§ [SECOND READING]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGIT
My Lords, in rising to move the Second Reading of this Bill I am sure I shall carry all your Lordships with me when I say that we profoundly- regret the absence of the Leader of the Government, who took a prominent part in the discussion upon the First Reading of the Bill. I should like to add that in venturing to fix to-day for the Second Reading of the Bill, which I did nearly a month ago, I hoped that by this time we should have been able to have seen the proposals which affect the reconstitution of this House, and that, perhaps, it would have been easier to discuss the provisions in the Bill the Second Reading of which I am about to move if we had seen those proposals. But through circumstances of which we are aware, and which we all regret, it has not been possible for the noble Marquess who leads this side of the House to be with us during the whole of the last few weeks, and to have brought forward his Bill. I had to consider the question whether I would ask the leave of the House to postpone the Second Reading of my Bill or bring it on, and upon the whole I thought that probably, the date having been fixed for some time, it would be less inconvenient to your Lordships that the debate should take place to-day as arranged. So far as any future stages of the Bill are concerned, should your Lordships be good enough to give it a Second Reading, I shall take good care not to unduly press the matter to the inconvenience of any section of the House. I hope that on this stage of the Bill we may have a useful discussion of what, after all, as it seems to me, is one of the most important subjects on which this House could engage its attention.
I said so much on the First Reading of the Bill that I hope not to detain your Lordships for very long at the present time, and in what I do say I shall endeavour to confine my attention mainly to answering some of the objections which I have seen brought forward to the proposals contained in the Bill. In the first place, the Bill is said by some to amount to so great a change that in their opinion it is an even 658 greater revolution than that which is proposed by the Parliament Bill. I cannot share that opinion. I not only cannot share that opinion, but I cannot see any ground upon which it can be seriously put forward. Really, if I may venture to say so, the object which my Bill would effect is to restore the very idea of our Constitution, that the people should govern. Under the constitution of Parliament the assent of three different interests is required for the passage of any Bill—His Majesty the King, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and the other House of Parliament. No two of them up to the present time have been able to act without the concurrence of the third. But the Government Bill, which I am not going to discuss—I merely state the fact—not only, as it seems to me, entirely takes away the concurrence of your Lordships' House from any legislation in the sense that it renders it un- necessary, but if I am right in stating that: the modern theory is that the Sovereign is to act upon the advice of the Ministry of the day, it would amount not only to the supersession of one branch of the Legislature, but would put actually supreme and the possibility of tyrannical power into the hands of one of the three constituent parts of Parliament. Surely if I am right in that, that is a much greater revolution than anything which is contained in the, comparatively speaking, humble Bill which I have put on your Lordships' Table.
The conditions under which my Bill proposes that the reference to the people should take effect are two-fold. They will be found in the first two clauses of the Bill. In the first clause there is a provision made for reference to the people in the case of difference of opinion between the Houses of Parliament, and that throughout my-Bill is described as the case of a rejected. Bill. In the second clause there is a certain provision for a reference to the people in the case of what is described as a carried Bill. In the first of these two clauses it is provided that the Bill which is to be referred to the people in the event of a difference of opinion between the Houses of Parliament is the Bill in its terms as it leaves the other House of Parliament. Some criticisms have been made upon that proposal, and it has been suggested that there should be alternatives in the schedule providing for a more or less complicated series of questions being, put to the electorate as to whether the 659 people would prefer the Bill in this form or that form, or with or without the Amendments agreed to by one or other of the Houses of Parliament. I deliberately chose to suggest to the House that it should be the Bill as it leaves the other House of Parliament, for two reasons. In the first place, that House is much more largely the House for the initiation of legislation, and therefore it seems to me more natural that if there is a difference of opinion it should be the Bill as it leaves the popular House which should be referred to the people.
But, my Lords, there is another reason. I believe that this provision would have a powerful effect, not only upon Governments, but upon some of their extreme partisans in another place to be careful as to the form in which they send a Bill up to this House. I do not know whether any of your Lordships will share my view, but I have sometimes thought that some of the differences of opinion which have emerged between the two Houses of Parliament have been made more acute, I hardly like to say purposely, by some desire to cultivate popularity with the extremer partisans in the other House of Parliament for the sake of the Government being able to say in the other House, "Oh, we have done what we can to meet your views," and then when the House of Lords rejects the Bill to take credit for having endeavoured to please their supporters and being prevented from carrying their wishes into effect by the House of Lords, which is thereupon the subject of condemnation. Now, if the Bill as referred to the people is the Bill as it leaves the House of Commons, that would obviously put a great premium upon moderation in the form of the proposals which are brought up here, because the more reasonable they are in most cases I venture to believe the greater success they would have should they be referred to the people.
Another criticism which has been made upon this clause, and by a personal friend of my own, is that it is unfair to this House that Bills which originate here should not be also made the subject of reference to the people. If your Lordships look at the drafting of the clause you will see that that is not possible under the clause as now drafted. To a certain extent there is a theoretical inequality in that provision. In theory, beyond all question the Houses 660 of Parliament, except on matters of finance, are co-ordinate in jurisdiction. There is no restriction as to Bills which may originate either in one House of Parliament or the other. As I have said, beyond all question a. very much greater number of Bills do originate in the other House, and I think your Lordships will see that, though it might be a counsel of perfection, it is impossible as a matter of practical politics that Bills which originate in this House during the spring months of the year, when we are at any rate not overburdened with work, should compulsorily, should they not be passed by the other House of Parliament, be made the subject of a reference to the people. As a matter of practical politics, and, as I venture to think, of sound consideration, I have thought it better to suggest that only Bills initiated in the other House of Parliament should be the subject of a reference to the people should disagreement between the Houses emerge in connection with them.
With regard to the second clause, the proposal is made that should both Houses carry a Bill it should be still possible for 200 Members of the House of Commons to ask for a reference to the people. In the first place I wish to say that the number of 200 is a purely arbitrary selection. Some suggestions have been made that it would be better to have a certain definite proportion of what is described as the regular Opposition, but under some circumstances—perhaps under present circumstances—it would be rather difficult to define what is the regular Opposition, and we would have, perhaps, to have statistics as to those gentlemen in the other House of Parliament who receive regularly the summonses to attend from one or other of the offices. I do not adhere to the idea of 200. It may be 150 or 250 for any matter of principle but I venture to select 200 as illustrating what I mean. At any rate the getting of 200 Members of the other House of Parliament to ask for a reference to the people would go far to show that there was a substantial desire to have the judgment of the electorate upon any proposal. I should have thought it was sufficiently obvious that the idea underlying this provision was an effort to be fair as between the two great political Parties, but by a curious perversity I have been charged in one quarter that I noticed with an extraordinarily cute design to 661 provide for such a case as this, that when this House had accepted a Bill proposed by a Liberal Government, even then the Conservative minority in the other House should suggest a reference to the people. I had no such deep design in my mind. It. was an honest effort to meet the common complaint—not, I ant bound to say, an unreasonable complaint—-made by members of the Party opposite, that when the Conservative Party are in power they have command in both Houses of Parliament and we live under what is called single-Chamber government. The sole idea that I had in proposing this second clause was to endeavour to be perfectly fair as between the two Parties, and to provide a means whereby, if a Radical or Liberal Opposition in the other House of Parliament desired to take the judgment of the people on a Bill which had been accepted by both Houses of Parliament, the machinery to do so should be open.
It is a commonplace. I think, although not always recognised, that if, as I hope, we are to have two Houses of Parliament, the Second House as it is called must always be more or less Conservative in character. None of us desire that it should be strong enough to be really obstructive, but what we do desire is that it should be independent enough to make sure that the people are not taken by surprise, and that they are really masters in their own house. In other words, if I may venture to say so, we agree to predominance, but we do not agree to supremacy which is uncontrolled even for a little time. It is sometimes said by other objectors to the Bill that this provision by which 200 Members of the other Rouse of Parliament can have a reference in the case of a carried Bill would lead to too many applications of the provision, so many, indeed, as to interfere seriously with the business of the country and be a nuisance to everybody concerned. It is difficult to be sure on any point of the kind. I may make the continent that that, at any rate, is prophesied. Even if the prophecy came true for a time. I believe the mere fact of its doing so would work its own cure, and that the unpopularity of the course would be so great that the 200 Members would hesitate to put it too often to the test.
What is the alternative to some proposal of this kind? The alternative must lie in the making of a schedule or a list of 662 classes of measures which are to be the subject of the reference. Sonic have suggested limiting Bills which are to be the subject of reference to those which propose some great Constitutional change, to those which interfere with Treaties of Union between the different component parts of the United Kingdom. Each of these suggestions has something to be said for it. It is a very taking idea that any Bill which proposes to interfere with the Treaties of Union should be the subject of reference, and not only of reference to the United Kingdom as a whole, but of reference separately to each of the country which have been bound together by Union. But when you come to look into it you find that the provisions, for example in the Treaty of Union between England and Scotland are so diverse in their range that it is not altogether easy to settle what is and what is not an essential or fundamental part of the Treaty of Union. The Treaty of Union between England and Scotland, while it takes care of the establishment of the Churches on both sides of the Tweed, also provides for such a relatively small matter as the number of a certain class of officials who are to be employed in the Court of Session. It is not very wise to say that any Bill which proposed to interfere with a matter comparatively trivial such as that should necessarily be made a subject of reference to the people, but unless you can find some distinct line on one side or the other on which all measures will lie you will have to set up some sort of tribunal to decide whether a Bill does or does not come within the category. I frankly say that this is a matter which I think is fraught with the greatest possible difficulty. There will be a suspicion, perhaps a not altogether unreasonable suspicion, of a purely legal tribunal in this respect—that it would, perhaps, impinge upon the supremacy of Parliament and any matter which is not to be decided upon pure principles of law will certainly come across lines of general policy, and no tribunal sufficiently impartial can, in my opinion, be devised.
I am hound to admit—I think it best frankly to do so—that if we reach the Committee stage there would have to be something put into one of the clauses of the Bill to prevent the reference of ordinary Finance Bills to the electorate. They would have, of course, to be defined, and 663 probably that would not be so difficult a task as separating between different classes of other kinds of legislation. I frankly admit that it would be absolutely impossible to conceive the idea of giving power to the minority in the other House of Parliament to refer the ordinary Aids of Supply Bills which come up each year. Another objection taken to this second clause is that the provision allowing 200 Members of the other House of Parliament to get a reference to the people would interrupt, as it was said, the strongest Government at its work. Just consider what this objection means. Either a Bill is in accordance with the wishes of the majority of the people or it is not. If the Bill referred to them is accepted by the people, I venture to say that the Government would gain greatly in dignity, and the Bill would get a great deal more support behind it than it would otherwise have and if the Bill is rejected, surely the idea that it would interrupt the Government in its work is rather an advantage than a disadvantage, because if the majority of the people do not want the Bill why should the Government and the dominant Party force it upon them?
