§ Debate on the Motion for the Second Reading resumed (according to order).
§ LORD AVEBURY
My Lords, I am sure we all greatly regret that Lord Halsbury, who was to have resumed this debate this afternoon, is unfortunately not well enough to be present. In these circumstances I am painfully conscious that I must ask your Lordships on this occasion for even more than the usual indulgence which you are good enough to give me. This Bill, however the Government may attempt to disguise the fact, certainly introduces single-Chamber government, and what makes the step the more remarkable is that the very same Government which has given a Second Chamber to our self-governing Colonies is taking it away from the Mother Country. What are the functions and powers claimed for this House? Your Lordships never would resist, and never have resisted, the clearly expressed wishes of the country. There cannot, therefore, be any permanent conflict between the two Houses. Take even the case of the Budget of 1909. Your Lordships regarded it as so confiscatory, so inquisitional, and so unwise that you referred it to the country. Wisely or unwisely the country approved it, and your Lordships gave way. The worst, then, that could happen under existing circumstances is a delay of a year or two. This, however, is of little consequence in the history of a nation, while on the other hand a false step might lead to disastrous consequences and would be difficult to recall. In private life we all know that it is better to sleep over a step beforehand than to be kept awake by it afterwards. So far as mere delay is concerned there is little difference; whether it is two or four years matters little in the history of the country; but what is essential in this case is that the four years implies the possibility of reference to the country. What this Bill really abolishes is not the Veto of the House of Lords, but the Veto of the country.
For its present functions this House is admirably qualified. This was admitted by Lord Crewe. Even Mr. Redmond a few years ago said—Remember for one moment what the House of Lords is. It is an integral portion of the Constitution of England. It holds a large place in English history. Most of the present holders of the titles in the House of Lords are the descendants of the men who wrung the Charter from John on the 912 plains of Runnymede. They are the descendants of men who in the past history of Britain fought the battles of England against the world, and I say to abolish that portion of the Constitution, which is older probably in point of antiquity, in point of history, than the House of Commons itself—to abolish that means a revolution greater than any that has taken place in the whole constitutional history of England.This, however, he does not expect to do, but he believes he can coerce the House of Commons, and his object therefore is to destroy this House in order to carry Home Rule by the House of Commons alone, and, as he knows, against the views of the people of Great Britain. We have tried single-Chamber government once, so did France—in both cases with disastrous results. In our case the House of Commons prolonged its own existence, and beheaded the King; having got rid of the Lords they expelled the Opposition, then they ejected the minority, and finally the Rump were themselves driven out by military force.
It is alleged that a Liberal Government cannot pass its measures. This argument has been completely disposed of over and over again. For instance, Mr. Brooks in the Nineteenth Century showed that the Government have passed 233 Bills out of 236. Moreover, it must be remembered that there are also Bills passed by this House which are lost in the House of Commons. Then we are told that the policy of the Government as shown in this Bill has been twice affirmed by the country. But on the first occasion the Government lost no less than 100 seats. The election of last December turned on several questions. I believe the result was due very much to the fear of Protection, but at any rate though the Government won back two seats their voters were 150,000 less. No! the real reason for this Bill is that the House of Lords is to be reduced to a chrysalis state in order that Home Rule may be passed against the wishes of the people. I believe that Nemesis will follow but the mischief will be done, and the Government will have secured a year or two more of office. The Government victory, if so it can be called, was due, first, to the fear of higher prices of food; second, to a campaign of calumny and misrepresentation. Mr. Lloyd George attacks the House of Lords because he says that Peers "are not in touch with the realities of life." He says—The earning of bread by the sweat of their brow is unknown to them. … They know nothing of the responsibility and the anxiety of 913 conducting a business, great or small. They know nothing of the daily worries of the trader's existence—the care and thought spent, the knowledge and experience gathered in a million ways in earning a living.These statements, even if true, have nothing to do with the issue now before the country, since the House of Lords has intimated its readiness to consider any wise, even if drastic, proposals for reconstruction.
But are Mr. Lloyd George's statements true? Has he correctly stated the facts? Certainly not. The House of Lords numbers among its members four presidents or ex-presidents of the Associated Chambers of Commerce, three of the London Chamber of Commerce, the chairman of the London Bankers, the chairman of the Country Bankers, the president of the Association of English Bankers, the chairmen of several of our great railway companies—the London and North Western, the Great Western, the Great Northern, &c.—the heads of our greatest shipping and shipbuilding companies—Harland & Wolff, Cunard, Furness, Wilson, &c.—and, amongst banks and financial houses, the heads of the London County and Westminster Bank, of the London Joint Stock Bank, and of Rothschilds, Barings, Glyns, Robarts, Gibbs, Hubbards, &c.
This Bill deprives your Lordships of all power as regards finance. No other Second Chamber is so limited. Moreover, it is precisely as regards finance that a Second Chamber is of importance. There are a good many countries with but a Single Chamber. Are they prosperous? Are they examples we should wish to follow? I do not dwell on Turkey or Bulgaria, because in them representative government is so recent. The others are Servia, Greece, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Salvador, Panama and St. Domingo. Most of them are bankrupt. No wonder, then, that this Bill is viewed with great apprehension in financial and commercial circles, no wonder that our national credit is falling. The abolition of all power on the part of the House of Lords will certainly lead to ill-considered expenditure and increased taxation. It is significant that the first use made of it by the House of Commons is to vote themselves salaries. Admitted that the imposition of taxes is primarily a matter for the House of Commons, still questions of policy and of expenditure ought to come before both 914 Houses. Almost everything is more or less a question of finance.
Then we are told that this House is hereditary and not representative. If this were a fair statement, is it any justification for the violent attacks made on your Lordships? We did not make the Constitution. But I submit that the statement is misleading. Our system of election makes the so-called representation of the people a mere mockery. The House of Commons is not really representative. The anomalies are extraordinary. Romford has 56,000 voters; Kilkenny, 1,600. The Irish Nationalist voters are about as numerous as those of London, but the Nationalists have 75 Members and Loudon only 15. Taking the House of Commons as a whole, the Radical voters are 3,300,000; the Unionist, 2,900,000. This would give the Government a majority of 38, whereas they have 126. Thus they have 88 seats too many. Moreover, twice of late years a minority in the country has secured a majority in the House of Commons. Thus under this Bill a minority of electors might, and certainly sometimes would, become absolute masters of the country. In fact, the House of Lords is representative though not elective, while the House of Commons is elective but not representative.
The Government at present have a temporary and casual majority. The most rev. Primate the other day made a striking and powerful appeal to the Government to exercise moderation in these circumstances. I am sorry that I do not see any signs on the part of the Government that they are willing to do anything of the kind, They seem determined to press their advantage to the bitter end. It cannot however, be a final settlement. This want of consideration for the rights of minorities, this determination to press any temporary advantage to the utmost, is one of the main reasons why democracies in the history of the world have never been permanent. We may all look forward with hope but we cannot disguise from ourselves that there are elements of anxiety. Our Oversea Dominions are in one sense a source of strength, and we are all proud of them; but they may, and do raise questions of much difficulty. At home also there are problems of great complexity which require careful and cautious consideration. This Bill will inevitably lead to ill-considered expenditure and hasty legislation. Your Lordships 915 have shown that you are prepared to make any personal sacrifices; but I believe that single-Chamber government has always proved unsuccessful, and often disastrous, and that a strong Second Chamber is absolutely necessary to the prosperity of a country.
My Lords, I rise to add my protest to those of noble Lords who on this side have already spoken against the measure now before your Lordships. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House told us when introducing this Bill that in his opinion this House would, under the Bill, still retain great powers in future legislation. I must honestly confess that I fail to understand how that can be. It appears that if this Bill is passed unamended and as it now stands, it cannot but have one result, and that is to set up for the second time in the history of this country the tyranny of an unchecked House of Commons—a House which I contend does not, and cannot until there is a Redistribution Bill, represent the true will of the people.
There can be little doubt that the underlying principle of this Bill is nothing more or less than a conspiracy against your Lordships' House, and for that reason I regard it, as all must do, as an outrage against our Constitution. As many noble Lords have already said, the Bill has undoubtedly been conceived in a spirit of vindictiveness and partisanship. For those reasons alone, I for one, had it not been for noble Lords on the Front Opposition Bench assuring us that when we come to the Committee stage stringent Amendments will be brought forward, would certainly have joined the Duke of Northumberland and voted against the Second Reading of this Bill. Although I recognise that I am a "backwoodsman," I must confess I am at a loss to understand by what Constitutional law one House has the right, with or without the Royal Assent, to deprive the other House of its powers without its assent. I maintain that the country has not fairly considered this question, and I believe that when the people once understand the true meaning of this Bill they will be quick to realise that it is a folly to abandon that which we have had in this country for so many hundreds of years—the safeguardianship of two-Chamber government, which has always been regarded as the pride of our forefathers and the model of all the free people of the civilised world.
916 The noble Viscount, Lord Morley, has told us pretty frequently of late that this Bill has been brought forward because a crisis has arisen owing to our action with regard to the Budget of 1909. That line of argument has been repudiated already by many noble Lords on this side and has been proved to be a fallacy, for there can be little doubt that the present situation was inevitable ever since the General Election of 1906. The Government at that time clearly showed that they were determined, against all Constitutional precedents, to reverse the legislation of their predecessors, instead of, as former Governments had done, proceeding with their own. I contend that by submitting the Budget to the people before allowing it to pass into law this House earned the estimation of the people as a whole. No one can say that they showed much resentment by our so doing; certainly not the Irish, no matter what tactics they may have adopted subsequently. Personally I am pleased to think that when speaking in the Budget debate I rightly gauged the opinion of those in that part of the country in which I live—namely, the county of Kent. I said in the course of the debate that I felt sure the people regarded it as our duty to refer the Budget to the electorate before allowing it to pass into law. The result of that appeal in my county was that the fifteen constituencies there returned fifteen Members to the House of Commons pledged to vote against that measure. If the noble Viscount, instead of alluding to the Budget, had told us that the position had become more acute in 1909 and that for that reason it had been announced in the King's Speech that the Government intended to reconstruct the House of Lords, I venture to think, with all respect to him, he would have been nearer the mark.
But, as your Lordships are aware, the Government have complied with the demands of their Nationalist and Socialist allies, and instead of reconstructing this House they have introduced a Bill under which this House will retain all those anomalies of composition which the last two General Elections have clearly shown supply such useful material for gross misrepresentation by certain Cabinet Ministers on public platforms. I am glad that the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, mentioned this the other evening, for in my opinion the gross misrepresentation which took place was a disgrace to Party politics. This Bill 917 clearly shows that the policy of the present Government is a destructive one, whilst that of the Bill of the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition is a constructive one. I am well aware that there are certain noble Lords on this side of the House who do not agree with the introduction of the noble Marquess's Bill. In my opinion the noble Marquess was absolutely justified in introducing that measure. It was but a frank admission of the fact shown at the last two General Elections, that the retention of a purely hereditary Chamber is not in harmony with the spirit of the age—that is to say, birth alone should be no qualification for a seat in your Lordships' House. That to my mind is the real view of the electorate on this question.
I do not believe for one moment that there is any ill-feeling in the country against your Lordships' House in any sort of way. Such being the case I was somewhat surprised to hear the speeches of certain noble Lords on the other side—I refer more especially to their "backwoodsmen," for I presume they have some and that we on this side are not alone distinguished for those much abused individuals—in speaking against the noble Marquess's Bill the other day. The speech I refer to more particularly was that of Lord St. Davids, who expressed the opinion that distinguished soldiers, sailors, lawyers, and diplomats should be retained in this House. In fact, if I may say so, he seemed to express the opinion that this House as a Second Chamber was a model Assembly, and I am not at all sure that the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for War did not express very much the same view. At any rate, the noble Viscount told us that he thought there was a great omission in the Schedule at the end of the noble Marquess's Bill, inasmuch as it did not include the chairmen of the County Associations. This clearly indicates to my mind that those two noble Lords at any rate do not advocate a large reduction in the numbers of your Lordships' House. We were told the other day by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House that the Government favoured a membership of about 150. Therefore the two noble Viscounts on the Front Government Bench do not find themselves much in agreement on the subject of numbers.
