§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I trespassed at such inordinate length on the time of the House a few days ago that I may well spare myself and your Lordships this evening anything like a long statement or explanation in making the Motion which stands in my name. But I do desire to touch briefly upon one or two points, and in particular upon one or two of the observations which fell from the noble Viscount in the speech with which he followed me on Monday last. The noble Viscount left us in some doubt as to the kind of reception which this Bill was likely to meet with at the hands of noble Lords opposite. I say that without in any way making it a subject of complaint, because the noble Viscount, of course, had not seen the Bill, and it was only natural that with nothing before him except perhaps my imperfect explanation of it he should desire to be somewhat guarded in his comments. No doubt owing to this circumstance, the noble Viscount's speech was somewhat 370 oracular. Towards the beginning of it he let fall some remarks which, I must say, filled me with hopes. He told us that he regarded the course which we had taken as a bold, frank, and possibly helpful course, but as he went on his comments became less encouraging and damped not a little the expectations which he had created in our minds. As the noble Viscount addressed us I asked myself whether we could be quite sure that he had really apprehended the intentions with which this Bill has been introduced, whether he exactly perceived the place that we think this Bill might take in the scheme of Constitutional reform. The noble Viscount said—This Bill may or may not prove to be a possible supplement or complement to a Parliament Bill.But he went on to say—It cannot be a substitute or an alternative for the Parliament Bill.and finally he said that he regarded the Bill as unacceptable as a solution of the vast difficulties which confront both Parties.
Now, my Lords, I desire to say to-night that we who are responsible for this Bill have never suggested that it should be considered as, by itself, a solution of the vast difficulties which confront both Parties. We never for a moment allowed ourselves to believe that its introduction would relieve Parliament of the necessity of dealing by legislation with the question of the relations of the two Houses. Therefore, our reply to the noble Viscount is that we do not intend this Bill as a substitute or alternative for the Government's Parliament Bill; but we do intend it as a complement or supplement to a Parliament Bill—a Bill dealing with the relations between the two Houses, and a Bill conceived, I hope, in a very different spirit from the Bill which His Majesty's Government have introduced in another place. I dwell upon that point because it is, in our view, fundamental that these two great questions should not be divorced, and it is because His Majesty's Government have failed altogether to address themselves to one of those questions that we have thought it our duty to present the Bill which now lies upon the Table.
I would make another observation. I trust that during the discussion which commences this evening we shall be careful to avoid the use of misleading language as to the facts of the case, and I direct that observation at a passage in the speech of the 371 noble Viscount, a passage in which he told us that His Majesty's Government were determined to insist upon the withdrawal of what he called the absolute Veto of the House of Lords, no matter how it is composed. These words "absolute Veto" are very precise words with an unambiguous meaning, and I ask leave to-night to say on behalf of those who sit near me that we have never claimed for the House of Lords, and do not claim under this Bill, anything which can be correctly described as an absolute Veto. We have never claimed such a Veto, and we have, indeed, made it clear in our speeches that we recognised and did not contest the ultimate supremacy of the other House of Parliament. And that this is so was shown by the noble Viscount himself, because he went on to quote a passage from a speech made by Mr. Balfour, I think he said at Nottingham, in which Mr. Balfour observed that in the co-partnership of the two Houses the House of Commons must in his view remain the dominant element.
My Lords, I sometimes ask myself whether, so far as the great principles which we are discussing are concerned, we are, after all, so very wide apart. What did the noble Viscount tell us the other evening? He told us that in his view the Second Chamber should have opportunities "for consultation, for revision, for delay, for suspension for a time, and so forth." I rather like that expression "so forth" because it gives an air of elasticity to the formula. We ask for opportunities for consultation, but we do not desire that the consultation shall be a parade movement; we desire opportunities for revision, but especially opportunities for effectual revision; and we desire the occasional interpolation of delay—a delay sufficient to enable the country to ascertain whether or not the House of Commons really has the opinion of the electorate behind it. I will not pursue this subject further. I should not, indeed, have touched upon it but for the observations of the noble Viscount, and I will only repeat that we do not claim for this Bill that it covers the whole ground of Constitutional reform, but that we regard it as a Bill which must necessarily be supplementary to other legislation governing the relations of the two Houses. And, lastly, I would say nothing is further from our thoughts than that this Bill should form the subject of a kind of transaction between the two Parties in which the conditions 372 would be that you would accept our Bill and that we in our turn would accept the Bill which you have introduced in another place.
I should like, passing on, to notice another expression which fell from the noble Viscount. He rather took exception to my argument when I said that in the preparation of the Bill the dominant factor—I think that was the phrase I used—had been the Resolution which this House accepted on the proposal of my noble friend on the Cross Benches (Lord Rosebery)—I mean the Resolution that, in our view, the possession of a hereditary Peerage should not of itself entitle any Peer to sit and vote in this House. Well, said the noble Viscount, how can you contend that there will be nobody here who would owe his seat to the hereditary principle alone when you will have no less than 100 Members of this House Peers themselves and elected by Peers? And he went on to say that the country would regard that as a "farcical" proposition. I venture to say that the country will be well able to understand the effect of the proposal which we are making and to perceive that under that proposal there would not be in the reconstituted House one single Peer who owed his right to sit and vote to the possession of a hereditary Peerage alone. Under our scheme every one of the Lords of Parliament who would enter this House in that particular class would have to be armed with double credentials—in the first place, the possession of certain specified statutory qualifications, and, in the next place, the election of his brother Peers; and I venture to say that both in letter and in spirit that proposal amply makes good the pledge which was implied in the Resolution of my noble friend.
Then the noble Viscount asked whether it was conceivable that under this Bill there could, either probably or even possibly, be a Liberal majority in this House. I answer that question unhesitatingly. It is perfectly conceivable, and, given the kind of majority that the Party opposite had in the House of Commons in 1906, it would not only be possible, but the result would, as a matter of fact, inevitably ensue. But I desire to make two observations upon that point. In the first place, I would ask the noble Viscount whether it really shocks him very much to suppose that there should perhaps not unusually be in a Second Chamber, the duties of which would be those of revision, 373 of reservation, of suspending measures for a time, a preponderance, not perhaps a very large one, of persons of moderate opinion, persons who would represent what the noble Viscount himself last week called a "steadying element in our national life." The other observation which I should like to make is this. Is it really necessary that, in considering the results of legislation of this kind, we should minutely count heads and determine beforehand that the members of the new House must necessarily be grouped in accordance with a particular Party grouping? I cannot help hoping that both by the new House itself and by those who will be called upon to choose the members of the new House, these questions will not be left entirely within the domain of the Whips and the wire-pullers. I, for one, certainly hope that both the members of this House and the members of the electoral colleges when they make their choice, and the Party leaders when they address themselves to the question of the nomination of one section of the reconstituted House of Lords, will exercise their right of selection in a spirit other than the spirit of pure partisanship. We, at any rate, believe that we have provided a House qualified to deal in an independent and a judicial spirit with the questions which will come before it, and we anticipate that it will address itself to its work in a spirit of that kind.
I wish to say one word before I sit down upon the question of the Schedule. There have been a very large number of criticisms and comments upon the Schedule, both upon that which it contains and upon that which it omits. We, of course, frankly recognise that the Schedule offers a very fair field for discussion, and that it may be possible very materially to improve it. But what I do beg noble Lords to bear in mind is this, that the mere fact of a Peer finding his name upon the Schedule does not give to that Peer a right to sit and vote in this House. It gives him a right only to present himself for election by his fellow Peers. That seems to me to make the whole difference; and that is, I think, the answer to the kind of argument which is very often addressed to us. We are told that in this Schedule we have left room, let us say, for an ex-Member of Parliament whose Parliamentary career has not been a particularly distinguished one; for an ex-Ambassador who has not added to the reputation of the diplomatic profession; or perhaps for a General who has not succeeded in gathering 374 many military laurels. We are told that we have included these, and that, on the other hand, we have excluded extremely meritorious Peers who have taken an honourable and useful part in the business of this House, and very likely a not less honourable and useful part in the affairs of the part of the country in which they reside. I think the answer to that is that the ex-Ambassador, the General, the ex-Member of Parliament would almost certainly not be elected by their brother Peers, while, on the other hand, the meritorious and hardworking Peer who had made a reputation for himself either in this House or in his own part of the country would stand an uncommonly good chance of being either chosen by the new electoral colleges or nominated by the leaders of his own Party. And it should not be forgotten that that chance would, under this Bill, be a constantly recurring chance, because, as the House will remember, of the 220 Peers elected, by the electoral colleges and nominated by the Prime Minister one-fourth would retire at triennial intervals.
There is one other point I would like to mention. I have received a good many remonstrances from critics who complain of us because we have provided in this Bill for the retention of a certain number of Lords Spiritual while we have not found room in the new House for representatives of the other great religious denominations. We thought it our duty to retain a certain number of Lords Spiritual because they are already in this House; they are an integral part of it, and as we desire that under our Bill the present House should receive adequate representation, we thought we should have been to blame if we had not included a certain number of right rev. Prelates. The case is, of course, wholly different when you come to the other denominations. As to these other denominations, let me say that I believe that all House of Lords reformers have' earnestly desired to discover some means of securing the representation of those other Churches in the Second Chamber. When the matter was being dealt with by Lord Rosebery's Committee the question came before us then, and we took a good deal of trouble to examine it, but, my Lords, we were reluctantly compelled to report that, although we should gladly have seen within this House representatives of other great Churches in England, Scotland and Ireland, we had not been able to formulate any 375 proposal with that object. The difficulties are, undoubtedly, of a very serious character. In the first place, if you begin admitting representatives of the other Churches to this House, where are you to stop? There are a great number of denominations, and I doubt extremely whether it would be possible to devise a list which would give general satisfaction. There is another difficulty. In a great many cases the distinguished men who are at the head of the great denominations hold their office for one year only. I take the case of the Moderator of the Church of Scotland. Under our Bill, as noble Lords will remember, we contemplate that the tenure of a Lord of Parliament should be a twelve years' tenure, and it really would be impossible to bring into this House, virtute officii, any one who held that office only for twelve months. You could not bring in twelve Moderators in the course of twelve years, nor could you well bring in a single Moderator for twelve years because he happened at a particular moment to fill that office. But, my Lords, while I greatly regret that these difficulties should present themselves, I certainly do not despair of being able to bring about that which is desired by those who offer this particular criticism. Here, again, I desire to remind the House that one of the great advantages of the system of nomination, one of the advantages which led us particularly to insist upon including it in our proposals, is that it does give you the opportunity of recognising conspicuous service and conspicuous merit in any branch of public life, and there should be no difficulty in recognising such merit when it is to be found in the persons of those who have been at the head of the other great religious denominations in this country.
That is really all I desire to say this evening. We submit this Bill to the House, as I said before, not as covering the whole field of Constitutional reform, certainly not as a measure so perfect as not to require close and minute criticism; but we do present it to the House as a serious attempt to improve our Parliamentary system, a serious attempt to deal with defects which have been freely admitted by both political Parties, and which, let me say in conclusion, if we had had our way, would certainly have been dealt with long ago, not by one political Party alone but by the co-operation of both Parties in this House.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Marquess of Lansdowne.)
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN
My Lords, the noble Marquess very good-naturedly reproached me for being rather oracular on the occasion when he introduced this Bill. On the whole, I do not think it was at all to be wondered at—not the least from any want of lucidity or fulness in the noble Marquess's exposition, but really from the large field to be travelled over and the enormous mass of details in which it abounded. To-night the noble Marquess used some language which seemed to me to be more hopeful than the language he used on the last occasion, and certainly more hopeful than the language used by the noble Lord of active and powerful mind who now sits next to him. The noble Marquess says, Are we so wide apart after all? But the other night the noble Lord, Lord Curzon, said at the Albert Hall—and I read it with sincere regret—It is only by some form of agreement or co-operation that this question will ultimately be settled.Nothing could be more admirable. But what follows?—this is the noble Lord's contribution to agreement and co-operation—Our attitude towards the Parliament Bill is one of unchanged and unchangeable hostility, and we regard it as tainted by every political vice.That indicates a tremendous distance apart. I pass that by, however, and I fervently hope that the spirit indicated by the noble Marquess may animate the discussions on the Bill which I shall have the honour to present to the House either to-night or to-morrow afternoon. The thing is far too important, the issues are far too deep, to be made the mere battledore and shuttlecock of Party recrimination. No one feels that more deeply than I do. The noble Marquess comes nearer to us when he abandons the application of the limited Veto to the new House as we are now moving that it be applied to this House. The noble Marquess surrenders—
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
What I said, quoting the noble Viscount, was that we have never claimed for this House what he calls an absolute Veto, not limited Veto.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN
The ever-memorable debate on the Finance Bill in November, 1909, came very near to that—very near. The noble Marquess's attitude to-night I regard as a distinct 377 advance in our direction. The noble Marquess referred to a passage I read from Mr. Balfour to the effect that he himself and others of his colleagues have never denied that the other House must be predominant, and this is the language, that the noble Marquess himself used quite recently—We certainly do not claim for our Second Chamber full co-ordinate rights in all respects with the House of Commons.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN
Then Mr. Balfour said—I do not want the Second Chamber to claim the right to determine who shall be the advisers of the Crown for the time being. I do not want it to have any control—I ask the House to mark these words—over the Executive of the country.I quote those words again, because we shall hear a great deal about a Single Chamber, and I want your Lordships to recognise the difference between what you are going to call a Single Chamber and that predominant Chamber which you all agree must be the character of the House of Commons—a difference which is far less considerable and far less vital and organic than many noble Lords opposite seem to suppose.
