§ Debate on the Motion for the Second Reading resumed (according to order).
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD LOREBURN)
My Lords, I do not propose, to trouble your Lordships at any great length on this occasion, because I think that the discussion of this Bill would naturally and necessarily be matter rather for the Committee stage than the Second Reading. I desire to acknowledge most unreservedly the fine temper and spirit which have been shown by the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition and the manner in which he has dealt with this Bill; and, indeed, I think it may truly be said that throughout all the debates we have had on this and kindred subjects relating to Constitutional reform there has not been a single false note from any quarter of the House. I acknowledge that, my Lords, and I know that it must have cost a good deal to those whose ancient and ancestral connection with this House must have been prominent before their minds. It is necessary, however, to look the actual facts in the face. This Bill is not put forward as a solution. It is only the first chapter in a series of amendments of the Constitution, to be continued next year or later by proposals for a Joint Session or for a Referendum, or for both. It seems to be the natural condition of this Bill going any further that the Parliament Bill is to be destroyed or abandoned; and from what the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, said yesterday I gather that he contemplated yet another election in the year 1912, on what point or for what purpose I do not think he made quite clear. It seems there is to be a new House in place of this, with an independent and judicial spirit, the activity of Whips and wirepullers is to be deprecated, and probably disarmed, although I am afraid the noble Marquess can hardly 442 hold out any hope that powerful interests will cease to organise themselves and that the natural foundations of Party will disappear.
Let us see what is the mischief that is sought to be remedied. No one questions the great talent and distinction in this House or its illustrious past. It is not the case that individual Peers are looked upon with dislike in the country; on the contrary, I believe they are popular and well liked all over the country. The people of this country are naturally very tolerant of authority, very tractable, and do not care very much whether there are hereditary duties or not provided that they secure what they think is fair play. We have been governed in this country by the Party system for 200 years. We are nearly all of us Party men. When one Party is in power there is, in fact, no Second Chamber. There is not an instance of a Bill pressed by a Conservative Government having been thrown out by this House for, I believe, 100 years. When the other Party is in power this House stands as an invincible obstacle to Liberal legislation, and wrecks our principal measures. No one now present questions the demand that has been made that the Liberal Party shall have fair play. It is admitted in theory, but I am afraid it is still withheld in practice.
What sort of relief would be provided if this Bill became law to-morrow? It would indeed be, as the noble Marquess said, a deathblow to the House of Lords as it has been known hitherto. It reduces the House to a heap of ruins politically. Another House is to be raised in its stead, numbering 350, and there is to be in that House a permanent menace against the Liberal Party in the 100 Peers who are to be selected by the present Peerage, which I believe would be a handicap of 90 against 10. Added to that, the Prerogative of the Crown to create Peers, which has been, and is, the only resort available against the obstinancy or obduracy of this House, will disappear. The House of Commons would thereby be held as in a vice. There would be no escape except by means of the Referendum. I state frankly that I thoroughly distrust that specific remedy. It was discussed in this House for two days at the instance of Lord Balfour of Burleigh, one of the most capable and discriminating members of the House, and it ended in his Bill being withdrawn because it was felt 443 that it would not be practicable to obtain the necessary support. I do not believe that the popular vote by Referendum is nearly so valuable as the present system, and I do not think myself that any Referendum ought to be set up unless by special Act of Parliament—and it must be a very rare case—making necessary and proper provision for the treatment of one particular subject.
Supposing the Liberal Government were prepared to accept this Bill and the other Bills which are to follow, we should then be called upon to enter upon a long, difficult, and intricate examination which would last this year and next year before we should have the Bill, not only this Bill, but all the other Bills that are to follow. It would be an examination by the Liberal Government under the old conditions that are now universally condemned—that is to say, we should be at the mercy of the present majority of this House. The last word would certainly be with this House. We should have no means at all of enforcing our wishes in the case of difference of opinion. In fact, what this Bill does, with the other Bills that are to follow, is this—it invites us to surrender at discretion after we have obtained the victory. After the long, weary, tedious and exhausting struggles through which we have passed, what we are asked to do is to lay down our weapons and to accept the solution of our adversaries. Surely, my Lords, you cannot think that there is the smallest chance of our cutting ourselves adrift from our policy, our promises, and our honour in order to enter upon the arduous path of Constitutional reform with our hands tied behind us as they are so long as this House enjoys its present powers.
The principles of the Parliament Bill were announced four and a-half years ago; they have been affirmed at two General Elections. The doctrine that was heretofore upheld in this House was that the House of Lords always yields to the will of the people whenever that will has been declared at a General Election. Was there ever a Bill more definitely approved than the Parliament Bill at the General Election? It was printed in July, 1910. It followed upon Resolutions which had been passed earlier. It was before the country six months before the people were asked to pronounce upon it, and the country returned a majority in support of it. Surely a candid examination 444 of the matter will show that the Bill has been fully considered by the country. In these circumstances is it possible for us—even supposing we were so minded—to accept this Bill on the terms of abandoning the Parliament Bill? We should be justly regarded as traitors and poltroons if, with all the omens in our favour, as they are now, and with our conviction that this is the only way of solving the problem, we refrained from pressing forward this measure for our own emancipation. When the Parliament Bill is on the Statute-book, when Liberal Members of the House of Commons are no longer constrained to submit to the humiliation of wearily tramping round and round the Lobbies of the House of Commons night after night for many months only to see, in the end, the result of their labours frustrated, then and not till then shall we be in a position to consider ulterior proposals for Constitutional reform. But when we are in a position to speak with our enemy at the gate, then I heartily hope it will be possible for us, on this and kindred subjects, to come to an agreement which will be satisfactory to all sides, and which will be all the more enduring because it will be founded upon consent.
§ LORD AMPTHILL
My Lords, I believe that all members of this House unite in respect and, if I may venture to say so, in affection for the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. We recognise and appreciate the high qualities of intellect and character which have enabled him to maintain as worthily as any of his predecessors the dignity of his high office and the honour of this House. We know that he is devoted heart and soul to the maintenance of the honour and reputation and the usefulness of your Lordships' House, and I am sure that all noble Lords who sit on this side will agree with me when I say that we are grateful to the noble and learned Lord for the words which fell from his lips in that respect just now. But with all this, even the humblest of us may venture to differ from the opinions expressed by the noble and learned Lord. Reason and conscience are no respecters of persons. This question which is before us is one on which all of us have an opinion—an opinion formed in the constant discharge of duty. We all of us have a conscience in this matter—a conscience begotten of heredity, of training, and of long association; and I think that from that point of view most 445 noble Lords on this side of the House will agree with me that the speech to which we have just listened was singularly unconvincing.
The noble and learned Lord began with a remark which I confess surprised me immensely. He said that this Bill which is before your Lordships for Second Reading was naturally and necessarily a matter for the Committee stage as if, indeed, it were some Bill dealing with details of local administration. Surely, my Lords, if ever great principles were involved, if ever there was occasion for discussing a question from the point of view of abstract principle, it has been this occasion, and yet the noble and learned Lord tells us that it is a matter for the Committee stage. He then went on to say that this Bill was not put forward as a solution of the Constitutional problem. I cannot speak for the leaders on this Front Bench, but, as I understand, the Bill, if not put forward as a solution, is put forward as a better basis for solution and as affording common ground on which we could all meet and discuss this question afresh and come to a national agreement. "What is the mischief which is sought to be remedied?" asked the noble and learned Lord; and in doing so he paid a tribute, for which again we are grateful, to the individual ability and popularity of the more prominent members of your Lordships' House. But whilst anxious to refrain from any recriminations, I am bound to say that that was not the line which was taken by the members of the noble and learned Lord's Party when they stumped the country. This House was shamefully insulted, misrepresented, abused, and so far as my study of the Press went I did not discover a single case of noble Lords opposite raising their voice or holding up a hand of protest against these attacks on the House to which they belong.
The noble and learned Lord stated the mischief which is sought to be remedied in a manner which seems to me absolutely correct. He went to the very root of the matter. He said—It is simply this, that the Liberal Party want fair play and must have fair play,and he also admitted, for which I was glad, that the Unionist Party have recognised that the Liberal Party must have fair play. But he proceeded to say that although we admit it in theory we deny it in practice. 446 He tried to show that this Bill will not give fair play. There is room for difference of opinion, as we have seen, as to what the actual balance of Parties in this House would be supposing for the sake of argument this Bill were to pass into law. But I do not think that it can be the intention of the Unionist leaders to insist that this Bill, every clause and line and comma of it, should pass unaltered through the House if it ever came to that. There is room for amendment, and it occurs to me at once that it would be very easy to make the balance of Parties absolutely even by allowing the Prime Minister of the day discretion to remedy inequalities when he makes his nominations in the second category. I can speak for nobody but myself, but I for one am sincerely anxious that the Liberal Party should have fair play in order that there may be an end once for all of these bitter and unprofitable quarrels, which stop all progress and prevent us from getting on to the settlement of vital questions for the benefit of the Empire. I for one would be perfectly willing to see this Bill so amended that there might be a Liberal majority in this House—certainly that at the outset the Liberal Party should start with a majority in this House seeing that they have a majority in the country.
But what seemed to me most unconvincing of all were the reasons which the noble and learned Lord gave for the desperate hurry with which this question is to be settled. I cannot for the life of me see why there is no room for delay, why it should be impossible to give Parliament and the nation time for calm, deliberate, and careful consideration of a matter which is to affect them for generations to come. The reasons which the noble and learned Lord gave were that if the question were settled now it would leave the last word to your Lordships' House, that the present Government would not be able to enforce their will, and, in effect, that the Party in power would have to give up the fruits of victory. As I conceive this question at the present stage, there is no question of giving up the fruits of a Party victory. Surely the situation has considerably altered. We have gone more than half way to meet our political opponents. Will anybody for one moment maintain that three years ago we should have dreamed of going as far as we have gone now? What can you see in that except a sincere 447 desire to give our opponents fair play, and to try and find some common ground on which we can meet them? Surely, then, there is good occasion for them to shift their ground and not to stick to their present attitude of saying that the policy which they developed four-and-a-half years ago, in totally different circumstances when there was no question of House of Lords reform, must prevail. Surely without shame or inconsistency they can modify that attitude and come some little way to meet us.
