§ Debate on the Motion for the Second Reading resumed (according to order).
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
My Lords, I think your Lordships will have noticed a very strange feature in the conduct of their case for this Bill by the members of His Majesty's Government. I do not think one of them has attempted to explain the provisions of the Bill or to defend them, and therefore your Lordships will pardon me if for a few moments I bring your attention back to some of those features of the Bill which make it probably the most extraordinary Bill as well as a Bill of the gravest import that has ever been presented to Parliament. I ask the members of His Majesty's Government whether, if the Parliament Bill became law in its present 840 shape, the House of Commons as it would then exist would resemble any other First Chamber in the civilised world. Would there be any other First Chamber so absolutely unfettered and uncontrolled in the exercise of the powers entrusted to it? Your Lordships know that no other example can be quoted. Secondly, I would ask, Is there to be found in the whole civilised world any Second Chamber remotely resembling the House of Lords as it would be then—any Second Chamber so impotent for effective influence over legislation, any Second Chamber that could be more correctly described as a sham than this House would be if this Bill became law. Though no supporter of the Government can be found to question either of those propositions, there is not one who will not indignantly repudiate the suggestion that this is nothing but a Bill for the establishment of single-Chamber government. "Misunderstood" is their attitude whenever we make such a suggestion, but, after all, the matter is capable of comparatively simple proof.
Is it true or not that if this Bill became law the House of Commons, by the affirmation of a Bill thrice repeated, could abolish this House in its entirety? Is it true or not that the same House of Commons by the same process could prolong its own tenure of life indefinitely? If those powers were possessed by a King instead of a Chamber, what member of the Bench opposite would not denounce it as government by a single man? We were told last night by Lord Ilkeston, and we have been told several times, how great would be the opportunity for influence that this House might possess during the two years when a Bill passed by the House of Commons would be suspended. We have had a pretty picture drawn of the serious consideration the House of Commons would give to Amendments passed by this House. We have been told how sensitive the House of Commons would be to public feeling in the country, and how impossible—that is the word that has been used—it would be for the House of Commons to persist in carrying any measure as to which signs of disapproval were manifest in the country. It is a very pretty picture, my Lords, but one not remotely resembling the truth.
What would be the real position? Let us endeavour to forecast the history of the next three years, supposing this Bill became 841 law. The first measure that His Majesty's Government would endeavour to pass through the House of Commons and present to this House would be a Bill for the establishment of a Parliament and an Executive in Dublin. We will assume that your Lordships rejected this Bill. For two years His Majesty's Government would have the Irish members in the palm of their hand. The whole interest of every Nationalist Member would be to keep that Government in office at any cost for two years in order to get their Bill. The next measure might be a Bill for the disestablishment of the four dioceses of the Church of England in Wales. That measure might also be rejected by your Lordships on the ground that the country had never had it submitted to them. But once that measure had been launched on its two years' course, we know that the strength of feeling of the Welsh Radical Members—perfectly conscientious feeling—would induce them during those two years to do everything they could to keep the Government in office. Then there is a third measure. The Government have just introduced a measure dealing with those great industrial questions which centre round the Osborne Judgment if have not seen the measure, and therefore what I say has no relation to that measure. It has been suggested that His Majesty's Government might introduce a Bill for the reversal of the Osborne Judgment. Supposing they had done so or did so in the future. Supposing that on this Bill which they have just introduced they proved as squeezable in the House of Commons as they were upon the Taff Vale Bill, and that that Bill was also launched on its two years' career. Why nothing that they could do in the next two years would make the Labour Party and the Socialists vote against them. Therefore there would be a series of groups of Members intensely interested in particular Bills, who would combine to prevent the Government from going out of office or from changing their policy, even if they wished to do so. So far from the Government being influenced by the opinion of the country, no not if every by-election was going against them would these groups in the House of Commons for one moment allow them to relax their energy in prosecuting these measures.
Whatever their views about the controversy between the two Parties or between the two Houses may be, I say with conviction that the country have not realised that the whole Constitution is to 842 be subjected to the same treatment as, and is under no better safeguards than, any other subject of legislation; that this House will have no effective power to safeguard anypart of the Constitution which the House of Commons of its own sole will in three years chooses to tamper with, alter, or revolutionise. We alone will present the astonishing spectacle to civilised man that we will have given to a Single Chamber the authority to treat the most sacred parts of the Constitution by exactly the same process as they would treat a gas and water Bill. When it was proposed in the House of Commons to differentiate between the Constitution and normal legislation, the Prime Minister, who is not afraid to play the part of a revolutionary with regard to the essence of the Constitution, was positively shocked at the idea that anybody could be found to make such a proposal as to separate Constitutional from ordinary questions.
Not one other civilised country treats its Constitution like that—not one of our Dominions, not the Liberal Party when they are dealing with their own private affairs. I hold in my hand a copy of the rules of the National Liberal Club. It is not a very recent copy, but. I do not think it is probable that this rule has been changed. Rule 45 runs as follows—Except as herein provided no now rule, or alteration of an existing rule, and no resolution having the effect of altering an existing rule, shall be made or passed, unless it is made or passed by two-thirds of the members voting at an annual or special general meeting, at which not less than one hundred vote in the majority.You will see the wisdom and scrupulous care with which the Radical Party protect their private affairs at the National Liberal Club; but when it comes to the foundations of the Constitution they are not prepared to give any greater security than is extended to the most trivial subject of legislation which comes before Parliament.
It was pointed out in another place that it was possible that the House of Commons might abuse its power. On this subject Mr. Asquith waxed most indignant. He said that the presumption was that the House of Commons would use its great power with great moderation, and that it was impossible and absurd to suppose that they could be guilty of such an abuse of it as, for instance, to prolong their own tenure of office. My Lords, there is the very human opinion of a very capable man, 843 who thinks that he, at any rate, among the human race is not unfit for despotic power. That is a mere obiter dictum of the Prime Minister. The whole teachings of history contradict him. You cannot find, in all the volumes of history, under any form of government—aristocracy, democracy, autocracy—a single case in which unchecked and uncontrolled power has not in the long run been abused. All despotisms are the same, whether it is the despotism of one man or of one Chamber. The thing about which the Prime Minister waxed so eloquent has actually occurred in our own England, for the only Parliament that has hitherto been endowed with the same uncontrolled power that the Government now claim for the House of Commons abused it in a manner which is notorious in history.
What is the excuse that the Government give for dealing with this great question in the manner they have chosen to deal with it? The Lord Chancellor has told us several times. He has said, "We had no chance of talking with our enemy in the gate till we have put ourselves on a level with him by some such Bill as this." The meaning of that is that, if the Government had brought in a measure dealing with the whole question in a permanent form—a measure for the reconstruction of this House and for regulating the relations between the two Houses—without first making this House an impotent feature in the Constitution, they would have been at our mercy, that they would have had no means of forcing their measure and their plan through this House. I understand that the Government have some plan for forcing this Bill through this House. What that plan is I do not know, but it is quite obvious that they could have got a measure dealing with the whole question in a fair and statesmanlike manner passed into law by whatever plan they propose to get the Parliament Bill passed into law, and therefore that argument will not bear examination.
I think we are justified, by all that has hitherto taken place, in saying that the Government and their Party are determined, if they can, to make a Party settlement of this great Constitutional question. Why? The Government and their Party have always homage to democracy on their lips, but in their hearts they honestly and fervently believe that they know much better than the democracy what is good for it; and what they want is the opportunity of passing into law a 844 whole series of measures, which they may conscientiously believe to be good, whether the electors want them or not. Take Home Rule as an illustration. In 1886, after full discussion in the House of Commons and in the country, Home Rule was rejected by the electorate of the United Kingdom. In 1895, after two years' discussion of a Home Rule measure which had passed through the House of Commons and had been rejected by this House, the electors again rejected Home Rule. In 1912, if the Government have their way, there will again be a Home Rule Bill which will pass into law in the year 1914, and the electors are never to be given a chance of saying whether they wish for it or not. The Government are not prepared in these matters to accept the final will of the electors. It is their will, their belief of what is good for the electors, that at all costs they are prepared to impose upon the country.
And what is the excuse that Mr. Asquith gives for this? "Oh," in effect says Mr. Asquith—it is quite true that at the General Election in December, 1910, there was no Home Rule Bill before the electors.Indeed, there was not, my Lords, because no Bill had been printed, or published, or even drafted. And what in effect is Mr. Asquith's conclusion?Every elector who voted for me or my followers knew that I was in favour of Home Rule, and, therefore, I and my Party have a mandate for Home Rule.If that doctrine is correct, then Mr. Gladstone had a mandate for Home Rule in 1892. Were the electors who voted for the noble Viscount opposite and his colleagues in 1892 under any doubt as to the opinions of Mr. Gladstone and his friends on the subject of Home Rule? Yet, when the next election came, it was proved conclusively, so that no denial ever comes even from those Benches, that the electors of this country were not in favour at that time of the policy of Home Rule, which the then Government had endeavoured to pass into law. What becomes of the Prime Minister's doctrine now that, because the electors knew that he was in favour of Home Rule, last December they gave him and his Government a mandate to pass a Home Rule Bill? The Prime Minister's argument is flimsy enough, but if you want the reductio ad absurdum I would ask you to look at the speech which the Leader of the Labour Party, Mr. Ramsay Macdonald, made on the same 845 occasion. He improved on the Prime Minister's theory, and I understand him to have said that in his opinion the electors had given a mandate for every proposal that appeared in the speeches or in the election address of any Radical candidate at the last election. This elaborate theory, so admirably exposed last night by my noble friend, that the House of Commons, during the first two years of its existence is necessarily and completely the counterpart of the electors of this country, will not bear the weight that you try to put upon it. It is a position which is untenable and which you must abandon.
Then we have the Lord Chancellor, who, I think, will take it as a compliment from me if I describe him as the most inveterate opponent of the principle of the Referendum. The Lord Chancellor tells us that this Bill was referred to the people in a Referendum last December and was approved by them. It is quite true that this Bill had been printed and published, but it is also true that, not only had the electors not been furnished with a copy of the Bill, but it had not been discussed for a single day in the House of Commons. That is a perfect travesty of the Referendum. The Referendum which we propose would always be after full and complete discussion in both Houses of Parliament—a Referendum such as could have been taken on Home Rule in 1893, or as might be taken on any great Constitutional question after it had been debated in both Houses. If the Lord Chancellor is going to apply, even in this travestied manner, our arguments for a Referendum to the election of last December, I would remind him that in that election something perilously near half the electors voted against the Bill.
The fact is that the Government are the worst possible defenders—I would say the most clumsy defenders—of the representative principle in the House of Commons to which they attach so much importance. I, also, am an admirer of the representative principle; I, also, believe with the noble Viscount that it is the best form of government that has yet been devised for a democratic State. But what I do say is this. The great danger of representative government is that it should pass under the control of the Party machine and the man who runs the Party machine. I say more. I say that representative government and democracy are incompatible if a Single Chamber is subjected to the danger of passing under the 846 control of the Party machine and the man who manages the Party machine. The point I would make in this connection is this, that if you want to preserve a really strong House of Commons, that is one in which the representatives of the people are not the mere puppets of the Party machine, it is essential that you should have a strong Second Chamber in order to have those checks and counterbalances in the Constitution without which the representatives of the people will lose their independence. For the very existence of a strong House of Commons you must have a strong House of Lords.
In the course of this debate we have had eloquent appeals to us to approach this matter with moderation and to recognise the gravity of the crisis. I do not think noble Lords opposite would accuse us of having, on the whole, taken up a different attitude as yet. But when they appeal to us to be moderate, when the Lord Chancellor and his colleagues talk of the years of humiliation and trial they have gone through, I ask the Government whether they forget the flood of vituperative mendacity which has been poured on this House by their Party during the last two years. In almost every speech, article, or cartoon, it is not the exercise of your Lordships' powers that has been held up to invective and ridicule; it is not your mistakes that have been deplored, but your personal honour, your personal intelligence, and your patriotism. Every cartoon has represented only one class of Peer, the bloated or the idiotic. The Chancellor of the Exchequer excelled himself in his flights of low invective against the individuals of whom your Lordships' House is composed. The Home Secretary also indulged in carefully studied insults which he levelled at those who only a few years before he had called his friends.
And other members of the Government, in speech after speech, as the commonplace of their arguments, named reform after reform—the emancipation of the Roman Catholics, the admission of the Jews to the privileges of citizenship, the removal from the Dissenters of the disabilities under which they laboured—as instances of the obstruction of the House of Lords. These and a hundred others have been used, and our countrymen have been told that the House of Lords had for three, four, five, or six years obstructed the reforms which a 847 beneficent House of Commons was burning to grant; but they forgot to tell the electors that the same House of Commons had refused the same reforms for any period varying from 50 to 200 years. We do not forget these things; we shall not forget them, but they will not influence us in the course which we may think it our duty to take on this occasion. We shall put those insults and those lies aside. We shall endeavour to continue to deserve the character which noble Lords opposite, while deploring our politics, have constantly given us throughout these discussions. We have two classes of opponents to deal with. One part of the Radical Party, but I fear the majority, know exactly what they want, and, if they can, mean to get it. What they want is single-Chamber government, naked and unashamed, and they do not pretend that they want anything else. But there are other members, who, I think, do not agree with them. They really think that this is in itself not an immoderate proposal. They regard it as a stepping stone to something that may be universally accepted as a reasonable settlement of the Constitutional question. There are many such in this House. If this Bill becomes law and no opportunity is afforded of restoring stability to the Constitution, those noble Lords will live most bitterly to rue and deplore the part they took in the establishment of single-Chamber government.
Last night, if I understood him rightly, the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack told us that all that he and his Party asked for was fair play in this House between both the great Parties in the State. Then, said the Lord Chancellor, they might consider whether some shorter method of settling differences might not be devised than that contemplated in the Parliament Bill. We have all through this controversy been prepared, we are now prepared, to go far to meet you in reconstructing this House so that it shall be fair to both Parties alike when they are in office, and also in constructing Constitutional machinery for adjusting differences of opinion between the two Houses, or for ascertaining the definite opinion of the electors on grave issues. But if your conception of the solution of those grave issues is merely to tack on a reconstructed House of Lords to the present Parliament Bill, then we cannot Meet you. What we regard as essential to the stability of the Constitution and the 848 existence of liberty in our country is that the House of Lords, however reconstructed, should possess adequate powers, such powers as are universally possessed by Second Chambers in all civilised foreign countries, and in every Dominion of the Empire, such powers as you yourselves advised the King to grant to the Second Chamber of the Transvaal just four years ago.