My Lords, what is the object we all have in view—the object which at any rate we all of us profess, and I believe honestly, to have in view? It is that in matters of legislation the settled will of the people shall prevail. They are to be, in other words, the arbiters of their own destiny. That is the object and the justification of the whole of our representative system. But I ask your Lordships, Is there any one who can say that we do get that now, and that we are getting it with an increasing degree of certainty? My wish and my hope is that if any proposal upon the lines of this Bill is put into the Constitution it will make it more certain than it has ever been in the past that no legislation of a serious nature can be carried unless it has the support of the majority of the people behind it. We want to pass the legislation that the people desire and to reject that which they do not desire. I ask any of your Lordships how can we better ascertain where the dividing line between these two classes of Bills lies than by asking the people themselves the simple question, "Are you in favour or are you not in favour of this legislative proposal?"
664 Some people go so far as to make out that this Bill is an attack upon the representative system. I am afraid that I must endeavour to convict the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack of putting forward this objection. I wish to be perfectly fair to him, and as the quotation is not long I ask your Lordships to allow me to remind you of what the Lord Chancellor said on the occasion of the First Reading of this Bill. The noble and learned Lord said—The Referendum would also be fatal to representative government. The political genius of the English people was the first to discover, and after great difficulty to develop, the real basis of liberty and of self-government in this country—a system which has been copied all over the world. Every Referendum is an attack on the representative system.Again, a few minutes later, the noble and learned Lord said—The people—should choose men who are honourable, whose judgment may be trusted and with whose opinions they are in harmony. They are sent to Parliament for the purpose of discussing these matters.And the noble and learned Lord went on quite candidly to add—I do not say that the system at the present time is working altogether satisfactorily.I am going to endeavour to show your Lordships that that is a very mild way of putting the difficulties which some of us feel. I ask your Lordships whether you do not agree with me that the necessary conditions for a good, true, and sound representative system are these. In the first place, there must be absolute freedom of choice on the part of those who have to select their representatives. Secondly, there must be no dictation by any central or outside authority, either at the time of the election or subsequently upon the representatives when they are meeting together to discuss the matters that come before them. In other words, after they are once installed in office, the representatives should owe duty only to those who have elected them and whose representatives they are. Let me ask you to consider whether those conditions, to which I am certain every sensible man will agree, are in any way carried out at the present time. Recently I came across an article which was published a year or so ago in a Blackburn paper, written by one of the Members of the other House of Parliament who stands very high for distinctness of opinion and absolute in- 665 dependence of judgment. I refer to Mr. Snowden. In that article—it was a written article not a hastily delivered speech Mr. Snowden says—'The idea that the House of Commons represents the will of the people is a myth. The ordinary member is simply the servant of the Government, and has no control over the Government at all. The Government are the masters. The Government claim to be absolutely the infallible interpreters of the will of the people.Then occur these remarkable passages—We have not a. democratic Constitution. The people do not rule. The House of Commons does not represent the will of the people. The Government is an autocracy, restrained, just like the Tsar of Russia, by considerations of preservation and their own interests.Mr. Snowden goes on to say—It would be an instructive lesson to the electors, who imagined that they were voting for a man to represent their will in Parliament, if they could see that Member coming in from the terrace or the smoking room at the ringing of the Division boll, and at the entrance to the Lobbies having pointed out to him by the Party Whip the particular Lobby into which he must go to register Ins vote for a Motion of which, in nine cases out of ten, he has not the remotest idea lie has not heard a word of the discussion; he does not know even what the question under discussion is he votes as a `supporter of his Party, and if he understands the question and has opinions upon it, it makes no difference. He is there to support his Party, to follow his Leader, to do as be is told. This is expressing the will of the people!That is more distinct and more definite than I should have ventured of my own knowledge or in my own words to state. When you contrast that description with the very mild one of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack that the present system does not work "altogether satisfactorily," I venture to say that there is a good deal between them which is worthy of your Lordships' consideration. It is, of course, long since the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack was a private Member. He naturally, therefore, has not the same keen recollection of the conditions as they are said to exist.
Just consider for a moment the circumstances under which the last General Election was taken. Can any of us say, will the Government themselves be bold enough to say, that every one of the hundreds of thousands of voters who voted for candidates on their side, is really prepared to support everything which the Government now propose or which they have indicated they are likely to propose in the course of the present Parliament, 666 if those questions were put separately to them? It is commonly said that at any rate on the question of the Parliament Bill the decision was in favour of the policy of the Government. But my point is not met by that. My point can only be met if any one can allege that not only for the Parliament Bill, but for Home Rule, for the disestablishment of the Welsh Church, and for half-a-dozen other things these people would willingly have voted if they were put separately to them. It is said that the proposals in my Bill amount to a great change. I am not prepared to deny that they are a considerable change, but I do press upon your Lordships this consideration, that if this is a great change it is not nearly so great a change as that winch in all probability we may have to discuss in the course of a few weeks. Some things are obvious, but they are not certain always to be acknowledged and to be faced. It is commonly allowed, at any rate by lip-service, that there are to he two Houses of Parliament. I do not desire that the Second House of Parliament should be strong enough permanently to resist what is put before them, provided we can have any assurance that what is so put forward is in accordance with the wish of the people. But what I do say is that, strong or weak, the Second House should be strong enough to ensure appeal in some form or other to the people to make sure that the people are not being misjudged and their support taken for things which they do not desire.
My solution of the difficulties in which we are placed may not be perfect. I am very far indeed from being conceited enough to suggest that it cannot be improved in matters of detail or of drafting. At least I venture to say to your Lordships that the idea which underlies it is worth discussing seriously in a concrete form. No doubt with many of your Lordships the theoretical and technical difficulties will bulk largely, but I want you on the debate on the Second Reading on which we are now engaged to endeavour to look at the wide broad issues which are involved in the discussion in which we are engaged. On the other hand, as I have said, I know that some of the clauses in this Bill may seem difficult of acceptance. Some may hesitate, even though generally in favour of the proposals, to vote for the Second Reading for fear of being classed as agreeing with every jot or every tittle of what is 667 in the Bill. On that matter I am entirely in the hands of the House as to further procedure. But I do say from profound conviction, from such consideration as I have been able to rive to the whole of the circumstances in which we are placed, that in some form or another some such proposals as I venture to make to the House are unavoidable; and at any rate I honestly believe that in the last resort they may be found to afford at least a possible chance of reconciling some of the differences which divide us at the present time. My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Balfour of Burleigh.)
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN
My Lords, we must all feel, and the state of the House shows that we do feel, that we are to-night opening the first page of one of the most momentous chapters in the Constitutional history of our country. I am sorry to find myself differing from the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading of this Bill. I am afraid I do differ from him upon this Bill. I not only cannot vote for the Bill, but it seems to me so full of far-reaching evil that I am bound to vote against it. I recall with interest and gratification that remarkable speech which my noble friend made in November, 1909, when he used language to your Lordships some of which I will reproduce. Speaking on the noble Marquess's Motion in reference to the Finance Bill of that year, the noble Lord said—My Lords, if you win, the victory can at most be a temporary one. If you lose you have altered and prejudiced the position, the power, the prestige, the usefulness of this House which I believe every one of you honours and desires to serve as heartily and as thoroughly as I do myself. If you win you are but beginning a conflict.My Lords, to-night we are beginning it. We are in a conflict which has been forced upon us, upon both Parties and upon the nation, by time and circumstances; but the decision to which this House has to come to-morrow night on the Bill of my noble friend opens, I repeat, the first page of a tremendous chapter.
What has happened within the eighteen months since the noble Lord made these observations? According to one of its most illustrious Members this House has ceased to exist. It has passed Resolutions to the effect that, as it was eighteen months 668 ago and as it is to-day, it ought to cease to exist. The Resolutions passed, on the motion partly of the noble Marquess opposite, are to the effect that this House as now constituted ought to cease to exist. The principle of the hereditary right to sit and vote in this House has vanished; and a few days ago and again to-night the Leader of the great majority of the House has told us that we shall soon have a Bill completely transforming the structure of this Assembly, and building, it is not too much to say, a new fabric upon the ruins of the present system. Two General Elections have taken place. All this great transformation has occurred in eighteen months. The picture is a startling one; and I declare that still more startling to me is the appearance of my noble friend's Bill. It is introduced by one of the most respected members of this House; it is likely here to receive the support, when the Division is taken, of noble Lords sitting on the Front Opposition Bench, and, perhaps, of the whole of those who sit behind them.
I prefer to-night, if the House will allow me, to dwell on the details of the Bill, which are open, I venture to think, to enormous criticism. The noble Lord attempted to make a case for the Bill in the circumstances of the other House. Of course he agrees that the other House must predominate, and therefore it is to the interest of every patriotic citizen of this country to see that the best is done for the advantage of that House that the wit of man can procure. I have had a good chance of knowing the House of Commons very well. I sat there for twenty-five years, and in the first twelve of those years I sat for what was, at all events then, the largest constituency in the country. I had seven contested elections in twelve years, and I sat in that House mostly in Opposition. I believe that the picture which my noble friend has drawn, and still more the picture, which he reproduced, by Mr. Snowden—a man whom I know, and of whom I always speak with respect—are completely overcharged. I see more than one noble Lord who sat in the House of Commons when I did. They know that language of the same sort was used when Mr. Gladstone was Prime Minister it was said that he was a dictator; that men were delegates, and were only whipped round the Lobbies, and so on. Parliamentary life and electioneering, say 669 what you like, are rough-and-tumble proceedings. You cannot avoid that. It is very well to draw ideal pictures of what a Member of Parliament ought to be, what an elector ought to be, and what Parliamentary life ought to be; but I do believe—and I consult with Members of Parliament constantly—that to say that independence has entirely disappeared is an exaggeration. And might I ask with all respect, as a comparative novice in this House, whether noble Lords do not very often follow their Leaders? I have not perceived once during the time I have been here any great sign of independence or dissent or of revolt on the part of noble Lords opposite.
One of the three points of the noble Lord was that there was to be no dictation from outside bodies. I have heard of the Tariff Reform League; I have certainly heard of the Free Trade League; and I have heard, as we all have, of various leagues. Of course when men want to make their opinions prevail they must organise themselves, and by all the active means they can pursue to bring other men to share their opinions. That appears to me to he the manly, common-sense view of English public life; and therefore venture to think deliberately that, as far as my judgment goes, neither the Parliament Bill nor the Bill to be brought in by the noble Marquess can possibly produce effects so deep and so far-reaching, not merely upon institutions, but upon the spirit, the power, and the habits of mind of the people of this country. Far more important than any change which can come from any mere adjustment, important as you like—I do not wish to belittle it—proposed by the Parliament Bill, and than whatever the reconstitution of this House may mean and whatever shape it may take—I do not believe that either of those two operations, important as they are, will produce anything comparable to the result which will follow from the principle which this Bill contains, and by voting for which your Lordships are sanctioning.