The noble Marquess has asked me whether it shocks me to think that in the new House to be constituted there should be a preponderance of what is called a steadying element. It does not shock me at all. That is exactly what you would expect a Second Chamber to be and what you would expect them to do. My own view is that the sin of this Bill is that it is based on Party machinery, and a Party majority seems inevitable under this machinery. That may be disputed, but it is my own impression after a pretty careful study of the proposals. We are discussing this Bill under a great disadvantage, I admit, because we do not know how the noble Marquess is going to settle the difficult questions of the relations and powers of the two Houses, which after all are the foundation and starting point of the whole controversy. We are not now setting an academic Constitutional problem in the air; we are dealing with a definite practical emergency. These differences between the two Houses are not the work of mere Party quarrelling or Party recrimination; they 378 come from far deeper sources and foundations than that. They have been inevitable, in one sense, since the Reform Act of 1832, but in the immediate sense that concerns us they have become more and more vital and inevitable since the Franchise Bill passed by Mr. Disraeli in 1867 and completed by the County Franchise Bill of 1884. It was those tremendous additions to the mass of new voters which made the cleavage between your Lordships' House and the other House. It was these new voters who were first beginning to acquire the possession of actual political power which made what is perplexing us to-day inevitable.
But, though inevitable, I deplore the way in which this particular emergency has been brought about and has been handled. It is almost incredible the position in which we stand to-night, and to think that we are only eighteen months off the time when your Lordships thought fit to challenge the House of Commons. By the rejection of the Finance Bill in November, 1909, you challenged the House of Commons. What has come of that challenge? The Budget, of course, has become law. I am not going through the particulars of the present Bill with the view of throwing taunts at the noble Marquess. I am well aware of the enormous cost to themselves to which the noble Marquess and those who support him have brought themselves to frame the present proposals. I give them full credit for that. The noble Marquess said on the First Reading—We cannot in those circumstances hope to satiety all views.So far from satisfying all views, I am afraid this Bill satisfies none. I did hear, however, a subdued chorus of applause—from whom?—from those who in 1909 shouted loud hallelujahs at the defeat of the Finance Bill. Those are the supporters, very moderate in number and in tone, that I can discern of the noble Marquess's Bill. Can we wonder that Conservatives and Unionists who form a vast majority in this House, are amazed when they recall the words of Lord Curzon, who said in 1909 that the instinct of self-preservation, if nothing else, would prevent this House from using its powers unfairly or frivolously? He actually claimed the right of Dissolution. What has been the result? We used to hear a great deal in 1886 of the miraculous conversion of Mr. Gladstone to Home Rule; but I declare, looking back upon that and remembering 379 it well, that the miraculous conversion of the Party opposite to a scheme like the Bill before us beats Mr. Gladstone's case hollow.
Where do you stand? This Bill gives a shock to the Prerogatives of the Crown, to the Scottish Act of Union of 1707, and to the Act of Union with Ireland. It shakes down the legislative powers of the Lords Temporal as such. About 400 of your Lordships, and therefore a majority, are by the Schedule not eligible. I do not know why in that case your Lordships should not have been allowed to choose your representatives at your own will and discretion from your own numbers. How very awkward the position of the ineligible Peer will be if he desires admission to the new second House by either of the other two gates, nomination by the Prime Minister or election by the electoral colleges, or if he uses the powers which are given, and I think most rightly given, under this Bill, to stand as a candidate for the House of Commons. The fact of his being called ineligible by the House to which he has a natural right would make him a most desirable opponent. If I were a Parliamentary candidate I should be glad to have such an opponent. And a Prime Minister when nominating his hundred Lords of Parliament would, in my opinon, think twice before he selected a man characterised by his own order as of the ineligible sort. These changes are enormous; but, at the same time, from our point of view this Bill represents an enormous stride in advance compared with the proposals of Lord Rosebery's Committee. The changes are tremendous. The Peers elected by their brother Peers were then to be 200, but they are now reduced to 100. The ex-officio members who figured in my noble friend's scheme have gone.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN
Well, the scheme of my noble friend's Committee. My noble friend has been very chary about producing a scheme.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
Let me make this matter clear. So far as I know I was in a minority of one on the committee, and my scheme was contained in a paragraph in the Report of which I was the only supporter. I do not wish the scheme of the Committee to be considered as mine.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN
The Peers are reduced from 200 to 100 and the rest are to come in, indirectly no doubt, but in essence dependent on the House of Commons. One hundred are to be chosen by a Prime Minister who is himself chosen by the House of Commons, and the others are to be chosen by members of the House of Commons. It comes to this as the end of this grand move in November, 1909, against the House of Commons, that two-thirds of the members of the new House are to be in fact and in essence dependent on that House which you then defied. I think that is the sober truth of the matter.
The noble Marquess referred to the Lords Spiritual and made some judicious remarks on the difficulty of finding representatives of other Churches. But looking at it from the conservative standpoint it is a considerable alteration to reduce them from twenty-six to five, apart from the two most rev. Primates. There is a very curious provision in one of the clauses where the Lords Spiritual are to elect their members by proportional representation. I know what proportional representation means when applied to politicians, but what does it mean when applied to Lords Spiritual? Proportional to what? In the debate of 1909 the Archbishop of Canterbury based his action on the principle of leaving to Cæsar the things which are Cæsar's, and the Archbishop of York said that they had nothing to do with Party politics. Therefore they are not to have regard to Party politics, to Whig or Tory. What, then—High Church, Low Church, Latitudinarian? The greatest Conservative who ever wrote in this country talked of the Church of England exalting her mitred front in Court and Parliament. The Church of England in the matter of front is reduced to this very modest proportion, and with all the machinery of electoral colleges and so forth does not strike me as half so inspiring a vision as that which appeared to the Conservative I have spoken of.
The members of the new House are to be 350, which by the way is exactly the number of noble Lords who voted on the Budget Bill. It seems to the Government that 350, or even 200 I would say, is far too large a body for what is sincerely desired—tranquil, deliberate, competent, calm revision. If you have a body of 350 nothing on earth can prevent a body of that dimensions becoming a fighting 381 phalanx, a Whig and Tory phalanx. I cannot conceive how any manipulation of machinery such as is proposed in the Bill would prevent it. If you want any real deliberation, would not any one of you choose 100 rather than 350? You would then have a chance of obtaining a competent revising body; but does anybody dream that with a House of 350 members all interests would be so banished from it that a Licensing Bill, for example, would have a better chance of getting through than through the present House? I do not think so. Look at another point. I am not going to refer to it from any Party reason, for in truth neither Party Came out of it with flying colours. On the Trades Disputes Bill the noble Marquess used some strong language, so strong that I feel inclined to quote it for the purpose of my argument. He said—This Trades Disputes Bill will bring rain, bodily suffering, and mental anguish to individuals. It is fraught with danger to the community, and is likely to embitter the industrial life of this country. We must before risking conflict with the House of Commons choose ground as favourable as possible to ourselves.Consider in your own minds what sort of an Assembly you are going to get under the noble Marquess's Bill? Does anybody believe that the Assembly so got would be a bit more likely to show that independence which is one of the great objects of having a Second House? Does anybody believe that the independence of a House so chosen on a question of that kind where the popular mind was thought to be so eager would be a bit more independent, a bit more likely to resist that evil influence than your Lordships' present House? I confess I think it is a complete illusion to think anything of the kind.
Then there is the principle of indirect election. I am aware that it is on all fours with the system in the Union State of South Africa, but I cannot conceive of any benefit being derived from electoral colleges which could not be obtained by the House of Commons as a whole. As to the language in the Bill about the new Lords of Parliament being chosen like members of Select Committees in the House of Commons, that is a most extraordinary proviso. As everybody who has sat in the House of commons is aware, these Committees are appointed by more proceedings than one. How is it managed? The Whips of the four Parties select names; 382 those names are submitted to the House after due consultation, and they are then appointed. Is it contended, as it seems to be contended in the Bill, that the Prime Minister, having got a quantity of names selected by this process through the Whips, and having got the consent of the House to them, is then to submit those names for the approval of the Crown? No; the Prime Minister will do nothing of the kind. The plan of the Bill is really unworkable. What the Prime Minister, I take it, would do would be to make a list of persons approved, and then, on his own responsibility, recommend those men to the Crown for creation as Lords of Parliament.
There are one or two questions I should like to ask the noble Marquess as to the men chosen by groups of members of Parliament. It may be said, "If you have them chosen by the whole House of Commons you will have a tremendous area of wire-pulling, intrigue, and manipulation." Does the noble Marquess suppose he will avoid wire-pulling, intrigue, and manipulation by taking county groups of members? I want to know how a candidate is to recommend himself to one of these groups—not, mind you, bodies of electors, but groups of members of Parliament. Plato said the only man who is fit to be entrusted with power is the man who will not accept it. There are many other difficulties. Suppose a Lord of Parliament chosen in this way should have the mischance of dying, how are you going to fill up the vacancy? The same applies to nomination. The men you have nominated may change their politics. The Cabinet may change its mind, or in the House of Commons you may have a new Prime Minister. The point of all this is that you want two things, I submit, in any great scheme of this sort. You want stability and you want simplicity. Tell me what stability there is in such a system as this. What stability is there for Parliamentary life? What stability is there under these constantly varying conditions for government, for continuity of purpose and policy? The Bill is open to the gravest objection on both those grounds.
Everybody I have spoken to, competent to have an opinion, and who has taken the trouble to form one, insists that the figure given by the noble Marquess the other night as to the probable superiority of Unionists in this House is ludicrously small. It could 383 not possibly be so small as eighteen. It must be a great deal more. The lowest figure I have heard from any expert analyst of the figures is a majority of forty-five. You cannot really determine this aspect of the Bill unless you know what is going to be, as the noble Marquess promised to tell us by and by, the solution of the relations, between the two Houses, because the numbers of the new House would depend naturally upon the system of relations between the two Houses. You could not settle the question of Joint Sittings unless you had settled numbers on a firmer basis than the noble Marquess indicated.
I do not think I can reasonably detain your Lordships longer. The whole point is what the relations of this Bill, or any other Bill brought forward by noble Lords opposite to the same purpose, are to be to the Parliament Bill. The noble Marquess last time challenged me to produce our scheme mentioned in the Preamble of our Bill. We have to solve a definite problem—namely, how, as we carry on from day to day, to get back to the old position of co-operation and accord which used to mark the whole relations between Lords and Commons. We cannot carry on unless your Lordships give up the absolute Veto which has hitherto been claimed. We therefore feel bound, after one election upon another—elections, mind you, in which larger numbers went to the poll than had almost ever been the case before, in which feeling had been steady and persistent—we feel bound not to go further until we have secured for the House of Commons that predominance which the noble Marquess and his friends have admitted is the Constitutional position of that House. Whether any future development in the noble Marquess's Bill may bring us nearer to that it is not for me to say. I myself should make no complaint if he altered, developed, enlarged his Bill. But let me be quite frank. Alter it, develop it, change it as much as he may, our first business as a Government is to secure the Parliament Bill.
§ THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
My Lords, the speech which we have just heard from the noble Viscount the Leader of the House fills one with considerable amazement, and certainly leaves one's appetite considerably dissatisfied. In the earlier part of his speech he made an eloquent 384 defence of your Lordships' House which must have brought satisfaction to the oldest Tory present. It was an eloquent defence of this ancient institution which it was somewhat surprising to hear from the noble Viscount, whose antecedents and political views we know so well. At one moment he appeared to think that we had made a great mistake in attempting in any degree whatever to interfere with the constitution of this House. He then went on to deal in a somewhat critical spirit with certain of the proposals contained in the Bill now before the House. His criticisms were certainly interesting, but they were, if I may say so, far more appropriate to the Committee stage of the Bill. Upon the real principle underlying the Bill I venture to say we have not heard a single word.
We are necessarily to-day confronted with a position of extreme delicacy, and obviously in dealing with any one of these proposals we cannot close our minds to other proposals which must be taken in conjunction. One would hardly have thought that the noble Viscount is a distinguished member of a Cabinet which, as he said, has a clear mandate to carry through the House of Commons the Bill which is now, I believe, being discussed on Third Reading in that House, and which Bill contains a Preamble in which it is stated that the question of a Second Chamber is to come up again. What light have we had to-day in regard to that? The only hint we have had was the statement of the noble Viscount that the number of 350 is too big. A membership of 350 too big for a deliberative Assembly! The noble Viscount has not so very long left the House of Commons. I do not know whether his opinion is that 670 is an unwieldy number for a deliberative Assembly.
§ THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
I can only say that the statement of the noble Viscount that 350 is too large a number is the only hint that we have had as to what is in the mind of His Majesty's Government. Not one single word have we heard as to whether the newly constituted House is to be a composite House; whether it is to elect itself, or whether it is to be elected from outside. We have heard detailed criticisms of electoral colleges. Have the Government something definite in their 385 mind as to what they are going to place in the position of a Second House? I give them credit for that. Are they going to establish a purely elected but small body? I hope that in the course of this debate we may be let a little more into their secrets.
In certain quarters it has been asked, What is the reason for bringing this Bill forward at the present moment? My noble friend the Leader of the Opposition, in the speech which he made this evening, again clearly showed, I think to entire satisfaction, that we were absolutely bound in honour to bring forward these proposals in a definite and concrete form in consequence of the Resolutions which we passed at the end of last year. Personally I am bound to say that I do not think I could have again stood on a political platform unless some such measure had been brought forward by the Party of which I am a member. We promised by everything one can adhere to in political life that we meant business over these Resolutions, and that we intended to put them into definite and concrete form. This question is not one which can be considered merely from the point of view of how it might affect individuals, or as to what either this or that Party might be able to get out of it if it became law. The question which I venture to say your Lordships have now to consider is whether you are going to have a Second Chamber in this country at all, and, it you are going to have one, whether you have now got the most efficient Second Chamber, or whether it is possible to improve it. Unquestionably much may be said for the course which this House has taken in the past, and its willingness to adapt itself to what it believes to be the real, fixed, and well ascertained opinion of the country.
