present House of Lords to an end, and then he adds—When that happens the last obstacle to Home Rule will be removed.That may not be the object with which this Parliament Bill is produced and for which these new powers are sought, but I say it is a result that may be brought about, and it is that result against some of us, at any rate, desire to guard. The noble Earl the Minister for Agriculture was very eloquent about the amount of delay, and I think it was mentioned by the noble Lord who spoke last, whom I welcome as the first of the independent supporters of His Majesty's Government who has said a good word either for them or for their scheme.
981 But what does this delay of three years amount to? A Bill is to be passed in the first session of Parliament. Then after certain intervals of time it is to be passed a second and a third time. Do you really think in these days, when Party spirit is roused, when men's blood is up, when, as I say with regret, a large amount of independence is taken away from the private members of the House of Commons, that any body of private members of the House of Commons will dare to separate themselves from their Government when the question at issue is one of contest between the House to which they belong, to which they are loyal, to which they are proud to belong, and the other House of Parliament? I can only say that these two or three sessions are an absolutely delusive security. I do not think it is worth anything, because I do not believe it is possible in these days on an important matter that men will be detached from their Party in sufficient numbers to change the issue.
The noble Lord who spoke last says there would be an opportunity for discussion and amendment, but, as 1 understand—I may be wrong—if there is a single word amended it is not the same Bill, and therefore there would be no use in sending it up under the procedure of this Bill. It would not be certified to be the same Bill unless it corresponded in every respect, except in such matters as dates and things of that sort. Therefore if you have discussion, and you can have no change which is worthy of the name, a change to be brought about by argument, it is absolutely delusive and shows how little those who make this statement have really considered the matter. I venture to say there is really no safeguard for anything, however fundamental, be it Constitutional or financial or any other matter, in the proposals of the Parliament Bill. I lay it down without fear of contradiction that if you are to have an efficient working between the two Houses you must keep somewhere some power in reserve and you must not be deliberately bound hand and foot to the discretion of a Government and of one House of Parliament.
I confess I look with hope, perhaps with greater hope than in any other direction, to a recourse to the Referendum. This matter is no new one on my part. As your Lordships know, I have had a Notice on 982 the Paper—which I would have brought forward had a suitable occasion been presented—since the month of May to raise an abstract discussion upon this point. Here I am really on common ground with noble Lords opposite. What we all profess to want is the real opinion of the nation. We want it on any question, and we want it as far as we possibly can get it disentangled from every other issue. We want it because, I say it with regret but I am afraid it is true, the other House of Parliament is not nearly so representative in the truest and best sense as it used to be. It is less an assembly of judicial representatives and it is much more an assembly of delegates tied and bound than it used to be. It is said that this idea of a Referendum detracts and diminishes the idea of representative and responsible Government. In one sense that is true. But the point I want to make is that a combination of circumstances for which no one is wholly responsible, for which the other House is probably not even largely responsible, have robbed the House of Commons of much of its dignity and of its representative character. In the first place there was obstruction, which obliged those who wanted business to be managed in reasonable time to have recourse to the closure and the guillotine. Secondly, there is the great and increasing rigidity of Party discipline. There is also the fact that for the last five and twenty years we have been tied and bound to single-member constituencies.
The effect of all these things taken together is that it is the opinion of the extreme men on both sides which tells and the opinion of the extreme men only. That is a fact so notorious—it is a fact which every sound Statesman laments—that I need not labour it. I speak of it in no sense other than that of regret and sorrow; but because it is the fact it makes it necessary that there should be a certain power of control either in a Second Chamber or in some means of reference to the people at large. There is a liability in all men to place the interest of Party before national interest, and in the House of Commons as at present constituted you have a machine which beyond all question overpowers the independent judgment of Members in a way which has never been the ease in our history before. It is on that ground, almost entirely, that I am one of those who look for some cure in the 983 direction of a direct appeal to the country. Various objections have been taken to it. Noble Lords have said that it will be too costly. That entirely depends on how often and with what seriousness it is resorted to. All those things are questions of detail and of arrangement. They do not touch the real principle which lies at the bottom of this matter—that if you can get the control of the people in no other way then take it by Referendum rather than do without it altogether.
I am quite aware that the Conservative dislikes this new scheme because it is a new idea and an invasion into the practice and theory of our Constitution. It is so, and it would probably involve us for the first time in something like a written Constitution. The Liberal or Radical is, I venture to say, afraid of this new idea from the sound belief, confirmed by the writings of many of them, that they would have greater difficulty in getting a clear majority for some of their measures than they have at the present time. The man w ho wants an extreme measure of temperance reform joins forces with the Home Ruler; the man who wants Woman Suffrage or anything of that kind is apt to join forces with those who want something else. Together they make a majority to return a Party to power which, if their particular proposals were put separately, they would fail to secure. I venture to say that that is a sound argument in favour of the proposal of the Referendum. It has been proved beyond all question in those places where it is at work that, so far from being a radical or revolutionary scheme, it tends to be conservative, to moderate progress, a ad to take care, which I think even noble Lords opposite say is right, that the real opinion of the people should be obtained. I do not believe you can ever have a General Election in this country on one single issue. The issues are always involved. You cannot help it. Cast your recollection back to the General Elections of 1895, of 1900, of 1906, or even of 1910, and in which of them will you say that the issue was single and undivided?
I am not afraid of taking even the General Election of the early part of this year as a test. It proceeded upon the delay of the Budget by this House, a matter upon which I, at any rate, can speak with perfect impartiality, because I did not like it. But 984 it also proceeded upon the merits of the Budget itself, and to a certain extent upon proposed changes in our fiscal system. Noble Lords opposite say that it proved their case that this House was wrong in its judgment and action. But if that were so, why did they not proceed promptly to pass the Budget? At any rate, the fact remains that they did not do so. I do not know the reason. As a matter of fact I was not in the country at the time, and if I had I probably should not have been able to learn, but the fact is sufficient for me. If you wanted to discredit this House and to show how completely wrong it was in its action, then the thing to do would have been to pass the Budget at once by the acclamation of the representatives of the people. I still think with all respect that the action of this House was unwise, but if anything could justify it, it would be the fact that when you came back with a new Parliament you did not make the Budget the first thing to be dealt with. But my point is not that, but that even the 1910 Election shows what a satire it is to suppose that either in this great country or any other you can have elections upon one single issue and upon that alone.
