§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE rose to move—
§ "That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying His Majesty that, with a view to the Reform of the present Constitution of the House of Lords, His Majesty would be graciously pleased to consent to a Bill being introduced limiting the Prerogative and Powers of the Crown in so far as they relate to the creation of Peerages and to the issue of Writs of Summons to Lords Spiritual and Temporal to attend and sit and vote in the House of Lords."764
§ The noble Marquess said: My Lords, in order to induce the House to accept this Motion it is, I think, necessary that I should establish two propositions. The first is that the Bill which we intend to lay upon the Table of this House is a Bill which affects the Royal Prerogative. The second proposition is that it is right and proper in dealing with a Bill of that description that the assent of the Crown should be obtained before its introduction. With regard to the first proposition, I do not think that it will be necessary for me to occupy much of your Lordships' time. It must be obvious to all of those who have watched the Constitutional controversy which has lately been proceeding that any Bill dealing with the reconstitution of this House would be certain to affect the Royal Prerogative. It is a common feature in all schemes of House of Lords reform, certainly in the schemes which have been put forward by our supporters, and I think, even in those. I will hardly say schemes, but suggestions of which we have been sometimes allowed to catch an elusive glimpse, propounded by His Majesty's Government—it is common to all those suggestions that a reformed House of Lords must also be a House of Lords very much reduced in numbers If that be so it follows at once that there must be at that point a limitation of the Royal Prerogative. For example, no matter to what figure the reconstituted House might be reduced, it would follow that there must be a certain number of Peers who are at present entitled to receive writs of summons to sit and vote in this House who would no longer be entitled to receive them. It would follow also that any fresh Peerages created by the Sovereign would have to be created upon the condition that the mere possession of a Peerage did not carry with it the right to sit and vote in this House.
§ But that is not the only point at which our Bill will touch the Royal Prerogative. I think your Lordships will not differ from me when I say that there is room for almost infinite variety in the treatment of this problem of House of Lords reform; but those who have watched the discussions will not differ from me when I say that there are certain features which every one will expect to find in the kind of Bill which we shall introduce. I think every one will expect to find in our Bill a proposal that the new House shall contain an element consisting of Peers possessing a certain quail- 765 fication, and chosen by your Lordships from amongst the members of this House. I think most people will also expect to find that the reconstituted House ought, in our view, to contain a nominated element. Besides that, I think they will be prepared to find that there will under our proposals be an element elected from outside the House, through machinery which will be in direct relation with popular opinion We believe that the House can be reconstituted upon the kind of lines which I have indicated in such a manner as to produce a highly efficient; Second Chamber, and also a Second Chamber in which political parties will be much more evenly balanced than they are at present, a condition which I believe is regarded as indispensable by all House of Lords reformers. But, my Lords, it is surely obvious that no useful purpose could he served by establishing a balance of this kind if it were to remain possible for the Crown, on the advice of the Ministers of the day, deliberately to upset that balance by a large additional creation of Peers, and I therefore submit that at that point also it will be necessary for us to make proposals which will undoubtedly have the effect of restricting the exercise of the Royal Prerogative. I have said enough I think to show the House that at certain points it is inevitable that our Bill will involve some interference with the Royal Prerogative.
I now pass to the other question, whether it is necessary in dealing with a Bill of that kind that the assent of the Sovereign should be received before the Bill is introduced into your Lordships' House. As to this we have naturally done what we could to satisfy ourselves in regard to the precedents which have a bearing on the case under examination, and I will with the permission of the House refer very briefly to one or two of them I find in the first place the precedent which was created as long ago as the year 1719 in the reign of George I when a Bill dealing with the question of the Peerage was introduced by the Sunderland Ministry. The motive with which that Bill was introduced was not so much to interfere with the right of the then Sovereign to create Peers, but to render it impossible for his successor by the creation of Peerages to overwhelm the Whig majority which was then to be found in this House. The introduction of that Bill was preceded by an Address to the Crown. The King gave his consent, and intimated that—
he has so much at heart the settling the Peerage of the whole Kingdom upon such a foundation as may secure the freedom and constitution of Parliament in all future ages that he is willing that his Prerogative stand not in the way of so great and necessary a work.
