HL Deb 08 May 1911 vol 8 cc215-42

*THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE rose to present a Bill to amend the constitution of the House of Lords. The noble Marquess said: My Lords, I have once again to apologise to your Lordships for the delay which has taken place in the presentation of this Bill, and I feel sure that your Lordships will have given me, and will give me to-night, the indulgence which I ask at your hands. Before I endeavour to explain to the House the provisions of this Bill, I think I ought to say a few words to account for the fact that we are producing a Bill at all. For I am certainly disposed to say that while it is, as a general rule, the duty of the Opposition to criticise the proposals of His Majesty's Government, and perhaps to put forward in outline a policy of their own, they are not called upon, in ordinary circumstances, to offer alternative legislation of their own. The reasons are easy to state. The Opposition has not the same facilities for preparing an intricate and comprehensive Bill as have the Government. They know, they may rest pretty well assured, that their Bill is not very likely to become law; and, besides that, there are prudential considerations of a very obvious kind which render the Opposition reluctant to offer, in the shape of a full measure, with its sections, subsections and schedules, a target to the criticism of their political opponents. Therefore I should be much inclined to hold with what was said by my noble friend Lord Rosebery a few weeks ago, when he told us that in his view, particularly when the question was one of constitutional change, it was for the Government and not for the Opposition to take the initiative.

But, my Lords, this is not by any mears an ordinary case. The situation which confronts us is a most extraordinary situation—a situation created by the conduct of His Majesty's Government in dealing with this great constitutional question. His Majesty's Government have, from the first, admitted that a measure of House of Lords reform was necessary and desirable. Their whole case arises from their complaint that this House, because it has not been reformed, has obstructed the action of the House of Commons and has been an insurmountable barrier, as they say, in the way of useful legislation. And in the Speech delivered from the Throne by his late Majesty last year they bracketed together as interdependent subjects the two questions of the reform of the constitution of this House and the amendment of the procedure to be followed between the two Houses incase of differences arising between them. But although they made this initial admission, they now persist in dealing separately with the two branches of the case. And in this they have, I will say, been consistent, for I think the House will recollect that as long ago as 1907, when the Bill of my noble friend Lord Newton was before the House, and when the late Lord Cawdor moved for the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the whole subject, the noble Earl the Leader of the House, whose absence we all so much regret, made use of these memorable words— It is inexpedient to proceed with the discussion— even with the discussion— of various proposals for reforming the constitution of this House until provision has been made for an effective method of settling the differences which may arise between this House and the other House of Parliament. And he even went the length of cautioning us against allowing ourselves to suppose that anything which the Committee could do, any recommendation which the Committee might make, could have the slightest effect upon the proposals of His Majesty's Government as to the relations between the two Houses. To that position, a thoroughly illogical position, as I venture to think, His Majesty's Government still adhere. They desire, we understand, that the two questions shall be separately treated. They hold that no change in the constitution of this House ought to be allowed to affect its relations with the House of Commons, and they are thereby led to the extraordinary conclusion that the House which they hive denounced on account of its constitution is to remain unreformed and with powers which are excessive if this House is as untrustworthy as noble Lords opposite would have us believe, and which are derisory if they are measured by the standard of the powers enjoyed by Second Chambers in any other civilized community in the world.

Our position is a wholly different one. We are convinced that no lasting settlement, no balanced reform of the Constitution, is possible except with a reconstituted Second Chamber; and we hold that the amendment of the constitution of this House should proceed as far as possible pari passu with a reform of the relations between the two Houses. Indeed, I should almost venture to go further and to say that, if one of those questions is entitled to priority over the other, the reform of this House should come first, because, surely, it is impossible to decide what sort of powers, what sort of authority you shall give to any Assembly, until you have some idea, at all events, of the manner in which that Assembly is going to be composed. We hold, further, that if there should be any interval between the treatment of the two branches of the subject, that interval should be as short as possible, and that, while it lasts, and while the Constitutional machinery is, so to speak, out of gear, the country should be amply safeguarded against the passage of any reckless or ill-considered legislation. It was considerations of this kind that led an overwhelming majority of your Lordships' House to support the Resolutions moved by Lord Rosebery last autumn. Those Resolutions marked an epoch in the discussion. I will not now recapitulate them, but I may remind the House that they affirmed two main propositions—in the first place, the proposition that, in our view, no Lord of Parliament should be allowed to sit and vote in this House merely on account of his hereditary right to a seat upon these Benches, and, in the second place, that it was desirable that this House should be strengthened and reinforced by the addition of new elements from outside. Throughout the General Election we affirmed that policy, and, now that the General Election is over, we desire to affirm it again, and to let the people of this country understand that we have no intention of receding from the position which we took up. I am tempted to say, in passing, that I think we have some right to complain of the manner in which our proposals were met by noble Lords opposite and their friends, because almost in the same breath they derided them as being of the most frivolous and unsubstantial nature, and also described them as being even more revolutionary than anything which they had proposed themselves. We desire now, by embodying our policy in a Bill, to lay it, chapter and verse, before the country and to show that a reform of this House upon reasonable lines is possible and, I hope also, that this House itself is not unwilling to undertake the task.

We found the duty which we had undertaken a somewhat perplexing one. It is quite clear, when you are dealing with what is usually described as a composite Chamber, that there must be any amount of room for variety of treatment in the grouping of the materials which are ready to your hand. That is naturally the case in this instance. Perhaps I may add that we had at any rate no reason to complain of lack of advice as to the manner in which we might deal with the problem. Constitution-making has a singular fascination for a great many people, and I have myself received innumerable suggestions, varying from proposals indicating the most grim tenacity on the part of those who made them, to proposals animated by an almost pathetic desire to immolate this House root and branch upon the shrine of public duty. We cannot in those circumstances hope to please everyone, and I should certainly despair of being able to construct an umbrella wide enough to cover, let us say, my noble and learned friend Lord Halsbury, who is not here to-night, and my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke, who is on the Bench behind me. But I am somewhat consoled by the anticipation that, whenever noble Lords opposite come to make a similar attempt, they will find not less difficulty in discovering a refuge which shall be capable of accommodating, let us say, my noble friend Lord Courtney of Penwith, Mr. Barnes, and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.

