§ House again in Committee (according to order).
§ [The EARL OF DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]
Debate resumed on LORD LANSDOWNE'S Amendment to insert, at the end of subsection (1) of Clause 2, the following words—
Provided further that any Bill—
§ (2) Any question whether a Bill comes within the meaning of paragraphs (a) (b) of subsection (1) of this section shall be decided by the Joint Committee."
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
My Lords, the Amendment of my noble friend behind me has now been under discussion for a whole day, and I think that we may consider the discussion to have been a somewhat instructive commentary on what will take place in this House under the Bill if it should pass into law. The noble Viscount the Lord President of the Council made a reply to the noble Marquess behind me, but I think that those who heard the speech of my noble friend Lord Curzon later in the evening will agree that that reply left some gaps to be filled up, and attempted to establish some points which could not be carried through.
But what is more remarkable even than the gaps in the speech of the noble Viscount is the entire absence of support for that 197 speech from noble Lords on the Benches behind him. This is a vital Amendment on the most important Bill that has ever been submitted to your Lordships' House, and there are sitting in this Assembly, not only a considerable body of Peers who were supporters of the Government before 1906, but a large number of newly-created Peers. We are told that they are all heartily in sympathy with the policy of the Government, designed though it may be to humiliate and paralyse the order to which they have consented to belong. But where are they on this occasion? They were represented last night by a speech from the noble Lord, Lord Courtney—a powerful speech, a convincing speech, destined to show that the need was great, and the occasion was grave, for some such Amendment as that which my noble friend has proposed. He was supported also, if support it was, by a speech from Lord MacDonnell, who went a long way back into the arguments and quotations which I well remember were used in Parliament twenty-six years ago by Mr. Gladstone from the same sources. The noble Lord appeared to entirely ignore all the changes which have taken place in Ireland since those speeches were made. Though he shakes his head to imply that he did not ignore them, there is one point, I am afraid, with regard to which he cannot shake his head—that is, that throughout his speech he never attempted to apply his argument for giving Home Rule to Ireland to the question which is before your Lordships, as to whether that should be done, not by the wish or against the wish of this House, but by the wish or against the wish of the people of the country.
Then, my Lords, if this debate is remarkable for the want of support of the Bill on the part of noble Lords opposite, what about the attendance, and what about the Divisions which have taken place in this debate? There used to be, before 1906, some fifty Peers or more who rallied to the Whip of the present Government. The Government have created the unprecedented number of nearly fifty more Peers to support their policy, and the Government might have expected to put at least 100 members into the Lobby on so vital an occasion as the present; but when your Lordships divided on a matter fought out by the Government, after successive speeches from the Front Bench, on the question of the Speaker deciding as to 198 what is a Money Bill, only forty-four supporters of the Government were found, and I believe the Government themselves number twenty votes. In my opinion, that shows an apathy with regard to this measure even amongst the professed supporters of the Government which goes far on the way of going back on the continued statements of the noble Viscount that this Bill, and this Bill alone, will content the Party to which he belongs, and the country which he refuses to consult.
If this is the treatment which is meted out to us while our powers are still intact and complete, what do you suppose will be the treatment meted out to us when we have only a dilatory power and our discussions become of a purely academic character, as they are intended to become? To see what the real position of the Government is with regard to this Amendment we have to consider in quiet language what is the offer which the noble Marquess has made to them; and if I re-state facts which have already been put before the House I hope I shall be excused, because I want to make the matter perfectly plain. We are told that the country is suffering from the predominance of your Lordships' House, and that the supremacy of the House of Commons has got to be unmistakably affirmed. What does the noble Marquess offer? He makes the offer that the battalions behind him, which are supposed to number 400 or 500 to the 100 on the opposite side, shall be reduced so as to secure practical equality in this House—an offer which no member of the Government, I submit, ever expected to get, and the importance of which they have continually attempted to decry since it was made. This is offered in place of what is now an absolute power of rejection. Under that offer we confine the purview of your Lordships' House to those measures which are essentially general in their character and not Money Bills, and we ask for a reference to the people beyond the powers given in this Bill only for such grave matters as may seem to a Committee—on which, if anything, the House of Commons will predominate—matters sufficiently grave to call for a decision of the people on the difference between the two Houses. Is not that a concession which, if it had been contemplated five years ago, the mildest advocate of the House of Commons in this Ministry would have been surprised to receive? But the noble Viscount says, 199 "Your proposal directly traverses our policy." Those were his concluding words last night.
Now what is the Government's policy? Their policy is this Bill. If their policy is that the will of the people shall prevail—and that is the old watchword of the Party under which the noble Viscount enlisted many years ago—they are bound to vote for the Amendment which my noble friend has tabled. If their policy is to shuffle through a measure which the country has rejected on every occasion upon which it has been submitted to it, and to do so behind the back of Parliament, and behind the back of the country, then, undoubtedly, we are traversing the whole of their policy; but to one or other of these alternatives they are bound to assent. Now watch the evolution of the proposal and pretensions of the noble Viscount. We were urged not to speak in any way disrespectfully of the work of the House of Commons, but the other day I was called in question by the Lord Chancellor because I said that if the privileges of the House of Lords were to be clipped and taken away, we had a right to ask that the pretensions of the House of Commons with regard to privilege should not be extended. That is our view. Our view is that the privileges of the House of Commons, which we are prepared absolutely to maintain o and give way to, should not be allowed to encroach on the privileges of the Second Chamber so long as that Second Chamber exists. But you have asked something beyond that in the course of this debate. The homage which we are being asked to pay to the House of Commons is now being exacted from us for measures which have never figured in the election addresses of members of the House of Commons. My noble friend Lord Londonderry pointed out last night that in the majority of the election addresses of the present supporters of the Government the question of Home Rule never figured at all. If we are to pay homage to the House of Commons it must be on subjects with regard to which the House of Commons has obtained the approval of the country.
Then, again, we are asked to render homage to the proposals of the Government in regard to clauses which may commend themselves to the Government but which have never been allowed to be discussed in the Lower House of Parliament. Again, 200 we are asked to give full homage to the decisions of the Speaker, who, being, however eminent, the nominee of one party in the struggle, would in no other struggle which takes place in English life be accepted as the arbiter of both parties. It has been claimed that even in these circumstances the House of Commons faithfully represents the people. I think in the last 40 years there have been ten Parliaments. The Parliament of 1865 was reversed by the General Election of 1868. The dealings of the great Parliament of 1868 were reversed at the General Election of 1874. Lord Beaconsfield's Ministry, which seemed all powerful in August of 1878, was thrown out by a large majority 18 months later. The first Home Rule Bill was thrown out by 120 majority, I think, by the constituencies in. 1886. That Government, again, was reversed in 1892. The Government of 1892, and their Home Rule Bill, was also reversed in 1895. With the exception of the Parliament of 1906 the proceedings of not one Parliament out of ten have received the assent of the electors when they were asked to express their opinion. We should be sure that the present House of Commons faithfully represents the opinion of the people before we are asked to stake our all, the whole existence of the United Kingdom, and to stake every measure that may be brought forward, to the chance vote of a bare majority in the House of Commons.
A still further step in the evolution of the noble Viscount was to tell us that Home Rule could be properly decided in this way. This point has not yet been made, and I therefore hope I may trouble the House for a moment upon it. You can, of course, claim a general assent to Home Rule even if you can get no surer ground than to quote the speeches of members of the Opposition warning the constituencies that Home Rule would be the result of the success of the Government at the last election. But think what a Home Rule Bill means. It involves great considerations of finance, which caused a large portion of the wreckage of the Home Rule Bills which were proposed in 1886 and in 1893, and from all the evidence that has reached us the problem will not be rendered any more easy at the present time. Home Rule Bills involve also the whole question of Irish Members in the British Parliament, 201 whether they should be there for Imperial purposes, or whether they ought to be there at all—whether they should manage their own affairs and manage ours. That, again, was a subject on which Mr. Gladstone, after months of deliberation, made one proposal, and changed it half way through the Bill, and the failure of that proposal finally assisted largely in the wreckage of the Bill.
Then there is the question of the protection of minorities, which I imagine this House will not pass by with unconcern. Is it conceivable that all these questions can be held to have been decided by the electors because of a few loose words put together by the Prime Minister at the Albert Hall covering a general idea of Home Rule, and not touching any of the intricacies of the subject, any of which might tend to change the votes of the electors with regard to this measure? I do not believe that any eminent City firm would invest £10,000 for a client without more precise guidance than the present Government desire to receive from the electors when they are dealing with £10,000,000 of the revenue of the United Kingdom and the future lives of 4,000,000 of the population.
The noble Viscount, after giving the go by to the people, spoke, as I thought, some rather bitter words with regard to the past history of your Lordships' House. It is true, as Lord Curzon observed, that, whatever be the past history of your Lordships' House, it is hardly relevant to the Amendment before the House to say, as Lord Morley said, that this House should not have a deciding voice in reshaping the Government of Ireland, because it is not proposed by this Amendment that this House should have a deciding voice, but that it should be the subject of a Referendum to the people. When the noble Viscount uses such language, which throughout, the whole country will create prejudice as regards the rights of this House to be heard on an Irish Home Rule Bill, I do not think his statements should be allowed to pass unchallenged.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN
I have never for a moment denied that this House should have a voice in Irish affairs. My words were—It was rather doubtful tactics to raise the question of specially reserving—that is the point—Irish affairs. I said that that was not 202 good tactics, and was maladroit in view of the facts which I brought forward.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
The noble Viscount's contention, with great respect to him, was this, that the past history of this House was so black in this matter that this House had not even the right to move this impartial Committee, headed by the Speaker of the House of Commons, to decide whether the issue of Home Rule was sufficiently grave to be submitted to the judgment of the electors. I challenge his statement from every point of view. He tells us to go back for 100 years and look at the character and history of this House, and he further tells us that Irish legislation was ignorant, mischievous, and retrograde. Lord Curzon asked, and I have yet to hear the answer to it, What were the House of Commons doing during all this period? I would still more ask the noble Viscount what in the early days of his own Parliamentary life was that majority of the House of Commons, which for 25 years had complete control—during which time the Conservative Party never had a majority—doing when they could reduce the Irish population during the 25 years from eight millions to five millions? Has the noble Viscount ever considered what measures this House can put to its credit with regard to Ireland? He tells us that we have been the mainstay of all the prejudices and passions, religious or otherwise, which have divided that country? I do not think that even the noble Viscount will contend that all the Land Bills, stretching now over nearly 40 years, have done as much to set at rest this vexed question as the legislation for land purchase initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, and carried by your Lordships, and of which debate after debate in this House was the pioneer.
We are, of course, averse to giving powers of self-government which we think will interfere with the rights of minorities in Ireland; but have we been backward in granting local government? How many countries in the world can claim that they have a larger power of local government than that which the Ministry of Lord Salisbury gave to Ireland with both hands, as it was given to England and Scotland? If there is one subject more than another on which divisions have been created in Ireland and which has probably been the mainstay of passion and sentiment in that 203 country, it is the question of religious education. What has been our policy, persevered in up to this day, with regard to that? We have fought the battle of freedom on behalf of religious education for every denomination according to the wishes of the parent. Where was the noble Viscount, and where were his colleagues, when we were fighting that battle side by side with every Catholic in the Empire? He was in the Lobby with the political Nonconformists, who were grudgingly endeavouring to prevent the denominations from obtaining that which every Churchman and every Catholic in Great Britain and Ireland desired to secure. I think we have no blackness to look back to in that respect.
Although neither the noble Viscount nor any of his colleagues served in Mr. Gladstone's Government of 1880, I would ask him to let me make this comparison. Take the history of the Liberal Government from 1880 to 1885, and consider the changes from coercion to concession, and concession to coercion, when after a period of concession the Phœnix Park murders were followed by more coercion. Lord Salisbury said of those black days that what Ireland required was 20 years of firm government, and I ask, Where in the British Empire has there been progress equivalent to that which took place in Ireland in all departments of material prosperity during the 20 years of Unionist Government, from 1885 to 1906, which had the support of the House of Lords? As Lord Mayo so truly said last night, the crux of Irish agitation was the land difficulty, and that difficulty has been largely swept away by Unionist policy. The feeling as regard local government and want of power in their own affairs was swept away 20 years ago. The battle of education, if it has not been won, at any rate has not been lost, by this House, and the policy, largely decried by the present Government, which was carried through so unflinchingly by Lord Salisbury, with the consent of this House, resulted in such material prosperity that I venture to say the noble Viscount has no right to brand this House as having been the means of ignorant, retrograde, and mischievous legislation with regard to Ireland. Such a statement is an attempt, perhaps not intentional, to increase bitterness and arouse fires which have been smouldering and passions which have been dying out.
204 My Lords, I have spoken mainly on Ireland because I believe that Ireland is the most important question for exclusion under this Bill. I feel, and I believe it will be felt generally, that these debates prove conclusively that the effect of the Bill will not be to free the hands of Parliament. The Bill abolishes the control of this House over finance. It abolishes also our control over legislation, and it abolishes the safeguards on which your Lordships' House is supposed to rely in carrying out its Constitutional functions. All this is done in the name of what?—not of obtaining fairness between the two Parties, for that has been already offered to the other side of the House and refused. The Government cannot make out that anything has occurred requiring the Parliamentary machine to be recast entirely. What country in Europe can show such material progress, can show a better record in legislation, can show such prosperity as the result of the action of Parliament, as Great Britain can to-day? I am far from saying that there is not much to be done. But upon Home Rule the country has apparently made up its mind for 100 years, and therefore it is a strong proposal to ask Parliament to pass a measure with regard to it in two years against the wishes of one House of the Legislature and behind the backs of the people.
The Government are acting with the power of a temporary majority. They know that they are acting contrary to all precedent, and I hope that even now, at the eleventh hour, or before this measure is sent back to us from the House of Commons, they will weigh this Amendment, not in the light of the prejudice of preconceived ideas, but in the light of what they may well think will be advantageous to Liberal legislation. I hope that something may yet result. Otherwise, although it is always unwise to prophesy, we cannot help believing that the day will come when they will rue their mistake in not securing such a settlement as they can secure, and which is held out to them this afternoon with both hands, rather than a Pyrrhic victory which will recoil upon themselves.
My Lords, I must apologise for intervening in this discussion, but I do so in order to place before your Lordships a view somewhat different from that which has been expressed in many 205 quarters in the course of this debate. I certainly do not propose to follow so narrow a line as has been lately taken by speakers on the other side in endeavouring to confine this discussion to the consideration of the question of Home Rule. Home Rule is, no doubt, an important element for our consideration, and it is probably going to be one of the earliest topics with which Parliament will have to deal, but it is not solely upon the question of Home Rule that I should like to discuss this Bill, but rather from the point of view of a wider outlook into the future as affecting the interests of the Constitution and of the people of this country.
There have been many speeches on this particular question of Home Rule, but few speakers have discussed, as it seems to me, the general principles of the Amendment of the noble Marquess opposite. We unfortunately had introduced at an early stage into this Bill certain Amendments—Amendments which I hope I may be excused for saying seem to have been introduced under pro-Consular influences—which, in the judgment of many and in my own, have largely enforced, and in certain conditions perhaps enlarged, the control or the interference of this House in matters of finance. I believe the country has made up its mind absolutely that the control of pure finance shall remain entirely and indisputably in the hands of the House of Commons, and everybody will admit that it is because for the first time in its history the House of Lords took upon itself the rejection of the Budget that we find ourselves to-day discussing this great Constitutional change. I therefore deplore the adoption at an earlier stage of our proceedings of Amendments which to my mind prejudice the case put forward by those who desire to see a final and permanent settlement.
Passing from that, I will now approach the Amendment of the noble Marquess, of the terms of which I regret I cannot altogether approve, because it seems to me that the provisions which specify the questions that are to be submitted in certain circumstances to a vote of the people are not wisely drawn. But the Amendment enshrines the principle of the Referendum, a principle to which I am committed. It is to that that I desire to confine my remarks. Last night we had a remarkable speech from my noble friend Lord Courtney.
206 The noble Lord speaks with the authority of a man who has been in public life for thirty if not forty years, who has presided as Chairman of Committees of the House of Commons during a long course of years, and who probably classes himself as one of the old school of Liberals. I also class myself as one of the old school of Liberals, or Radicals, who believe in the principles taught by one of the great masters of Liberalism, Mr. Gladstone, and carried on so earnestly by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, whose loss we so deeply deplore. Has the appeal, so able, convincing and moderate, which Lord Courtney addressed to my noble friends below me, received any kind of response or consideration? On the contrary, has it not been rather flouted? I dare say, in their hearts, my noble friends regard his opinions as those of a "crank." We have arrived at this pass now, that those of us in the Liberal Party who venture to have an independent opinion upon great questions of public policy and who remain convinced Liberals, are to-day classed as "cranks," or even put into the last of the three categories: Party men, cranks, or idiots. I am willing to be classed at present amongst those men who enjoy little or no favour with the Liberal leaders—I will not say the Liberal Party, because there is a large Liberal party outside who have yet to be consulted on this question and to be taught by bitter experience.