Your Lordships' House then passed the Bill, but it was rejected in the House of Commons.
§ I proceed to cite another case that occurred at a much later date, the case of the Bill of 1844 dealing with the dioceses of St. Asaph and Bangor. The introduction of that Bill, which undoubtedly affected the Prerogative of the Crown, was not preceded by any Address. The Bill passed its Second Reading in this House, and it was only on the Third Reading that the Duke of Wellington pointed out that the Prerogative of the Crown was involved, and said that the King would not be advised to give his consent to the Bill. There was an interesting discussion, in the course of which the Lord Chancellor (Lord Lyndhurst) expressed a doubt whether he ought to put the Bill to the House, and suggested the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the question. In the discussion which followed Lord Cottenham and Lord Campbell laid it down that questions involving the interests of the Crown could not be even debated without the consent of the Sovereign. A Committee was appointed, and reported that the consent of the Crown was certainly necessary, although it might be given at various stages. Eventually the Bill was withdrawn.
§ The next case which I have to mention is that of the Irish Peerage Bill of 1868 A Bill was introduced in the House of Commons in that year by Sir Colman O' Loghlen dealing with the Irish Peerage, and in that case, as in the former one which I mentioned, no previous Address was moved to the Crown. On the Second Reading Mr. Gathorne-Hardy for the then Government refused to advise the Crown to consent and Speaker Denison ruled that the Bill could not pass the Third Reading until the Royal consent had been obtained. The Bill was thereupon withdrawn. The precedents up to this point, while they show that the concurrence of the Crown is essential in the case of Bills dealing with the Royal Prerogative, certainly seem to suggest that that consent may be obtained, not necessarily before the introduction of a Bill, but at any stage in its progress through the two Houses of Parliament.767
I now come to a later and a much more important precedent, and one which I think your Lordships will regard as bearing very materially upon the matter which we are now discussing. It arose in connection with Mr. Gladstone's proposed legislation in the year 1868 for the Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland. In the month of May of that year Mr. Gladstone moved three Resolutions. The first declared that the Established Church should cease to exist in Ireland, the second that it was expedient that the exercise of public patronage in relation to the Established Church of Ireland should cease, and the third ran thus—
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty humbly to pray that with a view to preventing by legislation during the present session the creation of new personal interests through the exercise of any public patronage Her Majesty would be graciously pleased to place at the disposal of Parliament her interest in the temporalities of the Archbishoprics, Bishoprics, and other ecclesiastical dignities and benefices in Ireland and in the custody thereof.
In moving his Resolutions Mr. Gladstone, who at that time was still in Opposition, dwelt particularly on his desire that the most careful regard should be had to regularity in dealing with these matters. He used these words—
I am aware that, according to the rules of the house of Commons, it would be competent to a member to introduce into the House, with leave from the House, a Bill which might affect the rights of the Crown without the previous assent of the Crown having been obtained. Such things have been done on certain occasions by a Government when it has happened, from the smallness of the subject matter or from inadvertence, that notice has not been taken of the fact previous to the introduction of the Bill." And again, Mr. Gladstone said, "Bills of that nature have been introduced by individuals not belonging to the Government even when they were Bills to which the Government did not assent and have been passed through certain of their stages without the giving of that assent on the part of the Crown.
He went on, however, to say that—
In this instance the case is different. The interest of the Crown in this case is not merely a proprietary interest, but one of wide and far-reaching import. And also this is a Bill which, although it is not proposed by the Government, would be, I may say, proposed on behalf of a very large proportion of the members of this House acting together generally in its support. That being so, I have felt that it was my duty not to claim the entire liberty which the House has accorded to its members, but to ask the House to present an Address requesting the assent of the Crown and allowing us to deliberate upon this subject before any Motion be made in the House for the introduction of the Bill.
That statement of Mr. Gladstone's seems to us to sum up with admirable clearness what ought to be regarded as the law and practice of Parliament in dealing with these Bills in which the Royal Prerogative is concerned. Mr. Gladstone having made that statement, Mr. Disraeli, for the Government, intimated that—
when these Resolutions have been properly passed, they will be dealt with after clue consideration by the Government, and Her Majesty will be properly advised with respect to them.
