§ Debate on the Motion for the Second Reading resumed (according to order).
LORD CURZON OF KEDLESTON
My Lords, we have so far had few speeches upon this measure from the opposite side of the House, though they have included three from members of His Majesty's Government. I am sorry to see that they have adopted on the whole so unfriendly and uncompromising an attitude towards this Bill. I venture to say that their attitude does not fairly reflect public opinion outside this House, or even the opinion of the most influential organs of their own political Party. The fact is, I take it, that noble Lords opposite are swayed by two currents of opinion. In the first place, they are aware—they must, I think, be aware—that this is a sincere and courageous attempt on our part to grapple with this problem, that it marks a great advance on anything that has preceded it, and that, though it is susceptible of amendment, and I dare say of considerable amendment in its future stages in this House—and for my own part I should hope that that amendment would come not from one side of the House only, but from both sides—yet it does give a promise of a reconstituted Second Chamber which should possess authority, experience, Judgment, a representative character, and which would not unfairly attempt to hold the balance between opposite political Parties in the country. I take it that it was in this spirit that the noble Viscount opposite in his first speech ten days ago spoke of the measure as a bold and frank and helpful measure, and in his second speech as marking an enormous stride in advance.
Then comes the opposing consideration, which affects so much of our action. The point of tactics has to be considered. Everything has to be subordinated, in the view of noble Lords opposite, to the tactical necessity of pushing their Parliament Bill without amendment through your Lordships' House, and therefore from this point of view it is necessary to pooh-pooh and ridicule our suggestions lest, perhaps, the country might find in them a reasonable and acceptable alternative method of dealing with the Constitutional problem. This, I think, was the spirit of the Lord Chancellor's speech yesterday— 490 I did not, unfortunately, have the advantage of hearing that speech, and could only read it in the newspapers this morning—in which he appeared to me, if I may respectfully say so, to combine, as his speeches so often do, the outward forms of courtesy and conciliation with an unbending spirit of defiance. It was also the point of view of the noble Viscount opposite, who in another part of the speech to which I have referred described our measure as inadequate and illusory, and also of Lord Carrington—I am sorry not to see him in his place to-day, and I am still inure sorry not to have heard his observations yesterday—who described the Bill by an adjective which he more than any other man has a right to apply—namely, that our Bill is farcical.
The noble Viscount, Lord Morley, commenced his speech the other day by rebuking me for some language, as he said, of a too uncompromising character that I had employed in a speech elsewhere about the Parliament Bill, but I looked in vain in his speech for those accents of consideration and moderation and compromise in which he told me I was conspicuously lacking. My object this afternoon is to endeavour to answer some of the objections which have been advanced against our measure, and to enter into a defence of some of the provisions contained in the Bill. The first point taken by Lord Morley was that the House that we propose to constitute is too large—a House, mind you, of somewhat less than 350 members is too large. When did the noble Viscount make that discovery? After all, we are members of a Chamber over 600 strong, and the chief reason why we are so numerous is because of the action of noble Lords opposite. Only during the last few years while they have been in office they have added something like forty or fifty to our ranks, and yet when we come here with a measure to reduce the total by nearly one-half they suddenly discover that that number is greatly in excess of what is required. I venture to think that that, at any rate, is a somewhat captious objection which recoils on the heads of those who use it.
Then the noble Viscount went on to say that our scheme is lacking in stability and simplicity. He defined what he meant by stability when he added that it meant con- 491 tinuity of purpose and policy. I thought the one complaint that had been made against us, which runs through every speech of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, has been that there is too much continuity of purpose and policy in the action of your Lordships' House, and that you are animated—I do not agree with him, but I cannot pause to discuss it—by a too undeviating spirit of hostility to Liberal measures. So, far as that charge is made, whether it be true or not, we have endeavoured to meet it in this Bill by providing machinery for the fair representation of both political Parties in your Lordships' House. I would suggest that what we want in a Second Chamber is not stability of policy and purpose so much as moral stability, stability of character, intellect, and judgment, and I see no reason why these qualities should be at all deficient or why they should not predominate in the reconstituted Chamber winch we venture to suggest.
As regards simplicity, that is the one charge against the Bill that does not disturb me the least in the world. The chief merit, I think, of this proposed Second Chamber is that it is composite in character and structure. We are familiar with the taunt that in this House we are too much of one pattern and belong too exclusively to the wealthy and landowning classes. I do not think that the taunt is altogether undeserved, and, at any rate, it is a familiar one. For my own part, I would add that in the present trend of political action there is an increasing tendency even in the House of Commons to return men too much of one type. If that be so, the Second Chamber is the one place in which above all you should try to represent classes, interests, and points of view which are not necessarily represented in the First Chamber. It is on that basis that every successful nation has laid the foundations of its Second Chamber. There is no successful Second Chamber in the world that is not composite in structure and character. If it is a question of complexity, I would ask the question whether the House of Lords is altogether free from complexity now. I doubt if your Lordships realise the extraordinary complexity that exists in the composition of your Lordships' House. We have here at the present time hereditary Peers, many of whom have inherited their titles from a long line of ancestors, Peers who have themselves been ennobled, life Peers, ex officio Peers, Irish 492 Peers—not, I am afraid, necessarily always connected with that country—returned by the Irish Peerage for lifetime; Peers returned by the Scottish Peerage for the term of a Parliament; and you have in this House the most extraordinary freak—the most amazing fly that ever crept into the amber of any legislative system in the world—in the person of the Bishop of Sodor and Man, who may sit and speak in tins House, but may not vote. Compared with the complexity of your Lordships' House as it now exists, our plan, with its three broad categories of elected Peers, nominated Peers, and Peers from outside, may almost be described as simplicity itself. So anxious was the noble Viscount to throw discredit on our proposals that he even proceeded to ridicule our method for a fair representation of both Parties in the nominated section of the future House. I speak, of course, of the plan adopted from the familiar usage of the House of Commons for giving fair representation to all Parties in the House. The noble Viscount affected altogether to misunderstand our proposals, although I doubt if he really did. He pretended to believe that the Peers to be nominated under this provision would be selected by the Whips and would have to be submitted to your Lordships' House. Of course we mean nothing of the kind.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN
I beg pardon; not to this House, but, if the example of the Select Committees is followed, to the House of Commons.
LORD CURZON OF KEDLESTON
That, of course, is even more absurd, and I am only too glad to correct the misapprehension under which the noble Viscount seems to labour. There are to be these 100 nominated Peers. How are we to constitute them with a fair regard to both Parties? Taking the present proportion of Parties in the House of Commons, the idea presented itself to us that out of the 100, 59 should be nominated to the Crown by the Prime Minister as representing his own Party, and 41 should be nominated by him after consultation with the Leader of our Party. It does not matter to us in the least how the Prime Minister chooses his 59. We do not know who are the members of his Party, who are the sections that acknowledge his leadership. That is in dispute every day in the House of Commons; that is a domestic matter in which we do not venture to enter. He may send 493 to this House what 59 he likes. All we ask is that he will send 59, and that, after consultation with the Leader of our Party, he should give us 41. I venture to say that the plan is quite simple, intelligible and fair, and that it is not open to the criticism, the mistaken criticism as I think, which the noble Viscount passed upon it.
The noble Viscount also spoke in very unfavourable terms about our suggestion for the election of Peers by groups of members of Parliament. This plan was designed exclusively to secure the fair representation of both Parties at the first election of these 100 Peers. As such, I venture to say it was a most democratic proposal which might have been expected to meet with the favour of the noble Viscount. And yet he could find nothing better to say for it than that he could not conceive any benefit which could not be better obtained by election by the House of Commons as a whole. Surely the noble Viscount quite misunderstood the nature of the proposal. There are, as we think, three invincible objections to the election of this portion of the reformed House of Lords by the House of Commons as a whole. In the first place, you would destroy all chance of that local representation to which we look forward as one of the principal merits of the scheme. Under it we should hope that Yorkshire, or a Riding of Yorkshire, Lancashire, London, or any other area, would return a man known to the locality, known to the members of Parliament representing it, and reflecting the best interests and opinions of that part of the country. If you have election by the House of Commons as a whole such a chance is greatly diminished, if it does not altogether disappear.
In the next place I think all noble Lords will agree that one of the great faults of our present House of Commons is that, under our representative system as it now is, with the extraordinarily unequal distribution of seats, and with the principle of the bare majority operating everywhere, there are vast minorities in different parts of the United Kingdom which are wholly unrepresented. If you had election of your Lordships' House or a portion of it by the House of Commons obviously those injustices and inequalities would be reproduced. But if, on the other hand, you have election in smaller areas by electoral colleges, with the single transferable vote, 494 those defects will be to a large extent rectified. The third objection, which I think was anticipated by the noble Viscount himself, is that if you had election of these 120 Peers by the whole House of Commons—quite apart from the sentimental objections to such a plan, which I think are considerable and would be very much felt by your Lordships' House—you would give rise to the most gigantic system of wirepulling, caucusing, manipulation and clandestine intrigue that has ever been known in this or in any other country possessing representative institutions. I hope, therefore, that, whatever may be your view of our proposal, nothing more will be heard of the idea of electing that portion of your Lordships' House by the House of Commons as a whole.
I pass on now to say a few words on the reasons which led us to propose the particular form of election that appears in the Bill. I am aware that there are some members of your Lordships' House who would prefer a system of direct election. Of course, we considered that plan. We considered the idea of taking the present electors and either grouping them in larger constituencies or, possibly, of creating a new franchise, based either on property or education, or age, such as is sometimes adopted in foreign countries for the election of their Second Chambers. The second alternative we ruled out at once, because this is not the time in the world's history in which to propose, in this country at any rate, the creation of any new fancy franchise resting on property or anything else. As regards election by the existing electors in larger constituencies, may I venture to place before your Lordships the reasons which led us to reject that plan? They are reasons pertinent not only to this discussion, but to the plan which it is quite likely the Government may, at a future date, have in view themselves. If you have the same electors voting for the House of Lords or a portion of the House of Lords as vote for the House of Commons, you are bound to have a House of Lords, or a section of the House of Lords, which is, to a large extent, a reflex of the House of Commons and which will claim a sanction and an authority co-ordinate with it. We want neither. We want in our Second Chamber to have different interests and classes and points of view represented. We want, above all, to have minorities represented. I think every one on this side of the 495 House is agreed—I do not enter into the disputed question of the degree of subordination of this House to the other House and of predominance that ought to be claimed by the House of Commons—that we do not want a Second Chamber co-equal and co-ordinate with the House of Commons, claiming an authority equal to it and certain, to the degree to which it insists on that claim, to provoke collision and conflict with the other House.
There is another objection to direct election by constituencies more potent still. Under this scheme, as you will readily realise, we must have very large constituencies. If you are to return one Peer for every 375,000 people, and if no constituency is to return less than three Peers while some might return six, nine, or twelve, clearly you would have very large areas, amounting at the smallest to over a million persons—I am speaking of population and not of voters—and in the largest to many millions. It seems to be supposed that if you had election of Peers by a popular electorate in areas of tins size, you might dispense with all the machinery and all the paraphernalia of a General Election. I venture to say that any such idea is an absolute illusion. Democracy, when it has acquired rights, is apt to insist on them. It does not readily give them up, and you may be certain that the electors, accustomed to all the forms of a General Election for members of the Lower House, would equally, if there were election of Peers to this House, insist on having the candidate's address, hearing his views, and having, in short, all the machinery, in many cases the abominable machinery, of a General Election. I venture to say that that would be a public calamity. Elections in this country are too much with us late and soon. We are overridden with elections in every form, and one of the main reasons against multiplying them is not that people grow keener or more enthusiastic as elections increase, but that they tend to become apathetic, and in the long run you might develop a regrettable spirit of lethargy towards elections in this country. Furthermore, you do not want your Second Chamber to be born in the throes of political excitement or amid the hurricane of the platform. There is yet another consideration. Are you quite certain that the men whom you want to become members of your Second Chamber, many of them men of 496 experience, authority, and some age, would stand the racket, the turmoil, and the expense of an election held under those conditions? I believe you would lose some of the most valuable recruits whom you might expect to gain for your Lordships' House. It was for these reasons that we decided against direct election, and I venture to say that if His Majesty's Government at a later date propose a Bill resting on direct election, all the dangers which I have forecast will have to be considered, and by all those defects if they adopt that plan, will their scheme be overwhelmed.
The question may be put—"That is all very well, but why do you select members of Parliament as the electors?" The answer is simple. If we could not go to democracy direct, then, we said, let us go to that which is next door to democracy. We considered whether the electoral colleges might consist of delegates from the county councils and county borough councils. There are, I know, many members of your Lordships' House who would bitterly regret that upon the face of municipal politics there should be laid the trail, to any greater extent than is already the case, of Party politics, and we felt, too, that any such body would be open to the charge of being too Conservative in character. The same consideration applied to the suggestion that you might compose your electoral colleges of persons holding ex officio positions in different parts of the country. They would be, on the whole, overwhelmingly Conservative. It applied, too, in a greater or less degree to the scheme which obtains in France, under which the electoral college consists of Deputies combined with representatives from the county associations. Here again we felt that, if we proposed that, you might say that we were trying to dilute the pure springs of democracy by introducing a necessarily Conservative element, and, therefore, we fell back upon the system of election, at any rate for the first time, by members of the House of Commons. It is a machinery which is simple, it is in existence, it is inexpensive, and it is popular. Whether it should remain, supposing our Bill passed into law, the permanent machinery is, I think, a matter quite open to question. I think myself it is by no means certain that it is the machinery which would be employed in perpetuity, and I hold most strongly the view that, if a scheme of this kind came into 497 operation, the question of who in the electoral districts should be the electing body is one that ought to be decided by mutual consultation and, if possible, agreement, between the two Parties, and should not be foisted by one Party upon the other.
I turn to another question about which not much has been said in this debate, but upon which I think something ought to be said. That is the question, Why have we retained the hereditary element for a proportion of the new House? The noble Viscount complained that we are destroying the ancient House of Lords, and yet the one link of connection that we propose to retain with the old House of Lords meets with nothing but ridicule and scorn from him. May I recall to him a famous passage in the conversations of the Emperor Napoleon at St. Helena? Speaking of the Emperor Alexander of Russia, he said—What discussions have I not had with him! He maintained that hereditary right was an abuse, and I had to expend all my eloquence and logic during a full hour—Fancy a full hour of the Emperor Napoleon in your Lordships' House—to prove that hereditary right maintains the repose and happiness of nations.I am sure the noble Viscount would be the last to scoff at the Emperor Napoleon. I sometimes think I detect certain resemblances between them. The Emperor Napoleon was not a Conservative or reactionary force; he was what we should call nowadays an advanced politician. He always claimed to speak in the name of democracy, and yet he had a somewhat despotic temper in the background. I think some little weight might be attached to the views of the Emperor Napoleon on the question of hereditary rights.
The reasons why we propose to retain a portion of the hereditary element are these: In the first place, we regard it as a valuable and useful link with the past. So far as I know, the country does not desire an altogether new House of Lords. What it wants is a House of Lords that shall be free from the blemishes of the existing Chamber—namely, that we are apt to be too much of one way of thinking and that we are insufficiently in touch with the democracy. We propose to correct those defects, but we also provide at the same time that the reformed House shall be clothed with some portion at any rate of the traditional privilege 498 lege which your Lordships have inherited from a long time ago, and which, let me add, are the best guarantee for the independence of your Lordships' House.
Another point of view which strongly appeals to me is that the hereditary portion of the reconstituted House will in reality be a delegation from the existing hereditary Peerage. I have always thought that your Lordships, when surrendering rights which in many cases you have inherited, not merely for generations, but for centuries, have some claim to be considered, some claim to carry on under a system of delegation or otherwise the proud privileges of which you have hitherto been the exclusive owners. It is desirable, again, to retain the hereditary element in the interests of an institution even more august and vital to the stability of the country than the House of Lords itself. So long as you acknowledge the value of the hereditary principle in the case of the Crown, I have never been able to understand why you should regard it as absurd in its partial application to one branch of the Legislature. But in the case of the Legislature you can fortify the operation of the hereditary principle by safeguards and guarantees which you cannot use, and which fortunately it is not necessary to use, in the case of the Crown. You cannot say that the Heir to the Throne shall only succeed by the choice of the other members of his family or because he has rendered some form of public service, but you can say it of the Peerage, and we have said that hereditary right should only come into operation if it is supplemented by choice and if it rests upon the basis of some recognised service to the State.
The noble Viscount asked, "Why fetter the choice of Peers? Why not let them choose the 100 whom they best like themselves?" and his remark was greeted with some cheers on this side of the House. I can quite understand that it would be a popular method, and it is a point we may have to consider in Committee. But the reasons we propose the system set out in the Bill are these. In the first place, it would be of decided value to noble Lords to have some form of guidance in making their choice. It will obviously be easier to elect 100 men out of 300 than to elect 100 out of 700, and if that be so in the first instance how much easier when the triennial elections come round and when you would otherwise be called upon to elect twenty- 499 five out of 700. I tremble to think of the manipulations which might then be resorted to, and what strange results might in some cases ensue. In the next place, it would commend itself to public opinion that a man should be a legislator not merely because he was the son of his father, but because, being the son of his father, he had been chosen by his brother Peers in consequence of having rendered some service to the country or the State. The third consideration is that it will act as a great stimulus to the continuance of public service by the hereditary Peerage. If a hereditary Peer who does not happen to have had the chance to be in the Army, the Navy, the Diplomatic service, or any other of the qualifying professions knows that by rendering active service in the part of the country in which he lives he can qualify for election to the House of Lords, will it not be a great incentive to him to public duty? I venture to attach great value to this. The greatest danger that can befall any aristocracy is that it should be divorced from the public life of the State; that it should lead a life of ease or luxury or wealth, or art or culture, or whatever you like, outside the main currents of the national life. That is the rock on which have struck and foundered many of the proudest and fairest aristocracies in the world. That has not so far been our fate. We have had the glory—I speak, I hope, without undue pride—of having an aristocracy which, without desire of reward or chance of payment, has always been willing to render service to the State. That is a priceless asset in our national life. Whatever you do, pray do not give it up. Pray retain in this country the traditional sense of public duty as connected with birth and rank. It is of enormous advantage to the country to know that it can rely on the gratuitous services of those who have the tradition born in them and carried down with them, and it is of enormous advantage to the aristocracy itself to recognise these duties and not to rest, in the familiar words, "idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean."
