§ EARL BRASSEY rose to call attention to the congestion of business in Parliament, and to move to resolve—
§ That for the purpose of (a) securing prompt and efficient handling of pressing domestic problems and better control over public expenditure, and (b) enabling the Imperial Parliament to devote more attention to the general interests of the United Kingdom and matters of common 502 Imperial concern than is possible under the present system of a single Parliament and Cabinet, the establishment of local legislatures throughout the United Kingdom is an urgent necessity.
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, the subject of the Resolution that I have placed on the Paper for the purpose of raising a discussion is one to which, as many of your Lordships know, I have devoted a good deal of attention for a great many years. The policy of Federal Devolution, as it is generally described, was referred to by Mr. Joseph Chamberlain on the Home Rule Bill of 1886 as affording the best solution of the Irish question. It was brought before your Lordships' House in the discussion on the Home Rule Bill in February, 1913, by the late Earl Grey and by Lord Dunraven, and it was alluded to by many speakers in the course of that debate. In the discussion that went on in the country during the following winter the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, Mr. Austen Chamberlain and others also made reference to the question, while Sir Edward Carson over and over again stated that Ulstermen would not consent to be placed in a position of inferiority as compared with Englishmen and Scotsmen in their relation to the Imperial Parliament in other words, that the only form of Home Rule which Ulstermen might possibly be induced to accept would be a form which was part of a general scheme of Devolution applicable to the whole of the United Kingdom.
§ In his reply to the deputation which I had the honour to introduce to him last summer, the Prime Minister professed himself a strong Federalist. He also pointed out to the deputation that three quarters of the time of Parliament was at present occupied with questions affecting only one portion or another of the United Kingdom, and that that was a great waste of the time of Parliament. He further asserted that it was the purest common sense that there should be a large delegation of business. At the time of that deputation there were some 140 or 150 Unionist members of the House of Commons, over 100 Liberal members, and the Labour Party and the whole of the Welsh Members, both Unionists and Liberals, in favour of Federal Devolution. In my judgment there is no question that if His Majesty's Government at the time of that deputation, some eight months ago, had introduced proposals for taking steps in this direction, they would 503 have met with practically unanimous approval in the House of Commons.
§ As your Lordships will remember, Resolutions were placed both on the Notice Paper in this House in my name and on the Notice Paper in the House of Commons in the names of two Unionists, two Liberals, and two Labour Members of Parliament. The Resolution was not moved in another place because the Government could not give an opportunity for discussing it either before the close of the summer session or during the few weeks of the autumn session before the Armistice. I did not bring forward the Resolution here, because it was felt by those to whose opinion I felt bound to defer that the discussion should take place in the other House before it took place in your Lordships' House; and I was abroad during the autumn session until the Armistice.
The Resolution, in the first place, calls your Lordships' attention to the congestion of business in Parliament. That is a very old theme. It was lamented by Mr. Gladstone so long ago as his campaign in Midlothian in the year 1879. It was referred to in very strong terms by the late Mr. Chamberlain in his introduction to the Radical programme which was published in the year 1885. He wrote of the overwhelming work thrown on the Imperial Legislature as too much for its machinery, and then went on to say that—
no mere extension of local government upon the ordinary and restricted lines will relieve the Parliamentary congestion which has now become a national calamity.
The situation is ten times more serious to-day than it ever was before. During the last two and a-quarter years a large number of new Ministries, a large number of new Departments, and a vast bureaucracy have been created, a bureaucracy which, we know from the Estimates published a few days ago, will cost the country the appalling sum of £500,000,000 a year, or more than two and a half times the total national expenditure of the country before the war.
§ The extension of Government Departments has not ceased with the war. Within the last few days Bills have been introduced for the establishment of a Ministry of Health and a Ministry of Transport. The Government apparently propose to control mines. There are pressing for consideration vast problems of housing, and 504 so forth, affecting the life of the people in their homes, and then there are big questions of more than home interest affecting the trade and the defence of the country, and the vast problem of the government of India, all pressing for consideration. If Parliament is to be a mere machine for registering the decrees of the Cabinet; if Ministers are to spend public money at will; if the Minister of Munitions is to be permitted to add at least £40,000,000 to the labour bill of his Ministry without even consulting the Labour advisers of the Government; if £2,000,000 is to be spent on a motor depot at Slough, to which Lord Desborough called attention last summer: if fourteen Departments each with its own Minister are to be allowed to interfere in the question of demobilisation—if this sort of thing is to be allowed to go on you may say there is no congestion of business in Parliament. Many excuses may be advanced for extravagance and maladministration during the war, but those excuses can no longer be made. I submit that under present conditions it is impossible for Parliament to discharge its functions as a Parliament, that democratic principles cannot be maintained, and that the people through their representatives cannot control administration, legislation, or public expenditure owing to the congestion of business in Parliament. A reform in procedure has been suggested to relieve the congestion and enable Parliament to do its business more effectively. I venture to think that the reform in procedure now proposed will prove as ineffective and as futile as other reforms of a similar nature have proved to be in the past.
§ What is the remedy which I have asked your Lordships to consider for dealing with this situation? It is, as I have said, briefly known as Federal Devolution. It implies the establishment of National Legislatures in England and Scotland as well as in Ireland. When I first began to advocate this question our view was confined to these three countries, which as a matter of fact are governed by separate systems of administration at the present time. But we who advocate this policy always recognised that if Wales should demand, through her representatives in Parliament, Home Rule for herself, Wales was entitled to have her demand conceded. The object of this Resolution is not to discuss the details of the scheme. I have no detailed scheme to submit 505 to your Lordships. My object is to ask your Lordships to assent to the general principle that devolution is absolutely essential if Parliament is to discharge its duties effectively to the nation.
I should like to make a few general observations as to what is in my mind in suggesting this policy. In the first place, no change is suggested in the Imperial Parliament as constituted at present. It is possible, assuming these subordinate Legislatures are established, that there will be some reduction in the number of members of the House of Commons. In the second place, the supremacy of the Imperial Parliament is indefeasible, and it can always, if necessary, override the acts of the subordinate Legislatures. It is, perhaps, not out of place to allude to the fact that this was recognised by all sections of Nationalists, as well as by the Southern Unionist Members, in the Irish Convention when they assented to this proposition—
Notwithstanding the establishment of the Irish Parliament or anything contained in the Government of Ireland Act, the supreme power and authority of the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall remain unaffected and undiminished over all persons, matters, and things in Ireland and in every part thereof.
The third observation I should like to make is that the devolution of powers to subordinate Legislatures should be as extensive as possible, consistently with the maintenance of the security and integrity of the United Kingdom.
§ The next proposition is one on which I know some noble Lords will disagree with me. It seems to me, in view of the fact that the supremacy of the Imperial Parliament must remain unquestioned, that it is not of very material importance whether the powers retained by the Imperial Parliament or those transferred to subordinate Legislatures are enumerated in the Bill establishing these Legislatures. In the latter case it is obvious that the list would be a lengthy one. The distribution of powers as between the Imperial and subordinate Legislatures is obviously a question which must be settled by the Government. The powers to be retained—I am not giving any detailed list, but by way of illustration—would be questions affecting the Crown, the Army and Navy, Foreign policy, questions of coinage, weights and measures, the control of harbours of naval or military importance, lighthouses, and so on.506
§ In this connection I should like to refer by way of illustration to the question of Conscription in Ireland. It seems to me that the Government were absolutely right in extending Conscription to Ireland, although they ought to have done so long before they did; and for this reason—in order to show that whatever form of Home Rule was given to Ireland such a question as that was a question which should be decided by the Imperial Parliament and not by a subordinate Legislature. In the same way in Canada or Australia the question whether Conscription was to be applied or not was not decided according to the views of the different provinces or different colonies but by the opinion of the whole country.
§ Now as to the powers to be handed over. They will include questions connected with local government, agriculture, education, licensing, and so on. There are a certain number of questions which would have to be considered by a Committee, or whatever body considers these details, which are on the border line, and on which strong arguments in each direction can be used, such as factory legislation. Then it seems to me that it is not necessary to insist on the powers to be transferred to the local Legislatures being absolutely identical in every case. Take, for instance, the question of railways. There seems to be no reason for not handing over the control of railways in Ireland to an Irish Parliament. On the other hand, there are very strong reasons why the control of railways in Great Britain should be under the same authority, because through trains run from England into Wales and Scotland. Further, there is no necessity, I think, that the constitution of the subordinate Legislatures should be similar in all cases. Scotland may prefer a one-Chamber Legislature, we in England may prefer a two-Chamber Legislature, and Ireland may prefer a Legislature devised in that curious way worked out by the Irish Convention. For the purpose of carrying into effect what is required to relieve congestion in Parliament, it does not matter how these different Legislatures are constituted. What does matter is how the powers between the Imperial and the National Legislatures are to be, distributed. For the constitution of those National Legislatures it will be necessary in each case to appoint a national convention which should settle what is required by the respective countries.507
§ I do not propose to offer any observations to your Lordships on the question of finance, because with the information at my disposal I am not competent to do so. I remember many years ago, with others, working the whole of one summer upon a scheme of Federal finance. It was submitted to Sir Edward Hamilton, then Secretary to the Treasury, and was afterwards submitted to the O'Conor Don, who was chairman of the Financial Relations Commission after the death of Mr. Childers, and was subsequently made public in a paper that I read to the Royal Statistical Society. But any work that one did then on that question would be perfectly inapplicable to present conditions. I do not possess the information required at presentto deal with the matter, and I doubt whether any one possesses information at the moment on which it would be possible to draw up a scheme of Federal finance.
§ Before I sit down I would like to offer to your Lordships a few considerations which have always appealed to me in the advocacy of this policy. I, perhaps, may be permitted to explain that my political faith was inspired by speeches which the noble Lord, Lord Rosebery—who I am sure many of us regret not to see in his place—made in the early 'eighties, and I made up my mind before I left Oxford that it was the duty of any one who proposed to serve his country in Parliament to see and to understand the British Empire before he presented himself for election to any constituency. And I did that. I was not a Home Ruler in 1886, but I came back from a long voyage throughout the British Empire firmly convinced that the maintenance of this Empire depended on the recognition of two principles—first, the right of each part of the Empire that is capable of self-government to manage its own local affairs in its own way; and, second, the right of each part of our Empire that bore its fair share of Imperial burdens to a voice in the control of Imperial policy. The first of these principles has long been recognised in other parts of the Empire, but it has never been recognised in this country.