We have advised your Lordships, so far as it lies within our competence fitly to do so, to read this Bill a second time. We have given that advice because we realise the gravity, the dreadful gravity, of the Constitutional crisis, and because it is not we who are going to slain the door in the face of a national instead of a Party settlement. If the door is slammed on this question of powers, it will be by the Party opposite. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack spoke of the General Election and reminded us of the majority which his Party had acquired at that General Election. It is true that you got a majority of 120 or thereabouts at that election. But we go behind that majority. We know that the actual size of that majority was due to a great extent to the astonishing manner in which the seats are distributed. We know that we have behind us in this great struggle no less than one-half of the whole population of this country. That is a knowledge which inspires us. We should be false trustees to these millions of our fellow-countrymen who agree with us in this crisis if under that inspiration we were not strong.
§ THE SECRETARY FOR SCOTLAND (LORD PENTLAND)
My Lords, for several reasons it is not my intention to intervene for any length of time in this discussion. The position of the Government has been stated by the noble Viscount, Lord Morley, and by his colleagues not only with fulness but I think with clearness and in unmistakable and identical terms. The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, condemned us for not having dealt with and explained the measure which is now before the House, but I think he rather fell into the same error himself. His remarks did not seem to me to be directed to any large extent to the proposals in the Bill. I do not complain of that, because, after all, this is the end of a long chapter of recent political controversy and the proposals of the Government must be intimately 849 and in detail well known to your Lordships. There is another reason why I think it is unnecessary to intervene for any length of time in this discussion at this moment, and that is that it is the intention of the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition and his colleagues to vote for the Second Reading of this Bill. That has greatly limited the interest and usefulness of this discussion, and the public mind is moving on to the consideration of the next stage of this Bill.
The noble Earl who has just sat down, in the earlier portion of his remarks, asked us to point to any House of Commons, or indeed to any House of Lords, which, if this Bill were passed, would occupy an analogous position. I submit with great respect that however useful a study of the Constitutions of other countries may be, when all is said and done there are no real analogies. There are no Constitutions which are really analogous to the Parliament of the United Kingdom, for when you are considering institutions you must consider and bear in mind history and tradition, circumstances of one kind or of another, and it is not possible to draw but the most superficial contributions to this discussion from an examination of the Constitution of, we will say, South Africa, or any other parts of the Empire, and still less, let me suggest, from the constitution of the National Liberal Club. The noble Earl holds up to us the fear that if this Bill were passed the other House of Parliament might proceed under the powers which it would then have to abolish this House, but surely it is the case that at the present time a great deal might be done which would be very foolish by this House, or by the other House in conjunction, if they had a mind to. It would be quite possible for the House of Commons or the House of Lords to pass most extravagant legislation, instances of which might easily be imagined by any of your Lordships. The truth is that the ultimate guarantee for the wisdom and judgment with which legislation is carried on in this country is not to be found solely in the form of the House of Commons or the House of Lords. Constitutions are of great importance, but of equal importance at least is the way in which Constitutions are worked; and the ultimate guarantee for the good government of this country must always lie in the good sense and good judgment of the people themselves.
850 It is a great satisfaction to us to find that whatever differences exist between the two sides in regard to this measure, the House is to be allowed to proceed to the next stage before anything is done which may emphasise or stereotype those differences. I make bold to express the hope that when we get to the next stage these proceedings will not be unduly protracted or aggravated by a reluctance on the part of noble Lords opposite to make concessions which are altogether unavoidable. Discussions of this question are apt to be the cause of friction and ill-feeling. Many speeches are inevitably made under such conditions which are based upon a disparagement of the House of Commons. Such discussions cannot further good feeling and reduce differences to their lowest possible limit. I do say for those who have spoken on this side of the House that I think it is a little unfair to taunt them—as I remember my noble friend Lord St. Davids was taunted—upon their friendly feeling to this House as an institution. I cannot see why what goes on in every other branch of life in this country should not be allowed to operate here. There is no body of men in this country who work together among whom there is not engendered a feeling of loyalty to the institution with which they are associated, and you will find on this side of the House just as great friendliness and loyalty to the legitimate influence of this House in legislation and in the government of the country as you will in any other quarter of it. It is quite true, as has been said in this debate, that this controversy is the result of long moving and silent forces, but however long and silent this movement may have been, what precipitated this conflict was the rejection by your Lordships of the Budget two years ago. For that rejection you have not to thank any who sit upon this side of the House. That rejection strengthened our cause, and aroused public attention, in a way which no efforts of ours would ever have succeded in doing, to the issues involved.
We have been reproached in this debate for not having contributed our share in the advance which has been made towards common ground in this controversy. I think that reproach is wholly unfounded. The noble Viscount who introduced this Bill recounted the history of these proposals, going back to the forties and 851 reminding your Lordships that Mr. Bright in the early eighties outlined the proposals which are now, in a somewhat different form, embodied in the Bill before the House. It should also be remembered that in the year 1907, four years ago, the late Prime Minister unfolded the proposals which are the foundation of this Bill to the House of Commons. They have been before three Parliaments. They have obtained the assent by overwhelming majorities of the House of Commons in three successive Parliaments. Two General Elections have been held, when these proposals were fully before the electors of this country. Only one thing can be done at the time. There is no other Constitutional method at this time of ascertaining the will of the people but by a General Election, and there is no other Constitutional instrument except the present House of Commons to transmit the will of the people to Parliament. In December of last year, before your reform Resolutions had been brought before this House, our proposals for the adjustment of the relations between the two Houses were quite specifically before the country. I ask your Lordships to reflect how very large the sacrifices have been of the Government in taking these steps, painfully and laboriously handicapped with all the obvious disadvantages and difficulties of our position. We have laid aside all other work in spite of the impatience and eagerness of our followers and the various groups to which the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, alluded. The country has been put to the turmoil and the expense of two General Elections. Bearing these considerations in mind, I ask have we not contributed our full share to the sacrifices which have been necessary to bring this question to the present stage of maturity? The country has expressed its view. The question is ripe, and overripe for settlement.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
Our point is this, and it has never been answered, that the alternative policy was not allowed to be put before the country.
§ LORD PENTLAND
It was within your Lordships' power at any moment to put your alternative policy before the country.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
The noble Lord is perfectly aware that the Conference sat almost to the verge of the General Election, 852 and that there was a clear understanding that the Opposition policy was not to be put forward during the Conference.
§ LORD PENTLAND
May I reply to the noble Viscount's question by asking him another? How long would the noble Viscount have liked?
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
From the introduction of the Resolutions up to the time of the General Election noble Lords on this side of the House had no opportunity, except in the last few days, of putting forward their views.
§ LORD PENTLAND
I think there is very little substance in the criticism of the noble Lord, and with the greatest respect I will tell him why. It was on June 24, 1907, that the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman first outlined this proposal to the House of Commons. He then gave full notice to Parliament and to the country that the Government, in their own time, and as soon as they might find it convenient, would proceed to lay proposals on those definite lines before Parliament. But I venture to suggest to the noble Viscount another answer. There is no man in this House better acquainted with the methods of political controversy than the noble Viscount. For many years he sat in the House of Commons, and I am sure he is perfectly fair-minded. I would ask him whether there is any comparison between the maturity of one set of proposals and the other? It takes years in this country before the public becomes accustomed to specific proposals. It is more than seventy years since these proposals were first outlined; more than forty years ago they had the great authority of Mr. John Bright; they have repeatedly been referred to in public controversy ever since, and for four years they have been an active issue—actively in the background of all political controversy in this country. And then the noble Viscount seeks to place before the country as equally ripe for the judgment of the people the proposals which were outlined in some haste by two noble Lords who brought forward two sets of Resolutions. I confess I should not have touched upon this point, but I believe it will be found that nothing has surprised and even shocked the good sense of the country so much as the haste with which those Resolutions and proposals were 853 formulated and brought before the country eight months ago.
In the first place, the country has decided against your Lordships' proposals, and we are obliged to work with the machinery we have. In the second place, your proposals do not meet the real issue. What is wanted is greater facility for the passage of legislation. Your proposals offer no greater facilities for the passage of legislation in the immediate future, and I submit to you that there is urgent public need to consider this point. We have been reminded over and over again in this debate of the long tenure of office of the Unionist Party after the General Election in 1895. It is not an unreasonable view, from our standpoint, that these were years of reaction, and the complete acquiescence of the country in administrative action which we have taken since in direct reversal of the acts of the Unionist Government tends to strengthen the contention that those were years of reaction, and reaction of a character not approved by the country. Take the abolition of Chinese labour and the granting of self-government to South Africa. It is perfectly well-known that those two acts, which were administrative acts in their first stages, were acts which had the disapproval of this House, and yet they have won the approval of the people concerned both in South Africa and in this country.
Your Lordships have, offered, instead of any modification of the relations of the two Houses, proposals for a reform of the constitution of this House. That does not meet the real issue. For years we have endeavoured to get rid of what we consider the injustice of plural voting. Over and over again this House has rejected proposals of that character, and they have always been rejected on the plea that equal electoral districts is also a reform which is required. In just the same way we are met on this occasion with proposals which do not meet the real point and the real purpose of the legislation for which we ask. Another reason why I think the proposals which your Lordships discussed last week have complicated the situation is this, that they have enormously exaggerated the proportions of the whole controversy. They have exaggerated the perspective of the whole question. The proposals which you make call for much greater sacrifice from individual members 854 of this House than do the proposals embodied in this Bill. They interfere with the relations of both Houses with the Crown, and if there are any critics either in this House or outside who wish to express their wrath against revolutionary proposals and violent change, such criticism is much more properly directed in my judgment against the authors of the Resolutions and the Bill which was discussed last week than against the proposals which are contained in the Bill now before the House. Our proposals are modest by the side of the proposals which you have put forward.
For a moment may I ask your Lordships to look at our proposals from our point of view? It may be, as we have been warned, that we are taking great risks in seeking to establish this system, and that the machinery of the Bill will be used, not on exceptional occasions, but on all occasions. That, no doubt, is a risk we run, but as a matter of fact the charge that this is a single-Chamber proposal rests, if it is calmly examined, on very slender foundations. The House of Lords has no power of Veto at present on acts of administration. The whole range of the Executive and administrative work of the Government is outside the Veto of this House. I should imagine that under this new system Departmental legislation and legislation of a minor or secondary character will still be adjusted, as it is now, by communications and conferences between the two Houses. It will be, I believe, only on matters of prime controversial legislative importance that this machinery will be invoked; and all that it does is that in such cases it permits the will of the newly-elected House of Commons to prevail. Every Government will wish to avoid delay in regard to its measures. It will not seek to apply this machinery on every occasion. There will still be the same incentives to the Government to do its work and get it out of the way as exist at present. No Government will be likely to stake its fortunes on a Bill which is unpopular in the country. It will always be in touch with the country. During the three sessions through which the machinery of this Bill is to take legislation, there will be constant by-elections, constant indications of public opinion. The Government will not wish to bring this machinery into play on every occasion, and under the Bill itself it will rest very largely with this 855 House whether the machinery shall or shall not be brought into play.
It is admitted that some change of this kind is necessary, and this is, in our view, the only immediate practical proposal. It asks for the minimum of advance and runs the minimum of risk from the point of view of Constitutional change. Every reason of expediency, in my humble judgment, is at the back of this Bill. But there are other reasons, and I will mention one of them. I agree with the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack in the statement, for which he has been so much criticised during this debate, that Liberal Ministers find themselves now in a position of great inferiority in this House. I will carry his argument a step further if he will allow me. I ask your Lordships to consider for a moment the effect of that inferiority upon the electorate of the country. The sense of justice and fair play which so characterises the electors of this country is outraged in every village at the present time by the position of inferiority in which the Liberal voter is placed as compared with his Conservative neighbour. The Conservative voter registers his vote at elections and knows that that vote will tell and carry; that the votes of those who agree with him will tarry the measures for which he has a preference, not only through' one House of Parliament, but through the other. The Liberal voter knows by bitter experience that his vote has no such power. He is placed in a position of cruel and degrading inferiority, at which the self-respect of the electors of the country revolts; and not the least important result of the passage of this Bill will be that by the effort it makes to establish, not complete fairness, but more complete fairness than at present exists, it will bring about some measure of reconciliation between the Parliament and the people of this country.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down observed that a considerable amount of interest had departed from this debate in view of the fact that no Division is to be challenged. Well, even if that be the case there is at all events one charge which nobody can bring against this debate though it has been frequently made in the case of others—nobody can say that this has not been a real debate. In fact, I can recollect no debate in which there has been such a 856 complete absence of imposture of all kinds. As an ordinary rule when Ministers bring in a first-class measure they indulge in a series of elaborate portentous platitudes for the purpose of pointing out the extraordinary advantages which they are conferring upon the general community. In this debate, I am bound to admit, noble Lords have not for a single moment or in one single instance said anything of that kind. This Bill, the Government have openly admitted, is a Bill to pay off old scores and to secure the predominance,—the eternal predominance, if it can be secured—of the Liberal Party. Yet this is the Bill which Lord Pentland, with artless simplicity, described as constituting a great sacrifice on the part of the Party to which he belongs. All I have to say with regard to that is that my ideas of sacrifice are fundamentally different from those of Lord Pentland. My idea of a sacrifice is that you are giving something up whether you like it or not. Lord Pentland's idea of a sacrifice is this. His Party, utilising their majority with the most relentless purpose, bring in a Bill for the purpose of establishing the indefinite predominance of their Party, and say, "You may make as many objections as you like, you may say whatever you please, but our chance has come; we mean to take advantage of it, and you are greatly mistaken if you think you are going to get any concessions whatever out of us."
There have been a few somewhat perfunctory consolations offered to us by noble Lords opposite. Lord Pentland was extremely profuse in his expressions of extreme, indeed intense, friendliness towards this House and his brother Peers, but I am bound to say that the attitude adopted by the noble Lord and some of his colleagues suggests to me the case of a heartless surgeon who might say to his prospective patient, "It is true that I propose to cut off your arms, and whilst I am about it I think I may as well cut off your legs; but you have absolutely nothing to complain of, because you will still be able to talk as much as yon please." But if there is not much consolation to be obtained from noble Lords opposite, there is even less consolation to be derived from the speech made by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack yesterday. I say it with great regret, because I entertain a high respect for the noble and learned.
