§ Debate on the Motion that the Commons Reasons for disagreeing to certain of the fords Amendments be considered resumed (according to Order).
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
My Lords, at the conclusion of business last night the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for War, in assenting to the adjournment of the debate, stated it as his belief that there was a wish that the general debate should terminate at a comparatively early hour to-day in order that we might enter on the consideration of the Amendments. I think that before that takes place we have a right to expect some explanation from the Government on two points which have been so far left obscure. Two questions were addressed to the noble Viscount the Lord President of the Council last night, one by the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition and the other by my noble friend Lord Salisbury. In each case the noble Viscount declined to be drawn into a reply without consideration on a question of so important a nature. The noble Viscount has had ample time for consideration and I think that before we go to a Division to-night we have a right to know the extent of the guarantees which have been extracted from His Majesty by His Majesty's Government. We ought to be under no doubt about it. But the loose talking of some members of the Government not altogether supported by their more prudent colleagues has left an element of doubt, and I venture to put the question again as clearly as I can—Have the Government, as we are led to believe by the Home Secretary and as we were assured by the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India, received from His Majesty authority to make such a number of Peers as they may consider necessary for the passage of this Bill substantially in the condition in which it left the House of Commons?
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
I will answer that.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
Then I leave that question; but I trust that we shall have a solution before we are asked to terminate this discussion. The other point, is, perhaps, less immediately important, but it is one which in the future history of Parliament will never be lost sight of—that is the vindication of His Majesty's Government against the charges brought against 988 them last night with regard to their conduct in relation to their confidential advice to the King. Now, my Lords, there is no man in this House who from his experience of public life has a greater right to ask for those assurances than the noble Viscount, Lord St. Aldwyn. I do not suppose that in the history of Parliament there is a parallel of such charges as were made by the noble Viscount being brought against a Government at six o'clock in the evening and no notice being taken of them by any member of the Government during six hours of debate. I venture to summarise them in a few words. Lord St. Aldwyn charged the Government with having grossly violated their Constitutional duty to the King. He charged them with having proffered advice on a hypothetical question when they had no knowledge, and when the King had still less knowledge, what would be the condition of the Bill in respect of which they were asking for guarantees. The noble Viscount charged them with having omitted to advise His Majesty according to all precedent to send for the leaders of the Opposition and ascertain their views at so vital a moment. He charged them with having placed before His Majesty the results of the Conference to which they were only one Party, while not being sedulous that His Majesty should hear the views of the other Party to that Conference. He charged them, further, that on this Bill, which they had not attempted to pass through either House of Parliament, they had assumed the action of their political opponents, which has proved to be entirely different from that which they anticipated.
I came upon one quotation which seems to me to bear upon the whole of these proceedings. It is almost obvious to us, in default of any explanation by the Government, that such an appeal to the superior power of the Prerogative was intended from the very first without regard to the action of this House. That seems pretty obvious from the facts which are before us. And be it recollected that Lord St. Aldwyn, with the experience of a Cabinet Minister for many years, has pressed for that which we have not yet seen—not merely that the Cabinet Minute presented to the King should be made known to Parliament and to the country, but that the correspondence resulting from that Minute should also be made a part of that of which Parliament should be seized in coming to a conclusion. But long before this a member of the 989 Government had anticipated, and was preparing to use, the Royal Prerogative as a reinforcement of the Radical majority. This is the language of the Home Secretary in the House of Commons on March 31, 1910—The Lords have used their Veto to affront the Prerogative of the Crown and to invade the rights of the Commons. It has now become necessary that the Crown and the Commons acting together should restore the balance of the Constitution, and restrict for ever the Veto of the House of Lords.In the whole history of Parliament has there ever been a case in which a Minister of the Crown has so dared to invoke the name of the Crown and say that the Crown and the Commons, acting together, should subdue another Estate of the Realm, even if the Veto to which that Minister referred had been exercised, which it had not? I think that that quotation and the subsequent action of His Majesty's Government prove that from the very first they intended to bring about the use of the Prerogative of the Crown; that they made the crisis and intended to make it; that the whole action of the House of Commons last year was a sham; that on the Government's part the Conference was a sham; and that their action in this House this year has been a sham from first to last.
I feel very deeply the bearing of these proceedings on the vote which we are going to give to-night. Of course I am not going to repeat what has been said by so many speakers before me as to the motives of different parties on this side; but if we differ in our action on this side of the House as to procedure, as regards our patriotic aims the aims of both sections are the same; our objects are the same, only we achieve the result by different methods. That is my feeling. I am sure my noble friends who have so strongly supported their own course of action will not, grudge me putting in as strong language as I can the results which in my opinion will follow upon their action, if they are successful. My contention is that the more we dwell on the unconstitutional action of Ministers, on the position in which the Crown has been placed, on the contempt which has been shown for the ordinary practice of Parliament, the more careful we ought to be not to arm those Ministers with any further powers than we cam avoid, because we know that they will be used to the uttermost to the detriment of the national interests which we have at heart.
990 The noble Viscount will answer, no doubt, presently as regards the creation of Peers. But so much was said yesterday as to the probable extent of that creation that I may be pardoned for referring to it for a few moments. Personally I cannot see how any member of this House can have any doubt that what was said by Lord Crewe, quite apart from other statements, shows that a very large creation of Peers must be the result of the rejection of this Bill by the insistence upon your Lordships' Amendments to-night. It is quite true that the Amendments may be affirmed to-night by a small number of Peers. But the best calculator cannot tell whether or not, after a Prorogation of Parliament and the whole subject has assumed a fresh phase, the number of Peers dissenting from this Bill will not be very much larger, and I am quite certain of this, that if it was desired to calculate that to a nicety we have no security that the present Government would desire or attempt to calculate it. They have everything to gain by a large creation of Peers. I believe they will attempt a large creation and carry it out. My noble friend Lord Salisbury dealt with very considerable satisfaction on this thread of escape, that the number of Peers would not be a large one. If you make 200 Peers—and you may make a very much larger number without being at all certain what the effect will be on your Bill if you bring it up here again—I venture to say that every evil which can result from a large creation of Peers will have been effected; except that on some possible division when men are called up from all parts of the country those 200 might be put into a minority. I do not think the Government would risk that. But, apart from that, consider the effect on the House of the creation of only 200 Peers. Consider the effect on the business of this House, because, after all, we must consider facts practically when they are within a few days of us. Those of us who have been present during the last few nights have experienced how difficult it is to find seating room in this House. The House holds 275 members and consists of 600. Increase the number to 900 and you will have three men for each place. My noble friend (Lord Salisbury) scoffs at these things, but I shall have a word to say in a few minutes with regard to his plan for dealing with them. If you wish to preserve the dignity of this House you must keep it in a position in which it can act as a deliberative Assembly. It 991 would be impossible for the House of Lords so to continue after such a creation. But that is not the most important thing. The important point is the effect of it.
My noble friends who follow Lord Halsbury think they are preserving the dignity of this House and acting in the confidence of the nation by going to the last extreme; but the noble Marquess behind me said something with regard to what foreign opinion—and he might have added Colonial opinion—will be with reference to this matter. Foreigners and our fellow-countrymen in our Colonies do not know quite so well as we do that all this will have been caused through the act of the Government. They regard the King as the fountain of honour and therefore as the dispenser of Peerages and such patronage. They regard an institution not simply as to how it has become what it has become, but as to what it is for the purposes it has to carry out; and I submit with respect to my noble friends that other people no less wise than they will think of this unwieldy and unworkable Assembly as degraded, as it will be, by the presence of a number of men who, as the most rev. Prelate said last night, will not be able to exercise their own judgments on the measures submitted to them, but who were sent here for a definite purpose and with a definite charge. Our honour and dignity will have been impaired by the impossibility of carrying on business and by the composition of the Assembly which would meet in two months' time.
Last night my noble friend Lord Salisbury treated this as a matter of no account. He said—After all, two can play at that game; if you can make 200 or 300 Peers, we can redress the balance when we come in.That brought clown on him a protest—I might almost have said a rebuke—from the right rev. Prelate the Bishop of Winchester. I could not help thinking how singularly little my noble friend had really considered the effect of his action when he made such a proposition as that. For what is his proposal? In an eloquent passage he told us that our difficulty in arousing the country from its apathy was that the belief of the people in the truth and integrity of politicians had been greatly blurred by past events. What is it he proposes to do, coming fresh from an indictment, in which we have all sup- 992 ported him and of which he has been one of the most eloquent exponents, of the iniquity of the Government in advising the King to exercise his Prerogative in order to swamp this House? He proposes that we should proceed by the same method, and that as soon as we get the power we should advise His Majesty to use the same Prerogative and by the same unconstitutional means overturn the majority then existing in this House in order to secure a Party majority for ourselves. Does my noble friend really think that by that change of front he will succeed in inspiring the people of this country with belief in the integrity of politicians?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I was referring to the question of whether politicians tell the truth to the people or not. What I suggested was that my noble friends who sit upon this Bench are incapable of not telling the truth, and that they must by their action, as trustees for the people, see that the country is not deceived.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
I will carry it a step further. If you tell the truth about one thing, why not tell it about another? If we are speaking the truth in telling the country, as we tell it to-day, that we regard this exercise of the Prerogative as a most outrageous departure from the right conduct of a Minister, are we to stand assured that those who listen to our words will not be surprised if in two or three years' time they find us supporting an identically similar operation? We must be fair to ourselves in this matter. We cannot treat this great swamping of the House of Lords as a sort of game to be met by a counter swamping such as the noble Marquess alluded to. I do not pursue it any further, because I am quite certain that my noble friend never would have entered on that argument unless he had failed to appreciate the false nature of the position in which he is placed by his proposition.
I venture to draw two deductions from these facts so far as we have gone. The first is that if noble Lords, with the best intentions in the world, give the Government an excuse for making Peers, they will not only make them in a very large number but they will use them to the last degree to carry out the measures against which all of us on this side are most opposed. The second point I would submit is this. 993 I am not at all certain that Lord Newton, in his brilliant and amusing speech last night, did not hit the mark when he said, as for supposing that the Government will be swamped in the country by the ridicule they will incur in making the Peers, that they will get the Peers and we shall get the ridicule. I am quite certain that when you go further afield you will find that that ridicule will fall, not on the Government who made the Peers, but on the King, who was forced to create the Peers, and on the institutions which they had rendered unworkable and unwieldy.
One point feelingly made by all those who have spoken on this side of the House is that we have a trust from the people which we cannot afford to disregard. One noble Lord said we should have committed the last and most fatal breach of trust if we failed to go into the Lobby to-night against the Government. There are two ways of looking at that. In the first place I conceive that the trust which we have from the people is to preserve the privileges of this House and through them the liberties of the people. The privileges of this House are being largely filched front us by the Bill, but I doubt very much whether, when by our action we cannot preserve the privileges of this House, but can only further detract from them, and when by our action as proposed we cannot preserve the liberties of the people, we are wise in giving up safeguards which the people look upon us to preserve. I know that we shall have a speech in the course of this evening, amongst others, from my noble friend behind me who represents the Ulster Clubs, Lord Templetown, who speaks with an authority for the North of Ireland that I do not pretend to. He may be quite right that the North of Ireland would be willing even to see the Peers created rather than we should abstain from voting; but I say that is not the general feeling in Ireland, when we know that a Home Rule Bill is immediately in contemplation. When you think of giving to the Government a majority in both Houses you must remember that that majority will be used to push through next year a Bill which gives, in however incomplete and unreasonable a fashion, Home Rule to Ireland and vindicates the pledge given by the Government to the Irish Party. I believe that within twelve months from to-day the loyalists in Ireland who would be entirely at the mercy of the Government set up in 994 Ireland would turn round and ask us why we did not maintain the trust which the people gave us and retain the only safeguard which would enable us effectively to deal with such a measure when the occasion arises. ["What safeguard?"] The safeguard of two years. Noble Lords scoff. Do noble Lords who laugh think that no education of the country on Home Rule can be carried out in those two years? Do they forget the Budget of 1909 engineered through the House of Commons with the greatest difficulty at appropriate moments in sections—that Budget which your Lordships were complained of for arresting for two months, but which took twelve months to pass through the House of Commons by manipulation. And do you suppose that the Government on a question of Home Rule will be able by similar manipulation to carry it in three years if your Lordships have the same case? You make light of that advantage to-day, but if you rid yourselves of it you will regret it when a Home Rule Bill is introduced.