§ I do not want to argue this question from the point of view of Ireland, but I wish to refer to it in connection with the solution of the Irish question. I have always held that it is impossible to devise any solution of the Irish question equitable both to Irishmen and to the people of Great Britain if you dealt with the question of 508 Home Rule for Ireland by itself. The difficulty of devising such a scheme arises from the position of the Irish Members in the Imperial Parliament. Under the Home Rule Bill of 1886 the Irish Members were excluded from the Imperial Parliament altogether. If that Bill had become law it would have meant that Ireland would have been taxed for Imperial purposes but that the representatives of Ireland would have had no voice in the control of the expenditure. In the Bill of 1893 what is known as the "in-and-out" plan was proposed, but that Bill, during its passage through the House of Commons, was proved to be so impracticable in its working, that in the form in which it left your Lordships' House Irish Members were retained for all purposes, and in all subsequent measures the Irish representatives have been retained in the Imperial Parliament for all purposes. That proposal is open to the fundamental objection from the British point of view—from the Scottish and English point of view—that whereas Irishmen are free to manage their own affairs without our interference, they are nevertheless to be permitted to come over here and interfere with our affairs.
§ May I say a word or two from the point of view of England. It has always been to me a matter of astonishment that the Unionist Party have not realised the consequences of their insistence upon the maintenance of a unitary Government in this country. The result of the maintenance of a unitary system of government in the United Kingdom is that measures are frequently imposed upon England against the wish of the majority of the representatives of the English people. Disestablishment of the Church in Wales was carried in large part by the votes of Scotsmen and Irishmen who had no concern in the matter at all. Suppose the disestablishment of the Church of England—and this is a point I used to put on platforms thirty years ago—becomes a question for Parliament to deal with. Under present conditions the disestablishment of the Church of England would be carried through by the votes of Scottish Presbyterians, Welsh Nonconformists, and Irish Roman Catholics. It is a question which concerns only the people of England, and in my opinion it is by their votes alone that such a question as that ought to be decided. Are we Englishmen not capable of settling for ourselves, without the interference of 509 Scotsmen. Welshmen, or Irishmen, what form of education and what form of local government we require in our English towns and villages? That is a point of view upon which I feel very strongly.
§ Let me say one word on this question as it affects your Lordships' House. The effect of carrying through a policy of Federal Devolution would be to remove from the control of your Lordships' House practically every question on which there has hitherto been a difference of opinion between the two Houses, questions affecting the Church, the land, licensing, and education. I think it would strengthen very much the position of your Lordships' House in that it would diminish hostility to the continued existence of your Lordships' House. Further, it would alter the whole problem of reforming the composition of your Lordships' House. If I may say so, with all deference to the noble Viscount who is sitting below me, it has always seemed to me that it is a grave mistake to attempt to reform the composition of your Lordships' House until we have settled what form of government we are going to have in the United Kingdom.
§ Now one word as regards the control of the administration of expenditure. I have already pointed out that there is no effective control of the administration of expenditure under present conditions. The business of the British Empire, the business of this country, is being conducted on lines which would bring any industrial or commercial firm to grief in a few weeks. No industrial firm could be conducted on such lines with the head of the business, the chairman of the business, interfering in the petty details of every department of that business. It could not be conducted on those lines. Yet that is the way in which Imperial business is being conducted at the present time. The establishment of a National Legislature would enable legislation affecting the life of the people in their homes to be properly examined and considered. They would have time effectively to control administration and legislation, while the fact that the Imperial Parliament was relieved from the consideration of all those questions such as education, licensing, and so forth, would enable the Imperial Parliament to give greater attention to the larger questions, whether affecting the United Kingdom or the Empire as a whole, and would 510 enable them to give effective control to the administration of the expenditure of Departments such as those concerned with the Army and Navy; and other questions affecting the Empire
§ My Lords, I was never so much alarmed for the future of my country as I am at this moment. I am alarmed by the system of government which has been built up during the last few years, and, above all, by the enormous growth in our public expenditure.
§ EARL BRASSEY
I should not for one moment advocate this policy of Devolution unless I sincerely and thoroughly believed that it would lead to the better control of the administration and better control of public expenditure.
I have not said much on this question from the Imperial point of view. That is a point of view on which I feel very strongly. It seems to me that the continuance of the Government on our present system, having one Parliament and one Cabinet dealing with both Imperial and domestic affairs, is a serious danger to the continued unity of the Empire. What are the views of representatives of the Overseas Dominions on the subject? I will ask your Lordships' permission to read a brief extract from a very interesting Memorandum which was circulated amongst Members of Parliament last summer by those who were competent and fully justified in expressing an opinion on this subject. The views of representatives of the Overseas Dominions were thus summarised—We find Parliament engaged upon what we regard as parochial legislation to the entire exclusion of the greater question which affects us so closely, and it makes us despair of the future of the Empire. We are compelled to consider our own position. There is no fear that we shall over desert the Crown or the Flag, but we want to go further than this; we want to act hand in hand with the Mother Country in certain questions on certain lines, and if we are forced to the conviction that there is no prospect of the Imperial Parliament finding time to deal with these matters we shall then be compelled, very much against our will, to strike a line of our own, and to embark upon a programme which otherwise we should not adopt.I am not sure that there are not very strong indications that the Overseas Dominions are beginning to strike out that line of their own. The claim put forward 511 by Sir Robert Borden and other Ministers of the Overseas Dominions to the status of independent nations shows the direction in which they are tending. I do not believe that the unity of the Empire can be maintained under present conditions.
Another danger from the Imperial point of view, which I have mentioned over and over again in speeches on this subject in the last ten or twenty years, is the danger which arises from the fact that Imperial questions and domestic questions are submitted to the electors in the same confused issue. At one time a great Imperial issue may be to the front, as was the case during the South African War. A Government is returned to power on that issue, and then proceeds to use the majority so obtained to deal with questions, such as the education question, on lines which, as the subsequent Election showed, the people of this country did not approve. At another time some question purely of interest to the people of these Islands may be to the front, and a Government may be returned to power on that issue which the country would not trust with the administration of the larger affairs of the Empire.
Another danger from the Imperial point of view is this, that the fact that both Imperial and domestic questions are submitted to the country in the same confused issue prevents a clear verdict being given on some question of vital importance to the Empire. I feel very strongly on this point. The great instance to which I refer is the question of Imperial Preference, the question on which I severed my connection with the Liberal Party. I pointed out in the very early days of Tariff Reform that it was no use to advocate Tariff Reform until you had settled this question of Devolution, so as to enable the country to give a clear verdict on the question. I am not arguing now for or against the policy, but I am arguing that it is a question on which it is desirable to have a clear verdict. Irishmen would vote against those advocating the policy because they want Home Rule; Welshmen might vote against the policy because they want Disestablishment; Scotsmen and Englishmen might vote against the policy because they want some particular education.
I have spoken of the danger to the Empire, and I would like to refer to the danger here at home. This last Election, like the Election of 1900, has been held under the influence of a great war. It has 512 resulted in the return of an overwhelming number of Unionist Members of Parliament. Labour is not represented in Parliament in the least according to its voting power. I believe that this fact will prove to be a most potent power of Labour unrest, and I fear that it may lead to extra-Parliamentary agitation being substituted for discussion in Parliament. That seems to me to be a very serious danger of the situation with which we are face to face to-day. Provided that the policy which I advocate in this Resolution is carried out, in an election to the National Legislatures all considerations such as those with regard to the war would be absent, and Members would be elected for their competence on all those problems which affect the workers in their homes. In these subordinate Legislatures Labour would be represented to a far greater extent than it is under present conditions in the other House. It is possible that Labour might be in a position to form a Government in the subordinate Legislatures. My firm conviction that the best method of allaying unrest is for the Labour representatives to take their share of the reponsibility of dealing with those problems which affect the workers in their homes, is the last but not the least reason that I recommend this policy to your Lordships' consideration.
My Lords, I recognise that His Majesty's Government have decided not to deal with this question in the immediate future, but I offer them the suggestion that it is most desirable that there should be set up a Parliamentary Committee to consider the financial and other details of the scheme, and I sincerely hope that His Majesty's Government will accept that suggestion.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
My Lords, my record in this matter is a very different one from that of my noble friend who has just sat down. He has devoted the whole of his political life to this question with a single-minded sense of public duty, with an unselfishness and an untiring courage which, I think, must excite the admiration of all of us whether we agree or disagree with his conclusions. I have become a convert to the principle of Devolution only within the last few years, as I have previously stated in your Lordships' House.
Let me state, in preface to my remarks, the attitude I take up to the Irish aspect 513 of this question. I want to say quite definitely from the beginning that in my judgment so long as the Irish voters return a majority of Members actuated by nothing so much as hostility to England and Scotland, Ireland can only be governed in the way she is being governed now. Whatever the form of government in Great Britain may be, Ireland must be governed from the point of view of the safety of the whole of the United Kingdom. Therefore the observations that I am going to address to your Lordships now are solely in relation to Great Britain; and my argument in favour of Devolution arises not from a sense that this has always been the way to settle the Irish problem, but from my sense that the interests and the welfare, and indeed the safety, of Great Britain demand some such change in our constitutional procedure.
One further word of preface. Do not think that the proposal which my noble friend has brought forward, the principle of which I am going to support, is connected with what is called Imperial Federation—that is, a Parliament in which the Dominions and India might be represented. That is a wholly distinct proposition; and nothing really is more unfortunate than the suggestions which have been made from time to time that the Dominions or India might be represented in the Imperial Parliament as it exists to-day—in your Lordships' House, for instance. I think that all those who know anything by experience of the Dominions know that in no circumstances will the Dominions consent to be mixed up with our domestic affairs. They will not accept representation in any Parliament which is concerned with the domestic affairs of the United Kingdom, or of any part of it. Therefore what I am going to say is concerned not with the Empire at large, although I think that, if we have before us the ideal in the future of some political organisation representative of the whole Empire, Devolution in the United Kingdom is a necessary and an almost essential step towards the realisation of that ideal.