May I then say one word as to the principle on which we have proceeded in this Bill? We desire to provide the country with an appropriate and efficient Second Chamber, and it is, perhaps, worth while considering for a moment what is the place of such a Chamber in the political system of the country. I notice that some people apparently have for their ideal a Second Chamber which shall be, as it were, the corrective of the House of Commons, which shall be Conservative when the House of Commons is Radical, which shall be imbued with Radicalism when the House of Commons is Conservative. That seems to me, I must say, a very Utopian idea. I doubt whether any human ingenuity could contrive a Chamber which would approach to an ideal of that kind, and if you could contrive such a Second Chamber I cannot help thinking that the results would be, not only inconvenient, but disastrous. For let it be noted that one of the main grievances alleged against the system which now prevails is that when you have a Liberal House of Commons that House is obstructed and thwarted by a Conservative majority in this place. If you could add to that an arrangement by which when there was a Conservative majority in the House of Commons there should be a Radical preponderance in this House you would, surely, be merely duplicating the grievances of which complaint is made at present. Then it is sometimes suggested that we ought to seek for a Second Chamber which would be, as it were, merely a pale replica of the other House, always of the same political complexion, always ready to approve what it does. Again I would remind your Lordships that the other great grievance alleged against the present system is that when you have a Conservative majority in both Houses you have virtually single-Chamber government. Now should we improve matters by an arrangement which would produce not only a Conservative Second Chamber to say ditto to the House of Commons when the latter happened to be mainly Conservative, but a Radical Second Chamber which would when there was a Radical majority in the House of Commons, give that majority its support—an arrangement which would, in a word, produce single-Chamber government, whatever the complexion of either House of Parliament might be?

Our ideal of a Second Chamber is, I think, a truer one. We desire to have one so composed that it will command the confidence of the country by its ability, its experience, its authority, and, above all, by its independence. We desire a Second Chamber which can be trusted to use its powers fairly as between the two great political Parties. We desire that it should be in close touch with popular opinion, but not that it should be at the mercy of popular caprice. We desire that it should not be strong enough to resist the House of Commons when the House of Commons represents the deliberate judgment of the country, but that it should be strong enough to make a stand when there is reason to believe that the country has not had an opportunity of expressing its will clearly and deliberately. Such a House we have endeavoured to construct—not upon a site from which every shred and vestige of the old structure has been removed, but preserving the soundest materials which we can find on that site, strengthened and rearranged, so that the new Chamber, while faithfully serving the democracy, will be strong enough to resist the gusts of passion and prejudice with which all democracies are necessarily familiar.

At this point may I be allowed to say that a Second Chamber framed upon these lines must necessarily be incompatible with the idea of one dependent purely upon popular election. In a popularly-elected Second Chamber there can be no room, as we hope there will be room in our Second Chamber, for a section of Lords of Parliament drawn from the present House of Lords; and, moreover, a popularly-elected Second Chamber will certainly claim what we do not claim for our Second Chamber, full co-ordinate rights in all respects with the House of Commons.

Our scheme, then, is based upon these conditions. In the first place, we suggest that there should be a large reduction in the number of the present House. I believe it is common ground to all of those who have paid attention to the question of House of Lords reform that the present House is far too numerous to do its work efficiently. I believe that if this House has lost authority in the country it is in no slight degree owing to the reckless manner in which from time to time large additions have been made to its ranks. The hereditary principle may be not very easy to understand, but it becomes absolutely unintelligible when you find an indiscriminate increase of hereditary Peerages without any reference whatever to the efficiency of the House as part of our legislative machinery. My Lords, we propose that the strength of the new House shall correspond more nearly to what I would call the effective strength of the working House of Lords as we know it, and that it should consist in round numbers of 350 Lords of Parliament.

I proceed to describe how we suggest that the House should be composed. The governing factor in these matters is the Resolution of my noble friend Lord Rosebery, to which I referred a moment ago, that the possession of a Peerage should no longer by itself give the right to sit and vote in this House. I may be asked, Does this involve the abandonment of the hereditary principle? I think that question may with limitations be answered in the affirmative, and that we are prepared to say that no Peer shall henceforth sit in this House unless he can produce credentials other than the possession of a hereditary Peerage. Why is it that we have thus abandoned the hereditary principle? Not, I would say, because there is nothing to be said in defence of it. I have heard many excellent speeches in defence of the hereditary principle, but I will not attempt to deal with that subject now. Nor, again, do we take this course because we admit that the hereditary Peerage has abused its privilege by the manner in which it has dealt with the legislation which comes before it. I do not believe that a more flimsy indictment has ever been put forward than the indictment of this House on the charge of habitual obstruction of useful legislation. I believe that before any educated audience it would be possible to show convincingly—I will not say that in every case the decision of this House was a correct or desirable decision—but that our action in every case fell well within the limits of the discretion which any Second Chamber must have if it is to do its duty as part of the Constitution.

My Lords, I remain deeply convinced that the real cause of the complaint brought against us is not that we have rejected, or I should more properly say reserved, certain measures for the consideration of the country, but that being hereditary Peers, and hereditary Peers only, we availed ourselves of our privileges as such in order to exercise the Constitutional rights which belong to us, and I believe that if you have been able, as you have, successfully, to work up a great body of prejudice against this House in the country, your success has been due not to deep-seated dissatisfaction with anything which we have actually done, but to the not unintelligible suspicion with which a purely hereditary Assembly is looked upon in a democratic community such as ours. And I myself certainly voted for my noble friend Lord Rosebery's Resolutions with the consciousness that in a country governed as ours is, a Second Chamber based either in regard to the whole, or even in regard to part of its members, upon hereditary privilege alone, unsupported by any other qualification, would always be so handicapped, so hopelessly handicapped, and so exposed to misrepresentation that it would be impossible for it to play its proper part in the Constitution of the country. We therefore realise, not only that this House must, be no longer purely hereditary, but that no part or proportion of its members shall owe their right to sit and vote in it to heredity alone. But, my Lords, these considerations are certainly not inconsistent with the retention in the new Second Chamber of an element which shall maintain continuity between the old House and the new. We believe that there is a great body of conservative opinion in this country which would greatly resent the obliteration of one of the Estates of the Realm; and, apart from that, we hold strongly that there is to be found within this House a great reserve of experience and knowledge and ability—a reserve which it would be folly to cast on one side, and which contributes to the solution of this question materials which it would be madness to scrap and to discard. It is therefore in our opinion desirable, both on the merits as well as for reasons of sentiment, that the new House should contain a section directly connected with the House as we know it to-day. And by that I mean not merely a few survivors who, when the roll is called, will come to this Table because they have been chosen by some body outside or nominated by the Minister of the day, but who shall owe their presence here to the suffrages of their brother Peers.