Your Lordships showed so clearly that you did not agree with the noble and learned Lord when he said that the Parliament Bill had been definitely approved by the country that I need hardly go into that subject; but I think it must have struck your Lordships that it was singularly inconsistent with the remarks which a few minutes before had fallen from the lips of the noble and learned Lord in regard to the Referendum. The objections to the Referendum, if I remember rightly, are that the electorate are not capable of deciding on a Bill, and I know that the noble and learned Lord's friends scoff at the Referendum because they say that every elector must necessarily have a copy of the Bill. Just think, they say, of the expense and trouble, and how ridiculous it would be, if you asked the ordinary elector to read a Parliamentary Bill. If that is their opinion, then surely they must see that since the electorate did not have copies of the Parliament Bill they can hardly be in a position to judge upon it. We are told that unless the elector has a copy he cannot possibly form an opinion. How, then, can the electors have formed an opinion upon the Parliament Bill, seeing that they had no copies? Apart from that, the Bill had not been discussed in Parliament, and that is how the electorate form their opinion. They form their opinion on what they read and hear of the discussions in Parliament, which are boiled down and peptonised for them by minor platform orators throughout the country.
The noble and learned Lord wound up by saying that when his Party were in a position to speak with the enemy at the gate, then the time might come for considering the question of reform. Our contention is that we are at the gate, that we 448 are ready to speak, and I do not think that the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition could have given a more sincere and more earnest proof of his willingness to parley and to compromise than he has done in the action which he has so courageously taken. I think that the outstanding feature of this debate is the sense of disappointment which was caused by the speech of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House. We had hoped to get some enlightenment on those great abstract and general principles which are concerned—enlightenment which I think we had the right to expect from one, if I may say so with all respect, whose intellect is stored with the results of deep research into history and philosophy and statesmanship. But even the noble Viscount made no attempt to deal with principles or to give us any guidance. We hoped, of course, that he would at any rate state for our information and guidance what are the principles which His Majesty's Government have in view. His Majesty's Government are committed to reform. Surely they cannot be committed to a policy of which they have not even considered the principles. It would have been the greatest help to us if we had known what kind of reconstitution of this House His Majesty's Government have in mind. But instead of that the noble Viscount gave us a speech which, if I may say so, was a strange mixture of conciliatory suggestions with uncompromising criticism. It was a combination of those conservative instincts which come to all with riper years and the destructive temper of green Radicalism.
The noble Viscount indulged in a few easy jeers at the details of the Bill, such jeers as are no doubt effective in regard to any measure on political platforms. For instance, he spoke of the "ineligible Peer," and I am sure that those criticisms must have seemed to your Lordships a somewhat unfair play with words, a question-begging misapplication of the term. There is no question whatever of ineligible Peers. Under this Bill no single member of your Lordships' House would be ineligible in one way or another for a seat in this House. Indeed, the Bill goes further, for no citizen of this country would be ineligible for a seat in this House. Therefore it is entirely out of place to talk of ineligible Peers, as if, indeed, there were to be a class stigmatised as inferior in character and capacity.
449 Then, my Lords, the noble Viscount said that the number of 350 was too large. The words he used were—If you want real deliberation you must have fewer members.But what about the House of Commons? Surely that is an admission that there is no real deliberation in the House of Commons. I wonder whether the noble Viscount associates himself with that member of the Labour Party in the other place who said that the best kind of Second Chamber would be one composed of twenty trades union secretaries. Of course, the noble Viscount referred to the rejection, as he called it, of the Finance Bill of 1909. That question seems to possess the mind of the noble Viscount as a sort of mental obsession. He said that we challenged the House of Commons. If I remember rightly, that is a phrase which I have heard him use on more than one occasion. If to challenge means to express a different opinion, where is the enormity? Up to the present your Lordships' House still enjoys the right, common to all Second Chambers in the world, of expressing a different opinion from the First Chamber; but if, in using the term "challenge," the noble Viscount meant that your Lordships' House provoked, or sought to provoke, the House of Commons, then I venture to disagree with his presentation of the facts. I venture to think that he is distorting history which is not only recent, but which must also be familiar to everybody who takes an intelligent interest.
The Resolutions on which the policy of His Majesty's Government, the policy which underlies the Veto Bill, was framed—the Resolutions proposed by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman—saw the light in 1906, four-and-a-half years ago as the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack reminds us, long before there was any question of the Finance Bill or of the action winch your Lordships' House might take on that Bill; and if it comes to provocation, then I am prepared to maintain stoutly against anybody in this country that the provocation did not come from your Lordships' House. I have very vividly in mind the threat of the present Prime Minister, who said, long before the Budget saw the light of day, that finance was a flexible instrument which might be used for solving the Constitutional 450 question. Then there is the retrospective boast of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who said that a trap had been set for your Lordships' House which had succeeded admirably. It would be possible to multiply quotations of that kind, but there are the plain facts that the policy of the Veto Bill was conceived four-and-a-half years ago, and that the Finance Bill only saw the light two years ago.
I disagree, of course, with the noble Viscount when he says that we made a fatal and irreparable mistake in referring the Finance Bill to the people, for I deny absolutely that this House rejected the Budget. I am among those who believe—and, I shall believe it to my dying day—that this House would have made a far greater mistake if it had not referred that measure, which was admittedly a great revolution, a tremendous social change, a thing that the people had never seen or heard of before, as the Home Secretary boasted—if we had not referred that to the people of the country. Had we failed to refer it to the people I believe we should have forfeited their confidence, and we should have precipitated a far greater calamity than any which can possibly befall us at the present time. But in spite of those criticisms, winch were so disappointing to us and which damped our hopes of an agreement, the noble Viscount said that there was a definite problem, and his view of the definite problem was one which must commend itself to every member of this House. He said the problem was how to get back to that co-operation and accord which used to exist between Lords and Commons. None of your Lordships would, I am sure, dispute that that was a very good definition of what we are all aiming at; but I think there are very few, even on that side of the House, who would maintain with confidence that we can get back to that co-operation and accord by means of the Parliament Bill. I absolutely fail to see how you can get co-operation with those whom you have humiliated, insulted and deprived of powers which they have exercised with all the sanction of custom and authority and law for generations and centuries past. I do not see how you can get accord if you trample on the sentiments and convictions of half the nation. The results of no revolution can possibly be lasting and permanent unless supported by an overwhelming majority of the people.
451 I intend to vote for the Second Reading of the Bill because I believe that it marks out common ground for the settlement of a national question on national lines, and because I believe that until that question is settled we shall have neither peace nor progress nor the settlement of other important and pressing questions. I shall vote for this Bill because it seems to me to be a scheme for remedying the actual grievances of which complaint has been made, whereas the Parliament Bill does not touch those grievances. The complaint made by the Radical Party, and frankly admitted by the Unionist Party, is that the composition of this House is at fault, in that it has contained for some time an overwhelming Unionist majority. There has been no complaint against the powers of this House—that is to say, no complaint on grounds of general principle. No speaker on the Government side, so far as I am aware, has gone about the country explaining what ought to be the composition and the functions of a Second Chamber from the general point of view of principle. The complaint, so far as it has related to the exercise of power by this House, has been a complaint against a permanent Conservative majority. The question, therefore, stripped of transient prejudice and superficial misrepresentation, is one of the composition and not of the powers of this House.
Both great Parties in the State are agreed that there must be a Second Chamber, and neither Party can, on sober reflection, desire to have a sham or ineffective Second Chamber. It is not in the spirit of the British people to favour any sort or kind of sham. That is why I say we are on common ground when we attempt to improve the composition of this House instead of destroying its powers. Indeed, it is beyond dispute that both Parties are committed to reform. Why, then, not begin with the task which we all admit to be necessary, instead of with that of which half the nation utterly disapprove? There are some critics, critics of both Parties, who say that it is too late to consider reform—that is, so far as the present controversy is concerned. Radical critics talk of our reform proposals as a death-bed repentance. Well, what if it were so? When has it ever been contended that a death-bed repentance is of no avail? My Lords, there is an old and homely saying that "It is never too late to mend," and if that is our position I am sure that we 452 are not ashamed to confess it. Some Unionist critics, on the other hand, say that it is too late from the point of view of Party tactics. To them I reply that Party tactics ought not to be considered for a moment in a matter of such vital national concern as this. It is never too late to do that which is right, and can never be too late to take steps to avert a catastrophe. In this matter I would rather the Unionist Party failed by doing that which is right than that they succeeded by neglecting to adopt a course which I believe to be absolutely necessary for the future welfare of the nation.
There are some who so entirely misunderstand the situation that they fail to see that the course adopted by the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition is one of courage and patriotism rather than of surrender and despair. They mistake his natural emotion for weakness, as if, forsooth, it were not open to a General to think with an aching heart of the men he is bound to sacrifice in the engagement to which he is leading them. It is, of course, possible to believe that it is right and necessary to do something and at the same time to regret the change of circumstances which imposes the obligation. It is thus that I regard the proposed reform, or, to use a less question-begging term, the reconstitution of this House. Just as men regret the partial demolition and reconstruction of ancient and splendid landmarks, such as church or castle, monuments of human skill and scenes of high and noble endeavours throughout past generations—just as even the most unimaginative dweller in a rural district regrets the necessary lopping and propping up of some venerable and romantic tree, so, I think, must we all regret the necessity which we have now to face in regard to this national institution with its historic associations of eight centuries. But surely we must endeavour to preserve all that can be preserved, to buttress up that which is useful and sightly, to make our restoration as far as possible in harmony with the ancient design, and to pull down only that which cannot safely be left standing and to lop off those branches only which, though vigorous themselves, have outgrown the strength of the parent stem and may split the trunk to the very roots if carried away in some violent storm. I believe that it is in some such spirit as this that the noble Marquess has approached the task which has been imposed upon him by the highest 453 sense of patriotism and public duty. It may well seem to him a thankless and distasteful task at the present time, but I am firmly convinced that, if his counsels prevail against the desire of those who would ruthlessly pull down and sweep away no less than those who prefer to take the risk of accidental and complete destruction rather than face the responsibility of guarding against it, he will in the days to come be amply vindicated and stand high in the roll of fame of the great men of this country who merit the enduring gratitude of succeeding generations. It is on these grounds that I unhesitatingly support this Bill.
