§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (VISCOUXT PEEL) rose to move, That this House do resolve itself into Committee in order to consider the following Resolutions—
§ "1. That this House shall be composed, in addition to Peers of the Blood Royal, Lords Spiritual, and Law Lords, of—
- (a) Members elected, either directly or indirectly, from the outside.
- (b) Hereditary Peers elected by their order.
- (c) Members nominated by the Crown, the numbers in each case to be determined by Statute.
§ "2. That, with the exception of Peers of the Blood Royal and the Law Lords, every other member of the reconstituted and reduced House of Lords shall hold his seat for a term of years to be fixed by Statute, but shall be eligible for re-election.525
§ "3. That the reconstituted House of Lords shall consist approximately of 350 members.
§ "4. That while the House of Lords shall not amend or reject Money Bills, the decision as to whether a Bill is or is not a Money Bill, or is partly a Money Bill and partly not a Money Bill, shall be referred to a Joint Standing Committee of the two Houses, the decision of which shall be final. That this Joint Standing Committee shall be appointed at the beginning of each new Parliament, and shall be composed of seven members of each House of Parliament, in addition to the Speaker of the House of Commons, who shall be ex officio Chairman of the Committee.
§ "5. That the provisions of the Parliament Act, 1911, by which Bills can be passed into law without the consent of the House of Lords curing the course of a single Parliament, shall not apply to any Bill which alters or amends the constitution of the House of Lords as set out in these Resolutions, or which in any way changes the powers of the House of Lords as laid down in the Parliament Act and modified by these Resolutions."
The noble Viscount said: My Lords, it is a matter of great regret to the noble Marquess the Leader of this House, as I know it is also to your Lordships, and certainly to me, that the noble Marquess has been prevented by the retardation of his recovery from moving these Resolutions himself. I am glad to say that the noble Marquess hopes to be so far recovered as to be able to attend your Lordships' House about the beginning of August. The Motion takes this form—
That this House do resolve itself into Committee in order to consider the following Resolutions.
As to the question of whether reform of the composition of this House is necessary, your Lordships may have various opinions, and I think it is unnecessary to me to address myself to your Lordships at length upon that subject.
§ It might, of course, be argued, on the one hand, that the long duration of your Lordships' House through so many centuries, through so many great constitu- 526 tional revolutions, is itself an argument that your Lordships' House has adapted itself to the changing circumstances of the times. It might, however, be urged, on the other hand, that, after the successive extensions of the franchise, ending with that vast extension of some four years ago, there is, perhaps, a growing incongruity between a purely hereditary Second Chamber and another Chamber which is based on a vastly and widely extended franchise. Anyhow, so far as this Government are concerned they are pledged to bring forward proposals on this subject to your Lordships, and, so far as your Lordships are concerned, many very eminent members of this House have on various occasions presented schemes for the alteration of the constitution of this House, and I believe that your Lordships have given a considerable measure of assent to those proposals.
§ I think it will be agreed that if any Party or Government is capable of dealing with the subject it is a Coalition Government. Consider the other 'Parties. The Labour Party, so far as we know its views, however-much it may haw, changed on other matters, is resolute and confirmed on the lack of necessity of having a Second Chamber at all. As regards the Independent Liberals, many of them are indifferent and many of them also will rest in plethoric contentment on the bosom of the Parliament Act. The charge has been often made against the Coalition Government that their besetting sin is a love of compromise, but in a question of this kind, when you wish to carry with you as far as you can the general assent of your Lordships' House, and perhaps of the other House, I think you will admit that this besetting sin may become a besetting virtue.
§ Now, I freely admit, at the outset, that these Resolutions as set out are a sketch, and a general sketch, laying down principles only, which will afterwards have to be filled up. I might even say that these outlines are themselves rich in undisclosed articulations. They are presented in the form of Resolutions and not as a Bill. The modern Merlins of draftsmanship have not yet applied to them the complicated canons of their mysterious art. The hand of the master is no doubt there, but it is the hand of a master not enmeshed or entangled in a wilderness of inordinate detail. It is well known that we have had in the past no written Constitution, but we have 527 latterly attempted to write one. Other States, of course, have established a very solemn and elaborate procedure, which distinguishes the methods applied to constitutional changes and the procedure which is prevalent in the case of ordinary Bills. We, in our usual piecemeal and haphazard manner, have stumbled into a written Constitution, and we have made no such provision for these distinctions. Therefore, to get something of that permanence which one hopes for from a changed Constitution we have to secure, so far as we can, if not a general assent yet a very large measure of assent. Nothing, I think, could have been worse than the atmosphere in which the Parliament Act was passed. It was one of hostility, of storm and even violent Party debate.