The noble Viscount, at the beginning of his speech, dated the difference between this House and the people—a difference which I do not admit exists—to the result of the franchise legislation culminating in the Act of 1885. It is a remarkable thing that in the six-and-twenty years which have passed since then the Party represented by noble Lords on this side of the House have been responsible for the Government of the country for seventeen years, which does not show, I think, any such very great cleavage as was in the mind of the noble Viscount. The noble Viscount went on to say that we threw 386 down a challenge by the rejection of the Budget in 1909. It is certainly true that we gave the country an opportunity of expressing its opinion upon that Bill. As a result of that election I admit that you were able to induce a majority in the House of Commons to vote in favour of it. I do not wish to enter into recriminations, especially when every now and again appears something in the nature of an olive leaf, and I do not wish to go back into past history. It would be interesting to know the history of the negotiations which took place between January, 1910, and the somewhat belated appearance of the Budget which had received, according to noble Lords opposite, such enthusiastic welcome in the country. The Budget which we were told was to appear within a few days of the reassembly of Parliament did not, for some mysterious reason with which the future historian will be able to deal, make its appearance until May of that year. How far the newly-elected House of Commons were honestly in favour of that Bill, or whether a condition of affairs had arisen in which inducements may have been put forward to certain members of the House of Commons who strongly disapproved of the Budget before the election to vote for the Budget after the election, we do not know. These matters may some day be unravelled, but at any rate I think I can claim that the proceedings which took place in the rejection of the Budget constitute no authority whatever for His Majesty's Government and noble Lords opposite to claim that they have a right to reduce this House to impotence for ever and for all time.
This question is one which most essentially must not be taken by itself. It will be within the recollection of every member of your Lordships' House that in the discussion upon the Resolutions last year my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition fully and categorically outlined the views of himself and his friends regarding the relations of the two Houses. The proposals that we are discussing to-day are only part and parcel of a general scheme which we are prepared to lay before the House for readjusting the relations between the two Houses. One measure has already been placed on the Table by Lord Balfour of Burleigh. It may not be a perfect measure, it may not deal with the subject in all its aspects, but at any rate it is, as 387 this Bill is, a serious and genuine attempt to deal systematically with the relations between the two Houses. Another proposal which was supported by the Resolutions of last year was that of Joint Sittings. Obviously it would not be advisable on the Second Reading of one Bill to discuss at any length other proposals, though they do hold a distinct place in the whole of our proposals; and I cannot help thinking that, in any readjustment which must—and I think we all admit it—take place between the two Houses, if there was machinery recognised and provided by Parliament for Joint Sittings of the two Houses, the very fact that that machinery existed would probably prevent undue obstruction by either House, and I believe the same to a very great extent might apply to the case of the Referendum.
It is absolutely necessary, before any great fundamental change is made in our Constitution, that we should endeavour to ascertain as far as possible what the real opinion of the country is. I do not wish to refer to subjects beyond the immediate scope of this Bill, but I will take two prominent instances to show the deep divisions which there must be in the minds of the electorate, how extremely difficult it is to ascertain what really are the views of the country upon these matters, and the obvious necessity of having a more definite scheme for ascertaining what the real wishes of the country are. The two questions I take are Home Rule and Tariff Reform. The conclusion has been borne in very strongly upon my mind that the majority of the country want neither. I may be wrong. I only give this as an expression of my own opinion. I do not say whether the country is right or whether it is wrong, and the so-called process of education must be continued still further in both categories. I honestly believe that if the country was polled to-day and everybody entitled to a vote was requested to say whether or not he was in favour of Tariff Reform and Home Rule, a considerable majority would reply in the negative in both cases. But that is merely a matter of opinion. I believe that if we had an election it would be almost impossible for a Government to be returned which would have what is now called a clear and categorical mandate. I do not wish to appear cynical, but one cannot help having the belief forced upon one that Governments are elected not because they are popular in themselves, but 388 mainly because their predecessors are unpopular; and one cannot help thinking that it would be easier for the work of the Government as a whole, whether time Party of noble Lords who sit on this side of the House or that of noble Lords who sit opposite are in office, if there were means found by which the opinion of the country could be better expressed on given questions. It would save a great deal of trouble in dealing with matters which the country did not want, and the Government would be able to turn their attention to matters which the country did desire dealt with.
There is one other reason why I think we welcome the proposals laid before the House by the noble Marquess. The Parliamentary machine is a complex one, and we are bound, I think, to admit that it is one in regard to which we can never aim at getting absolute finality. There must be elasticity in our constitution to enable it to adjust itself from time to time according to the needs and requirements of the country. In the same way the constitution of the House of Commons cannot be fixed and stereotyped for all time. It has been admitted, I think, on all sides in politics that from time to time the machine has to be overhauled. I need not go through the dates, but at certain stated intervals, beginning with the year 1833 and going up to the year 1885, periodical adjustments have been made; and there are many of us who now think that a readjustment is considerably overdue. I do not like to look at it merely from the point of view of an advantage which we might gain, or an advantage which noble Lords opposite might gain, but at any rate the constitution of the House of Commons to-day represents a series of anomalies which it is impossible to defend; and although I know it is somewhat wide of the scope of this Bill, one cannot help hoping that the introduction of this Bill and the discussion of these and kindred proposals in both Houses of Parliament and the country, will impress upon the minds of all concerned the absolute necessity, not only of adjusting, as far as we possibly can, the relationship between the two Houses, but of producing the most efficient working of both Houses. That this Bill does go a long way is admitted on all sides. It is necessarily open to criticism, and I feel confident that my noble friend who is responsible for the introduction of the Bill is perfectly ready and willing to listen to fair criticisms for the improvement of it.
389 There is nothing more difficult than the fixing of numbers. Anybody who has had experience of the House of Commons will know that the moment a number is chosen, whatever it may have been before, it invariably leads to difficulty, and people immediately have a large number of reasons to put forward showing why another number than the one selected should be adopted. But I cannot accept the criticisms which have been made by the noble. Viscount opposite with regard to what I may call the nominated section—the 100 members who are to be chosen in accordance with the composition of the House of Commons. He knows as well as I do and as well as any other noble Lord who has sat in the House of Commons that there is a perfectly well understood principle, which has held good for a considerable time, by which the members of Committees, whether it be a Grand Committee or a Select Committee, are selected. The Committee of Selection meet at the beginning of every Parliament and strike a balance, as far as they possibly can, between the various sections of the House in the selections they make. That applies whether the Committee is a big one or a small one, and it applies, I believe, equally where you have to add numbers. It is a perfectly well-known and accepted principle. I remember that on one occasion when an effort was made to depart from it, so strongly was the principle recognised, so many officials having been at work on its details, great opposition was put forward to departing from such a well-established practice. There is not the slightest difficulty in working that principle, and I cannot see that the objection which noble Lords have raised to it is in the least degree insuperable. I know there may be and there will be many questions of detail in such novel proposals as these that are bound to be criticised. It is inevitable that that must take place. But looking at the underlying principle of the Bill we are determined, in fulfilment of the pledges which we gave in this House and which our responsible leaders gave during the course of the General Election, to go forward with this Bill as an honest, genuine, and sincere attempt to make our Parliamentary machine work as efficiently and smoothly as possible.
§ LORD ST. DAVIDS
My Lords, the noble Duke who has just spoken laid down as one of his propositions that in considering this Bill we ought not to let ourselves be 390 influenced by how it may or may not affect individual members of this House. Need we go quite as far as that? It seems to me that it would be a very relevant thing in considering this or any other Bill for the reconstitution of this House if we had to come to a conclusion which would lead to the exclusion from this Assembly of many who have hitherto been among the most useful and most honoured of its members. We have in considering this Bill one very great advantage, if I may say so, in the way in which it has been submitted to us. I had for many years the opportunity in another place of hearing important Bills introduced by the leaders of both political Parties, and I must say that I never heard any Bill introduced as clearly and concisely as this Bill was introduced by the noble Marquess opposite.
In speaking on the Second Reading of a Bill you are generally dealing only with the principle contained within it; but in this particular case you have what is very rare, an extremely important Bill introduced by the Opposition. Therefore when you have a Bill like this introduced by a political Party who admittedly are at the moment not in a position to carry their Bill into law, I think we are bound to consider, not only the Bill as it is, but what the Bill is going to be before, if ever, it comes before Parliament in a final shape with a majority behind it in both Houses. Before that can come to pass we must all admit that a General Election will be necessary, because the noble Lords who introduced this Bill have not got a majority in the Commons, and the Government do not accept their Bill. If this Bill, therefore, is ever to become law it must be after a General Election. We all know the process of a General Election. Political candidates throw a good deal overboard before they come out of the contest. Supposing the Conservative Party go to the country some day with this Bill as their main plank at a General Election, one of two things must happen. Either they are beaten—in that case you do not hear any more of it—or they are successful. If they are successful, what is going to happen in the case of this Bill? I think a good deal of it will have gone by that time. And I think noble Lords who are going to vote now for the Second -Reading of this Bill, believing that this is actually what they are going to get some day in the way of legislation, had better think twice or three times before they 391 record their votes. To get a majority in this country you must carry more than a political Party. If every Liberal and every Tory voted for the respective Parties, there would not be a majority. You must get a large share of the votes of the man in the street; and, first of all, to get a majority a political Party must be unanimous among themselves.
I am far from saying that you cannot get a majority on this Bill in some shape or another after it has been altered, but you have not got a solid political Party behind it to-day. You certainly have not judging by the Tory Press. I am not a voracious reader of newspapers, and I do not pretend that my reading of papers of the other side is by any means exhaustive, but I have observed that there is a very large, and I think I may say influential, section of the Tory Press which is absolutely against any retention of the hereditary principle in this Bill. I will give as instances the Observer, which has been calling upon noble Lords opposite to throw the hereditary principle overboard altogether, and the Pall Mall Gazette, which has been taking the same line. When you have your own Party not solid with regard to a Bill, I think you will agree with me that that Bill cannot become law except with Amendments. I read only this morning in a newspaper that has been most strongly advocating this Bill that the Bill "is fair, or can be made fair, as between political Parties." If I were going to vote for this Bill thinking it might become law as it stands, I should regard that as a most ominous sentence. As I say, you may some day get a majority for a Bill for reconstituting this House, but you are going to the country with clauses which give special representation to right rev. Prelates. In going to the country—I am not talking of Liberal candidates and the views they may take, but of the view the successful Tory candidate is going to take—the Conservative candidate will perhaps take the view, with the greatest respect for the right rev. Prelates and the greatest admiration for their work, that they will be possibly somewhat out of place in such a body as is proposed. It is not to be a body such as this body is to-day. It is not to be a body where there is a great mass, as there is in this House at all times now, of independent opinion, but a body where the political Parties will be very evenly balanced, and contests will be fought on fierce political lines. That is what the 392 House of Lords is going to be in the future if you pass this reconstitution scheme. Therefore the constitution of the House under any scheme of reform is a very relevant consideration in discussing this Bill. As I have said, you have your Party divided. How are you going to get it so united as to get a majority? In my view you can only get a majority by throwing a number of these clauses overboard.
I saw something that bears on this in an interview that was given to The Times newspaper by a gentleman who I believe assisted to draft this very Bill, Mr. F. E. Smith. He said—It may well be that the alternative to the composite proposal which we have formulated may prove to be an elected Second Chamber.He does not say whether it is his own Party, as the result of a General Election, or whether it is the other Party who will bring it forward, but he is actually contemplating in an interview in which he is praising this Bill—as he may well do if he is one of its authors—an elected Second Chamber. That is really what we have to consider to-night. This Bill comes before us with all these fancy franchises. When you have gone through a General Election, as you will have to do to carry such reforms as you have in your mind, will not a large number of these fancy franchises have disappeared, and shall we not be face to face, as Mr. F. E. Smith says, with an elected Senate? I think there is a great deal in this Bill which is very ingenious, and as regards the election of Peers by members of Parliament, and Lords of Parliament to be nominated by the Crown in proportion to the strength to the House of Commons, I must say there is a great deal to be said for it, and one's heart rather does turn to any proposal that would not involve repeated General Elections such as elections of a Senate in this country would inevitably involve.
But I want your Lordships, if you will bear with me for a few minutes, to consider what the position of this House is to-day compared with the position it must be in supposing this Bill or any other Bill for its reconstitution were passed. There is one thing to-day that the House of Lords is certainly not—that is, a paid body. Another thing is, we are in no way local. Members of Parliament represent some particular district, usually the district of the county where they live. We do not represent here 393 the district we live in any more than any other district. Then we are not in any way stringently subject to Party Whips. Noble Lords who have been as I have in the House of Commons will know what the difference is here and there as to that state of things. Again, a very large and influential part is taken in the proceedings of this House by what you may call the more casual attendants. I mean that a very large part of the work is done, not by noble Lords who attend here almost every day or every week, but by noble Lords who are experts on particular subjects. I do not like to mention names, but you will all have such instances in your minds. A part is taken by noble Lords, experts in some particular subject, who do not come here very frequently, perhaps, although when they do come they take a leading and influential and most admirable part in our proceedings. That is distinctly a feature of this House.
It is quite certain that when you have your Reform Bill through, whatever it may be now—I do not want to consider in detail the Bill noble Lords have brought in which they think will improve the constitution of the House—one or two general principles will have to be considered, and one of them is surely this. When the new House is formed it must be something like fair as between the two political Parties. The noble Marquess opposite contemplates—I am sure he will bear me out—that some day there will be a Liberal majority in this House. I think he has taken considerably too favourable a view of the prospects of the Liberal Party in this House, but he and his friends are contemplating, at any rate, a House which will be something like equal in numbers as between the two political Parties. They are also contemplating a House in which there must be many poor men and working men, just as there are in the House of Commons; because the two sections of this Bill which provide for Lords of Parliament being elected by members of the House of Commons and the nomination by the Crown of members of this House in proportion to the respective Parties in the House of Commons, must lead, if fairly carried out, which I have no doubt they would be, to the presence in this House of numbers of working men and poor men. At the present moment the House of Commons is not paid, but it is an open secret that it is likely to be paid before very long, and it seems to me that when this 394 House is reconstituted, whether under this Bill or any Bill like it, you will have to have some provision here, I do not say for paying all the members, but for paying those members who need it. I think that will follow whether you like it or not. I am not in the least expressing the opinion that it is desirable. I am only saying that if you are going to bring a number of men such as miners and trade union representatives, men of all sorts, here, as you are contemplating under this Bill, and these men are being paid if in the House of Commons, it will be rather hard, should their services be called upon for this House, whether they are nominated by the Crown or by a Prime Minister, if they are not to be paid. If these men are paid in one Assembly they will fairly think they ought to be paid in the other. I do not say for a moment that noble Lords will be compelled to take salaries whether they like it or not, but I do say, and I think the country will say, that these people ought to be offered salaries.
