HL Deb 03 July 1911 vol 9 cc6-96

House again in Committee (according to Order).

[The EARL OF DONOUGRMORE in the Chair.]

Consideration of Clause 2 resumed.

*LORD AVEBURY moved an Amendment to insert after the words "Money Bill" in the first line, the words "or a Bill containing any provision to extend the maximum duration of Parliament beyond five years."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in the debate on the Second Reading of this Bill the most rev. Primate made an impressive appeal to His Majesty's Government to receive in a conciliatory spirit Amendments which might be moved. I cannot say that that appeal was received with very great cordiality, but we were led to hope that fair consideration would be given to the Amendments which we might bring forward. I was, therefore, both surprised and disappointed that the noble Viscount the Leader of the House should have gone out of his way the other evening to condemn this particular Amendment before he had heard what I have to say in support of it. This Amendment, it appears to me, stands on a different footing from any one of the other Amendments moved up to the present time, and I shall use no arguments of my own, but base my case on statements made by members of His Majesty's Government in support of it. Indeed, I really do not understand how His Majesty's Government can logically oppose this Amendment. They have over and over again referred to the five years limit as an essential part of their plan, and a necessary safeguard. That was Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman's view. The present Prime Minister stated that there were two main safeguards. He said— The first is the provision that after the second session of a new Parliament you cannot, under this Bill, take advantage of its machinery for overriding the veto of the House of Lords without a fresh election. The second is the shortening of the duration of Parliament from seven years to five, which in practice no doubt will be four years. Moreover, this was no mere isolated utterance. In another speech on a previous occasion he said— The House of Commons may, through the crush of business or through hasty procedure, pass a measure in an imperfect, incomplete, and even misleading form. But these are risks we admit—I for one certainly admit—ought to be guarded against, and we have guarded against them. In the first place we propose to shorten the legal duration of Parliament from seven to five years, which will probably amount in practice to an actual legislative working term of four years. That will secure that your House of Commons for the time being is always either fresh from the polls which gave it authority, or—and this is an equally effective check upon acting in defiance of the popular will—it is looking forward to the polls at which it will have to render an account of its stewardship. The Home Secretary, again, said on April 13— We have put a definite Resolution on the Paper, and we shall have a definite clause in the Bill making five years Parliaments necessary and inseparable from our Constitutional system. But they have not done so, and this Amendment is necessary to secure what the right hon. gentleman himself described as a "necessary and inseparable" part of their proposal. It is true that on a subsequent occasion he argued that the prolongation of the House of Commons was a danger which the country was always exposed to when the Unionists were in power. But the Unionists have never taken such a step. Moreover, they could only do so with the consent of both Houses, whereas under this Bill the House of Commons itself could prolong its own existence.

This Amendment was moved in the other House and only rejected by a number of votes much below the Government's normal majority. The Prime Minister described it as a "modest Amendment," and showed that he could find little to say against it by passing it over very lightly and passing on to other subjects. Such answer as he did give was far from convincing. He said— It is not the character of the House of Lords, but the character of the House of Commons, and it is the commonsense of the people of this country which is the only real and adequate safeguard against any such outrage as that. Provided these two Assemblies are self-respecting Assemblies, and, far more, so long as this House depends upon the respect of the country, it is a perfectly illusory danger, and there is no reason for making any safeguard. Again he urged that— the moment you except from the omnipotence of Parliament certain categories of legislation, that moment you are introducing of necessity an outside authority to determine whether or not any particular Act of Parliament is valid. We cannot forget that on tile previous occasion when the House of Commons, with the help of the Army, destroyed the House of Lords, the next thing they did was to prolong their own existence indefinitely, until at last they were themselves driven out by Cromwell and perished under the just contempt of the nation. I do not doubt that the Government honestly intend to adhere to the five years, but I gravely doubt whether they will be able to resist the pressure which will inevitably be brought upon them. In these circumstances I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name, and which is, as it seems to me—in the words of the Home Secretary—a "necessary and inseparable" part of the Government proposal.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 19, after the second ("Bill") insert ("or a Bill containing any provision to extend the maximum duration of Parliament beyond five years").—(Lord Avebury.)


My Lords, I am sure the Committee will not suspect me of wishing for a moment to limit or shorten or stint discussion either upon the Amendments or upon the Bill; but I rather thought we agreed on Thursday night, in connection with the Amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Ancaster, that where Amendments affected the reservation of alterations in this Bill from the operation of Clause 2 we were to await the Amendment to be moved by the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, and I thought that the noble Marquess himself took that view. It will be seen that three or four of the Amendments that come next on the Paper overlap the substance of the noble Marquess's Amendment. I do not, however, complain of the noble Lord for moving this Amendment, but I do quarrel with him for introducing the precedent of the Long Parliament. How on earth can the doings of the Long Parliament—a body that existed in times of tremendous civil and military confusion—be any precedent? You might as well quote the Barebones Parliament as a reason why there should be no House of Commons at all. A noble Lord on the other side of the House quoted the other day something in connection with Cromwell. All that is wide of the mark.

What does the noble Lord's Amendment come to? It comes to this—that he supposes a House of Commons so indifferent to self-respect, so indifferent to, what is equally important, the opinion of the people, the opinion of its own constituents, as to pass a Bill to prolong its own existence. It was said in another place that such a procedure would be an outrage, and undoubtedly it would be if the House of Commons, after this Bill becomes law, were to pass a new Bill prolonging its existence. This Amendment shows what many other Amendments on the Paper show—and I am afraid I must notably include the great and far-reaching Amendment standing in the name of the noble Marquess—a complete distrust of the House of Commons. You have assented without a Division to the Second Reading of a Bill the principle of which is, not distrust of the House of Commons, but a desire not to disturb the supremacy of the House of Commons. The principle of this Bill is that the will of the House of Commons should prevail, and if deprecate and regret Amendments like this, which imply that the House of Commons is going to be the Barebones over again. I am afraid, therefore, we cannot accept the Amendment.


The noble Viscount who has just sat down has alluded to this Amendment as showing distrust of the House of Commons. I would point out that the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for War showed great distrust of the House of Commons the other day when he refused to pledge the Government that the House of Commons would not curtail the period of two years' delay which now appears in the Bill. I therefore think that distrust of the House of Commons is greater on the Front Bench opposite than on the Benches behind me.


My Lords, the noble Viscount suggested a moment ago that there had been something in the nature of an agreement that Amendments dealing with the question of exemptions should be discussed on an Amendment which stands in my name, and which we may reach before long. I am personally quite unconscious of the existence of any such agreement. I remember it being suggested that a particular proposal could be more conveniently discussed when we came to the Amendment standing in my name, but I certainly am very far indeed from either claiming on my own part, or admitting that any one else has a right to claim, that noble Lords who have put down Amendments of their own dealing with this important question of exemptions are in any way precluded by anything that has happened from moving them. I go further, and say that I think the discussion of these individual proposals cannot but be advantageous to the House, because it affords a means of focussing our attention on particular questions of exemptions as opposed to general exemptions on principle.

The Amendment of my noble friend seems to be one which I can scarcely conceive His Majesty's Government objecting to. That during the interval which is to elapse between the present time and the reconstitution of the House of Lords His Majesty's Government are to be free to vary at their own will the terms embodied in the clauses of this Bill seems to me to be a monstrous pretension. The noble Viscount said that it would be an outrage if such a thing were done, and he complained of us for the mistrust of the House of Commons which we evinced by proposals of this sort. I would entreat the noble Viscount to remember that His Majesty's Government are not always quite free agents in the House of Commons. They have been told very plainly that there are occasions when they are expected to toe the line, and they have toed it upon some of these occasions, and is the noble Viscount quite convinced that a critical moment might not arise when, not of their own free will but under the coercion of their supporters, they might be induced to adopt a proposal of this kind. At any rate, if the noble Viscount thinks the thing so inconceivable there would surely be no very great harm in accepting this Amendment without further to do.

My noble friend, in moving the Amendment, very properly reminded your Lordships that this particular plan of quinquennial Parliaments is one which has been recommended by no less a person than the Home Secretary as a "necessary and inseparable part" of the new Constitutional system. That surely puts the thing upon a pedestal of its own, and entitles it to special treatment. Would the noble Viscount also remember how completely any extension of the duration of Parliaments would modify the conditions of this Bill? The Prime Minister has explained more than once that under the quinquennial system it would be only during the first two or three years of the new House of Commons—which would then, to use his own words, be in the plenitude of its powers—that it would be able to take full advantage of the provisions of this clause. But if the period of five years became six years or seven years, that period of plenitude and vigour would, of course, be proportionately prolonged, and the whole basis of the settlement would be fundamentally altered. I think my noble friend has a very strong case for his Amendment, but I am bound to say to him that, while I entirely agree with him in believing that this question should be exempted from ordinary treatment, it seems to me better that it should be exempted from ordinary treatment under the terms of the Amendment which I am about to move, and naturally preferring my own mode of dealing with the matter I would ask him to consider whether it is desirable to put the House to the trouble of a Division.


My Lords, I confess that the discussion has raised in my mind a somewhat different consideration from that which my noble friend behind me has just suggested. I do not suppose that in the Amendments that stand upon the Paper it would be easy to find another Amendment which has been over and over again recommended by His Majesty's Government as a real and proper security to be given; and if the Government refuse to accept this Amendment—which I repeat has been recommended by themselves—what is the use of discussing any further Amendments? It will make a considerable difference to a good many of us what attitude we shall assume towards this Bill when it comes back from the other House if this is the mode in which Amendments suggested by the Government themselves are rejected.


This Amendment seems to me to stand in a totally different category from any of those to be proposed by the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, because this is an Amendment which the Government have themselves said is a necessary part of their plan. I hoped, therefore, that I would have had the general support of the House in this Amendment, which I must leave in the hands of the House.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

*LORD COLCHESTER moved an Amendment with the object of providing that any Bill other than a Money Bill might be presented to His Majesty and become an Act of Parliament if it had been passed by the House of Commons in three sessions "in the course of two successive Parliaments," instead of, as provided in the clause as it stood, in "three successive Sessions."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I venture to submit this Amendment because it raises, I think, a most important point in this Bill. I may be told that it goes against the principle which I have already sanctioned. The principle of this Bill is that there must be a change in the relations between the two Houses of Parliament, and that the Veto of this House should not continue, as it has been, unlimited in time. But I have always considered that what may be called the virus of this Bill lay in the words that the will of the House of Commons was to prevail within the limit of one Parliament, thereby putting in the place of the convinced will of the country the decision in one Parliament of a single House of the Legislature—a decision which may not represent the view of the country in the long run. The change in the present state of things that would be made even under my Amendment is, I contend, a considerable one, because the period in which this House could exercise its Veto would be a limited period. It does away with the theory that this House has full power to reject any Bill sent up by the House of Commons, but it does give some security that the decision of that House should not be a hasty one, and that a Bill passed by the house of Commons and persisted in should not pass over the head of this House unless there had been an appeal to the country.

The powers left to this House by Clause 2 as it stands are too small to be useful and large enough to be obstructive and vexatious. Allusion has been made to the possibility of the majority in the House of Commons proposing in future to restrict even the limited powers now proposed to be left to this House. I confess I think it would be very natural that they should do so, because as left by Clause 2 the powers are of a kind which cannot possibly be maintained. I can understand that members of a Second Chamber might not think it worth while to exercise these powers at all. They might possibly consider that it was no use going on debating matters session after session and rejecting Bills which must eventually pass over their heads. The power of amending a Bill is taken away as much as that of rejecting it, because I cannot consider that Amendments which must be abandoned if they are not accepted in the other House would be Amendments which would have any force behind them. I think, therefore, that these powers will be of very little use. There is no doubt that in the first three sessions of a Parliament a Bill first passed by the House of Commons would be passed again. There might be an exception in the case of private Members' Bills, which might slip through the first time possibly because there was no organised opposition, but which, if they came up in another year, might excite more attention and not be carried. But surely a Bill carried by a Government majority in one year would not be abandoned in the next on account of opposition in the Upper House. Therefore in the first three years of a Parliament the country will be under Single-Chamber Government.

It would be easy for the Government to bring forward, in the first years of a Parliament, its most contentious measures, and reserve to later sessions either those to which there is not so much opposition or those for which they think they would gain popularity at the General Election. I therefore do not consider that there would be any serious check on the powers of the House of Commons if this Bill passed in its present unamended state. But if for "one Parliament" we substituted "two successive Parliaments," it would be possible to have something of a fair settlement, and the real powers of this House might be preserved much as they are in ordinary practice, because it is very seldom that a Bill is rejected again after it has been approved at a General Election. In the case of the Budget of 1909 this House gave the country an opportunity of expressing its opinion, and when the opinion of the country appeared to have been expressed upon it that Bill was passed by your Lordships without opposition. I know I have no hope of this Amendment being accepted by His Majesty's Government, but I think the same may be said, without exception, of any Amendment that may be proposed. From the first the Government have taken up an attitude which made a semblance of a settlement impossible. Therefore if I meet with any support from your Lordships I shall press this Amendment to a Division. I think we ought to make this protest against the idea that the vote of a Single Chamber can be taken as an adequate embodiment of the final opinion of the country. I beg to move the first of the two Amendments standing in my name.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 20, leave out ("successive").—(Lord Colchester.)


This is one of a set of Amendments the object of which I thoroughly comprehend. The object is to insist upon the intervention and interposition of a General Election between the stages in which a Bill finds its way to this House and is afterwards rejected by this House. I did not mean for a moment to imply in what I said just now that the noble Marquess had come to anything like an agreement. It was simply my own interpretation of the language which the noble Marquess used on Thursday in respect of Lord Ancaster's proposal. But this Amendment goes much further than the Amendment of the noble Marquess. This Amendment, as I understand it, covers all Bills.


Hear, hear.


Every Bill is to be subject to the interposition of a General Election. The noble Lord assents to that interpretation. I ask those who least like this Bill, who most dislike it, whether it is at all a reasonable proposal that every measure should be taken out of the scope and operation of the Bill we are now discussing and subjected to all the ordinary procedure. In that case, why did the noble Lord vote for the Second Reading of this Bill.


I did not vote. I left the House.


At any rate the Second Reading was passed without a Division. I do not wish to lay too much stress upon that at this stage. By and by we may have more to say about it. Every Bill is to be subject, under this Amendment, to a General Election. Before this clause can operate there must be a General Election. The Amendment standing in the name of the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition does not go nearly so far as that. What the noble Lord has now moved is an Amendment far wider than that of the Leader of his own Party. I am sorry to say, therefore, that we cannot assent to the Amendment, and the noble Lord, as he said, did not expect that we would.


My Lords, as I have on the Paper an Amendment very similar to the one now before us, perhaps I may be allowed to say what I have to say upon this Amendment. It does not seem to me that the Amendment of my noble friend, any more than the one which I moved before, is covered by the Amendment standing in the name of the noble Marquess. Under the noble Marquess's proposal there are certain Bills which could not be passed unless they were referred to the Referendum. That is quite a different thing from postponing them until after another General Election. It may be said that this Amendment would leave things very much as they are, but that is only because your Lordships never yet have opposed the will of the people after it had been expressed at a General Election.

His Majesty's Government have gone to the country and stated repeatedly that this House has opposed almost every Liberal measure that has been introduced. Of the very large number of Bills introduced by this Government, only four have been thrown out, or at any rate postponed by your Lordships' House. The number of Bills thrown out is admitted to be very small, but it is said that you must measure the evil, not by the number of Bills, but by the importance of the Bills. I quite admit that that is a fair argument. Let us then see what has happened to these four Bills. The Budget was postponed by your Lordships in 1909 but passed in 1910. In this case, then, it is clear that your Lordships did not exercise your veto. The second of the four Bills, which practically ruined so many of the brewers, was introduced into the Budget, and therefore the Government also carried that. As to the other two Bills, the Government apparently felt that the country was not with them, and we have heard nothing more of them since the House of Lords postponed them. That shows, I think, that they did not meet with the support of the country. I submit, then, that it is an extreme exaggeration to say that your Lordships' House has opposed all Liberal legislation, and I ask His Majesty's Government to give us a single instance of the House of Lords insisting on its Veto after the country had declared in favour of any particular measure. The Government went to the country and said they wanted to take away the Veto of the House of Lords, but practically the House of Lords is always ready to waive its Veto when the country has expressed its opinion, and I ask His Majesty's Government to give us a single case in which your Lordships have pressed your Veto.

The Government have gone to the country and stated that they want to do away with the Veto of the House of Lords, but what they are doing away with in this Bill is the Veto of the country. In moving this Amendment we are not maintaining the Veto of your Lordships' House, but the right of the country to be consulted on these great occasions. The worst that could happen from the Govermnent point of view if this Amendment were passed is that a measure would be postponed for two or three years. That is a short time in the history of a country, and I maintain that so long as there is a doubt as to what the opinion of the country is the postponing of a measure for two or three years is an unimportant matter. What is important is that when you do take a step it should be a step in the right direction. It is much easier to do than to undo. It is very difficult to repeal an Act, and the mischief may be almost irreparable. I maintain, therefore, that the small delay, if there be a delay, which would be involved in the proposal of my noble friend is an unimportant matter indeed compared with the danger of legislation in a hurry. I feel confident that when the people understand, as they will sooner or later, that the real question before us is not the Veto of the House of Lords but the Veto of the country, we shall carry the approval and the commonsense of our countrymen with us.


My Lords, the noble Lord opposite, with an assurance which I think did great credit to his courage, said, at the beginning of his speech, that this House never opposed the will of the country after a General Election. I would ask your Lordships what you are doing now, and what you were doing last week. I understand there has been a General Election on the very question of this Bill. Noble Lords say "No." I was under the impression that this Bill had been introduced into this House, that the Bill had been printed, and that at the last General Election the Bill was before the electors line by line and word by word, and that the electors were asked to pronounce upon it. The electors have pronounced upon it, and your Lordships are now engaged, not in rejecting the Bill on Second Reading, but in doing what would be equally fatal to the Bill—that is, inserting wrecking Amendments. Your Lordships are inserting wrecking Amendments in defiance of the expressed declaration of the Government, which commands the confidence of the country, that they will not accept these Amendments. If that is not a. clear defiance of the will of the country expressed after a General Election, I fail to understand what can be plainer. This Bill has been submitted to the country, and your Lordships are by this series of Amendments taking out of the Bill everything for which it was commended to the Liberal Party and the country. Your Lordships are, I venture to say, directly and distinctly defying the expression of the popular will at the last General Election.


