§ Debate on the Motion for the Second Reading resumed (according to order).
§ THE EARL OF CROMER
My Lords, I should like to draw attention to one branch of this subject, the importance of which is, I venture to think, as yet very inadequately appreciated by the public generally. I allude to the complete abandonment of such financial control as has heretofore been exercised by your Lordships' House. It may perhaps be thought that it is useless to say anything on this subject because, in the somewhat loose phraseology of the day, the public has made up its mind that finance is exclusively the province of the House of Commons, and that the House of Lords should have nothing to say in the matter. That may be so, but I very greatly doubt whether the very grave consequences which may and probably will ensue by withdrawing from this House the functions in respect to finance exercised by every other Second Chamber in the world are fully appreciated. In any case, my Lords, holding, as I do, that sound finance is the basis of all good government, I cannot reconcile myself to allowing this Bill to receive a Second Reading without littering a note of warning on this subject.
My Lords, I do not propose to make a Budget speech, but I cannot enforce the argument to which I wish to draw your Lordships' attention without alluding briefly to the main facts of the present financial situation. I leave out of account the figures for the current year, merely observing that I cannot help fearing that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has greatly under-estimated the cost of his invalidity and unemployment insurance scheme. Looking to the past five years, I wish to point out that the Imperial expenditure has increased during that period by about thirty-one million pounds, or at the altogether unprecedented rate of more than six millions a year; that, in spite of the onerous taxes imposed, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has only been able to balance his accounts by reducing the amount heretofore applied to Sinking Fund by three and a-half millions a year, besides making some very formidable raids on the old Sinking Fund, which is being largely diverted from its original object; and that simultaneously with this enormous increase of Imperial there has been a very large increase of local taxation and expenditure. It is very generally thought 749 that this huge increase in the public burden a mainly, if not entirely, on account of armaments. This view, however, is wholly incorrect. The increase of naval and military expenditure during the last five years has only been ten millions, as compared to an increase of twenty-one millions in civil expenditure.
I am aware that hardy optimists, who either cannot or will not look the real facts of the situation in the face, airily brush aside all warnings based on these Stupendous figures with the comforting commonplace reflection that similar warnings have often been given before, and that in past times the event has falsified the predictions made by prophets of evil. I do not in the least deny it. I was reading not long ago that in the middle of the eighteenth century a member of your Lordships' House, Lord Bathurst, said that one of the most distinguished mathematicians of the day had foretold that the country would be irretrievably ruined if an attempt was made to raise a revenue of five millions in any one year, and fifty years ago Mr. Gladstone, whose very sound financial principles have been cast to the winds by his successors, said—There is no country that can go on raising seventy millions in time of peace with impunity. England cannot, and, if England cannot, no country can.I wonder what Mr. Gladstone would think if he could be told that in time of peace we are raising, not seventy millions, but 152 millions, exclusive of some thirty millions of revenue not derived from taxation properly so-called. The fallacy which underlies all the conclusions based on the falsity of past predictions is this—that whereas it may be said, broadly speaking, that in the past the increase of the public burthens has been in some degree proportionate to the growing wealth and prosperity of the country, such is by no means the case at present. We have a falling birth-rate; we have to deal with a population which is but slowly increasing by comparison with former times. The growth of expenditure has by far outstripped that of population. Some twenty years ago the total Imperial expenditure amounted to no more than £2 11s. per head of population. It is now considerably over £3 per head.
I am not going into the question of whether all this increase of expenditure has or has not been justified. I quite 750 admit that in view of the urgent need for social reform, which is universally recognised, much of it was justifiable. Neither will I deal with the methods adopted for raising the revenue required to meet this expenditure beyond saying that, however objectionable some features in those methods may have been, I have always recognised that the income of the income Tax-paving classes has enormously increased of late years, and that I therefore hold that, supposing the money to have been really required, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was perfectly justified in placing the main burthen on those who pay direct taxes, But I do say that, in view of the perfectly reckless manner in which liabilities of unknown amount have been incurred without any provision being made to meet them, and in view moreover, of the manner in which the large revenue derived from the Sugar Duties was unnecessarily sacrificed, there never was a moment in our history when strict financial control over the proceedings, not only of the Government, but of the House of Commons was more urgently required than at present. Yet this is the moment chosen to sweep entirely away the financial control heretofore exercised by your Lordships' House. I do not say that, in view of the very limited powers claimed by this House, that control could ever have been very effective or complete. It could never have interfered, nor did it ever claim to interfere, in detail. But, my Lords, it was better than nothing. It was, at all events, a control exercised by a body less exposed than the other House to ephemeral gusts of passion.
We are often told—and we have heard a good deal on the subject in this debate—that your Lordships' House is not sufficiently in touch with popular feeling. I do not deny that there is some force in the criticism, but I am not at all sure that being in touch with popular feeling is the quality exclusively required in those who have to watch over the increase of the public burthens. It is a quality apt to degenerate into a complete inability to resist unreasonable popular demands, especially in matters of finance. Reading over a short while ago for the second time that very remarkable life of Mr. Gladstone, written by the noble Viscount opposite, I came across the following passag—No Chancellor of the Exchequer" ['Mr. Gladstone said]" is worth his salt who makes his own popularity either his first consideration or any consideration at all in administering public affairs:751 Those were the opinions held by one of the greatest State financiers whom this country has ever produced, at whose feet I sat in my youth, and the adoption of whose financial principles led, I may remark incidentally, to the rescue of Egypt from a state of bankruptcy. Can it be maintained for one moment that the present Chancellor of the Exchequer has acted in accordance with this very sound principle? To the outside public it would certainly appear that the present Government, of which the Chancellor of the Exchequer is one of the most important members, have given a more prominent place to the popularity than to the soundness of their financial proposals. Concession after concession has been made—each popular, each costly, and each, as it appears to me, based on the temporary Parliamentary or electoral necessities of the moment rather than on a statesmanlike appreciation of the permanent interests of the country. The last measure is that of payment of Members of Parliament, as to which Mr. Gladstone once said that—of all the changes that may in the course of generations be made in the constitution of this country, he trusted that the very last and latest will be the payment of Members of Parliament.My Lords, I am waiting with some anxiety to know whether this vitally important change, which is more important in its political than in its financial aspects, will be regarded as a measure wholly within the competence of the House of Commons, and will thus be abstracted from the cognisance of your Lordships' House. If the latter proceeding is adopted, it appears to me that a more flagrant instance of "tacking" could scarcely be conceived. One is tempted to ask oneself how long will this last—Quousque tandem? Will a moment ever arrive when His Majesty's Government will realise that there are other considerations more important than the fleeting popularity of the moment? Throughout the whole of the proceedings of the Government I see no indication whatever of the fundamental truth that that redoubtable, I believe well-intentioned but often misguided giant, Democracy, cannot safely be governed by yielding at the first onslaught to all its wishes and caprices, but that unless disaster is to ensue it must be guided, and at times even saved from the consequences of its own rashness. And yet, in spite of these extreme concessions to democratic sentiment, when we, believing that the people are often much more sensible than their representatives—as has been shown 752 to be the case in Australia—ask that they should really be able to express their opinions by means of the Referendum, the Government, with an inconsistency which cannot be explained away, are horrified at so democratic a measure.
Let me now, in illustration of the use which may be made of the financial control heretofore exercised by this House, call to your Lordships' recollection what occurred in connection with the Old Age Pensions Act. It was that Act, passed in 1908, which necessarily led to the Budget of 1909, and which has brought about the whole of the present Constitutional crisis. Your Lordships may remember that I was not one of those who thought that the Budget of 1909 should have been rejected. I did not think that that was the best way to safeguard the important Conservative and moderate interests, of which your Lordships are now, in reality, the only representatives in this country. But I did think that, looking exclusively to the merits of the case, there were far stronger reasons for exercising the authority of your Lordships' House as regards the legislation of 1908. Then was the time to make an effective protest; in 1909 it was too late. When once the spendthrift legislation of 1908 was passed the money had to be provided somehow, and the production of a Budget in 1909 which would bring about a collision between the two Houses of Parliament was inevitable. There is no subject, however, on which there has been a greater amount of misrepresentation of the views entertained in this House than on this question of Old Age Pensions. It has been stated on every platform in the country that your Lordships were opposed to granting Old Age Pensions. No statement could be more false. What we objected to was taking liabilities without any real knowledge of their extent, and without any idea of how they were to be met when they fell due.
Moreover, we objected to passing a hasty, ill-considered measure, and we thought that if more time had been given for reflection a much more thorough and beneficial scheme could be worked out by adopting the principle of contributory payments. My Lords, will any impartial man, who is not carried away by party spirit, now have the assurance to say that we were not quite right? I venture to say that we have been right on every point. The original estimate of the cost of Old Age Pensions was 753 6 millions. My noble friend, Lord Curzon, the other day said, if I remember rightly, that it would cost 10 millions. I ventured to correct him and said 12. My Lords, I was wrong; I ought to have said 13 millions. But we now never think in less than seven figures, and the mere addition of a million appears to be considered a matter of but trifling importance. Moreover, we were told two years ago that it was quite impossible to prepare a scheme on a contributory basis; yet what has now happened? Only two years have elapsed, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, after paying a hurried visit to Germany, comes forward with a plan which, so far as its general principle is concerned, has met with universal acceptance, and which ratifies the very principle which was scornfully rejected but a short time ago.
There is one further point in connection with this measure to which I should like to draw attention. An Amendment was moved by myself in your Lordships' House and carried by a large majority, not in any way hostile to the principle of Old Age Pensions, but merely providing that the scheme introduced in 1908 should lapse in a few years, and thus enable a more thorough plan, based on a contributory principle, to be worked out. If that Amendment had been accepted by the. House of Commons the result would have been that in course of time a far better scheme than that which now exists would have been created, and that the wholly gratuitous principle would have gradually disappeared without any harm being done to the actual holders of pensions. I cannot help thinking that future Chancellors of the Exchequer will have reason to regret that that Amendment was not passed into law. My Lords, this Amendment was not rejected because any solid arguments were produced against it. Many of your Lordships may remember the debate which took place in this House; they may remember the halting defence which was made by noble Lords opposite of the proposals of the present Government; they may remember that the ominous silence of some of the most distinguished of noble Lords opposite certainly engendered the suspicion that some members of the present Government were not very enthusiastic supporters of the policy of their colleagues. But though, as I venture to think, worsted in argument, our proposal was rejected merely because it emanated from the House of Lords. I venture to say that although 754 we were overborne on this point, the mere fact that criticisms of the nature of those to which I now allude were made in this House shows that the financial control of the House of Lords may at times be highly beneficial to the public interests. It is now, however, to be swept away, and what is it proposed to put in its place? Absolutely nothing. Experience has taught us to what an extent the present Government can be considered as efficient guardians of the public purse, and as to the control of the House of Commons it is quite clear that it is not only absolutely illusory, but that that body, whatever may be its other merits, will always encourage rather than check reckless expenditure. So far as I know, the only criticisms that have been made by the leading Radicals of that House have been directed against that branch of the national expenditure which, however regrettable, is absolutely necessary in order to ensure our existence as an independent nation—I mean naval and military expenditure.
For these reasons, my Lords, as I said at the commencement of my remarks, I am unwilling to allow this Bill to be read a second time without entering an earnest protest against the destruction of the only feeble barrier which now exists to check the growth of the public burthens. And, my Lords, in doing so, let me add that I feel assured that a day of reckoning will come. Matters will, I do not doubt, go fairly well as long as times are prosperous and no great political or commercial crisis ensues. But if ever this country is engaged in war, it will be found than as the result of the financial policy of the present Government there will be no fiscal reserve on which to fall back, and that we shall have to pay for war expenditure, not, as heretofore, largely out of revenue, but entirely out of borrowed money, which, in view of the great depreciation of the national credit which has taken place, we shall have to raise at a ruinous rate of interest. Then, my Lords, I think sober-minded people will begin to reflect that a great error was made in bestowing unrestricted financial power upon a Single Chamber and upon a Government which must owe its existence to the extent to which it will be able to gratify the extravagance of which that Chamber is certain to approve.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I do not wish to give a silent vote, if a vote be required at all, upon this notable Bill. When questions 755 of sheer or mere Party politics are before the House I retain the view I have always expressed that the less the Bishops take part in the clash of arms upon such topics the better. This is not such an occasion. A great change in the Constitutional relations of the two Houses of Legislature is proposed, a change—and this is the point I want to make—which has already virtually received the approval, in very many of its parts, of both sides in polities. I can neither reduce such a proposal to the petty dimensions of some Party strife, nor can I feel that the Bishops, who, after all, are the oldest part of the Legislature of the kingdom, ought to allow it to pass without some word or comment.
I desire to draw a contrast between the picture of facts as they were two years ago and the picture of facts as they are to-day. Two years ago the country rang with denunciations of the House of Lords. Some of them were so grossly exaggerated as to be merely travesties or burlesques of the facts. Others, whether highly coloured or not, were so far intended to be honest and accurate that they were, at all events, deserving of respect and attention, and they gave the orators' view of the situation. Such descriptions were agreed in this. All depicted, and, with something more than a measure of truth, all were directed to denunciations of a house purely hereditary, a House that claimed the right to reject Money Bills as well as others, and a House which claimed unlimited power in regard to all legislation other than Money Bills. That picture lent itself well to lurid street hoardings, and to vociferous oratory, and people will long remember the period of those denunciations and their sequel. That picture does explain—I am prepared, for the sake of argument, to say it even justifies—the claim that was then put forward, the need that was then expressed of root and branch legislation to restrain, to cripple a body of men who, simply as hereditary legislators, were so acting. Many members of this House on the Government Benches made speeches to that effect.
Turn to the actual facts to-day, painted as accurately, as cold-bloodedly, as you can. The House of Lords, whether rightly or wrongly—that is not my point at all—has deliberately divested itself of no small part of its claims and attributes. If it has its way, if its Resolutions are made effective, it will no longer exercise the power of rejecting Money Bills. That is gone, and 756 gone by its own act. With regard to other legislation, it has cut down, I will not say abandoned but largely cut down—we may even say that it has actually abandoned—its claim finally to reject Bills by its own vote alone. It makes definite and far-reaching, and surely conciliatory, proposals, whether they are wise or unwise is no matter, for destroying, either by Joint Sessions or the Referendum, the powers it has hitherto used of free and unrestrained rejection of legislation of an ordinary kind. But above all it has declared, not by Resolution, but by a Bill read unanimously a second time, that it will, if it has its way, be no longer the mere hereditary House which was denounced, but will, in its largest part, consist of members brought in by election or nomination from outside. Right or wrong, wise or unwise, these proposals at present hold the field, and they are the handiwork of the House itself.
The two pictures are so widely different that it might be said that they have very little in common, and yet, by a judicious use of generalities, the declamatory speeches, the vituperative articles, sometimes even the caricatures which did duty two years ago, are made to do duty still, and are applied to conditions almost as different as can be imagined from those for which they were originally compiled or given forth. That applies in some degree even to speeches in Parliament, even to speeches in this House. Nothing less like a declamatory harangue could be imagined than the calm and reasoned and considerate speech of the noble Viscount who spoke yesterday on behalf of His Majesty's Government; but his main argument seemed to me to be one which might with equal effectiveness, and perhaps with more appropriateness, have been used two years ago, than it could be used now. In an opening sentence of his speech the noble Viscount, in grave tones, stated that the Bill was rendered necessary by the rejection of the Budget in 1909. I was no party to that rejection, and I am not discussing it, for good or for evil, now, but, when that incident is claimed as now necessitating this Bill, it is surely material to remember that the House itself has said that the claim to act in that particular way is now dropped or abandoned for good.
My plea is this. We want to look at the facts with straightforward honesty and simplicity. We want to reduce the outstanding 757 divergence to its true dimensions and to see the facts as they really are to-day. I am a poor mathematician, but I recall the rule, Reduce your fractions to their lowest terms. So reduced, does the outstanding difference between the policy to-day declared by the two Parties in the State, important as that difference may be, loom large enough to justify the chaos and the confusion with which we are threatened if no arrangement of any kind be arrived at? How does the matter stand, putting incidental and trifling parts of it on one side? The Government introduce a Bill providing, first, no rejection henceforward by the House of Lords of purely Money Bills. So says the House itself. It has gone the whole length to meet you in this way, and, if you will, the remedy that you suggest is already granted. The Government Bill next proposes the curtailment of the power of rejecting other Bills. The House has gone far to meet that too. I am not discussing the methods of the proposed via salutis, whether by Joint Sessions, the Referendum, or the rest; but, at all events, it is prepared to go a very long way in that direction. And, most important of all, though that is not in the Bill, is the point that the House to be dealt with in the future will no longer be the hereditary body which has been so lustily bethumped in the past, but it will be a different body, to which the old speeches will, surely, be quite inapplicable.