I now want your Lordships to consider how we stand to-day in Great Britain in respect of Parliament and the Cabinet. I submit to you that Parliament is impotent to deal properly either with the domestic problems which confront us here in the United Kingdom, or with the problems of the Empire which, until a true Imperial 514 Parliament exists, must be dealt with by the present Imperial Parliament. Lastly I want to draw your attention to the condition of our Cabinet, and I wish to say a few words upon that in the first instance. It is not only our Parliament and our Parliamentary system which has broken down, as I suggest, but our Cabinet and our Cabinet system has broken down. Our Cabinet—even before the war, but much more during the war, and now after the war—is completely overburdened with work, and the result has been to destroy Cabinet responsibility, and to a very great extent to make the work of the Treasury and of the Chancellor of the Exchequer impossible.
I want to develop that, and here I speak from experience. A Minister in a Cabinet to-day has, connected with the proper administration of his own Department, more work than any human being can get through. The consequence is that he does nothing except to attend to the affairs of his own Department; and he is only too content to leave his colleagues alone and not to criticise them if they will leave him alone and not criticise him. There has been a great change since the day when I first became a Cabinet Minister, not so very long ago. Then I think it was true to say that, if a Cabinet Minister circulated a Memorandum to his colleagues, a confidential Paper, on some matter affecting his Department, his colleagues were careful to read that Paper before the Cabinet when the matter was going to be discussed. I say without hesitation that these Memoranda which now go round in the Cabinet boxes are waste paper, or mainly so; that the other Cabinet Ministers have no time to read them, and do not read them. I know only one certain exception to that statement, and that is my noble friend the Leader of the House at the present moment. He has the most amazing power of work, and a conscience that defies the demands of nature, and I have never known him fail to read the paper of a colleague that was circulated in the Cabinet. He was a very rare exception, and therefore I say that it has come to this, that Ministers leave each other alone mainly—of course I am drawing the picture with a broad brush—and the sense of Cabinet responsibility as it used to exist has very largely disappeared.
What effect has all this on the Treasury? The Treasury is also utterly over-burdened.
515 Each Department has so many and such complicated questions to bring before the Treasury every year that the Treasury is never in advance of its work but is always in arrears, and it cannot deal with the questions as it ought to deal with them. On the one hand, a great deal passes through the Treasury that ought to be stopped there. You have seen it during the war on a colossal scale. Again you will see questions that the Treasury ought to pass blocked in the Treasury. In fact, it is always straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel, and largely because the burden of work and responsibility that falls upon it is beyond the power of any Department to deal with. Here is a further result. When a Cabinet Minister finds himself hopelessly blocked at the Treasury with something on which he is very keenly intent, and which he believes to be of great public importance, that he cannot get his colleagues in the Cabinet to attend to, or which the Cabinet cannot find time to deal with, there is an increasing tendency for that Cabinet Minister to go to the Prime Minister and persuade him, if he can, to over-rule the Treasury. We have seen that working within recent times. All this is constantly tending to the decline of Cabinet influence, and the aggrandisement of the position of the Prime Minister.
Therefore my first point is that this suggested change is just as necessary in the interests of Cabinet efficiency and the strength of the Executive Government, as it is for the efficiency and strength of our Parliamentary system. Let me ask you to consider how it is, and to what extent, that Parliament is impotent to deal with the domestic work that comes before it. And here pray remember that I am not dealing with Imperial questions but with what may be called purely domestic questions. Take the present position. The Government are putting before the country a great programme of legislation—a programme which is increasing day by day. That programme itself, to begin with, is only a selection by the Government, from those measures which it would like to pass, of those which it thinks it has a chance of passing—those to which it attributes the greatest importance. Therefore the list submitted to Parliament is at no time a complete list of the measures which the Government would like to pass into law. Beyond and besides what may be called the official programme of legislation, there is all the programme of legislation which 516 private Members would like to bring before Parliament. That private list has wholly disappeared. It is entirely snuffed out by Parliamentary practice. The Government can find no time to allow the private Member to bring his projects of legislation before Parliament in the House of Commons.
That may be a good or a bad thing, but I ask you to observe what is the result of this. The result is violent explosions outside Parliament—all these questions of industrial trouble, of the demands of the "triple alliance" of Labour. The root cause of these explosions, threatening so gravely our industrial and even political life, is scepticism as to the capacity or willingness of Parliament to consider these questions properly. Beyond the Government programme, beyond all the projects of legislation (which at least ought to be considered) of the private Member, there is unseen by the public a vast library—I can use no other word—of Departmental projects of legislation, the great majority of which are really required in the interests of the country. There is no Minister who has had charge of a Department lately who does not know that there is in his Department a list of those measures which experience has shown to be essential for the smooth working of existing law and the removal of difficulties and evils. These Departmental measures have no chance whatever in the official programme of the Government. They excite no political or Party interest, and therefore they have no chance, but they are of great importance in reality for the well-being of the country.
I have drawn a picture, which I do not think is exaggerated, of the amount of work which Parliament ought to be able to deal with but which Parliament cannot by any possibility deal with, and therefore I assert that in the use of the word "impotent" I have not strained the fact. Parliament is impotent to deal as it ought to with projects of legislation; and besides legislation there is the control of the public purse—the control of expenditure. Why, my Lords, the very pretence has disappeared from the House of Commons of attempting to deal with expenditure. There is no longer even a sham fight over the Estimates, and our taxation and expenditure are rising by leaps and bounds. The control of the Treasury appears wholly relaxed, and there is really no authority in the Constitution at the present moment that can save us from the consequences of excessive 517 expenditure. I submit that the case is made out that Parliament is not competent by its present organisation to deal with the work with which the nation expects it to deal, and I entirely agree with my noble friend that no mere change of procedure in the House of Commons will effect the necessary reform. We have seen the problem tinkered with (I can use no other expression) by the process of reform of procedure again and again, and I confidently join with him in the opinion that this attempt will be no more successful than previous ones.
I ask your Lordships to consider what are the results of the system as I have endeavoured to depict it. There is increasing discontent in the nation with the Parliamentary system, and there is increasing weakening of that system. There is increasing resort to extra-Parliamentary methods unknown to the Constitution and all really incompatible with the proper power and influence of Parliament or of the Cabinet as the servants of Parliament. Then there is the emergence of forces which threaten to substitute themselves for the Executive Government and to rival that Government. The Executive Government and Parliament being unable to deal with the situation, not only is there resort to extra-Parliamentary methods of dealing with it, but bodies are emerging which are attempting to acquire for themselves extra-Constitutional power within the Constitution—power, although unknown to the Constitution, of dealing with the things with which only the Cabinet as the servants of Parliament ought to deal—and, consequently, there is ever-increasing weakening of the Executive Government in the form of the Cabinet, while, side by side with these phenomena, there is the ever-increasing power of one man—the Prime Minister. I do not mean this Prime Minister. I mean the Prime Minister for the time being. He is becoming in a certain way rather like the American President. The vote of the General Election is being taken more and more as a vote for the Prime Minister, and by the working of events—not by his own action or his own will—he is acquiring power at the expense of the Cabinet as a whole. Then there is another force which is constantly acquiring more power and more influence, and that is represented by the Departments—what we call the bureaucracy. As the power of Parliament and of the Cabinet decline, at the same time the 518 power of the Prime Minister increases and so does the power of the Departments, of the permanent bureaucracy; and all this is accompanied by increasing waste and extravagance.
I ask your Lordships to consider the other aspect of the case which I have not yet touched upon, but with which my noble friend dealt. That is the Imperial aspect of the case. I assert that in the past Parliament has perforce neglected the problems of the Empire, and this neglect has arisen from the double fact that Parliament was overburdened with work and that Members of Parliament were mainly elected on other than Imperial issues. I believe we have suffered very seriously in the past from that aspect of our Constitution—that General Elections have more often turned on domestic questions than on Imperial questions, and that, therefore, you have had Members elected who have had little or no interest in Imperial questions, sometimes very little sympathy for them, so that the whole of this branch of our great Imperial burden has been neglected in the House of Commons.
I am going to make this speculation to your Lordships. Is it possible that that fact is responsible for the war through which we have just passed? I think that this is a thesis that might possibly be maintained. If it had not been that we had a House of Commons which had been elected very distinctly on domestic issues and which was supposed to be comparatively indifferent to Imperial issues, and if it had not been supposed that the House of Commons was so immersed or tied up in domestic questions of the first magnitude that it could give no real attention or interest to world politics, surely it is possible that those who were responsible for choosing August, 1914, as the moment of world-war might have paused. Therefore, I think it is a thesis that might be developed and maintained that this fact that our Members of Parliament have been so largely elected on domestic questions was responsible, or partly responsible, for the world-war. But, at any rate, there is no doubt whatever as to the view of statesmen from the Dominions on this question. They will all tell you, I think, that when they come here, either at the time of an Imperial Conference or at some other time, on business which is very important to them and to the Empire, they find the Cabinet and Parliament more 519 interested in other things, and that they do not feel that the proper attention or time is given to the great questions in which they are concerned.
If this has been true of the past I want to ask you whether it will not be much more true of the future, because in the future far more time will be required in the House of Commons to deal with these Imperial questions in their widest aspect. I mean the Army, the Navy, Imperial trade, the Crown Colonies, the Dominions, and India. Take these questions alone. Take India. You Lordships are going to have before you within a few months a Bill dealing with the future government of India. One of the leading features of the Chelmsford-Montagu policy is that the House of Commons should in the future take a much closer interest in Indian matters than it has in the past. Without some change in our system it is quite impossible for the House of Commons to do so. But that is not all. It is universally agreed that there is to be no longer any secret diplomacy in this country. The House of Commons, instead of passing a self-denying ordinance on itself in respect of foreign policy as it has done in past years, is expected in the future to keep a close control over foreign politics. How is that possible with the present condition of business in the House of Commons? Again, we shall probably be parties to a new great international treaty called the League of Nations. That will involve a constant watchfulness of the House of Commons; it will entail a great amount of Parliamentary time, none of which can be spared, and none of which can be given as things are at present. Therefore I suggest that a complete re-adjustment of our constitutional machinery in the direction indicated by my noble friend is required for the preservation of strong Cabinet and Executive Government; also for the fulfilment of what are called generically our Imperial obligations, and also for keeping Public Departments under proper control and checking the growth of expenditure.
I have a further suggestion to make to your Lordships. It is that such a system of Devolution will, to a large extent, supply those checks which in our older system were supplied by the balance of the two Houses against each other. I do not say for one moment that the adoption of such a policy will render any Second Chamber unnecessary. That is far from being 520 my opinion. But I do say that such a system—the working of the Central Legislature and Central Government against the local Legislatures and local Governments—does in effect supply some of those checks which in our older system were supplied by the working of the Crown, the Lords and the Commons, in respect to each other.