I say of the principle of this Bill that it weakens the House of Commons, it weakens the House of Lords, it does a great deal to abolish the representative system, it wholly transforms our Parliamentary system, and it affects, as I may show, our Cabinet system. I cannot conceive, therefore, a more revolutionary principle to accept and 670 to apply widely, as it is intended, I understand, to be by and by, over the whole field of our Parliamentary life. No doubt an appeal to the people makes a splendid platform cry. As an old platform hand I realise that; but I should like to repeat the words of a member of this House which will carry more weight with noble Lords opposite than any words of mine. This is what Lord Curzon said—
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN
I think in 1888. He wrote it; it was not a casual utterance. He said—The counting of heals becomes an absurd and delusive method when the question at issue is one of great complexity, such as a Parliamentary Bill crammed with clauses and bristling with disputable propositions; and to proclaim that an appeal so, made and answered is irrefutable evidence of trust inn the people, and that a refusal to accept this test is proof of heresy to the democratic principle is, in my judgment, to show a very imperfect idea of the true meaning of popular government.I am content to leave it in the language of the noble Lord. I have thought ever since these troubles began eighteen months; ago—and I am sure a great many people have agreed with me—that the proper way of solving the difficulties in which we found ourselves was a Convention formed as was that used in the constitution of the United States Government, and as now used when States alter their arrangements. The Conference was held, and the failure of the Conference convinced me, at any rate, that considering the men who composed it, considering the spirit in which, as I have always understood, its proceedings were conducted, considering the respectful attitude with which the country regarded it, if that Conference broke down, proceeding by way of Convention is impossible,. at all events in this country.
A great number of men—beginning with Sir William Anson, for example—men well informed, with well-trained minds, deeply versed in all these questions, are dealing with the Referendum. This discussion of a Bill is not the occasion for going into all those arguments. They deserve attention, and they are sure to receive it. To-night we are dealing with a Bill, and I should like to say at once, without arrogance, that I for one attach no importance whatever to the analogies from Oregon, from America, from Switzerland, or elsewhere. It is quite true, as we are told—though every part 671 of the assertion is more or less disputed by somebody—that the Referendum has worked well in those foreign places. Be it so. What reason is there for thinking that because it has worked well in Switzerland, with a gross population of 3,000,000 or 4,000,000, it will work well in a community numbering 44,000,000 or 50,000,000;that because it works well in a new and, without disrespect, may I say, in this respect a raw community like one of the American States named, therefore it could be transplanted to us, in whom the Parliamentary system is rooted by centuries of tradition in all of the habits of our mind, in the whole practice of our Parliamentary system, in the very marrow of our bones? It is idle to say that, because a given device and expedient works well somewhere else, therefore it may be expected very likely to work well in a community like ours. You cannot transplant devices and expedients without regard to all the changes involved—changes of sky, of climate, of political soil.
I now come to what I regard as a very vital part of the noble Lord's proposal. It turns on the question whether the resignation of a Ministry must follow the defeat of a Bill on the Referendum. Your Lordships will see in a moment that that is a vital point. It is easy to say, "We will think of that afterwards," but the question of resignation after the rejection of a Ministerial Bill is at the root of the whole matter. Just consider what would happen. Imagine the. Government have passed a Bill through the House of Commons and that it is rejected by your Lordships and is then rejected by a majority of the voters on a special appeal by way of the Referendum. Is the Government to resign? Take the case of 1886. There are only two members of this House who are survivors of that Government, and we can remember all about it. Suppose the Referendum had been in force in those days, and that after defeat Mr. Gladstone and his colleagues had said—well, could they have said in common decency, with common sense, and with common political honour, "We shall continue in office. We shall take no notice of the Referendum, but will continue to administer the government of Ireland by the alternative, or what is called the coercive, system, against which we have been spending for ever so many months all our force in argument and even passionate appeal"?
672 I will take a modern case that may appeal to many of your Lordships. Supposing that a Government of noble Lords opposite were to bring in a Tariff Reform scheme, and that it was rejected on the Referendum, is it to be supposed that Mr. Balfour would then bring in a Budget based on all the worn-out, exploded, musty Cobdenite principles It is absurd. Any noble Lord will see that it is ridiculous to assume for one moment that a Government which has been beaten on the Referendum could continue to govern. Now, why do I attach importance to that? I attach importance to it because you are giving to the Referendum the power not only of saying Aye or No to a given Bill, but of displacing a Government, and you are therefore giving the power of displacing a Government, for example, to this House. By one of the clauses of the Bill this House, by rejecting a Bill, can force a Referendum, so that the Referendum may be the means of displacing a Government. That is a new, or almost new pretension.
I should like to bring another set of facts or probabilities before your Lordships' House when you are discussing this Referendum. My noble friend is a Unionist Free Trader. Suppose that the Referendum had been passed before the election of December,1910. We are now in the Spring of 1911. They are, on my hypothesis, busy in another place with an Irish Government Bill, a Home Rule Bill. That Bill, we will suppose, is passed by the House of Commons and is rejected by your Lordships. Then we have in July a Referendum, an appeal to the serene, broad, cool, philosophic judgment of the electors on the tranquilising topic of Home Rule. Suppose the Referendum ends in the rejection of Home Rule and Ministers resign. Then there is a new Government. The Government could not, of course, meet such an adverse House of Commons as exists at present across the corridor. They would, say in October of this year, dissolve, and there would be another General Election and a new Parliament. I hope this calendar does not weary the House. It is well worth thinking about what the Referendum means. Then in 1912 the new Government would bring in their Budget founded on Tariff Reform, as they propose to do. The House of Commons would go on debating that Budget until July, and then 673 there would be a Referendum. On that Referendum they might be beaten. I am sure my noble friend would hope that they would be beaten. He is a Free Trader, and he must desire that his colleagues should be beaten. Then there is another General Election and another Ministry. My Lords, all that is within eighteen months; all these Referenda and General Elections, all this confusion and turmoil. That is what my noble friend will get if his Referendum is carried—I will not say this particular Referendum, but if the Referendum is accepted. Noble Lords may think there is an inaccuracy in that calendar. I believe not. I believe that that is what might happen, and although noble Lords are not going to be candidates, at least under our present system, this prospect of Referendum after Referendum would really—I was going to say, can folly go further? but I withdraw it.
Now, my Lords, let us look for a moment at what the operation of this Referendum is going to be. We all know perfectly well what elections are like, and the idea is—and my noble friend did not get much beyond it in his speech—and it gives a certain amount of fascination to the Referendum, that a reply postcard is to be forwarded to every elector and that you will get his reply by return of post.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
I beg the noble Viscount's pardon, but I say nothing about post cards in my Bill.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN
The noble Lord is far too practised a man of business to put it in his Bill, but that is the idea in the minds of people who know less about it than my noble friend does. I respectfully invite any noble Lord to take up this Bill and master its contents. I believe that if you do that you will agree with me that the Referendum will mean on all great questions that all Parties will wish—of course they will—to convert the electors. There will be meetings, there will be literature, there will be posters, there will be the tracing of removals, and I believe the conveyance of voters to the poll is not prohibited. Those are Committee points, perhaps, but I do want your Lordships on the Second Reading of the Bill to realise as practical men what it means. Are there to be any limits to the expenditure? It 674 is said in one of the clauses that the Corrupt Practices Act and other Acts are to apply. Yes, but under the Corrupt Practices Act it is assumed that there is a candidate and an agent, and if mischief is proved the candidate is unseated and the agent may be sent to prison. No such punishment for misdeeds is possible under the Referendum. I do not say that ingenious lawyers cannot make contrivances, but as the Bill stands to talk of the Corrupt Practices Act is really farcical.
I do not want to go into Committee points, but there is one clause in the Bill that both fascinates and astonishes me. I refer to Clause 12, which says that nobody shall vote more than once on that day. After all the arguments we have heard of the advantage of having little owners of property and all the rest of it, these poor men are to be confined to one vote, and you are introducing in this Bill the very principle that you have contumeliously rejected on former occasions. I applaud your Lordships' late repentance. Now let us look a little further on. Let us assume that the writ arrives in seven days and that there is all the turmoil of an election. What is the voter doing? He is to have an opportunity of inspecting at the office of the Chief Returning Officer the Bill on which he is to pronounce Aye or No, perhaps a Bill of 100 or 120 clauses. I am not sure that noble Lords in this House have so keen an appetite for any Bill of 100 or 120 clauses, but there is to be this little queue or crowd of earnest voters waiting outside the Returning Officer's office to get an inspection of this Bill. When they get that inspection what will happen? A Bill is a very difficult and technical subject; we all know that draughtsman's English is not the English of Bunyan, Defoe, or Swift; and I have always had suspicions—I do not know if noble Lords opposite are exempt from them—that even Cabinet Ministers do not always show an eagerness to study a Bill even when it is circulated in the Cabinet by their most valued colleagues.
What would the voter do? Let us take by way of illustration the Irish Church Bill of 1869. As everybody knows, the Parliamentary storm and stress of that Bill mainly turned on Disendowment, and it was only passed after enormous difficulty by means of a number of equit- 675 able qualifications and nice adjustments which Mr. Gladstone' introduced into the Bill and persuaded the Party opposite to accept. Can any one suppose for one instant that, even if he had nothing else to do, an elector would in those clays have spent five minutes over reading the Disendowment Bill? No. We all know, to be perfectly frank, what the elector would have said then, and what the elector would say now. He would say that Mr. Gladstone, or Mr. Disraeli, if you like, knows a great deal more than I do about these things, and I will vote for Gladstone, or I will vote for Disraeli. That is what the magnified will of the people really comes to.
May I say that I conceive that to set up as the great cardinal and organic standard of Parliamentary life the standard of always consulting and being guided by and thinking of nothing else but what the people desire is to my mind a thoroughly wrong standard. I am quite prepared to defend that proposition. What Ministers or legislative Houses ought to be considering is what they believe, after the best search, inquiry, and deliberation, is for the good government of the country, and I am always sorry when I hear people using that expression in the sense that Ministers and Members of Parliament or Members of this House are not to have minds of their own, but are always to be wondering what somebody else is desiring or thinking.
Let us still keep our eye on the voter. The voter is to say Aye or No, according to my noble friend's Bill, to a whole Bill. If he hates Clause 5, lie will vote "No." If somebody else hates Clause 9, he also will vote "No." So a Referendum is very apt to mean this. It accumulates in negatives all who happen to dissent from this or that single detail. That is an absurdity. I said in the beginning something about the effect of the Referendum upon the minds of Cabinets and Ministers. Must not the incidental effect upon the mind of the Minister framing a Bill be this? He will inevitably, he cannot help it, before framing each clause, however well he thinks of it, ask himself, if the Referendum policy is unfortunately accepted by Parliament and the country, whether this or that wording of a clause would be likely to tempt and provoke a Referendum, and how much surface that clause would expose to the mind of the 676 elector when he came to vote. I throw that out as a hint, and those who are aware of these things may know the value of it. I quite understood all the points my noble friend made as to the reason why he had put into this Bill the plain abrupt proposition that a Bill, not an abstract Resolution, not a fine declaration of abstract doctrine, must be referred to the electorate. He also told us that under the Bill 200 gentlemen in the House of Commons are, if they like, to compel the reference of a Bill.