What does this mean? It means, first of all, that you are going to have Parties nearly evenly balanced here. I am talking about your own Bill. You will then have a large number of men, not as we are now representing no particular district, but men representing particular districts. You are going to create different constituencies. Yorkshire, I suppose, will be divided into one or two constituencies, and other great divisions of the country will return so many Lords of Parliament. What does that mean? It means that. Peers in this House for the first time will have local calls upon them concerning their attendance in this House which they will not be justified in disregarding. A Peer who sits here as representing, say, Yorkshire, or Kent, or any other division in the country, will be told by his constituents, when there is anything under discussion in this House which affects time interests of that particular part of the country, that he is expected to be in Parliament and attend the proceedings in the House of Lords. Lords of Parliament in the new Assembly will be pressed not only by their own constituents to attend Parliament, but they will have a great deal more pressure put upon them by their own political Parties. Noble Lords who have been in the House of Commons will bear me out that the "whipping" in this House is ridiculously light as compared with the "whipping" in another place. The reason is perfectly obvious. It makes practically 395 no difference to anybody whether there is one Conservative more or one Liberal less in any particular Division in your Lordships' House; it only means that the majority of noble Lords opposite is one greater or one smaller. It never enters the imagination of man that this side of the House could be in a majority, and therefore there is no pressure. But directly you make the two sides of this House in something like equal numbers—make no mistake about it—the present condition of things will not exist for a day; you will have strong pressure from the Whips of both political Parties, and any noble Lord who happens to be a member of the new House will be pressed every day to come here at the beginning and stay until the end of the proceedings, and to vote in every Division unless he happens to be paired. My Lords, that is the change you are going to make in this House.
The noble Duke who spoke just now suggested that we ought not to consider the personnel of the House in talking about these changes, and that we ought not to think of how they affect individuals. Ought we not to? After all, it is not, perhaps, entirely upon political partisans that the great political glory and prestige of this House has rested. I think all noble Lords will agree with that. You have men in this House, and happily we have always had men here, whose lives have been lives of great achievement in different spheres—great soldiers, great sailors, great diplomatists, ex-Viceroys—and statesmen the summer of whose lives has been spent in another place, and who only come here when the stress of elections and of work in the House of Commons is too much for them. All those men have brought honour to this Assembly, and I am sure all of us wish to see them here. But if you are going to build up in this House an Assembly something like the House of Commons on a smaller scale, if you are going to build up an Assembly in which the two Parties are of something like equal number, where there will either be a small Conservative majority or a small Liberal majority, then you are going to make the life in this House a very strenuous one, and surely you are in danger of driving the very people whom both sides would like to see members of this House out of public life altogether.
You may say, of course, that a great man who is not a very strong partisan and would 396 not wish to come here day after day and support one political Party or the other, can do good work, even in politics, without being a member of this Assembly. But will it be quite the same position? Take the case of a noble Lord who has had a great career as Governor of a Province, or who has done great service to his country in war as a General. A man like that in his old age, if he is no longer a member of this House, may, it is true, go to the country and lay down his views in any emergency on a political or other platform; but, after all, the advantage of this House as a pulpit for such a man to speak from is this: On a platform you cannot be answered; your speech cannot be debated; you are making it largely to a number of people who are only partially educated; you are not making it among men who can criticise it and answer it on the moment. Therefore I say that you are placing difficulties in the way of the very class of men we want to have in this House, and for whom this House is the right place, and making political life for them impossible.
My Lords, I have purposely not spoken on the details of this Bill. I have not wanted, as a very new member of this House, to criticise adversely the details of any plan put forward for the improvement of the Assembly in which we sit, but I do think, in spite of what the noble Duke who spoke last said, that it is very relevant indeed to any plan that we should consider what effect it will have on individuals if those individual members are among the most honoured and most famous in our body. Those considerations are, I think, very material, and I hope noble Lords will bear them in mind before they go to a Division.
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE
My Lords, I think your Lordships will realise, after the speech of the noble Lord who has just sat down, that there is even another point of agreement, which we are always so fond of insisting upon on this side of the House, between ourselves and the Party opposite. At any rate I believe there is between the noble Lord and myself a point of agreement, because he evidently thinks, as I do, that the present House of Lords is absolutely the best House of Lords that you could possibly get, and it is the only House of Lords that will ever do any good under our present system. This is not, 397 as I think the noble Viscount, Lord Morley, said just now, an occasion for anything like levity. It is, indeed, the saddest debate that we have ever had in this House. The noble Marquess who moved the Second Reading of this Bill, in proposing the House of Lords which he desires to see, said that he could not invent au umbrella large enough to cover both Lord Halsbury and myself. I think he will recollect that in the earlier stages of the consideration of the reform of this House I had the honour to stand under the same umbrella as Lord Halsbury, and I was very proud to stand there. I shall go to my grave with an unquenchable belief in all the virtues and none of the vices of the hereditary Peerage, and I do not think, to be serious, that there is a single Peer on either side of the House who does not really believe, like Lord St. Davids evidently does, that we have got now the best House of Lords that we could possibly get. There is one thing that noble Lords opposite will not tell us. They will not tell us what kind of a House of Lords they have at the back of their minds which they think would be better than the present one.
A very common line of argument with Radicals, both those who are Lords and those who are not Lords, is this. They say to members of the Unionist Party, "You are always saying what a fine thing the House of Lords is and how well it has done in the past; then why in the name of goodness do you wish to alter it?" A Radical, much less a Radical Cabinet Minister, ought to be the last man in the world to ask a question of that kind. By means of mixing prejudice against the land laws of this country with a certain amount of platform sophistry and unscrupulous calumny upon individual members of the House of Lords, Cabinet Ministers and their Party have misled large audiences in this country with regard to the individual membership of this House. The noble Viscount expresses surprise. I will give him an instance of the kind of thing I mean. He said that we ought not to indulge in recriminations, that this matter was far too serious for that. I do not wish to rake up the whole gamut of vulgarity in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has indulged in the speeches he has delivered in the country. This is the kind of thing that is calumnious and unscrupulous. It is calumnious to suggest to the public that the Duke of Westminster is a blackmailer. It is done 398 to mislead the public and gain capital against the House of Lords as a legislative institution. The Chancellor of the Exchequer goes down to the country, and in reviewing what he calls backwoodsmen—I am not quite sure what he means by "backwoodsmen"—he says, "Who is Lord St. John of Bletsoe?" Lord St. John of Bletsoe has, perhaps, not taken a very prominent part in the debates in this House, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer displays a very lamentable ignorance of English history when he asks such a question. He ought to know that Lord St. John of Bletsoe was considered good enough by Queen Victoria to be a Lord Lieutenant of his county, and good enough for noble Lords opposite to go to when they wanted anything done with regard to the Territorial Army. I am not sure that he is not the Chairman, at any rate he is a prominent member, of the Territorial Force Association.
This kind of platform talk, a very old stock-in-trade of the Radical Party as practised by the street corner orator, when adopted by Cabinet Ministers holding responsible positions in the country becomes a very serious matter, and has to be dealt with. There are two ways of dealing with this situation. One is to treat it with the contempt which it undoubtedly deserves. I do not wish to detain your Lordships at any length with my family history, but I was brought up in a sound Tory household and reared in the belief that the British Constitution was res judicata on the part of the Conservative Party and ought not to be departed from in any kind of way—not from motives of sentiment, but because we believe that it is the best vehicle you can get for expressing the political liberties of the people and improving the social welfare of the inhabitants of these islands. Personally I should have liked to see the noble Marquess get up and deny that there was a Constitutional question involved at all, and tell noble Lords opposite to go to perdition and enjoy the inevitable fate that awaits people who go there. I venture to say, with great respect, that it was a very bad day's work for the Tory Party when they coquetted with my noble friend Lord Newton's Bill for the reform of this House in the first instance, and I am very proud indeed to have been one of the very few when it was first introduced who ventured to oppose its principle being seriously adopted.
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE
I am not aware that there was a Division to send the Bill to a Committee, but if there was I certainly did not vote for it. I was one of the three people who stood up in this House and opposed it. I do not know whether the noble Lord is referring to a subsequent occasion when the band of seventeen followed Lord Halsbury into the Lobby on the question of the hereditary principle. That is an occasion on which I shall always regret that I did not vote with Lord Halsbury, but took the pusillanimous course of walking out of the House. Lord Newton's Bill and the whole proposal coming at the time it did was, in my humble opinion, with the deepest respect to the noble Marquess, a dangerous gambit at the beginning of a long and difficult game, and we parted with a very valuable asset to the Conservative Party in throwing over, or disintegrating, shall I say, the hereditary principle. I do not believe that we should have been in the position in which we are now if we had declined to depart from it in any single particular.
There is the other way of dealing with this situation which I think has been described as "bringing the British Constitution into harmony with the spirit of the age." As to that, I sometimes wish that those who preach this doctrine would employ their great talents and their magnificent powers of speech in endeavouring to bring the spirit of the age into harmony with the British Constitution. Be that as it may, I for one, who have been opposed to this in the past, am perfectly ready to look the situation in the face as it presents itself at the present moment, and. I say, whether you rightly abandon the hereditary principle or whether you wrongly abandon it, the duty of the Unionist Party if they are really anxious to find a national solution of this problem, and the duty of the Radical Party too, is to find a House of Lords that could discharge the duties appropriate to all circumstances. It is quite impossible, of course, for anybody to be enthusiastic about the reform of the House of Lords. Nobody except the most inveterate philistine, or the man who enjoys the frame of mind, described by the late Lord Beaconsfield, which is never enthusiastic unless giving away some great principle, can really be rabidly enthusiastic about the reform of the House of Lords. I am going to refrain on this occasion from any further 400 vain regrets and idle tears, and I shall support the noble Marquess in this portion of his attempt to find a House of Lords which shall be so based upon public confidence that it can—with the full assent of the vast majority of the people of this country—discharge those duties which a Second Chamber ought to be able to discharge.
The real point of difference, as it seems to me, between us and noble Lords opposite, after all this talk about the Constitutional question has been thoroughly sifted, is whether the Second Chamber is going to have some means of referring a question to the people before the Bill is passed into law. You may talk about this Bill or about the Parliament Bill as long as you like, but that is the point, that separates us at the present moment, and, as far as I understand, will continue to separate us. We on our side do not intend to give up this point, until we have persuaded a sufficient majority of our fellow-countrymen to think as we do, and until we can get a Bill passed into law securing this power for the Second Chamber—a power which can either be exercised by a wholly hereditary House of Lords, or a composite House, or an elected Senate. I do not know exactly what sort of House of Lords Lord St. Davids really does want. I think he had a strong preference for the House of Lords as it is at the present moment. I am very glad that he finds it such a pleasant place. His principal objection to altering the House of Lords was that the new Peers would have to be paid when they came here. That is an objection which I can quite understand the noble Lord opposite and his friends view with a considerable amount of alarm.
§ LORD ST. DAVIDS
I am afraid the noble Lord is misrepresenting me. I was not thinking of whether it was or was not desirable that they should be paid. I was trying to point out that you were creating under this Bill a class of poor Peers, and that if they came here and expected payment and received payment you would then have attendance in this House much more compulsory than it was before.
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE
The point I was going to make was not with regard to a poor class of Peer, but that if you are going to create a body of 500 paid Peers it will make a very serious inroad on the national Exchequer. That is what I could not help thinking the noble Lord had 401 at the back of his mind when he looked with such horror upon the possibility of those who were elevated to the Peerage in future demanding a salary. I have heard it said that in some cases the boot was on the other leg, and people have been unkind enough to suggest that you were not paid to come up to the House of Lords but that you actually paid in order to get into it. The noble Lord and his friends opposite have created so many Peers lately that any suggestion I may have to make about that is entirely superfluous. They are admirable judges of this sort of transaction.
If I am not wearying your Lordships, I should like to say, with regard to the Bill of the noble Marquess, that I will not this evening follow it into all its details. When it gets to the Committee stage no doubt we shall be able to go into them. There are one or two things I should very much like to see done. I hope the noble Marquess will seriously consider whether he cannot get over the difficulty, which we fully appreciate, of reserving some places in the new House of Lords for the heads of religious bodies other than the Anglican Church; and I also hope that it will be laid down once and for all in black and white that the House of Lords acting as a Court of Appeal is not the House of Lords acting in its legislative capacity. In all the platform confusion and misconception created by people who do not know their constitutional history so well as the noble Viscount on the Front Bench does, nothing has been more regrettable than the confusion that exists as to the acts of the House of Lords in its judicial capacity being synonymous with the acts of the House of Lords in its legislative capacity. I know that that confusion had a very determining influence with the people in the decision it is said they have come to with regard to the Second Chamber, and it would not be a very great exaggeration to say that if in the General Election this misconception had not been tacitly agreed to by Cabinet Ministers, because I have never heard of a single one of them making any attempt to correct it, their friends and themselves would be very dangerously near not possessing the portfolios they possess at the present moment.