I am not in the least afraid of coming here to-day to express with all sincerity, and as clearly as I can, my view that the Government are making a profound mistake in not accepting, or, at all events, taking into favourable consideration, the question of the adoption of the Referendum in the interests of the country, and, even more, in the interests of the great Party which they represent. The Referendum has been attacked by my noble friends on various grounds. The first is that it is destructive of representative government. I have lived long enough to see representative government take many different forms and shapes. Twenty-five years ago Liberal opinion had its say from whatever quarter of the Liberal Benches it came and influenced the course of action of Liberal Ministers. Since then we have seen the closure and the guillotine in the House, the caucus in the constituencies, and we have seen growing up in the House of Commons itself a system of groups which 207 has entirely modified and changed the whole position of our representative system. It is absurd to argue that the position is the same to-day as it was twenty or thirty years ago when there were two Parties in the State, one opposing the other and both endeavouring, according to their conscientious belief, to carry out public business to the public advantage. To-day, you have none of those conditions in your representative government, and it is because the conditions have been entirely modified that, however great the innovation may be—and no one denies that the Referendum is a great innovation, as is also this Bill—the Referendum is imposed upon us by the circumstances of the hour, and is necessary for the security of the State and for the safety and security of individual citizens. Representative government to-day is tending, not to liberty but oligarchy, and I regret to see my noble friend, Lord Morley, whom I have so often listened to with pleasure, taking a hand in setting up or bringing about a state of government which is surely opposed to the best principles of Liberalism. Last night Lord Morley said that lie was unable to define democracy. I may be wrong, but I fancy that in the old days I heard him define democracy as "Government of the people, for the people, and by the people." Does my noble friend disagree with that statement? If he does not, how can be possibly contend that a reference to the people by means of the Referendum is not a democratic assertion of that principle? I really am at a loss to understand how he will be able, although I admit his dialectical ability, to establish that a reference to the people of matters of urgent and vital moment is not a democratic method of settling them according to the wishes of the people.
Now, my Lords, may I deal with one or two points which arise on the proposal as to the Referendum? In the first place, I do not entirely agree with the proposed form of Committee, certainly not with the form of Committee suggested either by the noble Earl, Lord Cromer, or by the noble Viscount, Lord St. Aldwyn, and I am inclined to think that the smaller the Committee, the more representative if you like of the great offices in the State, the better it would be. But I would leave the Committee in the position of a tribunal, and in order to put that tribunal in action there should be two forces. Both of those 208 forces, as it seems to me, should be perfectly capable of taking the necessary steps for that purpose. In the event of a Liberal Bill being thrown out by the House of Lords, it would be the majority in the House of Lords which would make an appeal to that tribunal. Now for the converse proposition, and it is there that the interests of the Liberal Party are chiefly concerned. Assume a Conservative Government in power, and a Bill passed by a Conservative majority in both Houses. What protection will Liberals have under this Bill in a case of that kind? None whatever. Therefore I would put it in the power of a sufficient minority in the House of Commons, probably not less than 200 Members, to make the appeal to the tribunal for a reference to the people. It is in that way also that you will be able to secure to the Liberal Party some guarantee for the permanence of its legislation.
We may be told that there is no risk whatever of this Bill being modified or reversed. I do not share that view. And I believe that the immediate effect of passing this Bill into law will be that the floodgates will be opened. The various fractions, all of them worthy of attention—the Home Rule fraction, the Welsh Church fraction, the Plural Vote fraction, and, last but not least, the Woman Franchise fraction will all come and say, "Now is our opportunity. We insist that you shall take advantage of those precious first two years in order to pass into law without any reference to the people measures on which the people have so far expressed no judgment whatever." But I must at once say that I do not include Home Rule in that category. I entirely share the view that Home Rule has been sufficiently long before the constituencies and was sufficiently understood at the last General Election. The election turned upon two things—upon the reconstitution of the House of Lords and the curtailment of its Veto, and upon the consequent introduction of Home Rule. I believe that. Home Rule in principle has been accepted by the electors of this country. But when we say that Home Rule in principle has been accepted by the country, that does not cover all forms of Home Rule. Have the Government the least idea of the form of Home Rule they are going to propose? I well remember the Home Rule debates on Mr. Gladstone's Bills of 1886 and later, 209 and the differences in the Cabinet itself upon the question, for instance, of the inclusion of the Irish vote—and at last a compromise was brought about between those conflicting interests. As we all know, my noble friend Lord Morley expressed himself in favour of the exclusion of the Irish Members, and others were in favour of their inclusion; and in the latest Bills there were a good many in and out clauses, and there have been upon the whole principle of Home Rule a good many in and out minds since then.
Various views have been enunciated by prominent men as to what is meant by Home Rule. I may tell the House quite fairly that by Home Rule I mean Home Rule on the lines of Mr. Gladstone's Bills—those at least which I supported years ago, and which I am prepared to support again. But that is not the mind of many of those who favour Home Rule to-day on the Liberal Benches, and while I say that the country in principle has accepted Home Rule I maintain there will be very great and serious questions arising out of the debates on Home Rule which must give rise to strong passions and feeling in all parts of the country. Now I will ask my noble friends this question. You have passed let us assume, as I think you will pass, this Bill at the point of the bayonet. It is a gallant act to carry any position at the point of the bayonet, but when you have got there you must maintain your position. How do you think you are going to maintain your position in the future in the privileged position in which this Bill will place you? During the next three years we shall have a controversy with regard to Home Rule and with regard to the Welsh Church, and we shall have, I greatly fear, profound dissatisfaction with the increasing expenditure of the country. We may also have trade depression, and it is possible, no doubt, that the popularity of the Government itself may wane and diminish in those days, and that circumstances may lead to a great reaction, such as we have seen before, which will place a Conservative Government in power. If that happened, what security have the Government that the Conservative Party then in power will not take advantage of this particular measure to establish a reformed Second Chamber with much greater powers than are suggested to-day, and with perhaps a complete Veto upon certain classes of legislation? I ask my noble friends what means will they have 210 then of preventing such a radical and unsatisfactory change as that in the fortunes of Liberalism? None whatever, as the Bill now stands. But if they incorporate within this Bill some simple system of Referendum, then at least they would have an appeal to the people of the country which would guarantee that no change which might take place in the constitution of a new Second Chamber would be of a character seriously to injure and to impair the liberties which we have fought for, and which we hope to win.
I know that my noble friends will tell us that they had a mandate for this Bill. But do they pretend that the mandate went to the extent of creating a sort of sacrosanct document admitting of no change, of no kind of new provision, and absolutely so sacred that it is not to be touched by the sacrilegious hands of Parliament? It seems to me that the mandate of the people meant nothing of the kind. I know it is very difficult to interpret what the mandate of the people may mean, but I have had enough to do with elections in time gone by to form a rough-and-ready guess of what was in the minds of the electorate when they came to their conclusion at the last election. My belief is that the country was determined, in the first place, that the control of finance should be indisputably in the hands of the House of Commons. Secondly, I believe they were determined that the Liberal Party should have equal opportunities with the Conservative Party for legislation. Thirdly, I believe they were profoundly dissatisfied with a House which is solely based upon the hereditary principle. But, my Lords, this Bill leaves the hereditary principle just where it was. I know that some of my noble friends—Lord Haldane in particular—are very anxious at some future date to deal with this matter. I believe my noble friend is of opinion—and the Prime Minister has also expressed a similar view—that in the course of the present Parliament an opportunity will be taken for dealing with the constitution of this House. I really ask my noble friends in all seriousness, what prospect do they think there is of obtaining the concurrence of their supporters in the other House to deal with this part of the question. They know as well as I do that there is none whatever. Do they rely upon the consideration and the co-operation of the Party opposite, 211 because if they do it seems to me, after this debate, and after this Bill, that they rely upon a very broken reed indeed.
It seems to me, therefore, that this Bill is going to have the effect of handing over the final settlement of this Constitutional controversy very probably to the Party opposite in a sense extremely unfortunate for the interests of Liberalism; and as a Liberal, believing that it is important that the great Party with which I have been so long associated should continue in full strength whenever called upon by public opinion to control the destinies of this country, I greatly deplore the decision which the Government have arrived at, and I earnestly appeal to them before this matter goes to a final conclusion to reconsider the determination which they have expressed so often in this House and endeavour to make the settlement a permanent one, which will give satisfaction to the Liberal Party, and, in a lesser degree, of course, to the Conservative Party, but, above all, to the great electorate of the country.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (VISCOUNT HALDANE)
My Lords, my noble friend who has just sat clown has referred to me, and there are a few words which I should like to say, not about that part of his speech in which lie seeks to penetrate the enveloping gloom of the future, but upon the question which we are at present discussing at such great length—the value of the Referendum. On this question the House is in a very curious position. The Referendum is regarded with almost passionate affection by the noble Earl who, I believe, is going to speak later—Lord Selborne—and is regarded with an equivalent suspicion by Lord Willoughby de Broke, who thinks it wholly unconstitutional. But the case upon the other side is not worse than the case upon my own side of the House. There are my noble friends Lord Courtney of Penwith and Lord Weardale, both of whom think that in the Referendum you have the true solution of the principles of democracy. I think I have before quoted Rousseau in this House. He used to say that the British nation, whose representative institutions he hated, was never free except at a General Election when there was no Parliament; but although the opinions of Rousseau have had a great deal of attention paid to them 212 they have not converted modern States, much less this country, to the doctrine of the Referendum.
It is worth while considering why it is that every country in Europe regards the voice of the people, if one may use the phrase, as best expressed through representatives. This is no new question. It is not some striking discovery that has been made, that you can substitute for the voice of Parliament the voice of the people directly ascertained. That is not as old as the hills, but it is as old as the most ancient democracy. In ancient Athens the voices, when they were taken, were the voices of the people taken directly. That was a possible means of proceeding, because the democracy of Athens was enclosed within a wall of no great ambit. It was possible, therefore, for the great orators of that time to make the people hear and understand. I have before used the illustration in your Lordships' House, and I venture to use it again. It occurred to Themistocles, when he was desirous of building the great fleet with which he was so successful in inflicting a crushing defeat upon the Persians at Salamis, to consult the Athenian people with a view to their devoting the proceeds of the silver mines of Laurium to that purpose. That he did by means of the Referendum, and he got the reply which, no doubt, he was wishing for. But there is no analogy between the conditions existing in ancient Athens and the conditions which exist in this country. Why is it that the Referendum has been rejected by democracies systematically and continually, except for very special purposes, right through modern times?
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
Will my noble friend seriously offer me any case of a modern democracy which works systematically through the Referendum? The Referendum in Switzerland is taken under totally different conditions from any that are suggested here. My noble friend referred to America. I can tell him that the Referendum is held in low esteem in the opinion of some competent authorities in the United States. Then lie referred to Australia. Under the Federal Constitution the Referendum is only used there after the two Houses have differed upon an amendment of the Constitution. It 213 is only convened for that purpose, and that purpose only.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
That is so, but it is only with regard to questions affecting an amendment of the Constitution. Those are the only questions that are referred. That is not your Lordships' proposition. It is questions going far beyond matters dealing with the Constitution that you are proposing to send to the Referendum. I challenge my noble friend to point out any case in modern times in which States have taken any other course than reject this expedient as an impossible, clumsy, and inadequate way of ascertaining the will of the people. I will tell your Lordships why I conceive they have taken that course. What you want to ascertain is the considered opinion of the people, and in a form in which it can express itself and make itself usefully declared. There is only one way of doing that. You cannot go to the people on every detail of every Bill, and on every sort of question. My noble friend spoke of the Insurance Bill as a Bill which he thought was not unlikely to add to the demoralising tendency which was going on amongst the people of this country. How could you refer such a Bill as the Insurance Bill to the people of this country and ask them whether they will have it or not? I have had a good deal of experience, as many of your Lordships have, in dealing with electors, and I know that unless you go and explain every point to them in detail, unless you bring before them your side of the question, and somebody else puts before them the other side of the question, and does it in detail and adequately, large numbers of them will not take the trouble to vote, and even as it is others of them say, "We will not vote because we are not in a position to apprehend the point."
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
My noble friend brings forward one small and particular case—it was a question of amending the Constitution; and even then it was only after there had been great discussion and preliminary stages gone through in Parliament that the matter was referred. There 214 is not the smallest analogy between the Referendum as exercised in Australia and the form of Referendum proposed by the Amendment of the noble Marquess.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
The Referendum in Natal is worked in quite a different way from the Referendum in Australia, cited by Lord Courtney.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
Natal put the Referendum in force upon the question as to whether it was wise or not for Natal to come into the South African Convention. It seems to me that the result of the Referendum there showed that the people of Natal supported the action of the Natal Ministry in joining the South African Convention. I think that strengthens the case, and not weakens it, in favour of the Referendum.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
The noble Duke has brought out the very question with which I was dealing. As I say, the Referendum is employed with regard to questions dealing with the Constitution. It was exercised in Natal upon the question of Natal coining in under the new Constitution. The thing had been debated over and over again, and everybody in Natal knew every detail connected with it, and the question that was put to the people was a simple one on a specific point, to which only the answer "Aye" or "No" had to be given. I have never said that it is not possible to make use of the Referendum in certain cases. I only say that it is not possible to make it useful in such cases as are covered by the Amendment of the noble Marquess. In the case of Natal it may have been a good way of ascertaining the opinion of the people of that country, but the Referendum there is widely different from what is offered to your Lordships to-day by the Amendment of the noble Marquess to take the place of our own representative institutions.
How do we govern this country? There are two great Parties in the State—the Party which is in power and the Party which is in Opposition. The Party in power puts forward its programme; the programme is put before the country, and the Government brings forward its Bills, which at a General Election are discussed 215 in the constituencies. Numbers of the electors are not the stupid people they are sometimes imagined to be. They take a keen interest in these things and insist on having them debated, and they go, many of them, to the meetings of both sides. What happens? A general approval is given to the principle of the Bill, and the Member representing the constituency is left to work out the details with other representatives and the Government. The constituencies do not want to be consulted on every point that arises in the discussion in the House of Commons, and never express a wish that their representatives should come back and consult them upon the details. They say, "You are our representatives, and we are satisfied for you to represent our general point of view. We have authorised you to give our assent to this particular Bill, the general evolution of which we leave in your hands, and we send you to Parliament to represent us in the working out of the details." That is why every modern State, without a single exception, has eliminated direct reference to the voters for the ordinary purposes of carrying out democratic government, and that is why, where the Referendum is kept, it is only kept for exceptional cases and for special purposes. With regard to the argument of my noble friend Lord Weardale, that representative institutions lead to oligarchy, which is what he said, they certainly in my own opinion lead to nothing more than this—
Will the noble Viscount excuse me for pointing out that we are now establishing under this Bill single-Chamber government? At present we have not got single-Chamber government, and no other great country has single-Chamber government. You cannot apply the analogy to other States.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
I would point out to my noble friend that we upon this side do not admit that we are establishing single-Chamber government. And when he says that single-Chamber government is being established by this Bill he must not assert it as a fact. He must assert it as an opinion—an opinion, no doubt, which a great many noble Lords in this House share.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
In that case my noble friend will doubtless put himself at the head of a new Party. But whatever the Referendum is, it is no substitute for representative government. It may give you an indication of the ideas of the great mass of the people, but it is no substitute for the reasoned opinion or what has been called the general will of the community which the experience of every State in modern times has shown is obtained best through the medium of representative institutions.
My noble friend Lord Courtney of Penwith spoke of the decay of the Parliamentary spirit, and my noble friend Lord Weardale spoke of the tendency in the House of Commons to split up into groups. Have we not been accustomed to the splitting up into groups in the past? We have not witnessed the group system for the first time, and perhaps Lord Weardale himself will form another group in this House. At present I doubt whether we have more groups in the House of Commons than has been the case during the past seventy years. In the years before the Reform Bill there was the Repeal Party, the O'Connell Party, the Economists, represented by Joseph Hume; the Whigs, and the Radicals belonging to the Westminster school, and there were the sections of the Tory Party which had split up—Peelites, Protectionists—and between 1850 and 1860 there were so many groups seen that it was always a difficult task for any person forming a Government to see whether or not he could obtain the support of them. We have always groups, sometimes more and sometimes less; and it is a feature which you cannot dissociate from our Parliamentary life. It is true that there is more control of representatives by Whips than there used to be. Why? Because of the amount of business to be got through and the little amount of time in which to do it. The amount of business transacted in the House of Commons is enormously greater than before. Does the noble Lord doubt that it is becoming more and more necessary to economise the time, and that those who are responsible for using the time are compelled to apportion it out by means of the closure and other machinery originated by a succession of Governments in order to deal with a situation which is getting more and more intense. The congestion of local business in Parliament is such that for the working 217 of Parliamentary institutions you will have to resort to some sort of devolution if you are to make progress. But I do not believe that the spirit of our Parliamentary institutions has in the least decayed. The same spirit exists in the House of Commons as has always existed; but there is a greater necessity for the economical use of its time; and until you have made some provision for the relief of the congestion of business you will never get to the root of the existing evil.
This Amendment proposes to apply the Referendum in a way which goes far beyond any previous experience. It raises the question whether the representative institutions with which we have been familiar for centuries are now to be destroyed and something quite different substituted which has been condemned by the political experience of our own and other nations. It is because we hold the view very strongly that we are standing here in defence of representative institutions, and because this Bill gives its place, and nothing more than its due place, to the House of Commons in that representative system, that we are resolute opponents, not of the Referendum in any conceivable circumstances, but certainly to the Referendum in the vast bulk of circumstances which are covered by the Amendment.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, we who sit on this side of the House are believers in the virtues of Parliamentary discussion, and I do not think we shall be likely to modify that conviction by our experience this afternoon. We have witnessed the effects of Parliamentary discussion even upon the flinty hearts of His Majesty's Government, and at last, after a great pause, we saw the noble Viscount, who according to rumour was to have spoken later in the debate, brought to his legs. Your Lordships will judge of the kind of defence there is of the Government resistance of this Amendment from the remarks of the noble Viscount. There was a sort of parrot cry of representative institutions. The noble Viscount repeated over and over again that this Amendment was the negation of representative institutions, and he seemed to think that there was some virtue in the phrase. We do not believe that this Amendment in the least bit conflicts with representative 218 institutions. It is a necessary corrective to the invasion of the rights of the ancient Constitution of this country which the present Bill constitutes.
