§ Debate on the Motion for the Second Reading resumed (according to Order).
THE EARL OF LYTTON
My Lords, the debate on this Bill has now proceeded over three days. It has been discussed, I believe, by every section of the House, and in the peculiar circumstances I think the noble Marquess may be very well satisfied with the reception which has been given to his Bill. I say in the peculiar circumstances because the Bill itself is one which is not calculated to arouse very great enthusiasm. The noble Marquess who introduced it will hardly have expected, I think, that his supporters should have risen one after another in their places and thanked him for asking them to surrender their traditional privileges and to give up their Constitutional rights in the future; but I am bound to say that it appears to me there has been a greater readiness to sacrifice personal considerations to the wider interests of an effective Second Chamber amongst the supporters of the noble Marquess than has been shown on the other side of the House. The support to this Bill, it is true, may have been grudging; it has been regretful support; but that fact is only further proof of the extent of the sacrifices demanded of your Lordships by this Bill and of the disinterested nature of the support which has been given to it.
There is another circumstance, I think, which tends to create a somewhat unreal atmosphere about this debate. As every one knows, the Constitutional difficulty which we are discussing is a double question, a two-fold question, and yet we are never able to discuss the Bill as a whole. It is always given to us for our consideration piecemeal; it has never been submitted as a whole to either House of Parliament; it has not even been submitted in its entirety to the country. We had, first of all, a few weeks ago, a very interesting debate upon the Reference to the People Bill of Lord Balfour of Burleigh. That was only one feature of this difficulty. Now we are discussing the Bill of the noble Marquess, and to-morrow I believe we are to enter upon a discussion of a third Bill, that promoted by His Majesty's Government, which again deals with only one side of the question. But, my Lords, it was the case 636 of the Government that owing to the particular composition and constitution of this House, and in consequence of the action of this House in recent years, it was desirable to limit its powers for the future, and to accomplish that object the Government have drafted their Parliament Bill. But, in addition to curtailing the powers of this House as at present constituted, it is admittedly part of the Government's policy to reform the constitution of the House. It was on that policy as a whole that they went to the country, and for that policy as a whole that they were returned with a majority to Parliament. Yet since the General Election we have never had any indication of the policy of the Government on the second half of their proposals.
The Government told the country that it was desirable, first of all, to limit the powers of this House, and, in the second place, to proceed to a reconstitution of the Second Chamber. We know well enough what are their proposals with regard to the first part of their policy, but it is because of this unbroken silence with regard to the second part that this Bill has been introduced. That, I take it, is the justification of the introduction of this Bill, and even now, when the question of the reform of the constitution of this House is before your Lordships, when we are engaged in discussing this Bill—even now, though the debate has proceeded over three days, that silence on the part of the Government remains unbroken, and we are still without any indication of what is their policy with regard to the composition either of the House of Lords or of some alternative Second Chamber. The noble Viscount who leads the House said, on the first day of the discussion of this Bill, that in his opinion it was useless to discuss the composition of this House until we had determined what were to be its powers. I think that was what the noble Viscount said—that the settlement of the powers of this House must come before any consideration of its constitution. But surely, my Lords, that is an inversion of the natural order of events. Surely you cannot determine what ought to be the powers of any Assembly until you know how that Assembly is to be composed. Even now I do not think that any one is very clear what are the powers which the Government intend to give to their reformed Second Chamber if and when the Preamble of their Parliament Bill is carried out.
637 There have been since the General Election speeches made by members of the Government which have only increased our uncertainty upon this head, and I should like to ask the noble Viscount who leads the House a question, and if he could answer it I think it would tend very much to clear up the difficulty which is in our minds. Is it the intention of the Government, when their Parliament Bill has been carried into law, that it should apply in the future, not only to this House as at present constituted, but to any reformed Chamber which may take its place according to the Preamble of their Bill? That is a question upon the answer to which I think a great deal depends, and I hope that when we get another speech from the Government Bench later this evening we shall have a definite answer to that point—namely, supposing the Preamble of the Parliament Bill be carried out, whether, when the Government bring forward their scheme for reforming the constitution of this House they intend that that reformed House should never exercise anything more than the limited Veto which they are applying to the present House of Lords by the Parliament Bill. The noble Marquess who introduced this Bill made it perfectly clear that the House which his Bill would establish would be free to exercise, I will not say an absolute Veto, for the noble Marquess himself pointed out that that was not claimed even by your Lordships to-day, but free to exercise at any rate full legislative powers. It is only on that condition that this Bill can receive any consideration at all.
I imagine that if your Lordships were under the impression that the House which would be constituted under this Bill was never to exercise anything more than the limited Veto offered to us by the Government, there is not one of you who would vote for its Second Reading or give it any support at all. It is the intention, I think, of those who support this Bill to call into existence a House which in their opinion would be better fitted to exercise the same functions which are at present exercised by your Lordships' House—a House which would exercise those powers, we hope, with more impartiality and with greater authority, but nevertheless which would exercise the same powers, subject only to a provision for a Joint Sitting between the two Houses of Parliament in certain cases of difference, and a reference to the people in certain other cases of more important differences 638 between the two Houses. I think I am right in saying that it is the intention of all those who support the Bill which we are now discussing that, subject to those two limitations, the Second Chamber which this Bill would set up would be free to exercise full legislative powers in the future. From that point of view I do think that this Bill is worthy of consideration. I do not feel, any more than many other speakers who have taken part in the debate, that the Bill is perfect in all its details, but I hold that a Bill brought forward as this one is by the Opposition Leader must be regarded rather as a declaration of policy on the part of the Opposition than as a final legislative proposal, and it is as a declaration of policy that I welcome the introduction of this Bill and that I propose to consider it for a moment.
In many respects I cannot help feeling that the Bill is unnecessarily complicated in its details. Another defect seems to me to be that it does not proceed upon any very intelligible principle. For instance, it is difficult to understand upon what principle the term of twelve years has been fixed. Why is it that the members of the reformed House are to sit for twelve years any more than any other period? Why, again, is one section of this House to be composed of 100 members and another section of 120 members? There does not seem to be any very clear principle which has determined these particular figures. The machinery for electing the Lords of Parliament is somewhat complicated and difficult to understand, and even the schedule of qualifications at the end of the Bill is, I imagine, put forward rather more as a suggestion and as a basis than as any hard-and-fast rule which we have to accept. Into all these details it is not necessary to enter at this particular moment, but I cannot help feeling that when we come to a final solution of the problem of the constitution of our Second Chamber it will be desirable, if possible, to discover some rather more simple method than that which is proposed by this Bill.
In order to consider the Bill effectively it is necessary, I think, to understand what is the problem with which this Bill seeks to deal. Why is it that we are discussing the reform of this House at all at this moment? What is the complaint brought against your Lordships' House, and which has necessitated the introduction of this Bill? The complaint is not that this House is com 639 posed of Peers. We have the authority of the Lord Chancellor that that is not the complaint which is brought against your Lordships' House. In his speech on this Bill the other night the Lord Chancellor said—No one questions the great talent and distinction in this House, or its illustrious past. It is not the case that individual Peers are looked upon with dislike in the country; on the contrary, I believe they are popular and well liked all over the country.I agree with the noble and learned Lord, though I cannot help noticing, in passing, that his language is very different from that which has been used so much lately by many of his colleagues. The real complaint against this House is contained in the next words of the noble and learned Lord's speech—The people of this country are naturally very tolerant of authority, very tractable, and do not care very much whether there are hereditary duties or not provided that they secure what they think is fair play.That, my Lords, is the whole complaint that has been brought against this House in the past. We shall be commencing tomorrow a discussion upon the proposals of the Government, and we shall have an opportunity then of examining their proposals for establishing fair-play between the two Houses of Parliament.
But let us for a moment consider the Bill from that point of view. The real complaint against this House in the past has been this, that its numbers were too large for effective business; and, secondly, there was a complaint against the proportion in which the political views of your Lordships are distributed in this House. I should have thought that the remedy for those two evils was very obvious, and might have been provided by a somewhat more simple procedure than that which is laid down in this Bill. The obvious remedy for the first evil is to reduce the numbers of your Lordships' House. That is a remedy provided in the Bill, and upon that particular feature of it I think very little criticism has been made. The Bill of the noble Marquess proposes to reduce the membership of this House to about 350. I have heard very few criticisms of that figure, although there have been some suggestions from the other side of the House that even that number was too large. Whether it be too large or too small is a detail for Committee stage discussion. At any rate, this Bill does meet the first objection to the large numbers of 640 the House. The second object of this Bill is to equalise Party representation in this House, and all the criticism against the Bill has been directed to this second point, and it is just upon this second point—the machinery whereby the equalisation of Parties in this House is sought—that the Bill appears to me to be unnecessarily complicated, and I am even doubtful whether, with all its complications, the Bill would really achieve the desired result.
I would suggest that by a simpler method a real equalisation of Parties might be obtained. I would suggest that once you have decided what should be the number who should sit in this House, the leaders of the two political Parties of the day should, in the first instance, select an equal number of Lords of Parliament to be represented in the Second Chamber, and that subsequently all vacancies in the representation should be filled up on the recommendation of the Prime Minister of the day by the nomination of the Crown. If that were done, we could not hear any more of those phrases such as "loaded dice" and the other phrases which have come from the opposite side of the House and which are directed against this Bill. Such a procedure would be simple, and it would give an equal chance to both the great political Parties of the day at all times, not only of getting their Bills passed, but of getting their Bills rejected, because there are two features in this question, one of which is perpetually neglected by the Government. They tell us that they object not merely to the rejection of Liberal measures by your Lordships but to the passing of Conservative measures by your Lordships also, though that is a feature of the question for which they have never attempted to provide any remedy at all. It is obviously out of place to develop at this moment in any detail a scheme of that sort. I merely mention it in order to say that I should greatly prefer some simple machinery of that kind, either to that which is set up in this Bill, or, still more, to the purely elected body which is so often suggested in various quarters of the House. But in any case, whether this Bill be accepted in all its details or whether some other scheme be provided for establishing an effective Second Chamber, I do hope that it may be possible to provide that those who sit in the Second Chamber shall sit there for life and not for any limited period, because it is only by such a tenure you can secure that real 641 independence which is an essential characteristic, an essential feature, of any Second Chamber.
It is inevitable that a question so large so grave, and so difficult as the reform of the Constitution of this country should arouse differences of opinion and call forth many suggestions, but surely that is a reason for proceeding slowly and cautiously in the matter, surely that is a reason for trying to secure only the minimum of change which is necessary to meet admitted defects in our present Constitution. Whether this Bill be perfect in all its details or not, no one, I think, can deny that it marks a stage, and a very important stage, in the Constitutional development of this country, and the chief value to be attached to it in my mind is the indication which it gives of the spirit in which your Lordships are prepared to approach this question of reforming the Constitution. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack paid a well-deserved tribute the other night to the spirit which had been indicated in this Debate. All those who have spoken on this Bill, even those who have criticised it most severely, have admitted that it marks a great advance upon any-thing which has been suggested in the past. Your Lordships passed last year a number of Resolutions on the motion of the noble Earl on the Cross Benches (Lord Rosebery). Those Resolutions were attacked at the time on the ground that they were vague and indefinite, and because of those criticisms I think your Lordships were bound, if you were in earnest in the matter, to fill in the details and give some indication of the lines on which you were proposing to proceed, and I regard this Bill as a frank and courageous attempt to fill in the details of those Resolutions and to put before the country a definite policy. I do not think it has been suggested that this Bill could settle the Constitutional question, but its introduction at this moment and its acceptance by your Lordships' House—I hope it will be accepted—will make the solution of that question easier in that day when a Government can be found to deal with the question as a whole; not in the interests either of individual privileges or of the political Party of the hour, but in the interests of the permanent needs of the country; and when that day comes the Government, approaching the question on those lines, will have, I think, to seek a solution, not by the force of a composite majority, but upon lines 642 which will secure the consent of all Parties in the State.
LORD SAYE AND SELE
My Lords, I hope you will not be offended when I say that the Benches opposite remind me of a kaleidoscope. Looking through it during the First Reading of this Bill, and indeed at this moment, one sees a harmonious and beautiful picture; but as one turns it round during successive speeches little bits of glass seem to be falling about—brother upon brother, David upon Jonathan, may I say Willoughby de Broke upon Newton, Raglan upon Bedford—and this, as it seems to me, because all along the Conservative line there has been a general playing with the hereditary principle.