There is another point. We are told that the people of this country will not rally round this House unless they see us showing by our courage and straight policy that we do really believe in the liberties which are being filched from us under this Bill. Will your Lordships consider what will be the case to-morrow morning and what will be put before the people of this country, if, as is possible, those who take the extreme view defeat the Government by a small majority. It is quite possible that the Government may be able to bring eighty or ninety Peers into the Lobby. It is also possible that those who are opposed to them to the last extreme may bring from ninety to a hundred. Among the names in that division list, which will be closely scanned to-morrow and for months to come, will be some of Peers who stand highest in your Lordships' House for experience, for ability, for devotion to the public service, but there will inevitably be names of men who seldom take part in our affairs, who perhaps have not been heard in this House at all, and who are among the less experienced members of your Lordships' House.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
And on the other side the same.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
My noble friend says there will be the same on the other 995 side. That may be true; but these half-a-dozen or ten men are going to dictate to 400 men who disagree with them. I press that point on the attention of every man who is going into the Lobby and on every man whose vote may be in doubt. What will be the feeling of the country to-morrow when it is found that on this vital issue, in a Division in which less than a quarter or only about a quarter of your Lordships' House take part, the insistence of five or ten men—who are not., to say the least, of first experience in public affairs—has been allowed to counterbalance the opinion of 400 men who undertook to stay away and not to insist upon their vote, not because they did not detest the Bill, but because they had come to the conclusion that different tactics, to quote Lord Halsbury's phrase, or a different procedure had become necessary in the interest of their common cause. I cannot help thinking that the country may well expect that so great a change should be backed by something more substantial than perhaps the half-dozen votes which it is proposed should bring about one of the greatest changes ever introduced in a legislative Assembly.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
What I said was that it was a question between us with regard to tactics.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
That is the very point I was making. The minority, by force of circumstances, must dictate and will dictate to-night, on a question of tactics, the policy to a great majority; and I think it will be unfortunate if it is found that by a very small number the opinions of the leader of this side of the House and of the great majority of his supporters have been set aside, with results which will not be temporary but permanent, and which will make it impossible to put back this House on the same footing as before. That, I think, is a picture on which posterity will gaze with some wonder, and I feel that it does require a little more consideration than those who propose to carry it out have given to it.
I have not the smallest doubt of the courage and resolution of those who propose actively to oppose the Government. But is it not fair to ask them what their procedure will be after they have carried out this very great change by the exercise 996 of the power of very small numbers? Do they mean to sit down after that result has been achieved? My noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke last night spoke in very unfaltering terms. He said he was willing to use every power which was left to him as a member of this House in order to stop the Government from carrying their scheme into effect. I presume that he means he would use the same majority to adjourn the House and refuse to transact business. I am not quarrelling with him if he has come to that decision. He would hold that the House is under duress; he would hold, as has been said before by members on this Bench, that the duress of the creation of Peers is as great as if soldiers were brought in and the House were cleared. If he and those who act with him hold those views surely they have a right, in their desire to rouse the country, to do what they can and to adopt the only course by which they can obtain that which my noble friend most desires—an appeal to the country, which must result from such conduct. My noble friends beside me have hitherto given the house no guidance in this matter. If they, holding the views they do about the effect on this House and on the honour of members of it, had decided to take such steps I am not sure that they might not have found a very considerable recruitment from those behind me. But so long as they are determined to cease action at the point at which they do cease it, then I think we are right in leaving them to take action alone.
My noble friends have had the strongest possible provocation for taking the course they are taking, and if I do not join them in that course I can only say that I for one believe that it requires more courage to keep out of their Lobby than to go into it. They have asked us whether we do not feel that we have some responsibility for not moving in this matter, and whether we are not accepting sonic responsibility for this discreditable measure. We refuse to take the course they suggest because it would lead to the most stupendous piece of political corruption that has ever been heard of in the history of the world—a piece of political corruption which Sir Robert Walpole never contemplated and which none of the Ministers of the eighteenth century ever would have attempted or considered. We are asked to-night to allow a Minister who has been declared 997 from this Bench to have tricked Parliament, to have coerced the Sovereign, and to have betrayed his trust, not to suffer in the last resort but to go from this session as one who has sown good seed and who goes on his way rejoicing carrying his sheaves with him, among those sheaves being the entire abolition of the safeguards which have existed for a century past in this House, and a pledge absolutely clearly made which will lead to the disintegration of a part at least of the Empire. I feel this Bill to be an odious Bill. I feel the conduct of the Government to have been deplorable and to be deserving of, as it has received, the severest censure of this House. But considering the magnitude of the issues at stake, I believe that the majority of this House are taking the wisest course when they refuse to become parties with they Government in the annihilation of this House, the effects of which would be felt among our descendants to the third and fourth generation.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
My Lords, I do not now rise for the purpose of taking part in the debate. But I would venture respectfully to ask whether it is not time for some member of the Government to intervene and answer the very pertinent and important questions that have been addressed to them.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (VISCOUNT MORLEY)
My Lords, like my noble friend I do not propose to make a speech at this moment, but I have net the slightest desire to avoid a reply to the questions that were put to me last night by the noble Marquess and by the noble Viscount and Lord Salisbury. I am completely prepared to answer; but I understood, and I still hold it to be so, that the reason why we did not interpose was that it was considered more advantageous that noble Lords representing different groups on the other side should first have the opportunity of stating their ease to one another and against one another, and that then I should speak—not the least, let me assure the House, as what is called in diplomacy tertius gaudens—for I feel no rejoicing whatever (I say this with perfect candour to the House) in watching the controversy which went on yesterday and is to go on, I understand, until at all events dinner time. I do not rejoice—why? Because I have seen what misfortunes happen to the 998 country from the disruption of Parties. I entirely agree with the noble Marquess that we are perhaps only at the beginning of a course of operations, the beginning of a series, possibly, of troubles and perils; and that in order to encounter these with the best chance we ought to have two great and united Parties. Therefore I ant not tertius gaudens. I was waiting, and I will, if the House will indulge me, wait until we have heard those noble Lords, and I thought that Was an arrangement which was rather understood.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Our anxiety on this Bench is that before the debate proceeds further, and in order that those who take part in the debate may know what they are talking about, the noble Viscount should tell us whether our interpretation of the undertaking given to His Majesty's Ministers by His Majesty was a correct or an incorrect interpretation. We placed upon it this interpretation, that His Majesty had promised the creation of a number of Peers sufficient to ensure the passing of the Parliament Bill in its House of Commons form. We understood that no number had been specified, and we understood further that when that pledge was implemented it would be implemented in such a way that the number of Peers created would be amply sufficient to overcome any possible combination of Parties in this House.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
Well, if that is all I think I had better answer. I will not say make my speech, for I never intended to make what is called a speech. We have heard a hundred times—at the First Reading of the Bill, the Second Reading of the Bill, the Committee stage, the Report stage, the Third Reading of the Bill—we have all of us said, both noble Lords opposite and I myself have said, we are to-day arriving at a great and critical stage—another act of the drama. Well, to-clay at all events we have arrived undoubtedly at the last act of this particular play. The Greeks had trilogies, three dramas forming a whole, and you may have three or four. This particular stage of the Parliament Bill will conclude to-day, and speaking is not very much needed for us at all events. But then dramas are not made by words; they are made—I do not think this is an original remark—by situations. I will, since the noble Marquess desires it, give a plain answer 999 to his question. He did not think me, I hope, guilty of any discourtesy in declining to answer at the moment. He knows as well as anybody, from his diplomatic practice and otherwise, that words need to be very carefully weighed in these matters, and in good faith.
I am glad to take this opportunity of replying to the question put to me by the noble Marquess. It is a question that deserves and requires an answer that is plain, deliberate, and beyond all cavil or mistake. If the Bill should be defeated to-night His Majesty would assent to a creation of Peers sufficient in number to guard against any possible combination of the different Parties in opposition by which the Parliament Bill might again be exposed a second time to defeat. Those words do not really carry the matter any further than it was left by my noble friend Lord Crewe the other day. But if more definiteness and emphasis is required I submit that your Lordships now have it. I will read it again, because some noble Lords, including Lord Willoughby de Broke, whose zeal and energy make him so powerful a person in these operations, have said that the statement made about the creation of a large number of Peers is merely made in order to inspire your Lordships with fear.
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE
It was the Morning Leader that said that. In making that statement I was reading an extract from a newspaper which, I understand, espouses the Radical cause. It is called the Morning Leader.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
Well, I really think the House may complain—
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE
Permit me to say that I entirely agree with what the Morning Leader stated, and it is my view.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
The fact that it should be the noble Lord's view is, if I may say so without disrespect to an organ of my Party, much more important than anything that even the most important organs of my Party may think fit to say. The noble Lord did say that that was a statement which was an insincere statement made to inspire your Lordships with fear; in other words—I 1000 am loath to use the word, but slang has invaded this great Constitutional crisis—that it was a mere piece of bluff. The noble Marquess (Lord Lansdowne) at all events did not think so. His language last night was a perfectly correct and accurate interpretation of the language that had been used the day before by my noble friend Lord Crewe. I will say this to Lord Willoughby de Broke, that whatever be the source or the purpose of the view that he takes, it is a pure, absolute delusion. All I have to say on this part of the matter is that every vote given to-night against my Motion not to insist on what is called Lord Lansdowne's Amendment is a vote given in favour of a large and prompt creation of Peers.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
You kindly said that you would read the statement again.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
The operative words are these—If the Bill should be defeated to-night His Majesty would assent—I say this on my full responsibility as the spokesman of the Government—to a creation of Peers sufficient in number to guard against any possible combination of the different Parties in Opposition by which the Parliament Bill might again be exposed a second time to defeat.That, I think, is pretty conclusive. However intense may be your disapprobation of that proceeding, in voting against my Motion by-and-by you are making that proceeding which you disapprove of with such intensity and such sincerity inevitable; and let every noble Lord who goes into the Lobby to-night against my Motion reflect before be goes there what it is that he is doing.
Now, I was challenged by the noble Viscount to offer some reply to the questions put to me by Lord St. Aldwyn. The chief point made by the noble Viscount last night was whether your Lordships and the public have all the Papers connected with the proceedings of last November before you.
§ VISCOUNT ST. ALDWYN
And up to the last recommendation made to the King, and the answer given.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
Certainly. There is nobody in this House who has had, I 1001 think, so large, certainly nobody who has had a larger, experience of the great affairs of State than the noble Viscount, and he must know that these important matters are effected, especially nowadays when the distances between the Sovereign and his Ministers are not great, as they used to be—he must know that some of the most vital transactions, transactions upon which the most serious results depend, are conducted orally, face to face, between the Sovereign and his Minister, and with no written documents at all. The Prime Minister is absent, and I have not been able to-day to ask him. But I am perfectly confident when I say that there are no documents in existence, no documents that bear—no, I will not say that—no documents in existence which answer to the description of what is desired and required by the noble Viscount. Mr. Asquith, in his speech last Monday in the House of Commons, stated the whole of that transaction, and be stated, I believe, the whole of the later transaction about the creation of Peers. The noble Viscount is quite in error and does us an injustice if he thinks we are keeping Papers back. Then the noble Viscount asked—Did we lay before the Sovereign the state of decision or indecision which followed the end of the Conference, and did we speak to the King about Home Rule? I do not know how the noble Viscount is acquainted with what passed at the Conference about Home Rule or about anything else.
§ VISCOUNT ST. ALDWYN
I think I said I was not.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
If the noble Viscount has no knowledge and no authentic reason to suppose that Home Rule played a great and decisive part in the proceedings of the Conference, I think it is very unreasonable, to use a most moderate word, for the noble Viscount to ask us in this kind of interrogatory—Did you say to the King what passed at the Conference about Home Rule? Well, we could not. When I say we could not, I was not a member of the Conference; but if the Prime Minister did not, he would surely not have been unjustified.
