§ Order of the Day for the consideration of the Commons Reasons for disagreeing to several of the Lords Amendments, read.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (VISCOUNT MORLEY)
My Lords, I move that the said Reasons be now considered. I should have thought for my part that it would have been better to defer any general observations on the Parliament Bill and on the Amendments until we came to the consideration one by one of those Amendments and of the changes that have been made in them by the decision of the House of Commons. It is by considering each Amendment in detail that we are brought to close quarters on the matters that unhappily divide us; but I believe that that is not the view which finds favour with the majority of the House. That view, I understand, is that we had better first discuss the question whether we do or do not now discuss the Commons' Reasons for dissenting from the Amendments made by your Lordships' House.
I do not propose to enter into any general observations. I will only point out that there are, so far as I can make out, seven points upon which the Commons' decision affects the Amendments of your Lordships' House. Of those seven points, on three the Commons agree with this House. They agree with the two Amendments—it is true they are not of the first order of importance—moved by Lord Camperdown; that is to say, first, that Provisional Order Bills and Private Bills do not come within 884 the scope of the Parliament Bill, and, second, that the enacting words shall not be the ordinary enacting words that His Majesty has enacted, "with the consent of the Lords and Commons," but that they shall be words enacting truly and accurately the confirmation of His Majesty's will and authority. Then there is a third Amendment which was brought before you by Lord Avebury—that is to say, that any proposal for altering the term of duration of Parliament should be excepted from these proposals in the Parliament Bill. Those, then, are points on which there is no room for discussion. Therefore there are four others, two of which, in my humble but undoubtedly partial opinion, are not of vital consequence. The first concerns the constitution of the authority which is to decide what is and what is not a Money Bill. Upon that point my colleagues in the House of Commons, with the assent of both sides in the House, have come to a proposal which will be brought before your Lordships in its turn.
The second outstanding and controversial point is the point we were made familiar with on the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Cromer, which is to decide when the general purpose of a Bill is financial and when it is partly financial and partly political or social. On that I shall hope to show your Lordships that the controversy is not very acute. Then there is the only Amendment with which, as I believe, the majority of the House is concerned, I mean the Amendment known as the Amendment of the noble Marquess opposite. That Amendment, as I ventured to say when the noble Marquess moved it in Committee, opposes an insuperable barricade to an agreement between the Government and the majority of this House. Therefore I submit that it would have been better to have gone through the Amendments on which there is a good deal of accord and then have conic to the noble Marquess's Amendment, which will raise those great issues on which unfortunately so far there has been no agreement. All I have to do now is to move that the House do now consider the reasons given by the Commons for their assent to or dissent from your Lordships' Amendments.
§ Moved, That the said Reasons be now considered.—(Viscount Morley.)885
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, the noble Viscount suggested that it might be more convenient to your Lordships if we took our discussion upon the different Amendments seriatim. I venture to suggest, on the contrary, that there are reasons which make it desirable that before we approach that detailed discussion we should consider the more general aspects of the situation which confronts us. That situation is in a sense a somewhat unexpected one, for until a very few days ago most of us expected, and I think not without reason, that it was not the intention of His Majesty's Government to part with this Bill in the House of Commons until they had either received some kind of assurance that it would be allowed to go through without the more important Amendments made by this House, or, failing that, until a number of Peers had been created sufficient to ensure its passage into law.
But the situation is now very different. Ostensibly we are invited to examine the reasons of the House of Commons for differing from our proposals, and ostensibly it is open to us to reconsider our own proposals, to suggest further Amendments, and to embark upon one of those prolonged exchanges of opinion between the two Houses which sometimes end in a conference between the two Chambers. Well, my Lords, that is the ostensible position, but it is not the real position. The real position is this. Our Amendments come back to us with three or four small concessions which have been specified by the noble Viscount. He mentioned the two Amendments which were moved by my noble friend, Lord Camperdown, both very useful Amendments, but, as the noble Viscount evidently is aware, dealing with points of secondary or third-rate importance. The second of these Amendments has, indeed, the effect of saving the Government from perpetrating what I might almost call a legislative absurdity. Then there is the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Avebury, which is no doubt a valuable Amendment, and the fourth Amendment is that which associates with the Speaker two Members of the House of Commons for the purpose of forming a kind of tribunal to which is to be entrusted the duty of deciding whether a Bill is a Money Bill in the stricter sense of the word or a Bill which is partly financial and partly dealing with other subjects. The counter pro- 886 posal of the Government on this point seems to us a most futile and negligible one. In debate in this House we demonstrated the impropriety of using the Speaker of the House of Commons—a high House of Commons official—as the arbitral tribunal to decide disputes between the two Houses, and our point is not in the least met by associating with the Speaker two other Members of the House of Commons. It is a tribunal to decide, as I said just now, disputes between the two Houses, and it is composed entirely of Members of one House.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
It is not a tribunal to decide. The Speaker decides, but there are mandatory words directing the Speaker to consult these two gentlemen.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
The proposal in effect is even less favourable to us than I have described it. The two gentlemen associated with the Speaker can only advise, and, moreover, they need not be consulted by the Speaker, for the words "if practicable" give a very wide loophole.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
The noble Marquess is rather cavilling at a word. It simply means that if one of these two gentlemen is ill or if his place is vacant then it is not practicable to consult him. It is not a quibble on our part.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I never suggested that there was a quibble, but I do suggest that the proposal is so unimportant that we need not waste time this evening in considering it. What is the essence of the situation? It is surely this. We are invited to deal with the other Amendments, the Amendments which we really care about, and which we showed in the course of our discussions here that we did attach essential importance to—we are invited to deal with those Amendments under circumstances which make it absolutely clear that there is not the slightest prospect of our views with regard to them obtaining one iota of further consideration at the hands of the Government. Not only do we know that they will not be considered, but we know beyond dispute that if we persist in our proposals we are to be voted down by a body of newly-created Peers, created by a use of the Royal Prerogative which we ventured to stigmatise last night as highly improper and unconstitutional.
887 What is the duty of your Lordships' House in those circumstances, what road remains open to us? There is clearly from our point of view no room for compromise. You have offered us nothing which can form the basis of a transaction between those who think with you and those who think with us. The idea of an appeal to the people is scouted. In these circumstances it seems to me obvious that this House is no longer in a position to offer effectual resistance to the policy of His Majesty's Government, and in these circumstances some of us, myself amongst the number, are convinced that further insistence on our Amendments would be not only unprofitable, but detrimental to the public interest. Those who so think hold that it will be wiser to abstain from further intervention in these discussions, that we should assume no responsibility for the Bill, and that we should part with it making it clear that whenever the opportunity presents itself to us we shall spare no effort to redress the balance of the Constitution which you have so gravely disturbed.
I am well aware that the attitude that I have ventured to recommend is one that lays itself open to abundant criticism. We are ready for that criticism and we are not afraid of it. We are asked why did we think it necessary to insert Amendments in this Bill if we did not intend to stand by them. There is a complete answer to that suggestion. It was our duty whatever might happen to the Bill in another place to insert in it in this House whatever Amendments we thought proper, and to send those Amendments down to the House of Commons. I ask your Lordships to remember that had we not done this the damning fact would not have been revealed that your real objection to our policy is that you are going to create Peers in order to prevent us from securing an appeal to the people on grave matters as to which they have not yet been adequately consulted. That fact would never have been elicited had your Lordships not insisted on putting these Amendments into the Bill.
Another consideration that should be borne in mind is that although our Amendments improved the Bill, they did not make it a good Bill. It is not as if we had the choice between a good and a bad Bill; we have to choose between a bad Bill 888 and a Bill rendered less bad by our Amendments. There is another observation that has been not unfrequently made. We are asked why it was that whereas in 1909 we made a stiff fight over the Finance Bill of that year we are not ready to make a stiff fight now. MY answer is that in 1909 we fought to the end because we knew that we had a chance of success. Although our success fell short of our hopes and expectations, we succeeded at any rate to this extent, that we were able to put the Finance Bill before the country, with the result that a great part of the colossal majority of the Government of the day was wiped out of existence. But in this case we are unable to force an election. We know, or at least I know, that we have no means of preventing this Bill from finding a place on the Statute Book. I have seen somewhere or other connected, I think with the name of my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke the suggestion that the introduction of the new Peers should be resisted by main force. I think my noble friend added that he himself would see to it that it only came about in that way. My noble friend will think me a very pusillanimous person, but I confess that I prefer Parliamentary methods; and in a case of this kind I doubt whether your Lordships would achieve much or add greatly to the credit and reputation of this House if you were to resort to unparliamentary methods such as often repeated adjournments and various technical modes of opposing the accomplishment of the policy of His Majesty's Government. I am convinced that such attempts would be unsuccessful and would probably be much misunderstood in the country.
I know that many of your Lordships think that other courses are open to us. What is the situation as it presents itself to the minds of many of those whose opinion I greatly respect? They know and we know that His Majesty's Government are extremely reluctant to create Peers. That has been freely admitted by Lord Crewe last night. There are all the difficulties of the selection—formidable I should think—of the selection of 500 gentlemen whose fidelity is to remain beyond suspicion for eighteen months or two years. Nor can I bring myself to believe that any members of His Majesty's Government desire that the name of the Government should be handed down to posterity in connection with so violent an outrage upon the Constitution. The matter was well summed up by 889 Lord Crewe last night when he said that the whole of this business was odious to him. If it was odious to the noble Marquess may we not rest assured that it was also odious to the Sovereign? In every line of the account given last night by Lord Crewe of the communications which had passed between Ministers and His Majesty—in every line of that, I must say, pathetic story—it appeared clear that the course recommended was one that His Majesty was most reluctant to adopt and one which he would only adopt if no other course was left open to him by his advisers.
Now it is true that we can force His Majesty's Government to take that course so odious to them. We can force that course on the Sovereign; we can force the Government to do something which is hateful to them, something which is injurious to the reputation of this House, something which I venture to say will bring discredit on this country. But are we to force these things upon the King and his Ministers merely from a feeling of petulance or vindictiveness? I say to do so from such motives would be not only unpatriotic but contemptible in the highest degree. I do not, however, for a moment suggest that any of those who differ from us are inspired by motives of that kind. Their motives, I know, are of a different order. In their view nothing short of the creation of Peers will clear this House of a suspicion that we are accomplices in the policy of His Majesty's Government. In their view, and I think rightly, a. revolution is upon us, and they believe that nothing would bring home to the people of this country the fact that it is a revolution unless an outward and visible sign is given by the appearance of newly-created Peers in this House. I confess I have not so poor an opinion of the intelligence of my own countrymen as to believe that this is quite the case, and I must say that it affords me some relief to find that so large a number of noble Lords who sit on this side of the House, and who, after all, are not men who lead isolated lives, but who live and move amongst their neighbours in different parts of this country, are of the opinion that I hold myself. May I add this observation with all deference to my noble and learned friend behind me? I believe that if one-half of the eloquence which he and his friends have been exhibiting lately for the purpose of proving to those who listen that they are being betrayed by us 890 had been directed to the task of explaining the true situation to the public they would have had no difficulty whatever in satisfying the people of this country that we were as effectually coerced by the Prime Minister's letter and by the statements made in this House by Lord Crewe last night as if the whole four or five hundred Peers had come down to this House and voted us down.
But let me assume, for the sake of argument, that my noble friends who hold these views are right, and that it is necessary or that it is desirable that conviction should be carried to the minds of the people by means of an actual creation of Peers. I ask your Lordships to consider what will be the price that we shall have to pay for the piece of education which it is proposed to give to the people of this country. Why is it that we object to this proposal for the creation of Peers? Let me put on one side the suggestion which I know is sometimes made, to the effect that the present Members of this House would resent on behalf of the order to which we belong the intrusion of a large body of newcomers because we are, as it were, an aristocratic and therefore an exclusive Assembly. I believe, if I may say so, that this is pure nonsense and that it does not reflect the opinion of any reasonable Member of this House. This House has long ceased to be an Assembly composed exclusively of aristocratic and territorial members. Since the year 1830 one Government after another has never desisted from pumping new Peers into this House, and they are not all the descendants of men who came over with the Conqueror, nor are all their names to be found in the Doomsday Book; and I believe I am only expressing a feeling shared by the large majority of the Members of this House when I say that most of us would gladly welcome an accession of new Members representing new interests, professions not at present represented, men who would give to this House and to our debates a certain novelty and freshness, in which perhaps those debates are at present lacking. But we have, at any rate, one amply sufficient answer to the charge that our opposition proceeds from a feeling of mere exclusiveness. This House passed only this year, by a large majority—I think it was carried unanimously—a Bill the effect of which would have been to bring into existence a reconstituted House, of which only one-third 891 was to be chosen by the present House of Lords. I do not think you could have much stronger evidence that this House is not penetrated by those exclusive feelings that are sometimes imputed to us.
Assuming, however, that the creation of a number of new Peers would have a certain educative effect upon the people of the country, I ask your Lordships to consider what is the price which we should have to pay for taking that step. In the first place, while we remain in Opposition we should be liable to find that the whole of those extremely exiguous safeguards which are left to us by the Parliament Bill might disappear altogether. I have never rated the value of those safeguards too highly, but I do say they are worth something, and to my mind it might make the whole difference to us that we should have a full period of two years in which to discuss and to examine a proposal which we considered a dangerous one—two years which we could turn to account by enlightening public opinion with regard to the measure in dispute. I ask your Lordships to consider the difference between the fate of a Home Rule Bill, for example, under the Parliament Bill with this interval of two years and time fate of the same Bill supposing we found that in this House there was an overwhelming Liberal majority which could carry everything before it. But I am not content to assume for a moment that we are always going to remain in Opposition. I do not for a moment believe that the country is going to sit down patiently for au indefinite time under the despotism which is being established by noble Lords opposite; and when the time comes for the Party which now sits on this side of the House to cross over, we shall no doubt consider it our duty to address ourselves to the great task of Constitutional reform. We shall have to deal with the composition of the House of Lords, the relations of the two Houses, and the limitation of the Royal Prerogative. When that time comes I am free to confess that I think it would be a serious misfortune to us if we found ourselves confronted by an obstinate and, perhaps, obstructive Radical majority in this House.
But while those reasons prevail with me, there is another reason to which, I think, I attach even more weight. I am haunted by my apprehension of the spectacle which will be presented not only to this country, but to the whole civilised 892 world and to the rest of the British Empire if the threat of His Majesty's Government is carried into effect. Can the noble Viscount tell us of any country in which any exhibition approaching to it has ever been seen? Some of us who have had an interest in foreign affairs know how much of the respect which our country commands abroad is due to the stability of our institutions and to the respect in which our Parliamentary system is held. What, I ask, will be thought of our Parliamentary system and of the stability of our institutions when 300, or 400, or 500 Peers—I do not care which—are created for the express purpose of voting down one of the two Chambers of the Legislature? We should have exclaimed and poured forth volumes of ridicule and contempt if such a thing had happened in the Republic of Venezuela under the Presidency of President Castro, and that is what we are asked to contemplate as likely to happen in this country and to this House.
I shall perhaps he told that the spectacle will be every whit as degrading if the Peers are not actually made and if this House yields to the threat that Peers will be made. I shall be told that the infamy remains, although it will be kept out of sight. I shall be told that it is bad for political morality that these things should be hid away and that it is much better that the thing should be done and a salutary shock administered to public opinion. But I take leave to say that to my mind it makes an immense difference whether this out rage has been merely contemplated or whether it has been actually accomplished. The moral guilt of the criminals would no doubt be the same, but if it is not actually accomplished, then, at any rate, the British Government will not have added to our history a piece of what I can only call stupendous political corruption. If it is not accomplished 500 English gentlemen will not have taken their seats in this House upon conditions which I can only describe as humiliating and disgraceful. If it is not accomplished, this House, with all its historic traditions, will not have sustained the most outrageous affront which could be offered to it. And, finally, the Sovereign will not have been required to lend himself to a transaction which is already agitating the minds of all those who are devoted to the Monarchy and which will, beyond all question, disfigure the annals of the new reign. To my mind it is not inconsistent with the 893 honourable traditions of this House, not inconsistent with patriotism, not inconsistent with the self-respect which we owe to ourselves, that these considerations should be carefully weighed by your Lordships. With sonic of us, indeed, they weigh so heavily that we are ready to face all the misrepresentation, all the abuse, which has been levelled against us, and even—what is worst of all—the interruption of old political friendships rather than face the consequences which we apprehend; and we say that in our belief the country even now—a great number of the people now and a much greater number as time goes by—will recognise that our patriotism is as much above suspicion and our sincerity fully as transparent as that of those who differ from us.
My Lords, I may be told that all this time I have been waving a mere bogey in the face of your Lordships' House, that I have been talking of an overwhelming creation of Peers, and that there is no question of an overwhelming creation of Peers. Some noble Lords seem to think that all that is contemplated is a pleasant little addition to the composition of this House—a little reinforcement which will perhaps have the effect of enlivening our debates and promoting a greater abundance of repartee from the Benches on the other side. If, however, it be true, if it were ever true, that all we are threatened with is a small creation of Peers, I would ask this question, "To whom do you owe it that it is so?" When my noble and learned friend started on his crusade he made it his business to collect as large a number of recruits as he could gather to his standard. But supposing we had all followed his example, His Majesty's Government would have had at once to create the whole of their 400 or 500 Peers in order to outnumber us, and if the necessity of that large creation has in any way become less, surely there should be some gratitude to those who have been instrumental in bringing about that result.
But I must ask, in passing, whether, if that really represents the feeling of my noble and learned friend, if he desires to have, let us say, fifty or sixty Peers, but strongly objects to having 500 or 600, it is not fair to point out that those who follow him are in the delightful position of getting all the glory while we save him from the risk of the calamity he does not wish to incur and obtain all the ridicule and vituperation. But there is a much more 894 serious aspect of the case. Are the noble Lords who hold these views satisfied that the only danger that we have to anticipate is a small creation of Peers? I should very much like to know upon what foundation that belief is grounded. One noble Member of this House is reported to have said the other day that he was quite ready to rise from the ditch with a little mud on his clothes, rather than have collars round our necks. I hope the noble Lord will be grateful to those who saved him front getting a great deal more mud and from perhaps breaking his bones into the bargain; but is he quite sure that he will get off with only a little mud? I believe nothing of the sort.
It was said by the Home Secretary in the House of Commons two nights ago that the creation of Peers which His Majesty's Government have in view is a creation of 400 or 500. And last night a most remarkable statement was made by Lord Crewe. Lord Crewe warned us that when the creation of Peers took place no regard would be had by His Majesty's Government to the newspaper list of Peers, or to the division lists. He said they were not relevant to the question at all, and that His Majesty's Government would assume that all combinations had ceased and come to an end. I will tell the House how I interpret these words, and I would ask the noble Viscount to correct me if I am wrong. I understand that His Majesty has promised a creation of Peers sufficient to ensure the passing of this Bill in its House of Commons shape. There is no doubt about that. The number necessary for this purpose must necessarily be an indefinite number, and what I gather is that the pledge given to His Majesty's Government is a pledge which, beyond all question, covers the creation of any number of Peers which, as the result of the calculations made by the Government, or of their inability to make any calculations at all, His Majesty's Government may choose to demand in order to prevent a further miscarriage of the Bill. Is that the correct interpretation of the words of the noble Marquess?
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY: I am not at all averse to answering any plain question, but I believe the noble Marquess and your Lordships will feel that to ask a question of that kind across the Table of the House without any notification, upon so delicate and important a matter, is rather going I beyond Parliamentary practice.895
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE: I merely put to the noble Viscount what I believe to the ordinary reader is the obvious interpretation of the words used in this House last night by the noble Marquess. I am sure that I am not misleading your Lordships when I say that if this Bill is thrown out it will be a case, not of a small, but of a large creation of Peers. And, to use Lord Crewe's words—
"I venture to say that anybody who tells you a different story has either been misled himself as to the facts of the case or has a purpose to serve in making the statement."
§ In these circumstances, some of us are disposed to consider that the wiser course for this House to adopt is to recognise that the Prime Minister's letter to Mr. Balfour and the speech made by Lord Crewe last night are conclusive on this point. We believe that, in the face of these facts, we shall be wise to desist from opposition which can only be futile, and that, when the moment comes for dividing on these Amendments, it will be better that we should withdraw from this House, leaving the modest battalion commanded by the noble Viscount in occupation of the field. We should, in this event, assume no responsibility whatever for the measure. We should desist from our opposition only because we are profoundly convinced that further resistance would be absolutely useless, and we should have the Bill passed over our heads every bit as effectually as if 300 or 400 Peers were to come down to this House to outvote us.