The Queen's consent was subsequently intimated, and the Bill dealing with the temporalities of the Irish Church, and known as the Suspensory Bill, was passed by the House of Commons It was, your Lordships will remember, rejected in this House.
I will only refer to one other case, a more recent one, which also deals with the question of the Peerage. I find that in the year 1875 Lord Stanhope, in order to prepare the way for a Bill dealing with the Irish Peerage which he intended to bring in, moved a humble Address to the Crown begging Her Majesty to renounce her undoubted prerogative of creating Irish Peers The form of the Motion was objected to by Lord Cairns, and the wording of it was subsequently amended so as to make it run thus—
An Address praying Her Majesty that the power conferred on her under the Act of Union for the creation of Irish Peers may not stand in the way of the consideration by Parliament of any measure relating thereto that may be introduced.
To that Address a reply from the Crown was received in which it was stated that Her Majesty did not desire that the powers reserved to her by the Act of Union should stand in the way of the consideration by Parliament of any measure that might be introduced on the subject. I cite this case because it is the most recent and because it appears to show that at that time this was considered the proper and usual mode of dealing with a Bill affecting the Prerogative of the Crown.
§ May I sum up in half a dozen words the conclusions which these precedents suggest to us? They seem to us to suggest that it is certainly a breach of the law of Parliament to pass through either House a Bill affecting the Prerogative of the Crown without the assent of the Crown. I do not 769 think any one will dispute that. We also conclude from these precedents that, although this assent may be signified at any stage, it is the proper course to obtain it before the introduction of the Bill. But we draw this further conclusion in reference to cases where the Bill is introduced, or is sought to be introduced, not by the Government, but by the Opposition The case of the introduction of such a Bill by the Opposition is clearly a different case from the introduction of a similar Bill by the Government, because it is perfectly fair to assume that if the Government makes itself responsible for the Bill it can at any moment count upon the assent of the Crown. That, of course, is not true when the Bill is moved from the Opposition side of the House, and it certainly does not seem fair and reasonable that, in such a case, a Bill should not only be introduced, but, perhaps, carried through several stages and laboriously debated under conditions which would expose the movers of the Bill to find themselves estopped by the Government, who would only have to signify, at whatever moment might seem fit to them, that the Royal Assent was riot likely to be forthcoming.
§ We therefore draw the conclusion that if a Bill affecting the Royal Prerogative is brought forward by the Opposition it is indispensable that the Royal Assent should be signified before the Bill has been actually introduced, and, my Lords, that is the course which we propose, with the permission of the House, to adopt this evening. I venture to express my hope that that course will meet with the approval of both sides of the House, and that it will be regarded as a course consistent with the respect which is due to the Crown, in accordance with the best traditions of Parliament, and certainly as the course which would be for the general convenience of your Lordships' House. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying His Majesty that, with a view to the Reform of the present Constitution of the House of Lords, His Majesty would be graciously pleased to consent to a Bill being introduced limiting the Prerogative and Powers of the Crown in so far as they relate to the creation of Peerages and to the issue of Writs of Summons to Lords Spiritual and Temporal to attend and sit and vote in the 770 House of Lords,—(The Marquess of Lansdowne.)
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN)
My Lords, the noble Marquess advanced two propositions as justifying the Motion which has now been presented to your Lordships The first of those propositions was founded upon this—that it was a matter of common knowledge that, in the measure which the noble Marquess proposes to introduce by and by, there will be proposals impinging on or impairing if you like, the prerogatives and powers of the Crown. The noble Marquess used a curious expression as to us who sit on this side, as to His Majesty's Government. He said even we, from the elusive glimpses that your Lordships have been able to obtain of what we want will probably have some proposals that would touch the Prerogative of the Crown. "Elusive glimpses" struck me as a very curious phrase considering the observations the noble Marquess himself made and the short hints he gave us of what will be the Bill which we have waited for so long, which we shall welcome, and which we shall expect with so much interest. "Elusive glimpses!" It is a matter of common knowledge that the Referendum has been part—
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I am very reluctant to interrupt the noble Viscount, but he will remember that in that part of my observations I was dealing with proposals to reduce the number of the House. I said that that proposal was common to schemes which had been proposed on this side, and that I believed that any scheme which had been suggested on the other side also contemplated a reduction in the numbers of the House. That was my argument.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN
I do not deny that for a moment, and I do not wish to press the point; but the phrase "elusive glimpses" caught my ear, because it is a matter of common knowledge that for a considerable time the Referendum found favour with the party opposite. Important statesmen sitting on that Bench have been advocating Referendum in the country, and yet Referendum, the moment it ceases, to be an elusive glimpse and takes the more useful shape 771 of a Bill, vanishes and proves to be an elusive glimpse indeed.