What is the separation which in our opinion is required? It is a separation of the common affairs of the Empire with which Parliament now deals and the common affairs of the whole United Kingdom—these two classes of work—from business which affects only England, or only Scotland, or only Wales. By the plan of my noble friend any business that was exclusively English would be dealt with in the English Legislature, any business exclusively Scottish would be dealt with in a Scottish Legislature, and similarly in the case of Wales, but all that was of interest to the whole of the United Kingdom or was Imperial in character would be dealt with in the United Kingdom Parliament or the Imperial Parliament. But to carry that into effect certain machinery is required. The first thing to be considered is the machinery of this constitutional change, and in that undoubtedly the question of a Second Chamber is involved. Next to the question of machinery is the question of the distribution of powers and responsibilities, or, to put the matter in a simpler form, what questions are only English questions, what questions are only Scottish questions, and by this process of elimination it is ascertained that the remainder are United Kingdom or Imperial questions.
Lastly, there is the question of finance. How are the financial resources of the United Kingdom to be distributed between the United Kingdom or Imperial Parliament and the National Legislatures. There is no doubt of this, that by far the most difficult question is the question of finance. Nobody can have studied, even perfunctorily studied, this question without acknowledging that fact. Personally, so far as I am able to form a judgment, I do not believe the matter of machinery is difficult, and I think that the matter of the distribution of powers is quite easily solved by a competent Committee, but the question of finance is an intricate and very difficult one. My noble friend who in- 521 troduced this Motion touched on a variety of aspects of it, and put a variety of considerations before your Lordships, but oven he was only able to touch on the fringe of the question. My noble friend Viscount Bryce, who I believe is going to speak presently, will with his great authority put before us many criticisms. He will say, How is this difficulty to be met? How do you deal with this objection? Have you thought of this danger? There is nobody who can do greater service to the country by his criticisms than my noble friend with his great learning and great experience. What I submit to your Lordships is that a case for very serious consideration and examination has been made out. It may be that the objections which the noble Viscount will urge may prove insuperable. I do not think so. But what I suggest is that the case should be examined, and that my noble friend's criticisms should also be examined.
Your Lordships never like to affirm an abstract Resolution. I was very glad, therefore, that my noble friend concluded his remarks by telling us that he was going to ask the Government now or at some not distant, date to appoint a body with authority really to examine the difficulties of this question. I would venture to support that appeal to the utmost of my power. It seems to me that, we have got into a position of real constitutional danger I do not see any way out of it by the mere method of Parliamentary procedure. It may be that, what my noble friend has called the devolution solution is not a possible one, Viscount Bryce may be right, and it may not be applicable to the circumstances of this country. But I do submit that a real case for investigation has been made out; for, so far as I can form a judgment, if that road is closed to us then the future is black indeed, and I can see no method of again putting this people and nation, or indeed this Empire, into possession of a Parliament or Government that has the possibility of doing the work the Empire and the nation expect.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD BIRKENHEAD)
My Lords, it may not be inconvenient that a few observations should be made at this stage on behalf of the Government. I should be sorry to indicate that as to the ultimate abstract desirability of this proposal every member of the Government was in agreement, but 522 I think I may assume that in regard to such objections as I state to-day there will be no very considerable degree of dissent among the members of the Government.>lb/> The noble Earl who has just sat down closed his remarks in a very gloomy vein. If I were to attempt a note of criticism of the two speeches which have been delivered I should venture to say that they spent rather too much time in exposing the malady and rather too little time in explaining how this particular remedy was likely to cure it. Great stress was laid by both speakers upon the congestion in the House of Commons, and I observe that the words of the Motion which the noble Earl put upon the Paper but did not, as I understood him, actually move, place congestion in the House of Commons as among the strongest reasons for attempting a change so momentous. I have had a very considerable experience of the House of Commons. I was a member there for nearly fourteen years, and I confess that I agree with the letter which my noble friend Lord Salisbury wrote to the Press some months ago in which he very truly pointed out, that you must not look for the real explanation of excessive congestion in the House of Commons merely to the number of subjects which were placed before that House for consideration.
Every one who has studied the history of the House of Commons knows perfectly well that until the days of Mr. Parnell—or at any rate until the days of Mr. Parnell's more immediate predecessors—the House of Commons had plenty of time to do its Parlitmentarty work. It was with the development of obstruction upon artistic and considered lines that the lack of time in the House of Commons first became gradually perceptible. Until the days of Parnell there was in the House of Commons the same decent sensibility to the approach of the dinner-hour which is not unknown in some other Assemblies to-day, and those who have in fact carefully studied the methods of Committee debate in the House of Commons in the last ten years—in the period during which I have been a, member of it—are not in the least deceived by these complaints of lack of the necessary time to deal with the affairs of the nation.
I am no longer a member of that Assembly, and therefore I may perhaps, without any breach of confidence, explain quite shortly to those of your Lordships who have not had the advantage of being 523 members of the House of Commons what always happened in what I may now historically describe as the bad old Party days. When an important measure was in Committee stage in the House of Commons there would be perhaps in the House some 350 who were pledge-bound to support it, and probably there would be some 300 who were pledged on the other hand to oppose it, and who intended to oppose it. It is not unreasonable to suppose that each of these gentlemen had had very considerable experience in the art of speaking. He had gone very likely through several elections, and had acquired no small degree of proficiency in argumentative discussion. When you have 350 on the one hand determined to support a Bill, and 300 on the other hand who have no other object in life except to prevent any conclusion being reached at any stage of the Committee debate, then, my Lords, quite a considerable amount of time is likely to be consumed.
But it does not end there. When I was in opposition, during the discussion of some of these most important measures, we had three or four highly trained experts, and they used to draft Amendments which we either had not the time or skill to draft for ourselves. I remember, in the case of some very important Bills, that these suggested Amendments and observations upon the measures that were before the House of Commons attained such formidable dimensions that they amounted almost to the size of a book. I can still remember the pride with which one of those books was captured by the other side, and was produced in the course of the debate to the consternation of those who perceived the importance of their resources of debate getting into the hands of their opponents. And just as we had our experts, so behind the scenes the Government had their experts who used to fulminate the same methods of mine and countermine, trench and counter-trench. I can recall nothing like it since the immortal contest in fiction between Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty. Do not let us make the mistake of thinking there was no time for debate when that kind of thing was going on, as it was going on in the House of Commons month after month and year after year. When we had before us a Home Rule Bill and a Welsh Church Bill, two measures to which I was opposed, those methods were resorted to, and I can easily point to measures on the other side which I and the Party to which I belonged 524 were supporting that were challenged by the same methods, with the same prolixity, and with the same obvious, conspicuous waste of time by the Party to which I was opposed. Let us look on these things as they are Do not let us create a fancy picture and say there are so many subjects to be discussed and so little time is available for their discussion that we must make a most immense constitutional experiment because there is no other way of attaining our object.
I will point to what has taken place in the House of Commons in the course of the war. It has not been found impossible to carry through, the moment Party feeling became to some extent reduced, the moment there was no more Party advantage in postponing a particular Bill, in the House of Commons during the war, with incredible rapidity and in the main I believe with efficiency, a number of the most immensely complicated and formidable problems which have ever engaged the attention of the Legislature of any country. I say plainly that I am among the number of those who believe and who hope that to a great extent the old Party ties have disappeared. I am sure that for the moment they have disappeared. I am not so rash as to commit myself to any prediction that they have permanently gone, but I believe that the divisions between Parties, and the consequences of those divisions, as we have known them in our lifetime, have been largely obliterated. At this moment, at any rate, I am sure that there will be found in the House of Commons none of the same kind of opposition with its consequences which I have attempted to explain to your Lordships. I venture to think that this moment of all other moments perhaps is not the time for dealing with this matter, when a new Parliament has come into power, at a moment when the old Party distinctions are so largely obliterated, when it is safe to say that the one fundamental cause of nine-tenths of the waste of time which any instructed observer has seen in the last twenty years, has completely disappeared.
There is, of course, a much greater objection to the proposal at this moment. As your Lordships know, the General Election is just over, and, as I have reminded you already, it was my duty to speak very frequently in the course of that Election. I addressed, I suppose, many thousands of electors, and I never heard 525 one question asked which dealt even remotely with this subject. I never heard, and I never read, one speech which even mentioned the word Devolution, and of all the election addresses which I read I never saw even the vaguest approach to mention of the subject which your Lordships, in the words of this Motion, are asked to-night to treat as an urgent necessity. It is indeed a strange coincidence, if a matter is not merely one which ought to be discussed but which as your Lordships are told is urgently necessary, that it should not only never have struck a single candidate, should never have elicited a single question, but also should never, so far as I know, have entered the mind of any one man or woman who gave a vote at the last Election.
I will say this with the greatest possible respect—and I yield to none of your Lordships in respect for my noble friend who introduced this question to your Lordships to-night—it is undoubtedly true, as the noble Earl who supported him has pointed out, that my noble friend has made great sacrifices in the course of his life to this principle; he has devoted his public life, twenty or thirty years, to it, and has spread with a splendid consistency the doctrines which to-night he has explained to your Lordships. But I hope I may say without offence that the result of thirty years of efforts so sustained, so able as those which he has made, have resulted in so little interest being taken in this subject that the attendance in your Lordships' House has not, I think, exceeded eighty to-day and sometimes it has sunk as low as twenty. I have ventured to tell your Lordships without any fear of contradiction what the state of feeling in the country is. I think it is a little pathetic and a very eloquent comment upon the view of the public in regard to this topic that my noble friend has been able to win so little support to it in spite of efforts so sustained and so able.
But, my Lords, a very great question arises, if I am right in the view which I have put forward that the country takes not the slightest interest in this question, and that no candidate took the slightest interest in it at the last Election. The consequence is, what conceivable mandate has this Parliament to deal with this subject? What single Party in the State or what combination of Parties in the State are qualified or entitled by the 526 attitude they have assumed in the country to propose that any change in this matter should take place in this Parliament? I remember very clearly a time when I and many of your Lordships were ranged in bitter antagonism to the Home Rule Act. I remember that the principal charge which we made whenever we spoke was that proposals of such far-reaching importance, proposals revolutionising the whole Constitution of these Islands, ought not to be brought forward and should not be carried into law unless they were submitted to the consideration of the constituencies. It is now actually proposed that an immense revolution of the Constitution of these Islands is to be carried through after a General Election at which it is not possible to pretend even that one constituency voted with this question before them. To attempt to do so would, in my humble judgment, be a national scandal, and I cannot conceive that any of your Lordships under any circumstances would become a party to it.