§ My Lords, what is the alternative course? It is a course which implies divided counsels; Peers on this side of the House voting in groups and sections, one man going into a particular Lobby because another man has chosen to go into another Lobby; the public puzzled and distracted; the action of those who have abstained from voting misunderstood; because obviously, if courage and heroism are claimed by one Fide, by implication cowardice and want of courage are imputed to the other side. Finally, we shall have the invasion of new Peers—and, after all, that is the pity of it—we shall have the Parliament Bill without our Amendments all the same. I cannot hesitate between these two courses. If I believed that these proceedings were going to be the end of this Constitutional struggle, if I thought that nothing lay beyond the debate which will finish to-night or to-morrow, then I would join my noble and learned friend's standard and have one 896 good fight before the end came. But, my Lords, in our view this is not the end. This is the beginning of a struggle which may last for many years, and of which some of us who are here to-night may not see the end. It is a struggle which we shall pursue with unrelenting energy so long as life and health and spirit are given to us. We may be worsted in this encounter, but we are not going to be annihilated, and when our turn comes it will be our business to rebuild upon the ruins of the Constitution which you have wrecked a. new Constitution more appropriate to the spirit of the age in which we live. In that great task we shall want all our resources, all our fighting strength, and above all a united. Party It is because I hope that in this great struggle your Lordships' House will play an honourable and momentous part that I do not want to see it now weakened and discredited by such a use of the Royal Prerogative as that for which His Majesty's Government have now, in our opinion most improperly, obtained the consent of the Crown.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
My Lords, I would not have intervened so early in this debate but for one or two observations which have fallen from my noble friend and which call at once for an explanation from me. My noble friend has spoken of a crusade which I have initiated. I can assure him upon my honour that I never spoke to one single person on the subject until a large number of Peers came to wait upon me, after a speech which I made in this House, and suggested that we should agree in regard to our action. So far from entering into a crusade against my noble friend or any of those who think with him, I had no idea that what I had said would have any effect or would meet with so enthusiastic an agreement on the part of such a large number of friends of my own. So much for the personal point.
I have also to say, and I say it with great pleasure, that at none of the meetings which I have attended, and in no speech which I have made, have I ever spoken of my noble friend in words other than those of respect and affection. I rather protest, however, against some of the language which he has used. He has avoided a direct accusation against any of us, but what he has said is that if you claim courage exclusively to yourself you by implication suggest cowardice to the other 897 side. That is a rather circuitous method of arriving at an accusation. I have heard a great deal about military metaphors, about dying in the last ditch, and many other phrases used apparently for the purpose of degrading and insulting those who take different views, but I have not been a party to it, nor have I heard it.
I regret that my noble friend should think it right, in defence of himself and his own courage, which no one I am sure has ever disputed, to make an imputation on those whose simple view is that they do not agree with him on a matter of tactics. I do not believe there is any person in this House who has a greater opinion of my noble friend in respect of his honour and his ability than I have. But I must say that I felt aggrieved by language which seemed to me to point to the fact that I was in some way intriguing against him. ["No."] I know that this imputation has been made, and I confess that I read with astonishment in a vile journal, whose principal idea is to get an advertisement in some way or another, that it was part of a conspiracy against my noble friend and against the distinguished leader in the other House to obtain from them the leadership, forsooth! as if any human being had the smallest idea of any such thing, except the degraded journalist who thinks it proper to send slander forth. I lament the expression of my noble friend's views, and I think I have cleared myself in that matter.
But a more important matter is that which we are supposed to be discussing at this moment—namely, the question of the consideration of the Commons' Amendments. The proposition that this House should be overborne by the creation of a number of Peers has been described in language I will not attempt to imitate; but what strikes me is that there is one thing we must clear our minds upon. Is there any bargain that if the Parliament Bill is passed the Peers will not be created? I think we must deal in the open if we are to have this question discussed, and also with respect to the number. Is there any guarantee that the operation is not to be repeated next year? How have you got rid of the degrading condition of things which my noble friend has eloquently described by staying out of the House and allowing a Bill to be passed which has been denounced over and over again in language 898 which no one can exceed in violence? I say nothing about courage, about the necessity of something like principle as distinguished from tactics; but what is to happen? If you say that this Parliament Bill is simply a question of delay for a couple of years and of securities, then what is to happen? Is this bogey, as I will call it, of the Royal Prerogative to be brought out every time there is a difference of opinion between the two Houses? What are you doing now? You are making something like a transaction with the other side in politics to do that which you yourselves have denounced over and over again as an improper thing to do. If there is a bargain that no Peers are to be made I want to know whether that bargain goes any further. How long is the bargain, if there is one, to last? Is there any Royal Prerogative Suppression Bill to be brought forward after this measure? What is there left of power to this House without the Amendments of my noble friend? Every one knows that there is no power in it.
My noble friend has spoken on the subject of tactics. For myself I think my task would have been more clear and not open to some of the observations which have been made if I had moved the rejection of the Third Reading of the Bill. Why I did not do it my noble friend knows perfectly well. I assumed, as I think every one had a right to assume, after the language and for the reasons my noble friend himself gave on the occasions when we were discussing the Bill, that he would stick to his Amendments. What was the meaning of asking a large number of Peers to attend in order to overrule the Government on the question of the Amendments that were made? Had I not the right to assume that these Amendments so moved in such language and upon such grounds would be adhered to when we came to the question of difference with the other House? Any one who heard any of the convincing speeches of the noble Marquess behind me could entertain no doubt that the person who held that view of the Bill would at all events, unless those Amendments were agreed to, refuse to pass the Bill. That idea has apparently passed away.
I confess that I was a little surprised when I heard myself denounced, and those who have been acting with me, as if we were disloyal to our own side. ["No, 899 no."] I do not know, but some of the language used by the noble Marquess certainly points to something of that kind. I am glad, however, to hear it disclaimed; but the noble Marquess will allow me, I hope, to say that when he is dealing in that way with friends and colleagues I should have thought it to be a little more appropriate to take care that he was not so misunderstood.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I did not use a single word or make a suggestion of what my noble friend has said. I am incapable of harbouring any such thought regarding him, and I venture to prophesy that if he will look at my speech to-morrow he will find no sentence conveying that idea.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
I assume then that I was mistaken. Even if I had not the high opinion which I have of the noble Marquess, one would always accept of course an explanation made by one gentleman to another under a misapprehension. I leave that topic altogether.
I wish to say something about the temptation which is offered to us to allow the Bill to pass. For my part I do not and will not draw any distinction between the responsibility of a person who votes for it and a person who abstains from voting. It seems to me that upon a question of principle, if I believed a thing to be wrong, I ought to do my best to prevent it. The temptation given to us is that we must allow the Bill to pass, and then, forsooth!agitate, until we get the country to take our view. Thus we are told that we shall be satisfied that we have saved this House from degradation. Have we? Is it saving this House from degradation when that which is admitted to be so degrading to it is yielded to as a threat? I ask those who yield to it as a threat—are they very much better than those who strive to the best of their ability to resist that threat to the end? I cannot help thinking that that rather savours of the spirit of "Stand aside; I am holier than thou." I do not understand those who will walk out of the House and allow that to be done which they think wrong because they think they will gain a little time.
I myself certainly will not yield to the threat. Let the Government take the responsibility of introducing 400 or 500 Peers—I care not how many—in the 900 circumstances that my noble friend has pointed out and then let him shield himself by saying "And you forced them to do it." I never heard such an extraordinary argument in my life. It is as if a highwayman came and said, "Give me your watch or I cut your throat," and if you did not give him your watch that you are the author of your own throat being cut. I deny that, because one may resist to the best of his ability what was believed to be a wrong, therefore he was responsible for the wrong being done. The contention is so absurd that every one would laugh in your face if you advanced it. I have no more to say on this part of the case. The abuse, the contempt, and the epithets heaped on those with whom I have been associated are greater than I have ever heard or read. I speak particularly of some of the organs of public opinion, forsooth! who profess to give guidance and who take the other side. I have nothing more to say, except that nothing in the world will induce me to vote for a Bill or to abstain from not voting against a Bill which I believe to be wrong and immoral and a scandalous example of legislation.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF YORK
My Lords, the whole House will, I am sure, rejoice for its own sake and for his at the vigour and eloquence which the noble and learned Earl always introduces into our debates, never more signally than on the present occasion. I feel myself at some disadvantage in endeavouring to call the attention of the House to what may seem to many of its members largely a question of form. The real issue submitted to the House is whether or not in the circumstances with which we are faced and which we are unable to control, it is or is not wise to insist upon the Amendments which this House has introduced into the Parliament Bill. Feeling is running high between not only the two great Parties but between two sections of one Party, and any man may not unnaturally be heard with impatience who attempts to attach some importance to the form in which the issue is presented. But, my Lords, I venture to claim that that form, for some of us at least, is a matter not pedantic and unreal, but going to the very reality of the situation.
It is unreal at the present time to discuss either the Bill, however deplorable, or the 901 Amendments, however admirable, because we know perfectly well that the Bill must, and the Amendments cannot, become law. It is unreal at the present time to denounce the Government for the course of policy which has rendered this result inevitable. That is a matter upon which this House yesterday by an overwhelming majority recorded its emphatic opinion. The single issue before us is whether it is right in the interests of the King, the country, and the character of this House, to vote upon a Motion to insist upon the Amendments, which, if carried, would compel the King to exercise his Prerogative in the creation of Peers. We are free to consider that question upon its mere merits, and if any of us are convinced that to insist on these Amendments under existing circumstances would be a policy prejudicial to the interests alike of the King, of this House, and of the country, we are entitled to say that our attitude does not and must not be taken to involve any sort of approval either of the Parliament Bill or of the policy of the Government which has insured its passing into law.
Speaking for myself—and let me hasten to say that I am unable to speak in a representative capacity for any others—I should probably attach greater importance than many noble Lords opposite to two facts. One is that the country has already expressed, however ill-informed it may have been, its approval of the Parliament Bill; the other is that no one has suggested that a new General Election would be likely substantially to alter its verdict. I find it more difficult than many noble Lords opposite to believe that it would be consistent with the Constitutional traditions of this House to insist, in these circumstances, upon its Amendments. Perhaps I should attach more value than many noble Lords to even the exiguous opportunities of delay and revision which are still entrusted to the House under this Bill, but I cannot in any way be held in what I say or in what I do to be supporting either the Bill or the policy which the Government have pursued. I regard both as the record of a great failure—a failure to use a unique opportunity.
It is common ground that it was felt on all sides that the time had come for a reform—even a drastic reform—of the constitution of this House and of its relations to the House of Commons. The 902 Unionist leaders gave signs, abundant and most sincere, of their willingness to assist in such a reform. The omens were favourable for a settlement which might have been permanent because it would have been based upon consent. The Government chose to scorn these omens. They preferred a settlement necessarily unstable because it could only be wrested by force. It is difficult—I hope that noble Lords on this side will forgive me for saying it—for a detached observer not to feel that they were under some compulsion, before they knew all the sacrifices which noble Lords opposite were ready to make, to adhere to a pre-determined course; and we cannot resist the inference that the compulsion under which they laboured was due, not to the necessity of carrying out a large reform of this House and its relations to the House of Commons, but to the exigencies of their own Party. There are many of us who had high hopes of the possibility of some reasonable settlement who can never fail to regret that His Majesty's Government chose to lose an opportunity which can never return. But, my Lords, though I hold this opinion, I hold another with equal strength—that to insist now upon these Amendments and therefore to force the King to create a large number of Peers would be a policy inconsiderate to him and prejudicial to the interests alike of the character of this House and of the country. I am aware that this is an opinion shared by the majority of this House, and the grounds for it have been set before us with the usual lucidity and clearness of the noble Marquess, and it would be merely wasting the time of the House if I were at any length to attempt to repeat them.
We have all listened with admiration to the speech of the noble and learned Earl who has just sat down. I am glad that, unlike some of his followers elsewhere, he has not made such appeals to the courage and consistency of those who differ from him as to imply that they were doubtful as to their position. On these matters I beg leave to say that each man's conscience is the only judge whose verdict he will accept. When we pass from the high ground of conscience, on which I shall venture to assume we are all in this House in the same position, to the field of argument, there are only one or two points in the speech of the noble and learned Earl to which I would 903 like for one moment to refer. He asked what evidence there was that Peers would not be created even if the policy of the noble Marquess were to prevail. The only answer is that so far as has been divulged His Majesty has only given his consent to such a creation of Peers as will enable this Parliament Bill to pass. The noble and learned Earl spoke very eloquently about the Amendments which had been moved with great care by noble Lords in this House, and asked why they were to be so easily sacrificed. I suppose the answer is—though it rests rather with noble Lords on the opposite side than with me to make it—that the Amendments are not lost; they are, I presume, held in reserve. We are only at the beginning of a long Constitutional struggle, and the Amendments which were laid before this House are an abiding contribution to any settlement which is likely to command the adhesion of any large number of citizens in this country.
Arguments have been used, not by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Halsbury, but by his friends both in the Press and in their not infrequent arguments with some Members of this House, which I will notice. It has been said—I think it was implied this evening—that those of your Lordships who resent the idea of a large creation of Peers are exaggerating the evil with which the House is menaced. But the strength of that contention depends entirely upon the assumption that the number of Peers to be created is extremely small. What is the warrant for that assumption? The noble Marquess has already called attention to the speeches delivered, not only here by the Lord Privy Seal, Lord Crewe, but in the House of Commons, from which it is quite plain that His Majesty's Government consider themselves bound to make such a creation of Peers as will meet any conceivable circumstances in relation to the passing of this Bill. I know it is suggested that this may be what is called, in the language of this discussion, a mere policy of "bluff." Many accusations, I am afraid, may be brought against His Majesty's Government, but no one, I think, will deny that from first to last and in every stage of this crisis they have acted with what can only be described as calculated determination. Men who have not hesitated to take the steps winch they have already taken are not likely to hesitate about taking the 904 further steps which are necessary to bring them to the end they have determined to reach.
The contingency which we are responsible for considering is that of the entry into this House of a number of Peers large enough to alter its character and to determine its action in matters of great moment which are still to come; and we must be forgiven if on that point we prefer the explicit declaration of members of His Majesty's Government to the private inferences of the noble and learned Earl and his friends. In these circumstances it is our duty, so I venture to submit, to consider in the light of this contingency what is our duty to the King, to this House, and to the country. We are bound to consider the King. It is always a matter of extreme delicacy to mention that august name in these contentious debates, but, as the noble Marquess has already pointed out, two things at least it may be permissible to say—one is that His Majesty has, by the admission of the noble Marquess yesterday, yielded as a Constitutional Monarch to the advice of his Ministers on this matter with the greatest reluctance; the other, that every loyal man will desire to do what in him lies, even at the cost of any sacrifice which he can make with honour, to save the King from the exercise of his Prerogative in a manner necessarily so distasteful.
We are bound to consider the character of this House. Some friends of the noble and learned Earl, as the noble Marquess intimated to us, have spoken on this matter with something that might be described as levity. They have asked what harm would be done by the entry into this House of a certain number of gentlemen in closer touch than many Members of this House with the social and industrial life of the country. But the question is not one of restoring the balance of Parties—a matter which on both sides of the House is earnestly desired. It is not a question of enriching the House by the accession of a few men of tried and proved service to the community—an accession which we should all welcome. The question is whether or not we are to acquiesce in an act of force which would thrust upon this House a large number of Peers who would be precluded by the very terms on which they took their seats from exercising an independent 905 judgment upon public affairs. It is sometimes said that Members of this House entering under these auspices or their successors might very soon change their opinions. But the mischief which might be wrought is a matter of the next eighteen months or two years, and what we have to consider is the possibility that very weighty matters may be determined within two years in a direction from which there might be no return. I must sorrowfully confess that I am more than sanguine that such a proposal being carried out would lower the prestige of this House in the eyes of the country and of the world at a time when the prestige of any Second Chamber is a thing jealously to be prized.
An impressive appeal was made by the noble and learned Earl, and has often been made by his friends, that we should regard the effect of a creation of Peers upon the opinions of the citizens of the country, who are apt to take our political debates with too little seriousness and concern. It is, perhaps, not for me to make the rejoinder which I would like to make, but I may be pardoned for making it. What is it that has impressed upon the country during the last few weeks the great gravity of our international relations? Was it not the fact that in the presence of this danger both Parties composed their differences and treated those matters in a spirit of impressive unity? I believe, though I again say I hesitate to make the suggestion, that nothing would more impress the minds of the citizens of this country with the gravity of the issues involved in this dispute than if the two sections of noble Lords opposite would unite their differences and hold themselves together to resume this great debate on another occasion and under more favourable auspices. But that is not my point.
I pass for one moment to our duty to consider in the light of this contingency the interests of the country. It is a matter of common knowledge that there are two great matters which will be presented to this House under the protection of the Parliament Bill. One is Home Rule. I am no fanatic on the subject of Home Rule. Home Rule as an abstract idea matters little. It is vague and unimportant. What matters vitally is Home Rule in concrete shape. The essence of any Home Rule scheme is the Home Rule Bill. It may be true that the opportunities 906 of revision and delay left to this House under the Parliament Bill are very small; but at least, as the noble Marquess has pointed out, they may suffice to allow some criticism where searching criticism is necessary, and delay where delay may be of the utmost value. What would be the position of those who feel strongly in regard to Home Rule, or even of those who were content to believe that the subject must demand most careful and prolonged consideration, if they were to find that even these opportunities of revision and delay were estopped by the votes of a majority of imported Peers? There is one other matter to which in a sentence I would refer—a matter which the House will naturally suppose very closely concerns me. It is the possible Disestablishment of the Church in Wales. In regard to that no one, I think, would say that there was any mandate from the people of the country. Here at any rate no Bill has been presented for its consideration. Here, therefore, the danger would be very great if it was not even open to your Lordships' House to have recourse to those opportunities of delay which, in the shifts and chances of political life, might at least secure that a measure affecting in a most vital manner one of the most ancient branches of the Church in this country was not rushed through Parliament without being submitted to the intelligence and thought of the people. These, my Lords, are not fancy pictures; they are forecasts rendered reasonable by the language of His Majesty's Government and by the, whole course of their policy. They are dangers which no reasonable man can ignore, and they are consequences for which, in recording the vote or taking the action which we take in this debate, we must be held responsible. I feel that I ought to apologise to your Lordships for speaking so long upon a ground already so admirably covered by the noble Marquess.
I come now to the point which perhaps alone justifies my intervention in this debate. We have reached a juncture in which, so far as we can judge from sources of information open to all of us, it is possible that the policy commended by the noble Marquess and endorsed by most of his supporters may not prevail. It is possible that the opinion of the majority of the House, if they cannot do more than abstain from voting, may be overruled by the votes of a united, strenuous, and able 907 minority. I know that the noble Marquess and those who follow him do not feel themselves able to do more than abstain from voting. They are under obligations as members and leaders of one of the great Parties, which I entirely recognise, and which, if I may be permitted to say so, I entirely respect. But, my Lords, there are several members of this House who, not for any merit, but by virtue merely of their positions, are under no such ties of obligation, however legitimate and indeed Honourable these may be. Times must sometimes occur when independent members of this House find themselves, at a moment of great national emergency, in a position of quite exceptional responsibility, from which they must not shrink. In my position I happen to be one of them. It may be that there are others on the Bench behind me who share the views that I express, and who may be prepared to follow the course which I propose to take. I have no means of knowing. So far as I know, the occupants of the Bench behind me will follow in divers ways their own opinions according to their own conscience, and I know not in the least for how many I am now able to speak.
But, my Lords, for myself I venture to put this point to the House. If I hold the opinions which I have just, I hope at not unnecessary length, attempted to express, if I believe that upon my vote in some degree may depend whether or not that which I cannot but regard as a great evil to this House and to the country may be carried out, can I withhold that vote? Let it not be said either here in this House or elsewhere hereafter that that vote is given on behalf of His Majesty's Government or of their policy. To say that would be to put an interpretation upon that vote which I have, before giving it, expressly and publicly disowned. My Lords, I give that vote with very great reluctance. Let not the noble and learned Earl and his friends imagine that their appeals leave my own feelings unmoved. But there are times when it may require a higher courage, when it may win a truer victory, to restrain one's feelings, however strong they may be, than to relieve them, times when in the service of the King and of the country, "He that ruleth his spirit is better than he that taketh a city."