I think it will be generally agreed that Lord Rosebery was right when he said that if this Bill unamended becomes part of the 918 fundamental law of the land., Lord Lansdowne's Bill or any other Bill would become insignificant. Unless noble Lords on the other side of the House can refute that argument, and I am sure that is not the case, then it is perfectly plain that we in this country are about to pass into an era of single-Chamber government, in which the Government, and more especially the Cabinet, will become omnipotent—in fact, absolute masters of our destiny. The noble Viscount, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, told us that in his opinion the last two General Elections endorsed the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill. I do not admit that for a moment. But I would like to ask the noble Viscount whether, if his statement is correct, he claims that the last General Election also gave the Government the tacit commission to separate Ireland from Great Britain, to plunder the established Church, and at the same time to saddle the already oppressed taxpayers by giving annual salaries to Members of Parliament. If he does claim that, then I think your Lordships' House is justified in asking what sort of Home Rule the Government propose. If the noble Viscount refrains from answering that question, I think it is our duty, as guardians of the liberties of the people of this country, to so amend this Bill that we shall know where we stand, for it is by this means, and this means alone, that we shall be able to prevent the possibility of such disastrous consequences arising.
LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE
My Lords, I had not intended to speak in this debate, but the speech which was delivered by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack last Wednesday seems to me to call for an answer from those who claim to represent Irish Unionist opinion in this House. Not only did the noble and learned Lord tell us that His Majesty's Government intended to utilise this Bill when it was passed into law for the purpose of passing, without reference to the people and probably against their will, a measure of Home Rule, which he said had been near and dear to his heart for the last twenty years, a measure which has twice been submitted to the people of this country and twice by them rejected by overwhelming majorities on the ground that it was sure to result in oppression of the Unionist minority and eventually in the disintegration of the United Kingdom—not only did he tell us that, but he went on 919 to state that the Unionist opposition to Home Rule, particularly on the part of the younger members of our Party, had of late years greatly diminished. This is the statement which I think calls at once for as categorical a contradiction as Parliamentary good manners permit to be made.
I venture to say that the Unionist opposition to Home Rule has in no way diminished. So far as the younger members of the Party are concerned, they may not have discussed it so much because they have been brought up to believe that it is a heresy of which the greater part of the Liberal Party had purged itself. Nobody would say of either the Prime Minister or the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for War that he was a keen Home Ruler; but they are obliged to take action at the orders of their Nationalist masters, and I am certain that at the present minute they are trying to arrange a Bill of as much of the gas and water description as those masters will allow them to bring forward. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack will, I am sure, agree with me when I say that with regard to this matter he occupies the position of an armchair politician. Neither his life nor his property will be affected should a Home Rule measure pass into law, but for us who live in Ireland and who love the country it means death, disaster, and damnation to those hopes we had entertained of a brighter and regenerated Ireland, proud to be able to take her place as an integral part of the United Kingdom. The opposition to Home Rule has not diminished, but what has diminished is the demand for it on the part of the Nationalists in Ireland, more especially of those farmers who have bought their holdings and who find that they have nothing to gain by it; on the other hand, they know that it will mean increased taxation while at the same time there will be a cessation of that golden flow from this country to which they owe their present comfortable position.
We are told that this Bill is to become law for the purpose of rendering more easy the passage of Radical measures, but I should like to ask what kind of measures, because it seems to me there are two kinds. In addition to those which are supposed to be desired by the majority of the people, the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack told us the other day that there were certain Bills which should be passed which were 920 needed for the health of the people. It is a very curious thing that the Bills which the Radicals think are necessary for the health of the people nearly always inflict serious damage on sections of the population who are supposed to be antagonistic to the Radical Party. For instance, we had the Education Bill, which was brought forward with the intention of educating all the children of this country in the doctrines I will not say of Nonconformity, but of Undenominationalism. I have no doubt the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack looks after the spiritual health as well as the bodily health of the people, and he may have thought that that Bill was an extremely good thing for their spiritual health, but many Radicals thought it an extremely good thing to inflict a blow at the Church of England. Then when the Licensing Bill was brought forward the noble and learned Lord told us that it was for the health of the people, but many Radicals, again, enjoyed the prospect that it would have the effect of inflicting a crushing blow on the "trade." I could multiply examples, but I do not think it necessary. When we are talking of health, I would like to remind the noble and learned Lord that doctors sometimes disagree, and for my part I would prefer my prescriptions to be compounded by the people of this country rather than by the faddists, idealists, and wirepullers of the Radical Party.
The noble Marquess has advised us to agree to the Second Reading of this Bill, and though that advice is unpalatable I have no doubt it is very sound. Amendments will be moved in Committee, and how far we shall be able to insist on those Amendments lies at present on the knees of the gods. But there is one point on which the Unionist Party want to be reassured, and I hope when the noble Marquess speaks this evening he will be able to give us some assurance on this point. Whatever powers your Lordships may be willing to surrender at the present time under this temporary Bill, we want to be assured that the Unionist Party are determined that a reconstituted House of Lords shall enjoy at least the same powers over finance as have up to the present been enjoyed by your Lordships. If we are reassured on this point, we shall fight this Bill with the knowledge that we have nearly half the electorate of this country at our back, and if we are beaten by the Coalition 921 we shall look forward to the day, perhaps not very far distant, when the Unionist Party will be once more in power and able to remove from the Statute Book this measure which degrades our glorious Constitution to the level of those of Greece and Costa Rica.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
My Lords, I think your Lordships will all feel that after the prolonged debate that has ranged on two questions which are substantially the same throughout the last fortnight there are no new arguments to be adduced, and even if there were it would be useless to employ them, because it is quite certain that no force of logic and no power of argument will have the slightest influence over the steel-clad nature of His Majesty's Government. Therefore I regard it as a piece of presumption to address you for a second time. But, my Lords, this is a solemn moment in the lives of many of us. If the Parliament Bill passes, it puts an end, a definite end, to the Chamber in which we have sat, some of us all our lives, and which, when it is once put au end to, all the King's horses and all the King's men can never set on its legs again. Therefore, we who are speaking here to-night feel that we are speaking for the last time in this House as we have known it, and perhaps for the last time in these walls at all.
I wish, therefore, in the final farewell that my voice, at least, shall be raised for the last time in a definite protest, unavailing though it certainly will be, against this most ill-judged, revolutionary, and partisan measure. The debate has ranged over a very wide circle, if I may borrow an expression from Lord Save and Sele. By the way, allow me to congratulate the Minister for Agriculture upon having found such an apt pupil in his peculiar style of agricultural rhetoric, and I think if the noble Lord will cultivate the same emphatic delivery of elocution as my noble friend who rules over the Department of Agriculture he may prove a formidable rival to the noble Earl. There has certainly been a strange kaleidoscope not only on this side of the House, to which the expression was applied, but also, I venture to say, on the other side. You can draw a distinct line, as distinct as the Equator, between the speeches of the noble Lords Opposite last week and the week before. The week before last all was milk and 922 honey. My face was one long blush when I listened to their speeches and heard the constant commendations of the membership of this House. Nothing was ever known that was so admirable and delightful as individuals as the members of this House. It seems to me hardly worth while to disturb a choir of archangels such as this for such small reasoning as was displayed by noble Lords opposite. Even in the moment of dissolution it is pleasant to listen to your praises sounded by anxious and inexorable opponents. I will ask noble Lords behind me whether they did not feel better and nobler men as they left the House on Monday night than they ever did before. But on Tuesday there came a change. Noble Lords opposite were all Jacobins. It was then nothing but a long list of misdeeds, crimes, errors, and want of judgment. Last week it was blessings; this week it was stripes; and considering the quarter from which both the blessings and the stripes came I do not discriminate greatly between them.
With regard to the subject-matter of the debate I am disposed to make great concessions in argument to noble Lords opposite. I quite agree that it is not possible for them, in view of their Party situation, either to withdraw this Bill or to suffer any material amendment in it. They would not be sustained by their Party. I think they would suffer that violent death which used to attend Eastern monarchs who did not act according to the wishes of their subjects. I also concede this, that the reform and regulation of this House is a measure that has long been overdue. I also concede this, that the two elections to which they have referred so constantly are—though I think it is easy to over-estimate their force and weight—a great fact which it is impossible to disregard. But, my Lords, when I have said this I confess that I have gone as far as I can.
Putting aside the Bill, the considerations to which I have alluded do lead up to a great Constitutional crisis. They lead up to Constitutional revision, calling for the most solemn deliberation and possibly the co-operation which my noble friend the Lord President of the Council said would be essential at some later period of the measure, and which I think would be even more important at an earlier stage. These 923 premises lead up to a Constitutional revision such as I think no other country, certainly not one other country across the Atlantic nearly related to our own, would be guilty of proceeding with in this way. I am sorry to say that the Government have chosen a path not better, but worse. They have shown no trace in the debates in this House, nor do I think in the other, that they recognise this as one of the most gigantic questions that can occur in the lifetime of any generation—the readjustment of the balance of the Constitution to meet the necessities of the growing intelligence of the country and the necessity for a great revision based on the Constitution of the day. No; they have preferred to proceed on the lines of Party rancour and Party revenge. I do not use these expressions from my own inner consciousness, but I appeal to your Lordships if any speech has been delivered from that side during the second week that has not set out in lurid terms a long list of Liberal measures which have been mutilated or rejected or disregarded by this House without any reference whatever to that much longer list of measures which is always kept for the platform, which represents the abundant harvest the Government have reaped in spite of the House of Lords. If the Government triumph they will have preferred to reap a Party triumph to the more permanent glories they might have received. Instead of attempting to bring back the Constitution to its original conception of double-Chamber government, equally, or as equally as possible, balanced between popular aspirations and judicial control, they prefer to gather the scalps of their enemies; treading down the vanquished according, I suppose, to the recognised canons of Party warfare, and returning to their wigwams with scalps when they might have brought back a measure which might have been the glory of their Government and their time.
The great charge I have to make, and the only charge to-night, against the Government, is that they have deliberately effaced two estates of the Realm and one branch of the Legisature without attempting in any way whatever to replace them by anything. When we bring that charge forward we are told to console ourselves with the Preamble. I never found my stomach much filled by the Preamble. I do not know that the Preamble alludes to anything of substance at all. I think it is 924 simply a vague and pious aspiration which the Party of my noble friends will never allow them to carry out. It is a skeleton in their cupboard which they keep carefully locked up. All through the debate, although we have heard all the best speakers on the Government side and all the ablest Ministers, we have never had the remotest or vaguest allusion to the Preamble. That is a matter for domestic consumption in Downing Street. After all, when you are attempting a grave Constitutional revision the Preamble and all that it portends is the very essence of the matter. I do not think that anybody here who knows what the Parliament Bill is cares very much to know what the scheme of the Government is for a new Second Chamber on an elective basis, because I repeat most emphatically the words quoted by Lord Hardinge just now that if this Bill passes in its present form and becomes part of the fundamental law of the Realm it does not matter one farthing or one straw what the Second Chamber is going to be.
The Lord President of the Council the other day very good-naturedly rallied me for what he considered a slight change of attitude on my part to this House. I think I might make the retort courteous. He is the inventor of the famous phrase "mending or ending" the House of Lords. Will he tell me what he is doing now, mending or ending? My noble friend will have an opportunity of answering later in the debate and I will not press it now. But I will, at any rate, admit this inconsistency, if it be an inconsistency, in view of the change of circumstances. I was a "mender" in the days when those words were uttered. Now that I am face to face with the Parliament Bill, and with the knowledge that it is destined to become law I have frankly come over to my noble friend's former position and have become an "ender." I can see no use in prolonging the existence of this House as a useless sham to delude the people of this country into the belief that they still have a Second Chamber with control over the First. Far better let the naked truth appear. Far better let it be seen by this country that this House is a mere phantasy from which all substance has been stripped than allow it to remain in the paralysed condition in which noble Lords opposite, and noble Lords opposite alone, wish to preserve it for their own purposes. And in this opinion I am 925 fortified by a person much more important than myself—I say, speaking for myself, and I believe for a great many other people also, I would far rather live under the absolute and untempered autocracy of a Single Chamber, which, after all, is elected by and responsible to the people of this country, than have super-added to it a kind of constitutional appendage which is a simulacrum of a Second Chamber.I adopt every one of those words. They were applied, I say it in candour, not to the House of Lords as it is to be, but to the House of Lords as it was last year. But true as they may have been of the House of Lords last year, they are a thousand times more true of the House of Lords as it is going to be under the operation of this Bill. The prophet, the seer, who used the expressions under which I have sheltered myself was no less a person than the Prime Minister, Mr. Asquith himself.