Look at some of the little bits of glass as they fall and make new pictures. Lord Bathurst protested with all his strength against the Bill. He had spoken to many noble Lords about the Bill, but had not met one who en bloc approved of it. Many noble Lords, he said, were going to vote for the Bill because they believed the noble Marquess to be a safe man to follow. Lord St. Levan said they realised that the people were not prepared to support the hereditary principle. Lord Lamington questioned whether the hereditary principle was as unpopular as it was the fashion to make out. He sometimes doubted whether there was any half-way house between the hereditary and the elective principle. The Earl of Wicklow was amazed that such proposals should be submitted by the noble Marquess. Lord Faber said most of them would prefer to leave the House of Lords in its present condition. Public opinion, so far as he could gather, was for better or worse, against the hereditary principle. He deplored the fact. The Duke of Bedford did not believe that the creation of such an Assembly would be possible save on a purely elective principle. Lord Raglan intended to vote against the Bill—a Conservative Agents' policy.
So much for these lesser lights. But what does Lord Newton say? He says that noble Lords opposite have burnt their boats. I cordially agree with him. You have burnt your House-boat, and now you are running up and down the bank trying to let riverside lodgings, varying the monotony with an occasional dive into the 'flames to 643 try and save your valuables—some antique, some modern, but mostly inherited from your fathers. But, lastly, we come to the most pathetic picture of all. In the middle of the House-boat, in solitary grandeur, sits my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke awaiting the end, painting pictures of what might have been, and feeding the flames chiefly with members of His Majesty's Government. My Lords, I must point the moral. With all possible respect to the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, this Bill is moulded on the policy of Ananias. I do not allude to that gentleman's inability to give a correct version of the day's doings, but to his unfortunate habit of keeping a bit up his sleeve. This Bill, whether you look at its qualifications or whether you look at its proposed electorate, reeks of the hereditary principle. You have here a Bill professing to give effect to our pious Resolutions on the hereditary principle, professing to correct the unfairness between Parties, yet retaining the hereditary principle and retaining a permanent Conservative majority in your Lordships' House.
I cannot conclude without a word regarding the speech of the noble Earl on the Cross Benches (Lord Rosebery). The outpourings of his stricken soul were as usual eloquent if unconvincing. There seemed to be going on in his mind a duel between the Peers' Bill and the Parliament Bill. His cry of anguish seemed to be—Fools to the right of me, knaves to the left of me, I'm one in six hundred. With his usual astuteness he recognised that the Peers' Bill was armed with blank and the Parliament Bill with ball, and, of course, he would vote against both of them. Who are the people, he says, 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 have no quarrel with the noble Earl over his vain questionings. He may ask what questions he likes, but I would that he had kept his answer within the area of his stricken soul. He linked up the answer with followers of His Majesty's Government, and said he supposed that the Government had some of their followers ready to come to hand and do what would be required of them under the Parliament Bill.
644 Being a hearty supporter of the Parliament Bill believing it to be the only solution of the present difficulties and a freedom withal from the very abject and degraded existence of which the noble Earl speaks, I ask myself. What is this that he calls us? A sycophant is a flatterer. May I remind the noble Earl that with the flatterers—that is, near by—were busy mockers of an honest attempt to find a fair way for social reform from yonder to yonder—social reform pausing, it may be, for a while, to receive hospitality at your Lordships' hands, then passing forward. What, in the next place, is an acolyte? An acolyte is a subordinate officer in the Romish Church—one who slings incense. I say at once that I would rather sling incense over the Parliament Bill from the Back Benches of the Liberal Party than nonsense from any other part of your Lordships' House.
But, my Lords, enough. I do not wish to quarrel with the noble Earl. Indeed, I sympathise with him—poised on a Cross Bench thinking of one thing, and, as he told us, talking of another. When he called us acolytes did he not intend to call us aconites?—pretty little flowers that bloom in the backwoods. In a few days, when the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack gives the command, Ayes to the left by the Bar, we will strew the path with these little yellow flowers, and flowers that bloom in the spring will have something to do with the case of the Parliament Bill.
§ LORD KILLANIN
My Lords, I should feel grateful to your Lordships if you would allow me a few minutes in which to state that, although I do not believe I am a reactionary, and while I consider that some changes might well be carried out in the composition of this House, I shall, if the House goes to a Division, vote against this Bill. I shall also endeavour to show your Lordships why I consider that it will be dangerous and most unwise for this House to give a Second Reading to this Bill and thus not only endorse the principles of the main propositions which the Bill contains, but agree to the many inferences which can legitimately be drawn from your action in giving it a Second Reading. I am not going into the merits, or the demerits, as I think them, of the particular proposals in this Bill. This is not the occasion for doing so, and after all, the merits or the demerits of the particular proposal is not the important point.
645 The important aspect of the question to-day is the effect and the consequences of your Lordships giving a Second Reading to this Bill. In my opinion, the certain and inevitable consequences will be ruinous to the good name and prestige of the existing House. I think it will be disastrous to the utility and to the authority of this House if your Lordships agree to the Second Reading of this Bill and to the principles which it contains. May I briefly put my case by asking and answering one or two questions? What is this House? Who are we who are members of it? What does this Bill propose to do to this House, and what will be the consequences of that action? First, what is this House to-day? I am not going into its ancient history, in which so many of the ancestors of your Lordships have played a conspicuous part. I mean, what is the practical position of this House to-day in the established Constitution of the country? It is one of the three Estates of the Realm. It is one of the two Houses of the Legislature. It is a component part of the established Constitution of this country. And who are we who are members of it? We are the trustees. It is in our hands that the powers to guide this House, to manage that trust, properly rest. We are not here of our own accord. Our powers here are not our private property. They are public property, and we are public trustees to protect and manage this great trust. Therefore I submit to your Lordships that while we hold that trust, and while it seems we are going to continue to hold it for some years, we should do nothing which would injure the good name or the authority of this House.
Then what does this Bill propose to do? In the first place, let me say that this Bill will do nothing—that is partly my objection to it—because it is not contemplated that it is going to become law. Opposed as I am to the Bill I might conceivably be argued into voting for it if I thought it was going to become law. It is not suggested by the noble Marquess that this Bill is to become law in the immediate future. Therefore the question is, What does this Bill say of this House? It says that six-sevenths of the existing House ought to be deprived of their trust—that 400 members of this House ought to be declared by Statute ineligible to hold such a trust, and that a few members, about 100, I believe, may perhaps he retained in order, as I see it said, to add an 646 element of weakness to the new House. If your Lordships give a Second Reading to this Bill, that is the verdict you will have passed on this House. That is the condemnation, the irrevocable condemnation, of the House that you will have put on record if you give this Bill a Second Reading. And what will be the consequence of doing that? The consequence will be that you will have utterly discredited this House and deprived it of its repute, its authority, and its utility, and in my opinion it will be well nigh impossible from this day forth for this House to do anything of importance where there is any opposition in the matter. That will be the consequence of giving a Second Reading to this Bill. Yet in the same breath I hear it said that the House which you will thus have condemned and defamed is to do a lot of extremely brave things to-morrow and the day after—it is to deal with the Veto Bill, with Home Rule, and with Welsh Disestablishment. Why, we will not be able to lift a little finger much less deal with any of these questions if we have thus condemned ourselves.
I do not believe that noble Lords in this House agree with that condemnation. I doubt whether any noble Lord, even the noble Marquess, agrees with that condemnation. But to those who do agree with it, and above all to those who do not, I say, Ought we to pass this condemnation on the House as long as we hold our trust? Is there any excuse for passing it unless the noble Marquess really foresees that he is going to hand over this trust to new trustees? If the noble Marquess can tell us that he foresees that position in the immediate future, then I think there might be a case possibly for this Bill, though I am against it on its merits. I submit to your Lordships that the only justification for agreeing to this Bill is that you contemplate and can foresee that it will become law. The noble Marquess when introducing this Bill may possibly have thought that it would be accepted by the Government and become the law of the land—it or some modification of it. I venture very respectfully to ask the noble Marquess whether his attitude towards this Bill has been in no way changed by the fact that the Government have refused to adopt it. Lord Curzon said he was greatly disappointed with the reception that the Bill had received from the Government—the unfriendly, I think he called it, and uncompromising attitude that the Government had adopted with 647 reference to it. I respectfully suggest to the noble Marquess, does that not affect at all his attitude towards this Bill? Inasmuch as he sees that it is not going to become law, inasmuch as he sees that this House will have to go on and fulfil most important duties, would it not be wiser and better now not to press this Bill further, but to drop it or let it be adjourned?
I am one of those who thought that this House made a mistake in accepting the Resolutions of the noble Earl on the Cross Benches. I think the House got somewhat into a hole over having accepted them, but I see no good now in getting deep down into a pit, which I believe we will be doing if we give a Second Reading to this Bill. I believe that this House has suffered for the last fifteen months in repute and in authority owing to the fact that we have been living all this time with these ropes of Rosebery Resolutions round our necks. The noble Marquess thinks it is a consequence of having passed these Resolutions that he must now lead us to the scaffold. I would agree with the noble Marquess if the third stage was likely to come off, and if the hangman was to come forward from the Government side and remove the plank and hang us. I would agree then. But I strongly object to being condemned and defamed and exhibited to public gaze on the scaffold but left unhanged, and told into the bargain that one ought to be an extremely important and useful citizen and legislator during the next few years.
I constantly see it said that this House is dead. The noble Earl on the Cross Benches announced to the country some mouths ago that this House was dead. I see this Bill referred to as a death-blow. I hear our policy described as suicidal. What I object to is that it is none of these things. We are not dead, but we are going to be buried alive, and that is a very much worse fate both for ourselves and for the public weal. Give a dog a bad name, but, if you do, hang it. Don't tie a rope round its neck, don't tether it, don't revile it, and then when you have done that tell this noble hound that it is to run Home Rule to earth and tear it to pieces, and even to vomit the Veto Bill. For these reasons I venture to ask seriously and earnestly but respectfully as an insignificant member of your Lordships' House, Cannot the noble Marquess, inas- 648 much as the Government have adopted this attitude to the Bill, see his way not to press this matter any further? If he does press it, I shall feel bound to vote against the Second Reading, and I earnestly ask your Lordships to take a similar course, because if you give the Bill a Second Reading you will, I believe, be guilty of an action which will be fatal, not only to the future of this House, but to its present effectiveness as a House of the Legislature of this country.
My Lords, I regret to find myself in opposition to the noble Marquess who has for so long led this side of the House and for whom personally I have the very sincerest affection and regard, but the matter is so serious a one that, loth as I am to do so, I feel I must rise to oppose him on this occasion. I may say that I agree with the speech of the noble Earl on the Cross Bench, Lord Rosebery. I was unfortunately unwell and not able to be here to hear his speech, but I have read it with great interest, and I thoroughly agree with him that this was not a Bill for any member on this side of this House to bring before the country. It is a Bill that could not possibly be passed into law unless it were introduced by a Government, and a strong Government, too, with a majority not only in this House, but in the other House as well. For that reason I sincerely regret that the noble Marquess has introduced this Bill. We have the Resolutions which were adopted by your Lordships and are known as the Rosebery Resolutions. We have also the further Resolutions which the noble Marquess himself introduced and which were adopted by your Lordships. I would like to ask the noble Marquess why he has gone so far beyond those Resolutions? This Bill is, I believe, the most revolutionary that has ever been introduced into your Lordships' House, either from this side or the other side of the House.
I have heard a great number of so-called Second Reading speeches, but in this debate, with the exception of the speech of the noble Earl on the Cross Benches and that of the noble Viscount who leads the House, the Bill itself has not been criticised. I think it is only right that noble Lords who sit on this side of the House and those who sit on the back benches of the opposite side should realise 649 the position in which they are asked to place themselves. The first proposition in the Bill of the noble Marquess is that 100 Peers should be elected out of some 300 existing Peers with certain qualifications. That would leave some 370 of your Lordships not only without a qualification to be elected as a member of this House, but in a worse position than the meanest of the electors who return members to the House of Commons. Every noble Lord in this House has at the present moment an equal right to sit and vote in this House. Sheer ability, and possibly opportunity, has put certain noble Lords on the Front Benches. There are many of you who, if you had had the opportunity, might have been occupying an equally important position, but circumstances have been adverse. The result is that you remain "backwoodsmen," while the Front Benches are occupied by noble Lords who, I am sure, are well worthy of their position. But look at your own position. As I have said, 100 are to be elected out of 300 with a qualification; the remaining 350, or whatever it may be, have only the power to vote for the 100. You are therefore in a worse position than the 300 qualified Peers, because you cannot be elected as a member of this House by your brother Peers. You may be elected in either of the other two categories provided in the Bill, but you are so much the worse in respect to this House. You are, as I have said, in a far worse position than the meanest elector to the House of Commons, and for this reason. I am, of course, only alluding to the first category. You can only elect; you cannot be elected; whilst the meanest voter for a Member of Parliament can not only vote, but can, if he wishes, stand for a seat in the House of Commons. Therefore, if your Lordships accept this Bill you are putting yourselves in a worse position in regard to this category.