Now, whatever may be the defects of the Referendum, it has this one distinct and outstanding merit, that at any rate by proper organisation and careful control it can be made to put a straight, fair, and simple issue to the people at large. You go direct to the people. You can get them to declare their will upon a question carefully selected and adjusted for the purpose. It is common ground between all of us that the people at large are to manage their own affairs. They are the real Sovereign of the State, and the claim of those of us who desire to see the Referendum brought into operation is that they should be treated as you regard them, and that to them the supreme issue should be put. The root of the whole matter is this—that the first object in view is to adopt some method of getting at the real will of the people and that as you go along will solve the difficulties and disagreements between the one House and the other. The Referendum will do that. This idea of the Referendum is an experiment without danger. It will raise a clear, distinct issue before the country. It is at once a democratic and conservative measure; it will control the extremities of Party organisations, it will preserve the country from the danger 985 threatening it, if ever so great a calamity should happen to the country as the provisions of the Parliament Bill becoming law.
THE LORD BISHOP OF BIRMINGHAM
My Lords, I have listened to this debate with a good deal of astonishment, riot on account of the criticism which has been so generally administered to the proposals of His Majesty's Government, but much more at the unanimity of approval which has been given to the Resolutions of the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition. The noble Earl the Leader of the House expressed the hope, natural in his position, that they would receive independent criticism, and I own that I have been astonished to see how very ready this House appears to be to commit the great Constitional Party, the Unionist or the Conservative Party, to the principle of the Referendum. It is to that only that I desire to address myself for a very few minutes.
The noble Lord, Lord Curzon, in a speech which he delivered a little while ago, said that the advantage of having these Resolutions before the House was that it would be known what were the principles upon which, if the Conservative Party were returned to power, they would proceed to deal with the difficulties of the situation; so I think I shall not be saying too much if I say that in passing these Resolutions to-night your Lordships' House will have committed itself to the principle of the Referendum, a principle which was truly described by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack as the principle of government by plebiscite. It is democratic undoubtedly. In a sense, it is the most democratic proposal which your Lordships could make; but I venture to think that it is a perversion of democracy. It is a principle which is fascinating when you look at it at a distance, but the more you contemplate the details the more you feel its difficulties and its tremendous perils.
The noble Lord, Lord Courtney, who addressed us just before dinner, spoke in a very thin House, and I venture to think it would have been well if your Lordships had in larger numbers heard what he said about the difficulties of applying the principle of the Referendum in practical polities. He spoke, for example, of the expense. The noble Lord, Lord Curzon, ventured even to suggest that this was a matter which might 986 be transacted by post. Lord Courtney pointed out that if you are to have security as to the identity of the voter, and some care as to the absence of control in the giving of his vote, any such idea is utterly absurd; that is to say, you must have polling booths, so that there shall be security for the voter in giving his vote, uncontrolled by any other influence. Think of the actual proposal as it stands in the Resolutions of the noble Marquess—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.If you consider what would be involved in the submission of a new question to the judgment of the electors, I fancy you will see that it would not be very much less than the apparatus of a General Election which would have to be brought to bear. I cannot conceive how it can be doubted, in a country like ours, that if you have time principle of the Referendum, it would have to be used more or less frequently, for it would be demanded in the case of any measure in regard to which there was a considerable minority. If I may compare a very small matter with the very great, I may say that in the Lower House of Convocation we have a rule that those who demand a poll should pay the expenses, and that is found to be a considerable deterrent in demanding a poll. But, my Lords, if the expense is to come out of the Exchequer, there would be no such deterrent. If you set up this principle of the Referendum, you cannot refuse to allow it to be applied to any important question for which there is a considerable minority, and the principle of the Referendum will, in consequence, be more or less constantly applied with enormous expense, and, as I say, with the whole practical apparatus and effect on the minds of the people of a General Election.
Take another point. One noble Lord who spoke in this debate said, with regard to the Education Bill of 1902, that if there had been a Referendum acid an appeal had been made to the country the country would have rejected that measure. You may take that Education Bill or the later Education Bill, in which I had the pain of opposing His Majesty's Government; but think what it would have been to put the question with regard to either of those Education Bills. You could only have put the question as a 987 vote of confidence in the existing Government. The questions are so complicated and so large that you could not, otherwise narrow them down to a single issue. Another point of the greatest importance against, the Referendum which I have not, so much as heard alluded to in all this discussion is that it implies the swallowing up altogether of local representation and local influence. In our system of Government the representatives of Ireland, of Wales, or of agricultural districts, are allowed special weight in speaking about and discussing questions which concern their special needs. The Referendum would swallow up all this. This is one of the many points where there is an immense difference between our own country and Switzerland, where they have a system under which each canton is determined to preserve its local unity. It is a system which you may describe, roughly, as "Home Rule all round." But we start from a totally different basis; we start from a unified Government. If we are to have the principle of the Referendum it might rapidly lead to the application of the principle of "Home Rule all round." That might be an indirect but good result to be derived from the application of the principle of the Referendum.
But I ask you, starting as we do from the principle of a unified Government, to realise that local feeling would be swallowed up. Take a matter which touches the feelings of the working classes, say, in such districts as Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire—take the principle of half-time for scholars in our schools. There, I think, it would be certain that local feeling would be completely swallowed up in a vote of the whole country on this matter. Take, again, the case of Wales and Welsh Disestablishment, or, again, what touches agricultural interests. Local influence would be altogether swallowed up numerically by the votes of the dwellers in towns. I ask your Lordships to consider how this principle of the Referendum would swallow up at once the whole principle upon which in the House of Commons the representation of local interests is at present allowed the greatest weight. There is another class of question with regard to which the Referendum would have an effect which I venture to think is so perilous that it would be a most momentous thing if it were to be embarked upon. There is a very large series of questions touching the domestic and personal interests of the 988 working classes in regard to which reform is most necessary, but which would at the same time cost a great deal. With regard to this whole class of question, I think that if the interest of the working classes lies in choosing the best representatives they can, it is likely that their best representatives, their truest friends, will vote for these reforms and they will be peaceably carried. But it would be perilous to adopt the Referendum in regard to such matters as Sunday closing, obligatory military training, the extension of the requirements of education, all of which affect pockets, and the immediate domestic interests of the working classes, and I venture to ask those who know them best, those who are most interested in their welfare, whether it is not incomparably better that what should be asked of them is to vote for the men whom they think best qualified to serve their interests as a whole than to decide these particular questions one by one. I feel quite sure that there is a great class of questions, and these of most importance, with regard to which the average voter is reasonably qualified to elect a man whom he desires to represent lain, but with regard to which there will be a serious deterioration and drawback if he is requested to vote question by question on particular points. I can hardly conceive any one who knows the mind of the average man doubting that there is a vast difference between the capacity of a man to elect another to represent him and the capacity of a man to answer question by question and point by point.