Let me go a step further. I think in your course, though you may be justified by Party feeling, you have no other justification. Your course was clear and easy before you. No Ministers, no Liberal Ministers, have ever had such a chance before. You had no opposition to deal with except among your own followers, and I gather from expressions used by Lord Marchamley the other night, and he ought to know, there are means for dealing with recalcitrant followers that are not wholly inoperative. You had only to deal with your own followers—I think they could have been managed—and on the other side you had a most unexampled agreement. The House of Lords had come forward with offers of the largest and the most liberal kind, offers which no Government in my time ever had the opportunity of accepting. There never was such a chance of effecting a settlement by consent. The House of Lords had abdicated. The hereditary House of Lords was dead, and yet you preferred to pursue this Party line of activity instead of reaping greater glory.
In all this melancholy there is a slight consolation which affords some balm to my mind. It may seem rather alien to the subject, but I will mention it for what it is worth. I see in the papers that Americans are not coming over to this country in any great number this year because they have been alarmed by the charges which it is said are being made by the hotels or by other considerations. Personally, I am always glad to see our Trans-Atlantic friends, but 926 this year I rejoice they are not coming, because they would this year see the Mother of their Parliament, the source of all Parliaments, being treated, after an existence of centuries, in a way in which dishonest servants are hardly treated. They would remember the anxious preparations that the great fathers of the Constitution in America gave to the framing of their Constitution, which remains, after a century and a quarter, the pride of their country; the anxious forethought and care with which they built up, to counterbalance what was then a much smaller democracy than exists in the United States now, the strongest Second. Chamber the world has ever seen. And they would contrast all this with what they would see in this old country. They would remember their own Hamiltons and Madisons, and I venture to think they would go away with a contempt for those who are now dealing with the Constitution which it would be impossible to measure or, perhaps, to describe. That may seem to any one here but a very small consolation, but drowning men have to catch at straws, and I at any rate am not disposed to disregard any source of comfort in a moment of trial, and almost of agony, such as this.
I suppose the justification of the Government would be that we are passing through something in the nature of a revolution. I myself think that that is their best justification. We who speak of revolution are always taunted with being croakers and crying "Wolf" on every occasion until the world has become sick of the word revolution. I cannot plead guilty to that taunt, if you mean by this that I consider that we are passing through a revolution such as has more than once occurred in a sister country. I do not. But revolutions are not necessarily associated with bloodshed or barricades or the guillotine. They are merely violent reversals of the political or social systems of the country in which they occur, and in this country since the execution of Charles I they have always occurred, I think, without bloodshed or without great violence. None the less true is it that we are on a wave of revolution which may, for all I know, be extending all over Europe, of which the Government I do not think are the promoters, but on the top of which they are riding and the end of which I do not think it is possible to foresee.
The revolution is partly social and partly political. It was inaugurated by the 927 Budget. I think my noble friend the Lord President of the Council dates everything from the Budget, and regards it with much the same feeling as devout Mahomedans regard the Hegira, from which they date all their chronology. I think my noble friend will be interested to hear that I take that point of departure. It was a sudden change not merely from the orthodox finance of the country, but from the three Budgets which had been put forward by the Prime Minister. It made a huge demand on the resources of the country quite suddenly, and in the minds of many of us without much justification. They had, it is true, drawn a bill at six months for what they said would be £6,000,000. It turned out to be £13,000,000. But I do not think that justifies their finance, because what I remember about that Bill is this, that it was first introduced and passed in Parliament and that then its author, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, went on a holiday tour to Germany and came back announcing that the German scheme was infinitely superior, infinitely more practical, and much more economical than the one he had recently passed through Parliament at the instigation of His Majesty's Government. I think we may feel therefore that there was some want of justification for the great demand made on the country at that time. At any rate, I remember some of us wished that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had taken his holiday in Germany before he introduced his measure and not afterwards.
We had the Budget. We had an Income Tax of 1s.—a war rate, double the ordinary rate that used to be. It was raised in a moment to 1s. 8d. for a great mass of proprietors, and to 2s. 8d. for another great mass of proprietors. The Death Duties at the same time were raised in some cases to a maximum of 25 per cent., a quarter of the whole fortune bequeathed, and this in a time of profound peace! Can it be denied by anybody who knows the state of the fortunes of the landed gentry of this country, for example, that that is a social revolution of the first magnitude, and that inevitably it must put an end to that class of landed gentry which has been one of the backbones of the State—the State has more than one backbone—in the past and which has supplied our Ministers, our generals, our officers all through the history of England? We must say it has made a great social revolution in this country—it may be for the benefit of all. I am not prejudging the 928 character of the revolution; I am only asserting that it has taken place at the instigation of His Majesty's Government. There cannot but be further burdens than the £6,000,000 spoken of in 1909 and swelled up to £13,000,000 in 1911. The cost of the present scheme before the House of Commons, which I think the Minister for Scotland had forgotten when he spoke, is said to be £6,000,000, but it was predicted by Lord St. Davids, an ardent follower of His Majesty's Government and a high financial authority, to be likely to extend to £17,000,000. Therefore in two articles of expenditure, which may be beneficial, but hitherto unknown, the Government have spent, or are spending, something like £33,000,000 without asking where our resources are to come from in time of war. We are justified in calling attention to that expenditure as constituting a social revolution of the first magnitude.
And what is your political revolution? You are, as I say, effacing one House of Parliament without attempting to replace it by anything else. You are, indeed, constituting by the Parliament Bill a single supreme Chamber in the State with all the characteristics and all the temptations of the Long Parliament under which we suffered so much. I venture to say there is no instance in the civilised world of any country of the first magnitude—I believe there are some smaller States which are venturing upon the same thing—deliberately turning its back on the experience of all countries, on the wisdom of all ages, on the testimony of all statesmen, and establishing in this era of its history a single supreme Chamber, effacing the other, the only check that exists. This is not a single revolution. While you are degrading and defacing the House of Lords you certainly are not elevating the House of Commons. That proud and independent body which has existed for so many centuries, proud of its independence, its status, and its unlikeness in this respect to all other Parliaments in the world, you have now placed on the footing of a paid and salaried board. So that while on the one hand you have reduced to impotence a body which, whatever its faults, had the merit of independence, you are at the same time taking away a very large amount—I will not say of the independence but of the repute for independence which the House of Commons possesses.
929 I know you base all this policy on a very simple argument. You have had two elections in the space of eleven months. By the unexampled and unprecedented favour of the Crown—so far as I know—the same Government, having at the time a Parliament elected under its own auspices, has had a second and a third election in the space of eleven months, and on this basis you declare you have a mandate to do this one thing. You always insist on that. The elections were for this one issue. Everybody on the Government side of the House declares that every elector at the last election had the opportunity of reading the Parliament Bill, and it is therefore taken for granted that they did. Lord Marchamley said that on local platforms nothing was spoken of but the Parliament Bill. I envy the noble Lord the opportunity he must have enjoyed of keeping his finger on the pulse of the country. I had not that advantage, but I have the strongest suspicion that there were a good many other subjects talked about on the platforms of the election; and even when this subject was talked about it was not always discussed with that unvarying regard for accuracy which should characterise the speeches of Ministers when discussing an important Constitutional question.
But I think there were other subjects much in the minds of the electors. The electors were terrified by being told that Old-Age Pensions were likely to be withdrawn from them when the Unionist Party came into power. They do not seem to have been frightened by the pious opinion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the German plan was better than ours. I also think a great many elections turned one way or the other on Tariff Reform. I do not like to say anything personally offensive to my noble friends on the Front Opposition Bench, but I do not feel quite sure that they have recovered their personal popularity in the country. But I am quite certain there was one question in the minds of the electors more than the Parliament Bill, and that was the question of food. I do not in the least pretend to prejudge the policy which is called Imperial Preference. I have no opinion on that subject, it is outside my range. But at any rate I am sure of this, that it is capable of being represented to the people of this country as likely to raise the price of the loaf. When you threaten the price of the loaf— 930 I do not care what your other argument may be about integrity of Empire, or drawing us closer together, or the counterbalancing freedom of tea—I do not care what your argument may be, but the moment you touch the loaf you touch every home from the highest to the lowest; and it is one of the curses of the present situation that the future of our ancient Constitution by the force and irony of circumstances is inseparably bound up with what appears to the electors to be a tax on food.
Then I am forced to allude to the somewhat inaccurate way in which the issue of the House of Lords was presented to the country. I will not refer to the attempts to stir up war between class and class in a way never attempted before by any responsible person, much less by a highly placed Minister. That is familiar to you all. But there was no man, highly placed or lowly placed, who did not go about the country saying that the true issue was one between the elected representatives of the people and 600 hereditary despots wielding an irresponsible Veto. I am not aware of any Minister who took the trouble to announce to the country that as regards the hereditary principle the House of Lords had abdicated its position, and that as regards its irresponsible Veto it had made the largest and most liberal offer ever spontaneously made by any Second Chamber in the world. But if it were your single issue, two questions arise. One is this—Why, if you desire to refer to the nation on this single issue, you so emphatically refuse and shrink from that direct reference to the people, the Referendum? In that case there could be no counterbalancing issue or confusing argument. It would be the clear and definite line—"Do you wish for a Single Chamber as established under the Parliament Bill or do you wish for the two-Chamber Constitution to be continued as at present? "I am under the impression that the answer in that case would greatly surprise His Majesty's Government. There is another question. If the House of Lords be the single issue, is it not clear that the Government have no mandate for Home Rule? as they certainly have no mandate for the payment of Members, which was always felt by Mr. Gladstone to be one of the greatest Constitutional changes that could ever be made in this country. It is quite easy, on the principle adopted by my noble 931 friend the Lord President of the Council, to say that that does not in the least matter, because as I understand his theory of the Constitution it is that the constituencies have only got to elect a Member and when that Member is elected they have no more to do with him or with his behaviour until he returns to them for re-election. But if that be an exaggerated hypothesis of my noble friend's view, I am quite willing to withdraw it.
But what are the arguments in support of this very strange measure now before the House? I think, when we listened to the able, ingenious, and conciliatory speech of Lord Haldane the other night, we must all have felt that we could understand why he has been a great Chancery barrister. I do not think the case for the Government could be put forward with more conciliation and with more skill. My noble friend wandered over so vast a variety of topics, some scientific and some theological, that it almost seemed as difficult to follow him as if he were a political chamois. But what was the measure of comfort administered by the noble Viscount? What my noble friend said was this—"After all, the Bill is not so bad. Why make such a fuss about it? For three years it is quite true this House will not be able to do anything, but during the last two years the House of Commons will be able to do nothing." And so he drew a sort of balance of consolation. For three-fifths of a Parliament one House would be impotent, but that House might console itself by thinking that for the other two-fifths the other House would be impotent. I am not at all sure that that is exactly the explanation of the measure which would commend itself to the constituencies which support my noble friend or the Party in the House of Commons which also give him their support.
But my noble friend omitted one important consideration—that of finance. In the last two years of the Parliament, however much the House of Commons may be hampered by the House of Lords, which he held out to us was a pleasing prospect, the House of Commons would always have the power of finance; and in my judgment, and I think in the judgment of every one who has considered the matter, it comes to this, that if the House of Lords is extremely recalcitrant during those three years they may be made to 932 smart financially by the House of Commons without any possibility of interference. So that the picture of Parliament which my noble friend presents as the result of this Bill is that of subjection and degradation for three years and of squabble and retaliation for the last two years.