I may call attention—and this observation is suggested by something which fell from my noble friend Lord Selborne—to the very singular disparity between the views of my noble friend who introduced this topic and the views of Lord Selborne. My noble friend who introduced the subject was consistent, at least he was fairly consistent. He said an Assembly or possibly two Assemblies for England, and an Assembly or possibly two Assemblies for Scotland, and the same for Ireland; I think he only proposed to indulge Wales with a single Assembly, though I was not able, unless it was in relation to its size, to estimate the cause of this discrimination. But at any rate my noble friend was going to give every part its one or two Assemblies. Lord Selborne takes a different view. He says that having regard to the recent developments in Ireland it would be impossible that Ireland should be included in this scheme. I understood him to go so far as to say that his support must be considered as being withdrawn from the proposals if they are to embrace Ireland in their scope. Surely it is obvious that this gives away the whole case. If it be really true that Devolution cannot at this moment be applied to Ireland, but is to be a Devolution which will be limited in its scope to England, Scotland, and Wales, the matter is doomed to failure even before it starts. And yet my noble friend is bound to make this exclusion.
527 It would, of course, be idle to come before your Lordships or to come before any assembly of Englishmen at the present time and say, "We recommend that a Legislature, whatever it deals with, be set up for Ireland." No one would listen to it, for this obvious reason—that we can only judge of the complexion of Irish thought by its representation in the House of Commons. At the present moment the representatives of a very great majority of the Irish seats are men who are avowedly the enemies of this country and wholly disloyal to the English connection. Who would propose at this moment that any Assembly should be erected in Ireland capable of dealing with any matters, even if they were called local in their ramifications? Who would agree to set up such an Assembly in Ireland which should deal with the affairs of Ireland? It is obvious that no one would dare to do so, and that is why my noble friend Lord Selborne, with that debating sense which never departs from him, saw that he must put himself right with your Lordships by the exclusion of Ireland.
If an undivided Ireland is impossible, equally a divided Ireland is impossible. Much was said in relation to partition last year. I will not re-open very disputable controversies; I will content myself with this observation, which I believe to be well founded, that whoever may have been in favour of partition eight months ago, I do not believe that there is any section of Irish opinion to-day which is in favour of partition. That the Sinn Feiners are not, every one knows; that the Clerical Party is not in favour of it, every one equally knows; that the Southern Unionists, on its merits, are not in favour of it will hardly be disputed; and I will go further and say that while there have been moments at which it might have been possible to push reluctant Ulster to accept partial exclusion, there never has been a moment when on its merits you could have claimed that Ulster was convinced by that policy or desired it. Therefore, my Lords, I say, Here is Ireland, one of your constituent elements, one of your most important constituent elements, and even the advocate of this proposal to-night is driven to come before your Lordships and say under no circumstances can this scheme I apply to Ireland.
Then I will ask this. What becomes of the case which is made when once it 528 is admitted that Irish representatives are to be retained in the British Parliament? It is not relevant to reply that at the moment Sinn Feiners have not judged it consistent with their inscrutable policy to come to the House of Commons. That may be altered in a week; it may be altered in a day; and we must discuss this question as men confronted by the possibility that on any day the Sinn Feiners may return to Parliament. My Lords, it would indeed advantage us much that we have driven out from our midst some of our Scottish orators and some of our Welsh orators if we are to be face to face with the resurrection and the repetition of every Irish grievance of the past, aggravated and added to by the grievances of the present, and presented by men who are animated to-day by a spirit of revolution. Let us face facts. There is going to be no relief of congestion, if there is to-day avoidable congestion in the House of Commons; there is to be none of the relief for that congestion which comes from the setting up of subordinate Legislatures if you are going to retain as the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, says you must retain, Ireland in the British Parliament.
I might venture to ask one or two other questions which seem to me to have been very insufficiently answered in the very interesting speeches to which we have listened. Some of these objections are stated with very great knowledge by the noble Viscount, Lord Bryce, in a most interesting speech which he has made. I remember reading it at the time, and I was a little surprised that neither of the noble Lords who introduced this subject to your Lordships' attention was not impressed with this opportunity of answering the points that were raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Bryce; because he raised another very pregnant issue, and it would greatly have assisted your Lordships to have arrived at a true conclusion on this matter if the mover and seconder of this Resolution to-night had addressed themselves explicitly to the kind of points that the noble Viscount then made. He pointed out that he presumed it would be necessary to have, and I think he is clearly right, four sub-Parliaments—that is assuming the inclusion of Ireland. One of these four sub-Parliaments would, of course, be very much more important than the others—that is to say, the English Parliament. Over and above that it would be necessary that there should be the Imperial Parliament. The 529 noble Viscount pointed out and it is worth repeating to-night—that this would involve five Executives, and I suppose in these days it might be assumed that in those countries the mover of this Resolution was obliging us by leaving this point open; he said it should be settled somewhere—I suppose in Committee. But if there were two Chambers in each of those countries we should be favoured with as many as eight Chambers, five Executives, counting the Imperial Parliament Executive; and the Executives, of course, would be responsible to the Chambers. There would be elections taking place in one or other of these Chambers at most times, and, as Lord Bryce pointed out with admirable truth and humour, the English are a very political people, therefore under this scheme there is no doubt they would be much gratified.
There is also an objection perhaps a little graver which ought to be borne in mind. It is obvious that under such a scheme as that which has been discussed—I should have greatly welcomed it if either noble Lord had dealt with this, because it was very pertinent and a point which they would be well advised to deal with—the highest Legislature of all (that is to say, the Imperial Legislature) obviously from the nature of the thing could not be given powers to over-rule the others. That, I suppose, must be obvious. If it were given powers to over-ride the others on the ground that any of the subordinate Legislatures had exceeded their constitutional powers, this consequence would immediately follow—that so far from having got rid of any congestion, the congestion would be increased at least twenty-fold; because the whole time they were discussing it there would be an Irish or a Welsh or a Scottish orator, or a deputation of orators, from each of these Chambers on important occasions; therefore we should listen to deputations from these various subordinate Assemblies in order to establish that certain powers were intra legem, and therefore constitutional. Therefore that course could not be adopted.
What is the alternative? There is only one alternative—namely, that there must be a statutory definition of the powers of each inferior Legislature. That is an immense revolution in all our habits of thought. It never has been our custom in this country that the Law Courts should assume the right of defining what were 530 the constitutional functions of our Assemblies. That makes the whole difference between what is sometimes called a rigid Constitution and a flexible Constitution; and it has always been the peculiar type and character of our Legislature that it should be flexible, and reject and refuse to submit to the decisions of the Law Courts. As your Lordships know, the American Constitution, and all Federal systems, from their very nature are driven to adopt the other solution. Does anybody really suppose that at this period of time, after muddling on tolerably well for ten centuries, having regulated our policy upon centripetal lines for that period of time, we are suddenly to resort to centrifugal lines, involving, as this involves, the adoption of a policy which for the first time makes the Law Courts the masters of Parliament?—and this after an Election which gave no mandate, and in a Parliament which it is well known is hopelessly overwhelmed with other matters.
Let me ask your Lordships, in conclusion, a fair question. Who wants this? Does England want it As I have explained to your Lordships, I have never met a man, unless he had been recently (if I may say so without any offence) in the company of my noble friend, who wanted it. It is true that the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, has become recently infected, but I explain that by the fact that he has been in the company of my noble friend. Apart from that, there is no demand for it of any kind in England. I suspect that, if you called together a large assembly even of intelligent men and cross-examined them on the subject of Devolution you would get answers—which would satisfy even my noble friend—to the effect that the working man is much more concerned at the present time with an improvement in the quantity and quality of his beer.
If I pass from the question of England to discuss whether Wales or Scotland wants it, I cannot detect any symptom that they want it either. And I cannot see any reason why they should want it. At the present moment Welshmen and Scotsmen appear to me to be governing the whole Empire; and why they should want any prodigious change in the Constitution in order to go back to the insignificant task of governing their own country, I cannot understand. Your Lordships will not have forgotten the famous observation made by Dr. Johnson with reference to Scotland when 531 he said that the fairest prospect in Scotland was the road that went to London. I am ready to suppose that a somewhat similar view is very attractive to Welshmen. In those circumstances I say quite plainly that I am wholly unattractcd at this moment by the proposals which the noble Earl has made. I consider them, with profound respect to him, to be in the moment of their introduction altogether inopportune.
I am unable to encourage the noble Earl by the prospect that there is the slightest hope in either House of Parliament of leisure being found to recommend these proposals at this time, or, indeed, to find a large number of people who desire to recommend them. If I may venture to make a suggestion to my noble friends—who have done your Lordships a great service by putting the case forward in an interesting way—it would be that they should go out into the wilderness, that they should carry their arguments on to the platform, and that they should really let the people of this country begin to realise that there is this problem, and that it is one which deserves and requires examination. Great reforms are not carried through by an annual academic debate in your Lordships' House or in the House of Commons. Great reforms in democratic countries are carried through only when the missionaries of those reforms, deeply animated by the necessity of carrying them through, are able to convert and to convince large numbers of their fellow-countrymen of the need for those reforms. Until such conversion takes place—and nobody is more capable than my noble friends, if they could give a few months or a few years to the process, to carry it out—I say if my noble friends undertake that and at some sufficient interval report progress to your Lordships, I for one should be very much interested to hear the result.
§ VISCOUNT BRYCE
My Lords, I think we are, as has been said several times already, much indebted to my noble friend Lord Brassey for having brought forward this subject, because we have all heard it very much talked about. We have heard it discussed in a somewhat vague and misty way, and he has taken the right course in bringing it forward in a tangible form and giving us an opportunity here of considering it. Although I am naturally gratified to find that it is not likely to be hastily 532 adopted by His Majesty's Government, after the language we have heard from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack—language which I may say differs very much from that which has been used by some of his colleagues, because if I am not mistaken very great encouragement has been given to this idea by more than one influential member of this present Government—I cannot think that the subject is so entirely absent from the public mind as the noble and learned Lord supposed. True it is that nothing was said about it at the Election, and true it is that the great bulk of the people, neither in Scotland nor in Wales nor in England, take the slightest interest in the question, or as much as understand what it means; but it has been so much upon the lips of politicians during the last thirty years that it is not surprising that my noble friend Lord Brassey should have thought it was well worth while to give it a chance of being fairly considered here; and I venture to believe that it will continue to be discussed as long as the evils which he and my noble friend Lord Selborne pointed out exist.