857 Lord—a higher respect for him than I do for any other member of His Majesty's Government. The noble and learned Lord's speech amounted to an uncompromising attitude which almost reached the point of vindictiveness. I hope that when the other noble and learned Lord, Viscount Haldane, speaks later in the debate he may display a rather more judicial and at the same time a rather more Christian spirit.
The burden of the complaint of the Lord Chancellor has always been the same. He has often spoken of the intolerable ignominy which has pursued his Party during the last few years, and he has recited, not once but on several occasions, a catalogue of his complaints against us. What, in reality, do these complaints amount to? I am one of those persons who have never denied that the Liberal Party have a legitimate grievance against this House. But let us examine the statement. What is the net loss of the Liberal Party since they came into office in 1906? I contend, looking at the history of these past years in a perfectly impartial spirit, that the only net loss which they can fairly claim in addition to the unknown Bills with regard to Scotland which nobody but the noble Lord opposite could name to save his life, is that of the Plural Voting Bill. I decline to include the Education Bill as a Bill that was lost, because so far as I know there is nothing to prevent an Education Bill passing with the consent of the two Parties whenever the Government set themselves to the work. I also decline to admit that the Licensing Bill represents a loss, because the Government were able to introduce the punitive clauses of that Bill into "the People's Budget."
Well, if the net loss of the Liberal Party does not amount to more than I have stated during the last few years, what is their prospective loss? What is the particular boon and blessing for which the people and the Liberal Party are pining at the present moment? It is fairly obvious, I think, that that particular boon is certainly not Home Rule, whatever may be the feeling of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. It obviously cannot be Home Rule, because Home Rule is merely a species of blackmail levied upon the Liberal Party. When the Liberal Party is in a prosperous position and in possession of a large independent majority, 858 the blackmailer is kept successfully at a distance. He is warned off. No allusion is made, to him in electoral addresses. In fact, members of the Liberal Party go so far as to state that they are in opposition to anything of the kind. But when the circumstances of the Liberal Party are less prosperous, then it is necessary to treat the blackmailer as a sort of friend, a welcome friend, and to gush over him and pretend that you are delighted to enjoy his society, whereas everybody knows perfectly well that there is nothing that the Liberal Party detests so much. This particular form of imposture is a thing which does not take in any sensible person or any one who knows anything about politics at all, because everybody, however stupid he may be, naturally must have realised by this time that if it were not for the blackmailing pressure of the Irish Party we should not be discussing this Bill at the present moment.
When I consider the situation in which we are placed—and when I say "we" I mean our Party—at the present time I confess to a feeling of exasperation that we have been beaten, not upon merits, but because we have been out-manœuvred and jockeyed throughout the last few years. I know that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack will deny it, but as a matter of fact even the ignorant person whom I quoted just now knows perfectly well that when the Liberals came in in 1906 they came in with the clear and avowed intention of forcing a fight with this House. They started on their campaign as soon as they could, but for a considerable time met with scarcely any success. The Education Bill was lost without apparently those feelings of indignation which are attributed to the Liberal voter by the noble Lord opposite, Lord Pentland. The same phenomenon attended the loss of the Licensing Bill. Nobody raised a hand, so to speak, in favour of that measure. The two particular measures which were sent up here for the purpose of forcing on the fight were, greatly to the dissatisfaction of the Liberal Party and their followers, accepted by this House—I am alluding, of course, to the Eight Hours (Mines) Bill and the Trades Disputes Bill.
It was not until the idea of "the People's Budget" took root in the mind of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer that there appeared even a probability of 859 success in the campaign against this House. Unfortunately for us that Budget gave to the Chancellor of the Exchequer an opportunity, of which, so far as I know, no British Minister had ever before availed himself, to appeal, and appeal with success, to the predatory instincts of the British voter. Any one who remembers the character and the tenor of the speeches made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer during this particular phase of the controversy will hardly differ from me when I say that the gist of all those speeches was—"Vote for me and I will put the property of your political opponents in your pockets. The only obstacle in the way of my carrying this out is the House of Lords, which is composed of hereditary despots who stand in your light and desire to shift the burden of taxation from their shoulders on to yours." There really is no resisting this species of electioneering. It is a Napoleonic method which it is almost impossible to combat successfully. Indeed, I have wondered privately why so ninny people voted for us in view of the inducements which were held out to them from the other side. Filially we were goaded and jockeyed, so to speak, into throwing out the Budget, and we embarked upon the fight in circumstances as unfavourable as could well have been imagined, and we emerged from that fight more successfully than the most sanguine could have hoped—at all events more successfully than I ever permitted myself to hope.
Then following this process to which I have alluded we were induced to enter into a Conference, when it was fairly obvious that the Irish and the Labour allies of the Government would never permit a compromise to be arrived at, and we were further induced to maintain secrecy as regards the proceedings during that Conference. We were induced to suspend hostile operations in the shape of going on with the proposals for the reform of this House whilst those negotiations continued. Then, finally, we had an election sprung upon us when there was no expectation of anything of the kind, and the voter, weary and apathetic, repeated with considerably less emphasis what he had said a year previously. Now the Liberal Party having obtained, as I admit they did, a verdict against this House at the second election, propose to utilise that power for the purpose of dealing with Home Rule and 860 other matters which they are afraid to submit to the country. In view of the great tactical success which has attended the operation of the Government, I confess to feeling some admiration for the way in which it has been carried out. The difference between a Unionist Administration and a Liberal Administration always seems to me to lie this. In a Unionist Administration all the men included in it are persons who entertain the same views, unless they happen to be divided upon the fiscal question, and they advance, so to speak, at the same pace whether they are taking part in a cavalry charge or a funeral procession.
But the case is totally different in a Liberal Administration. When a Liberal Administration is formed certain people are put into the Government for the purpose of conciliating the stalwarts and the extreme members of the Party and to make them believe that real business is intended. On the other hand, a certain number of other gentlemen are put in to persuade the old women of the Party that real business is not intended. These gentlemen, who are usually described as moderate Liberals enjoy a particularly enviable position in tie political world, for whenever they do right, which is not very often by the way, they are invariably supported by the whole force of the Unionist Party here and elsewhere. They are treated as sacrosanct individuals to criticise whom is next door to blasphemy. But then occasionally, or perhaps it would be more correct to say frequently, these so-called moderate Liberals do not do the right thing, but do the wrong thing. A speaker in the House of Commons not so very long ago described them as gentlemen who were put into the Government for the purpose of acting as watchdogs, but who really did nothing but watch to see which way the cat would jump. I would give a great deal to hear the absolutely candid and truthful opinion of my noble friend Lord Rosebery on the moderate Liberal. He has had more to do with them than anybody else, and I suspect that on the whole he has suffered more from them. I have no hesitation in saying, and I do not say it in any offensive sense, that in my opinion the moderate Liberal is without exception far and away the biggest political fraud that exists, and he exercises about as much influence upon the direction of Liberal policy as the figurehead of a steamer exercises upon the means by which it is propelled. 861 I cannot help admiring the skill with which these two wings of the Liberal Party have been brought together over this Bill by means of the mystic Preamble. This Preamble is to be carried into effect as and when the proper time arrives. It is so easy to catch the timid and moderate voter, and reassure him by the mystic words included in the Preamble. The Party wirepuller goes to these people and says, "Why are you nervous? What is there to be afraid of? The Government is full of Second Chamber men. Look at Mr. A, and Mr. B, and Sir Somebody Something, and Lord Somebody Else—they are all sound Second Chamber men, and they are absolutely committed to the principle of an effective Second Chamber."
The position of the moderate Liberal with regard to the creation of an effective Second Chamber reminds me of a personal experience of my own. I was once travelling in a European country the ruler of which honoured me with his friendship, and on one occasion he said, "It is a curious thing that you who do not appear to be absolutely devoid of intelligence are, I understand, a Conservative. Now, I am a Liberal, and I find it very difficult to understand how anybody with any sense and intelligence can fail to be a Liberal too." I replied, "Sir, it is a curious fact, but I have just been visiting your prison, and all the prisoners undergoing the heaviest sentences and wearing the heaviest manacles inform me they are suffering their punishment because they are Liberals and for no other reason." My illustrious friend was a trifle perplexed, but he said, "The case is not so complicated as you imagine. It is perfectly true that I am a Liberal, but I am only a Liberal in principle. I never put it into practice, and if any of my subjects endeavour to put Liberalism into practice I put them into prison and leave them there until they arrive at a different frame of mind." The position of the moderate Liberals with regard to a Second Chamber seems to be analogous to the position of these unfortunate people. I cannot help thinking that if any moderate Liberal insisted upon setting up a thoroughly effective Second Chamber he would very soon find himself cast into the outer darkness, and he would be a singularly fortunate individual if he was able to take refuge in the comparative seclusion of this Assembly.
I am not at all sure that we ought to accept this, not exactly proffered but hinted, 862 gift of an effective Second Chamber at the hands of our opponents. For my part I look upon it as a gift of the Trojan horse description. The noble Lord used these words yesterday—When 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.To my mind that has a very sinister and suspicious ring, and connecting it with speeches made by the Prime Minister and by Mr. Churchill in the House of Commons not long ago it seems to me that what the reformers have in their minds is a Chamber which shall be, if possible, even more impotent than this Chamber will be under this Bill. I understand that the Prime Minister has a grievance now, but his grievance will not be removed when the Parliament Bill is passed, for he says—You will still have a hereditary Chamber, every man of which is an enemy; and in that case, supposing a Unionist Administration is returned to office, these people will pass any Bill sent from the House of Commons, but will reject anything expressing the will of the people so long as a Liberal Government is in office.Therefore we ought to be extremely chary in accepting suggestions of this kind.
In the course of this debate a good deal has been said as to whether the question of one or two Chambers was put properly before the electors during the recent election. For my part I do not feel any doubt upon the subject at all. If it was not put properly before the electors then I can only say it must have been our own fault. I, like other noble Lords, took part, not a modest part, in the election, and I endeavoured to the best of my ability to make the blood of my hearers creep in describing the horrors of single-Chamber government, but I am bound to confess that my experience was that the voter was less horrified at the prospect than I imagined would be the case. But on the whole I do not know that that is very surprising. We who sit here, whether we are or not, are supposed to be trained, if imperfectly trained, politicians. The enormity of the principle of single-Chamber government cannot be so apparent to the ordinary voter as it is to us, who look upon it, as it were, through magnifying glasses, whereas the voter only sees it in some blurred indistinct image in the indefinite future, but I have no doubt he will realise what it does mean before very long. What has really told in 863 myopinion more than anything else has been the apathy and indifference of the electorate generally towards this question. Apathy and indifference are visible everywhere, even in this Chamber, and in the House of Commons during the debates on this Bill that phenomenon was equally observable. If anybody thinks that the country is really seriously considering the question at the present moment I would ask him to spend a few minutes in perusing one of the halfpenny papers. It is true that apathy and indifference are fighting on the side of the Government, but I find it impossible to believe that this is going to be the case indefinitely. I feel very little doubt in my own mind that the voter will awake to the importance of the occasion in time.
One thing is plain to me. However the Government mean to terminate this controversy, whether it is going to take the turn which has been so frequently suggested, or whether the Bill is going to pass in a comparatively peaceable mariner, a settlement of this kind can only be of a temporary character. This is not a question of trampling on the bodies of a certain number of middle-aged and possibly uninteresting gentlemen who occupy these benches. It is not a question of taking away rights from these people. If there is one thing more remarkable in British politics than another it is on the whole the extraordinarily equal distribution throughout the country of political opinions. It is true that in some places you get a numerical preponderance, but take the whole electorate through and you will find that the difference between the respective strengths of the two Parties is extremely small. It stands to reason, therefore, that when one Party is only in a small numerical preponderance over the other a settlement of this question on these lines cannot be of an enduring and permanent character; and if it is ever to be solved at all it will not be solved by the tyranny of one Party only, but in the interests of the country generally.
§ LORD ST. DAVIDS
My Lords, I am sure the whole House, without distinction of sides, has greatly enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord who has just sat down, but it is somewhat strange to have to imagine the noble Lord as a poor creature driven and jockeyed by an artful Liberal Government into voting against the Budget. The noble 864 Lord is always full of jokes. He was no doubt jesting when he told us that this Bill in its inception was brought about by the blackmailing pressure of the Irish Party. I know that the noble Lord was jesting, because three sentences later he told us that this Veto Bill was really designed in 1906—four years before the Irish Party were in a position to put on blackmailing pressure at all. The noble Lord began his speech by telling us that this Bill was meant to secure "the eternal predominance," if possible, of the Liberal Party. Then he wound up his speech by telling your Lordships, what is perfectly true, that the balance of public opinion in the country is a very narrow one, that it is a very fluctuating one, that at any time it may incline to the other side and then it will be perfectly easy for this Bill to be repealed. He pointed out that the settlement could not therefore be a permanent one. So I think we may assume that it was only another of his little jokes when he began by telling us that this Bill was intended to secure the eternal predominance of the Liberal Party.
I will not follow the noble Lord further, because I wish to deal with that part of the Bill which takes away from your Lordships' House altogether the right to deal with finance. Members on the other side, including the noble Marquess, when speaking on the other Bill, said repeatedly that they would not claim for this House or for a reformed House of Lords the right to amend Finance Bills. Of recent years the House of Lords has only once exercised the right of throwing out a Finance Bill. You may say that this is a right that the House should have in the interests of property, but that right has only been exercised once, and I would like to point out that when it was exercised it was unsuccessful and this House did not succeed in securing the eventual rejection of the Budget against which they voted. I was rather struck by a remark which fell from Lord Willoughby de Broke. He said he did not think the Budget of 1909 was a popular one. I am very doubtful whether any Budget is popular. The noble Lord went on to say that he believed its passage was eventually secured by people who, though they did not like it, voted for it out of opposition to your Lordships' House. Is not that a pretty clear argument in favour of the proposition that it is not a security for property that you should retain this power of rejecting a Budget?
865 It has been said by several noble Lords that they voted against the Budget and were unrepentant. I do not see why they should be repentant. After all, what they did they thought was right and proper, and they were only exercising a right they had; but as regards the wisdom of it, is there not a very grave doubt in looking back on it? Ever since the Budget was rejected by this House, has there not been in the country more and more a tendency to divert attention from other things and concentrate it on taxation? I do not say there is anything like a majority in the country of that way of thinking; but do you not think there is a growing tendency, getting stronger every day, to pay less attention to other matters and more and more attention to whether the money for what is called social reform cannot be obtained by taxation of the wealthier classes of this country? Social reform is a thing that everybody talks about.