Now let me take the speech of Lord Marchamley, whom I am sure we all welcome to this House. Lord Marchamley said he found this House dull. I do not know what he expected to find here. I rather imagined that he had retired to this House, as great men have retired—Diocletian and others—precisely because it was dull and that he might have a little repose from the tumult of the House of Commons. I quote the noble Lord because he has occupied a position which, under the evolution of our Constitution, is one of the most important in the country. He has been Chief Whip. The Chief Whip is infinitely more important at this moment than any Minister except the Prime Minister, and sometimes more important than even the Prime Minister himself. The Chief Whip is the secret confessor of the Prime Minister, the slave-driver of the Cabinet, and the Grand Inquisitor of the Party. He exercises a wider authority than any other functionary under the Government. That is one reason why I value the opinion of the noble Lord. What does he say? He avows single-Chamber government. He says he supports this Bill because it will prevent any further meddling or trimming of Liberal measures, and if that be not single-Chamber government I do not know what is. But he proceeded to give us a still stranger consolation. He said that after all the power of delay was much greater than people generally imagine; that a Bill when it has once been through the House of Commons becomes so stale that it is not likely to be renewed with advantage. If I understand his argument, therefore, while the noble Viscount says that two of the five years of Parliament will be unfruitful, Lord Marchamley holds out a still more glowing prospect of a five years Parliament in which there is to be no legislation at all.
My noble friend the Lord President of the Council cheered us by saying that there will be a good deal of give and take under this Bill. So I think there will. There will be a good deal of give on one side and a 933 good deal of take on the other, and I think there will be a perfectly even division of functions in that respect. But towards the end of his speech he used some expressions which pointed in the direction of conciliation and co-operation. If I did not misunderstand him, he said that co-operation at a later stage would be essential. How is that co-operation to come about? What are you going to co-operate about? A man may be executed, but I never heard it suggested that after decapitation the executed man should co-operate in the subsequent process of drawing, quartering, and disembowelling. Honestly, if this Bill passes I do not see what else there is to co-operate about. Co-operation implies condonation of the past. If noble Lords on the Opposition benches co-operate with noble Lords opposite after this Bill is passed, they give a tacit approval of its provisions. They regard it as a sealed document. I do not think so ill of my noble friends behind me as to suppose that they will do anything of the kind.
More than that, co-operation implies equality between the co-operators. What equality will there be between the two Front Benches after this Bill is passed? Noble Lords opposite may admit my noble friends on the Opposition side as the burghers of Paris were admitted on one famous occasion with halters round their necks to discuss what further terms of capitulation may be necessary; but how in any event you can expect any cordial co-operation, or any co-operation at all, after this Bill has passed, is more, I confess, than my intellect can compass. Conciliation! I do not think anybody is likely to do much in the way of conciliation after what occurred the other night, when the most rev. Primate in one of the ablest, most sagacious, and most conciliatory speeches ever made in this House, deriving weight from the high and unique position he occupies in this Realm, brought forward proposals of conciliation. It was impossible, I think, to go further in that direction than the most rev. Primate went. What was his reward? A mailed fist shot out straight from the Woolsack and levelled the most rev. Primate and all his aspirations to the ground. And as if this was not enough to demolish him, my noble friend Lord Beauchamp, to add insult to injury, at a later period of the evening, announced his opinion that he was the sole author and cause of Chinese slavery in South Africa. 934 If that is really the sort of reception given to the dove and the olive branch—to wring the dove's neck and serve him up cooked with the olive branch—I do not think you are likely to have many attempts in that direction.
My noble friend Lord Morley referred with great gentleness and courtesy to some speeches I made in 1895 on this question. Perhaps your Lordships will allow me for a moment to diverge to those speeches, as I may not have another opportunity of explaining them. Indeed, there is no explanation needed. My noble friend thinks there is some inconsistency between my opinions then and my opinions now. I can assure him there is not the least. I held strong opinions then and I hold exactly the same opinions now, except that I am afraid they go more in the direction of ending than mending. I expressed then in strong language then because I was a Party leader, and if I were a Party leader now I dare say I should express them as strongly again. But if my noble friend thinks there has been any change or vacillation in my views about this House from the time I first took my seat in it he is in error. I have always thought that the hereditary principle in this House was wholly indefensible in argument and that it constituted a grave practical weakness, and I have always regretted and deplored the partisan character of this House, which I again thought a great misfortune, not so much for what it did when Liberal Governments were in power as for what it left undone when Conservative Governments were in power. Those have always been my views. They are mine now more strongly, perhaps, than ever.
But there is this great difference between myself and my noble friend. I was always a House of Lords reformer. I knew when I made those speeches that it was impossible to expect any reform of the House of Lords by the Liberal Party, because the Liberal Party knew that reform would strengthen the House of Lords which they did not wish, and I equally knew it was hopeless to expect it from noble Lords on this side of the House, because they were in the position of beati possidentes and not wishful to disturb a position so favourable to themselves. Knowing that it was hopeless to expect from either Party any reform, except by pressure from outside, I did by my speeches endeavour to impress the public 935 feeling in such a way as to produce the pressure that would compel the House of Lords to reform itself. I never had the sympathy of noble Lords opposite. I was a pelican in the wilderness, making an appeal without support of any kind from any quarter. I never had what you have—a scheme offered spontaneously by the House of Lords for its own reform and for its own adjustment of relations with the other House, a scheme which I can honestly say, I would gladly have embraced even as Leader of the Liberal Party, and if I had had to forfeit that leadership in consequence; and I appeal to my noble friends opposite in their honour, in foro conscientiœ can they deny that the Bill of the noble Marquess, which passed its Second Reading last week, offers a fair compromise of this Constitutional question? And if sound Constitutional revision was all that they wanted it should be gladly accepted.
Let me pass from the personal topic, which is usually so absorbing, to a much more general one. The noble Lord's excursion into the history of 1894 and 1895 makes me wish for one moment to give my conspectus of the history of this question. In 1832—which shall be my Hegira—the position of this House was at its very lowest. I do not think that any far-seeing observer at that time would have given the House of Lords five years' purchase. It had just undergone a tremendous humiliation. But the circumstances of 1832 were very different from those of 1911. There was almost an outbreak of violent revolution in this country. Bristol and Nottingham were burning. Derby was running with blood, 200,000 men were marching from Birmingham on London to compel this House to yield to the views of the people. The state of Scotland was hardly less alarming. At this time, in 1831, the great Sir Robert Peel, whose son we are fortunate enough to preserve in this dishonoured and discredited Assembly, predicted all that has come to pass in regard to this question. In 1836 Mr. O'Connell proposed that an elected Chamber should be substituted for the House of Lords; the House of Lords seemed to be past praying for.
In 1839, however, there was one of those strange changes which come over the spirit of this country at odd times. A Motion was brought forward in the House of Lords by Lord Roden for a Committee to inquire into Irish administration, which was carried 936 in a very thin House by a majority of five—63 to 58. What was the result? The next day there was a Cabinet, and Lord Melbourne and Lord John Russell, the Liberal Prime Minister and the Liberal Leader in the House of Commons, came down to announce that it was necessary in consequence of this vote that the Cabinet should resign. Think what a change, my Lords, from the time when the House of Lords was at zero seven years before to the time when it was to decide the fate of the Government. That stage passed—they found other means of getting out of the scrape—but I think it was a notable mark in the history of the House of Lords. Coming to the Bill for the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, the House of Lords, though supposed to be secretly opposed to that measure, patriotically passed it at the instance of the great Duke of Wellington. Then we come to the Reform Bill of 1867, which was passed by the Party on this [the Opposition] side of the House, and which largely enfranchised great masses of the people and increased the weight of the balance against this House. That was followed by the Reform Bill of 1884, when I remember the great processions and demonstrations organised against this House because it suspended the Bill, but which ended once more in a huge addition to the constituencies of the country and therefore to the strength of the House of Commons as against the House of Lords.
Then I think we have nothing to detain us until we come to the crisis of 1894–5, when Mr. Gladstone made his last speech in the House of Commons on this very question of the House of Lords. I heard that speech, and I well remember the circumstances of that speech. It was a unique speech in Mr. Gladstone's whole career in regard to one particular point. At that time he sounded the trumpet note for a campaign in which he had no intention of taking part and for which he bequeathed no plan. In his recently published letters there is this curious sentence; as if foreseeing this very contingency. In a letter dated October 31, 1885, he wrote—I have never been in the habit of blowing the trumpet for a battle in which I could take no part.On this occasion Mr. Gladstone did blow a trumpet for a battle in which he was to take no part, and left it to a very inadequate successor. He blew it as well as he could, but feebly, I think, in the opinion of my 937 noble friends opposite. Whether he blew it strongly or not, the result was overwhelming defeat at the hands of the constituencies. The victory was against the Government, not merely against the Liberal Government, but much more emphatically in favour of the House of Lords. The election of 1895 strengthened the House of Lords immeasurably. Why? Because it rejected Irish Horne Rule. It gave fifteen years more of life, at any rate, to the House of Lords as it then existed; and it will be always a lifelong regret to me that that interval was not employed by my friends behind me to reform and readjust this House.
What conclusions do I draw from this tedious but necessary retrospect? The first is that the situation has no analogy to that of 1832. There are distinctly differing conditions, much more pacific conditions; a condition apparently on the part of a great mass of the population of total indifference to the Parliament. Bill and all that it implies. Why the other night, after the debate, driving down to my humble suburban retreat, I passed two or three placards printed in flaming letters, and I thought to myself, "At last the country is aroused. At last the people begin to perceive the revolution through which they are passing and the iniquities of His Majesty's Government." The words in enormous letters were to the effect that Surrey was doing something with Middlesex, or Middlesex something with Surrey. A second placard appealed to an even wider range of the population, for it announced that "Fish is cheaper to-day." However carefully I might examine from the humble vehicle in which I was ensconced, I could see no allusion, direct or indirect, to the modification of the Constitution and the summary ending of your Lordships' House. The second conclusion draw is that there are periods of strong reaction in favour of a Second Chamber, and even in favour sometimes of the House of Lords with its weak hereditary Constitution. I derive some hope from that that there will be a similar reaction in the future, and that once more we may have the Constitution restored. The third conclusion I draw is this. I am extremely doubtful, to say the least, that a clear reference to the country on the question of a Double Chamber in the Constitution or a Single Chamber would not meet with a very different result from that of the appeal just made by the Government.
938 I come at last to the practical question, What is to be done? That has already been settled in effect by the Leaders of the Opposition, and I think on the whole wisely settled. I confess that the "old Adam" in me pointed to a different conclusion not long ago, and even now if I were in the House this evening when the question is put I should be disposed to join the Duke of Northumberland in the cry, the melancholy cry of "Not content" to the Second Reading of this Bill. I confess there was some attraction to me in the idea of driving the Government to their last resources and compelling them by the action of this House to do that which would make them supremely absurd. I confess there was some attraction in—and my sense of humour played over—that list, which we have been assured is in existence, of those hundreds of gentlemen who are willing to undergo the humiliation of entering an hereditary Chamber at the summons of the Prime Minister. I like to picture to myself the triumvirate—one of whom, of course, would be the Prime Minister, another the Master of Elibank, and the third of whom I would rather leave to conjecture—sitting in an apartment in Downing-street, pricking their lists, not of those to be proscribed, but of the Conscript Fathers that are to be. I could not help allowing my fancy to dwell on the procession entering from Westminster Hall, inspected by the Master of Elibank and led, I think, by the Secretary of State for War as a Territorial battalion to take their position. The last charge of the Old Guard at Waterloo would be little compared to that serried column entering that door, and the labours of the Lord Chancellor, sitting day and night to admit these new acolytes—I trust the expression is not offensive—to this Chamber, would be a spectacle which would inspire one with profound sympathy with his position. I think that all that would cover the Government and their policy with ridicule, from which I do not think they would ever recover.