Then notice that all the changed conditions in the controversy, all these advances and concessions, if you call them so, have come from one side. The Opposition has said, "We recognise the difficulty of the situation; we recognise, if you will, the inequality of which complaint has been made. We propose a way to meet it." You cannot, after that, argue as if these proposals had not been made as an inherent part of the controversy which we have now to face and settle. Of course, there remain the points of possible, of, I dare say, probable difference in large details of the Bill. We may have suggestions—they were almost foreshadowed last night—of modifications, about which I know nothing. They seem to relate to what might be called "the wholesaleness" of some of the Bill's provisions. About that I have no knowledge whatever, but surely these must be matters which are capable of negotiation, of arrangement, add of mutual concession.
I venture, I hope not wrongly, to draw 758 good augury in that direction from the notable speech of Lord Morley, to which I have already referred. Let the take two examples of what I mean—matters in that speech which seem to me to offer good hope that this question is at least capable of a solution other than that of mere force and strife. The noble Viscount quoted with care and in detail the speech made by the then Leader of the House, Lord Crewe, in November, 1909, with regard to the difficulties under which the Front Bench of the Liberal Party were placed in this House. But that speech was made, and was presumably endorsed by the noble Viscount in the same sense, not as complaining of the position of those Peers when their Government is in office, but when they are in Opposition. Here are the words—We retired into exile for several years; and in fifteen years of Opposition I can say with all honesty that I cannot recall a single case when or my noble friends…did the slightest good to any human being by attendance in the House cannot recall a case when anything we said here had the slightest effect. I cannot recall a case when any Amendment of substance to any of the Bills of the then Government, were modified at our instance.Your Lordships will note that this is a complaint, not of the difficulty of the position of noble Lords on the Liberal side when their Government is in office, but of their difficulty when they are in Opposition. It may be a serious grievance that no Amendment of substance to any Government Bill was carried at their instance, but I should have thought that, real as that grievance may be for an Opposition, it is not peculiar to the House of Lords. I should imagine that the minority on the Opposition Benches in the House of Commons ordinarily, at all events, find some little difficulty in carrying Amendments of substance as against a Government measure. But, if it be, as the noble Viscount feels and as Lord Crewe felt, a grievance that such Amendments of substance were not readily accepted from the Opposition in this House, it is impossible to suppose that that grievance will be allowed to recur now. There was then a very small Opposition, there is now a very large Opposition, and if it was a grievance that; noble Lords on the Opposition Benches were unable to obtain a fair and successful hearing for Amendments which they proposed to a Government Bill, we have the noble Viscount's virtual responsibility for feeling that such a grievance would not, presumably be allowed to be repeated under other circumstances now.
759 Then the noble Viscount referred to the very important incident of 1869, the Irish Church negotiations, his point being that this House has known on great occasions how to yield, when yielding was for the public good and for the nation's gain. I hold in my hand the actual half sheets upon which Mr. Gladstone and Lord Cairns respectively made the annotations as to what they thought was possible by way of negotiation with a view to a settlement of that controversy. I have retained these half sheets, in the handwriting of those notable men, as an interesting record of a great Parliamentary incident, but I have kept them, too, as evidence of the willingness and power of a great Prime Minister—one of the greatest Prime Ministers in English history—in the very moment of his triumph, to deal in a reasonable and conciliatory spirit with conscientious opponents who desired amendment in his Bill rather than plunge the country into fresh and disastrous strife. Have we not ground for saying it is of good augury that the noble Viscount should refer so markedly to that particular incident in connection with the perplexities of to-day? What I am trying to urge now is that honesty of statement does require at this juncture the admission that the field of controversy has been surprisingly narrowed. The acceptance of the opponents' position has been most remarkable, at least on one side of the House. Is it out of place, is it presumptuous, that a man who sits in this House with no hereditary qualifications and certainly with no outstanding personal claim, but who sits here upon the oldest tenure of any member of the House, yes, and sits here with his friends on the Episcopal Benches in order to further what is true and peaceable and for the common good, should make an appeal to both sides at this moment of great Constitutional difficulty? Hitherto, so far as I can see, all concession in this controversy has emanated from one side. Yes; so far. Now the opportunity has come, or will come, for that fair play which we have heard so often asked for. It is certainly not least with His Majesty's Government that the power of using or missing that opportunity will rest.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD LOREBURN)
My Lords, I am sure that all your Lordships must feel how entirely appropriate to his vocation and his great position in this country is the language of peace and good will which we have heard from the most rev. Primate. It is always 760 easy to make appeals to the House, but it is not easy to make them in such impressive tones as the most rev. Primate has adopted. He depicts to us a situation of approximate agreement, as though that had been already attained. Surely every one must know that it is only a few days ago the noble Lord, Lord Curzon, told us that this was a measure which he would meet with implacable hostility. Is it any use then trying to make us believe that we are not in the presence of a grave Constitutional crisis, an important stage of a great Constitutional development, which does not, I am sorry to say, at present offer to my mind any promise of such a settlement as the most rev. Primate indicated? Indeed, he did not indicate any method by which we were to attain this settlement; not a single suggestion of a practical kind, because he knew perfectly well that the only suggestion he could make to the Government was that after all which has passed we should now withdraw the Bill before the House. I always regret to appear in any unduly controversial attitude, but I think your Lordships will feel as practical men that we are not able to assent to the proposal, the only proposal which really was involved in the most rev. Primate's speech.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
I am very sorry to interrupt. Nothing was further from my thought than that the Bill should be withdrawn. I indicated some modification or amendment.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am very sorry if I have misunderstood the most rev. Primate. If any amendment is suggested in Committee, then will be the time for us to consider it and not at the present time.
Let me recall as uncontroversially as I can the history of this Bill. In the year 1909 we found ourselves driven to break up a great majority after a period of four years of Parliamentary life. Try, my Lords, to put yourselves in our position. Put yourselves in the position of a Liberal who really did care for the measures which were before this House, but did not pass through this House from 1906 down to 1909. We had been practically out of office for twenty years. We had a crop of measures which commended themselves to our own convictions as being essential for the welfare of the country. You may have differed from us, but those were the opinions which we entertained. I will not dwell upon the subject unduly, but your Lordships all 761 know what happened to the three or four Bills the last of which was the Finance Bill in the year 1909. We were frustrated and humiliated, and my own feeling at the time was that if this kind of thing went on Parliamentary labour had no further attractions for me at all. It meant that after great labour and toil in preparing complicated and difficult measures, after great exhaustion in the House of Commons, sitting sometimes right through the year, depriving ourselves of holidays, sitting sometimes all night, we found we had no chance if there was any real opposition on the part of certain strong vested interests of getting our measures through this House. It breaks the hearts of reformers to be defeated and broken at every point and unable to carry anything they desire to see added to the Statute-book. We were driven to the country.
The noble Viscount, Lord Midleton, last night said that we had not given the Opposition the opportunity of preparing their alternative. Why, it was they who were the authors of the Dissolution of January, 1910. Had they not themselves prepared the alternative policy which they were going to propound to the country for the reform of the House of Lords when they themselves prepared the Dissolution which took place? My Lords, they had that opportunity; they propounded no alternative policy then. Then in the spring of 1910 Lord Rosebery brought forward his Resolutions, which I quite agree were a distinct advance. But the criticism I made at the time was this—you could not tell from those Resolutions what was to be the structure of the new House of Lords which was adumbrated. You did not know the crucial point—namely, what was to be the relative strength of Liberals and Conservatives in the reformed House of Lords. Then came the Conference. That seems to be an incident altogether forgotten. The Conference failed because the leaders on both sides were unable to come to terms. They avowed their desire but were unable to come to terms and the Conference therefore broke up.
What was the position that left us in? Supposing we had begun again to negotiate, what was the use? We had just seen the impossibility of arriving at a conclusion by negotiation and agreement. The General Election of January, 1910, was treated as having no significance at all. Is it really true that a General Election is to mean everything 762 when the Conservative Party wins and to mean nothing when the Liberal Party wins? We were driven to another election at the end of 1910, and then again the country repeated, one might say totidem verbis, or totidem suffragiis at all events, the verdict which they had before given and which had been inoperative and disregarded and spurned by Mr. Balfour as having no significance or importance. Here we are now five months after that election. If ever there was a direction given by a vote of the community to a Government which appealed to them, a direction was given to bring in the Bill which is now before your Lordships. It was lying in black and white available for everybody to criticise and had been so for six months. It was made the main and crucial point—and no election ever turns on one point alone—at the General Election by both sides, and now we are only asking your Lordships to carry out that which you have always professed your readiness to do, the opinion expressed by the people directly at the General Election. I am sure your Lordships will not think I am disrespectful when I say that this will be a test of the sincerity—which I do not question—of those declarations is it to be said that after this has happened your Lordships will defy the expression of opinion which has been faithfully rendered by the House of Commons on the direct instruction of the people at large?
Let me turn to another side of this subject and point out that notwithstanding that this stage of the controversy is really concluded by the circumstances to which I have referred, yet that does not preclude the possibility of agreement upon the ulterior problems concerning this subject. There are hopeful signs that there may be matter for consent hereafter. Not only is the Bill of the noble Marquess a very great advance, but, in the concluding passages in the speech he made to the House, just before it gave a Second Reading to that Bill, he used some very significant language. He conveyed that he would not attach any very excessive importance to the question of numbers of either side, Liberal or Conservative, when the composition of the new House of Lords was being considered. I must not put too strict or too extensive an interpretation upon that language, but from our point of view it is a very hopeful sign. The real point upon that part of the speech is this, Will the Conservative Party give us as good an 763 opportunity as they themselves have of passing measures through the reconstructed House of Lords? Will they equalise between the two Parties the restraint that is hereafter to be possessed by the reconstructed House of Lords? Let there be a Second Chamber that is fair to all Parties and it may well be that then some method of procedure which involves less delay and which is more expeditious than that proposed by the present Bill may be found to commend itself to all Parties. Of this I am sure, that it is only by recognising the real needs of equality and fair play between the two Parties that there will be any possibility of that result. If that real equality is given it may well be that fresh relations may hereafter, by common consent, be established.
The noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, spoke last night as if his chief dread of this Bill was that it might be used to further a Home Rule Bill. I do not wish the House to be under misapprehension. They know the policy of the Government involves Home Rule for Ireland; not only so, but I venture to say that when that subject comes forward we shall find a very different tone and temper towards it from the country at large and from the Conservative Party than prevailed in the unhappy efforts which we have made before. The younger members of the Conservative Party are largely in favour of some measure which may fairly be called Home Rule, and some of the more experienced and leading members of the Party are so too, and the Press and many Conservative influences in quite recent times have shown that they are not prepared to offer the obstinate resistance that has been offered in the past to a measure of this kind. Our people are beginning to see that there are very vital causes why we should endeavour to deal with this question in a way satisfactory to Ireland. There are the Imperial reasons that we may not have this as a constant source of weakness and reproach; there are the Irish reasons why we should apply that principle of reconciliation which has been so successful in South Africa and everywhere else all over the British Dominions to Ireland as well; and there are the Parliamentary reasons, visible to anybody who chooses to consider the present congestion of business of the House of Commons and the urgent need for the reform of that House in that respect. For my part, I should think that Parliamentary reform would be of comparatively 764 little value if it did not enable us to handle and deal with a subject of that kind in a way which for five-and-twenty years I have desired myself to see it settled. I should greatly regret if the spirit which the most rev. Primate indicated were absent from this House either now or at any time, but I do feel it would be encouraging an illusion if I said that His Majesty's Government could depart from this Bill.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
My Lords, I am sure that no noble Lord on this side listens to the Lord Chancellor without a feeling of respect. That respect arises from the fact that we know that he is a really honest Radical. In this House no one is cried down for any unpopular opinions he may happen to hold, and though there be a large majority on this side of the House, the noble and learned Lord knows well, and the noble Viscount has expressed it to-night, that this House always accords a fair hearing to any member of it, whatever his opinions and in whatever part of the House he may sit. But I must say that I was rather disappointed at the first words of the Lord Chancellor, although I think he partly withdrew them afterwards. The speech of the most rev. Primate enlarged upon the necessity of conciliation, and in it the most rev. Primate pointed out, what is perfectly true, that all the concessions and all the offers so far had come from this side of the House alone. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, in the debate on the reform of this House, made a speech which, I think, was rather unfortunate in the sternness of the attitude taken up. To-night he ended his speech by saying that the Government adhered to the Bill as it is now before the House, and he added, "You cannot expect us to give up the fruits of victory." He said something of that sort. But then the noble and learned Lord proceeded to enlarge upon the sins of commission of this House. He said that you had rejected Bill after Bill which had been introduced by the Government, but I have noticed that in the country and even in this House noble Lords opposite have acknowledged how your Lordships acceded to their Bills. I myself obtained a Return a year or two ago which showed that more Bills had been passed by this House with less consideration and in a shorter time in this Parliament than in any Parliament during the last century. It is therefore hardly fair to make this charge against your Lordships. Let me take the 765 two most important Bills, next to the Budget, which were not passed by this House. Will the noble and learned Lord say that the Licensing Bill was really popular in the country?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I do not know. I think it very likely that in some quarters it was unpopular, but it was a Bill that was needed for the health of the people, and it is the duty of Parliament to pass such a Bill whether it is popular or not. May I respectfully suggest that to the noble Earl?
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
The noble and learned Lord says that the Licensing Bill was needed for the health of the people. Is he certain that the people thought so? After all, whether it be the Referendum or any other means that you take, surely the people have a right to express their opinion. You must also remember that that Bill was not a Licensing Bill pure and simple; it had a part of a Budget tacked on. Then there was the Education Bill, on which there were prolonged negotiations between the two Houses. I do not know exactly the grounds on which they split, but I believe it was something connected with the tenure of teachers. Surely it is not fair to say, because your Lordships thought that teachers ought to be allowed a certain tenure that that is flouting the other House. Then we come to the Budget. It is always being reiterated that this House threw out the Budget. This House did nothing of the kind. What this House did was this. Believing that the principles involved in the Budget were not in favour with the country, it wished the country to decide upon that matter. The country did decide What was the result? The result of the election showed that the Parliament of 1906 did not represent the opinion of the country. It is true that noble Lords opposite came back with a majority of 100 or thereabouts, but that majority was a diminished one, and the new Parliament was entirely different in constitution and temper.
The noble and learned Lord was, I think, also a little unfortunate when he referred to the question of the reform of the House of Lords. I should like to know what the Liberal Party has ever done to assist in reforming the House of Lords. When the Committee was appointed, Lord Crewe, who was then leading the House, threw cold 766 water upon it in every form he could, and he dissuaded his friends from joining. I venture to say, with all respect, that the noble Earl on that occasion unconsciously did great disservice to the House. He certainly did a great disservice to the Committee, because the Committee were prevented from having the full advantage of Liberals upon it. I would appeal to Lord Courtney and one or two other Liberals who did come, whether their proposals were not received with great attention, and whether they ever sat on a Committee which in its constitution, in its methods of doing business, and in its consideration of the whole case, was more impartial or more absolutely without any regard to Party? Then the noble and learned Lord referred to the Conference of last year. I venture to say that your Lordships approach the discussion of this Bill under a great disadvantage, because you have never been informed what took place at that Conference. This House placed its rights and its liberties to a great extent in the hands of that Conference, and I think it has been a great mistake in the public interest that we have never known from that day to this what took place there. I am sure that this secrecy was not owing to the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne; nor, I dare say, was it due to Lord Crewe; but they bound themselves to secrecy with regard to their proceedings because they thought that if the proceedings at such a Conference were revealed, such Conferences would become impossible in the future. But the eight gentlemen who took part in it were appointed by Parliament, and surely their colleagues in Parliament had a right to know what occurred. I do not say that there should have been a verbatim report, but surely there ought to have been some official report of what Motions were made and so on, that we might have been in a better position to discuss this matter.
With regard to the Election of 1910, I do not think the circumstances reflect very great credit on His Majesty's Government. They came from the Conference and dissolved in a great hurry in order, for some reason best known to themselves, to obtain a decision on an old and practically dead register. But whatever the reason, I think that if they had really wished to obtain the verdict of the country they would not have endeavoured to snatch the verdict in the way they did upon a register which was almost at its end. The noble and learned 767 Lord said that the noble Marquess had made some remark which had given him hope. The noble Marquess, I believe, said that he was not very particular about the exact numbers of Peers. I believe he said that in the thoroughly impartial and honest spirit which always characterises his speeches. If it was merely a matter of numbers I do not think there would have been any difficulty. At all events, I cannot believe there would have been any in arriving at an arrangement. But what did the noble and learned Lord and the Government do with regard to that matter? They declined to take any part whatsoever in putting forward that Bill. They say that they must have in this House a balance which is fair to all Parties. I am at a loss to understand what this equality of opportunity and so on means. Wherever you have an Assembly which is made up of men who are not obliged to have recourse to electors, their attitude is one which it is much more difficult to calculate upon than the attitude of those who are elected. It is a well known fact that a great many men who at one time sat on that side of the House have come across to this side. Do noble Lords mean that the House must be divided into two equal parties, whatever may be the principles of the measures put forward? So far as I understand it, that is what their words mean. Do noble Lords mean that whenever a measure is brought in such as the late Mr. Gladstone's Home Rule Bill and noble Lords cross the floor of the House that the balance of the House is then to be redressed by some automatic process? I will not follow the noble and learned Lord into what he said about Home Rule, but it is evident that one of the main reasons for putting forward this Bill is to drive Home Rule through Parliament. Your Lordships are recognised, at all events by the Irish, to be the main obstacle to the passing of such a measure. I think that on such a Constitutional measure as that of Home Rule the people ought always to have something to say about it.