Then I think the noble Viscount raised the question whether the Prime Minister suggested to His Majesty that he should, if he thought fit, make inquiries as to 1002 whether Mr. Balfour and the noble Marquess would be prepared to make a Government. To put that question shows a. want of knowledge and experience of the relations between the Sovereign and his Ministers that is to me incredible, there being no crisis [Opposition cries of "Oh"]—no crisis that would justify a Prime Minister in saying to the Sovereign, "If your Majesty does not approve of our view we beg you, before you come to a decision, to be so gracious as to send for Mr. Balfour." Though great and delicate, the rules governing these affairs are pretty well understood through long tradition by anybody who has had experience of them, and I ask, Is there any occasion where, in those circumstances, a Minister would have thought it right or becoming to say, "We do not resign, but pray, Sir, send for the leaders of the Party opposite to see what they say to your Majesty"? Any one who views the situation so created will see that it is thoroughly inconsistent with English official and Ministerial traditions, and the suggestion that we should have taken such a course is a wholly unjustifiable one.
§ VISCOUNT ST. ALDWYN
Is it not a fact that by permission of His Majesty's Ministers, if I may put it so, His Majesty had the opportunity the other day of consulting Lord Lansdowne and Mr. Balfour, and why could they not have given him the same opportunity last November?
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
I believe the Sovereign did have some communication with the noble Marquess and Mr. Balfour the other day. I am not able to say whether or not the same opportunity was given in November, 1910.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
No such opportunity was given.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
Then, of course, it is so. May I respectfully submit to noble Lords that we are in all these matters in rather too deep waters to run off on little gibes. It appears, then, that that was not done. Why, I cannot tell. We shall find that out, I have no doubt. But I submit that the more you examine and the better acquainted you become, so far as proper reserves allow, with the facts, the more convinced you will be that our answer to those interrogatories of the noble Viscount is an answer which honourable men 1003 and patriotic Ministers have no reason whatever to be ashamed of, either in reference to their relation to the Sovereign himself, or to their countrymen, or to their Parliament.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
My Lords, I certainly did not come here to-night with any intention of speaking, and I shall not trouble your Lordships for more than a minute. But the speech of my noble friend opposite, important and weighty as it is, and wholly convincing, as I think it is, on the point at issue in the Division to-night, does raise one or two more issues than perhaps he contemplated. The misfortune of this debate is that it is almost impossible to keep the name of the Sovereign out. I do not think the charge brought by my noble friend Lord St. Aldwyn is completely valid as against His Majesty's Ministers. I do not think they were bound to advise the Sovereign in November to send for Mr. Balfour or Lord Lansdowne. I think there is only one instance, perhaps, on record of such a thing being done, and that was when Lord Melbourne went to Brighton in 1834 and laid on the Sovereign all the discredit of dismissing him, when, as a matter of fact, he had practically advised that course. I do not think anybody can maintain sincerely that it was the duty of His Majesty's Government, with a large majority in the House of Commons, to send for any other personages to form a Government. But my noble friend must remember that the circumstances were extremely exceptional.
I venture to say that, great as the noble Viscount's knowledge of Constitutional history is, he will never find that any Minister went to any Sovereign to ask for a third Dissolution in the course of their tenure of office—a second in the course of a single year. That, to my mind, is a circumstance of exceptional gravity. Deep as the waters may be in which we find ourselves to-night, and on my part I think they are as deep as the Pacific Ocean, we cannot overlook that grave consideration—going to a young and inexperienced King four or five months on the Throne to ask him for a third Dissolution, a second within the year, and accompanying that demand, as I understand the case—and this part of the case is wrapt in some obscurity—with a request for a contingent.
1004 guarantee, before they had read their Bill, perhaps, even once in the House of Commons, that should that Bill not meet with acceptance in the House of Lords, there should be an immense creation of Peers. Deep as our waters may be, I venture to say that we cannot exaggerate the enormous gravity of the position brought about by the Government at that time. That was the true Constitutional crisis. I think myself it would have been open to the Sovereign to say that before he acceded to so enormous a demand he should be allowed to take counsel with ex-Ministers and not be left entirely in the hands of His Majesty's Government, an ex parte body pleading their own cause with one Who was hitherto unversed in such affairs. But that is all history. It does give an unpleasant savour to the whole of this transaction. No words that I can use, and I do not mean to use any such words, would exaggerate the effect that such a transaction would produce on any impartial and thinking man in this country.
Now I come to a far more important point, the announcement that the noble Viscount has categorically made this evening. I confess I am not very well qualified to advise your Lordships as to rejecting a measure supported by two General Elections. I am not a good adviser, because ever since I have been in this House, some 43 years, I have always been under the impression, though I was as jealous of the honour of this House as any member of it, that it was not a political instrument that was capable of achieving the purposes which its leaders thought it capable of producing. I never thought it was an instrument that could be used for rejecting what might even appear to be the will of the people without causing an exasperation and a reaction pre-eminently clangorous to the fortunes of this House. For taking that line on more than one occasion I have been reproached with cowardice in this House, and if I continued to sit here I might again make myself liable to that charge; but it is my conviction that an unreformed, hereditary House of Lords is wholly unfitted to resist great popular movements, and that is why all the time I have been in this House I have endeavoured to further the cause for reform. I do not think that this House is a body that could resist a cause or a measure supported by two General Elections.
1005 I think there is a great deal to be said about these General Elections. We swallow them rather too easily. The Government sometimes gives one account of these General Elections, and sometimes another, and never the same. The first General Election was on the Budget and not on the House of Lords. We have been told, and I am willing to accept it, that the second election was on the House of Lords, but if that were so, how could it give a mandate for Irish Home Rule? It either was an election, a Referendum as complete as could be had on the question of the House of Lords, and therefore confined to that particular object, or it was a General Election of the usual kind in which the House of Lords figured for one thing, Irish Home Rule for another, cheap food for another, and so forth. There is another point affecting these General Elections which I think has a considerable bearing on the case. They were elections both fought on the part of the Government under the most enormous bribe that has ever been given to the people of the country. Thirteen million pounds a year were to be awarded in exchange for no consideration whatever in old-age pensions to the great masses of the country, who were naturally under the influence of that boon when they came to vote at the poll. I therefore think that these General Elections are questionable in more than one respect; but we must recognise that they have taken place, and that the measure has come up with that support.
Now, how do we find ourselves? We find ourselves chiefly divided on this [the Opposition] side of the House in arguing, not against the propositions of the Government, but on the best method of dealing with those propositions. I have tried as hard as I can to convince myself that I could do what is a congenial thing to everybody in our position, when an act of degradation and disability is aimed at us, to resist it with my noble and learned friend (Lord Halsbury) as long as Widdrington fought upon his stumps. But I cannot see more than one side of this question. You must admit that whichever side of the Opposition prevails to-night the Bill must pass. No one denies that. I see that my noble and learned friend denied it last night, but he was speaking legally. He could delay it for 48 hours; he might delay it for a week.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
I said more than that.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
Until next session.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
It is all very well for my noble friend to turn it off in that way. I want to know as a matter of fact whether, if we insist upon our Amendments and we prevail, the Bill is dead or not.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
The Bill is temporarily dead; but there could be a Prorogation to-morrow and the Bill could be passed rapidly through all its stages. What is a month in the Constitutional history of this country? What is a month in the future of the House of Lords? We acknowledge on both sides that within a month, or six weeks if you like, the Bill must pass.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
Do not say we all admit it. We do not.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
My noble friend does not admit it; but I think the general sense of the House is that, after what has passed, this Bill must come into law before the 31st of December. Let me give that latitude. The only difference between the two sections of the Opposition, who loathe and detest this Bill with equal hatred, is whether it shall pass with some enormous creation of Peers, such as has just been announced by the noble Viscount, to control the future conduct of this House, or whether it shall pass without the scandal of such a Constitutional strain as that. That is the victory at which my noble and learned friend aims. Is it worth while, simply for the purpose of further degrading and weakening this House, to insist upon these futile Amendments? I read with great interest a letter from the noble and gallant Field-Marshal (Earl Roberts) in The Times yesterday. It was as noble and gallant as himself; but it was conducted on the principle which has done enormous injury in this discussion—the principle of military analogy. My noble and gallant 1007 friend conducted his military analogy with complete success. But there is no analogy between the two cases. If he does want a military analogy, let me put this case to him. Would he, if he were in command of an army, as he has so often been, be willing to obtain a slight victory in a skirmish at the beginning of a war on condition that his whole army should be flattened out next day by the enemy? That is the point.
My Lords, this is no subject for recrimination. It is the most solemn moment the House of Lords has had to face in my lifetime or in that of many men much older. By a wise concession to the feeling of the people, under the guidance of a leader whom no one ever dared to accuse of cowardice, the Duke of Wellington, the House of Lords preserved its existence for eighty years, when without that concession it would not have had three years of life. That is one example. We stand now at the parting of the ways. Whatever happens, I recognise for my part that nothing can ever restore the House of Lords. After the Second Reading of the Bill to which we were compelled reluctantly to yield our assent, the House of Lords as we have known it disappeared. It is possible that if this Bill be allowed to go through to-night there may still be a considerable balance of party which may be of great use in opposing the Government, and which I was glad to see my noble friend the noble Viscount wished to see unimpaired. There will still be a force left in this House to oppose and even sometimes to thwart the dangerous measures of the Government. If this Bill be allowed to pass, Europe and the Empire will be spared the sight of a scandal which may go far to weaken the hold of the centre of the Empire on its component parts, and we shall be left, at any rate, with a certain amount of vitality without the strain on the Constitution involved in the creation of hundreds of Peers; whereas, on the other hypothesis, we shall be left with no power at all, flattened out completely, with an addition of hundreds of Peers, added to this House under, I must be allowed to say, a most degrading franchise, and the ruin of this ancient Constitutional Assembly will be as complete as its worst enemies could desire.
§ VISCOUNT MILNER
My Lords, after the important announcement which was 1008 made by the noble Viscount the Leader of the Government in this House and the eloquent appeal of the noble Earl who has just addressed you, I feel that I am at a certain disadvantage in trying to recall the attention of your Lordships from those wider considerations with which the debate has naturally largely dealt to the narrower though profoundly important issue which we are to decide to-night—whether or not we are to insist on the Amendments made by your Lordships to this Bill. I am somewhat surprised at the immense importance which seemed to be attached by the last speaker to the declaration made by the noble Viscount, valuable and necessary for our consideration as that declaration was. Nothing would have induced me, or, I think, the noble Lords with whom in this matter I am associated, to advocate the insistence by your Lordships upon your Amendments whatever might happen, if we had not been prepared for the possibility of what has been called the swamping creation of Peers. If the Government are going to act upon the powers with which they are armed to the full extent by creating an artificial majority in this House—if that is what they contemplate it adds enormously to the outrageousness of their proceedings; but it does not, to MN' mind, affect the course which noble Lords who regard this measure in the manner in which I do ought to take. We should indeed have been shortsighted if we had ever entered upon this campaign not foreseeing the possibility of such a declaration as has been made by the noble Viscount to-night. My feeling remains what it has always been—that if we regard this measure as bad, if we regard the methods by which it has been forced upon this House as abominable, then it would be better that it should be passed, if it must be passed, by the votes of men who believe in it, rather than that it should owe its presence on the Statute Book to the acquiescence, or still worse to the votes, of those who think it a thoroughly bad Bill. I believe it would be better for the country, for the wholesomeness of our political life, and for the honour and character of all those concerned in this transaction.
One thing which deeply influences me, and I believe many of my friends who are acting with me, in the resolution to which we have come, is the spirit in which the Government have dealt with this question 1009 from first to last. A great deal has been said about the abuse, as we think it to be, of the Royal Prerogative. The defence offered by 'Ministers is that it was inevitable, that they were driven to it, that there was no other way out. It was only inevitable because they have pressed forward this measure in a spirit of pure partisanship and without the slightest vestige of a constructive idea. The Government have based their whole campaign on the complaint that there was inequality of opportunity between the two Parties in your Lordships' House. Has their policy done anything to diminish or to remove that inequality? Their policy is simply to reduce the proceedings of this House to such a farce that it no longer matters whether opportunities are equal or not. Very drastic proposals have been made from the Front Opposition Bench with a view to meeting the difficulty of which the Government complain. How have those proposals been met? They have been met with the most contemptuous indifference. When asked to justify their attitude the Government replied that those proposals, after all, did not remove the inequality of which they complained, and that they still left one Party in this House stronger than the other. Very likely they did; but has it never occurred to them, that it was their duty to make some proposals for the solution of the problem they themselves had raised? It was not sufficient for them merely to reject every suggestion made to them from the other side. No political controversy of great magnitude in this country has ever been dealt with by the Government of the day with a more complete and total absence of the spirit of give and take.