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I do not think that I have ever 908 in my political life stood at this Table with feelings of more poignant regret than I do at this moment. It is true that as no two men ever see eve to eye, it has been my misfortune from time to time, although it is a matter of very immaterial importance to your Lordships' House, to differ from my noble friend and leader Lord Lansdowne, but never before upon a matter of first-rate importance. My noble friend spoke in a moving passage of the severing of political friendships. Let me assure him that, so far as I am concerned, there is no such question in issue between us. How can it be said that because upon a matter of procedure, however important it is—and I shall show, I hope, before I sit down that it is of vast importance—I, a very humble individual, have the misfortune to differ from a man of my noble friend's distinction, it should lead to the severing of political friendships which do not depend upon procedure but upon the great political issues with which procedure has to deal? If I may be allowed one other personal observation, I would like to put myself right with your Lordships in the hearing of my noble friend. I am certain he will not say that in any degree those who sit on this Bench and are acting together ill opposition to him for the moment have deceived him in any way. From the very first, when it was quite clear what was coming, we told him what must be our conduct when the moment arrived. My noble friend cheers that. There is no question of betrayal, or deception, or disloyalty. We told him with grief but with conviction that if events shaped themselves as we foresaw, we should act accordingly. I notice that there has been a great assumption of ignorance as to what was coming. We all foresaw it, and we stated with great regret the action that we would feel bound to take when the time came.
I now pass from personal questions and come to the subject of the discussion we are now engaged upon. Let me deal first with perhaps the most delicate matter of all. The most rev. Prelate spoke of the difficulties in which the policy recommended by my noble friend Lord Halsbury and ourselves may place His Majesty the King. We have every reason to treat the King with the most profound respect, not only from his exalted office but as one whose personal character inspires his 909 subjects with all the affection and loyalty of which we are capable. We have no right to criticise what His Majesty has been pleased to do; and as far as we can see, reading between the lines, we should be surprised if it did not turn out that His Majesty had acted as a great friend, not to one Party but to both Parties in the State throughout this struggle. But the King has acted as a Constitutional King. [VISCOUNT MORLEY: Hear, Hear.] The noble Viscount assents to it. No doubt the most rev. Prelate does. He does. But, my Lords, you cannot have it both ways. If His Majesty acts as a Constitutional King he acts upon the advice of his Ministers, and the credit—there is very little of that—or the discredit must fall upon the Ministers. There is nothing which we can do or say which can discredit the King. There is no difficulty in which we can place the King if he acts as a Constitutional Sovereign. The discredit lies upon His Majesty's Government; let them bear the full burden. I am sure the most rev. Prelate will not think that I desire to be too critical when I say that to drag the King into this discussion is utterly irrelevant unless it can be said that he is not a Constitutional Monarch.
Then the most rev. Prelate said we were stopped from acting because of the result of the late General Election. We do not think so. I do not think it necessary to say why we do not think so, because that was said with great effect and at great length last night by my noble friends who sit on this Bench. If the election settled the question, what were we doing in Committee so many days? If it is said that the election settled it, what business had we to put vital Amendments into the Bill at all? We ought rather to have accepted the decision of the country if that election settled the matter. Nothing has happened in the country between the Committee stage and the present stage. What was true in Committee is true now. If the election did not compel us to give way in Committee, it does not compel us to give way now. My noble friends the noble Marquess and Lord Curzon have said, or implied at any rate, that the election did not force us to give way in Committee. Very well; so far as the domestic controversy between ourselves is concerned, the question of the election is irrelevant and does not apply.
910 I now pass to some of the observations which were made by my noble friend who leads the Opposition. He did not say anything about the election. On the contrary, he defended our attitude during the Committee stage, and said that through our action then we had revealed the attitude of His Majesty's Government upon the Referendum. Did we? Was it not revealed abundantly before? Was there anything really gained by way of revelation as to the attitude of His Majesty's Government in our proceedings in Committee? It was quite well known that we were in favour of the Referendum and that the House of Commons was against it. We must look deeper than that for a justification of our work in Committee. The next argument my noble friend used was that, after all, whatever happened in Committee, if we forced our policy upon your Lordships' House—that is to say, if we persuaded a majority of your Lordships to agree with us—we would bring infinite discredit upon all concerned. The most discreditable thing is that in order to save the reputation of the House of Lords we should be parties to deceiving the country. There is no discredit so great as that.
I know that a great many of your Lordships, and I agree with them, feel acutely for the reputation of this House. They think of its glorious traditions, its independent spirit, its noble debates, and of the illustrious statesmen both living and dead who have been ornaments of it, and they cannot bear the idea that this violation of the House of Lords should take place upon the advice of His Majesty's Government. It is still worse that we should be parties to any lie to the country, and every time I hear a noble friend of mine speak of the discredit that would be so wantonly thrown upon this House by His Majesty's Government. I am afraid lest they are deceiving themselves into thinking that it is justifiable to try and cloak over the great revolution which is taking place. It is to the great gospel of make-believe that so much discredit is due. In this country we are apt to think that all is satisfied if we can only keep the black things out of sight. I have no doubt the most rev. Prelate has often said so in the pulpit—and, if I may say so with great respect, with greater advantage than in your Lordships' House. Let it be made quite clear to the country that hence- 911 forward when the Parliament Bill passes we cannot stand any longer and protect them. We shall be disarmed, and unless we bring that home to the country we have committed the last and most fatal breach of trust of which we are capable.
My noble friend spoke of the odium thrown upon His Majesty's Government. I am quite sure he did not desire to relieve His Majesty's Government of one penny weight of the odium which they ought to bear. Any one can see the odium which is reflected upon them by the frantic struggles they are making not to have to fulfil the threat which they made of this creation of Peers. We have watched with a certain amount of amusement how the various forms of threats addressed to your Lordships' House have been modified as time went on. Once we were told that this Bill was not to come back to your Lordships' House until some kind of assurance had been obtained, either by the creation of Peers or by some private understanding, that it would pass in the form in which it left the House of Commons. We were not frightened by that threat, which has been abandoned. The particular threat now is, "If you do not give way we will overwhelm your Lordships' House with a hostile Radical majority." That threat has, I think, made an enormous impression upon this Bench. It made a great impression upon my noble friend Lord Curzon, who, in that masterly speech which he made last night, quoted the Home Secretary at least three times on this point. It also made a great impression, if I may use the phrase, upon so cool a head as that of my noble friend who leads the Opposition. I do not generally attribute very great weight to what the Home Secretary says. But did he say that there would be 500 Peers created or 400, as my noble friend seemed to imply? Not a bit of it What he said was, "Why should we shrink from the creation of 400 or 500 Peers? That is a very different thing. As my noble friend Lord Curzon said last night, the Home Secretary is not accustomed to shrink from anything. But was that a statement implying the policy of the Government? How was it dealt with by Lord Crewe last night? Lord Crewe spoke of those figures as bold figures, and said—I think it was in an interruption to my noble friend Lord Selborne—that though he did not confirm them he did not contradict them. That is not very enthusiastic 912 support from a colleague. It is quite clear that the Home Secretary was wrong, or at any rate that Lord Crewe thought he was wrong. ["Why?"] That is a matter of debate; but it is not usual for colleagues in a Government to throw each other over in that way unless there has been a serious mistake—at least it was not so when I was in office. My noble friend Lord Lansdowne essayed to ascertain what the Government have really got up their sleeve and he put a specific question to the noble Viscount opposite. Did he get an answer? Not at all. The question was quite plain, but the noble Viscount refused to answer. Now I will put a question. I want to know whether His Majesty has given authority to the Government to create as many Peers as they please without reference to what they require to pass the Parliament Bill. That is quite clear, and I should like an answer "Yes" or "No."
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
I entirely decline and shall continue to decline to answer questions of this cardinal character put without notice and without any opportunity of considering. You cannot give a plain "Yes" or "No" to such very rash, and—shall I say?—juvenile questions.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I am obliged for the compliment of the noble Viscount. When we are getting on towards middle age we all like to be called juvenile. I am certainly juvenile beside the noble Viscount. But I am not surprised that he cannot answer "Yes" or "No." I did not expect for a moment that he would, and so I thought I had better arm myself with another authority—namely, the words of the Cabinet Minute which was read out in another place—His Majesty will be ready to exercise his Constitutional powers which may involve the Prerogative of creating Peers if needed to secure that effect shall be given to the decision of the country.So that all that the Minute, to which His Majesty we are given to understand was pleased to assent, said was that he would create enough Peers to give effect to the wishes of the country. That is precisely in conformity with the letter written to Mr. Balfour by the Prime Minister. Here, again, it is said that should the necessity arise the Government will advise the King to exercise his Prerogative in order to secure the passing into law of the Parliament Bill in substantially 913 the form in which it left the House of Commons. So that apparently all that the King's consent has been obtained to is the creation of a sufficient number of Peers to pass this Bill into law. That does not necessarily mean a majority of Liberal Peers in your Lordships' House. Why should it be held to be so? I defy any member of the Government to say that it does mean that. My noble friend assumed in his speech—as I think quite wrongly—that the Government have this roving authority to create as many Peers as they please, and he went on to say that the result might be that we on this side of the House would be out-voted when in office. No one respects your Lordships' House and its traditions more than I do, but if it comes to creating Peers, two can play at that game. Does my noble friend really mean, if he allowed this monstrous usurpation of power by the Radical Party of creating as many Peers as they like, that he would shrink from creating a number of Peers to adjust the balance when the time came? The warrant of the Government does not apparently go so far as my noble friend believes, and until I am corrected I shall adhere to that view.
My noble friend spoke with great appreciation of the intelligence of the electors. He said he was quite sure, after these debates in your Lordships' House, that the electors would thoroughly understand that we are acting under duress even if there be no creation of Peers. With great respect, I do not agree with that. If the electors knew my noble friend as well as I do I am quite certain they would be impressed. But as a matter of fact they hear so many things from so many different politicians, and so many of the things they hear turn out to be untrue, that they have become very distrustful of what they are told. Depend upon it, that is the secret of the apathy in the country at this moment. The country has ceased to believe in politicians, and I confess I am not surprised at it. I do not believe that all the debates in your Lordships' House, all the flowing periods of my noble friend Lord Curzon, all the well-drafted Resolutions of censure upon the Government which your Lordships pass will have the least effect upon the electors. They have seen all this sort of thing before, and all they will say is, "Oh yes, beating the big drum to conceal a retreat. It is the old manœuvre—talk big and do 914 nothing." That is what the electors think. My noble friend said the time is coming when we shall be in a position to reverse all this, and we shall, of course, make it our first policy to do so. I am sure the noble Marquess will, but I am afraid none of that will have any effect upon the electors. What they will say is, "Did you vote against it? Did you use your power when you had it?" The working man understands deeds; he utterly despises words. I say that to the most rev. Prelate. He said, in a most eloquent and moving passage, that no one was hereafter to charge him with supporting His Majesty's Government, because he expressly barred it. But they will charge him with it; and he will have to be explaining so far as he is a politician all the rest of his life to get out of it. If my noble friend Lord Halsbury had not undertaken this very difficult task we all know what would have happened. There would not have been even that wonderful vote of want of confidence last night. My noble friend says "No."
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Some noble Lord said "No." Of course it is only a matter of opinion. We should all have walked out and no one would have heard any more about it. There would have been a few speeches in the country, but the whole thing would have been a discredit. My noble friend Lord Halsbury has called the attention of the country to this matter in a way in which it would not otherwise have been done, and if he persists to the end we will follow him into the Division Lobby. Whether we will be in a majority or a minority none can tell; but this is certain—that in the annals of this year it will go down to history that a certain number of your Lordships were as good as their word and voted according to their opinions. That is the reason for our action. We have no quarrel, I need not say, with my noble friend who leads the Opposition. I hoped that we should have been spared an appeal to courage, but the most rev. Prelate could not avoid it. The greatest courage, he said, lay in retiring in good order. Why should we talk about courage? We are all brave. Let us assume that from the very start, and let us with a good conscience and straightforward act vote as we believe, be the consequences what they may.
§ LORD RIBBLESDALE
My Lords, I do not propose to follow the noble Marquess, whose speech I am sure we all listened to with interest, or the Archbishop of York, into the difficulties that the friends of the noble Marquess may impose upon the King. I am much more concerned with the difficulties which the course that the noble Marquess and his friends recommend is likely to land this House in. Nor do I propose to examine for the moment the domestic differences of the Front Bench opposite. However, they seem to be of a lofty character and conceived upon the highest principles and ideals of British statesmanship. Last night I had the advantage, which has been denied me for some little time, of being present during the debate in your Lordships' House, and I was fortunate enough to listen to the speeches which were addressed to us by Lord Curzon and Lord Selborne. It is quite true that the Government received a certain amount of censure from the mouths of these two noble Lords, but the House as a whole received a great deal of exhortation, especially from Lord Curzon when he told us that it was our duty as individual Peers of Parliament to take stock of the situation and mind what we were about when it comes to the vote. Acting on this hint I should like to say a few words to justify the vote which I hope to give presently.
I always suffer from a sense of uneasiness when anybody says he is going to justify his vote, for that generally means a long and tiresome speech. I have no doubt I shall be tiresome, but I will try not to be long. Mention of the word "vote" brings me up against—I do not know quite what to call them after Lord Halsbury took such exception to the name of "Die bards," and "Death and Glory Men," and "Ditchers"—names forced upon us by the newspapers, but we live under newspapers. I assume the "Ditchers" are the only persons as regards a vote that noble Lords opposite and ourselves have got to reckon with. I quite agree with Lord Salisbury that we are all brave, and I do not doubt the courage or the sincerity of the "Ditchers." What I doubt is their appreciation of the Constitutional position, and of their duty having regard to Parliamentary theory and practice—I had almost said Parliamentary law. To-night, as the most rev. Prelate said, we are not at close quarters with the provisions of the 916 Parliament Bill. What we have to consider is what justification we have as a House either to insist or not to insist upon the Amendments which this House has seen fit to insert into that Bill. In my view, for what it is worth, we cannot insist if we act Constitutionally and on the evidence of facts and in obedience to usage.
I very much deplore the decision which Lord Halsbury and his fighting friends have cone to. I am certain, to use a colloquialism, that whatever the merits or demerits of the Parliament Bill or of the Amendments may be, at this particular moment the game is up. You must give way. No doubt the country will be very willing to give these "Die bards" every credit for their unconquerable souls. I quite agree; and, while giving them that credit, they are to be congratulated upon the fact that they are masters of their unconquerable souls with very slight damage to their bodies. At the same time, if they would pay a little more attention to the pages of John Morley's "Compromise" and less to the columns of the Observer and the Pall Mall Gazette, the most desperate "Ditcher" of them all would be satisfied that he might give way to-night or even vote with the Government without any sacrifice of moral or intellectual dignity. May I remind your Lordships of the French aphorism, Les hommes faibles ne cédent jamais à propos. The present position, to my mind, is justified by the result of two General Elections and by the absolute failure of the Lansdowne Resolutions—Resolutions which, much as I disliked the Referendum complexion at out them, I was perfectly willing to swallow whole because I was anxious that they should go out to the constituencies before the General Election as in some way stating the case of the House of Lords, which in my view had never been fairly stated to the people of this country. Those Resolutions, if I may say so, fell as flat as a pancake. I quite agree with the noble Marquess who said that they had no sort of effect upon the constituencies. I am afraid he was right. It is driven in upon me that the constituencies have ceased to care very much about the House of Lords. We get on very well at hunting, and bazaars, and those kind of things, but I rather feel that our time is up as regards the constituencies. Not only have you had two elections and this failure, but you have the fact that if there had been a 917 Dissolution you could not have won an election on the cry of the House of Lords, and had Ministers resigned you could not possibly have formed an Administration. I am afraid that with dear food round your necks and the House of Lords on your backs you are not likely to win an election for some little time to come.
I subscribe very much to the views of Lord Durham, who made an excellent speech on the Third Reading of this Bill. I am no partisan of His Majesty's Government. I freely admit that in all this House of Lords business my qualified sympathies have been almost entirely with noble Lords opposite. I have on more than one occasion been gently applauded by noble Lords opposite for comments I have made upon the performances of His Majesty's Government—one of those precious balms of an insidious character which one should try to avoid—and I am now trying to take a dose from the other side. My agreement with noble Lords opposite, and especially with the constructive reformers opposite, has been not only platonic but critical. If a David may say such a thing to a Goliath, I did not agree very much with what Lord Halsbury said in his speech, but I do agree with him to this extent, that we are none of us very ardent reformers of the House of Lords. My views of noble Lords opposite have become critical especially since Lord Lansdowne's Second Chamber Bill the other day, and, if I may say so without offence, since Lord Curzon and Lord Selborne got so very actively to work in doing away with everything which I, for my part, consider makes the House of Lords an agreeable place. One of the compensations that a broken leg gives is that you have many opportunities for reflection, and for reading the newspapers and the showers of letters in The Times which I am sure no man in his seven senses would like to miss a word of. Profiting in that way by an enforced period of inactivity owing to an accident, I am driven to the conclusion that we have reached the moment when, to employ the apt phrase of a member of this House—I think Lord Powis—it is time to beat a dignified, but determined retreat.
Might I say a word about what I will call the super-Peers whose advent upsets so many of my friends? Lord Curzon, in his otherwise grave discourse, permitted 918 himself one or two quips about this promised invasion or acquisition, and I think Lord Lansdowne did the same to-night. I noticed also that the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons was very down on the Government for thinking of bringing in Peers, as he said, to serve a term and to bring about a Parliamentary arrangement. It may be a good or a bad thing, but given a certain dilemma it is the only way in which you can bring about Parliamentary arrangements at all, and I venture to ask the House, Why not? The whole common life of this country exists by virtue of Parliamentary arrangements. We live under a Parliamentary Church; we are protected by a Parliamentary Army; we have Parliamentary trains and Parliamentary education; in fact, the whole of our lives from the cradle to the grave is more or less spent under the shadow and influence of Parliamentary institutions. I saw that in the Commons' debate Mr. F. E. Smith, one of the leaders of the new Unionist Party, in a partly forensic but chiefly comic vein which must endear him to his supporters, satirised us very severely on this side because he said that none of the Liberal Peers turned up at any of the Divisions during the earlier stages of this debate until they got really frightened and thought that a lot of new Peers were going to be created. I do not know what my friends behind me think of that, but I certainly was not here because I rather purposely kept away. I can assure Mr. Smith, however, and those who think with him, that is not my view. The new Peers would probably be what is called a very nice body of men. I should regret as much as anybody a comic opera creation of Peers, and I feel certain that the classical and aesthetic sense of the Prime Minister would make such a thing most repugnant to him. But I agree with what Lord Lansdowne said that it might increase the gaiety of the foreign nations, perhaps at the expense of the Mother of Parliaments.
Whether the new Peers would number fifty or 500 I really do not care very much. The changes proposed under the Parliament Bill are so great that I have really ceased to trouble about any nicely-calculated number less or more. In 1719, which has been alluded to constantly, two very clever pamphlets were written, one by Walpole and the other by Lord Peterborough, on the Peerage Bill which was 919 agitating everybody at that time. Lord Peterborough wrote to Pope or Swift—I which—at the same time that he had often reflected on the glorious possibilities of the English Constitution. That, no doubt, is a very spacious occupation. I know that in the opinion of many of us here to-night these possibilities are being overstrained, and I think, in the words of Lord Curzon and of Lord Selborne last night, many think that they are being betrayed. I confess that I am not of that opinion, and for this reason. I believe the Constitution is all right, because to my mind our unwritten Constitution is an area congenial to these time to time adjustments and working agreements. I quite recognise that in the discovery and the working out of these new arrangements—which I hope we shall adopt—there must of necessity be a great deal which will jar upon the nerves of people like myself, and probably on a great many noble Lords on both sides of the House, but I really cannot believe in the very large words which are employed as to our degradation, and so on, or accept the phrases used by Lord Selborne and Lord Curzon. Our occupation I do not think need necessarily be gone because we are curtailed in our power. Your Lordships' House will become more like family solicitors who warn and delay and advise and confuse their clients, but who do not decide and never accept any responsibility. But, after all, solicitors are reassuring and indispensable people and held ill very general esteem.
In my view, as I have just said, we have got to give way. I do not believe in the disastrous and immediate results which seem to terrorise so many noble Lords opposite and which they recount with an almost fearful joy. I do not anticipate that the romantic consequences involved in the well—known lines—Religion, blushing, veils her sacred fires,And unawares Morality expireswill ensue on the passage of the Parliament Bill, with or without the Amendments. I do not believe that we shall see a Home Rule Bill or a Disestablishment Bill passed in the twinkling of an eye, or in the life of this Parliament; and with the Parliament Bill I still believe in the reason and common sense and sense of fairness both of governors and governed. For these reasons, although, as I have said, I have never been a sympathiser with the House of 920 Lords policy of the Government, in the particular conjuncture we are considering to-night I shall give them an unqualified vote, a vote which in my mind will be both Constitutional and inevitable.