The noble Viscount, Lord Morley, in his introduction of the Parliament Bill, said that on examination it would be found not to be so revolutionary as we supposed. I cannot agree with the most rev. Primate that there was a great deal of conciliation in Lord Morley's speech, for the noble Viscount said clearly and distinctly—he has said it on a previous occasion—that, whether reformed or unreformed, the House of Lords 768 must have its powers of stopping legislation taken away. I cannot conceive a greater revolution. If that is not revolution, then what is? Whether you look at this Bill from the point of view of drafting, or to the substance of it, it is without precedent. Take the Preamble. If it went upstairs to one of your Private Bill Committees three-fourths of it would be cut out at once as having nothing to do with the Bill. The Preamble runs—Whereas it is expedient that provision should be made for regulating the relations between the two Houses of Parliament:And whereas it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation:Did any one ever read such a Preamble? Why, I would like to know, were words put into the Preamble of the Bill when they have nothing whatsoever to do with its contents? We were told—I do not know whether it is correct or not, but it certainly was currently reported—that those paragraphs were put in to conciliate the scruples of the moderate men. If that is so, it was a work of supererogation, because though those men talk a great deal, when it comes to action they toe the line and vote with the most extreme men in the Party. What, for instance, has become of the Liberal Imperialists? On that point, perhaps, the noble Earl on the Cross Benches could give us some very interesting information were he so disposed. A Chamber such as that which appears in this Bill is not to be found in any country which is possessed of representative institutions. The noble Viscount, Lord Morley, said that they had not invented this. All I can say is that no one ever saw such a Chamber as you propose.
The noble Viscount, Lord Morley, said that such powers as it is proposed to leave to this House would rest no longer on the disputed survival of an antiquated right but on the firmly defined creation of a modern Statute. But how long is that Statute likely to last? Is the authority of that Statute any greater than the authority of those principles on which our Constitution is established? What is to prevent a noble Lord three or four years hence coming here and saving that we have used these powers of delay in an unwise and improper manner and introducing a further Bill to take away the remaining powers of the House? This Bill is really founded on the necessities of the Government, who have to depend for 769 their existence upon the Nationalist vote. It is through the Irish and also the Welsh and Labour Members that Ministers live and move and have their being. Mr. John Redmond and his satellites have reminded the Government of that in language the reverse of complimentary, but they have always taken it lying down. The noble Viscount seemed surprised at our cheering when he referred to his Party being described as a log-rolling coalition; but what else is it? Let me quote to him his own words; they describe this coalition so well that it leaves nothing to be desired—The more numerous the reasons that bring a great body of men together, the more obvious it is that their concentrating on one particular point shows the depth of the feeling that they have for their own interests and for the interests of the other groups that work with them.Certainly, they have the very greatest regard for their own interests, and they promote them quite independently of the general good of the country. With regard to their caring for the interests of the other groups, I am not quite sure of that. I have seen disputes between them as to which was to come first, and I have seen arrangements made that one was to come first and the other was to follow immediately afterwards. If that is not log-rolling, pray what is? The Party in power is formed of several Parties, each having a particular interest of its own and putting that interest forward quite irrespective of the general public advantage. As for concentrating on one point, they have all concentrated on this House because, weak Second Chamber as it is, it is the only obstacle which intervenes between them and the attainment of their wishes.
It is said that this House is partisan, and that there must be equality of chances. But how do you obtain this equality of chances? By loading the dice and upsetting the Constitution? There is no surer way of getting rid of an enemy than by throttling him, and that is exactly what this Bill proposes to do to this House. We are told that if we would only pass this Bill we should repair and render stable the Constitution, we should bring about tranquillity, and very probably conduce to co-operation. But what substance is there in those fine words? How is it proposed to carry these things out? Is the Constitution likely to be more stable when the Government have forced down the throats of this House a Bill which offends the 770 opinions of at least half of the people? Is tranquillity or co-operation likely to be secured by an act not of statesmanship but of violence? This Bill is a violent Bill. No other word will describe it. You may pass the Bill now, but if you do you cannot help creating a burning sense of wrong and injustice that will rankle in the minds of your political opponents and I believe in the minds of at least half the people of this country, and you will introduce a new and a bitter spirit into politics. How that will bring about better relations between the two Parties I for one fail to understand. It would be much better for the Government to at once abolish the Second Chamber, to act straightforwardly and do what they mean. Just see what the position is. The Government say that they are opposed to the hereditary principle, but that they are not going to touch it, at all events for the present—it may be that they consider that it may be useful to them in a variety of ways hereafter. With regard to a Second Chamber they say, "We are in favour of a Second Chamber, but at the smile time by this Bill we will take away all effectual power from the Second Chamber." It is foolish to attempt to disguise that this Bill will take away all effectual powers from the Second Chamber.
§ LORD ILKESTON
My Lords, I listened to the debate which took place on the Bill introduced by the noble Marquess, and I think there was one feature of it which must have struck every member of this House. In spite of the ability and the eloquence with which the noble Marquess introduced the Reconstitution Bill, in spite of many great and vigorous speeches, that debate was unreal from beginning to end. It lacked real substance and real earnestness, and all through it there was the flavour and the thought of this Bill now before us and the discussion to follow. In those circumstances it is very natural that that debate should have been unreal in its character and tone. There is, however, a marked contrast in the debate which is now proceeding. This debate has what the other debate lacked—a certain amount of earnestness, nay, almost a grim earnestness, in the way in which it is being carried out and the way the Bill has been received and supported and denounced. I think that is very natural.
Although I am a very new member of this House and one who is bound to look upon 771 this Bill more from the point of view of an old politician than as a member of the House of Lords, yet I am bound to admit that I have the greatest sympathy with noble Lords who denounce this measure as an invasion of their rights and a revolutionary proposal. It is natural. There is as much human nature in this House as elsewhere, and I never knew anybody yet who had to face the possibility of losing his rights and privileges who did not denounce the proposer and emphatically object. But while that is so, I am very much astonished at the way in which this Bill has been received by noble Lords opposite. I would specially refer to the speech of the noble Viscount who followed the Leader of the House. He began his speech with all that declamatory eloquence which we used to listen to and admire so much in the House of Commons. I had the pleasure of sitting opposite to the noble Viscount for many years in the other House and listening to language, possibly a little stronger, a little more forcible, but of the same class as the language he used yesterday. That language was in denunciation of this Bill and its proposer in this House, Lord Morley. It began in the superlative degree, and ended very lowly in the positive. It was very strong in the beginning, but the conclusion of that speech was one that one could never have anticipated from the manner in which he denounced the Bill in the beginning. He reminded me, when he said that neither he nor his friends proposed to object to the Second Reading of this revolutionary measure, very much of Pistol who, in that discussion he had with Fluellen, said this: "By this leek, I will most horribly revenge: I eat and eat, I swear." The noble Viscount's speech concluded with that threat of revenge, and, like Pistol, although practically eating the leek on this occasion, he said that in the future he and his friends would take a proper and adequate revenge for the indignity forced upon them now. I hope that that spirit, as time goes on, will wear down and become gentle, and that this House will endeavour to co-operate with those sitting on this side in bringing about through this a lasting peace, and an end to our troubles and our grievances.
This Bill, described in such strong terms by some of the speakers, is naturally open to attack, because I am honestly bound to confess that I regard it as the beginning of the end of the old system. The old 772 system must pass away and give place to influences and methods that are new, but I think this departure from the old system which is hurrying on the advent of the new system is due largely to the action of this House in using its powers unwisely during the last few years. Ever since that great trouble that we had in 1886 there has been growing up in this House in its relations to the other House a spirit of arrogant resistance which has led us to the present position. Time after time we have had exhibitions of that, and none more striking or more serious than those which have occurred during the last few years. I believe that a wiser and more careful use of the powers of this House might have kept unchanged the absolute Veto for many years longer. Unfortunately that course has not been pursued, and we find ourselves in the position in which we are now joined in an issue that must be fought to the end. When once begun, it must be finished. It has been going on ever since 1886, when the balance of Parties in this House was so greatly changed by the action of the Liberal Party in advocating Home Rule. That stripped the Benches on this side, filled up the Cross Benches, and flooded the Opposite Benches with members who had up to that time been followers of the Liberal Party. The moment that great change took place the attitude of this House, as was natural, inevitably became altered in relation to the House of Commons. But numbers were mistaken for strength, and gradually, year by year, this House grew more arrogant in its relations to the elected House, more determined to exercise to the full its powers of absolute Veto against legislation that it did not like. As I say, it was almost inevitable that numbers should be mistaken for strength, and for years this House has revelled in its power of checking and thwarting Liberal legislation.
Yet all the time that this was going on in this Chamber, there was growing up outside a stronger and a more organised democracy than this country has ever seen. During those years under a Liberal Government measures were passed winch took into every small village in the country, as well as into every great city a breath of democracy illustrated by the establishment of parish councils, urban district councils, and municipalities, until the people by their daily life and in every function from day to day became impregnated with the right and just notion that the proper persons to 773 look after their interests were persons elected by themselves, representatives of the great democracy. That democratic spirit has spread throughout the length and breadth of the land, and since 1886 has become so potent that this country is no longer what it was in the olden times, but is a great democracy governed by freely elected representatives in every county, in every village, and every borough. But, as I say, while the movement outside these walls was going in that direction, inside these walls the attitude of a privileged class, not elected, and not representative, was more than ever strongly opposed to legislation sent up to them in the name of the elected representatives of the people. You cannot have two opposing currents of thought more likely to bring about a clash and a conflict than those which were going on at the same time—one inside this Chamber, the other outside in the country at large. And the people, trained in this way, naturally more and more looked to the elected Chamber to be the master of their destiny. Once you have a question in dispute repeated from time to time between a Chamber of non-elected Peers and a Chamber elected by seven and a-half millions of voters, the issue must be joined. No man who has ever read history, or who has ever thought over the progress of events, can have any doubt, when that issue is joined as between the elected representatives of a Chamber representing seven and a-half millions and a Chamber consisting of 600 men, not elected and not representative, as to that issue being in the end in favour of the people. You cannot have any other result. No other result is conceivable to those who really understand the feelings of the great democracy. And this is why we want this measure passed. We are pressing it in the interests of peace, and, I think, of goodwill between the people outside this Chamber and those who sit within.
In his speech the other day, the noble Viscount, Lord Midleton, said that we confused the House of Commons with the people. Well, I am not ashamed to meet that challenge. I take the House of Commons to be what one of the greatest authorities we ever had in this country, speaking on such a subject, described it, "the complete image of the nation." That was Burke's view of the House of Commons, and when I think of taking an opinion as to what the House of Commons is and what 774 its powers ought to be I am bound to prefer the authority of Burke to that of Lord Midleton. It is "the image of the nation" that is asking us now to so alter our position that it may have a way through this House, a slow and a deliberate, aye, a tardy and delayed way, for legislation passed in the other House. It is impossible for me, with my training in the House of Commons, to conceive a House resting on "the broad basis of the people's will" and elected by seven and a-half million electors remaining any longer at the mercy of a non-elected Chamber. In 1894 Mr. Gladstone, in one of his last speeches in the House of Commons, used these words—It is a state of things which cannot continue.He said that after your Lordships had mutilated and partly destroyed the Parish Councils Bill. That Bill came back to us mutilated and defaced by Amendments inserted in this House—a Bill on which I spent forty days and forty nights in Committee in the House of Commons trying to get it into shape and get it passed in a form which I knew the villages of England wanted. That Bill came back from this House not nearly as good, according to the popular desire, as the Bill we sent up. The country does not forget those things, and when Mr. Gladstone said that that was a state of things which could not continue he spoke the words of prophecy. It cannot continue if the safety of the nation is to be considered. It is true it has lasted from then till now, but that only shows how patient the British people are. I have always said there is no animal in the world so patient as John Bull. He will do almost anything he is told. He is obedient; you can tie his hands and his feet, and he does not grumble as long as he is not hurt; but once you say to him, "You shan't do a thing" John Bull is a totally different animal. And if this House says to the people of this country," You shan't have legislation," the country will one day wake up in all the plenitude of its wrath and a revolution greater than any we contemplate will result. It is because we hate the prospects of bringing about such a condition as that that we are taking steps to prevent the obstruction of legislation which is desired by the representatives of the people.
In this debate many things have been said in reference to the production of this Bill. Some people say it is produced simply 775 for Party purposes, and that measures will follow which the House of Commons want to pass. It goes much deeper than that. This Bill is the result of slow evolution. It has been growing and growing in the minds of the people for many long years. It started in 1884 when your Lordships were opposed to the Franchise Bill of the Liberal Government of that time, and then it was that Mr. John Bright suggested the proposals of this Bill as the best remedy for meeting the difficulty. He proposed that a Bill passed twice by the House of Commons and twice rejected by the House of Lords should become law immediately after that, without any reference to this Chamber. Those were proposals that at the time appeared exceedingly moderate. There was no outcry in the nation against them. They were even received with complacency and some amount of praise by The Times and the Spectator, and there was no outcry as to their revolutionary character. Now, twenty-seven years after, we come with a Bill which is much more generous than the terms proposed by Mr. Bright. We do not say that a Bill that is rejected twice must of necessity become law without your Lordships' consent, but we say that a Bill should be thrice rejected by the House of Lords, and over a period of not less than two years will that Bill be under consideration before it can finally become law. Under Mr. Bright's scheme it might have happened in a single twelve months, but this Government have had no desire to hurry legislation in that way. All that they have sought by this measure is that the expressed will of the elected House of Commons should be able to make itself effective within the limit of a single Parliament, and this Bill would enable them to carry any great measure in that time under the conditions which are now prescribed. It takes away from your Lordships' House only that power of absolute Veto which I think, with all respect and submission, has been so grossly abused during the last few years.
Some people think that if the power of absolute Veto were lost, this Chamber would cease to have functions. I do not agree for a moment. I think this Chamber would have very important and valuable functions still to perform. Every Bill would have to be considered by your Lordships. Every Bill could be amended and discussed. Every Bill you objected to could be rejected twice, over a period of 776 two years, and during the whole of that time the country would know what you were doing. They would read your Lordships' debates with greater interest than they do now, because they would recognise that you were a deliberative Chamber, considering measures on their merits, not with a view to their final extinction for Party ends, but with a view to their amendment and improvement for the benefit of the nation. By the use of those powers wisely exercised strength and influence would be added to this House, so that your Lordships' power with regard to legislation would be greater than it has been for years past—not greater in the destructive direction, but towards the construction of better and more adequate legislation. It is that which, after all, ought to be the end and aim of everybody assembled to legislate for a nation—to make the construction of legislation as good and as perfect as human ability can devise.
People outside say—and I think I have heard an echo of that sentiment even in this House—that under this Bill we should have hasty and ill-considered legislation. I would ask your Lordships to think for a moment how impossible that would be. Every Bill and every proposal would be discussed in the House of Commons during the three Readings, the Committee stage, and possibly the Report stage, before it came to your Lordships' House for its first consideration. The whole country would know all about its details; it would read the debates, and morning and evening be regaled in the newspapers with articles pro and con on the subject of the measure, and that would extend probably over three or four months of the sittings of the House of Commons. Then the measure would have its First Reading in your Lordships' House. It might possibly pass a Second Reading. If not, there would be a thoroughly adequate debate, the whole nation would be apprised of the grounds upon which you objected to the particular Bill under discussion; and if it passed the Second Reading, your Lordships would amend and alter it in Committee in such a way that it might be more useful to the people and more consonant with the general spirit of the constituencies. All that would go on probably for some five or six months during which the country would be occupied with the Bill. In case it were rejected what would happen? In the next Session of Parliament the Bill would go through the 777 same process. If it were a Bill desired by the people there would be meetings in every constituency; every one of the 669 Members of Parliament would be discussing it with his constituents; every great organ of public opinion in the metropolis and in all the towns and villages throughout the country would have articles on it, and if the Bill were not popular mass meetings of the people outside would very soon tell the House of Commons that they did not want the Bill, and no Government would dare to go on with it. If your criticisms were sound, the Bill would be dead after it had once been rejected by your Lordships' House. If, on the other hand, popular opinion stuck to the measure and desired its being passed into law, then, after the second rejection by your Lordships and after two years from the introduction of that Bill, then and then only would the Bill become law. There is no danger. None whatever. There is not a tittle of danger of hasty or ill-considered legislation.
The noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, in speaking of this Bill the other day—and I always have the greatest respect and regard for anything that falls from the Leader of the Opposition in this House—said that the terms proposed were humiliating and disgraceful. I thought at the moment that that was probably a slight lapse into rhetoric on the part of the noble Marquess, because I do not think those words were quite justified. It is easy to talk of humiliation. For twenty-five years some of us sitting on these benches have tasted the dregs of humiliation. We have had our measures contumeliously treated in this House. As I said before, for forty days and forty nights we sat up in the other House with the Parish Councils Bill, and we had it mutiliated and practically destroyed by your Lordships' House. We have seen other measures, suited, as we thought, to the best interests of the people, rejected by your Lordships—for example, the Licensing Bill, and, what still more rankles in my mind, the Plural Voting Bill, which was a Bill that had no reference whatever to your Lordships' House. That was a Bill to say how the House of Commons was to be elected; how the voters were to vote for their own representatives. It was not a matter which concerned this House, but you treated it with all the indignity in your power. And then you talk to us of humiliation! I say it is we who have suffered humiliation daring the last twenty-five years in the 778 House of Commons. We do not come here, however, on that account in any spirit of revenge, but I would ask noble Lords who talk of humiliation to remember that we have suffered it for a very long period.
With regard to the terms being disgraceful, I submit that in a case like this it is well to meet your enemy at the gate. It is not for the members of the Opposition in this House to dictate terms. They cannot produce in a Bill for the reform of the House of Lords any alternative to this measure. The challenge which has produced our Bill came from your side. That challenge was taken up, and the answer is this Bill which I hope your Lordships will read a second time. So far from the terms being disgraceful, I think they will leave to this Chamber, if it likes, great powers for public good, powers of initiating and modelling legislation, and of seeing that that legislation is directed to such ends as will conduce to the benefit of all classes of the community. If wise counsels prevail, I can conceive this Chamber growing in power and popularity and esteem, if it works under the conditions enunciated in this Bill, for it will then be able to carry out its chief function—protect all classes of the community by judicious criticism of any proposals that may be submitted to it, and its criticism under those conditions will have a weight and authority that it has never hitherto possessed.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I think your Lordships are to be congratulated upon the speech to which we have just listened. It is a source of satisfaction, I am sure, to all of us to hear the noble Lord opposite, who, I think, for the first time has taken part this evening in our debates. [Several NOBLE LORDS: No, no.] I am told that is not so. I beg the noble Lord's pardon. I ought to have said that this is the first time I have had the pleasure of hearing him. I think it is also a source of satisfaction to us that one of the supporters of the Government immediately behind them should have spoken in favour of their policy. That is not a very usual proceeding in your Lordships' House. I was cudgelling my brains during the earlier part of his speech as to how it was he occupied so exceptional a position, and light did not come to me until he began to remind us of that awful act of sacrilege which your Lordships' House committed seventeen 779 years ago in actually having the face to amend the Parish Councils Bill for which the noble Lord himself was so largely responsible. Little did their Lordships of those days think of the dreadful Nemesis which would await them seventeen years afterwards, or that they would bring upon the heads of their successors the unholy wrath of the noble Lord. I am afraid I do not remember what the Amendments were which were inserted in that Bill, and I am quite sure I have never heard those provisions called in question in any part of the United Kingdom since that day. Indeed we hear very little about the Act at all. I doubt whether it deserves the feelings of remorse and indignation which the noble Lord has expended upon it, for from that day to this I do not believe the Parish Councils Act has been the slightest use to any community throughout the length and breadth of this country. But passing that by, I do think that the noble Lord's speech affords a great contrast, and a pleasing contrast, to the speech which was delivered by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack.
What has been the most striking and dramatic circumstance of this afternoon's proceedings? There has been a most dignified, and, may I say, a most eloquent appeal delivered in moving language by the most rev. Primate. He spoke from the elevated position which his office and his own personal character give him in your Lordships' House. He made a solemn appeal to both sides to approach this subject in a spirit of moderation. He was followed by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, the head of the Judiciary of this country, and one bound, one would think, to take a constitutional and non-partisan view of almost any subject submitted to him. Did he clasp the hand which was held out to him by the Archbishop? Did he advance a single step to meet him? Did he, in those fluent, sweet, and honeyed words which we always hear from his lips give the least hope or opening for conciliation? Not one word. He banged the door, he bolted it, he locked it. So far as he was concerned, notwithstanding his great position, notwithstanding the enormous importance of the occasion on which he was speaking, he would have nothing to do with conciliation. He left that to Archbishops and non-partisan persons of that description. He, the partisan representative of a partisan Government, 780 intended to have his will, his whole will, and nothing but his will. What was the reason of this extremely unconciliatory attitude of the noble and learned Lord? It was the old story. It was what he called the intolerable wrong which he and his colleagues had suffered since 1906.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
No doubt the noble and learned Lord had his eye on the future, but he did not say so. I do not remember whether he said it on this occasion, but it has been often said, that no Liberal Government with any self-respect would continue to hold office under such conditions as have prevailed since 1906. I confess I do not think very much of self-respect which limits public service on this account. Difficulties, of course, have to be encountered in carrying on Government. That is of the very essence of our Constitution. Difficulties do not alone exist in your Lordships' House. They are equally great in another place. Other Governments have had difficulty in passing their legislation, and for the present Government, because of opposition or obstruction of their legislation to come forward and talk about their self-respect being fatally wounded is, to my mind, an entire misconception of recent history. They think it a matter of surprise and a matter for great indignation that in regard to a certain number—a very limited number—of Bills your Lordships' House did resist the wishes of the majority of the House of Commons. As has been said before—I am sure your Lordships will forgive me for repeating it—the truth is that we are entering upon a new epoch. I believe the two noble Lords who have spoken for the Government said so this afternoon. We know the noble Viscount opposite, Lord Haldane, has said so, because he used a most admirable quotation from the speech of my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke.
If, then, we are entering upon a new epoch in which new ideals are to be translated into law, is it surprising that there is a little difficulty in getting all the legislative measures which embody these profound changes passed into law? I appeal to the sense of fairness of every noble Lord who hears me, especially to the Government themselves. If you are really engaged 781 upon establishing a new state of things, would not any Second Chamber in the world make some demur to some of the changes proposed? If half of your claim be true that you are establishing a new and better state of things, with widely extending changes, it would be not only a matter of surprise but a matter of great blame to any Second Chamber who passed all that you proposed without demur. Of course, they must have thrown out some of your Bills, and from your point of view, from the point of view of Progressives and Liberals—or strong Radicals really, because that is what you all are, and I do not think noble Lords opposite would reject the phrase—it is a testimony to the vigour of the measures which you propose that there should be some difficulty on the part of the Second Chamber in translating them into Acts of Parliament. Great changes have been proposed, and the House of Lords has said, "We cannot sanction all these changes until we are satisfied that the country wants them." Is that unreasonable? Could any Second Chamber have said anything else? I do not say that your Lordships' House was always perfectly right. It is possible that we on this side may have made mistakes in certain instances, but, broadly speaking, there cannot be any doubt that a Second Chamber, however constructed, whether on the hereditary or a nominative or an elective basis, would have been bound to throw out some of the more emphatically wide proposals which you desired to pass into law. But they were not refused finally. They were not refused absolutely, as the phrase is. We have always said that we are willing to act upon what the decision of the country might be upon them.
When the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack gave us the history of the last few years as the ground for the situation in which we stand, I thought he entirely misunderstood what had really taken place. He said, "You lost the election of 1910," and then he seemed to think that the reform of the House of Lords ought instantly to follow. I do not quote his words accurately, but he went on to say, "What did we, the Liberal Party, get by the Dissolution of January, 1910? Why, we got the Budget. We got the very thing we went to the country upon." Of course you did; but the noble and learned Lord said they went to the country upon the House of Lords. They know perfectly well that we asked you to go to the country on the 782 Budget. It was the Budget we referred to the country, and the moment the country gave their decision we passed the Budget. Why did you not pass the other legislation which we refused? For example, the Education Bill? Because the country did not want it. It was quite manifest that the country did not want it, and it is notorious that if noble Lords opposite were now to propose the education legislation which they tried to force through this House, it would be rejected in the House of Commons. That is why the Education Bill has not had exactly the same history as the Budget. Why has not the Licensing Bill been reintroduced? The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack does not even pretend that the country wanted it. He said with some heat that, however unpopular it was, you ought to have passed it because it was for the health of the country. That is what we call begging the question. We did not think it was for the health of the country. He has not convinced us that we were wrong in that respect, nor can he show that our masters and his—the country—wanted it. Therefore his whole argument on that, as far as the Licensing Bill is concerned, absolutely collapses.
But, of course, we have to deal with the present situation. I, for one, entirely recognise that after the decision of the country at the last election we are bound to accept a great deal which we might not have been willing to accept had that election never taken place. That is perfectly true; but it is entirely consistent with everything I have said to-night, and with every speech which has been made from these Benches. Some Bill, some Parliament Bill, or some change in the relations of the two Houses of Parliament has undoubtedly been sanctioned by the country and must be carried into law. Here we come to the most amazing feature of the speech of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. He advocated on behalf of the Government the Second Reading of this Bill, but he said not one word as to any of its provisions. More than that, he was following within a few hours a most cogent speech delivered by the noble Viscount, Lord Midleton, who gave a very careful, and, I thought, damaging criticism of the Bill. Your Lordships would certainly have expected that the noble and learned Lord, speaking on behalf of the Government, would have had some answer to make to some of my noble friend's 783 criticisms. Not a word. He did not deal with a single point contained in my noble friend's speech. There were the old dry bones of the intolerable wrongs of the last six years which I have already described, but there was nothing at all upon the Bill or upon the debate. Is it not amazing that a man of the enormous ability and acuteness of the noble and learned Lord could not find a single word to say in favour of the Government Bill which he is defending? I earnestly hope that the organs of public opinion will make a special note of that fact, that the most distinguished member of His Majesty's Government in your Lordships' House, speaking upon this Bill, which is most particularly his own subject for he is always telling us about the iniquities of your Lordships' House, has not found a single argument in favour of the Bill.
I am not going to repeat the arguments of my noble friend Lord Midleton, but perhaps the most important point was that the Bill proceeds upon the basis that the House of Commons is not merely representative of the people but is a counterpart of the people—that we must assume that everything that the majority of the House of Commons say is the view of the people. Of course, I ought to have limited it to the first two years. That was the main part of the principle of the Government Bill which my noble friend criticised, and the Lord Chancellor has nothing to say to convince you that as a matter of fact the House of Commons was a counterpart of the people. I should like to ask whether there are any grounds for thinking so? I would call as my witness in this respect no less a person than the Prime Minister, who was asked recently in a debate in the House of Commons whether he thought that the Unionist Education Bill of 1902 represented the wishes of the people. Observe, that Bill was passed within two years of the meeting of that Parliament, and therefore would have come within the provisions of this Bill. Of course, he was bound to say he did not think so. He was bound to say that, because he had said it so many times before. How did he get out of that difficulty? He did not get out of it. His only argument was that it was an exception. I do not want to be misunderstood, but the charge is that the General Election of 1900 took place solely upon the question of the Boer War. That was not the case. I want to guard myself. I am a person of no importance but I put the Education Act 784 into my election address. As a matter of fact I consulted no less a person than Mr. Balfour, and it was quite clear that the election was not taken merely upon the Boer War but upon the general record of the Government. But this by the way. I put that in to guard myself. I do not admit that the Unionist Government had no right to legislate on the education question, but the point is that the Liberal Party and Mr. Asquith, and I have no doubt the Lord Chancellor, have said over and over again that the Unionist Party, the majority of the House of Commons of that day, had no moral right to deal with the education question. How does that affect their present contention that every Parliament within two years of its being elected may be taken as an absolute counterpart of the wishes of the people in the country? If I required any further ground for this contention I should find it in the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Morley, who said most frankly last night that Parliaments were continually elected upon one particular issue and yet legislated upon any number of other issues after being elected, which, of course, is a complete answer to the position which the Prime Minister took up.
So what it amounts to is that it is admitted on all hands that a House of Commons is elected without, as the phrase is, any mandate for particular measures, and yet is entitled to deal with them. I have no objection to that myself. By all means let them deal with them; but you must not say that the House of Commons in these respects represents the exact opinion of the people. It does not follow. It may be so; it may not be so. And according to our ancient Constitution the only means of preventing a miscarriage of justice in consequence of the possibility of the House of Commons legislating in conflict with the wishes of the people lay in the power of your Lordships' House to refer such Bills to the people. I should like, if I could, to convince impartial minds opposite of the truth of what I am saying. Let me give them an example which I think will come home to them. The noble Lord who preceded me in this debate spoke of our being in conflict with the representatives of seven and a-half million electors. I need hardly remind him—he must know it—that nearly half of the electors agree with us, and the important thing to remember for the purpose of this illustration is that a 785 very little might convert that relative minority into a majority. What might do that? For example, the Army policy of the noble Viscount opposite might break down. It is quite possible that a certain number of electors might be converted on that point. Then there might be the question of Woman Suffrage. I should not be surprised at a similar effect resulting if the electorate thought the Government were acting badly in the matter of giving facilities for certain proceedings in another place. Or take the case of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. If I may say so with respect, I have always thought that he behaved in a manner which deserved the admiration of all right thinking men. He might have difficulties with gentlemen in another place who think he has not put enough Radicals on the magisterial Bench. All these things might happen, and the result might be that at a General Election we change sides. Does the noble Lord opposite, or the Lord Chancellor, think it would be right, the election having turned on issues like that, that the entire fiscal system of this country should be immediately revolutionised, and that Tariff Reform in its most extreme provisions should be introduced as part of our law? I am sure noble Lords opposite do not think so. Would they say that my friends if they introduced the Tariff Reform system represented the exact counterpart of the wishes of the country? Yet to be consistent with their present argument they would be bound to say so. I do not desire to have Tariff Reform rushed on the country. I do not desire to have Radical measures rushed on the country. A Second Chamber to thoroughly come up to what I believe to be the requirements of the case ought to be able to refer all drastic measures of legislation to the people unless it is quite certain that the people approve of them. Your Lordships opposite have not faced such a contingency as I have described. We have. We are pledged, as you know, that before Tariff Reform is carried it shall be submitted to the country, to the direct vote of the country. I only give this to show how little you have really faced the consequences of your proposed action.
We submit to you a policy of reform and a policy of Referendum. As to reform, I am not speaking of any special measures. I do not pretend that the scheme of the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, is the best that could have been made. That is not 786 my own personal view; but by making those proposals my noble friend has established beyond all possibility of cavil the good faith of the Party who sit on this side of the House in advocating full, fundamental, and complete reform of your Lordships' House. We are in favour of the Referendum. That is to say, we do not believe that the House of Commons is necessarily the counterpart of the people. We agree that it is the greatest representative Assembly in the world. Those of us who were Members for many years of that Assembly are, of course, by old association devoted to the House of Commons as an institution, but we do not believe it is infallible in its judgment of the wishes of the people, and we say that if you will no longer allow the House of Lords with its old deep sense of responsibility to act as it has done in the past then you must have a system of Referendum. There must be some method where the issues are sufficiently grave—an issue on which the very fabric of the United Kingdom depends—by which those issues could be referred to the direct vote of the people before decision is arrived at. It is with that policy that we come before your Lordships. When, we approach the Committee stage, I can assure you we shall enter into the discussion with a profound sense of responsibility and of the importance of what we are doing. Whatever the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack may be, we shall be moderate. We shall approach this subject with a deep sense of the difficulties with which we have to deal and in a spirit of moderation. But moderation on our side deserves to be met by moderation on the other side. If it is so met, well and good; but if not, then the responsibility for the resulting chaos must rest upon the shoulders of noble Lords opposite.
§ THE EARL OF DENBIGH
My Lords, I do not wish to detain you more than a few minutes, but I do not like to give an entirely silent vote on the matter which is now before the House. In listening to the speeches from the Government Front Bench I have been struck with the attention which has been paid to denunciations of your Lordships' House as a partisan Assembly, from the fact of its being out of sympathy with the electorate, and the arguments that a change was necessary in order to allow Liberal legislation to have what is called fair play. We have had the Lord Chancellor telling us that owing to the attitude of your Lordships' House many 787 earnest reformers felt themselves stifled and choked in their endeavours to obtain reform. Earnest reformers, I am afraid, are very often like inventors. Every inventor thinks that his own particular invention is better than anybody else's, and I think earnest reformers generally imagine that those who disagree with them are people of a mulish and obstinate nature and are guided by vested interests which prevent them looking at matters in a proper light. It is, I think, usually the fact that earnest reformers for a long period of their existence are considerably in advance of their time. Because noble Lords opposite desire certain measures which appeal to them but do not appeal to noble Lords on this side of the House, it does not at all follow that they are not in advance of the opinion of the country.