I was enormously interested the other day in a remarkable project which was half fathered by the noble Earl opposite, Lord Selborne. He enumerated a long list of possible suggestions for a working Referendum, but this was the one which most struck my imagination. He said that at the beginning of every Parliament there should be a small Joint Committee of the two Houses appointed in strict proportion to the number of the parties in it. That Committee would really contain the best men of both Houses. It would be presided over by the Speaker, and in that Committee the minority of either House might appeal to the majority to invoke a Referendum. If they got, as the noble Earl thought they would, a Committee filled with a very high sense of its Constitutional responsibility, it would take care that frivolous proposals for invoking the Referendum were not allowed, and on the other hand, it would feel it to be its duty to see that on any really grave issue of national importance the electors had the opportunity of registering their decision.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN
The noble Earl, it is true, did say it was one of the proposals that had been made, and he also added that there was a good deal to be said for it.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN
I was going to promise him that if he would, to-night or any other night, say all that good deal that is to be said for that remarkable proposal he would have at least one very eager listener. Does the 677 House realise what that proposal means? We have had a great election we will suppose, and all the paraphernalia, turmoil, confusion, and effort of an election. There is a great majority, or a small majority, as the result; a coalition majority of our sort, or a coalition majority of your sort. There are more coalitions than one. Parliament is installed, and the first business, according to the noble Earl, under the proposal for which he is going to say a good deal, is to choose half a dozen or half a score of the best men, excluding, I take it, the two Front Benches. Are the two Front Benches to be on?
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN
If you include them, you will find yourself in considerable difficulty. If you exclude them, you will find yourself in still worse difficulty. What arc these half-dozen men, with the Speaker at their head, to do By the way, I should not be very easy about the position of the Speaker under that proposal, but I pass from that. What are they to do? They are to decide as they please, and when they please, whether on any given question they are to give the minority the right of appealing to the electors to think it all over again and once inure try to turn a minority into a majority. This body, though small, is to be really omnipotent. I am not, at all exaggerating what follows from that. It can overrule the Cabinet, which is content with its majority. It can overrule the majority of the men elected, and it can overrule the majority of electors who chose them. It can, in effect, force what is tantamount to a new election. You talk of parties and groups as being the great evil of Parliamentary life, but the noble Earl's plan would invent a new group which is to swallow up, on any critical or decisive occasion, all other parties and groups wholesale. My Lords, I will only say generally, because I should be sorry to weary the House by examining some of the Committee points—
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN
Most assuredly they arc not. They are not in anybody's Bill and I do not believe 678 they ever will be. But they are one of the swarm of random and fantastic ideas that are floating through people's irresponsible minds, and I for one am thoroughly grateful to the noble Lord, because I think he spoke well when he said to-night that he thought it desirable that there should be a concrete plan before the country, and when that set of proposals is put before the country I shall be delighted to see it. That is not the only random set of ideas. The air is thick with fantastic notions, and that is one of the reasons why I am glad we have now got a Bill.
I regret to understand that what noble Lords are going to do to-morrow night is to vote for the Second Reading of this Bill. I am perfectly certain that from the moment I sit clown until the moment the Division is taken we shall hear from noble Lords opposite, "Well, we think there is something in what you say, hut we are only voting for the principle of the Bill." I hope when we are told this that we shall hear what is the principle of the Bill. It is not an automatic Referendum. It is not a compulsory or an obligatory Referendum. It does not touch the tremendously important question whether the electors should have an initiative outside of Parliament, and you may depend upon it, if you once adopt the policy of the Referendum it will inevitably lead to the policy of initiative outside. I do not believe that anybody who knows the electors of this country, or who works out in his own mind the course of argument that would be likely to follow, would doubt that the right of initiation would be sure to come. I think I have seen some important public men advocate that, 'but, however that may be, I think it is sure to come. The Bill does not sanction the putting on one side of any proposal; that is, no doubt, a good thing; but they have to say Yes or No to a Bill, even though the electors giving their votes would have preferred a different Bill, or would have preferred one of the drafts or prints they had seen or heard of. That is one difficulty which is worth considering.
I am going to quote the noble Lord opposite, Lord Curzon, again, because he put this point exactly as I would try to put it myself. He said the Referendum is to be applied whenever there is any irreconcilable difference between the Lords and the Commons. That is clear under 679 the Bill. That gives the Lords the power of forcing an instant appeal from the majority in the House of Commons, though that majority has just been elected, whenever they choose to be irreconcilable, and an appeal, let us mark, not only on the view of the electorate on a given Bill, but an appeal that would mean the displacement of a Government that had the confidence and support of the House of Commons. The noble Lord also said this, on the same date I think—Is not a Referendum in the hands of the Lords equivalent to the prerogative of forcing a Dissolution whenever they please?That was the view that commended itself then to the noble Lord's mind, and it is undoubtedly the true interpretation of the meaning and working of the Referendum. It is the assertion of a proposition which I am assured you will never persuade the constituencies of this country to accept, that this House, however reformed or reconstituted, should have the right to force a Dissolution.
My Lords, I will not detain you further. The situation brings to my mind a passage from Burke, which I would like to read. In doing so, I shall not be suspected, I hope, of referring to any individual person. He said—An ignorant man who is not fool enough to meddle with his clock, is, however, sufficiently confident to think he can safely take to pieces, and put together at his pleasure, a moral machine of another guise, importance, and complexity, composed of far other wheels and springs and balances, and counteracting and co-operating powers.That, my Lords, is the kind of undertaking we are now almost forced to contemplate. What makes me feel anxious to-night is that not only are you embarking, by proposing the Referendum, on a policy and a set of expedients that break up the Parliamentary system and the representative system, but the free use of the Referendum tends to shake the stability of mind of the electors. This ideal is to displace altogether in the imagination and minds of those who resort to it so freely and with such gaiety of heart the old ideal of a Parliament which should last four, five, or six years, and of Ministers who begin their work confident that they will have the support of the constituencies for most of that time. There you have an instrument and a system of infinite stability. What shocks me is that this House, the defenders of Conservative 680 ideals and principles, are going in the first fight of this great Constitutional engagement which confronts us to do the best that lies in their power to shake that stability which is the glory and has been the safety of this country. My Lords, I am not very fond of talking of the civilised world, but the civilised world is looking on rather eagerly and wondering whether the political wisdom of this country is really impaired. May I say this, and this only—If you get the reputation of a nation whose governors have lost the faculty of political wisdom you lose an asset more valuable and powerful than many Dreadnoughts.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I am sure my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh will not have allowed himself for a moment to believe that my absence from this House the other evening when he introduced his Bill was due to any indifference on my part, or to any want of respect towards himself. I ant glad this evening to congratulate him upon the reception of his Bill, and to acknowledge the service which he has rendered to the House by bringing us to close quarters with the discussion of this most important subject. I am, as my noble friend well knows, a believer in the Referendum. I am not sure that I can travel to the length of my noble friend, because there are some points in which his Bill certainly carries us further than I am myself disposed to go. But I believe in the principle of the Referendum, and I am particularly glad that my noble friend should have been the man to take up the question in this House.
My noble friend occupies a somewhat exceptional position amongst the members of your Lordships' House. I will say nothing of the address and business-like ability with which he takes part in our affairs from time to time, but he has held very high office, and outside Parliament he has been either president or a member of, I should think, more important public inquiries, Committees, and Royal Commissions than any other member of this House. The last two Royal Commissions over which he presided were the Commission on Food Supply in Time of War, appointed by the late Government, and the Commission dealing with the trade relations of Canada and the West Indies, appointed by the Government represented on the Benches opposite. Then 681 the noble Lord has riot for the first time given this House invaluable assistance by coming to our rescue at a time when serious illness had laid low the Chairman of our Committees. My Lords, I dwell upon these things because I do think that when such a man with such a reputation for common sense and ability makes himself sponsor for this Bill, we have about reached the time when the Referendum can no longer be described as a mere crotchet or fad. It is absurd to suppose that after such a career as I have ventured to describe, my noble friend has suddenly taken leave of his senses, and has made himself responsible for an absurd and fantastic proposal, which noble Lords opposite are fond of describing as an absurd invention designated by a doglatin name and occasionally mistaken for some variety of turnip or potato. I think the part which my noble friend has taken justifies us at any rate in hoping that criticisms of that kind will be no more heard of in connection with this subject.
Now my Lords, in our view there is not only room for the Referendum in our Constitutional machinery, but we believe that its introduction into that machinery has become positively indispensable. We affirmed that view in a Resolution which we passed in this House last year. May I briefly say why it seems to me that the Referendum, for some purposes, at all events, has become an inevitable addition to our Parliamentary machinery? I do not think I shall be contradicted when if say that up to the present time both the great Parties of the State have proceeded upon the understanding, that no great and fundamental changes should be introduced by legislation unless the people of this country have had a sufficient and full opportunity of pronouncing judgment upon them. It was the special function of this House to see to it that such an opportunity should be given, and it is only now, under the new policy of His Majesty's Government, that we have it deliberately announced that for the future the people of this country are to be denied the opportunity which they have hitherto enjoyed of pronouncing upon these great and grave issues. The new policy is a policy of setting up an infallible and supreme House of Commons. We ask whether you can seriously believe that any settlement based on that assumption is likely to be permanently accepted by this country.
682 We ask whether you can point to any other country that is governed upon that principle. We point out, further, that you yourselves by your present action are doing a great deal to render your own position untenable. You are deeply pledged as a Party to House of Lords reform. Some of your supporters may be insincere; I think they are; but as a Government, ever since you put into the mouth of his late Majesty King Edward VII the last Speech which he delivered from the Throne, you, as a Government, have pledged yourselves to deal not only with the relations of the two Houses but with the reform of this House, I will not say simultaneously, but upon parallel lines, as two parts of a policy founded not upon one of those proposals, but founded upon both. If, however, you are, indeed, going to reconstitute this House, is it not perfectly evident that the more authority you give it, and the better balanced its composition, the less likely will the people of this country be to allow the decisions of such a House to be set on one side and ignored '? The closer the reformed House of Lords is in touch with the people of the country, the less will you be able to treat it as a mere appanage of the other House of Parliament. There will be differences under the new system as there have been under the old, and in our belief the adoption of the Referendum in one shape or another affords the only means of extricating Parliament from the difficulty and restoring the proper balance of the Constitution.
My Lords, for my part, I am persuaded that the movement of public opinion in this country is declaring itself decidedly in favour of the adoption of the Referendum. I do not believe that many of the members of the Party opposite are prepared to go the length of saying that in no circumstances is the Referendum possible. That is not the view of the Prime Minister, for he said not long ago that he would not rule out the Referendum as a possible practicable expedient for dealing with some exceptional cases. That is a very important admission.