But, my Lords, I must explain that in our view the choice of the Peers ought not to be an unrestricted choice, We propose that only those Peers shall be eligible who possess certain statutory qualifications, the possession of which, added to election by their fellow Peers, will leave no room for doubt as to their fitness to take part in the business of this House. We think that an arrangement of this kind will be on the whole preferable to an arrangement under which a certain section of the House would be entitled to sit in it by virtue of qualification and qualification alone. We considered that alternative, and it is certainly one not without superficial attractiveness. The number of Peers who have written their names in the history of this country is considerable, and their title to a place on these Benches would certainly not be challenged. But there is undoubtedly, if you are going to rely on qualification alone, if you are to say that, certain persons are to be entitled to sit and vote merely because they hold or have held certain high positions, very great difficulty to be encountered. Where, in the first place, are you to draw the line? What amount of eminence in civil, military, or political, or professional life is to entitle a Peer to this distinction? It must be remembered that wherever you draw the line, whether you draw it high or low, you can scarcely fail to admit some members who, although meritorious, will not necessarily be the most efficient additions that we could make to the House, and whose admission would exclude younger, perhaps less conspicuous, but more active, enterprising, and useful candidates. Moreover, there is this observation to be added. If you are to rely on qualification alone, you are almost inevitably driven to give your qualified Peers a seat for life in this House. Their qualification is there and remains with them while they live.

It is, however, part of our scheme that, with a trifling exception, no Peer should hold his seat in this House as a Lord of Parliament for more than twelve years, although the term of twelve years does not prevent him from being re-elected. There is this further objection to setting up a category based upon qualification alone—namely, that if you begin by marking off, let us say, fifty of the most eminent members of this House, and saying that they shall as of right be entitled to seats, you then call upon the body of the House to proceed to elect from a list from which a great many of the mostdistinguished and representative personages have already been subtracted. That, we think, would be an unfortunate result, and we desire to avoid it. All these objections disappear if, instead of relying on qualification alone, we arrange that the Peers who are to be elected by the members of this House shall be elected subject to the possession of certain qualifications. We have accordingly prepared a schedule, which will be found in the Bill: a schedule enumerating the different qualifications, which we have drawn, as we believe, somewhat liberally.

I will not trouble the House with the schedule in extenso, but perhaps I may say that we include in it Peers who hold or have held political office, and not only the highest political office, but minor political offices; for example, those offices which carry with them the representation of a public Department in either House of Parliament. Then, of course, we include appointments at home and abroad, and not only Viceroys and Governors-General, or Governors and High Commissioners, but the Governors of Presidencies in India, the Lieutenant-Governors of Provinces, as well as Chief Commissioners, and political Residents of the first class. We also include membership of the Privy Council and all who have been elected to the House of Commons. In the Diplomatic Service we admit those who have held the rank of Minister Plenipotentiary or higher rank. We admit members of the Army Council and of the Board of Admiralty. In the Services we accept as a qualification the rank in the Navy of Captain, and in the Army of Colonel on the Active List. In the Civil Service we admit permanent heads of Departments, and, lastly, and I think this is important, we propose that it shall be a sufficient qualification that a Peer shall have held the office of Lord Mayor or Provost of a city, Chairman of a County Council, or Chairman of Quarter Sessions, and also Lords Lieutenant of Counties. Obviously the question of these qualifications is one for discussion. The list can easily be extended if necessary; and there is this also to be borne in mind, that the number of qualified Peers is almost certain to increase as time goes on. For this reason, that when members of your Lordships' House become aware that the holding of, let us say, the office of Mayor of a city carries with it a qualification to be elected to this House, they will probably become even more ambitious of these municipal honours than they are at the present time. This section of the House we propose should number 100 members. We propose for them a tenure of twelve years, subject, of course, to reelection. We propose that they shall be elected by the whole body of Peers under a system of minority representation prescribed by Order in Council and based on what is known as the single transferable vote.


Do I understand that no Peer is to be eligible for election by his fellow Peers unless he comes within the schedule?


Certainly. We are led to believe that our schedule is so drawn that it will include something like 300 members of this House as qualified for election by their brother Peers. Of these 100 Peers we propose that 25 should retire triennially, and that of the original 100 members 25 shall retire at the end of three years, 25 more at the end of six years, and 25 more at the end of nine years, so that the rotation may be properly established, and may proceed smoothly when once the machinery, so to speak, is set going.


The first 25 will only sit for three years?


Yes, and the Peers who will thus retire before the completion of their full term of 12 years will be chosen by ballot. We make this recommendation not only on the sentimental ground that it will maintain a connection between the present House of Lords and the reconstituted Chamber, but in the firm belief that we shall, in this manner, obtain a contingent of Lords of Parliament who will be eminently fitted to take their share in the work of Parliament.