I pass on for a moment to consider the question, upon which some stress has very naturally been laid, of the sacrifices which your Lordships are called upon to accept. I should be the last to underrate them; they are considerable and genuine. But they apply equally to all members of your Lordships' House. There is to be no privileged class in the future. No man, 500 however distinguished, will get into your Lordships' House by the mere virtue of his qualifications alone. The only Peers who would become Lords of Parliament without passing through the ordeal I have described would be the most rev. Primates, whom I am sure we should all be glad to admit, and the Law Lords required for purposes which I agree it would be of great advantage if we could dissociate from the ordinary political activities of this House.
I have heard it said that there is some feeling on the part of the Irish and Scottish Peers that they will be badly off under the proposed changes. The Irish Peers are 175 in number, and of these 81 already have seats arising from other Peerages in your Lordships' House. The total number elect 28 Peers for life. It is quite certain that they would not elect so many in a reformed and reduced House, but I suspect that, with the aid of the single transferable vote, they will be able to elect a proportion at least as great as any other section. And whether they do so or not, let me point out what they gain. They will not in the future vote merely for a vacancy in the Irish Peerage as from time to time it occurs; they will vote for the whole 100 members of your Lordships House when first they are elected by the Peerage, and they will vote at every recurring election. In addition they will be able to stand for your Lordships' House for any constituency in any part of the United Kingdom, and those who are not chosen to sit in this House will have open to them what is not open now—namely, the power to stand as candidates for the House of Commons for any constituency in any part of the United Kingdom. Those will be the gains of the Irish Peers.
Take the case of the Scottish Peers. At present they are 86 in number, of whom 52 have seats in your Lordships' House conferred by other Peerages; they elect 16 members for the duration of a Parliament. Under the present system a Scottish representative Peer is merely elected for a Parliament, and, as we know, he is not necessarily re-elected; under the new system he will be elected for twelve years. As it is now, if he is not elected he has no other chance of entering your Lordships' House; under this scheme he could stand for any constituency in any part of Scotland or the United Kingdom. Under the present system he is absolutely debarred from entering the House of 501 Commons; under this Bill he could stand for any constituency for the House of Commons. Taking the Peers generally, under our Bill a Peer is allowed to resign his Peerage, and to divest himself of his legislative functions if he so desires. He is not permitted to do so now. If a man is the eldest son of a Peer, and has a seat in the House of Commons, he is excluded from that House on his accession to the Peerage; under our Bill he could remain in the House of Commons. At present no Peer except an Irish Peer may enter the House of Commons; under our Bill, if he is not elected to this House, or if he does not desire to serve in this House, he can stand for the House of Commons. Then apart from all that, we maintain his active interest in this branch of the Legislature by giving him the opportunity of exercising effective influence in the elections to this House in almost every year that passes.
I hope I have said enough to show that though the sacrifices may be great, the compensations are not small. And remember this, that whatever consequences your Lordships may think this Bill may be fraught with, you will receive very short shrift from noble Lords opposite. The only hint we have had of their scheme is of a House of Lords consisting perhaps of from 100 to 150 members resting entirely on direct election by constituencies. I wonder how many, out of the 700 hereditary Peers, would be willing to stand, or, if willing to stand, would succeed in being elected under such a system. It comes to this, then, that whereas under this Bill there are many avenues of entry into this House, noble Lords opposite would present us with but one very narrow door, having many bolts and bars across it, through which alone ingress would be obtained to this Chamber.
The best test, perhaps, of any scheme for a Legislative Chamber is to imagine it in operation. Now, supposing this Bill were passed into law, what would the House of Lords be like? There would be 100 Peers elected by your Lordships who would represent the picked men of this House. I suspect that they would be more or less identical with the 100 Peers upon whom I am told that at present the burden of debate and of Committee work almost exclusively devolves. Then you would have the nominated Peers, and in that 502 category there would be room, first, for those who had not been fortunate in election; and, secondly, for those classes about whom a good deal has been said and whom we should like to see in this House—the heads of great religious organisations outside the Church of England, the great bankers and financiers, and also those representatives of science, art, and literature, who add so much lustre to our proceedings even if they do not take a very active part in our debates. Then you would have the 120 elected Peers who would represent the free choice of the democracy, and who might include anybody from a great territorial magnate to a schoolmaster or a working man. I cannot help thinking that, under our scheme, just as now in the provinces you find municipalities anxious to enlist in their service as mayors and Lord Mayors the most prominent and patriotic citizens in their neighbourhood, so it would be the great desire of Lancashire and Yorkshire, for instance, to return, under this section, its most powerful, useful, and munificent citizens to this House.
Lord Morley says that a House so reconstituted will be strongly partisan and based on Party machinery. I cannot see that. The noble Viscount tried to make out that such a House would give the Unionist Party a majority of 40 or 50 and Lord Sheffield last night tried to make out a majority of 50 or 60 for them. I wholly fail to understand that method of reasoning. I think, if I had time, that I could demonstrate its fallacy. But let me suppose that the reconstituted House of Lords was tainted with strong political partisanship, and that there was a Unionist majority of 40, 50, or 60 in it. How do we meet that? Surely the noble Viscount has forgotten that provision, which is the corollary of this Bill—namely, the resort, when there is an irreconcilable conflict between the two Chambers, to Joint Sessions. That is vital. In the present House of Commons, with its 670 members and its Radical majority of 120, the figures are: Liberals, 395; Conservatives, 275. In our new House of Lords of 350 members let us give the Unionist Party a majority of 40, which the noble Viscount, I think, unfairly predicates. That would be 155 Liberals and 195 Conservatives. But in a Joint Session you would have the Liberal Party 550, the Conservative Party, 470—or a Radical majority of 80. Is not that enough 503 for noble Lords opposite? Surely you do not want more. Surely that is not loading the dice against you. Then let us suppose that instead of the two Houses meeting in plenum because of the unwieldy character of such a body, you were to take two-thirds of the House of Commons constituted as it is now and two-thirds of the House of Lords as we propose to constitute it. The figures would then work out at a Radical majority of 54. I do not think you need be very much afraid about your legislation under those circumstances.
LORD CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I was supposing that proportion in order to meet the difficulty of the two Houses sitting in plenum, because there is no chamber except Westminster Hall which would be big enough to hold them. Taking two-thirds of the House of Commons as now constituted and two-thirds of the House of Lords as we propose to constitute it your majority would work out at 54.
My Lords, I have dared to give a little sketch of our scheme in operation. Let me now ask this House for a moment to imagine the Government's scheme in operation. We will suppose you pass your Parliament Bill without amendment, and that you leave, as you propose to leave, the unreformed House of Lords to carry on for a time the functions of a Second Chamber. What would happen? It is inevitable that there will be a great burst of legislative activity in the first few years of a Radical Parliament, that measures will be sent up here red hot from the furnace of democracy, and I think it is certain also that measures as they come here will in those circumstances be less cautious, less moderate, and less discriminating than they have been in the past. Your Lordships will know that you are powerless in the long run to reject those Bills, that you can only tentatively and hypothetically revise them, and that whatever you do you are certain to be abused. Do you think that will be an encouragement to this House to approach your. Bills in an impartial spirit, or that we shall have more of that temper of compromise and conciliation to which the noble Viscount himself sometimes appeals? Is it not certain that by your tyrannical measures, as we think them, you will breed an 504 obdurate and reactionary spirit in the House of Lords as it then exists? Is it not certain that your Lordships' House will he a greater bar to Radical legislation, within its powers, in the future than it has been in the past? The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack seems to regard the history of the House of Lords as animated by an unswerving hostility to Liberal measures. That has not been my experience. Since I have been in this House I have only known one Liberal Bill rejected, or rather referred to the people, by your Lordships, and that was the Finance Bill. My experience leads me to think that on the whole this House is most anxious to approach Liberal measures in an accommodating spirit, and in nine cases out of ten your Lordships are willing to pass measures proposed by a Liberal Government with which noble Lords do not happen personally to be in agreement. But under the Parliament Bill there is much more likelihood of having a fight d l'outrance in the future. I doubt whether the spirit of conciliation will prevail. I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that a contrast can fairly be drawn between the smooth working, as I think it would be, of a reconstituted Chamber such as I have sketched, with the machinery of Joint Sessions behind it, and the procedure that you with your Parliament Bill and an unreformed House of Lords propose to set up.
We have endeavoured to state in this Bill our views on the reconstitution of the House of Lords. What are your views about a reformed Second Chamber? This debate has been going on for three days, and we have had scarcely an inkling as to what is in your minds. Hardly a corner of the curtain has been raised. I see opposite to me Lord Haldane, who in one of the debates in the House of Commons on this subject used these words—The Government policy is a single policy. It is in my view not the Veto Resolution, and then, as a separate part, reconstruction of the Second Chamber. It is both.I am entitled to believe that the noble Viscount spoke for his colleagues on that occasion. Then if your policy is a single policy why do you cut it in two? Why do you give us one part of it alone and shroud the other in absolute obscurity and decline to answer any questions about it? When we produce our reforms for what they are worth you cover them with 505 ridicule, you abound in negative criticism. But let that pass. It is part of the Party business. What is your plan? You tell us that you are moderate men, that you are Second Chamber men, House of Lords men. Yet, you are going to introduce for a term of years at any rate a form of Constitution which exists in no sane nation in the world. You tell us you are double-Chamber men, yet you are going to set up for a period a single-Chamber Constitution, constructed, as far as we can see, to carry out Party objects alone. You tell us you are House of Lords men, and you propose to reduce the House of Lords to a pitiable state of impotence.
When we ask you how long this fatal interregnum is going to last you say, "We hope to introduce a Bill in the present Parliament if time permits." It is not a question of time permitting; there are other and more important agents than time. The question is whether the different sections of your Party will permit; and if they permit you to introduce the Bill into the House of Commons will they allow you to carry it through that House. And if you carry it through the House of Commons are you so certain of carrying it through this House? When we ask you what you have in your mind you are absolutely dumb. For my part, I doubt very much whether you have a scheme or whether you are likely to get one. If you do get a scheme I should be very reluctant to stake anything on the probability of your measure in a reasonable period becoming the law of the land. The country, I believe, desires a reformed Second Chamber. I am confident that at a public meeting anywhere, except perhaps a Socialist meeting, if you were to ask the question, "Are you in favour of a reformed House of Lords?" by a majority of nine to one you would get an answer in the affirmative. On the one side then we have a Party with a plan which at any rate is courageous, ingenious, and not ungenerous in its recognition of the claims of democracy and the rights of both political Parties in the State. On the other side there is nothing, so far as the reform of the House of Lords is concerned, but a blank, and when we ask you to fill that blank up your only language is that of ridicule as applied to our Bill, of menace as referring to your own intentions, and your only desire, instead of reconstructing, appears to us to be the desire to destroy.
§ LORD COURTNEY OF PENWITH
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just addressed us has spoken in the vigorous and forcible fashion to which we are well accustomed, and which we all admire, but he has introduced into his speech a combative spirit which I think is a little inexpedient on this occasion. I say this as one who would fain agree with him and go with him a considerable way in the work he proposes to undertake. But the combative character of his address has excited within me some feelings of opposition rather injurious to that spirit of conciliation which I would fain cherish. The effective part of the noble Lord's speech was devoted to a criticism of the speech of my noble friend the Leader of the House, which criticism appeared to me to be of a very unfortunate and incorrect character. I have heard the speech of my noble friend described as one unexpectedly friendly to the Bill. It certainty did not shut the door to its consideration, and the suggestion that the Bill was treated in a spirit of ridicule and contempt is a suggestion which my memory at all events does not confirm. I should have said that my noble friend Lord Morley made as serious and as detailed an examination of the Bill now before your Lordships as was possible in the circumstances, and the speech which we have just heard from the noble Lord opposite seems to me to show that he has not sufficiently appreciated the position in which my noble friend stands; and if the noble Lord is correct in his final surmise that the Government themselves have not as yet conceived a scheme for dealing with this question, he is surely most injudicious in pressing them as enemies instead of attempting to conciliate them as friends. The noble Lord added another and very serious item of controversy when he tacked on as an inseparable part of his scheme the suggestion of Joint Sessions for the settlement of differences between the two Houses. That is a suggestion which may well have been contemplated by the authors of this Bill and one that cannot he ignored, but to make it an inseparable part of the Bill, a thing to which the Bill leads up so that if it is dropped the Bill becomes worthless, does in my opinion great injury to the Bill itself.
§ LORD COURTNEY OF PENWITH
I understood the noble Lord to make the 507 principle of Joint Sessions an inseparable part of the Bill as it stands.
LORD CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I said that it was a corollary. As everybody knows, it is the method by which noble Lords on this side of the House propose to deal with the relations between the two Houses in the future, and I do not think the noble Lord is justified in what he says. He is confusing the two Bills.
§ LORD COURTNEY OF PENWITH
When I learnt Euclid—a long while ago—a corollary was a deduction which followed inevitably from the premises, and if the suggestion of Joint Sessions is a corollary to the Bill it follows inevitably from the Bill. I thought also the noble Lord said it was a vital part of the scheme. I conceive that to be unfortunate. I want the scheme of the Bill discussed on its own merits, because I think it is quite worthy of consideration by itself even if the Parliament Bill were passed unaltered and untouched. I regretted to hear my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack state last night that the consideration of this Bill would involve an inevitable surrender of the attitude taken up by the Government. It involves no surrender whatever. The reform of this House is an inseparable part of the programme of the Government and that being so it is no surrender on the part of the Government to discuss and consider this Bill, and possibly to regard it as a measure which might in some form or another after some changes and modifications be made part of a scheme of their own in the future.
If the Parliament Bill were passed by the House of Lords as it stands without any qualification it would, in my judgment, be more necessary than ever to consider the passing of some such Bill as this conceived in the same spirit, because if the Parliament Bill is passed without alteration by this House your Lordships' power would then become a purely moral power, a power dependent on the weight which the speeches and arguments of your Lordships had upon the judgment of the people. It is imperative in those circumstances that this House should stand as strong as possible in the judgment of the country, so that its verdict should go to the country not with a cloud of suspicion but with some flavour of recommendation. The members of this House should be such that their arguments and speeches would always command 508 attention, and their judgments and conclusions be things that would have to be weighed and considered, not put lightly aside as the prejudiced judgment of a large number of legislators the greater part of whom have no title to assist in legislation except the accident of birth. That is what is said now, justly or unjustly, and that has to be got rid of. The noble Duke who spoke last evening in a very interesting and impressive manner, if I may be allowed to say so, referred to that point; and to remedy that is the object of the Bill before us.
The first thing to be done if the Parliament Bill is passed, will be to improve this House so as to increase its authority in the nation. There is another thing to be done which I shall not scruple to avow to your Lordships. If the Parliament Bill is passed in its naked and simple form, the authority of the other House will stand in a new degree paramount as the expression of the mind and the will of the nation. That is the title under which authority is claimed by the other House. It is the representative Assembly of the people, and the mind, the determination, the will, and the desire of the nation are to be found there. But that claim will, I think, have to be bettered very much if the Parliament Bill were to stand as it is and the House of Commons also were left without reform. If the House of Commons is to be the final expression of the will of the nation, it must justify its claim, or your Lordships' House will have a claim of reference over the head of the House of Commons to the people at large. To that many of us feel great aversion, but it will, nevertheless, be forced upon us unless the House of Commons itself is so reformed that to refer a Bill from that House to the nation would be absurd, because the House of Commons would contain within it a real representation of the people. It does not do so now, except more or less by accident.
Let me put in a caution here. The House of Commons, according to the usual criteria recognised by all parties and by none less clearly than the Conservative leaders in the past, is at present entitled to say that the Parliament Bill has received the approval of the country. Although at the December election other questions were involved, the Parliament Bill was the paramount question. There was no concealment of detail and no lack of information such as might be claimed in respect of 509 the previous election. The Parliament Bill was before the people, and the people voted for it being well warned of everything that was involved by their vote.
I pass on to an examination more in detail of the Bill now before us. In the first place it is a composite Bill. I have always thought that a composite Bill was inevitable in any scheme for the reform of this House. It seemed to me that when supporting that proposition the noble Lord, Lord Curzon, was almost arguing against an invisible enemy. I am not aware of any practical person, any one of old or long standing in Parliament, who has thought that this House could be suddenly swept clear of all its members and a new body of members brought into it with no continuity, no connection between the new body and the old. There must be some tradition if only to keep up the forms of the House and to preserve continuity and maintain a little of the old spirit. To my mind it would be insulting to His Majesty's Ministers to suppose that they have ever seriously conceived, either as a body or as individuals, the replacement of this House by a House entirely new in its constitution.
I recognise that the House must be composite, and the practical questions are—What number of the present House shall appear in the new one, and how shall that number obtain its title? I congratulate the authors of this Bill on having reduced the representatives of the existing House to 100. My noble friend the Leader of the House expressed his satisfaction, in the speech he made early in the week, at that reduction. That is one of the great improvements in this Bill upon any scheme which has been brought forward before for the reform of this House. It has reduced the representation of this House to 100, but it is no use blinking the fact that that 100 gives a very considerable majority to the other side. The noble Lord who has just sat down professed not to understand how that could be. The 100 are to be chosen according to the principle of proportional representation; they are to be divided according to the representation of Parties in the House as it stands, and it is not reasonable to say that every noble Lord who takes part in the ordinary business of the House will find a place in the 100. The noble Lords on this side who take part in the business of the House form too large a proportion for their share of the 100 to cover them. My noble friend Lord 510 Sheffield last night made a genuine estimate, in which he suggested that out of the 100 there would be given a majority of 73 or 74 to the opposite side of the Home—a tremendous majority to start with, and a thing that must not be lost sight of in the consideration of the merits or demerits of this Bill as a whole.