Social reform is, after all, only another word for taxation, and it seems to me that the noble Earl (Lord Cromer) who spoke last night from the Cross Benches had a great deal of truth and justice in his argument on that point. I agree with him that there is practically no organised Party in this country, and there seems to be very few individuals, in favour of reducing taxation. Certainly in the short time I have been a member of your Lordships' House I have heard in this House proposals for increasing the cost of the government of the country by adding to the Army and Navy, by compulsory military service, and by further facilitating the purchase of land in Ireland. I do not say that they were right or wrong, but these proposals would have had the effect, if carried, of enormously increasing the cost of government. The same thing is seen in the House of Commons on both sides. It seems there is nobody who dislikes taxation. There are only people who dislike the incidence of taxation when it deals with interests in which they themselves have sympathy. The noble Earl, Lord Cromer, said yesterday that he believed all this trouble—that is to say, the Budget of 1909 which you rejected, and this Veto Bill which no doubt is the immediate consequence—all these things were really caused by the Old Age Pensions Act. He pointed out that that Act when it was brought in was to cost something like £6,000,000, but that already the 866 expenditure had reached nearly £13,000,000. That is true. The noble Earl went on to talk of the Insurance Bill which is at this moment before the House of Commons. As it stands, that Bill is to cost the taxpayers of this country nearly £5,000,000 a year. I am not deploring that. Both sides are in favour of it. You have both sides urging on the Government extensions and amendments, every one of which would cost the taxpayers more money. You have a great class who will be affected—the doctors—agitating, and if their demands are granted it will surely mean a still heavier burden on the taxpayers. If that Bill would cost now something like £5,000,000 a year, is there anybody who can believe that when it leaves the House of Commons and becomes law it will not cost the country much more than that figure each year? The Bill has admittedly only touched a fringe of a great subject, and probably before the subject is legislated for in its fulness the cost will be much larger than is now proposed. Having the experience of Old-Age Pensions before us and remembering that this is a much bigger and more intricate thing, is it not a fair supposition that before the Insurance Bill has been worked out in its completion, say in five years time from now, it is more likely to be costing the country £10,000,000 or £15,000,000?
I am coming to my conclusion, and it is this. As Lord Cromer said, the whole political trouble we are now in is due in its inception to the big Budget of 1909. Some of your Lordships wish to retain for this House the right to reject a Budget. Do you not think that you will have another big Budget before we have done with legislation like the Insurance Bill? Do you not think that within the next two or three years we shall probably have a Budget to raise from £5,000,000 to £15,000,000 more from the taxpayers? We have, I believe, got to a point in taxation when more money cannot be raised by taxation without somebody feeling it more or less severely. You can raise a great deal more money, but you cannot raise it without people noticing it. What, then, is going to happen? I would ask your Lordships to agree with me in this. Though you did not approve of the Budget of 1909, I am sure you will agree that in some respects at any rate that Budget was a fair Budget, in that it did attempt to raise money from all classes. 867 True it put taxes on property and wealth, but it also put taxes on beer and tobacco, so that it pressed upon the working classes. To that extent I think you will agree it was a fair Budget.
We were told by Lord Cromer that in his view the present Chancellor of the Exchequer was always aiming at popularity. Supposing in a few years time we have a Chancellor of the Exchequer who is, we will say, not aiming at popularity but is prudent. If your Lordships have no power to reject a Budget, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer has merely to look to the votes of the House of Commons, he may bring in, as did Mr. Lloyd George in 1909, a Budget that touches all classes. Mr. Lloyd George ran a grave risk in 1909, because when that Budget was rejected it was not the Land Tax or the Super-Tax that was spoken of on Conservative platforms. The Beer Duty and the Tobacco Duty were rubbed into the working man, and no doubt endangered the Budget. If your Lordships can reject a Budget, do you think any future Chancellor of the Exchequer who may have to defend his Budget on public platforms will ever put an additional tax upon the working man? If he has to run the risk of his Budget being thrown out in this House and the Government forced to a General Election upon the Budget, you will have popular Budgets, and do you think it will be a good thing for the propertied interests of this country that what are called popular Budgets should be introduced?
Just think what a popular Budget means. It is a Budget that is being settled, not by representatives in Parliament who know a great deal about things, but settled by the man in the street who has only a limited vision. What do you think would be the vote of the man in the street on a popular Budget? We were told last night from the Opposition Front Bench that their Party believes that finance should be settled by the man in the street. I should be sorry for the Budget. What is the view of the man in the street? The great bulk of the electors in this country are men whose incomes are more often than not £1 per week; I should think £2 per week would be the outside. What do you suppose their views would be on finance if you put the Budget to that crucial ordeal? They think that a man with 868 £1,000 a year, or £20 a week, is a man of enormous wealth, who could well bear much more taxation than he bears to-day. As for the man with £10,000 a year, or £200 a week, they think his wealth so enormous that they would not mind anything being taken from him for the necessities of Government. That is the sort of vote you would get from the man in the street on a popular Budget. I know the importance of property and wealth to this country, and I should be sorry to see them rim the risk of any such ordeal. For my own part I would much rather trust the finances of the country to the representatives of the people in Parliament than have them settled as a result of continuous and repeated General Elections. If you have these things settled by the people outside, you have them settled by men to whom sums of money and incomes seem far larger and more splendid than they really are. If you have finance dealt with in that way, I believe you will have dealt an effectual blow at thrift and at the great reservoir of all our wealth. I am therefore strongly opposed to finance being dealt with on those lines. I think it would be much better settled by a representative body, and I am strongly in favour of taking away from this House the power of dealing with finance, which in modern times you have only used once and without success, and which you might very well lay aside.
§ LORD ASHBOURNE
My Lords, the last speaker not unnaturally confined his remarks to a topic of which he is a master, but I do not think it necessary to follow him into a discussion of the financial aspect of the Bill. In this Bill we have to deal with broader aspects which commend themselves to the popular judgment. The noble Viscount, Lord Morley, stated these provisions boldly and concisely, and none of the other Ministers who have spoken since have gone into any details upon the question, and I think they are right. It is obvious that their scheme has been to pass by the details of the Bill as if they contained, not Constitutional violence, but merely steps and stages of a somewhat ordinary kind which would do nobody any very great harm and which they hope would do them some good. That entirely obscures the whole question; and I am glad that the noble Earl who resumed the debate to-night, in a speech which I think was extremely powerful and commanding, presented this Bill in its real broad aspects 869 to the judgment of your Lordships and the country.
If this Bill passes, will there be any Parliament in the civilised world like the Parliament of Great Britain? Our Parliament has been the image of all other Parliamentary institutions. Why is our Parliament called the Mother of Parliaments? Because of its history, its Constitution, and its teaching. If this Bill passes there will not be a First Chamber like the House of Commons; there will not be a Second Chamber like this. It is impossible to suggest a change wider or more startling, or one to make the nation more anxious. We all know the history of our Parliament, how our institutions founded on an unwritten law have grown with our growth, gained strength with our strength. The two Houses have gone on working together for the public good. But this Bill is not an amendment of powers; it is not an alteration of powers; it is a complete revolution of the whole Parliamentary machine and as was stated yesterday by a trained Parliamentarian, Lord Marchamley, it means single-Chamber government. The noble Lord who was Chief Whip of the present Government in the House of Commons does not like the whole of this Bill, and he did not disguise the fact that the Bill would mean single-Chamber government. What does that mean? It means that this great old Parliament of ours which has existed for centuries, which is the surprise of the world in the happiness of its creation, which has won the admiration of the world by the way it has worked, is going to be absolutely and entirely changed. Instead of two Chambers with recognised powers we are to have practically a Single Chamber. The noble Viscount, Lord Morley, who knows Constitutional history as well as any one, stated the existing powers of the House of Commons. I acknowledge them as every one should acknowledge them, recognising how they have been conferred upon that House in the history of the country. But this Bill goes not only a step further; it makes the House of Commons supreme all round. Can any one conceive a change more stupendous or more revolutionary? Can any one realise a Constitutional growth more appalling?
I put the question in another way. Can it be conceived that the House of Commons by any majority, no matter how small, no 870 matter how constituted, should in the future have the power of enforcing against the continued protests of this House, protests repeated in three sessions, its views as to every law that clan be suggested to it? And that is to be done without any Joint Sittings and without a Referendum? Those are vast changes. I do not discuss the Referendum, but would it not be reasonable to say that there should be some interchange of view in a Joint Sitting or by some other recognised Constitutional method before the view of the House of Common should prevail? The noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, whose manner of moderation must command respect from everybody—it is a priceless asset hi any public man—speaks with a tone that almost wins assent by its calmness. You cannot conceive that a man of that type can be contemplating a revolution that is going to ruin the country. Lord Haldane quite calmly put to us that what the House of Commons desired was to have the power of negotiating with the House of Lords more on a footing of equality. I say that a man wants superb courage to use a sentence like that in reference to this Bill.
What is the meaning of the word "negotiate" and the word "equality," and what on the living earth did the noble Viscount mean? Here we have fired off on a Second Chamber a Bill that must be taken without negotiation and without equality. There is not a suggestion of negotiation or of equality. Yet Lord Haldane suggests, quietly and calmly, that this Bill, with all its revolutionary methods and the stupendous changes it proposes, is merely an effort to work out some method of having equality between the two Houses. The noble Viscount said you could not serve two masters. I do not say you can; but it would be well to remember in connection with this question that the supreme master over both Lords and Commons is the nation. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack and Viscount Morley both said, Make the change and then see how moderately we will behave. But I think it is foolish to surrender everything and trust then to your captors' good will as to how you recovery our liberty. The House of Commons might sweep away their own time limit. That has been mentioned already, and it is obvious from what the noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, said that he is restive as to that. On the time limit Lord Haldane used most extraordinary words. He said— 871The checks will soon become intolerable unless they are used in a genial spirit and unless points are wet in a genial spirit.That is a dangerous and suggestive sentence. What does he mean? He was talking of the safeguard provided in the Bill in the matter of two years being allowed to elapse from the time a Bill was presented and first dealt with here and its becoming law. What is said is this, that the House of Commons will become restive under those restraints unless they are used by your Lordships, or whatever Second Chamber may be here, in a genial spirit. I am all for geniality, and so obviously is the noble Viscount. But what is the meaning of treating Parliamentary checks of time in a genial spirit? Is it intended that they are to be put aside and ignored?
All this, I think, shows the wisdom of my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition in presenting his Reconstitution Bill. I admit that that Bill must have been a wrench to many Peers, but it was wise to assist public opinion by showing that the House of Lords was prepared to make great sacrifices to reconstitute itself on a popular basis that could stand criticism and command respect. Supposing it remained a purely hereditary Chamber, with no such offer, then the House of Commons would say, "We regard these statutory checks as intolerable. We will not be stopped for even one or two years by a mere hereditary Chamber. What right have they to stand in the way for one or two years? They must meet us in a genial spirit, or submit to our times and dates." Take the position of the House of Commons with its additional power of abolishing the checks and it is impossible to say where it would end. They might even abolish the nominal Second Chamber which had been reduced to impotence. There would be no way of checking the House of Commons. I am not sure that there would not be power under the Parliament Bill to present a Bill changing the whole position of the Sovereign. What is to prevent its being done if this Bill passes? You make the House of Commons absolutely supreme. You leave no check to the absolute power of the House of Commons. It might do away with the Monarchy. That is an immense question. I have not seen anything which would check the following out of that thought. It is one to make every person think, from the highest in the and to the humblest.
872 It is said, "Trust moderate men." We heard my noble friend Lord Newton speak about moderate men. I have been a moderate man myself all my life, and I do not want to be too hard on the class, because in the main they are respectable. But at the same time, I would prefer not to trust very much to the moderation of those who are responsible for the framing of this Bill, under which the House of Commons is to be judge and jury, arbiter and umpire. The moderate men in the Government cannot be regarded as free. As has been said on countless occasions, the Government are not masters of themselves in this case. They are impelled by an irresistible force. I believe everybody is convinced that were no Home Rule Bill in the air there would be no Parliament Bill. Everybody knows the position of the Irish Party. I am not disparaging it. I never disparage my own countrymen. They are clever, capable men, who know what they want, and how to get it, and they will get it if they can. They have the command of the House of Commons and the Government.
This is not the time to discuss Home Rule. It is a tremendous question all round. There is the phase as to how it may affect the Empire and the phase as it may affect Ireland. I am not insensible to both aspects. But it is a strange thing to speak of Ireland as if there was one united people. Everyone acquainted with the country knows the wide differences of opinion fostered by difference of race and religion. To ignore these patent facts when you are talking about the Union is idle, and deceives nobody. This is a tremendous question for Ireland and for its welfare and peace; it is too great a question to be set aside or discussed in two or three sentences. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack brought in the analogy of the Transvaal. Where is the analogy? The Transvaal is 6,000 miles away. It is a new and a young country, and the recent developments there show the advantage of union and federation. Where is the connection between that and' Home Rule, which would seek to break up a union existing already? The noble Viscount referred to 1886 and 1893. I remember those occasions very well, their history and growth. In those times, when the country was being asked to judge, the Bills were before the nation. They were seen, known, debated; but now no one, not even His Majesty's Government, can say what are the details of the proposed Home Rule Bill.
873 People are sought to be quieted in reference to this Parliament Bill by being told that Sir Edward Grey and others had insisted on the Preamble. Sir Edward Grey has been conspicuous by his absence from the Parliament Bill debates. Whatever his feelings may be about the Second Chamber or about the Preamble, he has not taken the country into his confidence. The Preamble may mean anything, it may mean nothing. Does it mean a real Second Chamber with real powers? Between the passing of the Parliament Bill and the other Bill which is promised there is an interregnum, a gap. My noble friend Lord Midleton referred to it in the course of his speech, and said that he understood the Government regarded this Bill as temporary, that the matter was to be recast and readjusted as soon as the Second Chamber is reconstituted. I do not know what is the view of the Government upon that question. The noble Viscount, Lord Morley, in his opening statement, said—The actual methods of the Parliament Bill are not necessarily final.What is meant by that? Does it bear the interpretation put upon it by Lord Midleton? That is a question of first-class importance. Or are we to understand that, no matter how constituted, the House of Lords is to go on in the fetters that are manufactured by this Bill? I would be glad to think that the noble Viscount, Lord Midleton, is correct and that his interpretation is what we may look to.