There is no possible means of preserving this House as it is at present. There is no possible means of preserving the existing privileges of its members. We may regret this from a sentimental point of view, but we need not regret it—we ought not to regret it otherwise—if we are convinced that this House as at present constituted is no longer effective as a national institution for making the laws and preserving the customs on which the welfare of the British people depends. Both great Parties in the State are committed to reform. It may be said that it does not follow that either of them will carry out reform. There is much to justify that doubt in either case. But there are stronger forces at work than the will of Party leaders—the circumstances which actually exist and must lead in one way or another to consequences which are as inevitable as fate. Let us face the facts. It is no use blinking any of them. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the Parliament Bill were to become law. Can it be imagined for a moment that this House will be allowed to remain as a mere cause of irritating delay, powerless either to reject or to refer measures to the people? Whatever the Radical Party leaders do, there will be an irresistible demand on the part of their followers for the abolition or reconstruction of so vexatious an institution. The people will not forget that the complaint which has been made has been that the composition of this House is at fault, that the Second Chamber ought not to be on a hereditary basis, that no man ought to sit and assist in making law because he is the son of his father. They will remember that, and will insist that their leaders should abide by the logical consequences of that which they have told them.
454 Suppose, on the other hand, the Veto Bill did not pass into law and a Unionist Government returned to power. However much the Unionist leaders might wish to postpone or abate a fulfilment of their pledges, there would be an outcry from the rank and file, who undoubtedly attribute the loss of two General Elections to the prejudice excited against a hereditary House of Lords. Again, so long as this great disproportion between Parties continues there will be a grievance which will not cease to be used as a weapon of prejudice. So long as grievance and consequent prejudice continue there can be no cessation of the class warfare which is fatal to national unity, and without national unity there will be no true progress and no settlement of the great questions, social, Imperial, and international, which are even now being retarded. It is not our fault that there are so few Radicals in this House. If it were our doing, we should not be willing, as we are now showing ourselves, to remedy the grievance. The disproportion of Parties is due to circumstances and causes which it is unprofitable and unnecessary to review at the present moment. We are faced by the fact that the Unionist Party is in an overwhelming majority, and we know that something must be done to alter a state of affairs which is undoubtedly a grievance.
But it is not only because of this disproportion in the composition of this House that reconstitution is necessary and inevitable. A deeper cause—and the noble Viscount the Leader of the House told us that he looked for deeper causes—a deeper cause of the necessity for reform is to be found in the change which has come over the House of Commons. It is because the House of Commons is becoming less and less a faithful reflection of national character and national will that this House must be brought into more intimate association with the electorate. It is not because this House is effete or out of date—we have the testimony of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack to the effect that it is not—but because the House of Commons is breaking away from those democratic principles on which the Government of this country is based; it is not because this House is grasping at predominant power in Parliament, but because the House of Commons is seeking to usurp the power which belongs to the people and which has hitherto been exercised 455 on their behalf by King, Lords, and Commons, that reform of the Constitution is imperative. It is necessary to bring the Second Chamber into more intimate association with the electorate than in the past in order to counteract the growing tendencies of Cabinet autocracy and House of Commons despotism. These mischievous tendencies make it obligatory to have a Second Chamber which can perform its natural function of referring dubious measures to the people without its action being misunderstood or misrepresented as the self-interested action of a privileged class.
There is no more preposterous claim than that the House of Commons, controlled as it is by an oligarchy with almost absolute powers, invariably represents the popular will. I say invariably, but I mean, of course, only when a Radical Government is in power, for even Radicals do not claim that the House of Commons represents the people when it is under the control of a Conservative majority. It is surely unnecessary to recall the many familiar instances when the decisions of the House of Commons have been contrary to the wishes of the people, for without going back to the Home Rule proposals of 1886 and 1893, we have the cases which are fresh in our minds of the Education and Licensing Bills and of the miscalled "People's Budget." Even when the control of the Cabinet is relaxed we see that the House of Commons can give votes which are absolutely contrary to the will of the people. Will any one dare to say that the people of this country are three to one in favour of Woman Suffrage? Yet only a few days ago the House of Commons voted in that proportion in favour of such a measure. How can that be explained? Surely, it is because politicians, even though they be the wise and high-minded men who are the chosen representatives of the people, are generally mere puppets in the hands of the wire-pullers of the Party system, a system which is often entirely out of touch with the feelings and aspirations of the great mass of men who keep aloof from it.
The domination of the Cabinet oligarchy over the reason and consciences of its supporters has never been more flagrantly exemplified than in the recent discussions on the Parliament Bill, and to that extent I quite agree with the noble Viscount the Leader of the House that you cannot have 456 real deliberation in such an Assembly. We feel that change is necessary in order that we may preserve true democracy and avoid the worst of all tyrannies—namely, that of an oligarchy which is now to be supported by paid politicians. We need change in order that the House of Commons may not usurp power which belongs to the people. If our Radical friends are sincere in their professions that they intend to reform this Chamber; if they are not merely paying lip service to the principles that in the end the people must decide and that we must have a Second Chamber in this country—for those are the two great principles on which we are agreed—then we are on common ground in attempting the reconstitution of this House as a solution of present difficulties. I fail to see why any false pride need deter our opponents from meeting us on that ground. When they first proposed their Veto policy they did so because they thought there was no other means of overcoming the rooted objections of this House to any change whatever, but we have pledged ourselves to reform and have gone more than half way to meet them. We have changed our attitude. That surely has changed the whole situation, and is a reason which would appeal to ordinary men for enabling the Government and their supporters to change their attitude in some small degree in order that we may arrive at a permanent and national settlement.
The noble Viscount the Leader of the House said, on the First Reading of this Bill, that it "cannot be a substitute or an alternative for the Parliament Bill." That was the uncompromising conclusion of his speech. That may be his opinion, but I venture to say that it is not a matter which he or his friends can finally decide. It is one which only the people of this country can decide, and the people have not yet settled this question. All that they have settled on the arguments which have been put before them is that there must be fair play between Parties, and that the Second Chamber ought no longer to be constituted on a hereditary basis. They have still to settle which of the other two alternatives—for there are only three courses—they will adopt. That is to say, whether the Second Chamber is to be purely elective or formed on some composite basis. This Bill proposes a compromise between the hereditary system, which is discarded, and the elective system, and since it is only by compromise that differing parties can arrive 457 at agreement, surely that is a prima facie reason for regarding it as a fair offer to meet on common ground. I for one do not hesitate to believe that sooner or later a system similar to that proposed by this Bill will be approved by the nation and become the law of the land, for it seems to me very certain that the people will not care to set up a Second Chamber which is wholly elective, and therefore necessarily a formidable rival and competitor to the popular and more representative Chamber. It is on those grounds that, without misgiving and with no more regret than is in accordance with natural sentiments, I unhesitatingly support the proposal of the noble Marquess.
My Lords, there are two points in common between both sides of the House, though there are a great many more important points on which there is diametrical opposition. The points on which the House is now agreed are that this Bill by itself—and I am quoting the words of the noble Marquess who introduced it—is not a solution of the difficulties which embarrass both Parties and that the relations of both Houses still have to be dealt with by legislation. The noble Marquess went on to say that the Bill is a complement or supplement to a Parliament Bill dealing with the relations between the two Houses. In the course of the discussion of this question many reproaches have been addressed to the Liberal Government because they have only produced one-half of the scheme which they consider ultimately necessary for the settlement of this question—that is to say, they have approached the question of the limitation of the powers of this House before attempting to touch the question of its composition. We have had bitter complaints of that, but if those complaints were justified we might very fairly say, "Why does not the noble Marquess act up to his precepts, and not according to our example?" Why has he not embodied in one Bill, not only the composition of the House but also the relations between the two Houses? We had a discussion on the Referendum the other day, but it was thrust aside. We have had the Referendum talked of; it was paraded before the electors, but when in this House, where if anywhere sympathetic treatment ought to have been extended to it, the Referendum was presented as a positive and definite settlement of the question, the noble Lord who brought it in did not go to a Division.