As to these evils, there can be no doubt whatever. It was very interesting to us to hear the frank views of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack as to the way in which the business of obstruction is conducted in the House of Commons. I do think progress is being made. A good deal was known about obstruction twenty-five years ago, but evidently within the last fifteen years that art had been cultivated to a much higher point of perfection. I cannot see, however, any reason to believe that what is called the present lull is at all likely to continue, so far as to relieve those difficulties in the House of Commons. At the bottom of the whole Party system is this, that we set up a Government to carry Bills, and we set up an Opposition to prevent the carrying of those Bills, and the Opposition which is set up is animated not merely with the desire to get rid of a particular measure, to which it may upon legitimate grounds be opposed, but with a desire to discredit and disparage the Government by showing it, before the country, to be unable to carry its measures, and then of being able to turn round, when a General Election approaches, and to contrast the promises of the Government, with its performances. That is, I think, the root defect of our system, and I do not think that any one has ever proposed a means 533 of escape from it under our Parliamentary system, which makes it the interest of nearly half the House of Commons to prevent the other half from doing something, quite irrespective of the merits of the particular question. Therefore I cannot share the hopes of the noble and learned Lord that we shall have much relief in the future, while human nature continues to be what it is, from the evils which belong to what is called Parliamentary obstruction.
I think that what was said by my noble friends Lord Brassey and Lord Selborne about the present hopelessness of Parliament is perfectly true. It was very bad twenty years ago, and it seems to have gone on getting worse ever since; and the fact that many Bills got through with little or no discussion during the war, is no sign at all of what will happen afterwards. Those Bills got through very largely because the House of Commons was excited and demoralised by the circumstances of the war, and allowed many Bills to pass which deserved a much fuller measure of criticism and consideration, rather than for any other reason.
As regards the Cabinet, I venture to differ from my noble friend Lord Selborne. Things may have become much worse during the last twelve years, since I was a member of a Cabinet, but I cannot believe that the administrative system has broken down in the same way as the Parliamentary system has broken down. I believe it is quite possible, by changes in the way of doing business and by a better distribution of the work among members of the Cabinet, to return to the highly efficient Cabinet government which we had twenty-five or thirty years ago, although I must confess that the strain put upon Ministers and upon Parliament by the increasing enlargement of the functions of Government is very heavy. There are continual demands made upon the Government now to undertake many kinds of work which the Government previously left either to local authorities or to the chances of private initiative. Those demands go on increasing, and it is a phenomenon common to the whole world. If you go to Canada, or Australia, or the United States, or any other country you find the same thing. Everywhere there is a demand that the Government shall take more work, and this inevitably makes the business of the Cabinet much more difficult than it would otherwise be.
534 So much for the evils, which have not been in the least degree exaggerated or darkened in the picture drawn by my two noble friends. What I would venture to ask your Lordships to. consider, is whether this remedy which they propose is the only remedy, or whether it will prove an effective remedy. I do not at all wish to oppose the proposition of my noble friend Lord Brassey. I think he. deserves the greatest credit for having stuck to it all these years, and tried to popularise it. It may be that in the end we shall have to come to it as the only remedy, but I hope he will not take it unfriendly on my part if I suggest some of the difficulties which have to be overcome, and which he did not deal with. My task in that matter, and the danger which I feared of boreing your Lordships, have been much relieved by the consideration of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, who was good enough to recapitulate what I said some months ago, and to give a brief outline, in which he dotted the "i's" and crossed the "t's" much better than I could do myself. I very much admire the way in which he got at the essentials and conveyed to your Lordships the points. which seemed to me of importance.
Still I will recapitulate a few of those points. What we are asked to do is to turn the United Kingdom into a Federation a very unusual process in history. Nearly all Federations have been formed by taking States formerly loosely connected, or unconnected, and grouping them into a Federation. The contrary process has been a rare one, and is in some respects much more difficult. I take it that my two noble friends, in suggesting local Legislatures, have in their minds such local Legislatures as those of Canada, Australia, and the United States. Let me take Canada as an example. It is the example probably best known to all of your Lordships, and the one which is easiest to study. I brought down here with me, but I really think I must spare your Lordships, an excellent; little book-sketch of the Canadian system, written by an eminent Canadian Judge, and if I were going into the subject at length I would read to your Lordships two sections of the British North-American Act, one of which assigns the subjects which are to belong to the Dominion or Central Legislature of Canada, and the other the subjects which belong to the local Legislatures.
535 That is the kind of model which I suppose my noble friends would take if they set about federalising the United Kingdom. It is easy to say, as they said, that all questions dealing with one particular part of the country should belong to its local Legislature, and all questions which do not belong to any particular part but concern the United Kingdom as a whole should be left to what is generally called the Imperial, but what I will call the United Kingdom, Parliament. That is a much too simple presentation of the question.
There is a very large number of topics of which you cannot say, as my noble friend Lord Selborne says, that they are distinctly British or distinctly Scottish, or Welsh, or English. Take, for instance, such questions as those relating to labour, to strikes and to public health. Can you say that they are fit for special treatment in England, in Scotland, and in Wales? Is there any reason why they should not be treated by the Parliament of the United Kingdom upon uniform and similar lines? Surely it would be a great deal better to have similar legislation in labour matters, for instance, in England and in Scotland. Here I may remind your Lordships of what no doubt is familiar to you, that in the Australian Commonwealth the tendency has been entirely the other way. There the tendency is not to assign labour questions and matters of that kind more to the State Legislatures and less to the Commonwealth Legislature, but, on the contrary, to enlarge the powers of the Commonwealth Legislature and to diminish the powers of the State Legislatures. Therefore, these are questions which, according to Australia's experience—and the same thing, I think, is generally true of Canada—are better dealt with in the Central Legislature on lines which are similar for the whole country.
There is a different class of subjects which are left indefinite by the Canadian Constitution, upon which it is hard to say from the terms of the Constitution whether they ought to be dealt with by the Dominion Government or by the Provincial Governments. That includes such questions as bankruptcy, the law of corporations, criminal law and procedure, local works and undertakings. Now, local works and undertakings would appear to be specially matters for local Legislatures, and, of course, every one who has discussed these questions from the point of 536 view of our own country has suggested that local Bills should all go to local English or Scottish or Welsh Legislatures. That has been already done very largely as regards Scotland. A special system of procedure for Scottish Bills was set up, I think, some fourteen years ago, and it has worked with very reasonable success. There really would be no great relief to Parliament from taking local Bills away altogether. It would save a little time for Members in the middle of the day, but a great deal more time might be saved in this House and in the other House if you had Joint Committees instead of having Bills dealt with by two Committees, one here and one there.
The relief afforded in that way would not be appreciable relief, but I have no doubt it ought to be done, and I agree that if we were to set up a proper tribunal for dealing with private Bills—gas, water, municipal—and railway Bills (of which there will be very few in future), we should relieve a good deal of the work and should probably have the work as well done. But there remains a very large number indeed of Bills about which it would be doubtful whether they belonged to the sphere of the United Kingdom or Central Parliament or to the spheres of the local Parliaments for England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. As was observed by the noble and learned Lord, and as I had the honour to observe to your Lordships some months ago, it would be quite necessary to have a legal line of demarcation between the powers of the United Kingdom Parliament and the powers of the local Parliaments. If there were to be a legal line of demarcation the law laying it down would require to be interpreted; that interpretation would require to be carried out by the Law Courts, and the Law Courts would find a great deal of occupation in doing this work.
I may remind your Lordships that in the United States they began litigating upon the question of what had been assigned to Congress, the National Legislature, and what to the State Legislatures—in spite of the carefully-drawn terms of their Constitution they began litigating 130 years ago, and they have not got through yet. There are fresh questions continually coming up in the United States Courts as to whether a matter belongs to the Federal Government or to a State Government, so that after all those years these questions have not been finally disposed of. 537 The same thing is true about Canada. My noble and learned friend Lord Haldane, who has had much experience of these matters, and those who have sometimes sat at the Privy Council, know what a number of questions come up in Canada as to the respective powers of the Dominion Government and of the Provincial Governments and Legislatures. That is in the nature of things. You cannot exhaust these questions. New cases will arise and will require to be dealt with afresh. Therefore, if there were any members of the profession in this House, I would congratulate them on the prospect of the immensely increased litigation which the success of the proposals of my noble friend Lord Brassey would entail. There would be a very large number of fresh cases constantly occupying our Courts in determining the limits of these different authorities. The legal profession require some consolation of that kind just now because, under the Bill of my noble and learned friend Lord Buckmaster, its members will be exposed to the competition of a large number of new practitioners; therefore, it is only fair that there should be additional work provided for them to do. So much for the difficulty of discriminating between the powers of Legislatures.
Now every Legislature implies an Executive. If the Scottish Legislature or the English Legislature is to legislate for Scotland or for England, clearly that legislation must be carried out by an Executive which is responsible to the Scottish Parliament or the English Parliament. If that is so, you will have a new set of Executives. Besides the present Executive, which will remain as the United Kingdom Executive, you will have four others—one for Ireland, one for Scotland, one for Wales, and one for England—the one for England having much the heaviest work, no doubt. Therefore you will have to establish four new Executive staffs, besides the Executive staff we have at present, and you will have to distribute the work which is done by our present Executive between it and the several Executives of the several countries. If any of your Lordships will be at the pains of taking up a summary account of the work done now by the Home Office or by the Board of Trade and will consider what part of that work ought to be left to belong to the National or United Kingdom Executive and how much ought to be assigned to the 538 Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and English Executives, you will find how great the difficulty will be and how very troublesome it may be to take one of our great Departments like the Board of Trade and make mincemeat of it by assigning its functions, some to these different new Executives and some to the old Executive which will continue. If you start out by wishing to make legislation as much as possible local—to make, for instance, the law of property and private rights local, as in Canada—if you want to make labour and health legislation local, then you will have a great diversity between the different parts of the United Kingdom. If, on the other hand, you want to make it general, you will not have your relief. Parliament will remain congested with all this business, which is really under present conditions the most important and most difficult work we have to do, and will not obtain the relief which my noble friend seeks.