Yes. But there is also this to be considered. These are questions of practical politics, not of humour. We have to consider what would be the effect. It might make the Government ridiculous, and we might make their supporters ridiculous. We should certainly make this House ridiculous and we might compromise what remains of the Constitution. I do not think it is worth running the risk. There 939 is this practical consideration to be remembered. It is this. After these Conscript Fathers had been admitted, the Barebones Parliament which would result could carry any measure they choose, good, bad, or indifferent, without any resistance or delay in the remaining years of this Parliament. That is too grave a danger to run. I am therefore disposed to entirely acquiesce in the resolution come to by the Leader of the Opposition to allow this Bill to pass its Second Reading. In so grave a matter as this one cannot afford to palter with phrases. We must consider exactly what would ensue if the House of Lords took the responsibility of rejecting this Bill. Suppose the Crown had desired to evade the necessity of creating 400 or 500 Peers, the Ministry would resign. Would it be possible for my noble friends on this side of the House to form a Government? Would they be enabled to appeal to the electors successfully after the last two elections? To speak quite plainly, I do not think they would, and I am not prepared to do anything which would encourage a repetition of the experiment of the great Duke of Wellington. If that hazardous experiment failed, the last condition of the Constitution would be worse than the first, and we should be prostrate at the feet of the Government and their supporters.
My Lords, my confidence, such as it is, rests wholly on the common sense and the political instincts of the nation. They have had centuries of political education, and though I think they have not in the slightest degree appreciated the importance of this question or have been instructed on it by those who ought to have been their guides, though I do not think they in the least appreciated the importance to them of this question, yet I feel confident that they will comprehend it, that they will become seized of it, and that in civil as in military operations their sagacity and their courage will at length enable them to muddle through. We have muddled through worse situations than this. I think we shall muddle through this, even though we shall be compelled to bow the neck to the yoke and be prepared to see for a second time the Second Chamber depart out of our Constitutional arrangements. I am sure that the nation will not be prepared to ride at single anchor. I am sure that it will not be deluded by the "painted ship upon a painted ocean," the hollow fancy which this House will be after the Parliament Bill is passed, and 940 that it will not be deceived and believe that it is living under its ancient Constitution. When the people realise that I do feel confident that they will demand once more the ancient guarantees for their liberties which this House represented, and whether it be in the form of the present House of Lords or of a Chamber elected on a wider basis—I do not say which I think most probable—I believe they will insist on the restoration to the Constitution of the part which has been eradicated by His Majesty's Government.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (VISCOUNT HALDANE)
My Lords, not even the spell of the oratory of my noble friend can prevent me from missing something in his speech. Between the exordium and the arguments on the one hand, and the conclusion and peroration on the other, there was a considerable hiatus. There was nothing so great as the indictment which the noble Earl drew of the proceedings of the Government; there was nothing so serious as the appeal which he made to your Lordships and to the nation. But the conclusion! What is to be done? Nothing. He would trust to the good sense and wisdom of the people. That is a very wise conclusion, but one asks oneself why it required so long an oration to arrive at so simple a result. My noble friend spoke at one stage of his speech of the indifference of the people. He seemed to think that they were engaged in considering football matches much more than this great question, but in an earlier part of his speech the noble Earl spoke of the two elections as a great fact. How are these things to be reconciled? I think in a very simple way.
The noble Earl knows well that the people of this country when they have thrashed a thing out in their own minds are not in the habit of troubling themselves with regrets and uncertainties over the conclusions to which they have come; and if instead of looking at hoardings and posters along the road the noble Earl would ask himself what is the state of opinion on this subject in parts of the country he knows well, I do not think he would be in much doubt. There is Scotland, there is the North of England, there are the Eastern Counties, there are the Welsh Counties, there are large parts of the Midlands, and there are large parts of London, in which the verdict has been given in a distinct form. We had a speech earlier in this debate from 941 Lord Ancaster, in which he warned your Lordships that he had no reason to think that the verdict, if challenged once more, would be very different. I think that may be a very good reason for the conclusion to which my noble friend has come, but I do not think it required so great or so eloquent an effort on his part if that was all he had to demonstrate to this House. He spoke of himself as having been consistent throughout in this matter. I think he has been consistent. He has pursued one policy. Lord Camperdown rather cruelly the other day referred to the premature dissolution of the Liberal League. My noble friend Lord Rosebery was President of that League, and I had the honour to be one of the Vice-Presidents. The dissolution was brought about largely through the instrumentality of ray noble friend, otherwise I should have remained a Vice-President not only because of the usefulness of the League but because of the traditions of its founder. But, although the Liberalism of my noble friend lies mouldering in the grave, it is only the body of that Liberalism that lies mouldering there; the spirit goes marching on.
There is a history attaching to Lord Rosebery's attitude on this very question which, I think, will never be forgotten. He it was who had the courage in 1894 when he was much in the same position as His Majesty's Government are in to-day, to take up the question and begin a vigorous campaign on the subject. He was responsible for carrying through Parliament a Death Duties Act which imposed very considerable burdens upon property. For that he was denounced as a revolutionary and by many of the hard names to which we have listened to-day, and perhaps by more, because people had not yet quite realised that these things were more the order of the day than they were prone to suspect. But he took to the platform, and he was spoken of as an "ender," and he was an "ender" then. He pronounced himself as for the only practical policy—the abolition of the Veto of this House. He said—You cannot carry reform. You of the Liberal Party are not in a position to argue the question of reform with the House of Lords on anything like fair terms. They have a crushing majority.We say so now. We desire what Lord Rosebery desired in 1894, to be free from the crushing power of the Veto of this House before we enter upon the discussion of any 942 such topics as reform. As in 1894, so now, the restriction of your Lordships' Veto is the only condition under which it is possible for a Liberal Prime Minister to carry on the conduct of affairs.
The noble Earl made a memorable speech at Bradford in the autumn of 1894, a speech so memorable and so illustrative as to the consistency of the attitude of my noble friend to-day that it is worth quoting one or two sentences. He began by reminding his audience that this question had been raised by Mr. Pitt, who had declared that the House of Lords was the part of the Constitution which should first give way. Then be went on to quote Burke, and to warn them that the Liberal Party would be blamed if they did not deal with the House of Lords and ventured to go back to the constituencies with their pledge unfulfilled. He said—The House of Lords is a Party body of one complexion, and it is a waste of time to introduce Bills while it continues to control the measures of the representatives of the people.He further said that if he were asked to choose between no Second Chamber and a Second Chamber constituted as the House of Lords was then—not as the House of Lords will be under the Parliament Bill, but as it actually is at this moment—he would not hesitate as to the principle, for the House of Lords was not a Second Chamber at all but a permanent Party organisation controlled for Party purposes and by Party management. He went on to say that they could not wait for riots to make the House of Lords yield, because that meant that Liberal legislation was always to be carried by the menace of revolution; that the Lords would refuse to pass a Bill for the limitation of their Veto, and that therefore they must bring into operation the Constitutional forces of the House of Commons. First, he said, they must frame a Resolution to the effect that the House of Commons in partnership with the House of Lords must be unmistakably the predominant partner, and then the situation would assume a new phase; the Resolution would be submitted to the country and would become a new charter and the first act of a drama in which there would be several acts.
I am not going to detain your Lordships by making many quotations, but this was not the only speech my noble friend made. 943 He proceeded to Glasgow, where he sometimes gives counsel, and he there repeated very emphatically what he had said at Bradford. He then went to Devonport and again emphasised the doctrine of the Bradford speech. He pointed out, as my noble friend has pointed out to-night, that the object he had in view was so to readjust the relations of the House of Commons to the present House of Lords that the deliberate will of the House of Commons should not be overborne by the action of the House of Lords, and he said that the policy on which he was entering was a drama which might have several acts—that this was the first act, and with the first act alone he was concerned in introducing to the country the Resolution which was to affirm the predominance of the House of Commons over the House of Lords. I have always been deeply attached to my noble friend, and I have learnt much from him. If he has left the Liberal Party now, I still remain an admirer of many things in his career and of much of what he has said; but I cannot but think that the real traditions of the Party are the traditions which we are carrying on.
The first act in the drama was to be the Resolution. Well, the Campbell-Bannerman Resolutions were submitted to the House of Commons and they were before the country at the election of January, 1910. That was the second act in the drama. The third act was the further Resolutions and the Bill introduced in the House of Commons in 1910; the fourth act was the General Election in December, 1910; and the fifth act is this Bill. The sixth act remains to be seen. How do we stand at this moment? What reason is there for the accusation of my noble friend that Party rancour and Party revenge are the basis and foundation of this Bill? We are only carrying out the policy which he himself, more eloquently than any other man, declared to be necessary fifteen years ago. Is the situation different? Many fewer Bills were rejected in those days than have been rejected lately, and the gap between the two Houses was not so great as it has since become. Is it possible for any one at this moment to say that it would have been even within the field of what was practicable to take any other step? As I have already said, it was impossible for us to begin with the policy of reform because we were not on a footing of equality with your Lordships, and you could have forced upon us a Bill which you might have con- 944 sidered perfect but which we did not consider right judged by the standards to which alone we can appeal and by which alone we can be recognised.
This Bill is the first step, the necessary and essential step, before we can consider anything else. We have said that our policy turns on it. It is a Bill which has one great drawback. I doubt whether there is any member of this House who dislikes more than I do introducing written amendments into an unwritten Constitution. They always work badly. Lord Salisbury, who never speaks without saying something interesting, made a very good point. He said you might under this Bill, if it becomes law, have a situation such as you had under a Unionist Government in 1902 when the Education Bill was passed two years after what was called the Khaki Election, though the country had not been consulted upon it. There was another case which the noble Marquess did not notice, and that was the Education Bill brought in by a Unionist Government shortly after the great Education Act, for the purpose of placing the educational system in London under the control of the boroughs instead of the London County Council. The feeling against it in Unionist circles was so strong that the Government very wisely withdrew that Bill. These are illustrations of what might happen. I admit that—and they may happen more usually under a written than under an unwritten Constitution. Still, as a rule, they do not amount to anything very serious.
Now look on the other side of the account. It is a common fallacy in political argument to state difficulties which are real but are small when put into the balance against the difficulties on the other side. It is only by weighing advantages and disadvantages that you can get at the truth about any political proposition. What is the other side? It is that, unless you have this Bill, it is impossible for the two Houses of Parliament to be in the position which the natural evolution of the Constitution requires that they should be. Lord Rosebery himself made something like an admission to that effect. No man has more explicitly affirmed the doctrine that the predominance of the House of Commons is necessary, and the situation has reached a stage in which there can no longer be any doubt about it. This Bill is the only tangible means of which I know of bringing that 945 about. I admit that it is conceivable that it might happen that something might be done under it on which public opinion has not been very explicitly consulted. My answer is that, even granting that may happen, it is a slight disadvantage compared with the enormous and overwhelming disadvantage of leaving the present condition of affairs unredressed. I think the force of public opinion is so strong that it will be very difficult for any Government to carry through any measure against which public opinion is set, and certainly no measure is likely to be carried under this Bill on which the electors have not been very fully consulted.
What is it that you propose? If your Reform Bill does not satisfy the majority of the people, and does not give the House of Commons the predominance to which that House is entitled and which the people are determined that the House of Commons shall have, how can you put it forward as an alternative to a plan the purpose of which is that, after consideration and deliberation, it is to be the function of the House of Commons to assert its will successfully? The proposal of the Government is, as my noble friend behind me showed, older than the time of Mr. Bright by whom it was so strongly advocated. It has been discussed in the columns of the old Spectator and other newspapers, and elsewhere, for many years, and it is the only practical plan arriving at the first act in the drama of which my noble friend spoke. Is it unreasonable to argue that the delaying power of this House should have a period put to it? Your Lordships can never be called to account before any electorate; for you there is no General Election; against your composition there is no appeal to the constituencies; yet, because you are permanently there, because your majority remains unchanged, and perhaps increasingly hostile to every Liberal Government, you have the power of wearing out and destroying even the strongest Liberal Government. It is not to the point to say, as Lord Avebury said, that, if you take account of the Bills which have reached this House, you have rejected only four out of 250. One knows what the relative importance of Bills may be and what were the Bills rejected.