In the middle of our career, after centuries of two Chambers, to start single-Chamber government would be a revolution. It is contrary to every single precedent in the civilised world. The United States of America has a Senate, a powerful body. It has more than that. It has a Supreme Court that can keep the laws of the United States under supervision. There is the great Republic of France. Then there is Australia, Canada, and the Transvaal. This is a matter of the highest importance bearing in mind what a great writer on representative government, John Stuart Mill, said upon the subject—The majority in a Single Assembly when it has received a permanent character easily becomes destructive and over-weening.No one has a more thorough knowledge of such questions than the noble Viscount, Lord Morley, or more respect for the name of John Stuart Mill. In setting up single-Chamber government you are acting 874 against the advice of the most thoughtful man who ever wrote on representative government. The great safeguard of every Constitution and of ours is to be found in the power of appeal of the nation against the Government. It is the greatest check. Lords and Commons, we must all bow before the nation. The nation is the master of all, and that is one of the great safeguards of Constitutional government. The other one is the supremacy of the law. Being a lawyer I feel a deep interest in that, because I am alive to its tremendous importance. Every one who knows anything of law must recognise the tremendous importance of keeping our Judiciary absolutely independent and out of the public arena. It is very ominous, on this question of the supremacy of the law, to notice that recently in the House of Commons reflections have been cast upon Judges in the administration of the law, and the speeches that have been made and sometimes the words of Ministers give cause for great anxiety in reference to this important question.
There is another point I would like to mention, one which has attracted my attention for some time. It is the position of the Sovereign in regard to legislation—a very important and very delicate question. At present under the Constitution our laws are made by King, Lords, and Commons. We all know about the great Conference meeting now in London. That brings home to us in the most obvious way how the Colonial Empire pivots on the Sovereign. It is a matter of first-class importance. The final responsibility for the making of our laws necessarily rests on the Assent of the Crown. But what is the position of the Crown in reference to the making of laws? The laws when tendered to the Sovereign under our existing Constitution come before him as the joint product of two independent Houses, and every Act of Parliament has been approached and discussed with an interchange of opinion and argument between the two Houses, with all the checks, safeguards, and balances that our Constitution has developed in the growth of centuries. If there are no balances and no safeguards, if you sweep away by this Bill the free interchange of independent opinions between the two Houses, what becomes of the great check and the safeguards of the Constitution? It is obvious that the condition not only of the people but of the Sovereign is 875 seriously changed by this Bill. At present there is, if you like to call it so, a great buffer between the House of Commons and the Crown in the existence of a Second Chamber, an independent Second Chamber with great traditions. This constitutes a great protection, not only of the Sovereign but of the nation; but under this Bill that great protection goes. You take away the independent action and the independent position of the House of Lords. You give the final power to the House of Commons, and you make the House of Commons not only predominant but supreme. That extremely important question has not been adequately discussed in either House, but it is one which must attract attention because of its first-class importance.
The most rev. Primate, in words which were worthy of his high position and great character and which must have found responsive echoes in many hearts, suggested that by an approach—the word compromise did not fall from him—by a conference, a mutual interchange of thought, something should be done that might lead to co-operation in a settlement. And the noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, at the close of his remarks used words which showed an appreciation of the position. He said—Who knows but that both sides may co-operate in carrying out a work of this great magnitude.Those were worthy words, and I concur in them. At this time when we are all thinking of festivals that show the unity of the Empire and the peace that has made it so great, it is especially fitting that we should apply our minds in this direction. This is an era of peace, when we hear much of understandings and arbitrations, and I would be sincerely glad if we could begin at home.
§ THE EARL OF DUNMORE
My Lords, nothing has struck me more in the speeches I have listened to in the course of this debate than the thinness of the argument of noble Lords opposite who have spoken in support of this Bill. Not a single answer has been given to the criticisms put forward from this side. It is true that Lord St. Davids just now put forward some arguments in favour of taking away the small powers which the House at present possesses over finance, but as far as I could ascertain from those arguments he merely glories in the large amounts which the present Chancellor of the Exchequer has to budget for.
§ LORD ST. DAVIDS
The noble Earl has quite misunderstood me. I wanted to lower the amount of taxation.
§ THE EARL OF DUNMORE
I beg the noble Lord's pardon. But if he deplores the large amount of taxation, the enormous sums that are being budgetted for at present, I should like to know why he wishes to weaken the financial control of this House? He must remember that though the Government of which he is a supporter came in on the cry of "Economy and retrenchment," their administration has been noted so far for their wild extravagance. Throughout his speech the noble Lord talked about the vast amounts which future Chancellors of the Exchequer will have to budget for. I quite agree. It is very probable we shall have under the present Government greatly increased taxation. Already we see local bodies calling the attention of the Government to the heavy burden of the rates, which I might point out is largely due to the legislation passed during the last four years. Then the Secretary for Scotland went so far as actually to deprecate any comparison between the Constitution of this country under the Parliament Bill and the Constitution of other countries. When we were talking about Constitutional safeguards he pointed out that you could not possibly compare this country with other countries. If the noble Lord were here I would ask him why not? Are our interests less vast and of less importance than those of other countries?
As far as I can understand, the argument put forward from the other side is that the Government have a mandate for this Bill. The Noble Viscount opposite Lord Morley, speaking in the debate on the Reconstitution Bill, informed the House that after the recent elections the Government were bound to give effect to the people's wishes and secure the passage of the Parliament. Bill. I do not wish to traverse over old ground, but I ask the noble Viscount to study some of the platform speeches of his colleagues during the last elections. I set myself to read a good many of those speeches, and I was led to the conclusion that a great deal more energy was devoted to abuse of the hereditary principle titan to any advocacy of the Parliament Bill. I doubt very much whether any large proportion of the electors of this country have ever 877 troubled themselves to consider the proposals enshrined in that remarkable document. Surely members of both Houses must have been struck by the small amount of interest displayed outside the precincts of Parliament in this Bill. The Government interpret silence as acquiescence, and even go further and assume that it means active support of the proposals they bring forward. But, my Lords, quite another interpretation is the true one.
The Parliament Bill in itself does nothing more than effect a revolution in Parliamentary procedure—that is to say, in the machinery for producing legislation. The Prime Minister has described this Bill as a machinery Bill. To politicians who pass their lives within the walls of these legislative Chambers the methods of legislative procedure are all important, but the effect is very remote on the man in the street. He is not closely concerned with an alteration in the Parliamentary machine. It is only when the new machine gets to work on matters which concern them that the great mass of the electors will begin to be affected by the Bill. Let me illustrate my point by a reference to the legal procedure in Courts of law. Every practising lawyer will admit, I think, that the question of procedure in the Courts is one which is all important to consider in giving advice to any one who is about to appeal to the law. No one, however, outside the ranks of the legal profession would get wildly excited about an alteration in legal procedure. A non-legal Member of Parliament would probably not consider the matter until he had to have recourse to his lawyer in connection with some forthcoming litigation in which he was concerned. But I venture to say that if on consulting his lawyer he were told that owing to some drastic alteration in legal procedure his position as a litigant was fundamentally altered, I think even the least legally minded Member of Parliament would evince a lively interest in the matter. I believe that is a perfectly true analogy with the position of the average elector in regard to the Parliament Bill. He does not concern himself with the niceties of the Parliamentary machine for producing laws; but when new laws come to be produced by that machine, laws which may seriously affect the welfare and the daily lives of the workers, may affect them in their property and their fortunes, I venture with confidence to assert that the atten- 878 tion of those who are affected by such laws will be quickened and stimulated, perhaps not in a manner entirely agreeable to His Majesty's Government.
But on this doctrine of the mandate on which the Government have taken their stand, not only for the introduction of this Bill but also, without any further reference to the people, for setting to work the new machinery created by the Bill, I would ask the noble Viscount, Lord Morley, how far he is prepared to carry this doctrine? For the first two years of the life of a Parliament the Cabinet will have an absolute autocratic power to pass what measures they choose. The Prime Minister has already announced that one of these measures is to be Home Rule for Ireland. May I ask the noble Viscount whether in his opinion the Government have a mandate for a Home Rule Bill? Has it ever been put as a clear and definite issue before the electors? I notice that the Prime Minister has invented a new doctrine, a new form of mandate. When taxed in the House of Commons with not having placed sufficiently before the country the intention of the Government, if returned to power, to proceed with a Home Rule Bill for Ireland, he laid great stress, not on the speeches of himself and his colleague s, but upon the utterances and warnings of Unionist leaders. He said that they, the Unionist leaders, had made it quite clear that a return to power of the Government would involve this disastrous measure. My Lords, it appears that the fragmentary utterances of a Minister, if insufficient in themselves to establish a mandate, are to be made effective out of the mouths of his opponents. This is an entirely new departure. It seems to me that it would result in removing all the responsibility which at present attaches to the public utterances of a Minister. But assuming the existence of a mandate, I would ask the House for what particular form of Home Rule this mandate has been given. Mr. Gladstone had at least two forms of Home Rule. They were alike only in this, that under each form a separate Parliament would have been established in Ireland. But under one of them, Irish members would have continued to sit at Westminster, and under the other form the benches of the Irish Members in the House across the corridor would have been vacated. Then came the more recent proposal of the Irish 879 Councils Bill, produced by Mr. Birrell, but quickly abandoned. Many Radicals again declare that no measure of Home Rule would be complete short of Home Rule all round, meaning, presumably, a separate Parliament for England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. Perhaps the noble Viscount will tell the House for which of the four the Government claim a mandate. Or are we to understand that the Government were returned to power with four separate mandates?
Let us consider the effect of the Parliament Bill on other legislation. The noble Lord, Lord St. Davids, mentioned the National Insurance Bill. That Bill has gone a certain distance, and there seems to be a general consensus of opinion to consider its proposals. I am not going to criticise the Bill, but I think it is germane to the question which we are debating to ask the noble Viscount opposite whether he considers that the Government have also got a mandate from the people for that important measure. If he says "No," I would ask him why he proposes under the Parliament Bill to give the Government power during the first two years to bring in such a Bill without any discussion by the people? If he says "Yes," I would ask him to what extent does that mandate go. Does it authorise the Chancellor of the Exchequer to include death benefits in his insurance scheme? If he has a mandate for an Insurance Bill which the people have not considered presumably he can frame it as he likes. I dare say the noble Viscount is fully aware that at the present time the industrial insurance companies are trembling in their shoes. Their only safeguard, their only protection against any action of this sort, is your Lordships' House. But under the Parliament Bill, with its permanent mandate to the Government, all these people would be at the mercy of a chance majority of the House of Commons. There are about 80,000 industrial insurance agents, and it would be possible for all these men to be thrown out of employment by a stroke of the pen of the Chancellor of the Exchequer under the provisions of his Bill.
The question was asked last night, What do noble Lords mean when they say they want a system of double-Chamber government? I think it is very plain what we mean. We mean that in regard to legislation there must be some method of 880 safeguarding the interests of the people of this country. There must be some independent body to safeguard those interests. The noble Viscount, Lord Morley, will probably say that these interests are represented by the majority in the House of Commons, but the votes of that majority are representative of one thing and one thing only, and that is the will of the Prime Minister of the day. I admit that the House of Commons has a perfect right to introduce all the measures I have mentioned with or without a mandate from the people, provided you have the usual Constitutional safeguards. That is common sense. But if you are going to take away from the Second Chamber the power which it has at present to delay measures until the people have had a chance to say whether they like them or not, then you must adopt some method such as we have put forward by which a direct vote of the people can be taken on grave issues. We on our side of the House have not been slow in coming forward to meet the grievances put forward by those who are opposed to us in politics, and I think that we on this side have a right to expect that His Majesty's Government will take some step towards meeting us in an endeavour to solve by agreement a problem which otherwise will prove insoluble.
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
My Lords, I was very glad when the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition gave us to understand that as regards the principle of this Bill he thought the House ought to accept it, at any rate as far as the Second Reading is concerned. I could not help thinking when listening to many speeches during the last few days that some noble Lords do not realise how far democracy is taking us nowadays. No one who has observed the course of politics during, the last twenty or thirty years can have failed to noticethat in a great measure voting power has been transferred from the agricultural districts in which your Lordships are known to large industrial centres. I resented, as I dare say many members of this House on both sides did, the abuse to which this House and many of its members were subjected at the recent General Elections, and I noticed that the good results for the Party with which I am associated were obtained more in the country districts than in large industrial centres. What did that show? I was very much struck with a personal ex- 881 perience I had on the occasion of the last election. It was with regard to a boy employed in my own office in London, and it struck me as typical of what must be the condition of mind of voters in the East-end of London and other places where Lords are rare and comparatively unknown. This little boy went home to his mother and said he was employed in the office of a noble Lord, and the mother asked him, "Have you seen him wear his coronet?" "No," replied the boy. "Then he can't be a real Lord," said the mother. That is typical of the state of mind of thousands of the electorate. We must recognise this change of opinion, particularly in the towns. If the members of this House would make themselves as fully acquainted with the conditions of industrial life as they are admittedly acquainted with the conditions of agricultural life, a great change would take place in the electorate, and the town centres would rally round those who from the personal advantages of wealth and education have done well for the country. If we want to re-establish our position and form a strong Second Chamber we must go out into the country and show ourselves and do some real work. If this Bill is passed—and it will be in some form or another—it cannot be regarded as a permanent settlement.
There is another point which should not be forgotten. A large number of members of this House have had great experience in administration in the country, but have taken very little part in administration in the towns. I therefore welcomed the Bill of the noble Marquess, which included in the Schedule of qualified Peers such persons as mayors of towns and chairmen of county councils. I still believe that there is no great feeling in the country against the members of this House. I am perhaps more in touch with the industrial classes than some members of this House, and I can say that a great deal of the apathy in the country in this matter arises from the fact that the people look upon this quarrel between the two Houses as a matter of domestic concern, and also think that on the whole the Parliament Bill leaves us with as much power as they want us to be entrusted with. That is not, I know, the view that is held in this House, but in all the circumstances I confess I expected a Bill much more stringent and much more drastic. Under this Bill we shall still have a considerable amount of power. There is the 882 period of two years. Even if the Government have a mandate, that period of two years is a very serious obstacle to get over, and it will be a difficult thing for a Government to carry a measure unless it is one of first-class importance in the third year. Then, again, there is the shortened duration of Parliaments which will in future be about four and a-half years.