Then my noble friend the Leader of the House pertinently asked why you do not allow the 100 to be selected from all the members of the House. Why restrict it to those who possess certain qualifications, qualifications which run down to the Lord Mayor of a town, a captain in the Navy, a colonel on the active list in the Army, &c.? Lord Curzon addressed himself to answering that question, and I confess I thought not with any great effect. He admitted it was a question that would have to be considered in Committee if we ever got into Committee on this Bill, but it is an illustration of the temper which has run through the construction of this Bill and which I find in other parts—a tendency to put constraint on the free acts of persons where no constraint is necessary. Why in the election of the 100 constrain members of this House to choose from those who possess these qualifications? They naturally would choose largely men possessing such qualifications, but there would be others left out who, compared with some of those in that list, had much greater claims to a position in this House. It is said that insisting upon these qualifications will make Peers zealous in the future as they have been in the past to distinguish themselves in the public service. But, my Lords, may I ask is their public spirit in the future to be considered so poor that without this inducement they will fail to make themselves conspicuous in the service of their country? I am afraid the drawing of this hard-and-fast line is an exemplification of a tendency to compel people to run along particular paths instead of leaving them to choose their own way of getting to the desired destination. I venture to think that the real operation of the selection of this 100 would be that the men who now perform public service in this House would largely find themselves in the 100. All the occupants of the Front Benches would, of course, be there, and it is absolutely necessary that there should be some means of getting the leaders without much trouble brought back into the House in order to bring their experience and weight and knowledge and authority to 511 assist in the guidance of its new deliberations. The Peers on this side compared with the other side would get quite an insignificant number, but the leaders at any rate would come in, and on the other side almost all who have done service in the House would find themselves readily returned within the 100.
Now I pass to the 120 members elected by the House of Commons. My noble friend Lord Morley asked, "Why not allow the members of the House of Commons to elect those 120 directly? Why resort to all this machinery of instituting Commissioners and setting up colleges and having local elections?" That, I think, is another example of the tendency to place unnecessary and useless and even pernicious restraint on the free action of those who are to be entrusted with the election of Members to this House. The noble Lord gave three reasons for that restraint. In the first place, he said it was most desirable that the elected members should in the majority of cases come here with the connections and traditions of localities, should be persons known in their own neighbourhood who could bring a knowledge of local conditions and local circumstances to the general conduct of business here. Would not these local influences always exercise their weight even if you did not compel the electors to come together in this arbitrary fashion in colleges? Suppose Wales happened to be a college, do you think the Members for Welsh constituencies electing persons to sit in this House would not have regard to local feeling? The Welsh Members are a part of the whole body of the House of Commons, and if they desired to give expression to their local life and to send a local representative here, nothing would be easier. So also with respect to Yorkshire, or Lancashire, or the Home Counties, or Scotland. Members would be able to elect Lords possessing local knowledge if they cared to do so; if they did not care to do so because of some other more important reason, why should they not be allowed discretion as to whom they should choose? You may be perfectly sure that local connections, attachment and character would have greater weight under the free system than under your restrained system.
Then the noble Lord opposite, rather contradicting himself, said that in this way you would secure the representation of minorities. He appeared to have read 512 the speech of my noble friend Lord Sheffield, delivered last night, but he must have passed over that part of it which showed that the institution of electoral colleges would be, if not fatal, at all events very injurious to the representation of minorities. In regard to the question of the election of representatives of Labour, for example, there would not be Labour Members in sufficient number in any of the electoral colleges to secure the election of a Labour Member to the House of Lords, although if the Labour Members as a whole in the House of Commons voted together they would secure a fair share of representation. But scattered throughout the colleges which you propose to create they would become impotent and powerless. Again, Wales is represented in the House of Commons by a homogeneous body, or very nearly so—it was in the Parliament of 1906 completely homogeneous—and if Wales were one electoral college there would be no possibility of securing a representative of the minority, because the minority electors do not exist. You must have a quota of electors sufficient to return a minority Lord, and where the minority does not exist in the quota you would not get the election of minority representatives. So that the cutting up of the country into colleges would be almost a destruction of that bringing together of minorities which is our aim.
Then the noble Lord said that if the elected representatives were to be chosen by the House of Commons you would have endless manœuvring, bargaining, exchanges of votes, something given here in return for something given there, and electioneering of a very blatant and extravagant kind. The picture was rather fanciful, but I admit there would be a good deal of electioneering, calculation, and consideration in the arrangement of minority representation. But you will not get rid of that by the process of electoral colleges; you will not get rid of influences being brought to bear which had better not be mentioned; in fact, you will probably get a greater deficiency of pure political action in the choice of members through your colleges than you would secure if you threw the burden on the House of Commons itself. I can conceive a different reason from those advanced by the noble Lord for dividing up the House of Commons into portions for the purpose of electing members of this House. If 120 members of this House 513 were to be elected by the 670 members of the House of Commons the process would be elaborate and would involve the expression of so many alternative choices that it might lead to some difficulty in arranging the machinery of the elections. The proportion of 670 electors to the 120 to be elected is so inconsiderable that the process of election would be one involving some hazards of chance and difficulties of manipulation. I can conceive that the difficulty might easily and well be obviated by electing the 120 members, not at one stroke, but in batches of 30 or 40–30 if there are four categories, so that the House of Commons should elect 30 to sit for twelve years, 30 to sit for nine years, 30 to sit for six years, and 30 to sit for three yours. Under those four successive elections you would get an easy machinery and secure due representation in the final House. That is one reason for reducing the number.
On this point I have a suggestion to make which has not been made before, and which I think deserves attention. I would propose in the interests of this Bill that, if you are going to have the election of 120 members of this House by members of the House of Commons, instead of electing them for twelve years, one-fourth going out every three years, the election should be for three Parliaments, and that one-third of the number should go out with every Parliament. I think it is desirable that there should be a connection between the Parliamentary life here and the Parliamentary life in the House of Commons, and the arrangement I suggest would obviate an inconvenience which would follow from the scheme as contained in the Bill. Suppose the scheme contained in this Bill had been in operation in past years, what would have been the probable situation of the present Government, or rather of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's Government, when they came into power? If there had been an election of one-third in the year 1896, there would have been one-third elected under Unionist auspices; in 1899 there would have been one-third also elected under. Unionist auspices; in 1902 there would have been a third third elected under Unionist auspices, and in 1905 a fourth third elected under Unionist auspices. When Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman came into power at the end of 1905 he would have had all four sections of elected members of this 514 House elected under hostile conditions, and they would have been immovable during the years 1906 and 1907. Not until the year 1908 would a third have come on for election under Liberal auspices. That would have been an extremely inconvenient situation. You would have had a powerful Ministry at the head of a victorious House of Commons, abundant in its majority, met by a solid phalanx here elected by the Unionists at four successive elections. Now, if you had had one election in each Parliament you would have had the election by the House of Commons in 1906 of a third of the members here, and Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman would at once have obtained the support of that third. The situation I have described is one which would not infrequently arise if you adhere to the twelve years term with a quarter going out every third year. An incoming Government would often find itself in an embarrassing position, whereas if you allowed an incoming Government to be reinforced by the election of one-third of the Lords of Parliament it would at once receive a help which would enable it to carry its measures through this House; and if you had election by the House of Commons in batches of 40 instead of in batches of 30, it could be done equally well without the means of colleges or the intervening apparatus provided by the Bill.
I pass to the 100 members to be nominated by the Ministry of the day. The noble Lord opposite made some sport, or attempted to do so, of the observations made by my noble friend the Leader of the House with regard to the proposal in the Bill as to the election of that 100. The proposal of the Bill is that they should be elected after the manner in which members of Select Committees of the House of Commons are appointed. When the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition read that clause in introducing the Bill I could scarcely conceive that such words could be found in an Act of Parliament; they are of the most novel drafting character, and there is no definition of the method to be found in any authoritative book; moreover, the manner has changed considerably within my recollection. When I was first in the House of Commons the principle was that the Government should always have a majority of one vote. On the introduction of new Parties there arose a claim for the representation 515 of those Parties, and no doubt the present method of election is that the Whips of the four Parties agree together that each Party should contribute a proportionate number of members in the composition of any Committee. Of course, it is a thing that might be changed at any time; I am simply speaking of the method in which it has been done so far. But the process is not completed there. The process of the nomination of a Select Committee is not ended until the Member in charge of the Motion for the appointment of the Committee makes the Motion in the House and puts down upon the Order Paper the names of the members selected and exposes the names for possible alteration or addition, and there may perhaps be a debate on the construction of the Committee. I have known such debates take place, where it has been pointed out that a Committee was very weak in some respects and that the representation of this or that element was necessary, and a change in the composition of the Committee has been made. But the process itself is quite open to all the criticisms that have been bestowed upon it. It would have to be completely changed in order to fulfil the ideal of the noble Lord who has just spoken, and who seems to have been in a large measure the constructor of the Bill.
Now, my Lords, to go over my points. I have accepted the Lords elected by their fellow Peers, I have suggested a change in the method of election by the House of Commons, and I have accepted the principle of nomination by the Prime Minister. I would have these last not nominated for twelve years and a quarter going out every three years, but nominated for three Parliaments and one-third going out with every Parliament. There still remains under the scheme the grave objection that it would give an enormous majority to the Opposition. I would not object to a little Conservative majority, but I do object to a majority of seventy. This House must be Conservative; it is sure to be Conservative; there is not great objection to it if it is, but it should be moderately Conservative, and something must be done to get rid of that great preponderance. I would also point out that the elected members from outside, however elected, would probably be men who were not in the first flush of political life, but sober and staid people, disposed to lead quiet lives, conservative in temper even though Liberal by Party; 516 and the reflection of the House of Commons to be found in this House under this system would be a pale reflection, you might, perhaps, call it a sort of afterglow of the meridian heat of political life; and so naturally this House, however constructed, would be a Conservative one. That fact emphasises the great Conservative majority which is given by the 100 members elected by this House. I am very loth to add further to the 340 members already proposed under this Bill, but it seems to me inevitable, if this scheme is to go further, that some provision must be made, at all events when a Liberal Government is in power, to enable a Liberal Prime Minister to add a certain number of members to this House say for one Parliament only, which would bring the House into a better relationship with the other House and make it on the whole a more trustworthy co-operative body.
I apologise for the time I have occupied. I have gone into details which perhaps it would have been better to reserve for Committee, but some of these details are of radical importance and cannot be considered so well in Committee unless they are suggested at least in outline beforehand. The scheme as it stands I recognise, as the Leader of the House recognises, as a very bold scheme, and one considerably in advance of anything that has been presented before. It is a great stride forward, and as such I hope the Liberal Party, the Liberal leaders and the Liberal Government—they have not as yet given us any reason for thinking that they will do otherwise—will look at it and consider it. They have not given it a hostile reception; they have given it a very mixed but, on the whole, a friendly reception. I am sorry I did not hear my noble friend Lord Carrington's speech last night, but on the whole I think the attitude of the. Government has been to encourage rather than discourage the authors of the Bill. It might have been received with more welcome. It has not been received with flouting, nor treated with ridicule, contumely, and opposition such as the noble Lord opposite has suggested. I do not know whether we shall see any further stage of this Bill, but I think that it is a necessary part of what we are bound to undertake in the reform of this House, and that it will he a necessary complement to the reconstruction of the relations between the two Houses. And, 517 as I said at the outset, it will also be necessary to take seriously in hand the reform of the House of Commons. What we are all striving after is some trustworthy, faithful expression of the reasoned national mind. We want to make this House sufficiently independent as to be at all events a contributory element to that representation of the national mind; to free it from the great preponderance which it has now of class association; to bring it into some relation to the masses of the people, with whom it has now no relation whatever; to bring into this House elements which are entirely foreign to it so as to make the House in itself representative of the nation without. If we could do that, and still more if we could make the House of Commons a faithful image of the mind of the nation, we should then be going a long way towards that reconstruction of Parliament which we all admit to be our duty, and the necessity and importance of which I think it is absolutely impossible to overrate.
The noble Duke (the Duke of Northumberland) last night, in a speech to which I have already referred, carried us back to the year 1832 and referred to the divergences which have since grown up between this House and the other House. I am not sure that he did not look back to 1832 with some regret at the change that has taken place. To my mind no one can seriously examine the conditions of political life before 1832 without rejoicing at the change that has been made. It is true that up to that time members of the two Houses more or less belonged to the same set, lived the same lives, thought the same things, pursued the same aims and belonged to one society. They got divorced in 1832, and the divorce has gone on more than ever since. But when you consider what society before 1832 tolerated in the way of law and administration and the change that has taken place since, always, I am afraid, in the face of more or less persistent opposition on the part of your Lordships though you have given way in the end—when you consider what the Criminal Law was, what the relations between husband and wife were, the state of the law of property, the administration of the Civil Law, the class injustice of the Common Laws, the conditions of Labour and the burdens in restraint of trade, there is cause for thankfulness that we have broken away from all that. I admit also 518 the truth of what the noble Duke said as to the difference between the present and the past in the development of the House of Commons, and I join largely with him in regretting some forms of that development. We see in the House of Commons a great falling away from the vital elements of personal life which existed some years ago. Private Members have no initiative. The discussion of a large question on the initiation of independent Members is rare, and the carrying of any measure by a private Member absolutely unknown. We are no doubt in the presence of a new development of the House of Commons, and, as the noble Duke said, we are very much in the presence of a temporary dictatorship of Cabinets over the country. I look for something like the redemption of the House of Commons when it may go back to what it was in the past, and when we shall, although no doubt with very considerable changes in the method of doing business, again have personal initiation and independence. When that comes about the House of Commons may be trusted to be truly representative of the people of the country in all their aspirations and wills and thoughts and desires. The composition of this House will then probably be of less importance, but until then it will be of immense importance. When that comes about we may not hear anything of Referenda, of appealing from the House of Commons to the nation, but until it is brought about we shall hear over and over again of Referenda, and, despite the unwillingness of noble Lords to entertain it, it will be forced upon their acceptance as it has been in other democratic countries. Meanwhile it is our duty here to undertake the business of reforming this House in as little a partisan spirit as possible, and try to make it a contributory representation of the national will by enlarging the range of choice of its members, by reducing the representation of those whose associations so entirely belong to one class, and making this House more and more correspond to the feelings and aims of the nation.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down has, contrary to the example set him by the two official representatives of the Government, addressed his observations to the Bill, and I, being of a prosaic and unimaginative character propose to follow the same course. The noble Lord has avowed himself as favourable to the Bill in principle. He 519 adopts a friendly attitude towards the Bill, and he, I thought with a considerable amount of courage, described the attitude of the previous official speakers as being also of a friendly nature. I am afraid that I am unable to attribute the same epithet to the reception accorded to the Bill by the official representatives of the Government, and personally I should prefer a reception of another character. Since I have attended this debate I have occasionally wondered, supposing there really exist noble Lords who pass the greater part of their lives in the densest thickets of backwoods and supposing one of these mythical beings has been present here during the course of the debate not having been here, say, for four years previously, whether that noble Lord might not imagine himself to be either the victim of hallucination or of some horrible nightmare. I fix an interval of four years because on an occasion like this I cannot avoid being egotistical, and I vividly recall my own reception when I introduced a milk and watery measure which would not be looked at nowadays and for being connected with which I was treated almost as a person unfit for human intercourse. We have heard the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition introduce a measure which he himself described as the death blow of the existing House, and if the reception of that measure has not been one of enthusiastic applause on the part of noble Lords who sit behind him, it has been received with what I suppose the noble Viscount opposite would describe as "sombre acquiescence."
This Bill has naturally been subjected to considerable criticism, and my own criticism, such as it is, takes the form of regret that this measure did not see the light of day long before; and those who question the propriety of introducing a Bill of this nature at the present moment must surely have forgotten what took place on the occasion I am alluding to four years ago. Four years ago everybody on this side of the House, including even my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke, voted for the appointment of a Committee to improve the efficiency of this House, and the decisive step was taken upon that occasion from which there can be no recall. Everybody knows well enough what happened. That Committee was appointed; it sat for a whole year, and issued a Report of which no notice was taken. That occupied a period up to the end of the year 1908. 520 During the year 1909 nothing was done at all, and the question was never once alluded to. Having admitted that reform of this House was necessary and that there was nothing to be gained by delay, our procedure has been a mystery to me with regard to this matter. I myself hold strongly, and always shall hold, that it would have been more dignified, more prudent, and more courageous, if we had set about the work some years ago instead of waiting as we have done until the latest possible moment; and, it is permissible, I think, to express the opinion that had this step been taken earlier it might possibly not have been necessary to ask noble Lords to make the sacrifices which now confront them.
Having uttered this lament, not, I admit, for the first time, I hasten to add that I have little sympathy with such criticism as has up to now been directed against this Bill. Without being offensive, I think I may say that the criticisms of the representatives of the Government are hardly worth noticing at all. What do they amount to? The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack and the noble Viscount opposite have said in so many words, in a polite manner it is true, "This is no doubt a very interesting academic subject; we are much interested in observing the reception the Bill meets with at the hands of the Opposition, but we really care very little what you do in the matter; we are here for the purpose of putting the Parliament Bill into effect." That is their attitude, and I have no doubt it accurately reflects the spirit of the instructions—it would be unkind to call them orders—which no doubt they have received from their Irish and Labour supporters in another place.