§ VISCOUNT ST. ALDWYN
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Halsbury, in the observations which he addressed to your Lordships, complained of the epithets which had been applied to himself and to those with whom he is acting in this matter. I heard that complaint with some surprise, because epithets even worse have been largely applied by some of his followers to those who happen to differ from him. I do think that on this occasion the less we use epithets the better. Surely we can all in your Lordships' House give credit to each other for honesty of purpose and endeavouring to do our duty to our country as our consciences dictate. I entirely believe that of my noble friend Lord Halsbury with whom I have acted for many years of Parliamentary life, and I listened to him, and also to Lord Salisbury, in the hope that they might be able to give some reasons why any good could be done by the vote which they propose to give in favour of insisting upon your Lordships' Amendments. Can it prevent this Bill front becoming law?
§ VISCOUNT ST. ALDWYN
My noble friend thinks that it will. I wish he had explained to your Lordships how, because if I really believed that a vote given in favour of these Amendments would prevent this Bill from becoming law my view of the matter might be different from what it is now. Would it have the effect of inserting your Lordships' Amendments in the Bill?
§ VISCOUNT ST. ALDWYN
Yes, I know; but supposing my noble and learned friend carries his Motion insisting on the Amendments, will that have the effect of inserting those Amendments in the Bill when it becomes law?
§ VISCOUNT ST. ALDWYN
My noble friend says it will kill the Bill—though His Majesty's Government have in their pockets the promise of the King to create such a number of Peers as will be sufficient to carry the Bill as it came from the House of Commons. I do not want to argue by question and answer, but I do not understand the position which my noble and learned friend takes up, or how he can for a moment believe that supposing he carried his proposal that would kill the Parliament Bill.
§ VISCOUNT ST. ALDWYN
I see. It would kill this Bill for the moment, but what would happen? I suppose the Prorogation of Parliament, the passage of the Bill again through the House of Commons, the creation of Peers, and the passage of the Bill through your Lordships' House, because the existing members of this House would be swamped by the new Peers. That is what my noble and learned friend contemplates. I venture to tell him that if be carries his Motion the Bill will become law just the same without the Lords' Amendments and in spite of his voting against it.
I suppose there are some points on which the whole of this side of the House is in agreement. In the first place, we are all agreed in condemning the Government for the advice which they have tendered to His Majesty in respect to swamping this House by the creation of Peers. Secondly, I think we are all agreed that we dislike this Bill even with Lord Lansdowne's Amendments, and that supposing those Amendments were inserted in it, we would endeavour, as soon as the country was with us, to repeal it. Thirdly, I think we may also be agreed that whatever we do on the Motion now before the House we cannot stop this Bill from becoming law. My noble and learned friend thinks something may turn up.
§ VISCOUNT ST. ALDWYN
Until my noble and learned friend explained his position just now I imagined that every- 922 body on this side felt that though it might be right to vote in favour of insisting on your Lordships' Amendments it was impossible to prevent the Bill from becoming law without them. I think everybody would be content to let this Bill pass if the Government had been willing to insert our Amendments. If that is so, why is it so? The reason is that last December the constituencies by a majority accepted the main principles of the Bill. There can be no question about that. It has been discussed in the House of Commons and discussed in this House. It has been accepted by large majorities in the House of Commons, and does anybody believe for a moment that if the main principles of the Bill could be referred to the country again the country would give a different answer from that which it gave in December? Lord Selborne thinks so, and we shall hear from him on what ground.
Has there been any sign in the country of a change of opinion? The constituencies have been absolutely apathetic in the matter. There have been by-elections, and the by-elections have gone practically in accordance with the previous election, allowing, of course, for some natural loss to the Government of the day such as always takes place in by-elections. If there had been a change of opinion in the country with regard to this Bill, would it not be certain that we should have had meetings all over the country, petitions to Parliament, addresses to the Crown, and every kind of engine put into organisation in order to prevail upon Parliament not to pass it? But nothing of the kind has occurred. There have been by-elections, but the topics discussed at those by-elections have not been the Parliament, Bill, but the Shops Bill, the Insurance Bill, and perhaps Tariff Reform, and there has not been the remotest sign of any general change of opinion. If that is true of the main principles of the Parliament Bill is that any sign that it, is not also true of your Lordships' Amendments. I attach the greatest importance—nobody attaches more importance—to Lord Lansdowne's Amendment, relating to the submission to the electors of Bills affecting the Crown, the Protestant Succession, or Home Rule, in any part of the United Kingdom, but I cannot honestly say that I believe that if that issue could be submitted to the country the country would give us a majority in its favour now. I do not believe 923 this matter was properly before the country in December, and, to some extent, that was the fault of the leaders of my Party. If Lord Lansdowne and Mr. Balfour instead of waiting until the eleventh hour had put their policy before the country earlier it is possible that the verdict in December might have been in some measure different. But we have to deal with matters as we find them, and it must be confessed that the opinion of the country was then in favour of the Parliament Bill. That to my mind, as the most rev. Archbishop said, is an important factor in the situation with which we have to deal.
But there is another factor which has been alluded to already. I have served the Sovereign of this country in political office for more than twenty years, and I feel most deeply the position of my Sovereign at the present moment. I believe the action of the Government has deliberately placed him in the most cruel position any English Sovereign has been placed in for more than a century. We have had full details from the Prime Minister and Lord Crewe of the terms of the Minute which was placed before the King by his Ministers in November, 1910. There was then absolutely no crisis. The Parliament Bill had not even been considered by either House of Parliament. It had not been submitted to the opinion of the country, and no one knew what the opinion of the country would be upon it, or the opinion of the House of Commons or of your Lordships' House. That was a moment when everything as to the future was uncertain, and that was the moment at which His Majesty's Ministers thought right to submit that Minute to His Majesty. It was a hypothetical recommendation, and it asked for a hypothetical promise.
A question was asked by my noble friend Lord Halsbury yesterday which has not been answered. It was of the utmost importance—"Why have we not all the papers that passed?" We have a Minute, but nothing beyond that, except that His Majesty acquiesced in the advice, as the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, said, "with legitimate reluctance," and that a few weeks ago the same advice was tendered by Ministers and had been accepted by His Majesty. Were there no qualifications to the first acceptance? Was nothing said as to the possibility of reasonable Amendments being accepted, as to the number of 924 Peers whom His Majesty might assent to create? We have not the whole case before us, and for the benefit of the country and of history the whole case ought to be before Parliament. Ministers might have thought fit to decline to make any communication as to what passed, but they have no right to make a partial communication. Part of the truth is sometimes no truth at all. If there were further Minutes from Ministers or from the King, we ought to have them before us; and until we have them before us we cannot fairly understand all the circumstances.
In November last Ministers presented two alternatives to the King. They might resign or they might be permitted to dissolve with a certain promise. Was there not a third alternative? Why could they not go on to the next session in February, 1911, and bring forward their Parliament Bill in the House of Commons or the House of Lords? Parliament was young; the House of Commons was not eleven months old; Ministers had the complete confidence of the House of Commons; what then was the reason why this alternative was not presented to the King? I think at the time there were some differences between them and the Irish Nationalists. Aye, and it was to compose these differences with the Irish Nationalists on the subject of the Budget that they refrained from putting the full situation before the King. We have it from Ministers that the King discussed the matter in all its bearings with the Prime Minister and Lord Crewe. In that discussion reference must have been made to the proceedings at the Conference just concluded. I assume that His Majesty was in full possession of all the proceedings at the Conference, with which I am not acquainted, and in connection with the subject of the relations between the two Houses a good deal must have been said about Home Rule at that Conference. Were not the members of the Government at that Conference willing to make certain concessions on the subject of Home Rule? Was His Majesty made aware of these concessions? If not, why not? Was it ever suggested to the King that the difference between the two Houses on this Bill might turn, as it has turned, on the application of it to the question of Home Rule? We are really feeling in semidarkness in all these matters.
But I gather from what has been said 925 that His Majesty was told that if he accepted the resignation of his Ministers he might place himself in the awkward position of bringing the Crown into Party controversy. I should like to know whether Mr. Balfour and Lord Lansdowne were ever suggested to the King by his Ministers as persons who might be prepared to form a Government in the event of the King declining to give the promise asked for by his Ministers. I have no doubt whatever that the Prime Minister and Lord Crewe, to the best of their power, gave an honest account to the King from their point of view of all the circumstances of the situation; but the question was one of exceptional difficulty and importance bearing on the Constitutional action of the Sovereign, which no King for a long time has had to consider. He ought, then, to have had the fullest possible information and to have heard both sides of the question. The King ought to have been told that he was at liberty to hear what Lord Lansdowne and Mr. Balfour had to say before making up his mind as to whether he would give that hypothetical promise. This question was asked by Lord Curzon, but was not answered by Ministers last night; will it be answered in the course of this debate? It seems to me that these things show in the gravest light the manner in which Ministers dealt with the King last November. If they had had common generosity they would have advised the King to do what I have suggested—namely, fully to inform himself from both sides before committing himself. I go further and say that it would have been common honesty from the advisers of the Sovereign to the Sovereign; but what they did on that momentous occasion seems to me to show that they preferred working for their Party purposes to carrying out their duties to their Sovereign and to their country.
What has been the result? When the crisis came near us the other day Ministers tendered certain advice to the Sovereign and he accepted it. But he was previously bound by this hypothetical promise. The King has been misled by his Ministers into making that promise; and now we are asked by my noble and learned friend, not on a matter of principle, but of tactics and procedure, to give a vote which will practically compel the Sovereign to create any number of Peers which Ministers may please to recommend to 926 him as essential for the carrying of the Parliament Bill. I for one will never give a vote which will place my Sovereign in such a cruel position; and I hope your Lordships will carefully consider the position in which your King is about to be placed before you decide to insist on these Amendments.
My noble friend Lord Salisbury has laid great stress upon the question of the number of Peers that are to be created. I confess he seems to me to be under an entire delusion upon this most important part of the subject. I will venture, because it is important, to read again to your Lordships the words which were used by the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, last night. Lord Crewe referred to what he called the bold figures of the Home Secretary—400 or 500 were bold figures. It may not go as far as that, but it is pretty well known—it was admitted by the noble Marquess himself yesterday—that there is a section in the Cabinet who desire to see a large creation of Peers, although perhaps that section may be more or less overruled by those who, like himself, look upon the whole of tins matter as an odious concern. Lord Crewe said—If we are to be forced into giving advice which will give effect to the creation of Peers, we cannot pretend that the number created could necessarily be limited by any newspaper lists, nor would it necessarily have any reference whatever to division lists. All such lists will have become altogether irrelevant, and all calculations assumed to be at an end.Now what is the plain meaning of that? Supposing my noble friend Lord Halsbury and those who support him succeed in insisting upon your Lordships' Amendments their majority cannot be very large—ten, twenty, or thirty as the ease may be. How can anybody seriously believe that a number of Peers sufficient to overcome such a vote as that would be all that His Majesty's Government would ask the King to create? By any creation of Peers the whole situation would be altered, and I have not the slightest doubt that many noble Lords who are now prepared to abstain from voting would feel, after the Peers had been created, that the situation had been so completely altered that they would be entitled to back up their opinions in the Lobby and vote against His Majesty's Government. His Majesty's Government must for their own protection advise the creation of a large number of Peers.
927 My noble friend Lord Salisbury said a good deal about the opinion that might be entertained in the country with regard to the vote that your Lordships may see fit to give. He said that the only way to bring home to the country the iniquities of the Parliament Bill was to insist on the creation of Peers. I think that would bring it home to the country in a way that lie little imagines. I believe there would be no set of persons more unpopular in the country within a year after the present Members of this House had been swamped by the creation of Peers than those who by their vote in favour of insisting on these Amendments would be held to have made this creation necessary.
§ VISCOUNT ST. ALDWYN
I know, because the noble Marquess will not believe that such a creation would follow.
§ VISCOUNT ST. ALDWYN
I submit there are reasonable grounds for believing it. Lord Lansdowne said lie knew that the creation of Peers would be very large, and the noble Marquess would not have said that unless he had some good source of information. My noble friend thinks that, assuming the present members of your Lordships' House are swamped and the political complexion of the House changed by the creation of Peers, it would be an easy matter for the next Government to create more Peers so as to change that complexion again. He would answer one revolution by another. I cannot imagine that that argument is seriously put forward. In my belief the threat of the exercise of the Prerogative has killed the Prerogative for the future. It is perfectly certain that both sides will have to set to work before very long to substitute some form of Second Chamber for the present House of Lords. There can be no question of that; and it is equally certain that of that substitution an essential part will be some arrangement for settling differences between the two Houses without recourse to the unconstitutional procedure of swamping one Chamber of the Legislature 928 by the exercise of the Prerogative. That, indeed, would have been the effect of the Bill proposed by Lord Lansdowne, and it must be the effect of any reasonable proposal for reform of this House.
My noble friend Lord Salisbury—and Lord Halsbury also—blamed Lord Lansdowne for not sticking to his Amendments. My noble friend Lord Lansdowne stuck to his Amendments up to the very last moment when it was possible to carry them, and if he does not support them by his vote now, what is the reason? The reason is that it would be impossible for him to carry them by any exercise of that vote. Lord Salisbury asked whether the electors would consider that we had used our powers of resistance to the utmost of our ability. I think the electors are a little more acquainted with political affairs than he seems to suppose. I am quite sure that when it is perfectly clear that by opposition you cannot secure what you desire, when the Bill you object to must pass in the form you dislike whichever way you vote, the electors will be sensible enough to see that one evil is bad enough without introducing another evil into the country. I do think it would be a serious evil if this Chamber were to be swamped as contemplated by the Government.
I will not dwell on the point touched upon with such eloquence by Lord Lansdowne as to the feeling that would be entertained throughout the civilised world by such a proceeding; I am thinking, more of its effect on the proceedings of your Lordships' House. I candidly admit that when the pendulum swings back and the Unionist Party is again predominant in the House of Commons, I do not want to see their Bills delayed and their action harassed by a hostile majority in your Lordships' House. Noble Lords opposite will say that is precisely what they are suffering from now. But it is generally agreed that they have a grievance in this respect which must be remedied. And I would venture to remind them that the circumstances of the two Parties are not the same. Noble Lords opposite are very fond of proposing Constitutional changes. That is not the function of the Unionist Party. Our ideas of legislation are very different from theirs, and our, support of the Amendments of my noble friend is due to our desire to secure that Constitu- 929 tional changes, and practically Constitutional changes only, shall be submitted to the people for their assent before they become law, and shall not be made by the uncontrolled will of possibly a very small majority in the House of Commons. I do not think it can be said that we claim for ourselves what we are not also ready to concede to noble Lords opposite, because undoubtedly the effect of the Reform Bill proposed by Lord Lansdowne, as Lord Curzon showed at the time, would have been to give the present Government a majority in any joint voting of the two Houses for all matters of ordinary legislation.
I should like, if your Lordships will pardon me for a few moments, to say a word or two as to my own position. I have been accustomed all my life, for something like fifty years, to act with my political Party. I have differed from them sometimes on important questions like Tariff Reform, but on those occasions I have simply held aloof. The Press, for some mysterious reason of which I am entirely ignorant, have thought fit lately to use my name in a quite different connection. They have spoken of "Lord St. Aldwyn's movement" with reference to this question and of "Lord St. Aldwyn's Party." I have made no movement. I have never dreamt of forming a Party. That is the last thing I should think of. All I have done through this controversy has been to address a few observations to two private meetings of Unionist Peers; on the first occasion in favour of the policy proposed by Lord Lansdowne and on the second occasion deprecating, and with success, any organisation of Unionist Peers to vote with His Majesty's Government upon this occasion.
But ever since Lord Lansdowne and Mr. Balfour declared their policy on this matter, Lord Selborne and Lord Salisbury have endeavoured to counteract that policy by an organisation, carried on with a great flourish and beating of literary and oratorical trumpets and drums. They have acted in direct opposition to their leaders. I have no right to judge them, but this I will say, that I do not think they are acting fairly to the two leaders of the Unionist Party. I would never give a vote on this Bill which would accentuate and increase our existing divisions. It is my intention to follow my noble friend Lord 930 Lansdowne, both for this reason and because it would go deeply against the grain for me to vote against insisting upon an Amendment which I believe to be necessary for the welfare of the State, by giving the people of this country some power of controlling the House of Commons upon great Constitutional issues. I follow my noble friend, and I would only in conclusion express my earnest hope that this being a question of procedure and tactics, as is admitted, those of your Lordships who have not yet declared your intention will do the same. However agreeable it may be to our private feelings to express our dislike of the Bill by voting in favour of insisting upon the Amendments, we have something to consider besides our private feelings, and that is, what is our duty to our country. That, I hope and believe, will weigh with your Lordships in the decision at which you arrive.
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE
My Lords, we have listened with great interest to the speech of the noble Viscount, and no one could possibly have applauded more than I did the masterly way in which lie dealt with the transaction which has been going on between His Majesty's Ministers and the Sovereign with regard to this matter of the Royal Prerogative. When listening to that part of the speech I must say I made up my mind, more firmly if possible than ever I have done before, that I would insist to the bitter end upon this matter being exposed by following Lord Halsbury in his policy of resistance—because believe that is the only way in which this transaction will ever be properly placed before the country, and because I think it is the best way in which the Sovereign may be protected from a repetition of this kind of thing in the future.
The noble Viscount who has just sat down said that in taking the course we propose to take we are doing something which is not quite fair to the two leaders of the Unionist Party. May I say at once that in a matter of this kind loyalty to Party leaders bears no relation whatever to the magnitude of the present issue. If he only understood the searchings of heart and the pooling of consciences that have gone on in the ranks of the Unionist Party amongst those who, like myself, feel strongly about this Constitutional question, and the way in which we have agreed to things which we 931 really thought we ought not to agree to—proposals for the reform of the House of Lords, which a great many of us secretly dislike, and other substitutes for the Constitution of this country which have been brought forward from time to time—if he remembers that we agreed to the Second Reading of the Parliament Bill and also to the Third Reading with very grave misgivings, our action may be viewed in a somewhat different light. We put our consciences into the common stock of the Party on the understanding, and in the sure and certain hope, that we should be allowed to have a fight at some stage or another with regard to the most important measure that has ever been presented to Parliament.
Lord Bolingbroke's name has been mentioned a good many times in the course of this discussion, and metaphors have been put forward, principally military ones. May I be allowed to mention Lord Bolingbroke's name in connection with a hunting metaphor. What he said about the House of Commons I believe applies to the House of Lords. He said that the House of Commons grew fond of the man who showed them sport and by whose hallo they were wont to be encouraged. This time the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition will come home with many of his hounds left out, because we do not mean to leave our fox as long as he is above ground. But I can assure your Lordships that it is with no idea of sport that we have taken up the attitude we have done upon this question. This is only a phase in the prolonged Constitutional conflict in which this country will probably be involved for a great many years to come.
I am not going back over the whole history of this matter. Let me just refer to the commencement of it. The point always insisted upon by the noble Viscount on the Front Bench, and by the noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack who is always reminding us of the rejection of the Budget, is that the House of Lords challenged the House of Commons. That is their version of what has taken place. My version of it is that the Radical caucus challenged the British Constitution when they manœuvred the House of Lords into rejecting the Budget. I think the House of Lords did quite right when they rejected the Budget and I should advocate 932 exactly the same course being followed again in similar circumstances. A Liberal Government were returned to office in 1906 with one of the most magnificent majorities by which any Party has ever been returned to the House of Commons, and they proceeded to legislate, not for the welfare of the people, but underlying the whole of their policy was the purpose of making war upon the Constitution of this country, partly because inveighing against the personnel of the House of Lords suited their general plan of campaign of setting class against class, and partly because they knew that sooner or later they were bound to be faced with the problem of getting a Home Rule Bill through Parliament without an appeal to the people.
I wish to say a word about one line of argument which we very often hear. It is said, "You took a bold line on the Budget; you fought for that and you did not do very well, so for Heaven's sake do not try it again." The rejection of the Budget, if I may put it in this way, is the very reason why your Lordships should stick to your guns now. It is all part and parcel of the same policy, and those who were responsible for advising the House of Lords to reject the Budget, or to refer the Budget to the people, or however you like to describe it, ought to have foreseen that, unless you had the most phenomenal luck at the election, sooner or later a situation which would probably involve a recommendation to the Sovereign to create Peers would have to be faced, and that we would be bound to see it through. If at that time an attitude of resistance to the creation of Peers had been taken up and the reasons against a creation of Peers had been put forward up and down the country, as they have been put forward in the course of this debate by Lord St. Aldwyn and Lord Curzon, we should never have been in the position in which we are at the present moment. It is too late to inveigh against the creation of Peers when those who have made such speeches have said that they will give way. Until these Peers are created the statement that they will be created is nothing more or less than a menace. I do not think that the Radical Party are altogether happy about the creation of Peers. Here is an exceedingly interesting statement that I find in your great newspaper the Morning Leader. It is headed "Lord Crewe's Slip"— 933Now the one power which is forcing this Bill through the House of Lords, it must be remembered, is simply fear.So that one of the official organs of noble Lords opposite openly admits that the Government are trying to bluff the House of lords by threatening to create Peers. The statement continues—We believe it to be the simple fact that 400 or 500 Peers will be created, but it is difficult to understand why Lord Crewe should have made the following Statement 'I do not pretend that, as a Party, we are all of one mind on this question of the creation of Peers.It is for that reason that Lord Halsbury and those acting with him are determined to see this thing through and to force His Majesty's Ministers, not only to show their hand, but to lay their cards face upwards upon the table—to produce their Peers and explain to the nation all the circumstances which led to their creation.