I should like to say for myself that I was not one of those who would have opposed the Bill of the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, had it gone to a Division. For a long time I have been of opinion that in view of the altered state of democratic feeling in this country it was absolutely necessary to depart from the old Party lines from which these questions were regarded, and that if this House was to fulfil its proper place as a Second Chamber it was equally necessary that some great and far-reaching modification should take place with regard to the hereditary system. We have to face facts. Many Conservatives of the old school, it is true, deplore the action which has been taken, and are at the present moment inclined to go about wringing their hands and saying, "Where is Conservatism?" But I think if we ask that question we might ask, "Where is the old Liberalism?" because it was very different from the Liberalism of the present day. We have to realise that it is absolutely necessary, if we do not wish to see far graver dangers than any of us would care to see, that some considerable change should take place. With that view, I, as a humble member of this House, welcomed the Bill of the noble Marquess, and we hope that people will regard it as a proof of the sincerity of your Lordships' House and of our willingness to make very considerable sacrifices in the interests of safe and stable Government. The fact of the Bill of the noble Marquess having been read a second time makes two-thirds of the observations from the Front Bench opposite to-day beside the mark.
788 What we on this side have to do at the present time is to prevent the attention of the country being diverted from the real question before us at this moment—the powers of the House of Lords. The noble Viscount, Lord Morley, rated the noble Marquess somewhat upon his reading of recent history with regard to the particular crisis before us, and he said that it dated from the action of your Lordships' House in referring the Budget of 1909 to the country, whereby, he said, we committed the unpardonable crime of challenging the House of Commons. I do not know that there is any very great crime in a Second Chamber challenging a popular Chamber on measures which contain any element of doubt with regard to a change of novel and far-reaching effect. But the noble Viscount omitted the complete history of the present crisis. He has since been reminded by various speakers of the undeniable fact that when the Government did go to the country they lost 100 seats and came back unable to pass their Budget except with the help of the Irish vote. I suggest that the real history of the crisis begins then.
Immediately that happened the Government were told in unmistakable terms that they had to toe the line in order to cripple the powers of the House of Lords and to force through a Home Rule Bill. His Majesty's Government may declare with all the emphasis of which they are capable that there is no direct arrangement with the Irish Party, but I am afraid they will obtain very little credence among intelligent electors, or at all events amongst those who are able to see the course of events and realise what is going on. We now have His Majesty's Government in the position which was so eloquently denounced by Mr. Gladstone in the year 1885 at Edinburgh. He was supposing that owing to some cause the then Government had disappeared and a Liberal Party Was called to deal with the great constitutional question of the Government of Ireland in a position where it was a minority dependent on the Irish vote for converting it into a majority. He said—I tell you seriously and solemnly that, though I believe the Liberal Party to be honourable, patriotic, and trustworthy, in such a position as that it would not be safe for it to enter on the consideration of a measure in respect to which, at the first step of its progress, it would be in the power of a Party coming from Ireland to say 'unless you do this and unless you do that we will turn you out to-morrow.'789 A few days later, at Dalkeith, Mr. Gladstone said—Nothing, I think could be more dangerous to the public weal than that they [Irish questions] should be handled in a Parliament where there was no Party strong enough to direct its action according to judgment and conscience, without being liable to be seduced from the right path by time temptation which might be offered to it by the vote of Irish Members.There are other quotations familiar to all students of political history, but I do not know that they have been referred to so far in this debate. It is important to realise that the dangerous position which Mr. Gladstone so eloquently warned the country against is the one into which this Government is now drifting and in which they are attempting to deal with this important question.
The noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, in that conciliatory and mellifluous speech to which we listened with so much pleasure the other day, would have been more convincing if we could have had any sort of assurance that he had the weight of the Cabinet with him. He spoke of the overworked House of Commons and the necessity for devolution—a subject also referred to by the Lord Chancellor. I think that anybody who watches the proceedings of Parliament and sees important and imperial questions being constantly hurried through the House of Commons without adequate discussion owing to the congested state of business there will admit that the question of some devolution of local affairs is looming in the distance and will probably have to be faced at some not very distant period. But it is not mere devolution of local affairs that Mr. Redmond demands for the Irish Party. He says he will not be satisfied with anything but a Parliament with full control over the Executive. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack talks of Home Rule and says that his Party intend to bring in Home Rule, but there is a careful avoidance of giving any idea of what that means, although there was some glimmer of a definition by the noble and learned Lord to-night when he referred to the South African Constitution and seemed to infer that the privileges which His Majesty's Government established there were what he wished conferred upon Ireland. All I can say is that I cannot understand the frame of mind of any serious Statesman who regards the case of a distant Colony like South Africa as being exactly similar 790 to the case of Ireland which is within easy reach of our own shores and occupies such a strategical position with regard to the British Isles.
When Home Rule is spoken of the argument is constantly put forward by some persons that if Canada and other Colonies are fit to be trusted with self-government, why not Ireland? Is it possible that devolution in Wales and in Scotland also means full control over the Executive? If not, why is their case to be different from that of Ireland? I have the very best wishes in the world towards Ireland, but from the mere instinct of self preservation I contend that what this House must insist upon in the interests of the British people is that Home Rule, or devolution, or whatever you like to call it, when brought before Parliament by the present Government should be considered on its merits, and not at the point of the bayonet with which we are threatened in this case. We have to consider many things in connection with that vital question when it conies up. We have to consider what the position of this country would be in the event of any serious European complication or conflagration in which the British Government might have to come to some momentous decision which might involve this country in war, or which might bring us to our knees in some dishonourable surrender. We might be put in the position of fighting for our lives, into a position where the fact of an Irish Parliament not being able to see eye to eye with us might make all the difference in the world with regard to the possibility of our defending ourselves and maintaining our position. Therefore we have to consider whether such a measure, if it comes into operation, would make the British nation stronger or weaker than it is at the present moment in the event of foreign complications. It is a most suicidal thing to suppose that it would be safe to consider this measure except from an absolutely detached position, and we ought to do everything we can to warn the British electors of the danger to which they would be drifting if they allowed the British Parliament to be dictated to by the Nationalist Party, which says to the Government, "You must toe the line. You must give us Home Rule, or we will turn you out to-morrow." It is because we realise the importance of this question with regard to the Parliament Bill that we look upon the Bill as most dangerous.
791 The noble Lord opposite, Lord Ilkeston, said that a measure such as this was put forward by Mr. John Bright in 1884 and that everybody then regarded it as moderate and harmless. There was then no Irish Party dictating to the English Government. That was before the date of the surrender to Home Rule by one of the great English Parties. Circumstances have completely changed, and what might perhaps have been regarded then with toleration cannot be regarded in the same light to-day. We regard this Bill as a dangerous and mischievous Bill, as one forced upon us by nothing short of a conspiracy between His Majesty's Government and the extremists whom they cannot resist; and if we pass the Second Reading under protest I hope that Amendments will be introduced for the purpose of securing that when the question of Home Rule or any similar question comes before the country it will be made impossible for a Government, at the dictation of a Party in the House of Commons, to force down the throats of the British nation some measure which they regard as dangerous and on which they have never been consulted.
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
My Lords, the noble Viscount who introduced this Bill said truly that its provisions had already been so largely and fully discussed in the public Press, on public platforms, and even in both Houses of Parliament, that it seemed hardly necessary to enter at any great length into its provisions. I thoroughly agree with that statement, and in my few remarks to-night I shall refer more to the question of tactics than to the provisions of the Bill, though there are one or two points in its provisions on which I should like to say a few words.
Speaking as a humble "backwoodsman" I may say that I was extremely pleased to notice in the excellent speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Midleton, that it was to be the advice of the leaders of the Opposition that this Bill should be accorded a Second Reading. I am pleased about that. In my opinion it would have been unwise and deplorable to reject it at this early stage, because I believe that if we go further into the details of the Bill and lay the case before His Majesty's Ministers there may yet be found some ground for compromise. If advice had been given to make a stand and reject the Second Reading, I confess that I, for one, would dread the creation of perhaps 792 500 Peers. There are only two alternatives —the creation of 500 Peers, or another General Election; and I am bound to say that I could not face either of those alternatives at the present time with equanimity.
I think it was the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack who told us, or rather hinted, in the earlier part of this debate that there were certain younger members of the Tory Party who were coquetting with Home Rule. I forget his exact words, but he said they were not entirely opposed to it. Personally I am thoroughly opposed to it as I always have been, and I shall be until I can see a feasible Bill, and that I do not believe is possible. Home Rule defeated Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Parnell, and I think it is probable it will defeat Mr. Asquith and Mr. Redmond. But, however that may be, I am bound to say that, speaking as a strong Unionist, my fear is that if a conflict were provoked at the present time and it resulted in the creation of 500 Peers the effort to maintain the Union of Great Britain would be worse than it is under this Bill, because if Peers were created the Parliament Bill would be passed and Home Rule would be put through the House of Commons next summer. It would come up here and become law in the following August. Therefore, if for no other reason, I am extremely pleased that, for the time being at any rate, there will be no further talk of the creation of 500 Peers.
With regard to the alternative of another General Election, as one who took a small part in the last two elections, I cannot see that there are any signs that so far there has been any great reaction in the country, and that we should be likely to gain any great advantage from another election at present. In the election of January, 1910, I felt that I was one of the old guard, and I rather feared I was marching with a forlorn hope. I am afraid we were fighting on ground carefully chosen by our adversaries. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer provoked the conflict, and in order to do that, like the skilful toreador, he waved the red flag. Speaking with regard to the January election I am Speaking to say that my prophecies were wrong; not only that, but the old guard came through very triumphantly and we received an accession of 100 to the cause of the Unionists. In the following election in December I was a great deal more hopeful. I thought that we had got 793 rid at last of some of those rather stupid cries of the previous election, and that we would greatly improve our position. We held our position, and that is all that can be said for it. Therefore I cannot share the very bright opinions which are held by the noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, on the excellence of elections. But that is the only way of getting at the true opinions of the people. The noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, said he had taken part in eight election contests. I believe in Scotland they are very strong and quiet people, and do not require to be roused up to that state of enthusiastic election intoxication that they do in England. When I look back on the display of election literature and the canvassing which goes on at elections and consider the personal issue which is very often involved, I am bound to say that the free and independent electors are not always able very clearly to ascertain what are the chief items on which they are voting. But, however that may be, the fact remains that the election of December resulted very much the same as that in January. Therefore I do not see, if a conflict at this early stage was followed by another appeal to the country, that we should fare much better than we did last January. At the same time, I fully recognise that there are the very greatest dangers in this Bill, and if the Government do not agree to some compromise and meet us in some way, I do not at all think that the conditions then in an appeal to the country would be the same as at the present time.
In introducing the Bill the noble Viscount read an extract from a speech made by the noble Earl, Lord Crewe, whose absence we regret, in which the noble Earl said that he had sat here for about seventeen years and always found himself absolutely powerless; that he never could do anything, and that it was almost useless coming to the House. That, no doubt, was very galling. It was through no lack of eloquence or enthusiasm that the noble Earl was unable to obtain a majority, but I think it might have been partly owing to lack of argument. If the noble Earl had used better arguments, instead of finding himself in a minority he would perhaps have found himself in a majority on some occasions. I think his complaint is rather like that of the juryman who held out against his eleven colleagues and after being kept locked up for three days and nights complained to the others that they were the most obstinate men it 794 had ever been his fate to encounter. Lord Crewe said it was useless to come here at all. But under the Parliament Bill that complaint will be shared by every one who sits in your Lordships' House, because if we are to have no power I cannot see the use of coming to this Assembly and making speeches and holding debates. We might as well join debating societies nearer our own homes.
There are, I think, certain grave defects in the Bill. The noble Viscount, of course, tried to put the best possible construction upon it, but I am very much afraid that with a little pressure in the House of Commons from some ardent reformers who are in a hurry this suspensory period of two years may be very considerably shortened if not swept away altogether. There is nothing in the Bill to prevent this happening within the next two or three years. I feel perfectly certain that, if your Lordships hang up a Bill, pressure will be put on Governments in the future to introduce an amending Bill to abolish this suspensory period. Another grave danger is the question of what is a Money. Bill. Since the Bill was first brought to light Amendments have, I think, been inserted in this clause in another place, but. I still consider that there is grave danger that Bills which do not come strictly under the description of Money Bills will be put into that category and be sent to this House. Your Lordships may be told that you can debate them but that you must do nothing else. It ought to be very clearly defined what is actually a Money Bill.
I will give examples. There is a proposal on foot for the payment of members of the House of Commons. I never did master the mysteries of procedure in the House of Commons, but the best information that I could get was that on an important question like that they always proceeded by a separate Bill. This year the provision is to be placed in the Budget. I am not quite sure whether I should be debarred from doing so by the rules of this House, but when the Appropriation Bill comes up here I should like to move an Amendment to delete the provision applying money for this purpose. Unless the Money Bill clause of the Parliament Bill is made very strict, is defined within very fine limits there is grave danger that all Bills which the Government desire to push through the House of Commons will be described as. Money Bills. Again, take Welsh Disestablishment. 795 My recollection of the last Bill is that it was almost completely a matter of finance; it was chiefly concerned in taking money from the Church and devoting it to other purposes. Cleanliness, I suppose, was considered next to Godliness, for some of the money was to be taken to provide public baths and washhouses. It is easy to see that a Bill of that description might very well be turned into a Money Bill and passed through both Houses without any consideration at all. We ought, therefore, when we reach the Committee stage, to lay down as firmly as we can the principle that this suspensory power of two years is not to be altered and also define very carefully what are Money Bills.
Most of the speeches on the question of a Second Chamber have been confined to talking about the majority. I should like to plead to your Lordships on behalf of the minority. I do not believe that a free people who have enjoyed liberties for many generations would think for one moment of placing their liberties in the hands of a Single Chamber alone. I feel certain they will demand a Court of Appeal. This House, not as we are sitting now, but in its legal capacity, is the final Court of Appeal. I believe the country will demand a Court of Appeal in cases against the House of Commons so that matters shall be tried by the highest tribunal. Liberals often describe the giving of votes at Parliamentary elections as constituting freedom. Many of the Bills which they have passed appoint a large number of bureaucrats and inspectors and plenty of tax collectors and officials, and the bulk of these measures are part and parcel of the result of living under a Liberal Government who are so fond of talking about freedom. Take the greatest democracy in the world—the United States of America. I believe that the private lives of many people in that country are much more strongly protected, not only by the law, but by the Constitution, than can be said of the rights of private individuals in this country. I believe that a Parliamentary majority may be just as great a tyrant as any in the Middle Ages. A popular phrase we sometimes hear is that minorities must suffer, but, after all, minorities of to-day may be majorities to-morrow, and I am certain that a minority, be it great or small, ought to have some Court of Appeal and ought to be able, if they feel they are suffering grave injustice, to carry that appeal to the highest Court of 796 all—namely, to a Court of their fellow-countrymen.
I remember a speech on a public platform by the late Lord Randolph Churchill when a charge was made against him that the Conservative minority of that day were engaged in obstructing Liberal measures in the House of Commons. What was his answer? He said it was perfectly ridiculous to talk about a minority, consisting of very nearly half of the House of Commons, carrying on obstructive tactics. He said that to talk about obstruction by men representing half the people in the United Kingdom was absurd, and that that could not be called obstruction in any fair sense of the word. What happened in those days when there was formidable obstruction from a substantial minority representing a large body of opinion in the country? They had not got all these rules of kangaroo closures and closure by compartments under which a Bill is born on Monday, christened on Tuesday, married on Wednesday, taken ill on Thursday, dies on Friday, and is buried on Saturday. They had not the procedure which the House has to-day, whereby no matter what force the Opposition are in, no matter how many millions of voters they represent, the Government can absolutely disregard the opinions of those men and their representatives. In those days a strong minority could put pressure on the Government, and it was only by reasonable compromise, by discussing matters in a friendly spirit and coming to terms, that they could manage to get their Bills through.