There are other important critics of this measure besides the Government critics. There is the noble Earl on the Cross Benches, Lord Rosebery. The noble Earl disapproves of the Bill on two grounds. He does not consider that the moment is opportune, and he thinks that a Bill should be the task of the Government and not of the Opposition. The noble Earl, if I may be permitted to say so without offence, strikes me as a sort of political prima donna who requires a great deal of humouring; and his conduct appears to me, if I may also say so without offence, not to be regulated by the procedure of ordinary human beings, but to be governed by the 521 eccentricity of genius. What is the noble Earl's history in connection with this matter? The noble Earl first brought forward the subject in 1884—I am not quite sure whether he was in office himself at the time or not. The next occasion was in 1888, when he certainly was not in office. Then the noble Earl remained quiescent upon this particular subject until the year 1907, when he was again dragged, possibly reluctantly, into the arena, and was persuaded to accept the Chairmanship of the Committee to which I have already alluded. But last year the noble Earl came forward again and insisted—in my opinion quite properly—on the Opposition taking up this question. His criticism, as I understand it, amounts to this, that we ought to confine ourselves to Resolutions and not make ourselves responsible for a Bill. I think the noble Earl will admit that whichever course we had adopted we should certainly have done wrong in the eyes of our opponents. Supposing the noble Marquess had contented himself with reaffirming the Resolutions of the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, what would have been said? It would have been said, in varying tones of indignation, that he was little better than a hollow impostor and meant to go no further. You always have this difficulty with regard to Bills and Resolutions. If you confine yourselves to Resolutions you are looked upon as a sort of impostor or windbag; if you produce a Bill your opponents seize upon some detail in the Bill of which they disapprove and endeavour to make out, and occasionally with success, that the Bill itself is a fraud too. The difference between bringing in a Resolution and bringing in a Bill seems to me very much the same as the difference there is between meeting a debt with an I O U and paying in solid cash. In one case the obligation never may be met at all, but if you have actually paid, the thing is done and there is no going back from it. That is the case with regard to a Bill. Now our boats are practically burned. We are as a Party, I imagine, committed to the principle of the Bill, and if it has done nothing else, the introduction of the Bill has vindicated the honesty of the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition and those associated with him.
I pass from the Cross Benches to the noble Lord on the other side of the House, Lord St. Davids, who spoke early in the debate. I thought that for a democrat of 522 advanced views he represented a most extraordinary form of opinion. The noble Lord appeared to be under the gravest apprehension that if this Bill ever became law this House would be turned into a hard-working sort of place where people would be kept assiduously at their duties and ordered about here and there by Whips, and altogether that it would bear a strong resemblance to the place from which he has recently effected an escape. The impression borne in upon me was that the noble Lord has already fallen so violently in love with this Assembly that he is in mortal terror that something may occur which at some future period may cause him to be ejected from it. The real interest in this debate to my mind lies, not in the view of the Government or persons in responsible positions, but in the view which is taken of this question by independent Peers who sit on this side of the House—noble Lords, for instance, holding the opinions of my noble friends Lord Willoughby de Broke and Lord Bathurst. With regard to these two noble Lords I am bound to confess that the first of them, my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke, does not appear to me to cut a very heroic figure or a very consistent one. What is the noble Lord's history in regard to this matter? He voted, like everybody else, for the appointment of the Rosebery Committee, thereby identifying himself with the cause of reform; but for a long time past my noble friend has been tramping the country chanting the praises of an unadulterated hereditary system. And now when a Bill is brought in which administers the most severe blow to the hereditary principle that has ever been applied to it, my noble friend, with lamblike docility, announces, not only that he is prepared to vote for it, but that he is also prepared to vote for a very much worse one which will do away with the hereditary principle altogether. The other noble Lord, Lord Bathurst, excited my admiration considerably more than my noble friend Lord. Willoughby de Broke did. Lord Bathurst, at all events, is prepared to stick to his guns. He is a sort of die-in-the-last-ditch for the hereditary principle politician, and, as I understand, is prepared to divide the House on the subject.
If Lord Willoughby de Broke is honest but inconsistent, and if Lord Bathurst is honest and consistent, I am afraid that the only thing that can be said of the Government is that they are consistently dis- 523 honest. They are consistently dishonest in this way, that whereas they are in power largely by virtue of their unmeasured denunciation of the hereditary system, they themselves have never moved a hand's turn, and, so far as I can make out, never will, to remedy anything wrong with the system. And not only that, they are before long, I understand, going to show their real feeling with regard to the hereditary system by presenting us with a number of concrete instances of that principle which will be collected at the shortest notice, and, I presume, at the lowest cost. We have heard a good deal here, and more elsewhere, in favour of abolishing the hereditary system altogether and establishing a purely elective Chamber. For my part I have absolutely no enthusiasm for a proposal of this nature, and until the House of Commons becomes absolutely intolerable in its tyranny, which perhaps it will some day, I do not think that we need seriously consider such a proposal. I have two fundamental objections to such a proposal. But even if you had an open electoral basis for this Chamber, what sort of guarantee have you that the right kind of men would be elected? The British voter is no respecter of persons or personalities. Everybody, I suppose, would admit that Mr. Balfour enjoys as much respected personality as any living man in this country, but the last time he stood for a popular constituency be was defeated by an obscure and unknown opponent by something like 2,000 votes. Therefore it does not follow in the least, however eminent a man may be, that he will be certain of election by a popular constituency. But of course the real reason why all sensible people ought to be opposed to a proposal of this kind is that no sensible person wishes to set up two competing Assemblies of equal and co-ordinate powers.
I find it extremely difficult to account for the sudden change of opinion which has taken place in the Unionist Party with regard to the hereditary principle. A short time ago it was the convenient thing in this country. What reason is there for the mysterious change of view which has come about all of a sudden? Surely the case of the hereditary principle is a case of Nemo repente fuit turpissimus. I am not conscious of being any viler in consequence of anything I have done during the last year or two and I do not suppose any other noble Lord is either, and I am certainly not 524 prepared, because I am a member of the hereditary Party, to be butchered in order to make holiday for Mr. Redmond or Mr. Keir Hardie, or my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke, or even for youthful gentlemen who have had a few months' experience of a new House of Commons. With regard to this Bill, I look upon the arrangement by which it is proposed to retain the hereditary principle as a triumph of ingenuity. What I particularly admire about it, though it does not appeal to me as a rule, is the really democratic nature of this proposal. Here you have a Prime Minister or an ex-Prime Minister putting himself on the same level as a Chairman of Quarter Sessions. You have an ex-Viceroy of India abasing himself to the level of a Mayor or Chairman of a County Council.
I understand from what has fallen from various speakers that the whole principle of qualification is largely resented. I think Lord Courtney asked to-day—or, if not he, some other speaker in the debate—why should there be any qualifications at all; why should not the House elect any 100 persons it chooses? There are a number of noble Lords, friends of my own, whose blood positively boils when they see it suggested in the Schedule of the Bill that a man should be qualified to sit in this House because he happens to have formerly been a member of the House of Commons. I am sure there are a number of noble Lords here who absolutely decline to see any additional value in a man because he happens to have been in the House of Commons, and are rather disposed to think that the only difference between him and the ordinary Peer is that he is rather more conceited on the whole. I admit that intrinsically it does not in the least follow because a man has been in the House of Commons that he is better than other men, but at all events, whatever you may think of the House of Commons, the mere fact of standing for the House of Commons does imply some sort of disposition towards political life; and I confess it seems to me that the difference, roughly, between a man who takes an interest in politics who has been in the House of Commons and a man who has not is very much the same difference as exists between two soldiers of equal merit, one of whom has seen actual warfare while the other has not had the opportunity. But, my Lords, although I have no overwhelming admiration for the House of Commons even in view of the princely 525 stipend which members are going to enjoy, I contend that an election is a political education in itself. It might be the only occasion in the life of a noble Lord on which he would hear the bare truth about himself. But the great advantage to my mind is that this is a qualification which is absolutely incapable of opposition by the Government. The House of Commons, as we know, is not only the fountainhead of wisdom but an infallible body. Everything that it says twice or three times must be right. It stands to reason if any man is good enough to sit in an Assembly of that kind he is clearly good enough to sit in this place of which they have so contemptuous an opinion.
If this Bill ever goes to Committee, I trust that the principle of qualification will be rigidly adhered to, no matter what opposition it may create. If you abandon qualification, what would be the result? You would have a mob of 700 Peers armed with 700 votes apiece, I presume, struggling for places in this House, and the process of getting a seat here would strongly resemble that which people go through in order to secure a ticket for the enclosure at Ascot. The result would be that if you obtained a seat in this Assembly it would be very difficult for you to give satisfactory reasons for being here. Nobody in a case of this kind would necessarily vote for the most eminent amongst our body. I imagine every one would vote for himself, because whatever may be the admiration we express in public for our leaders every one sitting on these Benches probably in his heart considers himself every bit as good a man as another if he were allowed an opportunity. It is easy to realise the dissatisfaction and the disappointment which would be caused by resorting to a process of this kind. The meritorious A, who has been a liberal contributor to Party funds, might find himself excluded for the benefit of B, who had never done anything substantial for his Party, and who, on the contrary, had perhaps received considerable emoluments in the course of his career from his Party. C, on the other hand, who had sometimes, perhaps, filled, and sometimes occasionally emptied, these Benches with his eloquence, might find himself dispossessed in favour of D, who never came near the place except when there was some particular question being debated in which he had an individual interest. One might multiply instances of this kind. Without 526 entering too closely into the merits of qualification, at all events qualification limits the choice of representatives, and nobody who sat in this House as a representative of the rest of the Peerage would be unable to give some substantial reason for the place which he occupied.
A good deal was said by way of encouragement by my noble friend Lord Curzon with regard to the possibilities of unofficial Peers entering this House. There are to be, as we all know, three avenues of approach. There is the avenue of election by your fellow Peers; there is the method of getting your leader to nominate you; and, if you fail in that, you can fall back on Members for constituencies in your neighbourhood and make yourself as agreeable as you can to them in whatever way occurs to you—I refrain, from motives of delicacy, from suggesting how I should put that into operation myself. But in view of the extreme difficulty of framing a measure of this kind I think that the noble Marquess may congratulate himself upon the reception accorded to his Bill. Do not let it be forgotten that this is the third attempt within a few years at devising a satisfactory Bill. The first attempt was made by the Committee under the presidency of my noble friend Lord Rosebery; the second attempt was made—it is an open secret—by unofficial members who sit on this side of the House; the third attempt is the attempt made by the united intellect of the leaders of the Unionist Party; and I repeat that, considering the ridicule which habitually attaches to makers of Constitutions all over the world, they may be satisfied with the reception which their Bill has encountered.
I confess I find it difficult to speak with patience of the attitude of noble Lords opposite and members of their Party, who are inclined to jeer at what they term an insufficient sacrifice. They call it an insufficient sacrifice when, under the terms of this Bill, something like five-sixths of the members of this House may have to go, and to go for ever. Then there is the fault which the opponents of this Bill find with it on the paltry ground that by some manipulation of figures you can show that in all probability the Unionist Party would have a nominal majority in this place. As far as I am personally concerned, I would be quite willing to make 527 any sacrifice, whether it took the form of enlarging the numbers or was done in some other way, for the purpose of meeting these trivial objections. The Government really ought to be honest in this matter. What they ought really to admit—and I trust they will admit it before the debate concludes—is that they do not want an impartial Assembly here at all. What they want is an emasculated and subservient Assembly which would be little better than an unpaid imitation of the omnipotent institution next door.
I look upon this Bill as an honest and sincere attempt to redeem the promises and engagements which have been made by the leaders of the Unionist Party. I do not say that I look upon it as a supplement or as an alternative, but I do look upon it as a basis for a fair settlement if only we had to deal with reasonable people. So far as I personally am concerned, so far from contemplating any changes in the composition of this House pleasure, I contemplate them with aversion amounting to detestation. I have no grievance against this House; it has always treated me a great deal better than I deserve, and I think a good many noble Lords would be prepared to say the same for themselves. The new House, when it comes into existence, will in some respects be distinctly inferior to the present one. It will contain, no doubt, a number of pretentious people full of their own importance. But, on the other hand, I admit reluctantly that it has been borne in upon me during the last few years that a change is not only imperative, but inevitable, and, although the sacrifices which we may be called upon to undergo may be hard and bitter, nevertheless I feel that it is our duty to make them if we are prepared to do what we believe to be our duty, not only to our Party, but to our country.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
My Lords, I do not propose to detain the House very long. But after the somewhat pointed appeal directed to me by my noble friend who has just sat down I think it right to make clear once more the reason why I thought it better, and still think it better, to have proceeded by means of Resolution rather than by means of a specific plan. I do not object in the slightest degree to my noble friend's references to me. My noble friend's speeches are always such galaxies of fireworks, with squibs falling 528 in every direction and on every head, that they sometimes remind us of our amusement on the Fifth of November in our early boyhood. I am quite sure that no one who has felt the dart of my noble friend's wit has ever had the slightest cause to feel any compunction or annoyance.
But my noble friend found fault with me for not concurring in the decision come to by the Front Opposition Bench as to the introduction of a Bill. The point is one of so much importance, not as regards myself, but as regards the whole policy in relation to this measure, that I am anxious to say a few words about it. My noble friend was surprised that I should have taken that line. I express no surprise at his surprise, because if he had not expressed it I should have known that he had read all my speeches on the subject—which I am sure he has not—in every one of which there is reported in the strongest terms the statement that no one but a responsible Government should deal with such Constitutional questions. But apart from the Constitutional aspect of the question—and I assure my noble friends behind me that I did not mean to take part in this debate, as I wished to refrain from accentuating the differences which unfortunately exist between us as to methods—but apart from the Constitutional point, let me say there are some very obvious questions of strategy in regard to the wisdom or non-wisdom of producing a Bill. If you produce a Bill you attempt an impossibility, because I say at once there is no human being who has ever lived on this planet who could produce a scheme for the reform of the House of Lords which would not be open to almost countless objections and almost universal criticism.
If there was any justification of my difference from my noble friend Lord Lansdowne on this point, it would be found in the very first speech of my noble friend opposite, Lord Morley, in answering him. The noble Viscount opposite said at once what I know would be said in regard to any Bill introduced by anybody without a Government majority to support it, and that is, "This Bill will please nobody." If the angel Gabriel came down from Heaven and tried to draw up a plan for the reform of the House of Lords which would give satisfaction, of course from its authorship it would be a perfect plan, but I am certain, nevertheless, that 529 it would not give satisfaction. That is why, apart, from the Constitutional reason, a grave change and revision of our immemorial Constitution should not be proposed by an Opposition which, though I know it is known as "His Majesty's Opposition," is yet an irresponsible body. But apart from that Constitutional point, I think there are the gravest reasons as regards strategy for not producing a Bill. I venture to say the Bill of my noble friend has not given satisfaction, and it cannot give satisfaction. It is impossible without the influence of a Government, without all that a Government has to give, without all the inducements that a Government can hold out—tickets for the enclosure at Ascot, to which my noble friend so feelingly referred, and the fountain of honour which falls so lavishly twice or thrice a year—without all the influences that a Government can exercise it is impossible for people not to see the motes and the beams in any plan which can be suggested for the reform of the House of Lords. I make noble Lords opposite a present of that statement.
I think my noble friend Lord Lansdowne felt that a certain rather flaccid attitude was shown even by those behind him when he offered his Bill to the House. May I say with what interest I listened to the clear, solemn, and, I think, pathetic statement in which my noble friend recommended this Bill to the House. I was reminded of a scene which has often been portrayed both by historian and painter, the scene during the French Revolution of the gaoler coming in every night to the Conciergerie and reading out to the prisoners the list of those who were to go to the scaffold on the morrow. I think it was with the same absence of enthusiasm, to say the very least of it, with which the hapless prisoners listened to that list that their Lordships behind my noble friend listened to the details of this Bill. Therefore, I remain firmly of opinion that it was impolitic to bring a Bill forward. Resolutions are the recognised method for an Opposition to bring forward its policy. Mr. Gladstone always adopted that method when he was in Opposition. The reason is tolerably clear. You bring forward your Resolutions in the House in which you are preponderant, knowing that if you embody them in a Bill the Bill will be lost in the House in which you are not preponderant. Therefore, it would surely have been a wiser thing in a Resolution to affirm our adher- 530 ence to the Resolutions passed last year, and to declare that in our opinion they offer a basis for Constitutional rearrangement and revision and a basis for another Conference, if you will. It would surely have shown more wisdom to introduce a Resolution of that kind to which no fair objection could have been taken, and which, I think, would have been recognised by the country as a pledge of honour on the part of this House, than to bring forward a Bill which meets with objection even here, which certainly meets with no enthusiastic support, and which you know can never pass into law until you change the composition of the other House. I wanted to develop the reasons for the position which I have been compelled to take up on this matter, which I have honestly and conscientiously taken, and as to which I had meant to remain silent had I not been poked and prodded by my noble friend Lord Newton.
But having said so much of the impolicy of introducing a Bill, let me at once say that I think the Bill—if a reform Bill in relation to the House of Lords is of any avail at this juncture, if the sands have not been flowing too fast, if we have not got past the point where a mere reform of this House will avail—if you are to have a Reform Bill of the House of Lords I cannot imagine a much more sensible one in the way of combining the hereditary tradition of this House with the newer spirit which you wish to infuse into it. I can see from my experience on the Committee which considered the subject last year some traces of authorship, unless I have wholly lost all critical faculty. For example, Lord Newton dealt largely with the question of qualification. I was surprised to hear that criticism from him, because on the Committee he was an ardent apostle of qualification, whereas I was a humble and unsuccessful opponent of it. But I cannot help seeing in that ingenious method for combining qualification and election which is in the Bill a homage paid to qualification by a distinguished member of the Committee, a homage which in this case is really somewhat unnecessary. My noble friend Lord Curzon—I am sure he will forgive my referring to him directly in regard to his part on the Committee—was always a very ardent and convinced believer in the principle of qualification. I was always a very ardent and convinced disbeliever. But my noble friend had more votes, and probably more arguments, than 531 I had, and he carried the Committee with him.
What does qualification mean? It means as a rule that a gentleman who has filled some very responsible situation, or some very irresponsible situation in the past, very often comes to the House of Lords to spend the evening of his days in unbroken repose, and that in the opinion of his friends, and still more of his enemies, he has ceased to be fit to hold any of those offices which he held in the past. I do not look to the other side of the House. I should be afraid of my eye unwarily resting on some distinguished ex-Minister—I do not mean any of the existing Ministers—who has retired here, under shadow of a coronet, to spend the evening of his days. I am not thinking of any one living. All those I am thinking of are dead and gone. But I do say this, that to take an Assembly of 600 gentlemen who, as Lord Newton has just told us, think themselves, every one of them, quite as good if not better than their leaders, and to put a stigma on those who have not those qualifications and to limit the choice to those who have, does seem to me a mistake.