The proposal which is before the House is, first, to reduce—as I think is right—the effective life of the Commons Chamber of Parliament to a period of four years. In the first two years of that life, if it can carry 946 with it public opinion sufficiently to hold its majority together, it can send up Bills again and again, until at the end of two years, if your Lordships continue opposed to them, they will become law. After that time all that the House of Commons can do is to send up to this House Bills which will inevitably come before the tribunal of the electorate before they can become law. It is said that this system will set up single-Chamber government. It will not. It will give you a Second Chamber which will have the full power of expressing its opinion. You will not be able to reject or indefinitely delay Bills which have the sense of the nation and a great majority of its representatives behind them; but you will be able to do everything that is in your power now to bring before the country your views of those measures and to stir up public opinion concerning them. You will be brought nearer to what are your true functions of revising, delaying, and counselling, but not of exercising the supreme dominating will.
It is said that under this Bill Parliament will be able to sweep away all Constitutional safeguards, and that the House of Commons could prolong its own life indefinitely. I agree. So could Parliament to day if it were so minded. It could provide £100,000 for each member of each House. But we do not do those things. We have not done them in the past and we shall not do them in the future. This Bill is an effort to put into printed language what has been hitherto the practice and usage of the Constitution, and not to make some great innovation. It merely records upon the Statute-book what is the spirit of the Constitution at present, notwithstanding its violation by your Lordships.
This Bill is vitally necessary if we are to, get away from the reproaches and the bitter feeling caused by a House in which one Party is represented by a majority often to one over the other, and is in permanent power. That is a state of things that cannot continue. Nothing could have been done had your Lordships chosen to exercise your powers in a judicial spirit, in the way in which they have been exercised at various periods. Then we should have had the most perfect counselling and revising Second Chamber that could be conceived, by reason of its elasticity and its traditions. But it has not been so. It is not necessary for me to quote the strong expressions of Lord Rosebery as to what he 947 called the partisan character of the majority of your Lordships' House. I know that those may seem to many of your Lordships to be very unjust words. That is because you do not realise what the people outside think. It shows how wholly you have passed out of relation to those on whose affairs you sit in judgment. With the best intentions you set yourselves to consider their affairs in a spirit wholly different from their own. That is why we had an enormous and crushing majority against the Unionist Party in 1906, repeated in less volume at the beginning of 1910, and again without diminution at the end of last year. The day has gone by for treating this question as one which can be left alone. I do not agree with my noble friend Lord Rosebery that this is a question which is likely to pass and which coming elections are likely to alter. That the Unionist Party will come back to office nobody doubts—that their principles, when the time comes, will receive more general acceptance than at present—but the political policy of the Unionist Party is one thing and their policy with regard to this House is quite another. We are dealing with a question which has been growing and pressing itself upon us during all these years, and to which it is no longer possible to give the go-by. It is that which to my mind causes the seriousness of the situation. It it very easy to read democracy a lesson or to try to lecture the House of Commons. The question is not who is the wisest. The question is whether you will look the facts in the face and will recognise and accept what the law of the Constitution compels you to recognise as the fact. Lord Cromer gave us a little discourse, in the course of the debate, on the futility of discussions of finance, and on the shortcomings of the Government in regard to finance. I listened to his speech with great interest, because it seemed to me that he was moving in a world different from that in which your Lordships move. If there is one thing on which I thought we were all agreed it is that your Lordships could not amend a Money Bill. I understood the noble Earl to say—and I could put no other construction upon his speech—that it would be and was desirable that this House should have some power of revising the details of such Bills.
§ THE EARL OF CROMER
I beg the noble Viscount's pardon, I said nothing of the sort. I never claimed any such power.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
The noble Earl gave a series of illustrations which to my mind were unintelligible unless that was what they meant. How could such a doctrine be accepted? To take the case of the Department to which I belong, early in the financial year it is necessary to submit the Estimates to the consideration of the House of Commons, and upon their acceptance by that House Ministers in charge of the War Office and other Departments proceed to make contracts and enter into obligations on the faith that there is no question that the promises made by the House of Commons will be carried out. The noble Viscount opposite knows that quite well, and unless we could rely absolutely on the single and undivided authority of the House of Commons without interference from elsewhere we should be in the position of an agent who is responsible to two boards of directors instead of one and whose policy was confused and stultified thereby. That is so in regard to Supply, and also in regard to Ways and Means, and it is essential that the supervision of finance and its control and administration should rest with the House of Commons alone. I do not devote myself much more to that portion of the Bill that proposes to put the control of finance altogether under the management of the House of Commons. It results from the doctrine that on the House of Commons the Executive of the country depends alone, and that it is the only body to which the Executive can be responsible.
We had in the course of the debates some utterances which were of interest because of the vast divergence between the point of view which they disclosed and the point of view of that small handful of us who sit on this side. We had the Duke of Northumberland, who spoke as if it was a pleasure to us and that we were going out of our way to embark on this tremendous controversy, as if we were diverting our energies from the necessary habitual business we have to administer for the pleasure of promoting revolution at every turn. He told us that our conduct contrasted very badly with that of Mr. Gladstone, who did not put a pistol at the heads of his political opponents. I agree it is always undesirable to do so, but when your opponent tries to take away your property sometimes it is necessary to do so. But the noble Duke seems to have for- 949 gotten a Bill known as the Army Purchase Abolition Bill which passed the House of Commons and was rejected by your Lordships' House. What did Mr. Gladstone do? He not only produced a pistol but he put a bullet into it and presented it to this House in the shape of a Royal Warrant. Many people passed criticisms upon the procedure, but he carried the principle of his measure and declined to discuss the niceties of whether the procedure was Constitutional or not.
§ THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
I beg the noble Viscount's pardon. I think he will find that the Bill was not thrown out by this House, but passed.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
It was by Royal Warrant that Army purchase was abolished. I really would recommend the noble Duke to study the dealings of Mr. Gladstone and his history before he gives him so high a certificate of character as he did in his speech.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
The noble Duke may have voted for the Bill, but I am speaking of what this House did; and speaking from memory I think I am right in saying that this House threw out the Bill or amended it beyond recognition, and then Mr. Gladstone proceeded by Royal Warrant.
§ THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
As a matter of history, the House of Lords amended the Bill and the Royal Warrant was passed, and in order to save the pockets of the officers who would have been defrauded by Mr. Gladstone's Warrant the House of Lords passed the Bill.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
Yes; Mr. Gladstone resorted to a Royal Warrant and accomplished his object by that means. The noble Duke will find that in time it resolves itself to the pistol. Mr. Gladstone obviously used it; my noble friend on the Cross Benches would have done so had the country endorsed his policy; and the Prime Minister to-day is doing no more. We cannot remain any longer in the atmosphere or the traditions of two generations. The noble Duke said things which reminded me more of the tone of Mr. Disraeli's letters on the Constitution in the thirties than the tone of a controversy 950 to-day. But Mr. Disraeli changed his views very much. He was a man who advanced with his times. In 1836 he would have been very surprised to know that the noble Duke was going to vote for the Reform Bill which was introduced here the other day for the destruction of the hereditary principle.
Great changes have taken place, and Conservative statesmen have recognised them as they have come, and the things that the Liberals were denounced for preaching yesterday the Conservatives preach with acclamation to-morrow. I hope that calmer and more temperate judgments may before long be passed on the Party to which I belong than are expressed to-day, and that people will come to see that the surgeons knife was necessary for the restoration to health of the body corporate; and that what has been done is with a view of meeting the necessities of the time; and that we are acting in the only spirit which will preserve the Constitution in order to endeavour to bring it once more into harmony with the conditions under which we live.
My Lords, I do not think this is a time when we do well, either of us, to indulge in recriminations. The task before us is too difficult. We trust we have given your Lordships some reasons for asking you to believe that in our efforts to bring about a state of things in which we shall at least be in a position to deal with this matter we have some justification on our side. But, on the other hand, we on our side realise that in the recognition which your Lordships have recently given in this and the previous debate to the proposition that times have moved on and that action is necessary, we have something to be grateful for, and something which has in it the promise of better things in the future.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, the noble Viscount to whose speech we have just listened did not trouble himself very much to reply to the grave arguments that have been adduced against this Bill from our side of the House; and least of all did he reply adequately to the very powerful speech of my noble friend Lord Rosebery. The noble Viscount, indeed, took exception to Lord Rosebery's consistency, and quoted at length a considerable number of passages from his speeches. I listened to those quotations 951 as carefully as I could, and I certainly did not detect in any of them any words which could be legitimately interpreted as expressing the approval of my noble friend for the kind of measure that now lies on the Table of the House. My noble friend, of course, has always been a strong advocate of the reform of this House, but he has never, to the best of my belief, recommended to the country any legislation which would have the effect of placing this House in the position that it will occupy under this Bill. The noble Viscount's speech, like most of those to which we have listened in the defence of the Bill, was an endeavour in the first place to set up a case against your Lordships' House, and, in the next place, to convince us, if possible, that the sentence which His Majesty's Government propose to pass upon us is, after all, a very lenient one, and one of which we have little reason to complain.
Now, my Lords, with regard to the indictment of this House on the ground of what I suppose may be described as habitual obstruction, I do not propose to say many words. That part of the case was dealt with admirably by my noble friend Lord Midleton, and I have little to add to what he said. But it was remarkable that when the noble Viscount who moved the Bill the other evening was pursuing that part of the subject he found himself in the first ten minutes of his speech describing to your Lordships the extraordinary results of what he called Mr. Gladstone's fertile period of administration between 1868 and 1874. He gave a catalogue of measures of the greatest importance which had been passed into law despite anything that this House might have desired to do, and before he had spoken for another ten minutes he found himself dwelling on the remarkable achievements of the House of Commons of our own time in the direction of what he called popular feeling and popular improvement. I may be permitted to supplement what the noble Viscount told us of Mr. Gladstone's first Administration by a reference to Mr. Gladstone's second Administration, and the words I shall use are those of no less a person than Mr. Gladstone himself. This is what he had to say in 1884—Notwithstanding the action of the House of Lords, we have had for a period of fifty years such legislation as has never been known in the history of this country, I may say of the entire modern world.952 If I may say so, that gives the House of Lords something like a clean bill of health up to that period. In 1907 again I find a Liberal Minister saying with pride that in two sessions he and his colleagues had been able to put on the Statute-book no fewer than 125 measures, many of them bearing witness to the dawn of a new democratic era. How could that have been accomplished with an obstructive House of Lords in the background? And, my Lords, quite recently we have passed Bills relating to small holdings, coal mines, old-age pensions, Irish land, housing and town planning, labour exchanges, besides all that legislation of which Lord Carrington never fails to boast whenever he addresses your Lordships' House; and pray let it be remembered that that particular class of legislation dealt with the question of the ownership and occupation of land, which is the very subject on which your Lordships might be not unnaturally expected to hold strong and tenacious views.
Is it not, I humbly suggest, rather stretching our language for the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack to tell us, as he did the other evening, that Liberal Governments were unable to get anything done? He drew a picture of Liberal Members of Parliament trudging hopelessly through the Lobbies, and described them as broken-hearted reformers defeated at every point. What a singular thing it is that when these broken-hearted reformers go to the country and address their constituents they are never weary of boasting of the magnificent things they have achieved during the past session. Let me test the matter in this way. Can it be stated that owing to the action of the House of Lords the country has ever been permanently cheated of a really important measure which it deliberately desired to obtain? I believe it is impossible to produce any such case. And when I come to the case which is always produced for our confutation—the case, I will not say of the rejection, but of the reservation of the Budget of 1909—is it not rather remarkable that the gravamen of the noble and learned Lord's charge is, not that there had been a serious loss of time, because we know the loss of time was comparatively insignificant, and might have been much more insignificant still if His Majesty's Ministers had so desired? Nor did he complain of the loss of money, which, I believe, can be measured, so I am told, at a sum of £8,000. The gravamen of 953 the charge of the noble and learned Lord was that the result of the action of this House had been to convert the great and overwhelming majority with which the Government expected to do great things into a much smaller majority. The question I would ask the noble and learned Lord is which majority, the greater or the smaller majority, most accurately represented the views of the electors of this country?