We have been told by several speakers that the "game is up," that we have been overborne at two General Elections, and that therefore the time has come for the House of Lords to give way. That is an overbearing, bullying, and dictatorial argument to apply about anything, and it certainly cannot be applied to a proposal to abrogate the British Constitution. And when we are told that the time has come for throwing up the Constitution our answer to that is, "Never." We do not intend to allow the ancient traditions of Parliamentary practice to be applied to a class of measure which has never been before Parliament in the recollection of I do not know how many generations. During the last eighteen months we have heard nothing else up and down the country but loud-mouthed denunciations of the Parliament Bill by Lord Curzon and others because it would establish a system of single-Chamber government in this country. Yet now at the very last minute we are told that we must assent to the passing of the Bill because, after all, it still leaves the House of Lords a certain amount of power which is worth keeping. Noble Lords who make use of that argument cannot possibly have it both ways. This Bill either means single-Chamber government or it does not. If Unionist Peers say it does not, then they are adopting the Radical argument in favour of the Bill and not the Conservative argument against it. That is the argument that noble Lords 934 opposite are always using in order to rope in the moderate men on their own side. If, on the other hand, the Bill does Mean single-Chamber government, then we who belong to the Conservative and Constitutional Party have no right to assent to its passage into law in any shape or form.
We are constantly being told—the Archbishop of York reminded us of it, placing an entirely private construction of his own upon it—that the Parliament Bill was approved at the last two General Elections. That may or may not be true. Next we are reminded with great force by the noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack of the fact that at some time or other a time comes in the Constitutional history of this country when the House of Lords must be controlled. I believe that is his theory, and it is backed up by Professor Dicey and the ancient Romans who get big print in The Times. But, with the greatest respect to Professor Dicey and his friends and to the Lord Chancellor, may I suggest that all these conventions with regard to the Cabinet representing the House of Commons and the House of Commons. representing the electors and the electors representing the nation are only applicable to ordinary legislation and become tyrannical if used to push through extraordinary legislation. When they are applied to legislation which is not only extraordinary but in our view absolutely unthinkable and impossible, then we cannot entertain that affection for representative government which we ordinarily extend to it. You may claim majorities if you like in favour of the Parliament Bill at a dozen General Elections, but that will not alter my view and I do not think it will alter the view of Lord Halsbury or those acting with us in this matter. We will continue to resist the abrogation of the Constitution as long as we have ally power left in us so to do. The noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition made some good-natured remark about a speech that I was allowed to make the other day, in which I said that the Constitution could only be abolished by main force, and that I for one intended to see that it should be abolished only by main force. I adhere absolutely to that intention; but, as a matter of fact, the main force to which I was then alluding was the main force of the creation of Peers and the overbearing of this House by introducing into 935 it an unlimited number of new Peers. That is using main force, as I ventured to say the other day, just as much as if you called a regiment of dragoons in to make the House of Lords do what the Radical Party wanted it to do.
Now, my Lords, this Bill may or may not pass into law. We are laughed at by noble Lords who used to act with us and by noble Lords opposite when we say that there is a chance of this Bill not passing into law. If Lord Halsbury and his friends are successful in the Lobby when the time comes I take it that this Bill, at any rate, will be dead. I for one am going to be no party to hastening the revolution by agreeing to the Bill. So long as this Bill is not upon the Statute Book we have a perfect right, and we intend to exercise that right, of using every, Constitutional means in our power of obstruction and delay to prevent its becoming law. We do not think it at all ignoble to delay the passage of this Parliament Bill in the hope of something turning up. Plenty of things may happen in the meantime.
The noble Viscount Lord St. Aldwyn, and other noble Lords have told us—and no doubt they believe they are saying what is absolutely true—that an unlimited creation of Peers will take place if we are successful in our opposition. Our answer is that we do not think anything of the kind will take place, and we shall not believe it until they actually take their seats in this House. If this Bill is passed it will be by virtue of the abstention from voting of a certain number of noble Lords who sit on these Benches. I am not going to criticise their conduct, though I must say that I have not been able up to the present to understand it. Or it may be passed into law by means of the concurrence and the assistance of noble Lords who sit on these Benches, by their voting with the Government. I will not criticise their motives in this matter either, or their courage. We will agree that we have a common stock, as Lord Salisbury said, of both motives and courage; but when we have a section of the Unionist Party taking their political lives in their hands and standing up for what they consider the best means of saving the ancient Constitution of this country, I do think we have a right to expect at least that we shall be allowed a fair field and no favour upon 936 which to meet the Radicals and to beat them if we possibly can. I feel very much in the position of the native who was so humble in his demands to the Almighty that when be met a bear walking in a wood he knelt down and prayed that Divine providence would at least not be on the side of the bear.
There is one section of this House that I cannot understand voting for this Bill—I refer to the Episcopal Bench. I respectfully, invite the Bishops to remember that every vote a Bishop gives for this Bill will be directly helping the Radicals to do away with the Constitution, and—I do not use this language as the language of menace—if they desire to retain an Established Church in this country they can only do so through the agency of the Tory Party, which is the only agency, as Lord Beaconsfield used to say, by which you can maintain an Established Church. The Tory Party is the only Party that believes in the State recognition of the Church; and if you agree that the Established Church is bound up with the existence of the Tory Party, then right rev. Prelates may be placing themselves with regard to the protection they may expect to receive from political Parties in the future in a very equivocal position indeed. They have nothing whatever to hope for from any temporary or permanent alliance with noble Lords who sit on that Bench. Their only hope of salvation—I do not wish to talk about salvation to a Bishop; I am speaking of political salvation—is to stand up for the Party which is the trustee of the ancient Constitution of this country and the bulwark of the Church.
There is a great deal more in this Bill than meets the eye with regard to Party politics in this country during the next eighteen months If I may say so with great respect, there has been far too much tendency to talk about the Bill in the terms of what is going to happen to the Conservative Party next year, and all that kind of thing. There is something involved in this which is infinitely more important than any consideration of Party loyalty or Party fortunes. The analogy, of the Duke of Wellington, I may remind your Lordships, has nothing whatever to do with the present case. He intended to accept the Reform Bill for all time, whereas in the case of the Parliament Bill noble 937 Lords on this side of the House desire to do away with it immediately an opportunity occurs. That is the difference between their position and that of the Duke of Wellington.
I shall refuse to believe, until I see it, that any Peer calling himself a Unionist will actively assist in the passage of this Bill by giving a vote for it. The country will never understand the sophistries they will be obliged to resort to in the future to defend their position. I believe I am as intelligent as some of my neighbours in my own part of the country, and I do not see how any ordinary man can possibly understand a man talking one way and voting another. If I and my friends are asked by noble Lords who sit on this side for, any proofs of our sincerity, I would say as far as I am concerned, here and now, that I am prepared to take in my hand every possible weapon of delay and obstruction, even the referring of this matter to the Committee of Privileges—in fact, to indulge in every kind of stone-walling; and I hope noble Lords will assist Lord Halsbury to the utmost of their capacity and so force a Dissolution of Parliament or postpone this Bill and afford a chance of something turning up which may prevent its passing into law. Until the Bill is passed into law, we as trustees of the Constitution have no right whatever and no power from a moral point of view to do anything which will accelerate or facilitate its being placed on the Statute Book.
[The sitting was suspended at five minutes past eight o'clock and resumed at half past nine.]
§ THE DUKE OF BEDFORD
My Lords, I rise to support the noble and learned Earl, Lord Halsbury, but in following that course I do not flatter myself that I am doing anything heroic. As a Back Bench Peer simply pursue that course which, according to my own political conviction, I consider to be the best for my country in a crisis of unexampled difficulty. The one vital point at which I think we have to aim is to recover for the electorate their control over the legislation by which they and we are governed. When I agreed to the passing of the Second Reading of the Parliament Bill without a Division, I did so because the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition had announced 938 his intention of moving important Amendments during the Committee stage of the Bill. The noble Marquess did so by inserting into the Bill the Amendment known as Lord Lansdowne's Amendment. I understand from the speeches delivered and votes recorded by noble Lords on this side of the House that they regarded the Amendment as absolutely vital and essential to safeguard the rights of the electorate during the next few years—in short, that the Amendment represented absolutely the ultimate concession to which the principles of the Unionist Party allowed them to proceed.
But now when we come to the question of whether or no we are to insist upon that Amendment—and from the very first it was a foregone conclusion that we should arrive sooner or later at this stage—then at once we come to a difference of opinion between those who are in favour of yielding as soon as threatened, and those who are determined never to yield on questions of principle but to be outvoted as I hope upon a future occasion and by a contingent of their supporters whom the Government propose to summon to the Upper House for that express purpose. Under the Bill, as we are ready to pass it with the Amendment inserted, we surrender those powers which the Government call upon us to surrender in virtue of the result of the last two General Elections. On the other hand, under the Amendment upon which those who follow Lord Halsbury are prepared to insist, we do claim to preserve for the electorate some portions of their authority over the majority in the House of Commons. The effect of the Parliament Bill, deprived of Lord Lansdowne's Amendment, is to endow the group majority in the House of Commons with absolute power, uncontrolled, unchecked, and unbalanced—in short, to make them during the present Parliament the despotic masters of the nation.
If the question were asked at any public meeting, "What is the need for this proposed wholesale creation of Peers?" I am sure that every Radical present would reply, "To do away with the Veto of the House of Lords." It is nothing of the kind. We know that we have now come to the last stage in a deliberate plan to deprive the electorate of all control over the legislation which is to be passed by the Coalition 939 majority in the House of Commons. Now, under the Bill with the Amendment inserted the so-called Veto of the House of Lords is already abolished. Therefore if the Government summon additional supporters here they cannot force that door because it is already open. The last two General Elections have done that. The task assigned to them would be a very different one. It would be to force the safeguard provided by our Amendment for preserving the control of the electorate in certain instances over the majority in the House of Commons. The effect of the vote of the newly-created Peers would be a despotic oligarchy in the House of Commons, and that is a very different story from abolishing the so-called Veto of the House of Lords. We must remember that the Parliament Bill has a Preamble promising double-Chamber government. That Preamble was inserted, as we all know, to secure the support of those politicians whose political faith is summed up in the old platform cry of "Government of the people, for the people, by the people." If they honestly believe in this cry I am at a loss to understand how any of these supporters of the Government can accept seats in tins House on the understanding that by their votes they are to deprive the electorate of all control over the legislation to be passed by the group majority in the House of Commons.
I am one of those who hold the view that the House of Lords are the trustees of the Constitutional rights of the nation; and that they cannot of their own free will divest themselves of their trust. The Constitutional right to which I allude is the right hitherto enjoyed by the people of saying the last word on the detail of the laws by which they are governed. Our consent is asked to deprive them of that right. As trustee, I have no power to consent. I must do my duty until I am forcibly deprived of the power of doing it. The threat of deprivation is not sufficient; there must be the act of violence. I am, of course, aware that this sense of trusteeship is not felt by all Members of your Lordships' House, but it must dominate the action of those who do feel it. No argument that can be brought forward justifies the betrayal of a trust. There is nothing heroic about this. It is a matter of common honesty.
The case in point is Home Rule. Home 940 Rule is not mentioned in the Parliament Bill although everybody knows that it is the moving spirit of that measure. Twice have Home Rule Bills been passed by the House of Commons, twice have they been referred by your Lordships to the judgment of the constituencies, and twice have they been rejected by large majorities. On the third occasion, if Lord Lansdowne's Amendment is deleted, the electorate will be deprived of their right of saying the last word on the details of the Home Rule Bill, and that when not one of the rank and file of their representatives elected at the General Election know a line of the contents of the proposed law. I know it will be said. "But if Peers are created the people will equally be deprived of their right, and you will get Home Rule a year sooner." I can safely leave the matter of the year sooner to be dealt with by noble Lords from Ireland. My point is this. You may compel the Government to create Peers in order, first, to make absolute the rule of the group majority in the House of Commons, and, secondly, to pass that measure of Home Rule which satisfies the Irish section of the Coalition group over the heads of the British constituencies. In that case we can at least point to the presence of these Peers whose votes have deprived the nation of their right of deciding upon the details of a Home Rule Bill before it becomes law.
Nothing short of the actual creation and the actual votes of these Peers will force home to the country the true nature of the purpose for which those Peers have been summoned to the House of Lords. But their presence, and still more their votes, will open the eyes of the nation to the fact that it is the electorate who have been deprived of that right of final veto on which their liberties depend. On the other hand, you may yield without compelling a creation of Peers. Then whatever protest you may make with your voices, it will be your hands alone, my Lords, which have opened the door to allow an unknown measure of Home Rule to pass through and occupy a position from which it is certain that in less than two years time it must become law over the heads of the constituencies. No doubt during that brief interval you could within these walls pass Resolutions condemning Home Rule—which will be met with contemptuous indifference elsewhere—and parade the country to denounce Home Rule as a pernicious measure, always adding, in plaintive justification of your conduct, 941 "Please remember that it was only under protest that we opened the door for this evil measure to pass through and in due course become law." Plain men will not understand the mental attitude of those who propose at once to facilitate and to condemn the passage of the Home Rule Bill. To them your action and your verbal criticism will seem inconsistent, but it will be by your deeds and not by your words that you will be judged. The nation will hold you responsible for the Home Rule Bill and all its consequences. Far stronger is the position of those who can say. "We never agreed to open the door at all. We held the door until it was forced open by superior weight of Peers specially created for that purpose. Here they are; you know the circumstances under which they were created and how they forced the safeguard which we put in on behalf of the electorate."
It seems to me that to yield to the mere threat of creating Peers forms a most dangerous precedent, especially at a moment when we are making new chapters in our Constitutional history with a reckless rapidity. The same threat ran be brought into play whenever required. Once the Upper Chamber has yielded to threats it will always have to yield. This is a procedure hitherto unknown in Parliamentary practice. We know it in private affairs as "blackmail," and it is fatal to yield to blackmail. The moment the threat is produced, by precedent established, the Upper House would say, "We are no longer free agents. We are absolved from all future responsibility." The country will have no use for a Second Chamber of that kind.
It is said that the House of Lords has still considerable powers left. There is the two years power of delay, in practice eighteen months. This shred of delay can be further diminished by the majority of the House of Commons whenever they wish to do so, and without any appeal to the electorate. Of course, from the Party point of view this cuts both ways—by the same method a Unionist majority in the House of Commons could always override a Radical Socialist majority in the House of Lords. I see no advantage for the country in this two years delay except on the chance of something unexpected turning up. On the other hand, if the House 942 exercises this power, the act can be easily turned to its disadvantage so long as the balance of Parties remains unadjusted by any considerable addition of Liberal Peers. If you yield to the threat of the Government to create Peers, crying out that you are no longer free agents, it is true you may defer for the moment the swamping of the House of Lords. But what security have you got that the swamping will not be carried out the moment it is to the advantage of the Government to do so?
Certain noble Lords on this side of the House have written to the public Press to announce their intention of voting for the deletion of the Amendment. They are prepared to throw to the winds every principle of Unionist policy, apparently in the fond hope of avoiding—I presume permanently avoiding—the wholesale creation of Peers. I trust they will explain to us the security upon which they rely against the contingency of the Government creating any number of Peers when it happens to be convenient instead of inconvenient for them to do so. It is useless to try and defer the Constitutional crisis when it is upon us. Much better meet it now. Let the Peers be actually created. Let that creation advertise to the whole Empire the violence, done to our Constitution, and that at a moment when half the country are already opposed to this revolution. The Parliament Bill must have far-reaching results. It seems to me impossible for the Unionist Party to dissociate itself from these results by a policy of consent, even if it is accompanied by a dignified protest. Your consent to the deletion of the Amendment which you have so solemnly and emphatically declared vital to the safety of the country will always be remembered and used against you—your protest will be forgotten tomorrow.
I desire to see the re-establishment of double-Chamber government. The first step towards that reconstruction is to unmask to the nation the true nature of the Parliament Bill, and to show the electorate that despotic single Chamber rule has been set up by an act of violence to the Constitution without any parallel in our history. But if the country is to learn the lesson it can only be taught by an act of violence. It will never learn it from a threat of violence which this House is perfectly free either to obey or to defy. 943 I do not believe that our supporters in the country will understand that we are no longer free agents because of a threat which has never been put in execution. I do not myself understand where this coercion comes in. It is not there. It is only anticipated. I cannot believe that the supporters of double Chamber government will be roused to enthusiasm by the well-known policy, of which I think they are getting a little tired, of waiting for something to turn up, even though that policy is accompanied by an intimation that if ever by some lucky chance the Unionist Party returns to power we will then repeal the Parliament Bill which we have, under protest, consented to pass.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
My Lords, I desire to associate myself with the observations of Lord Salisbury concerning the attitude which I and other noble Lords with whom I have the honour to act feel bound to take towards the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne. Our attitude is not one of disloyalty to Lord Lansdowne but an attitude of conviction on our part. On this occasion we feel it our duty to differ from the advice which the noble Marquess has given to us, but we still retain, and shall always retain unimpaired, our feelings of loyalty and devotion to him. My noble friend Lord Salisbury has been a colleague of the noble Marquess for many years, and therefore it is easier for him to make his views known on an occasion like this. I had the good fortune in past years to be an underling of a Government, and had to obey the word of command given to me. Therefore your Lordships will realise that it is all the more difficult on the present occasion to find myself differing from one whom I have always regarded as my chief.
At the last General Election other noble Lords as well as myself took an active part. I think we all got plenty of kicks. I am not sure that my share was not rather a greater one than that of many other noble Lords. But what statement did we then make? Shortly, we declared that this Bill which is now before the House was a revolutionary measure involving single-Chamber government. We asserted that the Bill was fundamentally bad and reduced the position of this House to that of a third-rate debating society. We asserted also that the liberties 944 and rights of British subjects were not protected under the Parliament Bill. I propose to support my views by my action. My attitude towards this Bill is one of unchangeable hostility. The Bill is pregnant with—I am anxious to get the correct phrase—it is tainted with every political vice. It is a phrase of Lord Curzon's, and I do not think I could possibly quote a better one. We accepted the Amendments of the noble Marquess because we believed that they were the maximum which we could possibly concede. We were fortified by the words of the noble Marquess at the Committee stage, words full of force and full of vigour. Now we are advised not to insist upon our Amendments because the country has declared in favour of the Parliament Bill. But we have been reminded over and over again that the Amendments safeguarded the people of the country by providing that measures must be submitted and approved before being passed. Moreover, this House has in itself a right to self-protection and no amount of decision by the British public can necessarily dissolve it. Lord Ellenborough once said—Each branch has an inherent right to self-protection against injuries offered to the aggregate body.You are offering injuries to the aggregate body which might prevent the full exercise of their Parliamentary functions. I have a profound respect for the views of the noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack, but, at the same time, if I had to choose between his view and that of Lord Ellenborough, I would prefer the latter.
We know that the majority which the Government possess to-day in the country is rather a slender one—53 per cent. as against 47 per cent. of the electors who voted in the United Kingdom. Are you sure, if these Amendments were thoroughly understood by the electors and they had an opportunity of voting upon them now, that that majority might not be considerably reduced? What is the position? How do we stand? We have given up everything in the Parliament Bill, except the one principle of the right of the people to be consulted on issues of great gravity. I noticed in The Times to-day that Lord Carrington was unable to attend an agricultural meeting—
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
I think it was somewhere in Buckinghamshire, and he wrote as his excuse that he was fighting the cause of the people.
§ EARL CARRINGTON
If the noble Duke docs me the honour to quote me I wish he would quote me correctly.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
I have not got The Times with me, but I am almost sure that is the phrase I saw. I would like to have gone to that Radical meeting with Lord Carrington and to have explained exactly the position which exists at the present time—namely, that six per cent. of the voters now place the Government in a position of supreme power; and I am not at all sure that I should not have been able to change their point of view, and possibly transfer you into that position of humiliation into which you seek now to place this Party.
What happened a few years ago? The Norwegians decided by a popular vote that they would prefer to have a King rather than a Republic. Natal decided by a popular vote that she would like to come into the South African Confederation. And you yourselves refused to recognise the Republic in Portugal until the people had decided by a popular vote in favour of that régime. Yet to-day, in defiance of your practice in international relations, you refuse to allow your own countrymen to exercise their judgment upon a measure which you insist upon passing without it being referred to them.