I abstain from entering into the question of taxation. It is really too large, and both my noble friends felt that, and rather waived it aside. I cannot subscribe to the view that you are likely to obtain economy or to save money by setting up new taxing authorities. It is bad enough now to have all the demands that are made upon us in so many new directions and at so many different times of year, but if we were everywhere to have another set of taxes in addition to local rates and Imperial taxation—if we were also to have, say, English or Scottish taxation—I think the prospects of effecting economy would be more distant than they are now. The more spending authorities you set up the more these authorities are likely to use their spending powers, and more extravagance and not more economy will follow from the establishment of new authorities with new taxing powers.
On the general question I will only make one more observation. I think that a Federation one member of which was more than three times as large as the other members put together would be a very peculiar kind of Federation. If you were to turn the United Kingdom into a Federation you would have England more than three times as populous and much more than three times as wealthy as Scotland, Ireland, and Wales put together. That would be a lopsided kind of Federation, and would it not be. 539 one very difficult to work? Instead of that happy concord which my noble friends expect from this sub-division of function, might we not have struggles arising between the English Parliament, which would be an extremely powerful body with large functions, and the United Kingdom Parliament. The only parallel that I know of a Federation in which the members were extremely unequal was that of Hungary and Croatia. Hungary was a great country and Croatia was small. They were tied together and did not get on at all well, and Croatia struggled to be set free. Without placing too much weight on any particular parallel, one can foresee great difficulties (which have not arisen as far as I know in any of the great Federations in Switzerland, in the United States, in Canada, in Australia, because the members of the Federation have all been tolerably equal) when any one was immensely superior in wealth and population to all the others, as England would be in the particular case we are considering.
One word about Ireland. This idea of federalising the United Kingdom was originally introduced for the sake of meeting the case of Ireland. There was great difficulty, as Lord Selborne has pointed out, in knowing how to deal with the Irish Members, and it was suggested that there should be a Federal Parliament in which the Irish Members should sit, sitting no longer in an English Parliament. Someone said, "Why not the same for Scotland," and so the snowball went on rolling. Now we are in that position in which it does not seem as if any relief would be afforded for the case of Ireland by carrying out this proposition. As far as I understand, Lord Selborne gives up that part of the case altogether. He says that under no circumstances, Ireland continuing to be what it is now, could we apply any Federal system of this kind in Ireland, and the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack was even more emphatic. I believe there is another side to the question—namely, that there is even less disposition in Ireland now than there was thirty years ago to accept what is called the Federal solution, because it is felt in Ireland that that which would be enough for Scotland, for England, and for Wales would not be enough for Ireland. I believe the upshot of the recent Convention was that the Nationalist Party, who were the largest party in that convention, entirely declined 540 to be satisfied with the system which would satisfy England, Scotland, and Wales. The Canadian system was put to them and they said it would not be enough. The system by which the relations are regulated between the Dominion Government and the Provincial Governments was one which would not satisfy Ireland in her relations with the United Kingdom, and I fear that any hope of meeting the Irish question by this scheme has, for the present, disappeared.
Let me say, finally, that I am very far from wishing to throw cold water upon the efforts of my two noble friends to keep this question before the public mind. I think we ought to consider whether our Parliamentary constitution is not breaking down, and whether considerable reforms are not now required. All I desire is to ask your Lordships not to commit yourselves lightly to a principle until you see how far that principle can be carried. If my noble friends want to advance their case I think they should draw up a Bill, taking perhaps the British North-American Act as their model, and try and work out a system which would meet the case which arises in the United Kingdom. This is no favourable moment for an investigation by a Royal Commission or Parliamentary Committee; but in some such way as I have indicated my noble friends might render a public service by putting their ideas into a concrete form.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, I merely desire to add a few words to those which have fallen from my noble friend Lord Bryce. We were all, I am sure, impressed by the thoroughness and earnestness with which Lord Brassey brought forward this proposal, to which he has devoted so deep an interest and so much care during all these years. The reception which was accorded to him by the representative of the Government, the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, was of the chilliest kind. I have seldom seen a proposition receive less encouragement than my noble friend's did from the Lord Chancellor, and the noble Viscount, Lord Bryce, has pointed out that the difficulties surrounding any such solution as my two noble friends have advocated are immensely great. At the same time I confess I agree with them, and not with the Lord Chancellor, in their opinion of the urgency of some solution from the point of view of the congestion of Parliament
541 It seems to me altogether impossible to dispute that in certain respects our Parliamentary system as it now exists has broken down; and if, as we are told so frequently, Parliament has declined in the public estimation, no small share of the responsibility for that must, I think, be put down to this fact of perpetual congestion. So far I am in great agreement with my two noble friends. I have no desire to repeat what Lord Bryce has said of the many difficulties, and in particular the difficulty which has been familiar to us forsolong—that of the unequal position of England as compared with the other partners in the proposed Federation. It is not easy to picture the machine in actual working, those facts being as they are; but I note with great interest and also with satisfaction the observation of the noble Earl Lord Brassey, to the effect that it was not in his view in any sense necessary that the powers and functions of the different partners in such a Federation should be identical—I say "with satisfaction" because one reason, as Lord Bryce pointed out, of the perpetual suspicion with which such a solution would be regarded by Irish Nationalists of all kinds has been founded on the belief that they, so to speak, would be compelled to go at the pace of the slowest horse in the squadron, and that they often believed that advocacy of a Federal system for the United Kingdom was in the minds of many inspired by the desire to put aside anything which could be described as real Home Rule. Consequently they have scouted the idea altogether. The possibility, which the noble Earl admits, that in such a Federation the position of Ireland might be different, for instance, from the position of Wales, would or might remove to some extent the suspicions of which I have spoken. We know that His Majesty's Government would not, and I cannot believe that Parliament would, be prepared to consider the possibility of this great constitutional change so long as the future of Ireland remains as dark and obscure as it is at this moment.
The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, takes the bold course of putting Ireland out of consideration altogether. That, no doubt, gets rid of one of the principal difficulties in solving the problem, but many of us will be disposed to think that the earlier duty of His Majesty's Government and of Parliament must be to devote all possible attention to the settlement of the Irish question before attempting to 542 embark upon the wider scheme, if this wider scheme is to be approached at all. The effect, therefore, of the discussion on the minds of many of us is that the whole matter remains abstract, and that unless noble Lords are prepared to take the advice kindly, though somewhat facetiously, offered to them by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack at the conclusion of his speech—that of their embarking on a great national crusade in order to state their views—I am afraid that nothing in relation to this subject is likely to happen in Parliament. It is quite clear what the general view of His Majesty's Government as stated by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack appears to be, although I am bound to say that my recollection is not altogether different from that of my noble friend Lord Bryce when he stated that some other members of the Government have pledged themselves in different terms. My recollection is that the Prime Minister, for instance, has announced himself, at any rate on one occasion, as an enthusiastic Federalist.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
Therefore perhaps my noble friends need not despair quite so utterly as they might be disposed to do after the speech of the noble and learned Lord.
THE MARQUESS OF LINLITHGOW
My Lords, I find myself in complete agreement with a great deal that has fallen from noble Lords who have spoken against the Motion of my noble friend, and the points they have made would gain no more force if reiterated by me. I therefore shall confine myself to one point which I have not heard touched upon in the debate in your Lordships' House to-day, and which, as a Scotsman, appears to me to be an important one. What will be our position in Scotland if the scheme as adumbrated by my noble friend is put in force? You will have a local Legislature in England, and a local Legislature in Scotland, and the people of England and the people of Scotland will each be represented in the Imperial Parliament by a certain proportion of seats. In Scotland you will have a local Legislature sitting somewhere in the far North and representing—speaking from memory—some 5,000,000 electors. In London, presumably, you will also have a local Legislature which will speak for some 35,000,000 543 of people, and will represent vast interests and vast wealth. Assuming some difference of interest as between Scotland and England upon some important question—and no one supposes or pretends that under any scheme of Devolution will the subjects to be dealt with by the Imperial Parliament be any but the most important—can we suppose that the Scottish Parliament sitting in the North is likely to carry very much weight with the Imperial Parliament sitting in London? The list of subjects read out by my noble friend himself was sufficient to convince any one that the Imperial Parliament will of necessity deal with by far the more important sections of public business. Equally, can it be supposed that an English Parliament sitting in London can possibly fail very materially to influence any decision come to by the Imperial Parliament?
We are bound to look at these things. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack told your Lordships' House that this question of Home Rule All Round, as it is sometimes called, had not been touched on at all during the late Election and had excited no interest among the electors. That is, I think, only partly true so far as Scotland is concerned. Some interest was manifested by the electors upon this particular point. Indeed, I noticed that a deputation waited upon the Secretary for Scotland only the other day—a deputation of trade unionists, asking for what they called Home Rule for Scotland. I feel, however, that the more my countrymen come to consider the detail and the application of this principle the less they will like it. After all, before you can effect such a sweeping change as this you are bound to assure yourself that you have behind you the support of the vast majority of the people concerned. Indications are not wanting that the people of this country as a whole are not at all in favour of this change. Take the case of my noble friend who made this Motion. The noble Earl has been associated for very many years with this subject; he has written a book about it. On four separate occasions the noble Earl goes down to the constituencies and on four separate occasions he is soundly beaten. When you have a person of the noble Earl's standing, with his eloquence, and on four separate occasions the suffrage of the electors is asked and on four separate occasions there is failure in the effort to obtain a seat in another place, plain people can only suppose that there 544 is something in his policy which does not attract the average elector.
I am bound to say, putting aside the hazard of the polls, of which many of your Lordships have had experience, that I believe you have no majority—far from it; you have only a very small minority—of the electors throughout the United Kingdom who are genuinely in favour of such a change as that proposed, and indeed set out as necessary and urgent in the Motion of my noble friend. It is for this reason, amongst others, that I trust your Lordships will hesitate before you commit yourselves to a policy which I venture to say has never been considered by the country as a whole.