There is another point. No doubt on the first election noble Lords who sit on the Front Benches and those who are prominent in your Lordships' House will be elected. But what is to happen afterwards? In the course of four or five years one-third of that 100 will have to retire, and the Whips will send your Lordships—that is, the 350 plus the remaining 200 who are not elected—a notice to say that these gentlemen are very honourable gentlemen and very fitted to sit in the House of Lords, or whatever 650 you may call it, and they will trust that you will vote for them. But for how long will your Lordships continue to take an interest in voting for Peers knowing that you have no possible chance of being elected yourselves? Let me give your Lordships an example of what happens every Parliament. At every Parliament there are sixteen Scottish Peers elected to sit to represent Scotland, and there are, roughly speaking, 100 electors for the Scottish Peers to Parliament. How many of those vote? I have stood for election for something like twenty-five years, and I have never in the whole course of my life, to the best of my recollection, known more than forty-two votes given for any Peer at that election. Therefore your Lordships will see that not one-half take the interest which they ought to in the election of Scottish Peers. The noble Marquess himself is a representative of a very honourable and ancient Scottish family and has a vote for the Peers of Scotland. I have constantly written to him, in common with other Scottish Peers, asking him to do me the honour of giving me his vote and support, but he has never to my knowledge responded to that invitation. I do not think he has ever troubled himself to vote at the election of Scottish Peers. I do not wish to labour that point. I merely quote it as an example of how, if you have an election where your Lordships have no possibility of being elected, the whole thing will be apt to be turned into a caucus for the 100 who are in. That is what I believe will be the result—the 100 will be elected, and will prove to be an absolute caucus in the House of Lords. I would far sooner see the whole principle of heredity done away with. If we have lost the support of the country, which I do not for one moment believe—Scotland is the most Radical country in the whole of the world, and I do not believe that even Scotland is against the House of Lords one tittle—but if we have lost the support of the country, better let the whole thing go rather than simply retain 100 nominal members in this House. I think it would be the height of folly. It would be the ruin of the whole thing.
I come now to the second category of elections to your Lordships' House. There is a tentative suggestion that there should be certain electoral groups in various parts of the country, that these groups should be made into electoral colleges, and that the Members of Parliament in those groups should elect a certain number of members 651 of this House. All I say to that is that I do not agree that the members of the House of Commons are the best people to elect. If you give them this opportunity, you will find it very hard to get them to resign the position which you have given them. Therefore it is most important, before this Bill leaves your Lordships' House, that you should be absolutely certain about the effect of the working of this second category.
I pass to the Schedule. I hate this Schedule. I hate your qualifications. Why, I ask your Lordships, should a member who has been a week or a month or a year—there is no limit—who has been either a long or a short time in the House of Commons and then succeeds his father and becomes a qualified representative in this House—why should he have a better right to sit here than a distinguished soldier, or anybody like that? I have in my mind a distinguished soldier in this House who, I believe, has no qualifications under this Bill. He is one of the most distinguished soldiers who has ever served in the British Army. I do not know whether he is here to-day, but I trust he will forgive my mentioning his name—I refer to Lord Dunmore. He has gained the greatest prize that a soldier can win—the Victoria Cross. He has been through several campaigns with the greatest distinction. His father died, and he succeeded. Well, he has not the qualification under this Bill, although he is a major in his regiment, to sit in your Lordships' reformed House. Why should he not have? He is a leader of men, a proved man. Yet a man who has lived in the atmosphere of the House of Commons for a year or so is regarded as competent to be elected to your Lordships' reformed House in preference to one who has proved himself to be a great man and a great leader.
I would like to see how this matter of qualification is going to work out. If your Lordships will look at the Bill and the Schedule, you will see that the whole of the qualified persons are officials. There are one or two qualifications for soldiers and sailors—I do not propose to read them; your Lordships know them very well. There are Cabinet Ministers and—officials. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Under-Secretaries, Board of Trade Secretaries, and—officials; Lords Lieutenant, and officials; High Commissioners, and officials. Then we come to members of the 652 Privy Council, members of the House of Commons, and officials again. And so on. So that the whole of your qualified persons are officials, ex-members of the House of Commons, and a certain limited number of noble Lords who have obtained high military or naval distinction. What is going to happen when you come to elect them? You must bear in mind that less than one-third of your Lordships' House is to be elected by your Lordships, and two-thirds are to be elected from outside. In twenty or thirty years, how many of the noble Lords who presently sit on these Benches as officials will still sit, and who will be the officials who will take their places? One-third of the members of your Lordships' reformed House will be your elected nominees; two-thirds will be those elected from outside. Will it not follow that in twenty or thirty years' time your officials' qualifications will have disappeared? That will be the result of your electing under that category.
Finally, I say I do not like the Bill. I am stoutly opposed to it. But I will make a very strong appeal to the whole of the noble Lords who sit on this side of the House and behind the Front Bench. I know that there are many of them who are anxious to vote against the Bill. I appeal to them most strongly not to do so. I think that at this moment it would be a great mistake that we should show dissensions—if there are dissensions—between ourselves and our leaders. I appeal to noble Lords on this side not to vote against the Bill, but I also appeal in the strongest way that I can to the noble Marquess, if we let the Second Reading of this Bill go through, not to continue to press it.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
My Lords, I have listened to the speeches which have been delivered during this debate with deep interest, but with some misgivings and also with some feelings of regret. I should like, quite briefly, to tell your Lordships my views with regard to this measure and my attitude towards it, because I feel that if a Division is taken to-night I shall be unable to go into the Lobby to support the noble Marquess. Every one will recognise the enormous labours involved and the hours of discussion which must have taken place in order to produce a piece of constructive legislation like the Bill which is before your Lordships' House. It is, therefore, in no spirit of captious and idle 653 criticism that I venture to say that I disagree with the proposals contained in this measure. I profoundly believe that these proposals can never ultimately solve the problem which now confronts us. I trust that no noble Lord on this side of the House will think that my action is in any way disloyal to the noble Marquess, for, after all, I am bound to him by ties of kinship, of friendship, and also of gratitude; but I feel that on this occasion we have to consider not the interest of our power, but the capital of our power, and it is not to the noble Marquess himself not to our Party in general but to ourselves and ourselves alone that we have to justify the action which we take in regard to this measure.
It is now some eighteen months or two years since Lord Rosebery brought in his Resolutions. At that time I ventured to protest against those Resolutions. I numbly suggested to the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, that if once the hereditary principle was abandoned, if once that principle was thrown over board, there was no alternative but to go to the other recognised principle, the principle of election; and I venture to say that the events which have occurred since those Resolutions were brought into this House have strengthened me in the opinion which I held at that time, and I see nothing whatsoever to in any way shake my confidence in the views I then held. We then came to the Resolutions of the noble Marquess in November, 1910. I felt that those Resolutions were brought forward to mitigate the abuse and contumely which had been poured on the hereditary principle by the Party opposite. I subscribed to those Resolutions. I supported them. It was the eve of the General Election, and it was the duty of every Peer in this House to support the Party to which he belonged and the House of which he was a member. But I frankly say this, that having had some little experience of the last General Election I do not think that the British public displayed any great enthusiasm for the Resolutions of the noble Marquess. They were somewhat complicated in character; they were rather long and difficult to explain; there was a certain amount of prejudice, largely created by the Party of noble Lords opposite, with the idea that your Lordships desired to absorb the Prerogative of the Crown. On the other hand, there were many who profoundly distrusted the proposal of the noble Mar- 654 quess that we should give up on behalf of this House the old control which we claimed to possess over financial measures.
I believe that our countrymen dislike a coalition, and equally they do not like a Chamber which is called a composite Chamber. The only question, in my humble opinion, which we have to decide to-night is this—How will the electors view these proposals of the noble Marquess? In what light will they regard them? We know that noble Lords opposite have given us no support. We know that the noble Viscount opposite has not in any way shown a desire or wish to co-operate with the noble Marquess in the views which the noble Marquess put forward. We have, therefore, to realise what will be the view of our countrymen with regard to these proposals, knowing full well that the proposals are going to receive every criticism and a good deal of abuse and contumely poured upon them by representatives of noble Lords opposite when they go on to the platforms of England. The first question which the British public will ask is this. Is this proposed composition of the House of Lords a good one, and, if it is, is it likely to work in practice? My fear is that the British public will say that they do not think the composition proposed is a good one, and that the House so composed will not work in practice.
Let me take, for example, the first section of Peers—the Lords who are to be elected by their fellow Peers. It is obviously felt by the noble Marquess and those who work with him that election by Peers who are themselves excluded can hardly commend itself to popular support. Hence qualification is added. How do these provisions affect one another? The need of qualification emphasises the inadequacy of the electorate, while the need of the electorate weakens the effect of the qualification. I very much fear, if I or any other noble Lord went before a popular audience and tried to explain to them the basis upon which the hereditary Peers were to preserve seats in this House, that within a very short space of time the reply which would come to me from that audience would be this, "Your proposals are mutually destructive." I turn to the second category of Peers, those who are to be elected by members of Parliament. To my mind it is perfectly clear that those Lords elected by three or five Members of Parliament, as the case may be, will come here and assert that they 655 sit in virtue, not only of the electorate which has returned them, but also in virtue of the 100,000 or 200,000 or quarter of a million, as the case may be, of electors who return the Members of Parliament to the other House. In virtue of that they would consider that they had a far superior claim to that of the elected hereditary Peers. They will be arrogant and aggressive in their attitude towards those of us who happen to be elected qualified Lords. But that is not all. At the end of the six years, when a General Election takes place, those Members of Parliament who have returned Lords to this House may themselves be rejected by their own constituencies; so the result will be that during the first six years of their tenure they may represent and have behind them a powerful electorate, but in the last six years of their tenure of power they may represent nothing else but the ghosts of a deceased electorate. To begin with, they will be arrogant, overbearing, and aggressive; towards the end of their tenure they will become the servant of their former servant.
Lastly, take the third section, the Lords who are to be nominated by the Prime Minister—I desire to use the phrase employed by the noble Marquess—"in regard to the strength of Parties in this House." That means that these Lords of Parliament nominated by the Crown on the advice of the Prime Minister will be absolutely at the beck and call and under the control of the Prime Minister himself. They will not be independent. They will be his servants. I very much think that the British public looking at this section of the Lords of Parliament will say, "This section are nothing but the jackals of the Prime Minister, and they do not sit in the House of Lords in virtue of any authority from us."
So much for the various sections of Lords who are to sit in this House. But what about the House as a whole? How will these sections generally work together? I do not think that the British public like a composite House, a House composed of members who will not derive their authority one and all from the same source. Let us bear in mind the fact that the British public have had the experience of the last two or three years; they have seen the struggle which has taken place between this House of Parliament and the other House, between the elected Chamber and the hereditary Chamber, and they will view the proposal 656 to form a composite House, in which the elective clement and the hereditary element are combined, as merely an attempt to perpetuate within the four walls of this House the struggle which has brought us to the present crisis.
One word on the subject of divorcing legislative power and legislative authority from social position. As I understand, under this Bill it is determined that elected Lords shall in no way be considered qualified for an hereditary Peerage. After all, what is the most precious tradition that this House embodies and preserves? Surely it is the association of social position with public duty. The other night Lord Curzon dwelt on this theme with some eloquence, and I think it is even admitted by noble Lords opposite that one of the distinguishing features of our caste is the sense of public duty and the obligations we have towards either county or public affairs. But once you divorce these two factors you create a body of ennobled individuals with possibly no public or Parliamentary duties to perform. The danger is that they may sink into a mere social caste, slightly parasitic in character, which can but be regarded as a menace to the State. We have not far to look for an example of this. We have only to look to neighbouring countries to see what I venture to foretell being absolutely carried out. Once it is confirmed by this House that social position and legislative or Parliamentary power shall be divorced one from the other, I cannot possibly see how you can prevent the concomitant from following, and you can no longer claim that primogeniture is based upon any sound principle.
I have a profound conviction that any scheme for the reorganisation of this House must be short and simple, and one which the humblest and most unintelligent elector can easily understand. Your Lordships will notice that the Parliament Bill, bad, contemptible, and odious as it is, has one great merit. It costs a penny. The Bill of the noble Marquess costs twopence. The price of the one indicates shortness and simplicity; that of the other suggests that it is more prolix. Your Lordships may think that to-night I have looked too much to the consideration of what position the British public will take with regard to our action; but, after all, it is we, and we alone, who have to fight on the platforms of 657 England any reorganisation proposals laid before us. Of this I feel sure, that the electorate will never give their sanction to the election of a new body the composition of which they do not clearly understand and two-thirds of whose members will not be directly responsible to the people themselves, and to a scheme which as a whole is not in harmony with modern democratic thought.