I think if you are to acknowledge the democratic principle of election you had better not restrict it. I have heard from Lord Lansdowne and Lord Curzon long eulogies on the extraordinary astuteness, generosity, and discrimination with which the House of Lords will choose the best men irrespective of any other consideration. That being so what is the use of the qualifications? It is really only a homage to an extinct and embalmed principle to which I thought we had said good-bye for ever when we closed the doors of our Committee. I know my noble friend is deaf to all remonstrance on this point. Another flaw in the Bill is, I think, the composition of colleges. I loathe the word college in that connection. To begin with, it has to me a flavour of the Latin races which is wholly inconsistent with Anglo-Saxon civilisation; but I am quite certain that Lord Lansdowne if I could find a better word would gladly adopt it, but I do not know that I can find one. I think again that if you are going to do homage to the democratic principle of election you should do it without restriction or restraint. I think the idea of a mere knot of members of the House of Commons collecting in a room somewhere in Yorkshire or in Surrey, or 532 wherever it may be, to elect a delegate for this purpose seems to me to be too limited to be defined as an acknowledgment of the principle of election to serve any useful purpose.
Of course under different and happier circumstances we might imagine that a college of the House of Commons members might have voted like the captains did for the Admiral to command the Athenian fleet. They voted each one for himself, as Lord Newton said the Peers would do. I am not sure that under the unhappy circumstances in which we find ourselves, or are likely to find ourselves, that any member of the House of Commons will care to leave a stipendiary position richly repaid by £100 a quarter for the comparatively barren honour of sitting on these Benches. But at any rate, is it not enough for the House of Commons to exercise unquestioned dominion without wishing to have a hand in the election of 120 Peers whenever or wherever they may be collected? Would it not be far better to try to make a college for this purpose out of county councils, borough councils, or whatever body may lie ready to your hands, instead of restricting yourselves to the arid limits of the House of Commons? I know it is said that it would introduce politics into the county councils. I do not honestly think it would. I never have thought so. The opportunity of their exercising their political feelings would come so rarely, and the body would be so considerable if you unite all the municipal and county councils of the area, that really it would not be worth while to discard an excellent municipal reformer in favour of some politician of your own views. At any rate, it would extend the area of choice in a manner which I cannot help thinking would be more agreeable to the principle of democracy than the somewhat restricted attempt made in the Bill.
The third remark I would make is this. I could wish that my noble friend had taken the opportunity not to give the Law Lords an undisputed pre-eminence over every other member of the House of Lords except the two Archbishops by giving them seats for life, but had proposed to expunge them from the House of Lords altogether. It would be perfectly easy to create a tribunal quite as august as the legal members of the House of Lords. Call it if you will, the High Court of Parliament, that most beautiful expression the meaning of 533 which will soon have Vanished for ever, the Supreme Tribunal, or whatever you choose. It is a mistake, it seems to me, at this juncture, after our experience, to perpetuate an arrangement which is perfectly hollow, perfectly nominal, which has no particular dignity to recommend it, and which has caused constant confusion in the constituencies. It is therefore with profound respect for the Law Lords that I would ask them to leave this Assembly, reformed or unreformed, for ever.
What is the use of talking about this Bill? What will it matter to any human being on the face of this globe what is the composition of the House of Lords when the Parliament Bill has become Law? Who are the people who will accept the degrading position which is to be offered under the Parliament Bill in this ancient House? Who are the acolytes, the sycophants, persons who will consent to an abject and degraded existence under the Parliament Bill, and who will consent to fill the denuded Benches of this House? I suppose that the Government have some of their followers opposite who are ready to come to hand and do what will be required of them under the Parliament Bill, but I hope their number will not be great. I hope this House of Lords will be too sensible of what it has been in the past and of what a Second Chamber should be in the future to accept the abject condition of a Peer under the Parliament Bill.
If there is any hollowness or unreality in the debate to which we have been listening during the last three days, and I think there is some hollowness and some unreality, is it not because while we are discussing one thing we are thinking of another, and that over all this debate there looms the shadow of the Bill which the noble Viscount will present for our discussion, and perhaps for our acceptance, next week? If that Bill becomes part of the fundamental law of these realms, Lord Lansdowne's Bill matters little. The revolution through which we have passed will have no significance. It is on the Parliament Bill and the Parliament Bill alone that depends the future, not of this House, but of Second Chamber government and of the whole Constitution of the country. I am not pleading for the House of Lords; I have never held a brief for the House of Lords. I have never been able to see how the existence of an hereditary House of 534 Lords is compatible with the various Franchise Bills that have been passed and the gradual movement of popular feeling in the country. I hold no brief for the House of Lords, any more than I hold a brief for the House of Commons, but I do with all my heart appeal to this House that it shall do what it can do to preserve double, bicameral, government in this country, and do something to sustain that which the Government have determined actively to overthrow, the immemorial Constitution of this country.
§ THE MARQUESS OF NORTHAMPTON
My Lords, I agree with the noble Earl who has just spoken that while we are discussing this Reconstitution Bill we have in our minds the Parliament Bill. Is it not the absolute truth that if it had not been for the introduction of the Parliament Bill we should never have seen the Bill that is now before the House? We are given reasons for the introduction of this Bill; we are told that the country, or rather the electors, desire the reconstitution of this Chamber, that they object to the hereditary principle, and that they desire a fairer division of Parties in the Second House. But that is not the point that everybody is discussing. At no meeting I have ever attended since 1884 and 1885—and I have attended a great many of my own and a great many of others also—has any special point been made of opposition to the hereditary principle. The one and only thing that was brought forward was, not how this House was composed, but determined hostility to the action of this House when Liberal Governments were in office, and a determination to work, and to work without ceasing, until what had prevented us from passing the Bills that we thought necessary was removed. The question during the whole of my political life has been the power of the Veto of this House, and not so much the question of the hereditary principle or even unfair majorities. I do not think noble Lords opposite can be aware of the intense feeling that has existed amongst the rank and file of the Liberal Party during the last twenty-five years. I only speak of that period because I have experience of that, but of course it began long before. In my opinion there was no subject which united Liberals more closely, no subject which roused such intense enthusiasm of feeling as this subject of the Veto, and I quite agree with the noble Earl who 535 has just spoken that it is the Veto which occupies all men's minds infinitely more than the question of the reconstruction of this House.
The Bill which is before us now has been received—I venture to disagree with what the noble Lord who sits below me (Lord Courtney) said on this point this evening—by the Liberal Party with cold indifference. Every Liberal that I have spoken to or met says exactly what the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, has just said, that he does not believe there is any chance whatever of this Bill becoming law. They do not treat it even as a serious Bill. They do not, however, pour contempt upon it. They recognise fully that it is a genuine attempt to grapple with a very difficult problem—a genuine attempt, of course, on the understanding that the hope of the Conservative Party is that this Bill may take the place of the Veto Bill. But at the same time there is not a single Liberal in the rank and file of the Party at the present moment who has the least fear that this Bill will ever become law. At the present moment Liberals care for one thing and for one thing only, and until that is accomplished they care for nothing else. We have received a distinct pledge from our leaders that they would never occupy office again until they had grappled with and settled this question of the Veto. If they had turned away from that by one hair's breadth their whole Party would have left them. We call them our leaders, but practically the leaders of the Liberal Party—and I am sure they are proud of it —are really those who are looked upon as the servants of it; and our leaders are in office at the present moment on the clear understanding between all of us that the first thing they have to do is to abolish the Veto of the Second House, however that Second House may be constituted.
Your Lordships constantly taunt us with not bringing forward our plans. I am only a humble member of the Liberal Party and I cannot speak officially with regard to what our plan is, but to taunt the Government with not bringing forward their scheme—I am sorry it has been said again to-night that you do not believe the Government will ever bring forward their scheme—is somewhat ungenerous in the face of what the Prime Minister said the other evening, that within the lifetime of this Parliament the Government would 536 bring in their scheme for the reform of the House of Lords. It is impossible for any men, however able, however clever, to grapple with one of the most difficult questions that men have had to grapple with—the reconstitution of the Second House of this country—unless they know on what foundation they are going to build the reconstitution scheme. Is the Veto Bill going to pass? How can anybody at the present moment foresee what is going to take place during the next few months? We believe that the Veto Bill will pass, and the moment it has passed into law we shall have a foundation upon which to build our scheme. The noble Lord opposite, Lord Ashtown, shakes his head. He does not believe what the Prime Minister said.
§ THE MARQUESS OF NORTHAMPTON
I entirely disagree with the noble Lord about that, and I will say a few words in answer to him before I sit down. My point at the present moment is that until you know whether the reconstituted Chamber is going to have the same power of Veto as this Chamber has, you cannot decide what the reconstitution of the House is to be. There has also been a taunt to-night that all that is done by the Liberal Government at the present moment is done at the command of the Irish Party. During the last twenty-five years there have been many changes of fortune to the Liberals owing to their alliance with the Irish Party. I do not for one moment deny—on the contrary, I glory in it—that the Party to which I belong has done its level best to be friends with the Irish and to act in consort with them as far as possible. I do not think that any man who calls himself a Liberal should be ashamed of avowing that one of our great objects has always been to reconcile Ireland to England and not to drive Ireland away from England. Our idea of reconciliation took the form not only of legislation but also of treating them as friends and equals whether in the House of Commons or elsewhere, and I am thankful that the Government has thought fit, if they have done so, to act in consort with the Irish Party on any matter. I am not ashamed in any way of our alliance with the Irish. But during the last twenty-five years we know 537 that over and over again—in 1885, for instance—the whole Irish influence and vote throughout the country has been against us; but it was at the very moment when the Irish were against us that we on political platforms were advocating the abolition of the Veto of the Second Chamber. It was not the Irish who brought that before us; we were working for it without the Irish; and whether the Scottish, or the Welsh, or the Labour, or the Irish Party have helped us or not, we have fought consistently and patiently for one object and for one object alone, and now when at last we see a chance of getting that object achieved we are not going to relinquish the fight. The action of the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition and of those who followed him when they went into the Lobby and defeated the Finance Bill of the Liberal Government in 1909 was the drop that caused the cup to overflow, and by that action they signed the death warrant of the enemy of Liberal legislation.
The noble Lord opposite, Lord Ashtown, said that we should not want a Second Chamber if we once passed the Veto Bill. I do not know whether he is aware of the provisions of the Veto Bill. But this is not the time or the moment, of course, to go into that. Perhaps he is aware of them. I was sorry to hear the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, say what he did in reference to occupying a place in the Second Chamber if the Veto Bill passed. He used very strong language with regard to that. Men sometimes use strong language and repent of it afterwards. I cannot imagine, even if the power of Veto was limited in this House, why any noble Lord should not be as proud to sit in the Second Chamber as he is at the present moment. And, my Lords, let me say this. I and other noble Lords on this side have sat here in a degraded position ever since we have been in this House. Those who, like myself, have remained for all these years members of a small minority when our Party is in power in another place, knowing that when our Reform Bills are brought here they will be either mutilated or rejected, will not at all events complain when that sting is taken away from this House, and when the House is placed on a sure and stable basis. Nay, more than that. When the cause of the unpopularity of this House has been removed, the House will at least have what it has never yet had, or at any rate 538 has not had for the last fifty years, not only the esteem and the confidence but even the affection of the people of this country.
§ [The sitting was suspended at twenty minutes to eight o'clock and resumed at a quarter past nine.]
§ THE EARL OF DUNMORE
My Lords, in rising to support the Bill which the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition has brought forward, I would like to say at once that it appears to me to be the logical outcome of the Resolutions which we agreed to last year. In agreeing practically unanimously to those Resolutions confirming the principle that a Peerage should no longer of itself confer the right to a seat in this House we committed ourselves to some drastic changes in the constitution of this House. Now that these proposals have taken more concrete form, noble Lords opposite and some noble Lords on this side of the House find themselves in disagreement with those proposals. It appears to me that any reform of this House must affect very seriously the position of many of its members, and it certainly cannot be agreeable to those of us who are in danger of losing our seats to contemplate the passing into law of this Bill or any other Bill containing similar proposals. But although I have not had the honour of a seat in this House for any very lengthy period, I have had sufficient experience of business within its walls to know that votes are given in this House on grounds of public policy, and are not dictated by any personal or private motives.
Many demands have been made on your Lordships to sacrifice your own personal views, and such demands have not been made in vain. The demand which is now being made by the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, in this Bill was really formulated and acquiesced in last year when we passed the proposals put forward by Lord Rosebery. I am, I confess, surprised at the manner in which this Bill has been received by noble Lords opposite. For some years the Party which noble Lords opposite represent have been going about the country inveighing against this House, abusing it up hill and down dale—many of them, perhaps, with a view of eventually finding themselves in this House—on the ground that the majority of your Lordships hold your seats in this House in virtue of heredity. Even Cabinet Ministers have 539 been eager in fanning the flames of prejudice. We have not forgotten how the Chancellor of the Exchequer performed a pilgrimage through the country in order to arouse prejudice against the hereditary principle. At Limehouse his language, as far as I remember, was somewhat strong. At York and at Newcastle it became stronger, and at Wolverhampton I think it reached the limit.
This campaign of prejudice has naturally had its effect on the people of this country. They have been taught to believe that the hereditary principle stood in the path of progress, and that there were certain anomalies in this House which ought to be removed; but more than that, they have been tricked into believing that the abolition of the hereditary principle was what Radical politicians were aiming at. On our side this has very naturally led to our trying to meet the Liberal Party. In this Bill we offer to remove all the grievances which the Radical Party have made so much capital out of at recent elections, and what is the result? The result is a complete change of front on the part of our political opponents. We offer to remove the hereditary right of a Peer to sit in this House. Noble Lords opposite rise one after another in support of the hereditary principle. We offer to reconstitute this House so that there shall be a fair representation of both political Parties. Speech after speech has been delivered from the Government Benches supporting the composition of this House as it stands. I am surprised that these noble Lords who are so strongly in favour of the hereditary principle have not raised their voices in protest at the gross misrepresentation which has been taking place at recent elections.
Then we have the speech of the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor. I feel somewhat diffident in referring to his speech as he is absent, but I will be very careful to quote his words exactly. Last night the noble and learned Lord had a kind word to say for the hereditary principle, and he informed us that in his opinion the people of this country are not opposed to that principle, provided they secure fair play. It seems to me that the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition has indeed gone very far in securing to the people that fair play to which they are entitled. I do not say that it conforms to the definition of fair play which is evidently 540 held by His Majesty's Government. The Lord Chancellor quite clearly gave their definition of fair play. He said—We, the Liberal Party, would have no means of enforcing our wishes in the case of differences of opinion."'It is obvious that a Bill of this kind which reconstitutes one House of Parliament cannot possibly come into operation during the present Parliament, or until after a Dissolution and a General Election had taken place. If that General Election resulted in an increased Radical majority, the verdict of the country would be reflected to a considerable extent as regards over two-thirds of the membership of the reconstructed House, and might very easily result in a Radical majority in this House. I think that is a sufficient answer to the criticism which the Lord Chancellor levelled at Lord Lansdowne's Bill in regard to the fair play which would be shown to our political opponents under that Bill.
In order to show the complete change of front which has been executed by the Radical Party I would quote, with your Lordships' permission, some words of the Prime Minister. Speaking in the House of Commons the night before last he said—The hostility of the people to the House of Lords, and their demand, that this Bill should be passed into law before anything else is done, is not due to any academic or abstract dislike of the hereditary principle. People are quite content to acquiesce in the hereditary principle, whereas in the case of the Monarchy it fits in and performs an efficient function in the operation of democratic government.How does this compare with other Radical utterances of former days? What about "rats in a trap"? What about "first of the litter"? What about all the vulgar abuse of the Peers which was used so effectively at the recent elections? I would like to ask noble Lords opposite how often their Party are going to change their minds? Their attitude up to now has been one of avowed hostility to this House on the ground of the unfair composition of this House. They have said to us in effect, "We cannot allow you to carry out the natural functions of a Second Chamber until the unfairness of your composition has been redressed." That is, presumably, the meaning of the Parliament Bill with its Preamble, if it means anything at all. But now the Radical Party turn round and say to us in regard to this Bill, "We cannot allow you to be reformed because we do not intend that you should 541 exercise the proper functions of a Second Chamber." According to the Prime Minister's words which I quoted just now we apparently have to "perform an efficient function in the operation of democratic government." I confess I do not understand what those words mean, and I have no doubt that if I were to ask the Prime Minister himself he would deliver a very clever peroration which would leave me equally in the dark as to what he does mean. But we know that, as regards the people, under the Parliament Bill which is about to appear in this House they will lose the only control they possess at present over the legislation of this country.
The great objection on the part of the Radical Party to Lord Lansdowne's Bill was voiced last night by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. He said that there would be no escape for the House of Commons except by the Referendum. Well, the only checks upon the arbitrary power of the Cabinet which we would impose are Joint Sessions for the settlement of ordinary disputes between the two Houses of Parliament, and the Referendum where the differences between them are exceptionally grave. It is, therefore, to these democratic safeguards to which the Lord Chancellor and his Party take exception. The provisions of this Bill combined with these safeguards would give an effective Second Chamber and an effective method of settling disputes between the two Houses. It may, of course, be desirable to modify some of the provisions in this Bill. I confess that I should like to see representatives of the other great religious denominations included in a reconstituted House. I should also like to see the qualifications somewhat widened. It appears to me that it should be possible to elect any man of undoubted financial experience and ability. I think there are several in this House whose knowledge of finance makes them pre-eminently desirable members of a Second Chamber. The great increase in our local and Imperial expenditure, in fact the extravagance which has been indulged in since the present Government came into power, renders it doubly desirable that these men should be qualified for election to a reconstituted House; more particularly does this apply in regard to local expenditure which is not subject in the other House to the same safeguards which attach to Bills affecting Imperial 542 expenditure. When I remind your Lordships that in the first year of office of the present Government our local expenditure increased by over £2,000,000, and our local debt increased in the first year by over £20,000,000, your Lordships will be inclined to agree with me that the financial powers of this House, such as they are, should not be lightly thrown aside.