The Government say to us, in effect, "We have a majority in the House of Commons. This is the measure which is approved by that majority. You are free to alter it when you in your turn command a majority."That was the way in which their case was put the other night by the most moderate and persuasive of the speakers for the Government, the noble Marquess who is not in his place to-night. That sounds fair enough. It would be fair if there was nothing in the whole business but a Party fight. But is it fair to the nation, whose supreme interest in this matter is the stability of its fundamental institutions, and not to see them altered backwards and forwards with every swing of the political pendulum? 1010 If there must be a change in those institutions, is it not the duty of statesmen to try and devise a system which would at least command some degree of sympathy and assent from moderate men of all Parties, and would therefore be a durable one, at any rate for a certain number of years? What is the position in which this unamended Bill will leave us if it becomes law? We may have to spend the rest of our lives in perpetual changes and counter-changes of the fundamental institutions of the country, and that position is due to what I can only call the tyranny of the Government, their tyrannous abuse of a temporary majority to coerce half, or nearly half, the nation, and the Sovereign.
It is not heroics, and it is not a desire to strike an attitude, but it is merely common sense to refuse to yield to such an unscrupulous abuse of power. If we submit to it now, we shall only encourage the Government to repeat such abuse in the future. If we run away to-night from the threat of the creation of Peers we have no assurance, not the slightest, that that threat will not be repeated on the very first occasion, when in the exercise of our remaining exiguous powers we prove ourselves in the slightest degree inconvenient to the Government. Here comes in the relevance of that review of the past history of this matter to which I have called your Lordships' attention. We have seen the levity with which His Majesty's Government create situations, in which they are able to declare that an exercise of the Royal Prerogative is the only way out. When I consider the nearest problem which besets us in the future, it seems to me that a repetition of the tactics of the Government is not only possible but extremely probable with regard to the question of Home Rule. That is the reason, and a very good reason, why, as I believe, those Irishmen who most dread Home Rule are in favour of resistance to the present threat of the Government at any hazards.
Suppose a year hence we have a Home Rule Bill acceptable to Mr. Redmond passed by the House of Commons, and coming up for the decision of this House. Suppose that that measure has not only created great political excitement in this 1011 country, but has brought Irishmen in Ulster to a state verging on active resistance and that such threatened resistance has excited the rest of Ireland to fever pitch. Is it not reasonable for us to assume, after the experience we have had of their handling of this measure, that the Government would in that case be prepared to urge on the Sovereign that delay in settling the matter was dangerous and might lead to bloodshed, and that, if the House of Lords was not prepared to pass the measure at once, they would advise the Sovereign to exercise his Royal Prerogative to override the opposition of this House? If we give way to-day we shall be exposed to the same threats again and again in the future. The Government may have—I have no doubt they have—the power of creating such a number of Peers as would entirely destroy the independence of this House. But it is also evident to any man who hears their speeches or reads their Press that a check given them to-night would put them in a position of the greatest embarrassment. Taking the view that I do, I hold that it is the duty of those who wish to defeat the policy of the Government. to take every opportunity that they lawfully and honourably can to assist in increasing their embarrassment; not for the mere pleasure of embarrassing them—for that would, indeed, be a contemptible motive which I do not think would actuate any noble Lords in this House—but for a far better reason—in order to make them pay the penalty of their unscrupulous action.
There is one appeal which must commend itself to every loyal subject, the appeal that we should not compel. His Majesty to take a step which we are glad and grateful to know is distasteful to him. But I cannot see how the keeping of a promise already given could injuriously affect the august position of His Majesty. In this instance, so far as His Majesty is concerned, the mischief has already been done by the unfair pressure which has been put upon him by his Ministers to give that promise. And as for the future, it seems to me that the fulfilment of that promise on the present occasion would be more likely than anything else to prevent the Royal Prerogative being made use of hereafter as the normal means of bringing pressure to bear on this House. If we are going to make it easy and comfortable for the advisers of the Crown thus to abuse the 1012 Royal Prerogative, it is not likely that they will not have recourse to it again. On the other hand, I am firmly convinced that once you swamp this House by a large creation of Peers in order to enable the Government to ride down their opponents, the storm of odium that will be aroused will prevent any Ministry in the future from abusing the Royal Prerogative in a similar manner and will thus preserve the Kim, from being involved over and over again in our political controversies.
It has been stated that this is a mere question of tactics and procedure, but in my opinion it is in the highest degree a matter of principle. I consider, after what has happened, that this House is as good as wiped out as a real power in British politics, and that we shall have to look in other directions for checks and safeguards against the tyranny of the single-Chamber government with which we are threatened. The wire-pullers have got the people of England by the throat, and the struggle which lies before us in the future is a struggle to free the nation, and especially that part of the nation which is not too deeply devoted to either Party, from the tyranny of the House of Commons and the wire-pullers. In that struggle the incident of to-night is the beginning, as probably it may be regarded as the end of the importance of the historic House of Lords. In that struggle those who appeal to their countrymen for support will, I think, have to create in their minds a confidence that they are not to be frightened or browbeaten by any abusive exercise of power or by any adverse circumstances whatsoever. In view of the tyrannous spirit in which tins measure has been forced on us, and in face of the combination which has been brought against us, I feel that the right course for those who think as I do is to adhere to their position, and I believe that, in spite of the adverse circumstances against which we are struggling, no one who votes to-night for insistence on this Amendment will ever regret it in the future.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
My Lords, I think that I may as well begin my remarks by stating that I shall feel it to be my duty at the proper time, whenever that may be, to suggest to your Lordships, for whatever a suggestion from me may be worth, that your Lordships should not insist on your Amendments. 1013 I propose to give my reasons now for taking that course. I am well aware that to probably very few of your Lordships will it be a matter of any particular interest to hear my reasons for my action. At the same time we who take the view that I do have been challenged to give our reasons, and all I can say is that so far as I am concerned I know perfectly well the reasons which actuate me, and I have not the slightest hesitation in imparting every one of them to the House. Let me say at once, with reference to the speech that has just been made, that I have not the slightest intention of following the practice which has occurred several times in the course of this debate of noble Lords who sit on this side of the House and take different views arguing with and contradicting one another. I do not think that any advantage is to be derived from that course. Moreover, I feel that your Lordships' time is too valuable for me to intrude upon you at any great length.
I have had an experience to-night which I believe most of your Lordships have at some time or another gone through. The greater part of my speech has been made for me to-night by the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery. I fancy most of your Lordships know what it is to hear things which you were going to say said much better than you could say them and just before you were proposing to address the House. I labour under that disadvantage to-night, but your Lordships will be rather at an advantage in consequence, because it will be quite unnecessary for me to repeat anything that has been already said, and I am sure that you will return me grateful thanks for observing that rule, which I shall endeavour to do. As to those noble Lords who sit on this side of the House awl who take a different view from me with regard to this matter, I wish to say that, so far from owing them any grudge or entertaining any ill-feeling towards them, I, on the contrary, sympathise with and enter into all their feelings although I do not happen to share them. It is quite true that a very inconsiderable number of them have rather challenged those who hold the opinions that I do; but, as I say, I do not feel the slightest grudge against them for that, and I wish to say nothing unkind of them in any way. Rightly or wrongly, I feel that in several of their cases their zeal is so great that it has outrun their discretion, and that they 1014 take so deep an interest in this subject and feel so acutely the position which they have taken up that they cannot make allowance for persons like myself who entertain a different view.
What are the reasons why I am proposing to take the course which I just now announced to your Lordships? It certainly is not for love of the Bill. I regard this Bill as an act of violence, as violent an act as if you marched soldiers up to this House and removed the Mace. It is a revolution, nothing else; and I must say I should have respected noble Lords opposite much more if they had not tried to minimise the effect of their measure so much, but had courageously stated what actually is the effect of their Bill and had stuck to that and said it was quite right. There is one other thing—that is, the bad effect which I am afraid has been created by this Bill and which I greatly fear will endure. This Bill has imported a feeling of bitterness into our politics far exceeding anything that has ever existed before. I admit that I feel indignation at this measure and the manlier in which it has been brought forward, and when I say that I am in favour of supporting it on the present occasion I announce to your Lordships that I am doing it certainly not from any love of the Bill. I hate and detest the Bill, and I do not believe that there is any one in the House who entertains towards it feelings of a less friendly sort than I do.
It is unnecessary for me to repeat tonight what was said with great effect and in such admirable terms by the noble Viscount, Lord St. Aldwyn, last night. The noble Viscount is recognised on both sides of the House as a man essentially impartial and essentially fair. He does not always agree with those who sit on this side of the House. I have heard him many times criticise measures which proceeded from this side of the House, and I have heard noble Lords over there cheering him to the echo for what he said. What do they think with regard to the condemnation which he pronounced of their conduct last night? We have heard some answers to-day to questions that he asked. But has any one of his questions been answered in such a way as to deserve that that condemnation which he administered should be in any way diminished?
1015 May I add one iota to the indictment which was pronounced by the noble Viscount last night? It is with reference to the manner in which the statement made by the Prime Minister in another place was not only amended but almost partially contradicted by what Lord Crewe said in this House two nights ago. Your Lordships will remember, according to the account given of this meeting with the King on November 16, that on that day not merely was a communication made to the Sovereign but his promise appears to have been—what shall I say?—obtained. The other day the Prime Minister, in the other House of Parliament when giving an account of this transaction, said that the King, after considering the matter with him and Lord Crewe, felt that there was no other alternative except to do what they wished. What happened in this House the next night? Lord Crewe came here and, having received apparently, as he said, commands from the King, stated to your Lordships that the King had assented to their advice with natural and legitimate reluctance. In my opinion the Prime Minister ought to have announced a point of that sort in his version of what had occurred to the other House of Parliament. But Lord Crewe, in concluding his speech, made a remark which I should like to recall to your Lordships' attention. He said—The allegation is that our action in presenting the views of the Cabinet to His Majesty last November was premature. The only answer to that is that it was not action at all. It was a conversation dealing with a purely hypothetical set of conditions.What were the conditions? Just let me read a sentence of them to your Lordships—His Majesty's Ministers cannot take the responsibility of advising a Dissolution unless they may understand that in the event of the policy of the Government being approved by an adequate majority in the new House of Commons, His Majesty will be ready to exercise his Constitutional powers, which may involve the Prerogative of creating Peers.Is that a mere conversation about hypothetical matters? At all events whatever that conversation was it was good enough for the Government after that to immediately proceed and undertake that Dissolution which in their communication to His Majesty they said they could not undertake if he did not give them this pledge. I concur in every word that was said by Viscount St. Aldwyn on this matter, and in every word that was said 1016 by Lord Halsbury in reference to matters to which no answer at present has been given.
Some of my friends on this side have said to me—and very fairly—"How can you, entertaining the opinion you do of this Bill and of the conduct of the Government in connection with it, bring yourself to vote with the Government?" To myself the answer seems absolutely apparent, but out of regard for my noble friends I am perfectly willing to give them the answer. It is this. When we were discussing the Bill and the conduct of the Government, no one blamed them more than I did. But what are we discussing to-night? We are discussing an altogether different set of things which have no connection with the Government but which vitally concern this House. Everybody must admit that although you may delay this Bill for a few weeks or months, it must pass. If it is not carried to-night, it will be carried by the creation of a large number of Peers. Are you, then, going to say that, in addition to this great injury which this House will receive—without getting any compensating advantage of any kind as far as I can see—you will willingly make yourselves instrumental to the further injury of the House being swamped by a large creation of Peers? because after what we have heard to-night all doubt on that subject has disappeared, and we need not argue that matter any further.