If the noble Viscount the Leader of the House will get up and say that he will co-operate with the noble Marquess and make his proposals into a Bill which will satisfy both great Parties in the State, and will ensure to this House the full and proper legislative powers which any Second Chamber is entitled to have, then I would at once resume my seat and hold my peace. But, having listened to this debate with great care, I have seen no indication either on the part of the noble Viscount or of any noble Lord who sits in the Cabinet with him, that they will give the slightest co-operation, the slightest help whatsoever, to the noble Marquess in his endeavours. Indeed the Liberals and the Radical Press have done nothing since Lord Lansdowne produced his proposals but pour contempt and ridicule and contumely upon them. Therefore I sincerely trust that the noble Marquess will appeal right over the heads of noble Lords opposite to the British public themselves. But if that appeal is to be made with success I feel confident that success can only be achieved by proclaiming our support to the principle of a uniform House, in which the Peers of Great Britain shall form the panel, and constructed on the single democratic principle of election.
THE DUKE OF SOMERSET
My Lords, I think it right, in the present state of affairs, to say that I, for one, am unable to vote for the Second Reading of the Bill brought in by the noble Marquess the Leader of our Party in this House, who, as we all know, has had a most difficult task before him in framing this Bill. I regret extremely the fact that I cannot give him my support, but the time has now come when it is one's duty to act regardless of Party and to think only of one's King and country. The Government, as every one knows, have sold themselves body and soul to the Nationalists and the Labour Party, and the former have exacted Home Rule and the consequent breaking up of the Union as their reward for keeping the Government in power. To carry Home Rule the Govern- 658 ment saw that they must first wreck our ancient Constitution of King, Peers, and Commons, as this House, they knew, would never betray the country and pass a Bill for Home Rule for Ireland, and so they have brought forward their Parliament Bill for that purpose.
But because such utterly unprincipled Party politicians as those who sit on the Treasury Bench have, by gross misrepresentation, raised a cry against this House amongst a certain section of the voters of this country I cannot see why our Party should become their accomplices, and by destroying this House desert the millions of loyal people in this country who have always looked up to it as at present constituted as the only safeguard they had against ill-considered legislation by the House of Commons and tyrannical and unjust measures of a Government such as the present. The late Lord Salisbury once said—Whatever happens, never give up the hereditary principle in this House,and I stick to his advice. The moment you introduce the elective principle you destroy the independence which has always been the best and greatest feature of this House. I hope, my Lords, we shall stand up for our ancient Constitution and for the huge majority of loyal people in this country, who, if we will only be true to ourselves and to them, will, I am sure, back its against those who for purely Party purposes are trying to destroy this House.
The country is tired of revolutionary projects and wishes to get to work on measures which safeguard the Empire and the United Kingdom, and give the working classes the chance of bettering themselves and remaining secure in their employment and the fruits of their labour. Why should we be a party to Constitutional changes which will destroy all security? The Government have no object in view, in the Constitional changes they contemplate, but plunder. If we make these changes easier by accepting this Bill, our action will be followed by further attacks on property of all kinds, which the man of small means will find will ruin him as well as those who are better off. I beg to thank you, my Lords, for the patient hearing you have given me, the more so as, of course, many on this side of the House disagree with me.
My Lords, I cannot help feeling that those who have not 659 been long members of this House and support this Bill may lay themselves open to the criticism that the shortness of their service more easily persuades them to vote for a measure which curtails some of their privileges, and that the sacrifice on their part may not be so deeply felt as by those who have long upheld the traditions of this House. I do not think that would really be a fair argument, because, after all, it is the age of the traditions of this House and not the personal relationship to them which is valued by your Lordships. I am sure there is no member of your Lordships' House who will support this Bill with a light heart. Those of us who support it do so because we believe it to be one solution of a most difficult problem which will have to be solved by us on this side of the House, not by the means which we would judge to be best—namely, a joint agreement, which I still think the people of this country most desire. But if it cannot be done by that means, do noble Lords on the other side of the House really suppose that on the question of remodelling a part of the Constitution your Lordships' House is to have no say in the matter or take no part beyond giving a "Yea" or "Nay" to the Government's Veto Bill? That is to say, first they are to assent to the deprivation of their powers, and then they are to discus the character of a reformed House of Lords?
The only arrangement, if arrangement it can be called, which during this debate I have heard suggested from the other side, is that if and when the Veto Bill is passed this Bill might be tacked on for discussion, which means that your Lordships having had your powers taken away will then be allowed to discuss the new method in which they will have the privilege of enjoying this negation of duties. If the Government Bill were a complete Bill, a Bill dealing both with the relations of the two Houses and the reconstruction of this House, then it would not be necessary that a Bill of this character should be introduced. But the worst feature of the Government Bill is the hiatus which it leaves between the two parts of reconstruction, and it is this interval after your Lordships' House has been deprived of its powers and before it is remodelled which I believe contains the gravest consequences—consequences which I do not think are fully understood by the people of this country. I think that the best way of pointing out what the consequences are is not merely by calling attention 660 to them, but by showing how they may be met, and by showing that we on this side of the House have a constructive policy of our own.
Noble Lords on this side have been taunted by noble Lords opposite for not displaying any great enthusiasm for this measure, but is this an occasion for any display of enthusiasm? I am confident of this, that however conscious we may be of the need for reform noble Lords on both sides of the House deeply feel the gravity of the position and the change which will take place in the history of this House. But if on this side of the House we differ as to the provisions which may be contained in this Bill, I am confident that there is enthusiasm for the principle which underlies the Bill—the principle of two-Chamber government as compared with the principle of one-Chamber government which we contend underlies the Government Bill. Personally I am in favour of the scheme under this Bill which, while abolishing the hereditary principle pure and simple, does not provide for a purely elective Chamber; because I think that in a Chamber whose functions are those of delay and revision and whose duty it is to obtain the passage of Bills which the people desire and to prevent the passing of those which they do not desire, it is well that some members should be independent of popular constituencies.
If, putting aside the exigencies of Party politics, a reform of this House is desired in the interests of the country at large, I believe that some measure such as this is needed, as I have said, as a declaration of policy. But if, on the other hand, it is desired merely to meet a momentary situation in which the House of Lords is an inconvenience and the Government desire to abolish it, then at least may we not ask that our death may be a dignified one, that we should be killed outright instead of being starved to death and having our vital powers paralysed? I support this Bill because I believe that the people of the country desire a reform of the House of Lords, not for any transitory or political purposes, but because they wish this House to continue efficiently and satisfactorily to perform the functions of a Second Chamber, and continue to be what the noble Earl, Lord Carrington, described it the other night—not in a speech which he made on this Bill, but in words which he let slip on the Second Reading of the Allotments Bill—"one of the fairest tribunals in the world."
§ LORD BRAYE
My Lords, I take exception to the short title of this Bill. It is an Exclusion Bill. It contains the suggestion that 400 Peers should be excluded from this House, and that 120, I think, should remain. How the operation of this exclusion is to be carried out does not appear; it is not explained, it cannot be explained. By excluding 400 Peers from this House you are taking away their birthright, and that of their children and their children's children. You exclude, without knowing it, the very men whom it would be most desirable to retain. I allude to the elder members of your Lordships' House who have retired from public life, and whose counsel is the most valuable and the most sought after.
It seems to me that the whole debate is very unreal because, as I understand the present state of affairs, there is no possibility of this Bill ever becoming law. If it is passed by this House and sent to another place, what possible chance is there of the House of Commons passing it into law? The wastepaper basket of the House of Commons is a very ample one, the amplest probably in Europe. Many things go there, and to that receptacle this Bill will find its way. One remedy which has been spoken of outside this House—I have not heard it mentioned during this debate—is the creation of life Peers. That seems to me a point that should have received a great deal of attention. For my own part, I do not think there is any remedy whatever in this Bill for getting over the present difficulty and embarrassment in the political world. I cannot see that it would go far, or indeed any way, towards a solution. A far greater and far more drastic solution is required for the difficulty in which the political world in England finds itself to-day.
We want a solution far more important and enduring than anything which this Bill suggests. I cannot see why the four nations of which the United Kingdom is composed should not have their own Legislative Assemblies and the Imperial Parliament remain intact, the hereditary principle being preserved in its fulness and the elective principle being applied in the formation of the House of Commons. In that way you would secure perpetual Joint Sittings and a perpetual Referendum, because each country in the United Kingdom could express itself in its own Parliament, and its conclusions would come to the 662 Imperial Parliament. I cannot see why you should not deal with the four nations in the United Kingdom in the same way that you deal with the Colonies, and that they should, if necessary, make an appeal to the Imperial Parliament in the last resort, just as the Colonial Governments have a right now to appeal to the Privy Council. The Privy Council has a right to alter and check any of their conclusions, but it never does so, and never interferes. The whole system, therefore, has worked in harmony and for the good of the Empire.
We are told that an Act of Parliament can do anything. That is a common saying. But there is one thing that an Act of Parliament cannot do, and that is convert a Scotsman into an Englishman, a Welshman into an Englishman, or an Irishman into an Englishman. The four nations in this Kingdom remain with their differences in religion and politics, and as separate as they were in the beginning. Now we are confronted with a new phenomenon—namely, a Welsh nationality, which has become more and more accentuated. As for Ireland, the case is too self-evident to dwell upon, I am quite aware that these suggestions are not, perhaps, within the sphere of practical politics, but I mention them because I believe most firmly that the present deadlock and embarrassment in political life have shown that the differences between the two Houses of Parliament cannot be dealt with by a Bill of this kind, but require far more drastic and far deeper remedies.
THE LORD BISHOP OF RIPON
My Lords, I trust I may be pardoned for intervening for a few moments on this subject. I do not stand here as one who holds a brief for any political organisation, and I think I may say for myself that I have always kept as far aloof as I could from Party aspects of questions. I hold it to be the duty of all who take part in the work of any Legislative Assembly to endeavour as far as possible to keep a dispassionate mind in the consideration of all questions submitted to them, and as I have endeavoured to do that I feel a great sympathy when I look at one side of the House and at the other. I have a great sympathy with those who feel that the composition of this House, from the hereditary quality of those who sit in it, does need some change and does not quite meet the conditions of to-day. On the other hand, I have a deep sympathy with those on the other side of the House who find 663 themselves face to face with a condition of things on which the curtain, whatever the play may be, has not yet been raised. In some cases it is necessary to perform an operation, and in order to do that it is necessary to make use of chloroform. I can sympathise with those on the Opposition side of the House in this matter for I take it their position seems to be this, that they must submit to an operation one way or the other, but the suggestion which is made on the Government side of the House is that they should first be chloroformed without having any definite knowledge of the operation which is to ensue. That seems to be a very difficult position for the poor patient who has to undergo the operation. But I trust that, whatever be the result in the future, this House will not be put into a "hobble skirt." There is every reason for demanding freedom of action, whatever may be the condition in which this House is left. It would be a miserable thing that any legislative enactment should leave this House a mere shadow and a sham. That is not a position to which any Legislative Assembly ought to be reduced.
But having this sympathy with both sides, I feel it my duty to ask myself one or two questions. What is the object in view? What is the purpose of a Second Chamber? As I understand, the object of a Second Chamber is that it may act as a kind of check and revising Chamber upon the actions and legislation of the other House. If I understand that idea rightly, a Second Chamber is to act in the same way as does a brake upon the wheel of a vehicle; and I put it to those who are considering this matter whether it is not absolutely essential, if that idea of a Second Chamber is to be carried out, that the power of applying the brake shall at least be a real one. There are times in which the brake is not needed, such as when the vehicle is going uphill; but when the vehicle is likely to be going downhill there is every reason for having the brake effective. If you take the view that the House of Lords represents the power of a brake it is very desirable that that power should be real.
But the House of Lords ought to be a great deal more than a mere Chamber of Veto. I cannot help feeling that a great deal of misunderstanding has arisen respecting the word Veto. I think it is an unfortunate thing that the word has been imported into the controversy at all. The House of Lords ought to be in my judgment, 664 and I believe was intended to be, something, more than a mere Chamber of Veto. I understand that it was meant to be a Chamber in which certain classes of legislation should be undertaken with that deliberate consideration which is probably impossible in another place. In modern conditions the development of affairs in the House of Commons has, I imagine, reached such a stage that it is almost impossible for due and adequate consideration to be given to large and important measures, while private measures are crowded out altogether. There is a large quantity of legislation which might very fairly be undertaken in a Second Chamber. If I may use the expression, it ought to be an incubating Chamber for such classes of legislation as require the consideration of wise and experienced men. That legislation might then be transmitted to another place with the authority, not of mere heredity, but the authority of investigation arising from the fact that it had been considered by those well capable of considering it, and who had large experience and knowledge to bring to bear on these matters. With that view in one's mind it seems to me that the only thing that needs to be aimed at is how to secure in a Second Chamber—I am speaking as it were purely in the abstract for the moment—an adequate supply of men fitted for the purpose. Surely the supply of fitting members must come from those who have capacity and every opportunity of giving their best leisurely thoughts to public matters. I have often felt the deepest pity for members in another place who have to deliberate matters dominated by partisan considerations which their own personal judgment does not wholly ratify. That seems a very unfortunate position. But if the House of Lords fulfilled, as I believe it ought, its great function of devising legislation and giving it that leisurely consideration which many of these questions deserve and demand, then I think you would have a House of Lords which would immediately command the respect of the country and carry with it its own native authority.