I desire, with great respect to the noble Marquess, to say one word with regard to the possibility, alluded to by Lord St. Davids, of an elected Senate in this country. I myself am perfectly prepared to follow the noble Marquess now or at any other time supposing he finds it necessary to propose 402 an elected Senate. I have arrived at this conclusion because I think that an elected Senate may some day or other—sooner than we perhaps think—come within the region of practical politics. I have not arrived at it from any sense of panic, because I have been at the greatest pains to discover, whenever I have had the honour of going to a political meeting, what the people themselves really think with regard to the Second Chamber. There are two clear cut opinions on this matter. There are those who do not want any House of Lords at all, who want nothing but the House of Commons. That is a perfectly intelligible and honest proposition, which compares very favourably with some of the views put forward by Radical Cabinet Ministers. Then there are those who hold the opinion that this country should have a Second Chamber which is not in any degree inferior to the Second Chambers of His Majesty's Oversea Dominions or the Second Chambers of other countries. They are perfectly willing that our Second Chamber here should exercise the same powers as those Second Chambers exercise, but they invariably say that, supposing they agree that our Second Chamber shall have those powers, then they would like to elect the members of their Second Chamber themselves.
In considering this I desire to ask the great mass of those who are now being asked to give up their seats in the House of Lords under this Bill whether it would not be fairer, if we are to regard it from the point of view of personal privileges at all, that we should be allowed first of all to go down to the country and contest our right or capacity to sit in this Assembly before our fellow-countrymen, and let anybody stand against us for a seat in the House of Lords who cares to put up. I would prefer to do that, and to fight for my right to sit in this House before my fellow-countrymen, than to be turned out by my fellow Peers. If I am to perish at all, I am not sure that I would not rather perish at the hands of the electors than at the hands of your Lordships' House. Of course, I am very sorry to be obliged to agree with anything that fell from noble Lords opposite, but I do agree with the proposition that a Peer who has been turned out of the House of Lords by his fellow Peers does go down to contest a constituency for a seat in the House of Commons under a certain disability, and it would be much fairer to everybody if all Peers some day or other were placed as 403 other men are, and could either stand for the House of Commons or for the House of Lords, or not stand for Parliament at all.
This debate has had one very great result. It has unmasked publicly beyond any shadow of doubt what is the attitude of the Radical Party towards this question, and that is why I venture to think that any prolonged debate about the composition of the new House of Lords will be absolutely fruitless. Their attitude shows that it is absolutely certain that they do not mean now, or at any other time, to restore to this House, or any other House of Lords, the powers that all other Second Chambers possess, and the powers that the Party on this side of the House intend to fight for. We do not need to come forward and take a hand in this Constitutional struggle in forma pauperis. We have behind us a majority of the people of England, and you cannot settle this question entirely in your own way without consulting those who command so many legions as the noble Marquess has at his disposal. You have an opportunity now of showing a disposition to come to some reasonable settlement of this great Constitutional question; and my Lords, speaking entirely as a private member of this House and of the Unionist Party, I should like to say that your rejection of this Bill will leave us with an absolutely free hand in the future to settle the matter in such a way as will seem good to us when we have the power. We shall not consider ourselves honourably bound by anything that has been said in the past towards the reconstitution of the House of Lords or towards the remodelling of its powers. I repeat that the rejection of the suggestions that are put forward now will leave us with an absolutely free hand in this matter, and it seems to me that, looking forward into the near future, our course with regard to the Parliament Bill is clearer than ever it was before. We have nothing to hope for or to gain by any kind of surrender to noble Lords opposite with regard to the principle contained in the Parliament Bill. Noble Lords opposite will, I am sure, realise far better than I can tell them that, if they do go through with their own idea of what a settlement should be without listening to the suggestions of noble Lords on this side, they will be forging a very formidable weapon indeed, a weapon which we on our side shall not hesitate to turn against them when the proper time comes.
§ EARL BATHURST
My Lords, after the brilliant and witty speech of my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke, I fear that the few words that I may say will not be deserving of your attention, and I would not address your Lordships unless I felt most deeply the importance of the Bill which is now before your Lordships' House. I wish to protest with all my strength against the course which the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition is asking you to take in giving this Bill a Second Reading. The noble Lord who has just sat down rather twitted the noble Lord opposite in believing that this House was the best possible institution of its kind that could be found. I am one of those who feel with the noble Lord, Lord St. Davids, that this House is the best possible House which could be devised by human beings as a Second Chamber for this country. I contend, first, that any reform of the House of Lords would be most disastrous to the country and Constitution, and that it is absolutely unnecessary and is not required by the majority of the people. I contend that a really strong House is not required, and would not prevent conflict with the other House; neither would it have the elasticity of the present House, and it would not be very long before another reform was demanded.
I think most people will agree that this House up to now has never made any serious mistake. Those Bills which have been rejected by this House, such as the Education Bill and the Licensing Bill, returned to the other House and nothing more has been heard of them. Your Lordships' judgment has been confirmed by the electors on more than one occasion. I would refer to the Home Rule Bill. That Bill was rejected by this House, and your Lordships were confirmed by a large majority of the electors at the next election. Why should this House be reformed? I have not heard any good reason why it should be reformed. This House has gone through many periods of storm and stress. A cry has been raised before now against the Lords, very much worse than any that is raised at present. I will not allude to the time of Cromwell, but I would like to refer to the year 1780, when Lord George Gordon got up the "No Popery" cry and a mob of thousands of disorderly people marched to the Houses of Parliament to present a monster petition. Many members of your 405 Lordships' House who came down to the House were suspected of being Papists and were assaulted by that large and violent mob; they were dragged from their coaches; they had their wigs torn off; they were robbed of their watches; they saw their carriages broken up, and they arrived in this House in a most dishevelled condition. Has anything like that occurred owing to any violent feeling in the country at the present time? Luckily, better order is kept in our streets to-day and our methods of protection are much better now. But have you, my Lords, ever seen any demonstration of that kind against this House? Have you ever been hooted down on a public platform; have you ever been insulted; have you ever seen any demonstrations which looked as if the people were suffering oppression from a tyrannical Chamber; have you ever seen any organisation against this House which approaches the enthusiasm of the Suffragettes? I do not think, from outside appearances at any rate, that any one could argue there is any very strong feeling in the country against this House as it is at present.
The noble Viscount who leads this House said that the rejection of the Budget by your Lordships in 1909 was the cause of all this agitation against your Lordships' House. I submit that the Budget had nothing to do with it. If we had passed the Budget on the first occasion we could not have prevented this demand for reform as now presented. This is an agitation which has been well engineered and entirely engineered for Party purposes, and is the result of advertisement and talk consequent on the Resolutions which have been before now introduced in your Lordships' House. The Government then saw their opportunity. The Irishmen who wished for Home Rule said, "Now is our opportunity; we shall never get Home Rule until the House of Lords is crippled." The Welsh members saw their opportunity, and they said the same thing with regard to disestablishment; while we all know what the opinions of the Socialists are, and their demands for a Single Chamber, which I am sure is not desired for one moment by the majority of the people of this country. While all these different schemes of reform were being taken up and discussed in the newspapers, Conservative Parliamentary candidates said, "Now is our opportunity to sweep the country at the next election by advocating a scheme for the reform of 406 the Upper House." They therefore proceeded to put great pressure on our Parliamentary leaders, who adopted the policy, and, as I think the noble Marquess rather hinted, this scheme was most distasteful to him when he presented it to your Lordships' House. The leaders of the Opposition succumbed to all this pressure from candidates and found themselves committed to bringing in this scheme of reform. They are obliged to redeem their pledge by this Bill. The scheme of reform you have seen to-night, and I can only compare the way the leaders of the Opposition seized on this scheme of House of Lords reform with what happened when Mr. Balfour produced his scheme of the Referendum. He produced it on the eve of the election, and every candidate, whatever he thought of the scheme, had to put it before the electors on the chance of getting a few more votes and so winning the election. When the Government first introduced their Parliament Bill, I believe they had no intention whatever of going any further with the real scheme of the reform of your Lordships' House; they did not want a stronger House, they only wanted Veto-curtailing powers. But they have been so pressed with questions in another place, so goaded with inquiries as to when this great scheme was going to be produced, that Mr. Asquith felt obliged to say that the Government would bring in a measure of reform after the Veto Bill was passed. I ask, What is the good of reform when the Veto Bill is passed? What is the use of a strong House when it is bound in chains which render it powerless? Reference has been made to the proportion of Peers to be elected under this new scheme should it be passed. But if you throw out the Veto Bill, we are told that 500 Peers will be elected, and those 500 Peers supporting the Government will upset the whole of the calculations that have been made.
I have tried to make my reasons clear for refusing to vote for the Second Reading of this measure. I consider that this Bill would be disastrous to the country and would destroy the Constitution. It is not wanted by the majority of the electors, and if it is passed it will be useless and would of a certainty be rejected in another place. I have spoken to a good many noble Lords as to their opinion of this Bill, and so far I have not met one who really in his heart of hearts approves of the measure. At the same time a great many noble Lords may 407 think that they cannot go back on the Resolutions of last year. I want to try and prove to those who feel that they cannot vote against this measure that they are perfectly free to do so. In order to do that. I should like to quote from a speech that the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition made in his place on that memorable night when only seventeen Peers were found to vote against those Resolutions. The noble Marquess said—I want if I may, before we go to a Division, to say one word with regard to the scope of the Resolution itself. I agree with my noble friend Lord Lytton in thinking that there is a certain amount of misunderstanding with regard to the effect of the Resolution. We have already resolved that a strong and efficient Second Chamber can best be provided by the reform and reconstitution of the House of Lords, and we are now asked to go one step further and to say that it is a necessary preliminary to such reform and reconstitution that the possession of a hereditary Peerage shall not of itself—and I lay great stress on these words—give a right to sit and vote in your Lordships' House. That Resolution has been represented as if it were equivalent to a repudiation of the hereditary principle. My Lords, I do not at all so read it—this is the important part—I will even go the length of saying that it would be possible for one of your Lordships to vote for this Resolution with the full intention of afterwards proposing that this House should consist entirely of hereditary Peers. All that we are really invited to do by this Resolution is to say that a hereditary Peerage by itself is not to give the title to sit and vote.When you read those words of the noble Marquess it is clear that the debate on the Resolutions was nothing more than an academic one. He asked you, first to say that if a really strong House was wanted it was a necessary preliminary that the possession of a hereditary Peerage should not of itself give a right to sit and vote. He then told you that you might vote for the Resolution and yet on a future occasion be perfectly free to vote as a supporter of the hereditary system. I contend, with that before you that every noble Lord who was present at that debate and voted for the Resolution is perfectly free to vote against the Bill which is before us to-night.
We all know the great influence which the noble Marquess has in this House. We acknowledge him to be a very great leader; we acknowledge that he has rarely made a mistake; we remember his many triumphs and the skill and tact he has shown in leading his Party through many a difficult pass. There are a great many noble Lords who would be most unwilling to vote against 408 him. They consider that he is a safe man to follow, and that they cannot go wrong in voting as he directs them to do. But, my Lords, the noble Marquess in introducing this measure, which in my opinion will destroy the Constitution and abolish this historic House for no adequate reason except as a tactical measure for securing the support of some electors while at the same time appeasing those who desire, not reform, but single Chamber government, is taking a responsibility upon himself which for my part, think a most dangerous one and cannot support. I hope noble Lords who hold my views will stand firm to their opinions and will vote, not according to how they are recommended by their leader who has brought in this Bill, but according to their own consciences and as they think best for tire good of the country.
LORD ST. LEVAN
My Lords, it is within my recollection that when the Resolutions proposed by the noble Earl on the Cross Benches were discussed in your Lordships' House the noble Marquess who has brought in this Bill expressed a wish that Back Bench Peers would take part in the debate, and I also think I am right in believing that the noble Earl, Lord Crewe, expressed a similar wish during the short discussion which took place when the Veto Bill was introduced in your Lordships' House last year. It is as a Back Bench Peer, which I think your Lordships will agree is a totally different thing from a "backwoodsman," that I venture to address your Lordships to-night. It appears to me, after the acceptance by your Lordships of the Resolutions of the noble Earl, that some such Bill as we are now discussing was inevitable, unless indeed those Resolutions were to be considered merely as a pious expression of opinion and not intended to be followed up, which is a view I have often heard expressed by some of my Radical friends. But, my Lords, I do not believe that was the case, and I do not believe it was ever meant to be the case. One result of those Resolutions and of the legislation which they foreshadowed was very plain indeed. It was that if anything came of them a considerable number of members of your Lordships' House would have to cease to occupy their seats in this House. This was well known and appreciated by a number of us who voted in favour of those Resolutions, and it was impossible, I think, for any of us who were 409 forced to that conclusion to regard the prospect with other than feelings of dismay.
A seat in your Lordships' House to my mind confers a very great and precious privilege, and the idea of having to give it up would mean to most of us that we should have to make a very great and serious sacrifice. That being the case, what was there to induce any one to contemplate the necessity of that sacrifice? I believe it was borne in upon us that to submit to this sacrifice would be the best way of ensuring the maintenance of an effective Second Chamber. By an effective Second Chamber I mean a Chamber which has the power of referring a disputed question to the voice of the people. The reason we thought it necessary for us to make this sacrifice was this, that, rightly or wrongly, the people of this country are not prepared to support a Second Chamber based entirely on the hereditary principle. The fact was emphasised by the noble Earl on the Cross Benches, and also, I think, by Lord Denbigh, that there was a very strong feeling in the country against a Second Chamber based entirely on the hereditary principle. My Lords, I am bound to say that that accords with my own experience. I find that a number, on the Unionist side as well as on the Radical side, would prefer that the Second Chamber should not be entirely hereditary. The reason for that it is not necessary to go into to-night; it would take too long. But I will say I do not believe that anything the House of Lords has done has induced a change of mind in the people on this question, and I disagree with the noble Viscount opposite that any feeling of that sort can be traced to the rejection of the Finance Bill two or three years ago. I believe if we had not rejected that Bill the Government's majority would have been very much larger than it is now, that a great number of people voted for us who would not have voted for us if we had accepted the Finance Bill and all that it contained.