I pass, then, to the second section. The second section is the section which will be—to use the words of my noble friend—"chosen from outside the House." We desire that it shall be chosen by machinery in close touch with, and sensitive of, public opinion. Now how is this section to be provided? We considered some alternatives only in order to set them on one side. We do not believe that it would be desirable for this purpose to have recourse to direct election under some bran-new system involving new areas and new constituencies. We should obtain, in this manner, a duplication of the other House of Parliament; and we certainly prefer to rely on areas with which we are familiar and on machinery which we find ready to hand. Nor, my Lords, do we suggest that these Lords of Parliament should be chosen by direct election by the present constituencies. We see no object in asking them first to elect members of the other House of Parliament and then to select, as it were, a second and smaller body of members for the purpose of checking the proceedings of the House of Commons. Moreover, such a scheme would obviously involve the grouping of the present Parliamentary constituencies into constituencies of vast magnitude: constituencies the size of which would impose upon the candidates an intolerable burden both of expense and of personal exertion. We therefore dismissed that proposal also.

We found ourselves in the end driven to choose between two alternative plans. In the first place, we considered whether it might not be possible that this section of the House should be chosen by indirect election through the county and borough councils. The kind of scheme that we had in our minds, was that these great municipal bodies should choose from their own ranks electoral colleges, and that these colleges again should choose members of your Lordships' House. But we found one fatal objection to this proposal. The county councils undoubtedly owe a great part of the high esteem in which they are held to the fact that they have—I will not say completely, but to a very great extent—been able to keep themselves clear of political entanglements, and we came to the conclusion that, however carefully we might guard our proposals, there would be a serious risk, if we imposed this duty on county and borough councils, of, as it were, inviting them to take part in Party politics from which they have, fortunately, to a great extent, kept clear up to the present time. In these circumstances we are led to the plan which I will proceed to describe to your Lordships.

Under this Bill, if it becomes law, Commissioners will be appointed. It will be their duty to prepare schemes dividing the country into electoral districts. They will be instructed to have regard to population and area, to boundaries of counties and county boroughs, to existing Parliamentary constituencies, and to community of interests. With these considerations before them they will proceed to prepare a scheme providing for the election of not less than three and not more than twelve Lords of Parliament for each of the electoral districts. These schemes will have to lie on the Tables of both Houses of Parliament for thirty days. We propose that the Lords of Parliament thus chosen shall number 120; and I may perhaps point out that if you take the population of these islands as probably something like 45,000,000, that will give one Lord of Parliament for every 375,000 of the population.

Now I come to the mode of election of these 120 Lords of Parliament. We propose to set up for each electoral district an electoral college, and we propose that that college shall be composed of the members of the House of Commons representing constituencies comprised within the limits of the electoral district. I may point out one obvious advantage, at all events, which this mode of procedure possesses. You have your electoral college already in existence. It is there ready to hand. You are not obliged to create any new body for the purpose. And, moreover, you have a body which—and I am sure I shall not be contradicted in this by noble Lords opposite —may be taken as fairly reflecting the popular opinion of the electoral district. Each college thus formed will return its quota of Lords of Parliament, a quota which, as I explained just now, must not be less than three and may not be more than twelve Lords of Parliament. The procedure will be regulated by Order in Council, and will be based on proportional representation and the single transferable vote. The tenure of these Lords of Parliament also will be for twelve years, and in this case also we propose a system of triennial retirements, as we do in the case of the Peers chosen by this House. We claim for our plan that, whatever its demerits, it is, at any rate, a very simple one, a very cheap, and, I think I may add, a very democratic one.

Now, my Lords, I come to the third section. The third section will number 100, and for that section we propose to rely on appointment by the Crown, of course on the recommendation of the Minister; and this section will be chosen either from inside or from outside the House. The reasons for resorting to nomination are, I think, of a kind that are entitled to some weight. The idea of nomination, of course, is one with which we are already familiar. Then again, a Lord of Parliament nominated by the Minister must obviously be held to have a democratic title to his seat in the House. But there are other reasons. I am not aware of any other plan which will afford the same opportunity of recognising merit or conspicuous service in any branch of public life. I know of no other plan which would so easily render it possible to provide in this House for the representation of great interests at present unrepresented. And there is also this incidental advantage, that as the choice of these nominated Peers will take place after the election of the first section by your Lordships' House, and after the election of the second section by the electoral colleges, it will be possible in choosing the nominated Peers to make good any omissions, or to correct any oversights which may have taken place in the choice of the first two classes.

But I think the chief advantage of this plan of nomination is that it will greatly assist us to constitute this House fairly as between the two political Parties. We propose to effect our object in the following manner. We propose that these 100 nominated Peers shall be chosen for recommendation to the Crown in the same manner as the Select Committees of the House of Commons are now chosen—that is, with regard to the strength of Parties in the House. I think I had better read the actual words in order that there may be no doubt as to our intention in this respect. The clause will run thus— The names of 100 persons chosen in proportion to the strength of Parties in the House of Commons at the time, shall be submitted to His Majesty for appointment, and in the selection of such persons regard shall be had to the manner in which Select Committees in the House of Commons are at present nominated. Many noble Lords who are listening to me have a knowledge of the House of Commons to which I do not pretend, and they will probably understand, without difficulty, how this arrangement will work. I understand that what happens is that the representatives of the two Parties come together, they agree that the relative strength of the Parties is such and such, and they thereupon fill up the Committee in that proportion.


But there are four Parties.


My noble friend says, very properly, there are four Parties. It would not at all dismay me if the result of our proposal was that we had in this House, not only representatives of the two great Parties, but of the two other Parties on whom noble Lords opposite depend for so large a measure of their support. It will be obvious to your Lordships that the result of this arrangement would be that each Party will leave its impress upon this House, and that the depth of this impress would depend upon the strength of each Party and upon the length of its tenure of office. And it also follows that that impress would continue even after a great political change leading to the disappearance of the Government of the day. There would remain for a time after the change of Government a residuum of Lords of Parliament representing the outgoing Government, and so it would come to pass that the pendulum would swing less violently in this House than outside it. This section of the reconstituted House would also sit for twelve years, and the triennial retirements would proceed on the same plan as that which I have indicated in reference to the other sections.