The Referendum seems to reach its maximum of inapplicability when matters of great gravity are concerned. Is it likely that a great and intricate Constitutional question, requiring for its adequate solution great and deep and complicated knowledge of history and precedent, not directly affecting the immediate personal interests of the great mass of the individuals who form the nation, can be satisfactorily decided by such means? It does seem to me that it was not an exaggeration when the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, said that this was really the abolition of representative Government and the principle of Ministerial responsibility. I know that you can press the principle of delegation to a point which does involve absolutely the Referendum, but I do not desire to press the principle of delegation to that point. I do not believe that it would be 989 for the welfare of the country. I am not a prophet, and none of us can tell how this matter will work out, but I do believe, my Lords, that there is a vast number of questions, and these the most important, with regard to which all you can expect of the average elector is that he should elect the person who is best qualified to represent him, and with regard to which you cannot expect the average elector to be qualified to give a particular opinion "Yes" or "No" in reply to any question which you propose to him. I desire to retain the principle which has hitherto guided the welfare of the nation—the principle that there should he elected responsible Members of Parliament, who, for a period not too long—shall we say five years?—shall act within their responsibility, and at the end of that term give an account of their conduct to those who have chosen them.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACK-BITEN)
My Lords, I think I have never listened to a speech which seemed to me more opportune and to convey sounder and more cardinal truths than the speech which has just fallen from the right rev. Prelate. I have always thought von assume—and it is a compliment, no doubt, that yon assume—that all elections, whether by Referendum or otherwise, would be decided on the merits of questions. My reading of the history of this country in our own, or comparatively our own, day is not that at all. The choice of the electors is far more often than not given on grounds of trust or distrust in leaders, or persons who aspire to be leaders. I do not know whether the noble Viscount opposite will agree with me, but take the great election of 1868, whereby Mr. Gladstone became Prime Minister. Was that decided upon the Irish Church question? It was nominally. Of course, there was the issue, but it was really decided by the fact that the people during several years of his financial administration had acquired great confidence in him, and said, "He must now- let us see what lie can do." [VISCOUNT ST. ALDWYN dissented.] The noble Viscount does not agree, but at all events that is my view, and I think most people would agree that the election of 1906 was also not half so much decided upon a series of questions as upon a revolt of feeling against the action of certain prominent men.
All the points which the right rev. Prelate has put are points which the people 990 must decide locally, and they can only decide them in groups of questions by returning, as the right rev. Prelate has said, men in whom they have confidence and upon whom they place the general responsibility. T for my part have always repelled the doctrine of mandate. I say that the constituencies return Members to represent them in Parliament. They choose the best man they can, and if when the time comes he displeases them they show it. If he wants to keep his seat lie will trim his sails. If he does not, be will be turned out. Rut the whole principle upon which, in my view, Parliamentary government has flourished in England is that the representative is entrusted with full powers. The question put to the electors, no doubt, is a political question, but the object for them is to choose the men whom they think will most faithfully and intelligently carry out their wishes. I only make these observations because they seem to me to go to the root and heart of these discussions.
I now presume to make an observation upon what fell from the most rev. Prelate the Archbishop of York last night. For so accomplished a disputant, I was rather surprised that lie found such fault with the Prime Minister for saying that we had now conic to war. "It is," said the most rev. Prelate, "an appeal to force when reason has failed." And he went on to say—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.I listened to him with great respect but I have not the faintest idea what arbitrament of force is being resorted to beyond the ordinary clash of argument which has been the glory of this country for hundreds of years. We have carried on our politics certainly for a good long time, for a couple of hundred years, by the very clash of argument. I therefore fail, with all respect, to see any point in that observation. It is perfectly obvious that what the Prime Minister meant when he said "We have now conic to a state of war" was that diplomacy having broken down it was necessary to take the field with all the armament of argument. Well, for my own part I have never cared to look, as the most rev. Prelate indicated, at our action to-night or in the election that is upon us as involving an issue between 991 hereditary and democratic principles. My Lords, I am a theorist, but I detest the introduction of abstract principles into the great practical difficulties of this nation. I do not regard this as a conflict between hereditary and democratic principles. It is a practical question, affecting all the instruments and machinery of government.
I am not going into statics and dynamics. I am going to look into the machinery and see whether it works smoothly and well, whether it is capable of improvement, and whether anybody has got definite and marked improvements to lay before us. Till within a few years we all of us regarded the machinery of government of this country—though lots of us have quarrelled with this and that action on the part of your Lordships' House and said this House would have to be either mended or ended—as the best machinery that the wit of man had ever devised, except—and I hope your Lordships will not quarrel with me for making this exception because it is deep with me—except in the case of Ireland, where British statesmanship is waterlogged and bankrupt. From that point of view we feel that we are in possession, or have been in possession, of a great national system of machinery. There have been many dangerous creakings, no doubt, especially latterly, 'out notwithstanding we have carried on with a success and continuity that has been the envy of all the countries of the world, except, possibly, the United States. Therefore I look, if the House would care to know—I look, as the right rev. Prelate does, with amazement, and, if I were in a rhetorical mood, I should say that I was appalled, if you will forgive the word, at the levity with which, within the last year or two, you noble Lords who represent, and well represent, the Conservative forces and their principles in this country have thrown all this away. And you have not thought out, if you have thought at all, this thing which you call a plan. If you had thought out your substitute I for one would have listened, watched, studied with respect. But there has been no thinking out, and you have sacrificed, on the lead of my noble friend on the Cross Benches what I, if I—I hope your Lordships will forgive the presumption—had been a Conservative leader, would have cherished. A day in French history was called "the day of dupes." I shall not live long enough to read this page 992 in our recorded annals, but I wonder whether the proceedings in this House within the last two years, and especially within the last week, will not be registered as "the day of dupes."