We Unionists want a Second Chamber, and if we cannot get a Second Chamber based entirely on the hereditary principle, we wish to have a Second Chamber which has some other title to the confidence of the people, based on some modified form of the hereditary principle at least. We Unionists believe in a Second Chamber because we believe it is absolutely necessary to guard not only the interests but the liberties of the nation. On the other hand, 410 the Radical Party want a Single Chamber. I know noble Lords opposite do not admit that their proposals amount to a Single Chamber, but they want what we Unionists believe to be in effect a Single Chamber. We believe that to be a most dangerous and unstable form of government, that it would place the whole of the liberties of the people of this country at the mercy of a small oligarchy, and that is a position which I think no Englishman can contemplate with equanimity or satisfaction. Therefore it comes to this, that noble Lords who think as I do are faced with this alternative, either to give up their position, or risk the possibility of giving up their position, in your Lordships' House in order to have the security and the protection of a double-Chamber form of government, or to retain, I believe only temporarily, their places in your Lordships' House at the risk of being deprived of that protection. I think that when it comes to a question between our privileges and what we believe to be the welfare of the country, there is not very much room for hesitation. I am convinced that noble Lords who do not think as I do—and there are, no doubt, several on this side of the House—are acting in the most absolute good faith and honestly carrying out their convictions. But I believe that when we have to choose between a surrender of our places in this House and the welfare of the country, we shall not hesitate to prefer the welfare of the country; and therefore we are prepared—I speak only for myself, of course, but I believe there are many others of the same opinion—to make this very painful sacrifice.
The noble Viscount opposite in his speech on the First Reading of this Bill, rather attacked the noble Marquess for unnecessarily destroying the House of Lords. I think that was the sense of what the noble Viscount said. I confess that that left me very cold, because my belief is that the Parliament Bill will most effectually destroy this House. I do not believe that a powerless Second Chamber such as is proposed can possibly exist for any length of time. It would not be of any real power; in fact, the only thing I can compare it to for the moment is the position of the Roman Senate during the decline of the Roman Empire—the Senate which existed solely to register the decrees of Cæsar. At any rate, this Second Chamber which is proposed will have, as far as I can see, no real power, and it will be so recognised and will inevi 411 tably be swept away as a useless excrescence of the political body.
This Bill as it stands is no doubt capable of amendment and reconstruction in various ways; but the noble Marquess said something to-night which I was personally very glad to hear—namely, that it was not the case, as might be supposed and I believe has been supposed in some quarters, that the suggestion of increasing the Spiritual Peers by including among them representatives of other denominations had been lost sight of, and perhaps it is possible even now that a means may be found of overcoming the difficulties which he pointed out to us in that respect.
Before I sit down I should like to say one word in reference to the position of the noble Marquess who has brought in this Bill. The noble Marquess made use of what I thought was a very curious expression when he moved the First Reading. He spoke of the possibility of this Bill being regarded as a betrayal. I have no notion what he meant. I certainly feel no sense of being betrayed myself, and I know of no one who has made any complaint of the kind. The difficulty of the position of the noble Marquess in bringing in this Bill has been generously acknowledged by the noble Viscount opposite. I should like the noble Marquess to know that there is one at all events, and I believe others, on this side who fully appreciates the difficulties he has had to face and the courage with which he has faced them. It is not an ordinary position in which the noble Marquess has found himself. He has had to indicate to his followers a course which in a sense does not apply to himself. It is one thing for a leader to say to his followers, "There is the road you have to follow; come along and I will show you the way," but it is a very different thing, and it requires a great deal of courage to have to point out a path which some of his followers may have to pursue but which circumstances prevent him from following himself. What I mean is this, that though a new order of things may result in a number of us losing our places, there is nobody in this House who could regard with anything but the greatest feeling of dismay the possibility that the noble Marquess could be excluded. In any new House the noble Marquess must have a place, and we hope and expect he will have a place; in fact, if this Bill meant that there would be a chance of his being excluded it would make me hesitate to vote for the Bill. 412 But, my Lords, this Bill is an honest and courageous endeavour to protect the country from what some of us on this side consider the calamity of single-Chamber government, and to secure the establishment of a Second Chamber so constituted as to be fair to all Parties and commanding the confidence of the people at large. The Bill ought to be most fully and thoroughly discussed, and after what I have said your Lordships will know that I intend to vote for the Second Reading.
My Lords, there is no doubt that at the last election many votes were lost to us because the House of Lords in its judicial capacity was considered to be the same as the House of Lords in its legislative capacity. I suggest that this difference could be made clear to the people if the House of Lords in its judicial capacity were called the Supreme Court or given some such name. It is a name which is thoroughly respected in the United States and other countries, and the words carry their own meaning. I know very well that the noble and learned Lords, in pursuance of their judicial office, laid down the law in a particular well known case as it was, and not perhaps as they thought it ought to be, and there is no doubt that large numbers of people thought that it was the legislative body of the House of Lords—the backwoodsmen and others—who had laid down that law. I therefore think that before another election that point ought to be made clear.
The noble Viscount talked about the absolute Veto. We have never claimed that. All we have claimed has been the power of delaying legislation until the opinion of the people has been ascertained, and if this House gives up its hereditary rights and powers it will also have to give up the power of delaying legislation and consulting the opinion of the people. The power of asking the opinion of the people must reside somewhere. It is very many years since the words Le roi s'avisera have been heard in Parliament, and I suggest that in lieu of using them His gracious Majesty should have the power of calling for a Referendum if he thought proper to do so, even without the advice of the Prime Minister. This power should be given by Statute, so that if used people should not be able to say that it was unconstitutional. I wish that the noble Marquess had put the Referendum in a more prominent place when 413 this Bill was being read for the first time. I look upon the poll of the people as the only available remedy for the over-representation of certain portions of the population, and think that it ought to be made compulsory in the case of any measure that is intended to alter the Constitution. I hope that Lord Balfour's Bill may be either incorporated in the one now before us, or that it will be proceeded with pari passu. The two together would form a statesman-like and democratic solution of the great problem that is now before us.
There is one other matter to which I wish to call your Lordships' attention. Under this Bill the only ex officio Peers in Parliament would be the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and Peers who have held high judicial office. In the latter category there are, I believe, seventeen, making a total of nineteen. I suggest the addition of six more ex officio Peers, which would bring their number up to five and twenty. It would, I think, be of great advantage to the public service if the First Sea Lord of the Admiralty and the Chief of the Imperial Staff always had seats in this House. Of course they would sit on the Cross Benches, and would not as a rule be expected to take part in discussions unconnected with their own Departments. They should, I think, be made Peers for life, after having held these offices for one year. This delay of one year would prevent any factious Government giving these appointments to officers for a short period, merely for the purpose of making them Peers for life. It is quite possible that these officers may not wish to have their duties and responsibilities increased in this manner. I am not, however, considering their personal convenience, but the advantage to the public of having naval and military officers in this House, able to explain their views at first hand, instead of having them filtered through the minds of civilians before being placed before the country. However industrious and talented these civilians may be, they cannot in a few months get that grasp of detail which is the outcome of the experience of a life-time. No amount of study in Whitehall can make up for the want of knowledge that can only be acquired by years spent on the ocean in company with other ships, or in camp life on land in different countries under varying circumstances. No poring over Blue-books within the four walls of a room can replace the open air study of naval and military problems, 414 and I think the efficiency of both the Services and of this House would be increased if the First Sea Lord and the Chief of the Imperial Staff were made ex officio Peers.
I also think that whenever the Secretaries of State for Foreign Affairs, the Home Office, the Colonies, and India, do not sit in the Second Chamber, those Departments should be represented by their Under-Secretaries. As these four additional Peers would be selected by the Ministry of the day they would be practically chosen by the majority of the House of Commons. Their presence here, their speeches, and their votes would tend to strengthen the Government of the day, and thus assist in keeping the newly constituted Chamber in harmony with the majority of those who sit in another place, and so have the effect of lessening the chances of disputes between the two Houses. I do not myself lay very much stress on this last argument but it is worthy of attention, especially when calculating the probable strength of Parties in the Chamber about to be constituted. I hear that Unionists look upon their majority in it as being about eighteen, and that the Liberals put it at about thirty-two. If my suggestion is adopted it will lessen those numbers by four. I hope that both sides of the House will seriously consider the points that I have raised, and that if Amendments are moved to give effect to them they will meet with approval.
§ [The, sitting was suspended at a quarter to eight o'clock and resumed at a quarter past nine.]
§ LORD BRASSEY
My Lords, in a few words I will endeavour to place before your Lordships views as to the Bill now before us which I believe to be widely held by our kin beyond sea—lords of the outer march. Those of us who have resided long in the Colonies know well how many are the ties which bind the Empire together. Loyalty to the Throne in an eminent degree is a bond of Empire. Reverence is felt for the homeland. As a Second Chamber your Lordships' House is rightly held in honour as the oldest legislative Assembly in the world. Many historic names are inscribed on its roll. It is a pillar of the Empire. Why is it proposed to put an end to this House as at present constituted? Is it because your Lordships are not in accord sufficiently with democratic aspirations? 415 We shall not heal differences by establishing a Second Chamber on the elective principle but on a narrower franchise, and consisting of men chosen as specially qualified for the work of Parliament. The late Lord Salisbury said—If this House were so altered that it consisted of determined politicians who attended all the debates and held resolutely to their own opinions, you would have pronounced the doom of the present system of government.Is it desired, on the other hand, to create a Second Chamber with greater powers of resistance? What are the experiences in other countries? The Second Chambers in the United States and in Germany are strong as guardians of those rights of local self-government which States, federated for national protection, desire to maintain. Is the reconstruction of this House proposed with a view of offering resistance to the demands of Labour? Turn to the report of the Trades Union Congress held at Sheffield in September last, attended by hundreds of delegates representing all the skilled trades in the country. The proceedings were opened by Lord Fitzwilliam as Lord Mayor. He was warmly received. The chairman of the Congress made a speech distinguished for its moderation. Insurance against sickness and unemployment and the reversal of the Osborne Judgment were all that he asked for; of the gospel of plunder there was not a word. Is the change proposed because your Lordships are not equal to your task? In Parliamentary ability this House has never failed. I will not dwell on those reforms in the constitution of your Lordships' House which are possible without destruction of a venerable fabric that could never be replaced. They will be more fittingly considered when the Parliament Bill is before us. I do not see the necessity for so destructive a change as that contemplated in the noble Marquess's Bill.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
My Lords, the speech to which we have just listened is certainly a strong encomium of the work done by your Lordships' House, but I fear that on both sides there will be general agreement that some vital changes are necessary. It seems to me that there is rather an omission in this Bill, and an occasion is lost for what I distinctly regard as an opportunity for strengthening this particular House of Parliament. In the Bill it is proposed to have many different changes—the hereditary principle, the elec- 416 tive principle, the nominative principle, and the ecclesiastical—but amid all these different elements there is one wanting, and that is the Imperial or Colonial element. I think this is particularly an occasion when it would have been desirable to incorporate some Colonial representation. Under the new conditions foreshadowed we are not any longer as a House to deal with financial questions, and therefore the difficulty of allowing Colonial representatives to be present who would not be responsible for finances is removed.
Again, there is the question of strengthening this House by an infusion of the judicial element. For some time past there has been considerable dissatisfaction in the Oversea Dominions with the constitution of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. As long ago as 1901 Mr. Chamberlain stated that—Her Majesty's Government are considering the terms of a Bill for enhancing the dignity and promoting the efficiency of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council by practically amalgamating it with the House of Lords, and providing for the permanent representation of the great Colonies in the new Court which it is proposed to create.That proposal has not been lost sight of by our Colonial fellow citizens, because among the Resolutions to be proposed at the forthcoming Imperial Conference is one by the Australian Government, which runs as follows—That it is desirable that the judicial functions in regard to the Dominions, now exercised by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, should be vested in an Imperial Appeal Court, which should also be the final Court of Appeal for Great Britain and Ireland.That practically indicates that your Lordships' House is the proper House for the addition of Colonial and judicial representatives. I hope that in the course of the consideration of this Bill it may be found possible to devise means by which some Colonial representation would be gained. I do not for a moment suggest that any such infusion would be a solution of the question of a strong Imperial Council, with all the requisite powers and responsibilities, but it would be a step in that direction, and it would give some Imperial characteristics to the Second Chamber of this country.
As regards this Bill, I look upon it as an earnest that we wish to give effect to the Resolutions which were passed last year, 417 and also as forming a basis of negotiation with the Party opposite. More than that, it can hardly be inconceivable that we, who are declared to be not competent to deal with the ordinary legislation of the country and particularly in regard to finance, should ourselves promote a measure substituting a new Chamber for that which has existed for many centuries. I very much doubt whether any of us really know what the people of the country do demand, and I question whether the hereditary principle is really so unpopular as it is the fashion to make out. But whether it is or not, I should be sorry at this stage to commit myself to approval or disapproval of all the provisions of this Bill; and I rather agree with the remark made by the noble Viscount, Lord Morley, who said this afternoon that the Bill did lack simplicity. I think that is a fair charge to make against this Bill. I very much doubt whether in the rough and tumble of Parliamentary life these very nicely adjusted parts by which the future composition of this House is to be regulated would stand for long. It is also to be remembered that, whatever may be the merits of the Bill, it is inconceivable, when you are going to write down and define the principles constituting a Second Chamber, that that Second Chamber should always be at the mercy either of the Government of the day or of the other House. You cannot write part of the Constitution of this country. You must have a complete written Constitution; otherwise it is fairly obvious that it would be always liable to attack and to be changed according to the will of the other branch of the Legislature at the time. If you are going to put part of the Constitution into the melting pot you must put the whole in, and clearly define the relations of one branch of the Legislature to the other branch. If the Constitution is to lie written, it must be written as a whole and not in portions or parts; otherwise it could not stand for long. It would, as I say, be always liable to be changed, and that is a thing which would not be consistent with the strong Second Chamber which one would wish to see.