But we on this side of the House are not here to deny that there are grave questions which require the attention of this House. There have been difficulties and friction. They have been due to two causes—the one-sided composition of this House and the unfortunate absence of any machinery for adjusting differences between the two Houses when they arise. Both these difficulties are surely capable of adjustment. We are ready, so far as our opportunities permit us, to deal with both questions. We have taken a very long step in the direction of proposing a reconstituted House, and in the Resolutions of last year we gave the country in outline our ideas of a scheme under which differences between the two Houses might conveniently and reasonably be adjusted. Surely here were promising materials for a settlement, and can there be any reasonable doubt that, if His Majesty's Government were really free to deal with this question on its merits, they would find means of co-operating with us in solving these difficulties, instead of forcing upon a Party which represents something like an equality of the electors of the country a measure such as that which they have proposed?
The noble and learned Lord told us that the time has passed for talking of a settlement of this kind, because, he said, of the failure of the Constitutional Conference last year. That failure was to me, personally, a very great disappointment, but I am far from considering it quite so discouraging as some people would have us believe. We sat for five months, and it is self-evident that we should not have sat for five months unless some measure of agreement had been come to on some points at all events. And I would ask, does it follow that because eight Ministers and ex-Ministers, sitting with closed doors, and not entrusted with anything that could be described as plenipotentiary powers, were unable to come to a settlement that there is no room, no materials, for a settle- 954 ment by open discussion and debate between the two Parties in the full light of political day?
When the Conference broke down you proclaimed war on the following morning—literally, I think, on the following morning. We chose what seems to me the better part in endeavouring to find a way for peace, and may I not ask whether that memorable speech delivered by the most rev. Primate the other evening does not point to the conclusion that with good will on both sides of the House peace on reasonable terms should not be impossible. But I fear we are to conclude from the language of noble Lords opposite that, in spite of all that has happened, in spite of the measure of unrevealed agreement which resulted from the Conference, in spite of the overtures made from this side of the House, you are determined to crush us with the same sledge-hammer which you were brandishing before the Conference had sat, before the Resolutions of 1910, and before this House had read a second time the Bill for the reconstitution of the House of Lords.
I have described the Bill as a sledgehammer, and I am inclined to think that the epithet is not undeserved. We have had with reference to this Bill a series of what I would describe as anodyne speeches. We have had one from the noble Viscount who has just addressed the House, and we had another very remarkable one from a noble friend of mine who sits behind me, Lord Montagu. The burden of those speeches is to tell us that, after all, this Bill will not leave us in such a very bad position. I must say that none of those speeches give me the slightest comfort. Moreover, we can, in my opinion, make no greater mistake than to indulge deliberately in what I can only call a policy of make-believe with regard to this point. The noble Viscount told us that the Bill still left us powers which were important and substantial. I believe they are neither important nor substantial.
Let me for a very few moments explain what I mean by reference to the clauses of the Bill. I take the first clause. The noble Viscount who introduced the Bill in the whole course of his speech never referred to the first clause at all. He did not say a single word in support of it, and the other noble Viscount who spoke just 955 now treated the clause as if it were an agreed clause, scarcely worth our discussion. I protest against any assumption of the kind. Under that clause the right of this House to reject Money Bills goes altogether—to reject not only Money Bills in the stricter sense of the words, but anything which, under the terms of this Bill, can be described as a Money Bill, which is a very different thing. As to the existence of that right, the legal right, there is no question. It is admitted by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. Only he contended that because that right had not been exercised it had fallen into desuetude, and could not be constitutionally exercised. With great deference I venture to think that it does not by any means follow that because a great Constitutional safeguard of this kind has not been from time to time set in motion, that that safeguard has ceased to exist. No measures are so difficult to justify as measures of precaution, because the more effectual they are the more rarely is it necessary to set them in operation. Although I do not like to Hansardise him, I would remind the House of the memorable statement of the noble Viscount opposite during the debate on the Finance Bill, when he told us that our bare legal right to reject Money Bills had not been denied, and he went on—Some, no doubt, would argue that it may be transformed appropriately into a moral duty, and I do not know that I would quarrel with them. I can imagine a state of things—I can imagine it with difficulty—which would justify such a transformation by reason of the wild-cat proposals of a demented House of Commons.Under the new dispensation the legal right and the moral duty disappear altogether, and the country is left to the blind fury of the House of Commons, or it may be of a Minister who finds himself in a tight place and is obliged to make drastic proposals in order to placate his followers.
Not only does the right of rejection disappear under this Bill, but even our opportunities for profitable discussion and suggestion in regard to matters of finance disappear almost to the vanishing point, and that, I think, is the answer to what was said just now by the noble Viscount in reference to my noble friend Lord Cromer's speech. I agree with the noble Earl on the Cross Benches that in these days of—shall I say?—reckless finance, it is of the utmost importance that this 956 House should have full opportunities of discussing the financial proposals of the Government of the day, and when we consider that this House contains men like the noble Earl on the Cross Benches, Lord St. Aldwyn, Lord Milner, and the heads of the great banking and commercial houses who sometimes take part in our discussions, would it not be a national misfortune if we were not given the fullest opportunities of criticising and examining even Bills which are Money Bills pure and simple and no more. As I read the Bill our opportunities henceforth will be limited to a perfunctory discussion during the last months of the session, at a moment when this House is notoriously overwhelmed with business and when it would be quite impossible for us adequately to put before the other House of Parliament and before the country our views even on the gravest financial issues.
And I attach great importance to the right of the House of Lords, I will not say to insist upon Amendments to financial Bills, but to suggest Amendments. We have had a good many controversies in this House in the past as to this right of amendment, and very hard measure has not infrequently been dealt out to us. The House of Lords has not always been in the wrong in these controversies. I should like very much to give the House a rather remarkable illustration which I gather from the Bill on the Table. When we have at various times suggested alterations in Bills dealing, not with money raised by taxation, but with money raised out of the rates, we have been on several occasions pulled up by the House of Commons and told that our Amendments constituted a breach of the privilege of that House. But what do I find in this Bill? When the question came up for discussion in the House of Commons the Government were obliged to admit that this plea that we should be precluded from discussing Bills dealing with the rates was not tenable, and accordingly in subsection (2) of the first clause it is provided that Bills dealing with money to be raised by local authorities for local purposes are not to be regarded as Money Bills within the meaning of the clause. There we have a complete vindication of the contention of the House of Lords in the past as to the kind of point we had a right to discuss.
957 But when we come to Bills dealing with the money of the taxpayers we find that the clause is drawn in such a way that the net is spread not only too widely, but even more widely than Ministers themselves apparently desired. The Prime Minister announced the other day that the Government had no desire to enlarge the bounds within which, he said, Constitutional practice and usage had established the authority of the House of Commons in matters of finance. He said that was their "governing principle," and then he went on to give examples of Bills the substantial governing purpose of which was not finance, but "some larger or social policy, though for the purpose of carrying out such a policy they incidentally contained financial provisions," and finally he said that the definition of Money Bills was—most careful to exclude, first, the possibility of including in this clause a Bill, financial in form or title, of which the object of its other provisions was the real and governing purpose; and secondly, to exclude the annexation or tacking on to a financial Bill of extraneous provisions intended to be applied for political or social purposes.That is all very good. It is an admirable description of what the object of the clause ought to be. It is intended, according to the Prime Minister, to guard against "tacking" in the more technical sense—that is, the addition of ulterior political purposes to a financial Bill—and it also covers the case of what we sometimes refer to as moral "tacking"—that is where the. Bill is a financial Bill but where objects not financial but covering, to use Mr. Asquith's words, "some larger or social policy" are clearly aimed at by the legislation. When we get into Committee I think we shall be able to show that the clause, so far from carrying out the intention of the Prime Minister, really does sweep within the net not only Money Bills in the strict sense of the word, but a whole host of other legislation under the guise of Money Bills. The noble Viscount the Secretary of State for War, when discussing the Veto Resolutions some time ago, used a very admirable phrase when he said that there were Bills in which "some big principle altogether over-tops the financial point involved." That is an excellent test by which this clause may be judged. It will, I believe, be found that as it stands it contains a very dangerous encroachment on the privileges of this House. The clause, however, provides not only a very shaky definition of a Money Bill, but also what I must call a very 958 suspect tribunal for deciding whether or not a Bill is a Money Bill. I say that without any disrespect to the present Speaker of the House of Commons or to the distinguished men who have preceded him. But it has been pointed out that the Speaker is an officer of the House of Commons, the vigilant guardian of its rights and privileges, and that as such he does not hold the position of au umpire or arbiter qualified to hold the balance evenly between the interests of the two Houses.
Now I pass to the second clause. The first clause, as I have shown, withdraws from this House absolutely a very considerable part of the field of legislation. The matter, therefore, becomes the more serious when we find that in the remainder of the field of legislation we are hopelessly crippled and hobbled by the provisions of Clause 2. The noble Viscount who moved the Bill told us that the clause left us important and substantial powers, and the Secretary of State for War went the length of saying that it made no very great change from what was the present practice as between the two Houses of Parliament.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
That is not quite the same thing. We might not entirely agree as to what ought or ought not to be the practice. But what the noble Viscount who leads the House told us was this, and the statement does seem to me, must say, a most extraordinary one. He said that the right of delay given to us under this clause would "no longer rest on the disputed survival of an antiquated right, but would rest on the definite and formal assertion of a modern Statute." I absolutely challenge both limbs of that statement. What does the noble Viscount mean by saying that our right to delay the passage of an ordinary Bill, not a Money Bill, rests on the disputed survival of an antiquated right? I never heard of such a doctrine. If we delay the passage of Bills it is not the assertion of a disputed survival of an antiquated right, it is the exercise of a duty that belongs to us under the Constitution of the country. Then what does the noble Viscount mean by saying that in the future we should be able to rely on the security of a modern Statute? What is that worth? The antidote to the poison of the 959 noble Viscount's statement is to be found, I think, in the almost immediately preceding sentence of his speech. He said:—There are those, I may confide to your Lordships, in my own Party, persons who have a good right to an opinion, who regard the powers to be possessed by the House of Lords as formidable, and even, if they are very unwisely used, as menacing to all the things that Liberals at all events care for.I rather mistrust this revelation of stable secrets. Menacing! Could a menace be less thinly veiled than that contained in this sentence? It is a plain intimation that if this House uses the restricted powers conferred on it under this Bill in a manner which noble Lords opposite may deem to be unwise, these influential people of the Radical Party of whom the noble Viscount speaks will see to it that those powers are still further curtailed. Such is the security of the modern Statute which the noble Viscount holds out to us.
Then there is the suggestion that with our two years' delay and the three sessions we really have all the opportunities we can reasonably look for. I remain quite unconverted by those suggestions. If I may follow up Lord Marchamley's simile, I doubt extremely whether the dishes which are likely to be presented to us by His Majesty's Government under the new régime will be of that light and unsubstantial character which will render them no longer pleasant to the sight or palatable to the taste if they are kept waiting for a few hours. I believe, on the contrary, that the proposals which they are likely to submit will be of a much more solid and indigestible and dangerous character. But how will the thing work? For all we know the two sessions may be bogus sessions. There is not a word in the Bill to ensure that the sessions shall be really substantial sessions of the usual length. What is quite clear is that during the first two years of the Parliament the House of Commons will be able to run riot. From this perfunctory treatment no subject, however important, is to be excepted. In the whole course of the debates in another place no feature was more significant than the refusal of the Prime Minister to vouchsafe exceptional treatment for any single subject, no matter how important or how vitally it might affect the very Constitution of the country. And what an ominous observation that was which he let fall, I think during the course of the debate, that if all Constitutional questions were excepted 960 there would be very little left for the Radical Party to do.