I come now to this debate. I believe I am the last speaker on this side. We all agree that the debate has been conducted with moderation, with good temper, and, I think, with a fair measure of mutual respect. A good deal has been said about what I call secondary topics, but let me say that nobody in this House has resorted to ignoble topics. There has been a great deal of talk about raising class prejudice. I dislike class prejudice, and I hope it is not arrogant and presumptuous to say so. I feel when I have the honour to address your Lordships' House that I am addressing a body which in all its instincts, its views of right and wrong, and national habit, is not in the least fundamentally distinct from those great audiences which for many years I addressed in the City of Newcastle-on-Tyne. There has been no feeling of class prejudice in my mind; but, my Lords, there is a worse thing than class prejudice, and that is race or national prejudice. We have not had much of it, in fact I may say almost none of it, here. Still is it not true that the cry which is going to be loudly invoked in this election, the Irish cry, depends upon race and national prejudice? Talk of class prejudice The classes will take care of themselves, I trust. The English working man in my view—and I represented a great and important group of them for many years—is not in the least a Phrygian with a red cap, though some of his fellows may talk in that vein.
But the Irish case. Lord St. Aldwyn and I are the only two men now living, that, I think, ever lived, who were good enough, wise enough, prudent enought, twice to till the delectable office of Irish Secretary. We are the two survivors who may put that laurel wreath round our brows. I wondered when I was listening to the powerful speech of the noble Viscount last night, reminding me of days a long time ago when he used to speak, I do not say as ably, but certainly ably enough in the House of Commons—I wondered whether be does not think now, after the twenty-four years that have gone since Mr. Gladstone and I proposed to relieve the Irish Members from attendance in Parliament, that, perhaps, he made a 993 mistake and that Mr. Gladstone was right. But in 1886, the noble dream came to an end, and in 1893, I think, a Motion was made by my noble friend who sits on the Cross Benches for the Second Reading of the Home Rule Bill, and that, too, came to an end. But did anybody think that the Irish sphinx was going to gather up what were then her rags and leave you alone? I never thought so. I wonder whether the noble Viscount thought so?
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN
Whether the noble Viscount thinks that the Irish sphinx is a convenient element in our national politics I do not know, but I will leave that. I only say that I entirely agree with my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor in thinking that you will do no real good until you have attempted to grapple with the Irish sphinx in an effective way worthy of the fame of British statesmanship.
It distresses me to have to turn again, with an accent of remonstrance, to that illustrious Bench (pointing to the Episcopal Bench). Last night the most rev. Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury made a very distinct and definite statement—namely, that he was startled and even staggered to learn that a Dissolution was immediately to take place without any opportunity to this House to discuss or to amend the proposals of the Government. He said—That calamity was averted by the action of the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition.My Lords, Hansard is a Pagan authority, and, if I may say so, Hansard takes the same place in our controversies as volumes of the Fathers or of the Councils of the Churches take in more serious things, and if the most rev. Primate had been so wanting employment, which I am glad to think he was not, as to turn to Hansard, he would have found that that assertion was wholly without support. For what happened? I would not refer to it for a moment with the object of making a point against the most rev. Primate, but other noble Lords have used language with something like the some implication.
What happened? The Prime Minister, in explaining the inevitable delay which 994 took place in making the statement that he had promised the House of Commons—namely, from Tuesday, the 15th, to Friday, the 186—pointed out that the Government had suffered severely by having to postpone the statement of their intentions. "Sir," lie said—there has been no change of plan. I see it suggested that with the object of springing or rushing a Dissolution on the country in the course of a week or the next few days, it was our intention not to present our Budget again for the consideration of the House of Commons; that and the intention originally entertained by us has since been abandoned or modified in consequence of Some form of pressure, how and whence applied I do not know.There was no change of plan, and I should like to read to the House the language of Mr. Balfour on, I think, the same day, November 18—Everybody" [Mr. Balfour said) "dislikes the idea of two elections coming on one another, partly because a General Election is a disturbance to the trade of the country. I admit that that cannot be avoided. I agree it is almost certain that a General Election cannot be deferred for more than a relatively small number of weeks or months. That I grant.Then may I beg noble Lords not again to think that we have rushed the election for objects of our own, when your Leader in. another place has told you that it was inevitable?
To-night my noble friend Lord Courtney spoke of the Conference, and said he thought that some of the proceedings of the Conference or some of their conclusions ought to be set forth. I do not agree with my noble friend. How can you have a Conference—and I, for one, do not despair of seeing others—how can you have a Conference if the gentlemen concerned in it may not speak with perfect freedom? You could not speak in a Palace of Truth with the whole of the outside world being able to say, "Oh!but you said so and so in the Conference." A Conference on these terms is an impossible thing and not worth holding.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN
I was not quite clear what my noble friend asked for; he so often asks for what cannot be granted. But about the Conference I only say this. The Conference was not a gathering of two sets of men negotiating in the clouds. Who we re they? They were four Party leaders on each side; 995 and on this subject Mr. Balfour used straightforward language at Nottingham when he said that the Conference was an exchange of views with a definite object, and that the four men on each side thoroughly and sincerely shared the view of trying to find a solution on three or four points. Mr. Balfour said that if they had agreed upon the only terms upon which agreement was possible they would have been regarded, not as supporting, but as betraying their cause. Then what it comes to is this. They had left at the end of the Conference a remnant of topics, a. margin of topics, upon which they could not agree. The margin may seem a narrow one, and I suppose—if it is not wrong to surmise it, for I am only surmising—that the Resolutions which we have before us to-night represent where the disagreement came nearly to an end. I guess that. It is the natural conclusion. I do not say it is a narrow margin because it is narrow on paper. It is very narrow on paper, all this about Joint Sessions, special questions of special gravity, a Joint Committee to decide, and the Referendum—I presume that is the margin of difference—but though narrow on paper it goes tremendously deep and really comes to the very heart of the whole of this controversy.