I think that in this matter every effort ought to be made to get a settlement by consent. I believe it is not beyond the talents of the noble Marquess or the noble Viscount on the other side to influence their Party in this direction. If that were done I should be quite content to belong to the House of Lords in the future. But they ought to recognise the inevitable drift of things. The Liberal Party are driven to producing this Bill. They have to bring it forward whether they like it or not. Let us look for a moment at the effect of this Bill upon members of the House of Commons. There will be an increased responsibility, and I think they will realise it. They will not be able to say in the future as they have done in the past, "It does not matter. We can vote for this or that, because the House of Lords will throw it out." A member of the House of Commons will have to realise his responsibilities at any rate diving the first two years of a Parliament. I am quite convinced that sooner or later a collision between this House and the House of Commons was bound to come, but it might have come in a far more dangerous form than now presents itself. It is lucky it has come as it has, and if this House rises to its responsibilities, which I think it will, this Parliament Bill, evil as we may think it to-day, will in the long run prove to be a blessing in disguise.
§ [The sitting was suspended at seven minutes to eight o'clock and resumed at a quarter past nine.]
§ LORD STANMORE
My Lords, an eminent French writer and thinker, Alexis de Tocqueville, in his famous book, L'ancien Régime et la Revolution, has defined the objects and work of the French Revolution in one short and pithy sentence. He says that the work of the Revolution—a work which, he says, is still going on, and will go on—is the destruction and removal of every trace, of every vestige, of what is derived from feudality and aristocracy—even the least vestige—words which he emphasises by printing them in italics. 883 M. de Tocqueville's prophecy may or may not be true. For my own part I confess that I do implicitly believe it. I believe that in the course of time the relics of a feudal and aristocratic system will be wiped out. But though I say it I do not like it, and not liking it, and believing that it will be a calamity to the nation and do mischief to all whom it concerns, I should be glad to see that change effected as slowly, as gradually, with as little friction and with as little consciousness as possible, rather than violently, suddenly, and at once.
That some reform in the constitution of this House is necessary. I think we shall all admit. Not only the immense augmentation of the numbers of the Peerage—an augmentation for which both Parties are equally guilty—but other circumstances render its representation by delegation almost a necessity, and certainly desirable. I believe that the creation of life Peers would have been desirable. I believe, too, that some application of the system of qualification, or rather of disqualification—for I would rather have gone upon lines which should exclude than upon those which would admit—was not only necessary but called for. Such proposals, involving as they would enormous changes in the constitution of this House, would, if submitted a short time ago, have been sufficient, in my opinion, as the next step to be taken, and would have prevented that more hasty and more sweeping measure which, as my quotation from de Tocqueville shows, looms before us in the future. But that rather refers to the Bill of my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition than to the Bill immediately before us, and it is with the Bill before us that we have to deal.
This Bill is, as has been pointed out by others, a very remarkable production, and it is remarkable, I think, for nothing more than the extraordinarily uncertain sound which pervades its clauses, and which also is echoed in the speeches of noble Lords who have spoken in its favour. What do the clauses say? We are told by the Bill that the House is to remain as it is at present constituted, but that it is to be shorn of certain of its powers. Good. But what does the Preamble of the Bill say? The Preamble says that, instead of the present House, there is to be one founded on a popular basis—a new institution, a new- 884 fangled, newly manufactured Senate instead of the House of Lords and which, we have been informed on the high authority of the Lord President of the Council, is not to exceed 200 in number. Yet several noble Lords have endeavoured to persuade us that what is intended is really quite a trifling change. Here we are, say they, and we shall all remain here, only some privileges which we have practically already abandoned will be formally taken from us. We have practically given up all control over finance—so let it go. We have practically shown that we do not resist the will of the House of Commons when repeatedly expressed—well, let the power to do so go too, and let that be made the law which has hitherto been the custom. That is what some say. That is the mild soft, honey-sweet voice we hear nowadays in this House. We especially hear it from one whose absence we all regret, but one whom I hope to see in his place almost immediately, Lord Crewe. He told us that really the powers we should retain were powers large enough to satisfy the most craving ambition. Which of these views is to be taken? Which is the real fact? Is the House of Lords as the House of Lords has been to be continued with certain privileges chopped off, or is there to be, within if possible the duration of the present Parliament, as the Prime Minister said, a new scheme—one of which we have no inkling, and which is to supersede the House of Lords as it exists? That is what I call remarkable ambiguity.
But there is another remarkable thing about the Preamble. We are told in the Preamble that it is "intended" to supersede this House. Can you put into a Bill that it is "intended?" By whom intended? Are we to assert that we intend it? Is the Crown to assert that the Crown intends it? The House of Commons, I presume, does intend it, but the phrase seems to me somewhat extraordinary. How, before debate, before a decision, before a settlement with this House, can it be laid down that anything is intended to be done? It may be wished for and it may be intended by the Government, but how can it be said to be intended in a Bill? In short, the question is supposing this Bill to pass, how long is the state of things which it inaugurates to continue? Apparently, from what we have heard, no very long time. I venture to say, however, there was no time when the check which a Second Chamber affords was more needed than it is now, and 885 it will be still more needed in the future. The more democratic your constituencies become, the more evenly they are balanced in the way of size and numbers, the wider the franchise is extended, the less truly will the opinion of the people be represented in the House of Commons. That sounds I admit, a paradox, almost a startling paradox, but it is simple fact, because with more democratic constituencies, with more even electoral divisions and the single vote, you have a much greater chance of the Party which is for the moment popular in the country being represented by a small majority in a great many constituencies, the result of which will be that the aggregate result in the House of Commons will not be a representation of the people as a whole, but simply of the majority. The tendency to represent the majority rather than the majority and minority will increase in proportion as the representation becomes more even and more democratic.
We see this illustrated in our Colonies. In one of the Constitutional Colonies of which I have had the honour of being Governor, we had an election in which popular feeling was highly roused, and the Government party returned its candidate in almost every constituency. The number of the minority was, if I remember aright, six out of a House of 100 or more. The following year there was another Dissolution and the parties were reversed. The Opposition of six in the previous Parliament came back an overwhelming majority. Now do your Lordships suppose that either of these Parliaments represented the people of the country? Certainly not. The people were practically equally divided, but the electioneering machinery was such that the party which was slightly in advance gained almost all the seats in one case, and lost almost all of them in the next. But we need not go as far as our Colonies. The case of Wales seems to me to be quite enough. I forget the exact number of Conservative Members for Wales—four, I think.
§ LORD STANMORE
All the rest are Liberals. But do your Lordships suppose that the population of Wales is divided in that proportion between Liberals and Conservatives? Certainly not. It is another case in point. I quote those cases to show 886 that though what I said sounded like a paradox, when you come to apply the facts you find it is a matter of substance, and renders an effective Second Chamber more necessary than at any other time.
Another remarkable thing with regard to this debate is that, though we have had three days' discussion of an interesting, and, as Lord Newton quite rightly said, of a real and substantial nature, there are some points which have not been touched upon at all. The question of the abolition of our powers in dealing with finance has been very lightly touched upon. Another point of great importance in the Bill—the limitation of the duration of Parliaments—has, so far as I have heard, not been mentioned at all. Nothing has been argued in its favour and nothing has been said in opposition to it. But that in itself is an enormous change, and one which will require a great deal of thought and debate, and I am surprised that it has not formed the substance of the speeches of some noble Lords. As to one thing, however, I do rejoice, and it is that the debate has been conducted with the utmost moderation of language in most cases, and with good feeling and good spirit. We have not heard here the accusations against members of this House which are so freely scattered out of doors. But, freely scattered as they are out of doors, I would beg to call attention to the very important fact that these insinuations and charges have not been made out of doors with at all the same sort of force or virulence, or with at all the same sort of conviction, that was the case when the House of Lords was so violently attacked at the time of the Reform Bill. At that time the attacks on the House of Lords far exceeded any attacks that have been made upon it lately. They were far more violent, far more bitter, and far more dangerous. If the House at that time had given way to alarm and what might be thought popular feeling, it would probably have anticipated the present time by seventy or eighty years. But the then Leaders of the Conservative Party were the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel, not men either to be frightened or to give up what they thought to be right and just. They would not make compromise which only spelt concession. I wish merely to draw this moral, that the feeling being less bitter and less violent at this time it might possibly have been resisted with equal success. But to revert to what I said at the beginning of my 887 observations, I do not think that it is of very great importance, because, I believe the time is coming, and perhaps is come, to ring the knell of this long-descended and illustrious House. It may be our own fault. It may be—I believe it is to a great extent—our own doing. I abhor the thought of it, but that does not make me the less sensible of its truth. I am not going to weary your Lordships by entering into the charges that have been levelled against us, but among the charges that as to our hereditary character is one of the chief. I quite see everything that may be said against the hereditary character of the House, but I would ask, when the question is under discussion, that two or three things should be remembered. First, that the principle of heredity is one which has prevailed in every age, and, I believe, more or less in every country on the face of the globe; and certainly His Majesty's Government are not qualified to utter—and I do not think they have to any great extent uttered—sneers at heredity, because they themselves owe much to it. In the present Government—assuming as the present Government that which has existed since 1906—there are at least three members of it who owe much to heredity. Far be it from me to say one syllable or to hint anything against their fitness; one of them—the Secretary of State for the Colonies—possesses, I think almost every quality that a Statesman should have. At the same time, I think it is perfectly clear that neither Lord Gladstone nor Mr. Harcourt, nor Mr. Churchill, would have obtained high office and seats in the Cabinet as early as they did had they not been the sons of their distinguished fathers.
This Bill is calculated to do much mischief. What are its principles? Its three principles are—first, to take away from your Lordships all power of control over finance; second, to limit, and to limit severely and with greater restrictions, your Lordships' control over Bills passed by the Lower House; and, third—if it can be called a principle—the adumbration of our entire destruction, and of our replacement by a Senate newly manufactured and of small size. In those circumstances, is this a Bill the principle of which should be affirmed? Can I, ought I, to vote for it? I quite see the tactical advantage—and it is a great ad vantage—o causing the rejection of any 888 compromise to be thrown upon the Government rather than upon the Opposition. But can one honestly vote for a Bill which contains such provisions? By reading it a second time we are assumed, according to the practice of the House, to approve in the main the principles of the Bill. The principles I have just enunciated are principles which I, for one, cannot adopt, and they are principles for which I should feel it impossible to vote. On the other hand, of course, I see all the difficulties of voting against the Bill. But I must say that, looking to the effect which it is likely to have, I am quite unable to record a vote in its favour.
§ EARL STANHOPE
My Lords, it is a charge constantly made against this House that your Lordships are actuated too largely by Party motives. I venture to think that the debate which has taken place this evening is a sufficient proof of the fallacy of such a charge. We have had from the other side of the House a speech from Lord St. Davids discussing the financial measures which will be affected by this Bill, and, as far as I understood him, he took his stand in supporting this Bill on the ground that great financial measures—measures hitting the country extremely hard in the way of levying still heavier charges—would shortly be brought before the House of Commons, and that it would be well for this House if it were able to wash its hands of any share in passing those measures. I have always thought that the policy of washing one's hands of any responsibility is not one that is ever looked upon with any esteem by the remainder of the public, nor is it one which can be considered of any value to the country at large. And then, my Lords, from this side of the House we had a speech just before dinner in which every aspect controverted any statement made from this side. The noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, stood for the payment of Members. I wished, as he was speaking, that he had had the advantage of a conversation I had only two days ago with a distinguished member of one of our self-governing Dominions, and that the noble Lord had heard the criticism levelled against payment of Members. He is not a member of his Government, and I naturally am not going to mention his name; but he expressed the opinion that there was no greater revolution ever proposed in this country than the payment of Members, and he laid it down that immediately did away with responsi- 889 bility that you had an entirely different type of man standing for Parliament, and that many who were best qualified by education and by training, which their financial position, perhaps, had enabled them to acquire, were ruled out by other people standing who said they more truly represented the voters as they were more of their own standing.
We have constantly been told that a mandate has been given to the Government to pass this Bill. We have not been told, so far as I am aware, by any supporter of the Government, certainly not in this House, how that mandate was obtained. A good many reasons combined to produce he Government's majority. We have heard nothing whatever of the many constituencies in which speeches on food taxes played a far greater part than any reference to your Lordships' House. I know a constituency which is now represented by a Liberal Member, as it was before, in which so far as I am aware, there was not a single poster which had anything to do with this House. There was, perhaps, one poster which referred to it indirectly. It was a poster which I think many of your Lordships have seen, showing what I can only describe as a mal-formed and drunken-looking dwarf, his head surmounted by a coronet. Is there any member of your Lordships' House to whom that far-fetched caricature could apply? My noble friend Lord Ampthill, or the noble Earl, Lord Dunmore, are far more typical examples of your Lordships' House than that represented in the poster. If a public body is to be judged by its component parts rather than by the action it takes, can nothing be said about the Cabinet or the House of Commons? At any rate we in this House have not got a man whom I could only describe as a perjurer, prepared to come to that Table and to take the oath of allegiance to his Sovereign while all the time he had the deliberate intention of breaking it, as has been the case with Mr. Keir Hardie. I venture to think there is not a Member of your Lordships' House on whichever side he sits, who would not say that votes won in the way I have described are in no sense a mandate for the passing of this Bill. As to criticisms of your Lordships' House, which have been very numerous in the last few years, in many constituencies the attack on this House, even by members of the Cabinet, was far more in the nature of a personal attack upon 890 its members than upon the action which this House has taken in the past.
What has been the action of your Lordships during the last six years? We have been told again and again that this House has thrown out all, or the greater part, of the chief Liberal measures. What were the occasions on which the House of Lords refused their assent to Liberal measures? Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to examine one or two. I take first the Education Bill. Which of the four Education Bills the Government have at one time or another introduced is the really considered policy of His Majesty's Government? Is it the Education Bill of 1906, or the Bill of 1907, or is it one of the two introduced in 1908? I imagine supporters of His Majesty's Government will say, "Of course it is the Education Bill of 1906." Is any member of His Majesty's Government prepared to get up in his place and say, whether Home Rule is passed or not, that, if the Education Bill of 1906 were reintroduced in 1911, it should apply not only to England but to Ireland, and then claim that the Government had a majority for the Bill in the present House of Commons? You have only to-refer to the speeches made by Mr. John Redmond to know perfectly well that the Irish Party at any rate would vote solidly against any such proposal, and in that case the Government's majority would disappear. But it is not even necessary to refer to the speeches of Mr. John Redmond, or to the attitude of many bodies who-perhaps in other matters support His Majesty's Government, though they did not agree with the Bill of 1906. I need only refer your Lordships to a speech made in the House of Commons, I think on July 30, 1906, by one whose name is fairly prominent in Liberal circles—Mr. Master-man. This is what he said, speaking of Amendments which he hoped would be introduced in this House—Still more deplorable was the fact that every concession they on their side received from the Upper House weakened the general democratic appeal against the Constitution of that Chamber. It was sad to think that this great democratic movement which some of them looked upon as the dawn of a new day should have as one of its first results the fact that 2,500,000 Catholics and a more indefinite number of Liberals were saying, 'Thank God for the institution of the House of Lords.'I have been wondering what some of these men think about the Parliament Bill and 891 the possibility, if it passes, of the introduction of another Education Bill. The speech of Mr. Masterman from which I have quoted, I venture to think, can be taken in more ways than one. It shows how many sections even of the Liberal Party may have real cause to fear a curtailment of the powers of this House. It shows further—and this, I think, gives a complete answer to the speech of the noble Lord opposite, Lord Pentland, earlier in the evening—that at any rate in 1906 it was not a question of the curtailment of the powers of this House, but of an alteration in its constitution.