§ LORD CHARNWOOD
My Lords, I want, as briefly as I can, to suggest the lines of an answer to some of the very interesting observations made by my noble friend Lord Bryce. The noble Viscount examined this question from the point of view of a man learned, as perhaps no other, in Constitutional Law, and it surprised me very much that he should have treated this proposal as if there were any question of creating in this country what can properly be called a Federation, something analogous to the Constitution of the United States or of Canada or Australia. It surprised me very much, because I think I am right in saying that the noble Viscount himself was one of the backers of the Home Rule Bill of 1893, which, like the other Bills with the same object, proposed to set up a Legislature in Ireland with wide powers which would be a subordinate Legislature, liable in every point to be overruled by the Imperial Parliament; and, as I understand, the proposal which my noble friend's Motion adumbrates is emphatically not anything in the nature of a strict Federation like that of the United States, but is what might be more correctly expressed by the phrase with which one is familiar of Home Rule All Round.
The importance of this is that it gets rid of a good deal of the difficulty in detail of setting up such an institution as is proposed, assuming that you should come to think it desirable. It diminishes by half the difficulty and importance of all these questions as to how exactly to define the sphere of the local and the sphere of the Imperial Legislature, because simply there would be no bounds to the province and the sphere of the Imperial Legislature.
545 I do not mean to say that under any system of Home Rule one would contemplate the Imperial Parliament as likely to be acting as a sort of disciplinary authority over the delegated bodies on whom it had devolved powers, but I do want to point out that a very great difficulty would be removed from this proposal which does arise and is the subject of anxious thought in the case of a Federation; you would have no really contested area of subjects about which, while there was no material dispute as to how the matters in question should be dealt with, there was a serious legal difficulty as to which was the authority that could deal with them. That distinction, I think, greatly diminishes the complexity of the question which would have to be tackled if Parliament did make up its mind that a large measure of Devolution was to be taken in hand.
I pass to one other point much more important than that. The noble Viscount used the phrase that under a system of Hone Rule All Round we should have to set up and call into existence new Executives in each of the great divisions of this United Kingdom. To a great extent those Executives exist at the present time. Moreover, I might say, with regard to what are the proper subjects of legislation to be treated as domestic affairs of the several parts of the United Kingdom and what is to be reserved exclusively to this Parliament, we have in our Parliamentary practice at the present time a great deal of guidance upon that very question. Your Lordships must be perfectly well aware that a very large part of the legislation which we pass is every year applicable severally to England or to Ireland or to Scotland, to the exclusion of the other kingdoms; and as a matter of fact in the matter of domestic legislation it is, I think, actually the exception that a law should be passed by this Parliament which applies equally throughout the United Kingdom. Parliament every year passes a number of Statutes of a nature which we should call Imperial which obviously concern the United Kingdom as a whole and which nobody would dream of remitting or delegating to subordinate Legislatures. The various Home Rule Bills have all, I think, agreed closely with one another in their defence of Imperial matters. If you set those aside, if you set aside in the Statute Book of any recent year the measures which fall under that category, I think your Lordships will find that as a 546 rule a very considerable majority of the remaining Statutes are either English, Irish, or Scottish, and a minority only of our domestic affairs are at the present moment treated as if they were any concern of the United Kingdom.
Or, to look at it again on the other side, take our great Departments of State. There is the Board of Education here in London which is a purely English authority; there is the Local Government Board, a purely English authority; there is the Board of Agriculture—that is not quite a purely English authority, because I believe in the matter of contagious diseases it has jurisdiction in Scotland, though not in Ireland. And so with several of our great Departments of State. In fact, the whole province of education; the whole province of Poor Law and charity; the whole province of the administration of justice; the whole subject of private law, or what I may briefly call the lawyers' law, with some slight qualifications; pretty nearly the whole of what one may class as land policy; matters coming under the jurisdiction of the Board of Agriculture: questions of land tenure, the development of small holdings, and the like, the whole of sanitation, and various other matters which escape my mind at this moment—pretty nearly the whole of those subjects are treated at the present moment by separate Executive Departments. In regard to these there would be no necessity to set up separate Executives so far as England. Scotland, and Ireland are concerned, as separate Executive machinery already exists.
Consequently in such a proposal the really difficult question of where to draw the line would be narrowed down—I do not, wish to exaggerate what I am saying; there is very considerable exception to it—to the spheres practically of factory law, the control of mines, and the control of railways. If we would once make up our minds that a big measure of Devolution was necessary, our difficulty in drawing the line as to what power should be delegated to Provincial Parliaments and what should be reserved, would be narrowed down almost to a consideration of those three big topics—factory law, mines, and railways. I am not going to pursue that subject further, but I think I have done something by way of suggesting that the subject, complex as it is, is not really one over which we should be so much in the 547 dark or one which presents the full difficulty which the observations of the noble Viscount suggested.
There is one other point which has seemed to present to the noble Viscount a great difficulty, and which I must say I cannot understand at all. He pointed out the great inequality of size between England and Scotland, or England and Wales. What does that matter? That difficulty would equally have arisen in the case of the existing Federations. Take the actual Federation of the United States at the present day. You have a State like New York, or like Illinois, which in the matter of population are as big as Scotland, or as big as the whole of Canada perhaps, and a little State like Rhode Island, which in area and population is about the same as a good-sized English county. What does it matter to them? Each manages its own affairs. What element of friction does it introduce that one of them happens to legislate for a larger and the other for a smaller area? Or what does it matter either, supposing instead of being independent Legislatures they should be subordinate Legislatures exercising delegated powers? I confess that I am amazed that such a point should be put forward as one which occasions serious practical difficulty.
I have not the conscience to detain your Lordships further than to make two more observations. I am really very much surprised that anybody should contest the broad proposition that our Legislature and our Parliament are overburdened concerns. I think it was in 1885 that Mr. Gladstone, a pretty energetic Prime Minister and legislator, exclaimed that Parliament was overweighted, overwhelmed, and began to point out for that reason the necessity, as he conceived it, of Devolution; and manifestly the thing has gone on from bad to worse. But in the charming and refreshing speech delivered to-day on this subject by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack we are assured that this overburdening of Parliament is a thing which, without Devolution, has passed away. Why? It was due to obstruction. And the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack described to its how, in the "bad old times," he and his friends used to devote all their immense skill and resources to obstructing the procedure of Parliament.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
If the noble Lord will allow me I should like to remind him that this obstruction, as I pointed out, was not confined to myself and my political friends.
§ LORD CHARNWOOD
I am sure I was not wrong; I was assuming that the expression "friends" would include a great many of his actual political opponents. That, of course, I realise. But that is not to be so in the future; because in that respect a complete change of heart has come over the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. That is a beautiful and reassuring fact. Yet I cannot be sure that this same complete change of heart has come over the whole House of Commons; that it has come over all the noble and learned Lord's political associates or all his political opponents. I do not really think we can seriously persuade ourselves that the tendency to prolixity of discussion and the tendency to obstruction in the House of Commons has entirely died away.
There was, however, one more serious point on which I wish respectfully to challenge what was said by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. He told us that the people who addressed election meetings are not interested in this subject. After all, it is a politician's subject; it is a technical subject in a way—a subject which can only be weighed up by people who have had actual Parliamentary experience. In that respect it stands completely on all fours with such propositions as the creation of a Federation. If nothing were ever done which was not thoroughly understood and of which the importance was not appreciated by the "man in the street," a great many of the most important measures in history would never have taken effect. Amongst other things, there certainly never would have been the Union of the United States if it had been left to the public opinion of the ordinary man in the ordinary State to insist that in their situation it was necessary that some sort of Union should be formed. I rather protest against taking that line in regard to this question. The people will not, of course, become interested in this subject till they see those to whom they look for guidance in such matters, those with experience of government and Parliamentary life, take it seriously. I have seen, as a matter of fact, greater signs of interest in this matter on the part of the public than other noble Lords seem to have done; but, 549 if there were no signs, of course it must remain a remote question from the mass of the electors, until it engages the attention of those statesmen to whom, in a matter like this, the electors must necessarily look for guidance. I hope that this is not going to be treated as, in the days before the war, the question of National Defence was treated. The observations of the noble and learned Lord reminded me of nothing so much as the way in which, before the war, the whole question of National Defence was treated by official statesmen when Lord Roberts and others endeavoured to arouse the attention of the country to the peril that lay before it.
§ EARL BRASSEY
My Lords, before I withdraw the Motion, I should like to be permitted to make one or two observations on the discussion that has taken place. First, I desire to congratulate my noble friend the noble Marquess (Lord Linlithgow) on his valuable contribution to the discussion, but I should like to be permitted to take a little exception to the taunt which he directed against me, by using my failure to obtain return to another place as an argument against the policy which I am advocating to-night. I do not know whether the noble Marquess is aware that in the last three Elections which I contested, spread over seven years, the total majority against me was only 113 votes. Therefore I do not think the argument of the noble Marquess is a very strong one.
I pass to the observations which fell from my noble friend Lord Bryce, for whose kindly reception of my proposals I should like to express my thanks. To the observation which he made, and which I think was also made by the noble Marquess below me, that this would not satisfy Ireland, my reply is that this proposal would in days gone by, as Mr. Redmond intimated, have satisfied Ireland. It is perfectly true that it would not satisfy Irish opinion to-day, but what statesmen could possibly propose any measure which would satisfy Ireland in its present state? You should not therefore adopt a non possumus attitude on this question. It is your business to tell Irishmen what you are prepared to do, and what lengths you are prepared to go—to tell them that you are prepared to give them the same measure of self-government as you are prepared to give to Scotland and England, subject to the maintenance of the security and integrity of the United Kingdom. The whole 550 object of the deputation—and it must be admitted that it was a weighty deputation—which I had the honour of presenting to the Prime Minister in the summer was to show that, independently of the Irish question, there was a great body of opinion in this country prepared to advocate a wide measure of Devolution.
I confess that I am very much surprised at the way in which these proposals brought forward by my noble friend Lord Selborne and myself have been treated by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, considering that the head of the Government of which he is a member is heartily in favour of them. If he will allow me to say so, in his criticism of the proposals the noble and learned Lord seemed to treat them far too much from the old Tory standpoint. I feel convinced that if he had had the same opportunities that I have had of visiting the various Dominions of the Empire and of discussing this question, as I have, with various statesmen representing the different Dominions, he would have treated this proposal in a very different tone; and I assure the noble and learned Lord, and noble Lords who are still present in the House, that this is not the last time they will hear of this subject, either in this House or in another place. I beg to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.