The noble Viscount had the boldness to appeal for an example to every country in Europe. Could there be anything more amazing than that one of the authors of this Bill should appeal for support of it to Europe? There is not a country in Europe or in the civilised globe, except, I believe, Greece and one South American Republic, which has a Constitution the least resembling what this ancient British Constitution will be after His Majesty's Government have worked their will upon it. The noble Viscount—I do not complain of it a bit—was driven, in his defence of the Government position, to reminding us of a former speech of his own. He told us how Themistocles appealed to a Referendum. I confess I did not see the point of the illustration. Themistocles seemed to be entirely successful; the Referendum seemed to have worked perfectly, and in regard to a sort of extremely unpopular proposal—a proposal for extracting money out of the pockets of the people. I certainly should not have supposed that the most likely field for a Referendum was Navy Estimates, but Themistocles did use that as the occasion of a Referendum and used it successfully and obtained the consent he asked for. The noble Viscount says that the Referendum is almost unknown in the civilised world. It is incredible that he should commit himself to such an assertion. Although lie was reminded of the classic cases in Australia and the United States, he made light of them. What right had he to make light of them? He said he understood that the principle of Referendum was much discredited in America. My information is entirely to the contrary. The principle of Referendum has not been introduced into the United States very long, but its popularity is increasing every day. It was started first of all, I believe, in the case of certain great municipalities, but it has already extended to complete States and is being adopted in all directions, and is, in fact, an integral part of the Constitution of the United States. I am informed that as many as forty-six out of forty-seven States cannot amend their Constitution except by means of the Referendum. So that, far from being unknown in the civilised world, it is perfectly well known and particularly in the 219 Anglo-Saxon parts of the civilised world, which is important from our point of view.
The noble Viscount seemed to despise the case of the United States, and he said he did not think much of the Australian precedent. Why not? Could there be anything more in point than that? Here is a recent Constitution and a purely democratic one. I cannot improve on the statement of the case which was made by Lord Courtney last night. There the Referendum has been allowed by the British Government to be established, and it has been used with absolute success, not on trifles, as the noble Viscount seems to think, but with regard to very important proposals affecting the Constitution of the great Australian Commonwealth. What possible ground has the noble Viscount for his argument? I must remind him that mere assertion is of no value. He will never convert your Lordships' House or the country by mere assertion. When he says that the Referendum is not known to the civilised world and when he makes light of the Australian precedent he must back his assertion by argument.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
I did not say it was not used. I said it was confined to Constitutional questions of a specific kind, and that it had no application in the case of questions which it is proposed to submit to it of broad policy under the Amendment of the noble Marquess.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I do not know how much I am to read into that admission. Is the noble Viscount prepared to accept the Referendum for great Constitutional issues?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I know the noble Viscount did not say so, but if his argument is of any value that must be the logical conclusion.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
I do not think you understand me. What I said was that the very specific case which obtains in Australia does not cover the much more wide and general cases which are proposed in the Amendment.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
That might be, but it certainly would cover such 220 a case as Home Rule, for example. If there ever was a Constitutional issue that is one, and yet the noble Viscount shrinks from the conclusion of his own argument. Is it not obvious that he has not got a word to say for himself? Then the noble Viscount told us that there was a difficulty in submitting every detail to the constituencies. Who wants to submit every detail to the constituencies? If the Government are prepared even to submit the principle of a Bill that will be something gained. But they do not want to submit anything. They want to be returned to power and to pass any Bills which they please. Does any noble Lord call that assertion of mine in question?
I should like to draw attention to a most significant observation of the Lord Chancellor with reference to one of the Bills which your Lordships were pointed to as criminals for having rejected in the last Parliament—a Bill which the noble and learned Lord was defending and reproving us for throwing out. This is no contest between the House of Lords and the House of Commons; the contest we are waging is in defence of the people themselves. Let that be perfectly understood. Did the noble and learned Lord when advocating the Bill to which I am referring—the Licensing Bill—really desire to follow the wishes of the people? No, not at all. He is far too honest a man to say so. He knew that he was not following the wishes of the people and took pride in the fact. This is what was said by the representative of the Party who think that the people's will ought to prevail—I know very well that the subject is unpopular, and it may have influenced the recent by-elections, but I think it is our duty to stand by this Bill no matter how many by-elections may have gone against us.The point is that the noble and learned Lord was quite aware that the Licensing Bill was unpopular, and he took credit to himself for the fact that he was, as a member of the Government, advocating a Bill which was unpopular. I am not criticising the noble and learned Lord but his statement confirms my assertion that the Government do not in their hearts desire to carry out the wishes of the people. That is a matter of indifference to them. They desire to carry out the programme of the Liberal Party, and if they can by means of the Parliament Bill make it impossible for your Lordships to refer 221 these Bills which are unpopular to the people themselves, then they will be thoroughly satisfied.
There is no question, as I have said, of submitting every detail to the people. Yet it is not true, on the other hand, to say that the people will be ill-informed of the issue they have to determine. The noble Viscount thought it would be impossible for the people to understand the issues submitted to them by Referendum. He did not seem to think it applied in the case of a Dissolution. He thought that in the case of a Dissolution following on the discussions in Parliament the people would be fully equipped with the necessary information, but, if you please, that argument is not to apply if it happens to be a Referendum. Why does it not apply? Can there he anything more ridiculous than that distinction? Reflect what will have happened. The Bill will have been passed on three occasions by the House of Commons and rejected on three occasions by your Lordships' House, the period extending over two years. I am afraid I have already had occasion to say in your Lordships' House that it is probable that the discussions in the House of Commons may be seriously curtailed, but at any rate the Government cannot take advantage of that particular argument. According to them the discussions there are to be full, and I can answer for it that the discussions here will be full. Are the people deaf, are they blind, cannot they read? Are all these discussions to take place in Parliament and nothing reach the people?
It does not rest there. The various Members of Parliament will, of course, go down to their constituents. Many Members of your Lordships' House will go down to the various parts of the country and make speeches on the subject which has been referred to the people. The matter will be discussed in the greatest possible detail. Every device known to modern electioneering will be availed of in order to bring the matter home to the people. And there will be this immense advantage over a General Election. The effect of a Dissolution is not to concentrate the attention of the people on a particular issue—there are a great many issues submitted, and it is very easy for any evilly-disposed person to confuse the issues. It is easy when a candidate at a meeting finds himself pressed on one subject for 222 him to shift his ground and go on to another subject. None of that will be possible at a Referendum. There will be a single issue on which the whole attention of the people will be concentrated. It will be quite impossible to evade it, and, so far from the noble Viscount being right in thinking that the people will be less informed, they will be a thousand times better informed of the arguments to be advanced on one side or the other. I maintain, as do all of us who sit on this Bench, that the Referendum will be an admirable method of really ascertaining the wishes of the people. We quite recognise, however, that it is not an operation to be undertaken without great care and circumspection, and that it should be applied only in really important cases.
Is it thought that the use of the Referendum will become an abuse? I do not believe it for a moment. We have taken the greatest trouble in drafting the Amendment to prevent its becoming an abuse. Let me remind your Lordships—I know it has been said before—how difficult it will be to abuse the system of Referendum, if your Lordships and Parliament are good enough to adopt the Referendum of my noble friend. In the first place, only very grave matters would be referred to the people. The great mass of ordinary legislation, even when the two Houses of Parliament differ upon it, will not be subject to the operation of my noble friend's clause. It may be that the House of Commons and the House of Lords will differ diametrically upon half a hundred Bills, but unless they involve very grave matters the operation with regard to a Bill will take place as the Government propose. It is only in the case of the very few Bills which this impartial Committee consider to be grave that the Referendum will operate at all.
Then it is thought that your Lordships' House will invoke a Referendum with a light heart upon trivial occasions. Of course not. It is not a very easy proceeding to invoke a Referendum. There is a good deal of disturbance of business and a great deal of expense incurred, and we know that if this House were ill-advised enough to invoke the Referendum without due cause it would suffer in credit and popularity in the country. So far from thinking that the Referendum will be very often employed, I believe it will be very seldom employed, but it will remain 223 of the very greatest value, because it will be there as a protection of the most vital interests of this country. When the House of Lords believed that the House of Commons had not really received the assent of the people, the Joint Committee would be convened, and if they agreed with this House there would be a Referendum, and if the people justified your Lordships' action they would be protected from changes in the law to which they had never assented and which they agreed to be of the greatest danger to the interests of the country at large.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN ?
The noble Marquess overlooks the fact that it is not what the House of Lords thinks about referring a Bill, but what the Committee thinks. The House of Lords will move the Committee, who will then be free to say "Aye" or "No" to the request that a Bill should be referred to the people. There is all the difference between that and this House deciding for itself. You are erecting a tri-cameral arrangement. This Committee will have the deciding voice.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I really do not see the force of the noble Viscount's interruption. He says it is not the House of Lords that is going to decide it, but the Committee. It is quite true the Committee has the last word, but the point is that as it stands the Referendum is not brought into operation unless both the House of Lords and the Committee desire it. I think that is quite clear. I am assuming that if the general form of the Amendment of Lord Cromer is passed this Committee cannot be moved other than by a Resolution of either House or on the action of Mr. Speaker. I would ask is there likely to be an incautious Resolution of either House of Parliament? Is it likely that a Minister of the Crown will provoke a Referendum unnecessarily about one of his own Bills? Is it probable that Mr. Speaker, whose great position we have been justly reminded of again and again in these debates, will use the power entrusted to him trivially? No, It is perfectly clear that these great authorities would only act with due circumspection, and even then they would not do more than put the Committee in motion, who would decide whether the Referendum was to take place or not.
224 It only remains for me to remind your Lordships that even supposing a mistake were made no great harm would be done. All that would happen would be that the people themselves would be consulted. Nothing worse would happen than that this great democratic principle should be vindicated, and that the people themselves should decide. For these reasons we recommend this Amendment to your Lordships' House; and we are bound to say that unless the Government can put up a better defence than, with all his great forensic ability, the noble Viscount has been able to offer in the speech he has just concluded, we cannot doubt what verdict your Lordships will give when you are asked to go into the Lobby. We commend most confidently this Amendment to your Lordships' House.
My Lords, I think we are at this moment on what I may call a Second Reading debate on the principle of tile Referendum. I do not think it would be fair to press the Opposition and the noble Marquess who has moved this Amendment too closely on the fact that his Referendum does not satisfy us. If we accepted the Referendum at all it would have to be in quite a different form, and I think we have heard enough from the other side to show that the Amendment as presented is not quite satisfactory to them either. It makes no provision as to the point which my noble friend Lord Weardale pressed—the security and protection of the Liberal Party when the Conservative Party is in office. It would only work to protect the Conservative Party, and would do nothing for the Liberal Party. We have heard nothing of that form of Referendum which was promised us before the General Election by Mr. Balfour—that there should be a Referendum in the case of any Budget which tampered with the question of Free Trade. I do not press that too much, because if the Opposition got any sort of encouragement with regard to their Referendum proposal they no doubt would bargain with this side to modify it, and endeavour to make it as fair as possible to both sides of the House.
In my opinion we shall not gain much advantage by discussing the results of the Referendum in other countries. I do not think precedents gained from other countries, especially so remote a precedent 225 as its operation in Athens, are very useful. The government of Athens was conducted very much as affairs are now conducted at a parish meeting. It was the ordinary and necessary procedure for Themistocles in Athens to present his Navy Budget to the people; but that is quite different from the way in which the Referendum would have to be conducted in this country. It is a simple matter in a small area such as Athens comprised to call the people together and to educate them, but where you have a country with 45,000,000 people, distributed over a large area, who would all have to be educated in the various questions, the proposition assumes a different character. Therefore I do not think there is any analogy between what prevailed in Athens or of what prevails in the cantons of Switzerland and what would prevail in a country like our own. It is safer to follow the guidance of our own history, and the lesson which our history has taught us is that it is best to work on the lines of the old-established political system.
I do not think my noble friend Lord Courtney was entitled to use the analogy of Australia for the purpose for which he used it. His point was that it was possible for Parliament to misapprehend the wishes of the people. He cited the instance where the Ministry in Australia, having somewhat outrun their mandate, were on Referendum pulled up and checked by the power of the people. None of us can deny that it is always possible for a Parliament to outrun what we familiarly call the mandate of the people. I do not quite like the expression "mandate," but, after all, it conveys a sound idea that the House of Commons is elected to represent the will of the people for the time being and to give effect to it. But when we have been dealing with the question of the Referendum in other countries we have been dealing with countries which had Constitutions, in other respects also, but pro-eminently in respect of their Second Chamber absolutely different from ours. If we had a House of Lords which was as truly and readily in touch with the dominant feeling of the people of this country as the house of Commons is, the friction between the two Houses would rapidly diminish, and the possibility of a Referendum would arise much more rarely. But it is not fair to introduce machinery which would allow a body 226 unsensitive to the general feelings of the country to force upon the representative body such a new machinery.
I can quite understand that there might have been, in the early stages of the discussion, some opportunity of meeting the views of the other side, because I feel there is an element of truth and true political insight underlying some of the ideas expressed in the speeches on the other side. We all of us would be glad of many occasions to secure further deliberation before a thing is passed into law. If I remember right, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, in the earlier stages of the suggestion for modifying and limiting the powers of the House of Lords, suggested that if there was any important piece of legislation proposed, the Government of the day should introduce Resolutions indicating broadly the purposes of their legislation in the House of Commons, and that then those Resolutions should stand over as a sort of signpost to the electors of the tendency of the legislation proposed to be introduced in the new Bill, and in that way they would have as full notice as they could expect of the broad lines of the legislation which was to follow. I do not think noble Lords opposite can expect the electors to go into the details of a Bill, and you would not allow them to do so where the Referendum was employed. If the Referendum was applied in the case of education, or licensing, or the disestablishment of the Welsh, or the whole English Church, it would not be on the details of the Bill. The question would be, after the people had been educated by means of the political organisations and meetings and speeches, "Do you think you ought to take the Bill as it stands, or throw it out altogether?" That is all you could get out of the Referendum, and that is why I think if five or six years ago the Conservative Party had met the Liberals while Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman was Prime Minister they might have come to a settlement on some such lines as I have suggested. But you were not ripe for it then. When Falstaff thought he was dying he said "God! God! God!" and Mrs. Quickly saw there was no need to think of God yet. Now like Mrs. Quickly your Lordships thought while there was time there was no need for a settlement, and now under compulsion you offer a settlement when it is too late. I wonder how many of your Lordships were in favour of the Referendum eight 227 years ago when Mr. Balfour was Prime Minister. I think not one, but misfortune brings strange bedfellows and the extraordinary spectacle is now presented of the Tory Party lying down with ultra-democratic principles.
For my part, while I have great sympathy with the desire to consult the nation on important matters of legislation, I have no sympathy whatever with the proposal to consult it by means of the Referendum. I think that to work upon the old lines of the political institutions which we have inherited, which have been improved and modified with time, is better than to work with something quite new. We have always considered that the proper way of consulting the nation was by a Dissolution and by the electors returning a new Parliament. The electors cannot determine details of policy; they can only determine whether they prefer the Liberals to the Unionists, or the Unionists to the Liberals, leaving the responsibility and power to the Government they return to make the decision on questions of policy, and I should be very sorry to see that responsibility and power taken to any extent out of the hands of those who have to lead and guide the Party and transferred in any way to a plébiscite of the country.
Noble Lords say we have plenty of experience of plébiscites in various countries. We know the experience of France under the Second Napoleonic Dynasty, and I think every French politician would tell you that the habit of taking plébiscites by Louis Napoleon was merely a device for confusing the people. There has been a great deal of discussion and dispute in France—I am sure the noble Marquess who was the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has followed it and is intimately acquainted with all the movements of French politics since 1870—and the plébiscitary idea in France is completely discredited, politicians of all kinds considering that it is through the improvement of representative institutions not through appeals to the vote of a scattered population that the best, results are achieved. We have to work out from our own precedents and history what is the best way of going forward. I am only now dealing with this Amendment on Second Reading lines, not criticising it in detail. It is the principle that it should be by an appeal to the whole electorate, and not by an appeal to the 228 new House of Commons, that I object to. As I said before, I have not heard a single word from noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite that they would accept a Referendum of the character suggested by Mr. Balfour, by means of which we should get rid of plural voting——
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The noble Marquess himself referred to Lord Saltoun's Amendment as a reasonable method of working it.
I am afraid I did not catch that. I think it is only fair, in discussing this Amendment, that we should go to the root principle of it rather than discuss details. While I should have been glad if this thing had been taken in hand at a time when it was possible to have had some agreement between the Parties with regard to it, yet I feel that such a time has gone by. The situation is too strained between both Parties; the temper of the House of Commons is much too high and resentful for any Government to be able with any hope of success to accept Amendments such as have been put forward by the other side, which, even considered fairly, must be objectionable, and can very well be held up as outrageous and tyrannical. But I cannot help hoping that this legislation may be temporary only, and that we may come with a reconstituted House of Lords to a period when the relations may be reconstructed, and possibly more powers given to the new Chamber than are left to the present one. I cannot help hoping that when the finance of the year is protected to the House of Commons there may be discussion allowed to your Lordships of Money Bills which, though including grants from the State, are Bills dealing with social matters, like the Old Age Pensions Bill and the Invalidity and Sickness Bill. But we are face to face with the extreme ruling that the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, gave on the question of the Voluntary Schools Aid Bill, when he absolutely suppressed all discussion and all amendment. Those precedents have to be got rid of before we can look to getting any reasonable power for dealing with such things. I hope your Lordships will excuse me for having given that illustration, but I think it is a necessary one and until something of the kind I have suggested is done I have no hesitation in voting against the Amendment of the noble Marquess, because in the present temper of the House 229 of Commons and with the present constitution of your Lordships' House I see no possibility of its being accepted.