458 The noble Marquess has presented sincerely what he considers a necessary step forward. There are other steps to be taken; but I have not understood from any of his speeches that he thought the proposals he now made were not, as far as they went, satisfactory proposals with a view to the constitution of a Second Chamber. I do not say the noble Marquess put all the details of his scheme as being final, for they are to be open to criticism in Committee, but the broad features of the scheme were supposed to be a settlement. Last night Lord Willoughby de Broke expressed much sympathy with the House as now composed, although he was willing to follow his leader into the creation of an entirely different House. The noble Lord mitigated the language of the hunting field into the language of this House and said he was sorry that the noble Marquess had not told his opponents to go to perdition. In substance he took up the attitude of the solicitor who says that the offer of the Bill is made "without prejudice," and that if the Veto Bill is to be forced through, this offer now before us will be withdrawn and he and his friends will be free to do whatever his Party please to find some entirely different solution. The noble Earl, LordSelborne, took up that line, and absolutely declared that this Bill would be withdrawn, abandoned, utterly discarded, if any attempt were made to tack on to it the Government Bill dealing with the powers of the House of Lords. The Opposition should make up their minds whether they agree with the noble Marquess, their leader, that the proposal now before us is introduced as a reasonable step towards a settlement, or whether they regard it merely as a provisional offer, made without prejudice, to be withdrawn unless it is coupled with some other proposal of theirs that they know will not be accepted. The noble Marquess repeated what he said in this House before this matter became so urgent and what has been said by other responsible Statesmen, that there is no claim made for absolute Veto, and that there is a recognition of the ultimate supremacy of the other House. But the impassioned declaration to which we have just listened paid very little regard to the other House of Parliament. On the contrary, the noble Lord asserted that, in spite of the large extensions of the suffrage, in spite of large redistributions to bring representation more in accordance with the population of the electorate, the House of Commons had deteriorated, had got further and further away from expressing the will 459 of the people, and therefore this House ought to be strengthened in order to secure more truly that the will of the people should prevail. The suggestion is made that the Government Bill should contain a provision as to the constitution of this House. I might return the compliment and ask noble Lords opposite for their scheme as to limitation of powers. But we have had indications. The noble Marquess indicated a leaning to the Referendum, though afterwards that leaning became so slight that he seemed to stand in an almost perpendicular attitude towards it. We have also had talk of Joint Sittings.
My Lords, the Bill of the noble Marquess is presented, among other objects, for the purpose of establishing a fair equilibrium between the two great Parties in the State, of securing, as the noble Lord who spoke last put it, fair play to the Liberal Party. I should like to analyse for a moment the proposed composition of the House and see what element of fair play it shows to the Liberal Party. I will not put it as high as did the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack when he said that in the initial stage there would be only 10 Liberals out of 100. Perhaps I am a little sanguine, but when I look at Dod and other books and see the members of this House to whom the word "Liberal" is attached—although the word Liberal perhaps does not quite express the ingredients within—I am willing to assume that we cannot claim more than one-eighth of the persons who would be entitled to vote as Peers in the selection of the 100 Peers. We are not going merely to have those Peers who sit in this House by hereditary right, but we are going to have—and it is perfectly right and fair—all the Irish and Scottish Peers. I take it that the aggregate will rim up to fully 700 persons entitled to vote, and I do not think even a sanguine estimate could rely upon more than one-eighth of those being Liberals. We would start with 87 Unionists, Conservatives, and non-Liberals, and perhaps 13 who might fairly be classed as Liberals, though I should be very sorry to have to go into action with all of them. My noble friends opposite are fond of commenting on the rapid change that comes over the temperament and disposition even of a Peer who has been appointed by or on the recommendation of a Liberal Prime Minister after he takes his seat in this House, and as to answering for the sons of the fathers I am sure he would be a very 460 rash man who attempted to do so; it is hard enough to answer for the father during his lifetime. I could not help thinking, when the noble Lord who spoke last was talking of the way his conscience was made up of pedigree and hereditary material, what the hereditary conscience of the house of Russell has been from the time it was first enriched by the spoils of the Abbeys, and when the members of that house were such a powerful factor in English history in the eighteenth century in the great Whig Oligarchy. It seems to show to me that the noble Lord must have sought for his conscience in the recesses of his own personality and not in the inherited dispositions of his forefathers.
To proceed with the composition of the new House. I suppose you would certainly agree that if electorate after electorate were steadily over a long series of years to return a House of Commons in which there was a 10 per cent. majority hostile to the views which this House has hitherto entertained, it would be taken as some evidence of the settled opinion of the nation? But what would that 10 per cent. majority give? Assuming that majority to be constant, because if it is not constant then the Liberal Lords elected would diminish in number, the best case I can put for the Liberals as to the proportions in this House would be that you would get from the two factors of nomination by the Crown and election by the House of Commons a majority of twenty-two Lords of Parliament who would be Liberal, and against them you have to set the majority of seventy-four, the outcome of the choice by the hereditary Peers. Although the noble Viscount, Lord Morley, could not bring his mind to grapple with the problem of what a variation of opinion might mean among theologians, judging from the history of the action of the Bench of Bishops. I should be very sanguine if I expected to see one Liberal Bishop elected. This would give the Unionists a standing majority of from fifty-eight to sixty in the House of Lords even when the House of Commons over a long series of years was steadily Liberal. Is that what noble Lords opposite call fair play to the Liberal Party? On the introduction of his Bill the noble Marquess took as a basis an exceptional election—the election of 1906—when the catastrophe fell on the Conservative Party. In that Parliament the Party opposite only returned 23 per cent. of the other House. If the Liberals had brought in a 461 Bill to reform the House of Lords on the lines suggested by the other side, and the Conservative Party had accepted that Bill, no doubt on that occasion the Liberals having a fresh start would have elected a majority in your Lordships' House. But you are going to dilute and average the composition of the House by spreading the re-election over twelve years. The upshot of it would be that assuming on the whole there is a tendency towards Liberalism against Conservatism on the part of the electorate, it could not outweigh the overwhelming loading of the dice provided by the representation of hereditary Peers.
The fact is the Bill presented for the purpose of bringing about this object is perfectly idle and illusory. The noble Earl who spoke after dinner last night correctly commented on the disproportion which very commonly occurs between the representation of a Party in the House of Commons and its poll of the popular vote. But the noble Earl did not comment on how gross that disproportion was during the twelve years or so when his Party was in power, and when they took advantage of a Khaki Election to pass measures which were very unpopular in the country. But let that pass. With the present mode of election the popular vote is not properly represented in the constitution of the Rouse of Commons. There have even been cases where actually a minority of the electors have returned a majority in the House of Commons. Any one who has seen the working of proportional representation in Belgium and other countries will agree that if that system were introduced in this country the fluctuation of minorities and majorities would be brought within much narrower limits than at present. If that change were made, a majority of 10 per cent. in the House of Commons would be a very unusual and rare occurrence; but the closer you run the majority in the House of Commons the more absolutely necessary it is that you should not load the dice, as I said before, in the House of Lords. You ought to secure that the House of Lords is as absolutely fair a reflection of the general opinion of the people of this country as the House of Commons would be. But there is no suggestion of such a thing as that in this Bill. Noble Lords opposite give a very grudging welcome, if I can call it a welcome, to the Bill. I would rather use the expression of the noble Viscount who leads the 462 House when speaking of a great man in the French Revolution, and say this Bill is receiving "sombre acquiescence." But if the Bill were amended by securing that the Upper House were to be as true a representation of the prevalent feeling of the country as the House of Commons is, I am quite sure it would be entirely distasteful to your Lordships.
The noble Marquess who brought in this Bill said it would not be unfair, seeing that he wanted the House to contain rather a steadying influence, that there should be usually a preponderance, although, perhaps, not a very large one, of persons of moderate opinions. I do not know what the noble Marquess's idea is of a not very large preponderance of persons of moderate opinions in this House, but by his own calculation, which I think is absolutely incorrect, he worked it out on the supposition that when the House of Commons is nearly three to two it would give a Conservative majority of 22 to 24 in a House of 300 odd. I do not look forward to the House of Commons usually being composed in the proportions of three to two. We have had ever since the great disturbance of Parties which followed Mr. Gladstone's introduction of Home Rule, in 1885 and 1886, much greater swings of the pendulum, much more abrupt changes and larger shiftings of majorities than we were accustomed to before; but those of us who look back to the days of Lord Palmerston, and the fifties and sixties, remember how happy Governments were when they had a majority of 40 to 50 in the House of Commons, and there is no reason why we should not go back to that again. But this Bill does not attempt to approach, not by an immense distance, anything like securing fair play or equal treatment between the two Parties in the State.
I see no object whatever in the creation of electoral colleges up and down the country instead of at once giving the election to the House of Commons as a whole. Mind you, this Bill, while it has a suggestion which is quite unnecessary, because every Act of Parliament can be altered by Parliament at any time, provides that unless Parliament otherwise elects these colleges shall go on. I am in favour of bringing about a fair representation of the various shades of opinion in the country. I took the trouble to map out, on the lines indicated by the noble Marquess, what sort of colleges you might 463 make, taking the limit of twelve. I suppose he had in his mind such great units as London and Lancashire and Scotland and Ireland. I made what I thought was a fair distribution of constituencies. I did not make out that there was any material difference in what the Parliamentary result would be between the great Parties whether the Lords of Parliament were elected by these colleges or by the House of Commons as a whole. But there would be this important difference in the representation of some shades of opinion. If you map out this country into electoral colleges the Labour Party would in no case be able to get a single representative, whereas if the House of Commons voted as a whole with proportional representation the Labour Party would get a very fair proportion. Again, take Wales, for instance, as a unit. Wales would return on the noble Marquess's plan about six members. In Wales, as a unit, not a single Conservative would have a look in; the whole of the representation of Wales would pass to the Welsh Party. In Ireland you would get about 2 Conservatives and 10 Home Rulers, and in Scotland about 2 Conservatives and 10 Liberals. Of course, if you were to break up Scotland into still further units the Conservatives would disappear more absolutely than ever. I do not think there is any difficulty in letting the House of Commons as a whole choose its representatives for the Upper House of Parliament, and I think it would be better in the sense that more shades of opinion would be represented than if you were to break the country up even into substantial units.
To touch on another small point dealt with by the noble Marquess, I agree with his conclusion that it is quite impossible to represent in this House various shades of ecclesiastical organisation and opinion. I am quite sure we do not want to make this House, however constituted, any more like a Convocation or a Round Table of different ecclesiastical denominations than we can help, and I am well aware that the keenest of the Free Churches would repudiate any extension of the principle of the union of Church and State by allotting to them official representation in this House. It is quite true, as the noble Marquess said, that in the case of an eminent man of character and knowledge and public spirit, it would be quite within the power of the Prime Minister to offer him a seat in this House. That would be a different thing altogether, but to invite 464 any external organisation, whether Roman Catholic, or Jewish, or Nonconformist, or anything else, to nominate their representative and send him here would be a great mistake, and not, I think, popular with the great mass of those whom it was intended to please.