The noble Earl who leads the House (the Earl of Crewe), and whose absence we all deeply regret, said the other day that he would admit the Referendum for Constitutional changes where you have a 683 written Constitution. Yes, but are you not going to give us, if you have your own way, an instalment of a written Constitution in the shape of the Parliament Bill? Then there is the practice of other countries and of some of our great Colonies, which, as we know, have adopted the Referendum. I admit the justice of the noble Viscount's remark that it would not be wise to press foreign or Colonial analogies too far, and I shall not do so, for it is obvious that there is a wide difference between the circumstances which prevail in the countries where the Referendum is used and in this country; but surely the fact that it has been adopted in other countries and that where it has been adopted it has never been done away with subsequently, together with the fact that you yourselves have given the Referendum deliberately to a great British Dominion across the sea, is enough to justify us in asking that you shall not leave the Referendum out of court and treat it as a fantastic or revolutionary proposal.
Let me for a moment glance at one or two of the objections taken by the noble Viscount to the Bill. He said my noble friend's was a. revolutionary policy. He objected to the Bill on that rather remarkable ground. I think he gave us a quotation from Burke with reference to an ignorant man who had the imprudence to pull a clock to pieces. I did not exactly gather the words.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN
He said that a man who is not such a fool as to meddle with his clock is supposed to feel quite ready to go and meddle with the Constitution of his country with all its springs and balances.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Let us accept the analogy. Are noble Lords opposite not meddling with the clock? My noble friend dealt very well, I thought, with the revolutionary argument, but he might have gone further. He might have asked the noble Viscount what right he and his friends had to talk about revolutionary expedients. Was there ever a more revolutionary expedient than the Parliament Bill, which exposes this country to single-Chamber government by virtually depriving this House of the whole of its opportunities of revising or reserving legislation? Has the noble Viscount never heard of another proposal, not perhaps 684 very often paraded by Ministers, but constantly mentioned by their supporters in the country—the proposal that in the event of this House not being complaisant in the matter of the Parliament Bill that Bill is to be passed into law by an expedient which has been described by the highest constitutional authorities as an unconstitutional and revolutionary expedient?
Now, my Lords, I want to say one word on the main argument which ran throughout the whole of the speech of the noble Viscount and which always occupies the most prominent position in the arguments of noble Lords opposite. We are told that the advocacy of the Referendum shows a distrust of the representative system and a desire to overthrow that system. That is a very erroneous and misleading way of describing our position. What we desire to do is not to upset the representative system but to find a means of correcting some of its most flagrant and palpable defects, defects which become more flagrant and more palpable with every year of our Parliamentary history. My Lords, what is your reading of the representative system which we now enjoy? It is based upon two assumptions. The assumption of noble Lords opposite is first that a House of Commons majority, no matter how composed or how small, is the unerring interpreter of the will of the constituencies, even when that majority is a composite one, or, as I think Mr. Asquith once described it, a scratch majority, and even if it is a matter of common notoriety that it is a majority composed of sections which support the Government, not because they are really in harmony with the Government's proposals, but in order to keep the Government in power until an ulterior object has been achieved. We had a case the other day in the House of Commons when a leading Irish Member objected to the Naval Estimates but voted for them because he had no idea of turning the Government out.
Then it is assumed that the infallibility of the House of Commons majority lasts from one General Election until the next General Election, whatever has happened in the meantime. I should rather like to examine that claim for a moment. At a General Election the electors hear a candidate's speeches, read his address—they may or may not understand the 685 subjects referred to—and then they send him to Parliament, according to noble Lords opposite, with plenipotentiary powers to represent them on all occasions and in regard to all possible subjects. The Lord Chancellor has given us a quite engaging picture of the manner in which the system works. He says the poor electors are far too busy to occupy themselves with matters of detail, and they therefore choose honourable men whose judgment they can trust. My noble friend Lord Balfour described with great effect what happens with regard to the honourable men when they get to the House of Commons. They are shepherded by the Whips, and apparently one of them, at least, Mr. Snowden, greatly resents the process, and his evidence is of a kind which noble Lords opposite will find it a little difficult to dispose of.
While we have had some account from Mr. Snowden of the way in which the private Member regards the manipulations of the Party Whips, we had last year in this House from an ex-Whip, Lord Marchamley, some account of the way in which the Whip regards the operations of the private Member. I have quoted the words before, but they are so appropriate to the present occasion that I will quote them again. The noble Lord told us that a Chief Whip worth his salt has no political conscience whatever. When he is told that he must whip for any self-evident proposal, such as that black is white, he does so with the same alacrity and eagerness as if he believed it; so that these honourable men who have come down to the House of Commons entrusted with plenary powers by their constituents to represent them have to say, "This looks black, but we are told it is white; let us make it white and vote for it." The noble Viscount let fall one observation somewhat in the nature of a to quoque. He said that if in the House of Commons people voted not quite in accordance with their convictions, but according to the pressure of the Party wirepullers, such things happened in this House also. The noble Viscount, I honestly believe, like many noble Lords opposite, greatly overrates the power of Lord Waldegrave and those who assist him in applying anything like what might be called coercion. I would, however, point out to the noble Viscount that there is really a little difference. Supposing noble Lords on the Back Benches receive a Whip and disregard it when they come here and 686 drift into the wrong Lobby, or do not come here at all, it would be quite impossible for us to visit their sins upon them in an effectual manner. In the House of Commons things happen very differently, for a man who gets into the, black books of the Whips will find when a General Election comes round that there is another candidate and no seat is provided for him elsewhere. There is, therefore, very little application to the state of affairs in this House in the noble Viscount's argument. I say, then, with regard to this particular point, that when the noble Viscount sets up as a kind of idol the so-called representative system, and bids us to fall down and grovel at its feet, we have to take into account what kind of an idol it is and what material it is made of, and I am afraid we shall be obliged to admit that there is a considerable amount of clay in its composition.
The noble Viscount dealt at great length with the unfairness of puzzling and distracting the electors by asking them to vote on a particular Bill which might be extremely intricate and complex, and he drew a humorous picture of the villagers drawn out in a lengthy queue outside the office where a copy of the Bill was on view. I admit quite freely to the noble Viscount that there must be many eases where the issues involved in a great measure are of an extremely complicated kind, or perhaps of a kind which a great many of the humbler voters are not able thoroughly to understand or appreciate, but in most cases nevertheless I am under the impression that in a rough and ready kind of way electors are quite shrewd and intelligent enough to know whether they want a Bill passed or do not. At all events our proposal has this merit, that it gives the electors a single Bill for their opinion, and focuses attention upon that one Bill, whereas now you give to the same men, not one Bill, but a bundle of Bills, and sometimes no Bill at all, on the subjects upon which their opinions are invited. You at this moment I believe claim to have a mandate in favour of the Parliament Bill. The Parliament Bill, if I remember right, was produced at the last moment at our instance in this House. But for that, I do not think it would have been produced at all; yet it is contended that the Parliament Bill and all its details could have been mastered by the voters, together with the details of a non-existent 687 Home Rule Bill, which was also dangled before them.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN
I hope the noble Marquess will forgive me for interrupting him, but the Parliament Bill was read a first time in the House of Commons in May last.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Yes, but it was never discussed. At any rate the poor puzzled distracted elector for whom the noble Viscount has such sympathy will have a better chance of understanding the issues when a Bill has been discussed in both Houses, and will be better able to say whether he wishes to have the Bill passed or not when the subject has been thoroughly thrashed out. At the present time the distracted elector is asked to make up his mind on these subjects in the midst of all the turmoil and excitement of a General Election, when the fate of a Government is trembling in the balance, when the fates of Members of Parliament are trembling in the balance; and surely if electors are intelligent enough to come to a conclusion to select the right man and give their mandate in such circumstances, they have sufficient intelligence to form an opinion on a concrete measure presented to them by itself and upon its own merits.
All I wish to say as to these complaints of the intricacy of subjects submitted to Referendum, the confusing nature of the appeal, and its disturbing effect on the country, is that all these complaints seem to arise from what I cannot help thinking is a mistaken apprehension of what is likely to happen under any Referendum proposals which we are likely to accept. The noble Viscount seemed to think we should live in an atmosphere of constant reference, that not only every session, but possibly every month might bring about a reference to the people. That is not my anticipation; nor will I consent to any Bill likely to have that effect. If my noble friend Lord Balfour will forgive me, I will make this criticism on his Bill, that I think it does lend itself too much to the objection that it might lead to the submission of Bills to the people more frequently than we desire or than would be desirable in the public interest. My noble friend divides his Bills into two classes. There is, in the first place, the class of Bills which have been passed by 688 one House of Parliament and rejected by the other. He calls those "rejected" Bills. Now these rejected Bills are, under my noble friend's proposal, to be invariably sent to a Referendum.
§ THE MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
Yes, I assume that, but it may be any Bill and it may be on the first rejection of the Bill, I think within thirty days.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My noble friend's other proposal is with regard to what he calls "carried" Bills—Bills passed by both Houses of Parliament, but which may be sent to a Referendum if 200 Members of the House of Commons demand it but he said very fairly that his figure of 200 was a figure which was liable to consideration. Well, my Lords, both of those proposals seem to me to go rather farther than it would be desirable for us to go at the present moment; both of them, I think, are calculated to create the anticipation that appeals to the people are likely to be more frequent, and consequently more costly and more disturbing than we believe they will be and should be.
If I may state in half-a-dozen sentences the kind of proposal which would commend itself to me as an alternative to that of my noble friend, I would say that in my view we should look to the Referendum primarily and mainly as a quite exceptional measure for the purpose of putting an end to a persistent difference of opinion between the two Houses and a persistent difference of opinion with regard to important subjects. I am sure the noble Viscount remembers the words of the Resolution which was carried in this House last year. It was then our view that the Referendum should be resorted to for the purpose of adjusting differences between the two Houses in relation to matters of great gravity not adequately submitted to the judgment of the people. We also proposed that the Referendum should be resorted to as a last resort when other expedients had been exhausted. By other expedients I mean, of course, Conferences between the two Houses of Parliament, which I believe are regarded with general favour, 689 and which I hope in time will take a more conspicuous place in our proceedings than they have hitherto; and, in the next place, possibly Joint Sittings, supposing that Joint Sittings should be introduced as part of our Constitutional machinery. We also contemplated that the Referendum should not be used until after there had been two rejections of a Bill by this House, and these other expedients had been resorted to and had failed. It seems to me obvious—I say it in passing—that if we have, as I hope we may eventually, a better composed House, a House in which the representation of the two Parties will be better balanced than at present, there will be much greater opportunities of adjusting differences, either by means of Conferences or by means of Joint Sittings, than is likely in the House as we now know it, in which the Party to which I belong constitutes a quite overwhelming numerical majority.