My Lords, it has been said that this debate is assuming too much the character of a Home Rule debate and that sufficient attention is not being paid to the portion of the Amendment dealing with other subjects, but really the danger of Home Rule is so imminent and it is so notorious that this Bill has been introduced chiefly as a prelude to a Home Rule Bill that I may be excused for returning to the subject. I wish to strongly support what fell from my noble friend Lord Mayo when he stated that opposition to Home Rule was as strong as ever in all parts of Ireland, and was not confined to Ulster. I do not know who the junior members of the Unionist Party are who were mentioned in the quotation my noble friend read from the Lord Chancellor's speech as being less strongly opposed to Home Rule than the senior members of the Party—probably some young gentlemen who have not given much attention to the subject. Anyhow, I feel sure that they do not live in Ireland. That I think I can say. I can only recall one instance of any member of the Party having asked me what dangers we anticipated from Home Rule. The answer which he received gave him, I think, very serious food for reflection.
Living as I do in Ireland, I have a large acquaintance with people in all the provinces, and I receive constant assurances from them that the feeling against Home Rule is as strong as ever it was and probably even more widespread. For, as was pointed out by Lord Mayo, farmers who have purchased their holdings are not so keenly in favour of Home Rule as they used to profess to be. The reason is perfectly plain. They have something to lose. As was pointed out by the noble Lord opposite, Lord MacDonnell, land is the main question in Ireland, and they know that the large farms they are now possessed of are as much coveted by the landless men as the land which is held by landlords. Irish Unionists are convinced that on the maintenance of the Union the prosperity of their country depends. They love their country, they absolutely refuse to concede to their political opponents a monopoly of patriotism, they are keenly interested in 230 the welfare of their country, and they are convinced that any weakening of the tie which binds the two countries together will materially injure that welfare, and that therefore it is in the interests of the two countries that this bond should remain unaltered. I say "in the interests of the two countries." For let Englishmen reflect on the difficulties that might arise, in the event of any foreign complication, front having a possibly hostile Parliament, sitting at no great distance from this country, with full control of the Executive.
In addition to the question of material prosperity, there is a strong bond of sentiment uniting Irish Unionists to this country. They wish to maintain unimpaired the traditions of their forefathers in the past century, and to remain united to the governing centre of the great Empire which their countrymen have done so much to extend and to consolidate. They wish when they land on these shores to feel that they are not treading upon foreign soil, that they are not strangers in the land, but that they can identify themselves with all the feelings, hopes, and aspirations of the people of this country, just as when Englishmen come to Ireland they wish to receive them not as strangers but as fellow-citizens of the United Kingdom. Irish Unionists like to know, when they see the electric light shining in the tower above us that the interests and destinies of Ireland, as well as those of Great Britain, are committed to the charge of the Parliament sitting below. The intensity of this feeling cannot, perhaps, be fully appreciated by people who are not in the same position, but it ought to enlist the sympathies of people in this country and render them averse to placing those who hold this feeling so strongly at the mercy of an Irish Parliament. The knowledge that in most parts of Ireland where patriotism has shrunk to a narrow provincialism such sentiments are looked upon as criminal, and the knowledge that in some cases they are still guilty of the unpardonable crime of holding property which is coveted by others, renders Irish Unionists most apprehensive of being placed at the mercy of an Irish Parliament with full control over the Executive.
I know we shall be told that these apprehensions are unfounded, that the supremacy of the Imperial Parliament will be 231 maintained, that with the establishment of an Irish Parliament all differences will be forgotten, and that peace and goodwill will prevail everywhere. In spite of the plausible utterances of the leaders of the Party and the promise of toleration and peace and concord, we cannot believe in this restoration of the Golden Age. We have too much experience of the bitterness of feeling which, unfortunately, still prevails in Ireland, and how recollection of past grievances, whether real or imaginary, rankles in the Irish mind. Then as to the supremacy of the Imperial Parliament, what security have we, even if that was accepted by the Nationalist Party, that it would be strictly enforced? Any difference of opinion between the Imperial Parliament and the Irish Parliament would be strongly resented. Recollections of the struggles against the operation of Poyning's Act before the Union at the close of the eighteenth century would be invoked, the example then set would be followed, and turmoil and agitation would succeed. Is it not to be feared that the dread of agitation would again prevail and that the Government of the day would give way? We have every reason to believe that if such a state of things was accepted as an Irish Parliament under the supremacy of this Parliament, it would only be taken as an instalment to secure further power. The utterances of the leaders of the Party—not intended for consumption in England, but in America—show us that they cannot rely on the support of their followers unless they demand complete independence. As was said by the noble Lord opposite, Lord Weardale, there are several kinds of Home Rule; and he was not aware, any more than we are, what sort of Home Rule His Majesty's Government contemplate. But we believe that there is no half-way house between the present state of things and complete independence, and, as I said before, the interval between those two points would be filled up with turmoil and agitation. We therefore hail the subsection in this Amendment which provides that this question in which they are so vitally interested should in the last resort be submitted to the electors of the United Kingdom for decision. We look to the electors of the United Kingdom to see that we should not be made to suffer for our attachment to this country. We look to them for justice. It has as ever been the proud boast of Englishmen that no one appeals to their sense of justice in vain, 232 and it is before that tribunal that we wish our claims to be laid.
§ LORD ASHBOURNE
My Lords, when I read and consider the Amendment before the House and remember the speech with which it was introduced by the noble Marquess I say frankly I am surprised at the result. The Amendment was framed with infinite care, so as to secure in the most reasonable and moderate way that great topics that might legitimately, it was conceived, be excluded from the normal operation of the Parliament Bill should be reserved for further consideration by the nation. I thought it not unlikely that the noble Viscount opposite, although he might not feel at liberty to accept the whole of the Amendment, would at once have accepted the first part of it; and, for myself, speaking perfectly frankly as a man accustomed to look at problems from many sides, I cannot see at all why the noble Viscount should not accept the first part.
The first part of the Amendment says that any measure affecting the existence of the Crown or the Protestant succession should not be dealt with under the normal operation of the Parliament Bill, but should be left for the whole nation to express an opinion upon by Referendum. Is it not commonsense that it would be a monstrous thing to change the existence of the Crown or the Protestant succession without the nation having a frank and free voice in reference to the matter? I heard the Duke of Devonshire speak yesterday with great force and clearness on this point and I heard the reply of the noble Viscount and I am still unable to understand why such a reasonable and obvious proposal is not accepted by the Government. What was the answer that was given? That in the present House of Commons such a proposal was not likely to be made, and that if such a thing ever were done the Sovereign would have a remedy. I listened attentively to the noble Viscount, but I do not know what he has suggested as the Sovereign's remedy if a Bill were presented to him by the Prime Minister of the day affecting the existence of the Crown and the Protestant succession. What was to be done by the Sovereign in a case of that kind? I am at a loss to follow the meaning of the observations of the noble Viscount in reference to that matter, because the only course open to 233 the Sovereign would be to recur to the Veto, or else ask the Prime Minister of the day, "What am I to do to save the existence of the Crown and the Protestant succession from the consequences of the very Act which you present to me." Surely that is a ridiculous way to leave a great Constitutional question of the highest conceivable importance, and I honestly and sincerely say that I thought this part of the Amendment would be accepted mainly on the ground that it was just and in a lesser degree because there was no vestige of an answer to it.
A good many of the speeches have been necessarily addressed to the question of Home Rule. My noble friend behind me, who is entitled to speak with the highest authority on that question from his character and ability and from the part he has always taken in the counsels of Irish Peers, has dealt with the question, but to a certain extent we are in a difficulty in dealing with Home Rule now. If we had a Bill before us we should then know what the mind of the Government was on the matter. I do not believe they know themselves at present. It would be a great advantage to us if we could see the Bill, and if we could know—shall I say?—its enormities. I would like to see how the Government skate round the difficulties of the question. But we have not got the Bill, and therefore we can only say this, that we know enough of the question from its history and what has been said to see that it is a question which it is legitimate should be kept out of the ordinary ambit of such a Bill as this in order that the nation should have an opportunity of saying what they think in reference to it.
We know on the broad outlines that Home Rule must lead to disruption of the Empire. It breaks up at once the United Kingdom. That is a tremendous fact. It must lead to a great disturbance of the incidence of taxation and an enormous change in the expenditure of the two countries, and it will lead to much heart-burning as to what is to become of the poor Irish Members. As a general proposition, they are pretty well able to take care of themselves. As an Irishman I am the last person in the world to disparage the brains and intelligence of my own countrymen, but if you think you are going to get rid of Irish difficulties 234 by having a Home Rule something in Dublin you are mistaken. What is to become of the Irish Members? Are they to be kept here to look after Imperial concerns, and keep you in order? We know nothing about that except from speculation, and we can only speculate on the bearings of a Home Rule Bill in reference to Ireland. How is Ireland to get over the tremendous difficulties in regard to finance? You have a Committee sitting on the question, which is some guide that you yourselves recognise the obvious difficulties of the case.
Then there is the case of Ulster. No one can question that in a great part of Ulster—may I say Protestant Ulster?—there is a tremendous hatred of Home Rule, as there is in countless homesteads spread all over Ireland. That is the question of the Protestant minority. I only mention it as showing that it is one of those great subjects that necessarily attract the attention of every fair-minded man. This question of Home Rule is an exceptional one. It affects England tremendously, and it affects Ireland so seriously that you are bound in all fairness and justness not to treat it as an ordinary matter of legislation, but allow the free voice of the nation to express itself upon it. When you have the Bill drafted and ready you ought to submit your policy to the judgment of the people. There are vague sentences which deceive nobody. "Let the Irish manage their own affairs." Beautiful. But who are the Irish? Are we not one composite united people, springing from the same stock, the same race, and having the same instincts? When you talk of the Irish you do not mean a united people but a disunited people, some of whom seem strongly in favour of your plan whilst others believe that your plan is one of the wickedest ever invented to disturb a nation.
When you say "Let the Irish manage their own affairs," I ask, What affairs are they to manage? Are they to manage the affairs of the minority against their wish and determination? Are they to send a coterie over to manage your affairs? Are they to have the right to tax Ulster? That is a tremendous question. I have the greatest possible respect for the noble Viscount opposite. I had the honour of sitting, though not on the same side, with him in the House of Commons, and I 235 have had the privilege of reading many of his works. But I do not think he was quite fair to this House in indicating that this House could not be trusted to act fairly and reasonably in reference to Irish affairs owing to its past history. Where was his right to say that? Ireland, owing to the Acts of this Legislature and the cooperation of this House, has one of the widest systems for the purchase of land that any civilised country has ever seen, and the widest Land Acts. The noble Viscount knows that the Land Acts of 1870 and 1881, two great achievements of Mr. Gladstone, were passed by this House, on the beneficent working of those Acts. Take the Local Government Act of Mr. Gerald Balfour, a man of whom we do not hear enough, passed by the Conservative Government. That Act gave as wide a measure of local government to Ireland as exists in England. Surely that is an immense thing, and my noble friend Lord Londonderry, in his speech last night, teeming with information, mentioned the present position of our savings bank, brought about by the thrift and possibility of saving of the people of Ireland, and that shows that prosperity has been able to grow up under the Union.
A predecessor of mine in the office both of Attorney-General and Lord Chancellor of Ireland, Mr. Law, who I am sure enjoyed the friendship of the noble Viscount opposite—he was an eminent lawyer and distinguished statesman—said, when prosecuting Mr. Parnell in the King's Bench in Dublin, that the Irish tenant had been made a cat's-paw to help on the Home Rule movement. Something else has been said here about the balance between the actions of both Parties with regard to Ireland. I will not go into that. I admit that each side acted according to what they honestly believed to be the requirements of Ireland at the respective times, and it is not fair, or just, or reasonable, to suggest that either Party acted otherwise than in an honest belief that they were doing their best to cope at the time with the difficulties of the position. I remember well some of Mr. Gladstone's sentences with regard to the crime that had occurred in Ireland, and when the Acts that had been passed did not achieve as rapidly as was hoped the results that were anticipated. One of them was, when some great crime had taken place in Ireland, "The resources of civilisation are 236 not yet exhausted." When Mr. Gladstone was asked what was to be done because improvement was not advancing rapidly enough, he said, "Do not let us weary of doing good." My Lords, each side must take responsibility for what has been done in Ireland, and you cannot blame Peers connected with Ireland if they raise their voices and testify to what they believe will be the results of legislation which they know is impending. It is essential for them to point out that this is one of the great measures which ought not legitimately and justly to be placed in the category of ordinary legislation. It is a measure which should be submitted for the free opinion of the nation, in order that the people may say, looking at the question of Home Rule fairly and all round, whether the measure is one that is called for by the requirements of Ireland.
THE LORD BISHOP OF RIPON
My Lords, it is only natural that those who feel strongly on this subject should express themselves strongly, and it is only natural that those who have fears, perhaps I should be allowed to say legitimate fears, should give expression to those fears on such an occasion as this. I venture to say, and I am sure noble Lords on both sides of the House will forgive me if I am perfectly frank, that. I do not quite feel that it is a fair description of the conditions of the last Election to say that Home Rule was put very prominently before the electors. It is perfectly true that on one side there were those who were ready to warn the electors that probably Home Rule would follow, but I do not think that the voice which uttered those views spoke with authority so definite and distinct as to make it an absolute certainty to the people of this country that Home Rule was intended. If I remember rightly, when it was asserted on one side of the House that Home Rule was, as it were, the bogey behind the door, an answer was given more than once to the effect that it was merely a "red herring" that was being drawn across the track. If responsible members at that time were ready to retort that the idea of Home Rule was a red herring across the track, there must have been a large section of the Party who did not intend to put the Home Rule issue as a prominent matter before the people, and I venture to think it is quite legitimate on the part of those noble Lords who have done so to argue 237 that the Home Rule question was not so explicitly before the country so that anyone could say that the country had absolutely decided in favour of it.
I am in the unfortunate position of being one who cannot see eye to eye with the various partisans. I do not know under what category I should come if the descriptive political epithets were to be applied to me. I am afraid I should have to take my chance. I presume I should be called a speckled bird. In my judgment the only way to deal with questions which come before a great legislative assembly like this is to ask yourselves what is your best judgment; what is your honest opinion; and to express that opinion to the best of your power. I understand that the Referendum is the main issue of the debate at present. I venture to say, with all courtesy, that to my point of view there has been something of a discursive method of dealing with that issue, and it seems to me that Home Rule has loomed rather too largely in the discussion to the obscuring of the main issue before us, which is: Is the Referendum a wise and just method of dealing with present-day difficulties?
I confess I am not ready to yield to the noble Viscount who leads the House in the extreme aversion I have felt to the Referendum. I do not like the Referendum because the whole of my hypothesis of government is this, that I being an elector not having a wide experience concerning administrative action employ somebody else whom I believe to be wiser and better fitted than myself to take up the matter and deal with it. I take that attitude feeling that the members elected to the elective Assembly are better fitted to judge than those who send them there. That being so, it seems to me unwise that maters should be referred back from the better instructed to the less better instructed, and I venture to think that wherever that is done there is a confession of weakness in the Assembly that is driven to do it, because it seems to me to involve this admission, "We cannot make up our minds, we are in a difficulty, and you who are less instructed must form your opinion on the subject." That seems to me the real difficulty with regard to the Referendum.
For that reason the question presents itself to my mind in this way—Have 238 circumstances arisen which make it desirable that we should resort to the Referendum? I do not want to say a word which would disparage the position of any legislative Assembly, but a great deal has been said about the difficulties which exist in the House of Commons and the great congestion of business that exists there. I think it is but just and fair to admit that the House of Commons is in difficulty because of the enormous amount of work thrown upon it. I for one feel, when great and grave measures have to be discussed, that it is a very hard thing for the people of this country that discussion should be cut short on important measures because a whole host of minor measures are a waiting consideration. In the case of the affairs of a growing Empire such as ours, the complication of whose circumstances is increasing every day, which complication may lead to tremendous problems in the future, I do not think we are dealing justly with the great Imperial policy of this country if our representatives in Parliament are obliged to say "We have no time to discuss, consider, or deliberate on these matters as we should like." I blame nobody for it. I speak merely of I he facts of the case, but it does seem to me that it ought not to pass the wit of man to find some means of escape from such an intolerable position.
What has been the result? There is a symptom, as has been pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Courtney, of a decay in Parliamentary spirit. I do think, if we are to be perfectly frank in the matter, we must admit that. Everyone who looks at the method—I will not say the hurried method—by which sometimes Members are driven by circumstances to give a vote with which, according to their inmost convictions, they do not feel satisfied at all, must recognise the danger of the tendency. Party organisation has become extraordinarily perfect in these days. The machinery is as complete and as perfect as it can be made, but I must say I cannot bring myself to look at this machinery with anything approaching approval or satisfaction. It seems to me that in the end this mechanism is likely to destroy the reality of freedom and the real value and the moral effect of a legislative Assembly. My Lords, I have no axe to grind and no sort of leaning from a Party point of view, and I speak with frankness and freedom 239 as one who has formed as independent an opinion as I can. It is written in history that the idea creates the organisation, but the organisation often ends by destroying the idea; and I would ask: Are we not in danger lest the very perfection of our organisation may tend to kill the very idea which brought that organisation into existence?