For a long time I was undecided as to the course I should pursue. If I had been merely considering my own feelings I am pretty sure that I should have been on the side of those who are now differing from me, but as soon as it was announced that the Crown had sanctioned the creation of Peers then I said to myself, "That is the end of this part of the question; an entirely new state of things has arisen, and it is with that new state of things that we have got to deal." I am asked, Why do I support the Government? I do not want to quarrel over words, and I will call it supporting the Government. Really what I wish to do is to represent to your Lordships, and to carry it out by my vote, that in my judgment it is not expedient or wise under present circumstances, with this Bill as good as passed, to prolong a resistance which is not really a resistance at all and which can only end in the creation of a large number of Peers.
1017 The next thing I am asked is, why am I not content to abstain from voting and take the same course as the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition. I should be absolutely content to take that course. The advice which I suggested to your Lordships is this, that you should follow the ancient practice of registering your protest in the Journals of the House and then walk out, and I would go among the rest and leave the Government to carry their Bill. But noble Lords here say, "No, we will not take that course." Very well, then that course simply becomes impossible. The noble Marquess and noble Lords on the Front Opposition Bench are all in the position of having a Party to lead, and it is very difficult for them to divide one portion of the Party as against the other. But that does not apply to me. I have the most complete liberty of action, and therefore holding the views that I do I feel bound to give effect to those views. My vote is, after all, only a single vote. I have not canvassed any one. I have not asked a single Peer how he meant to act. After a great deal of anxious and unhappy thought I wrote a letter to the Press stating the course I intended to take. Possibly some of your Lordships may have seen that letter. Before writing it I did not consult any of those whose opinions I place value upon. That letter was written without anybody seeing it and entirely on my own initiative and under no other circumstances whatever. I have not asked a single noble Lord for a vote—I should scorn to do such a thing. I know what answer I should get from any of those who are worthy of being Peers. A good many Peers, it is true, have written to me and asked me questions, and I have answered those questions; but beyond that I have not indicated to any single person that he should vote in this way or in that.
It has been said that your Lordships are trustees for the country. I accept that position. I do regard myself as a trustee for the country, but I am a trustee for the purposes of the country and not for the purposes of my own personal feelings or predilections. I may be quite wrong, but I consider it my duty to take as wide and as broad and as national a point of view of the whole circumstances as possible, and acting upon that view I feel bound to vote as I propose to do. I am painfully aware that these remarks are excessively egotistical. But what else could they be? I 1018 have been challenged to state what my views are, and I have stated them as fully and as clearly as any language which is at my command will convey. I understand that the Duke of Norfolk, for whom I have the greatest possible regard and respect, and who in my opinion is one of the sturdiest, one of the most able, and one of the strongest Members of this House, is going to speak after me. I saw a letter from the noble Duke in the Press a few days ago, and as far as I understood that letter the meaning of it was this, that he himself did not feel very keenly inclined to vote, but that if any Member of your Lordships' House voted for not insisting on these Amendments, he himself would vote in the other Lobby, and would do all that he could to bring into the other Lobby as many as he could. I do not know personally how a policy of that kind can be carried out. If I had to carry out such a policy I can assure your Lordships that I do not know how I should set to work.
I perfectly understand the policy of insisting on the Amendments. That is an intelligible policy, and one that I can to a great extent sympathise with. But what is not an intelligible policy, so far as my understanding goes, is for a Peer not to take any particular interest in the matter until he sees A, B, C, or D walking into the opposite Lobby. I can understand noble Lords voting for upholding these Amendments, but how any noble Lord who may not take any particular interest in this question can, simply because A or B goes into the other Lobby, think it necessary that he should vote the other way, passes my understanding. I have tried to enter into the noble Duke's mind and to invent a theory by which to justify his policy. The only theory that I can see is this. The noble Duke desires that there should be an open and fair fight between noble Lords opposite and noble Lords who wish to insist on retaining the Amendments. But what course does he take? He takes a course, in a sense, of disfranchising fellows like me. For he says, "You are not to vote; if you do vote, then I shall take a lot of Peers into the other Lobby." I apologise to your Lordships for having detained you so long, but I thought it right to state what my views were for taking the course that I am going to take. I have conveyed those views to your Lordships as well as I can, and I must leave you to judge of them for yourselves.
THE DUKE OF NORFOLK
My Lords, I feel considerable embarrassment in rising to address your Lordships, because for the last half-hour we have had only two biographies—one of the noble Earl and the other of my humble self. The noble Earl gave us an exhaustive description of all that he had been thinking during the last three or four weeks, and then he was good enough to tell your Lordships all about what I had been thinking.
THE DUKE OF NORFOLK
I am extremely obliged to the noble Earl, but I did not ask him to do so myself. He not only stated all that I had been thinking, but he was good enough to try and invent an excuse for my conduct. I am extremely grateful to him for having done so. I am very anxious, after all this personal detail, to keep myself out of the question as much as possible; but I must explain, as I have been asked the question, that the noble Earl is entirely mistaken in supposing that I did not and do not take any great interest in this question. How he could conceive that any member of your Lordships' House could possibly have been in such a mental position I cannot understand. But he seemed to think I was. On the contrary, like everybody else, I took a keen interest in it, and, like everybody else, I had great searchings of heart as to what course I should adopt, what policy it was best to follow.
And when the time came when we were expected to state what course we should take, I was one of those who stated that they were in favour of the policy of abstention from voting. I did so because I believed that, on the whole, the danger of flooding this House with a large addition of Peers sent here specially to support measures to which we should object was a danger which we ought to strive to avert, if it was impossible to prevent the Parliament Bill becoming law whether we tried to avert the incoming of Peers or not. I am bound to say that for a time I was fully under the impression, obviously erroneously, that the Government would create a certain number of Peers, and that by supporting the policy of abstention I should not be joining in assisting this House to yield 1020 to a threat. I am bound to say that to that I attached very great importance. I also fully believed that the policy of abstention would not be exaggerated, and that no Peers on our side of the House would support the Government in passing this Bill into law, or, rather, in cancelling that Amendment winch was the last refuge we had designed for the people of the country against the ravages of this Bill. It may be a strange mental conception to entertain, but to my mind it is not an unnatural one, and if I do find that Peers on our side are going to give votes to support the Government I am bound to say that, so far as my single vote can cancel one of those votes, I intend to use it for that purpose.
I cannot but think that the speech of the noble Earl (Lord Camperdown) marks a distinct epoch—I do not know what word to use for it—in this debate, and one which to my mind calls upon us to reconsider our position. We have known for some weeks, from the noble Earl's letter, that there were rumours that certain Unionist Peers did intend to support the Government, but we never got it in any way definitely. One noble Lord did tell me yesterday in conversation that he intended to take that course, and now the noble Earl himself has told us so in his speech. But one always hoped that these were idle rumours. As far as I can charge my memory, I have not up to the present moment tried to induce any single Unionist Peer to drop that course if he intended to take it, and to abstain from voting for the Government. I have not done that because I hoped there would be no occasion for it. But it has come to my knowledge that there are Peers who have that intention, and I do think that that has produced a very serious situation indeed, and one which we ought very gravely to consider. We ought to face it, I think, and if we ought to face it let us face it frankly and fully. What I feel about it is this, that after all these long discussions, after all these representations to our fellow-countrymen, after all the debates in this House, after all the vehement denunciations of the Government the country may wake up to-morrow to find that the Government have piloted this Bill through your Lordships' House without having had to create one single Peer, and have clone so because Unionist Peers came to their 1021 aid and voted with them. I venture to think that is a situation of extreme gravity.
The noble Marquess, our leader, reminded us that this is not the closing chapter of some long controversy. He told us, on the contrary, that we were preparing for a great fight. Does anybody suppose that the battle of the Constitution is going to be fought out on the floor of this House instead of on the platforms of the country? I can quite understand anybody arguing that if you can defeat a measure by not voting it makes little difference if you support it with your vote. But do you think you will be able to bring that lesson home to all those in whose minds will have to be worked out the problems with which tie issue of this conflict is involved? I therefore would appeal most strenuously and openly to any Unionist Peer who purposes by his vote to enable this Bill to become law to consider very earnestly indeed if he may not rue his action, and if lie is not putting those whom I am sure he would wish to support with all the energy he can into a very difficult and a very cruel position. We shall all of us have to fight in many places and before many audiences, and I am bound to say that I should welcome no one more than the noble Earl as an ally in this titanic struggle. But I hope the noble Earl will not think me wanting in affection or regard for him when I say that, whereas I should have welcomed his presence at any meeting of my countrymen before whom we were going to debate this question, alter the Vote he is going to give to-night I should find his company somewhat embarrassing. For if I tried with my stilted sentences to impress the meeting with the perfidy of His Majesty's Government they would in all likelihood ask me to sit down and say they would prefer to hear the arguments of the noble Earl who voted with the Government to carry the Bill. I am afraid that will be the case all over the country, and that most grievous injury will be inflicted on us in the battle we have to fight. I do think it is a most serious question. I cannot say my mind is sufficiently arithmetical to tot up all the numbers we hear, but I understand it is quite possible that the Government can carry out their purpose, and may carry it out, by the aid of Unionist votes, when otherwise, had they not obtained those votes, they would not have succeeded. 1022 That is the explanation or justification of the course which I think it right to take.
One or two other questions have arisen on which I ought, perhaps, to say a few words. An incident occurred in the course of the debate to-night which I have been pondering ever since and which I cannot even now understand. The noble Viscount opposite was pressed to make a statement of the character and the scope of the guarantees the Government had obtained from the King, and he was good enough to state what they were. It seemed to me that a vast number of your Lordships were enormously impressed and astonished and even taken aback by what we were told. I was under the impression that we had known it for a very long time. Why were we packed in that sultry Lobby a few nights ago to record our vote of censure upon His Majesty's Government except for that very thing? The only difference that I could catch between what we knew before and know now was that I think the noble Viscount used the expression to-night that the Government had authority to create a sufficient number of Peers to outvote any combination which might take place. But the original letter of the Prime Minister stated, I think, that they had authority to create a sufficient number of Peers to pass the Parliament Bill in its present shape. That, of course, carried with it the obvious conclusion that that number must be adequate for such a purpose, and therefore I cannot understand why we should be taken by surprise or have our conduct influenced by that announcement.
It is not, however, in this House that the struggle will have to take place, but in the country. The noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, drew a somewhat painful picture of a decrepit old House, ineffective and useless for all practical purposes. This House may do what it pleases. We may keep every Peer we do not like out of the House and carry on our business, entirely exclusively, by our noble selves; but we shall neither reform ourselves nor do any good unless we have the country behind us and can bring the people of the country to appreciate the position we hold. Will the country respect the Government more when they see that they have ground down the present members of this House by an influx of Peers created for that 1023 special purpose? It is not very surprising that the Government have shown great reluctance to use the authority which has been given them by the King, for it has to be remembered that the country will begin to understand that this startling straining of the Prerogative and this extraordinary and outrageous creation of Peers are not to pass the Parliament Bill but simply and solely to cancel an Amendment which enacts that on certain great occasions the people of this country shall be allowed to express their views. Until I am contradicted, I shall hold that the people of the country will understand that that, and that alone, is the reason why this august procession is proposed of 400 or 500 coronetted individuals up the classic hall of Westminster to find seats in your Lordships' House where they may be able. When the fight is carried to the country that is a fact your Lordships ought to bear very carefully in mind.