I pass to the more serious second proposition of the noble Marquess. He said a few days ago, when he first mentioned this Motion, that the time was short for proceeding with it to-day. I make no complaint of that. The time has been rather short, but we, like the noble Marquess himself, have made the best use of that time. Our collection of precedents, and our reading of them, does not, I think, vary very much, if at all, from the reading of the noble Marquess. I was glad to note at the end of his remarks that the noble Marquess drew a difference, which is no doubt of great importance, between Motions made in reference to Bills moved by Ministers of the Crown and those moved either by private members, as I think Lord Stanhope was at that time, or by members of the official Opposition. There are one or two precedents which, perhaps, the House will allow me to add to the list of the noble Marquess. In 1833 a famous Bill which the noble Marquess has often heard of, I am sure, was mentioned in the King's Speech—a measure dealing with the Church temporalities in Ireland. The King's Assent to the financial proposals in that Bill was not signified until the House went into Committee. On that famous occasion objection was taken on the Second Reading that the King had not formally placed his interest at the disposal of Parliament, and a communication to that effect was afterwards made in order to meet the view which the noble Marquess is now pressing.
Then there was the case of the St. Asaph and Bangor Bishopric. The noble Marquess described that, so far as I can judge, with perfect accuracy, but he did not mention that the Committee which this House appointed to search the precedents made a report and that report came to this: That no effective and guiding precedents could be found. Those proceedings are all to be found on page 449 of Sir Erskine May. Here is a smaller affair which the noble Marquess omitted, justifiably enough. In 1866 there was a Second Reading of a small Bill called the Blackwater Bridge Bill. The point was raised that the Crown's interest in sonic of the proprietary rights would be affected if that Bill became law. The point was pressed that the 772 Queen's Assent to the passage of the Bill had not been signified, and the result was that the Speaker declined to put the question. That, again, is more or less on the noble Marquess's side. On Sir Colman O'Loghlen's Peerages (Ireland) Bill, which was withdrawn on Second Reading, it was intimated that Her Majesty's consent had not been given.
With the noble Marquess's account of the transactions in the Irish Church case of Mr. Gladstone, the details of which are so well known to many noble Lords now sitting in this House, I have nothing to quarrel with. I should not have expected to have any reason to quarrel with his version of a transaction so well known and so familiar. But I would point out this difference between the Address moved by Mr. Gladstone and the Motion of the noble Marquess. What Mr. Gladstone wanted was that during the interval between the Resolution and the passage of the Bill which he hoped to bring in and get through Parliament no new and fresh interests in the Church of Ireland should be created. He aimed there at a perfectly definite, substantial, practical, and actual object. The noble Marquess's Motion is different in character from that. I am not complaining of it on that account. I am only remarking on it as we are considering the Constitutional question. His Motion does not concern material practical interests of the kind that were dealt with in Mr. Gladstone's Resolution. It is a considerable difference, and the time may come some day or another when it may be a difference with real substance in it. I will not dwell on the point whether it is or is not necessary, or more comformable to such precedents as we can find, that this Assent of the Sovereign should be procured and intimated before the introduction of the Bill, or at some later stage. So far as I can make out, the precedents show that what was said by Lord Cottenham and Lord Campbell was that it was immaterial at what stage the Assent of the Crown was given to a Bill. The only necessity, I gather, was that it should be gained before the Bill was submitted to the Sovereign for assent.
It is not necessary, however, to-night for me to express any opinion as to the Constitutional question—whether it is or is not necessary to procure the Assent of 773 the Crown before the introduction of the Bill. I am not disposed to ask whether it might not have been more convenient to have postponed this Address which the noble Marquess has moved to a later stage of the Bill, which we have not yet seen and of which we have had only glimpses, elusive or otherwise. I think it would have been more convenient, but it is not a point worth quarrelling about. I will only say quite frankly that the course which the noble Marquess has thought it his duty to take seems to us to be a justifiable course.