§ I think there is another reason why these matters should be presented in the form of Resolutions. Many of your Lordships are not wholly uncritical admirers of the Coalition Government. On some occasions, I admit, with comparative shame, the Government have drunk the bitter waters of defeat, and reform, I suggest to your Lordships, ought in large measure to come from the seemly evolution of public opinion in your Lordships' House. Although I do not forget for a moment the burden of Government responsibility, it is well that changes should appear to rise at least from the weighty opinions of the Lords themselves. None of the ungodly, and there are plenty of them outside your Lordships' House, should ever be able to suggest that changes were forced upon this House, or that in considering any alterations any of your Lordships were moved by fear, favour or affection, or by any motive except devotion to the public weal. There is also another advantage in placing the matter in the form of Resolutions. You can have a far freer and easier texture of discussion when the matter is in this loose form than when it is in the definite lines of a Bill. You can, as it were, discuss these matters as if you were in your smoking jackets rather than decked out in all the panoply of full Court dress.
§ Before discussing the Resolutions let me, if I dare to do so, lay down briefly some of the principles which should govern those who are approaching the construction of a Second Chamber. First of all, a Second Chamber should not have equal powers with, or become a rival of, the 528 House of Commons, nor have the power of dismissing Governments or making the Executive equally responsible to both Chambers. Secondly, the Second Chamber should be powerful enough, self-confident and fearless enough, to oppose the House of Commons when it is convinced that the other House does not respect, and turns away from, the settled opinion of the people. It must, again, be composed of persons so weighty and experienced as to command public confidence and to influence public opinion. I may add, perhaps, that in these days it is rather important to have in any House a certain number of people of marked and powerful peculiarities and idiosyncracies, to engage the attention of cartoonists and the Press, and enlist the popular ear. Perhaps, too, in these days of rapid shift and change some admixture of the youthful element is necessary among the sedater persons of settled reputation and conviction.
§ The first point I should like to discuss on that basis is the question of the numbers of your Lordships' House. That is dealt with in the third of the Resolutions, although I think that, logically, it comes first. In deciding the numbers of the House of Commons a reference is generally had to the necessary and comfortable size of the constituencies to return those Members, and there is a relation between the numbers in the House and the size of the constituencies; but in the case of your Lordships' House the Peerage, is really settled by the degree of distinguished service which the Prime Ministers of the day, in their submission to His Majesty, may think necessary to entitle a person to a seat in your Lordships' House. There is thus no real relation established between the staff and the business that they have to discharge. Many of those persons, in fact, when they have had the honour of a Peerage conferred upon them, do not seem to think that legislative duties are very closely connected with the grant of the honour. They make a short, brilliant, mediaeval appearance in this House, and then, like meteors, so far as this House is concerned they pass away and are extinguished for ever. Again, the large number of persons in this House, over seven hundred, is surely too great for the volume of business to be transacted— always assuming that this House does not deal with taxation or with the voting of Estimates.529
§ There is also too great a discrepancy between the average attendance of your Lordships and the formidable number of Peers. It is difficult to conduct legislation like an army, with a fighting line on active service and a large potential reserve. The public, critical always, is rather inclined to question the right of those, who for the greater portion of their lives are engaged on other business, to select rare occasions for legislative demonstrations. The Government therefore suggest that 350 would be a suitable number, and would provide sufficient margin for sickness, business, enforced absence, and the other casualties of legislators.
§ In coming to the composition of your Lordships' House I think you will agree that a suggested reduction of numbers would alone render it necessary to make some change in the composition of the House. I need not refer your Lordships to the very important and authoritative Committee over which the late Viscount Bryee presided. The persons on that Committee thought it would be an advantage if the Chamber could have some direct popular authority behind it, and that a proportion of the members should sit by virtue of election rather than by virtue of selection or hereditary right, so as to give the House the full weight of their increased popular authority. Your Lordships will see that the Resolutions do not lay down any fixed proportions between the different elements in the proposed new Chamber, and I am dealing, and only can deal in the few minutes during which I shall now address your Lordships, rather with principles than with arithmetical proportions.
§ It is suggested in the Resolutions that the Peers of the Blood Royal, the Lords Spiritual, and the Law Lords should remain members of your Lordships' House. The Lords Spiritual would sit for a term of years. If you consult history you will find that there is no body in this House who have a more indefeasible right to sit here than the Lords Spiritual. They trace their history and their origin right back, with the exception, perhaps, of the break during the dismal episode of the Commonwealth, to the Norman Conquest and to the Great Council in Saxon times. They look back to a time far distant before Celt and Saxon, Angle and Norseman, had contributed their several streams into that mighty blend which we now call the British nation; 530 indeed, before the Reformation, on various occasions when the mitred abbots still sat in this House, the Lords Spiritual composed something like half of the total House.