Then we are told that a proposal such as we indicated last year has this necessary consequence, that you must have a definition specifying those subjects which are worthy of being treated as grave subjects; and it is added that the further consequence follows that you must have a tribunal to decide whether a given subject does or does not fall within the definition. I do not know that I should be greatly deterred even if it were the case that this proposal carried with it the necessity of a definition and of a tribunal. I can conceive a definition, and I think I can conceive a tribunal that might answer the purpose. You have a tribunal somewhat of the kind, I think, in your Parliament Bill. I do not press that matter now. But what I do wish to say is this, that even if you have no definition and no tribunal, it seems to me quite possible that the common sense of Parliament will be sufficient to enable it to decide upon broad common-sense grounds whether a particular issue is one which ought to go to a Referendum or not. I cannot conceive a body of Members of Parliament wanting to send to a Referendum a Bill dealing with the inspection of gipsy caravans, or with juvenile smoking, or anything of that kind, and I should myself be very well content to look forward to the settlement of these questions, as I said just now, by the broad common sense of Parliament. But to come back to my point. To my mind the obvious and the main use of the Referendum must be for 690 the purpose of getting over persistent differences between the two Houses when those differences relate to a matter of-serious importance.
I must say one word, and one word only, with regard to my noble friend's other proposal—namely, that the Referendum should be used in cases where the two Houses are not in disagreement but have agreed to pass a certain Bill. I am aware that a great deal can be said for the view that in such cases also the Referendum may be usefully invoked for the purpose of protecting a minority against rash and ill-considered legislation notably when such rash and ill-considered legislation involves any tampering with the Constitution of the country. I think there is a great deal to be said for that view. But I would certainly at this point also restrict the use of the Referendum much more closely than my noble friend Lord Balfour. I am of raid that a general feeling of resentment and impatience would be created if, when the two Houses of Parliament had laboriously carried a Bill to a successful issue, it then could be taken away from Parliament on the motion, let us say of one-third of the members of the House of Commons, and the question reopened before a poll of the people. I am afraid the effect of a proposal of that kind would be to increase and not diminish the suspicion with which the Referendum is regarded in many quarters.
I venture, however, to suggest that is a point which we are really not in a position to decide this evening, and I will say why I think so. In a case such as I am endeavouring to discuss the Referendum would be used for the purpose of protecting the country and the minority in Parliament against rash and ill-conceived legislation. Is it not true to say that if you are introducing a. safeguard of this kind in order to guard against a risk, you must have before you construct your safeguard some idea at any rate of the kind of risk against which you have got to guard? But the risk which I have in my mind would vary very greatly according to the constitution and attributes of your reformed House of Lords. If you have an independent House of Lords so composed that it commands a. large measure of public confidence, then the chances of the kind of ill-considered and hasty legislation which we seek to guard against are very greatly diminished, and the need of the-safeguard is diminished also. On the other hand, if you have a weak and helpless House 691 of Lords, liable to be completely overruled by the other House of Parliament, then obviously there can be no check upon rash and ill-considered legislation, and the need of the safeguard becomes much greater and your care in constructing it will have to be much greater also. My Lords, I do venture to say that that is a point upon which it would be premature for us at this stage to express any decided opinion, and therefore, while I am very far from desiring to exclude the use of the Referendum in cases where the two Houses are in agreement, I submit that it is better that we should reserve judgment on that point until we know more of the lines upon which the question of House of Lords reform is likely to be settled.
My Lords, there is one other use of the Referendum as to which I should like to say a word. There is the case where the two Houses are in agreement and have passed a Bill, but where it might be desired, perhaps by the Government of the day itself, to make sure that it had the opinion of the country at its back before the Bill became law. I am sure noble Lords opposite will not be slow to perceive that I am referring to such a use of the Referendum as was suggested by Mr. Balfour in his memorable announcement at the Albert Hall last year. That pledge, of course, will be fulfilled whenever we have an opportunity of fulfilling it. I might be asked in what manner, under any scheme of Referendum which we might be prepared to accept, that could be done. You could without difficulty, I have no doubt, add to the Referendum Bill a clause giving power to the Government of the clay to call for a Referendum in circumstances such as I have described. I am, however, not at all sure that it would be necessary to do so, because if you have a Referendum Act in existence containing the whole machinery of the Referendum in the body of the Act, it seems quite obvious that any Government could thereafter attach to any Bill a clause laying it down that the Bill in question should go to ad hoc Referendum of the electors.
The noble Viscount opposite dwelt with some earnestness on the effect which an unsuccessful Referendum of this kind might have upon the Ministry of the day, and said it would inevitably mean that the Ministry would have to resign. Would it not be fair to reply that the political effect of the Referendum would depend entirely upon the 692 circumstances in which it was taken and the magnitude of the matter re[...]erred? I am entirely unable to see that if a Government were beaten on a Referendum it would necessarily involve their going out of office. That by no means follows. But if the question referred was one of reall[...] vital moment and one which deeply stirres[...] the people of this country and the Government were beaten on it, then I think it very likely the Government would have to reign It would be quite right that the Government should resign, because it would have been brought home to them that they had lost the confidence of the body of the electors of the country. And that result, which might be a desirable result, would be achieved by a much more specific and distinct process than could be the case under the [...]resent circumstances, when all these old cores are held over until the next General Election, and when the electors have to vote for against a Government, not on one issue, but upon a great number of conflicting issues
Now, my Lords, it only retains for me to state what action I propose to take with reference to this Bill. In the first place, I say that nothing will indu[...]e me to vote against the Bill of my noble friend. I think he has done good service in bringing this question forward. I am with him in principle in holding that the Referendum sooner or later will have to be admitted into our Parliamentary system. But I am bound to add that there are some points which I have indicated in my noble friend's Bill which go so much further than I am prepared to go that I really should be reluctant as at present advise to go into the Lobby with him, because if I do so I shall be told that I am in favour of the use of the Referendum to an extent which I do not at all contemplate, and I should my myself open to some of the animadversions of the noble Viscount opposite. Therefore I hope my noble friend will forgive me or making the suggestion that the best thing which could happen for the cause of the Referendum, in which he and I are both alike interested would be that we should take a full and, I hope, a prolonged [...]oiscussion upon the Bill, but that, for the present at any rate, he should avoid asking us to say "Aye" or "No" the Second Reading of the Bill as it stands. I cannot help feeling that to him and all of us a few weeks' delay may not be with out advantage. The next few weeks will certainly be instructive to us, because after they have passed 693 we shall know a little more than we do at present of the Government's views as to House of Lords reform. When the Bill which I shall introduce comes up for consideration we shall make it our business to endeavour to probe their minds and to draw from them something a little more precise in regard to that part of the question than they have yet vouchsafed to the public. But that is not all we shall gain. The discussion on the Parliament Bill is about to proceed in the House of Commons, and my noble friend is no doubt aware that some of those who usually act with us intend to move Amendments with the object of grafting the Referendum at a particular point upon the provisions of that Bill. After a delay such as I have suggested we shall at any rate have more precise information derived from those two sources—what will happen in this House on the one hand and what will happen in the other House of Parliament on the other hand—and we shall be better able to judge than we are at present what is the best course to pursue with regard to the Bill of my noble friend. Meanwhile he has done a great service, for which we ought to be sincerely grateful to him, in bringing about a full discussion—and I trust it will be a very full and complete discussion—of this most important question.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (EARL CARRINGTON)
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, in his lightning tour in the provinces, made one remark which may, perhaps, have escaped the attention of some of your Lordships. He said that his great object was to try and bring this important subject before the notice of the man in the street. Well, in the few words in which T shall attempt to answer the speech of the noble Marquess—and I promise the House to be brief—I shall try, as well as I can, to lay before your Lordships the views of the man in the street who holds Liberal and Radical opinions, so far as I am able to understand him. If he had had an opportunity of attending the debate this evening, the first thing the Man in the street would say would be, "What an extraordinary impasse the House of Lords has got into on the present occasion" He would remember that it was about seven years ago that four distinguished members of this House separated themselves from their Party—Lord Gosehen, the Duke of Devonshire, 694 Lord Ritchie, and Lord Balfour of Burleigh. Three of those noble Lords, unfortunately, have passed away, but it is no small tribute to the courage of the survivor, Lord Balfour, when we see, not only that he has taken a leaf out of the book of Jean Jacques Rousseau, but also of my friend Mr. Philip Snowden, as well as my noble friend and relative, Lord Weardale. We see the noble Lord to-day actually at id practically leading the serried masses of the Opposition on the Second Reading of a Bill on the main principles of which, we are informed, on the highest authority, the great Conservative Party mean to concentrate, and, if possible, to fight as well. I might quote the words of the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, who on the First Reading of the Bill said—We take that [the Referendum] deliberately and finally as part of our plan and as our choice—the Referendum to the electorate rather than the House of Commons and Ns temporary majority. it is our permanent contribution, and from it we shall not, recede.Until the noble Marquess opposite sat down, we on this side of the House were under the impression that noble Lords opposite meant to divide—to assert the principle of the Bill. But we have had, as usual, if I may say so without offence, a sudden change, and we now find the noble Marquess somewhat in agreement with one of the great organs of the Conservative Party, the Morning Post, which stated last week that Lord Selborne would not be able to get Englishmen to fight on the Referendum.
The objects of this Bill have been explained to us, and I will not waste the time of your Lordships by recapitulating them. But I should like to call attention to a clause to which the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition seemed to take most serious and not unnatural objection. I refer to Clause 2. When a Bill is passed by both Houses of Parliament the man in the street supposes that, if His Majesty is graciously pleased to give the Royal Assent, that Bill becomes law at once. But, according to Clause 2 of this Bill, if 200 or even 150 Members of the House of Commons petitioned against a Bill which had passed through both Houses, that Bill could be submitted to the Parliamentary electors, and if there were a majority of two per cent. against it it could not he submitted for the Royal Assent. Until five minutes ago this we understood to be the Conservative faith, in which the Party hoped to find salvation, and with which at the next 695 General Election they hoped to sweep the country from one end to the other. But even on this point, up to this morning there did not seem to be absolute and entire agreement. May I again quote? It is from the Morning Post—The argument in favour of it [the Referendum] drawn from the limited experience of its working is of very little valve indeed.But we must not forget that, I think without exception, all the great pro-Consuls who have won fame in different parts of the Empire have declared themselves in favour of this policy. May I without offence respectfully suggest that some sort of arrangement had better be come to, for—and I speak with all submission—it would be as well if noble Lords opposite spoke to a certain extent with one voice.
§ EARL CARRINGTON
Some of the great pro-Consuls opposite have highly approved of this policy, and on the First Reading of this Bill attention was called to the fact that the Referendum had worked extremely well in Natal. I am not going to trouble the House by referring to the various places where the Referendum is said to be a success; but I may mention, in passing, that the population of Natal is exactly the same as that of the Scottish county of Inverness. We were told that in Natal there were not more than 7,000 voters, and I should like to contrast that with one of the metropolitan boroughs, that of Walthamstow, where three elections were contested last year at very considerable cost. Thirty thousand voters recorded their votes, and the majority in favour of the Liberal Government was very nearly 4,000 strong. But still, as a former Colonial Governor, I am not going altogether to say that the Referendum in some countries does not work extremely well. Norfolk Island, a dependency of New South Wales, of which I had the honour of being Governor twenty years ago, is a paradise on earth, if there is one. It is au emerald green island, with beautiful trees, in the middle of a lapis lazuli sea. The population are descendants of British sailors who have married beautiful Tahitian women. There seems to be a sort of primitive beauty about that place which I have never seen elsewhere, except in the first act of a play called "The Arcadians."