Those are the three main categories, but there are three smaller categories which I must notice. In the first place, the Princes of the Blood will retain their seats as at present. In the second place, we think it right and proper that the Lords Spiritual should be represented in the reconstituted House. I can give many reasons why this should be the case, and I can think of no reason against the proposal. The Lords Spiritual are an Estate of the Realm. Their historical title to sit here is unimpeachable. They represent a profession which is barred from sitting in the House of Commons, and I do not think anyone will contradict me when I say that their position in this House is not only a very dignified, but a very useful one. In the discussion of a great many subjects they are able to speak with a knowledge and a practical experience to which few of us can pretend. They are all of them what I should describe as efficient members of this House, and I do not think even the most disrespectful caricaturists have ever ventured to portray such a thing as a backwoodsman in lawn sleeves.


How many Lords Spiritual?


We propose that the two Archbishops should sit as of right and that there should be five Bishops elected by the full body of the Archbishops and Bishops under Order in Council, with triennial retirement.

There remain what we generally describe as the Law Lords. Our proposal is that a Peer who holds or has held any office described as a high judicial office under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act, 1876, and the Amending Act of 1887 shall be a Lord of Parliament during his life. Under this scheme the Lord Chancellor, the ex-Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice, ex-Law Officers who are ex officio members of the Appellate Court, and the four Peers appointed under the Acts which I have quoted would sit in this House. The Law Lords would number altogether sixteen. I have now given your Lordships a full account of the composition of the new House. If I may recapitulate, it would consist of 100 Lords chosen by the Peers themselves, 120 Lords chosen by the electoral colleges, and 100 Lords nominated by the Crown, on the advice of the Minister after consultation, in regard to a certain number of them, with the Leaders of the Opposition.

There are other provisions in the Bill, but time only permits me to notice two of them. There is an important clause under which we propose that Peers not Lords of Parliament shall be allowed to sit in the House of Commons. The obvious fairness of that proposal will, I think, be clear to your Lordships. There may be many Peers who may not be chosen, or who, for reasons of their own, may prefer to stand for the House of Commons. And it would be a very great hardship to prevent them. My three noble friends who sit behind me [Lords Curzon, Selborne, and Midleton] have all of them been in their day strong advocates of the proposed opening of the doors of the House of Commons to the Peerage, and they may perhaps regard with satisfaction the fact that the policy of which they were the pioneers should, in our view, be allowed to prevail. But I hope they will allow me to add that, so far as they are personally concerned, I trust that they will regard the idea mutatis animis, for it would be dreadful for us on this side of the House to contemplate their simultaneous migration to another place.

The only other clause which I need mention is one under which we propose that after the passing of this Act it shall not be lawful to confer the dignity of a hereditary Peerage on more than five persons in any one year. I indicated the other day our reasons for making this proposal. All I need now add is that we propose to make an exception in favour of Cabinet or ex-Cabinet Ministers, whose presence may be indispensable in this House, and whom the Government of the day may desire to appoint in excess of the limit of five. That is in outline the scheme of the Bill. We believe that it would produce a Second Chamber, efficient, with unimpeachable credentials, and constituted fairly between the two great Parties.

We have been generally told whenever we have discussed suggestions of this kind that we were careful to keep this House as what is generally called a "Tory preserve." I remember Lord Crewe, the Leader of the House, in one of those phrases which he turns very aptly, telling us across the Table that he gathered that we wished our victory to be more creditable but equally certain. I should like to ask any candid member of this House whether with a House of Lords such as I have endeavoured to describe our victory would be equally certain. The composition of the House would, of course, necessarily and properly fluctuate according to the fluctuations of political opinion. But let us see how this scheme would work, supposing, for the sake of argument, it were applied at once. I will take the first category—Peers elected by members of this House. In that section we should of course have a large majority. I think it may probably be taken as a majority of something like four to one. But that is on the assumption that every Unionist Peer makes up his mind to choose only Conservative stalwarts, and that I must say is an assumption which I for one should be very slow to make. I am strongly under the impression, particularly with the limited choice before them, that this House would choose many Peers who would not only be amongst the ablest, but also amongst the most independent members of your Lordships' House.

May I give an illustration of my meaning? I would rather not talk about people who are here present. But I will mention the name of one who is no longer with us—the late Duke of Devonshire. I will undertake to say that if this system were in force, and if the late Duke of Devonshire were still with us, his name would probably figure on the list sent in by nearly every member sitting on this side of the House. The Duke of Devonshire was a man who never allowed Party considerations to outweigh the high principles for which he was so conspicuous; and it would not be very difficult to think of other members of this House who in the same circumstances would probably act in the same manner. Let us, however, take the hereditary section elected by this House as giving 20 for the Government and 80 for the Opposition. The nominated section, if it be nominated with reference to numerical strength of the Parties in the other House, would give the Government 59 and the Opposition 41. And if, which is not unfair, you take the same proportion for the section of Lords of Parliament chosen by the electoral colleges, that would give you, unless I am mistaken, 72 to the Government and 48 to the Opposition. That leaves us with a majority of 18—not, I venture to say, a very large majority for a body whose duty is admittedly the duty of revision and delay.

And, my Lords, are we quite sure that we could always depend on that majority? I doubt greatly myself whether there would be anything which could be fairly described as a standing Party majority in such a House. I have known this House for a great many years, and I am inclined to believe that with a House reconstituted as we propose—a smaller House carefully selected, evenly balanced, with heavier responsibility—you would find that what I may fairly describe as the Cross-Bench mind would very often prevail. And not only so. Are you quite sure that our majority of 18 would always endure? The composition of the House would, of course, vary with fluctuations in the strength of political Parties, and if you remain long enough in office, and with sufficiently large majorities, our majority, under conceivable circumstances which might arise, may even disappear altogether. I press this point because I wish to convince the House and above all to convince noble Lords opposite that we have endeavoured to draw our scheme as fairly as may be between the two Parties.