There is one other point. I must enter, if I may say so, my most strenuous protest against the way in which some speakers bring the King's name into this discussion. We have, I believe rightly, expressed in strong terms our opinion as to the conduct of His Majesty's Government in this transaction; but, my Lords, the King acted as a Constitutional Monarch, and did what he believed his place in the Constitution called upon him to do. I can conceive nothing which would put any Monarch in a more undignified position than to be told that the Unionist Party were going to try to save him from the consequences of that action which, as a Constitutional Monarch, he deemed it right to follow. As a loyal subject of the Crown I emphatically protest against such expressions being used of the King. I am sorry to have spoken so long, but my personal position was somewhat dragged forward by the noble Earl. Let me add that, considering the far-reaching effects that are involved upon the interests we have at heart, we ought to defend our position. I fully appreciate the gravity of the situation in regard to the number of Peers with which we are threatened, but if Unionist Peers are to be found supporting the Government in carrying this measure which we have all so much condemned, I shall feel obliged to record my vote against the Government on this occasion.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
My Lords, there are three things which have been made abundantly plain in the course of this debate. The first is that His Majesty's Government have extorted from the King sufficient guarantees to carry out their policy under the scarcely veiled threat of the Crown being brought down into the arena of Party politics. The second thing is that, having obtained these guarantees and possessed themselves of the Royal Prerogative, they are using that Prerogative to enable them to carry legislation without reference to the country, although that legislation was distinctly repudiated by the country when it was before them. The third thing which has been made evident is that whereas it was a matter of common knowledge that the last days of King Edward were embittered by the conduct of His Majesty's Government, and that his days were not improbably shortened by it, we now know that his present Majesty, at whose Coronation we have been recently assisting, has been sacrificed—I might use a stronger word—in order to buy Mr. Redmond's support, without which the Government could not have remained in office a day. I had made up my mind, like the noble Duke who has just spoken, after much hesitation and many doubts, to follow the lead of the noble Marquess, from whom I separate myself in this matter with the deepest regret; but in view of the unprecedented conduct of the Government and of what I think to be their grave disloyalty to the King, and in view also of what has been so well expressed by the noble Duke as the grave misfortune which it would be to the country and to further resistance if it could be said that this Bill was carried by the votes of Unionist Peers, I find it impossible to reconcile it with my conscience not to go into the Lobby with the noble and learned Earl, Lord Halsbury, and I absolutely associate myself with every word that has fallen from the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, on the subject.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, I should like as an Irish Unionist Peer to state to your Lordships my reasons for so cordially supporting the line of action taken by my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition. I do not suppose that there is any one in your Lordships' House who dislikes and detests this Bill more than I do, and if I thought that there was any chance of this measure being permanently 1025 defeated, there is no one who would follow my noble and learned friend into the Lobby to-night more readily or enthusiastically than I would. But, my Lords, I see no hope of this measure being permanently defeated. Indeed, when the letter from Mr. Asquith to Mr. Balfour was made public we could not hide from ourselves the fact that he had, by an action which I think I can justly describe as unconstitutional, unjustifiable, and treacherous, made sure of the passage of his Bill through your Lordships' House. That being the case, any opposition to or any endeavour to defeat this Bill is to my mind utterly useless on the part of your Lordships' House.
I think the present. situation is summed up by a paragraph in a leading article in The Times this morning, which stated that the Lords no longer possessed any power of effective resistance to the Parliament Bill. That being the condition of affairs, what is the question that I am justified in asking myself? It is, Do I prefer your Lordships' House under the Bill plus or minus 400 or 500 Peers? I do not hesitate to say that I prefer the House minus that addition, and I will tell your Lordships why. In the first place, if that number of Peers are created they can at any moment, under the sway of an autocratic Prime Minister at the head of a Government with a small majority in tile House of Commons, rush through your Lordships' House any measure they might think fit. Again, it would be impossible for your Lordships to reform this House, in the manner that you have suggested and shown by the Bill of my noble friend behind me, if there was in this House a majority determined only to have it reformed from a Radical point of view. Thirdly, and lastly, it would be absolutely impossible for your Lordships to repeal this measure, as the Leader of the Opposition has declared we will do, if there was a majority of Radical Peers in this House. Consequently I say without hesitation that I would infinitely prefer this Bill without the addition of those Peers.
I know that every one on this side of the House views this Bill with detestation. I need hardly say that I sympathise most sincerely with Lord Halsbury and all his followers. I can feel for them in the dislike which they entertain for this Bill. But there is another section of the Party 1026 to whom I would venture to make a very humble appeal—that is to those members of your Lordships' House who, like my noble friend Lord Camperdown, propose to go into the Lobby to-night with the Government, in order to prevent what they think will be a greater disaster, namely, the flooding of your Lordships' House by the creation of a large number of Peers. We must all respect the noble Earl for his self-sacrifice, but I do ask him to reconsider his decision. What would be the position of the Leader of your Lordships' House if, when the noble Marquess is transferred from this side of the House to the other, he was proposing to bring about a repeal of the Parliament Bill, if it was flouted in his face that a number of Unionist Peers had supported it in the Division Lobby? I therefore sincerely ask Lord Camperdown to reconsider his position. We have every one of us in this House a perfect right to hold our own views on this all important question. I have put before your Lordships the views that I myself hold. and I repeat that I sympathise most sincerely with those of Lord lialsbury and his followers.
We all agree on one subject and one great principle—that is, our hatred of this Bill. The only difference between us is in regard to the question of procedure and as to how we can best. make this iniquitous Bill least obnoxious. We are all working to this end, and therefore I do deprecate most sincerely, when we all believe we are honestly acting according to our consciences, that there should be any friction of any sort or kind between noble Lords on this side of the House. May I give you an example, though perhaps it is rather an egotistical one. Sir Edward Carson, one of the most brilliant. Irishmen who has ever entered the House of Commons and the Chairman of the Irish Unionist Members, is a man who for over twenty years has been my chief ally in all political matters, and a man, may I say, whom I value even more as one of my close and intimate friends. What are his views on this subject? We both cordially detest this Bill. We agree upon that; but we differ in a friendly manner as to the methods by which we should make this measure less obnoxious than it appears at the present moment. But does any one for a moment think that because of that Sir Edward Carson and I are going to differ or change our views with regard to 1027 what this measure really means to carry—Home Rule for Ireland? No. I hope in the autumn, with Sir Edward Carson and the Irish Unionist Members, most of whom, I am bound to admit, agree more with Sir Edward Carson than they do with me, to carry on a campaign in England and Scotland in order to convince the people that Home Rule will bring ruin, bankruptcy, and perhaps civil war to Ireland, and danger and discomfort to England and Scotland, and will undoubtedly mean those countries in the long run having to pay a large sum of money to redeem Ireland from absolute bankruptcy. That is the feeling that permeates noble Lords on this side of the House; and while we agree on principle we ought not to allow ourselves to be divided on the question of procedure.
Lord St. Aldwyn put several questions last night to His Majesty's Government. I do not know that he received very satisfactory replies, but I should like to ask His Majesty's Government one question. In the course of the last few weeks I have asked them more than one question with regard to Ireland, but I have noticed that they have always taken refuge in silence. Will whoever speaks on behalf of the Government tell me what were the grounds on which His Majesty's Government advised His Majesty to permit a General Election in December last? That is a question to which we ought to have a reply. There was no need whatever for a General Election then. A General Election had been held in the previous January. The Budget Bill had been passed. Your Lordships' House had in no way obstructed any measure that had come up from the House of Commons, and therefore I venture to ask, On what grounds was that General Election asked for and granted? I doubt if I shall get an answer; and therefore I will furnish noble Lords opposite with my idea of the answer to that question. To me it is simple. It was because His Majesty's Government thought that it was a very favourable opportunity for them to appeal to the country, and they had every hope that in appealing to the country then they would be returned with a larger majority than they enjoyed at that time, which would render them independent of the Irish vote. That was the reason, and that I believe was the reason why during the earlier part of the election no mention whatever was made of 1028 Home Rule in any of the election addresses of members of the Cabinet or their leading supporters, or in their speeches. But when the election was three-parts over and they realised that their majority was not going to make them independent of the Irish vote, they then had, in obedience to Mr. Redmond, to toe the line, take up Home Rule, and declare their intention of passing Home Rule through the present Parliament. I fail to understand how Mr. Asquith can reconcile that proceeding with the statement he made in 1901 at Ladybank—I have for some tune held the opinion that the Liberal Party ought not to assume the duties of office unless it can rely upon an independent majority in the House of Commons.I would ask whoever replies to me to answer those two questions—What was the reason for the General Election in December last, and how does Mr. Asquith reconcile the statement I have quoted with his present majority in the House of Commons?
My Lords, I have ventured to put forward my views because I consider, as an Irish Peer differing as to methods, but as to methods only, from my friend Sir Edward Carson, the Chairman of the Irish Unionist Party, that it is right to him and to myself that I should make my position clear. My speech, I acknowledge, has been absolutely superfluous. The speech of my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition embraced every opinion that I myself hold, and to every word of that speech I give my strong support. I am glad indeed to think that the views which I hold, and which many on this side hold, were put forward in a speech so able, so eloquent, and so clear; and I venture to think, whether noble Lords opposite agree or disagree with the speech of my noble friend, they will be glad indeed that they were privileged to be here on such an occasion and to hear that speech, which I am sure will not be easily eliminated from their minds.
§ THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
My Lords, I rise to address your Lordships for two reasons. First of all, because it has been my lot to take rather a different attitude with regard to this Bill from that taken by some of my noble friends. From the very first I have held the opinion that we ought never to have yielded one iota to the proposal of this Bill, and that we ought to have rejected the Bill on the very first day we properly could have done so without 1029 giving the Government the smallest rope of any sort or kind. My second reason for addressing your Lordships is that I cannot help feeling that in a great many of the speeches we have heard in the course of this debate the whole question has been looked at from a piece-meal point of view. I do not think we can understand the real character of the struggle in which we are engaged unless we take the history of it and look at it as a whole.
I am not going to follow the line of my noble friend Lord Camperdown, in which he implored us not to criticise the attitude of those who sit on the same side of the House as ourselves and from whom we have to differ. I do not think it is any use in politics not to fight, if fighting is necessary, whoever that fight may be with, although I entirely repudiate the idea that because I may differ strongly from any personal friend of my own on a political question and have to fight him—and certainly if I do differ from him and have to fight him I shall not fight a bloodless fight, but shall hit him as hard as I can—such a fight made the slightest difference to our personal friendship. I am not going to ask which is the more courageous course to adopt. I am not asking your Lordships to say that such and such a noble Peer shows more courage than another—I do not know whether it is courage, or ignorance, or sagacity, or anything else. It is of no importance to me why a noble Lord is going to take a particular course; the only thing that is of importance to me is the course he takes, and that course I shall criticise as much as I please.
If we are to go into the history of this measure, it must be remembered that we are constantly told—we were told the other night from the Woolsack—that the origin of this Bill was our rejection of the Budget. I think the noble and learned Earl's words were that the rejection of the Budget made this Bill inevitable. But our memories are not quite so short as that. Do we not know that when Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman came into office the very first thing he did was to declare war against the House of Lords? I will admit that the rejection of the Finance Bill gave a very great excuse to the Government to attack the House of Lords. In December last the Government announced that they were going to appeal to the country, and they put this question in the forefront of the 1030 battle. What, then, was the conduct which we on this side of the House pursued? We announced instantly to the country, on the eve of the General Election, that we were prepared to resign our right over Money Bills. What does that mean? It means that the only thing which stands between the spoliation of property, the only thing which represents property in this country—this House—announced before the election took place that it was prepared to at once give up that valuable safeguard. That was the first move that we made in this matter. Then on the very eve of the Dissolution we invented the Referendum. I am not going to discuss the Referendum to-night, but I do say that it was a thing which was entirely novel to this country, and anything more injudicious than just before. a General Election to commit the Party, whom you had not consulted and could not consult, from the very circumstances of the case, to a totally new-fangled addition to the Constitution—any more fatal error than that I cannot conceive.
We have heard a great deal about the verdict of the people at the last election. We have been told ad nauseam—we were told from the Episcopal Bench last night—that nobody can doubt that the last election was in favour of this Bill. I do not believe one word of it, and I cannot conceive how any one with experience of electioneering can honestly say such a thing. The whole country had been well bribed by the reckless finance of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the liberality of other people, and it was asked whether it liked the present Government. It liked them very much, naturally—not enough to give them an increased majority, for in fact they lost a few seats, but still I admit it liked them very much. But as to this Bill, they neither knew nor cared anything about it. The Reform Bill of 1832 has been quoted over and over again. I wonder whether the people who quote it have ever read the history of that Bill. There was some interest aroused in the country then, and a very unpleasant interest it was, too. The country was very nearly on the verge of revolution then; but when you compare the present state of things with the condition of things in 1832 and tell me that the people are anxious to change the Constitution of the country and to abolish the House of Lords, my answer is that they know nothing whatever about the question and do not care two brass farthings about it.