The men in Norfolk Island are great believers in the sanctity of the marriage state; but otherwise they hold everything 696 in common. It is a land of barter and exchange. The consequence is that there is no crime, for the simple reason that they have no money and no drink. I am far from saying that that is a state of things that would suit everybody; it might be styled rather a Rousseau's dream than a Scotsman's paradise. The Referendum works most admirably in that primitive community where every male over eighteen years of age not only has a vote but is a Member of Parliament. I will refer to one meeting of that Parliament. There is much grass in the place, and after luncheon we sat down. One of the elders introduced a Land Bill. It provided that instead of giving thirty acres to the islanders as a marriage gift twelve and a-half acres should be given. It was found necessary to propose this as the population was increasing, and, of course, the land was not. That measure' passed through all its stages, and being in favour of small holdings I at once put on my hat and gave the Royal Assent to that Bill. Up to the year 1896 that was the law of the land. But I do say that he would be a bold man who would argue that because the Referendum is a success in Norfolk Island, or in the Swiss Cantons, it would ipso facto be a success in England. The noble Marquess himself expressed great doubt on that subject. And although the noble Lord opposite, in his admirable speech in introducing the Bill, said, quoting a Swiss writer, M. Curti, that absolute peace and majestic calm prevailed over the whole of Switzerland during a Referendum, I have the doubt which was expressed by the noble Earl, Lord Crewe, on the First Reading of this Bill, whether peace would be so absolute or the calm so majestic were a Referendum on Home Rule announced in Belfast or Portadawn.
I should like the House to consider one question. Why should there be from the Conservative side this desperate attack on our representative system? The reason has been given this evening. The noble Lord opposite said that it was on account of our Parliament Bill. We have been told over and over again until people are beginning to believe it—and it has been repeated to-day—that the Parliament Bill means single-Chamber government. I am not going to say a wont about our Bill. We shall be perfectly ready and able to defend it when the time comes. But may I say, in passing, that if we wanted single-Chamber government we should have asked for it. What 697 we ask for is fair play. We ask for equality of treatment; that we should be treated exactly in the same way as noble Lords treat a Conservative majority. There are two reasons—two very good reasons—why we did not ask for single-Chamber government. The first is, and it is well known, that without exception every single member of the present Government is a bi-cameral man, is in favour of two Chambers. The second reason, and it is unanswerable, is that, even if we wished for a single Chamber, the country was absolutely tired to death of twenty years of single-Chamber government under the great Conservative Party; and if we had tried to bring in a Bill that really meant a single Chamber, we should have been washed by the wave of public opinion high and dry on to the seats of the scornful opposite, and the noble Marquess would have had for the next ten years a Government of all the talents in this House and in the Commons House of Parliament.
The real reason for these extraordinary proposals of noble Lords opposite is that we are now suffering from the inevitable reaction caused by your former too highhanded action towards the Liberal Party, and the strain which you have put on your great and almost omnipotent powers. You tied the broom to the masthead in 1906, 1907, and 1908, and attempted to sweep us from the sea and blow us out of the water. You succeeded in that. But in 1909 you went too far. You rejected our Budget, and discovered when it was too late that not only had von come into conflict with the Liberal Party as a party, but with the country, and for the first time the words were heard, Peers versus People. In 1909 you declared war upon us in the most proper and correct way, and the House of Lords sailed into action to demolish the Liberal Party like a very fine fleet of stately war vessels, but unfortunately you were armed with old-fashioned guns and culverins which had not been discharged for over 200 years. What was the result? On the very first broadside a great many of those guns exploded at the muzzle and in the breech and did more damage on board than against the enemy. You fought, as you always do, gallantly and well, but after a fortnight's fight you were defeated and had to sail away discomfited and disappear in the offing—whatever or wherever that may be—to refit and to take counsel for the future. Then after a sad inte[...]lude, to 698 which I need not refer, with a truce of God between the Parties, the Tory fleet reappeared ready and eager for the fight, which Mr. Balfour himself said could not be too long delayed. But it seems to me that you were fighting then under even worse circumstances. Acting on the advice of an ex-Liberal Admiralissimo, you took most of the heart out of your followers by telling them that if it came off as you wished this would be the very last time that they, as the present House of Lords, would go into action as a fighting unit, because the proposal was that two-thirds of their number had been supposed to be, though I do not for one moment, believe it, unable to perform their hereditary duties. Therefore, these fighting men—and you have got some splendid fighting material on your side of the House—were told that if they won the battle two-thirds of them would walk the plank and be thrown overboard. Well, that seems enough to take the heart out of any body of fighting men.
But you went further. On the eve of the battle Mr. Balfour announced at the Albert Hall his policy of the Referendum, of which a great leader of the Conservative Party—I won't mention his name because it sometimes makes bad blood—has said that if it was introduced as a buttress to the House of Lords it would end by destroying the House of Commons. Well, perhaps that is the object of some Conservatives. I have no idea whether it is true or not. Of course, I do not know anything about that. Mr. Balfour announced to his best fighting legions—the people who represented to him what the Swiss Guards were to Marie Antoinette—he announced to the men who were fighting for Tariff Reform and for Imperial Preference, which, of course, included the taxation of food—he announced to his best troops that their proposals would not be adopted until submitted to the Referendum. I was not present at the Albert Hall meeting, but a friend of mine who is a member of the House of Commons and who was returned by an enormous majority told me that when this unexpected announcement was made the huge audience sat absolutely silent and almost stupified, until some fuglemen, who had been cleverly placed in different parts of the hall, screamed out, "This has won the election." Well, that broke the spell. The vast audience then caught their wind; they cheered, again and again; and, as I believe the Tory Party always do when they are in a tight 699 place, they all joined hands and sang "Rule Britannia" over and over again. Next day the Tory papers were not all enthusiastic as to the wisdom of this great announcement, but said that after all it was the best thing that had ever been done, and that it was a master stroke and a counter stroke of genius on the part of the noble Marquess opposite and of Mr. Arthur Balfour.
But I would very respectfully submit that the body politic, like the human frame, can only bear a certain number of strokes, for at last you come to the end of the power of resistance; and in this instance that turned out to be true, because the last stroke was fatal. You were beaten again for the third time, and for the third time the Liberal Party came into office, and, what is much more important, into power as well. Is there really any reason for this gnashing of Tory teeth and vexation of Unionist spirit? We have been in opposition for twenty long years. We know the sorrows of it, but it is a thing that has to be faced, and, of course, every single one of my colleagues on this side makes all allowance for the grievous disappointment at the non-fulfilment of the most honourable and not unnatural hope of holding office during the Coronation year, and being able to take direction of the Imperial Conference. But the inevitable must be faced. The country has spoken with no uncertain voice and knows what it wants and why it wants it. The country is determined to restore the balance of the Constitution and to see fair play between the two Parties in the State. It is perfectly true, and we recognise it in the Preamble of the Parliament Bill, that the country is not absolutely satisfied with the state of the House of Lords as it at present exists, but there is not the smallest doubt that it has no intention at this stage to re-constitute your Lordships' House. What it intends to do is to put a limit on the absolute, omnipotent, irresponsible, and uncontrolled powers of your Lordships' House, which, I regret to say, have, perhaps not so very long ago, been strained beyond their utmost limits. In spite of all that has been said or may be said to the contrary the country knows that the State is safe and solvent in the hands of the Liberal Government, that we want to take no unfair advantage of the Party opposite because the sun happens to be at the present moment shining on our side of the hedge; and our brethren from the Britains beyond 700 the Seas who are hurrying home now to take part in the great commemoration of the Coronation of His Majesty King George V know that there is no fear of any dangerous Constitutional interference with the integrity of the. Empire or the welfare of the old Mother Country to which we all belong and which we love so well.
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE
My Lords, I came down to the House this afternoon with the idea of hearing a discussion on the Bill of Lord Balfour of Burleigh, and I am sure the noble Earl who has just spoken will not consider it an impertinence on my part if I do not follow his speech, which has ranged in such a diverting manner over so many subjects. I was one of those who supported the Referendum at the General Election, but since I have had time to study the proposal I am not quite so sure that. I am as much in love with it as I was. [Several NOBLE LORDS: Hear, hear.] Wait a moment, my Lords. I say I am not so much in love with it as I was a month or two ago. We have been attacked in a variety of ways for having introduced what is, perhaps, a new idea into the British Constitution. It has been described as a Tory dodge, and it has been said that we are really the disciples of Rousseau. I should like to remind those noble Lords who were so ready to cheer just now, that our patronage of Jean Jacques Rousseau synchronises with their own adoption for the first time of the principles of Bolingbroke and Beaconsfield. I do not know that I have enjoyed anything so much as listening to the speech of the noble Viscount opposite, a speech full of the noblest and finest Tory sentiments, and in itself a splendid vindication of that very Constitution that he and his friends are about to destroy as soon as they get a reasonable opportunity.
I welcome the introduction of this Bill because it will give us an opportunity of discussing the question of the Referendum, and I am very much obliged to the noble Marquess who leads this side of the House for expressing the hope that there will be a full discussion, and that we shall not come to any conclusion in the hurried spirit which was rather displayed on the hustings. No doubt the idea of the Referendum is exceedingly fascinating. Lord Balfour of Burleigh says that the object of government is that the will of the people should prevail. 701 All you have to do is to appeal to the people in their millions; you get the vote of the majority, and, having done a simple sum in addition, you have then solved the problem. I am never quite sure what people mean when they talk of the "will of the people." It can, at best, only mean the will of the majority of the people, and I will frankly confess that I belong to a Party which in the past has always asserted—I believe noble Lords and the people themselves would agree—that the true object of government is the social welfare of the people, and that the means of obtaining that social welfare are not necessarily always expressed by a bare majority of the people at the moment.
I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Curzon, said in one of those splendid speeches which he made I think in 1909, that the best work in most States had been the work of aristocracy. In saying that we do not mean, and I am sure the noble Lord did not mean, aristocracy of Party, but aristocracy of brains, of talent, and of patriotism. And I think Sir. Erskine May reminds us with great force, with regard to Constitutional government, that all the best work has been the work of minorities, and that half the introductions into the State of new ideas based upon the health and the welfare of the people would probably have been defeated had they been left to the will of the majority for the time being. As Lord Balfour said just now, there is no doubt whatever that the idea of the Referendum is an exceedingly easy one to defend on the platform. A Scottish Member of Parliament put it to me not very long ago that he supported the Referendum on the platform because he believed it was the only way in which a Scottish Radical could be got to vote for the Tory Party. He was not very successful, however, in that at the last General Election.