Lord Curzon found fault with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and thought he was rather uncharitable when he referred to noble Lords opposite and what their action would be when the time would come for them to choose representatives out of their hereditary body. I have always thought that in politics you are bound to suppose yourself wiser than your opponents, but that you a re very foolish if you think yourself more honest than they are. I have never doubted for a moment that noble Lords opposite, supposing the time came for them to vote for a certain number of noble Lords to sit in the Joint Session, would do the best they could. Yes, but then there was a passage used—and you know that in politics business is business—by Lord Lansdowne in 1906, I think on the Trades Disputes Bill, in which he said—They were passing through a period when it was necessary for the House of Lords to move with great caution; conflicts and troubles might be unavoidable; but let their Lordships, so far as they were able, be sure, if they were to join issue, that it was upon ground which was as favourable as possible "—not to the country, but "to themselves.996 In judging the aim of these proposals we cannot forget language of that sort. I do not blame Lord Lansdowne for a moment, but you are acting upon grounds as favourable as possible to yourselves.
The noble Lord opposite, Lord Curzon, took up a curious position, one that makes me profoundly suspicious of any set of Resolutions which he originates or warmly supports. This was his language used on November 30 of last year—Your surrender now would mean that nothing would stand in future between the people and the power of the House of Commons, winch, in other words, means the Government of the day.Who wants to stand between the House of Commons and the people? The House of Commons are sent there by the people. With all respect to your Lordships, but putting it directly, Who are you that you should frame resolutions and measures to stand between the House of Commons and the people? They are representative. I have never denied the powerful elements of representation which exist in this House. I have never denied all that. On the contrary. But language of the kind used by Lord Lansdowne, and still more the language used by Lord Curzon, naturally makes me suspicious that you are going by these Resolutions, which are empty in themselves, but when you fill in the outlines you are going to do something or another that will stand between the people and the House of Commons. That is to say, under pretence—I do not use the word harshly—of reforming yourselves, you are going, not to revise the proceedings of, but to checkmate the House of Commons.
Like the noble Viscount, Lord St. Aldwyn, I was a great many years in the House of Commons, almost as many, I think, as he was, though different years. I take a pride in the House of Commons, and anybody who by language used in this House or outside on platforms does anything to discredit that great institution of government does no good service to the national and public life of this country. There is a great deal of cant talked now about the House of Commons, and I was rather surprised last night when in his powerful speech' the noble Viscount, Lord St. Aldwyn. a little countenanced it. Lord. Curzon. I think, has never sat in a Cabinet. If lie had sat in a Cabinet, as he may do, he would know that all this talk of the Cabinet and the Prime Minister and so forth being 997 indifferent to the House of Commons and sending decrees to be registered by the House of Commons is mere moonshine. Lord St. Aldwvn knows that. I have sat in four or five Cabinets, and I know that Ministers in the Cabinet are almost daily feeling the pulse of the House of Commons. I am sorry to be so autobiographical, but in the debate in 1882 I sat beside Mr. Gladstone and in the Home Rule Bill debate of 1893 also. Do you think Mr. Gladstone was not alive to any point that anybody raised, whether in a Tory quarter, or the Irish quarter, or the Parnellite quarter, or whatever it was I Every Minister, of course, listens to what is said by anybody who makes a point and applies his mind to do the best he can in dealing with it. Therefore I regard that as a perfect bit of cant.
You say that the House of Commons does not discuss questions. That brings me for half a moment to your Lordships' own habit of discussing a serious question. You say you are affronted. The word "affront" and the word "outrage" has been applied to the Government's dealing with your Lordships about this business. I am only going to refer to one matter. I am not going through any recapitulation, because the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack referred to that. The House of Commons carefully discussed plural voting, which is a thing that affects them directly. The subject was before the country, to my knowledge, for a whole generation, but what did your Lordships do who deem it an affront and an outrage if you have not plenty of time for discussing projects in the clouds like this? What did your Lordships do? You gave to the discussion of the Plural Voting Bill two hours. It had been days in the House of Commons. You gave it two hours, and then you threw it out comfortably before dinner.
I understand that Lord Hugh Cecil, a distinguished kinsman of the noble Marquess opposite, has a plan and has worked it out. According to this plan the House was to consist of three or four hundred members, and they were all to be nominated, I think, by the Prime Minister of the day. What was to happen to them ultimately I do not bear in mind, but that plan, I am told, was received with contumely and amusement even by his own friends in the House of Commons. I do 998 not care what Resolutions you propose or pass. What we want is a tangible plan. These Resolutions contain no plan. If I ask a builder to build me a house, he deposits some bricks and some scaffold poles on the ground, and perhaps shows me a drawing of a magnificent elevation, but I say "No; please give me your specifications." I want noble Lords opposite to give us the specifications. The whole of the details arc wanting. You say there is to be a Joint Session, but the relative number, the ratio of members, is the vital thing. All depends upon that, and you do not say a word about it. Then questions of special gravity are to be excluded from Joint Sessions. You do not say exactly how that Joint Committee, with the Speaker in the chair, is to decide whether or not a given question is of special gravity. You do not say how that Committee is to be constituted, and you do not point out one single element which is to be present in the, minds of the Committee when they ere deciding. It is all left vague, nebulous, and in the clouds. Let me say that this is a point which makes me share with the Bishop of Birmingham a feeling of amazement. I hope that whatever may happen no transfer will take place of the right of judgment as to what laws are or are not what is called organic.
As to finance, this Committee is to decide when a Bill is a Money Bill and when it is not. Again, I say—How is this Committee to be composed that has got this tremendous question to determine? How is it to be appointed? What are the points in a dubious Bill to guide them? All that is in the clouds. The noble Viscount last night said—We cannot tell you; we have not gone into the matter of proportionate numbers.But that is the matter. That is the vital matter. And then lie gave a reason which puzzles me enormously. He said—It is impossible to deal with the question of proportion between the Houses until we know how this House is to be constituted.I cannot for the life of me make out what sort of changes he can be contemplating or thinking of as possible in this House which will make any difference as to the ratio which ought to exist between the numbers of this House and the number that ought to he sent from the other House.