The Government have no desire whatever to place any technical difficulty or formality—if formality it be—in the way of the introduction and discussion in this House of the Bill which the noble Marquess promises. We shall offer our advice to the Sovereign to assent to the prayer of the noble Marquess's Address. Of course, the noble Marquess was justified in referring to legislative projects of his own. Perhaps I may be permitted to add that it will be distinctly recognised that this assent to the proposal of the noble Marquess does not pledge us, the Government, in any way as to the future advice that it might be our duty to offer to the Sovereign whenever the proper time comes for our advice to be sought or given. We are neither expressing nor even intimating any opinion as to that advice. We reserve complete freedom of action. I will only say that, whatever discussion may take place in your Lordships' House on any proposals for altering the constitution of this House, or for affecting the constitution of the House of Lords, or for affecting the prerogatives and power of the Crown—the Government in assenting to that have no intention whatever of being parties to any postponement of their own proposals embodied in the Parliament Bill.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
My Lords, I hoped rather than expected that the answer of the noble Viscount to the Motion of the noble Marquess would have been somewhat (Efferent. I should have been glad had the noble Viscount seen his way to refuse the concurrence of the Government to the proposition of the noble Marquess. For I have always been stoutly opposed, and shall always be stoutly opposed, to a great proposition for Constitutional reform emanating from any 774 private member, however distinguished he may be, or, indeed, from any source except that of the Government itself. What is the use of bringing forward a measure which you know that by no possibility can you carry into law? It may have strategical advantages—of those I am no judge. But I believe it to be a great mistake to launch a scheme of this kind. however perfect it may be, which you cannot carry into effect until you are seated on the Government Benches, and which, therefore, is only in the nature of an air-balloon floating perhaps front this House, but which certainly will come to the usual aeronautical catastrophe in the other, and which will therefore remain only as a pledge of your ideas and a your intentions, which were, I think, amply set forth during the debates on the Resolutions of this House last year. I submit this further inconvenience, that this scheme cannot satisfy everybody, however perfect it may be. As a matter of fact, it is not likely to satisfy many. A scheme for a reform of the House of Lords—a task of such enormous difficulty and complexity—should not, I humbly submit, be put forward except by a Government endowed with a majority and with the authority of Government and supported by a loyal majority and so able to carry its plan, whatever its imperfections may be, into effect.
For that reason, my Lords, I do not welcome, although I am a Referendum man in a limited sense, the effort of my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh, in the private position which he holds, to introduce a measure dealing with that enormous question. Laudable as that effort was, I do not think upon the whole the result can altogether have been reassuring to others who are preparing great schemes of Constitutional reform and who occupy private positions in this House. So much I am bound to say. I have said it often enough in speeches on House of Lords reform already. Nothing has occurred to change my views. But I feel bound to state them at this early stage of the proceedings. I should add also that I do not think that the precedents set out by my noble friend quite supported his contention that it was a necessary precedent to the Bill to move this Address. The only one, I think, which is absolutely on all fours with his proposal is that of my uncle, Lord Stanhope, whom I well remember 775 introducing the Bill in question. He was a private member, but he was proposing a Constitutional measure of a much more limited scope than that which is adumbrated by the noble Marquess. Even the one of Mr. Gladstone with regard to the Suspensory Bill, which I am old enough to have voted for in this House, is not, I think, on all fours with the course which the noble Marquess proposes to adopt, because in the case of Mr. Gladstone it was not a matter of prerogative, but a matter of patronage, and there is a broad distinction between the two. Mr. Gladstone wanted to nip the Irish Church in the bud the very moment that he was moving his Resolutions. He was naturally anxious that no further interests should be created which would prejudice the reform when it came before the House in detailed form.