My Lords. the noble Viscount the Leader of the House alluded to Lord Avebury's Amendment just now as being one of a series of Amendments dealing with the same subject. I venture to think that, although the noble Viscount has indicated that His Majesty's Government have no intention of accepting these Amendments, your Lordships are only doing your duty in giving the proposed Amendments the fullest and most complete discussion. It is not the duty of your Lordships' House to-day to consider your own privileges or the powers we possess. It is clearly your duty to see that the will of the people, not the will of the House of Commons, shall prevail. I go further and say that the only means by which that can be secured is by now, almost at the eleventh hour, inserting in this Bill an Amendment which shall enact that an election shall intervene between the discussion of a Bill in your Lordships' House and its becoming law. I do not mean the will of the people as expressed, hysterically perhaps, at the polls under the pressure of great Party excitement. We want to have the considered judgment of the country, and I ask your Lordships very respectfully, Can you have the considered judgment of the people by any other way than by inserting in this Bill an Amendment of the nature I have described?

The noble Viscount, when he introduced this Bill into your Lordships' House, based his authority for it upon the result of the recent election; but I venture to think that a measure so uncouth in its intention, so utterly relentless in its operation, so retrograde in its principles, can hardly be taken to represent the considered judgment of the people to-day. In moving the Second Reading of this Bill the noble Viscount quoted the immortal words of Macbeth, and asked whether in our view a General Election was— A tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing. As far as the Radical Party was concerned, the election was full of sound and fury, but I wish I could say that I thought it signified nothing. Every vote given in this hasty unconsidered way for the measure which is now before your Lordships' House was undoubtedly a "tale told by an idiot," and the country will sooner or later know that only too truly. I ask the noble Viscount whether he considers that the mandate which His Majesty's Government received justifies them in breaking up the model Constitution of the civilised world and reducing to impotent inaction your Lordships' House, which has always been the upholder of the liberties of this country.

It is not the voice of the people we are listening to. It was not the voice of the people which was expressed at the last election. We had a series of issues. Policies were introduced at the last moment under strong external pressure. I venture to think that the result of the last two elections has not been by the voice of the people. It is a clever fake, a gigantic hoax. The voice of the people as expressed at the last two elections has been nothing more than the very clever effect of a company of political ventriloquists under the directorship of Mr. John Redmond. Perhaps your Lordships may remember that in days of old there were three sisters—they were commonly called the Graiæ or the Gray Sisters; and according to mythological tradition they lived upon a log of drift wood in a frozen sea, and had only one eye and one tooth between them. If noble Lords opposite will forgive the simile, it seems to me that the Radical Party to-day is somewhat like those three sisters. They are composed of three sections and have only one eye and one tooth between them, and. while I admit that His Majesty's Government, or that section which immediately represents the views of the Prime Minister, are generally permitted to have the use of the tooth, they are certainly never permitted to have the use of the eye. With regard to this Amendment, I should like to say, in conclusion, that I hope your Lordships will consider very seriously the advisability of inserting it in the Bill, because there is no Second Chamber in the whole of the civilised world so powerless, so entirely deprived of powers of revision and delay, as your Lordships' House will be should this Bill become law.


My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, made a remarkable statement just now which I must question. He stated that we were opposing the will of the people because before the last General Election the Parliament Bill had been sent up here and was discussed on every platform throughout the country. But, my Lords, how was the Parliament Bill discussed in in the Houses of Parliament. There is such a thing as the guillotine, which has been, not made use of, but grossly abused since 1906. I would like to ask Lord Russell how many days were allotted to the discussion of the Parliament Bill before the last General Election. Is there a single controversial Bill which has been introduced by the present Government on which free discussion has been allowed? I think the only Bill which had anything like an adequate amount of time allowed for its discussion was the Finance Bill of 1909, and that Bill, as the result of that discussion, emerged from the House of Commons almost an entirely new Bill.


My Lords, the noble Viscount opposite seemed to think that this Amendment was not of a reasonable character in the present condition of the Bill, but I cannot help hoping that the tribute which he paid, perhaps unintentionally, to my noble friend behind me (Lord Lansdowne) by showing the moderation of the noble Marquess's Amendment, will convince him that Lord Lansdowne has certainly exercised very great self-denial, to say the least, in the course which, by the Amendments he has placed on the Paper, he suggests for meeting difficulties between the two Houses. The noble Viscount will also probably appreciate that, but for the Amendments so standing, it might have been very difficult for noble Lords on this side to avoid adopting a more drastic course; and I am sure the noble Viscount will have noticed that among those who have spoken most strongly on the necessity of establishing some appeal to the people on this question is the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who has a record of a lifetime of Liberalism behind him, and who when in the House of Commons voted for almost every measure of first-class Liberal importance.

I think the noble Viscount must see, if we look back to the time before this Bill was introduced, that this Amendment is not an unreasonable one. Because, granted the Resolutions adopted by your Lordships last November, granted the introduction or the carrying of such a Bill as Lord Lansdowne has introduced giving substantially a fair division between the two Parties in this House, and granted also the abnegation on the part of this House of the particular powers with regard to Money Bills which were most deprecated on the other side, there really remains very little of the case as the Government originally made it out for establishing a Veto as against this House on ordinary Bills. And if that case was small before it becomes smaller still if such Bills were to be submitted to the people at a General Election. But events have moved on. Your Lordships gave a Second Reading to this Bill. We know that the one thing which in the course of these discussions has been most deprecated by the Government has been the power of this House to force a General Election, and we have throughout endeavoured to find a substitute by giving an appeal to the people in grave issues which would not create a General Election. One objection which occurs to us with regard to this Amendment is the fact that it touches all Bills without any distinction whatever. It is quite true, as Lord Avebury has well pointed out, that the number of Liberals Bills rejected by this House is not large, but this Amendment, if we adopt one of the forms of it which has been suggested, does leave every Bill, however small and however large, in the position of requiring to wait for a General Election. I venture to think that from the point of view of this House we may not be well advised to hang up Bills continually until after a General Election.

What the Government are trying to impose upon us by this Bill is delay in carrying out any measure which they may declare to be demanded by the people—a delay which will unquestionably become the subject of suspicion and attack upon your Lordships' House. What we ask is not for delay but for decision. We ask for decision by the people, and as promptly as possible, on the question which had arisen between the two Houses. That we can obtain if the Amendment of the noble Marquess is adopted, but we cannot attain it under the Amendment now before us. I cannot help feeling that there is much to be said for, if possible, avoiding the system of hanging up a Bill for two or three years to be intermingled with a number of other measures in the minds of the electors when it is submitted for final judgment.

I would ask the noble Earl who spoke from the opposite side of the House, who was so interested to prove that every line of this Bill had been before the people, that every line had been confirmed by the electors, whether he does not remember that a couple of months after the beginning of the session the Prime Minister told us that the electorate had given a direct verdict on Home Rule, and that a few days later the Chancellor of the Exchequer claimed that as the Government had expressed their intention of paying Members of Parliament and as they had not been defeated at the election, that that also had obtained the sanction of the electors. Where are we going to stop? I should like the noble Earl to go down to some constituencies and examine the electors with regard to this Bill, not on every line but even on the effect of the chief clauses, and make sure that amidst all the jumble of measures that were discussed at the election on Liberal platforms this Measure stands out clearly in their minds. It. is of first-class importance that so far as we can we should, in measures on which we may differ in future from the House of Commons, have a clear cut difference and as rapid a decision as can possibly be obtained. I do not think that any of your Lordships will much envy our position, sitting here with a Ministry willing to change this Bill to our detriment again if we should halt the Bills which they should see fit, to send up.

So far, in the Amendments which have been put into this Bill we have been working within very narrow limits. We have only endeavoured to secure that a Money Bill shall be a Money Bill, and that there shall be a proper tribunal to declare it a Money Bill. We also propose later on, in questions of grave importance, to bring in a procedure which will alter the conditions laid down by the Government. But I apprehend that if, after accepting the Second Reading of the Bill, we were to apply that procedure to all measures and under the conditions which are laid down in the Amendment, reasonable as it is, which has been put before your Lordships in the last half hour, we should be considered by the Government to have gone back on the position taken up on the Second Reading, and we may also prove to have adopted a procedure which is far less calculated to secure for really important measures that consideration by the people which is essential for our public business.


Lords, I am not sure that noble Lords opposite ought not to walk warily with regard to this Amendment, which is a blunt sword with a sharp handle. I should say that it was an Amendment for keeping the Liberal Party permanently and perpetually in office. Under this Bill the duration of a Parliament is reduced to five years. What would take place under this Amendment I venture to suggest would be this, that in the first three years of a Liberal Government harmless and innocuous measures would be introduced into the House of Commons and passed through both Houses, but in the last year but one before the election the Government would come up with what the noble Lords opposite would call a blazing programme of democratic, popular, and progressive measures. They would pass those measures twice through the House of Commons in two successive sessions, and would then appeal to the country for a second term of office in which those measures might be fully harvested and garnered. This Amendment, therefore, would tell more against noble Lords on the other side of the House than against us, and I would suggest that very much more careful consideration should be given to it before it is incorporated in the Bill.


I think after the remarks of the noble Lord who has just spoken I ought to be able to claim his vote for the Amendment, as he considers that it would be so valuable to his Party. But, with regard to the speech of the noble Viscount, I would say that this Amendment was never intended as a substitute for that of the noble Marquess. What I protest against is that any Bill should be passed within one Parliament simply because it has received the support two or three times of the same House of Commons which really gives it no greater weight than if it had received support only in one session. I feel so strongly on this Amendment that if I obtain any support I shall certainly divide the Committee.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has proposed this Amendment and those who agree with him will not accuse me, I am sure, of any want of sympathy with their opposition to the policy of the Government to the uttermost, or with their opinion as to the peril in which it puts this country. But I would point out to my noble friend that when he says that his Amendment is not a substitute for that of the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition he is in error. If the Committee adopt this Amendment they cannot possibly add Lord Lansdowne's Amendment. The two are perfectly incompatible methods of dealing with the difficulty, and I would venture to point out to my noble friend what seem to me unanswerable arguments in favour of Lord Lansdowne's course rather than his. We must remember, in the first place, that the policy which we as a Party have adopted on this Bill is adopted on the supposition and belief that it is only a temporary and transitory interruption in our Constitution. So far as we have any opportunity of influencing the history of this country in the future, we shall not rest till we have restored stability to the Constitution by giving our Second Chamber those powers which are regarded in every civilised country in the world as necessary for a Second Chamber. Therefore the Amendments we are proposing in respect to this Bill are not Amendments with a view of establishing a permanent Constitution, but Amendments with a view of preventing as far as possible this Bill, while it lasts, from depriving the electors of their sovereign birthright to have the final word in drastic legislation.

What is the difference between the two policies? If the noble Lord's Amendment is carried, as I say, Lord Lansdowne's Amendment cannot be carried. If Lord Colchester's Amendment is agreed to and assuming it to become law, then every measure in connection with which there was a difference between the two Houses would automatically be decided at a General Election at the end of four or five years. I say, in the first place, that the effect of that provision would be to prevent compromise. Lord Lansdowne's proposal, in my opinion, will operate very largely to compromise and reasonable agreement between the two Parties. The proposal of the noble Lord would be no road, in any circumstances, to compromise. On the contrary, I think the noble Lord who spoke from the Benches below the Gangway on the other side (Lord Marchamley) was perfectly right when he said that his Party would endeavour to load up the latter years of a Parliament with the greatest possible number of contentious measures in order to take them to a General Election, and then when they went to the General Election every reason we have urged against a General Election settling these questions would come in in a greater degree.

We have urged the Referendum because by that means, and by that means only, can one great question be separated from a mass of other questions great and small. By that means alone can the electors give a distinct and final verdict on one great issue. By the plan of my noble friend behind me all the confusions that have ever taken place at any General Election would be perpetuated in the settlement of differences between the two Houses, and instead of getting a clear cut issue on specific questions, however grave, the electors would be entirely bewildered. They would have a general sense that this House was doing nothing but throw out legislation. The whole of our opponents would direct their case to showing how many measures this House refused to pass, and on how many measures the electors were called upon to decide. All the differences between the two Houses would be accentuated, and the electors would not get what we desire them to have—the opportunity of giving their final opinion on each grave issue when it occurs between the two Houses. I submit that not only is Lord Colchester's Amendment incompatible with that of the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition, but it is not even a substitute for it. It does not do what we on this side of the House wish to have done, and, on the other hand, it opens out a vista of further strife and further difficulty for the electors.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

LORD AVEBURY and the EARL OF MALMESBURY had similar Amendments on the Paper, but, in view of the decision of the Committee on Lord Colchester's Amendment did not move them.

*THE EARL OF MALMESBURY moved to insert, after "whether of the same Parliament," the words "without the application to the discussion thereof in the third of those sessions of any resolution for limiting debate in the House of Commons or in Standing Committee."

The noble Earl said: The next Amendment standing in my name has reference to the application of the closure in the other House in dealing with Bills which may be sent up to your Lordships for consideration. The other night my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke quoted a sentence from a speech by the Prime Minister which clearly illustrates the view we hold with regard to this Amendment. The Prime Minister said— The House of Commons does not necessarily and perhaps does not even presumptively express that opinion (the opinion of the people). You might have a case, a conceivable case, of what is called a scratch majority combined together under the coercion of Party exigencies for a particular and transient purpose. If those words apply under ordinary conditions, how much more do they apply to operations under the closure? While under this Bill your Lordships will be entirely deprived of all power, you should at all events have an opportunity, more than one opportunity, of knowing the opinion expressed by the nation through its representatives in another place, and my object is to secure adequate discussion and possible amendment in the other House.

The noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, in referring to some Amendment moved by myself the other night, was good enough to take the trouble to find out that I had never been a member of the House of Commons. The noble Viscount is quite right; but I venture to think that that is not my fault but my misfortune. I do not, however, believe that that fact will for a moment prejudice me moving this Amendment in your Lordships' House, where we have never attempted to stifle or closure discussion in any form. In fact, we have always, even in the longest and most wearisome hours, welcomed discussion, and have always urged noble Lords on the Benches opposite to take part in our debates, and it is to us a matter of regret that new members sent up to this House from another place with great Parliamentary reputations take very little or no part in our discussions. I only make this remark, in passing, to say that in this House we welcome discussion and dislike the idea that it should be closured in another place.

Opinions change and vary from time to time, and opinions which are held with regard to a Bill to-day may be different six months hence. The object of my Amendment is that Bills which come up to your Lordships' House under the provisions of the Parliament Bill shall have been fully, adequately, and properly discussed in the other House on each occasion before they come up here for consideration. Under the present Government, which professes to believe in the doctrine of free speech and liberty of debate, the limitation of the rights of discussion has been carried further than under any other Government which has ever existed. The other day I took the opportunity of ascertaining exactly what the history of the closure had been and how it had been applied during the last two years. I believe I am right in saying that the guillotine was first introduced in the House of Commons in the year 1887. At first its use was very carefully applied, and no one had any cause to complain. It was used only as an instrument for business purposes and to closure a debate when it bad gone on too long, and when the congestion of business demanded that it should go on no longer. To-day the guillotine is used in another place not as an instrument to clear away congestion of business, but to prevent discussion, to prevent minorities in the House of Commons from discussing the Bill before them.

I will not trouble your Lordships with the history of the guillotine because, as the noble Viscount has told you, I have never been in the House of Commons, but I will ask the noble Viscount to give me his attention for a moment while I quote the following figures. In 1893 the closure was moved on the Home Rule Bill after it had been twenty-eight days in Committee, and in 1902, in the case of the Education Bill, after it had been thirty-eight days in Committee. Before 1906 the guillotine was used, in all, only seven times. Since 1906 its application has become a practice, not after a Bill has been a long time in the House, but almost as soon as it is introduced. In the three years 1906, 1907 and 1908, during which time His Majesty's present Government presided over the affairs of the country, the guillotine was used no fewer than eleven times. Perhaps I might give an example of the working of the guillotine in the case of the Housing Bill which was introduced in 1908. In 1909 it was reintroduced under the guillotine Resolution. In the Committee stage on the first day Clauses 1 and 2 were adopted; then the guillotine fell, and Clauses 3 to 29 were put without debate. That is very significant. If the House of Commons has an opportunity of fully and fairly discussing the particular Bill which is before it, the result may be very different; but whole sets of clauses are passed under pressure of the guillotine in order to avoid discussion. Clause 30 was debated and deleted. Clause 53 was debated, but Clauses 54 and 56 were not debated, and so on.

I venture to think that if in the future measures are to be dealt with in this way in the House of Commons, it will become very serious, not for your Lordships' House or for any Second Chamber, but for the people of this country, who are not only losing the advantage and the security of a Second Chamber, which every great civilised country has, but also the right of freedom of discussion and freedom of debate in another place. I hope the noble Viscount opposite, even if he does not like the words of my Amendment, will see his way to give us an undertaking, either now or at some future stage of this Bill, that Bills brought no to this House under the Parliament. Bill shall have been fully discussed on every occasion when they have been before the House of Commons.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 21, after ("not") insert ("without the application to the discussion thereof in the third of those sessions of any resolution for limiting debate in the House of Commons or in Standing Committee").—(The Earl of Malmesbury.)


My Lords, I am afraid it is impossible, for a reason which I believe the House will appreciate, to accept the noble Earl's Amendment. No Chamber with any self-respect could allow even a co-ordinate Chamber, which this is not, to interfere with its own way of carrying on its own business. I will be very brief, because, really, the Amendment of the noble Earl is thoroughly unpractical. Mark this in the Amendment. It is not a case of certain forms of Resolutions for limiting debate; it is not merely the guillotine, or the modern form of closure. There are various forms of limiting debate. The noble Earl proscribes them all, and he refers, not very tactfully, I think, to the history of these large and exceptional forms of closure. Its first introduction was by Mr. Speaker Brand at 9 o'clock one morning, when—shall I say—Irish obstruction had gone on to such an extent that he intervened to suppress it out of hand. The necessity has constantly arisen, although not so severe and critical as that, for its application by the leaders of both Parties.