§ But I feel sure that apart from the claims of history and of tradition we should regret their disappearance and the setting up of a purely secular Chamber. We remember the disestablishment of the Welsh Church and the bishops who sat in your Lordships' House before that time. All who heard the cultured and polished eloquence of the Bishop of St. Asaph will, I am sure, regret his loss, and the more homely utterances of the Bishop of St. Davids put us more closely in touch with the rural life of Wales. This House would be far poorer by the loss of those who have such peculiar opportunities of studying social, and the high duty of dealing with moral, questions.
§ I now come to the second category, the Law Lords. Whatever our opinions may be, I am sure we all admire with the greatest zest their learning, tbeir high critical faculty, their temperance in debate, sometimes even their philosophic profundity. Even into this not very turbulent Assembly they bring a serener air. What a pattern and ensample they are to the lay Lords! Who on tie bare assertion of the separation of the legislative from the judicial, on the mere authority of some eighteenth-century pedant, would dare to sign the warrant for their departure? It is suggested, therefore, that the Law Lords should remain in full.
§ I next come to the Temporal Peers, the hereditary Peers. With an hereditary Monarchy we should all desire to retain some hereditary element in this House. It is not the time for me to indulge your Lordships with a dissertation on the virtues of the hereditary principle, because you are so familiar with it; it is held in the highest respect in so many relations entirely outside this House and outside legislative matters. But perhaps I may be allowed to remind your Lordships that in many parts of the Empire it is still held in the greatest possible respect, and that in India, apart from new Assemblies and Councils, there is no principle to which more real devotion is shown. Indeed. Indian Ministers, when appointing to posts, are sometimes accused, though they have regard to other signs of competence, of attaching peculiar importance and giving full weight to blood relationships with themselves.531
§ I remember on one occasion, some years ago, talking with a great Indian Ruling Chief, and he expressed to me the greatest respect for the late Lord Salisbury, then Prime Minister. But I found that this respect was not based so much upon his great ability, or upon his foreign policy, as upon the fact that, having been Prime Minister himself, he had been able to secure the reversion of the Prime Ministership to his nephew. And when I was able to assure him that even other members of the family formed part of the Government his admiration rose to the verge of ecstacy.
§ We shall all agree, I think, that, to maintain the continuity of over a thousand years of history, we should maintain some portion, at least, of this great hereditary element which will hand on the traditions of wide tolerance, of order, of courtesy, and of freedom from the devastating restrictions of debate. As regards the proposed new Chamber, I think that even new members in all the pride of election might be attracted if they could link their legislative fortunes with many at least of the hereditary Peers, and the rudest Communist, the most acid reformer would pause if he could study in the great landmarks of history the dazzling achievements of the hereditary Peers. It is proposed, therefore, as suggested in the Resolution, that one great element in the reformed Chamber should be hereditary Peers elected by their own order.
§ Then I come to the proposal as to elected Peers. It is quite true that on a great number of occasions your Lordships have been more correct interpreters of public opinion than the reputed popular House. But I have alluded to the advantages of direct popular authority, and the spirit of the times seems to demand more direct popular access for all classes of His Majesty's subjects to the Second Chamber. It may be suggested by some of your Lordships that there is at the present time no great popular demand for reform, but in this particular period of comparative calm as regards that question we may, perhaps, arm ourselves for a more controversial era, and make the advocates of direct action and of the disavowal of Parliamentary institutions even more hopeless in their programme than they are to-day.
§ The old charge frequently brought against your Lordships' House is that it represents 532 too much the opinion of one particular class. If I may speak for one moment of myself, I have had the duty of introducing a great number of Bills to your Lordships during the last five years, and I am bound to say that I have been much more impressed by the high critical faculty of your Lordships and the innumerable facets from which criticisms descend upon the head of an unfortunate introducer of Bills. It might be wise, possibly, and again it might be doubtful, if all opinions should receive equal expression in both Houses. On the other hand, it may be useful that opinions not often expressed in this House except by proxy should have an opportunity of more direct expression.
§ It will not have escaped the observation of your Lordships that the method by which these Peers are to be elected is not set out in the Resolutions. That is a matter of great difficulty and complexity, and no doubt your Lordships will freely express your opinions upon the subject. Those who are familiar with the Bryce Report will know that it suggests several methods. I will only say a very few words on three of the methods suggested. The first is direct election; that is to say, from large constituencies either on the same franchise as, or on a restricted franchise as compared with, that on which the House of Commons are elected.