We are advised not to insist on these Amendments. The noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, has explained the misfortunes that would fall upon this House if the threatened creation of Peers was made and said he was haunted by the spectacle of what the countries of Europe would think. We have been told that we must justify our vote to-morrow, and no doubt we shall be severely criticised for our action and for the decision which I and many others have arrived at. But I contend that it is better that it should be said that noble Lords opposed the Bill with the intention to reverse it, than that it should be said they had fought the Bill and did not vote against it, though at some future date they meant to 946 reverse it. If there is any odium to arise out of this measure—and there will be plenty of it in the future—let it fall upon the shoulders of the Government. Let them bear the full weight of it. Let us have our hands perfectly clean. Let the Government bear their full share of the disapproval and the contumely which I feel sure at no distant date will fall upon their heads. To-night the only method left to us to demonstrate to the country the determination of the Government to destroy altogether the powers which this House possesses is to vote against this Bill. The electors have stood by the House of Lords in the past, and surely the time has arrived when we must stand by them.
We have been told of the creation of Peers. I confess I think a moderate election of Peers might afford a great source of strength to this House. But according to what was said by Mr. Churchill in the other House and the statement made last night by the noble Marquess the Leader of this House it is the intention of His Majesty's Government to create a very large number of Peers—from 100 to 500; the specific number has not been mentioned. I believe that the Government will find the greatest difficulty in keeping in cheek 500 independent Liberal Peers, especially when they will be asked to contribute, as undoubtedly they will be, to extra taxation in order to find sufficient funds to run the Administration of Mr. Redmond in Ireland, which will be independent of British control. For my part I do not envy the position of the noble Viscount in the course of the next six or seven months, when he has to shepherd this miscellaneous horde and be quite sure that he gets them into the right Lobby. Supposing these Peers are made, what will be the effect upon that outside pressure which to-day welds and keeps together the coalition in the House of Commons, that pressure which is helped by the fact of this House having a Tory majority? I cannot but feel that if the present state of things was altered by the creation of Peers the coalition would break up. We know that the Home Rule Bill which is going to be introduced next year will be "gagged" and "kangarooed" in the House of Commons, and that the real debates, presuming the noble Viscount has his Peers made, would take place in this House. The centre of interest would shift from a House where no free discussion is any 947 longer permitted to this House, where there would be open and free discussion. The numbers would be evenly divided, and, as we already know, the mere suggestion that in a debate in this House the numbers will be on a close equality has been a source of profound interest to the Press, and the votes of noble Lords have been convassed for the last fortnight or three weeks.
But, after all, the important point is surely this. We have been told that this Parliament Bill—we were told so by our Leader, Mr. Balfour—is really single-Chamber government. If this is single-Chamber government, surely the argument as to the importance of not allowing the Liberal Party to possess a majority in this House completely falls to the ground. I confess I am much impressed by the position taken up by the Irish Unionist Members in the House of Commons. What have they said? What is the message which they have sent to noble Lords in this House? They have begged us to stand by our Amendments even at the cost of the creation of Peers. I have profound respect for and belief in the judgment of men like Sir Edward Carson, because they know that strong, resolute, action is worth a great deal more than the trumpery, miserable two years which is put into this Bill; and in this connection may I remind your Lordships that the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition told us some two months ago that under his proposals two-thirds of your Lordships would be excluded. The noble Viscount and the noble Marquess opposite told us last night that we might look forward to the possible accession of 500 Peers. I confess—and I want to be perfectly frank on this point—that as between the alternatives of a purge and a reinforcement—I hope your Lordships will not be shocked—I am in favour of reinforcement.
Let us look briefly at the reverse side of the picture. What is our position if we do not vote for the measure? In my humble opinion acquiescence—not voting for the measure—means the acceptance of the measure. I know that the noble Marquess and others deny that, but it is so and I will tell you why. What is the chief feature of this Parliament Bill? I think this point is a vital one, and it justifies the position I have taken up in this1 matter as much as any other. What 948 is the vital point? It is the power of negotiation and delay. Now how will an astute, cunning, and not over-scrupulous Minister use this power, and what position shall we stand in to the House of Commons in respect to this power? I am sure that His Majesty's Ministers will proceed on the principle of political pressure. I do not use the word "blackmail," although I gather that it is a perfectly Parliamentary phrase on the ruling of the Speaker last night. I prefer to call it political pressure. His Majesty's Ministers will exercise political pressure. What they will do is this. They will have two Home Rule Bills, or rather a double-barrelled Home Rule Bill. The more extreme Bill will be introduced into the House of Commons and passed there by the closure and the gag, and then it will be presented to your Lordships' House, and the noble Marquess or any other noble Lord will be told that the Government are prepared to accept from the Leader of the Opposition some Amendment which may safeguard the position of Ulster. But they will say this—We will only guarantee to accept this provided you are prepared to pass the Home Rule Bill in the year 1912. Now observe the difficult position in which we shall be placed. Of course, Radical opinion will be on the side of compromise. Moderate opinion in this country may equally be on the side of compromise. Our own Press has been urging us to recognise the necessity of bowing to the inevitable—who knows that our own Press will not advocate a compromise a year hence on the matter of Home Rule? Colonial opinion may be in favour of compromise, and probably American opinion as well. But if it were even suggested that your Lordships should compromise on a Home Rule Bill next year you will have given this Parliament Bill a double endorsement, not only by acquiescing in its passage at the present time, but by effectively employing the powers given you under the terms of the Parliament Bill. Yet I am told by noble Lords this evening that they mean to repeal the Parliament Bill at some subsequent date.
But supposing—and this is, I think, the more reasonable supposition—that the noble Marquess advises us to be consistent and reject the Home Rule Bill? Surely then we shall lay ourselves open to this charge, a charge which will be driven home with terrific force by all the un scrupulous speakers on Radical platforms, 949 that your Lordships gave way when the exclusiveness of your order was menaced, but that you adhered to your prejudiced obstruction to a measure when the welfare of Ulster was at stake. I feel that we shall be driven on to very dangerous ground in the future. I foresee that the ground will be a kind of morass, and I hesitate to be pushed on to it.
I confess that, having listened to this debate with the greatest care and to all the observations which have fallen from the noble Marquess, from Lord St. Aldwyn—who counselled Party loyalty, which I must say did not impress me very much—and from others, I feel that the decision we have to make is this. We have to be true to ourselves, true to the people whom we faced at the last election, and, above all, true to the people of England whose trustees we are.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, like my noble friend who has just sat down I also have listened with great attention to this debate, and I have come to the conclusion that it is infinitely the most interesting debate to which I have listened since I have been a Member of this House. It is interesting to me for a double reason. It is the first instance within my recollection in which there is some uncertainty as to what will be the result of a Division in this House. The second reason why I feel it doubly interesting is that for the first time in my experience I have realised that my vote is a valuable asset, and that if I were of an unscrupulous disposition I might, so to speak, make something out of it. I observe that this truth has dawned upon other noble Lords besides myself, because I noticed with interest that quite a considerable number of noble Lords appeared yesterday or the day before and took the oath, presumably with the intention of taking part in the Division. Therefore we may arrive at this curious and remarkable result, that one of the most important decisions ever taken by this House may possibly be influenced and decided by the votes of noble Lords who put in a fleeting and intermittent appearance in this place, possibly not more than once or twice in the course of a Parliament. And I might add that it would be difficult to find a more convincing argument in favour of the view that some radical changes in this Assembly are absolutely necessary.
950 But, my Lords, there is another point with regard to which this debate is equally remarkable. I think nobody is likely in future to bring against this House as at present constituted the charge that it is not independent. Independence is a fairly common phenomenon in this House. It manifests itself as a rule on the Back Benches and on the Back Benches alone; but on this particular occasion it has invaded higher quarters. Independence has shown itself upon the Front Bench, and even noble Lords who are habitually—and this is the really humorous feature in the proceedings—the obedient minions of the official Front Bench are on this occasion, some of them, engaged in a more or less active campaign against their official chiefs; and as we are all aware, there is, to put it mildly, a very marked difference of opinion on this subject amongst the illustrious occupants of the Front Bench themselves. This remarkable difference of opinion cannot be altogether explained away by those expressions of profound esteem for one another with which we have been regaled to-night.
To me these expressions of mutual esteem and affection are rather beside the point. As military metaphors are so much in vogue, I will say that I rather look upon it in this sort of light—as if a general were to call his principal officers together on the eve of a most important, if not fatal, engagement and to give them his orders; and those officers were to reply, "Sir, we have the most profound admiration for your character; we respect you as a man, as a husband, and as a father, but as regards your orders we propose to act in a precisely different direction." In this fratricidal struggle I confess I felt slightly perplexed myself. My natural inclination would have carried me into the camp of the noble and learned Earl, Lord Halsbury. Many of my intimate friends are associated with him, noble Lords who are not only personal friends of mine but with whom it has been a pleasure for me to act in conjunction, and I recognise at once that theirs is the really attractive part. They in this drama monopolise what the French call the beau rôle. They are able to appear as the resolute and inflexible champions of what I am afraid at this moment is a falling cause. It is only natural that theirs should be the popular attitude. Is there anything whatever 951 surprising about it? Third parties and the persons who are not likely to be involved in it are always in favour of a fight. You may observe this phenomenon every day in the course of an ordinary street fight. If there are two boys who are about to embark on a fight, what do the spectators do? Do they endeavour to restrain them? Do they offer them kindly words of advice? Nothing of the sort. They give the same advice impartially to both, "Go in and win." That is the advice which naturally anybody would get from their supporters in the country at this moment; but there is no chance of winning from what I have been able to observe. The appearance of showing fight always inspires admiration in third parties, but in the present case, as I think has been admitted by previous speakers in the debate, there is not the slightest ground for maintaining that one party in this contest is more courageous than the other. What is the true test of courage in politics? To my mind the obvious test of courage in politics is readiness to face an election, and if my noble friends with whom unfortunately I disagree at the present moment were ready to face an election I should certainly respect their courage, though at the same time I do not think I should feel very much respect for their judgment. But as a matter of fact, although I do not wish to say anything to which they may object, the attitude which they have taken up was not adopted until an election was out of the question.
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE
So far as I am concerned I beg to state that that remark does not apply to me or to Lord Selborne or to Lord Salisbury.
§ LORD NEWTON
Possibly not, but I am content to fix it on a question of dates, and my noble friend can work it out with the Press to-morrow. Why, holding the opinions which they do about the Bill, they failed to divide against the Second Reading is a thing which passes my understanding. Personally I must admit—I admit it with a certain amount of shame—that I regard this Bill from a totally different standpoint. I dislike it as much as my noble friends do. I honestly consider that a Government has never more grossly abused its powers than in this particular case, and that never was the remedy for an alleged grievance so absolutely disproportionate as what is pro- 952 posed at the present time. But where I differ from my noble friends is that, much as I hate this Bill, I have always considered from the very start that there was no possibility of preventing its passing in some form or other. I do not think my noble friends realise altogether what I have realised with a considerable amount of pain—that is that, say what you will, you cannot ignore the result of the past elections. It is not the slightest use pretending that the last election did not turn upon this particular question, and surely everybody here must have realised that fact by having consented to vote for the Second Reading of the Bill.
The obvious moral, it seems to me, of the recent elections, which you really cannot possibly ignore, is that, even if the voter was not enthusiastically in favour of the Bill, he was apathetic and looked upon the quarrel as one between politicians with which he had no particular concern, and was content to leave it to be fought out between them. And this is the result of the beneficent influence of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has effectually taught the voter to think about nothing except what concerns his own pocket. It was first of all the result of the elections which convinced me that the passage of this Bill in some form or other was inevitable. The second consideration which affects me is the size of the Government's majority, and the fact that, however the Government may behave and whatever they do, we are unfortunately unable to make any impression upon it. It was once remarked by a French general that you could do everything with bayonets except sit upon them. I do not think that some of my noble friends in this House realise that with an enormous majority in the House of Commons you can do anything in this country except satisfy your political opponents; and if you can find a Minister who is sufficiently vindictive, sufficiently determined, and sufficiently unscrupulous, it is within his power to coerce everybody in this country from the lowest to the very highest in the land.
If the Government, as I contend, have the power to enforce their will whether it be right or wrong, does not the question upon which we are going to vote resolve itself into one purely of sentiment and common sense? Sentiment says, "Let us die like gentlemen in the last ditch; let us hamstring ourselves; let us, if necessary, commit suicide"—for the purpose 953 of annoying our opponents. I rather think the practice prevails in China, when an individual has a grievance against a man who has ill-used him, of going and committing suicide upon his doorstep, and that seems to me to typify the attitude which some of my noble friends are prepared to take towards the Government. Whether the fact of committing suicide upon the doorstep of a person who has illtreated you really inconveniences that person I feel some considerable doubt, and as to whether the course adopted by my noble friends will injure or annoy the Government I feel still greater doubts. Sentiment says, "Let us force them to create their 400 or 500 Peers, whatever the number may be. Ridicule will kill them." Well, will it? I am not so sure about it. It seems to me highly probable that we shall have the ridicule and that the Government will have the Peers.
I would like to ask quite impartially, Is there any particular reason why there should be much greater ridicule attaching to the prospective noblemen who are going to adorn this Chamber than to those who have recently accepted Peerages at the hands of His Majesty's Government? Will they be any more ridiculous than those noble Lords recently ennobled who can only be induced to vote for the Bill in order to prevent what I suppose they would call the pollution of their order? Surely the circumstances are fairly plain up to now. The assumption of my noble friends, with whom I have disagreed all along, is that the Government have been, to use their language, "bluffing all the time." I should like to believe that that is the case, but I really do not see that there is any necessity for it, because it does not seem to me that there is the smallest difficulty of any kind to prevent them carrying out their proposals if they want to do so. All that the Government have to do is to issue a circular saying that 500 respectable Radicals are wanted for the purpose of carrying out a particular job; that intelligence is not so much a requisite as absolute political docility; that it is thought desirable that preference should be accorded, say, to pro-Boers, and to passive resisters, and to conscientious objectors; that everybody must produce a certificate of proficiency and soundness from Mr. Redmond and Mr. Keir Hardie; and that finally when they have completed their contract nothing will further be 954 required from them, and that the Government will have no further use for their services. Does any one believe that if such an invitation were addressed to the Liberal Party generally there would be anything but an enthusiastic response to it?
I have already detained the House longer than I intended, but I should like to address a final appeal to my noble friends. They are under what I believe to be an entire delusion in thinking that this course is distasteful to the Government. I have no doubt that it is distasteful to noble Lords upon the Front Bench opposite, and I am quite sure that it is even more distasteful to the noble Lords who occupy the Benches behind them. But they do not constitute the Liberal Party. You have to consider the other portions of the Liberal Party, and for my part I feel absolutely convinced in my own mind that there is nothing that the more extreme section of the Liberal Party, there is nothing which the Socialists would hail with greater delight than the prospect of flooding this House with people created for this particular purpose. I would ask noble Lords for a moment to pay attention to these passages which I culled from two leading Liberal organs the other day. One I observe was written by Mr. Harold Spender and appeared in cither the Daily Chronicle or the Morning Leader. He observes this—A large militant influx of young Liberals and Radicals of a quite different type from those Liberal absentees who have served their cause so poorly during the struggle—rather unkind that to noble Lords opposite—would make a startling change. For the next four years the effect would be tremendous.I take another extract, this time from the Daily News—From the purely Party point of view we regret it. We should have preferred to see a Liberal House of Lords which would clear this road for Liberal legislation and render impossible an unpatriotic policy of obstruction. We should have preferred to see the order which planned an outrage on the Constitution wrecked in social prestige as well as trimmed of political power. The next step—theestablishment of a democratic Second Chamber—would have become as simple as it is necessary.I believe that these passages reflect absolutely accurately the view which is entertained by the extreme supporters of the Government, and I would urge with all respect upon my noble friends that they 955 should pause and consider deeply before they take the fatal step.
To my mind we are incurring the danger of again being led into a trap. I, in common with other members of the Party, was led into a trap not so very long ago, and I wish, if possible, to avoid it again. It seems to me that in taking the step contemplated by my noble friends they are playing into the hands, not perhaps of noble Lords opposite, but into the hands of the extreme members of their Party, and I should like to urge them, with all due respect—and I am sincerely anxious not to offend any of their feelings—again to pause before they take a step which affects not only the constitution of this House, but will most undoubtedly administer a greater shock to existing institutions in this country than they have hitherto been called upon to endure.
THE LORD BISHOP OF WINCHESTER
My Lords, in the few words which I shall address to the House I will deal with what seems to me to be the general character of the situation. As I see it, we are not called upon to pronounce pro or con on the conduct of His Majesty's Government. This House gave a large amount of time yesterday to that particular subject and pronounced a very emphatic verdict upon it. Many of us on this Bench who have not the happiness or the misfortune, whichever you call it, of being Party men felt that our proper place was outside that Division altogether. Nor do I think we are called upon to-night to pronounce pro or con upon the Parliament Bill and whether or not it ought to be passed, for the very plain reason that that issue has been clearly and unquestionably decided. The Parliament Bill must pass. The noble and learned Earl opposite said something about killing the Bill. If it is killed to-morrow, it will, I suppose, have a resurrection within a week. The Bill will undoubtedly pass.
The decision, therefore, to which we are asked to come turns upon the question how the House should comport itself in what we are all agreed is one of the most critical moments in its long history. In facing that issue every one of us must ask what is the opinion, the sober and enduring opinion, of the country on the matter. Those who follow the noble and learned Earl speak much of the effect of the course 956 which they propose upon opinion in the country, and I think they consider that what they suggest would have two effects—it would advertise and it would arouse. It would advertise something which is not at present understood, and it would arouse feelings which are, unfortunately, all too languid. About the advertisement I have a certain amount of scepticism. It is a rather slender argument by which to support so momentous a course as that which they suggest. I ask whether those noble Lords are sure that public opinion, being apparently languid, apathetic, and imperfectly informed, even after all that has been said and written, will be roused by the appeals now made. I cannot help feeling very doubtful indeed whether this proposal, so objectionable I think in other ways, will act successfully as an advertisement, and I hope before I sit down to show some reason why I think it may have a very opposite effect from that which noble Lords desire.
That the course proposed will rouse feeling I quite agree. We have seen that already. Both Parties are doing to some extent the same thing. I think that His Majesty's Government in the line which they have taken in this House of pushing through their own measure—without any willingness to come to terms upon it and without any readiness to meet Amendments, have been doing exactly what noble Lords opposite are doing—playing to keep up the spirit of their Party and trying to concentrate and give effect to the support that is behind them. But I am sure a House like this ought not to ask itself what effect such and such a course would have on this and that Party, but ought to think largely and broadly of the effect it would have on the mind of the nation. Cynics may say there is no such thing as a nation, and it is said that there are about a dozen public opinions. I think that all true political wisdom depends on the belief that there is a nation to which you can appeal, and that it has a judgment, a slow, lumbering, inefficient, hesitating judgment if you like, but still a judgment of some sort.
May I try for an instant to indicate what seems to me would be the attitude of a large part of the nation which has been characterised by such unfavourable epithets as apathetic and so forth. What is the attitude of that part of the nation which might have unseated the present 957 Government at the last election but declined or failed to do so? I rather think that the average attitude of a large part of the nation is somewhat of the following kind. They think that the time has come when the powers of this House cannot be maintained as they have been without considerable change, that the present condition of things has become intolerable, and that it is reasonable that a Liberal Government supported by a majority in the House of Commons should be able, after reasonable delay, to carry their measures into law. Further, I think the country feels that at the time of the rejection of the Budget a challenge was given by this House to the people, a claim for a larger amount of power; that this challenge led to defeat, and that those who were defeated cannot complain if they suffer. Under these circumstances, the country is not, I think, disposed to look very narrowly at the measures by which the present Liberal Government proposed to achieve their purpose. So, again, when matters come to the last pinch I think the people would say, "You have come to a deadlock, and some solution must be found"; and therefore they are apathetic about the creation of Peers. I cannot leave that point without saying how deeply I regret that the last resources of the Constitution were put into operation so long before there was anything that could be called a crisis, and that, there was brought to bear upon the King pressure which I think will be very widely regretted. Now with the country in this state of mind it seems to me as plain as daylight that this House is in this position, that it can do nothing to-day but it may do a great deal in the years to come. It has two things to do; it has a case to put before the nation, and it has to retain the respect and confidence of the nation in order to avoid anything like that sort of feeling towards this House which would hinder the case from being reasonably considered in the long run. Apart from Party exaggerations, it seems to me that this course is very much that which, under the leadership of the noble Marquess opposite, the majority of the House has in the main taken. This House cannot offer a root-and-branch opposition to the Bill, which received some kind of general sanction at the General Election. Therefore there was no Division on the Second Reading; but in a long course of vigorous and able debate in this House defects in the Bill were laid bare and remedies for those defects were suggested. Having done that, 958 has not this House done all that for the moment it can do? We have come to the point at which resistance is impossible, and we have to acknowledge with dignity that that is so and to wait for that reaction which you will have done a great deal to help and nothing to hinder.