The noble Earl referred to the Education Bill of 1902. What is the history of that? Was that Bill carried without a Resolution limiting debate? On the contrary. I think after thirty days of criticism—which was called, rightly or wrongly, obstruction—it was only by resort to a Resolution for limiting debate that that Bill was advanced a stage. Nobody who takes any interest at all in watching the day-to-day procedure of the House of Commons, whether the Conservatives are in or the Liberals are in, can conceal from himself that the business of the House, imperfectly transacted as it is, could not be transacted at all if this power of limiting debate—it may or may not be from time to time abused—did not exist. I can understand better the application of the noble Earl's Amendment to a Money Bill. Why? Because a Money Bill is discussed and settled in one year. But here, where you have three years for public opinion to operate on the ordinary give-and-take of Parliamentary discussion, such an Amendment as this, apart from other reasons, is wholly out of place, and I really do not believe that those of your Lordships who most object to giving way to the House of Commons will think for a moment that the House of Commons could stand a proscription of this kind. They would insist, and rightly insist, on conducting their business in their own way. Therefore I am afraid it is impossible to think of accepting so unpractical an Amendment as this.


My Lords, the noble Viscount hits informed your Lordships that this Amendment is a direct interference with the procedure of the House of Commons. I might point out that this Parliament Bill is a direct interference with the procedure of your Lordships' House. I may be wrong, but I read the Amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Malmesbury in a different way from that in which the noble Viscount has read it. He says that this is an attempt to limit the closure. All of us on this side are well aware that under modern conditions a Government must retain the right to limit the discussion of particular points of a Bill, provided that the main essentials and the chief arguments with regard to the Bill have been put forward and adequate time given for their discussion. But this Amendment, as I read it, does not interfere in any way with a motion to closure any particular discussion, which, under the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, has, in order to be carried, to be supported by at least 100 Members. All that this Amendment does do is to try and prevent any general Resolution being passed the object of which is to limit at the will of the Government the whole discussion of a Bill, however important that Bill may be. Noble Lords opposite say that a Bill after it has been passed through the House of Commons three times is to become law, whether we like it or not, or whether the electors like it or not. Is it too much to ask, therefore, that we should try and secure adequate discussion for a Bill in one of those successive sessions?

The noble Earl, Lord Malmesbury, gave an excellent instance of the use of the guillotine when he mentioned the Housing Bill. But, as I said just now in answer to Lord Russell, every controversial Bill which has been introduced by the present Government has had its discussion drastically curtailed. Your Lordships will remember how the Government treated the Old Age Pensions Bill, a very important Bill which one would have thought required a great deal of discussion and very careful amendment. If I remember aright, the last five clauses of that Bill were passed without any discussion at all. I think the clause setting up the local pension committees for the administration of that Act and other clauses relating to the same matter were never discussed. The result would be, if this Amendment is not passed, that we should have a Bill, like the Parliament Bill, which had never been discussed in the House of Commons at all, put before the country, and then we should be told that we were holding out against the people's wishes because we tried to discuss and amend a Bill which had never had any time given to its discussion. I did not share my noble friend's hope that this Amendment would be accepted by the Government. I do not think that any Amendments moved from this side are going to be received. But this is a reasonable Amendment, in my opinion, as much in the interests of the supporters of the Party which the noble Viscount represents as in the interests of the electors at large, and I trust, therefore that your Lordships will insert it.


My Lords, it is a remarkable circumstance that the noble Viscount opposite does not seem to have any feeling of humiliation at the fact that the Government are advocating this Bill which is to destroy the power of your Lordships' House at a time when from year to year and from month to month they are diminishing the opportunities which the House of Commons itself has of really discussing legislation. It is extraordinary that at a time when the procedure of the House of Commons is breaking down by the confession of everybody—of noble Lords opposite just as much as on our part—you should seek to deprive the House of Lords of full opportunity of controlling legislation. The noble Viscount does not appear to be at all sensible of the difficulty which the Government are now creating. It is quite clear that every year the discussions in the House of Commons become more and more unreal in a sense which I am going to explain in a moment. No doubt certain large issues are discussed there, but anything like a detailed examination of a Bill is becoming increasingly difficult. I do not suppose the noble Viscount will deny that. We see the spectacle year after year of Bills coming up to your Lordships' House the greater part of which have never been discussed in the House of Commons at all, and some never having a single line discussed.

The whole theory of representative government turns, not upon the mere fact of representation, but upon the fact that the representatives should discuss and have matters threshed out between different minds representing different shades of thought in politics, and that it should gradually appear from the discussion how far the principle, not merely in the large but in detail, is workable. More than that, it often appears in the course of discussion that a proposition, which at first appears to be mere detail, when threshed out turns out to go really to the root of the Bill; and when it is shown, after full and open discussion, that such details are not workable, it is then very often shown that the Bill itself is not workable and it has to be thrown aside. I will quote a leading case—the case of the Home Rule Bill of 1886. It was in my very early days, but I had the honour of sitting in the House of Commons at that time. I am not sure whether there were any closure rules in force then. I think there were a few, but they were on a very much smaller and humbler scale than the kind of thing we see now. That Bill was really destroyed in discussion, although at the beginning it commanded a majority in the House of Commons. Discussion proved that Mr. Gladstone's Home Rule Bill of 1886 was unworkable, and it was therefore destroyed. If that was true of the Bill of 1886 it was still more true of the Bill of 1893. That Bill got through the House of Commons, but it was shattered in discussion. The noble Viscount does not agree with me. My recollection is that it was absolutely hammered to death in the House of Commons, and when it came up to your Lordships' House your Lordships rejected it, and, as is well-known, the decision of this House was received by the country with acclamation.

The people of the country have a right to know that every Bill will be thoroughly discussed, so that they may have an opportunity of judging whether a Bill is good or bad; but the Government do not want Bills to be thoroughly discussed. The Lord Chancellor laughs at that observation. I do not know whether he is aware that even at this moment one of his colleagues has given notice—I do not know how far it has been withdrawn this afternoon in deference to public opinion—of the most drastic form of restrictive rules ever seen in the House of Commons. Even before a Bill is discussed at all it is to be guillotined—a Bill which is non-controversial. [Several NOBLE LORDS: It has been withdrawn.] I understand that even the wishes of this tyrannical Government have not prevailed, and that in deference to public opinion the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been obliged to withdraw his notice of motion. It is only a sample of what is to come. Anybody who has watched will see that these restrictive rules are creeping further and further forward, and gradually destroying the independent powers of the House of Commons. The noble Viscount does not seem to have realised the position in which that puts the Government. They say, "We propose that legislation in the future shall be forced through your Lordships' House, and we will not give you any engagement that Bills which are subject to this drastic treatment shall be fully discussed in the House of Commons."

Let me suggest what is likely to happen. What quite obviously will happen is that in the first two years of the Parliament every Bill which the Radical Party has at heart will be crammed into the King's Speech, and they will all be rushed through anyhow by the most drastic rules in the first two years. It must be so in order to carry out the full policy of the Parliament Bill. The Chancellor of the Exchequer will come down and propose a guillotine Resolution on every important Bill, even before it is discussed in the House of Commons. He will do that because it is necessary, in order that the Parliament Bill should have its full effect, that these Bills should all be passed in the first two years. Therefore they must be crammed through with the guillotine, the closure, and the "kangaroo" over the bodies of the Opposition, and then they will be sent up to your Lordships' House. That will be considered to be the free discussion of a representative institution. That is the kind of thing which is supposed to be an improvement upon our ancient Constitution.

I earnestly recommend to the Government a contemplation of the absurdity of the position in which they are really placed. Let them say that at any rate on one of the three occasions on which a Bill is driven through the House of Commons that House shall have full opportunity of discussing it. It is not only that Bills will be crammed through in the first two years, but probably they will all be put through the second or third time by a single Resolution. I do not think that what I am saying is the least extravagant. It is very likely to happen, and yet the noble Viscount seriously talks of what he calls the give-and-take of political discussion. There will be no opportunity of give-and-take; there will be no discussion to speak of, and Bills will be sent up here and driven through your Lordships' House by the procedure of the Parliament Bill. Although I have said this much, I must honestly say that I cannot recommend my noble friend to press his Amendment. So far I agree with the Government that changes of procedure in the House of Commons ought to be carried out by the House of Commons. That must be so. But that does not relieve the Government of the absurdity of their position in proposing a Bill such as this is in the face of the guillotine and the "kangaroo" in another place. Still, I cannot think that my noble friend will be well advised in trying to improve the House of Commons against its will. Let them be content with the humiliation of their own position.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE moved an Amendment that a Public Bill "may" after it has been rejected for the third time by the House of Lords "and after it has been submitted to the judgment of the electors and approved by them, if the House of Commons so determine" be presented to His Majesty and become an Act of Parliament.

The noble Lord said: There are three kinds of Amendments which we have been trying to discuss this afternoon. One is a form of Amendment which postulates such a preposterous state of things that no Government, much less a Radical Government, would ever dream of agreeing to it. Then there is a form of Amendment which strikes so much at the principle of the Bill that noble Lords opposite cannot agree to it; and there is another peculiar kind of Amendment which militates so much in favour of the Radical Party that they cannot even agree to that. But there is not the slightest disposition to concede anything with regard to any of them. I do not find fault with that attitude in the slightest degree. I must admit I have great sympathy with the frame of mind that noble Lords opposite have displayed in being uncompromising on this matter. I cannot conceive the use of altering your policy in order to try and suit the views of people who do not agree with you.

This Amendment which I now move is, no doubt, a root Amendment to this Bill, and we have been told that we ought not, having agreed to the Second Reading of the Parliament Bill, to propose root Amendments to this measure. I do not ask noble Lords to take the trouble to read what I said, because it is very likely not worth reading; but if noble Lords opposite will look at the few remarks I was privileged to make on the Second Reading of this Bill, they will see that I doubted the wisdom of reading the Bill a second time, and I told the noble Marquess on the Front Opposition Bench that if he saw fit to move the rejection of the Second Reading he would have no more willing follower into the Lobby than myself. I fully admit that my Amendment is a root Amendment to this Bill. I am not very well versed in the practice of amending Bills, but I am not sure it is not something of a new doctrine to say that once you have agreed to a Second Reading you should be precluded from moving anything like a root Amendment to the Bill afterwards.

I will read the way in which I ventured to propose that Clause 2 should run in the very unlikely event of my Amendment being adopted. It will read in this way— … that Bill may, after its rejection for the third time by the House of Lords, and after it has been submitted to the judgment of the electors and approved by them, if the House of Commons so determine, be presented to His Majesty and become an Act of Parliament," and so on. Then a little lower down I have a definition of what I mean by any Bill being submitted to the judgment of the electors. If your Lordships will look at page 4 of the Amendments you will see that I propose to insert a new subsection to the effect that— A Bill shall be deemed to have been submitted to the judgment of the electors and approved by them if after it has been passed by the House of Commons and rejected by the House of Lords three times

  1. (1) a general election has taken place and the Bill is again passed by the House of Commons; or
  2. (2) the Bill has been directly referred to the electors in manner to be hereafter provided by Act of Parliament and has been approved by a majority of the electors voting."


I do not know whether the noble Lord adheres to the words in the printed Paper—"if the House of Commons so determine?"


Yes. I do not understand the eventuality the noble Viscount alludes to. We will suppose that a Government has sent a Bill up to the House of Lords, and that it has been rejected by them three times. It is then submitted to the electors at a General Election, or by means hereafter to be provided by Parliament, meaning the Referendum; and, assuming it has been passed by the required majority of the electors, then if the House of Commons, not necessarily the new House of Commons, so determine, that Bill may forthwith be presented to His Majesty and become an Act of Parliament. This right of reference to the people is, in my humble judgment, the absolute minimum of what is consistent with any respectable system of double-Chamber government, and unless you have in this House the right of referring back to the electors of this country, you are assenting to a state of things which is nothing more or less than single-Chamber government pure and simple, disguise it how you may in Bills like the Bill which is before us at the present moment. I say that no legislator, whether he is hereditary or whether he is elected, will care to have a seat in a Second Chamber which has not got this right, and it will reduce the House of Lords to an Assembly in which men will sit who do not command the confidence of the electors of this country. Of course, I know quite well that this matter of reference to the people touches the whole root of the controversy between the two parties. There are two ways in which the right that I wish to see retained can be preserved, either by the people being consulted by means of a General Election, or else by the Referendum which I have foreshadowed in the new subsection which I propose should be inserted. The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, made an interesting speech just now in which he rather criticised the method of referring Bills to the electors at a General Election.


As the only method. I was not dealing with the noble Lord's Amendment. I was dealing with the particular one before us at that moment.


I quite understand. The noble Earl was rather finding fault with the hurly-burly of a General Election as not being the best method of ascertaining the true judgment and opinion of the people. I agree there is a great deal to be said for that argument, but, after all, I do believe that when the two Houses disagree and when there is a doubt about whether the country is in favour of this or that policy a Dissolution of Parliament is the best means of obtaining the judgment of the people.


Hear, hear.


I can quite understand Lord Russell being very much amused at that statement.


Not amused—pleased.


I shall therefore take the opportunity, which I bad not intended doing, of traversing the remark the noble Earl made about this Bill having been before the people at a General Election. I absolutely and entirely deny the doctrine that a Bill can be said to be before the electors at a General Election unless the Bill has been thoroughly discussed and thrashed out in both Houses of Parliament. We are only just now discussing the Parliament Bill in its most important stage in the House of Lords. In fact, the discussion of the last few days is the first unclosured discussion of the Parliament Bill that has taken place in Parliament since the Bill was introduced, and that cheer that was just given with regard to a General Election being the proper means of testing the judgment of the people fits in with a good deal of what has been said with regard to the Referendum. I agree with a great deal of what has been said as to the electors not being able to form an opinion about a Bill at a Referendum; but if they cannot form a judgment about a Bill which has been discussed in Parliament and printed, how on earth can they form a judgment about a Bill which has not been discussed in Parliament and printed? I desire, above all things, to see some strong body in the shape of a Second Chamber which shall say whether or not a Bill shall pass into law before it has been referred to the people.

We are quite convinced that the people of this country will never put up with single-Chamber government, and that sooner or later they will demand that some authority or other shall be set up for the purpose of appealing from Philip drunk to Philip sober. If they cannot find that authority in a Second Chamber strong enough to refer certain measures to the people, they will have to go to the Sovereign and get him to decide between themselves and their representatives. That will be placing the Sovereign in a position in which he never ought to be placed, and, if we have anything to do with the settlement of this controversy, a position in which he never will be placed. This argument was brought out quite ably, if I may be allowed to say so, in the extremely weighty speech which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ashbourne, delivered on the Second Reading of this Bill, and it is an aspect of the subject that I do not think has been sufficiently brought to the front. Suppose a Bill has been passed by the House of Commons three times and rejected three times by the House of Lords—that Bill is to be placed on the Statute Book at once. There has been, we will say, a great deal of agitation in the country about it, and it is obvious that one half, or probably more, of the electors of the country are dead against the particular Bill. The Cabinet of the day are very fond of their own Bills and do not like them criticised, and they will very likely stand firm, and that portion of the people who do not desire the Bill will have no alternative but to go to the Sovereign and ask him to exercise his prerogative of rejecting the Bill, and he will either have to agree to that demand and so go against the whole of his Ministers, or take the opposite course and know that he is going against the wishes of a very large number—perhaps the majority—of his own subjects. That is the reason why I shall press this Amendment to a Division, and get as many noble Lords as I can to follow me into the Lobby.

The noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, suggested the other day that with the growth of democracy the Constitution would have to undergo some modification —I believe I am not unfairly paraphrasing what he said. But I would ask him, Does he mean the democracy that votes with the Conservative Party, or the democracy that votes with the Radical Party, or the democracy of England?—because the democracy of England is against you on this Bill by a considerable majority of electors. Does he mean the democracy of Scotland, or the democracy of Ireland, or the democracy over the water that finds the sinews of war which finances those people who have the Government under their thumb in the matter of passing Home Rule for Ireland? If this Bill is to become law without the power of reference being reserved to a strong Second Chamber to be set up in the future, it seems on your own showing that we shall have nothing more or less than single-Chamber government. The noble Viscount, Lord Morley, speaking on the Resolutions about a year ago—I can send him the quotation—said that for all the great and real and effective purposes of government you have single-Chamber government already. Surely he is content with that. Why do noble Lords opposite wish to whittle down the powers of this House, which are already smaller than the powers of any Second Chamber in any other responsible Government in any part of the world?

I will say no more about this matter, because I fear that I have already been speaking far too long. It is tempting to go into this controversy all over again, but as I have no doubt that I shall have an opportunity of doing so on some future occasion I will content myself at present with protesting against the principle contained in this Bill, and stating that I shall press my Amendment to a Division. And if it is not accepted by noble Lords opposite, and I feel that I have behind me a good measure of support in your Lordships' House, there will be no alternative for me but to move the rejection of the Bill on Third Reading or vote on the same side as any other noble Lord who moves the rejection of the Bill. I beg to move the first of the Amendments standing in my name.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 24, leave out ("shall on") and insert ("may after").—(Lord Willoughby de Broke.)


My Lords, I always listen with interest to what falls from the noble Lord, and I certainly did so with more than usual interest on this occasion because the noble Lord has told us frankly that if he could have done it without parting company with his Leader he would have voted against the Second Reading of the Bill. Since the Amendment of the noble Marquess was put on the Paper I have always thought that that was the more intelligible course—I am not sure I could not use a stronger adjective, but I do not want to cause a difference of temper. The noble Lord said boldly what a great many of your Lordships, I have no doubt, thought—perhaps the majority. But then he said he knew quite well that he would look in vain for any concession from His Majesty's Government in respect of this Amendment. The noble Lord made about the most extraordinary demand I ever heard of in the whole course of my Parliamentary life. He says in one sentence: "This Government will not make any concession, will not listen to a compromise, and yet they will not support an Amendment which strikes at the very root of the Bill!" What a glorious field for concession and compromise!