§ VISCOUNT ST. ALDWYN
I hope the noble. Viscount will excuse me, but I think lie is misrepresenting me. I pointed out clearly, from what Mr. Balfour, the Leader of the Unionist Party, said, that in a Joint Session it would be absolutely necessary that the House of Commons should be in numbers predominant over the House of Lords.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN
Yes; but I do not see what the composition of this House has to do with that. Supposing that you build up or make what —with no desire to hurt anybody's feelings —I call a fantastic concoction; you may concoct it as you like—I do not see that it affects the proportion there ought to be between 670 men in the House of Commons and 'your 300 or 400 or whatever it is. I only meant to point out that I did not follow the argument of the noble Viscount. In one sense I hope. I am the least cynical of men, and I know that very doubtful things will pass muster at a General Election, but I think the constituencies will see that your plan is a mere blank outline which may enable a new House of Lords, however constituted, to handicap the House of Commons. But the question is how much handicap shall be put on the House of Lords. You talk of revising. You are not revising. This is checkmating.
My noble friend Lord Rosebery, who has taken so honourable and powerful a part in these discussions, has told us that he would abolish the hereditary principle. I wish he would go further and tell us what his whole plan is. My noble friend is like a dark horse in a loose box. I wish he would come out of the loose box. The Opposition plan is really no plan at all. It is a mere school-boy sketch on a piece of paper; but my noble friend, I am perfectly certain, has gone deeper into this matter than perhaps Lord Lansdowne, and if he w ill now, or whenever he thinks fit, produce a plan that would not checkmate the House of Commons but would constitute a real revising body, then I am sure he would do a useful work. I confess I do not like the words of his Resolution "strong and efficient." You are to make this House a "strong and efficient" body. Strong against whom? If it is to be strong against the House of Commons, if it is to be efficient against the House of Commons, I think your Lordships will find 1000 that there are behind the House of Commons forces that swear by that old institution which is as dear to them as to those to whom you gave the vote in 1867, the effect of which vote you are now- going to try to take away from them; and if you tell them that you are going to checkmate the House of Commons most assuredly yon will get the worst of it.
THE EARL. OF ROSEBERY
My Lords, I am only going to say one single sentence in reply to the personal appeal of my noble friend opposite. The noble Viscount calls me a dark horse in a loose box. I wish I were. I have no objection to parallels of that kind, which are only too congenial. But he appeals to me for greater definiteness in my plan, and that involves a broad principle which requires at any rate one sentence from me and which covers noble Lords behind me. It is not the place of any one but the responsible Government of the country to lay on the Table of this or the other House of Parliament a detailed scheme, a detailed Bill, an exact plan for dealing either with the composition of either House of Parliament or the relations between the two Houses. Any action of that kind on the part of the Opposition, as I said the other night, or still more on the part of an individual on the Cross Benches, is an impudent encroachment on the province of the responsible Government of the Crown. I lay that down with absolute confidence, and I defy my noble friend, amiable and controversial as he is, but somewhat erratic in his methods, to contradict that assertion or to lay down any proposition adverse to it. Another point. The noble Viscount maintained a suitable obscurity, suitable perhaps to his individual position, but not suitable to the representative of the Government. What is his plan? It is a Preamble of a Bill, a paulo post futurum Preamble left in absolute nebulousness, and I venture to say never to leave that dark condition.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I think I might well have left the reply of noble Lords who sit on this side of the House to the extremely pertinent and witty sentences which have just been delivered from this place, but perhaps, if your Lordships will allow me, I may say a few words in reply to the noble Viscount, and I can assure your Lordships that at this time of the night my words shall be 1001 very few. Now what has been the result of these two days discussion; what is it, in the words of the noble Viscount who has just sat down, that we have succeeded in frustrating? We have frustrated the charge being made by the Government against the Opposition that we were resisting a change in the constitution of your Lordships' House and in the relation between this House and the other House of Parliament. It was essential that the public mind should be set right upon that point. I make no doubt whatever that but for the intervention of my noble friend the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition, it would have been said from a thousand platforms all over England during the next few weeks that the House of Lords had refused a change, that they had declined to have any modification made in their position in the Constitution, that they were obstructing all diminution in their privileges, and that they had no alternative plan to suggest.
The noble Viscount finds fault with us for not having more details in our plan. We have only had a fortnight in which to formulate it, for who would have formulated a plan while the Conference was sitting? We did not know what the Conference was going to do. We did not know what would pass within the walls of that Conference. Now we have got a plan; it is a better plan than that of the Government, and it is the plan which we submit to the country. I should have liked had it been earlier in the evening to have made a comment or two on the Government plan, but it would be out of place at so late an hour. But this I will say of the Government plan, that it was constructed undoubtedly to limit and to practically destroy the usefulness of your Lordships' House. But it was above all things a plan constructed in order to pass Home Rule. The noble Viscount shakes his head. I thought in that most interesting and witty speech which he delivered to us just now almost the most interesting part of it was the passage about Home Rule. If this Bill had nothing to do with Home Rule, why did the noble Viscount spend ten minutes of his valuable time in deprecating our opposition to Home Rule?
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN
Because Lord St. Aldwvn referred expressly to it last night, and so have other speakers.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
In referring to it to-night the noble Viscount was perfectly right. There can be no doubt whatever that the object which Mr. Redmond has, and the noble Viscount will not deny it, is to pass Home Rule. He does not care twopence about the constitutional question except from that point of view. The whole burden of what he says—he makes no concealment about it—is that he desires to pass Home Rule, and he has manœuvred for years past in order to achieve this end, and now lie thinks he has got Great Britain under the harrow and can force Home Rule on the country. The Government plan would have enabled him to pass Home Rule. It is a thoroughly bad plan even from their own point of view, because although for the first two or three years the House of Commons is all-powerful, it becomes perfectly powerless during the last two or three years of a Parliament. Can you conceive a more ludicrous plan than that? The first thing they would have been obliged to do by their masters would have been to pass Home Rule. That is what we have frustrated. We have frustrated the impression which might have been given to the country that we had no alternative and better plan than this to submit in order to modify the relations between the two Houses of Parliament.