I believe that we are in the same position at the present time. The Government of the day have their majority, and their Parliament Bill which is before us holds the field. At the same time, if they desire a permanent settlement of this question and do not wish to provoke a conflict, they must take some heed of the opinions of the Opposition and of the minority. The noble Lord opposite, Lord Ilkeston, carried our memories back to the Parish Councils Bill. I would recall his memory to another period when we dealt with the Employers' Liability Bill. Undoubtedly during the last few years the minority in this country who have been attacked by Radical legislation has consisted to a large extent of men of property and wealth, and, although I for one consider they should bear their fair 797 share of taxation, at the same time they have the same rights and liberties as any body else in the country. It is only fair that they should have a Court of Appeal like everybody else. During the last two or three years, as I have said, Liberal legislation has been applied against men possessed of riches and wealth, but that has not always been the case. There have often been minorities belonging to your Lordships' House whose capital and wealth consists of the labour of their hands. Lord Ilkeston said that in 1894 Mr. Gladstone stated with regard to the Parish Councils Bill, when protesting against the Amendments of your Lordships' House, that this was a state of things which could not and should no longer continue. I believe it was not made on that Bill, but on the far more important question of the contracting-out clauses of the Employers Liability Bill. My recollection of that, time was that Mr. Gladstone tried to provoke a conflict with this House by saying that that Bill was tainted and poisoned. I remember also Mr. Balfour retorting that it was tainted with freedom, and the poison was the poison of liberty. In those days your Lordships were standing up for the rights and the freedom of those workmen who, if they could make better terms than they had been able to make before, were to be allowed to make those terms under the Bill, and that is liberty. People in this country, whether rich or poor, in times like that do require a Second Chamber, a Chamber that will hear their appeal, a Chamber that will be composed of their fellow-countrymen. Though I am pleased that this Bill is receiving a Second Reading, at the same time I hope that the spirit of compromise will not be altogether absent from these walls, and that the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill will, in the course of our discussions in the Committee stage, see that some Amendments are inserted in the Bill to ensure that no restrictions can be placed upon the liberties of the people.
§ [The sitting was suspended at ten minutes to eight o'clock and resumed at a quarter past nine.]
THE EARL OF LEVEN AND MELVILLE
My Lords, I trust I may be forgiven for venturing to address your Lordships twice within a very few days. My excuse must be the importance of the subjects which have been before the House in these two days. I will promise, however, to detain 798 your Lordships for only a few moments. As I understand, two chief reasons are put forward by His Majesty's Government for the introduction of this Bill. They take up two main lines of defence. They say, first, in a lofty, a national, and a patriotic spirit, that it is your Lordships' fault this Bill has had to be introduced, that you have gone on provoking the people until it has become absolutely necessary that something should be done. It is the old cry, "Peers against the people." The Peers have irritated the people until at last noble Lords opposite are forced to come down to this House, and their colleagues in another place are forced to go down to the House of Commons, and take drastic steps to prevent anything of the kind happening again.
There is another line taken up in a less lofty, though perhaps a truer spirit. It is the line that they will be traitors and poltroons if they give up the Party advantage they have gained. I would venture to suggest that there is a third, and, from their point of view, a more cogent reason for which they have produced this Bill. That reason is this. It is the only possible means of control they have over the various parties which go to form the Coalition they command in another place. I do not know if your Lordships may have noticed at the recent elections a caricature in which the Prime Minister was shown driving a team, I think of three horses, evidently with a good deal of difficulty. I will not enter into the question how many horses the Prime Minister ought to be driving, but I should say that really he ought to have more than three. I will not enter either into the different peculiarities of those horses; but there is one alteration I should like to suggest in that caricature. As I saw it, Mr. Asquith had in his hands two reins to the bit of every horse. I would suggest that he should have only one rein, and that should be labelled Parliament Bill. The fact is, he has only one means of control by which he can direct the various steeds in his Parliamentary stable at one time—that is the Parliament Bill. On no other subject can His Majesty's Government get a level pull at the mouths of those various horses at one and the same time. That is the reason why they are forced to bring in the Bill, why they dare not bring in a scheme of reform of this House first, why they dare not give us any suggestion of the scheme of reform they propose to bring in, if they ever do bring in such a scheme.
799 You can see quite plainly, if you look at the difference between the body of the Bill and the Preamble, that the Preamble is concocted merely with a view to uniting the various discordant elements which support the Government in another place. My noble friend Lord Camperdown pointed out this evening that in any Select Committee of your Lordships' House that Preamble would be immediately cut out as having nothing whatever to do with the rest of the Bill. I have at the present time the honour to be a member of a Select Committee of this House, and. I have noticed in the several petitions against the Bill which the Committee are considering this section, "The Preamble of this Bill is untrue and cannot be supported by evidence." Now, as to these words, "Whereas it is intended," &c.—I need not remind your Lordships of the full contents of the Preamble—I submit that the section I have quoted as appearing in petitions applies probably a great deal better to this particular Bill than to any Bill which has ever been considered by a Select Committee of this House. It could not possibly be applied more accurately. The Preamble of this Bill is untrue and cannot be supported by evidence. I ask what confidence has anybody ever had in the intentions of the Government with regard to the "Whereas it is intended" part of the Bill. Not the slightest possible due as to the future has been afforded to anybody. Though the Government have been pressed again and again, both in this House and in the House of Commons, they have refused to give any idea of any scheme which they can produce for the reform of this House. I think, my Lords, there is a very good reason why they have given no clue. They dare not do so. If they had produced anything in the least resembling a plan for the reform of this House, a large number of their supporters would immediately disagree, and would destroy their majority in another place.
I will venture to suggest, my Lords, that it is very improbable this Government will ever bring in, as it stands now apart, a scheme for the reform of this House. Mr. Asquith has told us in the House of Commons that he hopes, if time permits, to bring in such a scheme within the life of this Parliament. There are, as anybody can see, a good many loopholes in that statement. "If time permits"—that is a pretty big loophole. He can easily make 800 the excuse that time does not permit last over the present Parliament. If he is going to bring in a Home Rule scheme for Ireland first, I think it will take up the whole of his time, even if his remaining time in office be long, of which I am not at al1 certain. There is another reason which leads me to suppose that this promised scheme of reform will never be brought in. The Government do not wish to give up the Party advantage they have gained. It seems to me that if they bring in any scheme of reform at all, they will give up some part of that advantage. We have had recently a very good example of the state of affairs that can be brought about when might is right. The way in which this very Bill has been treated in another place has shown us what a Radical Government will do when might is right. Surely it cannot be contended that this is not a controversial measure, and, after it had been introduced, naturally an enormous number of Amendments were put down. Those Amendments were moved by a set of very able men in very able speeches, but not to one Amendment did the Government pay the slightest attention. Indeed, if I am not mistaken, they announced beforehand that they did not intend to accept any Amendments, and this intention they did not depart from. Anyhow the Bill remains exactly as it was, with all its faults and imperfections.
That does not look as if any spirit of compromise is going to be shown by His Majesty's Government on this subject. If we seek for the reason for their attitude we always come back to the same thing—namely, they dare not give way, because if they did they know they would lose their majority in another place. I, for one, shall be glad to see this Bill go through a Second Reading, because I hope it may be possible in the Committee stage to bring forward Amendments which I trust His Majesty's Government will treat with a little more respect than they did the Amendments moved in another place.
§ LORD COLCHESTER
My Lords, I venture to think that tins Bill in the shape in which it is now brought before your Lordships' House is one which means nothing else than the entire overthrow of our Parliamentary system as it has been known throughout the whole constitutional history of the country. I can heartily join with the noble Earl who preceded me in 801 saying that in the face of the utterances we have had from His Majesty's Government to-night and last night it does not look as if there is any prospect of Amendments from this side being assented to. As that is the position I must say that, in the shape in which it stands now, I shall be disposed to meet the Bill with nothing but uncompromising opposition. I should not, I confess, have taken that view if the Bill had come before this House in a slightly different form. If instead of the principle of the Bill being that the will of the majority of the House of Commons—not of the people—must prevail in the duration of one Parliament, the principle had been that it should prevail in the duration of two Parliaments I should not speak thus on the Bill. In that case, though I might have some hesitation still as to whether there should not be an exception in regard to Bills affecting the powers and constitution of the House itself, I should feel that, while nominally limiting the Veto of this House, it would really leave things practically as they always were. This House has not claimed an absolute Veto in the sense of a Veto without reference to length of time or numbers of majorities. If it has learned in time what has been the settled will of the people on a particular question this House has not, I think, ever opposed it. We cannot, however, recognise the settled will of the people in the decisions of a single House of Parliament.
There may be one great cry at the time of a General Election which may indicate the voice of the people on one particular subject, but at any rate it goes no farther. I was much struck with the remarks of the noble Viscount opposite when, speaking of a time which he well remembers, he told us how the first Ministry of Mr. Gladstone was raised to power on the one question of the Disestablishment of the Irish Church. After that Government had dealt with the Irish Church it passed in addition a number of important measures which became part of the Statute Book of this country. That time, my Lords, is also within my memory. As I listened to the noble Viscount I thought he had for the moment overlooked what the verdict of the country on that Government was. We know that after passing those measures the time came when it appealed to the people, and at the General Election it was swept from power. Its opponents secured what they had not 802 had for a generation—a decisive majority, giving them not only office but a real control over affairs. I do not attack that Government or any Government for introducing measures which were not prominently before the country at a General Election. They cannot, of course, be expected to limit their legislation to the one or two topics then occupying public attention. It would be absurd so to restrict the course that it might be their duty to take. But they cannot claim, merely on the ground of support by the House of Commons, that they speak the will of the people. That must be sought, if needed, by a more direct appeal. If by an alteration of the Bill it were provided that a measure should become law within the duration of two Parliaments instead of one, it would be only by the voice of the people in the constituencies, and not by the will of the other branch of the Legislature, that the Upper House, whatever it may be, would be overridden.
I think there is something very curious about the attitude of noble Lords opposite and others in the country who profess to hold the democratic creed in its widest form, whenever the question of such an appeal as I have mentioned, and especially the proposal of a Referendum, is introduced. Their creed, as we understand it here, is that the will of the people is perfectly wise so long as it gives a blank cheque, so to speak, to some Minister or candidate to carry out whatever measures he thinks fit. But as soon as they begin to hear talk about the judgment of the people on the merits of a Bill they fall back on the language used by able men like Lord Sherbrooke when demanding the extension of the borough franchise more than forty years ago. I do not pretend to have grown up in the democratic creed, and I can see a certain force in some of their arguments where the question of democracy is still an open one, but I think all the arguments we have heard against the Referendum are arguments against popular government.
The attitude of the opponents of the Referendum reminds me of the motto which used to be attributed to some Royalists in Germany, "Long live the absolute Monarchy while it does what we please." Supporters of His Majesty's Government have the same point of view with regard to the Referendum. They are all for democracy when it will back them up in carrying out 803 the laws they wish to impose on the country; they are not for it when uncertain of its action in regard to their legislative proposals. It may or may not be a good thing to think that the will of the people should be supreme. But if we admit the supremacy of the popular will, surely it should be the real will of the people and not a fiction. We know that some men vote for a Party because of one thing they like in the Party programme, and others vote for it because of totally different proposals put forward by the Party. Some vote for a man because he is a temperance reformer, others because he supports Home Rule, Disestablishment, Free Trade, or something else. Does that mean that any one of those proposals would command the support of a majority in the country? Is it not rather the case that no real verdict is given on any one of them? As the late Lord Salisbury said some years ago, they are like a jury required to find a uniform verdict in all cases brought before them, whatever the merits might be.
It has been said that there is a tendency now to depreciate the House of Commons. If there were any such tendency I should be the last to have a right to support it, sitting as I do here on the ground of being the representative of a former Speaker of that House. But it is proposed to place the House of Commons in a new position, one it has never held, as entitled to absolutely unchecked and unlimited power over all legislation. While we may admire the functions the House of Commons has had to discharge under our existing Constitution, we cannot agree to confer on it this totally new power. It follows upon this proposal of His Majesty's Government that the House of Commons must necessarily be judged by a much severer standard. We cannot forget the frequent disparity between the proportion of members on each side and the votes they represent. Nor is this only because constituencies are unequal in size. It is because a majority of two equals in effect a majority of two to one, while a large minority, scattered equally in many constituencies, may be utterly unrepresented.
I will now, my Lords, say one or two words concerning the charges against this House. It has been said that it was we who gave the challenge by the rejection of the Budget. But I would remind your Lordships that before the rejection of the Budget we had the Campbell-Bannerman 804 Resolutions, and I, for one, always regarded those Resolutions as a simple declaration of war, without prospect of truce or quarter. It was after those Resolutions had been passed in the House of Commons that the Budget was rejected by this House. The action of this House on that Budget was taken simply with the object of giving the nation what otherwise it would never have had, that is an opportunity of expressing an opinion upon that measure. As a result of the General Election the Government came back with only a shattered remnant of its former overwhelming strength, but nevertheless, there being still a majority, if a greatly attenuated one, your Lordships passed the Budget.
I suppose the other grievance is the Government's Education Bill. I always regretted that the Act of 1902 was not passed, as it was intended to be when introduced, as a permissive Bill. But when the present Government came into office, were they content with repealing the provisions of that Act to which their supporters objected? What did they do? They went very much further than that Act. They proposed a state of things in which practically only the schools of one party—the schools of the undenominational party—should be supported by the rates, thus inflicting a grievous wrong on the supporters of another very large and important class of schools. This House amended the Bill. It did not reject it on the Third Reading, though a few noble Lords voted against it. I myself thought, after the Amendments we had passed, that it was not right under the circumstances to vote against it. The Bill went back to the House of Commons, but the Government refused to come to any agreement, and the result was the measure fell through. The country was indifferent about it. There was a tornado of passion in one or two quarters of the House of Commons, but there was no strong popular feeling in the country over the fate of that Bill. We might have supposed that there was going to be an agitation like that in connection with the Reform Bill of 1831, but the whole thing fell flat, and we have never had that Bill sent up again.
As to the present Bill, as I have said, I see no indications of any important Amendment being accepted on the other side. For my part I confess I do not see that any worse consequences could be apprehended 805 from the rejection of the Bill than from passing it. I am not sure it would not be better, if the Bill is to become law, that it should do so by virtue of some of the strange and unheard of methods of which we have had rumours, rather than that we should appear to acquiesce in passing such revolutionary proposals. The Bill, as it stands, is one introducing a new form of Government, and sweeping away from our Constitutional system all checks against the despotic supremacy of one branch of the Legislature. Because in the form in which we are asked to pass it the Bill destroys the safeguards of well-ordered freedom, I feel bound, unless it is transformed and remodelled, to protest against its passing into law.
§ THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
My Lords, I should not have ventured to address you again to-night if it had not been for the fact that I stand in a somewhat peculiar position. I understand it is agreed that we should not challenge the Second Reading of this Bill. I am sorry to say, having given the subject the best attention which I am capable of giving to it, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot fall in with that course. I cannot feel myself justified in being a party to reading this Bill a second time without a challenge, and if any noble Lords challenge a Division I shall vote with them. But as at present advised, I do not know that I should even find a teller to tell with me. Therefore, I ask your Lordships' leave to take this opportunity of expressing my belief that we are not justified in reading this Bill a second time, of separating myself from the policy which understand we have adopted of assenting to its Second Reading, and of making it perfectly plain that if I do not go into the Lobby against it I am not to be thought in any way to have assented to its adoption.
I will give two reasons, and only two, why I feel compelled to take this course. I will, if you please, give you the weaker reason first. The attitude of His Majesty's Government on this matter is one which I have always found it very difficult to describe. I do not know what it is there is about His Majesty's Government, but I al ways experience a difficulty in describing their conduct in good King's English. Perhaps it is because their methods of procedure are so novel and so advanced that it requires more modern 806 terms than are embraced in classical English to describe them. But in this instance I cannot say that the conduct of the Government is due to pride, or to arrogance, or that it is haughty in character. I really think it would be complimentary to use any of those terms. The word braggadocio hardly meets the case either. I can only think of one term. It is a slang term, and I apologise to your Lordships for using it. It is what is commonly called "bounce." The whole attitude of His Majesty's Government is one of bounce. I am sure no one will imagine that I accuse the noble Viscount the Leader of the House of bounce either in manner or in language, for nothing could be more opposite to what the noble Viscount is well noted for. But I must say that if his language and manner do not partake of bounce, his matter can only be described by that term. The noble Viscount has in fact said, "Hands up," and has threatened to present a pistol at our heads. It is true that the pistol is at present up the sleeve of the Government. We do not know whether it is a popgun or a much deadlier weapon; but the attitude is one of menace, and the demand they make is for surrender. It may be that I have too much of the old Adam in me, but I must say I personally object to that sort of attitude, and I object to it especially when the demand is made by an Administration as weak and as inefficient as I believe this Administration has shown itself to be.
The noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, two or three nights ago, remarked that the Government had been accused both of, I think he said, oligarchical despotism and of weakness, and he said the two accusations were not compatible. I was surprised at that remark. I should have thought weakness and violence were the commonest associates; indeed, that one might almost be said to be the complement of the other. The conduct of His Majesty's Government all through its career, and especially at the present time, is characterised by precisely that mixture of violence and weakness which weak Administrations are apt to show. I am sure I need not detain your Lordships with ancient history to show that some of the worst despots in the world have been so because they were weak. Perhaps I need only refer to the history of our country—to the history of the Stuarts. Why were the Stuarts violent? Because they were weak. It is the greatest mistake 807 in the world to imagine that violence and weakness are incompatible.