A great deal has been said about Party in this matter. If I may venture to put forward one thought respecting the Party aspect, I would earnestly ask that the thought of Party may be put very far from our minds. I cannot think that we are dealing justly by the question if we import Party considerations into our thoughts in 665 this matter. What is wanted is not an Assembly in which there is a mechanical balance of Parties, not an Assembly in which there is a predominance of one Party, but an Assembly of straightforward, intelligent, earnest, well-equipped men who can give impartial consideration to any measure which may be submitted to them. When people talk about trying to make an Upper Chamber which shall be constructed on a basis of equalising the Parties of the moment, I would implore them to remember that Party in this country, from the Constitutional point of view, has very little meaning. Parties may rise and fall and disappear. As I understand the position, if I may speak frankly, I think that the real meaning of our present difficulties lies in this fact, that the two great Parties of which we hear so much do not really exist. That is to say, neither Party is in the same position with relation to the other which was the case thirty years ago. Party nomenclature happens to deal with the conditions and circumstances and topics of the hour. There was a time when Whig was ranged against Tory, when Conservative was ranged against Liberal; but in my judgment the Liberal Party is dead, and in my judgment the Conservative Party is dead. A new set of Parties and of conditions has arisen. The whole thought of the country is slowly and quietly reorganising itself, and the camps of Party in the future will not go along the lines of division which they followed formerly and which is given a fictitious importance to-day.
We are passing through a time of transition, when the Parties of the future, if I think rightly, are going to be the Party of the Empire or the Party—shall I say?—of Socialism. At such a time it is wise that we should take into consideration the measures to be adopted in order to secure Imperial well-being. I want your Lordships to take a larger view, and to remember that we are not simply to-day this little United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland; we are the British Empire, and if you are to really and adequately make the Legislature of this country what it ought to be it must take on what I cannot help calling an Imperial flavour. There ought to be representatives in this House and elsewhere of His Majesty's Dominions beyond the seas. It seems to me that unless we are prepared to make ready for the day when the Empire as a whole will need to stand together, we may be overtaken by a crisis in which, because we have not sufficiently 666 cemented together and consolidated the bonds of Empire, we shall be weighed in the balance and found wanting. That is my reason for saying that I want a larger view, and men who represent the great and various forces of the Empire ought to be found a place in the Legislature.
On the question of the hereditary principle, I confess I cannot agree with the noble Duke opposite, who would prefer to surrender every vestige of the hereditary principle and accept the elective principle than adopt a measure of practical reform. I cannot see it in that light. What is it that is understood, or was originally understood, by the hereditary principle, and why was it that our ancestors took upon themselves to consecrate the hereditary principle by the formation of this House? They meant this, that the men who had gathered experience, the men who had served their country and proved themselves fitting, should take place and power in this great Assembly. Who will deny that in the past the Barons had more knowledge and information than the men who could be gathered by the populace? The idea was that the House of Lords should represent in the best and noblest sense the aristocracy of the country. We are living in an age in which if anything has been taught to us by the discoveries of recent years it is the fact that there is a natural selective force at work and that men come by inheritance and training into the possession of special aptitudes in this way. There are men who are born lawyers and born physicians, and there are men who are, born statesmen. The wisdom of the past must have desired to include in its Legislature men who, by virtue of the fact that their ancestors had served the State, had, so to speak, inherited a kind of instinct for government. It would be a great mistake to sweep away at one stroke the whole of the hereditary principle in the formation of the Second Chamber. The Bill before the House does not propose to set aside that principle, but to provide that the hereditary Peers of England shall select a certain proportion of their number to represent them in the Second Chamber, just as the Peers of Scotland and Ireland now do. That seems to me quite in harmony with precedent; it preserves the principle that you are selecting from the men who by tradition and instinct have a certain aptitude for government, and are likely to be among the best and fittest to serve. It is choosing the fittest, and I want that principle of choosing the fittest to be extended 667 to include men from all parts of the Empire who have proved their fitness for these high responsibilities.
I desire to see in this Chamber the fittest men from the whole Empire—men who have served the Empire, men who know and understand what Colonial life means, men who have seen the world from a broader point of view than can be the case with many who are elected to the other House. We want men with larger views, and for that reason we should enlarge our thoughts and seek to form a really strong, loyal, well-equipped Second Chamber, composed of the wisest and most experienced men of the Empire. The age in which we are living is instinct with great changes, which are going on over the surface of the world. We stand at a time when the population of this country is threatened with decline, when the Colonies are reaching an adult age, and this is the time when we ought to husband our resources. We ought to gather the strength of the Empire, to consolidate, federate, and unify it, for if we do not, believe me, we shall in the future be full of deep and poignant and unavailing regrets that we had not seized the hour and united the Empire; for unity means strength and that concord which brings in its train prosperity and happiness. While there is much in the measure of the noble Marquess which I would consider inadequate, as your Lordships will understand from what I have said, still if the measure is put before us in this sense, Are you prepared to vote for a policy which will rectify some of the obsolete conditions of this House? I welcome it as containing a sound principle, without endorsing in the least degree its details, because whatever step we may take must be in the direction of reforming this House, but in my judgment it should be such a reformation as will enlarge its scope by opening its arms to receive from all quarters of His Majesty's Dominions those who have served, and are, therefore, fitted to govern.
§ EARL FORTESCUE
My Lords, I am not sure that the last night of a debate like this is the one on which to go into the motives which induced the noble Marquess to bring forward this Bill, but those motives must have been of a very cogent character, or he would not have laid his cards on the Table before an adversary not likely to forego any advantage to be derived therefrom. I think that more acknowledgment might have been expressed from this side of 668 the House of the labour and care which must have been spent by the noble Marquess and those who have worked with him in the preparation of the Bill which we are now discussing. Having said so much, I hope I shall be acquitted of anything in the nature of ingratitude if I venture to make one or two criticisms on the nature of the proposals which we are considering.
Something was said by the noble Viscount opposite on the question of the proposed numbers of the new House, and I must say it appears to me that the Bill is somewhat contradictory in that respect. In introducing it the noble Marquess spoke of the present numbers of the House as being unwieldly, yet the number he proposes in this Bill is actually greater than the average working strength of the House. A Return was furnished to us last year showing the number of Peers who in three recent years did not attend the House at all, or had attended less than ten times. Noble Lords whose attendances were limited in that way certainly could not be accused of putting any difficulties in the way of the working of the machine, but if those numbers are deducted from the total strength of the House the result shows a figure somewhat less than the 350 proposed by the noble Marquess. At the same time I think the suggestion made by the noble Viscount that 100 or so might be sufficient goes altogether too far in the other direction, for, unless some very great changes were made, that would leave a number altogether inadequate for the transaction of the Private Bill business of the House. A considerable proportion of that 100, as members of the Ministry or as leading members of His Majesty's Opposition, would be precluded from taking part in Private Bill business, and the number remaining after they were deducted from only 100 would, I believe, be quite insufficient for the purpose.
But the question of numbers is a very important one if we may look forward with hope to an arrangement of Joint Sessions being adopted as a means of removing deadlocks between the two Houses. It is necessary, if we can be guided at all by Colonial analogy, that the numbers of this House should not exceed half of the House of Commons, and that consideration becomes all the more important in view of the proposals for a large portion of this House being recruited from the hereditary Peers. Notwithstanding the eloquence of 669 the right rev. Prelate who has just spoken, I must say I think Clause 4 (Election of Lords of Parliament by Peers) is the weak point in the Bill. I believe that the best, men on both sides would be likely to find their way back here under almost any conceivable system which might be adopted for recruiting the House in the future. I should look with apprehension to the introduction of a separate class in the future Second Chamber which might lead to the Division lists, whenever an important Bill was passed or rejected, being scrutinised very narrowly as they would be from that point of view. I have noticed, though it is only a small thing, that on our county council and county education committee there is a certain jealousy manifested sometimes with regard to the votes of aldermen who are not direct representatives of the ratepayers, and of the votes of co-opted members of the education committee for the same reason. Of course, in such a small matter a grumble or two satisfies everybody, but it would be very different if the Division lists of a Second. Chamber were scrutinised and complaints made outside, as it is exceedingly likely they would be made, that this or that measure had been passed or rejected solely by the votes of hereditary Peers who owed their presence within these walls to the votes of their brother Peers. It seems to me that that arrangement would detract very much from the authority of this House, and would also weaken seriously the permanence and stability which it is all important to obtain in any reconstruction of it.
It makes little difference to me personally what conclusions may be arrived at. As I differ from one Party on the question of Home Rule and from the other on the question of Tariff Reform, it is most unlikely that either of them will in the future have any need for my humble services. But I gladly recognise this Bill as a great step forward towards a solution of this most thorny question, the solution of which has been delayed all too long. For my part, I think that nothing but evil can come of prolonged delay, and whatever personal sacrifice may be involved I would leave nothing undone to further the settlement of the question.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (VISCOUNT HALDANE)
My Lords, we are now on the fourth day of this debate, and it is possible to estimate the tendency of the discussion. The tone, if I may say so, 670 has been throughout one of sombre acquiescence, punctuated every now and again by cries of pain. That, my Lords, is not to be wondered at when you consider the magnitude of the proposals involved in this Bill and the greatness of the changes which it seeks to make. It is, indeed, a demonstration to us, if demonstration were in the least needed, how large is the task upon which we are invited to enter, and how much time it must take to complete it thoroughly.
The debate this afternoon has not varied much in character from that of the preceding days, but there is one point on which, I think, it has been distinguished. To-day it has been apparent that noble Lords, reflecting upon the propositions in this Bill, have come to take up points which were, perhaps, not apparent in the earlier parts of the discussion. For instance, this afternoon we had a thoughtful speech, if I may say so, from Lord Lytton, who laid stress upon this, that the mode of selecting the new Lords of Parliament was not to him, on reflection, a satisfactory one, and that he would prefer another method, I think a method of nomination partly joint and partly on the responsibility of the Government of the day. The Duke of Marlborough made a speech in which he was not at all opposed to great changes, as great changes must come about, but he indicated his preference for a method of election directly by the electors. Then we had other varieties of opinion. The right rev. Prelate said many things with which, I think, we shall all agree, and among them was a desire to see the Empire and Imperial interests considered, so far as possible, in fashioning the composition of the new Chamber. Then we had the speech to which we have just listened, in which the noble Earl, speaking with great detachment but great care, as he always speaks, indicated that in point of numbers difficulties must ensue if the Bill were left as it stands. All these things make it a little difficult to discover what is the principle on which we are voting on the Second Reading.
I shall come presently to my difficulties arising out of the Bill itself, but I am speaking now of the consensus of voices, so far as consensus there has been. There have been some speeches in which there was no consensus. There was the Duke of Somerset, who said, not only to-day but also in the letter which he addressed to TheTimes newspaper, much the same thing of the Unionist leaders as the Unionist leaders say of the Government, and we have 671 had other very strong speeches. The speech of Lord Bathurst was another illustration of the same thing, but, in the main, I think there has been a disposition on the part of the vast majority of your Lordships to agree that a step forward must be made, and if that be the principle of this Bill, then it is possible to define the attitude of the Government towards it. We agree that the time has come when a great step forward must be made. It may not be in the form of the provisions of this Bill, but we take it that there is an increasing agreement that we are entering upon a new stage in the evolution of our Constitution. Not all of your Lordships hold that view. Lord Willoughby de Broke spoke of the swing of the pendulum, and seemed to indicate that he thought we might come back to a state of things in which all these agitations would be at an end. I have always thought that the metaphor of the swing of the pendulum was a very misleading one. The meditations of Newton under the apple tree, added to those of Galileo in the Church of Pisa, brought about the conclusion that the swing of the pendulum is powerfully influenced by the force of gravitation, and the force of gravitation is very great at the present time. We are not likely to go back to the state of things which was easily possible in the past, but which for some years past has been more and more disappearing. I agree with Lord Rosebery that the time has gone by for hoping that there will be any arrest in the tendency which is everywhere manifest, and I am sure your Lordships would do well to dismiss any idea of that from your minds. The change has come to stay, and now we have to deal with a condition of things in which, not only as regards the powers of this House, but possibly also as regards its composition, great changes will have to be made.