I do not know whether your Lordships have mastered the effect of the noble Lord's Amendment. It is insisting upon either a General Election or a Referendum, and on a Fourth Reading. The procedure, if the noble Lord's Amendment were carried, would be this. There would be the three sessions spread over two years; then there would be the Referendum, and then the House of Commons would have to determine, which would mean practically a Fourth Reading, what action they would think fit to take as the result of that Referendum. You may well say that strikes at the root of the Bill. The Amendment is an impracticable one. I will not say any one in his senses, but any one who thinks carefully about these things, would never think for a moment of adding to the three sessions a Referendum or a General Election and a fourth decision on the part of the House of Commons. It is impracticable. As to the general ground which the noble Lord traversed in moving this Amendment—whether we had a majority for the Bill, whether the Bill was before the country, and so forth—I think I should be wasting the time of the House if I were again to enter into that wrangle and discuss whether we had a mandate or not. But there is the Bill which your Lordships have to consider, and you will, I hope, having allowed the Second Reading to pass without a Division, reject an Amendment which, as the noble Lord says, goes to the root of the Bill and cuts it up.


My Lords, anticipated that the interesting and important proposal of my noble friend would give rise to a prolonged discussion. His suggestion is an ingenious one. I understand him to propose that after a Bill has been three times rejected by this House it should not be taken, as we propose in regard to certain cases, to a Referendum, but that there should be an alternative of sending it either to a Referendum or laying the Bill aside until such time as another Election has taken place, after which another decision of the House of Commons would be taken upon the measure such decision to be final and conclusive. If we had been at the beginning of our discussions, and particularly if there was any prospect of coming to an agreement with noble Lords opposite in regard to these matters, this proposal of my noble friend might, I think, well have formed the basis for an exchange of ideas. But we receive no encouragement from the Front Bench opposite in that direction. That being so, it seems to me desirable that we should limit our suggestions—suggestions, I mean which proceed from the Bench behind me—to those which are already upon the Paper, which differ upon fundamental points, I am sorry to say, from the scheme of my noble friend.

The proposal of my noble friend, in the first place, has reference, not to a particular class of Bills which he desires to reserve for special treatment, but to all Bills of whatever description. That certainly is a very much wider proposal than anything we have ventured to suggest. Our proposal is limited. Noble Lords may not think it sufficiently limited, but it is limited both as to the procedure to be adopted and as to the measures and the circumstances to which it is to be applied. Apart from this there is, I think, undoubtedly some inconvenience in the plan of holding up a considerable number of Bills passed from time to time through the House of Commons during the earlier years of its Parliamentary existence, and submitting the whole of those Bills in globo to the electorate. The reason why many of us prefer to resort to a Referendum rather than to a General Election is that in our view by means of a Referendum it is possible to focus the decision of the voters, and to disentangle an important issue from a number of other issues which may at the time be more or less present to the mind of the country.

Under the plan of my noble friend this is what would happen. His Majesty's Government would pass measure after measure; force them through the House of Commons; and then when the time came they would go to the country, not upon one particular issue, but upon the whole collection of issues carefully accumulated for the purpose of influencing different sections of the electorate. I have before now had occasion to welcome the intervention of the noble Lord on the Back Bench opposite, Lord Marchamley. I welcomed it to-night again, because he, speaking with exceptional knowledge of the manner in which these things are managed by the Party Whips, gave us a friendly warning. He told us exactly what would happen, and I must say think my noble friend Lord Willoughby must have been a little impressed by the statement of the noble Lord. We have passed the Second Reading of this Bill, and although we do not conceive that by so passing it we are precluded from suggesting important changes in its provision, we desire to avoid supporting any changes which can be fairly described as going to the root of the Bill; and I noticed that my noble friend, with that candour which distinguishes him, told us at the outset of his remarks that this was in his own opinion a root Amendment. For that reason, my Lords, and as we have a proposal of our own upon the Paper for dealing with those measures which we desire to exempt from the extremely drastic treatment of the second clause of this Bill, I am afraid that I cannot go into the Lobby with my noble friend if he presses this Amendment to a Division.

On question, whether the words proposed to be left out stand part of the clause?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 90; Not-contents, 17.

Loreburn, L. (L. Chancellor.) Haldane, V. Ilkeston, L.
Morley of Blackburn, V. (L. President.) Hardinge, V. Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.)
Knutsford, V. Lawrence, L.
Llandaff, V. Lucas, L.
Peel, V. Lyveden, L.
Devonshire, D. Portman, V. MacDonnell, L.
Manchester, D. Marchamley, L.
Marlborough, D. Allendale, L. Massy, L.
Armitstead, L. Mendip, L. (V. Clifden.)
Lansdowne, M. Basing, L. Monteagle of Brandon, L.
Northampton, M. Belper, L. O'Hagan, L.
Blyth, L. Ravensworth, L.
Blythswood, L. Rayleigh, L.
Chesterfield, E. (L. Steward.) Boston, L. Reay, L.
Spencer, E. (L. Chamberlain.) Brassey, L. Rotherham, L.
Ancaster, E. Brodrick, L. (V. Midleton.) St. Davids, L.
Beauchamp, E. Colebrooke, L. Sanderson, L.
Cadogan, E. Courtney of Penwith, L. Sandys, L.
Carrington, E. Curzon of Kedleston, L. Saye and Sele, L.
Craven, E. Dawnay, L. (V. Downe.) Shaw, L.
Derby, E. Devonport, L. Shute, L. (V. Harrington.)
Haddington, E. Dunalley, L. Shuttleworth, L.
Hardwicke, E. Furness, L. Southwark, L.
Liverpool, E. [Teller.] Glantawe, L. Stanley of Alderley, L. (L. Sheffield.)
Londesborough, E. Granard, L. (E. Granard.)
Lytton, E. Greville, L. Stanmore, L.
Minto, E. Grimthorpe, L. Sudeley, L.
Plymouth, E. Gwydir, L. Swaythling, L.
Portsmouth, E. Hare, L. [E. Listowel.] Trevor, L.
Russell, E. Hemphill, L. Weardale, L.
Selborne, E. Heneage, L. Welby, L.
Waldegrave, E. Herschell, L. [Teller.] Wolverton, L.
Wharncliffe, E. Hylton, L.
Bristol, M. Abinger, L. Forester, L.
Bagot, L. Hatherton, L.
Chaworth, L. (E. Meath.) Mowbray, L.
Cathcart, E. Colchester, L. [Teller.] Rathdonnell, L.
Fitzwilliam, E. De Freyne, L. Willoughby de Broke, L. [Teller.]
Lovelace, E. Fairlie, L. (E. Glasgow.)
Wicklow, E. Fermanagh, L. (E. Erne.)

Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.


My Lords, the object of the Amendment which I rise to move is to add to the procedure proposed in Clause 2 a submission to the Parliamentary electors of a Bill which has been three times passed by the House of Commons and three times rejected by the House of Lords. As the clause stands, the Bill would pass into law without ever having been before the electors of the country. I think that has already been pointed out by my noble friend Lord Willoughby. I should like to call attention to the fact that an instance in point would be the Home Rule for Ireland Bill. Mr. Asquith, in the House of Commons on April 20, said that he would use the machinery of this Parliament Bill for the purpose of passing the Home Rule Bill through the House of Commons. I will not read you the quotation, but that is what he said. Whenever a Home Rule Bill has been before the country it has been rejected by the electors. I know it is claimed by Mr. Asquith that during the last election he got a vote on the subject, but that view cannot be maintained, and I repeat that every time such a Bill has been before the electors of the country it has been refused by them. Yet Mr. Asquith proposes to use the machinery of this Bill when it is passed for the purpose of carrying a Home Rule Bill, a Welsh Disestablishment Bill, or any other Bill which has never been before the country at all.

The other day Lord Balfour of Burleigh, in his speech on the Second Reading of the Referendum Bill, pointed out that the constituent parts of the Government of the country were three in number—the King, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and the House of Commons. This Bill proposes to do away entirely with the second of those constituent parts, or, at all events, to do away with it excepting as a drag on what may be passed by the Government of the day in the House of Commons. That is the utmost that will remain to this House. Let me quote from Lord Balfour again. He said— The modern theory is that the Sovereign acts on the advice of his Ministers. The result is that when this Bill becomes law the House of Commons will remain the only authority in the country for the purpose of government. It will become entirely a one-Chamber Government, and your Lordship's House, as I have pointed out, will be rendered useless except as a drag on legislation. I think that for these reasons it is absolutely necessary that we should have some sort of restraint on the Government, who might otherwise carry anything into law without consultation with the country, and without any, or very little, obstruction or hindrance from any other of the three constituent parts of the Realm.

I suggest very diffidently that the Referendum should be adopted. It has sometimes been said by Radical leaders that this policy of the Referendum is an entirely new policy in the mouths of the Unionist Party. I should like to point out—I dare say many of your Lordships will remember it—that so long ago as July 7, 1893, when the last Home Rule Bill was before the House of Commons, Lord Salisbury, in a speech which he made at the Junior Constitutional Club, said— I am a strong believer in the necessity of a Second Chamber, and yet I doubt whether the whole of the stress of resisting the great Constitutional attack ought to be thrown upon such a Chamber. I think we ought to have some power of appealing to a far mightier tribunal—namely, to the opinion of the nation itself. That power exists in almost every other Constitutional Government in the world. It exists in Switzerland, France, America, Sweden, Norway, Holland, Belgium, and Greece. Whenever the foundations of the country itself are to be dealt with and attack is intended upon them by one form of machinery or another the nation are called into council upon this issue, and this issue only, and asked whether it will have it so. I confess I think the nations who are in that condition are in a safer position than ourselves, and I earnestly hope that the attention of the lovers of the Constitution in this country may be drawn to the question whether under the changed circumstances—whether considering that the House of Commons now works without the faintest regard to the considerate and honourable traditions by which it was formerly influenced—we do not now require some more definite technical and absolute safeguard that the Constitution, by which the nation lives, shall not be changed without the nation's will. I think that is a very clear indication of what was in the late, Lord Salisbury's mind. That occurred nearly eighteen years ago, and I do not think the subject has been really dropped since then. It is always being spoken about. But, my Lords, Mr. Asquith himself said in the House of Commons that he had been coquetting with the Referendum. These are his words— I admit that, speaking on Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's Resolution three year's ago, I have coquetted with the Referendum, and I say quite distinctly that I reserve the question of the appropriateness and the practicability of what is called the Referendum as possibly the least objectionable means of untying the knot in some extreme and exceptional Constitutional entanglements. But I am now speaking of the Referendum as a mode of escape from what I call the ordinary or everyday deadlocks of our present Parliamentary System, and as an expedient for dealing with that situation I confess I think it altogether inadequate. I submit that Mr. Asquith, at all event to a certain extent, approved of the Refer endum, and I fail to see that it is not a most excellent way of getting out of the difficulty—because I think it is a difficulty—that we are placed in by this Bill, for under it we would have simply single-Chamber government, and absolutely nothing between the Government on the one side and the people on the other. That state of things would be most lamentable in my opinion, and therefore I propose the Referendum as an intermediary between the House of Commons and the nation.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 25, leave out ("unless the House of Commons direct to the contrary") and insert ("be submitted to a poll of the electors in accordance with the provisions of this Act and if approved by the required majority of the electors shall").—(Lord Saltoun.)


My Lords, the Amendment which the noble Lord has moved is undoubtedly one that under certain circumstances would be of supreme importance. The noble Lord, I venture to think, deserves some credit for placing upon the Paper his own scheme. The House will remember, and I am sure the noble Lord will, that we have already had two serious discussions of the Referendum upon the Bill of Lord Balfour of Burleigh, and that on that occasion the Leader of the Opposition spoke guardedly of the merits of the Referendum as embodied in Lord Balfour's Bill, but concluded by saying that he could not himself go into the Lobby in support of it. I am not mentioning that as any reason for debarring the noble Marquess from saying what he chooses upon his own responsibility with regard to the Referendum. Of course, that is perfectly open to him; but it was the universal feeling, I think, in the House that Lord Balfour of Burleigh took a wise course when he assented to the suspension of his Bill. We had two debates upon it and it was pretty fully discussed, and the end of it was that the House, it was evident, did not like it and would not assent to it. The noble Lord introduces this Amendment I think rather inconveniently, if he will allow me to say so, at this stage of the Bill. The question will be raised in a more immediate and practical form, with fuller knowledge and recognition of all its bearings when the noble Marquess comes to move his Amendment, and therefore I hope the noble Lord will not think me wanting in respect to him if I say I would rather not discuss the Referendum at large in connection with his Amendment.


My Lords, the noble Viscount referred to the reception given in this House to the Bill introduced earlier in the session by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh dealing with the question of the Referendum. Upon that occasion most of us on this side of the House expressed our favourable opinion of the Bill so far as the use of the Referendum was concerned, and we remain of that opinion. But my noble friend's Bill dealt, of course, with two aspects of the case. There was the question of the machinery of the Referendum, and the question of the occasions on which the Referendum might be resorted to. It was with regard to the latter point particularly that some of us felt that we were not, at any rate without further consideration, prepared to support Lord Balfour of Burleigh. For that reason, and for that reason only, not because we were in any sense indifferent to the Referendum in principle, we counselled him to adjourn the discussion of his Bill. I merely say that because we should be sorry if our action upon that occasion were to be misinterpreted.

I am in strong sympathy with my noble friend Lord Saltoun upon this matter, and I venture to agree with the noble Viscount when he says that my noble friend deserves credit for having had the courage to address himself to this important matter and to put a carefully thought-out Amendment upon the Paper. I have supported the Referendum in my place here, and I shall be ready to support it again, for I am indeed convinced that the Referendum is destined to occupy an important place in the Constitutional machinery of this country, more especially in regard to legislation dealing with the Constitution itself. But, my Lords, I have ventured myself to put upon the Paper an Amendment dealing with this subject, and my noble friend has, I have no doubt, observed that what we who are in favour of my Amendment contemplate is a limited use of the Referendum. My noble friend, as I understand his Amendment, proposes a universal resort to the Referendum upon all occasions of persistent difference and without any limitation. Obviously, having committed ourselves to the view that the Referendum should be used only on limited occasions, we are unable to vote with my noble friend to-night when he proposes that it should be used upon all occasions. For that reason, and for that reason only, I venture to express my hope that my noble friend will not ask us to divide.


I was not discussing the Referendum itself, but merely the general principle. I quite fall in, however, with the suggestion of the noble Marquess who leads this side of the House, and I will withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

*LORD STANMORE moved to insert at the end of subsection (1) the following— Provided always that the provisions of this section shall not apply to any Bill—

  1. (a) for the alteration of the order of succession to the Crown; or
  2. (b) for augmenting or diminishing the Prerogatives of the Crown; or
  3. (c) for disestablishing or disendowing, in whole or in part, the Established Church of England or of Scotland; or
  4. (d) for the creation of a separate legislature for any part of the United Kingdom; or
  5. (e) for increasing or diminishing the powers or privileges of either House of Parliament
unless the number of those voting in favour of the Third Reading of the Bill in each session in which it was passed by the House of Commons amounted to at least two-thirds of the whole number of members of that House.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Amendment of which I have given notice touches such an important matter that I most heartily wish it had fallen to the lot of some one to propose it to your Lordships who had more weight in the House than I can claim, and a power of pleasing you which I do not possess. The object of this Amendment is, as your Lordships are aware, to exclude from the operation of this clause Bills on a certain small number of specified objects, except on the conditions which are stated in the last few lines of the Amendment. We have been told by the Lord Chancellor and others that all exemptions of this nature are objectionable, and as a general rule under normal circumstances I am not indisposed to agree with him. But there is an obvious propriety in putting some check upon great Constitutional questions being irrevocably dealt with under a stop-gap and temporary arrangement, and that the Parliament Bill does propose what is merely a stop-gap and temporary arrangement is, I think, admitted on both sides of the House.

As regards the subjects of the Bills to which this Amendment refers I need say but very few words. Substantially they are, with one important addition, all but identical with those mentioned, in different language, in the Amendment of my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition, and it will be sufficient to debate them when that comes before us. When that Amendment comes on there will be an opportunity of debating what Bills shall or shall not be made the subject of exemption. I would only say, in passing, that if any subjects at all are to be reserved for special treatment under the Act, that which I have added to those enumerated by the noble Marquess seems to me to deserve a place. I believe that in some respects there is no measure which would effect a greater revolution in the social and domestic and in some respects the political conditions of English life than the disestablishment and spoliation of the Church. But as that forms the subject of a separate Amendment which is to be moved by my noble friend Lord Halifax, it may be reserved for discussion on his Amendment. I will not, therefore, enter into that subject now, but will come at once to the last four lines of my Amendment—that is to say, to the machinery which I propose in substitution for the Referendum as proposed in the Amendment of the noble Marquess. I suggest a different treatment from his of the measures in question. I do so with the greatest deference to his position, his knowledge, and his practical skill in affairs and in the management of Parliament, but I do so, though with deference, with some confidence after a diligent, though it may be unprofitable, study of Constitutional history and Constitutional practice, to which I have devoted no little time during the last half century. I propose that, instead of these exceptional laws being submitted to what is still nothing but an indefinite and shadowy Referendum, they should not be passed into the category of those to be dealt with under the second clause unless they pass the House of Commons by a majority of two-thirds on each occasion that they are brought forward.

In proposing this Amendment I do not wish to be understood as being in any way opposed to the Referendum. On the contrary, I believe that if carefully thought out and strictly limited to really great measures the Referendum may prove to be a salutary and useful instrument of government. But I am opposed to its introduction in this discussion at the present moment when it is doubtful what exact form it will take, and when it can only be dealt with and spoken of vaguely. It is so spoken of in the Amendment of my noble friend. He merely speaks of a scheme to be hereafter enacted by Parliament. What is to be in that scheme? He does not tell us, and the public at large will not know. Every opportunity is afforded for that scheme being misrepresented. Prejudice will be brought against it as it is brought against anything which is new; all manner of plausible arguments will be brought against it by the Government, and I believe that the cause of the opposition to this Parliament Bill will be a good deal weakened by the prejudice that may thereby be raised. Therefore if it were only for the purposes of this occasion I should say that the mode which I propose is safer and better than one which gives every facility for puzzling and perplexing the electors as to the real issue, because it is more intelligible. I think the course I propose is more suitable to an admittedly provisional state of things, but it has, moreover, some real advantages of its own.