I am quite sure that members of the Government themselves must feel that there is a tremendous case against the Bill. As it stands it is a most lop-sided and crude Constitution which it gives to us. There is surely a very great case which this House represents. I do not like to hear noble Lords opposite talk of the reversal of this measure. Surely it is not reversal which will be asked for, but the supplementing and the combining with it of things which will give the position an altogether different character. The case for a Second Chamber of some sort has nine-tenths of the political wisdom of recent times behind it, and it must be a Chamber which can check and bring into force the judgment of the nation. Noble Lords opposite have got a great and valuable case for which they hold the trusteeship, but there are only two ways in which that case can be brought home to the people. One is by way of patient and long-continued education, by debate and discussion, and the rest; the other is by painful experience of the action of an unrestrained House of Commons. As the noble Marquess has so wisely said, if the House of Lords, which is not too popular a body, is to have any chance of bringing it home to the people in the years that are coming, it must not throw away its credentials, it must not let its reputation for political sagacity be changed into a reputation for party violence.
Shall I speak too boldly if I say that there are two characters in which this House may appear before the country? It may appear as a Chamber which contains some of the nation's best, wisest, and most experienced men, in touch with the people's mind and contributing to their welfare. Such a Chamber is, I think we shall all agree, one of the most precious possessions of a democratic Constitution. But the House may appear before the country in quite, another capacity. It may appear as a Chamber out of touch with the popular life, aloof from the people, defiant or reckless of popular opinion, and consulting only its own order and conventions. If so, it will appear as a Chamber for which 959 a democratic country has no use at all. It is just at that point that the issue to-night and to-morrow is so grave. We have heard a great deal about courage and intrepidity. Intrepidity is a great military as it is a great political virtue. When we hear that "the old Guard die but never surrender," it always stirs our blood. But surely that is not the last word of wisdom even in war, and certainly not in politics. There are great captains who are not Prince Ruperts; and surely there is such a thing as political wisdom which means a power not merely to enforce with zeal and emphasis your own opinions but to take stock of the situation. It is a great mistake to confound tactics with strategy and to forget that it is by strategy and not by tactics that in the end a cause prevails.
I cannot face what will be the effect on the nation, and on those great industrial constituencies to which both Parties appeal, if it appears on Friday morning that this House, by a Division in which perhaps only a third part of the members of the House take part, had decided, not only against the Government but also against the wisdom and the experience of the most trusted leader on the Bench opposite, to cast the Parliament Bill into the ditch. I really cannot face the mixture of indignation and contempt with which that course would be very rightly regarded in the country. Nor is that all. People will say that this House has gone head downwards towards bringing a political catastrophe which a few years ago we talked of as a 'Gilbertian' impossibility. I am astonished at the levity with which this matter has been treated by some noble Lords on the other side of the House. It is said that it does not matter if the House is swamped by 500 Peers because the other Party when they come in can perform a similar operation. That seems to me unworthy. It is things of this kind which I fear will draw upon us so much condemnation and contempt. Therefore feeling as I do I shall give my vote, not for the Bill, but for the Motion that this House do not insist upon the Amendments.
§ LORD AMPTHILL
My Lords, it is, to say the least of it, surprising that the right rev. Prelate should base his course of action on a somewhat incorrect, if I may venture to say so, and misleading use of military metaphor. I certainly should have thought 960 that he would have adopted a different guide for his opinions. But in regard to what he has said I will only say this, that I regret deeply that he has taken the line which he has indicated, and that it is indeed painful that we, who are so entirely agreed as to the objects to be aimed at by Members of this House in discharging their high duty and responsibility, should be so much at variance as to the precise way in which that duty should be fulfilled.
I wish to say a few words in reply to my noble friend Lord Newton, who I regret to see is not now in the House. Having delivered himself of his carefully prepared oration, he has no doubt retired to well-earned rest and refreshment. We all of us welcome the intervention of the noble Lord in our debates. I venture to say that even those whom he attacks welcome the relief which he brings to the gravity of our discussions just as much as those whose cause he is supporting. But I should like to tell him this, that on this occasion and in regard to this question we—that is to say, those with whom I am acting at this moment—do not treat the matter as a huge joke as he appears to do. I wish to say, further, that he has no right whatever to guess at the reasons which actuate us, for he knows nothing about them. Nor has he any right to impute to us motives for our conduct. The whole burden of his speech was a suggestion that we were aiming at cheap popularity by an exhibition of cheap valour. I think that was an ungenerous and utterly unwarranted suggestion, and although I will not take him too seriously or follow him into all his arguments, I am bound to say that I thought the most unfair thing which he stated in the course of his speech was that the attitude which we have taken up was not adopted until there was no question of a General Election. That is not true, and that statement was not fair.
Then the noble Lord asked us why we did not vote against the Second Reading of the Bill. If he does not know, I will tell him. The reason is perfectly simple and straightforward. We thought it our patriotic duty to exhaust every possible effort, to use every possible opportunity of arriving at a national settlement of this great problem. We thought that we should be neglecting out duty if we did not try, however hopeless it might seem to be, up to the very last moment to persuade His Majesty's Government to agree to some compromise which 961 would be more or less acceptable to all Parties. That is why we voted for the Second Reading of the Bill—in order that the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition might make his proposals for I that compromise. The noble Lord expressed fear that we might be playing into the hands of our political opponents and fall into a trap. That may be his opinion; but we think—and, what is more, we are justified in our opinion by what has actually occurred—that we have saved him and those who think with him from falling into a trap. If we had given way a fortnight ago and the Parliament Bill was already on the Statute Book, can anybody doubt that those political opponents of ours who are offering us their hypocritical advice to admit that we are beaten and to give way—can anybody doubt that these very men would be using the fact of our surrender to pour further derision and contempt upon us, to hold us up again for fresh reasons to the odium and hatred of the country in order to further their next designs?
We have been so persistently misrepresented that we must persistently explain our attitude, and I make no apology for attempting to do so again. The motives which actuate us—that is to say, those who follow the noble and learned Earl, Lord Halsbury—are not motives of Party expediency but motives of principle. Rightly or wrongly, we regard it as our duty to do that which is dictated to us by our own sense of conduct and honour. We endorse the maxim which was put forward by the most rev. Prelate the Archbishop of York, who said that on this question each man's conscience is the only judge whose verdict he ought to accept. We regard this Parliament Bill as a crime. We regard the whole manner and method in which it has been promoted as the gravest political outrage that has ever been perpetrated short of bloodshed, and we regard the objects of the Bill as utterly corrupt. That being so, we say we cannot stand by and see this crime perpetrated, this outrage continued, with out offering resistance even though our resistance be entirely hopeless.
You may call us fools, if you like; not to regard the consequences, or what you believe, possibly with too great confidence, will be the consequences. But similarly you might designate as a fool the man who rushes in to resist an outrage which is being perpetrated in the street by two or three 962 miscreants. The action of such a man, even though he be overpowered and personally injured, may have the effect of delaying the final consummation of the crime until the arrival of assistance. Similarly you may designate as a fool a man who goes to Court to protect his honour even though the expense should bring about his ruin. That man, if he has defended his honour, has a greater satisfaction in the years that come hereafter, even though he be broken and impoverished, than if he had neglected that duty. You may designate as a fool the woman who attempts to hold the armed burglar who has broken into her house. Her cries may possibly bring the police, and if the ruffian is then brought to justice other people will be saved from outrage at his hands. I use these analogies in order purposely to avoid the military metaphors which we all agree are so misleading. The only military metaphor which I have seen which seems to me at all applicable to the circumstances was that which was so aptly used by the noble and gallant Field-Marshal who sits on the Cross Benches. Such persons as I have indicated are not fools in the eyes of all people; nor are we fools in the eyes of a great number of our fellow-countrymen. The consequences of our action may be, and probably will be, disagreeable to us so long as we live; but the consequenees of refraining from that action will in our view be even more disagreeable.
The fact is that whatever we do we cannot avoid disagreeable consequences. We cannot protect the King from outrage because that outrage has already been perpetrated. His Majesty has been forced, in circumstances on which I need not dwell and in a most improper manner, to give this pledge. We cannot prevent the humiliation of this House, because that has already been brought about by the mere threat to create "Puppet" Peers. We can not preserve the powers of this Chamber, because the moment this Bill is put on the Statute Book those powers are gone, and, in accordance with the showing of every speaker on this side of the House, we shall have single-Chamber government. The harm is done, and nothing we can do or abstain from doing can possibly repair or prevent that harm at the present stage; and our only feeling in regard to this matter is that if we do not exercise the power of voting which still remains to us we 963 shall feel hereafter that we have neglected what, rightly or wrongly, we regard to be our duty at the present time. We do not claim to be courageous or heroic, or anything of the kind. We have not called ourselves Last Ditchers, or Die Hards, or any of those names which are given to us by the Press. We cannot help what the Press says about us. I say we do not claim these qualities, and still less do we attribute lack of those qualities to those who do not agree with us. I challenge any one to point to any occasion on which responsible men amongst us have attributed lack of courage or any other defect of character to those with whom, unhappily, we are not in agreement at the present time. We are only deeply sorry that their conception of our duty at this moment differs from ours.
The noble Lord, Lord Newton, cast doubts on our sincerity in this matter. He did not believe that it was any matter of pain or regret to us to sever our association for the moment from our political leaders. I dare say it is difficult for him to realise that feeling, for he himself has never acknowledged any leadership, but let me assure him that that pain is very real, and very deep and very sincere on the part of every one of us. Our leaders told us that without the safeguards which they proposed to put into the Bill nothing in this country would be safe—neither the King nor the Constitution, nor our political liberties. We were convinced that our leaders were right. Then our leaders told us that we ought to insist on the safeguards as long as we are free agents. Again we agreed with them; and we regard ourselves as free agents so long as we have the power to give a vote in this House. It is urged that we ought to give way because it is impossible for the Government to give way. I cannot accept that view. The Government tell us that their policy has been consistent. I do not deny it; but I am bound to say I cannot see in what way they can claim credit for that. Certainly there has been a consistent refusal to entertain any national or patriotic solution of this problem, the existence of which we all admit. There has been a consistent misrepresentation of the problem to the people of this country. There has been consistency there. There has been a consistent refusal to tackle that reform of this House which the Radical Party themselves have said to be necessary and have said to be at the very root of the evil. There has 964 been a consistent determination to pay for the Irish votes which keep the Government in power by bringing in Home Rule behind the backs of the people. So far the Government have every right to claim that they have been consistent, but I utterly deny that it is in any way creditable to them.
And then the Government tell us that they have no alternative. They say the whole matter rests in our hands. Just as well, as the noble and learned Earl pointed out, might a criminal say he had no alternative but to carry out his crime. From the point of view of the Government that may be true. When the directors of a commercial company have adopted questionable methods of finance or of trade, perhaps to gratify the cupidity of the shareholders, they have no alternative but to go on with their trickery unless they wish to make a clean breast of it. But that is no reason why shareholders who object to those questionable methods should refrain from protest, even though it might lead to a showing up of the methods of the directors and possibly to injury to all concerned. In making their protests they are acting in the best interests of the shareholders. The Government had an alternative in the first instance. They had the alternative of adopting an honest, patriotic, and national solution of the Constitutional problem. They had the opportunity when they saw that your Lordships were willing to meet them more than half way in spite of all their anticipations to the contrary. No doubt it would have been less profitable to them to have adopted that course, and possibly, also, less welcome to their followers, who make no secret that their main object is to gratify their feelings of vindictiveness against this House.
But sooner or later the people will learn that honesty is the best policy, not only as regards private and commercial concerns, but also, and more particularly, as regards the management of national concerns. Sooner or later, and Heaven grant that it may not be too late, the people of this country will find out that, so far from making their fortunes, this Bill will actually deprive them of their liberties and rob them of those very things which they value more than anything else in their political life. They will find out that the Royal Prerogative has been shamefully abused in order to deprive them of their own undoubted prerogative of deciding what our laws are to be; and then 965 they will learn that this House has not been contending for any privileges of its own or for the personal rights and privileges of its members, but actually for the liberties of the people. Then they will recognise that we on this side of the House, whatever our views may be as to the actual methods to be pursued, have been fighting in very fact for King and Country.
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down is another member of the House of Russell, together with the noble Duke who resumed the debate after the dinner adjournment to-night—a House that was at one time found on another side in the political arena. If I were to use what is nowadays the standard language of political controversy, I suppose I should hurl the word "traitor" across this House. Apparently the word "traitor" is now used to describe a person with whose political opinions you disagree at the moment. But I do not propose to use the strong language which has become customary. I should like, however, to examine for a moment some of the sentiments which the noble Lord who has just sat down has expressed. He stated that a time will come when the country will discover how it has been tricked and fooled by the proceedings of the Government, when it will discover how this Bill has put the people in a far worse position than they were ever in before, and has, in fact and in effect, deprived them of their liberties. If it were indeed the fact that this Bill deprived the people of their liberties, I should find myself in entire agreement with the noble Lord in hoping that that might be discovered at the earliest possible moment, and I should find myself in entire agreement with him in wishing to remedy it.
The noble Lord said—and it has been said over and over again—that if we had shown ourselves reasonable and accommodating we had every opportunity on this side of politics for coming to an "honest, national, and patriotic" settlement. I have observed that those large words in the mouths of the Opposition generally mean a settlement favourable to themselves, and I think they must forgive politicians on this side if they are unwilling to interpret the only settlement as a national and patriotic one which is unfavourable to them and favourable to the Opposition. I was challenged by the noble Earl who opened the debate last 966 night on the Vote of Censure as to something I had said about the Parliament Bill having been before the electors at the last election word for word and line for line. I was asked if I had to set an examination paper in the details of that Bill, although it might be said to have been printed and in that sense to have been before the electors line by line, whether I supposed that many of the electors would receive a large number of marks? I do not suppose it; I do not suppose it in regard to any Bill, and that is one of the strongest reasons why a Referendum on a particular Bill containing a number of complicated clauses is about the worst conceivable way of obtaining the, opinion of the electorate. For the electorate to understand a Bill in detail would require a series of school-mastering lectures up and down the country; and although I should be very glad to see an electorate so highly educated, I think we must all agree that it will be many a year before we come to that stage, and that at present the electorate must deal with the broad facts of the situation so far as they can take them in.
In this matter it is impossible to add anything to what the right rev. Prelate the Bishop of Winchester has just said. I think he described with remarkable accuracy the general impression in the country as to this matter. The country has succeeded, chiefly owing to the action of your Lordships' House, chiefly owing to the ill-judged action taken by this House, in being permeated with the impression that Liberals have not for a very long time had fair play, and the country has made up its mind that it is prepared to allow the Government to take such steps as they think fit to secure that Liberals when in office shall have fair play. Your Lordships cannot have failed to have noticed the amusing slip—shall I call it?—that was made by the noble Viscount, Lord St. Aldwyn, when he was addressing us. After dwelling on the possibility of the creation of 400 or 500 Peers the noble Viscount said that he would not care, when he found himself again in office, to have Conservative measures obstructed, mutilated, and delayed by a House of Lords containing a Liberal majority. Liberals have suffered from such a state of things for generations, and it is not to be wondered at that they complain.
We have come to-night to a situation of very great difficulty, a situation to 967 which we never need have come if noble Lords in the Conservative Party had been willing to accept what I think all sane people regard as the verdict of the last General Election. According to the ordinary Constitutional traditions of this House, when a Government has a measure before the people and receives the confidence of the people for the purpose of passing that measure, the time has come for the majority in this House to give way. I am not without the greatest sympathy for—I do not know what name is the least offensive—I will say the revolting Peers on the other side. I am not quite sure that if I sat on the other side of the House I might not even be rash enough to find myself in their ranks. To have convictions and to be compelled by the ordinary Constitutional traditions of this House to suppress those convictions and avoid voting in support of them is extremely invidious and unpleasant, and I have strong sympathy with those noble Lords who feel a difficulty in doing so. But it is, and it has been for a great many years, the Constitutional tradition of this House that at some point or other it gives way to the will of the Commons and the will of the country, and the only possible excuse for not doing so is some sort of belief that if there were an appeal to the country the country would support you in the course you are taking. Now it is perfectly well known that the general opinion of noble Lords opposite and of their advisers is that they could not successfully appeal to the country against the policy of His Majesty's Government. It has been so stated in the most emphatic way in a leading article in The Times. The Times said—No sane man can suppose that the Opposition could get a majority.If that is admitted, why should resistance be prolonged to what is, according to our ordinary political rules, the will of the people?
Again I find myself not without a good deal of sympathy with Lord Willoughby de Broke when he says that the phrase the "will of the people" is a phrase which is capable of being dissected. I admit that there are far fewer voters exercising the franchise in this country than I should like to see. But that is the present Constitutional method of ascertaining the will of the people, and if it is admitted that 968 the Opposition cannot go to the country with ally hope of success, that the proposals of His Majesty's Government hold the field, what is gained by pressing resistance to the point where the Constitution is strained? I think every one is prepared to admit that the weapon of using the Prerogative for the purpose of employs Peers is a weapon which no one creating except in the last resort, which no one employs unnecessarily, or willingly, or lightly; but if a Government which has the confidence of the House of Commons, which has the confidence of the country, finds itself still persistently thwarted by a House of Lords which is obstinate, reckless, unwilling to learn by experience, what other remedy is there left in the Constitution for bringing matters to an end? That, I venture to think, has been in this controversy very largely the position of your Lordships' House. Your Lordships' House has been unwilling to recognise the facts that have taken place.
We have heard a great many taunts from the other side that the country is very apathetic about this question and does not care whether the Parliament Bill becomes law or not. I think that apparent apathy is susceptible of another explanation. The real explanation is that the country is convinced, and has been convinced ever since the last election, that the Parliament Bill will become and must become the law of this country; and I myself ant perfectly certain that if the country thought that the Parliament Bill would be impeded on its way to the Statute Book noble Lords opposite would have had as much effervescence as they would desire on the part of the people. Assumptions are made and expressions used in these debates as if the House of Lords before the Parliament Bill was heard of had been a House of co-ordinate jurisdiction and co-ordinate power with the House of Commons. Such a thing is not tenable for a moment. A Vote of Censure has this week been proposed in both Houses of Parliament. In the House of Commons the Government have been successful by a majority of 119; the Government have been beaten in this House by an enormous majority, but nobody cares a snap of the fingers.
Is there no difference between the two Houses of Parliament even now, quite apart from the Parliament Bill? Is there 969 no difference in their authority and in their powers? There is the greatest difference, and we know it has been the practice of this House to give way to legislation after a General Election and after it has clearly received the assent of the electors. The Liberal Party have said that they see no reason why that cumbrous process should be forced upon them in respect of all their measures, and this Bill is the result. What is to be gained by noble Lords opposite who, it is said, are going into the Lobby against the Government? They are going, it is said, to force the Government to give an example to the country that a revolution is actually in process by creating Peers. There will be an example given to the country, but I am not sure how the country will interpret that example. I suggest to this House that the country will think that noble Lords opposite, out of touch with popular feeling, in disregard of Parliamentary tradition, against the advice of their normal and respected leaders, have pushed opposition beyond the point to which opposition ought to be pushed and driven the Government to exercise powers the exercise of which is regretted by every One. I do not think that any benefit will accrue to the Opposition from that course; and, unpleasant as it is for noble Lords who have the technical and legal power to vote against the Government, I cannot but think that the course for this House is to let this Bill now pass.
Noble Lords have before them an opportunity of obtaining, if they can, the confidence of the country. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said the other day that he was a democrat, and he added that he and those who voted with him in this House really represent the liberties and the rights of the people. I am sure the noble Marquess believes that, but he has not succeeded in persuading the people to believe it; and until he does that it is no use for him to say that he and his friends are the true representatives of the people. On the whole, judging from the discussions that take place in the country, it looks as if the country was of opinion that the House of Lords and the present majority in the House of Lords had not on the whole been friendly to popular measures. Therefore I hope that when the issue comes this Bill may be successful Without the unfortunate event which we should all regret, and I hope that we shall 970 not have the campaign which was indicated in his speech before dinner by Lord Willoughby de Broke—a campaign of delay, of resistance, and of obstruction. The incidents of such a campaign might be amusing, they might add a certain liveliness to our debates, but they would not conduce to the dignity of this House or to the carrying on of the government of the country. I hope the House will recognise the situation as it exists. The people to convert are the country at large and not until noble Lords opposite have the support of the country behind them are they entitled to say that the larger half of their countrymen are traitors and are betraying their trust.