What did Burke say concerning the position of the House of Commons? He said that the House of Commons was, in his view, an Assembly created to watch with due care the actions of the Executive. That is perfectly reasonable. I can go back in imagination to the days when the Executive had great power, and the House of Commons was bound to be on its guard lest there was any unwise or unfair exercise of power on the part of the Executive; and Burke's view was that the House of Commons must watch very jealously the action of the Executive, because the Executive had power to do things at variance with the will of the people. I recall a statement made by a noble Lord who said, speaking of the Executive of the country: "We have reversed by our administrative action Acts of Parliament which were passed before we came into office, and there was no one to come and say, 'That is very wrong.'" Where was the vigilance that ought to have been exercised at such a moment as that? Is there not every reason why the House of Commons should exercise extraordinary vigilance lest the Executive should exceed its powers? The perfecting of Party organisation has given to the Executive enormous power, and therefore there is tremendous danger of our falling under the tyranny of bureaucratic government. That being the case, it seems to me that every vigilance should be brought into play which will tend to prevent the invasion of the rights and the freedom of the people to judge and think for themselves without the Executive being tempted to go beyond its powers. I am afraid of what might happen if your Party organisations become so perfect that you were able to carry measures right through, having dragooned your followers into subjection—measures which really had never received the broad and wide sanction of the people of the country. I only put this forward as one who does see that there are certain dangers which threaten an invasion upon the rights and freedom of the people.
240 If I may I will give one illustration which occurred in my own experience. I was seated in my study one evening when I was told that a certain Member of Parliament desired to see me. I confess I did not feel very grateful for the interruption, because I was at that moment intent upon the preparation of my Sunday evening sermon. He said, "I want you to sign a petition." I said, "What is it?" He said, "It is a petition to keep that"—I will not repeat the adjective that he used—"gentleman, Mr. Bradlaugh, out of the House of Commons. It is a petition to the House of Lords to ask them to throw out the Affirmation Bill." I looked at him and said, "This is very extraordinary. If I remember rightly you are on the side of the House which has brought in that Bill." "Oh, yes," he said, "I am." "Well," I said, "I suppose you opposed it?" "Oh, no," he replied, "I went with my Party." Then I said to him, "You come to me and request me to sign a petition asking the House of Lords to undertake a responsibility you had not the courage to undertake for yourself. You can go away. I will have nothing to do with it." "As a matter of fact," I added, "I approve of the Affirmation Bill, but even if I agreed with you I would never dream of signing a petition to liberate you from responsibility when you had not the independence to settle it for yourself."
May I say also that I greatly deprecate what I may call the financial necessities of Party organisation. A man may be assisted into the House by contributions from Party funds. Is he allowed to give a free and independent vote always? I believe it is the duty of the Whips in the case of a man who has come under the auspices of the Party to see that he follows the Party lead. That is exactly what gives me courage to rise in your Lordships' House, because it seems to me that the House of Commons is in danger of ceasing to be what it was intended to be—an Assembly of free Englishmen gathered together to consider, debate, and decide on the great issues which affect the welfare of the country. In the present conditions I think that the Referendum is a step in the wrong direction, and that it is essentially and theoretically a blunder, because it is an appeal from the wise to the unwise in theory. Yet, seeing that you are withdrawing from the House of Commons a great deal of protective force which acted 241 as a shield to the freedom of the country, I cannot see that there is any alternative except, in some form or another, to take advantage of the opportunity offered to us of a Referendum to the people on all really great issues. Is it quite impossible to find a modus vivendi in this matter? Is it really to be said that we are going to stand out on a matter of this kind and say that there shall be no case in which there shall be this Referendum or appeal to the country? My noble friend Lord Sheffield desired that there should be opportunities, under certain conditions, of consulting the people, and the Referendum is a method for doing it. I ask whether it is not possible, even at this late hour, to find some mode by which both Parties could agree with regard to it.
I gathered, from what the noble Viscount said, that he did recognise that there might be Constitutional questions which it would be desirable under certain circumstances to refer to the people. Nobody wants to make this a usual expedient. All we want is that there should be certain special cases referred on matters touching the Constitution. It has been said that a Government which comes in by the will of the people is elected to carry certain measures, and that to refer those measures back to the people again is a superfluous thing. If I thought that I should say, By all means go on as you are. But that is not always the case, and I think I am right hi saying that some Bills have become Acts which did not bear quite the same complexion as when first introduced. Indeed, some Bills remind me of a scene in the "Inferno," where a serpent attacked a man and penetrated the man through the middle so effectually that by and by the man became the serpent and the serpent became the man. Therefore it does seem to me, after due deliberation, that there are exceptional cases—I do not attempt to define them—where the use of the Referendum might be advisable, and I make an earnest and humble appeal to His Majesty's Ministers to-day, putting whatever restrictions they like upon it, to see if they cannot at least give the people of this country an opportunity of expressing their opinion on those great issues which must inevitably affect their welfare and their prosperity.
§ THE EARL OF DARTMOUTH
My Lords, I have not ventured up till now to 242 interpose in this debate, but I should like to ask your Lordships to allow me to offer a few remarks this evening, not because I have any hope of being able to say anything that is new, but because I do look upon the present situation as one of a most serious and grave character. I should like to endorse the appeal made by the right rev. Prelate in his most eloquent speech. Personally I support the Amendment that has been moved by the noble Marquess, because I believe that if it was accepted a great deal, in fact almost all, of our objections to this Bill would be done away with; and it seems to me that if there is any real desire for compromise a means of compromise is to be found in this Amendment.
I would, in the first place, say that in supporting this Amendment there is no desire on my part to in any way reflect upon the House of Commons. I have been myself elected to that House on no less than six occasions, and I look back to my connection with it as the most notable portion of my life. There is no desire on our part to reflect upon or to express distrust of the House of Commons. What we do distrust is the disproportionate representation. The noble Lord, Lord Sheffield, following the line set by a good many noble Lords opposite, referred to the subject of plural voting—a question which has been before your Lordships on many occasions. Hut I would ask any noble Lord who is in favour of the abolition of the plural vote to take a short journey to the Library of your Lordships' House, where he will find an ingenious plan, prepared by Major Morrison-Bell, which I think will convince him that there is something more important than the question of plural voting—and that is the question of representation in the House of Commons. He will find a very elaborate plan, giving the proportional representation of every constituency. And it may be interesting to noble Lords to know that the defeated Unionist candidate in Romford, which is the most prominent of all the constituencies set out in the plan, polled more votes than were polled by Mr. Asquith, Mr. Lloyd George, Sir E. Grey, and Mr. Haldane combined. That suggests that the reconstitution of the House of Commons is far more necessary than the reconstitution of the House of Lords. If the object of the franchise is to give fair representation to the electors I would suggest that the present Government should introduce a 243 Redistribution Bill, and that when they have reconstituted the House of Commons it will be time enough for them to attempt to deal with the House of Lords. The reasons I am in favour of the Amendment are, in the first place, that I see a possibility of compromise, and, in the second place, it differentiates the character of the measures that would come before Parliament and gives an opportunity of appeal to the country.
We have heard a good deal to-night about the Referendum. It seems to me that those who object to it have occupied their time in finding out bits of this Referendum and bits of the other Referendum that do not suit us. Very likely. I believe America worked out a scheme of Referendum that would suit itself without regard to what suited other countries; and if it becomes necessary, as I believe it will under this Bill, that some appeal should be made to the people of the country before these questions of great importance are passed over our heads, some such consideration will become necessary. The noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, mentioned subjects which be considered unsuitable for Referendum. But surely that is a matter that can be easily arranged. Lord Crewe last year, when dealing with the question of the Referendum, said that the issue which was referred ought to be a simple issue and one that would materially affect those who were called upon to vote. I think we all agree with that. And while so many questions that are unsuitable have been suggested to your Lordships, I should like to suggest one that, in my opinion, is absolutely suitable—namely, Payment of Members. I suggest that that would be a very easy question to submit to a Referendum. It is a simple issue, and one that materially affects the people who are called upon to vote in respect to it; and it seems to me that the common-sense action to take would be to allow those who have to pay the money, not those who are to receive it, to say whether payment is necessary. I undertake to say that if that question were put to the country very few constituencies would estimate the value of the services of their respective representatives at £400 a year.
The right rev. Prelate quoted an eloquent passage from Burke with which I fully agree. One of the principal objections to this Bill is that it reverses what are the 244 proper functions of Parliament. We have a more recent example than Burke. On November 21 last year Lord Crewe gave a definition of Parliament, and what it ought to do. He said that Parliament was not an end in itself; it was a means of doing certain things for the nation; and he went on to explain that it was a machine with three principal objects—first, to keep in check the Executive; second, to raise money; and, third, and not the primary one, to pass legislation. I venture to say that in this Bill that position is entirely reversed. This Bill is apparently framed and brought before you for the one purpose of forcing through Parliament legislation, Party legislation. We have already had it explained to us, and we know from our own experience, that at the present moment the Executive, on which Parliament ought to keep a check, is supreme, and that Parliament has no power of instituting such a check. We have also heard a good deal about the questions that were raised at the last two elections, and we have had it apparently generally accepted that this particular Bill was fully discussed during the last election. Those who make that statement apparently ignore a speech that was made by the Prime Minister at Oxford on March 18 of last year, after the January election. He said—This absolute Veto upon legislation must go. That was the issue submitted to the electorate. We believe they intended to answer it, and did answer it, in the affirmative, and this will become clear when the matter is submitted as it will be submitted the week after next, to the House of Commons.He was referring to the Veto Resolutions on which the House of Commons were about to decide, and it will be borne in mind that those Veto Resolutions were passed under the guillotine on the distinct understanding that the Bill framed on those Resolutions should have full discussion when it came up. The Prime Minister went on to say that the matter, of course, could not rest there, and that the judgment of the House of Lords must also be obtained, but that he did not know what that judgment would be, although he had his suspicions. Now is it credible, after that speech of the Prime Minister, that that Bill, for which full discussion had been promised, should have been withdrawn from the House of Commons before the House of Commons had an opportunity of discussing it on Second Reading? And had it not been for the insistence of the 245 noble Marquess the Bill would never have been brought before your Lordships at all. I maintain there was no idea at that time of any second election.
It is rather interesting to consider what were the causes that produced the second election. At elections various questions are raised, and the difficulty really is, not in getting the support of the country to a particular proposal, but in putting the platform cry into an Act of Parliament. For instance, you are in favour of education; so are we. You are in favour of temperance; so are we. But when the one side or the other come to put their licensing or their education proposals into a Bill, then arises the difficulty. There was no real reason for a second election at all. I have quoted the words of the Prime Minister, and I think it was Lord Crewe, at Newmarket, who said that the Liberal Party did not want the election, and that it was forced upon them. An interrupter said, "By the Irish Party," and the answer was, "No, by the House of Lords." I challenge any noble Lord opposite to show in what way your Lordships forced that second election. The real reason was given by the Master of Elibank, a very important person on the other side. Addressing the London Liberal Open-air Speakers' League on February 24, he said that when he was asked as Chief Liberal Whip what would be the best time for a General Election he replied, "At once," and he added that be staked his soul upon London, because he had heard of the work that had been carried on by Liberals at street corners. We were, therefore, put to all the expense of a General Election because of the work done by Liberal orators at street corners.
Have we ever had fair play from the other side? The noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, comes here and pays us compliments, but it is no good his telling us what fine fellows we are because we already know it. If he would go and pay us the same compliments on public platforms there might be something in it. What did he say the other day? He said he wanted a Second Chamber, but not one like the House of Lords, which "hunted Liberal measures like a terrier hunts rats." It would have been more fair, instead of making that remark, had he told his audience that on no single occasion had the Veto of the House of Lords been put in operation between the January and December elections. What we did was to suspend our 246 Standing Orders in order to pass the Budget in a single day, after the many months of what we thought rather discreditable manœuvring before the other Chamber was able to pass it.
The present Postmaster-General said, in the January election, that the Liberal Party claimed that the last word was not with the House of Lords but with the House of Commons. We claim that the last word is neither with the House of Lords nor with the House of Commons, but with the people. It is because I believe that by this Amendment we shall secure the last word being with the people that I shall give it my most strenuous support; and I venture once again to remind your Lordships of the definition of an ideal Second Chamber given by the Prime Minister in 1904 and quoted with excellent effect by the late Lord Cawdor during the Budget debate—that a real Second Chamber was a revising authority over tile details of legislation, that when a doubt existed as to whether the House of Lords or the House of Commons more accurately interpreted the wishes of the people, the Veto should be introduced in order teat that doubt might be effectively solved. That is all we have ever asked for, and that is all we ask for now.
§ [The sitting was suspended at ten minutes to eight o'clock and resumed at a quarter past nine.]
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, yesterday the noble Lord, Lord Courtney, commenced his speech by finding fault with the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, for making what he considered an address appropriate for the Second Reading of a Home Rule Bill. With all the deference that is due to a man of great distinction like Lord Courtney, I venture most emphatically to join issue with him on this matter. Speaking as a life-long and an unrepentant Liberal, though not a supporter of his Majesty's present Government, I believe not only that we should never have heard of a Home Rule Bill at this juncture had His Majesty's Government not been dependent on the Nationalists for their majority, but that we should have heard very little, if at all, of thee Parliament Bill.
There is another reason which makes the debate on this particular Amendment 247 a debate upon Home Rule in disguise, and why we, particularly those who come from Ireland, should discuss Home Rule. That reason is the fact that, as was so amply and ably proved in yesterday's debate, Home Rule was never before the country as a controversial measure at a the last General Election; and this important debate is one of the few occasions open to us on which we can bring the question of Home Rule, not only before the people of England, but, what is equally important, before the province of Ulster. It is most essential that this purpose should be fulfilled, because up to now the province of Ulster has not realised the imminence of the danger of Home Rule which now threatens it.
Speaking, as I said just now, as a Liberal, I cannot help wondering whether the Party which I followed so faithfully and so long are entirely wise in having supported Home Rule so enthusiastically during this controversy. I confess that in many ways I have great sympathy with my old Party, and I confess also that during the debate of the last two days, when I have listened to the arguments on both sides, the Liberal Party have had my deepest sympathy in regard to the outcome of the fight. But I repeat that I wonder whether they are wise, for their own purposes, in supporting Home Rule as strongly as they are doing at the present time. We do not know in the least what measure of Home Rule is to be proposed. It is said that Home Rule has been before the country; but I would remind His Majesty's Government that no indication of the kind of Home Rule which they propose to introduce has yet been elicited by any question put from the Unionist side of the House. The Government have still to realise that the question of Home Rule has at some time or another to be considered by the country.
I do not believe, whatever anybody may say, that Home Rule is popular in England. The experience I gained when speaking years ago on Liberal platforms showed me that it is impossible to work up any great enthusiasm on the subject of Home Rule, but that it is very easy indeed to arouse enthusiasm in support of the Union after a fortnight's campaign. Although I know that the Nationalists are in a position, if they choose, to inflict a defeat on the Government in the Lobby of the House of 248 Commons, I do not think if they were pressed to do so that the Nationalists would carry matters to that extreme point for they would have to face a General Election fought on the subject of Home Rule. I know that other methods of passing the Parliament Bill have been in the minds of many people of late. There has been laid before us in the Press—I do not know whether it has been threatened officially by His Majesty's Government—a proposal for the creation of sufficient Peers to swamp the Conservative and Unionist majority in this House in order to carry a measure of Home Rule, the Parliament Bill, or anything else that might be required by supporters of the Government. I confess I shall believe in these 500 Peers only when I see them actually created. An anonymous friend the other day sent me a copy of a Liberal newspaper, though I do not know if it is a Government organ—I refer to Reynolds' Newspaper. In that paper was published what purported to be a list of the names of those people who were to be the first stalwarts to support the Liberal policy in the House of Lords by sacrificing themselves and becoming Peers of the Realm. I confess, on looking through those names and considering the stake the people there mentioned hold in the country, that it appeared to me that the title to which they might lay the greatest, almost the only, claim would be that of their telephone numbers. I wondered whether those 250 new Peers—for that was the number of names published—would, when the time came for asserting the opinions for which they were created and giving definite support to Home Rule, be found in the proper Lobby.
Again I say, taking all these questions into consideration, I wonder whether the Liberal Party have been entirely wise in placing so much faith and so much confidence in the necessity for passing Home Rule in order to remain in the position in which they now hold office. My reason for saying this is that the Nationalist Party are, as your Lordships will admit very shrewd politicians, and t hey will consider their own position carefully before they force a General Election on this unpopular subject. The Nationalist Members have a great deal to count on from a Liberal Government while it remains in office—far more than they could count on from a Unionist Government if it should 249 be returned to power. Therefore I believe, and I think I shall find many to agree with me, that they would consider their position very carefully before they went to the length of forcing the Government into a difficult or almost impossible situation. I venture to lay these remarks and considerations before His Majesty's Government in the earnest hope that they may be willing to consider them.
There is another reason why I think there are great difficulties before his Majesty's Government. There is the difficulty of the Nonconformists. People have said lately that Nonconformists in England no longer care one way or the other, as they did on previous occasions when the subject was before the country, on the question of Home Rule, and that they view with equanimity the possibilities of injustice to their co-religionists in. Ireland. I confess I was beginning to hold that opinion myself until I read an extract from the British Weekly, which reflects the opinions of English Nonconformity as in a mirror. On April 27 last that paper referred to this subject, and I will read this remarkable extract—That Home Rule in the old Gladstonian sense will ever be curried, or ever proposed, we do not believe.I confess it appears to me, after reading such an opinion, that if Ulster and the loyalists and Protestants in Ireland make the same forcible objections to Home Rule as they did in 1886 and in 1893 the knell of Gladstonian Home Rule will have sounded, and with it the knell of His Majesty's present Government. I do not suppose for one moment that the Government will be much influenced by what I say, but although I am a staunch opponent of Home Rule and absolutely against the policy of disruption, I also consider myself a Liberal. I do most earnestly venture to hope, therefore, that the Government will pay heed to the breakers which lie ahead of them.