I do not quarrel with all that, and I do not honestly see what particular advantage is gained by the Address put forward at this particular juncture; but I am very grateful to my noble friend for bringing it forward because he used a phrase which goes further and deeper than the Address which he is moving to-night, when he spoke of the elusive glimpse which he, and so far as I know he alone, has been able to obtain of the scheme of His Majesty's Government in this matter. That is really the vital point. What my noble friend may produce, however powerfully it may be supported in this part of the Souse, can have no permanent bearing or effect on the question. What we have a right to ask—and I do not suppose for one moment we shall get an answer—is, when the scheme which has been adumbrated in the Preamble of the Parliament Bill is likely to be laid before Parliament. That is the vital matter; that is the crux of the whole problem. I welcome to-night the ample and genial presence of my friend the noble Viscount opposite (Lord Haldane)—the last of the long line of Viscounts with which His Majesty's Government have enriched this House—who, I know, is an ardent supporter of the Preamble, or so I gather from his speech in the House of Commons; I welcome him here, and I hope that in some moment of new-born confidence, on finding himself in this fresh atmosphere, he may see fit to impart all that he knows or has any authority to impart on that subject.
I have listened very attentively and with great interest during the last two nights to 776 the debate raised by Lord Balfour. But there was a certain unreality about it. We are in the midst of a Constitutional crisis, the most serious in my humble judgment, and as my noble friend the President of the Council justly said, with which any of us can have been face to face; the most serious, perhaps, which has occurred in this country since the great contest which ended in the fall of the Monarchy and the rise of the Protectorate. I am not exaggerating. People outside may not see—and I am astonished that they do not see—the gravity of the change which is taking place—the revolution which His Majesty's Government are endeavouring to bring about. The papers are filled with the details of the Coronation, with football matches, with contests at golf, and a few race meetings perhaps—and perhaps they are not the worst part of the newspapers—but I see hardly a word in those massive publications which indicates the slightest interest on the part of this nation, which is so deeply affected, and likely to be so much more affected in the future, in the great transformation, the great revolution which is proceeding under their eyes at this moment. I am not one of those who say that' a mere change in the Constitution of the House of Lords would be in any shape a revolution. I think it would more likely be a beneficent reform. But I do say that the course pursued by the Government is nothing less than a course of revolution, because it is an attempt to change the whole of the relations between the two Houses, to obliterate this House as it is now sitting, and to substitute nothing whatever in its place.
Was there ever in the civilised world such a state of things as exists in this country now, when the Government are proposing to sweep away—as they can sweep away by their power—a House of coeval antiquity or greater antiquity than the House of Commons, and to substitute nothing—not the slightest check, not the slightest control over the proceedings of that House? My noble friend opposite told us the other day of the representatives of all parts of the Empire being summoned to the Imperial Conference. I forget what inference he drew from it. The inference which I draw is that our fellow-citizens in the Britains beyond the seas are likely to depart from this country with their respect for its institutions, its Party system, and its Government sensibly diminished by what they will have seen—a Government which has endowed 777 every one of the Dominions with a bicameral Constitution, in the act of obliterating that bicameral system at home, so that where there were formerly two Chambers to whose assent every law had to be submitted, there will be one Chamber, whose assent alone will be required, and by the side of it a sheet of paper on which the Government can write whatever they choose—a sheet of paper in the shape of a preamble which promises something which so far as we know you are not prepared to perform. I am not accusing my noble friends opposite of bad faith, but I am perfectly certain that they are supported, or rather propelled, by a triumvirate majority in the House of Commons, who will not allow them, even if they wished to carry these promises into effect. So that, what our fellow subjects from the outer Britains will see is a single Chamber, a potent House of Commons, and by its side an I O U, a post obit, which probably you do not intend to honour.