To turn to the criticism which has been directed against this Bill. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House said that 350, or even 200, members seemed too large a number to carry out the duties of this House, and I think he said they ought to be reduced to about 100. May I ask the noble Viscount how he proposes to carry on the Private Bill work of this House? It seems to me that 350 is really quite the smallest possible number to carry on all the Committee work and the various duties which attach to a Second Chamber. Then the noble Viscount made another criticism which I confess surprised me. He suggested that a slur would be cast on an ineligible Peer under this Bill. I presume he meant a Peer who did not succeed in being elected to this House. I would ask the noble Viscount in what way would the position of that Peer be worse than that of a defeated candidate for the House of Commons? Take the case of the present Home Secretary, Mr. Winston Churchill, who was rejected by the electors of North-west Manchester, and was forced to take refuge over the border. I do not think that the noble Viscount opposite can say that any slur attaches to the Home Secretary, and as regards his material prospects being effected I think his present position in the House of Commons is sufficient answer to that.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN
I did not use the word "slur," but I thought, and I still think, it would be a disadvantage.
§ THE EARL OF DUNMORE
I beg the noble Viscount's pardon. I confess he did not use the word "slur," but he said that such a Peer would be under a grave disadvantage when he came to stand for any constituency. The fact is that His Majesty's Government are very ready to criticise this Bill, but they show a great disinclination to advance any proposals themselves for the removal of the 543 grievances which they talk about so much. Adverting to what I said in my earlier remarks as regards votes being given in this House on public and not on private or personal grounds, I venture to believe that the vast majority of your Lordships will put first and foremost in this controversy the necessity for an effective Second Chamber, and it is because I believe that the Bill which is before us now has been framed with that end in view, that I propose to give my support to the noble Marquess who has brought it forward.
§ THE DUKE OF BEDFORD
My Lords, I find myself in the position of one who cannot well give a silent vote upon the Second Reading of this Bill. For my own part I share the views of those referred to by the noble Marquess when he introduced this Bill as being desirous of going further than the proposals contained in the Bill. I do not think that this Bill goes far enough, either to have any chance of acceptance by a majority in the country, or to secure to supporters of double-Chamber government a position in which they can make any real stand. What I do wish to see is the creation of a Second Chamber strong enough in the confidence of the nation to exercise all the powers of the existing House of Lords, and I do not believe the creation of such an Assembly to be possible save on a purely elective basis.
I attach no great importance to retaining a shred of the hereditary principle and that partly in order to secure the subordination of the reformed Second Chamber to the House of Commons. Moreover, the retention of that shred of the hereditary principle necessitates an invidious form of selection, which to me is more objectionable than the frank surrender of all hereditary rights in favour of an elected Second Chamber. I am not alarmed at the prospect of an elected Second Chamber claiming co-ordinate rights with the House of Commons, provided always that the differences between the two Houses are referred for settlement to the judgment of the constituencies. If your Lordships pass the Second Reading of this Bill it does not seem likely that any legislation will ensue, because the Government have told us that they will not accept the Bill in any shape or form. I intend to vote for the Second Reading of the Bill, because it is a concession to the necessary principle of reform.
THE EARL OF LEVEN AND MELVILLE
My Lords, I trust that your Lordships will forgive me for venturing to address you so very shortly after becoming a member of this House and with such little political experience on a subject so grave as that which is contained in the Bill introduced by Lord Lansdowne. It has been said many times during the course of this debate, and perhaps most notably by Lord Rosebery this evening, that there is no use in discussing this Bill because it can never become law during the life of the present Parliament. With all respect I venture to differ from that expression of opinion. It does seem to me that an object has been attained by the discussion of this Bill. Whether or not the Bill is the best possible solution of this difficulty, it is at least an expression of a definite intention to do something towards the reform of the Second Chamber. The contrast has now been emphasised between the objects of noble Lords who sit on this side of the House and what is proposed by noble Lords who sit on the other side of the House, or, at any rate, on the Front Bench.
The leaders of the Opposition have brought forward a definite scheme for the reform of the Second Chamber. They have proved thereby that they do intend to do something in that direction, and the proposals which they have brought forward amount to a declaration that they would accept any scheme whatever for the reform of the Second Chamber rather than no scheme. I think it was Lord Selborne who emphasised that the most when he spoke. We have, on the other hand, the policy in this respect of noble Lords opposite. They propose, as an alternative to the noble Marquess's scheme, their own Parliament Bill. They have expressed absolutely clearly their intention to bring forward that Bill as an alternative to Lord Lansdowne's Bill, but I do not think they can seriously maintain that the Parliament Bill is a Bill for the reconstitution of this House. It does not deal with the subject of reconstitution. It has nothing whatever to do with it. Is it possible to maintain seriously that a Bill which leaves this House with precisely the same numbers as it has at present, and those numbers having less power than at present, is a Bill which reconstitutes this House? It is not sense to say so, and with all respect I do not suppose noble Lords opposite will venture to say it.
545 The noble Viscount, Lord Morley, made, I understood, some sort of complaint, the leaders of the Opposition having asserted that they wished to meet the Government in some form of agreement with regard to their proposals for the reform of the Second Chamber, that one of them, I think Lord Curzon, had said that his attitude towards the Parliament Bill was one of uncompromising hostility. I understood the noble Viscount to insinuate that there was some sort of inconsistency. He contrasted the two statements—that the Opposition wished to meet the Government in agreement, and at the same time would not go any step towards agreeing to the Parliament Bill. I venture to say that there is no inconsistency of any kind in those two statements. The two Bills deal with altogether different subjects. There is no connection whatever between a scheme of reform and a scheme which proposes to abolish the Second Chamber, or, at any rate, to reduce it to a mere shadow of its former self.
I would like to see noble Lords on the Front Government Bench come down to this House in a really honest and, downright spirit and say what they really mean. They have a very good example of what they should do in this respect in the case of the man who governs them at this moment—I mean Mr. John Redmond. If they followed that example they would come down and say honestly that they would vote for a thing of which they did not approve because it would lead up to something of which they did approve. If they did that, it seems to me they would be doing something much more honest than they are doing now. Mr. Redmond has frequently said he has voted for things—for instance, the Budget of 1909—of which he did not approve, because he thought that by so doing he would obtain a more important and ulterior object which he wished to obtain. If the Government's leaders would come down and say they are going to vote for the Parliament Bill, not because they approve of it in itself, but because by its means they wish to do other things which are in their opinion for the good of the country, they would be saying something which is really true.
There was one remark in the speech of Lord St. Davids which I would like to answer. He chose to scoff at the reception which had been accorded by the supporters 546 of the noble Marquess to his Bill. Did the noble Lord really think, on a subject such as this, with such difficulties as are apparent in its very nature, it was probable that there would be any sort of unanimity in a great Party like the Unionist Party? Does he think that that is a stone—I will not discuss the sort of House in which he is going to live—that he can afford to throw at noble Lords who sit on these Benches? I would, like to ask whether noble Lords opposite can mention any single principle or any single clause of any conceivable Bill which might be brought forward for the reform of this House on which they would have a unanimous majority—a majority unanimous in itself—in another place; and a majority unanimous in itself is what Lord St. Davids said was absolutely necessary for any Party who wished to bring in a Reform Bill. This debate has, at any rate, defined two policies—first, the policy of the noble Marquess who sits on this side of the House, which implies the definite, intention to reform this House and to see that there shall be in the Constitution an efficient Second Chamber; and, secondly, the intention of the Government not to bring in any such Bill, but, on the other hand, to introduce a Bill—the Parliament Bill—which would prevent any such Bill being brought in. For these reasons I have no hesitation whatever in supporting the Bill introduced by the noble Marquess.
My Lords, it is asking a good deal of the House, I am afraid, to listen to a third member of the house of Russell in the course of this one debate, and I am afraid I cannot promise to be so commendably brief as the noble Duke opposite, but I will be as brief as I possibly can. The noble Earl who has just sat down, and whom I wish to treat with the indulgence that the House always shows to a speaker who does not address it too frequently, must not expect to have his observations passed altogether without comment if he deliberately trails his coat for the purpose of having it trodden on, and I think he has a little done that in the remarks he made. He began by saying that he did not find in the Veto Bill any trace of the reconstitution of the House of Lords, and he could not conceive how anybody could say that the Veto Bill did effect a reform or a reconstitution of the House of Lords. I agree with the noble Earl; nor can I, and I have not yet heard anybody say it did so before to-night I do not 547 know whether the noble Earl can quote any responsible member of the Government who has said that within the four corners of that Bill you will find a scheme for the reform of this House.
THE EARL OF LEVEN AND MELVILLE
I only said that the Parliament Bill was brought forward as an alternative to the Bill of the noble Marquess.
It is rather an unusual thing, I think, to call one Bill an alternative to another Bill, when one Bill has been before the country at least a year and a-half and the other not more than seven days. Lord Lansdowne's Bill we never saw until the other day. The Parliament Bill has had a General Election upon its actual text. I do not think, therefore, it can be quite properly said, even in this House which is sometimes a little out of touch with realities, that the Parliament Bill has been brought forward as an alternative to the Bill we are now discussing. But the noble Earl went on to say that in his opinion the reconstitution and the reform of this House had nothing whatever to do with a Bill for limiting its powers, and he added that the two things were not connected in any way. As I understood it, the gravamen of the charge made by the noble Marquess is that we are not combining the two. It is constantly contended that the two schemes ought to form part of one complete scheme. I do not know that the noble Earl is quite supporting his own Party when he says that. He finished by stating that this reform was necessary, and that he was going to support it so that the other matter should be considered, as I understood him, entirely apart from it.
From the course of this debate I think we are entitled to assume that the Bill which is now before us definitely represents the policy of the Opposition, and is put forward officially as the Opposition policy. That has been stated quite clearly, and consequently I am in a little difficulty in regard to a sentence which I observed in a leader in The Times on the morning after the noble Marquess presented his Bill for First Reading. Of course, I do not wish to regard that organ as inspired, but one looks at it as expressing sentiments which as a rule are in accord with the sentiments of the noble Marquess opposite. It was a somewhat curious sentence, and it read as follows—This Bill, introduced by a Peer of the purest Whig descent and tradition—548 I am not quite sure whether that was intended to be complimentary to the noble Marquess or not. If it was not intended to be complimentary, I think every one in this House will agree that it is very hard lines on him, because he has done everything that could be expected of him to support and represent his Party, and why these words are introduced except in some way to suggest that he does not represent them I do not know. But I will give the sentence again—This Bill, introduced by a Peer of the purest Whig descent and tradition, is not the work of the Conservative majority of which the Government complainI cannot for the life of me understand what is meant by that sentence. It would seem at first blush to imply that the Bill is not brought forward officially, but I take it there is no suggestion that the Bill is not official, and that it does not receive the official support of the Opposition in this House and in the country. If so, I do not quite understand why this sentence appears there. Then The Times goes on to say—Nor is it an attempt to provide a substitute for the Parliament Bill.It may be that by the words, "The Conservative majority of which the Government complain," they mean the Conservative majority on the Back Benches as distinct from the leaders of the Conservative Party in this House. How far the Bill has the support of that portion of the Conservative majority in this House it is a little difficult to say.
I find again in The Times of May 15 a letter from Lord Wemyss expressing opinions which we should expect him to express on a Bill of this character, and possibly expressing opinions shared by a good many noble Lords who have not expressed them on the Benches opposite. But here we are, and we have this Bill to consider. As to whether it is a substitute for the Parliament Bill or not, I am sure I do not quite understand the line that has been taken upon that. We are told that it is not a substitute or alternative for the Parliament Bill. We were subsequently told, I think by Lord Selborne, that the Opposition would not in any case proceed with this Bill if the Parliament Bill were proceeded with. It is not intended to be a supplement to the Parliament Bill, or to be placed on the Statute Book if the Parliament Bill becomes law. Why it is produced at this exact moment if it is not 549 intended to be a substitute for the Parliament Bill and to distract attention from it I do not know. We have suggestions thrown out by the Opposition over and over again to the effect that this Bill may be considered, and that a compromise may be come to, and that some agreement may be found. The noble Lord opposite, Lord Newton, complained, not without justice, that some speakers had not dealt with the Bill itself, and he himself promptly proceeded to deal with a large number of other subjects.
I will venture to say, in passing, a word or two about the Bill itself. The scheme, if this were the time and the occasion to consider schemes for reforming this House, may be said to be a very ingenious one. I am not sure that it is not a little too ingenious and too fantastic to commend itself to the people of this country. It is rather involved and rather complex, but it certainly has the merit of ingenuity, and it has the merit of providing a certain elective element in this House, though I do not personally care about the members of the House of Commons being created as electoral colleges for the purpose of electing members to this House. The system of proportional representation also seems to have won Lord Courtney to some extent to bless the Bill. In the speech which the noble Marquess made when introducing the Bill on the First Reading and in which he gave us a most lucid exposition of its contents, he showed very great courage in quoting an observation by Lord Crewe to the effect that what was desired was to retain the power and the supremacy of this House in a way which was more creditable but not less certain. I think, as I say, the noble Marquess showed great courage in quoting that, because the majority which would be preserved for the Conservative Party under this Bill would seem capable of doing the work which is required to be done in destroying Liberal measures quite as effectively as a larger majority, and although the noble Marquess does not assent to the calculations of the much larger majority which have been made on this side of the House, he still admits quite freely that there would, under his Bill, be a majority for his Party.
The noble Earl who last spoke was, I think, under the impression that provisions for the Referendum and Joint Sessions were included in this Bill I think I am right in saying that neither of these is included in 550 the Bill itself. It was pointed out the other night that if we had a majority of 120 in the House of Commons the scheme for Joint Sessions would work all right, because it would give the Liberal Party the advantage. A majority of 120 is a fairly large and exceptional majority. But I would like your Lordships to consider for a moment that if the Conservative Party had a majority of twenty in the House of Commons the whole of their legislation would go through both Houses without trouble or opposition, whereas if the Liberal Party had a majority of only twenty there they would be practically as badly off as they are now. If that be so, how can you say that the dice are not loaded? How can you say that this is really a fair scheme as between the two political Parties? It shows great courage on the part of noble Lords opposite to continue to make that assertion.
When the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, spoke last night he asked us to put aside our false pride as standing in the way of a settlement, and he said we might easily come to an agreement. He also made, if I understood him correctly, the remarkable statement that this House had not gone contrary to the will of the people in rejecting the Education Bill and the Licensing Bill. This, of course, we are used to as a matter of argument, but he actually went on to include in the same category what is known as the "People's Budget." If one is to go by the ordinary indications of the will of the people on a particular measure, I should think that the election which followed the rejection of that Budget showed that this House did not succeed in interpreting correctly the wishes of the majority of this country. How can this appeal be made now to the Liberal Party to put aside false pride, show themselves statesmen, and come forward and meet in some round table conference and agree to a scheme which is less distasteful to noble Lords opposite than the scheme which is now before the country? Is it not recognised that it is somewhat late to use that argument? Lord Rosebery said to-day in plain words that it is too late for that argument. You have passed the time. You cannot talk any longer about conferences and agreements and about arranging these things together. I have here comments, made by a paper which is more Tory than the Tories, of a very unfavourable character on the Bill which is now before your Lord- 551 ships. I do not wish to trouble you with any of them.
But I have also a curious little paper called "Misrepresentation of the People," circulated, I think, by Sir Henry Kimber. It says—The Constitutional right of one House, with or without Royal Assent, to deprive the other House of its powers without its assent has yet to be considered by the people.Do noble Lords opposite really say that the provisions of the Veto Bill have yet to be considered by the people? Can any one be found with courage enough to say that the people have not considered the Bill? It was mentioned in every election address. It was made the particular plank and the particular point of every contest, and for that Bill a large majority has been obtained in the other House. When you threw out the Budget you deliberately challenged this conflict. You said you were not afraid of the consequences, and I recollect that at the time I congratulated your Lordships upon not being afraid of the consequences. Now that the consequences have arrived, you do not like them. I ventured myself to predict, and so I think did nearly every other speaker on this side of the House, that when the consequences arrived you would not like them. Now you are all objecting to the consequences. Having given that challenge, having fought your duel and been worsted, now, when the sword is at your throat, you actually look up at your adversary and say, in the most conciliatory manner possible but really with consummate audacity, "Is not this the moment when you should give up the advantage you have gained, the victory you have achieved, and what you have pledged yourselves to carry out?" We urged you, everybody urged you, not to take the course of throwing out the Budget in 1909. Everybody warned you, noble Lords on that side of the House as well as on this side, that the consequences would be a conflict. As I have said before, this House is not as much in touch with realities and with the feelings of the country as is the House of Commons; but it really is asking a little too much, after two elections, that the policy of the Government which has been endorsed by the people should be given up because you find you are on the point of being beaten. That is what it really comes to. That is what the plain man in the country thinks about it, and 552 that is what he thinks about this debate. I am willing to give credit for sincerity to the noble Marquess and those who sit with him on the Front Opposition Bench, but that is what the country will be inclined to think about the debate on this Bill. People remember that the Conservative Party had ample opportunities during many years of office for proposing these reforms, and I am afraid there is no reasonable man in the country who will not connect the fact of these proposals being introduced at this late hour with the fact that a Bill depriving your Lordships' House of its absolute Veto is now on its way to the Statute Book.
Complaint has been made that in the speech of the Lord Chancellor he said—We will talk to you about the reform of the House of Lords and these other matters when our Bill is on the Statute Book.That is not an unreasonable attitude. The Government is pledged to the people of this country to use every political expedient for the purpose of putting that Bill on the Statute Book. It is pledged to limit the powers of this House to reject and mutilate Liberal measures, and until that Bill is on the Statute Book the Government is surely justified in the action taken up. It would be a breach of faith to act otherwise. They are obliged to pursue that policy, and that policy alone. It is desired by the Liberal Party, and that desire has been endorsed by the country, to deprive this House of its power of forcing General Elections upon every Liberal Government, to deprive this House of its power of preventing Liberal Bills from becoming law.