Let us look for one moment at this Bill in operation. You will have the two periods—the period when the new House of Commons will be in the full plenitude of its power. In that period it will be impervious to argument for this reason, that under your Bill the insertion of Amendments in any measure converts it into a new measure and it will consequently have to be brought up the following year as such, so that it will come to us in the third year instead of the second. That lost year will be in the eyes of His Majesty's Government a precious year; it will be one of the two years of the riotous youth of the Government, and they are not likely to jeopardise it in a hurry, and I say no greater premium could be put upon the obstinacy of a Government in charge of a Bill than this enactment which says that an amended Bill is to be treated as a new Bill. Then, my Lords, the Bill may be carried by a wholly insignificant majority, by a majority which reflects quite inadequately the public opinion of this country, by a majority formed of a coalition of groups, a majority of the kind which Mr. Asquith himself described as "a scratch majority combining under the coercion of Party exigencies" and controlled by that Parliamentary machine the rigour and inelasticity of which the Prime Minister has lamented and of the working of which we have been allowed occasional glimpses by some of the old House of Commons men—Lord Marchamley, Lord St. Davids, Lord Courtney of Penwith, and last, but not least, the Secretary of State for War—who have addressed us. So much for the first two years. Then we come to the second period—a period of lower vitality, when the General Election will be approaching and there is no longer room for the interval of two sessions prescribed by the Bill. It has been suggested by my noble friend Lord Montagu that during that period this House would be able to paralyse the House of Commons. I should like to put it to your Lordships—Is it very pleasant to look forward to these alternate periods of violent activity and stagnation? Has it been under such conditions that in the past our legislation has been deliberate and progressive, and because it has been deliberate and progressive, has been durable and respected by the people of this country?
961 It is not disputed that the first period of exuberant youth will be used by the present House of Commons for the purpose of forcing Home Rule upon the country. We understand that the Government claim to have a mandate to ignore the fact that a Home Rule Bill has been twice deliberately rejected by the people. It has been truly said that Ministers were careful in their addresses to keep Home Rule out of sight, but, assuming that you have some kind of mandate for Home Rule, the question we have to ask is—What kind of Home Rule do you consider you have a mandate for? I believe that the ideas of the Government upon the question of Home Rule are about as nebulous as their ideas in regard to House of Lords reform. Are we to have the only Home Rule we know—Gladstonian Home Rule, twice rejected by the country? Is it to be Federal Home Rule—some vast Imperial scheme? Is it to be what is sometimes called Home Rule all round? Unless I am mistaken, that is the variety which finds favour with the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and, I think, the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. I am glad he nods assent to my observation; but if that is to be the kind of Home Rule we are to have—Home Rule intended to relieve Parliament of part of the burden of local business which now falls upon it—we have a right to say that no scheme of that description has ever been put before the country and that it is impossible to contend that the Government have a mandate for such a scheme. I say nothing of the other questions connected with Home Rule—the financial basis, the treatment of Ulster, and what is going to be done with the police and the justiciary. All these things, I know, are treated by Mr. Redmond as mere details, but they are details in which this country takes a good deal of interest and about which they have never been consulted.
I may be asked why, holding the views I hold about this Bill, I shall not go into the Lobby against it if the House should divide. My answer is that our action must certainly not be interpreted as any indication that we accept, either permanently or provisionally, the place which it is sought to assign to this House under the Bill. But we admit that after the two last elections you have a right to legislate upon this question, and 962 we believe there is some ground which is common to both sides. We therefore hold it desirable that we should enter upon the Committee stage and discuss the provisions of the Bill in detail, and that we should put upon the Paper such Amendments as the measure may seem in our view to call for. I hope I may be permitted to add an expression of my confidence that those Amendments will be respectfully examined and discussed by noble Lords opposite. We are justified in inferring that this will be so from the distinct intimation of the noble and learned Lord that if Amendments are moved in Committee then will be the time to consider our proposals.
Upon one point we shall press for information. We shall endeavour to ascertain from noble Lords opposite the extent to which the arrangements proposed in this Bill are to be regarded as merely provisional. Very little has been said by noble Lords opposite on the subject of the Preamble of the Bill. It bids us look forward to a reconstituted House of Lords with powers which are to be hereafter defined and limited. The noble Viscount told us the other evening that there would be a long road to travel before effect can be given to the intentions expressed in the Preamble. We should like to have some idea of what we are likely to find when we get to the end of it. I hope we may expect to find that the Government have in view a reconstituted Second Chamber with real powers, not powers of obstruction, but powers giving to the two Houses opportunities for consultation and co-operation, opportunities for the nation of securing a breathing space in moments of great tension and of uttering the second thoughts, which sometimes occur, and occur usefully to nations as well as to individuals. Such glimpses as have been allowed us by noble Lords opposite have not, I am afraid, been altogether reassuring. The noble and learned Lord told us that we might look forward to "a new procedure" which would be more "expeditious." But his formula bore a striking resemblance to that used by his colleague, the Home Secretary, who amplified the same idea in words which I will quote to the House. Mr. Churchill expressed himself in favour of less dilatory and more convenient methods, but he went on to explain that by less dilatory methods he meant a less dilatory method of passing Government Bills and by a more convenient method, a method 963 more convenient to His Majesty's Government. The passage does not strike that note of disinterestedness, of fair play, which the habitual language of His Majesty's Government entitles us to expect at their hands. Meanwhile, while we wait for the new dispensation, we shall suggest that, so long as the Constitution is out of gear, it is necessary in common prudence to devise some safeguards to protect the country against dangerous and ill-considered innovations; safeguards, above all, to protect and to secure our most sacred institutions and the foundations of the government of the United Kingdom against irreparable damage.
That is all I have to say this evening, but before I sit down I desire to lay before the House a quotation which has been sent to me by a correspondent, and which is, I think, apposite at this moment. It is taken from a book by Mr. Oman, the distinguished Professor of Modern History at Oxford. The book has for its title, "Seven Roman Statesmen of the later Republic," and the passage occurs in the essay on Tiberius Gracchus—No statesman has the right to pull down the Constitution about the ears of the people the moment he finds himself checked in his designs. However bad a Constitution may be, the man who upsets it before he has arranged for anything to put in its place is a criminal and anarchist if he knows what he is doing, and a mischievous madman if he does not.Apologising for the severity of the professor's language, I venture to leave the noble Viscount his choice of the horns of the professor's dilemma.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN)
My Lords, I am too well accustomed to the horns of the historian's dilemma to be at all embarrassed by that of my friend Professor Oman, and I would have read out that passage with a confidence equal to that of the noble Marquess and applied it to the noble Lords who prepared the way for wrecking the Constitution by their vote on the Budget Bill and by the proceedings which they felt bound to follow that vote up by, which amounted to the offence that Professor Oman was condemning.
Now, my Lords, I had not intended, and I do not intend, to-night to make any lengthy observations, for I consider that 964 my noble friend Lord Haldane sufficiently stated our case, and I do not see that the noble Marquess—I say it with all respect—has in any way shaken our position. During the last three weeks we shall have had two votes in this House, one upon the Bill moved by the noble Marquess and the other upon the Bill now before your Lordships. There is this very curious feature about both. With regard to the Bill the Second Reading of which was accepted last week without a Division, the vote was preceded by a vast number of speeches directed strongly and vigorously against the Bill which was afterwards to receive unanimous support. Now again to-night the noble Marquess said—and it was with pleasure and satisfaction that I listened to the opening sentences of his speech—that he did not at all, in spite of the failure of the Conference, despair of a settlement; that, on the contrary, he was not discouraged either by that failure or by anything that had happened since from still hoping for a settlement, and the refusal to vote against the Bill to-night, coupled with that language of the noble Marquess, filled me with an expectation that we should not have emphatic, and may I say laboured, disapproval of the Bill which noble Lords are going to assent to. But if the reasoning taken by the noble Marquess were solid reasoning, if the points taken were good points, I wonder, if I may say it without want of generosity, that they should allow the Second Reading of a Bill open to all those condemnatory criticisms. I rejoice that that operation is to take place, and if the noble Marquess had accompanied his announcement of that intention on the part of himself and his friends by making the best of an unwelcome task, just as those who supported his own Bill last week made the best of an unwelcome task, then I think the noble Marquess would have taken a line more worthy of the occasion and more worthy of those pathetic and conciliatory expressions with which he began his speech.
At the end of these two momentous debates and these two momentous Second Readings, I am asked to do—what? To defend the Bill? No. I am asked to explain to the House what is the scheme of Home Rule which we are going to adopt under the Bill to the Second Reading of which you are going to assent. Why am I to go all through the anti-Home Rule 965 story? I do not say that there is no anti-Home Rule story to be told, but why is all that old story to be revived on this occasion? Next year if all goes well there will be plenty of opportunity, and I submit to the House and to the noble Marquess that that subject is thoroughly irrelevant to the Second Reading of a Bill which is an agreed Second Reading. Then there was the old point, which really I should have thought the noble Marquess was wearied of—that we have no mandate. The noble Marquess laboured for several minutes what is a mandate and what is not a mandate, and my noble friend Lord Rosebery also said something about a mandate and about my view of a mandate. My own view of a mandate, may I remind the noble Marquess, is the view of the old Whig school, which was that when a Parliament was elected it could do what it liked. The noble Marquess referred to my reference the other day to Mr. Glad-stone's legislative performances between 1868 and 1874. I did not refer to them with a view to disparaging the House of Lords. I did not refer to them as showing that the House of Lords had rejected good Bills; I referred to them as showing, and certainly I was right from the point of view of the old Whigs, that when Parliament contains a majority which supports a Ministry the whole of that operation is to be an independent operation—they are to be members of Parliament and not delegates. The noble Marquess has read plenty of writings in works well known to him which express that with much greater force than I can do.
It is uninteresting, if he will allow me to say so, to follow the noble Marquess through all his criticisms on the Bill. I think it is true that there is not a single one of those criticisms which has not been thoroughly discussed in this House within the last three weeks. As to Money Bills, I confess I thought the clause dealing with those was by this time agreed. The noble Marquess denies that, but I do not think he quite correctly stated, or understood even, how far the first clause goes. There was added, as the noble Marquess remembers and all who followed the fortunes of the Bill in the House of Commons will remember, that addition to the clause as it originally stood which was supposed to meet and entirely satisfy the objections made by the Party of the noble Marquess.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
It was admitted to be an improvement, but I do not think any of my friends in the other place admitted for a moment that it entirely satisfied us.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN
At all events it satisfied them as much as any concession His Majesty's Government made. It was studied and considered and taken as a concession that would meet the objections made by Mr. Balfour and others. Then as to the other points the noble Marquess took, I submit that on consideration he will find that they are all difficulties and objections that arise whenever you attempt to change an unwritten into a written Constitution. The minute you begin to write your Constitution you will be confronted with the very points and objections that the noble Marquess produced. That they can all be answered adequately, completely, and summarily I do not pretend for a moment. It is well known that in the American Constitution not all the points to which objection was taken 100 years ago were satisfactorily settled for good and all; and all the difficulties raised by the noble Marquess are difficulties that anybody will find inherent in an attempt to infuse written provisions into an unwritten system depending more upon custom and usage than upon anything in a Statute-book.
I am a little dismayed, and I daresay the noble Marquess meant to dismay me, at the promise or threat that he holds out of Amendments. There is no intention on the part of the Government to refuse consideration of Amendments that are consistent with the principle, which would be approved by the Second Reading, but it would not be to the credit of the noble Marquess and his friends to allow the Bill to go through Second Reading with the intention of raising all the difficulties and objections they think vital at a later stage. The noble Marquess will not suspect me of desiring to play the part of moral censor, but I think it would not be entirely to the credit of the leaders of the Opposition if they let this Bill go through the Second Reading with the intention to reproduce at a later stage all the difficulties and objections which they think vital. It would, I think, be very disquieting to the country and not advantageous to them-selves to pursue such a course. But the Government have no power or right to prevent Amendments, but they would be carried, of course, at the risk of dissension with another place. If it is the intention of 967 noble Lords opposite to persist in bringing forward a cloud of Amendments in the Committee stage of this Bill, such a course will tell against them just as much as voting against the Bill on Second Reading to-night. We are confident that that view must prevail in the minds of noble Lords opposite. I think the country is expecting what we expect—that the same spirit and policy and temper, in view of the public and Parliamentary necessities which have induced noble Lords to-night to let this Bill pass the Second Reading, will animate them when they come to the later stages of it.
§ On Question, whether the Bill shall be now read 2a, agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.