I have touched on the most important points to which I wished to call your Lordships' attention. But I desire to press again that, if you put forward as part of your principles the recognition of the ultimate supremacy of the House of Commons, you must neither make such speeches as the noble Lord who preceded me made, full of contumely and contempt for the House of Commons, nor must you indicate your hope to call in some external force, such as a popular plébiscite, to control and regulate and limit the powers of the House of Commons. Make the House of Commons, if you please, as fully representative of the nation as possible. I am not afraid of a complete and equal electoral system by districts. I should welcome One man one vote, and One vote one value. Your Lordships did not show any great desire to make the House of Commons more representative of the people when you rejected the Bill to prevent people voting two or three times. You cannot expect these professions of good faith and liberality not to come home to you at last. You cannot go about the country proclaiming your anxiety for democracy without its coming home to you, and whether they are sincere or not these professions will some day be embarrassing to you at the hustings. If you had a House of Commons elected with single voting, no plurality, no property qualification, and with equal electoral representation, we shall have no fear of the result. You may be quite sure that we as Liberals are not afraid of the effect on the composition of the House of Commons of bringing its members more in contact with the electors, nor are we afraid of shorter Parliaments.
May I say one word before I sit down with regard to the mandate of members of the House of Commons? A Member of Parliament has a duty to his constituents, to fulfil the pledges and act on the professions he has made to them and not to depart from the fair and honourable understanding that exists between them as to the policy he should pursue in Parliament. I think it is democracy gone mad, and reckless folly on the part of a Con- 465 servative body like your Lordships' House, to talk as if the Member was to go down and consult his constituents with regard to every clause and every little detail of every Bill with which he has to deal. In a country like this a member of the House of Commons must be a thoughtful and capable man ready and willing to use his own judgment with regard to the details of legislation, and if you undermine that sense of duty and responsibility you undermine the whole value of the House of Commons.
§ THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
My Lords, there is one circumstance connected with this debate which seems to me to be somewhat remarkable—namely, that from beginning to end, with but one exception, we have not heard a single remark as to the causes which have produced the situation—the emergency the noble Viscount the Leader of the House called it—in which we stand. I think it very important that somebody should call attention to the causes which have led to the present state of things, because it seems to me that only in that way can an answer be given to such a speech as was made last night by Lord Bathurst when he asked why this House should be modified in any degree in its constitution. The one exception to which I refer was the striking remark of a noble Lord who said that the present situation in which the two Houses of Parliament stand was rendered inevitable by the Reform Act of 1832. It was not any musty or rusty old Tory who gave vent to that sentiment, although it is a sentiment that reminds me very much of the utterances that we read of in the mouths of Tories of those days. The statement came from the lips of the noble Viscount, Lord Morley. As my noble friend below me said, there is no Peer in this House who by training, by study, by mental ability, is better able to take a philosophic view of political causes.
And the noble Viscount told us further that, starting with the Reform Act of 1832, the Reform Act of 1867 and the Reform Act of 1884 had rendered the present situation not only inevitable but cogent. In other words, my Lords, with one very great and signal exception what has brought us to this pass is the domination of the Liberal Party from the year 1832 to the year 1884; and I could not help thinking, when I heard those remarks fall from the noble Viscount, what a proof it 466 was of what I have always held to be true, that the Radical Party had far greater foresight than the great Liberal Party that they knew where they were going, which the Liberal Party never did; and they have arrived at the goal to which they were tending. Although it is now the fashion to call ourselves democrats—and I understand the leader of our Party in the House of Commons has dubbed himself by that title—nothing was more abhorrent than democracy in the eyes of the old Liberal Party which dominated the country in the thirties and the forties and the fifties. Nothing was more abhorrent to such men as Lord Melbourne or Lord Palmerston. None of the powers of vituperation of that great writer and imaginative historian, Lord Macaulay, were called more into exercise than when throwing contempt upon democracy. But we have been landed in that condition, and when I said it was due to the Liberal Party I said there was one great exception, and there was. It was when Mr. Disraeli thought that he would try and dish the Whigs by passing a Reform Bill of his own and set the example to his Party of trying, if I may use a vulgar phrase, to go one better than his opponents, which I am sorry to say has been too often copied by the Party since. Well, my Lords, that has landed us in the present emergency, and I was rather surprised to hear the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, last night throw in the teeth of the noble Viscount, as if it were a very effective argument, the fact that since the passing of the Reform Bill the Unionist Government had been in power for many years.
§ THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
Then I beg the noble Earl's pardon. It was certainly said by some one. The argument was this, that it was not true that the Reform Bill had brought about the domination of the present Government and their Party because the Unionist Government had for many years been in power. In the first place, if you confer 467 upon a class of persons who have no political education the right of the franchise, it takes them naturally some time to appreciate and to know how to exercise their power. Then it must always be remembered that Mr. Gladstone's adoption of Home Rule made a split in the great Liberal Party which carried with it an enormous majority of the country in the Liberal interest over to the Conservative, or the Unionist side, and so protracted the advent of the situation in which we now find ourselves. But I do most cordially agree with the noble Viscount opposite that the present situation is owing to three successive Reform Bills that we passed. I think it shows the prescience of the Radical Party. I wish I could think that they showed as much prescience now with regard to what is before them in the course they are pursuing.
This succession of Reform Bills has brought about what we call a democracy. What is a democracy? A democracy is simply that kind of Government which invariably prevails in one form or another in the decay of a State. I see some noble Lords smile, others raise their eyebrows. I quite expected that. It is a very unpopular sentiment in these days. But I would like to quote from authority which perhaps will appeal to the two noble Viscounts opposite, because I know they both take a philosophic view of politics. I will not quote a politician at all. I will quote a man of science, a man well known to have given great attention to the subject of ancient civilisations—I refer to Dr. Flinders Petrie, who has just published a little book, one of a series of "Harper's Library of Modern Thought." There is not anything very antiquated or musty about a library of modern thought, and in that book Dr. Flinders Petrie has treated the various periods of civilisation, showing how civilisations at different times have risen and then fallen; and I may say, in passing, that it is a curious argument by which he shows that these rises and falls have been universal all over the earth at different ages. But that is beside the mark. He treats civilisation from the point of view of art and literature and divers standpoints, and then he comes to stages of Government. The conclusion he draws at the end of his book is this, that in the early period of civilisation of a State strong personal rule exists and, is necessary to maintain unity, and that lasts from 468 400 to 600 years; that is followed by an oligarchy when the unity of the country can be maintained by law instead of by an autocracy—he gives another period of 400 to 600 years for that. He goes on—Then gradually the transformation to a democracy takes place; beginning about the great phase of literature in Greece, Rome, and Modern Europe-During this time, wealth—that is the accumulated capital of facilities—continues to increase. When democracy has attained full power, the majority without capital necessarily eat up the capital of the minority, and the civilisation steadily decays, until the inferior population is swept away to make room for a fitter people. The consumption of all the resources of the Roman Empire, from the second century when democracy was dominant until the Gothic kingdom arose on its ruins, is the best known example in detail. Such is the regular connection of the forms of Government, or the relation of classes, which is inherent in the conditions of the revolutions of civilisation.I apologise for having read so long a quotation, but I think it is a somewhat remarkable one, coming as it does from the pen of one who is not interested in our political struggles and has no particular bias or animus for taking one view or the other. I confess that I adopt that idea of democracy. I do not think the noble. Viscount the Leader of the House will deny that we had at one time a Constitution which was the admiration of all the nations of the earth. Does he think so now? Does he hear from other nations, the educated opinion of Europe, the admiration of the Constitution of this country which we heard continually in old days and which no one has more studied than the noble Viscount himself?
What is one of the principal signs of this degradation—the one which necessitates our dealing with the questions which are now before us? Something has been said to-night about the deterioration of the House of Commons. Last year I ventured to trouble your Lordships with an expression of my feeling with regard to that. It is a disagreeable subject to deal with, and I am strongly of opinion that the more the two Houses of Parliament respect each other, and the less they use hard words in regard to each other, the easier it will be to come to a settlement, of their differences. Therefore I shall not dwell upon this subject further than to point out that when I first had the honour of a seat in the other House there was no closure; private Members had absolute power, as fully as we have in this House, of bringing forward any questions in which 469 they were interested, and some of the most useful measures of legislation were introduced and carried through by them. There was no repression of discussion, no guillotine, no censorship of Questions put down, and it was not necessary to invest the officers of the House with a control, not only of the conduct of debate, but of the choice of the subjects to be debated. As you have extended the franchise and given more and more power to that part of the nation which has the least political education, has it improved the calibre of the House of Commons? I will say no more tan that.
I cannot, however, help pointing out that, whether the House of Commons is improved or whether it is not, it has become absolutely powerless as a deliberative Assembly and absolutely powerless to modify or to control the conduct of a powerful Ministry. As I have said, I do not want to say anything hard or disagreeable of the House of Commons, but I can hardly be blamed for quoting what a Member himself says of that House. I have here a paper sent to me this morning from the House of Commons. It is signed "Henry Kimber," and is headed "Misrepresentation of the people." After pointing out the absolute inequality of the distribution of seats, and the number of electors in various constituencies, it says—Should the constitution and powers of the other House be dictated by us who are ourselves misrepresentative and unreformed?That is the opinion of a Member, and I must point out that this helpless character of the House of Commons has been purposely fostered by the Ministry of the day. Mr. Asquith last year, on March 29, concluded a remarkable speech by these words—The absolute Veto of the Lords must go before the road can be made clear for the advent of full grown and unfettered democracy.That, my Lords, is what the Party opposite desire. Is it a statesmanlike desire? I have always supposed that the great object of all governments was that no part of any civilised State should be utterly unfettered; that the whole wisdom of Statesmen was the judicious contriving of checks on the various parts of the Constitution. And when a Statesman tells his countrymen that he desires any portion of the Realm—Lords, Commons, or King—to be unfettered, he is, I think, unfaithful to his trust.