1031 The Government are prepared to take advantage of that condition of things, and to do it at a very curious moment. Both sides of the House admit that the House of Commons is not a representative body. The noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, told us last night that the House of Commons was not representative and could not be representative as long as there was plural voting. That is a remark which does not hold water for a moment. But we do know that the constituencies are so enormously mixed up and so outweighed on one side and small on the other that the House of Commons does not in any sense represent the feeling of the country. We all know, too, that Ireland is enormously over-represented. It is at a time when these things are admitted, when the House of Commons is not representative and when the people are apathetic, that you have brought forward this; and I am sorry to add that it is under these circumstances that we started in the campaign by giving up our power over Money Bills and by introducing a totally new and unknown element into the Constitution—namely, the Referendum. When we came to the Second Reading of the Bill I said that if I could get any noble Lord to divide the House against the Second Reading I would vote with him; but the loyalty of the Party to our much respected chief was such that nobody would "bell the cat," and so we went on to Committee.
I have never understood really why we went into Committee on this Bill. The only reason that I have heard alleged was that it was necessary in order to enlighten the country as to the absurdities which the Bill contained. There are a certain number of noble Lords in this House who imagine that they are enlightening the country when they take part in the debates in this House. I frankly confess that I have no illusions upon that point whatever. I know perfectly well that one half of the population never read debates at all, and that the other half of the people read the reports of the debates in newspapers belonging to their own Party, which so travesty anything said on this side of the House that I am sure it would not be recognised by the speakers. I have discovered that myself. I saw a speech of my own the other day in a paper called Reynolds's Newspaper. I know it is very hard for a man to know himself, but I really did not recognise either myself or my speech or my sentiments in any word or line of that report. We waste our time in 1032 this House if we imagine that by getting Bills into Committee and debating them we are enlightening the country. I think that we committed a very great mistake in not resisting this Bill on Second Reading because I believe it gave the country the impression—quite falsely I admit—that we were not against the principle of the Bill, otherwise we would have voted against it.
I was very much struck by a remark made by the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition yesterday or the day before. He said that our having gone into Committee made us impotent to resist the Bill at the present stage. That I am not sure is not the truth, but I should not have thought the noble Marquess would have been of that opinion. Another thing he said, with which I quite agree, was that the Amendments which he introduced into the Bill left it a bad Bill. Very well, how have we been defending our trust? We have not voted against the Second Reading; we have made ourselves impotent to resist the Bill as it stands; and with our Amendments we have left the Bill a bad Bill. I did try at the first opportunity to save the House from declaring its intention of turning this Assembly into an elective Assembly. I thought that was a little strong, and I moved that your Lordships should leave out the Preamble of the Bill, but I think the whole of our Front Bench, with the exception of my noble and learned friend Lord Halsbury, voted against my Amendment, and they did not oppose the Third Reading.
What is our record with regard to this Bill when we go before the country We all admit that we have got a trust, a responsibility, in this House, and yet at no one stage of this Bill have we made any effective opposition at all, and we are not prepared even now to stand against it. I cannot conceive a more pitiable ending to the House of Lords. I have protested from the first against the Bill, and I protest to the end. There is the cry that we are going to restore the Constitution of this country at the first chance we get. That is a very good argument for those who stand to their guns, but not for those who are doubling to the rear as fast as they can go. That is the position we are placed in by noble Lords who make this cry. I have been asking myself, Why is it that we are to yield upon the present occasion, as is recommended to us by so many of our noble friends? First of all, they say it is a 1033 dreadfully unconstitutional thing that 300 or 400 or 500 Peers should be made. Of course it is. But when once you tell an unscrupulous Party, conscious that they will stick at nothing, that you will yield to threats of this kind, you may be perfectly certain that the liberties of this House have gone, and I do not care for my own part whether the Peers are made in 1911 or 1912 or 1913. One of two things is evident, either that you must be the slave of the House of Commons or you will have sooner or later this very creation of Peers which you are now seeking to avoid.
Then the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition said that the creation of Peers would be injurious to this House and disgraceful to the country. I think that. is a very adequate and proper expression of the situation. But who are going to be disgraced? The noble Lords who are coming in, bought beforehand, who are going to take their seats and to vote according to the bidding of the Prime Minister are going to be disgraced, and I am not sorry to have the opportunity of saving that I think the disgrace will be overwhelming. I can say that without a breach of order before they come in, although it might be difficult afterwards to express in adequate language the contempt I feel for them. Those who procure their presence here are, in my opinion, still further degraded. Procurers generally are more degraded than those they procure. But, my Lords, are we to be degraded by their presence? Can you be degraded by the presence of the degraded? I think you cannot, except by your own fault. The noble Viscount, Lord Midleton, said that it was necessary to keep up the dignity of this House, and that these new Peers would no doubt strive to keep it up. Let us ask ourselves of what the dignity consists. The dignity of this Chamber consists in the tone of its debates, and I do not think if these Peers were introduced they would do much to interfere with the dignity of our debates if the Peers which His Majesty's Government have added to this House of recent years are to be taken as an example. The dignity of the Chamber also consists in its power of action and its weight with the country, and what power of action and what weight with the country will the House of Lords have when it has shown itself willing to bow to the threats of the present Government sooner than have the creation of Peers?
1034 I was very much struck, when the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, was speaking, with the contention that he seemed to think so important as to whether if this Bill was rejected we should have a week or a month or six months in which to draw breath before another Bill was introduced and passed. He said that it did not matter whether that occurred next week or next December. But what is the permanent condition of this House under this Bill? We are to have eighteen months of liberty and then none. That is the condition my noble friend Lord Bosebery wants to inflict upon this Rouse permanently and for ever, a condition of things which I venture to say is absolutely incompatible with dignity and independence. It is far better, I am convinced, that, the country should realise what it is that is being done. If there are introduced 200, or 300, or 400, or 500 Peers I do not think there will be any very immediate effect, but I am perfectly certain that the country would not stand it long. Something would have to be done, and as what I desire above all things is a strong Second Chamber. I look forward with satisfaction to anything which will force upon the attention of the country and His Majesty's Government the absolute necessity for the reform of this House. I am not in the least frightened of the creation of these Peers. I cannot say that. I welcome them or that I would have any respect for them, but I do not see that they can do us any harm, and I think they will indirectly do a great deal of good.
I must protest against one thing which Lord Midleton said. It is the first time I have ever heard anyone in the responsible position of an occupant of the Front Bench of either House of Parliament make such a remark. He told us that if we carried our point to-night by a small Division we must reflect that we were carrying it with the aid of some of the most ignorant people in the House. That might be said of every near Division which has ever taken place in Parliament, and I really do not know where such arguments are going to end. What is the excuse given by His Majesty's Government for bringing forward this Bill? I have been very much struck by the disregard of all precedent. The Government say that they have brought forward this Bill because of the absolute necessity of the case. The noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack said, "What 1035 are we to do? We cannot get on; there is no check on the House of Lords, and how can we get on with an omnipotent House of Lords?" Lord Haldane took the same line. I challenge the noble and learned Earl to give us any reason for such a statement.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (EARL LOREBURN)
The House of Lords has never in the whole course of its constitution acted as it has done between 1905 and now.
§ THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
I deny it point blank. With all respect to the noble and learned Earl, I say the House of Lords have done nothing since the present Government came into office which they have not done over and over again, with the one exception of rejecting a Money Bill in very peculiar circumstances in order to give the country an opportunity of expressing an opinion upon it, and then only once. It has arisen through the incapacity of the Government to carry on Constitutional government. That requires statesmanship. It requires no statesmanship to carry on unconstitutional government, and it is because the Government cannot govern that they are obliged to have recourse to these violent measures. I had an opportunity of telling Lord Haldane that weakness and violence generally go together. He did not seem to know that, because he said that some accused the Government of violence and some of weakness. I am rather sorry he is not in his place because I had some remarks for him. The Government say they want this Bill in order that they may have an unfettered democracy. I am afraid that means in order that they may have an unfettered Prime Minister.
We may have to go through a very bad time, but I am quite sure. it will be worth while going through that bad time if the eyes of the country in the end are thoroughly opened to the position in which we are placed. I think it was Lord Curzon who said that the Government had initiated a revolution of which no man could see the end. I do not altogether agree with him. I do not think there is any difficulty whatever in seeing the end, although we may not be able to see the steps. We are now standing on the edge of the precipice of single-Chamber government, and that, it seems to me, is the end desired by His Majesty's Government. There is only one 1036 hope, I believe, for this country. That is that there should be a body of men in the country who will stand up through thick and thin for principles without regard to consequences of any sort or kind, and who will say, "These things are right, and you may depend upon us to stand by them."
I am tempted to ask your Lordships to let me quote a short passage from a work with which doubtless you are all acquainted. It is supposed to be the advice which an old statesman is giving to a younger one. It is as follows—Choose your part from the instinct of your order, from your birth, or from habit or what not; but having chosen it, follow it to the end. Stand by your Party or your order, and especially in the hour of trial or danger be sure you never falter; for be certain of this, that no misery can be equal to that which a man feels who is conscious that he has proved unequal to his part, who has deserted the post in which he was set, and who, when men said, 'Such and such a one is there on guard, there is no need to take further heed,' has left his watch or quailed before the foeman, to the loss, perhaps the total ruin, of the cause he had made Ids choice. I pray God that such misery as this may never be yours.It is a Party which has such a spirit within it which may yet regenerate this country and undo all the havoc which the present Government are doing and which other Governments have done. I see in a letter to the papers yesterday that Mr. Balfour says this—No section of the Unionists is likely to impute to their leaders either want of courage or want of resolution. They are well aware that if Lord Lansdowne or I supposed that the policy which we recommend involved surrender it would be no policy of ours, and that if we regarded the opposite course as fighting we should fight to the bitter end.Yes, my Lords, we quite believe that. But what we cannot understand is that they do not think that surrender is surrender; they do not think that fighting is fighting. The noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, said the other night—We shall want a united Party to reconstitute the Constitution.Yes we shall, but we shall want a united Party not only in this House but in the country, and if we are to have a united Party in the country, believe me—and I think I know what I am talking about—we must give the Party in the country the belief that we have principles that we mean to stick by, and the course which we take in Parliament must be clear and plain in order that the people in the country may 1037 understand it. I hope I shall not be misunderstood. I am not suggesting for a moment that the noble Marquess on the Front Bench below me and those who are acting with him are acting from any lower principle than we are acting from, but I do say that the course which they are adopting gives to the country the impression that they avoid plain issues, that they do not vote according to plain principles, and avoid taking that straight course in political matters which is comprehensible to the people.
I am perfectly certain of this, that unless some strong section of the Unionist Party can be got together to fight in and out of Parliament for principle apart from tactics and apart from results, you will never rally the people of this country round you, and that the defection and apathy which you see now in the country will go on increasing. It is my belief that those who are following my noble and learned friend Lord Halsbury to-night are acting in the spirit which I have indicated. I believe they will infuse an immense degree of life and courage into our Party in the country. I am as clear as I can be—and I have given the best consideration I can to the point—that the course we are now pursuing is the true patriotic course, and while I regret extremely to have to do anything which appears to be at variance with my loyalty to the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, allow me to say this. I have hitherto and up to this point taken no steps that could possibly be interpreted as disloyal to my noble friend, and though it gives me the greatest regret now to differ from him and to set up my judgment against what I am quite sure under most circumstances is his much better judgment, I ant clear that the course we are taking tonight is the right one and one for which posterity will thank us.
§ THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
My Lords, I am quite sure, whether we agree with him or not, that we shall all have the greatest respect for the consistency with which the noble Duke has pursued his present course. At the same time we have great admiration for the splendid and sublime indifference which he invariably exhibits towards every other deliberative Assembly except the House of Lords. It is impossible for me to regard the opinions and the feelings of a large number of my fellow-citizens with the complete in- 1038 difference which the noble Duke does. We have, I believe, on this side of the House, under the guidance of the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, taken a course throughout these proceedings which is perfectly clear, perfectly consistent, and can be perfectly well understood throughout the country. We admitted the fact of the last two General Elections; we accepted the Bill in principle; and while we admitted that we could never make the Bill a good Bill we made an effort to take away some of its most palpable defects. We have been only filially overruled by the action of the Government, by which the Prerogative of the Crown was, in our opinion, most ungenerously and most cruelly brought in.