Many people say that the objection to Home Rule in Ireland is beginning to diminish. I understand that such a belief is hugged by many Liberals, on the principle, no doubt, of the wish being father to the thought. I confess that in the South and West of Ireland the objections heard against Home Rule are no longer as loud as they were fifteen or twenty-five years ago. But under the rule of a Liberal Government during the last five or six 250 years the local Camorra, whether it be the United Irish League or the Ancient Order of Hibernians, has gained such a hold that no small local Unionist would dare to air his opinions. In the North of Ireland, however, things are entirely different. I am deeply interested in this subject, and I have been making inquiries lately as to time possible chances of any Home Rule Bill being successful in the state of public opinion existing in Ireland at the present moment. I confess that the result of my inquiries has not been very promising. The lower classes of Nationalist opinion at this moment believe that Home Rule is inevitable. They are now beginning to say what they think, because they believe that Home Rule cannot be stopped. Certainly the result of my inquiries is that the feeling which existed in 1893 has again begun to assert itself—namely, that Home Rule means the millennium, when all loyalists are to be put aside from their property, and their liberties, even their lives, are to be the sport of the public. I could give examples, but I understand that many of your Lordships think that enough has been said about Home Rule in this debate, and therefore I will curtail my remarks as far as possible on this subject.
I must touch, however, on the question of the North of Ireland, because the North is only now beginning to realise how immediate the danger of Home Rule is. There are many people who believe that a separate Ulster Parliament would be a solution of the difficulties of Home Rule, and I confess myself that when one first looks at it it would seem, as far as England is concerned, an easy way out of the difficulties which lie before us. I believe the idea was mooted to the Ulster leaders, but with the exception of a few weaklings it was at once refused even consideration by those whose influence counts in Ulster. All over Ireland the Protestants and the loyalists have for years married and inter-married. The ties of blood are very strong, and Ulster Unionists believe strongly that "United we stand, divided we fall," and that to accept an Ulster Parliament at the expense of the remainder of Ireland would be a gross act of betrayal of which they would never be guilty.
Now we come to another question which His Majesty's Government will have to consider; that is, the action Ulster will take if Home Rule is forced upon Ireland 251 without the consent of the predominant partner. Are we to believe that Ulster will accept it peacefully? I do not think so, and I do not think either that we ought to imagine that Ulster should reasonably consent to be placed under the Nationalist yoke.
Ulster has not yet properly awakened to the fact that Home Rule is upon her. Is it wonderful that she has not clone so? I would remind your Lordships of something which occurred during the South African war. There were battles fought which ended in disaster to the British arms. During those battles English, Scottish, and Irish soldiers were dying on the veldt, and English, Scottish, and Irish homes were rendered desolate by the bereavements which fell upon them. While these things were happening the chosen representatives of Ireland cheered the news of English reverses. Is it wonderful that Ulster is slow to realise that for the sake of political advancement, as some of us believe, the British Government is willing to hand over the lives and liberties of Irish loyalists to the very men who cheered the tidings of English disasters? Some people say that the idea of resistance by Ireland—of armed resistance shall we call it?—would be impossible, and that it would be suppressed at once by the forces of the Crown. There are others who believe that by such suppression Ulster would gain, from the fact that in her defeat she would secure the very object for which she fought. This question has been asked, I believe, in another place, and I only hope we may get a serious answer to it. If Ulster does resist, what are His Majesty's Government going to do? Are they going to send British troops to shoot down loyalists and Protestants in Ireland for the sake of men who cheered our defeats in South Africa? I do not think so. I do not think any Government would dare to do that. It would send them into the wilderness, from which they would not return for many a long day; because I am convinced that the people of England would not sit quietly by and see their fellow loyalists in Ireland shot down merely in order to gratify the wishes of men such as I have described.
I think your Lordships must be almost tired of the question of Home Rule, and therefore I will cut short my remaining remarks. In conclusion, I would ask you 252 who belong to the Unionist Party to remember that noble Lords from Ireland are among the few existing Parliamentary representatives of Irish Unionism and Irish loyalty. We have our duty before us. It is a duty that we cannot and will not betray. Through every argument and every Division right up to the end we will fight this matter. We will fight the question of Home Rule until it has been decided by the opinion of the predominant partner. We turn to the Unionist Party, not only with hope, but with confidence, for the name of the Unionist Party explains the reason for its existence; and we believe that because of the reason for its existence the Unionist Party is in honour bound to fight Home Rule to the very end.
§ THE EARL OF DUNMORE
My Lords, in rising to support the Amendment moved by the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition I shall, in view of the discussions which have already taken place, confine my remarks to what I conceive to be the main object of this Amendment. The Amendment provides the only means of securing under the Parliament Bill that the will of the people shall prevail. I know that the Parliament Bill professes to be based on the same principle—on the desire to give effect to the wishes of the people. It had its birth in the Resolution which was brought forward in the House of Commons by the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman in 1907, in which great stress was laid on this question of giving effect to the will of the people. But the Parliament Bill is not a Bill to give effect to the will of the people. It is not even a Bill to give effect to the will of the House of Commons. It is merely and solely a Bill to give effect to the will of the Cabinet of the day, a small body not directly elected by the House of Commons or by the electors of the country. This was indirectly admitted by the noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, this evening when he got up I think principally with the view of suppressing the insurrection which was inclined to break out on the Benches behind him. Some noble Lords opposite, showing an independence of spirit not very pleasant to noble Lords on the Front Bench, manifested a great desire to express themselves in strong terms in favour of the Referendum as an absolutely democratic necessity under the provisions of this Bill.
253 It is true that the noble Viscount denied, as he was bound to do as a Party man, that the Government were introducing single-Chamber government. But did he adduce a single argument in support of that bare statement? He admitted that the independence of the private Member in the House of Commons was disappearing every day. I might point out that the independence of the private Member will disappear a great deal quicker when members of the House of Commons are paid an annual salary. In saying this I am not casting any reflection on the character of any member of the House of Commons, because my remark would apply just as much under the same circumstances to your Lordships' House or any other House. The noble Viscount did admit that the independence of the private Member was fast disappearing and that the power of the Executive was daily increasing—in fact, that the Cabinet, commanded the votes of its supporters. If that is admitted, and if this House under the Parliament Bill has not the power to refer a single measure to the people of this country, then I ask, How on earth can anybody say that His Majesty's Government are not introducing single Chamber government?
Now, under the Amendment of the noble Marquess the electors of the country may be called in to give their decision upon legislation affecting their interests, and that really is what the Government take exception to. The Prime Minister mainly bases his case on the assumption that the House of Commons represents the electorate at any rate during the first two or three years of its existence. If so, why did Radicals, including Mr. Asquith himself, only a few years ago go all over the country denouncing the Unionist, Government for proceeding with the Education Bill of 1902? I am not going to discuss that Bill or to argue either in its favour or against it, but I desire to point out to your Lordships that that Bill was introduced within two years of the General Election which placed a Unionist Government in power. Therefore it would appear that when a Unionist Government is in power the House of Commons does not, even during its first two years, represent the will of the people. Perhaps I might be permitted to ask the noble Viscount who is in charge of this Bill whether he wishes the House 254 to understand that the representation of the will of the people is confined to those periods when a Liberal Government happens to be in power. At any rate, I think the noble Viscount will agree with me that nothing gave rise to more bitter complaint on the part of the Radicals than the passing of the Education Bill in 1902.
Perhaps I might ask the noble Viscount whether he has considered this fact, that had the Parliament Bill, with the Amendment now under consideration incorporated in it, been in force in 1902, the Education Bill of the Unionist Government would without any doubt have been submitted to the electors of the country by means of the Referendum. The noble Viscount will hardly dispute that statement. By the Amendment of the noble Marquess, in fact by the whole proceedings of the Opposition during the discussions on this Constitutional question, I claim that we have shown a real desire to give the people that say in the legislation of the country to which they are entitled. When the Government speak of the will of the country they speak merely of the will of the Radical Government, subject, perhaps, at the present moment, to the will of Mr. Redmond. The right rev. Prelate the Bishop of Ripon this evening asked whether no modus vivendi could be brought about. It is very simple. This Amendment of the noble Marquess does not interfere in any way with the objects with which this Bill was avowedly brought forward. The noble Marquess assents to the Government's proposals so long as some real provision is made for securing that the will of the people shall prevail.
THE EARL OF WICKLOW
My Lords, I feel the greatest reluctance in venturing to address your Lordships, because you have already listened with great patience to many speeches on this subject, and it seems almost impossible that anything new can be left to be said. A great number of the speeches which have been made have come from noble friends of mine from Ireland, and I think you may perhaps have heard nearly enough about the Irish part of this question. But with your kind indulgence I should like to say one or two words in support of this Amendment, because although I am not very much in love with the principle of the Referendum I recognise in the proposals of the noble 255 Marquess an attempt to rid this Bill of some at any rate of its most objectionable features.
It has always seemed to me that His Majesty's Government, in trying to make out that they have been compelled to introduce this Bill by the attitude which they say your Lordships have adopted towards Liberal legislation, do not correctly represent the circumstances of the situation. As a matter of fact that is not so much a reason for their action as an excuse. I cannot believe that His Majesty's Government, in their heart of hearts, are really in favour of these extraordinarily revolutionary proposals. I think they are propelled by a force which they have not the strength to resist. We have heard the boast that His Majesty's Government would be made to toe the line, and your Lordships now have the opportunity of seeing with what dexterity they are able to perform that not very dignified evolution. There can be very little doubt in anybody's mind that this Bill has been introduced at the bidding of Mr. John Redmond and in order to secure for His Majesty's Government the votes of his army of supporters in another place. I have been very much strengthened in this opinion by the remarks which fell from the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill, and I have heard nothing whatever from noble Lords opposite which tends in any way to remove from my mind that impression.
The noble Viscount expressed himself as most indignant at the idea that your Lordships should venture to interfere in any way with a proposal to give a measure of Home Rule to Ireland I am not in the least surprised at the noble Viscount's indignation. I am very sympathetic with his feelings in this matter, because it would be dreadful for the noble Viscount and for his colleagues if your Lordships were to succeed by any means in preventing the Government from carrying out instructions which they have doubtless received from the dictator of their policy. I would like your Lordships to consider for a moment what manner of men these Irish Nationalists are for whom it appears this tremendous Constitutional change is to be taken in hand. The Irish Nationalist Party is that Party which, as your Lordships have been reminded, openly rejoiced during the South African War at British reverses. It is that Party whose leaders stood by when 256 outrages were taking place all over Ireland, or in many parts of Ireland, and did not lift a finger in protest, although I believe if they had said the word that disgraceful state of things would have been brought to an end. These are the men whose national aspirations noble Lords opposite seem so anxious to further, and at whose word your Lordships and the people of this country are asked to believe that by granting Home Rule to Ireland that country will be transformed into the most contented, prosperous, and loyal portion of His Majesty's Dominions. I have lived all my life in Ireland and my home is there. I have not been what the noble Viscount calls an absentee, and I am quite certain that I and many like me, if we could think for one moment that Home Rule was likely to have such a result, would be Home Rulers to-morrow, and would leave no stone unturned to bring about so desirable a result. But we are convinced that Home Rule would have no such result, but would plunge our unfortunate country into bankruptcy and into the hands of a corrupt and probably tyrannous Government.
It seems to me that noble Lords opposite, in common with many eminent, honourable, and patriotic gentlemen in this country, base their view on this question upon a total misapprehension of the motive power which is behind the Home Rule movement. It must be borne in mind that among the people of Ireland a very large proportion are not only not in favour of, but are most bitterly opposed to, Home Rule in any shape or form. And is it by any means certain that all those who call themselves Nationalists are in their heart of hearts in favour of setting up a National Parliament in Dublin I think not. Your Lordships will be able to decide that there is grave doubt whether they are so keen on Home Rule by the speeches which you have heard delivered by my noble friends from Ireland. If we want to arrive at the mainspring of the Home Rule movement we must look, not to Ireland, but to where the money comes from which supports the Irish Nationalist Party. We must look to the avowed enemies of England abroad, and to those men, or the descendants of those men, who emigrated from Ireland at a time when there was some cause to complain of British misrule in that country, and who no doubt took with them into exile a bitter and rancorous hatred of 257 England and everything English. Those men are, I think, ready and willing to give their moral and financial support to any movement which may lead to the humiliation of England and the disintegration of the Empire. And surely they have not got far to look for such a movement. It must be clear to them that if they can bring about the passage into law of a Home Rule Bill they will have inserted the thin end of the wedge of separation; and if they can bring about the separation of Ireland from England they will have driven the first nail into the coffin of the British Empire. I know this is a view which has often been looked upon as an extreme one—as the view of an alarmist. But it is my conviction, and I think I am not alone in holding that the Irish Home Rule movement is the outward and visible sign of a secret but none the less real conspiracy against this Empire, and of a danger which it behaves your Lordships and the people of this country to take into the most careful consideration.
It can never be sufficiently regretted that no compromise on this great Constitutional issue could be arrived at. I do not know whether it is now too late, but I am inclined to agree with the noble Lord who said that he believed it might not be too late even at the eleventh hour. Even now, if His Majesty's Government would honestly give their great collective ability to the consideration of this problem, I believe they would not fail to arrive at some scheme of compromise which would be acceptable to both great Parties in the State, and which might lay the foundation of a permanent settlement of this great controversy. If they brought about that settlement they would deserve not only the gratitude of the whole nation but of generations of Englishmen yet unborn. On the other hand, my Lords, it may be, and I daresay it is, in their power to force the passage into law of every letter of this Bill, if they decide to take that course, to bang and bolt the door on compromise and turn a deaf ear to all arguments which may be addressed to them, to insist on their pound of flesh and on paving the way to the Home Rule Bill which I believe they have in contemplation, they will most likely be remembered in history as the Government which were so fond of power and so afraid of losing their offices and emoluments that they sold the Constitution of their country to their country's most bitter foes.
My Lords, I was not in the House last night and can only gather what was said from the Press, so that if I repeat facts which have been already stated I hope I shall be forgiven. As regards the Amendment we are discussing, there are two points with which I do not agree. I should prefer that Home Rule was in a separate Amendment, so that the people could understand that it was an Amendment against Home Rule for Ireland pure and simple. Secondly, I am not entirely in favour of referring matters of State to a Joint Committee. I think it would be reasonable enough to appeal to the country without the assistance of any Joint Committee. As an Irish Peer I speak freely on Home Rule, and I hope your Lordships will not be bored too much. It is very difficult for people not living in Ireland to understand Ireland, and I think a great many of your Lordships know very little about that country.
First of all, in considering Ireland we have to remember that there are three forces in that country. There is the United. Irish League, backed up by some secret societies which are really the driving force behind it; the Catholic Church; and the English Government, which I am sorry to say is the weakest of all in enforcing its power. That is where the misfortune of Ireland lies. The majority of the people of Ireland, I believe, do not want Home Rule, but unless you live among them and know the tyranny of the League you cannot understand why they call themselves Home Rulers. It is simply and solely because they are in fear of their lives, of outrage and of tyranny, that they have declared for Home Rule. In their heart of hearts I am sure they do not want it. Twenty per cent. drive the rest. That is one thing to be considered. Another thing is, Who are these Irish Members who are forcing Home Rule on the English Parliament? They are the nominees, first, of the United Irish League, who press them forward, and, secondly, of the Irish Americans, who pay down the money.
As an Trish Unionist who has lived constantly in the country, who has had a great experience of living in it, I should like to say why we do not like the idea of Home Rule. I am sorry the noble Lord, Lord MacDonnell, is not here to-night. 259 From a report of his speech yesterday I understand that he said that there was no disloyal majority, and that we heard too much of the loyal minority. To a certain extent I am with him there. The large majority of the people who pretend to be disloyal have to do so because they are compelled. It is like it is on the question of Home Rule; they are driven by about twenty per cent., perhaps less, of the population, who are led by the agitators and hacked by the League and secret societies. To a certain extent, therefore, there is not the disloyal majority you hear about, but the unfortunate thing is that these people have not the backbone to stand out against the agitators.
I have referred to the forces in Ireland. The League is undoubtedly the chief force in Ireland. Another is the Catholic Church. I do not wish to touch on religion, but the Catholic Church is a force which cannot be ignored. I am not sure whether Lord MacDonnell said there was no intolerance, or whether there would be no intolerance under Home Rule. Anyone who looks into the matter will see that there is both political and religious intolerance. I will take first political intolerance. I have here the figures as well as I can get them. In 1900 the county councils outside Ulster returned 131 Unionists. I have not got the figures for 1903, but in 1906 they returned only 23 Unionists instead of 131, and in 1909 they returned only 16 Unionists. That does not look as if intolerance was disappearing, but rather the opposite. I have not the figures of the last election, but I have the figures of the Kildare County Council. In County Kildare there are 54,000 Roman Catholics and 8,700 Protestants. What is the representation? There are 27 Nationalists, 2 of whom are Protestants but they are Protestant Home Rulers, and there is 1 Conservative whose religion is not stated. Then look at the sub-committees of the county council. On the county infirmary committee there are 7 Catholic laymen, 1 Bishop, and 3 priests, but not a single Protestant. On the education committee there are 4 Catholic laymen and 2 priests.