I believe that this is a concrete scheme put forward with a view to arriving at some agreement upon the foundation of a strong Second Chamber, and one which will receive the consent of the nation at large. This is a proposal in that direction, and therefore some advance is being made 418 towards that settlement which we all desire to see. That is my view, and therefore I shall support this Bill on Second Reading, although I do not think anybody could commit himself to every proposal in the Bill as being absolutely sound or consistent with what the country demands. Whether there is any half-way house between the hereditary and the elective principle is rather questionable. It is impossible to forecast what the nation will demand, but I do think this is an honest attempt to solve a very difficult Constitutional question.
§ LORD FABER
My Lords, I think most of us, if we said what we really felt, would prefer to keep your Lordships' House in its present condition. It is a House of historic association; it is a House whose members have rendered heroic service to the State; it is a House of fascinating romance, and, after all, romance is a great asset to any nation. The members of this House are always to the front in time of peace and in time of war. They give of their best to this country. Some few—and it will always be the case where human nature has to be taken into consideration—have fallen away from the high ideals, and in doing that have done some little harm to the prestige of your Lordships' House. Again, as the noble Viscount who leads the House said this evening, education and the knowledge acquired by education by the working man has led to greater demands being made on your Lordships' House. The question before us is not what we prefer, but what we have to submit to. Opinion, so far as I can gather it—and I had the opportunity of speaking in a great many big towns during the last elections—is, for better or worse, against the hereditary principle at this time. I deplore it, but I think it is wise to recognise facts. If we are to change, I confess that I like the Bill that has been brought in by the noble Marquess. I had the privilege of sitting on a Committee appointed by Opposition Peers to consider schemes connected with changes in this House, and I confess that I like this Bill more than any scheme that was brought to the notice of that Committee.
The first proposal in the Bill is that 100 Peers shall be elected out of a certain number of qualified Peers in this House, and I believe that the number of qualified Peers amounts to about 300. One feature that I like about the Bill is that no one is selected. In all the schemes that we had 419 before us there were certain members of this House who had to be selected. Under this Bill no one is selected; they are all elected. The Liberals say, and with some amount of truth, that these 100 Peers who are in the first category will work rather hardly against them; that in point of fact out of those 100 Peers they would not get their due proportion of fifty. That may be so—I think it will be so—but they will have a chance of regaining that loss when we come to the second category in this Bill. I would say to your Lordships and I make rather a point of this, do not try to divide the matter equally, because I think all of us are of this opinion, that when we choose the 100 Peers we ought to choose the most efficient men in the whole House. I know that noble Lords opposite will not accuse me of any discourtesy towards them. A Liberal Peer is, of course, quite the equal of a Conservative Peer, but there are only about 100 Liberal Peers in the House and there are 500 Conservative Peers; and if you choose fifty Liberal Peers out of the 100, you are not likely to get as efficient men as the fifty Conservatives would be who were chosen out of the 500 Peers. Unless we move very carefully we must choose Peers because they belong to the Liberal or the Conservative faith. I do not want that. I think that would be wrong for the sake of the credit of this House. I want to get the best 100 Peers in this House whoever they may be.
The second proposal is that 120 persons out of all England, I presume, shall be elected by groups of the House of Commons sitting as electoral chambers in different parts of the country. I like the freedom of choice given under this scheme. The best men can be chosen from everywhere, and I always like, if possible, to choose a man on merits. Another feature I like is that the electoral bodies are ready made. After fighting a good many elections for the House of Commons I have a distaste—I suppose it is only natural—to going through the paraphernalia of contests all over the country to get electoral bodies elected. Here we have a good scheme. We have the House of Commons, whom I am perfectly willing to trust, and this body will choose members from different country districts. There is another good feature. There are a good many members of your Lordships' House who do very good work as country gentlemen. They are not so well known in this House, perhaps, as they should be, 420 but if you get these electoral bodies scattered throughout England they will know these Peers who have done good service as country gentlemen, and these men will get an opportunity of being elected to the Second Chamber under this second category.
The third principle is that 100 Peers shall be elected by the Crown in accordance with the strength of Parties at the time—so many for the Liberals, so many for the Conservatives, and so many for the other political Parties in the State. I do not see that there is any objection to that. The noble Viscount opposite, Lord Morley, seems rather to find fault with that, but I cannot see that there is any difficulty about it at all. I think it is fair, and it will give a certain weight to the Party who are in a predominance. They will be able to choose their own friends, and so make the two Parties in this House very nearly equal. After these three categories are exhausted, it is open to any of your Lordships who have not been successful under any of those categories to seek a place in the House of Commons. It has been said that the Peer would not be a very strong candidate who, after failing to get into the House of Lords, sought a seat in the House of Commons. But why should that be so? There are about 650 in your Lordships' House now, and if the whole country comes into competition, except as regards 100, for seats in this House, I do not think it is very derogatory that a man should not be able to get in. After all, it depends upon a man's merits, and when he comes before a constituency you may be sure of one thing—the constituency will know whether or not he is a good man for the House of Commons. I am not at all sure that it will tell against him if he has not been elected to the House of Lords. I have been more or less fighting politically for the last thirty years, and if I had the misfortune not to be elected to the House of Lords, I should deem it a misfortune but I should certainly try my best to get once more into the House of Commons.
I think this Bill is a remarkably fair Bill. The possession of certain civic virtues, if I may so describe them, gives a qualification for the first 100. We must not forget that. Lords Lieutenant, Lord Mayors, Chairmen of County Councils, and Chairmen of Quarter Sessions are all qualified to be elected in the first 100 to this House. I think that is a good feature. It gives encouragement to your Lordships to seek to fill these kind of 421 positions throughout the country, positions that many of you already fill with marked ability and success. I hope in the future that more of us will seek to fill such offices as Lord Mayor and Chairman of a County Council, because I think that would be undoubtedly for the good of the country at large. It is a good thing that a number of experienced Peers should be left in this House to leaven the mass of new Peers. Looking at it as broadly as I can, without any arrière pensée as regards myself, I declare this to be a bold and a brave Bill, and. I shall certainly vote for the Second Reading.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
My Lords, I do not know whether Lord Bathurst is in the House, but there was one part of his speech which struck me as being due to a complete misapprehension of the position which we take up on this side. I understood him to contemplate the possibility of the Parliament Bill becoming law in its present form, and this Bill for the reconstruction of your Lordships' House being passed as a complement or a supplement to it. If there are any noble Lords who for one moment think that that is in our minds, I would at once beg to relieve them of that misapprehension. This Bill is not put forward as a substitute for the Parliament Bill as it is, but it is put forward as a contribution to a fresh scheme of which a very different Parliament Bill would be a part. If the electors of this country decided that they desired the Parliament Bill in its present form to settle the relations between the two Houses of Parliament, then I can assure noble Lords on our side of the House that we would never ask them to pass this Bill merely as a supplement to the Parliament Bill. If that were the decision of the electors of this country, we would never ask them to pass this Bill.
My noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke, in that brilliant speech which delighted your Lordships to-night, said that we, that is our Party, ought never to have recognised the existence of a Constitutional question. Lord Bathurst, following the same line of thought, said that no good reason had yet been adduced why this House should be reformed. The question of the reform or reconstruction of this House is one on which opinions do and must differ. I do not expect Lord Bathurst to take my view of the situation, but I have an argument which I would put to him and to my 422 noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke which I think, with them as with me, must be absolutely conclusive as to why we, the Unionist and Constitutional Party, should without hesitation, put our shoulders to the work of the reconstruction of this House. The one argument which seems to me to be absolutely conclusive is this, that, unless you reconstruct this House, you can never rescue the Crown from the position in which it now stands in respect of our party and political squabbles. It is not only a question of the intense devotion, based on the traditions of centuries, which we, in common with many who do not share our political opinions hold for the Crown, but there is much more than that. There is no one who knows anything of the Empire and the Dominions beyond the seas who does not know that the existence of the Empire depends upon the existence of the Crown. Without the Crown the Empire would not exist twelve months. There was a time when the Crown played its part, its Constitutional part, naturally and necessarily in the political questions of the day. But our Constitutional evolution has passed beyond that, and I say it is a grave menace to the most precious of all the parts of our Constitution that quarrels between the two Houses of Parliament, and between the two great political Parties, now in the last resort can only be settled by bringing the Crown into the arena of dispute. For that reason, and for that reason alone, I say that we as the Constitutional Party would not be doing our duty if we were unwilling, yes, at seine sacrifice, to assent to a reconstruction of this House for the purpose of removing for ever this the most grave menace, as I consider it, of all the menaces with which the Constitution is confronted.
I have been told, though I have not heard any echo of the opinion to-night, that there may be noble Lords who would prefer the settlement of the Parliament Bill as it is now to the settlement which we here propose, of which the House of Lords Reconstruction Bill is only a part. Is it possible that there are any members of your Lordships' House who really hold that view, who prefer the shadow of an appearance in this House in undiminished numbers without power or any effective influence on the legislation of this country to an honourable surrender for the sake of the country, of the dignity they have inherited from their forefathers, to make a system under which this House, however reconstructed, will still be able 423 to have an effective voice in legislation—a House which will be a reality and not a pretence? I cannot believe that that opinion is seriously held by noble Lords on this side of the House. I have merely alluded to it because I have seen it indicated in the public Press as an opinion that is supposed to be shared by some of your Lordships.
I turn to the speech which the noble Viscount the present Leader of the House delivered to-night, and first of all I would ask leave to allude to some of his minor criticisms on this Bill. He said, unless I misunderstood his words, that our Bill was based on Party machinery, and that it assured a Party majority. That was a definite and serious contribution by Lord Morley in his criticism of our Bill. I ask your Lordships to examine the eccentric nature of the remedies which he proposed. We propose that 120 Lords of Parliament should be elected by the members of the House of Commons grouped in constituencies. The members of Parliament, we will say, for Yorkshire, are to elect nine or twelve, or whatever the number might be, Lords of Parliament. Lord Morley's suggestion for eliminating the Party machinery and making a Party majority less assured is that these 120 Lords should be elected by the whole of the members of the House of Commons voting together in the House of Commons. I think that is a most singular contribution for the purpose which he indicated. If you wished to assure the predominance of the caucus and secure a Party majority you could devise no better machinery than that the 120 Lords of Parliament should be elected by the members of the House of Commons, not grouped in their geographical areas with all their historical and local associations round them, but acting, as we know from the mouths of members of the other House who have just left it, on the orders of the Party Whip according to a list already prepared in the Whip's room. Not only do we repudiate Lord Morley's suggestion as being likely to enhance the very danger which he thinks he sees in our scheme, but we claim a special merit for the local connection of these Lords of Parliament with the geographical areas for which they will be elected by members of the House of Commons. We attribute importance to this fact, and here I differ very much from Lord St. Davids. I think that in the reconstructed House it is greatly to the 424 benefit of this House and of the country that some of the Lords of Parliament should be definitely associated with geographical areas—with Yorkshire, with Wessex, with Wales, with Scotland, or with Ireland.
§ LORD ST. DAVIDS
I am sure the noble Earl does not wish to misrepresent me. I did not say that would not be an advantage. I was merely pointing it out as an illustration that it would lead to greater pressure on members of this House—that is to say, we should be acting with something like evenly balanced political Parties. I rather indicated that I approved of the proposal.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
I am very glad that on that point the noble Lord and I are not in disagreement. Now I turn to Lord Morley's second remedy. We propose that 100 Lords of Parliament should be appointed by the Crown on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, but the Prime Minister has to be guided in his recommendation by a certain principle. I was very surprised at what appeared to be Lord Morley's complete misapprehension of the nature of that proposal. I speak in the presence of a great number of noble Lords who are more familiar than I am with the procedure of the House of Commons. If there is one custom, one tradition more firmly rooted than another in the House of Commons it is the principle on which Select Committees are appointed. It has no force of law; I believe it has no force of Standing Orders, but it has the force of custom, which is stronger than law and stronger than the Standing Orders. I am told that at a time when I was not in this country this Government, in the plenitude of its autocracy, after the General Election of 1896, on one occasion did attempt to depart from the established custom, but the feeling in the House of Commons among their own supporters was so strong in support of the principle that their Whip at that time had to withdraw from the attitude he had assumed.
Now, what is that principle? It is that a Select Committee is composed in due proportion to the members of the different groups of which the House of Commons is composed and that the nomination of the members representing each group for that Select Committee is left to the group itself to decide. To-morrow, we will say the Government Whip has to appoint a Select Committee. Take any number you choose 425 —a Committee we will say of seven. On that Committee my Party is entitled to three members. I assume that. I do not take the figure as of any value. It is merely for the sake of illustration. My Party would be entitled to three or two members. The Whip goes to the representatives of my Party and says, "Whom do you wish to have upon this Committee?" And when that Select Committee is moved those names, and no other names, are moved with the authority of the Government as the members of that Select Committee. That is the principle which we propose to apply to the Lords of Parliament to be nominated by the Crown on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. The noble Viscount appeared to imagine that the House of Commons came into the transaction. The House of Commons does not come into the transaction at all. Where a Select Committee is appointed the House of Commons comes into the transaction, but here the Crown, and only the Crown, comes into the transaction for the appointment of these Peers. It is the principle of that method of selection which we have adopted.
The Prime Minister has to recommend 100 Peers, we will say, for appointment by the Crown. These 100 are divided in their due proportion according to the numbers of the Parties in the House of Commons at that moment, and each Party—the Irish Party or the Labour Party or my Party—are entitled to say whom they want to represent them. When the list is complete, then the Prime Minister makes his recommendation to the Crown. That may be a good principle or a bad principle, but what is the noble Viscount's comment upon it? Not only did he completely misunderstand it, but by way of making the machinery less based upon the Party principle, and making a Party majority less assured, I understood him to propose that all these Lords of Parliament should be appointed by the Crown on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, guided, not by any such principle as I have described, but by his own individual judgment. That is entitled to fair consideration as a rival plan, but it cannot by any possibility be described as a plan for reducing the tendency towards a machinery based upon the Party principle, or for making a Party majority less assured.