470 But it is not difficult to see why Ministers use this sort of language. In the first place, it is, of course, very convenient to flatter those who are in power. Flattery is the vice of all Statesmen, and whether it be a King we flatter, or whether it be a democracy, the same vice is seen; and probably there was no age in which the flattery of the democracy, now supposed to be the dominant element in the State, was carried on more freely or to greater depths of degradation than now. That is not the only reason. The real reason why the Prime Minister and his colleagues wish for an unfettered democracy is that it involves an unfettered Cabinet. That is really what we are face to face with, and, from a Constitutional point of view, that is the danger which the country runs. It has often been said that democracy always ends in despotism. In most States that despotism has arisen by some émeute, by some great and violent change. But in this country we have always done our revolutions by law; we have always, hitherto at any rate, carried out our revolutions by quiet and gentle means; and it is curious to observe that the despotism in which all democracies end is coming on this country in a different though equally effectual form—in the form of the domination of the Cabinet.
Now, my Lords, I come to the reform of this House. I want a reform of this House because I, for one, want a check on the democracy. I am not afraid to say that although I know it is an extremely unpopular sentiment. The proper thing at the present day is to say that all wisdom lies with the people, and that a form of Government which you would never adopt in your own household or in any business company must be the best for the State. But I do not believe it, and I am not going to say it. I want a check on the democracy just as I should, if I had lived in the seventeenth century, have wished for a check on the power of the Crown; or, if I had lived in the eighteenth century, I would gladly have joined in breaking up the old Whig Oligarchy. I want a check on the democracy, and this House is, it seems to me, the only power in the country which, for the present at any rate, can successfully check the democracy. But in order to check the democracy your constitution must be such that it is understood of the people. I am not going to say one word against the present constitution of this House. I am quite willing to take the 471 line assumed by Lord Bathurst last night, that on the whole you have an Assembly which is superior to any other which you could put in its place. But it is not understood by the people, and you cannot get it into their heads.
There is one thing, for instance, that the people cannot understand—that is the old story of the "backwoodsmen." Last year I gave a challenge to the House which has never been taken up. I asked any member of this House to point to two Divisions which were decided by the vote of the "backwoodsmen." I do not quite know what a "backwoodsman" is. He may be anybody who does not sit on that Bench. It may be that I am included. My noble friend here tells me that I am one, but I would rather be allowed to cry off and perhaps consider myself an "undesirable." I have challenged any member of this House to point out any occasion on which any measure was ever passed, any Resolution ever come to, any Division decided, by the votes of the "undesirables." Of course we have seen many Divisions swelled by the "undesirables." I remember many years ago when the Second Reading of the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill was carried by ten votes, that that Division was carried by some members who do not usually attend this House—I will not go further than that; but that Bill was thrown out on Third Reading. Even that was not a definite decision of this House carried by the "undesirables," if I may still use the term, and that is the only instance in my experience where the "undesirables" have ever affected the decisions of this House. But, my Lords, you cannot get the people to believe that; they do not believe it, and they will not believe it, and therefore it is very necessary to show them what the facts with regard to the "undesirables" really are. Another misunderstanding which requires to be cleared up is this. The British public believe that your humble servant and all my noble friends round me upset the decisions of the Judges. Nothing will get that out of their heads, and the consequence is that if you have voters of this sort of calibre of intelligence you must make them understand and show them that it is impossible for any one of your Lordships who has not had a legal training to take part in the judicial business of this House, or else you naturally have a House in which the people have no confidence.
472 I come lastly to the hereditary principle. I am told sometimes that we have abandoned the hereditary principle. I do not quite know what that means. If it means that the hereditary principle as an abstract principle is abandoned, I do not think that those who say so know quite what they are talking about, because the whole of religion, both Christian and Jewish, is based upon the hereditary principle, and no man in the abstract can abandon the hereditary principle as a principle and remain either a good Jew or a good Christian. Therefore I do not suppose that those who use these terms mean that. What they do mean is that we have abandoned the hereditary principle as a means of giving a seat to noble Lords in this House. I, for one, have never done so. All I have ever assented to is this, that hereditary right alone without any qualification of any sort or kind should not give a seat to a member of this House. That is a very different thing from abandoning the hereditary principle. And in addition to that I am perfectly willing to consider any well-thought-out proposition for placing other members on these Benches who have not the hereditary character; but the hereditary principle, as a principle, as part of the considerations which should govern us in deciding upon the constitution of this House, I have never abandoned, and, as at present advised, have not the slightest intention of abandoning. I protest most strongly against the accusation which is sometimes made against some of us who supported my noble friend Lord Rosebery when he brought forward his Resolutions, that we thereby abandoned the hereditary principle. I agree with Lord Lamington, who said he did not believe the hereditary principle to be unpopular in this country. It is curious to observe how very differently noble Lords look upon this subject according to the part of the country they come from. I heard my noble friend Lord Faber say last night that he believed the hereditary principle was very unpopular. I heard Lord Lamington say that he did not believe it. I do not believe it. I only know this, that whenever an occupant of one of my cottages dies the first thing his relations are anxious to show is that the family have occupied the cottage for generations, that they have been tenants of my family for generations, and that that is an argument why they should not be moved. I do not believe while that is ingrained as it is ingrained in the hearts of the people of this 473 country that they are against the hereditary principle. But, my Lords, the people who have not got political education cannot understand that the hereditary principle does not give what I call the "undesirables" the power of legislating for this country. Therefore you must, modify the constitution of this House so as to give the people confidence that those who are in this House are fairly qualified for their duties, and I agree that there should be a certain representation of those who cannot sustain the burden of a hereditary Peerage but who are chosen to sit here upon some other tenure.
For these reasons I welcome in general terms the Bill which the noble Marquess has laid upon the Table of this House. I welcome it as an effort to solve a problem. I think myself that it will require much modification in committee, and I am not at all sure that it is not going in some respects in advance of public opinion. What I am now going to say I say with some hesitation, but I think I am known to your Lordships sufficiently well after all the years I have sat in this House to be allowed without offence to say something unpalatable. If this House has a fault it is that it is prone to act in a panic; it is prone to think that the country is more against it than it is; it is prone to think, if might humbly suggest, that the passing waves of feeling are to be taken as indications of the permanent feeling of the country. I will add one caution more. When I say passing waves, I often think that politicians do not sufficiently remember how long life is. Waves of feeling now are counted by months. Waves of feeling really should be counted by years; and, as I showed at the beginning of my speech, it is not at once that we see the evils which ensue from a particular line of policy. It has taken more than half a century to produce the consequences which the noble Viscount now sees ensued from the Reform Bill of 1832. It took seventy years to bring about those changes. So, my Lords, we should remember that we have to act in the way we think best for the country taking into review a long period of its history. Add while, on the one hand, we should be perfectly willing to sacrifice ourselves if it is merely a question of our seats or the right to express pour opinions in this House, we should nor act in a panic or be frightened by the big words which proceed from the government Benches. 474 In the present situation we should consider, as this House throughout its history has always done, independently and with the intelligence and training which it has, what really is best for the country. For that we ought to vote, for that we ought to endeavour to bring measures forward, and then, whether we succeed or whether we fail, we shall at any rate have the feeling that we have striven to do our duty, that we have not bent to a popular cry leading us to do things which we do not honestly think to be the best for the country in the long run, and if this House is to be abolished it will fall with the respect of the nation.
THE EARL OF DUNRAVEN
My Lords, we have heard from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack what in his opinion is the course that this House should take. I gathered that in his opinion the House ought to drop this Bill, accept the Parliament Bill, and leave it to His Majesty's Government to fill up the Preamble of their Bill as they think best and introduce what provisions they like for arranging difficulties that might arise between the two Houses. I have no doubt that, even on this side of the House, noble Lords have every confidence in His Majesty's Ministers, but I would point out to the noble and learned Lord that we are not dealing with a matter in any way personal to ourselves. This House, like the other House of Parliament, is merely a trustee of the rights and the liberties of the people. I think the noble and learned Lord will admit that the position of His Majesty's Government at present is in some respects a rather peculiar one. They are not, supported in the other House of Parliament by a homogeneous Party; their majority is composed of very divergent elements, and it can scarcely be said of them that they are really masters in their own house. In those circumstances, I can hardly think that the Lord Chancellor really sincerely meant that it would be advisable for the House of Lords practically to sign a blank cheque and give it to His Majesty's Government to fill in any way they pleased.
This Bill has been, in one respect, received by noble Lords opposite in a spirit which I did not at all anticipate. The noble Viscount, Lord Morley, on the First Reading described it as destructive of the House of Lords, and the whole tone of his remarks was regretting the destruction of the House as at present constituted. 475 Then the noble Lord opposite, Lord St. Davids, literally showered praises upon the House of Lords as at present constituted, and I have noticed the same strange phenomena occurring outside. Speech after speech by noble Lords and their friends have been of the same tone—that the House of Lords as at present constituted is about the most admirable Second Chamber that could be devised. If this House should ever be in want of a situation it has received from Lord St. Davids a character that will at once get it a situation with any community in search of a perfect Second Chamber. But he language used to the electorate at the last two General Elections was very different. Then the whole ground of attack was that the House as then constituted was not a fitting instrument to fulfil the functions of a Second Chamber. That view was forced upon the people in very strenuous language, in many cases with not the most strict regard for accuracy. What is the meaning of this strange change of tone? A few months ago nothing bad enough could be said for the constitution of the House of Lords; now no language is too good. I confess that I misdoubt me as to the meaning of the adulations now cast upon us. I do not understand why so much love is now showered upon the House and why noble Lords dissembled their love so very successfully when addressing the electorate. I have a suspicion that the object may be either that, if the House is, as it is, a very perfect instrument, there can be no particular object in filling up the Preamble of the Parliament Bill, or that, having found the constitution of the House of Lords such a very convenient ground of attack when desiring to stir up the prejudices and passions of the people, they may desire to preserve it in the same condition in order to use it at some future date in the same way.