I now come to what we may describe as religious intolerance. There is a certain organisation of which I am not a member and of which I do not altogether approve called the All-for-Ireland League, which 260 aims at uniting Protestants and Roman Catholics-in fact, at conciliation. What was said by Father Lillis on June 19 in discussing this question? He said—Unless Mr. O'Brien is suffering from some extraordinary delusion he must know in his heart that all this loud-sounding talk about conciliation, the weeding out of the Old Guard, the creation of a new Heaven and a new earth, is the merest rant … He tells us that he wants Home Rule, and wants conciliation—two things that are absolutely incompatible, that will not coalesce any more than oil with water. If he wants to have conciliation he cannot have Home Rule. If lie wants Home Rule, he must let conciliation go by the Board. He can only be either one thing or the other. He cannot by any possibility be both.That is what we must expect if we get Home Rule. I have other speeches here but I do not wish to quote more than I need to your Lordships.
I am afraid I shall differ a little from the Unionist Front Bench, but I cannot help it for I must say what I think. This is an occasion for every noble Lord to say what he thinks whether his own Front Bench likes it or not. To my mind this question of Home Rule has largely been kept up by both Front Benches trying to conciliate the other Party, and I must say I blame the Unionists rather the more of the two. I dare say my fellow Irish Peers do not agree with me, but I see what is going on in Ireland. What did the Unionist Government do in order to conciliate Ireland? They gave local government. The result is that the Unionists are put out of place altogether, and immense strength has been given to the Nationalists. Local government has greatly helped them to break the law. The chairmen of the county councils have all become magistrates. Under the Land Purchase Act, with which I do not altogether agree, landlord magistrates are leaving the country and the Benches are being packed up to the hilt by Nationalist magistrates who are there simply and solely not to enforce the law. Indeed, many of those magistrates are there for no other reason than that they have broken the law. I have sat on a Bench with men who have been tried for murder. One man I know went to America because he had embezzled money; when he came back he was promptly made chairman of a local authority and sits on the Bench to-day. How is the law to be enforced when you have Benches like that? It is almost impossible to get men sent to 261 trial, and if they are convicted the fines are ridiculous. I do not wish to say too much against my own Party, but this is what has happened and it ought to be considered.
I must touch on land purchase. No doubt in many cases people who bought their farms are settling down, but in a great many cases they are doing nothing of the sort. If you read the local papers, as I do regularly, you will find that many have sold their farms before paying the Government a sou. Yesterday I actually came across a case where a man signed an agreement, departed for America, and left his address for the money to be sent to New York. I do not think that is the object of the Act. It has also broken up a large number of the grass farms of Ireland, which are not tilled at all and could not possibly be tilled. The people who rush for the grass farms are simply turning them into cash and going away with the money. There is another thing which you must remember—it was referred to tonight. The Irish people are not of one race. They are of a very mixed race indeed. They are partly Teutonic, and the others are Celtic, and the grievance comes from the Celts, simply because they cannot live up to the standard of the Teutons. Is it right that the descendants of the Teutons who settled there under the English Government should be threatened because they have been loyal to the Crown? You have no right to lower the highest of the population down to the level of the lowest. You cannot do it unless you want to ruin the country. I do not consider that the present House of Commons represents the British electorate. Without a redistribution of seats it is not fair to say that the English people have expressed themselves in favour of Home Rule passing into law. If after a redistribution of seats the question is put to the country we shall have to take our chance.
§ LORD AMPTHILL
My Lords, I do not wish to detain your Lordships with a speech. I only wish to refer to one or two points which have arisen in the debate and of which I have made notes, because it seems to me they have been overlooked in the replies which have been made. First of all, I should like to make some answer to my noble friend Lord Weardale, whose frank and courageous speech 262 appealed to me as a Liberal of the old school and a believer in those principles which he so eloquently set forth. But it seems to me that my noble friend fell into a very serious error, and I think it important to refer to it because it is an error which has been repeated in many authoritative quarters and into Which I think my noble friend was betrayed by the example of his political leaders. He said that we were discussing this Constitutional question because, for the first time in its history, the House of Lords rejected a Budget. That, my Lords, to say the least of it, is chronologically incorrect. This Veto policy on which the Parliament Bill is founded was conceived and submitted to Parliament long before there was any question of the Budget of 1909—long before that Budget had even germinated in the brain of its author. How, then, can my noble friend say that it is on account of our rejection of that Budget that we are now discussing this Veto policy when this policy was based on the Resolutions of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, and we have been told over and over again in this House that it is of still more ancient origin?
There are other errors underlying that statement to which I think it worth while to refer, because a very similar statement has been made by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, and no doubt it is intended that it should be repeated all over the country. The suggestion is that during the 800 years of its existence the House of Lords has never rejected a Budget until 1909. Your Lordships know, but a very large number of people in the country do not know, that Budgets have only existed for fifty years or so. Before that time there were only Money Bills, and this House has not only rejected but amended Money Bills. If you fall short of a statement to that effect I say you are not putting the case fairly before any audience in the country. That is all I wish to say in answer to my noble friend, unless I may venture to refer to this remark which he made. He said he believed that the people of this country had made up their minds absolutely—and he used the word "absolutely" with great emphasis—that the control of finance should rest entirely in the hands of the popular Chamber. I do not believe, if I may express my own opinion as he did his, that the people of this country have made up their minds any 263 more absolutely on that question than they have on ally other. The whole essence of our political life is change. The people of this country have often changed their minds on this or on that question, and so I do not think it is a very safe thing to say that the people of this country have made up their minds absolutely.
The noble Viscount the Secretary of State for War paid me the compliment of singling me out for a derisive remark when I ventured, among others, to smile at one of the more humorous portions of the lecture on political science with which he favoured this House, so perhaps I may say a word in reply to him. He told us that you cannot submit a Bill to the people, the suggestion being that the people are not capable of forming an opinion on a single measure. I hope I did not misunderstand him. But almost in the same breath he described to us, in picturesque and interesting language, how Members of Parliament belonging to the political Party which is in power go down to their constituencies with Bills in their pockets which they discuss and explain, as he seemed to suggest., in a homely kind of manner to their constituents, clause by clause. They thus obtain general approval for the principles of those measures and a mandate to carry them out in the House of Commons. Surely those two statements are rather inconsistent. If the people can form an opinion which is worth taking in discussing several Bills with their candidates or Members of Parliament, surely it is hardly fair to say that they would not be able to do so in regard to any one measure which might be submitted to them by some system of reference to the people. But I dare say if I pressed the noble Viscount we should find he was still further inconsistent in this matter. No doubt he claims—I am sure he will not deny it—that the people of this country have approved of this Parliament Bill which we are discussing. Is that so? Silence they tell me signifies assent. The noble Viscount evidently does claim that the people of this country approve the Veto Bill. Then why in the name of fortune does he say they will not be able in future to approve similarly of any particular measure which may be referred to them?
I come now to the actual Amendment which we are discussing, and as there is such a paucity of speakers on the other side 264 it is very difficult to find material for criticism and repartee. I am therefore obliged, very reluctantly, to address myself to so formidable an opponent as the Leader of the House, Lord Morley. He said that this Amendment was no Amendment at all; that it was a direct and plain traverse of the Bill. I must confess that that criticism greatly astonished me. From our point of view, and I believe I can speak for others in this respect, the position is this. The Government in their Bill have made a rule as to the manner in which legislation is to be dealt with. We on this side of the House say, "You have the power to force this upon us, but we suggest to you that there should be an exception to your rule, or that there should be a certain class of exceptions. "It is a homely saying that exception proves the rule. There are very few rules which do not admit of an exception, and I think it is in accordance with the whole spirit of popular opinion in this country that in all our institutions there should be reasonable exceptions, and that is all we are asking His Majesty's Government to do in this respect.
The noble Viscount, having in that somewhat unsatisfactory manner disposed of the Amendment, proceeded to describe the principle of the Bill. I hope I shall not be misquoting the noble Viscount, but I understood him to say that after two years of discussion the opinion of the House of Commons does represent and may be presumed to represent the will of the people. Would the noble Viscount adhere to that theory in all circumstances? Would he be willing that it should be put to any test? Take one of the most recent cases. The House of Commons by a majority of three to one, after discussion for more than two years, approved of the principle of female suffrage. Does he maintain that that decision represents and may be presumed to represent the will of the people at the present time? It would, I think, require a great deal of courage to say so.
Then the noble Viscount went on to say that the mere fact that we endeavoured to discharge our ordinary legislative functions by proposing Amendments to this Bill implied distrust of the House of Commons, and he said it in a tone and manner which would really lead one to believe that lie regarded distrust of the House of Commons as a sort of sacrilege. Does he trust the House of 265 Commons in all circumstances? Does he trust the House of Commons when a Unionist Government is in power? Trust and confidence surely must be reciprocal. It is impossible as between Governments and bodies of men to trust those who obstinately refuse to come to any arrangement. There must be a system of mutual confidence and reciprocal trust. It seemed to me that what the noble Viscount was driving at was to assert some sort of new theory of the Divine right of the House of Commons. He did not, of course, say so in so many words, but the whole tendency of his remarks led one to believe that that was the sort of idea he had in his mind. Any such theory would, I believe, be as abhorrent to the people of this country as was in former days the theory of the Divine Right of Kings. But what struck me most, not only on this but also on other occasions, was that the attitude of the noble Viscount in asserting what I venture to think is his theory was exactly the same as the attitude of those who, in days gone by, asserted for their own ends the Divine Right of individual Monarchs, for it is clear that in his heart he has no great veneration for the object for which he pays the lip-service of servile adulation. He told us only a few days ago that there is nobody whom he can trust in the 'House of Commons to express an independent opinion, except possibly a few "cranks." He brands them as partisans and as puppets. There is an extreme inconsistency about this contempt for the House of Commons as a collection of individuals, and almost in the same breath this extreme adoration of it as an institution and this assertion of its Divine Right.
I can well understand and sympathise with the feelings of the noble Viscount as a Commons man and as one who has had almost an unequalled experience of that House, an experience of which, unfortunately, I have not had even a small share. I can understand his sticking up for that House in every way and thinking there is nothing like it. But now that he has left the House of Commons and accepted a seat in your Lordships' House, and, more than that, since on him has devolved the leadership of this House, I say that he does owe something to this House as an ancient institution which has been for eight centuries an integral part of the Constitution and of Parliament. There is, however, no trace of such respect in his language. He is always saying that 266 we must not criticise or distrust but show unquestioning respect to the House of Commons, but there is no corresponding exhortation in regard to this House. It is difficult to resist the impression that he despises this House even more than he does the House of Commons so far as independence and that sort of thing is concerned. We on this side of the House do not believe in the Divine right of individual Monarchs or of any Assembly. If we believe in any Divine right at all or in anything which could be called a Divine right, it is the Divine right of the people, and it is that which we are endeavouring to assert; but it is not a term we ourselves would use, it is not an idea which should tinge or influence anything we say.
What we feel is that the House of Commons no less than the House of Lords is the servant of the people, and it is the people who in the end must decide. But what is the good of Parliament for national purposes if there is to be no effective debate, and if debate is to have no result? Yet it seems it is that to which we have come. I will not venture to comment on the changes which have taken place in another place, but here we are arguing until we are all exhausted and it would seem we cannot make the slightest impression. His Majesty's Ministers do not seem to be susceptible to argument. They do not seem to think it is reasonable that they should give way in the slightest degree, and I must say it is that more than anything else which fills many of us with despair as to the ultimate solution of this extremely grave, difficult and anxious problem.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
My Lords, I would ask leave to make two preliminary observations before passing to the consideration of this Amendment or to the clause to which it refers. We have had a number of speeches from noble Lords on the other side of the House to support the Government, but not one of those speeches supported this Bill without some reservation. The reservation differed in degree. But there was not one single noble Lord who spoke from the Back Benches opposite who accepted this Bill without some reservation. The next observation I would make, and I make it with sincere respect and concern, is upon the absence of the Lord Chancellor from to-night's debate. The Lord Chancellor 267 is not only one of the most distinguished Members of his Majesty's Government; he is not only one of the ablest debaters who has ever spoken in this House, but even on this side of the House, I may say, he is cherished by the whole of us as a possession of this House, and not of his own Party alone. But here, on the most critical night of the most critical debate of the most critical Bill that has ever been before Parliament, the Lord Chancellor is absent the whole evening. I can only attribute it to the fact that he is not well. If that is so, I can only say that his indisposition will be a matter of sincere and real concern to all of us on this side of the House.
No one can have listened to the debate to-day without feeling that the Referendum has come to stay in British politics. Some noble Lords opposite laugh, but I repeat that. It has been accepted with reluctance by my noble friend Lord Curzon. There are still many noble Lords who do not like it, but the Lord Chancellor, the Prime Minister, and the Secretary of State for War, every single one of them, after criticising the Referendum have been careful to make a reservation and say there are circumstances, or there may be circumstances, in which this would be an appropriate instrument to introduce into our Constitution. We hear no more of the difficulty of the machinery and of its application. The only question is the authority by which it may be invoked, the occasions on winch it is appropriate, and the circumstances by which its use should be safeguarded. That being so, I must say I listened to the speech of the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for War with amazement. I very frequently have the misfortune to differ from him, but I never listen to a speech of his without feeling that he is illuminating the subject; that he has mastered it, and thoroughly understands the subject he is discussing. He will not, I trust, think I am impertinent when I say that to-night he left the impression on my mind that he had never studied the Referendum at all or the circumstances under which it is used. If he had done, most of his opinions might have been wholly changed and he would not have made the speech which he made to-night.
The noble Viscount asked, as if it clinched the whole matter, what precedent is there 268 in civilised countries for introducing the use of the Referendum into representative institutions? I will answer that question presently. I will ask him another one now. What precedent is there in the Constitution of civilised countries for making the existence of one Chamber wholly dependent upon the will of another? I think the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for War will find it much more difficult to answer that question than I shall find it to answer his. I hope your Lordships will pardon me, but I do desire to endeavour to remove the impression that Lord Haldane meant to create to-night—that there really is no experience in civilised countries and great communities of a popular nature for the use of a Referendum. I would begin with the smallest and least important instance of its use that I know of. It was used in Natal, a very small British community, to decide whether Natal would accept the complicated Constitution which now is the Constitution of the Union of South Africa, but so thoroughly was that complicated document understood by the limited electorate of Natal that the majority voted in its favour in every constituency in Natal. Then, again, the Referendum has been used in South Australia and in Queensland, not as part of the Constitution, but to settle special difficulties which had perplexed the public mind for a series of years. In each case that difficulty was our old friend religious education. That question was settled by a Referendum ad hoc, both in South Australia and in Queensland.
I pass on to the greatest of all the peoples of the earth in point of view of population and of wealth, and where no one can pretend that democracy is not the political idol of the people. I allude to the United States of America. The Referendum is no part of the Federal Constitution of America. As the noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, knows quite well, each State of the American Union has an elaborate Constitution of its own, just as the United States has its Federal Constitution. The Referendum is an integral part of the Constitution of no fewer than 46 out of the 47 American States. In forty six of these States no change of any sort or kind can be made in the Constitution except after the will of the people has been signified at a Referendum. The use of the Referendum is not confined to Constitutional cases in some States. In a 269 large number the Constitution has been enlarged so that other questions which approach more to our ordinary domestic problems at home must also be referred to the people in the form of a Referendum. I will give two instances—the prohibition of liquor, and woman suffrage. In many States those and kindred subjects have to be dealt with by means of the Referendum.
Then we come to what is the most remarkable case of all, and that is the case of Australia. Here the noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, will forgive me for saying that obviously he has not looked up the Commonwealth Constitution lately. The Referendum in the Commonwealth is confined to one class of cases. No change can take place in the Constitution, even if both Houses of Parliament have agreed upon it, until it has been referred to the people in a Referendum. I will tell your Lordships how that has worked, and worked quite recently. Part of the original Constitution of Australia involved the distribution of revenue between the Commonwealth Government and the State. It was known as the Braddon Clause, and was a compromise which was to last ten years. The period of ten years has just elapsed. Just before it elapsed, Mr. Deakin, when Prime Minister brought in an amendment to the Constitution, according to which the Commonwealth was to pay to the State 25s. per head in permanent composition of the revenue they lost for ever. That proposal went through both Houses of the Australian Parliament; it went to the people, and the people rejected it on the ground that this was an arrangement "for ever," and therefore was settling the matter too quickly. A Labour Ministry came into power, and "Mr. Fisher, the present Prime Minister, who is now in England, brought in the same proposal, but limited it to ten years. That went to the Referendum and the people passed it.
But the most extraordinary case occurred the other day. Your Lordships know that the Government of Australia is a Labour Government with very strong and clear views on the functions of the State in the social evolution of the people. As part of its programme it brought in a measure which I may roughly describe as giving power to the Commonwealth to nationalise 270 all monopolies. I express no sort of opinion on the merits of the measure, but; your Lordships will recognise from that description that it was of a very far-reaching and important character. That proposal passed through both Houses of the Commonwealth Parliament, and then it had to go to the Referendum because it involved an alteration of the Constitution. That measure was thrown out by 240,000 votes, and so far from the people of Australia not understanding the question or taking an interest in it—and, mind you, this Referendum was wholly divorced from a General Election and stood entirely by itself, the voters going to the poll on no other question—out of just over four and a half millions of persons in Australia quite two millions of voters went to the poll. Your Lordships will pardon me for having given this answer to the speech of the noble Viscount, but what does it prove? What I have endeavoured to explain does not prove that the exact proposals that suit an American State or that suit Australia will suit us, but it does prove that the Referendum is a flexible instrument of democratic government which can be adapted in different countries to different conditions, without impairing either the true spirit of democracy or the man features of representative government. What we are endeavouring to do is not blindly to imitate somebody else's example, but to borrow a democratic weapon that they have found useful in Constitutional difficulties and apply it mutatis mutandis to the difficulties with which we find ourselves confronted.