In the first place, I think the course I propose is likely to be less distasteful than the Referendum to the House of Commons, and more respectful to it. That House may well feel some jealousy of its decisions being subjected to an authority outside of Parliament, but it should feel none against a provision which only secures that its decisions are not, in matters of the gravest import, those of a bare majority of the Members present on any particular day, but of a substantial majority of the whole House. In the next place, it would be much more in consonance with the general practice of those States which, having written Constitutions, make provision for their amendment, which they usually though not universally do by providing that such changes can only be effected by a majority of something over half the whole number of the electors. Nor is it at variance with the practice of the House of Commons itself. The House of Commons, though it may object now to statutory provisions with regard to legislation, does not always do so. The requirement of a statutory majority in representative bodies, I am informed by a high authority on Constitutional law and Parliamentary practice, is not novel in English Law. For instance, local authorities are not allowed to incur any expense in relation to promoting or opposing any Bill in Parliament unless in pursuance of a resolution of an absolute majority of the whole number of the local authority, together with a local poll and other safeguards. Again, under what are known as the Wharncliffe Standing Orders of the House of Commons, and also of the House of Lords, when a company already constituted wishes to promote a Bill to alter its constitution or powers, the consent of three-quarters in number, and in some cases in value, of the shareholders must be shown to have been given. We all know in our ordinary dealings as directors of companies, or clubs, or other associations, that when any great change of the rules and regulations is proposed it is only by a majority of three-fourths, or at all events, by a majority exceeding a bare majority, that those alterations can be effected.

Again, I think the scheme which I propose though I say so with great deference, has in one respect a real advantage over a Referendum. A Referendum must necessarily take place at once and immediately after the passage or rejection of the measure with regard to which the Referendum is brought into operation, and while the country is still under the influence of the passions and prejudices excited by the discussion of the subject, and a decision may thus be arrived at very different from that which would result from a deliberate vote repeated three times in the course of two years by a substantial majority. This is not an imaginary danger. I will give one illustration, and one only, of my meaning The Ecclesiastical Titles Act of 1851 is now generally admitted by every one to have been an unwise and injudicious measure. It was never put in force, and it was repealed a few years later without a voice being raised in its favour. That Act could never have passed the ordeal which I now propose of three years consideration, and have gained every year a two-thirds majority in its favour; but if a Referendum had been taken on it in the Autumn of the same year in which it was passed, I have no doubt that that Referendum would have been entirely in favour of the Bill. It would have been pronounced upon under the influence of the passions, the delusions, and the madness which prevailed in the country at the time, and that risk, although I admit it would not always exist, is, I think, completely avoided by substituting the provision of a substantial majority three times repeated. A decision given by such a majority of the House of Commons on three separate occasions may, I think, really be accepted as the voice of the country.

I object to this Bill. I altogether dislike it. But so far as the clause on which we are at present engaged is concerned, I should, with the qualification which I am now proposing, be content to accept it fully and practically. I believe that the House of Commons would never, even if it be in the same Parliament, in three consecutive sessions by a majority of two-thirds pronounce the same opinion unless it represented really the opinion of a majority of the people of England. A mere bare majority may be quite a different thing, and not represent a majority of the electors, but such a majority of the whole House as I propose would be in my humble opinion, and I think in the opinion of many others, a fair representation, and might fairly be taken to be an expression of the wishes of the electors and the people of England. I make a point, and a strong point, of its being two-thirds, or whatever number is determined, of the whole House and not merely of those who may happen to be present on a particular day. The noble Viscount, Lord Morley, tells us not to quote the Long Parliament. I confess I have no particular wish to quote the Long Parliament, but I must say I was surprised to hear the noble Viscount make that remark. There are members of the Government from whom it would not have surprised me, but that Lord Morley, of all men, should tell us to treat history as an old almanac is the very last thing I expected to hear in this House. I thought no one was more penetrated than he with the value of the lessons that are to be drawn from the past for the guidance of the future; and notwithstanding his warning to keep clear of the Long Parliament I must say, with all deference to the noble Viscount, that I have not forgotten that when the House of Lords was, in 1649, abolished by a vote of the House of Commons, that vote was given in a House attended by seventy-six Members only. I do not say that those times are coming again. I trust they are not coining again; but, at the same time, what has happened once may happen again. When the noble Viscount says, "These are very different days, these are not times when you are to look for any violence or any such state of things as existed in the seventeenth Century," I trust he may be right, but I do not feel sure that he is not wrong. In 1639 or 1640 nobody would have said that that was coining which did come shortly after, and so a very short time before the French Revolution, though there were keen observers who saw what was coming, the outward surface of things looked as calm and as quiet as it does at this day. That is one of the lessons I have learnt—that you never can tell from the immediate aspect that public affairs may wear what the aspect of those affairs may be three or four years later.

Then there is another, and I think the most urgent, reason that can be put forward in support of the Amendment I have put down. It is this, that the scheme which I propose is much more intelligible to the mass of electors than the Referendum as at present presented to them would be. A Referendum comes to them objected to on many grounds, and on many plausible, grounds. The electors are told by His Majesty's Government that the Referendum is an utter destruction of representative institutions and of the standing and privileges of the House of Commons. They are told by others that they should wait and see what is the plan which the noble Lord and his friends are going to propose to them. They will not be able until then to have a clear idea of it. How is it to be taken? What is it a Referendum of? There will be a great deal of doubt and obscurity, and it will be very easy for those who wish to keep the Parliament Bill untouched to suggest plausible causes for objecting to the Referendum. But if once you fairly and squarely put before the electors the simple question, "Do you wish that a bare majority of those members of the House of Commons present on any one day shall have the power, and the uncontrolled power, to pass measures which may affect the prerogatives and the existence of the Crown, the establishment of the Church, the establishment of the subordinate Legislatures, without any control, or do you wish that there should be some moderate check placed upon the passing of such Bills?" I have very little doubt what the answer of the country will be. I am sure, at any rate, that if the position was put thus squarely before them it would be the most advantageous step as far as the Opposition is concerned that could be taken, because then the question really at issue would admit of no doubt.

It would then be evident to the meanest capacity that what His Majesty s Government insist on is that the House of Commons should have uncontrolled power except so far as our mere little temporary check for a couple of years stands against it—that they should have uncontrolled power to deal with the succession to the Crown, with the Crown itself, with all other great Constitutional institutions by a mere majority. All that they are now asked is whether they will not ensure that there shall be a reasonably large and solid majority in favour of those propositions if they are to be carried at all. I do not say that the House of Commons will exercise to the full extent the power it is proposed to confer on it. I do not suppose it will—at all events not for the present—but yet we know strange things do happen. If this morning's newspapers are to be trusted, one noisy and conspicuous member of the House of Commons, though, perhaps, not a very wise one, told an admiring audience at Wigan, amid their delighted cheers, that the existence of a hereditary king was an insult to the intelligence of the people of England. There may be other Members of the House of Commons who follow him in that opinion—though at present they are few. Is it the wish of your Lordships that there should be this uncontrolled power in the House of Commons? Certainly not. Is it the wish even of those who will vote for it? I do not believe it is. Is it the wish of His Majesty's Government itself? I hardly believe it is. I think really they must wish to have some moderate check other than the frail and futile and delusive barrier of the muzzled House of Lords against hasty legislation in the House of Commons with regard to these great subjects and these great interests. It is against the grant of such a power that I have argued, and I believe that this idea of a two-thirds majority would be much better understood in the country and would appeal to the country as a much more effective weapon at the present moment, and for the present emergency, than the Referendum.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 33, after ("sessions") insert ("Provided always that the provisions of this section shall not apply to any Bill—

  1. (a) for the alteration of the order of succession to the Crown; or
  2. (b) for augmenting or diminishing the Prerogatives of the Crown; or
  3. (c) for disestablishing or disendowing, in whole or in part, the Established Church of England or of Scotland; or
  4. (d) for the creation of a separate legislature for any part of the United Kingdom; or
  5. (e) for increasing or diminishing the powers or privileges of either House of Parliament
unless the number of those voting in favour of the Third Reading of the Bill in each session in which it was passed by the House of Commons amounted to at least two-thirds of the whole number of members of that House").—(Lord Stanmore.)


My Lords, may I from this side of the House take this opportunity of protesting to a certain extent against these sort of Amendments which go to the very foundation of the Bill, and which are contrary to the spirit in which the Second Reading was agreed to by your Lordships' House. If this kind of Amendment is going to be persisted in, it seems to me that we might just as well have thrown the Bill out on Second Reading and have done with it. Many of us on the Back Benches are anxious to get on to the Amendments which are vital, particularly to those to be moved by the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, and I am sure that by pursuing the course it is now pursuing this House is not gaining in dignity or in the estimation of the country. If we are to come to any reasonable arrangement with the Government with regard to the very important questions involved in this measure, if we are to retain what I believe we have at present, a large measure of respect in the country, it seems to me that we ought not to pursue the course that is being pursued. If these Amendments are thrown back at our heads we shall be put to the indignity of having to drop them, and I protest against this course, which I think is a very inadvisable one.


My Lords, I have listened with great satisfaction and appreciation to the speech of the noble Lord who has just addressed the House, and I agree with him that all Amendments cast in the mould of my noble friends on the Cross Bench are undoubtedly inconsistent with the ordinary implications involved in voting for, or at all events in not dissenting from the Second Reading. I ventured to say, in the last few sentences with which I closed the debate on the Second Reading, that I did not believe—and I believe it now less than ever—that a course of whittling away all that is really vital in the Bill, by Amendments such as this, or that promised by the noble Marquess, would be regarded as treating the Government with even ordinary justice. Of that the noble Marquess may think further in connection with his own Amendment, which goes much nearer to cutting away the roots of the Bill—the phrase used by Lord Willoughby de Broke—than any of the Amendments that we are discussing this afternoon. The House knows what the purport of the Amendment of my noble friend on the Cross Benches is. It is to apply to a certain set of proposals the requirement of a two-thirds majority. I will not got into the list of measures to which he proposes to apply his Amendment. I need not say I do not get up for the purpose of defending the Referendum against the noble Lord. Quite the contrary. I think he has driven some holes, as far as he went, into the policy and action of the Referendum. I am not going into any one of the five individual measures to which he proposes to apply these restrictions. I may have something to say about them later, because some of them appear in the Amendment of the noble Marquess, but I do wish to point out to my noble friend and to anybody in the House who is inclined to agree with him what an impossible demand he makes upon Parliamentary conditions. What is that demand? There must be, he says, a two-thirds majority—that is to say, a majority of two to one of the whole number of the members of the House of Commons, not of the members voting. On those figures nearly 450 members must vote. If every other member of the House outside of the 450 voted, there would be 220 left to vote against the proposal. What does that mean? You have 450 on one side and 220 on the other—that means a majority of 230. That, I think, is sound arithmetic. But that is not all. Putting aside those who were ill, those who could not come, and, those who were indisposed to come for one reason or another, I think you might fairly conclude that this means that the working majority including persons absent from accidental reasons would have to be 300. Everyone must see that that is perfectly unreasonable, and could not be worked for a week in the House of Commons.


I put two-thirds in the Bill, but I am not wedded to a particular number provided there is a substantial majority over the half.


That would make no difference in the difficulty of working such a system. If the numbers are altered as my noble friend suggests it would be less grotesque—shall I say?—than the figure of two-thirds, but it would be equally open to practical objection and could not be worked. As to the topics to which he would apply that particularly exceptional procedure, I only wonder that my noble friend has put so few in his list. In the House of Commons there were, I think, between 20 and 25 withdrawals and exemptions from the operation of the Bill. To take out in this manner the whole contents, the whole of the living organs, of a Bill of this kind seems to me to be going rather far, and I am surprised that my noble friend has fallen into what I consider the rather mischievous delusion that that is a right way of dealing with a Bill to which you have agreed to give a Second. Reading. In no case can we accept my noble friend's Amendment. On another occasion I will discuss with him outside of this House, as it would be quite improper now, his views of the application of historical parallels. I have very little faith in them. As for the French Revolution and the Long Parliament, especially the French Revolution, they are always trotted out whenever any great reform is proposed. It is said, "Do not forget the French Revolution and how, from a very thin and moderate beginning, it ended with the guillotine."


My Lords, I do not rise to take into consideration the substance of this Amendment, but to enter a most respectful protest against the doctrine enunciated by my noble friend behind me and by my noble friend opposite, that we are to be precluded from discussing Amendments to this Bill. I think it does not lie at all in the mouth of the noble Viscount to reprove us. It is not as if the Government were willing to meet us on what may be called the lesser Amendments. On the contrary, they have exhibited nothing but a stone wall attitude to any Amendments we have proposed of any sort or description. We have heard of this Constitutional discussion fo many years, but one thing we thought the other side did give us credit for was that we were a Chamber of Revision. What kind of powers of revision have they granted us this last few days? One would think that we had no right to put Amendments of any sort into any Bill, and because this particular Amendment of my noble friend goes rather deeply into the Bill it is said that therefore it ought to be considered as being inconsistent with our having given a Second Reading to the Bill. I entirely protest. The object of debate is to concentrate the attention of the country on particular topics and on great subjects, and where the House thinks fit to bring forward Amendments it is useful and proper that it should do so in order that discussion should be concentrated upon them instead of ranging at large over the whole subject. That is, in my humble experience, what has always happened both in the House of Commons and here, and I do most respectfully protest against the assumption of my noble friend behind me and the noble Viscount opposite, that we ought not to be allowed to discuss fully the most important Bill that has ever been submitted to your Lordships in our lifetime.


I think my noble friend misunderstood me. I did not protest in any way against what could be called reasonable Amendments, but I do think there is a protest to be made against Amendments which if they were passed would make this Bill of no effect, and would invalidate the Second Reading.


I think the noble Marquess might have remembered that there is a marked difference between a Bill which has been divided upon on Second Reading and a Bill which has been passed without dissent.


Where do you find that in Parliamentary practice?


I should have thought that was elementary. Where a Bill was read without dissent I should have thought it was not intended to make material alterations in it, and that where you divided upon a Bill you recorded your hostility to the principle of the Bill. I should have thought that was elementary; at any rate, I am content to take that view of the attitude of the House in dealing with a Bill. The noble Marquess seemed to me rather to get up for the pleasure of lecturing this side than of expressing any opinion as to the Amendment. I take it for granted that he thought the Amendment so bad that he could not support it, and therefore took the opportunity of firing a broadside at us on general principles.

[The sitting was suspended at ten minutes to eight o'clock and resumed at a quarter past nine.]


My Lords, just before your Lordships adjourned for the dinner hour we had listened to a protest—a timely, and, as I think, necessary protest—from my noble friend Lord Salisbury against the doctrine which had just been enunciated by the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, sitting behind me, and which had been rather unexpectedly, and, I shall venture to argue, somewhat unfairly, echoed by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House. The noble Lord, Lord Montagu, told us that in his view it was a waste of time on the part of your Lordships' House to discuss such an Amendment as this. I venture wholly to disagree from that proposition and that attitude. Are we really to pass the whole of this Bill sub silentio, without any right even to discuss serious and sober Amendments that are placed before us? The noble Lord appeared to argue that we were precluded by our vote upon the Second Reading of this Bill even from giving attention to such an Amendment as that proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Stanmore. Surely that is a most untenable and unwarrantable doctrine. I could understand the noble Lord arguing—I do not think I myself would agree with him—that by our vote on the Second Reading we were precluded from passing such an Amendment. That is a question of opinion which he is entitled to hold, but that we are to be precluded from discussing it in the serious spirit advocated by Lord Stanmore, who is speaking with knowledge and experience, is to my mind, a monstrous proposition. If there is an Amendment to this Bill to which this doctrine surely does not apply, it is this. Again, I could understand the noble Lord saying, "There are certain Amendments which have been proposed, or are going to be proposed, which in my view cut at the root of the Bill. You ought not even to consider them, because your vote on the Second Reading precludes you from doing so." But surely that view cannot in fairness apply to an Amendment like this.

After all, what is it that the noble Lord proposes? He does not propose to take altogether out of the Bill a particular class of measure. On the contrary, lie proceeded with every moderation to argue that he only excepted measures not carried by a large and substantial majority as they passed through their final stage in the House of Commons. We are not responsible for this Amendment. The noble Lord occupies a position of independence upon the Cross Benches. He put down this Amendment without consulting us and argued it in a serious vein, and I submit it is only respectful to your Lordships that we who sit on this Bench should seriously consider it and give our reasons to the House for agreeing with it or the reverse. The noble Viscount, Lord Morley—I thought rather hastily, and perhaps even rather unworthily—snatched at this poniard with which we had just been scratched on the surface by Lord Montagu and endeavoured, with his accustomed ingenuity, to drive it home into our bosom. The noble Viscount is a very fair-minded man. Does he really contend that we are not entitled—I speak for this Bench for a moment—to discuss this proposal? After all, all that we are doing is to state our views upon the Amendment, to indicate its seriousness to the House, and, in reply to the rather perfunctory manner in which it was treated by the noble Viscount, Lord Morley, to suggest to your Lordships that there is, perhaps, something to be said for it.

This little storm in a teacup which has arisen raises the whole question of the right and the wisdom of your Lordships in dealing in the manner you are dealing with the Bill at this stage. I have certainly been under the impression until an hour and a-half ago, not only that we were entitled seriously to discuss this measure, but that we had been invited and expected to do so by His Majesty's Government. I recall that more than once in our discussions they have said that they would consider Amendments to this Bill, that they would answer them with a consciousness of the gravity of the situation, and I did not know that any circumstance had arisen such as would justify us in supposing that the Government were indisposed to accept anything in the nature of an Amendment at all.

May I recall, in connection with this, that as far back as November last—because with me this has always been a locus classicus on this question—in the debate on the First Reading of this Bill in your Lordships' House, the noble Earl, Lord Crewe, who was then the Leader of the House, stated most distinctly that although our opportunity at that time of discussing the measure was necessarily curtailed, yet the Government, if returned to power at the General Election then pending, would have the Bill reintroduced, it would pass through the ordinary procedure in both Houses, and an opportunity would be afforded in both Houses of proposing Amendments to the Bill. So strongly was I impressed by that pronouncement by Lord Crewe that, if I may venture to quote myself, in a speech which I made almost immediately following the noble Earl, I used the following words— Yesterday I took note of one admission which fell from the noble Earl the Leader of the House. It was the passage in which he said that if his Party were returned to Power there would be opportunities given by which the Parliament Bill would be discussed freely over an ample space of time, with abundant opportunities for amendment in both Houses of Parliament. Those were my words, and to those words the noble Earl, Lord Crewe, said "Hear, hear," which is the accepted method in either House of signifying your assent, not necessarily your enthusiastic assent but still your assent, to the proposition that is put forward; and I submit that on that occasion, Lord Crewe, as Leader of the House, did bind the Party opposite to listen to what we have to say upon this Bill, to consider our Amendments, and they did not preclude themselves, if we carried conviction to their minds, even from accepting Amendments to their Bill.