What is the sign of weakness His Majesty's Government show? Sometimes I feel as if I had, like Rip Van Winkle, gone to sleep and wakened up in a new world altogether from that world which existed when I was younger in Parliamentary days. There were great men before Agamemnon; there have been Prime Ministers before Mr. Asquith. How have other Prime Ministers managed to get on with this House? Has there been no friction in former times between the two Houses? Have there been no difficulties? Had Mr. Gladstone no difficulties to face between the Upper House and the Lower House? But Mr. Gladstone, whatever we may think of his policy, was a strong man. He knew how to deal with men and with parties, and how, without putting a pistol at the head of the Opposition, to carry his point. It is precisely because the present Government in all its proceedings have been absolutely unable to do anything of the sort that they can only resort to methods of violence, that they can only practically manufacture an emergency—because there is really no emergency whatever—and then when they have manufactured that emergency, solve it by what can only be called practically revolution.
The Government are inconsistent. The Government say they can do nothing. Their own confession, or rather their own complaint, is that they are allowed to do nothing. Yet, as was mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Midleton, or by another noble Lord, the other night, Lord Haldane took credit outside the House for the enormous number of things the Government had done. I will return the noble Viscount's words, and say that these two assertions are not compatible. What is the result? I was rather struck by the admission of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House the other night when he told us that wise men refused to bring matters to extremities. I thought it a most remarkable sentence in the noble Viscount's mouth. Will he forgive me if I return it to him? Only let me point out there is this difference. In my mouth it is a warning; in the noble Viscount's mouth it is a menace. I do not think I need detain your Lordships at this stage with further disquisitions on the weakness of the Government. I could say much on that 808 subject, but I will reserve it for some future occasion. I have no doubt we shall have many opportunities of discussing the conduct of the Government in connection with this measure at a later stage. I cannot help repeating that the Government are guilty of the old dodge, which is known to all those who wish to seize what I may call despotic or overweening power—power to do what they like unchecked. They are guilty of the old dodge of creating a difficulty and then saying it is unsurmountable without utterly exceptional measures.
I turn from that, from my own reluctance to support a measure which is presented to us in the manner I have described by a Government of the character I have endeavoured to depict—I turn from that to my greater reason for desiring not to be responsible for the Second Reading of this Bill. The other night I ventured to address your Lordships on the reform of the House of Lords. I endeavoured to convey to your Lordships my opinion that we should not stand upon privilege or upon our rights—our right to seats or our right to our votes—if it could be shown, as I believed it could be, that reform was desirable and that reform might end in our sacrificing our present position. I do not believe very much in the importance of individuals. I believe that, whatever happened to the individual member of this House, this House, if it remained in the same position with the same powers, would, go on very much as before. I have lived long enough to have known great and distinguished men whom people said would when gathered to their fathers, make an irreparable gap in the ranks of their Party; it has been said that the efficiency of the Party to which they belonged, or the House of which they were members, would suffer permanently and irremediably. My Lords, it is quite curious how easily the ranks are filled up, and how small a gap even the greatest men make in the history of a country. If that be the case, I certainly think it is much more true of the rank and file of our noble selves. But the reason that I have regarded the question of reform readily is that I believe reform will strengthen this House. I cannot believe that reading this Bill a second time will strengthen this House. I cannot see how any measure which has for its object the weakening of the power of this House can by any possibility in Committee be made 809 even innocuous, much less a measure which support this House, and I am afraid that if we read this Bill a second time, whatever we may say—for I fear that with the public our votes carry more weight than our speeches—it will be thrown in our teeth that we have admitted that it is desirable to lessen the power of this House, and that all we have objected to is the means by which it is to be done. That, I am afraid, will be the impression which will be given to the public, and as I cannot be a party to giving that impression even by my single vote or single voice I protest here most solemnly against it.
In this matter of the power of the House we ought to remember that our positions here are a trust. I ventured the other night to quote a passage from a man who is not a politician as to the tendencies of democracy. I will not repeat the quotation, but I say that the function of this House is to delay, if we cannot prevent, the process of disintegration of which he spoke, and it is a trust and a responsibility of which we cannot rid ourselves. Moreover, let it be remembered that we also represent, or shall very shortly represent, not only the independence of the country—for this has been the most independent Assembly in the world—but the unpaid independence of the country. Henceforth the Lower House is to be formed of professional politicians—politicians who make, or may be supposed to make., their bread and butter by their votes and by their political conduct. I think every one who has ever had a seat in the House of Commons, unless he has had a very singularly secure seat, must know how greatly is the fear of his constituents constantly before his eyes. Those of us who have been in the House of Commons must recollect men having come up to us and said, "I hope to goodness you will vote against this Bill. I am afraid I cannot—I dare not. I should risk my seat." That is the necessary defect of representative institutions. I am not saying for a moment that it is a fatal defect, but I say it is a necessary defect, and you are going to make it ten thousand times worse. You are going not only to perpetuate what you must perpetuate, the fear of the elector, but you are also going to make a man feel that if he gives an independent vote he may be sacrificing the means of livelihood of his wile and children, and that will be 810 a pressure upon the very men, remember, for whom this new paid system is invented. It will be a pressure upon them which will destroy all independence of every sort and kind. That makes it the more necessary that we should stand up for the independence of the only free Assembly left in this country.
We represent, my Lords, in a peculiar degree the education and the intelligence of the country. I am not afraid to make that assumption, although I know it is quite possible to turn it easily into ridicule. I say that as a House this House is a highly educated House and of high intelligence, and if in any particular instances that education or that intelligence be not as much shown as it might be, it does not alter the fact that as a House this House represents a high degree of education and intelligence. Not only that, but it represents in a peculiar way the property, the wealth, of the country—that property which it is necessary to preserve, and which, as I said the other night, the tendency of of all democracies is to attack, and which the end of all democracies is to annihilate. We represent these particular interests, and, as I have already said, we are in trust for those we represent, and we have no right to give up our powers. In the case of the great majority of your Lordships you did not seek the position which you occupy. It has been conferred upon you by Providence, and you are responsible to the source from which you derive it for the exercise which you make of your opportunities. The experience of ages has shown that the powers possessed by this House are essential to the liberties of the people, and a necessary safeguard against violent and confiscatory legislation. Those safeguards were never more necessary than now. According to the best of my judgment, we have no right by any act of omission or commission to jeopardise them, but, on the contrary, to hand them down, if possible, intact to future generations. Therefore I repeat, in conclusion, as I began, that I shall vote against the Second Reading of this Bill if I have an opportunity, and, if I have not, I beg it may not be taken that I agree or assent to the policy of reading it a second time.
§ THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (EARL BEAUCHAMP)
My Lords, I venture to think His Majesty's Government have more than one reason to congratulate 811 themselves upon the course which the debate has taken during the last two days. We have nothing to complain of with regard to the terms of the speeches made against the Bill, and we have every reason to congratulate ourselves upon the result which is foreshadowed in those speeches. We understand that a Second Reading will be given to the Bill, and although the noble Viscount, Lord Midleton, who spoke last night, indicated the possibility of various Amendments, His Majesty's Government hope that when the time comes they may be able to persuade your Lordships not to press those Amendments to the ultimate issue. We have, after all, reached, as the most rev. Primate said this evening, a certain amount of agreement upon this subject. Both Parties admit the existence of a grievance. We both admit that it is necessary to find a remedy. The noble Duke who has just spoken introduced a note of discord. He told us the other night that flattery was the vice of all statesmen. I am sure we who sit on this side may acquit him of any share in that particular vice. He certainly never flatters His Majesty's Government, and from what I remember of his speech last week he certainly did not flatter the Bill of the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition. But, if he will allow me to say so, he did express to-night views and opinions to which we listened with the utmost respect. They are views which ought to be put forward in your Lordships' House on an occasion of this kind, and however little we may find ourselves able to agree with them we were, at any rate, able to listen to them with a great deal of respect and attention. But will the noble Duke allow me to say that in the conclusion to which he arrived—namely, that, if possible, he would vote against the Bill of the Government—he would have received more sympathy from noble Lords on this side if he had proceeded to the same extremity with regard to the Bill of last week, against which also he had a great deal of hostility.
§ THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Earl; but what did I say to show great hostility to the Bill of last week?
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
I certainly understood that the noble Duke did not approve of the Bill of the noble Marquess.
§ THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
But the noble Earl is not entitled to allege because I did not show great affection for that Bill, that therefore I showed great hostility to it.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
I think I am well within the recollection of your Lordships' House when I say that the reception which was given by the noble Duke to the Bill of the noble Marquess last week was far from being cordial. But the point really is, which view is to prevail? We had last week the solution which was proposed by the noble Marquess on behalf of the Opposition, and this week your Lordships are discussing the solution which is put forward by His Majesty's Government. Both Parties are now agreed that the will of the House of Commons or of the people must prevail within the limits of a single Parliament. That is common matter between both Parties. [Opposition cries of "No."] Noble Lords surely forget that it is not very long ago that a Bill dealing with the Referendum and Joint Sessions was introduced in your Lordships' House, and that noble Lords opposite did not then insist upon a further General Election. That seems to me to mark a very distinct step in advance. Until now noble Lords opposite have always said there must be a General Election. I understand that is a position they now give up, and that if we have Joint Sessions and the Referendum they would not demand a General Election before they give way on a Bill, which has been through another place. The Referendum, as we have already explained to your Lordships, is not a measure which we wish to see introduced as a common part of our political life. We have recognised its possibilities and its advantages in special circumstances, such as those in the Colony of Natal, where before the Federation it had a very distinct value; but we have had opportunities of explaining to your Lordships why we are unable to accept either the Referendum or the rest of your programme which was introduced in the Bill of last week.
The solution which His Majesty's Government offer is before your Lordships in the Bill which we are now discussing, and I venture to think that in deciding to read this Bill a second time your Lordships have taken a very wise decision. I have an extract, which I shall venture to read to 813 your Lordships, from a speech which was made by the late Lord Salisbury on the Irish Church Bill. It affects so vitally the issue before the House that I think it may be of some value. The late Lord Salisbury said, on June 17, 1869—But when once we have come to the conclusion from all the circumstances of the case that the House of Commons is at one with the nation, it appears to me that—save in some very exceptional cases, save in the highest cases of morality—in those cases in which a man would not set his hand to a certain proposition, 'though a revolution should follow from his refusal—it appears to me that the vocation of this House has passed away, that it must, devolve the responsibility upon the nation, and may fairly accept the conclusion at which the nation has arrived. My Lords, I cannot think that in thus stepping aside we are abdicating our duty. It is no courage, it is no dignity, to withstand the real opinion of the nation. All that you are doing thereby is to delay an inevitable issue—for all history teaches us that no nation was ever thus induced to revoke its decision—and to invite besides a period of disturbance, discontent, and possibly of worse than discontent.This Bill, at any rate, was the main issue at the General Election, and I think it is admitted by everybody that the Government are pledged to pursue it to an ultimate issue. What else can your Lordships expect us to do? Would you have us throw it over and accept some other measure? We might possibly, were it not that we feel ourselves pledged in this matter, propose some other solution which finds favour with noble Lords opposite—the solution which is now in existence under the circumstances of the South African Constitution; but by their method of Joint Sessions, let me remind noble Lords opposite, the will of the House of Commons would prevail, not within a limit of three sessions, but at the end of one session; and although we admit that this Bill is not a remedy for all the defects that require remedy at present, we cannot but think it is the best method of dealing with the subject at the present time.
This Bill does not remedy all the defects. We have more than once said that although this Bill deals with the situation when a Liberal Government is in office, it does not deal with the difficulty which undoubtedly arises when there is a Conservative Government in office. Noble Lords opposite are fond of speaking of the blow which this Bill deals to the dignity of your Lordships' House. I do not know that any blow which was ever delivered by His Majesty's Government was as deep as the blow which 814 was delivered by the Conservative Government in 1901. A Factory and Workshops Bill was introduced into your Lordships' House in that year which dealt with the whole law as to factories and workshops. It consisted of more than 100 clauses. It was read a second time, put through Committee, and read a third time on the same afternoon, and the Conservative Government refused to consider a single Amendment being introduced into that very important. Bill. I venture to think that was far from a dignified or proper way of treating your Lordships' House. We propose this Bill as a step forward, and a necessary step forward, in dealing with this matter. We deal with relations rather than with reconstitution.
Noble Lords opposite criticise the fact that we have omitted to deal with the reconstitution of the House of Lords, but may suggest to them that there is some common sense in settling what the machine is to do before making up your minds as to what the machine is to be like? When once you have made up your minds what the functions of the machine are to be you will be better able to make up your minds as to what it should be like. Nor do we think that any reconstruction such as is suggested, without dealing with the proposals we suggest, will affect the vital issue. In the course of the discussion more than one noble Lord has suggested that during the last twenty years any Second Chamber would have acted as this House has acted. Let me, like other noble Lords, briefly go through the period from 1895 to 1910, which divides itself into two periods—one during which this House gradually sank into a condition of coma, and the other during which its action has been somewhat feverish. When a Tory Government were in office noble Lords will remember how readily they accepted the Bills introduced by noble Lords opposite. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, in the course of his speech this evening, told us that any Government establishing a new state of things ought to meet with difficulties in so doing. I am not disposed to quarrel with that statement, but the criticism which I should make upon it is that a Conservative Government meets with no difficulties in this House when it does try to establish a new state of things. It is only a Liberal Government which meets with difficulties. Noble Lords will remember perfectly well how the Education Act of 1902, the 815 Licensing Act of noble Lords opposite, and even the institution of Chinese labour met with no direct frustration on the part of members of your Lordships' House. I have always regarded the Archbishop of Canterbury as more responsible than any man in England after the Colonial Secretary for the establishment of Chinese labour in the Transvaal. The right rev. Prelate spoke on more than one occasion, but he was as unable as the Liberal Party to effect any change in the policy of the Government.
Then, during the last few years, we have seen this activity on the part of your Lordships' House. The noble Duke who has just spoken tried to charge my noble friend Lord Carrington, and I think also my noble friend Lord Haldane, with inconsistency on the ground that they had spoken with some pride of the achievements of His Majesty's Government. We do not deny that His Majesty's Government have been able to pass a considerable number of small Bills through this House as well as the other House. What we complain of is our larger Bills have not only been rejected, but have been largely amended by your Lordships' House, and it has struck me as curious in the course of this debate when noble Lords opposite have been attacking the position of the House of Commons that when His Majesty's Government introduced a Bill to make the House of Commons more representative of the people the Bill was immediately thrown out by your Lordships' House. But we had the General Election of January last year, the Conference which failed, and then the General Election of last December, when, I think we are all agreed, generally speaking the policy of His Majesty's Government was the main subject before the country.
A noble Lord who has some official connection with the Front Bench opposite introduced a new note, it is true, into the discussion. I am sorry he is not now in the House. Lord Hindlip brought the case of Mr. Crippen into an election and told us that no doubt if Crippen had had 100 votes the Government would have interfered to save his life. But apart from an occasional eccentric such as the noble Lord, I think we are all agreed that the real question before the country was the policy of His Majesty's Government; and we have brought in our alternative, which, after all, secured the largest number of votes. There has been considerable discussion on the 816 question during the past few months. There has been discussion also in previous years. In another place it was discussed in 1907 as well as in 1910. In this House it was also discussed last year, and there were also the discussions which took place at various times upon the reform proposals of the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, and also of Lord Newton, so that I think nobody now can say that the proposals of His Majesty's Government were not within the full cognisance of the people of this country.
In spite of that, however, we had the noble Marquess who spoke earlier this evening telling us that nearly one-half of the country was in his favour. Let me venture to give your Lordships the figures relating to this point. During the last General Election the total majority for the Liberal and Labour Party was 350,171, and that, of course, is ignoring the plural voter, who as an individual is now thrown over in connection with the Referendum. If we take into account the plural voters—and if it is a question of individuals it is not unfair to do so—taking the calculation of Mr. F. E. Smith, the number of such votes cast at the General Election was 400,000. I make a present of 300,000 to noble Lords opposite, and retain 100,000 for ourselves. That is not an unfair estimate to make. Under those circumstances we find that the majority of the electors voted for His Majesty's Government and their policy rather than for the policy of noble Lords opposite. Let me remind the noble Marquess opposite what the majorities have been during the past few General Elections. In 1892, when the Liberal Party was returned to power, the majority was 200,000. In 1895 the Unionist majority was 104,000; in 1900, it was 123,000; so that on both those occasions, if we make allowance for the plural voter, we find that the noble Marquess and his friends were maintained in office, not by a majority of votes, but merely by the aid of the plural voter. I should not have entered into this question if the noble Marquess himself, following other noble Lords, had not done so.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I should like to point out to the noble Earl that what happened at previous elections has no bearing on the matter whatever. It is a question of absolute figures. I have not checked the noble Earl's figures, but even if every one of them is correct it would 817 still follow that a very large number of the electors of this country are on our side and not on his.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
I am much obliged to the noble Marquess. I felt sure I should be interrupted by him, and I have won something.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
I have no complaint to make on this occasion. Let me turn for one moment to a statement made by Lord Leven and Melville. He told your Lordships that no Amendment had been made to the best of his belief, in the course of the Committee stage of this Bill in another place. Will the noble Earl allow me to advise him on another occasion to read the debates in another place before he makes a statement of that kind? I do not think he would have found a single book of reference or newspaper which would not have pointed out to him his inaccuracy on matters of fact, and important fact. Let me point out that the Government did accept Amendments—one dealing with the date of Bills and the other dealing with the matter of rating. The noble Earl, perhaps, in view of those inaccuracies, will excuse me if I say no more on the subject of the speech which he made. Let me say one word upon the question of rating. I am sure I shall have the agreement of noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite when I say that few questions are so difficult for us all to deal with as those which come within the debatable ground of whether Bills are or are not Money Bills. On such a Bill, for instance, as the Housing and Town Planning Bill we have had real difficulty in knowing whether Amendments were privileged or not. I venture to think that what is in the Parliament Bill will clear up that difficulty to a very large extent. All these questions of rating have been removed, and there will be, I believe, much less difficulty in dealing with these questions in the future.