We are not at this moment discussing the question of powers, but the question of powers is inseparable from this. I remember well those days in 1895 when my noble friend Lord Rosebery took up the question of restricting the Veto of this House, and gave an impetus to that question which is still felt. But the question of how this is to be dealt with is a question which cannot be disposed of by such discussions as we have had upon this Bill, nor is it enough to seek agreement in congenial topics such as the sinfulness of this Government. Even if we were guilty of all the things that have been said of us it would not account for this Bill, 672 nor would it justify it. In the course of this debate I have listened to some noble Lords who said that this Bill was all the fault of the Government because it had been so weak; it was in the clutches of those who wielded the machinery; and I have heard other noble Lords say that it was the fault of the Government because the Government was a small and tyrannical oligarchy which has usurped the powers of the House of Commons and deprived the electors and their representatives of any initiative. Either of these things may be true, but they cannot both be true, and the awkward thing is that in neither view can this Bill be justified. What does the Bill propose to do? What is its root-principle? It is to take the nomination of members of the future Second Chamber and put them, in very large measure, to the extent of two-thirds at any rate, into the hands of those who manipulate the Party machine. I can only say that if that be so, then our latter condition would be worse than our former.
While I think the Bill is open to these criticisms, there are deep reasons why it has been brought forward. The noble Marquess opposite spoke with the moderation which he always shows, and with, I think, a deep appreciation of the situation. In the speech which he made a week ago he spoke of the vast difficulties which confront both Parties. I agree. Those difficulties confront both Parties. He said that the Bill was not a substitute for the Parliament Bill, but only a complement to another Bill which would deal with powers. Again, I am in agreement with him. Then he said—and his words were significant—that he did not claim an absolute Veto, but that he recognised that the House of Commons must remain dominant. That he said in agreement with Mr. Balfour, and I think the meaning of that and the root-principle on which that rests to be this—that on the House of Commons, whatever the future of this House, the Executive of the country must depend; that it must be to the House of Commons that Ministers will be responsible; and that by the House of Commons finance will be voted. You cannot serve two masters, and therefore Ministers must primarily be responsible to that House, and can never be responsible to this House, for, if they were, they would be serving two masters and the machinery of the Constitution would break down. I feel that the noble Marquess, though, of course, by dominance he does not mean and did not intend to convey that this House should 673 have no power of control over the proposals of the other House—I feel that the noble Marquess has gone a good way, and I feel myself in agreement with him on general principles.
But then I come to other voices and other arguments which seem not to agree with those of the noble Marquess. In the discussions on this Bill there seem to me to have been two tendencies of thought. There is that which I have just described, and then there was the tone of argument of Lord Curzon. I do not think Lord Curzon takes the same view of the importance of the restriction of powers that I gather the noble Marquess takes. He spoke on Friday at the Portman Rooms of the Parliament Bill as au "ugly smudge" which might have to be obliterated. I know that is a view in which be will not find himself alone, but it is a view which will require very careful consideration in order that we may see the length to which it goes. And then there is the noble Earl, Lord Selborne. He wants to go, I think, even further. He wants to protect the electors of this country against their own representatives and against themselves, and to put a check by means of the Referendum upon the proceedings of Ministers. There you have other tendencies, other lines which may or may not fit into this Bill, and one asks why this Bill has been brought forward when there are views, as I think in spirit, so divergent as the propositions which I have cited from the noble Marquess and the propositions which I have just cited from Lord Curzon and Lord Selborne. Lord Selborne indeed has said that Lord Curzon and the noble Marquess are quite at one in their views, and that the speeches made by Lord Curzon on the Parliament. Bill in no way indicate a difference of opinion.
I agree that in words there is no difference. You have agreed upon words in this Bill, but agreement upon words is not everything. There was a time in the history of the Reformation when the 31argrave succeeded in getting the two great theological schools of the Reformation—the German school, led by Luther, and the theologians of the Geneva school under Zwingle—to come together, and they actually reduced their views to a document, in which they agreed in words. Then they came with their supporters to the meeting-place to agree on the document, and the supporters refused to shake hands with each other, and the agreement broke down. How are those who hold the views of the Duke of Somerset 674 to shake hands with those who support Lord Curzon and Lord Selborne? How are the two schools really to be brought together? I feel that, if ever we get into Committee on this Bill, we shall have some startling surprises as to the unanimity which one might gather the words indicated among those who joined in framing the Bill. But even the Bill excites in my mind great sympathy with the draftsman. I think I have enough knowledge of these things to see that the draftsman has had a very difficult time. Something had to be produced bringing the divergent tendencies together, and his business was not an easy one. The result is he has produced a Bill which I am bound to say I think satisfies some of those who will vote for the Second Reading much better than it satisfies others. The noble Marquess is not the true parent of this Bill. Lord Curzon and Lord Selborne are the real rejoicing parents, and, while the noble Marquess figures in the rôle of godfather and is ready to take the vows, still one cannot but recognise that the lines of the Bill are not the lines of thought on which he naturally would have proceeded.
Why is it this Bill has been brought forward at all if there is such a divergence of view? It has been brought forward because it could not but be brought forward, because there has been a breakdown, and something had to be put together which would cover the difficulties of the breakdown. I know there are those who say that it was quite unnecessary, who say that your Lordships have acted as you have done ill the exercise of duty, and that you have given the most conscientious consideration to every question that has come before you. I think nobody can be a member of your Lordships' House without knowing that things here are scrutinised with a very great sense of responsibility and with a great desire to do right; but it is often just the most conscientious who are in the most difficulty. All passive resisters are conscientious, and after all it is the people who are most conscientious in resisting who, in the end, get themselves into the greatest difficulties. The researches of historians during the last 250 years have resulted in this—that Charles the First was a most conscientious man, who sought to do nothing but his duty. But he mistook the temper of his countrymen, and I cannot help recalling two instances, at all events, in which your Lordships mistook the temper of your countrymen.
675 One was the Education Bill of 1902. That was a great effort to inaugurate a new educational system. I was one of those who never was anything but its supporter. I refused to vote against it, because I saw how much good there was in a proposal to transfer educational powers from the School Boards to larger local bodies. But there was a blot on it. It had provisions which excited strong feelings of hostility in the minds of a very important class. The Nonconformists may have taken a narrow view or a right view of these things, but the view they took was entitled to more understanding and sympathy than it then received. Accordingly it was inevitable that when 1906 came and their Party was in the ascendant they should ask for redress. But it proved to be impossible to get redress from your Lordships' House. You were unsympathetic, and you paved the way for much of the agitation, if you like to call it so, which has led to the present situation, and the reality of which you are recognising by the introduction of this somewhat belated Bill. The rejection of the Budget was another case, because that was accompanied by something like a challenge to the position of the House of Commons on the great Constitutional principle that the Executive Government of the day can only be responsible to one House, and that that cannot be any other House than the House of Commons. We are reaping the fruits of these things now.
I know the extraordinary difficulty of introducing written amendments into an unwritten Constitution. But we have had to do it before now. It was done over the Bill of Rights, and it had to be done over the Mutiny Act. It has been done several times, always as the result of great agitation, and it has never been done without causing great difficulty. To-day we are proposing to do what this nation has had to do in the course of its history before, to introduce written amendments into an unwritten Constitution—always, I think, a mischievous process, and one which should be avoided whenever possible. Your Lordships are now proposing written amendments of a sweeping kind, and you cannot help yourselves because the things of which I have spoken have been done, perhaps inconsiderately. They have been done, and their consequences are there and cannot otherwise be got rid of. Then how do we stand in this matter? I think that if in the past the House of Lords had watched more 676 closely the real nature of the political evolution which was going on and the transition to democracy, it might easily have so conducted its business that the questions with which we are now dealing would never have arisen; and I for one should have rejoiced, because I do not think you could have got more easily a debating, revising, delaying, and considering Chamber than you have got at the present time. But that is past. New views of the Constitution have grown up, or at any rate the views your Lordships now entertain are not any longer in harmony with the spirit of the time.
Lord Curzon asked, What is the policy of the Government. He said, "You have not produced one." He said of myself that I had spoken in the other House of our policy being a single policy. I did speak of it as a single policy. It is a single policy, but it is a policy extending so far, because of the magnitude of the things of which I have been speaking, because of that vastness of area which I have been trying to illustrate to your Lordships, that it cannot be accomplished at a single stroke; you must take it step by step and stage by stage. We have a large problem in front of us in connection with this House—a problem in the settlement of which I most earnestly desire that there may be a possibility of co-operation between the two great political Parties. But before you can have that, before you can produce the sense of confidence without which it is not possible, it will be necessary that there should be some possibility of the House of Commons negotiating on some kind of footing of equality with your Lordships' House. Your Lordships are responsible to no constituents; you have no General Elections to face. It is different with the House of Commons, and no Government can get its business through in the limited time which is allotted to it, a time which is only extended if the sense of the country is very much roused, unless some kind of equality of position between the two Houses is established. At times your Lordships have been considerate and forbearing with many Bills, but I am thinking of the many measures that your Lordships have not been considerate and forbearing with, and the claim at the present time is that the two Houses should be placed by the Parliament Bill, the discussion of which will open to-morrow, on something more like an equal footing. That is the first and indispensable 677 stage before we can get a step forward with the kind of propositions which underlie the Bill at present before this House.
We shall see to-morrow whether the Parliament Bill is as revolutionary a measure as it is represented to be. It proposes to shorten the duration of the House of Commons to four effective years, because the fifth is excluded for reasons of finance. For the first two of these years it is in your Lordships' power to paralyse and delay legislation. Only during the first three of those years does the legislation of the House of Commons pass despite the opposition of your Lordships. But for the last two of these years the House of Commons mill have no power to pass Bills to which the Second Chamber objects. I am not sure that that, is a very extravagant position, and, speaking for myself, I think it is a position which will presently become intolerable unless the Second Chamber Meets the First in a much more genial spirit than has been the case of late. That is why with the necessity before our minds of getting this first stage accomplished of negotiation between the two Houses made possible on a footing of equality, we wish to proceed on that basis with the policy foreshadowed in the Preamble of the Parliament Bill.
The Preamble of our Bill has been the subject of a good deal of discussion, but very little reference has been made to what the Prime Minister has laid down as the policy of himself and his Party in regard to the Preamble. Speaking on the Second Reading of the Parliament Bill in the other House, speaking again at Manchester about a fortnight ago, and speaking a third time on the Third Reading of the Parliament Bill my right hon. friend defined his policy. He said that the Parliament Bill was not a final measure, that something must come beyond it, for the reasons of which I have spoken, and that the Second Chamber therefore which the Preamble foreshadowed must be a small Second Chamber on a nonhereditary basis, not co-ordinate in powers, and, finally, not predominantly partisan. He spoke of the Parliament Bill as a preliminary stage towards the accomplishment of the policy of reform by which such a Second Chamber might become an accomplished fact. Speaking for myself I look upon the Parliament Bill only as a steppingstone, as something that cannot be a per- 678 manent resting place but must carry you beyond. After all, even if there were not these reasons, what alternative have we but to couple all such propositions as the Bill before the House now involves with the propositions of the Parliament Bill? On the Parliament Bill there has been as true a Referendum as the noble Earl opposite could wish to see. The propositions of that Bill, not only in general terms but in specific terms, were submitted to the country at the General Election; line for line they were made the predominant feature at the last election.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
I do not know why the noble Earl says without discussion. I fought through that election, and can assure him that very little else was discussed at the bulk of the meetings which took place. Now, my Lords, I wish in the light of these difficulties, to say a few words, and they shall be very few, about the Reconstitution Bill itself. Of course, the Bill before your Lordships does not touch powers. The first observation I have to make about it is that it seems to me to be so framed as to exclude a good many Peers who would be of great value to this House. I observe that among the positions in the Schedule which qualify for membership of the Second Chamber are to be found service as mayor, Lord Lieutenant, and chairman of a county council. There is one service that is not included. Perhaps I speak with the affection of a blood relation, but I am sure I do not know why there is no mention of the important office of chairman of a county association. I can only say that I have had cause to know how admirable has been the work that has been done by some of your Lordships as chairmen of these associations, and how you have laboured hard to bring people together for a common cause without distinction of Party. I should have thought that was a very good preparation for membership of this House, yet these noble Lords, some of whom I know and can count among my friends, are excluded from the Schedule of the Bill.
But I pass that by, and I come to the majority which the Bill proposes to give to the Unionist Party in this House. As I estimate it, that majority would be at least 679 forty. I have worked it out in several ways and that is what it comes to. I grant that at an abnormal time when there is an enormous Liberal majority in the other House we might get a bare majority in this House, but that is a thing that does not very often happen; and when you are seeking to bring about conditions of equality between the two great Parties, I venture to submit to your Lordships that a permanent normal Unionist majority of 40 is not a right thing to handicap the relations of the two Houses with. Many Governments have done a great deal of work with majorities in the House of Commons of 30 and 40, and that sort of majority would be swamped by your Lordships' House if there were Joint Sittings and your Lordships had a majority of 40. That is one of the reasons why, if you are to have Joint Sittings, you must have a comparatively small House here. I agree with the observations made by the noble Earl, Lord Fortescue, as to having the House large enough to provide the necessary strength for Committees. But you must not have large majorities one way or the other; otherwise you preclude Joint Sittings as a mode of the solution of difficulties between the two Houses. Discussing this question last year the Prime Minister said that Joint Sittings was by no means a method of dealing with difficulties which he excluded, only the House must be small for that purpose.