So much in the way of prelude. The Amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Stanmore, is one of a class of Amendments put forward by various noble Lords in order to provide some sort of security against the danger by which we conceive the country to be threatened if this Bill passes into law. What is that danger? It is the risk that under Clause 2 of this Bill measures may, in the space of two years, be placed upon the Statute Book for which no mandate has been given by the country, of which the country may in reality disapprove, which this House of Parliament will be precluded under the altered Constitution from referring to the people, and which, once they have been placed upon the Statute Book, it may be very difficult at any later elate to erase therefrom. That is the central, pivotal, and dominating feature of this Bill. That is what we on this side of the House conceive to be not merely an innovation in our Parliamentary procedure, but a Constitutional revolution greater than has ever been accomplished—I will not say attempted, but greater than has ever been accomplished—in any considerable civilised State. If that be your Lordships' view of the case—and there is a great deal to be said for it—surely we are entitled to discuss in a reasonable spirit any solutions that may be put forward by responsible persons. And the noble Lord, Lord Stanmore, is a responsible person. He has been the Governor of considerable Dominions of the Crown. Surely we are entitled to consider in a serious spirit any suggestions that are put forward for remedying a situation which appears to us to be so grave.

Under our existing Constitution the case of considering any such remedy does not, of course, arise, because however a majority in the House of Commons might in our opinion abuse its powers, there has always hitherto remained the security existing in the Constitutional powers and prerogatives of your Lordships' House. Hitherto, even had the Government in the House of Commons been disposed to behave in the manner which we think not impossible under this Bill, we have always had it in our power to reject a Bill, and, in the last resort, if the Government persisted in it, to force the matter to the decision of the people. That has been the great Constitutional safeguard in your Lordships' House of the liberties of the people of this country. Very well. For good or for evil—I do not at the moment discuss that—that security is going, if this Bill passes, to be taken away. Is it therefore an unreasonable thing that your Lordships should, on this one occasion when it is open to you to do so, consider the various remedies proposed to deal with that situation? That at any rate is the spirit in which I, and I think every one of the noble Lords who sit round me, have approached this question, and I deprecate most emphatically the attempt to shut our mouths when we are trying only to do two things—firstly, to show the country, as it is our duty to do, the dangers which lie before us; and, secondly, to consider the methods, the only methods, by which in our view this Bill can be improved and some of its most dangerous features removed.

In the discussions which we have so far had two methods have been either proposed or foreshadowed in Amendments to this Bill by which noble Lords think it might be deprived of some of its worst features. Some noble Lords have favoured the idea of exempting altogether from the operation of the Bill certain measures introducing fundamental or Constitutional change, and they have proposed with regard to those measures that the existing procedure of Parliament should be observed. That is a perfectly intelligible attitude. It is one which I understand will be taken up by the noble Viscount, Lord Halifax, who follows me a little later in the evening, when he proposes his Amendment with regard to the exclusion of the Established Church.

There is another set of proposals designed to obtain the same ends by different means—the proposals of the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition. His idea is that measures of this grave character should not pass into law until they have been submitted to an appeal to the people. That is the second method. The noble Lord, Lord Stanmore, appears on the scene with his Amendment this evening, and he proposes a third method. As I understood him, he does not approve of either of the other methods of which I have spoken. He is not altogether in favour of the Referendum, and does not advocate a large number of exemptions from the Bill.


I am not in favour of the Referendum at present.


I am interested to know that the noble Lord is still open to conviction on that point. Anyhow, his idea is that if a measure of a grave character raising large Constitutional issues is to be passed into law under this Bill, it should only be so passed if it has behind it a majority, at crucial stages in the House of Commons, sufficient to make it certain that there is in the back-ground a substantial desire on the part of a large majority of the electors of this country for such legislation. That is his proposition, and although I do not personally favour his method of dealing with the question there is a great deal to be said in favour of it. Not only is it theoretically defensible, but it is supported, as your Lordships know, by the existing practice in other countries. It embodies a plan which is familiar in the Constitution of many of the great countries of the world not less democratic than ourselves, and a feature which is equally familiar in countries even more democratic than ourselves. I speak, of course, of our own Overseas Dominions, many of whom. borrowing their Constitutions from us and in some cases having had them suggested from Downing-street, have put into the instrument of their government provisions requiring that any measures of Constitutional change shall not be carried unless supported by majorities of two-thirds, or of a very considerable total. Therefore there is nothing unfamiliar, unconstitutional or dangerous in this proposal. The noble Lord, in his speech this evening, pointed out that a very important precedent might be found in the conduct of public companies in this country, many, of whom provide that the constitution of the company and the articles of association shall not be interfered with unless there is a majority of at least two-thirds in favour of such a step. Therefore, as I say, the idea of proceeding in this way is not an unfamiliar, but a familiar one.

The question may be asked, Is this a genuine danger which we are trying to meet by this method, good or bad? Are your Lordships battling with windmills, or is there a substantial danger which you are endeavouring to combat? I will endeavour to answer that question, if it be put, by a concrete illustration. I will take the case of the Liberal Government, of which the noble Viscount, Lord Morley, was a member, that was in office between the years 1892 and 1895. He and I were both members of the House of Commons at that time. It was the Government that came into power under Mr. Gladstone, and continued in office under Lord Rosebery. I think I am right in saying that when that Government entered office it had a majority of about 40—something between 30 and 40—and that that majority dwindled year by, year from 30 to 20, from 20 to 15, and even to 10; and I recall as one of my happiest memories an occasion when I had the pleasure of assisting in a debate which for the first time reduced that majority to 9. But, such was the arrogance of the Government at that time, such was their confidence that they were the real representatives of the opinion of the people, that I remember one member of the Government—I believe it was a noble Lord, afterwards in this House, whose death we all most sincerely deplore, I mean the late Lord Wolverhampton—who, when the majority of the Government was fading away almost to nothing, went down to the country and said that the Government would be willing to carry on even with a majority of one. Perhaps the noble Viscount the Leader of the House remembers that astonishing statement.

Now I come to my illustration. That was the Government which introduced the second Home Rule Bill in 1893. As your Lordships know, that Bill passed the House of Commons by the normal Government majority, and was then rejected by your Lordships—a rejection which it is a matter of common consent met with the general approval of the country. Let us suppose this Bill had been in operation, and that Clause 2 of the Bill had existed. The Home Rule Bill would have been carried, as it was carried, in the first session in which it was introduced by the Government, by a majority of between 30 and 40. It would then have come up to your Lordships' House and have been rejected. But, under the operation of this Bill, in the next session it would have been reintroduced into the House of Commons, and, so far as I can see, there would have been nothing to prevent its being carried again by a majority, perhaps less, but a majority that might have amounted to 20 or 15. Again it might have been rejected by your Lordships, and then in the third session it might have been brought forward again in the House of Commons. Indeed, the Irish party would have seen that it was so brought forward, and it might in the third session have been carried by a majority of ten or even nine. Had this Parliament Bill been law with this clause in it, that Home Rule Bill would have become the law of the land. Surely an illustration of that sort gives us material for thought. Surely it is a very serious consideration that a Hill of that momentous importance might conceivably, under the operation of such a law as this, have been carried into law, when we know perfectly well that the country was against it, and would have repudiated it with scorn. That such a state of things should be possible under any Constitutional system is, I venture to submit to your Lordships, something in the nature of a scandal; and it is to meet a scandal of this description that Lord Stanmore makes a serious proposal which is intended to secure that if the House of Commons in the future is to over-ride the House of Lords in the manner I have described, at least it shall only do so if the majority which carries a Bill through the House of Commons is not, to use the phrase of the Prime Minister himself, "a casual, transient, insignificant, precarious" majority, but is, to use the adjective which was employed by Lord Stanmore himself, "a solid and substantial" majority, fairly representing what would be regarded as the voice of the people at large. I appear to be making a case for a proposition with which I do not agree, but at the same time the House will excuse me for pointing out that the Amendment is not, as Lord Montagu says, a flippant or an improper Amendment. It is a serious Amendment which we are bound to consider on its merits.


I did not say it was a flippant Amendment and not serious. I said it was very serious indeed, and that if it was carried we might as well not have passed the Second Reading of the Bill.


I am not going to advise that the Amendment should be carried. My recollection is that this Amendment was proposed in the House of Commons. It was there regarded as an Amendment of substance; it was argued by the great speakers on both sides; it received serious consideration by the Prime Minister, and although defeated on a Division it was certainly not looked upon as an improper Amendment to move. But what did the noble Viscount, Lord Morley, say this evening? He treated it in the most cavalier fashion. He said that it could not be worked in the House of Commons; that if the conditions proposed by Lord Stanmore in his Amendment were adopted, the number of those voting on behalf of a Bill would require to be 450, and that any Government which did not command a colossal majority would be paralysed. I think that is a very pertinent criticism. I think it is quite likely that the numbers proposed by the noble Lord may be wrong, but I understood him to say that he was not at all wedded to two-thirds. He merely put them forward as an illustration of the principle, and if the matter was going further—I do not suppose it will—I imagine the noble Lord would be ready to introduce such numbers as would be more acceptable and more fair. All that Lord Stanmore meant was that there should be required in the House of Commons a sufficient majority in order to make it reasonably certain that the people, who, after all, are those whom we have to consider, were behind a particular measure and supported its passage through the House of Commons. That it should be impossible to prescribe and define numbers and proportions in a Bill I am most reluctant to believe. After all, it has been done. It is the law in many other foreign countries, and I respectfully decline to subscribe to the doctrine, of which we hear too much in these debates, that plans and methods which are habitual and successful in other Parliaments are wholly unsuited to our own Parliament in this country. We may not have tried them because the occasion has not arisen, but we might try them in a modified way. To rule them out as entirely unsuited to our own system is not, I think, an argument that ought to prevail in your Lordships' House. If there were any desire on the part of any Constitution-mongers to introduce such a method into our own system, I am quite convinced that it could without difficulty be done.

I do not advocate the introduction of Lord Stanmore's method into the Bill because I do not myself agree with it, and because I think a better plan has been foreshadowed by the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne. The difference between the two is this. Lord Stanmore looks for his security to the judgment of the House of Commons. The noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, looks for his security to the power which is behind the House of Commons—namely, the electors. He proposes to go to the higher tribunal and not to the lower, and to ask the people to decide. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord on the Cross Benches will be content with the discussion that he has raised, which I think has not been an unfruitful discussion. I hope he will be content with the excellent speech that he made in favour of his Amendment. And if he does not persist in dividing upon it, an opportunity will be afforded him at a later stage—and the noble Lord said he was still open to conviction—of voting for the Amendment of the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, which will really meet his case, and which will be much more consonant with sound democratic principle.


My Lords, Lord Curzon has spoken of the protest which was made by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. That protest has also been raised from the Front Bench. May I, as a Back Bencher, enter my protest against the sentiment expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, who rather questioned the honesty of your Lordships in introducing Amendments into this Bill after the Second Reading had been passed. I cannot agree with Lord Montagu. I think the expressions he used might have come more fitly from the Benches opposite, but certainly not from this side. There is no question that when the Second Reading of this Bill was before your Lordships' House we on the Back Benches, at any rate, understood that we should be given every opportunity of proposing or opposing Amendments—not Amendments which would have been what I may call finicking, but Amendments which would cut at the root and branch of this Bill, and which Lord Montagu so strongly objects to. I cannot see the advantage of introducing Amendments which would not cut at the root and branch of this Bill. Therefore I think that the protest of Lord Montagu is certainly misplaced so far as many of us who sit on the Back Benches are concerned. If we had not been given to understand that this Bill could have been amended, we would never have thought of giving it a Second Reading. I only rise to say this in, case the Front Opposition Bench might have thought that all of us who sit on the Back Benches were of the same opinion as the noble Lord, Lord Montagu. I certainly am not.


It is not my intention to press this Amendment to a Division. As regards the subjects to be excluded from the operation of the clause, we shall have them brought before us fully by my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition; and upon the one subject which I wished to add to those in his list we shall have a debate immediately on the Amendment of the noble Viscount, Lord Halifax. Therefore on that I have nothing more to say. My object in bringing forward this Amendment is, I think, answered. My object was to bring to the serious notice of the members of the Opposition and of the Government, but specially of the members of the Opposition, the difficulties which attend any appeal to the people at this moment and in recommending to them any adoption of the Referendum which has not yet been established or even proposed, except by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh, in any concrete form. I have to correct my noble relative Lord Curzon on that point. I never said I was opposed to the Referendum. Quite the reverse. I am in favour of it as a subsequent feature of our reformed Constitution, but I say that at present the time is not opportune, and that if your Lordships insist on that as the only remedy for the evils we all wish to prevent, the voters will be perplexed and puzzled, and will be much more unlikely to understand the matter than if you were to apply the method of the two-thirds majority.

My noble friend the Leader of the House dwelt chiefly in his speech upon statistics, and sought to show that this method of the two-thirds majority was unworkable. I should like to ask him, if it is unworkable here, how is it that it is found to work, and does work, in the Constitutions of many other countries? If it can work there, it can work here. Moreover, it seemed to me that the noble Viscount rather confounded the majority of two-thirds which would have been necessary to give force to a Bill of this description with the majority which would be actually and habitually at the beck and call of the Government. It is exactly because it would be a majority largely not at the beck and call of a Government, but a majority of the whole House, that I made my proposal. That is something quite apart from the ordinary Party majority. I quite admit you could not expect to have a Party majority of 400, but you may have that majority in the whole. House if the nation outside agrees on the desirability of the thing. As I said, I do not wish to press this Amendment to a Division, but I hope I have expressed the strong feeling I entertain as to the relative intelligibility of the two schemes that could be put before the electorate.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

*VISCOUNT HALIFAX moved an, Amendment to insert the following provision— Provided further that any Bill which affects the establishment of the Church of England or of the Church of Scotland, or the temporalities of the Church of England or of the Church of Scotland shall not be presented to His Majesty nor receive the Royal Assent under the provisions of this section unless and until it has been submitted to a poll of the electors and has been approved on such poll in manner to be hereafter provided by Act of Parliament.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I think no one can have followed the course of this debate without being convinced that it would be quite possible, under cover of what could not be denied to be a Money Bill, very largely to disestablish the Church of England without any possibility of interference on the part of your Lordships' House. I also think that under the remaining provisions of the Bill it will be perfectly possible completely to disestablish and disendow the Established Church of Scotland and the Church of England without any reference of such grave and important matters to the opinion of the country. It appears to me to be idle to say that these dangers are imaginary and not substantial ones. We have been told quite distinctly that when the Parliament Bill becomes law, if it becomes law, and when Mr. Redmond's requirements have been satisfied, a Bill for the disestablishment and disendowment of an integral part of the Church of England is to be forced through this House. I therefore think that the dangers which my Amendment has in view are real dangers, and dangers which it is the duty of this House to guard against. In saying this, I cannot forget our experience in regard to what has indirectly been attempted, and indeed accomplished, to secure objects which could not be carried by direct legislation. It has already been alluded to in the course of the debate this evening. We know very well that what could not be carried by the Licensing Bill was effected by the Budget.

We have all been assisting at the ceremony of the King's Coronation. At that Coronation, which the King himself has told us was the "most solemn day of his life," the King entered into engagements to his subjects, and his subjects entered into solemn engagements with the King. Among them were engagements to protect the rights and position of the Church of England. I am not pretending to say that those engagements are not susceptible of alteration, but I do say confidently and without the fear of any serious contradiction that before those engagements are altered, before a Bill is presented to the King to ask his assent to an alteration of those engagements, the definite desire and will of the country ought formally and distinctly to be ascertained. I cannot conceive any one denying that proposition. I beg your Lordships to remember that it is not a slight change that is covered in the Amendment I am bringing before the House to-night. It is a change which goes to the very root of all the relations which have existed in this country since this nation was a nation. It is a change which, if carried into effect, will affect every single parish in Great Britain, and before such a change is carried into operation the people of this country should be consulted upon it. That is the scope of my Amendment. I think it is a small thing to ask that the people of this country should be directly and definitely consulted upon a matter of such vital importance, one which affects the whole interests of the country, and that such a matter should not be left to a majority in the House of Commons when there is no kind of security that it really represents the considered mind of the country.

Let me remind your Lordships of the history of the Education Bill, because it is extremely apposite to this point. The Government came into power with, I suppose, one of the largest majorities on record. The first thing it did was to introduce an Education Bill. We were told that the Education Bill represented the will of the country. The reverse proved to be the fact. The Government were responsible for three or four educational proposals. They were all different one from the other, and therefore it is quite impossible that they can all have represented the mind of the country. All those educational proposals proved to be proposals which the country did not wish to see carried into effect, and they were therefore abandoned. So far as the educational proposals of the Government have been concerned, they have been wiped off the slate. Had the Parliament Bill been law, the reverse would have happened. The Education Bill would have been passed in the House of Commons, it would have been carried over the heads of your Lordships' House, and the country would have found itself involved in changes which it did not really desire. I think it is the duty of this House, not in its own interests, not in the interests of the position, however important that position may be, which this House has hitherto occupied, but in the interests of the nation, to see that proposals which so vitally affect the interests of the whole of the population of this country as would be proposals to disestablish and disendow the Church of Scotland and the Church of England, should not be passed until they have been referred to the reason and settled convictions of the country, and until the country has shown that it really and honestly desires that legislation on those lines should proceed.