I am not going at any length into a description of the problem before the House, or into the main principle of this Bill. I think the House is discussing this matter under some difficulty. The noble Viscount opposite said that they were discussing the Bill under much difficulty because they did not know how the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition was going to fill in the difficult question of the relations between the two Houses. That I have no doubt is the case. We 476 also are discussing the Bill under the same sort of difficulty, because we have not the faintest idea how His Majesty's Government intend to fill in their Preamble. The position is undoubtedly difficult for the reason that this Bill deals with only part of the great Constitutional question. Your Lordships will not forget, though there is nothing said about it in the Bill, that propositions of a definite character have by Resolutions been made in this House suggesting means by Joint Sittings and otherwise of adjusting differences when they arise between the two branches of the Legislature, and also suggesting that in rare and well-defined cases, when all other means had failed, the matter in dispute might be referred to the ultimate source of all power—the people. Your Lordships also will not forget that the Parliament Bill is in this House. As a matter of fact, there are three more or less distinct Bills in the House—the Parliament Bill, dealing with the powers of the House; the Bill we are now discussing, dealing with the constitution of the House; and the Reference to the People Bill.
I hope your Lordships, in discussing this Bill, will not be unmindful of the fact that it is really impossible to consider it without some reference to the Resolutions that have been passed with regard to Joint Sittings and the Referendum, and also the provisions of the Parliament Bill. The Bill of the noble Marquess was described by the noble Viscount opposite as destructive of the House of Lords. It seems to me that the Bill is of a distinctly constructive character. This House, the most ancient legislative body in the world, has gone through many vicissitudes, many changes both of constitution and political complexion; it has adapted itself to the changing circumstances of different times; and surely a Bill which aims at adapting the House to the conditions under which we now live, which aims at rendering it more responsive to popular feeling, and so on, is most distinctly a measure of a constructive character. The noble Viscount attributes the present Constitutional question to the gradual cumulative effects of the Reform Acts of 1832, 1867, and 1884. In his opinion the admission of great bodies of new electors caused a cleavage between the House of Lords and the other House of Parliament. I feel rather diffident in differing from the noble Viscount on a matter of that kind, but at 477 the same time I cannot quite agree with him in that.
The actual crisis, if I may so call it, that we are now in is due to some extent to the necessity that the present Government are under of endeavouring to legislate to satisfy all the peculiar fads of the various groups constituting their majority, to some extent to the exuberant character of their own legislative faculties, and to a very large extent to the congestion of business which is suffocating the House of Commons. This has led to the undoubted fact, which was pointed out by the noble Duke behind me, that the Cabinet not only absorb all the time of the House, not only exercise all the administrative functions, but really all the legislative functions also, and have become virtually masters of the House of Commons to the exclusion of the private Member, so that the House of Commons has almost ceased to be a deliberative Assembly. Even if it be true that the admission of large bodies of men to the franchise is the cause, surely the course adopted by the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, is a more statesmanlike course than that which noble Lords opposite would wish us to adopt. They would settle the difficulty by reducing this House to an absolute nullity—to all intents and purposes doing away with it altogether as an effective check or balance. The noble Marquess, on the other hand, aims by his Bill at making the House more responsive to popular feeling, at making it vibrate more readily to changes in popular sentiment, and so bringing it more into touch with these great bodies of men who have been admitted to the franchise, and enabling it to fulfil its duty as a check and balance better than it can at present. Of the two I think the constructive scheme of the noble Marquess is wiser, more statesmanlike, and more effectual than the purely destructive principles of noble Lords opposite. Even were the Bill destructive, I confess I should prefer it to the alternative offered to us of accepting the Parliament Bill with a blank Preamble.
I would sooner see this House absolutely absolutely than, as it seems to me, degraded. I honestly believe that if the great Statesmen who from this House governed the affairs of the Empire in the past could be here now, they would say, "Reform the House, reconstitute it, adapt it to the circumstances with which it has to deal, 478 or abolish it altogether; but do not inflict upon an ancient and honourable institution the indignity of being turned into nothing better than a sham." And that, after all, is what noble Lords opposite propose to do—they would leave this House merely a sort of wax image of what it once was, a mere effigy with a wooden lance and a pasteboard sword and with no power worth considering if your. Lordships consider the way in which business is forced through the House of Commons—I am not cavilling at it and I would not go so far as to say even that it is not necessary—if you consider the application of the closure, surely it is absurd to suppose that the mere suspensory powers to be left to this House under the Parliament Bill would be worth anything at all as a check or a balance. Bills would be sent up here and if they were rejected or amended they would be brought in again in the House of Commons and passed through in the most perfunctory manner. Ministers would, say, "This Bill was amply debated and thoroughly threshed out a few months ago, and it would be mere waste of time to debate it again." The closure would be applied and the Bill sent up here again in quite a short space of time. The short suspensory powers proposed would have no real effect, and the House in those circumstances would be reduced to nothing better than an empty shell.
I do not propose to go into the main principles of this Bill. They have been so amply and fully explained by the noble Marquess, both on First Reading and on Second Reading that that would be totally unnecessary. It is also unnecessary for the further reason that the Bill merely puts into concrete and definite shape within the four corners of a Bill the Resolutions which were accepted by the House some time ago by enormous majorities. The House admitted that the hereditary principle must be modified, that the mere accident of birth should no longer of necessity convey a right to sit and vote. The Bill provides for that, and provides for it, it seems to me, in the only absolute and adequate way. A Peer would not be eligible for election unless he had some qualification. The noble Viscount contended that that qualification would have a detrimental effect upon members of the Peerage who might wish to sit in the other House of Parliament, that the fact that a Peer was not qualified 479 to sit in this House would be looked upon as a reflection upon his capability, would militate against his success in getting into the House of Commons. I cannot conceive that such a thing as that would occur. I cannot see why the fact that he had not been a Governor-General, Lieutenant-Governor, a Major-General, or whatever the qualification may be should in any way militate against him as a candidate for the other House.
There are one or two details of the Bill upon which I would like to comment. The noble Viscount opposite commented upon the election of Spiritual Peers, and I entirely agree with him in what he said. I fail to see how they are to elect a number from among themselves by proportional representation, how it refers to them in any way. I should much prefer the provision in a Bill that I had the honour of presenting for Second Reading in this House in 1888. By that Bill the Spiritual Peerage would have been reduced to five: the two Archbishops and the Bishops of London, Durham and Winchester, who have rather a different tenure from the other Bishops. I sincerely hope that means will be found for ensuring that representatives of the other great denominations should find a place in this House. I should like to see it. I do not agree with the noble Viscount opposite in the small number which he mentioned as sufficient for a reconstituted House of Lords. I think he put it at 100.
THE EARL OF DUNRAVEN
There are rumours—absolutely unfounded, no doubt, but still very persistent—that under some circumstances the noble Viscount and his colleagues would not be absolutely horrified if the numbers of the House were increased to about 1,000 or 1,100. There is a great gap between that and the modest number of 100 which the noble Viscount thinks would be quite sufficient. I look with great satisfaction upon the fact that Peers are to be eligible for the section to be elected outside, and I think it ought to give great consolation to all those Peers who are about legislatively to die. They may all become resurrected under it. I think the Bill, considering what it had to do, has been very considerate of the Peerage. If this Bill becomes law Peers who desire a more energetic field for the exercise of their abilities than this House affords will no 480 longer be precluded from seeking admission to the House of Commons, and I venture to say if they do seek admission they will in a great number of cases he successful. If a Peer's ambition is to sit in this House as a Lord of Parliament there are three doors open to him: he can be elected by his brother Peers if qualified; if he is not qualified, or fails to be elected by his Peers, he can be recommended and nominated; or he can be elected by the suffrages of the electoral colleges. To that I attach great importance.
The noble Marquess laid stress, in his speech on the First Reading, upon what he called the value of the Cross-Bench mind—the value of independence in this House. I quite agree with him. I believe that the most solid ground of objection held by sober-minded men in the country to this House is that they think the House is actuated too much by Party considerations, that it is not as independent as a Second Chamber ought to be. That, of course, is a great exaggeration; it is, however, an honest opinion and ought to be dealt with, and this Bill will help to deal with it. It is obvious that any one possessed of what is called a Cross-Bench mind may find himself, and in some cases must almost of necessity find himself, placed in a position of considerable difficulty as regards Party platforms and Party politics, and I am sure it would be an immense relief to men of that independent frame of mind to have the opportunity of explaining their actions to a constituency or to the electoral colleges of their fellow countrymen and submitting themselves to their judgment. I think that is one of the most important provisions in the Bill.
On one point only do I wish to make a little criticism. The method of election by electoral colleges, consisting, as I understand, in the first place at any rate, of members of the House of Commons, is I consider a very admirable way of getting over a very great difficulty. It is very admirable and, what is not always synonymous, very practicable. But what I do not altogether like are the instructions to be issued to Commissioners who are to delimit the electoral areas. According to the Bill they are to have regard to population and area, to boundaries of counties and boroughs, to existing Parliamentary constituencies, and to community of interests. I should like to have seen less stress laid on population and more stress laid on community 481 of interests; and in the reference to areas I should have liked some indication that the larger areas, the main divisions, of the United Kingdom should be taken into consideration. In fact, in both categories—in the section elected by the Peers and in the section elected by the electoral colleges—I should have liked, with due regard, of course, to population, boundaries, and other things, some prominence given to the great main divisions, so that Lords of Parliament would, to some extent at any rate, sit as representatives of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. I should like that because, in the first place, community of interests is obviously more developed and defined in those great territorial divisions than in smaller ones, and I think it important that that community of interests should be considered. But I frankly admit that my real reason for saying this is that I should have liked the House so framed that it might fit in with a development which I feel confident must sooner or later come—that is, some delegation of power to subordinate bodies in order to relieve the House of Commons from the congestion which suffocates and paralyses it. I admit, also, that I should have liked the constitution of the new House of Lords to be of such a character that it might act as a germ, as it were, of some great scheme of federation that may some day arise whereby the great Dominions oversea might find representation, not perhaps in the Imperial Parliament, but in some Council or body emanating from that Parliament.