I pass from that in order to say a word or two about our plan. What is the gravamen of the attack delivered against our plan in the last two or three speeches? There was the speech of the right rev. Prelate and the speech of the noble Viscount, both thoroughly undemocratic in tone, thoroughly distrustful of the people. The right rev. Prelate asked, Can you conceive working-men being asked to determine this or that particular question? We are much more democratic than the right rev. Prelate and the noble Viscount. I will tell the noble Viscount, if he will allow me, why it is we are so much in earnest about the Referendum. All politicians nowadays speak in the name of the people, they all say the people desire this or that. Everyone appeals to the judgment of the people; but the astonishing thing is that in our Constitution there is no means for ascertaining the judgment of the people. That is the absolute fact. You can arrive at a. general conclusion from a great variety of circumstances of the general complexion of Government 1003 they wish, but as to their opinion on specific questions you know nothing whatever for certain. That is a very dangerous state of things. We are not back in the days of Burke, which the noble Viscount really represents. The old Toryism of the noble Viscount goes back to that period. In his view Members of Parliament are representatives; the people elect them Members of Parliament because they respect them and with no particular reference to the topics with which the Members have to deal in Parliament.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN
In Burke's day, of course, the House of Lords had the House of Commons in its pocket.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Well, we do not want to go as far as that. I leave that kind of Toryism to the noble Viscount. What we poor, miserable, modern Conservatives want to do is really to ascertain what the wishes of the people are. We think it is profoundly dangerous that men should be allowed to speak in the name of the people and say that the people have determined this and have arrived at such a judgment, when nothing of the kind may have taken place. Even the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack claimed this evening as an absolute ascertained fact that the people had decided against the House of Lords—against the constitution, I mean, of the House of Lords—at the last General Election. He said he was perfectly certain of that.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I think I said that Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's Resolutions had been for three or four years before the country and had been ratified by the election of 1910. I do not think I said anything more. Surely that is an innocent thing to say.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I do not think it is a particularly guilty thing to say, but what I am suggesting is that it is not a very accurate thing to say. Because what did the people decide at the last General Election? I think there is no doubt that what they decided, with a rather hesitating voice, I admit, was that they wanted the Budget. How can you be certain that they also decided against the constitution of the House of Lords? I appeal to the noble and learned 1004 Lord, who I think values his reputation for reasonable candour almost more than any other man in this House, Does he say that if two capital issues are submitted to the country at the same time, you have any opportunity whatever of ascertaining on which they have decided?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Then we are agreed. I am delighted to find that I am for once in agreement with the noble and learned Lord. The Lord Chancellor has now admitted, what indeed he could not deny, that a General Election can never be taken to decide any particular question.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Will the noble Marquess excuse me again? I quite agree that there are nearly always confused issues at General Elections, but he must not take my admissions further than that. That is what I mean, and I think that is the general sense of everybody who is familiar with elections. You must take them in the large and judge for yourselves. I do not think you can do more than that.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
But we are not prepared to take them in the large and judge for ourselves. When the issues are sufficiently important we are going to ask the people what their decision is. What can be more logical, more obviously rational, than that method of solving grave political issues? The extraordinary thing is that this is really admitted. It is admitted by the noble and learned Lord in the limited sense which he has just explained; it is admitted by the Prime Minister, indeed by everybody, that a General Election cannot, at any rate always, be taken as a secure method of ascertaining the decision of the people upon the confused issues which are submitted; and for that reason we have included in our scheme the provision to which I have referred. It is a broad principle to which we shall get the assent of the country. It is a broad principle which ought to be put forward as it has been put forward by my noble friend who leads the Opposition with all the caution and with all the care of which he is master. He put it forward in a tentative but in no uncertain way, and it is, of course, capable of extension. I hope it may be extended.
1005 At any rate let us begin by trying it in matters of great gravity about which there can be no doubt that they are right and proper to be submitted to the people. If it succeeds, as I hope it may succeed, then hereafter it may be extended, and especially do I hope it may be extended in the direction which has been mentioned by several speakers—I mean in the protection of an important minority as well as with a view of solving differences between the two Houses. One speaker—I am not sure whether it was the noble Viscount or Lord Courtney—said there might be great difficulty in arriving at a method by which the Referendum could be provoked by a minority.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Some speaker said there would be great difficulty. I think it is hasty to say that such difficulties are insuperable. My noble friend the Leader of the Opposition mentioned one expedient which might easily be availed of in order to overcome such difficulties as are put forward. He said that the Referendum might be provoked either by a Resolution of either House of Parliament or by the decision of some impartial tribunal. It is to the latter I am referring. There seems to me no reason at all why, upon the application of an important minority some tribunal—not necessarily a legal tribunal; it might very well be a Parliamentary tribunal—might not decide whether the subject was of sufficient gravity to go to the people direct. I do not mention this as necessarily the best plan or the only plan, but as showing how easy it is to overcome the sort of difficulties which are put forward as standing in the way of a reasonable extension of the principle of Referendum, so that it may not only be used to solve differences between the two Houses but also to protect minorities.
I have dealt as quickly as I could with most of the points which were raised by the noble Viscount. I should have liked to have said a word or two on the subject of the Money Resolution, but perhaps it is too late for that. I will, however, just say this, that the concession which is contained in the first paragraph of that Resolution, upon which your Lordships' House are asked to forego your undoubted 1006 Constitutional right to amend or reject a measure of pure finance, is intended to be a real and substantial concession. It is not a mere paper matter; it involves undoubtedly abandonment of one of the Constitutional rights of this House. But of course, it is evident that that concession would not be safe unless it were accompanied by the provisos which follow the first paragraph. Even the noble Viscount himself, in a famous passage, recognised that it might be necessary in extreme cases, even in matters which were mostly financial in character, to restrain the House of Commons.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Well, I suppose the noble Viscount conceived that there might be a demented House of Commons or it would not have been worth his while to make the observation. He admits that there are extreme cases in matters which are mainly financial. But when we turn to "tacking," every candid man will agree that if your Lordships are to be asked to abandon your right to deal with pure finance, some precaution must be taken to see that that is not availed of by means of "tacking" to pass legislation over your heads. That has been recognised by the Prime Minister in general terms, and it is, of course, very necessary that we should protect ourselves against it. It is not a mare's nest; it is a real danger.