This House has great traditions behind it. There have been moments in the history of this country—critical moments—when this House has stood forward as defenders and guardians of the rights of the whole of this country as against a party or a class. My Lords, I think such an occasion has occurred to-day. I believe the Government would be well advised in their own interests if they accepted my Amendment. I make an earnest appeal to the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition in this House that he will include the substantial words of my Amendment in the Amendment which he himself is shortly to propose. It is adding but one to the subjects which are already included in his Amendment, and that subject is one which is dear to the hearts of many of the inhabitants of this country. I do not know what the result of our present troubles is likely to be, but if those troubles lead to an election I assure—and I speak with some knowledge of the facts—that the fact that Lord Lansdowne should have definitely included among the subjects which are mentioned in his Amendment the substance of my Amendment will be gratefully remembered by hundreds and thousands of people throughout the length and breadth of this country. This House should show itself at such a moment and at such a crisis prepared to defend such interests as are the subject of this Amendment. It is a duty which all the friends of the House of Lords in the country expect from it, and it will not decline that duty without grievous loss to itself.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 33, after ("sessions") insert ("Provided further that any Bill which affects the establishment of the Church of England or of the Church of Scotland, or the temporalities of the Church of England or of the Church of Scotland shall not be presented to His Majesty nor receive the Royal Assent under the provisions of this section unless and until it has been submitted to a poll of the electors and has been approved on such poll in manner to be hereafter provided by Act of Parliament").—(Viscount Halifax)


My Lords, the earnestness of the noble Viscount who has just spoken and his well-known keenness about this subject would have been enough without the eloquence of his speech to make even those of your Lordships who do not agree with him listen to what he has said with great respect, but after having heard that speech I do not think it is difficult to define the reasons which led the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition to find it impossible to include the Amendment of the noble Viscount within the scope of his, the noble Marquess's Amendment.

I will take three cases by which to test the argument of the noble Viscount. The first I will take is the case of Scotland. He includes the relations of Church and State in Scotland in the scope of his Amendment, and proposes that no measure should pass without being subjected to the Referendum, which will include, of course, the people of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Now, at this moment there are going on in Scotland negotiations between two great Churches—the Church of Scotland (the Established Church of the country) and the United Free Church—and the two bodies have come much nearer each other than ever before. Nobody can predict whether a final agreement will be arrived at or not. The matter is working itself out, and it has created deep interest on the part of the public. Supposing they get to an agreement, it may be upon the basis that very considerable modifications will be made in the relations of Church and State as they exist to-day in the case of the Established Church, and that, on the other hand, very considerable modifications will be reciprocally conceded by the United Free Church in the attitude which a large number of its members have hitherto preserved towards the whole question.

The result may be a proposition for placing the relations of the Church and State on a footing that gives more freedom. That question comes in the shape of a measure to this country. What happens? There is a large party which says that there is danger in these relations, and that it is not right to allow a latitude which, by analogy, will encourage those who wish complete freedom in religion in its connection with the State, to put forward every kind of doctrine in England. There will be others who will say it is not right to make any compromise with the principle of the relations of the Church and the State, and there will be still others who will take different shades of view about it. No question could be submitted to the electors on which there is likely to be more prejudice and more difficulty, considering that the electors in England and in Ireland know very little about the controversy in Scotland which has been going on for many years, and which profoundly interests the people. I can conceive no subject less suited to be taken and placed in a category by itself than this question of the relation of Church and State in Scotland if, as is at any rate possible, the parties in Scotland should come to an agreement. It will require the good sense of Parliament, good sense which, I think, will not be wanting, to give effect to the measure upon a statesmanlike footing.

I take another case bearing upon the past. In 1868 Mr. Gladstone brought forward his proposals for the Disestablishment of the Irish Church, proposals which admittedly had been before the country and which had received the verdict of the country after the most searching argument. Would it be right, would it be tolerable, that after that measure had been specifically before the people of this country and had been examined and searched out, that it should be again submitted in a much less considered fashion to people who had much less opportunity of considering it than was the case during the discussions in that great General Election? Surely there, again, you have an illustration of a case in which the very best machinery for deciding the question was the machinery of Parliament.

I come to the third case, this time not of the past but of the future. I take the question which I suspect really underlies this proposal—the question of Welsh Disestablishment. About that there will be a great deal of controversy, and a great deal of dispute. No one can deny that the Welsh, who, after all, are the people chiefly concerned, by a large majority desire that the relations between the Church and State within their own Principality should be put on a different basis from that of the rent of the country. Is it right to submit a question like that, essentially to be discussed by people who know the circumstances, who appreciate the feeling, who are acquainted with the traditions which have given rise to it—is it right. I ask, to submit that to the very rough and imperfect tribunal of the Referendum? Why should these things be taken out of the general scope of this Bill? As for the question of the relations of Church and State in England, I do not myself regard that as a question that is likely to arise in an acute fashion for some time to come. One may be wrong, but at all events I see no reason why that question should be separated from other great questions which come within the purview of the method by which it is proposed to regulate the relations of the two Houses of Parliament in the future.

The Amendment proposed by the noble Viscount suffers from one defect. He picks out one question in which he is passionately interested, and one sympathises with that interest, and he puts it on a footing by itself. He seems to treat the relations between the Church and the State as being of the privileged class, and I presume he means that this should be cumulatively added to the Amendment of the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition. But there are other questions of vast importance which might well have a claim to be treated in the same fashion. How can you justify treating the question of the relations of Church and State in a category by itself in the fashion proposed by the noble Viscount? Surely all this argument rests on a fallacy. The fallacy is this, that the desire of those who framed this Bill was to establish some harsh rule to which there ought to be a number of exceptions. We believe, those of us who are responsible for this Bill, that we have reached a period in which the country has pronounced that the relations between the two Houses of Parliament should be on a different footing from that on which they have been hitherto. I have already said that I regret that that situation should have arisen. It will be very difficult to replace the old state of things; but that does not affect the fact that it is necessary, and the country has pronounced it to be necessary, that there should be a new code of relations between the two Houses of Parliament; and if this Bill be no more than the crystallisation of what we believe to be the unwritten tradition of the relations between the two Houses, then surely there can be no justification for exceptions of this kind, and least of all for exceptions which would work out with the unfortunate consequences which I have attempted to describe in at least one or two instances which come within the scope of the Amendment proposed by the noble Viscount. For these reasons it is impossible for the Government even to entertain this Amendment.


My Lords, as far as the Church in Wales is concerned, I entirely deny that the question has ever been put before the people of this country since 1885. Whatever the members of the late Commission may think, we certainly hold that the Church in Wales has a very strong claim on the affections of her people, and I sincerely believe that this is a question of all others that ought to be referred to a poll of the people. But if we do not some of us follow the noble Viscount, Lord Halifax, into the Division Lobby, it is because we feel that in the Amendment to be proposed later on by the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, we find a sufficient security. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, that there are other large questions, and that it is a mistake to make certain exceptions. If you begin to make exceptions, you either leave out something, or You include too much, but if you take it that under this Bill certain subjects will be referred to a Committee to decide whether they are of sufficient importance, or whether they have been before the electorate, then I think we can safely rely, in the case of the Church in Wales, on the fact that it has not been before the electorate for the last twenty years. I hope the noble Viscount will not go to a Division on this point. I think it would be far wiser to include this matter in the Amendment that is to come.


My Lords, I rise to thank the noble Viscount opposite most cordially for his exceedingly impressive address, and, if I may venture to say so, I would thank also the noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, for his instructive speech. Lord Haldane rather differs, think, from the President of the Board of Education as to the nearness of the time when the question of the Disestablishment of the Church of England would be before the country. The President of the Board of Education said rather gaily, not long ago at Nottingham, that— Disestablishment would be a practical question in England at no distant date. And Lord Haldane will remember that four years ago in another place a Resolution was passed, the majority running to three figures, in favour of the Disestablishment of the Church of England.

I was exceedingly interested in the references which the noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, made to those most exemplary negotiations which are going on in Scotland. I attribute that happy state of things there to the influence of Dr. Chalmers, who, however, would not have taken the view that Lord Haldane seems disposed to take upon this question. I venture to think that what is going on in Scotland, so far from being urged as an argument against the Amendment of Lord Halifax, is a strong reason why His Majesty's Government should not be in such a desperate hurry on these very important and delicate questions affecting the foundations of national life. Then I must take exception to the noble Viscount's reference to the Disestablishment of that part of the Church of England which is situated in the Principality of Wales. I should have thought that Lord Haldane would have recognised that, as Mr. Gladstone said, you might as well speak of the Church of Wales in England as of the Church of England in Wales. Lord Haldane said that, after all, the people of Wales are chiefly concerned. They may be; but they are not solely concerned. As Viscount Halifax reminded us, the Prime Minister said a few months ago that it is the intention of the Government, in case the Parliament Bill is carried, to give the Welsh Disestablishment Bill such a position as would enable it to be passed in the present Parliament. I do not know whether Lord Haldane admits that one of the objects of passing this Bill is the desire of His Majesty's Government to pass Welsh Disestablishment and Home Rule for Ireland behind the backs of the people of this country. It is for Lord Haldane to say—he is one of the members of the Government—and then your Lordships will be able to consider whether his authority or that of the Prime Minister is the most weighty in this connection.

I was very much interested in another reference which Lord Haldane made. He referred to the Irish Disestablishment Act of 1868, and so did the noble Viscount the Leader of the House. I think in the instructive speech which one would have expected from so distinguished a master of thought, not the least instructive part was his reference to "that most active and most fertile administration which came into power in 1868 and remained in power for six years." The noble Viscount, Lord Morley, reminded your Lordships that that "most active and fertile administration" passed seven measures of great magnitude, and that one alone had been submitted by the great Statesman who came into power in 1868 to the verdict of the country. I think the words he used were— Irish Disestablishment, and that alone, was in the forefront of the election in 1868. Now, it did surprise me that it did not occur to so great a master of thought that that was hardly a precedent for carrying out the Prime Minister's intention of passing Welsh Disestablishment into law without consulting the people about it. I was so interested in that reference that I turned up the debates upon Irish Disestablishment, and I think Mr. Gladstone said of Irish Disestablishment that it was a question whether it was not— The most grave and arduous work of legislation that had ever been laid before the Legislature. Although Wales is smaller than Ireland, I think that in certain respects Welsh Disestablishment is even more grave and arduous than was Irish Disestablishment. A previous Home Secretary said that "Welsh Disestablishment raises the whole question," and it is a question on which Lord Halifax has a perfect right to say that hundreds and thousands of the people of this country do feel acutely. They feel acutely that His Majesty's Government should propose with such a light heart to dismember the Church of England without consulting the people of this country about it.

Now I come back to the noble Viscount, Lord Haldane. He said rather cautiously that the Welsh people are most chiefly concerned, but certainly he will admit that the English people are also concerned. May I say that no Act of Parliament created the relations between the Welsh Church and the State, and there has never been an Act of Parliament modifying in the slightest degree those relations; so that the Home Secretary was quite right in saying in another place, upon a discussion of an Amendment corresponding to this, that this was an "organic or Constitutional question." Let me call your attention to the contrast between the procedure of 1868, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Morley referred, and the procedure of His Majesty's Government at the present time. At that time, as Lord Haldane acknowledged, the question of Irish Disestablishment was discussed in every constituency in the country. What about the present time? May I ask whether Lord Haldane maintains that this question was before the country at the last election? Does Lord Haldane say that? [VISCOUNT HALDANE was understood to assent.] Very well. In what sense can that be said? The Prime Minister is a most distinguished member of a learned profession, a great lawyer. How did he put the matter before the country? He mentioned it once in one speech, just as if he was serving a subpœna to appear in a County Court.

Take the Home Secretary. His style is not so dry nor so legal. He accomplished the brilliant feat of packing three statements which he would be proud to call "terminological inexactitudes" into one sentence of his first epistle to Dundee. And then three days afterwards he replaced two of those statements with further "terminological inexactitudes" of an airy character. I think I am right in saying that only twenty Liberal candidates in England and Wales mentioned this matter in any shape or form in their election addresses—shall we say ten in Wales and ten in England? Is that bringing the matter before the country? Then, His Majesty's Government appointed a Royal Commission to enter into this question. One of the most powerful members, if not the most powerful member, of the present Government explained that you always must have a Commission to settle the facts. That, your Lordships may remember, was stated in the country and also in the House of Commons. Now, it is a very curious thing, if the noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, is going to maintain that this was before the country, that for some reason or other which ordinary people have never yet been able to understand, but which, of course, the Government knows something about, the Report of the Welsh Church Commission only came out just at the election time. That means either one of two things—either that the distinguished member of the Government to whom I have referred was quite wrong in explaining why the Commission was appointed, or Lord Haldane did not remember the speech of his colleague when he said this matter was before the country.

I am not here to appeal to His Majesty's Government. I am of opinion that, though it is an unreasonable thing, they have made up their minds to have Welsh Disestablishment at any price before the people of the country have an opportunity—in England as well as Wales—to declare their minds about it. I do not quite go so far as another authority, much more competent to speak than myself, in saying that the conduct of His Majesty's Government will actually assist us in resisting their intention to Disestablish the Church in Wales, but I will say this, that it is not a straightforward way of dealing with the most ancient institution in this country. It is not right or fair to the people of the country. In the last resort, even under this Bill, we have two years in which to tell the people the truth, and I think His Majesty's Government will rue the day in which they declined to accept the reasonable Amendment of the noble Viscount, Lord Halifax.

I hope, however, that the appeal which Lord Halifax has made to the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition will not be in vain in this sense. I understand that Disestablishment is one of the matters of great gravity included in Lord Lansdowne's Amendment, and if we are told definitely from the Front Opposition Bench that they do look upon this matter as a question of great gravity, I hope Lord Halifax will be content to support, as I am content myself to support, the Amendment Of the noble Marquess. But I shall never forget personally the debt of gratitude which all Churchmen owe to the noble Viscount, not for the first time—those who agree with him in theology and those who do not—for his speech on this occasion, as also for his services in connection with the Education Bill. As I said before, I think this Amendment moved by Viscount Halifax is reasonable. But with regard to the members of the Government in this House, there are reasons connected with the other House, why they, though I am sure they desire to personally do what is reasonable and just and honourable, are not able to do so on this occasion.


My Lords, interesting as was the speech to which we have just listened, and full as it was of local Welsh colour, I think it would be a mistake if we were diverted from the main substance of the Amendment of the noble Viscount into considering the various points raised. They are not strictly germane to this Amendment, because this Amendment does not deal with the question whether a Bill shall not be allowed to be carried under the operation of this Bill unless it has been fully before the country. This Amendment, as does the Amendment of the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, deals with a certain class of legislation which is thought so important that it must be withdrawn from the general category, and that is the point we have to deal with to-day. I think it would be a pity to drift into a discussion of the merits or demerits of Welsh Disestablishment, and the exact proportion of sentiment there, and how far that question has been before the country either now or for a considerable number of years past. I cannot help thinking that this Amendment in substance is not of very great importance. Subsection (c) of the Amendment of the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition covers the case of a Bill— which has been referred to the Joint Committee, and which in their opinion raises an issue of great gravity upon which the judgment of the country has not been sufficiently ascertained. I maintain that if a Bill for what is popularly understood as Disestablishment were introduced, and if the Amendment proposed should take effect, the House of Lords, which would have the power of initiating a reference to the Joint Committee, would no doubt consider that Disestablishment Bill of sufficient importance to be so referred.

I ask the House to consider for a moment the extreme width of the words in the Amendment of the noble Viscount, Lord Halifax. He deals with "any Bill" which affects the Established Church. A Bill may affect it to a very slight extent. I have running through my mind certain Bills which have become Acts, and which in a small way affect the Established Church of England. I will not trouble with Scotland or Ireland. They are out of the way for the moment. I will deal with the Church with which this House is most familiar—the Church of England. Take the Test and Corporation Act, which had the effect of throwing open municipal corporations to dissenters. That was distinctly a Bill dealing with the Establishment of the Church of England. Would noble Lords say that such a measure was of such gravity that it ought to be taken out of the ordinary category of what is contemplated shall be the ordinary law of Parliament for the passing of Bills in the future? It is quite clear it is not. Take the throwing open of Parliament to Jews. We know that Dr. Arnold felt so strongly the idea of the identity of the English citizen with the English Christian that although he was a strong Liberal he was opposed to it. Undoubtedly the admission of Jews to Parliament, like the admission of Nonconformists to municipal corporations, was affecting the Church of England, because when we talk of the Establishment of the Church of England we are dealing, not with something written in any one Statute, but with that which pervades the Statutes running through the history of this country even before and after the Reformation. Whenever you pass any Act which affects the relation of the Church of England with the State of England you are affecting the Established Church.

Take two or three other instances. There is the repeal of Church rates, not only affecting the Establishment of the Church of England but also affecting its endowment. I am happy to say that when the time came for repealing Church rates this House assented and gave way, because your Lordships saw it was not a case of such enormity and so vital that you ought to call in special machinery to deal with it. Take burial grounds. Your Lordships know how strenuously the clergy of the Church of England opposed the granting of permission to Nonconformists to bury, with their own services, in the churchyards of England. That affected distinctly the Established Church of England, and it was said at the time that Nonconformists were intruding into the sacred ground belonging to the Church of England. Take, again, a measure which I have no doubt the Chancellor of Oxford heartily approves of. I mean the throwing open of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge to Nonconformists. The Universities were part of the possessions of the Church of England, part of its Establishment, strictly limited, but they were thrown open, and I do not know whether the noble Viscount, Lord Halifax, would say that he would like to take a plébiscite of the whole country as to whether people who are admitted to fellowships or professorships should not be so admitted without subjecting themselves to signing the Thirty-Nine Articles.

There are cases much nearer our own time upon which I know the noble Viscount, Lord Halifax, feels very strongly—matters which have become law recently, and which distinctly affect the relations of the Church of England as an Establishment and the law of the State of England. First, the Divorce Act; and, secondly, the Deceased Wife's Sister Act. Down to the passing of both these measures the law of the Church was identical with the law of the State. Of course, in the case of the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill it happened that it was the law of the State and the law of the Church, because the forbidden degrees rested upon a Statute of Henry VIII, which, while adopting some of the Canon law, put aside some of the other provisions. But when Parliament enacted that it should be lawful to marry a deceased wife's sister, it broke down that canon law which was a part of the Establishment of the Church of England. There are many other cases. The Divorce Act is very galling to a certain section of the Church of England, who fume against it and would like to see it repealed. The Deceased Wife's Sister Act is more recent, and I do not know whether it affects them as seriously as a matter of sentiment, but no doubt some of them feel it very strongly. But are we going to say that all these things, which certainly affect the question of the Establishment, are to be taken out of the ordinary class of legislation and put into a category by themselves?