I approve of this Bill for the reason that it aims at a stable and a well-balanced double-Chamber system. I approve of that because, in my opinion, it is only under such a system that the democracy can really rule and protect itself from the fate which has befallen so many democracies. In spite of what the noble Duke (the Duke of Northumberland) said and of his quotation from Dr. Flinders Petrie, I have the utmost confidence and belief in our democracy provided only our democracy has fair play, and to have fair play I believe a stable and well-balanced Second-Chamber system is absolutely essential. I approve of the Bill because of the opinions I hold as to the relations which ought to exist between Great Britain and Ireland. I approve of it because I am what is commonly called a Home Ruler. I am not, of course, going to say what I understand by Home Rule, 482 except that my conception of it is very different from that on which the two Bills of Mr. Gladstone were founded. My conception is rather in the direction of a federal arrangement. I am not going to trouble the House with my reasons for believing in Home Rule. I believe that it would be enormously beneficial both to Ireland and to the United Kingdom, but I believe it can be beneficial only under certain conditions. One of those conditions has to do with finance, and that, of course, I cannot discuss. But I do not believe that any statutory Parliament set up, for instance, in Dublin, which of course would be subject to the supremacy of the Imperial Parliament from which it derived its powers, could have the remotest chance of working successfully and of having fair play if it was under the supervision of a Single Chamber, an omnipotent House of Commons, swayed, as the House of Commons must always be, by great and sudden changes of opinion, and gusts of prejudice or passion. I do not believe such a statutory Parliament could have a chance of working well except subject to the supremacy of a stable and well-balanced Parliament acting under a stable and well-balanced Constitution. I cannot conceive that Home Rule would have a chance of being successfully worked either unless it was conceded—I do not say absolutely approved of but acquiesced in—by a majority of the people of Great Britain. It may be, and I have no doubt it is, too much to hope that a statutory Parliament in Dublin could be set up, or a statutory body of any kind, by the advocacy of both the great Parties in the State, or by the advocacy of the great majority of the predominant partner. But I do not think it is too much to hope that it might be generally acquiesced in with an honest desire that, if established, it should work well. I do not believe for a moment that it would have a chance of working well if Home Rule were snatched by a chance majority of such a coalition as His Majesty's Government are now supported by. Take as an example the Act of Union itself. That Act was passed without any reference to the Irish people, the only authority that had any right to decide upon it. It was passed without reference to them more than 100 years ago, and the people of Ireland have never forgotten or forgiven the outrage that was then done to the principles of democracy; and the Union never had a chance. To smuggle on to the Statute-book an Act so vastly important as an Act 483 remodelling the Act of Union without referring it to the people of Great Britain would, I am sure, be resented by them, and would not have a fair chance. I believe a balanced and stable Second Chamber system would be absolutely essential for the well-working and the success of any statutory Parliament that might be set up in Dublin, or of Home Rule of any sort or kind, and for that reason, if for no other, I should support this Bill, which aims at stability, and vote against any Bill which seeks to undermine stability and destroy Parliamentary equipoise.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (EARL CARRINGTON)
My Lords, we on this side of the House have been racking our brains, and I should not be surprised if some members on the other side of the House have been doing the same, to know what unfortunate circumstance induced the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition to introduce this Bill into your Lordships' House. There must be some reason, but the reason is not easy to find. Last night Lord Selborne, in his exhaustive and eloquent speech, gave us one reason. After saying that without the Crown the Empire would not exist twelve months, he went on to say—Therefore, it is the duty of Constitutionalists, by an honourable surrender of their dignity, to come to the rescue of the Crown.I fancy I saw the eyebrows of some noble Lords opposite go up when he made that statement. I make no comment whatever on those words, the purport of which seems to have escaped the noble Earl. I leave them to his riper consideration. But if we allow ourselves to entertain what I venture to think is a preposterous proposal, what does the noble Earl propose? He proposes to effect his object by attacking, if not altogether abolishing, one of the most important privileges of the Crown by stopping the creation of Peers and Members of your Lordships' House. There may be some other reason. We were told that one reason why a Bill would have to be brought in was on account of revolution. We have not heard a word about that in this debate, and therefore I let that go by the board. We were also told that there were two great lions in the path. One, of course, was Home Rule, and the other was a Single Chamber. Neither Home Rule nor a Single Chamber has been mentioned in the whole of this debate until my noble friend mentioned 484 them in the last speech your Lordships have listened to. I therefore do not say one word about them.
I should like to call the attention of the House to the extraordinary proceedings which have gone on for the last eighteen months and which have now landed us in what Lord Selborne calls the amazing position in which we find ourselves. Things were in a very disquieting state up to the end of last year, and on February 10 The Times, in its wisdom, announced the abandonment of reform from within. Mr. Garvin, the pacemaker of noble Lords opposite, immediately jumped in and told the public that the policy was to be changed again. He made a great discovery—that the duty of an Opposition was to oppose and not to construct, and in his beautiful language he said that the Lords were not to charge but to form squares. That, I fancy, is one of those parade movements which were alluded to by the noble Marquess opposite and to which he seems to have so serious an objection. The word went round that the Liberal Party were to be tackled in earnest, and it was whispered—of course, I do not know how true it was—that this back-stiffening and more resolute policy was the direct result of beneficent and outspoken feminine influence. A paragraph went round the Press to this effect—and it made an immense sensation—that "a Party which cannot get up a fight and justify its position can only expect and deserve extinction." That spirited paragraph was, rightly or wrongly, attributed to a female pen, and some of us on this side of the House rather expected a move in that direction.
But I often wondered in the long March afternoons when we listened to Lord Rosebery, and in the long November nights when we listened to the noble Marquess opposite, what the Peeresses of the United Kingdom must have thought of the suicidal suggestions and the filicidal propositions of those two Whig leaders of the great Conservative Party. I hope the House will do me the justice to believe that I am not such a consummate ass as to pretend that in any way I understand women. In the course of a somewhat long life I never knew but one man who said he did. He told me he did, and he came to the most hopeless grief it is possible to conceive. Still I think I am justified in saying that, now that the crisis has come, the maternal instinct—or "gorge," to use the pet phrase of Lord 485 Rosebery—must rise at the sight of their lords and masters in earnest making preparations, not only for self-slaughter, but for the slaughter of their sons and of their sons' sons. I can well imagine the feelings of the mother as she follows the agonised looks of her beloved son. "the honourable Isaac," as he is bound and helpless on the sacrificial altar, with one eye fixed on the sacrificial knife which has been sharpened by "the noble Abraham," and the other eye wandering about searching for a friendly old billygoat or a handy old ram caught in a thicket by its horns.
In these circumstances the mothers would cry out, "A truce to this—." I will not use Lord Milner's expression, but you know what I mean. And they would go on to say, "Is there no alternative to this massacre of the innocents, young and old; is there no golden bridge by the crossing of which we will be able to save not only our privileges, our coronets, our robes, but our faces as well?" Of course, my Lords, there is such a golden bridge. It is our Parliament Bill, to which we shall ask the House of Lords to give a Second Reading next week, and that bridge has been declared by a majority of your fellow country-men to be a safe and a sound bridge; and though you were not aware of it, by the acceptance of the first clause with regard to finance and the third clause with regard to five-year Parliaments instead of septennial Parliaments, you are safe over two-thirds of that bridge already. The Parliament Bill, at any rate, does not insinuate that four-fifths of your Lordships are, I will not say unworthy or unfit, but unable or unequal to the task of carrying on those great hereditary' duties to which most of you were born and the rest created.
The country, my Lords, has spoken, and it has spoken with no uncertain voice. It has declared that the despotic, absolute, uncontrolled, and irresponsible power of your Lordships' House must go. It seems to me that a great deal of this debate has been beating the air. The real fight is about the powers of this House. That is what will have to be settled. You are fighting for despotic powers; we are fighting for your powers to be somewhat limited. I very respectfully ask the House—What is the wisest thing for, you to do in this crisis?" Is it to sit down and cut not only your own throat, but the throats pf your sons and your sons' sons as well, 486 or boldly to face the inevitable—to fight to the last and go down with your flag flying? If you want an Imperial example you will find it in General Botha and his gallant Boers at the end of the South African War and a national one in Wellington's desperate struggle against the reforms of 1832.
I think it was Lord Morley who said that the proposals of this Bill were farcical. It is absolutely true. I hear from Liberal agents in all parts of the country that the country is laughing at your suggested concessions. If the country wants an elective Chamber of course it will have it, and you and I will have to go. But if you must perish why should you perish before your time? I believe there is a great deal more searching of hearts and wringing of hands and grinding of teeth among the supporters of the noble Marquess opposite than he apparently Lad any idea of. It seems to me that not only the noble Marquess but his followers are not altogether displeased with the result of the last election. In spite of the Rosebery Resolutions, in spite of the Lansdowne Resolutions, our sons are still on the steps of the Throne, our wives still in the Peeresses' Gallery; and in spite of his magnificent voluntary act of self-renunciation, in spite of the effort to bring about a hereditary holocaust, still we see with the greatest pleasure the noble Marquess restored to health, sitting in his old, old place, surrounded by his supporters and his friends—himself the most perfect, up-to-date, ideal, British impersonification of "the marquis malgré lui."
Debate again adjourned till To-morrow.