We are told that what we are aiming at is single-Chamber government. It is surely perfectly well known to every one here that if a Bill has passed the House of Commons in three successive years and has been discussed in the constituencies it must on the whole meet with the approval of the country. It is a somewhat severe ordeal for a Bill to go through. In saying that, I do not dissociate myself altogether from some of the observations made by Lord Courtney as to the growing power of Cabinets in the House of Commons. I think there is—I am fortunately in the position of being able to speak without any official ties as to reticence—something in the statement that the House of Commons is no longer so autonomous, so self-governing, as we would wish to see it. But, 553 in spite of that, I think your Lordships will agree that you cannot get a highly contentious Bill through three separate sessions, with all the country and the newspapers discussing it, unless there is general agreement that that Bill is desired. That being so, we have a very effective and considerable check upon panic legislation. Recent instances of panic legislation have, I think, been seen in this House—the Rosebery Resolutions, the Referendum Bill, and this Bill. Whatever may be said otherwise, I repeat that plain men in the country look upon all these as panic legislation; they look upon these powers and privileges that you are giving up as cargo jettisoned to save the House from destruction.
So far as the Bill itself is concerned, I do not know that it is really useful to discuss its provisions at this moment. It is perfectly clear that until the Parliament Bill is disposed of this particular Bill cannot possibly receive an impartial and a calm consideration on its merits. To alter any institution as old as this House is is a matter which is not to be lightly done, and no one contemplates it with particular pleasure as an act in itself. It is very difficult for anybody to say what would be the best way of doing it. It is still more difficult for anybody to say what will be the ultimate result on political life of any particular way of doing it; but I cannot help feeling for myself, representing the plain man in this matter, that this is not the moment to discuss it. This Bill is now put forward at a moment when it cannot receive the really genuine assistance of all the members of your Lordships' House, directing their minds to it impartially, because it is being discussed as a sort of alternative to that Bill which His Majesty's Government are obliged to put on the Statute Book at the earliest moment.
THE EARL OF WICKLOW
My Lords, I should not venture to intrude upon your Lordships at this stage, but I feel that if I were to hold my tongue I should not be doing my duty to those who did me the honour of electing me as their representative to this House. I suppose we were all prepared to find in Lord Lansdowne's Bill proposals for a more or less drastic reform of your Lordships' House, and for a considerable elimination from its constitution of the hereditary principle, but I do not think that we were all quite prepared for 554 such a measure as the Bill now before us. For my part, if the proposals in this Bill had emanated from the noble Viscount opposite or from his colleagues I should have been surprised at their violence, but coming as they do from the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition I am amazed. I do not know whether your Lordships are prepared to express your willingness to commit political suicide upon an extraordinarily extensive scale, or whether it would be your wish to reject this Bill; but if you intend to pass it I hope, at any rate, that you will not do so without the insertion of most careful Amendments. It does not seem to be probable that this Bill will pass into law in the near future, but no doubt your Lordships will take into consideration the fact that if you give it your approval, if you allow it to pass through its several stages in this House, in its present unamended condition, it will remain upon record as an undertaking of the length to which you were prepared to go in the matter of reform, an undertaking which you might at any time be called upon to fulfil.
It is with the aspect of this Bill as it is likely to affect Ireland and the representation of Irish Lords in this House that I am principally interested, and to which I wish this evening to draw your Lordships' attention. That representation is based upon the Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland, and it seems to me that, because His Majesty's Government seem to propose by introducing a Home Rule Bill to tear up one half of the Act of Union, that is no reason why your Lordships should immediately proceed to tear up the other half. The proposals in this Bill will press with particular hardship upon the representation of Irishmen in your Lordships' House. The noble Marquess proposes that your Lordships, in consideration of abdicating your right to sit and vote in this House, should be allowed to return 100 members to represent you; but Lord Lansdowne qualifies his generosity by inserting at the end of the Bill a Schedule of qualifications which it will be necessary for any one of your Lordships to possess before he can present himself for election. The noble Marquess has made this Schedule very wide. It covers the highest offices which it is possible for a subject to hold under the Crown, and it covers such offices as Lord Lieutenant of a county and chairman of a county council. But I have looked in vain in this Schedule for any mention of those 555 Peers who have already been elected as representatives of either Scotland or Ireland, and I for my part cannot see why, if a Peer has been considered good enough to be elected to represent his Peers in the past, he is not to be considered good enough under the new conditions which Lord Lansdowne proposes to set up.
By the Act of Union Ireland was given the privilege of returning twenty-eight Peers to Parliament, and in addition to that privilege she has enjoyed representation by a number of your Lordships who, although Irishmen, are in possession of English Peerages. It seems to me that by the Bill of the noble Marquess there is very great danger that Ireland will get no representation at all. It is quite clear that any noble Lord who has held high office under the State with honour and distinction will have no difficulty whatever under the provisions of this Bill in either being elected by his Peers or securing admission into the new House which Lord Lansdowne proposes to set up by one of the other entrances provided; but it does seem to me it at it is not fair to say that a Peer holding one of the minor qualifications in the Schedule is better fitted to sit and vote in this House than one who has taken the view that duty, like charity, begins at home, and who, instead of going out to look for high appointment and honour away from home, has served his country by trying to do his duty in that stage of life in which it has pleased Providence to place him. There is an injustice in this, and I think the noble Marquess himself realised that it was hard upon the unqualified Peer, because he said that those of your Lordships who did not find a place in the Schedule and were in other respects worthy of a seat in this House would no doubt be able to secure election by one of the electoral colleges which he proposed to create under this Bill.
That may be all very well in England, but I should like to know how many noble Lords in Ireland would be likely to be elected by electoral colleges composed of Nationalist Members of Parliament. I should like to know also how many noble Lords in Ireland, or in the South of Ireland, or anywhere out of Ulster, would be likely to get elected as Lord Mayor of a City or chairman of a county council. Take another qualification. The noble Marquess has inserted in this Schedule the qualification of chairman of Quarter Sessions. 556 That office is held in Ireland as a rule by a County Court Judge, so that that provision would be of no use to your Lordships in Ireland. I had hoped that when this Bill was introduced the noble Marquess would find room in it for some provision which would retain something of the principle of the Act of Union, and which would secure the representation of Irish Peers by Irish Peers elected by Irish Peers. I am not entirely without hope that your Lordships will be able, if this Bill goes into Committee, to insert Amendments giving effect to something of that kind.
The noble Marquess also proposes that 120 members of the new House should be elected by what he calls electoral colleges. He proposes, I understand, that the country should be divided into districts, and that in each of those districts should be set up an electoral college composed of the Members of Parliament for that district, and that these Members should have the privilege of returning Peers to this House. Lord Lansdowne says he is able to contemplate with perfect equanimity the introduction into your Lordships' House of the nominees of any section of the supporters of His Majesty's Government in another place. I am sorry to say that I am quite unable to share his equanimity. I think my noble friends who come from Ireland will agree with me that if the Irish Nationalist Party is to be given the privilege of electing Peers of Parliament your Lordships' House is likely to be invaded by some very remarkable members indeed, members who, I venture to think, will not add much to the dignity of your debates or to the lustre and the ancient and honourable traditions of your Lordships' House.
With regard to the noble Marquess's proposals about Spiritual Lords, I have very little to say; but I find myself in complete agreement with noble Lords who have said that it is a matter for regret that room could not be found for representation of religious denominations other than the Church of England. I think that the eminent divines at the head of many of the religious organisations of this country would be ornaments to the Episcopal Bench. I appreciate what the noble Marquess said about the difficulty which he found in introducing such a provision into the Bill, and I am glad to hear that he does not think that those difficulties will be quite insurmountable. I have ventured to occupy your Lordships' time 557 at far too great a length, and I will conclude by again expressing the hope that, if your Lordships do pass this Bill, you will, before doing so, subject it to most careful and searching amendment.
§ VISCOUNT RIDLEY
My Lords, if I venture to intervene for a few moments in this debate it is not because I think my length of service in this House entitles me to give any very experienced opinion on the business of the House, but because there is probably no noble Lord who has been more constantly on public platforms during the past eleven years than I have throughout the whole of this Kingdom, and especially during the past few years; and I am perfectly certain, from the attitude taken up by public audiences on this question, that the hopes and expectations which have been aroused by the other side have derived their strength, not because the country objected so much to the powers of the House of Lords, but because they entertained some objections to its constitution. I believe that the House of Lords could have pursued exactly the action which it has pursued, and could, perhaps, have intervened with even more effect upon the policy of Governments than it has been able to do, if the country had had more confidence than it now has in the way it is constituted. Therefore I feel, if there is an alteration to be made in the constitution of this House or in the relationship of the two Chambers and their powers, that the country will be more satisfied by an alteration in the constitution of this House than by an alteration of its powers.
The noble Viscount, Lord Morley, told us that the whole difficulty dates from the time that this House threw out the Budget, and he ventured to correct the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, on what he termed a point of history, by telling him that the situation had been provoked by this House throwing out the Budget, and was not due to the action of the Government of which he is a member. I am afraid that the mere fact of his making that statement would induce me to pay less regard to him than I generally would on matters of history, because if he will cast his mind back I think he must acknowledge that there has been a Constitutional question simmering ever since 1832, and it was certainly brought to a climax when the present Government came into power 558 in 1906 and the famous "C.B." Resolutions were brought before the House of Commons. The relationship of the two Houses became an acute question from the moment the Government assumed office in 1906, and the expressed intention of the noble Viscount and his colleagues since that time has been to provoke a conflict with this House. That conflict had to come, sooner or later. If it had not come over the Budget it would have come over something else, but in any case it has come, and the Party opposite have used the occasion in order to gain power by abusing—I do not refer to particular noble Lords who sit opposite, but certainly their friends throughout the country—the hereditary privileges of this House which they do not propose for one moment to change.
It is difficult to say that they have been dishonest in doing this. I have no doubt there are many on the opposite side who honestly believe that the Preamble of their Parliament Bill, which certainly has not been much amplified in the course of this debate, is a perfectly genuine thing. But it seems to me that they will find very great difficulty in going on with their reform proposals for the very same reason that they find great difficulty in indicating their position now, because they are not absolutely their own masters in the matter. They will find that exactly the same situation and the same methods which have led them to the Parliament Bill will drive them to measures which take them further. I can imagine that when the Parliament Bill is passed and this House, as no doubt it will, exercises its powers of delaying measures, there will arise a demand on the part of those who drive the Liberal Party for further action against the House of Lords. Whatever they may say about their intentions to reform the constitution of the House of Lords, they will be driven, as now, by those whose desire it is not to cripple, not to reform, but to abolish the House of Lords, out of existence—a policy which I do not believe noble Lords opposite for one moment support. I honestly believe that they are being driven by their supporters and the Parties which keep their Government in power to a policy which must end in the absolute abolition of the House of Lords.
The view of those who sit on this side of the House has been, from the moment 559 that this conflict arose, that the question was to be solved by reforming the constitution of this Chamber and not by altering its powers, and it is idle to pretend that there has been any inconsistency in our attitude. There has been, as naturally there should be, differences of opinion as to the exact Bill which should be brought in, or the exact lines which should be followed; but from the very first the attitude of those who sit on this side of the House has been that if the Constitutional question had to be touched—and I do not pretend that there was any keen desire to touch it—the right step to take was to bring in a Bill altering the constitution of this House so that it should command more confidence from the people of this country. The general view as to the functions of Second Chambers held by the Government is shown, I think, by the attitude they have adopted with regard to the Second Chambers of our Oversea Dominions. So thoroughly had the scheme of reform been foreshadowed that what is contained in this Bill shows scarcely any striking novelty. There is hardly a provision in it, with the exception of one, which has not been indicated in previous Resolutions awl debates in this House. As far as I can discover, the only outstanding feature which is really new is that of the electoral colleges, and if that is a new feature it surely is not one which can be considered as unfair to the Liberal Party.
The criticisms upon this Bill run upon two lines. It has been alleged that our proposals are not genuine. I do not believe that it would have been genuine not to have brought in these proposals. It has been alleged that they are complicated. Lord Curzon showed this afternoon that the composition of this House as it stands now is very complicated, and I venture to say that if you had had to put into a Bill a proposal constituting the present House of Lords, with its different sections of Peers sitting by heredity, Scottish and Irish representative Peers, Law Lords, the Bench of Bishops, and other categories, you would have required a much longer and more complicated measure than this Bill. The truth is that the moment you begin to write down a Constitution which has hitherto been unwritten you are bound to get into complications and difficulties. And if this scheme is complicated, where 560 is the simpler scheme which noble Lords opposite would put in its place?
It has been alleged that the scheme put forward by the noble Marquess is a partisan one, and does not give the Liberal Party a real chance of a majority. I do not wish to go to the extent of counting heads, which seems to be the Liberal idea of electing an impartial Assembly, but on the best computation by the promoters of the Bill the possible or probable Unionist majority at this moment would be something like eighteen, as I understand it. If the course of the debates on three of the measures which have been thrown out during recent years—the Education, the Licensing, and the Finance Bills—is followed it will be seen that a number of noble Lords sitting on this side of the House did not vote against those Bills but showed their independence by voting on the other side. The truth is that there is a spirit of independence in this House far greater than is ordinarily shown in the House of Commons, and you cannot count heads here as I am sorry to say you can in the House of Commons. Further, supposing that this Bill had been the law of the land in 1906 when the present Government assumed office, who can doubt for one moment that the Liberal Party would during that Parliament have had a huge majority even in this House? At any rate, if it is alleged that the Bill in its present form would produce a House of Lords predominantly Unionist, surely that is a matter for the Committee stage which noble Lords opposite could remedy by suggestions of their own. Then it is charged against this Bill that it does not introduce sufficient of the elective element. I, for one, deprecate the introduction of any more elections, and moreover, as an old Member of the House of Commons, I should infinitely regret any step by which this House derived its authority from exactly the same quarters as the House of Commons. Any such step would force this House into a position of more and more competition with the House of Commons, and would in my opinion make the situation more acute than it is now. These sort of criticisms against this Bill are in reality points which the Government, if they chose to do so, could meet in Committee.
In my opinion this Bill could only be brought forward as an alternative to the 561 Parliament Bill or as a supplement to another Parliament Bill. I cannot understand the attitude of those who, while believing in the double-Chamber system, say that it will be possible to pass both this Bill and the Parliament Bill. I, for one, do not care what the constitution of the House of Lords is if the Parliament Bill is to pass as it stands, line for line. I do not think it matters, and I sincerely hope, if the Government proceed with their announced intention of going on with their Parliament Bill and placing it on the Statute Book line for line, that the noble Marquess who introduced this Bill will not proceed with the Committee stage of his Bill. It is not worth while proceeding with the discussion of this Bill in Committee if the Government continue to maintain the attitude which they have hitherto maintained. When the whole of the powers of the House of Lords will have disappeared, as they will to all intents and purposes under the Parliament Bill, I think it would be an absolute waste of time for your Lordships to continue discussing the constitution of the House.
The only Second Reading argument which has been used in this debate against this Bill has been used by the Lord Chancellor. The noble and learned Lord's argument was used with his usual courtesy but with emphasis. His argument amounted to this, that having in the tourney unhorsed his enemy three times he is now going to exercise his right to cut his throat. The noble and learned Lord announced that very politely, but very firmly. If the Government of which the noble and learned Lord is a member are really going to carry out line for line and threat for threat that policy, I am perfectly certain they will find that they cannot make changes in the British Constitution for the temporary purpose of passing Liberal measures with merely the aid of their extremists without creating a powerful reaction in the opposite direction. I, for one, am anxious to see the end of the wrangles over this Constitutional question. I would like to see a settlement on broad lines between both Parties. If I vote for this Bill, as I shall if the House proceeds to a Division, I shall vote for it, not because I believe it to be in itself ideally desirable or right, not because I regard it as in any sense a final settlement of the question, not because I feel it will in any circumstances proceed to the Committee 562 stage and Third Reading, but because I believe it to be a consistent and an honest attempt to deal with this great Constitutional question, and because it provides a basis whereon, if the Government were so minded, both Parties could proceed after discussion to find an agreement.
My Lords, I do not know whether I am a "backwoodsman" or not; the Daily Mail says I am. But although I have been for a long time a member of your Lordships' House I think this is the very first occasion on which I have ventured to address your Lordships on other than a military subject, but as I intend to vote against this Bill I do not think I ought to give a silent vote. The position in which your Lordships are put by the introduction of this Bill seems to be a very peculiar one. I should like to give a little illustration to show what I mean. About 100 years ago within a few weeks the French were besieging the city of Badajoz. The siege was feeble. The garrison was strong and in good heart, and the Anglo-Portuguese force was within a few days march when the Spanish captain surrendered the town. In order to cover his weakness, he made one stipulation—that, the garrison should march out by the breach; but he had to make a breach himself for the garrison to march out. I venture to think that this is what the noble Marquess who introduced this Bill is asking you to do.
At this stage of the debate, I will not dwell on the objections which are made to your Lordships' House, nor will I dwell on the reasons why these objections are largely entertained, but I do believe very thoroughly that no objection can be made or is made against the composition of your Lordships' House which could not be made with equal force against the composition of the House as proposed by the noble Marquess in this Bill. We have a sort of olla podrida of members chosen in half-a-dozen different ways. The thing will happen as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, that the first time the reconstructed House interferes with some Radical measure the elected Members will get up and say that your hereditary Lordships represent nobody, that they represent the people, and that you have no business here at all. To compare very small things with great, I have had that thing happening in the Isle of Man during the past nine 563 years since I have been there. It has been the custom for the two Houses of the Legislature to sit together at certain times, and it is always thrown in the teeth of the Upper House that it is composed of officials, that the members represent nobody, and that the People's House represents the people, and therefore the members of the other House ought not to be there at all. That would happen in your Lordships' House if you ventured to interfere with what some Radical Government would choose for the moment to say was the desire of the people.