I add one other observation. Supposing that we retain a majority, and supposing that we use that majority, as you may say, perversely, and for the purpose of obstructing the other House of Parliament, the remedy lies ready to your hand. You can fall back upon conferences of which you are all in favour, for I notice that noble Lords opposite and their friends invariably speak with the highest approval of procedure by conference. In the Campbell-Bannerman Resolutions there were conferences at every stage, and the only reason, we understand, why you do not now propose conferences in your Bill is that you think they can be sufficiently provided for without special legislation. That is not all. There are also Joint Sittings, of which you are also in favour in principle, but which the Prime Minister has explained to us are now impossible because of the unwieldy proportions of the unreformed House of Lords. That is the obstacle in the way; we remove that obstacle and the Joint Sitting becomes a perfectly practicable and easy way for dealing with the ordinary class of difference which may arise between the two Houses. And finally there is the Referendum—the Referendum which the Prime Minister is careful to explain he does not exclude in cases—I forget what the exact expressions are—in rare and exceptional cases. It is, however, only for such cases that we desire to see the Referendum used, and therefore we are agreed that that also is a conceivable solution. Therefore, our small majority need inspire you with no alarm. If it presumes too much, if it runs counter to the deliberate view of the House of Commons, if it opposes the will of the country, you have ample means for wheeling it into line and securing that the judgment of the people shall prevail.


May. I ask whether there are in the Bill any proposals for the Referendum, or concerning Joint Sessions.


Not in the Bill, certainly; but the noble Viscount will remember that we very clearly explained our views upon another occasion in regard to those important subjects.

We submit our scheme for the consideration of the country, but first and foremost we lay it before your Lordships' House; and we realise what a serious demand it is that we are about to make upon you. We are under no illusions as to the gravity of the change which a Bill of this kind will bring about. It will bring about a complete transformation of this House as we know it—a drastic interference with the privileges of individual Peers. To some I am afraid these proposals will come as a rude shock; by others, I am afraid, they will be deeply resented. To some they will almost present the appearance of a betrayal. But I do hope that many members of your Lordships' House will recognise that in the interest of the stability of our institutions, never threatened as they are at this moment, in the interest of the proper balance of our Constitution, never before in a condition of such unstable equilibrium, some changes of the kind which we recommend have become inevitable. Some members of the House who are unable to attend regularly to our business may, perhaps, find in proposals of this sort something in the nature of an extrication and a relief; others, again, more enterprising and ambitious, may welcome a change which will open for them the prospect of a seat obtained not by the accident of birth, but due either to the choice of their fellow Peers, or to the selection of the electoral colleges, or to the recommendation of the Leaders of their own Party. But in spite of all this, this Bill, were it to become law, would beyond doubt be a death-blow to the House of Lords as many of us have known it for so long, and I say unfeignedly that I could have wished that it had fallen to the lot of one who owes less than I do to the indulgence of this House to lay these proposals before you. At any rate, this is our contribution to the solution of the momentous Constitutional question which the country has to solve. It may be an imperfect solution—I dare say it is. It may be open to criticism. We shall welcome criticism. But it is not a negligible contribution. It certainly does not lie in the mouth of noble Lords opposite to describe it as a negligible contribution.

May I remind your Lordships of words which fell from the Leader of this House when in November last my noble friend. Lord Rosebery moved his second series of Resolutions. Lord Rosebery asked us to agree that for the future this House should consist of Lords of Parliament (1) chosen by the hereditary Peers from among themselves and by nomination by the Crown; (2) sitting by virtue of office and qualifications; (3) chosen from outside. Upon this Lord Crewe made these observations— I think there is a great deal to be said in support of all the propositions advanced by my noble friend, and I think it is exceedingly probable that when the House of Lords is reformed some or all of them may become elements in its new constitution. It is abundantly clear, therefore, that Lord Crewe—and he was, no doubt, speaking for his colleagues—had in his mind not a purely elective Second Chamber, but a composite House constructed somewhat upon the lines which we have indicated.

I trust, therefore, that when the noble Viscount opposite follows me he will not merely cavil at our scheme, but give us some enlightenment as to the proposals which His Majesty's Government would desire to put in its place. We should like to know what kind of a Second Chamber the Government have in their minds. It is surely time that they contributed something to the discussion of this question. How much longer is this conspiracy of silence to be prolonged? We have had no contribution up to the present unless it be the speech of His late Majesty to which I referred a moment ago, or the Preamble of the Parliament Bill, a Preamble which should, I think, be read by the light of a recent statement made by one of the noble Viscount's colleagues to the effect that House of Lords reform was a very unimportant matter except as a means to an end—the passage of Liberal measures through Parliament. That has been their contribution, coupled with a few hazy pledges given by different Ministers that at some convenient time, not to be particularly specified, they intend to take up the question of House of Lords reform.

But I own I am a little more hopeful to-night than I should have been a few days ago, for I notice that only on Saturday night the Prime Minister informed his hearers that His Majesty's Government intended, if time permitted, to deal with this question of House of Lords reform within the limits of the present Parliament. Well, if that is the case, if they really do intend to deal with House of Lords reform within the limits of this Parliament, surely they must have some ideas upon the subject; surely their minds cannot be in that condition of absolute blank which one might have supposed from their total failure to grapple with the subject. His Majesty's Government are experts in Constitution building. They have provided some of our great Dominions beyond the seas with Constitutions of which they are notoriously proud. Can they not bestow a little of their knowledge and ingenuity upon the reform of the Constitution of these islands? Can they not impart to us even the barest outline of the principles upon which their measure of reform is likely to be founded? I say at once that if this silence is maintained we shall tell you that the reason you do not disclose your plan is that you have no plan to disclose; you do not ring the bells because the steeple is empty; and we shall believe that you are still hesitating between an elective Second Chamber, which would be inevitably entitled to co-ordinate powers with the House of Commons, and a composite Second Chamber of the kind which we favour and with the limitations which we are ready to accept.

The production of this Bill should at any rate have this one effect—it will deprive you of all excuse for keeping the country any longer in the dark as to your proposals. The Prime Minister, in the speech to which I referred a moment ago, went the length of saying that he was unaware of the views of the Opposition upon this question of House of Lords reform. His Majesty's Government will now be fully aware of the views of the Opposition. It is a singular complaint, I think, for the Prime Minister to make, because if any one had to make a complaint it was surely for us to complain of the reticence of His Majesty's Government rather than for His Majesty's Government to complain of our reticence. Our scheme is now before His Majesty's Government and before the country. We have accepted your challenge; surely it is time for you to accept ours, and to lay your proposals alongside of ours before the Parliament and the people of this country.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 1a.—(The Marquess of Lansdowne.)