The Bill proposes 120 elective Peers. They are to be elected by electoral colleges, and the electoral districts are to return from three to twelve Lords of Parliament for each district. That means, if they elect three, there would be forty electoral districts, and if they elect twelve, ten electoral districts. The mean between these is twenty. That signifies that Scotland and Ireland will have two or three electoral districts each, Wales will possibly have one to itself, and England will have fourteen. The working out, therefore, becomes very difficult when you get that preponderance. I do not say it could have been avoided; I only say it is very difficult. A noble Lord opposite spoke of the local representation this would give, and the possibility of minorities being represented. I have a very different picture. In a county like Lancashire, where there is a very remarkable division of opinion and you find a Tariff Reformer and a Labour Member sitting side by side, or in the case of London, where 680 again you find an extraordinary mixing up of views and people of extreme views on both sides sitting for adjacent constituencies, how are you going to get harmony in the electoral colleges? How will you get them to put their minds into a common pot and to find a representative who will be a common denominator of that district? I can conceive no worse mode of choosing representatives than that of taking members of Parliament of most opposing tendencies of mind and shaking them together in this fashion, without any reason for supposing that they will apply their minds to a common duty. What I do think is that they will resolve their difficulties by consulting their own caucuses. As for the category of Lords of Parliament to be nominated by the Government of the day, that business will pass to the Party Whips; and this Bill, which is to deliver the country from all this kind of thing, will mean that you will hand over the composition of the Second Chamber to the machine in a way that has never been the case with the House of Commons.
To sum up my difficulties, the Bill seems to me to exclude a great many Peers whose presence would have been of great value because in their tone and temper they provide just the kind of element we want. In the second place, the Bill hands over more than one-third of the House, it seems to me, to the caucus, and another third to the Whips. I cannot help thinking how infinitely preferable it would have been if the noble Marquess had put his proposition in the form in which the Duke of Marlborough wanted it—an elective Second Chamber. I do not for a moment believe that in these elections, with immense constituencies of 350,000 to 375,000 people, there would be the canvassing and speeches which Lord Curzon anticipated, for the simple reason that the thing would be impossible. It seems to me, if the noble Marquess had shaped his Bill so, he would have had a choice of a plan under which the constituencies would have been so vast and incapable of being controlled by a machine that only the most eminent men would have been elected, and a condition of things brought about which would result as nearly as possible in the pure election of representatives of the people. Nor do I think there would have been any danger of such a House becoming co-ordinate, for the simple reason that the Executive always must depend on the other Chamber Which has the control of finance.
681 But, my Lords, after all, this Bill is only a first attempt. It is rather the spirit than the letter of it to which I look, and speaking for myself, I am grateful to the noble Marquess opposite for the tone and temper he introduced into the discussion and for the way in which he showed that he realised that we had reached a situation in which somehow we should have to work out these things, and possibly with the joint co-operation of the two great Parties in the State. The difficulties are not only in this Chamber. My noble friend Lord Courtney of Penwith spoke of the change which had taken place in the House of Commons, and said that the private Member no longer had a chance. That is perfectly true, and I will tell your Lordships from my own experience why it is. The Government is forced to take the whole time of the House of Commons. There is such a congestion of business that it is not possible to leave any time over to the private Member. As it is, we sit in months of the year in which our forefathers rarely sat; we sit for hours which surpass the hours sat in olden times; and, even so, we cannot get through our business. We are loaded up with it. Devolution is an imperative necessity. You may call it, if you like, Home Rule; and there will be Home Rule for Wales, Ireland, and Scotland in the sense that we shall have, from force of necessity, to devolve upon them the handling of a good deal of their local business. That is the only way in which you can relieve the House of Commons, and that is why the state of things is such as Lord Courtney describes. But while the settlement of these things does not brook delay, it is no desire of ours, either in the Parliament Bill or in the attitude we take on this Bill, to be what the newspapers call "top dog" in this matter, but rather to secure to the Liberal Party something like a fair chalice in the negotiations and discussions in this House.
Lord Selborne has another way—the way of the Referendum. But I cannot think that even that would help the provisions of this measure. After all, what is the proposal of the Referendum? It is to send questions direct to the electors, not to send to the electors the choice of representatives. Yet the noble Earl most inconsistently is supporting this Bill which sends the composition of this House, not to the electors, but to the very representatives whom we will not entrust with the handling of the actual business. But what happens 682 when you send the details of business to the electors? What would happen if we had referred the question of spending ten millions on the Navy to the electors? That is a question which has had to be decided in recent months. What would have happened if that had been put direct, without explanation, without discussion, without that delicate consideration which is given in a representative Assembly but which you cannot give on public platforms without causing mischief? Such a question as that shows where the breakdown occurs in these things.
Long ago Themistocles, wishing to increase the Navy of Athens, persuaded the people with great difficulty to give up the division, to which they were accustomed, of the proceeds of the silver mines of Laurium, and to devote the money to the building of the fleet which afterwards won Salamis. He could do that because he had a few people in the compass of small cities, but what chance would any Government of this country have of persuading people in the country upon a mere question of amount—very terrifying and frightening to them at the first blush—and of persuading them to accept reasons and a policy which can only be made plain by debate and discussion? You cannot send a Bill to the electors and say, "Give your votes 'Aye' or 'No' upon this Bill." There is only one way of dealing with it, and that is for Members of Parliament to go down to the constituencies and explain to the electors what the Bill means, give their views in detail upon the minute provisions of the Bill, and get the decision of the electors. I never know quite what the Referendum means. If it means sending down great big complicated questions like Tariff Reform to be dealt with by a single "Aye" or "No" all I can say is that it is most unjust to Tariff Reform. If it means sending down a complicated Bill—well, I have had a good deal of experience of the attitude of electors generally with regard to complicated Bills. I sat for over a quarter of a century in the House of Commons, went through many General Elections and I know the process. You cannot get the electors to put forth their minds unless you have a great process of education and discussion. It is only in so far as you ask them to appoint representatives and not to decide specific questions that you can get them to vote. Unless there was something like a General Election on the occasion of each Bill you referred, you would not get 683 50 per cent. of your voters to come up. We had an illustration of a Referendum over the Parliament Bill. Lord Selborne complains that other questions were discussed. Yes, and so they would be whenever you had a Referendum about any Bill. People would always consider what was its bearing on the political fortunes of the Party to which they belonged. The noble Earl seems to me to have taken as his real leader, not the noble Marquess opposite, but a thinker who wrote a great deal about Constitutions—Rousseau—who held that the people were never free except at the time of a General Election, when every man in the crowd was giving his vote. Rousseau hated representative institutions. He distrusted them as much as the noble Earl does. That is a bad way of deciding these things. It is not by the unorganised crowd; it is by organised opinion by the pros and cons being fully brought before the minds of those who are to decide. It is by organisation and representation by men who are picked because they have the confidence of those who have elected them, who have chosen them on broad principles, and left them free to work out the details of those principles in representative Assemblies—it is in that way alone that you can get the real voice of the people—the organised voice, as distinguished from the individual voices of the mob. For that reason I feel myself divided by a very sharp line of division from the noble Earl in his reasoning as to the supplement to the Bill which is before your Lordships' House.
I hope I have made plain my own feeling about this Bill and the general lines of our position with regard to it. With the Parliament Bill we must go on. We cannot regard this measure as in any sense a substitute for the Parliament Bill. That Bill, which has been pronounced on by the country, represents what we regard as the indispensable preliminary to any progress in negotiating with your Lordships a proper settlement of the constitution of this House. Having said so much, I wish also to say that in the introduction of this Bill and in the spirit of many of the speeches we recognise a great step forward. We should be ungrateful if we did not see that to this extent, at all events, there is a measure of agreement; and holding that view, and on the broad grounds I have indicated, we shall certainly not divide against the Bill. Of course, there are many points in the Bill which would excite great controversy, but 684 of those I say nothing. It may be that before any settlement of this great question can be made and the necessary reconstitution be completed a long journey lies in front of us. I will only, in conclusion, express the hope that in this Bill we have not heard the last word from your Lordships. We agree that, as Lord Lansdowne said, the majority of the two great Parties have certain great aims in common. It is no use talking of doing those things except on the basis of Party, because Party is of the very essence of our Government and Constitution, and without the Party division the Government of the day would be in a very poor position. There must be criticism, there must be difference, and it is by debate between the two sides that the truth evolves itself. We desire to restore tranquillity and to set people's minds free to address themselves to other questions than that of the Constitution. We desire to repair and render stable the fabric of the Constitution, which has been seriously shaken, and who knows but that both sides may not yet co-operate in carrying out a work of this great magnitude. The future will disclose its secrets.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, when a few days ago I endeavoured to explain the provisions of this Bill to your Lordships' House I ventured to say that we regarded it as one which invited criticism, and that so far as we were concerned we should welcome such criticism. During the discussion of the last four days we have had abundant criticism, but it has been criticism of which we have no right to complain, and it has been in the main, at all events, of no unfair or unfriendly character. And let me express my concurrence with what has been already said to the effect that, keen as that criticism has been, it has been, so far as I have observed, wholly untinged by any personal feelings of resentment or annoyance. Such criticism we have been vouchsafed, not only from these Benches but from other parts of the House, and it has really been from one part of the House only that we have received nothing, or almost nothing, in the way of useful suggestion. I refer to the Bench opposite. From the noble Viscount who has just sat down we did not gather one word upon the point as to which we are most anxious—what is, at any rate, the general principle on which the Government intend to deal with the subject we are discussing. He imputed to myself and my noble friends divergences of opinion which 685 have no real existence: he gave us his own impressions of the Education Act of 1902, and somewhat lengthy and detailed observations upon the subject of the Parliament Bill and the Referendum, but he left us in the dark upon the point whit interests us most. Lord Morley did indeed give us two or three words of illumination. He indicated to us his objection to the reconstituted House that we propose on the ground of its excessive size and because it would be what he termed a fighting phalanx, and his preference for a compact and noncombatant committee, from which he suggested it would be possible to exclude Party influences. But as we are given to understand that this smaller House of Lords is to be based on popular election and on representation it would be really interesting to us to know how Lord Morley and Lord Haldane propose to constitute it so as to exclude from it Party influences and Party organisation.
My noble friend on the Cross Benches, Lord Rosebery, repeated to us his objections on tactical grounds to the course we have taken. He pointed out, with very great force, that we should have been on safer ground had we contented ourselves with procedure by Resolution. I entirely agree with my noble friend that the political weather is rough, and that we should no doubt navigate more comfortably to ourselves if we had shorter sail set. But that is not to our mind exactly the point. We have to convince the people of this country that we mean business, and I am afraid that Resolutions do not carry the necessary amount of conviction. While we adhered to procedure by Resolution we were apt to be told by noble Lords opposite that our proposals were moonshine, that we were merely improvising, that we were going to produce another edition of the present House of Lords in a new disguise, but virtually the same House. That is not the kind of language with which our proposals are met at the present moment. It has been admitted that we are taking an enormous stride in advance. Our sincerity has not been questioned. We have been told that we are taking a course which is frank, bold, and even helpful; and outside this House, I venture to think, we are given even greater credit for the sincerity and genuineness of our proposals than we are within it. I venture to think we should never have obtained these testimonials if we had adhered to procedure by Resolution. This is the only answer I can offer to my noble 686 friend, and I think it is entitled to weight. Lord Newton, far from blaming us for bringing in a Bill, took us to task for not having brought in a Bill some considerable time ago, and I daresay there is a good deal to be said for that view. But is he quite sure that public opinion, and certainly opinion in this House, was quite ripe for such a proposal as we are making four or five years ago? I am afraid there are indications, that it is not quite so ripe as we could wish even at the present moment.