This, after all, is the crux of the matter. Are you going to attempt simply a one-sided revolution, or are you going to attempt to settle this great question by the co-operation of all the great Parties in the State? The one is a statesmanlike course; the other is a partisan course. I know very well—it was constantly boasted of in the discussion last night—that you have gained a considerable majority at the polls, and I quite admit that at both of the General Elections of last year there was condemnation of the hereditary Legislature as at present constituted. But do those verdicts go beyond that? Was there anything in either verdict which implied that the country, having had the issue fairly and deliberately laid before it, wished to be governed by single-Chamber government? My noble friend the Minister for Agriculture, who I do not think felt the gravity of the question so acutely as my friend the President of the Council did, with that boisterous good-humour which is one of the assets of the House, said that the country had determined at the last election to restore the balance of the Constitution. Heaven help the country if it thought that that was what it was doing! He said, moreover, that the country was determined not to reform your Lordships' House at the present time. Will the noble Earl explain whence he elicited that information? I confess that I read a great many speeches in the country at that time, and I saw nothing to confirm those statements. I have no reason to believe that the country 778 wishes to be governed by a single Chamber or would not be glad to see the House of Lords reformed. I have no opportunity of judging where my noble friend derived his impression or got his facts but I question them altogether. After all, the great advantage claimed—and justly claimed—by Lord Balfour for his Bill was that on a great Constitutional issue, when submitted to the country, you do obtain a clear unmistakable answer to a question with reference to a particular subject. A General Election is, after all, nothing but a confused. clamour of voices. No one can tell exactly on what question one constituency gives its verdict and on what question another decides in favour of a particular candidate, and my contention is that from these General Elections you have no right to infer—and I believe you would be wrong in inferring—that the country approves of the obliteration of the Second Chamber, as now constituted, without substituting anything for it.
My noble friend the President of the Council had the courage—I will not say the audacity, for he certainly had the right—to appeal to Burke as being more conversant with that author than any one else here, and having written the best book about him; but I confess I thought his quotation somewhat daring, because I think the impartial person who applied the term "rashness" to the man who interfered, with the works of a watch without knowing how to put them together again would have applied that term rather to the noble Viscount and the Government of which he is a member than to any partial attempts on this side of the House. My noble friend perhaps will agree that I could find half a dozen passages in which Burke eulogises, with rapture never perhaps equalled, the blessings of our Constitution—King, Lords, and Commons, or King, Second Chamber, and Commons, if you like. It was his ideal. The noble Viscount will remember, and I dare say could repeat at this moment, that glorious passage of Burke in which he compares the Monarchy of England to the Castle of Windsor, surrounded by its double battlements of Lords and Commons, and in which he concludes his glowing eulogy by saying, "As long as these three forces are joined together no man need tremble for his liberty, his property, or his security. Once dissolve that bond and all security is gone." If my noble friend appeals to Burke, to 779 Burke he shall go, and I do not think he will find anything reassuring as regards his present course in the works of the greatest philosopher of that time.
I have asked a question, but I am afraid that I shall not get an answer from my noble friends opposite. Are they prepared to give us more than an elusive glimpse—any assurance at all with respect to the Second Chamber which they have solemnly pledged themselves through the mouth of the late King and by their own Preamble to their Bill to establish in lieu of the present Chamber? I venture to think that though they may not give an answer now, yet at a time that is not so remote as we may think they will he obliged to give an answer. I do not think so meanly of my countrymen as to believe that they will not insist on knowing what is the policy of the Government with regard to this vital matter. After all, every one of my noble friends opposite on that Bench knows as well as I do, knows as well as everybody in this House knows it—aye, as well as every thinking person outside this House knows it—that you cannot achieve a settlement of this question on these lines. You can achieve a Party triumph. You can avenge on this House the wrongs—real in many cases and sometimes fancied—you have received at its hands. Having done that by Party, you will only have done what is reversible by Party. When this Party come into power—as come they must, unless the pendulum has absolutely ceased to vibrate—when this Party come in will they not make it their first task to uproot that which you have rashly planted in the rocks by the wayside, without root, without hold upon the ground?
My Lords, I have been allied by personal friendship for many years with almost all the leaders of this Government. I hope that they will not allow their names to be associated with—they will not set their seal to—a policy of this kind. I appeal directly to my friend the noble Viscount opposite. He bears a famous name, an honoured name, a respected name. Will he let it go down to posterity allied with a one-sided, fanatical, and partisan settlement like this? I appeal to my right hon. friend at the head of the Government, who has to settle with history and posterity the great claims his intellect gives him to be a conspicuous figure in the history of this 780 country. How will they stand when their names are at last produced before that great tribunal from whose verdict there can be no appeal if they have conspired with hot-headed fanatics to lay hands on this immemorial Constitution, rashly awl recklessly, without having done anything to build, but only to destroy?
§ On Question, Motion agreed to: Ordered, That the said Address be presented to His Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.