I do not wish to go back into old controversies, but your Lordships can well remember the Sort of thing that was said last year at the time when the great Budget struggle was; going on and before that. I remember that there was a speech by the First Lord of the Admiralty—and I take this opportunity of saying I hope he is recovering from his grave illness—in which he spoke of the necessity, if the Peers refused their assent to Bills in the ordinary way, of using the finance powers of the House of Commons in order to overcome them. That was a celebrated passage which was quoted at the time. That means that in the mind of the First Lord of the Admiralty, and there was another celebrated speech by the Home Secretary—in their minds there was a regular intention to use the financial powers of the House 1007 of Commons in order to overcome the resistance of the House of Lords in ordinary legislation. It is quite evident, then, that if we make the concession on pure finance it is necessary to prevent the policy of the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Home Secretary from being carried out, and from Finance Bills being used as a cloak for passing ordinary legislation over the heads of your Lordships' House. That is the policy which we have laid down. We desire to regularise the position of your Lordships' House in relation to finance, and in other matters we desire to trust the people. We believe that upon those two main principles we have a strong case to go before the country, and we do not fear the result.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The EARL OF ONSLOW in the Chair.]
§ EARL CAWDOR
My Lords, in the unavoidable absence of my noble friend Lord Lansdowne I have to lay before your Lordships and ask you to accept the three Resolutions which stand on the Paper, and which have been the subject of our debate for the last two days. I do not think it will be necessary for me to trespass upon your Lordships' attention for any time, for the reason, first, that my noble friend Lord Lansdowne on the first night of the debate went very fully and clearly over each of these Resolutions. He explained them to your Lordships as clearly as possible, and during the last two days we have debated each one of the Resolutions very fully on both sides of the House. Therefore, if it meets with your Lordships' assent I propose to move each of the Resolutions in turn, leaving it to your Lordships to raise any questions which you wish with respect: to them, which we shall endeavour to meet to the best of our ability. I beg to move the first Resolution.
§ Moved, 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.—(Earl Cawdor.)
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
I merely desire to say, what I think your Lordships will 1008 all have anticipated, that we on this side of the House do not propose to take the sense of your Lordships on any of the Resolutions. We quite understand that it is the desire of the majority of the House that they should be carried. We do not find ourselves, as your Lordships will have gathered in the course of the debate, in agreement with the Resolutions as a whole, and certainly not in agreement with many of the arguments by which they have been supported in the course of the debate. We do not desire to put your Lordships to the trouble of dividing, and, as your Lordships know, we have our plan for dealing with the matter, beginning in a different way —dealing first with the relations between the two Houses, and afterwards proceeding to a consideration of the composition of the House. Therefore we prefer to leave your Lordships, so far as you are able to do so, to settle these questions by Resolution in your own way.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
I hope that in passing these Resolutions sub silentio, as they probably will be passed, it will be understood that those who are supporting them do not support them in every detail or in every word. We simply applaud the general spirit and trend of the proposals.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Moved, 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 it 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.—(Earl Cawdor.)1009
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
One word upon this Resolution, which deals with what has been shortly called Joint Session. I merely wish to observe that when we have stated that this plan has not been filled in we have not done so with any desire to complain of the action of your Lordships' House or of those who are responsible for these Resolutions, but merely to point out this, that on the question of Joint Session it is evident that everything must depend upon the relative numbers of the two Houses. I suppose there is no member of the other House, however advanced in his views, who would not, to use a familiar expression, jump at this arrangement if he was allowed to fix the proportions. That being so, your Lordships must, I am sure, forgive us for being rather sceptical of what the result will be if you have the fixing of the figures. I merely venture to raise this point because my noble friend on the Cross Benches seemed to think that it was not quite reasonable of my noble friend behind me to have pointed out that in certain respects these Resolutions are a bare outline, and in order to impress upon your Lordships that as regards this particular point everything depends, from the point of view of everybody, upon the application which is made of this particular principle.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
May I point out one pregnant consideration that seems to have escaped the notice of my noble friends opposite with regard to this question of proportion? They seem to think that such a plan as this would be immediately adopted by the House of Lords itself without reference to the House of Commons. It is perfectly obvious that any scheme that is to be a settlement of this matter must pass through the House of Commons. Does anybody suppose that any such scheme would pass the House of Commons under any circumstances if it did not make most ample provision for the predominance of the House of Commons should any such conflict take place? Really when my noble friends torment themselves with such phantoms I begin to think that their nervous system is impaired.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
More than one of the speakers opposite took objection to this particular proposal because their side would probably be in a permanent minority in any newly-composed House of hereditary Peers, and they assumed that as a matter of course the majority on this side 1010 of the House would send the whole of the representatives to the Joint Sitting. Surely they have forgotten that one of the cardinal principles in the Report of the Committee presided over by the noble Earl on the Cross Benches was that in any rearrange went of the House and election by the hereditary Peers of those who were to sit in the newly-composed House, there was to be a system of election either by cumulative vote or by proportional representation which would give a fair reflection in the newly-composed body of the proportions of the constituent body electing. Surely it is not an unfair thin' 2; to say that the same presumption might fairly be taken that if there is to be a Joint Sitting not composed of the members of the whole body some similar form of fair representation of the respective proportions would also be observed.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
Yes, and my noble friend has also forgotten that the scheme makes provision for a large outside representation on which this House would have no influence whatever.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Moved, 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; and
§ 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;
§ 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.— (Earl Cawdor.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ The said Resolutions reportedto the House.1011
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
I should like now to move, if it be not against precedent, or even if it be against precedent, that these Resolutions and those which were moved at my instance be communicated to the House of Commons.
§ Moved, That the said Resolutions and the Resolutions relating to the proposed reconstitution of this House reported to the House on Thursday last, be communicated to the House of Commons.—(The Earl of Rosebery.)
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
May I ask how that process can be carried out? I am merely asking for information, because I do not know what machinery has been in the past employed or could now be employed for conveying a Message of that kind. I have no personal objection to raise to such a communication, but I confess I do not know—perhaps some noble Lord may be able to tell me—what machinery can be employed for that purpose.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
I presume the same machinery can be employed as is utilised for communicating to the other House a Bill which has been passed by your Lordships' House. Am I to understand that no Bill has ever passed this House and been communicated to the House of Commons?
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
It is quite an ordinary practice to make communications between the two Houses of Parliament. For instance, it often happens that your Lordships desire to appoint a Joint Committee, and when you so desire you communicate 1012 that fact to the House of Commons. The House of Commons take the. Message into consideration, and if they approve of the proposal appoint their share of the Joint Committee. That, I think, is a precedent which might be followed in this instance, and which would fulfil the desire of the noble Earl on the Cross Benches.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to and ordered accordingly.