After all, what will be the practical result of this Bill if it becomes law? We agree that a Bill which is introduced in the first session of a Parliament will, in the circumstances set out, ultimately, in spite of the resistance of your Lordships, become law. So also if it is introduced in the second year it will ultimately become law. 818 But is it quite fair to describe that as entirely a system of single-Chamber government? There are at least half the number of years during which a Parliament exists in which the powers of this House remain exactly as they were before. You will have every opportunity of amending and rejecting Bills during the last two years of any Parliament. You will also have during the first two years every opportunity of Amendment and of delay. Indeed, one noble Lord on the Front Bench opposite is of opinion that it gives considerable powers to your Lordships' House. Last week Lord Curzon said—Is it not certain that by your tyrannical measures, as we think them, you will breed an obdurate and reactionary spirit in the House of lords as it then exists? Is it not certain that your Lordships House will be a greater bar to Radical legislation, within its powers, in the future than it has been in the past?Mr. Balfour has also expressed the opinion that we are increasing the power of the House of Lords in the things in which we do not want to increase it. In those circumstances I do not think it is any exaggeration on our part to say that the system we are proposing is very far removed from a system of single-Chamber government.
What do noble Lords opposite mean when they say they wish for the continuance of a system of double-Chamber government? There is at present no equality between the two Chambers; they are not equal in any kind of way. This House has admitted that it has nothing to do with finance. Its connection with administration is comparatively small. Occasionally your Lordships pass an Address to the Crown protesting against a small Order in connection with a scheme of education. But in the administration of the Foreign Office, in the great questions of war, of peace and of defence, your Lordships have nothing like the same powers as the House of Commons, and practically the power of originating Bills in this House has died away. No Bill of first-class importance has for some time been originated in this House. Therefore, only certain legislation would be affected by this Bill. Vetoes have gone, and have left the powers which used to exercise them even stronger than before. Your Lordships know very well the system of checks which exists in this country—the check upon the Commons, upon the Cabinet, upon this House and upon the Crown. Is it not a 819 question well worth consideration whether, after all, the check proposed in this Bill might not become in time a far better check upon this House than the check which at present exists? I think your Lordships might well consider in time to come that such a check as that in this Bill is far better than the one which exists, and which might conceivably, according to the text books, at any rate, be used.
What we ask your Lordships to do is to make only one of many steps and of many concessions which have been made by the House of Lords. Mr. Lecky, a well-known Unionist, spoke of the magnitude of the power theoretically vested in the House of Lords as an obstacle to its moderate exercise, and he expressed the opinion that a Veto defined and limited by law would be more fearlessly and generously exercised. That is an expression of opinion not altogether unworthy the attention of your Lordships' House. What in our opinion is really wrong at the present time is not the position of your Lordships' House, for the moment at any rate. I do not wish to complain of the position of your Lordship? House. What we say has gone wrong is the attitude which you have taken up with regard to measures which come to you from another place. It is the relations between the two Houses which are wrong; and it is those relations which we are anxious to improve, it is that difficulty rather which we are anxious to solve. We hope that this Bill will be a solution of the difficulty. The futility of political prophecy is proverbial, but at any rate I would venture to say this. If this weapon were used too tyrannically or too harshly it would break in our hand, and it would be we who would be hurt rather than noble Lords opposite who have always protested against its use.
THE EARL OF MAYO
My Lords, I have listened with the greatest interest to the noble Earl who has just sat down, and before I comment on his remarks I must say I cannot congratulate him upon the number of supporters sitting behind him on such an auspicious occasion. I see nobody at all behind the Front Bench opposite. I am addressing the occupants of the Front Bench, it is true, and I feel honoured at being allowed to do so, but I am addressing nobody else on the opposite side.
The noble Earl who has just spoken congratulated the House on the fact that this 820 Bill was going to be read a second time, and he went on to say that he hoped we should not press Amendments. I imagine that if we give this Bill a Second Reading we shall certainly in Committee press Amendments—Amendments which the noble Viscount, Lord Midleton, foreshadowed would be grave Amendments. The noble Earl referred to the Referendum and to Joint Sittings. But he said, on behalf of the Government, that they would not have anything to do either with the Referendum or with Joint Sittings. The fact of the matter is, the noble Earl wants the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill. Then the noble Earl—and in this I could not follow him—referred to the reform of your Lordships' House and said he wanted to know what the machine was to do before considering what the machine was to be like. I cannot understand that. When I buy a machine I am anxious to know what it is like, so that I can form some opinion of what it is likely to do. There is nothing whatever in that argument of the noble Earl. Then what was the use of dragging in Crippen? Crippen is hanged, and there is an end of him. The noble Earl said he was anxious to solve difficulties. There is one very easy way of solving a difficulty with your enemy, and that is to knock him down and stamp upon him. After all the abuse that has been poured upon this House and the charges that we have left undone those things that we ought to have done and done those things we ought not to have done, we are face to face with this Bill, which is the outcome of all the threats and abuse that have been poured upon your Lordships throughout the country for many months past.
The noble Viscount moved the Second Reading of this Bill in stern and uncompromising words. The only thing that is to be said for the Bill is that it is short enough and plain enough. That is really the only praise which one can give the Bill. But I, and I think a great many others, dislike being vetoed and reduced to the position of being able only to re-edit the Bills which the House of Commons sends up to us. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House said yesterday—This House has now admitted, in the most formal and definite manner that I can imagine, that its moral authority in discussing and opposing this Bill is not what it was before the noble Marquess's Bill received a Second Reading.821 I beg with all humbleness to differ from the noble Viscount. Lord Lansdowne's Bill makes this House stronger. How can we have lost our moral power when the proposals contained in Lord Lansdowne's Bill make this House stronger although smaller in numbers? How have we lost our moral power in discussing this Bill because we gave a Second Reading to Lord Lansdowne's Bill? Our powers would remain as strong as ever under that Bill although the personnel of the House would be entirely altered. The noble. Viscount also told us that this Bill was not final, and that this Chamber was to be reconstituted after the Bill had become law. But no matter how this Chamber is reconstituted, it will still have the Veto overshadowing it. I suppose that if this Chamber consisted of angels, with archangels sitting on the Front Benches, the deliberations of that august Assembly would be reduced by this Bill to the mere flapping of wings.
We have been told that the subject of the Veto of the House of Lords has been before the country at two General Elections, and especially at the last election. The noble Viscount the Secretary of State for War, in his speech on Lord Lansdowne's Bill, made a great point of that, but I cannot see that the people are evincing very great interest in the matter. We do not see crowds outside the House waiting for the verdict upon this Bill. The noble Viscount mentioned the Reform Bill of 1832, and stated that the Duke of Wellington by his wise action saved the country from a great disaster—that was when the House of Lords at first refused to pass the Reform Bill. I admit that there were riots; Bristol was half burned down, and the country was in an uproar. But there is nothing of that sort going on now. And does the noble Viscount suppose that if we did not pass this Bill, or did not pass it without amendment, there would be riots or rows of that sort?
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN
Certainly not. I do not think there would be great riots as there were in 1832. What I said was that there might be, and probably would be, grave confusion and grave difficulties for the nation.
THE EARL OF MAYO
The noble Viscount says there would be grave confusion and great difficulties; but when a mob 822 get into great confusion and difficulties I think there is very likely to be what we call in Ireland a row. Perhaps the people do not understand the gravity of the situation. Who will really govern if this Bill becomes law in its present form? The noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, admitted that the private Members' rights in the House of Commons had disappeared, that the time of the House of Commons must be taken up by Government business, and he also said that devolution was necessary. Great Government measures and great changes such as Home Rule might, under this Bill, be introduced and passed through the House of Commons and sent up to this House, talked about here and delayed for, say, two years, but then those measures would become law automatically, and all the arguments used against them in your Lordships' House would be of no avail. That is an immense power to put in the hands of a few, and those few the Cabinet of the country. I quite appreciate that it is a power worth while making a great effort to obtain. I do not think the people of this country appreciate that if this Bill becomes law that power will be handed over to these few men.
I cannot help feeling that behind this Bill there is some force pushing the Government on. It is not the feeling of the whole of the people of this country. The noble Viscount mentioned groups. It is not because the Welsh group want Disestablishment; not because the Scottish supporters of His Majesty's Government want a change in their land laws. I venture to say it is because the Nationalist Party demand Home Rule for Ireland and cannot obtain it unless this Bill becomes law. They are a force which the Government cannot do without. They have to be reckoned with. The noble Viscount said this was an idle remark. It is no idle remark. The public utterances of the Leader of the Nationalist Party make the situation perfectly clear. They have intimated to the Government that unless the power of this House is taken away and unless they are granted Home Rule, they will deal with the Government as they think fit. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack stated that the feeling against Home Rule was weakening in Ireland amongst Unionists, and especially amongst the young Unionists and loyalists of that country. I can assure the noble and 823 learned Lord—I wish he were now in his place—that nothing of the sort has occurred. Devolution has been laughed out of the field of Irish politics entirely, laughed out by Unionists and Nationalists alike; and the Nationalist Party recognise that there is a strong Party in Ireland who are determined not to have Home Rule. I am not speaking particularly of the North of Ireland, which, as noble Lords opposite know, is bitterly opposed to Home Rule; but there is a strong party and a scattered party in the south just as determined that they will not have Home Rule.
I will tell your Lordships why they will not have Home Rule. They will not have it because they do not wish the government of their country handed over to men who are the avowed enemies of this country. That there is a weakening of opinion against Home Rule in Ireland I deny most absolutely. Ireland is a fair land, and it is worth fighting for. It is a land that we all love, and we would not like to see it handed over to the men to whom I have referred. I live a great part of the year in Ireland, and I can confidently state that these farmers who have bought their land under the purchase laws are not nearly so keen about Home Rule as they used to be, and I venture to say that if you were to call a meeting in my own county to advocate Home Rule you would not have that sort of meeting that you could have got together in the old days. You would not have the strong and respectable farmers of the county attending the meeting and giving the object their support. The meetings that are held in the counties where the land purchase system has had full swing consist of rabble.
I give my support to the Second Reading of this Bill on condition that Amendments, and Amendments of a grave character, are introduced in Committee, and I hope we shall insist upon the insertion of an Amendment which will prevent a Home Rule Bill being brought in under the system which will be set up by this Bill and which would preclude your Lordships from any effective voice in the matter. I think that would be disastrous. This Bill is disastrous enough as it is, but were it to bring in its train a Bill which would disintegrate the United Kingdom it would be a very serious matter. This, therefore, is a question which deserves most earnest 824 attention when we go into Committee on this Bill.
My Lords, I ask your permission to detain you for a few moments, partly because I feel disposed to make a confession and partly because I desire to make an appeal to the leaders on the other side. I confess that I am immensely relieved at the policy indicated by our leaders on the Front Bench as regards the general question covering the two Bills which have been under discussion during the last two weeks. If the noble Marquess's Bill had been challenged the other night I should have supported it without any hesitation. I have been under the conviction for some time that it was inevitable that something must be done to counteract the enormous majority on this side of the House, which instead of being its strength has really been its weakness. I recognise that in that I am not altogether in sympathy with a good many Peers on this side who do not like that Bill. In saying that I should have supported Lord Lansdowne's Bill I must not be understood as holding it to be the last word on the question of the reform of this House, but it was an honest attempt, and a very excellent attempt as a first attempt, to suggest a reasonable reform, and it has been so recognised by the two noble Viscounts on the Front Bench opposite. Well, it seems to me that tactically our position is very much stronger in consequence. We have shown the whole of the country that we are ready in a practical manner to undertake our own reform. That seems to me to put us in a very much stronger position in the constituencies than we were in before.
Passing on to the Bill under discussion to-day, I am equally relieved to find that I can support the leaders of the Opposition as regards their policy upon this measure. I have here to make my confession—that I do not think I am altogether in sympathy with the whole of those with whom I have sat and voted for so long. I am not altogether in sympathy with the attacks that have been made on His Majesty's Government for introducing this Bill. I confess I do not see, having regard to all the circumstances of the last four years and having regard to the division of Parties, what else the Government could have done but try and put a limit upon the delay which this House has the power 825 of imposing upon legislation. That is the construction—a mild one, I dare say—which I put on this Bill. I think they were bound to do something of the kind, and having regard to the fact that proposals of this nature have been made previously by prominent Liberal Statesmen I am not surprised at the form which they prefer. It has been suggested—and this is one matter in which I am not altogether in sympathy with some of those on this side of the House—that the leaders of the Government are really in favour of single-Chamber government. I do not think that attack can be pressed. We have had an authoritative statement on that point from the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for. War. He has practically pledged the Prime Minister to bring in a Bill for the reform of this House at the earliest opportunity. That is the pledge which the noble Viscount gave, and I should imagine it is one which he felt himself entitled to make and which his leader will recognise.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
I pointed out that on the Third Reading of this Bill the other day the Prime Minister pledged himself to do that.
Well, I will put it in that way. The noble Viscount took the opportunity of calling the attention of this House to the fact that Mr. Asquith had pledged himself to bring in a measure for the reform of this House at the earliest possible opportunity. In these circumstances I cannot associate myself with the attack upon His Majesty's Government that they are hypocritical in making this statement, and that they have in their hearts a desire for single-Chamber government. As regards this Bill, apart altogether from finance, the construction I place upon it is that it puts a limit on the amount of delay which this House has always been able to impose upon legislation, and that is all that a great many of us in speaking throughout the country have claimed for this House. I cannot speak for other noble Lords, but I have repeatedly stated on public platforms that all that the House of Lords claim to do is to put a drag on, to introduce a delay in regard to hasty legislation; and in respect of a great deal of the legislation that will come up to this House I submit that that is what this Bill does. If the maximum amount of delay which is to be legally entrusted to this 826 House is imposed on every legislative measure, it is obvious that no legislation but finance can pass through except under two years. That is an absurd idea. But I submit that for a great deal of the legislation that does come up to this House two years and more—for it is more than two years—is ample in which to discuss, amend, and endeavour to compromise, and that in the course of that time the opinion of the country must be manifested sufficiently strongly to show the Government of the day whether or not they are wise in pressing continuously the same Bill which they had introduced on the first occasion.
But having shown that amount of sympathy with the Government, for what it is worth from a humble individual like myself, that is the limit of it; and I do venture to hope that they will not turn a deaf ear altogether to those who are anxious to see some Amendments introduced into this Bill. It seems to me that, to use a time-honoured phrase, His Majesty's Government are inebriated with the exuberance of the verbosity of their hilarious following. They think themselves all-powerful, and they are pressing their attack rather recklessly, I think, and without paying sufficient attention to their defence. They must admit that under this Bill, once it becomes law, it is possible in the course of the time limited by the Bill to introduce very dangerous legislation. I do not think that they can possibly dispute that if a Government were so minded they could introduce very dangerous legislation. There is nothing to stop them if they have a majority behind them. May I express the hope that the Government will consider the advisability of accepting Amendments of their Bill, which they are so satisfied is all-wise and which they pledge themselves is the cure for all the ills?
I must here interpolate that it does seem to me that the Government have not been very dignified in the way they have whined about what this House has done. They are for ever harping upon it; and an illustration of how the constituencies of this country are educated was given by the noble Lord on the Back Benches to-night, Lord Ilkeston, who referred to the Reform Bill of 1884 as an instance of how his feelings were affected towards the Rouse of Lords. The noble Lord knows just as well as any other Peer 827 that what the House did then was simply to demand a Redistribution Bill at the same time as the Reform Bill. That was all that was done, and Mr. Gladstone admitted that it was legitimate. May I point out that this Bill if it should become an Act is capable of being subsequently amended out of recognition unless safeguards are put in. The Government say, of course, that that is impossible, but the impossible in legislation sometimes becomes the possible; and I venture to point out that for their own safety as legislators, for 828 their own credit, for the safety of the country, it will be wise to consider whether they should not remove the possibility of reckless legislation and take care that any new legislation of that kind affecting the Constitution should be referred to the Country.
§ Debate again adjourned, till to-morrow.
§ House adjourned at Eleven o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.