My Lords, I am sure that we all congratulate the noble Marquess upon his restoration to our counsels, and we cannot but admire the way in which he has, to use an expression of my own the other night, done justice to the proposals which he had to lay before your Lordships. The field is enormous; the complexity and intricacy of the details are very marked; and yet the language of the noble Marquess has been precise, lucid, and apt; and we owe him a great debt for placing the scheme before us in this way. I do not go for a moment into the point—a point mentioned by the noble Marquess himself—whether he was pursuing the counsels of tactical prudence in producing a Bill at all; still less do I follow him in his difference from my noble friend on the Cross Benches (Lord Rosebery) as to the propriety or impropriety of a member of the Opposition coming forward with proposals of this magnitude and importance instead of leaving it to the Government. These things are really of secondary consequence.

The real thing, and what makes to-night a most remarkable date in the history of our Constitution, is what the noble Marquess himself said in that very impressive conclusion of his speech, that he regretted that it had fallen to him, of all members of this House, to deal a death-blow to the existence of the House of Lords as he and others have known it. I thoroughly understand and respect and to some extent sympathise with the noble Marquess. I find no fault whatever with him for bringing forward this Bill. I think he has taken a bold course, and a frank course, and one that may prove to be, as he desires it should be, a helpful course. The noble Marquess expressly assured us of the good faith in which he has brought forward these proposals. I, for one, have no doubt whatever—and I believe all who sit around me will feel the same—of the good faith of the noble Marquess in doing his best by the framing and production of this Bill to preserve—to create—a body representing what he would call the steadying elements in our national character, national life, and national institutions. I give him entire credit for that. I am sorry, however, that the noble Marquess began with what I must call, with all respect to him, one of the worst bits of history it has ever been my fortune to come across. The noble Marquess asked what had created this situation—the situation which had compelled him to deal a death-blow to your Lordships' House. It was created, he said, by the conduct of His Majesty's Government. Can he really, in serener moments—


I am afraid I must interrupt the noble Viscount. I was explaining why we had thought it necessary to bring forward a Bill, which I said was an unusual course for the Opposition to take. I said we found it necessary to do so because we could not get His Majesty's Government to come to close quarters with the question of House of Lords reform.


Then I misunderstood that point in the noble Marquess's speech, but I think the inference drawn from what he said by most of those who heard him was, and would be, that somehow or other His Majesty's Government were responsible for the death-blow being dealt to the House of Lords. My Lords, that is not so. I do not wish to go into history at all, but I want to remind your Lordships of what happened in November, 1909, when this House took the step of rejecting the Budget. Immediately after that—it was not any action on the part of His Majesty's Government—my noble friend on the Cross Benches and other members of your Lordships' House got up and told this House and the country that this House was unwieldy, that it was too numerous, and so forth, and was, in fact, not fit to perform the duties which the Constitution had entrusted to it. It was not we who did that; it was your own spontaneous verdict upon the conditions of your own Assembly. When I recall the language used by my noble friend on the Cross Benches in the year 1894, and, I think, in 1895, when he was at the head of the Government, when I recall those proceedings and the deliberate judgments passed by my noble friend at that time, I say it is beyond the truth of the case to say that it is our action since the year 1906 which has precipitated this tremendous catastrophe.

If I may be allowed to speak personally, I should have liked that after the mistaken policy of November, 1909, and from that date until now, you should have waited and allowed the Parliament Bill to go its way and have left us to do what the noble Marquess is now challenging me to do to-night, which challenge I shall certainly refuse for reasons which I shall soon show, and have left us face to face with that difficulty, instead of your shouldering this intractable problem. I think it is a tremendous mistake that you have made. If I may say so without presumption, it has landed the Party opposite, the country, and both Houses of Parliament in most tremendous perplexities, as to which this Bill, and I am sorry for it, does not bring us one atom nearer a solution.

I am not going to attempt, any more than I would attempt after a Budget speech had been made in the House of Commons, immediately to get up and deal with all the proposals, provisions, and resolutions of the Budget, to follow the noble Marquess in regard to the details of this Bill. It would be impossible now to criticise to any good or competent effect the proposals that he has brought before us. I must reserve that for the Second Reading. I would say that there is no desire on the part of His Majesty's Government to burke discussion upon this important subject, but it cannot be supposed for a moment that we can possibly accept this Bill as a solution of the vast difficulties that confront both Parties. That cannot be. The noble Marquess said, for example, that there would not be a single man in the reconstituted House of Lords who would owe his seat to the hereditary principle alone. Well but there are to be one hundred members, being Peers, who are to be elected by the general body of Peers. No one is eligible who is not a Peer, either to be elected or to be an elector. The man selected will be a Peer, he will be chosen by Peers, he will sit here as representing Peers, and I cannot for the life of me understand how you can contend, that being the state of the case, that there would be nobody in the reconstituted House who would owe his seat to the hereditary principle alone. The country will, I think, regard that as rather farcical. Then the noble Marquess referred to the Referendum. I would like to see, under Lord Balfour of Burleigh's Bill, which I may remind your Lordships is still under the consideration of the House, a body of the electors going to the office of the returning officer to "inspect" —that is the word used—the noble Marquess's Bill. How many hours will it take any one of us to study the text and the provisions of this Bill? If such a Bill as this were referred, as I presume it would be under the noble Marquess's doctrine, to the Referendum, I cannot imagine anything more calculated to bring the whole principle and method of the Referendum into disrespect.