I now take the Scottish Land Bill. We were told that it was earnestly desired by the country. If it was so earnestly desired, why did the Government refuse to pass that half of it to which your Lordships were fully prepared to agree, and which was actually brought in as a separate Bill in this House and passed through all its stages? Was it that the Government were thinking more about Party tactics than the requirements of Scotland, or was it that the Scottish Land Bill was not so earnestly desired as was represented, and that therefore that part of it could well be dropped?
What about the Licensing Bill and the Budget? We have been told that the Government received a mandate for the Licensing Bill. We have also been told that the Budget should not have been interfered with by this House. Which of these two so-called great temperance measures—for the Budget is referred to not so much as a great financial measure, but as a great temperance measure, or a great land reform measure—was the one for which the Government had received a mandate? Which of the two methods of dealing with the licensing question was the correct one—that which was put forward in the Bill of 1908, or that which formed part of the Budget of 1909–10. These Bills differed in principle, and if there was a mandate for the Licensing Bill there was obviously a mandate against the Budget. If for no other reason the House of Lords was justified by the speeches of Ministers themselves in refusing to pass the Budget until it had received the assent of the electors. This House was not in a position to judge whether the Government were right in stating that there was a 892 mandate for the Licensing Bill of 1908, and that the country required the Budget of 1909–10. The Government informed us that they had a mandate for both. Obviously the only way of really solving the difficulty was to have an appeal to the country in order to test whether the country desired one or other of these measures. It was for the country to decide the point, and your Lordships gave the country an opportunity to do so.
What are the duties of a Second Chamber? We have been told by no less an authority than the Prime Minister himself what the functions of an ideal House of Lords should be. Speaking in 1894 he said—The functions of the House of Lords are merely these—first of all, that it should act as a revising authority over the details of legislation; and, in the next place, where there, is reasonable doubt whether upon any question the House of Commons is representing the majority of the electorate the House of Lords should have the power of interposing such delay as will enable that doubt to be authoritatively solved.The question at once arises whether this House carries out its duties to an equal extent when a Unionist Government is in power. We on this side maintain that we have done no more than carry out the functions of an ideal Upper House as laid down by the Prime Minister in the action we have taken on various occasions during the last six years. Noble Lords on the other side say we never take such action when a Unionist Government is in power. If that is the case, it should not be a question of a limitation of the powers of this House but of the constitution of this House, and of greater equality between the Parties who sit within it. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said that the action of the House of Lords on this Bill would be the test of sincerity as to whether this House really is ready to carry out the will of the people. I venture to think that is an entirely erroneous opinion.
If the country decided anything in regard to the House of Lords at the last regard election it decided that the House, as at present constituted, is not such as to be able to deal fairly between proposals brought forward by various political Parties. It did not decide that the powers of this House should be limited; it decided that the House as at present constituted was unfair. That was the gist of almost 893 every speech I read from any supporter of the Government in attacking this House, and if the speeches of those who solicited the votes of the electors had anything whatever to do with the procuring of those votes, then it cannot be said that the country voted for the limitation of the powers of this House. Your Lordships have already expressed your desire to bow to the will of the people, so far as it was expressed at the last election by giving a Second Reading to the Bill of the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition.
What does the Parliament Bill do? Does it leave to this House functions which Mr. Asquith in 1894 said should be the functions of an ideal Second Chamber? Does it leave to this House the power of revising legislation? We know perfectly well that if any Amendment was introduced into a Bill in this House to which the House of Commons objected, this House would have no power whatever to have that Amendment carried through when the Bill became law. Does it leave to this House the power of interposing delay where there is reasonable doubt upon any question as to whether the House of Commons is representing the majority of the electorate to enable that doubt to be authoritatively solved? Under this Bill the House of Commons has power, after-two years delay, to pass any Bill it pleases without consulting the electorate at all. What is there in this Bill to prevent the House of Commons abolishing the Crown, as it did on the last occasion on which the power of the House of Lords was abolished and the other House was left with absolute power? You may say that such a suggestion is ridiculous, but you cannot have too many safeguards on so vital a matter. This, I venture to think, is a matter which the noble Lord who spoke just before dinner might well consider before he votes on this Bill, or on any Amendment to this Bill.
Again I would ask, Does the Bill ensure that an attack may not be made on the Protestant succession? Does it ensure that the House of Commons, incited as it will be by receiving an annual salary, may not desire to extend the life of a Parliament beyond the term of five years laid down in this Bill? The noble Viscount who introduced the Bill said it would leave powers to this House which, if wisely used, 894 would enable the House to exercise a constant and very important influence upon the whole character and shape of legislation. Who is to be the arbiter as to whether this House acts wisely or not? It must be, under this Bill, nothing else but the House of Commons. Supposing they consider it necessary at any future time to reduce the limit of delay allowed by the Bill from two years to one, and finally to abolish it altogether, there is nothing in the Bill to prevent them doing it. The House of Lords has no say whatever in regard to any alteration in the period of delay which is allowed under the Bill as it now stands, and the House of Commons might in future curtail its powers still further. Noble Lords opposite may say these are matters which are very unlikely to happen and therefore it is rather absurd to press them. I venture to think matters affecting the continuance of the Crown, and other things I have referred to, are so important that you cannot have too many safeguards to ensure that they are preserved to this country. Besides, if noble Lords think such possibilities are remote and improbable they can have no objection to safeguarding against them by placing them outside the scope of this Bill.
Let me turn to the other side—to those measures which are not common between the two sides of this House, such for instance as Home Rule for Ireland. If a mandate was given for Home Rule at the last election, then no mandate was given to tamper with this House in any way whatever. If, on the other hand, a mandate was given to deal with the constitution or powers of the House of Lords, then no mandate was given for Home Rule. You cannot have it both ways. If any elector had applied to those paragons of virtue, the supporters of the Gladstone League, and had said, "I am strongly opposed to Home Rule, but I am anxious to deal with the House of Lords, which way am I to vote?" I venture to think any member of the League would have replied, "Oh, you vote for the Liberal Party." Supposing any elector had come up and said, "I am strongly in favour of Home Rule, but. I am equally strongly against any serious tampering with the House of Lords," he would promptly have been told, "Really what is going to be done to the House of Lords is a very trivial matter, and you will be perfectly safe in voting for the Liberal Party." How can you say you have a mandate for either of 895 those things, if you are going to try to claim mandates for both? Let us be clear on this matter. Do the Government still adhere to the principles laid down by Mr. Asquith as to the powers of a Second Chamber, or do they the not; and if not, what do they mean by a Second Chamber? Let us have a definition, not in political language which differs as much as a political conscience from that in ordinary use, but in language which can be understood by the people, as to what is meant by a Second Chamber. Do they really believe in a Second Chamber, or do they agree with a noble Lord, Lord Marchamley, who, speaking with greater frankness than most of Ins colleagues, said that this Bill gives single chamber government in one shape or form, but tempered by two years' delay, which, as we know, may at any time be abolished?
The noble Viscount, Lord Morley, in introducing the Bill, said—What a shallow view it is that an institution like the House of Lords, so famous, so entrenched in the roots of traditional power in a nation that is so attached to old institutions as our country is, should fall before the blast of a few Party trumpets!Then he proceeded to blow his own Party trumpet and said—The Bill is there; the Bill stands.I refuse to take that shallow view. I refuse to think this House is right in giving up all the functions which have been entrusted to it throughout the centuries at the blast of a Party trumpet such as that sounded by the noble Viscount. I believe that in supporting the Bill of the noble Marquess for the reform of this House, and in opposing this Bill as it at present stands, I am more faithfully interpreting the wishes of the people as expressed at the last election, so far as they expressed any at all, than noble Lords opposite who take no part in the reconstitution of this House but only desire a limitation of its powers.
§ LORD HYLTON
My Lords, I only rise to state in as few words as possible, the reasons which would have obliged me, owing to the convictions I hold on these matters, to vote against this Bill were a Division challenged on the Second Reading had we not heard on the first evening of the debate from the noble Viscount, Lord Midleton, who spoke on behalf of our leaders, the pledge that he or some of his colleagues, would, if the Bill was read a second time, move and insist upon Amendments in Committee to exclude as I under- 896 stand from the purview of the Bill various important Constitutional problems which are to be defined hereafter. I should have voted against the Bill, and I do not for one moment believe that I should have been alone on this side in taking that stand, if we had not received the assurance from the noble Viscount to which I have referred. There are two or three reasons which would have compelled me to do so, and these I will as briefly as possible mention to your Lordships.
In the first place, I am sure every member of this House must in his heart of hearts acknowledge that, after all, we are only trustees of the power we have exercised as members of this House, trustees for thousands, for tens of thousands, for I might say, hundreds of thousands of voters, as the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, very eloquently explained to the House. I think we should have been false to our trust had we been willing to give up those powers of trusteeship until a far more definite mandate had been given by the electors, at all events of this island, to order us to give up that trust. In the second place, I should have voted against the Second Reading of this Bill because there is no doubt whatever, despite any remarks to the contrary, that the Bill as it stands does set up single Chamber government, subject, as my noble friend Lord Stanhope said, to a suspensory Veto of two or three years. Noble Lords opposite and their supporters hardly take the trouble to deny that the Bill as it stands would set up single Chamber government. We have heard speeches from the opposite benches over and over again in the course of this debate in which it has, in effect, been said, "After all, why do you complain that this Bill would set up a system of single Chamber government when during the many years that Unionist Governments held office in this country we were, practically existing under a system of one Chamber government all the time? "Of course, the whole difference is very easy to see. Even if it were true that during certain Administrations we were living under a system of single Chamber government, at all events the powers of this House were preserved in their entirety. They were only, if you like to put it so, dormant on certain occasions; but under the present Bill they are to be abolished. On this as on other subjects you should endeavour to judge, not from the point of view of the partisan, but as anxious, like the great 897 majority of moderate people in this country, to see a system of stability preserved in our country.
It seems to me that the answer to noble Lords opposite is perfectly easy. It is such a case as you might see in every foreign country where there are two Chambers. Whenever a Conservative Government is in power the Senate, which under any system must be a more Conservative body than the popularly-elected Chamber, obviously exercises its power on many fewer occasions in opposition to the Lower Chamber than in the case when a Radical Government is in power and measures come up from the Lower House which to the minds of those who form the majority of the Upper House appear to threaten the stability of the country. This Bill in its present state practically sweeps away the one remaining check which stands between us and the omnipotence of the Cabinet. More than that, it is the only remaining check which stands between us and the possibilities of revolution. I am not going to contend this evening, in the few words I shall add to what I have already said, that His Majesty's present advisers are contemplating at this moment, or I hope during the remaining term of their office, anything of a revolutionary character, but you must remember that the strength of a chain depends on the strength of its weakest link. The possibilities of Radical legislation include the intentions, not only of the more moderate members of the Party, of whom my noble friend Lord Newton drew such an amusing portrait this evening, but of the most violent members of the Party. It is against the possible intentions of the latter that, if you pass this Bill in its present shape, you are removing the last safeguard.
It is idle for noble Lords opposite to tell us that the suspensory Veto provides any real check. The suspensory Veto offered us by this Bill is, I venture to say, a useless and a derisory check, likely, I really believe, to do more harm than good. Take for one moment a concrete case. Supposing the Parliament Bill in its present shape becomes law. The next step, as we are all aware, would be the introduction of a Home Rule Bill, which would be rushed through the House of Commons, as legislation is rushed through nowadays, with practically no discussion at all. That Bill would then automatically become law at the outside at the end of two years. Just consider for 898 a moment what would be the position of Ireland during those two years. I cannot help thinking that during the suspensory period of two years, given that the opponents of the Home Rule Bill had no power or chance of influencing public opinion to stop it, the whole of Ireland would be in a welter of confusion, riots and rows and difficulties of every sort going on, and the country would be lucky if it escaped bloodshed, even if the suspension of the Veto did not, as it very likely would do, bring about civil war. A suspensory Veto would be absolutely useless from our point of view unless many important constitutional problems are excluded from the operation of this Bill by Amendments to be provided hereafter.
There is only one other point on which I will venture to say a word. As I read history, the princes and statesmen who generation after generation, with the consent of the people, have brought the existing Constitution of this country into the shape in which we now know it, have worked with one main object always before their eyes—namely, to endeavour to secure the stability of that Constitution, the safety of these kingdoms, the security of property, equal rights for all classes—in a word, to provide that these islands should be well administered. Their object was not to devise that alternate facilities should be given to Conservative and Radical Governments enabling them to carry through measures that might please their followers in succession and incidentally lengthen their tenure of office. In all the wide field of administration it has never been contended by noble Lords opposite that the House of Lords has ever attempted to interfere with Conservative or Radical Governments. But as regards the reform of the constitution of the Houses of Parliament themselves, both Houses have rights; and I am not prepared to give consent to the Second Reading of this measure except on the understanding that when we go into Committee we shall be at liberty to vote for those Amendments that our leaders intend to move to take away from the operation of the Bill various matters of the gravest Constitutional importance.
My Lords, the noble Lord the Secretary for Scotland said that the proposals of the noble Marquess involved greater sacrifices by individuals than those contained in this Bill. There I agree with him. But the voluntary 899 sacrifice of an individual for the benefit of his country has always been looked upon as one of the highest forms of virtue. It was praised by the old classical writers, and it is also praised by not a few of the modern ones. Lord Pentland's appeal will fail. Distasteful as the proposals may be to us personally, we who sit on the Back Benches on this side are not to be cajoled by the bribe of remaining in a powerless Chamber in preference to attempting to constitute in place of this House one of greater efficiency. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack asked for fair play between the Parties. Give it to us yourselves. Pass a Redistribution Bill reducing your majority in another place to the proportion you are fairly entitled to according to your numbers in the country.