Before I pass on I wish to remind your Lordships of what has been from the beginning the whole basis and foundation of the case of the Government and the Liberal Party against the House of Lords. They have said that when the Liberals were in, power the will of the people was liable to be thwarted by the House of Lords. It is that contention that we have had mainly in mind, and our proposals have been drawn up with a view to removing that grievance. Your Lordships may or may not like the method, but it is quite obvious that if there is the power to send to the people a measure which has been rejected by this House it cannot be said that this House has prevented the will of the people from being fulfilled. But what I would point out is that the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, in his very strong desire to show the people of this 271 country that no pride of House, of spirit, or of Party was going to stand between him and a national settlement, if such were possible, has gone far beyond that position and has told you in no uncertain terms that if you thought that by his proposals the balance was unfairly drawn between the two Parties he was willing and anxious to consider proposals for redressing that balance. I draw your Lordships' attention to that fact, because I do not think it can be too clearly explained to our fellow-countrymen. That being so, who can doubt that if the Liberal Party were willing a national settlement of this question is still possible? But, I say it in no spirit of Party malice but with deep and sincere regret, the Liberal Party are out, if possible, for a Party triumph. Under those circumstances it is incumbent upon us to restate our position quite clearly.
There are two questions to be considered—the permanent solution and the solution in connection with what I may call the transitional period. My noble friend Lord Lansdowne has shown quite clearly that we are prepared to unite with the Party opposite in a reconstruction of this House in a manner fair to both Parties. For such a House he has claimed those powers which are the attributes of Second Chambers all the world over. He has expressed in the clearest terms our willingness by way of Conference, Joint. Sessions, and, in exceptional cases, by Referendum, to make deadlocks between the two Houses impossible. But now about the transitional period, the period during which this Bill is to operate unamended and before any reconstruction has taken place in your Lordships' House. It is in relation to that transitional period that we are discussing Lord Lansdowne's Amendment to-night. The terms of it, the conditions of it, have been so thoroughly and completely debated that I should be only wasting time if I repeated them. The answer of noble Lords opposite is really this. I am talking of the Front Bench. They say that the Referendum in any shape or form is not compatible with representative institutions. We say that it is compatible. That is a matter of opinion; but I ask this House, and I ask the country, Is it not better that representative institutions should be somewhat modified, so as to admit into the Constitutional practice of this country the occasional working of the Referendum, rather than that the country should be liable for an indefinite period to the passing 272 of measures which the majority of the electors do not desire to see become law? That is the danger, and the Government have evaded it. They have pooh-poohed it. They have never faced that position like statesmen. And what is the indictment made by their own supporters? It is that under this Bill as it stands measures may be passed and our institutions destroyed against the wishes of the majority of the people.
Noble Lords opposite have over and over again protested that the House of Commons has frequently passed measures which the country did not desire. But when we ask them whether it is not true that the House of Commons under this Bill could destroy this House or perpetuate its own tenure of life, all they say is, "Is it really possible that these things could happen? Do you think that we who sit on this Bench would ever connive at such an abuse of authority"? I do not think that either the noble Viscount or the Lord Chancellor would do the one thing or the other. But I ask them, Do they know who are going to sit on those Benches and on the corresponding Benches in the House of Commons in the years to come? How are they going to answer for the future? It is as trustees that they should deal with this remodelling of the Constitution. If in their private capacity as trustees they handed over an unlimited series of blank cheques to the servants of the trust, on the ground that they knew their present character and had implicit confidence in them, the law would call that fraudulent trusteeship. How can the same practice be right on the part of statesmen who are occupying the greatest positions that the world offers to private individuals? They do not know who are going to sit on the Government Benches in the future; and yet they propose to put into the hands of unknown men in the future powers that will lend themselves to the grossest abuse. I have said with complete sincerity what I feel about noble Lords who are here to-night. But there are men amongst us even now whom I would not trust with these powers, no, not the length of their own modesty. If democracy is capable of being abused to the extent to which I have suggested, then I submit it is no longer a form of government to be respected. It becomes only an organised hypocrisy. Democracy means the rule of the majority. This Bill puts it in the power of the minority to coerce the majority. That is our indictment against this Bill.
273 We have been told over and over again from the Benches opposite, and we shall be told in the country, that the electors have approved of this clause and of this Bill. We do not admit that. We say it is not sufficient merely to print and publish a Bill in order that the electors may understand it. I desire no better explanation of the way they should understand it than that given by the noble Viscount opposite. A Bill must not only be printed and published but it must be discussed in Parliament and in the Press; and this Bill was not discussed for one single day in the House of Commons before the electors were asked to pronounce upon it. That is our view. It is not the view of noble Lords opposite. They think the Bill was sufficiently before the electors. I would take them for one moment on their own ground, and I would test it. They say that the electors had this Bill before them and approved it, but this Bill has on it the stamp from cover to cover of a temporary measure. If the electors did approve of it, they approved of a temporary measure, pending the time when His Majesty's Government remodelled this House and put on a fresh basis, and permanently, the relations between the two Houses. Is there the slightest chance of the Government doing anything of the kind? The noble Lord, Lord Weardale, in his speech to-night only said what we have all thought for a long time past—that whatever the intentions of the Prime Minister and the Government may be, the majority of his Party in the House of commons do not intend to see this Bill touched again if it once becomes law.
Apart from that, I wish to draw attention to the, from my point of view, sinister observations that fell from Lord Morley and from Lord Haldane. The noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, spoke of this Bill as stereotyping the unwritten permanent tradition of the relations between the two Houses of Parliament. That means that even if this House is reconstructed the relations between the two Houses are to remain the same as they are defined in this Bill. What is the use of reconstructing this House? Any House will do with the powers you leave us by this Bill. That position is not consistent with the spirit of the Bill as printed. The other noble Viscount, Lord Morley, when alluding to this subject—I hope I am not mis- 274 representing him—said that there might be some slight modification in this Bill resulting from the reconstruction of the House of Lords by the Liberal Party. I see that I have not altogether failed to represent his attitude. Therefore I say that, even supposing the electors approved of this Bill, they approved of a Bill which purported to commence a policy which the Government have no power, even if they had the intention, to fulfil.
There is another argument in this connection of which I would remind your Lordships. According to the contention of noble Lords opposite, this Bill has been approved by the people because of the majority which their Party commands in, the House of Commons. What is the moral force behind that majority to carry out this movement? Go to the Library of your Lordships' House and look at the model there of the constituencies. What a paradox of democracy and representative government the distribution of seats is! You see an Irish constituency of 1,500 and an English one of 50,000. We are entitled, with the knowledge of the extraordinary accident which has favoured the Government in their majority, to go behind the returns to the House of Commons in this great national movement that has stirred the heart of the people on both sides and see how the votes were distributed. If we do that, the fact remains and cannot be controverted that half the electors, roughly speaking, support this side of the House. The position, therefore, is that you are endeavouring to change the whole Constitution of this country, not at the demand, or with the willing assent, of the great majority of the electors; but one half of the people of this country are trying to force their conception of the Constitution upon the other half. That fact absolutely denudes the proposals of the Government of any moral force.
I wish to point out what this clause does as between the great powers of the United Kingdom, because in doing so I am showing at the same time the reasons for the Amendment of the noble Marquess. I think I shall be carrying all noble Lords opposite with me when I say that we are agreed that the sovereign power of government in this country resides in the Crown and in the people.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
That really is the essence of the dispute between us. Lord Morley says that the power of government in this country rests with the Crown and Parliament. I say the Crown and the people. Parliament is the representative and servant of the people; the House of Commons, which is far more important, far greater in authority and procedure, than the House of Lords—the House of Commons itself is nothing except as the servant of the people. That is our position.
Now what is the effect of this clause on these several powers? The position of the Crown is made more precarious because it is deprived of the possible effective support of the House of Lords if a crisis ever arose such as noble Lords opposite no less than ourselves hope will never arise. The position of the House of Lords is made as precarious as it is possible for the position of any House of Parliament in the world to be made, because it could be treated in any manner which the House of Commons thought fit, or it could be abolished altogether by the action of the House of Commons alone, repeated three times in two years. The position of the electors, of the people, is also made precarious, not to the same extent, but for the first time since Parliamentary government has existed in this country, except with the sinister instance of the Long Parliament, it would be possible for the House of Commons to regulate the length of its own existence without any reference to the people at large. Therefore the influence of the people is rendered more precarious by this clause.
And what about the House of Commons? I do not think it is any exaggeration to say that if this Bill becomes law the House of Commons will become the most unchecked, the most untrammelled, authority in the 276 whole world. I make no exception of Emperors or of any rulers of any sort or kind. In the whole of the civilised world I do not believe there will be any authority, single man or Chamber, so unchecked, so untrammelled, so absolutely autocratic if it chooses to exercise its powers as the position of the House of Commons will be under this Bill. That is what we call single-Chamber government. The noble Viscount, Lord Morley, protests against that. He will not admit that that is a fair description of the effect of this Bill. I will, however, use another simile. I ask Lord Morley's special leave to make this simile, because I think it is a true one. I say that the House of Lords in future, if this Bill becomes law, will bear just as much resemblance to a true Second Chamber as the waxwork effigy of Lord Morley in Madame Tussaud's does to his own vigorous, intellectual, and charming personality.
About this settlement of the Government there is nothing great, nothing national, nothing lasting. They have erected the Constitutional settlement as an idol, but the feet of that idol are of clay. That idol will not last. It will not stand. Our case is so strong, the case of the Government is so weak, that in the end our contention must prevail. If the Government for the moment succeed in erecting their idol it is the people of the country who will shatter it, and will shatter it in the early lifetime of many members of this House. We have endeavoured to show in this great crisis that we are not thinking only of Party. We have done all that men could to show the Party opposite that if they would meet us we would join in a national settlement. We have also tried to be absolutely straight with the electors of the country. Have the Government?
The LORD CHAIRMAN
The Amendment is, in page 2, line 33, after "sessions," to insert the words proposed by Lord Lansdowne.
§ On Question, whether the words proposed to be inserted shall stand part of the clause?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 253; Not-Contents, 46.279
|Norfolk, D. (E. Marshal.)||Roberts, E.||Churston, L.|
|Bedford, D.||Rosslyn, E.||Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.)|
|Devonshire, D.||Rothes, E.|
|Manchester, D.||Saint Germans, E.||Clements, L. (E. Leitrim.)|
|Marlborough, D.||Sandwich, E.||Clifford of Chudleigh, L.|
|Portland, D.||Scarbrough, E.||Clinton, L.|
|Richmond and Gordon, D.||Selborne, E.||Clinton, L.|
|Somerset, D.||Shrewsbury, E.||Colchester, L.|
|Sutherland, D.||Stanhope, E.||Cottesloe, L.|
|Wellington, D.||Stradbroke, E.||Crawshaw, L.|
|Strange, E. (D. Atholl.)||Curzon of Kedleston, L.|
|Abercorn, M. (D. Abercorn.)||Temple, E.||Dawnay, L. (V. Downe.)|
|Abergavenny, M.||Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.)||De Freyne, L.|
|Bath, M.||Verulam, E.||De Mauley, L.|
|Bristol, M.||Waldegrave, E. [Teller.]||De Ramsey, L.|
|Camden, M.||Westmeath, E.||Desborough, L.|
|Cholmondeley, M.||Wharncliffe, E.||Desart, L. (E. Desart.)|
|Exeter, M.||Wicklow, E.||Digby, L.|
|Lansdowne, M.||Wilton, E.||Dinevor, L.|
|Normanby, M.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.||Dunleath, L.|
|Salisbury, M.||Dunmore, L. (E. Dunmore.)|
|Winchester, M.||Bridport, V.||Egerton, L.|
|Zetland, M.||Churchill, V. [Teller.]||Ellenborough, L.|
|Cobham, V.||Elphinstone, L.|
|Abingdon, E.||Cross, V.||Faber, L.|
|Albemarle, E.||De Vesci, V.||Fairlie, L. (E. Glasgow.)|
|Amherst, E.||Falkland, V.||Farnham, L.|
|Bandon, E.||Goschen, V.||Farquhar, L.|
|Bathurst, M.||Halifax, V.||Fermanagh, L. (E. Erne.)|
|Cadogan, E.||Hampden, V.||Fingall, L. (E. Fingall.)|
|Camperdown, E.||Hardinge, V.||Forester, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Hill, V.||Gage, L. (V. Gage.)|
|Clarendon, E.||Hood, V.||Gormanston, L. (V. Gormanston.)|
|Cottenham, E.||Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.)|
|Coventry, E.||Greville, L.|
|Cromer, E.||Llandaff, V.||Grey de Ruthyn, L.|
|Dartmouth, E.||Peel, V.||Gwydir, L.|
|Darnley, E.||Portman, V.||Hare, L. (E. Listowel.)|
|Dartrey, E.||Harlech, L.|
|Denbigh, E.||Bangor, L. Bp.||Harris, L.|
|Derby, E.||Peterborough, L. Bp.||Hastings, L.|
|Devon, E.||St. David's, L. Bp.||Hatherton, L.|
|Dundonald, E.||Southwell, L. Bp.||Hawke, L.|
|Eldon, E.||Heneage, L.|
|Essex, E.||Abinger, L.||Hindlip, L.|
|Guilford, E.||Addington, L.||Hylton, L.|
|Haddington, E.||Aldenham, L.||Inchiquin, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Alington, L.||Kenmare, L. (E. Kenmare.)|
|Hardwicke, E.||Allerton, L.||Kensington, L.|
|Harewood, E.||Alverstone, L.||Kenyon, L.|
|Harrowby, E.||Ampthill, L.||Kilmaine, L.|
|Howe, E.||Armstrong, L.||Kinnaird, L.|
|Ilchester, E.||Ashbourne, L.||Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.)|
|Kilmorey, E.||Ashcombe, L.||Knaresborough, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Ashtown, L.||Langford, L.|
|Leicester, E.||Atkinson, L.||Lawrence, L.|
|Lindsey, E.||Bagot, L.||Leconfield, L.|
|Londesborough, E.||Balinhard, L. (E. Southesk.)||Lovat, L.|
|Lovelace, E.||Barnard, L.||Lurgan, L.|
|Malmesbury, E.||Barrymore, L.||Manners, L.|
|Manvers, E.||Basing, L.||Massy, L.|
|Mar, E.||Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Meldrum, L. (M. Huntly.)|
|Mar and Kellie, E.||Belper, L.||Middleton, L.|
|Mayo, E.||Blythswood, L.||Monck, L. (V. Monck.)|
|Minto, E.||Bowes, L. (E. Strathmore and Kinghorn.)||Monckton, L. (V. Galway.)|
|Morley, E.||Monson, L.|
|Morton, E.||Boyle, L. (E. Cork and Orrery.)||Mostyn, L.|
|Munster, E.||Brabourne, L.||Mowbray, L.|
|Northbrook, E.||Brancepeth, L. (V. Boyne.)||Muncaster, L.|
|Plymouth, E.||Brodrick, L. (V. Midleton.)||Muskerry, L.|
|Portsmouth, E.||Brougham and Vaux, L.||Newton, L.|
|Powis, E.||Camoys, L.||North, L.|
|Radnor, E.||Cheylesmore, L.||Northcote, L.|
|O'Hagan, L.||St. Oswald, L.||Stewart of Garlies, L. (E. Galloway.)|
|Oriel, L. (V. Massereene.)||Saltoun, L.|
|Oranmore and Browne, L.||Sanderson, L.||Stuart of Castle Stuart, L. (E. Moray.)|
|Penrhyn, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Playfair, L.||Savile, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Ramsay, L. (E. Dalhousie.)||Scarsdale, L.||Sudley, L. (E. Arran.)|
|Ranfurly, L. (E. Ranfurly.)||Seaton, L.||Tennyson, L.|
|Rathdonnell, L.||Sempill, L.||Teynham, L.|
|Rathmore, L.||Shute, L. (V. Barrington.)||Tweeddale, L. (M. Tweeddale.)|
|Ravensworth, L.||Silchester, L. (E. Longford.)||Tyrone, L. (M. Waterford.)|
|Rayleigh, L.||Sinclair, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Revelstoke, L.||Somerhill, L. (M. Clanricarde.)||Wandsworth, L.|
|Rothschild, L.||Somerton, L. (E. Normanton.)||Wolverton, L.|
|Sackville, L.||Southampton, L.||Worlingham, L. (E. Gosford.)|
|St. Levan, L.||Stanmore, L.||Wynford, L.|
|Loreburn, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Birmingham, L. Bp.||Lyveden, L.|
|Morley of Blackburn, V. (L. President.)||MacDonnell, L.|
|Allendale, L.||Mendip, L. (V. Clifden.)|
|Armitstead, L.||Nunburnholme, L.|
|Chesterfield, E. (L. Steward.)||Blyth, L.||Pentland, L.|
|Spencer, E. (L. Chamberlain.)||Brassey, L.||Pirrie, L.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Colebrooke, L.||Robson, L.|
|Carrington, E.||Eversley, L.||Rotherham, L.|
|Craven, E.||Farrer, L.||St. Davids, L.|
|Durham, E.||Glantawe, L.||Saye and Sele, L.|
|Granville, E.||Glenconner, L.||Shaw, L.|
|Kimberley, E.||Granard, L. (E. Granard.)||Southwark, L.|
|Liverpool, E. [Teller.]||Haversham, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L. (L. Sheffield.)|
|Russell, E.||Hemphill, L.|
|Herschell, L.||Swaythling, L.|
|Ilkeston, L.||Welby, L.|
|Haldane, V.||Lucas, L.||Willingdon, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ House adjourned at twenty-five minutes before Twelve o'clock, till To-morrow, half-past Ten o'clock.