My Lords, I submit, without disrespect to the noble Marquess or to his Bill, that the contents of the Bill do not excite public curiosity and public anxiety nearly so much as the position to be decided by your Lordships as between Lord Lansdowne's proposals to-day and the Bill from another place which it will be my duty, I think, to present to your Lordships probably this day week. That is what is the real object of curiosity and anxiety. The noble Marquess's Bill may or may not be a good Bill; an adequate and sufficient Bill in itself and on its own merits. It may or may not prove to be a possible supplement or complement to the Parliament Bill, but there is one thing which it cannot be. It cannot be a substitute or an alternative for the Parliament Bill. That is the definite position. As I ventured to tell the House when I was replying to the noble Marquess's request for our assent to an Address to the Crown, nothing can stand in the way, so far as His Majesty's Government have the power, of our pressing the Parliament Bill with all our force as soon as we possibly can, and so far as the forms of the House will permit, upon the attention of your Lordships.

The noble Marquess dealt, as I thought, rather too shortly with the position as to whether powers or reconstruction and reform ought to be considered first. The noble Marquess and his friends have decided and maintained all through these long controversies that powers are secondary to reconstitution. They say, It is absurd to propose limits of powers, functions, and duties, as you propose to do in your Parliament Bill, until you know the ultimate form of the body which is to exercise those powers, 'functions and duties. We say, do the other hand, it is just as absurd—we say it is more absurd—to call into existence a new body until you have settled what it is to do, within what limits and with what aims it is to work, and exactly how it is to stand in relation to legislative power with the House of Commons. I submit than when these two arguments are placed before the country, it will be thought that ours is at least as tenable as the one which the noble Marquess seemed to think was unanswerable. We may argue on these two points as to which is the more absurd until the Day of Judgment, but look at the practical situation which settles whether it is to be powers first or reconstitution first. There have been, as we all know, two elections, and, whatever else those two elections may or may not have done—both our principle and our plan having been fully before the electors in the course of those two elections—they expressed the decision of the electors that your Lordships' Veto should be made suspensory instead of absolute. And, further, the foundation of our doctrine of powers coming before reconstitution is this, that the policy of the Parliament Bill is the withdrawal of the absolute Veto from the House of Lords whether it is reformed or whether it is unreformed. We hold that that, at all events, whatever else may be said about the last two elections, was the conclusion to which those two elections pointed.

This is the policy which the noble Marquess asks us to-night to abandon, to drop, or, at all events, to suspend until the two Houses have come to some agreement as to the reform and reconstruction of the machinery of the Constitution. We cannot assent to that, and what I have to say is that we shall persist in pressing the Parliament Bill along until we have got some security by Statute that the supremacy of the House of Commons is to be unimpaired and unimpairable. The noble Marquess used some words about single-Chamber, and I suspect that that phrase will be very hard worked during the months that are to come. I do not object to its being hard worked if there is any one who feels an interest in using that as an implement for attacking the Government; but I would ask the House to bear in mind the exact position, according to the admission of all, or nearly all, the members of your Lordships' House, which you assign to the House of Commons. It has been said again and again—I have several passages for the noble Marquess here—that you have no intention whatever to dispute the predominance of the House of Commons. To-night one or two phrases slipped from the noble Marquess which did not seem quite consistent with that, but they were not seriously and deliberately produced, and never can be. The most emphatic statement on the supremacy of the House of Commons made during this controversy has been made by whom? By Mr. Balfour, who, speaking on the eve of the election, I think at Nottingham, on some day in November last, said— It is not the Second Chamber that should be the dominant one. It is the so-called popular Chamber, it is the immediately representative Chamber; it is the House of Commons which is now, and which for generations has been, and which, in my opinion, ought to remain, in that co-partnership the dominant element. Of course that is quite true, and the reason why I should desire a Second Chamber is, not that it should interfere with the dominance of the House of Commons, but that opportunity should be given for consultation, for revision, for delay, for suspension for a time, and so forth. It is admitted that that is required, but in much of the language that is used, and in some, at any rate, of the provisions of the Bill—and I think I shall find it proved when there has been time to study the Bill—I seemed to detect a determination, or a strong inclination, while using smooth words about revising power, to retain in effect, indirectly, the supremacy which in general words you surrender.

The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, said the other day— You will see, on Monday, a fair proposal for the reconstitution of the House so that never again can it be said that there is not a fair representation of both political parties. I listened with all the attention I could give to the scheme as explained by the noble Marquess, and I ask myself is it conceivable that under this scheme, under any probable operation of this scheme, there is a probability, I might say a possibility, of circumstances under which there would be a Liberal majority in the House. If not, how can such a scheme be called fair?

I will not detain the House longer. We shall take the Second Reading of the Bill at whatever time may be agreeable to the noble Marquess. Between now and then we shall have time to study and consider the Bill, and he and his friends will have time to inform themselves of the feelings which his proposals may awaken amongst noble Lords who sit around him. It will require a certain time, not an excessive time, I hope, for full examination of the working of the clauses, and it is an immense gain to have what has hitherto been an academic discussion brought into the practical shape of clauses in a Bill. The steps which we may think fit to take, with the consent of the House, in respect of the Parliament Bill will be a matter of arrangement, but we shall not willingly consent to, and I do not think the noble Marquess will think it reasonable to ask that we should, take all the stages of his Bill before proceeding with the Parliament Bill. I think every consideration of public convenience points to proceeding with the Parliament Bill as soon as it can possibly be done without injustice to the scheme of the noble Marquess.

The noble Lord said at Glasgow— I take it upon myself to say that it ought not to be beyond our powers, with a little good will on both sides, to fill up an outline of that kind [that is, the Bill he was then sketching] in a satisfactory manner, and to create upon that basis what I should describe as a well-balanced Constitution. I thoroughly agreed when I read that. With goodwill on both sides something might be made of proposals of this kind, but I confess I have listened to these proposals with profound misgivings. I do not cavil with them so far as I understand them yet. I go much deeper than cavilling. I think they are inadequate. I think they are illusory in many respects, and I think they do what it was not necessary to do at all in my view—they destroy the House of Lords instead of closing the door to this great set of difficulties, I am afraid, speaking without the full consideration which such a Bill demands, the Bill is not likely to advance the questions which the noble Marquess desires it should, and we, His Majesty's Government, at all events, can commit ourselves to no approval of any portion of it as it has yet been presented to us.

On Question, Bill read 1a, and to be printed. (No. 75.)