I do not propose to weary your Lordships with a lecture or a long speech on the Referendum. I have endeavoured to study it to the best of my ability, and I find there are four kinds of Referendum. There is the Referendum for ascertaining the views of the electorate generally about any abstract proposition which has not yet been put into legislative form; the Referendum to defeat or to sanction Bills already passed by both Houses of Parliament; the Referendum to solve deadlocks 702 between the two Houses; and the Referendum by initiative. Under this Bill Lord Balfour of Burleigh proposes to adopt the Referendum for the solving of deadlocks and in the case of Bills on which both branches of the Legislature have already agreed. It is a considerable step to try and graft two Referenda straight away on to the Constitution. We have been told, not so much in this House this evening but in speeches in the country, that, after all, we need not be frightened, because the Referendum works well in other countries. I was glad to hear the noble Marquess support the opinion that analogies drawn from foreign countries are, to a considerable extent, fallacious in considering the Referendum in this country. In other countries where there is this principle of the Referendum there is a written Constitution which enables distinction between Constitutional and other questions. That applies in those countries where there is no Party system, as in Switzerland, where they revel in the luxury of having a permanent Radical majority in both Houses of Parliament, where the Referendum is of very ancient growth, and where direct legislation by the people is part and parcel of their system. Time does not permit me to say anything about the working of the Referendum in Australia or in America, except to refer, for the benefit of those who desire to favour the Referendum because of what it has done in America, to a rather remarkable sentence in Mr. Bryce's appreciation of the Referendum. He says—It is very much to be doubted whether the experience of practical working in America has yet been long enough to enable full and final judgment to be passed on its utility.As we have heard and read so much about Switzerland, I hope I shall not be wearying your Lordships if I say a word about the way in which the Referendum works there, and the manner in which people either support or oppose a particular measure at the Referendum, because I imagine that human nature is in some respects pretty much the same there as it would be in any other country. I am told that in Switzerland under the Referendum they have a very good system which has generally resulted in the passing of good laws. I do not doubt that for a moment. It would be a great insult to the Swiss Legislature to say they have done otherwise. Many of those who advocate the Referendum tell you that the Referendum is all 703 right because in Switzerland, where they have the Referendum, Conservative measures have generally been passed and violent and extreme measures have been rejected. That is a great recommendation, and there is no doubt that in Switzerland extreme Radicals, Freethinkers, Socialists, and those who indulge too much in an illegitimate manner both in the sale and consumption of schnapps and absinthe, have been defeated by the common sense of the Swiss people. But at the same time the ideas of the Swiss people with regard to the Referendum have not been nearly so Conservative as a great many people imagine, because in the Canton of Vaud an enterprising Radical started and carried, I think by the initiative Referendum, a system for the progressive taxation of capital of a very extreme kind, with the result that a great deal of capital was frightened out of the country and the Canton suffered accordingly. This particular instance is always quoted in Socialistic newspapers in this country, some of which are rather nibbling at the Referendum, as to what might happen at some future time if you once got the Referendum thoroughly grafted into the legislative system of this country.
There is another curious thing about the Referendum in S witzerland—namelv, the smallness of the number who go to record their votes. In the Canton of Berne only forty-three per cent. voted on a measure submitted to the Referendum, whereas sixty-three per cent. voted at elections to the Legislature. In the Canton of Zurich a great many people vote at the Referendum, but that is accounted for by the fact that an elector is there fined if he does not record his vote. One legislator said that not only should the people who did not vote be fined, but that those who voted should be paid for having done so—I think a franc. The result has been that a lot of people who would rather not pay the two francs or whatever the fine is for not voting at the Referendum, go into the voting room and drop a blank paper into the box. At the same time all the big measures covering a period of five years bad to be abandoned altogether, because a sufficient number of electors to make them into law could not be found. They declined to take a part in the Referendum. There is this other rather remarkable thing about the national Referendum, that generally less than sixty per cent. of those qualified vote. 704 This means that people who do not understand Bills do not go to vote upon them, or a good many ignorant people vote as they are instructed by the agitator. Though we are told that the Swiss people would not get rid of the Referendum if it were ever so, we cannot possibly get away from the remarkable statement made not very long ago by a leading Statesman in Switzerland, who probably knows more about Swiss politics than anybody else. M. Droz tells us that—The Referendum has given birth to a camarilla of politicans who exploit the credulity or passions of the populace in order to oppose measures which are perfectly legitimate.There is one other form of Referendum which has not been mentioned in Lord Balfour's Bill but which is often alluded to in general conversation. It is said that the Legislature should discover from the people themselves before a proposition is given legislative form whether they are in favour of it. A great many people say this sort of thing: Why not put National Service or Woman Suffrage to the Referendum, and thus find out whether there is a majority of people in favour of either of them? Personally I do not favour this kind of Referendum. In the first place, if the Referendum went against National Service, I, as a member of the National Service League, would work all the harder to get a majority, so that would not be likely to settle the matter. And if we know anything of those who take part in the agitation for votes for women, they would not be likely to give it up on account of the Referendum having gone against them. They would say that it was taken by people who understood nothing about the question—meaning the opposite sex—and they would not attach any value to the majority. But to my mind there is in this form of Referendum something worse than that. It is that this sort of Referendum is suggested very often by the very people who themselves ought to be leaders of public opinion, and a great many people suggest it in order that they may be saved the trouble of speaking out and leading their fellow citizens upon any important subject. I will quote M. Droz again. He says—Fear of Referendum makes timid legislators, who sometimes lack the courage to vote for what they believe to be the best for the country, or, having voted for it, to stand up for it before their fellow-citizens.I cannot discover from the speech of my noble friend exactly what kind of measure he proposes to put to the Referendum, but 705 he said that in trying: to separate these matters a serious and formidable difficulty is encountered. The noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition said, with great truth, that most electors would have a good rough-and-read y notion whether they approved a particular Bill or not. I have no doubt that is so, and that in process of time you may educate the people of this country to become judges of Bills, but at present that is not the way in which they expect to have their legislation carried on. A number of the electors in this country have never seen a Bill, and many of the people in the place where I live would not see a Bill submitted to the country under the Referendum because to do so they would have to walk twelve miles to the office of the Clerk of the Peace, where suppose would be lodged the only available copy.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
The object of that proposal is to provide a definite and concise form from which organs of public opinion can quote for the information of the people. It is not necessary for every one to inspect the precise form in which the Bill is put before the people, but a copy is to be deposited in the office of the Clerk of the Peace for inspection.
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE
The reason I lay some slight stress on this point is that in Switzerland the Legislature sends round a copy of the Bill to every single elector, so that they are quite sure he will have some chance of being able to form an opinion upon it. The Referendum if introduced into this country may be all right in order to settle questions which cannot be settled in any other way. If we could get some guarantee that it would only be used on very important occasions, I for one would support the Referendum in that respect; but there must be the most careful safeguards and guarantees that it is not going to be allowed to creep into and permeate the whole of our political system, in the way it has done in the political systems of other countries where it has been adopted. Many people compare Switzerland and England without having the slightest idea of the extraordinarily marked difference between the whole thought and tendency of the two peoples. In Switzerland there is Ito personal element whatever in the elections. In the year 1884 the people themselves voted down 706 the four most important Bills that had been passed in the session of the Swiss Council, yet in spite of that they returned the same members to office. That is not the way in which the people of this country have been accustomed to manage their affairs. They vote—as I think the noble Lord reminded us on one occasion—not for one measure or another, but in turn for one set of men or for another. That is a habit which I believe it will be very difficult to uproot. For once one feels inclined to agree with an able writer in the Clarion, who says—It is the business of real Statesmen to lead, not to follow, the people… The bulk of the English people are not politicians. They like to choose rulers and let them rule.And so long as rulers do not produce anything organic or anything extreme, the people of this country are willing to allow them to dictate the general tenor of the measures which they produce. But we have to pay the penalty of this form of representative government in this country. We are paying the penalty at this very moment by having a Government in office who cart only keep their various groups together by proposing an organic and extreme method of dealing with the Constitutional problem.
The Tory mind I should have thought might be allowed to object to the Referendum as much as ever it liked, but I cannot understand the mind of noble Lords opposite and their friends in really objecting to the Referendum. The first thing that I should have thought they would have welcomed it for is that it concedes something to the idea which they approve but of which. I disapprove, that plural voting should be given up. That is what our friends opposite are always so anxious to see consummated. The principle of plural voting will, to a great extent, be destroyed by the Referendum. I have been brought up to think, and always shall think, that plural voting is a perfectly sound and desirable thing in this country. I shall be sorry to see any Bill passed into law which gives colour to the idea that we have abandoned tie principle of plural voting. Radical speakers are never tired of talking about the voice of the people, but it seems that they will do anything in the world except go to the people and consult them about any specific measure they happen to have on their programme. The Prime Minister said at Bury St. 707 Edmunds in December that he did not want the Referendum at all as it was only mutilating the functions of Parliament, but he proclaimed, amid loud cheers, that if anybody wanted the Referendum he could not have a better Referendum than the one they were having then at the General Election. The electors of Bury St. Edmunds took him at his word and returned a Conservative Member. But that is neither here nor there.
The Prime Minister claimed the last General Election as a specific Referendum upon the House of Lords question and upon nothing else, but since then the same Referendum has had to do duty for several other things. If the will of the people was expressed at the last General Election in favour of Home Rule and the Disestablishment of the Church in Wales as well as upon the House of Lords question, I cannot see what objection the Prime Minister and his friends can possibly have to placing these measures before the people themselves for a direct vote. I agree with the theory which the noble Viscount has always put forward in this House, that there is not at any General Election a specific mandate for any particular measure. But, however that may be, we say that there is no mandate whatever residing in the present Parliament for the destruction of the Constitution by straining the Royal Prerogative in the way proposed. I confess frankly that I view with great suspicion 708 the introduction of the principle of the. Referendum into the politics of this country, but I would sooner—and I think the country would far sooner—see any single issue put to the Referendum than that the far more drastic and revolutionary proposals of the Government should be adopted. If I interpret the noble Marquess rightly, we are contending for the principle that the people shall not have things thrust upon them on which they have not in reality been consulted, and that is a principle which we do not intend to abandon. I cannot see that it is such a fantastic notion either. The project in the Parliament Bill is a great deal more fantastic, and, as I say, a great deal more revolutionary. The noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture said that if the Government had wanted single-Chamber government they would have asked for it. I do not believe that they dare go to the country and ask for single-Chamber government. But they are doing something which is infinitely more discreditable—I use the word in a political and not in an offensive sense—in that they are trying to pass what is in effect single-Chamber government under the guise of preserving the double-Chamber system.
§ On Question, further debate adjourned till To-morrow, and to be taken first.
§ House adjourned at Eight o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter before Four o'clock."