Some of those who have taken part in this discussion want no Bill at all. Noble Lords who hold those views dwell with great force upon the ability and high reputation of this House. I need scarcely assure your Lordships that I am the last person in the world to dispute their views when they pay a tribute of that kind to the present House of Lords. I have known the House for a great number of years, and I believe there never was a time when what I may call without disrespect the rank and file of its members took, a closer and more intelligent interest in our proceedings. But I do ask noble Lords who suggest that we might let well alone to consider the remarkable speech which was delivered the other night by the Duke of Northumberland. I think that speech must have given pause to some noble Lords who would have us sit with folded hands and be content with an unreformed House. For myself I may say that I have the deepest conviction that if we want a real Second Chamber, and I believe most of us want a real Second Chamber, it is impossible to bind up the existence of that Chamber with an unreformed House of Lords. Unless we have something more convincing to offer the country than arguments based on the high reputation, ability, and usefulness of tins House, I believe it will be utterly impossible for us to resist the kind of attacks, largely based on class jealousy and class prejudice, which are becoming more and more the staple weapon of those who assail the position of your Lordships' House. Therefore I have come to the same conclusion as my noble friend on the Cross Benches, that a purely hereditary House of Lords is incompatible with what he described as the movement of popular feeling in these days. I believe it to be impossible in a country deeply imbued, as this country is, with democratic sentiment, to maintain a Second Chamber constituted on entirely undemocratic lines. If we are right in these views, then I would ask those of my noble friends who would 687 have us leave things alone whether they prefer the kind of scheme which we offer in this Bill, or whether they would rather have the kind of measure which His Majesty's Government have in contemplation—whether it be a purely elective Second Chamber, or a House of Lords constituted as at present, but shorn of all real power to influence the public affairs of this country. In my opinion we must have a Bill, and the question is, what kind of a Bill we should have.
May I notice for one moment a suggestion made by the right rev. Prelate in a passage of great eloquence and feeling? He told us that our measure neglects to provide for the representation of our great Dominions across the seas. A suggestion of that kind appeals to the sympathy of all of us; but I am afraid that the idea of constituting a great Imperial Senate in which the Dominions will be represented is one which it is impossible to fit into the scheme of the measure we are now discussing. The great Colonies themselves would certainly not desire to interfere in the domestic affairs of this country any more than we should desire to interfere in the domestic affairs of the great Dominions, and I believe it would be utterly impossible, without a revolution going far beyond the limits of anything that we are now discussing, to adopt the attractive and patriotic suggestion which the right rev. Prelate has made.
My noble friend the Duke of Marlborough objected to our Bill for several reasons—amongst others, owing to its lack of simplicity. His idea was a short and simple Bill which every one could readily understand, and he illustrated his argument by pointing out that whereas the printed copy of our Bill bears upon it a legend which sets forth that it can be purchased for 2d., the Parliament Bill of His Majesty's Government may be purchased at the moderate rate of ld. That argument is novel and carries one a long way, and I should be glad if the noble Duke at the proper time will apply the same test to the Government Insurance Bill, which occupies, I believe, no less than seventy-eight pages of printed matter. I am afraid the price of that Bill must be prohibitive. My noble friend Lord Sheffield rather found fault with us, because, he said, we have not produced a complete measure. I gather that he would have liked us to deal in this Bill with the whole question of Joint Sittings and so 688 forth; but I think we have shown a very considerable amount of courage in dealing with one-half of this most important question, and we can scarcely be blamed for having left the other half alone. We have, however, made known in considerable detail our views on the other part of the Constitutional question, and we shall no doubt have opportunities during the next few days of discussing the matter further.
The real question seems to me to be this. Let us admit that this Bill has its imperfections; but can any one suggest a better? I have waited in vain for a suggestion of that kind. Some noble Lords would go much further than we are going; some would go not nearly so far; but so far as I have been able to follow the course of the debate, there is a very considerable body of opinion on this side of the House in favour—I do not say of a Second Chamber exactly constituted as we propose it should be constituted—but of a composite Chamber based on the three elements which are included in our scheme. Let me say as emphatically as I can that we are very far indeed from putting forward this Bill as one which represents our last word in all the important matters with which it deals. Obviously there must be abundant room for criticism, discussion, and amendment, and we wish to guard ourselves emphatically against the idea that we wish our Bill to be regarded in any sense as a sort of sealed pattern from which no departure is to be made.
May I say one word more on the much-vexed question of qualifications? There are three courses open to us. We can get rid of qualifications altogether; we can create a separate category of Peers, who should have the absolute right to sit and vote in this House in virtue of their qualifications; and, in the third place, we can adopt the plan we propose, or some variant of it, under which there would be a low qualification but a qualification which must be possessed by any Peer who can look for election by his brother Peers. Now I should be very reluctant to strike qualification altogether out of this Bill. The idea is a very intelligible one. I think the fact that a section of the new House would be founded, directly or indirectly, upon qualification would increase the confidence which the public would feel in it, and I should, therefore, be reluctant to abandon qualification completely. On the other hand, I remain strongly opposed to having a class of 689 Peers who would sit and vote by right of qualification alone, and for this reason—that any such arrangement involves the admission of a Peer to this House in virtue of a title resting upon past achievement only, and not upon the prospect of his future usefulness. I also call the attention of the House to this point. I notice that ninny object to our plan because they say it involves a restriction on the manner in which your Lordships would exercise your right of selection; but if you were to add to the proposals of the Bill that there should be, let us say, fifty Peers sitting here by qualification and by qualification alone, that would be imposing those Peers on the House, and as far as those Peers were concerned, the House would have, not a restricted choice, but would have no right of choosing at all. I therefore venture to express a preference for our plan, although I readily admit that the Schedule on which it rests may very properly be revised and amended on several points.
My noble friend Lord Saltoun was rather severe on the Schedule, and dwelt at some length on the purely official character of the greater number of the persons whom it included; but the noble Lord argued rather as if every one who had held an official position in any part of the Empire was a kind of Party hack, whose election could be secured by the intervention of the Party wire-pullers. In our Schedule, however, we include distinguished members of the Indian Civil Service, members of the Diplomatic Service, members of the Regular Forces of sufficient rank, and last, but not least, we include members of the great municipalities. I therefore claim for our Schedule that it is by no means so strongly tainted with a preference for officialism as my noble friend seemed to suppose.
Then one word as to the Peers referred to in the sixth clause—those who would be appointed by the Crown on the recommendation of Ministers. That proposal was criticised by Lord Courtney, not so much on its merits as because he regarded it as one which in practice would be unworkable; and I think the noble Viscount opposite also dwelt on the difficulty of applying to this particular provision the exact machinery adopted in the House of Commons in the case of appointments to Select Committees. These criticisms do not move me in the least. I cannot believe that it 690 would be beyond the power of the leaders of the great political Parties to arrive, in the first place, at an understanding as to the strength of Parties in the other House of Parliament, and that having been ascertained, to come to an understanding as to the manner in which the right of nomination would be exercised.
I pass for a moment to the category of Lords of Parliament, who under our Bill would be chosen by electoral colleges. May I be permitted to say that I remain strongly of the opinion that our proposal—namely, that the Members of Parliament should be grouped for this purpose in accordance with the areas which they represent—is a very much better and very much fairer proposal than the alternative suggested by the other side of the House, under which the whole of these 100 Peers would be elected by the whole House of Commons sitting together. I for one am disposed to attach very considerable importance to the recognition of the territorial system in this connection. I am, moreover, deeply convinced that if, as we all admit, it is desirable to eliminate as far as possible the influence of the Party machine in these elections, we stand an infinitely better chance of doing so by adopting the arrangement of the Bill than by handing the whole election over to the House of Commons. Lord Newton in dealing with this part of the Bill made some observations on the alleged dependence of the Peers elected by one of these electoral colleges on the Members of Parliament of whom that college would be composed. What I should like the House to bear in mind is this—although the Lords of Parliament would owe their seats in the House at the outset to the votes of grouped Members of Parliament, their position would be a more independent one than that of the Members of Parliament who elect them, because under our Bill the Lords of Parliament would have a safe seat here for twelve years which may be taken, I suppose roughly speaking, as the equivalent of three Parliaments under the Bill which we shall be discussing to-morrow evening.
I should like to notice, in passing, another suggestion which was made to us—I think by my noble friend on the Cross Benches, Lord Rosebery—the suggestion that we might take advantage of the opportunity offered by this Bill in order to provide for the disappearance of the Law Lords from this House. That suggestion is one which has very considerable attractions for me. 691 I have ventured on more than one occasion to express a favourable opinion of a proposal of this kind. There can be no doubt that the presence of the Law Lords in this House does create a very dangerous and mischievous confusion in the public mind in regard to their position not only as Judges, but as legislators. That confusions fusion is apparently not confined to the minds of the electorate, because it evidently prevails in the minds of the colleagues of the noble Viscount opposite. I hold in my hand a copy of the election address of Mr. John Burns, and I find it contains these words. He says—On all industrial matters affecting the working classes they are not content with being the final Court of Appeal the interpretation of the laws, but they [that is, the House of Lords] seek as a class apart from and above the control of the electorate to give partial consideration to the removal of grievances which vitally prejudice the interests of the working people.These words show that Mr. Burns, at any rate, is under a completely mistaken impression as to the position of this House with regard to appellate jurisdiction. I should therefore hope that if this question is further dealt with Parliament will be able to discover some less confusing title for the appellate Court, and it might easily be provided that the members of that Court should not sit as such in the House of Lords, though no doubt they would be eligible for nomination and conceivably for election under a Bill of this kind.
There is only one other point to which I wish to address myself. The principal charge we have had to meet as affecting this Bill is the charge that it is a Bill which has been drawn with deliberate unfairness to the Party opposite. We have sought to be—and in my belief we have succeeded in being—fair. I am disposed myself to agree with Lord Courtney when he told us the other evening that in his view a reformed Second Chamber might well contain a Conservative majority, provided, he said, it was not an overwhelming Conservative majority. I go further. Speaking for myself, I would say, Give us a Second Chamber the members of which are provided with sufficient credentials, and above all, possess an independent position; and I shall not be extremely difficult to please in regard to the mere question of numbers. But let me go a little further. Let me assume that there would be under such a scheme as ours a Conservative preponderance in 692 this House. I do assume it, and I assume it particularly for this reason—that I think experience shows us that with a twelve years' tenure Conservative tendencies would be very apt to develop themselves even amongst Liberal Peers. We see the thing happening under our eves. Noble Lords arrive here and take their seats on the benches opposite, and after a timesuffer a sea-changeInto something rich and strange.Those changes would take place under any system. Let us therefore assume that a small Conservative majority will be there. But do not let it be forgotten that if this Bill be read by the light of the Resolutions which this House passed last year, you are provided with an absolute safeguard against the undue action of that Conservative majority. We offer you in the first place, a system of Joint Sittings, which every colleague of the noble Viscount, as far as I am aware, has admitted to be a desirable addition to our political machinery, and which the noble Viscount himself in his speech this evening really spoke of as if the institution were already in existence. We suggest to you Joint Sittings, and then the Referendum, but not as the Prime Minister suggested the other day for what he called trivial and trumpery cases, but for cases of grave importance and great emergency, of the kind indicated in his speech by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. And here let me point out that noble Lords were in error when they spoke of the Referendum Bill of Lord Balfour as having been withdrawn. The Bill is still on the Paper of the House, and it is entirely for my noble friend to consider whether its discussion should be resumed or not.
I therefore ask the noble Viscount, Is our proposal, regarded as a complete proposal—for that is the only way to look at it—after all such an unfair and one-sided proposal as he would have us believe? Is it just to talk of our proposal as one involving the use of loaded dice? Under that proposal our big majority in this House disappears. You have a new House of which two-thirds will certainly owe their seats in it to a democratic title. You have a majority which may be forty as you tell us, or, as we suppose, eighteen, and which may also disappear altogether in circumstances which are perfectly conceivable. We offer you coupled with that Joint Sittings under which that majority, even if it 693 happened to be as high as forty, would be completely obliterated and overwhelmed by the present majority of the House of Commons. Is it really not rather an abuse of language to suggest, as the Lord Chancellor suggested, that we are inviting noble Lords opposite to surrender at discretion, or to suggest that under such a plan as ours the House of Commons will be held in a vice, or again that there is a complete absence of anything like fair play in what we are proposing?
If we are to talk about fair play, I would ask the House to consider what is the idea of fair play entertained by noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite. The noble Viscount who spoke last said he desired as a preliminary to the reform of the House of Lords the establishment of something like an equality between the two Houses. What is the noble Viscount's idea of equality? It seems to me that his idea of equality is that you are to begin by hitting your enemy below the belt, that you then get him down and keep him down, and when you have got him down you will be good enough, as you put it, to "speak with your enemy in the gate." The noble Viscount repudiated with much earnestness the idea that he and his friends desire to assume the position of what I think he called "top dog" in the controversy. There never was 694 a more admirable example of the "top, dog" arrangement than that which is involved in the Bill of which the noble Viscount will move the Second Evading to-morrow. We are to be forced down and compelled, if necessary by unconstitutional means, to accept humiliating and disgraceful terms. To which situation does the expression "Surrender at discretion" apply most justly—to that which we set out to create or to that which you will create, if you have your way, by the Parliament Bill? The people of this country are not bad judges of fair play, and I think we may safely leave them to decide between us.
§ On Question, whether the Bill shall now be read 2aresolved in the affirmative: Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.