This House is said to be prepared to commit political suicide. Yes; but only on condition of being allowed to make its own will and to have something to say as to the nomination of its executors. If this House dies it should bequeath its power to the people, and not to the House of Commons. It is, I understand, only prepared to abdicate on condition of passing its present power on unimpaired either to another House or to the people themselves in the form of a Referendum, which should be compulsory in all cases where changes in the Constitution are contemplated. If this Bill is passed unaltered our unwritten Constitution is destroyed by making a part of it dependent on Statute Law. If part of our Constitution is to be dependent on Statute Law, then the whole of it, and not merely such portions as suit one Party, should be made into law. That written Constitution should be completed by the Referendum, by a redistribution of seats, proportional representation, and a reconstitution of the House of Lords. I mention these subjects in what I consider to be the order of their importance. At present I shall only touch on the most important of these—the Referendum.
I should like to see Lord Balfour of Burleigh's Reference to the People Bill passed and incorporated with the Bill now before us with the addition of two clauses. The first of these clauses would be to the effect that all changes in the Constitution should be referred to a poll of the people; the second that the Crown should have the power of referring any measure or action 900 taken to a poll of the people, either with or without the consent of the Prime Minister. At present the Prerogative of the Crown is looked upon by some people as if it were the private property of the Prime Minister. Suppose that this Parliament Bill becomes law without any alteration being made in it and that three factious factions of the House of Commons wish to pass three Bills without delay, one to please each section of their Party but to each of which a majority of the country is opposed, and that the Prime Minister, desirous of remaining in office and only able to do so by means of this unholy alliance, insists on the creation of several hundred Peers, so as to avoid the postponement of these three Bills. I do not myself think that Mr. Redmond will be at all prepared to wait for two years for his Bills, but will continue to put pressure on the Government and force them to do as he wishes. Would it not be desirable that the Crown should have the power of consulting the people by Referendum before consenting to such a high-handed proceeding? Under this Bill the Prime Minister would have far more power than can be safely entrusted to any one man in a free country, and, I do not look for moderation in a Government whose existence depends on the support of Irish Home Rulers and Socialists.
Take another case. Imagine some future House of Commons, or perhaps the present one, conscious of its own unpopularity, a majority of whom were afraid of losing their £400 a year, or it may be £4,000 a year by that time, to have passed a Bill postponing the election. Ought there not to be a power behind the House of Commons capable of appealing to the people under such circumstances, on such a matter? Or would an appeal to the people by means of a Referendum be looked upon as an intolerable wrong? In actual practice I think that the Crown would seldom require to use the Referendum. The knowledge that the Crown had the Referendum in reserve would make a Prime Minister cautious as to what advice he gave. It has been said that there would be a difficulty in getting the people to understand what they were voting about when the Referendum was put before them. It would be no greater in Great Britain than in our Colonies and in other countries who use the Referendum; none of whom, after having experienced its benefits, are at all 901 likely to give it up. The people of this country are not less intelligent than the inhabitants of our Colonies or of America or Switzerland and would be able to vote with quite as much ease as is the case in those countries on the Referendum. It will be as simple as putting the Third Reading of a Bill before either House at the present moment. The people will be asked to say Aye or No to a Bill which has been for a long time before them. It will be a sort of Fourth Reading. At least a month's notice should be given of a Referendum, so that the people should have time to study the points of the Bill. The last election was rushed before people had time to learn what the Referendum meant; even before platform speakers had time to give the matter the attention that it deserved.
The noble Viscount the Minister of War has made the admission that the private Member is now extinct in the House of Commons. Is that progress, or is it retrogression? If he cannot be resuscitated the country is on the high road towards losing its liberties and succumbing under a despotism disguised as a democracy. History shows that that has been the fate of most democracies. The noble Viscount has said that the only remedy for the House of Commons is Devolution. There is another remedy, and a better one—reduction of numbers, say to 500. But would the members of that Assembly be prepared to emulate the patriotism of the House of Lords by passing a self-denying ordinance which would lessen their personal chances of continuing to sit in the House of Commons? The second remedy is to increase the use of the time limit for speeches in the House of Commons. We are asked by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack to look upon the House of Commons as absolutely representing the wishes of the people. My Lords, it distorts the wishes of the people. A molehill of a majority in the country becomes a mountain of a majority in the House of Commons.
Your Lordships have doubtless seen I what are called magic mirrors at shows or fairs. According as they are convex or concave or otherwise curved, so do they misrepresent the appearance of those who look at them. The House of Commons as at present elected gives a magic mirror reflection of the wishes of the people, and that is why a Referendum should be introduced into this country so as to give a true 902 and accurate reflection of the mind of the people. The House of Commons is nearly as much in need of reform as it was before 1832, and can in no sense be looked upon as representing the people to the same extent as a Referendum. Look at the unrepresented minorities of Wales and the South of Ireland. Of course minorities must expect to be outvoted, but they should not be unheard. "Strike, but hear me," said Themistocles on a memorable occasion. It is not only that they have no one to speak for them in the House itself, but an English Member can find no one on his side of the House to give him information on Welsh or South Irish matters, either on the terrace or in the smoking room. A vote by Referendum would restore these minorities to political life.
In conclusion, I wish to express the hope, when Amendments are being considered in the Committee stage of this Bill, that the two clauses to which I have alluded may find favour in this House. First, that every alteration to the Constitution, including this Parliament Bill, should be submitted to the people by Referendum before becoming law. And, secondly, that the Crown, in cases of perplexity, should have the power of consulting the people by Referendum with or without the advice of the Prime Minister.
LORD ZOUCHE OF HARYNGWORTH
My Lords, I do not at this late hour intend to trouble the House more than a few minutes. It is difficult, after the very long debate we have had, to say much that is new or that has not already been referred to. Perhaps I may be allowed to glance at some of the deeper causes which have led to this unfortunate dispute and which I do not think have been dwelt upon, or, if they have, not at any great length. I think nobody who looks dispassionately at the whole state of affairs can fail to see that it has arisen owing to the gross abuse of the Party system in this country—an abuse which has reached dimensions of an altogether deplorable character, and might even be said to be of a scandalous nature. I am not going to deny that there are difficulties in the constitution of this House. Indeed I should like to endorse what fell from my noble friend Lord Harris last night. I understood him to say that it had long been his opinion that the extreme preponderance of Conservative views in this House, although not alt-r 903 gether to the exclusion of Liberal views, would sooner or later lead inevitably to some attempt at a readjustment of the difficulty.
But when we see what is really proposed by this Bill it is simply a question of Party, Party, Party, What has been the appeal of speaker after speaker on the Government side as a reason for passing this very drastic measure? I think it is not an unfair statement to say that if one thing is more dwelt upon than another it is that the Party at present in power in the other House have not, according to the speakers' views, had fair play, that they have brought forward measures which have met, as they say, an untoward fate in this House, and that that is an intolerable state of affairs which they resent. But it is impossible not to see also that in trying to remedy that abuse—and if it is an abuse it ought to be remedied in a fair and statesmanlike way—they immediately go to the other extreme, and what they are really wishing to do is, not merely to give their Party a fair chance, but to make it absolutely supreme, and, if possible, irrevocably so. It is simply a question of a fight between one side and another—one side to prevail to the exclusion of everybody who disagrees with them. I think this is beginning to be felt throughout the country generally.
Some of your Lordships may have seen a letter in one of the newspapers from a candidate at the last General Election. The letter appeared, I think, a short time after the election was finished. I do not think the writer gave his name, and it does not very much matter who he was. He detailed how, at the commencement of his campaign, he endeavoured to approach the subject from what he considered a high point of view, by impressing upon the electors the great trust they had and how they should approach the questions of the day in a spirit of statesmanlike equity, and not merely as a Party fight. As time went on he found that these views were not very popular either with his antagonists or with his own side, and his Party leaders intimated to him in very strong terms that that line of argument would not do and that he must resort to other means. He went on to say that, to his great regret, he had to go back to the old methods of simply bitter vituperation 904 of his adversaries, making them out to be everything that was bad, and that that sort of argument was received with tumultuous applause and eventually he won his election. I am not sure which side he was on, but that does not very much matter. I almost suspect, from the sentiment with which he began, that he was a candidate of the Liberal Party. He ended up, in words rather more forcible than polite, that evidently the people of this country and the powers that be regarded an election simply as a "dog-fight." That, perhaps, is a somewhat extreme manner of expressing oneself, but I think it does express exactly how unthinking people who take part in politics do regard these great questions.
It is said that all this has arisen through the fault of your Lordships and because you have done wrong. Of course, the main argument brought forward is that because the House of Lords were wicked enough to throw out the Budget a short time ago they strained their Constitutional powers and must not wonder if they are punished for it. I am not going to enter into the question as to whether we were right or wrong in throwing out the Budget. Opinions differ throughout the country. But assuming for a moment, for the sake of argument, that it was a wrong course to pursue, is that really a reason why the powers of this ancient House which has been a part of the Constitution for so many hundreds of years should be, if not in form, in substance, practically destroyed? Is it seriously contended by responsible members of the Government that the government of this great country, including the welfare of millions of innocent men, women, and children, is simply to be regarded as a matter of reprisals between one Party and another? If you are preaching that doctrine it is dangerously near to a doctrine of anarchy. Nothing will prosper if things are to be regarded in that way and every question of stability to be set at nought. Does that system commend itself to any man of business in ordinary life? Take any great commercial venture—for instance, a great railway. It may be admitted that the traffic or the business of a railway has been open to abuse, that it has not been properly conducted, and that there are various things which certainly call for a remedy. Would that be an argument for entirely doing away with the whole railway system? The argument will not bear looking at for a moment.
905 I think that in the view of all moderate and sensible men it must be seen sooner or later that this Bill goes a great deal too far. Quite apart from any Party question, it is much more likely to do harm than good. I hope I am wrong, but sometimes the idea is borne in upon one that there is something rather more than meets the eye in the whole of this controversy, and it may be that what is really aimed at is nothing more or less than a dictatorship on the part of two or three individuals taking advantage of the Party system. I earnestly hope I am wrong in this, and that it is a fancy which has no real truth in it, because, supposing for a moment there is any truth in the idea, the people of the country, although taken in for the time being, would certainly not approve of such a state of affairs and would sweep it away with a very drastic hand.
The evils which might arise from an indiscriminate use of this Bill if it became law have already been pointed out. There is, of course, the very serious question of Home Rule—namely, giving the government of a portion of His Majesty's Dominions to men who unfortunately are avowedly hostile to this kingdom. One of the most curious things about that part of the story is that there is no concealment about it on the part of these gentlemen. We cannot blame them for want of candour at any rate. We are very sorry that they should take such a hostile view to this country, but they have gone out of their way from time to time on hundreds of platforms to tell us that they intend to take every advantage they can of the situation to have their own way inimical to the interests of England. There is, you might almost say, a certain amount of chivalry in the way they have brought forward this question. They conceal nothing; it rather reminds one of the old ideas of combat in the Middle Ages when it was customary to warn your adversary, "Draw and defend yourself."
There is also the question of Church disestablishment in Wales, which, I am afraid, strikes a blow at religious feeling in one part of the Kingdom which might be fraught with the most serious consequences. There is another point arising out of the question of the reversal of the Osborne judgment and all that is comprised in that serious matter as affecting the trade of this country. To this unfortunate category one might add one or two other things. There might be 906 a very alarming state of finance brought about, not necessarily merely by means of a Budget or by means of Money Bills over which this House is supposed not to have any control. One of the grave dangers to this country is the reckless state of finance, especially among local authorities; and if the jurisdiction of this House were practically taken away I think the country would be in a far more serious position financially than it is at the present moment. It might be a matter of grave and serious danger which I think should be considered by all thoughtful lovers of their country. It might even lead to some tampering with such a serious affair as the National Debt, and there are many other things of which it is difficult to see the end.
One or two remedies have been pointed out for the present state of affairs. There is, of course, the Reconstitution Bill of which we have heard so much lately, and of which I suppose we shall hear a certain amount more, and that I hope may do good. But I venture to think that the real remedy for this unfortunate state of affairs is, if you could possibly bring it about—and I do not think it is really beyond the wit of man to do it—to have an equalisation of Parties in both Houses of Parliament. If you could bring about a condition of things in this House so as to have Liberal and Conservative ideas more equally balanced than they are at present that would take the sting out of a great deal of what is evil in this House, and which must be admitted to be evil, and would go a great way towards solving this problem. But more than that, the real remedy of all, in my view, would be secured if you could possibly produce a strong Reform Bill by which you could obtain in the other House of Parliament something like an equal representation of the two Parties in every constituency. This may sound a very big aim and a very big thing to suggest, but again I say I do not think that it would be beyond the wit of man to contrive. Various great changes have been brought about in the last few years in this country which would have astonished our forefathers, changes which would a short time ago have been considered absolutely impossible, but which have, nevertheless, been brought forward and received the sanction of law. Is it absolutely impossible that such a state of affairs as I have foreshadowed should be ultimately brought about, and that we should have the Party system put upon such 907 a basis? The present Party system is, perhaps, one of the best that we can have so long as it is not abused. It appears to me to be one of the conditions of success of the Party system that you should have something like equality on both sides, because if you are to have a fight on one side and the other; sometimes one side predominating and sometimes the other, it seems to me that you will always have these difficulties and conflicts created between the two Parties and the two Chambers, which, if they have any effect at all, have a bad effect upon the stability of the country and its general welfare.
I earnestly hope that the Government and the Statesmen of this country will consider this point, and see whether such a position might not ultimately be arrived at. I trust that in the meanwhile, even at the eleventh hour of this great controversy, some sensible views and prudent counsels may prevail. Various hints have been thrown out on one side and the other possibly indicating that even at the last moment there may be some sort of fair 908 compromise in this matter; but no sooner were those brought forward than another speaker hastened to correct them and say that there was absolutely nothing of the sort to be thought of. I am anxious, as I need not say, that such a course may ultimately prevail. I think if this question could be settled in an amicable and fair way, instead of in a mere polemical and spiteful manner, things might still go right with the country. Otherwise, if this is done simply in a spirit of hostility and spite, however much the people of this country may endorse a Bill which they do not understand at the present moment, they will ultimately take a very serious view of this question, and we may hear them re-echo that sad cry which was uttered by our neighbours, the French, in their hour of need, Nous sommes trahis.
Debate again adjourned to Monday next and to be taken first.
§ House adjourned at a quarter before Eleven o'clock, to Monday next, a quarter before Eleven o'clock.