§ THE EARL OF DENBIGH
My Lords, I would like to say a few words with regard to the speeches which we have just heard. The noble Earl seems to think it unreasonable to expect that the electors should properly understand the details of an important Bill before the country. That is exactly what we complain about. I quite agree that in the case of a long and complicated measure it is quite impossible to bring before the electors all the details of the Bill, but in a short and concise one of this description surely it is not too much to expect that the country should be able to understand the real grave issues put before them. I am. perfectly certain of this, that at the last General Election, owing to the deliberate policy of His Majesty's Government, the country was not given the opportunity of understanding this Bill. I know from the experience which I had upon the many public platforms on which I had the privilege of addressing the electors that the general public were completely mystified with regard to this Constitutional question, and it is an absurdity to say that the General Election was a complete verdict with regard to all the details of this complicated Constitutional question. I agree that the verdict at the last General Election may justly lie claimed as an expression of opinion by the country that the time had come when a considerable change should be made in the constitution of this House and with regard to the relations between the two Houses. But I do not believe for one moment that the voters of the country understood that the Parliament Bill as suggested by His Majesty's Government was going to give to any Minister who happened to command a 971 small majority in the House of Commons the power to force into law any important or vital measure even although the general opinion of the country was against it.
We are told that this Bill is put forward because there was nothing else to be done. I gather that it is the main contention put forward by His Majesty's Government that they had no other alternative. I do not think that too much stress can be laid on the important point which was brought forward by Lord St. Aldwyn to-night, and which should be rammed home to the electors on every opportunity—that there was absolutely no necessity whatever for His Majesty's Government to resort to a General Election at the time they did, and that if they had desired to get a proper opinion upon the question before the country, if they had honestly desired to carry out what everybody at the moment regarded as the honourable word of the Prime Minister that the Royal Prerogative should not be invoked until the question had been adequately discussed in Parliament, they ought to have given an opportunity for the Bill to be brought in and discussed in both Houses of Parliament, and then would have been their opportunity of going to the country and taking the opinion of the country after the electors had had a chance of forming a considered opinion upon it. I think we ought to be grateful to Lord St. Aldwyn for having brought out that point. It has not been dwelt upon with half enough insistence up to now but it is a most important point to consider, and I think it completely demolishes the argument put forward by His Majesty's Government that they had no other alternative but to proceed in the way they have done.
Then there is the other answer to the argument of the uncontrolled nature of your Lordships' House put forward by the Lord Chancellor last night. He said—Is it right that this House alone, as distinct from the Sovereign, as distinct from the House of Commons, should remain practically the only uncontrolled and uncontrollable portion of what is known as the Estates of the Realm?I quite agree with what fell from the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for War last night when he called attention to the democratic tendency and to the demand that the constitution of this House as it has been known through all these centuries should be brought into 972 harmony with the tendency of the day. I have myself admitted that on many platforms, and I always found during the last two elections, in which I did a great deal of speaking, that the admission of the fact that the House of Lords as a hereditary Chamber could not be said to be exactly in accord with democratic tendencies and that the time had come when some alteration should be made to make it a stronger Chamber and more in harmony with the times, was invariably received with approval both by opponents and supporters. I know there are noble Lords in this House who are not willing to subscribe to that opinion; but I myself am strongly of opinion that the time has come when it is necessary and advisable to put forward some practicable scheme for the purpose of reconstituting this House on a different basis so as to command to a greater extent the confidence of the country. Would not that have been an alternative to the course adopted by His Majesty's Government? Would not some assistance from the Government to the efforts of this side to produce a practicable scheme have been of use in bringing about proposals which would have commanded the assent of both sides? Would it not have been possible, by a proper reconstitution of your Lordships' House, to have obliterated the reproach which we have been under of being too one-sided?
I contend that there are two answers to the main argument of His Majesty's Government. First, that the reconstitution of your Lordships' House would have met the greater part of the objections which have been put forward; and, secondly, that there was absolutely no necessity to dissolve at the time they did, and that the Government, by dissolving when they did last winter, deliberately chose their time for the purpose of rushing this question and taking the opinion of the electors at a time when it was impossible that that opinion could be properly expressed. And I say that we are completely justified when we complain of the organised hypocrisy with which this question has been put forward. We hear repeatedly upon the other side that the whole of this has originated from the action of your Lordships' House with regard to the Budget of 1909, and that it is merely a question of an outraged people rebelling against your Lordships' House for interfering in matters of finance. We know perfectly 973 well that it was the intention of the Party opposite to pick a quarrel with this House immediately after they were returned with a large majority in the year 1906, and that if a quarrel had not been picked with us upon the Budget some other opportunity would have been very speedily found, and I say it is pure hypocrisy to state that this is nothing more nor less than a question of your Lordships' House having interfered in finance and referred the the Budget to the people.
We hear a good deal, too, from members of the Government in the other House with regard to the main objects of this Parliament Bill. We know perfectly well, although we never get any admission of it naturally from the other side, that the whole action of the Government at the present time is merely an interpretation of that parade movement which is called "toeing the line," and which was ordered by Mr. John Redmond in the interests of the Irish Party. We had an interesting admission in the House of Commons yesterday that Home Rule is going to be forced through in this present Parliament, although it was somewhat consoling this evening to be informed by Lord Ribblesdale that he did not believe for a moment that it is going to happen. Although we do not expect very much in the way of political consistency in these days, and still less from such a changeable individual as His Majesty's Home Secretary, it is rather interesting to see what Mr. Winston Churchill said about this particular question of the Constitution and Home Rule a few years ago. I happened to come across a quotation yesterday from a speech which he made to a meeting of the Primrose League in 1899 which is very interesting reading. Mr. Churchill then said—It was strange that the proven Constitution that we had in Great Britain excited the dislike and animosity of the Radical … The Radical had attempted to break up Parliament, and had attacked the House of Lords. In the future they would not hesitate to assault the Throne, the most glorious, and not the least essential, of the Three Estates. The English Constitution was not the work of any man, nor assemblage of men. It had grown up year by year. With all its compromises, inconsistencies, and safeguards it had always seemed to him to be the embodiment of the national character and the outcome of the English soil, the product of a little island lost among the northern mist.'And in his address to the electors of Oldham in 1899 Mr. Churchill said—First of all I am a Conservative. I believe that the present Constitution of the United 974 Kingdom is, upon the whole, the best and most practical arrangement for the purposes of Government that exists in the world or is recorded in history … Thirdly, I am a Unionist. The question of a separate Parliament is now withdrawn from the political arena. The Radical Party, however, will profess their devotion to the cause of Home Rule. All true Unionists must, therefore, be prepared to greet the reappearance of that odious measure with the most strenuous opposition.Next I have a singularly interesting extract from Mr. Churchill's election address at Oldham in 1900. He then said—What will happen if a Radical Government comes into power? They enjoy the support of the Irish vote, on the understanding that they will introduce a Home Rule Bill. Either they will break their pledge or the dreary farce of their last Administration will be repeated. The Conservative Party in the House of Commons will vigorously oppose, and the House of Lords will most certainly reject, that pernicious plan which the electors of England have twice condemned. To avoid this, or in consequence of this, the Radicals will try to abolish the House of Lords and so subvert the ancient Constitution of the land. In this they will again be met by the firm and unfaltering resistance of the whole united Conservative Party. The country will be plunged into a furious political struggle, trade will suffer, the Empire will be weakened by internal strife, and no practical good from social reform will come to the people.I do not know whether those words are in any way interesting to noble Lords opposite. I notice that they are received with a certain amount of amusement by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. Perhaps he may consider it rather a small thing to have as Home Secretary a gentleman of such remarkable opinions one day and of such other remarkable opinions another day. But still I do put forward the suggestion that, in the interests of political consistency and political honesty, it is desirable that the country should remember that the Minister who is now the spokesman of the Government in the House of Commons on this most important question not very long ago held the opinions which I have ventured to quote to the House.
I have addressed your Lordships because I did not wish to give a silent vote on this occasion. I entirely echo the sentiments put forward by my noble and learned friend Lord Halsbury, and I intend tomorrow to go into the Lobby with him as a protest against the way in which this measure is being forced through. I know that my noble friend and leader Lord Lansdowne—we still regard him as our leader in this House in spite of our difference of opinion on this particular question—looks forward to the time when this 975 egislation may be reversed. At the same time he cannot reverse this measure single-handed. He has to look to his supporters in the country, and I maintain that he is far more likely to get the whole-hearted and unstinted support of the real workers in the country if it is realised that everything possible was done to resist this iniquitous measure to the very last. It is because I believe that this question is not understood in the country and that there will be a better chance of obtaining a reversal of its verdict on a future occasion, quite irrespective of the question whether there is a majority for or against us in this particular House, that I intend to-morrow to give my vote in support of my noble and learned friend Lord Halsbury.
THE EARL OF SCARBROUGH
My Lords, I happen not to be numbered amongst those of your Lordships who have made use of the columns of the daily Press in order to explain how you intend to vote or not to vote on this question. I therefore ask your Lordships to be good enough to give me your attention for a few moments. I do so, not for the purpose of argument, because I do not imagine for a moment that any of your Lordships will be influenced by argument at this stage, but I desire, after the advice that has been given to us this evening, to state and to state clearly, that the course which I propose to take is based upon strong conviction formed months ago when the alternative methods open to the Government for forcing its will on this House were as clear as they are to-day. Nothing that has been said or done in the last fortnight has in any way affected my conviction unless it was the strong indictment which was made by the noble Earl, Lord Curzon, last evening against the Government, which, if possible, strengthened that conviction. I see nothing new in the general situation except this—that the Prime Minister has announced which method of the two open to him he intends to pursue, and having announced that intention he shrinks from carrying it into effect.
I supported the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition in his measure for the reform of this House a short time ago, because I believe, and I ventured humbly to tell the noble Marquess so, that this House has no right to surrender any of the powers which it holds under the Constitution until the question of the reform and reconstitution of the House 976 has been dealt with and agreed upon. His Majesty's Government chose to reverse the order of procedure. While they propose to deprive this House of all powers except that of temporary delay, they treat the question of reform with the utmost contempt and indifference. The noble Marquess met that proposal by inserting in the Parliament Bill what I certainly understood to be vital Amendments for the purpose of preventing the introduction of what is commonly known as single-Chamber government in its most insidious and dangerous form. But while doing this the House consented to abandon its right to reject Money Bills, which, after all, was the origin of the whole controversy. I do think that in thus showing its readiness for drastic reform and in consenting to pass the Parliament Bill as amended this House has gone as far as it has any right to go, and, moreover, as far as, if not further than, the country ever intended it should go. I go further and say that holding these Amendments to be vital it seems to me that it would have been better that they should not have been introduced at all unless they were to be persevered in as long as we have the power to do so.
We are told that whether we fight or whether we surrender the immediate result is the same—the Government must have their way. That argument, even if true, has no weight whatever with me. What matters is the way in which we meet that end now, and the moral effect of action or inaction at this stage will be incalculable. Surely if we have a principle we should fight for it, and if we have a policy which we believe to be right we should abide by it. No other consideration to my mind will count, or ought to count, in the long run when this House comes to be judged by the country. Personally, therefore, I can only regard this question as one of right or wrong. I cannot regard it from the point of view of expediency or fear of consequences. The noble Marquess, in tendering his advice to his followers, based that advice on the assumption that we are no longer free agents. I cannot admit that I cease to be a free agent until I am outvoted in this House, and until then I hold that it is our simple duty to safeguard the future while we have the power to do so. It seems to me that to yield to threat or any other form of pressure short of an adverse vote is to abandon our trust to the nation. Moreover, it would be 977 playing false to that great mass of moderate opinion in the country which looks, and looks rightly, to this House to safeguard the spirit and letter of the Constitution as long as we have the power to do so and at all costs. It is only, I venture to think, by doing so that we can honestly free ourselves from the accusation of being accomplices in an act of great violence and separate ourselves from au share of responsibility for what may follow. On these grounds, my Lords, and in the firm belief that I shall be doing what is right, I feel that. I have no other course to take but to follow what I consider to be the strong, straight, and simple line advocated by my noble and learned friend Lord Halsbury.
§ EARL STANHOPE
My Lords, at this late hour I do not propose to detain the House for more than a few minutes. It seems to me that the question before us really resolves itself into this—Did the country at the last election give a considered judgment against the Parliament Bill in the shape in which it left this House and in favour of its shape as it was originally sent up to this House by the I louse of Commons? I welcomed the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for more than one reason; but I welcomed it most of all as typical of the speeches that were delivered all over the country during the last election by Radical candidates. The noble Earl said that the country felt that this House was unfair as between the two Parties and that the policy of His Majesty's Government was to adjust matters and make this House fairer. I have read the Parliament Bill a good many times, but I fail to see anything in it that makes this House fairer as between the two Parties than it was before. This House will be left the power, such as it is, of delaying Radical Bills for two years and of allowing Conservative Bills to go through. It is quite obvious that if the, speech of the noble Earl is the sort of speech that was delivered throughout the country at the last election, the people had no opportunity whatever of giving a considered judgment on the Parliament Bill as it came up to this House. It was made more difficult because the Parliament Bill was not thrashed out in either House of Parliament before the General Election. The policies of the two Parties were never thoroughly grasped by the people of this country, and they had no opportunity of realising what the effects of these two policies would be. Further 978 than that, the policy of the Party on this side of the House, as put forward in the Lansdowne Amendment and in the other Amendments, was neither in form nor in substance before the country at the last election.
Holding those views many of us on this side feel that it is our duty to stand out for the right of which we are one of the joint trustees—the right, that is to say, that the voters of this country should have the final word upon measures before they are actually passed into law. If we are prepared to sacrifice principles such as that for what I can only call Party expediency, it seeing to me we shall forfeit the trust which has been handed down to us and be unworthy of our position in your Lordships' House. I believe that by not fighting to the very end on our Amendments and giving way in order to preserve a Conservative majority in this House we shall be accused of sacrificing principles to Party, and we shall for a very long period put off any chance of carrying the views that we hold on any great principles into practice when we return to power.
I am convinced that the people of this country have never grasped that a revolution is in progress. I believe that the only way to bring it home to them is, if the Government desire revolution, by making them carry that revolution by revolutionary methods and by no other. I am sure I need not remind the House that the day on which Mr. Asquith's letter to Mr. Balfour was published the Press—and particularly the Daily Mail—had centred the whole interest of the public on the flying competition that was going on in England, and the intentions of the Government passed practically unnoticed. Several instances came under my own personal notice of individuals asking to have newspapers sent to them giving the result of the flying competition, but no interest was taken in the Parliament Bill. It is true that during the last few days the Daily Mail has been graciously pleased to give some prominence to this crisis, but I venture to think that if it had not been for the action of those who support Lord Halsbury there would be very little notice taken of this crisis. I think your Lordships will agree that the energies of the newspaper which I have mentioned have been principally devoted to abuse of those who support Lord Halsbury and his policy. Whether that action is due to personal 979 motives or to the hot weather and the advent of the silly season I cannot say; but this much I will say, that without the creation of Peers, without a real fight by the Members of your Lordships' House, the whole interest of the public will be diverted next week to Heaven knows what object—probably a prize for the best grown cabbage or some other object which will promote the sale of that paper.
My Lords, the policy of walking out instead of voting on a question has been tried before. It was tried in 1905 by the last Unionist Government in the House of Commons on questions relating to Tariff Reform. I ask those of your Lordships who were members of the last Unionist Cabinet whether they found that policy so successful that they are anxious to repeat it. I do not believe that more than three members of the Cabinet will be found to hold that view. My Lords, if the policy of walking out was misunderstood then it will surely be far more misunderstood and misinterpreted on this occasion.
I am aware of the arguments against the Government being given a majority in this House; but I confess that I agree with Lord Russell that this House has lost the confidence of the country, and I also agree with him that until we can show to the people that we are prepared to inaugurate a Second Chamber which shall represent the opinions of the country over a long period of years and be perfectly fair as between the two Parties, this House will never regain the confidence of the country. For that reason I do not fear the creation of any number of Peers. It is said by many that one of the principles for which we stand is the union of the British Isles, and that if we hand over this House to the opposite Party we are hastening the destruction of the principle for which we stand in that respect. Will any Member of your Lordships' House contend that if a Home Rule measure is passed in the House of Commons in 1912 it will not again be passed in 1913? Would it be possible for any Radical member in the House of Commons who had taken part in this campaign against your Lordships' House to climb down the year after he had voted for a Home Rule measure? I venture to say there is no one in your Lordships' House who would contend that he would find a dozen Radical members of the House of Commons who would be 980 able to take such action as that when the time arose.
It is quite true that we are given a period of delay of eighteen months. Many of us have been trying to turn out the present Government for a considerable period, and I put it to those noble Lords who have spoken in the country, Did they find more enthusiasm for the cause which they were advancing at the end of the short Budget campaign or do they find more enthusiasm at the present day? If you desire to arouse enthusiasm against the Government, I believe it can be done in a short, sharp campaign far better than by a long dragging engagement. So far as upsetting the policy of Home Rule is concerned, I think the period of eighteen months is more of a disadvantage than an advantage. For by holding up important Government measures such as Welsh Disestablishment and Home Rule for two years we thereby hold the composite majority of the Government together. It is obvious that while each section has its Bill hung up the whole of the composite Party must hold together until those Bills become law. But if there was a Government majority in this House there would at once be immense competition as to which of the Radical measures should be passed first, and that would not be a very pleasant experience for His Majesty's Government. Further, the moment one of those measures had become law—we will suppose it is Home Rule—in that case the Redmondites would care nothing for either Party in the House the moment they had got Home Rule, and would be prepared to split away from the Radical Party. And I venture to think that those who sit on the Episcopal Bench would find that there would be a greater probability of destroying any chance of Welsh Disestablishment by having a Radical majority in this House than by standing out and keeping all these Bills hung up for eighteen months or two years.
I believe the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition was perfectly correct in describing the guarantees as a blank cheque. In one of the statements that have been made it is said that the guarantees are sufficient to give effect to the wishes of the country. What are the wishes of the country as described by the Radical Government? Are the wishes of the 981 country merely to have the Parliament Bill passed into law? We know perfectly well that the Government claim a mandate not only for the Parliament Bill but also for Home Rule, and if they have guarantees to make Peers in order to pass the Parliament Bill I firmly believe that they also have guarantees to enable them to pass Home Rule. What will the position be next year supposing this House refuses to pass a Home Ride measure sent up to it by the House of Commons? Immediately there will be very great unrest in Ireland and to a large extent in England also. His Majesty's Government will say that the only possible way of quelling this unrest is that Home Rule should be passed into law without further delay, and they will demand that guarantees shall again be put into operation to give them a majority in this House in order to pass Home Rule into law forthwith. I for one believe that our position on such an occasion next year would be no stronger than it is on the present occasion. I believe we should have far more chance of destroying Home Rule if we had a clear-cut issue on the Home Rule question alone and did not have it complicated by any question of the creation of Peers.
The noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition has confessed that he would prefer to have a Conservative majority in this House when he came to deal with the Constitutional question. The majority on this side of the House are inclined to agree with him. But what guarantee have we that we shall find a Conservative majority in this House even supposing no Radical Peers are made at all? The Radical Government have still four more years to run. Is it not probable that in the next four years His Majesty's Government will bring in some tremendous scheme for the reform, possibly the annihilation, of this House, and that the noble Marquess if he returns to power at the end of the four years will find, not a Conservative majority, but a House more swamped by the reform scheme of the Government than by any creation of Peers that has been proposed? I for one do not fear the bogey of these extra Peers, because I believe there are far greater dangers if these Peers are not made. The whole of the contention that this House is unfair as between the two Parties is destroyed if these Peers are made. I have changed from being one of those who some months ago were inclined to surrender, 982 and I may say, despite Lord Newton's assertion, that I changed long before there was any question of a General Election being impossible. I changed before the Second Reading was given to this Bill in your Lordships' House, and I have become one of the strongest supporters of the noble and learned Earl, Lord Halsbury. I have yet to hear any arguments put forward other than those of what I can only describe as Party expediency for adopting any other course. I grant that behind this question of Party expediency there are, to some extent, questions of principle, but I believe that by standing out for the principle which Lord Halsbury's supporters are fighting for we shall support far more strongly those other principles on which Members of this House are agreed, and I believe we shall gain far more truly and far more thoroughly the trust of the country in the fight we are waging against the unconstitutional methods of the Government.
§ Moved, That the debate be adjourned until to-morrow.—(Viscount Midleton.)
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
In moving that the adjourned debate take precedence over other public business to-morrow, I venture to make the suggestion that it would be for the general convenience if your Lordships began to deal with the Amendments at a reasonable hour—say between six and seven o'clock.
§ On Question, further debate adjourned till to-morrow, and to be taken first.