I come now to a point in the noble Viscount's speech that I must say caused me some surprise, because it was so completely 426 at variance with my personal experience; and in this matter, if in no other, my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke supported the noble Viscount. Lord Morley, in dealing with the proposal that 100 Lords of Parliament belonging to certain qualified classes should be elected by all the hereditary Peers, made a great point of the hard fate of a Peer, I presume a young Peer, who was not so qualified. He said, "You propose that he should have an opportunity of standing for the House of Commons," and the noble Viscount asked, "Is that quite a fair proposal?" How handicapped, he said, that unfortunate Peer will be by the fact that he will go to a constituency for election to the House of Commons with the stigma upon him that he is not qualified for election to the House of Lords. I do not think I ever heard a more perverse and inaccurate forecast of the position. Is there a single one of your Lordships who does not know that a young Peer who has become a Peer before he is twenty-one, who has had no opportunity of service in the Empire, who has never been in the House of Commons, enters this House under a very grave disadvantage? We who have had the privilege of serving in the House of Commons before we came to the House of Lords know there never was a more fortunate event in our political lives than that we were able to serve our apprenticeship in the House of Commons before we came to the House of Lords. It is of the greatest advantage to a young Peer who has not qualified in the past that he should have an opportunity of being first elected to the House of Commons before he comes to sit in your Lordships' House, whether unreformed or reformed. The idea seems to me purely fantastic that because a young Peer has never had the opportunity of qualifying in one of the ways enumerated in our Schedule he should be considered handicapped when he presents himself before a popular constituency. I believe that in that point there is absolutely nothing. Therefore I venture to disagree most emphatically, not only with my noble friend sitting near me, Lord Willoughby de Broke, but also with the noble Viscount.
I cannot avoid an allusion to what I must describe as the favourite hobby of my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke—that is, the elected Senate. I have not the remotest conception what the views are of noble Lords opposite upon that subject, or what kind of Second Chamber they really 427 have in their minds. I congratulate them on having concealed that with the most complete success. I am sometimes a little tempted to doubt whether they have any conception at all in their minds, but I would assume, from the kind of faint tribute to democratic principles which is elicited from them when an elected Senate is mentioned, that they are in favour of an elected Senate. Let us look at this for a few moments closely. If you ask me whether I would rather have an elected Senate than the Parliament Bill. I would vote for an elected Senate with both hands. I would vote with both hands for any House of Lords that had power rather than for one that was a mere sham. But if you ask me whether I think an elected Senate is exactly the thing which this country requires, I say I honestly do not think it is, and I do not think it is for two reasons. You may hedge an elected Senate round with any safeguards the Party now in power think proper in order to insure the permanent supremacy of the House of Commons, but every one of those safeguards would disappear in the course of time. Why should a Senate with exactly the same mandate from the electors as the House of Commons be content with smaller powers? It would not be. It is not in human nature that it should be, and eventually it would claim and obtain the same powers derived from the same authority as the other House. But that has no terrors for me in comparison with the Parliament Bill. But that is not our position, because the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition has explained that we do not think that a Second Chamber with absolutely co-ordinate powers to those of the House of Commons is what the country requires.
But I have another criticism. Such a Senate would be a small body. The noble Viscount, Lord Morley, thinks 350 too large a number. I do not share that opinion. But for the purposes of my argument my case is better if I adopt his view and say that the 350 may be whittled down to 100 or 150. The noble Viscount knows the intense labour which now devolves on a Minister or on any public man in doing his duty by the House of Commons and his constituents. Nobody knows better than the noble Viscount that there comes a time when human strength is scarcely sufficient for this double labour. Is membership of the House of Commons and of the House of Lords to be confined to the young, the strong, and the inexperienced? to those who 428 have leisure but have no stake in the country by profession, and take no part in its great industrial evolution? If the labour, anxiety, and physical strain are so great in the House of Commons to-day with 670 members, the strain upon the members of a Senate, from 100 to 130 strong, would be absolutely intense. And where are you going to get a supply of men for both Houses, men of experience, of age, and other accomplishments, and with a stake in the country? I say that those who plead for an elected Senate have not thought out this problem, and do not see what is involved in it. That is the reason why I and my friends prefer another solution of the Constitutional difficulty. I say again, in older that there should be no misunderstanding of our position, we would prefer any second Chamber with adequate powers to a Second Chamber with powers which existed only on paper.
Now, my Lords, I come to a more important point which the noble Viscount made, and upon which I may say fairly that his whole speech turned. He endeavoured to show your Lordships that there was a radical inconsistency between the attitude taken by the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition and the attitude taken up by Lord Curzon. There is no such inconsistency. What Lord Curzon said in the speech to which the noble Viscount referred represents the views of us all. When Lord Lansdowne said that we had abandoned the absolute Veto he stated what every one of your Lordships must have known for months and years past to have been the permanent position of the Party to which I have the honour to belong. Lord Morley stated in general terms, with which we do not disagree, the kind of Second Chamber that he thought was necessary for this country. The noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition fastened on those words, and pointed out that if those words were interpreted by the noble Viscount as we interpreted them, then the difference between us was not large. The whole question turns upon the interpretation of those words.
What is our position? It is almost incredible that even a political opponent should fail to understand our position in this matter. Without detaining your Lordships too long, I will endeavour to state it in concise language. We have our own opinions as to the best form of Second 429 Chamber and as to the best methods for adjusting differences between the two Houses of Parliament. But those considerations in our minds are secondary. To us the fundamental and important thing is that the Second Chamber, however composed, should have adequate powers. What do powers consist of? Take the question of finance. I take that first because on that we have made a concession, and on that our position has been largely misunderstood. For many years past this House has never desired to interfere with the ordinary financial provisions of the year made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget. It has never desired to do so, and therefore we have had no hesitation in registering our willingness to admit in theory that which we have consistently performed in practice; but we have always explained to this House and on the platform in the country that this does not mean that the Second Chamber should have no hand in finance, no matter in what guise that finance might come. What we mean is this, that if some great revolutionary change of a political or social nature is proposed on which the electors have never been consulted and to which they have not given their approval, the fact that we renounce any wish to deal with ordinary Budget finance does not imply that this House should not have an opportunity of expressing an opinion on a scheme of that kind brought in under the guise of finance. You might disendow the Church by means of a Finance Bill, or nationalise the land or the railways. That is the kind of finance which we have always considered it should be within the powers of a Second Chamber to deal with.
We accept the functions of a Second Chamber in the nature of revision. When the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, said that this House never claimed an absolute Veto, what he meant was that if the electors of this country should determine on a policy this House is never going to endeavour to put a veto on the final determination of the electors. That has been the consistent attitude of this House for a long period of time, and that is what the noble Marquess meant when he said we have never claimed an absolute Veto. What we do claim is that if a Second Chamber is to exist at all it should have the opportunity of allowing the electors of the country to pronounce an opinion on some great question on which they have never been consulted, or upon 430 which they have never expressed their opinion. Therefore there is no real difference of opinion between Lord Lansdowne and Lord Curzon. I would mention as an illustration the question of Home Rule. In 1886 the electors of this country were consulted on Home Rule, and they gave a verdict. In 1895 they were again consulted on Home Rule, and they again gave a verdict. Why are they not to be consulted in 1912? That is why we are taking our stand. We say that just as they had the final word in 1886 and 1895, so it is the function of any Second Chamber, if it exists, to give the electors the opportunity of the final word in 1912.
The noble Viscount says that the plan included in the Bill introduced by Lord Lansdowne would not secure an independent Second Chamber. He laid great stress, as one of the essential characteristics of a Second Chamber really suited to this country, upon the fact that it should be independent. I ask your Lordships to consider what a very peculiar idea of independence the noble Viscount has. Apparently his idea of an independent House of Lords is one which could be abolished by a vote of the House of Commons alone repeated thrice, or which could be swamped, as this House can be, by the exercise of the Prerogative of the Crown in the creation of Peers on the advice of the Prime Minister. Those respective exercises of power by the House of Commons and by the Crown may be good or bad, but they are very peculiar illustrations of the independence of a Second Chamber. Again, the noble Viscount said that stability was required in a Second Chamber. We entirely agree, and that is why we have proposed that every Lord of Parliament should sit for twelve years. It is obvious that a Lord of Parliament elected for twelve years will be in a very different position from one who holds his tenure for a shorter time.
The noble Viscount mentioned simplicity as another essential. I claim that there is great simplicity in the scheme of this Bill. You have only three classes of Peers—those elected by the hereditary Peers, those elected by the House of Commons, and those appointed by the Crown. I altogether demur to the criticism of my friend Lord Lamington, when he rather agreed, with Lord Morley, that the element of simplicity was lacking in this Bill. He said "Why no provision for Colonial Peers? Why no provision for Judicial Peers?" 431 But those can all be provided for in the Peers appointed by the Crown on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. Our answer in respect of the suggestion of Colonial and Judicial Peers is exactly the same as our answer in respect of the leading members of religious bodies other than the Church of England. It is no part of the scheme of the Bill to elect any particular class of people ad hoc but to give an opportunity for the appointment of the most important and influential people belonging to any class, whether Colonial, or judicial, or the leaders of religious bodies. How would it be possible to make a list of the Churches each of which would be entitled to a certain representation? I defy any noble Lord, however ingenious, to make a list which would be accepted. There are leaders of the Nonconformist Churches and great Prelates of the Roman Catholic Church who are recognised by their co-religionists and by the whole country; and this Bill is elastic and flexible enough to enable the Prime Minister to recommend all of them for appointment. Therefore this Bill really provides for all that is required in this matter.
The noble Viscount calculates that by this Bill, if it came into law at the present moment, the Party I represent would have a majority of forty-five. We know that the noble Viscount would never make a statement in this House which he had not satisfied himself was reasonably accurate. I am altogether at a loss to know who could have been his calculator. I have seen no calculation and can imagine no calculation that would produce anything approximating to that result. I go further and say that under the Bill which we are discussing at the present moment such a result would be absolutely impossible. The fact is that if this scheme had been working for a certain number of years the two great Parties in this House would tend very largely to an equality. But whether that calculation be accurate or not, I must remind your Lordships of the point Lord Lansdowne made on the First Reading of this Bill, that it is absolutely essential to a proper understanding and appreciation of the proposals of the Bill that it should be taken only in conjunction with the scheme for the adjustment of differences between the two Houses which we have put forward—the Referendum for great occasions and the Joint Session in normal differences of opinion. If your Lordships regard this 432 scheme in connection with the plan for Joint Sessions it becomes quite obvious that calculations whether one Party or another would have a majority of twenty or thirty are of very little importance.
In his criticisms of this Bill the noble Viscount to-night wandered into a consideration of the attitude of my Party to the whole of this question. Nobody could help it. We cannot discuss this question in watertight compartments. It is all one. It is quite impossible to separate one part from the other, and therefore I make no apology for having wandered off the exact points of this Bill, as indeed the noble Viscount was also bound to do in his speech. But the noble Viscount does not really appreciate the point of our position. He and his friends take their stand on the necessity that the will of the electors of this country, those who on platforms are called the people, should eventually prevail. That is our position too. We accept democracy as the government under which we live. The point the noble Viscount fails to understand is that, whereas by the plan of his Government it is quite certain that the electors never can be thwarted in getting a measure which they desire, it may also happen that they may get a measure they do not desire. Under our plan not only are the electors sure in the long run to get a measure they desire, but they are secured against getting a measure which they do not desire. That is really the line that divides the two Parties at the present moment. The plan of the Government does not safeguard the electors against the passage of a Bill to which they have not given their assured and final assent. The stand which we take is on the necessity for a Second Chamber which will secure the electors against seeing measures passed into law which they have not finally and definitely approved.
The noble Viscount reminded us that there had been two elections in 1910, in which, he said, larger numbers had gone to the poll than ever before. He is perfectly right, but he omitted to remind the House that half of those electors, roughly, voted for us. That is a point which the supporters of the Government conveniently forget. The whole of the extraordinary position in which we find ourselves dates from the General Election of 1906. Noble Lords opposite think that that election was a wonderful manifestation of popular 433 opinion. As a matter of fact, it really was a wonderful manifestation of the amazing absurdity of our system of the distribution of seats. I have worked out the figures of the General Election of 1906. It was a very remarkable election, because there were in England, Scotland and Wales practically no uncontested seats—I think there were only three. I do not count Ireland, because in Ireland the issue was not complicated. It was the same old issue. It is no disrespect to Ireland to say so. But the whole of this extraordinary Constitutional and Parliamentary position dates from the General Election of 1906. In that election the Government secured in England, Scotland, and Wales a majority of 289 seats, but if the votes cast had been divided in proportion between the two Parties what do you think their majority would have been? Not 289, but 89. I do not suppose that the caprice of the distribution of seats ever produced a more astonishing result and it is from that astonishing caprice that the whole of the present position has arisen. Yet the noble Viscount comes down and reminds us that the electors polled in larger numbers in 1910 than ever they did before, but he entirely forgets to mention the fact that half of those electors voted for us.
The position we stand for is very simple, and we know we have this strength of the electors behind us. What we stand for is a Second Chamber having the same powers, generally speaking, as are possessed by the Second Chambers in all the great countries of the world, and in each one of our Dominions, including the Second Chamber in the Transvaal, which this very Government advised the King to set up four years ago. We should not forget that this very Government advised the King to give the Second Chamber in the Transvaal exactly those powers which we contend, for the safety of this country and of the Empire, it is essential that a Second Chamber in this country should possess. That is what we stand for, and throughout this matter conscious of the fact that we are supported by one-half of the electorate, we have never pretended that we can settle this question finally as we should wish to see it settled. It is only noble Lords opposite and their Party who are out for a Party settlement. We have stood, and we stand to-day, for a national settlement, a settlement that will once for all give stability to our Constitution, and it is because this Bill is brought 434 forward as a contribution towards that settlement, not as the whole scheme, but as part of the scheme which we support in substitution for the Parliament Bill, that I ask your Lordships to read the Bill a second time.
The further debate adjourned till tomorrow.