We have heard a good deal about the feelings of the people of this country, their objection to the hereditary principle, their wild desire to see your Lordships' claws clipped, and your House reformed in some sort of way. I do not believe there is any wild desire on the part of the people in this direction, and I am sure there is no Assembly in this country, except possibly some dilettante debating society, in which a majority of any sort could be obtained in favour of any such proposal as is seen in this Bill. In no country with a written Constitution could a change be made in the Constitution without a very considerable majority—two-thirds or three-fourths—and if the matter were put fairly and squarely before this country I do not believe a substantial majority of any sort could be obtained for interfering with your Lordships' House. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, said the last election took place entirely on the Veto Bill. We know how Liberal votes are obtained. One moment it is on the Veto Bill, at another it is on Home Rule, and the same thing will happen with regard to Welsh Disestablishment. They will say that the great heart of the people pines for the separation of this unfortunate Celtic race from the Church. I do not believe that the people of this country voted at the last election on the Veto Bill, which most of them had never seen and a very large number had not heard of, and I am sure none of them could have understood it if they had heard of it.
The Bill of the noble Marquess is what I may call the apotheosis of the Conservative Agents' policy. The Unionist Party has suffered most bitterly from what I call the Conservative Agents' policy. I believe nobody knows less about the feelings of the country than the average 564 Member of Parliament, whether Liberal or Conservative, because he sees the feelings of the people of the country, not through his own eyes, but through the eyes of his agent and his committee, who are, of course, extreme men, and naturally have a wild desire to snatch a few votes from the other side. Therefore they say to the Member, "You say something pleasant about female suffrage, and you will pinch ten votes from the other side." The thing is done; but you never get the ten votes, and you only disgust your own supporters. This Bill represents the Conservative Agents' policy carried to extremes. I have only one thing to say in conclusion. I have the strongest possible objection to being executed. I do not consider it is the height of political wisdom to respond to such an invitation as this on the part of our opponents, "Will you come out into the street and let me cut your throat?" If I am to be executed I shall mount the tumbril with fortitude, but I shall not order the tumbril myself, nor shall I make an assignation with Monsieur de Paris.
LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE
My Lords, when the noble Marquess introduced this Bill he informed us that it struck a death blow at the House of Lords as we had known it. As the noble Marquess uttered this sentence he must have felt that there, at any rate, he was certain to have the unanimous assent of his audience. I confess that when, two days after, I received a notice amongst my Parliamentary Papers informing me that on June 22 a boat would be in waiting at the steps of Chelsea Pier to convey members of your Lordships' House to Westminster Abbey, for one moment I suspected a deep-laid plot between the noble Marquess and His Majesty's Government and that the boat was meant to convey "ineligibles" for this House, not to Westminster Abbey, but to the Tower. As I listened to the speech by the noble Marquess I could not help thinking, in the first place, whether it was really necessary for him at the present juncture to introduce a Bill of this sort; and, in the second place, what were the reasons, in addition to those he stated, which made it necessary to take some action. In the third place, I was lost in amazement that he should retain for the new Chamber the name of the House of Lords—a name which has been used by our Radical opponents to heap contempt, opprobrium, 565 and contumely on your Lordships' position, individually and collectively; a name which the baser sort of Radical politician has not hesitated to use to insinuate that your Lordships are all responsible for the action which this Chamber takes in its judicial capacity; a name which, if I may borrow an expression made use of by the present Home Secretary, has served as a text for "clap-trap" on a thousand platforms throughout the country. And this in order to retain in the new Chamber 100 qualified members of the hereditary Peerage, nearly every one of whom would be certain to obtain nomination or election to whatever Second Chamber was set up, whether by the noble Marquess or still more so if it were brought into being by His Majesty's present advisers, for the very simple reason that they would be most anxious that those noble Lords should not obtain election to the popular Chamber.
As I say, I wondered whether it was necessary for the noble Marquess to introduce this Bill at this particular juncture. He could not have done so with the idea of appeasing the Radical Party. The speeches from the Ministerial Benches have shown how vain would be that hope if it had ever existed. But, apart from those speeches, we all know that, although His Majesty's Ministers express an academic wish to reform this House, no Radical in his heart of hearts wishes to reform it, and, by making it more representative, to make it stronger. They are willing to leave it as it is when they have stripped it of its powers and rendered the House from their point of view innocuous. This is not stated very openly, so I was rather surprised to see it stated in a Ministerial organ, the Westminster Gazette, which expresses what most Radicals feel but which most of them have the sense not to put into words. This organ said something to the effect that if the Peers could not reform themselves in a reasonable manner after an earnest and strenuous effort nobody else ought to try, and it was urged that with the suspensory Veto in operation this historic Assembly might just as well be left to its own devices. Of course, I do not say that your Lordships cannot reform yourselves, but I have mentioned this to show what is the opinion of the Radical Party with regard, to reform.
What is the view of the Unionist Party? There is no doubt that the Unionist Party do not think that your Lordships' House 566 needs reform because it is inefficient to carry out its duties under the Constitution. I think everybody agrees that the debates in this House are most excellent, and the Government have shown their appreciation of them by insisting in the Parliament Bill that your Lordships should criticise those financial measures upon which they will not allow you to vote, and the Private Bill business is so admirably conducted here that I need not waste your Lordships' time by referring to it further. Four and a-half years ago Mr. Balfour, speaking on the House of Lords as it is now constituted, said—It stands impregnable, not merely on its historic past, but upon its present utility.Why is there such a change? Why do we find the noble Marquess, instead of calling upon us to stand shoulder to shoulder to resist the onslaught of our opponents dealing what he himself calls the death blow to two Estates of the Realm—the Lords Spiritual and Temporal—who were said less than five years ago by the leader of our Party to stand in an impregnable position? The noble Marquess tells us that this course has been taken because His Majesty's Government have introduced the Parliament Bill, which would result in single-Chamber government. I fail to see what the Parliament Bill and the Bill which has been introduced by the noble Marquess have to do with each other. The Parliament Bill deals with the powers of this House; the Bill of the noble Marquess deals with its constitution; and it seems to me that His Majesty's Government would have placed Lord Lansdowne in a very awkward position if they had said—Certainly, proceed with your Bill; it is not all we wish, but we will accept it as far as it goes";if they had passed it through its various stages in the House of Commons and had then said, "Very well, we will pass it, but you pass our Parliament Bill." We know that that is not what Lord Lansdowne wishes. After all, when we complain that the Government have introduced a Bill doing away with the greater part of the powers of your Lordships' House without telling us what new Chamber they propose' to create, may we not at the same time complain that the noble Marquess has introduced a Bill dealing with the constitution of this House and does not tell us what powers he proposes to entrust to it? We have heard from Lord Curzon this afternoon more than we had gleaned before. 567 He told us about Joint Sittings, either of the whole House or two-thirds, but really it is almost impossible to judge what the effect of this would be without seeing a Bill.
Then we are told that in extreme cases we are to have recourse to the Referendum. The only Referendum Bill we have seen was introduced by a member of the late Government, but that Bill, I understand, does not obtain the approval of the noble Marquess. We have not been told whether the new Chamber is to retain its powers over finance, or to accept the Veto Bill with a saving clause as to "tacking." This seems to me one of the most important things for us to know, because in my view it is absolutely essential that any Second Chamber which might be created should have the same power over finance which your Lordships' House now possesses. I believe that the credit of the House of Lords never stood higher in the estimation of the country than in January, 1910. It had shown that it was a strong Chamber, because it took strong action and referred to the electorate a Bill which it believed to be injurious to the best interests of the country. Your Lordships know the result. There was a turnover of 200 votes in the House of Commons. The Irish Members were open to bargain for their votes, but it was known that they disapproved of the Finance Bill, and their constituents also disapproved. Therefore your Lordships' action secured the approval of the majority of the constituencies in the Kingdom. I, for one, expected that with 100 new Unionist Members in the House of Commons most of them would have striven to take the opportunity of explaining the reasons why they objected to the Budget, and also why their constituents had withdrawn their support from the Government. But what happened? The Budget Bill was rushed through under the closure with hardly a protest from the Unionist Benches, on the plea that the Government must be carried on. And when the Bill reached your Lordships' House I hoped that our leaders would have explained that the action of the House of Lords had been amply justified, and that they bound themselves, when the Unionist Party returned to power to repeal at any rate those portions of the Budget which proved most damaging to the industries of the country. When this did not happen I, for one, felt that the House of Lords was doomed, not because of the action they had taken with regard to the Budget, but because the Unionist Party 568 after the election did not back up the House of Lords in its action.
May I say a few words as to the Bill itself? It seems to me that it either goes too far or does not go far enough, and in view of the speeches which have been made during the past year by Unionist Members of Parliament I am inclined to think it does not go far enough. I have already expressed my disapproval of the retention of 100 hereditary Peers on the ground that they would be almost certain of election in any other Second Chamber which might be created; but in addition I would like to criticise the Schedule at the end of the Bill which states the qualifications for elective Peers. We profess to be a great commercial country. Our commerce is unrivalled, and yet noble Lords who may be called captains of industry cannot, as such, become qualified for election here. A noble Lord may have been chairman for many years of one of our great railway companies, such as the London and North Western or the Midland; he may have been a representative of great banking interests in the City—but as such he has no right to be elected to your Lordships' House. At the same time a Peer who had once been returned a Member of Parliament by a majority of ten in January and rejected by the same constituency in December of that year would have a right to stand for election.
I do not desire to bring the wrongs of Ireland into this debate. That subject has already been dealt with by the noble Earl, Lord Wicklow, who showed clearly that noble Lords from Ireland had not the same opportunity of becoming qualified for election to this House as is now enjoyed by those of your Lordships who live in England and Scotland. It is impossible for any of us to succeed, unless we live in the north of Ireland, in becoming Members of Parliament. We cannot take any part in county business, municipal affairs are out of the question, and it is impossible to become chairman of Quarter Sessions because by Statute that office must be occupied by a County Court Judge. One word, in passing, as to the clause, which does away with the rights of Irish and Scottish representative Peers. It seems to me that this is tampering with the treaties of Union between the three countries, and may prove a very dangerous precedent for future legislation.
569 As to the second category, Peers who are to be elected by electoral colleges, I must say it is rather infra dig. that members of a reformed Second Chamber should owe their election to members of the House of Commons. It seems to me it would put them in a false position. Here, again, I would like to say a word about Ireland. Under this Bill, as I understand it, twelve Lords of Parliament are to be elected by Ireland, of whom ten would be chosen by the Nationalist Members. If those ten were chosen by the Nationalist Members to the present House I think they would show their contempt for this House by electing what we call "corner boys." But the number might be filled up by the choice of ten members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, which would then have a larger representation in this House than the Church of this country. Much criticism and censure has been passed upon the Prime Minister for the intention which is attributed to him of, under certain circumstances, advising the Sovereign to create 300, or 400, or 500 Peers, but the Bill of the noble Marquess creates 220 at once, and every three years there is to be an additional fifty-five. It is doubtful what these Lords of Parliament are to be. I shall be told that, at any rate, they are not hereditary Peers. I have heard it suggested that when Mr. Jones becomes a Lord of Parliament he may become Lord. Grosvenor Square, but when his term of office expires he will revert to the appellation of plain Mr. Jones. The noble Earl, Lord Carrington, said last night that he did not pretend to understand women, but I feel confident that Lady Grosvenor Square will not be so ready as her distinguished husband to resume the name of Mrs. Jones. It seems to me that ere long the country will be over-run with a number of live Peers greatly exceeding in number those which His Majesty's Government propose to create.
Now I come to the last category, the nominated Peers, and here at last I am glad to say I find myself in cordial agreement with the noble Marquess who introduced this Bill. For it seems to me that if the House of Lords is to be done away with, it is only in a nominated Chamber that we can hope to secure a fair representation of Parties and men of sufficient independence to become members of that Second Chamber, and at the same time not to claim equal authority with the House 570 of Commons. I would go much further in this direction than does the noble Marquess. I would like to see an equal number of members of the nominated Senate oppointed by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, and all vacancies which occurred subsequently filled up by the Prime Minister of the day. It may be said that this would give us ere long a Radical majority in this House, but I candidly confess that I am not very much afraid of noble Lords who have been sent to this House by Radical Prime Ministers as long as they are here in their private capacity. It is only when they become Ministers that I consider them dangerous, and the reason for that is that the Government is ruled by its extreme members, and consequently noble Lords may, very rightly of course as members of the Government, have to defend and further measures in this House which they may have done their best to modify or stop altogether in the secrecy of the Cabinet.
When I look upon noble Lords on the Front Bench, I am reminded of a Scottish story. An old Scottish lady was very ill, when news arrived that her only son, a soldier, had been taken prisoner in one of the Chinese wars and been dragged to Peking, where he was languishing in durance vile, chained to another prisoner. This news was broken very gently to the old lady, but the only remark she made was, "God pity the chiel that's chained to our Davy." When I think of noble Lords on the Front Government Bench chained to a distinguished Statesman of the same name and dragged through the purlieus of Limehouse I am sometimes inclined to utter with respect to them the pious ejaculation of that Scottish dame. Up to the present time the Unionist Party has defended the House of Lords. If it ceases to do so, the House of Lords must go, but I, for one, should be very sorry if this were so and I think there are many who will agree with me, because I believe that this House has filled, and is still capable of filling, an honourable position in British history. But if it has to go, do not let us attempt to place new wine in old bottles or to dignify by an historic name a new Assembly less than one-third of whom would be hereditary Peers elected by other Peers, the majority of whom you will yourselves have declared to be unfitted to sit in the reformed Chamber.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
My Lords, I have three observations to make with regard to this Bill. As far as I have been able to follow the course of the debate, it appears to have been assumed that it is impossible to have real representation without election. I would ask if this is really the case. Does the present House of Commons, to give a concrete example, adequately represent all the different constituent elements that make up our national life? He would be a bold man who said that his experience led him to that opinion. Will any one pretend that the House of Commons more truly and completely represented the opinion of the country in regard to the various Education Bills that were introduced by His Majesty's Government than this House did? Were that question submitted to the constituencies in such a way that it was not complicated by other matters I have no kind of doubt what the answer would be. Let me draw your Lordships' attention to a passage in the first volume of Lord Beaconsfield's life. I think they are words which are well worthy the attention of this House—In our effort to get rid of representation without election, it will be fortunate if eventually we do not discover that we have only obtained election without representation.I come to my second point. Lord Curzon, if I heard him aright, spoke of the necessity of maintaining as far as possible the ancient traditions and historical continuity of your Lordships' House. There is one portion of your Lordships' House, the most ancient portion of it, which does not owe its seats in this House to hereditary right and which constitutes one of the Estates of the Realm—the Lords Spiritual. I venture very seriously to express the hope that when such a Bill as we are now considering comes to be considered in detail more regard may be given to that Estate of the Realm. The noble Marquess, in introducing this Bill, gave reasons why representatives of the Established Church of Scotland, of the Roman Catholic body, and of the great Nonconformist communities would not, under the provisions of this Bill, find seats in this House as it is proposed to reconstitute it. I was unable to see the force of the noble Marquess's reasoning. It seems to me that if there is to be such a reconstituted House as has been suggested to us, it would be desirable that the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the President of the 572 Wesleyan Conference, the Archbishop of Westminster and others should find seats in that House. They would represent great interests, and I am at a loss to understand why there should be an objection to such persons finding, a seat in this House because—I am not mentioning in this Connection the Archbishop of Westminster—they would individually only sit in that House for the period of one year. What can it signify, so long as they represent the bodies with which they are connected, whether it is the same or different individuals who discharge that duty?
In the third place, I desire to endorse what was so admirably said by the Duke of Northumberland in his speech yesterday. What can we predicate of public opinion except this, that what it is to-day it will not be to-morrow? Is there anything in this world more changeable or more uncertain than public opinion? That being the case, I hope that when we come to consider the details, either now or later, of such a Bill as is now before your Lordships' House, we shall consider much less the advice of political organisers and what may be thought advantageous at the next election, and a great deal more what may assist in the formation of a really strong Second Chamber, and what we believe to be for the real and permanent interests of this country.
§ LORD CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Newton, described the Resolutions of this House as being in the nature of an I O U, whereas the Bill now before your Lordships' House was in the nature of current coin of the realm. By voting for the Second Reading of this Bill I feel that your Lordships are laying upon the table coin of the realm without having any idea what you are going to get in return. Personally, I would be prepared to support the Bill of the noble Marquess or any other measure which might be brought forward if it offered that solution of the question which I and many others in this House think is the only possible solution, and the only solution worth striving after—that is, that there should be, of some kind or other, a strong Second Chamber that could take that place in the Constitution of this country which a Second Chamber, according to all accepted theories, should occupy. The Government, as far as I suppose any of us know, intend to force 573 the Parliament Bill, if possible, through this House, and place it upon the Statute-book. If that is done, there is little or no use in proceeding with the Bill of the noble Marquess, because when that is done there will be nothing left of the House to reconstitute at all, nothing, at least, in the opinion of those who take the view that the Constitution of the country is worth fighting or contending for.
The Government have started upon a violent revision of the Constitution. I should like to ask them if they have really thought of all that it means to a great many of us? They are substituting in this country for an unwritten Constitution, to which we had been accustomed, a Constitution which will be in every sense of the word a written Constitution, and in so doing they are opening up a vista of troubles in the future, the end of which it is very difficult to foretell. As long as the Parliament Bill, with all its potentialities of single-Chamber government, lies before us, I hesitate to see the advantage of 574 supporting a measure which does not first of all deal with that fundamental question. It is the duty of the Government to look upon this change in the Constitution, not from a small Party point of view, but from the point of view of the good of the country. Instead of that, the present Government are abolishing the Constitution for some momentary advantage which they conceive may be useful to their Party politics. For these reasons I feel that I ought to know what we are going to get for the price, and it is a very large price, that the members of this House are being asked now to pay. Before I know that, I hesitate to pay it. But I would gladly pay it if I could feel that I was assuring to the country the inestimable boon of a powerful, efficient, and popular Second Chamber.
Debate again adjourned, to Monday next.
§ House adjourned at half-past Eleven o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.