We object to the Government's action. We object to the methods which they have pursued in connection with that action. I believe there are many who do still attach importance to a Resolution of your Lordships' House, and with all the solemnity which lay in our power we have expressed the strongest possible disapproval of the action of His Majesty's Government. Is it worth while to stretch resistance beyond that point? We have by every power which lay within us expressed our opinion, and I confess that I take a higher view of the intelligence of my fellow-countrymen than the noble Duke does. He seems to be under the impression that it is not possible to impress the country as a whole unless there is an ocular demonstration. I have sufficient confidence in the intelligence of my fellow-citizens to think that we shall be able to make this action clear, to unmask the Government, and to explain their tactics and their proceedings. I absolutely fail to appreciate the contention of noble Lords that it is better to have 400 or 500 gentlemen go through the farce of taking their seats in this House in order that the country may be impressed therewith. What effective action is there that we can take, either within or without this House, which could prevent the Parliament Bill becoming law? If there was the slightest chance, within the hour or two which remains before the decision must be given, of noble Lords pointing out a single effective way in which we could prevent the passage of this Bill, I should undoubtedly refuse to follow the advice of my leader and would vote with them; but hitherto not one single word has been 1039 said to explain how it is possible to prevent the passage of this Bill.
Another misconception is that if Peers are to be created the creation will be a small one. I venture to say that that has been dispelled once and for all to-night. If the Bill has to be passed by the creation of Peers the creation will be a large one. There is, I believe, another misconception in the minds of many of my noble friends, which is that if this Bill passes through Parliament without the creation of Peers the Government would take the opportunity of creating Peers in order to pass Home Rule and Disestablishment. I can believe almost any iniquity of the present Government, but I do not honestly believe that if this Bill passed through without the creation of Peers the Government could be guilty of so despicable, dishonest, and contemptible an act as to ask the King to give guarantees that he would create Peers either to pass or expedite the Home Rule Bill or the Welsh Disestablishment Bill. I am quite sure that any idea that the guarantees were to be extended for any other purpose than that of carrying this Bill is absolutely erroneous.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
May I ask the noble Duke to say in what circumstances he thinks it is even possible? I do not understand how such a case could arise.
§ THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
I am in entire agreement with the noble Viscount. I do not think it possible that such a case could arise, and I am glad if I have been able to remove the misconception which exists in the minds of noble Lords on that point. But I do hope that it will not be necessary for any Unionist Peer to vote with the Government. We have had an interesting discussion between Lord Camperdown and the Duke of Norfolk, and while I can perfectly understand the attitude taken up by Lord Halsbury and the Duke of Northumberland, though cannot agree with it, I fail to understand the attitude taken up by the Duke of Norfolk. The noble Duke appears to be under the impression that this Bill ought not to be carried by Unionist votes. Certainly every Unionist hopes that it will not be necessary to use his vote for the purpose of carrying this Bill. That would be a repugnant and odious proceeding. The great influence and power which the Duke of Norfolk possesses would, I venture to think, be much better exercised in an 1040 endeavour to prevent those who might be intending to vote with Lord Halsbury to-night from taking that course, and to persuade them to follow the course suggested by their leader and abstain from voting altogether. There need not be any necessity for a single Unionist Peer to vote with the Government if a sufficient number of those who have expressed their intention, unwisely I think, to insist on our Amendments would abstain from doing so.
It is useless for me to refer at any length to the magnitude of the crisis. We all appreciate the difficulties with which we have to contend, and I hope that. we may all recognise that any action which we may take to-day is prompted by honesty of purpose and sincerity. But to those who may have some difficulty in definitely coming to a conclusion I do make a most earnest appeal to have regard to the position in which our leaders have found themselves. The advice which they have given has not been lightly given. It has been given clearly and categorically; and I do venture to remind those who are going to vote with Lord Halsbury to-night—a minority composed of distinguished men, and men who have every right to their opinions and every right to express them—that they can never be more than a minority ill the House. I ask them to consider the position in which they are going to place their leaders on possibly the greatest question that has occurred in our lifetime.
Advice of a clear, final, and definite character has been given by the responsible and trusted leaders of the Party. I ask that before a minority of the House causes" those dangers which are apprehended by our leaders they will pause and consider the action they are taking. I know it is not right to drive Party loyalty too far; but on an occasion of this character I do venture most respectfully to ask noble Lords to consider the position in which our leaders will be placed. If the advice which they have given is rejected and the action of noble Lords is followed by the disaster of the creation of Peers, I fail to see how the position of our leaders can be anything but intolerable. I hope that, before that is brought about by the action of any of those who on all other occasions are our loyal supporters, those noble Lords will most carefully consider the consequences of their action.
My Lords, I should like at the outset to make it perfectly dear that there is no such thing as any sense of disloyalty in my mind in recording my vote, as I intend to do tonight, in favour of the maintenance of Lord Lansdowne's Amendments in this Bill. I do not approach this question from a personal point of view only. If I did, the few words which I propose to address to you would be very much curtailed, because I would merely say that I think the Bill is wrong and iniquitous and that, that being my conviction, I intended to vote against it. But I speak, not for myself alone, but for one of the most loyal, most law-abiding, and most faithful set of men—aye, and women—in the United Kingdom. I refer to the loyalists of Ireland.
I will explain why I feel confident that the great majority of those Unionists are in favour of the way in which I propose to vote to-night. I sent out to the Unionist Clubs of 'Ireland, who may be regarded practically as the constituents of the Irish Unionist Members of the House of Commons, a circular asking them this question, and this question alone—" If the Parliament Bill is returned by the House of Commons to the House of Lords with the Lansdowne Amendments disagreed to, what do you wish?" I did not ask them to tell me how I was to vote; I asked them to tell me how they wished I should vote; and those clubs, to the number of 121, and many more since not confined to Ireland, unanimously returned the answer that if I recorded my vote as they wished I would record it in favour of the Lansdowne Amendments forming part of the Parliament Bill. We have heard a good deal about the will of the people. I venture to say that in the action I am taking I am giving effect to the will of the people; and bow anybody can say that I am trying to go against the will of tin people passes my understanding. Surely the crisis is grave enough. Every man ought to vote according to his conscience and. in such a way that he is able to meet the people of the country and say that so long as he had power left he voted against the Bill, believing it to be a bad and iniquitous Bill.
What is the situation which has been produced by this Bill? I do not wish to enter into matters which have been dealt 1042 with ably by other members of your Lordships' House, but I do say, speaking for the loyal people of Ireland, that the Government have placed the Crown in a false position; they have deceived the people; and in a few hours they are about to wreck the Constitution by establishing a single-Chamber tyranny. What is the position which we in the North of Ireland take up? Without claiming to speak for all, I certainly am able to speak for some. We say that you have no right, without consulting the people of this country, to hand us over to an alien Parliament in Dublin to be governed by people to whom we will 11 ever own allegiance. If I know the minds of the leaders of the people in the. North of Ireland, it is this. They have definitely stated that they will not pay taxes to such a Parliament, and that they will not recognise its decrees. By this Bill the Government are driving a most loyal, law-abiding, successful, and prosperous. people to the verge of civil war. I suppose I might as well ask that there should be no such thing as the rising of the sun to-morrow morning as ask that the Government should not do this. But, my Lords, there it is. Our views are solid on this question. We are not going to have Home Rule. We know that this Bill without Lord Lansdowne's Amendments spells Home Rule, and we absolutely decline for that reason to vote for the Bill passing in the form in which it was sent up to us by the House of Commons.
It is said that if we allow this Bill to go through we shall have two years in which to fight Home Rule. As a matter of fact the period is only eighteen months. I for one do not believe that that eighteen months is worth anything. The same pressure which has produced the present state of affairs might produce a similar state of affairs in six or twelve months' time, and therefore the period of delay which the Bill allows seems to me an inadequate quid pro quo for letting the Bill pass. it has been said to-night that it is proposed at some future time, by following the lead of the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, to win the country over to our way of thinking. But in the meantime I ask myself this—Is there not a very great chance, instead of winning the country over to ourselves, that we shall lose a great number of our Party if we do not show a little vitality in voting against this Bill?
§ *LOAN EBURY
My Lords, I would not trouble you with my views upon the vital issue which is before the House if I did not feel that the eminent men who uphold the cause of "No surrender." are entitled, from one who is as grateful to them as I am, to something more emphatic than a silent vote. Nothing is farther from my thoughts than to apply any harsh or unseemly term to the counsel which we have received from the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, but I think those who approve that policy must be at least content to meet those who object to it upon the broad ground that it is a policy of surrender; and of surrender because we are faced, in a concrete form, with a proceeding the likelihood of which has been common talk for many months, and which cannot have been absent from our minds when Amendments were moved in Committee, one of which, at All events, it was perfectly clear that the Government in their dependent situation could not possibly accept. And now because the Prime Minister, throwing all Constitutional precedent to the winds, has at hand and threatens to use a weapon which he warned us months ago he would not retain office unless he could obtain, we are to stand aside and let him pave the way to revolution in order to avoid the still completer revolution which it is alleged that the execution of his threat would involve.
Is it consistent with common sense to suppose that the supporters of the Constitution in the country can follow these studies in comparative degrees of revolution? The fact will stand out that, after an imposing but meaningless resistance, you have given way to that which you denounced in solemn and emphatic language, and the conclusion you may be sure will be very hotly pressed that you did it out of trumpery consideration for your own social status and social dignity. That conclusion will be grossly incorrect, but it will rest upon a basis of antecedent probability, and so far as it prevails your Lordships will lose that influence in the country which it is needful you should exercise for the welfare of the people and for the defence of the Monarchy.
May I for a moment examine the alternative?—the dread and dire alternative in deference to which we are to sacrifice our freedom of action and our political consistency. It is said that unless we do this the House will be desecrated by a 1044 swarm of what are generally described as "Blackleg Barons," who will pass Home Rule and commit every other conceivable atrocity, which it seems to be quite forgotten can be perpetrated just as well without as with them as soon as this Bill becomes law, but which, assuming their presence, will be perpetrated without the intervention of that variously estimated period of grace to which some of your Lordships attach so much importance. I regard that period of grace with the greatest possible suspicion. It is a gift from the enemy, and therefore to be feared. It has the semblance of reality, but nothing more than the substance of a sham. Is it likely, to begin with, that this House, humiliated by surrender under very ignominious conditions and in the face of pressure and menaces of which we have already had a foretaste, will during that period exhibit those very virtues of firmness and courage which it is now invited to discard? The words are as true now as they were 2,000 years ago—Nec vera virtus cum semel excidit curat reponi deterioribus.
There is another aspect of the question which seems to me to demand careful consideration. If you stick to this period of grace you will give to the Government an absolute lease of power during its continuance. They are bound to satisfy their Irish supporters with a measure of disintegration; they will conciliate their Nonconformist allies with a measure of disestablishment or irreligious education, or both; and they will placate the Cerberus of Socialism-cum-Labour with some of those sops which they are so ingenious in compounding for his edification; and all those factions will be as tractable as poodles because they will know that there is ample time for their respective requirements to be complied with and to become law. If you remove the guarantee and let them realise that it is a case of first come first served, there will be friction and a struggle for precedence which will give the Government a very rough time, and not unlikely bring to the ground that misshapen fabric of which hypocrisy is the material and log-rolling the cement.
There is one other point I should like to refer to because it involves an argument which has been a good deal administered to us in the form of consolation, and which may be epitomised in the phrase "The time will come."Yes, my Lords, 1045 if this Bill passes the time will come—it always does in such cases—and if precedent is followed it will have a prelude the revolting details of which are known to no one better than to the noble Viscount who has championed the provisions of this iniquitous measure. As regards the issue before the House, I think the question of principle has clearly marked out. No exaggerated interpretation of force majeure can justify anybody in shirking a trust which he is capable of discharging. That alone would be sufficient to guide my vote. But if I were content to throw principle overboard and to look at the matter from a frankly opportunist point of view, even then I should not be able to concur in the course suggested by the noble Marquess, whose counsel I have so frequently followed before, and hope, if I live long enough, to follow again.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The Question is, That the Commons Reasons for disagreeing with the Lords Amendments be now considered.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.