Ordinary persons, when they read this Amendment, think off-hand of a comprehensive Bill, like the Irish Disestablishment Bill, which made a clean sweep and absolutely severed the connection of Church and State. But we are spending all our lives in severing one by one the various strands which knit the Church and the State together. We are not riding at a single anchor with a single cable. This connection rides with many anchors and many cables, and if we sever one after the other we diminish the connection of the Establishment. I agree that the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, would, no doubt, be anxious to be as friendly as possible with that great organisation, the Established Church of England. If a question affecting its interests in a vital way came up, I have no doubt he would use his influence to refer it to the Joint Committee if that Committee be established; but supposing this Act had been in force, and supposing the Amendment by Lord Halifax had been added to it, I very much doubt whether he would have said that it would have been, proper to have referred such a Bill as the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill to the Referendum. That is only a criticism of a particular Amendment. When we come to the Amendment of the noble Marquess we shall, of course, criticise it on its own merits. I only wish to say at this moment, with regard to the Amendment of Lord Halifax, that I think he has not paid sufficient heed to the substantial securities that the important interests of the Church would secure under Lord Lansdowne's Amendment. I do not know whether he has considered all these things in detail. If he has not, he ought to have done. Any one who looks at these things in a commonsense way will see that the words of the noble Viscount's Amendment are far too wide to be entertained.


My Lords, one or two noble Lords opposite have complained that those sitting on this side of the House do not speak as often as we ought to do. I hear several noble Lords say "Hear, hear" Evidently that is a sentiment which is generally entertained. On this Amendment I only want to say a very few words. We have heard a great deal during these debates from noble Lords opposite about log-rolling. Noble Lord after noble Lord has got up and called attention to the fact that the Scotsman wants one thing, the Irishman wants something else, the Welshman wants Disestablishment, and the Socialist in England wants heavier taxation of rich men—but they all join together. Noble Lord after noble Lord has described that as log-rolling. It is an interesting fact that hitherto in all these debates not a single noble Lord on this side of the House has got up to point out that this thing is mutual. I am going to do it, and I think I shall convince your Lordships on the point.

Here is an Amendment moved by the noble Viscount, Lord Halifax, the well-known champion of the rights and interests of the Church of England, and it is supported by the right rev. Prelate on my left, the Bishop of St. Davids. Nobody will deny in this House that the noble Viscount and the right rev. Prelate, whatever else they do, do not specially represent the interests and wishes of anybody excepting the Church of England or the Church of England in Wales. Well, we have the noble Viscount and the right rev. Prelate, in order to get as much support as possible, for the object of their defence, which, no doubt, is the Church in Wales, moving an Amendment which enables them to deal with the interests of the Church of England and the temporalities of the Church in Scotland. Could log-rolling go further than that? I think noble Lords must agree that there is quite as much log-rolling among the Party opposite as there is on this side of the House. It is log-rolling that wants to maintain specially the interests of the Episcopalian Church in Wales and the Presbyterian Church in Scotland—the maintenance of the interests of two different religions in two different countries. [Several NOBLE LORDS: No.] What else do you mean? You mean to maintain Presbyterianism in Scotland and the Episcopal Church in Wales, and I say that noble Lords opposite could give no stronger illustration of log-rolling than that.

But I do not wish to make a speech about Welsh Disestablishment at this hour of the night. As the Bishop of St. Davids has said, we shall have an opportunity of discussing Welsh Disestablishment before many years are over in this House; but I want to say two things about this as it affects Wales. In Wales and Monmouthshire there are 34 constituencies. Wales and Monmouthshire are the places where the Conservative Party gained certain successes at the last two General Elections. They won seats, and they hold now three seats out of 31 in the Principality, largely, no doubt, on this question. I will say this, which everybody in Wales knows to be true—I speak as a Churchman in Wales—that the Church in Wales will be in a far stronger position than she is to-day when her affairs are no longer treated as though they were not Welsh affairs, but as though they were the affairs of four dioceses of the Church of England. That may be an argument which weighs with Englishmen in this House and in another place, but it is an argument which does very great damage and prejudice to the Church in Wales.


My Lords, I do not understand the speech of the last speaker, Lord St. Davids. I really do not quite see his point. I should have imagined that the object of the noble Viscount, Lord Halifax, and others who support him was to Maintain the Christian religion. It appears to be rather a curious process to begin to strengthen the Church by throttling it. I do not think myself that the Nonconformists, with whom I live on terms of the greatest friendship, are at all inclined to begin a reformation, or take a step in advance to distribute those endowments which have been gradually accumulating for so many years. The noble Viscount made a remark that this was a question which was difficult to submit to the country. I hope I am not misstating his argument, but I understood him to say that when you have different classes of thought in a Church you cannot put a clear and specific issue before them on the question of Disestablishment. I am not going to argue that.

But there is one aspect of this question on which the noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, was extraordinarily silent, but not more silent than all his friends in the Principality and in England. There are two sides to this question—Disestablishment and Disendowment. Now, the question of Disendowment is merely a matter of simple honesty, and it is one on which you can ask the people of this country to decide. A marked change of opinion has been taking place in Wales with regard to the question of Disendowment. I have recently been reading something by Mr. Henry Lewis, a supporter of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, a Nonconformist of the highest character and a man of great ability. He wrote a letter, which required a great deal of courage to write, in which he declared that Nonconformists were strongly against Disendowment. That feeling is growing steadily in the Principality. I do not wish to give your Lordships a rose-coloured picture of what is happening, but if the noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, will come into Wales and talk on Disendowment I will promise him a very hearty meeting. The Liberation Society sent one of their ablest lecturers into Wales on one occasion, and I was rather anxious to hear what happened. He went to large centres of population, to towns represented by Members of the same political colour as the noble Lord, Lord St. Davids, but the meetings were a complete failure. In the first two towns not a word was said about Disendowment, and very little about Disestablishment, and the real burden of the lecturer's speches in those towns was. "We are only doing it for the good of the Church" You know what that means. This gentleman then went to a rather larger town. His reputation was growing, and the hall was very full. The chairman, before going on to the platform, peeped through the curtain to see what the character of the audience was, and when the gentleman who was responsible for the meeting came on to the platform, the chairman announced that that was "not a political meeting;" they were going to have "a prayer meeting instead" The point of the whole thing is the steady change of feeling which is taking place in Wales. Your Lordships will remember that there was a very strong agitation at one time in Scotland for Disestablishment and Disendowment. I do not know much about Scotland, but I imagine that that agitation has broken down, and I believe the same thing is going to take place in Wales. But you must give us time. For that reason, in the name of justice and fair play, I hope this question will be covered, as I am quite satisfied it will be, by the Amendment of the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition.


My Lords, I think we may congratulate ourselves that our arguments about log-rolling have sunk so deeply in Lord St. Davids' mind, and if we have heard to-night the only tu quoque which occurs to him I think we may be well satisfied. But I think the House owes a debt of gratitude to the noble Lords, Lord Sheffield and Lord St. Davids, for taking part, as they constantly have, in these debates. We see constantly in the Radical Press that Liberal opinion is inadequately represented and finds so meagre an utterance in this House. But whose fault is it? Liberal Prime Ministers are never weary of recommending His Majesty to make Liberal Peers, but when we get them they do not attend even on these great occasions. And when they do attend, with the exceptions I have named and one or two other noble Lords whom I see opposite, they do not speak. Therefore I think we have a real grievance that on this critical occasion, the gravity of which is recognised just as much by noble Lords opposite as it is by us, practically the whole of this debate, so far as the Liberals are concerned, is confined to the Front Bench. Therefore I very respectfully thank the noble Lords who have spoken to-night from the other side for the assistance they have given us.

I should like to say a word or two about the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Haldane. It was a very characteristic speech. He discoursed with great knowledge about the Free Church of Scotland and the Church of Scotland, and the very interesting rapprochement that is said to be taking place between them. He reminded us of the history of the passing of the Act for Disestablishment and Disendowment in Ireland, and he said a little about Wales. That part of the speech has been dealt with so well by the right rev. Prelate the Bishop of St. Davids that I can only commiserate with the noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, on having thought that an argument taken from the Irish Church would pass muster in this House. Mr. Gladstone passed Disestablishment and Disendowment in Ireland after the subject had been threshed out on every platform in the country and pronounced upon at every General Election. And the sequitur from that is that the Church of England may be reasonably disestablished and disendowed when the subject had not been mentioned by one-tenth of the Liberal candidates at the last General Election!

What Lord Haldane entirely omitted to tell us was this, why it could be just, why it could be consistent with the homage which their lips are always paying to democracy, to disestablish or disendow any part of the Church of England without giving the people an opportunity off having a word to say on the subject. I will refer to that point presently, but I will remind your Lordships that the noble Viscount wound up his speech by saying he could not accept the Amendment because it was inconsistent with the principle of this Bill, and that principle was to embody in a written Statute Law what ought to be the unwritten traditions between the two Houses, Now, there is a fine judicial flavour about the words, "the unwritten traditions between the two Houses" But strip the phrase, and what do you find? They claim that the House of Commons, however small and precarious the majority may be, whether it does or does not represent the electors of this country, whether the electors have or have not been consulted, shall be able to do exactly what they like within two years with any institution of the country. That is an exercise of the traditions between the two Houses which we on this side of the House repudiate lock, stock and barrel, and we tell the noble Viscount for the hundredth time that the question is not a question between the Lords and the Commons, but a question of the real and comparative rights of the final authority between the electors and the House of Commons.

I do, however, thank the noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, for one thing. He did not repeat to us again what we have heard so often, that we are precluded from discussing these matters because we allowed the Second Reading of this Bill to pass without a Division. I hope your Lordships will not forget that that is being thrown in our teeth on every possible occasion. Your Lordships are saddled by the Front Bench opposite with the responsibility for this Bill because you allowed it to pass the Second Reading sub silentio. Why did we do that? Because we did not want to slain the door in the face of a possible compromise even at the last moment, and because we did not want to slam the door in the face of the possibility of a national as against a Party settlement of this question. But I entirely deny that because we did that we are precluded to any degree whatever from discussing such Amendments as have been before the House to-day and yesterday.

Now, as regards this Amendment. This is not the occasion on which to make a speech on Disestablishment and Disendowment, but I think the noble Viscount, Lord Halifax, was abundantly justified in bringing this particular question in this special form before your Lordships' House. I said I was not going to make a speech about Disestablishment or Disendowment, and the case of Wales is only an illustration, because that is the aspect of this question that is likely to be first brought to the attention of Parliament. But it is not out of place in this solemn week of the existence of the House of Lords that I should remind your Lordships that the Church of England existed before England existed; that the organic connection of the dioceses of England dates back, as we have already been reminded to-night, for more than eight centuries; and that the endowments of the Church of England, whether in the dioceses of Wales or of England itself, are the gifts of deceased Churchmen which have been devoted for centuries to only one purpose—the service of religion and of God. The time may have come—I do not think the people of England any more than the people of Wales think it has come—when those endowments shall be wrested from the service of religion and used in some purely secular connection. What right can any temporary majority in any House of Commons have to deal with those endowments without consulting the people of England and Wales, for whose service they have been given and who enjoy the religious ministrations which are supported by them? The time may have come, in the opinion of the people of England or of Wales, when the Church as it exists at present in its connection with the State may have served its purpose, but what right have any majority in the House of Commons to say that that hour has struck unless the people of England themselves, in the clearest possible manner, have told them that that is their opinion?

As this Bill stands, every single penny might be taken from the Church of England, whether in England or in Wales. The whole organic connection between the Church and State could be severed in two years by a vote in the House of Commons without any consultation with the country. That is only an illustration of what the Parliament Bill is. It is a proposal really to put every great interest in this country, however noble, however ancient, however devoted to the service of the country, absolutely under the heel of a temporary partisan majority. The noble Viscount, Lord Halifax, in his proposed Amendment, meets this case, but in my opinion, speaking for myself, I think the case is better met by the Amendment, of my noble friend Lord Lansdowne. It is better met because the method is more flexible. There are measures dealing with the Church both in Scotland and in England that need not necessarily be sent to the Referendum.

I, who am such a convinced champion of the Referendum as one of the means of adjusting our Constitutional differences, quite recognise that one of the most formidable arguments against the Referendum is the inconvenience that would be caused by its too frequent use. Therefore I prefer the Amendment of the noble Marquess Lord Lansdowne, because I cannot imagine that any such Committee as it is proposed to set up could take any other view than that a proposal for the Disestablishment or Disendowment of any part of the Church, which had not been before the electors at a General Election and pronounced specifically upon by them, was a matter of grave importance which had not been adequately considered by the electors. Therefore I believe that the grave case which the noble Viscount, Lord Halifax, and I and those who agree with him wish to meet is covered by the Amendment of the noble Marquess Lord Lansdowne. On the other hand, I believe that the particular form of his Amendment meets the criticism that has been levelled against the Amendment of Lord Halifax to-night, and safeguards the Constitution against the danger of having to go to a Referendum on some comparatively unimportant and possibly mainly agreed change in the relations, we will say, between the Church of Scotland and the State. Therefore I would venture to suggest to my noble friend not to press the Amendment to a Division, having, I hope, assured him as to the view that I and my noble friends take of the relations between this subject and Lord Lansdowne's Amendment.


My Lords. I cannot sit down under the insult which has been hurled at Welsh Churchmen by a man bearing the name of the Patron Saint of Wales. What we stand for in this Amendment is Christianity. Why the Churchmen of Wales should object to the Churchmen of Scotland having their particular form of Christianity passes my comprehension. I cannot understand any one corning from Wales and sitting on the Liberal Benches objecting to anybody holding different forms of Christianity. There are many forms of Christianity, and I am sure no Conservative in Wales desires to prevent anybody holding his particular form of Christianity and worshipping his God in the way he chooses. We Conservatives in Wales stood up against the Education Bills of the Liberal Government on the ground that every man might worship God and see that his child should be brought up in the Christianity which he preferred. The noble Lord, Lord St. Davids, who made this gross accusation of log-rolling against the Churchmen of Wales, stated that he was an adherent of the Church in Wales, and be advocated that we should consent to disestablish and disendow the Church in Wales so that we might be stronger in the advancement of Christianity. I remember the story of the spider and the fly. "Will you walk into my parlour said the spider to the fly?" I have no desire to see the Church in Wales walking into the web of the Government and into the wide mesh of Disestablishment and Disendowment.


The noble Earl is putting words into my mouth that I never uttered.


I beg the noble Lord's pardon, but he certainly, as far as I remember, and I took a note of it at the time, said he was interested in Churchmanship in Wales and desired to see it made stronger, and that if a Disestablishment Bill was passed the Church would be stronger in Wales.


I do not want to interrupt the noble Earl again, but what I said was that Churchmanship in Wales would be stronger if it was not treated in England or in Wales as if Wales was a question of the four dioceses of the Church of England. I have in my mind an excellent history of Wales by Mr. Lloyd Which has just come out, and in which the question of the independence of the whole diocese was considered.


I was not going into the question of dioceses, but I think the noble Lord has verified what I said, and that I was perfectly correct in my statement of what he said. There is one other point I wish to refer to, and that is the references of the noble Lord, Lord Sheffield, to the various Acts admitting Nonconformists to the Universities, and other Acts which have been passed through both Houses of Parliament. All I can say is, it is rather strange that he should make those suggestions as being reasons for Disestablishment, for severing part of the strands—I think that was the expression he used—and disestablishing the Church of England.


I did not say that.


"Strands," I think, was the word the noble Lord used. All I can say is that it seems strange to me that because the Church of England has seen fit to be generous to other religions and to other sects of the Christian community, therefore it should be said that she has been dissecting herself in those Acts. It is with very great regret that I cannot support the noble Viscount, Lord Halifax, to whom I am deeply indebted for having moved this Amendment. Nobody is a stauncher supporter than I am of the principle of his Amendment, but I think it would be unwise to press this Amendment to a Division, and I feel confident that the case is covered by the Amendment of our Leader, Lord Lansdowne.


My Lords, I wish first of all to congratulate my noble friend Lord Sheffield upon his extraordinary ingenuity in having associated the Divorce Act and the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill with this subject. I confess I do not quite see what they have to do with it. With regard to the other matters which Lord Sheffield enumerated, the Test and Corporation Act and a variety of others, I would point out to him that there is the greatest possible difference between a number of Acts of that sort which could be referred to the country and an Act which ex hypothesi could not be referred to the country. The whole difference lies there. Lord St. Davids accuses me of being an advocate of log-rolling because in this Amendment I have included the endowment and position of the Established Church of Scotland. I have yet to learn that because you object to being disestablished and disendowed yourself, you are therefore precluded from explaining that you dislike seeing your neighbour disestablished and disendowed also. There is no sort of reason, because I protest against an injustice to the Church of England, why I should not protest also against an injustice to the Church of Scotland. I consider that a complete answer to Lord St. Davids' remarks.

I consider it the duty of your Lordships' House to see that a matter of such grave importance as the Disestablishment and Disendowment of any portion of the Church of England shall not be left to the decision of an accidental majority in the House of Commons, but shall be referred to the opinion of the country before it is passed into law. It is a matter of small importance how that object is attained. If the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, represents the opinions of the Front Opposition Bench and correctly expresses the reason why this matter is not included specifically in the matters mentioned in Lord Lansdowne's Amendment, and if the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, accepts what has fallen from the noble Earl, I am content to withdraw my Amendment on that assurance. But I am not content to withdraw my Amendment unless it is distinctly understood that on this side of the House we do not draw a distinction between this and the matters enumerated in the noble Marquess's Amendment, but consider that such a subject as Disestablishment and Disendowment is too serious to be left to a majority of the House of Commons and not referred to the serious and considered opinion of the electors of this country. It is not an Amendment in favour of this House. As has been said over and over again, it is an Amendment in the interests of the representatives of the nation, and I am not prepared, standing in my place in this House, to sacrifice this principle to please anybody.


My Lords, I rise only for the purpose of giving my noble friend Lord Halifax the assurance he invites me to give. I think that the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, made it clear that we view such a question as the Disestablishment and Disendowment of the Church as one which ought not to be disposed of—and I am using my noble friend's words—until the people of this country have been consulted thereupon. The object of the framers of the Amendment which I shall have the honour of submitting to-morrow was to cover that, because we thought, for reasons which have been explained, that it was better to introduce general words which would deal, not only with the particular question in which my noble friend is interested, but with other questions as well, and therefore we prefer the more general form of Amendment.


After the assurance of the noble Marquess it is a great pleasure and satisfaction to me to find myself in entire accord with him, and therefore I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

House resumed, and to be again in Committee To-morrow.