§ There are some who argue—and I think there are representatives of that view in your Lordships' House—that if you are making a change you should make a complete change from the hereditary to the elective principle. But I think the majority of your Lordships, and. I believe, of people outside, would oppose that complete cut with the past, and the loss of that respect and dignity which come from tradition and from history. We are still in many ways much as our ancestors were, who were fond of describing constitutional innovations, often when they were real innovations, as a revival of the customs of the past; and our people, our wise conservative people, fortified by fresh experience in other countries are, I believe, in no mood to turn their backs upon the past whether from the constitutional, the moral, or the: economical point of view.
§ That distinguished Committee condemned generally direct election, mainly on two grounds. One was that it was a misfortune to try to reproduce too nearly 533 in the Second Chamber the composition of another place; and the second was the necessarily vast size of the constituencies with the reduced numbers in your Lordships' House. They too, of course, make a suggestion that local panels of members of another place should elect members to your Lordships' House. I confess that I feel myself rather doubtful whether these small bodies, many of them composed of men who are not local, would really select the best men in the different areas, and whether the men so selected by this secondary election would really add great force and dignity to your Lordships' House. They might, possibly, be content to follow too closely the views of those who chose them, and not to adopt, as they ought in many cases to adopt, an unfilial attitude towards their creators.
§ The third suggestion, and one favoured by many, is that a selection should be made by local authorities or by groups of local authorities. It has been stated that this would tend to introduce Party politics into local elections in which they do not exist at the present time. Personally, I am inclined to think that view is a great-deal exaggerated, and that local needs would be far more dominant in selecting persons to those local authorities than in the ten-yearly possibility of having a share in the election of one or two members of the Upper House. On this point the Resolutions are silent, but I hope your Lordships will not be silent. Then there is the nomination by the Crown. It will be seen that in the Resolutions it is provided that the Crown should be able to nominate a certain number of eminent persons who might; have failed to enter your Lordships' House by the two doors to which I have already alluded. These numbers, of course, would be limited by Statute, because the dangers to which we were exposed some ten or twelve years ago would no longer present any difficulty in the reformed House.
§ Such is a very brief sketch of the proposals as regards composition; but I know very well that many of your Lordships are less interested in the question of the composition of the House than in that of its powers. It is well known that many members of your Lordships' House advocate—combined, of course, with this alteration in composition—the repeal of the Parliament Act and the full restoration to the House of the power of dealing with all legislative matters except, perhaps, as 534 regards finance; that you should have the power, putting it briefly, to destroy as well as to delay legislation. There are, I think, several considerations that are worthy of mention on this point. There is no question that in the present condition of affairs the repeal or the attempted repeal of the Parliament Act would give rise to very acute and very prolonged constitutional controversy, and it may well be doubted whether, amidst all the controversies now raging among us, both foreign and domestic, it is well to throw upon the already loaded table one fresh apple of discord.
§ Moreover, it raises again two very difficult questions—very difficult and very controversial. If you repeal the Parliament Act, the question at once arises how you are to deal with difficulties which are at issue between the two Houses. It raises the question of whether, in case of determined difference between those two Houses, you should have recourse to the Referendum. Again, you would have to consider whether that Referendum might have an effect in weakening the responsibility of the Houses of Parliament, or, possibly, of disturbing the country unnecessarily by a succession of miniature elections. Supposing you are to try to determine the differences between the two Houses by the system of joint sessions, it is quite clear that you would have to scrutinise with unusual care the exact relation between the different elements, elected or non-elected, which composed the reformed House; and, indeed, every point would be examined with the greatest care to see what majority in the Second House, shall we say, was necessary to override majorities of a certain size in another place. The question of dealing with those majorities in a joint sitting, and whether a bare majority or a proportionate majority should have the right of throwing out a Bill, would be matters of the most acute controversy.
§ There is, further, undoubtedly in your Lordships' House some change of opinion on the weight and bearing of the Parliament Act itself. The Parliament Act is, no doubt, a very imperfect instrument. It has often been observed that it is least efficient in the early days of Parliament when newly elected members believe in millenniums and distrust experience; and is most powerful in the latter days of Parliament—especially with the reduction 535 of the period from seven to five years— when Parliaments have gathered experience, and do not require so much the curb of checks or the weight of balances. On the other hand, many have now realised the great difficulty of driving the same Bill, in the same form, through three successive sessions of Parliament, in two years. To do the same foolish thing, in the same foolish way, on three occasions, in succesive years, is a deliberateness of folly which Erasmus himself could hardly out-parody. Again, that shortening of the years of Parliament gives no doubt far greater grip to the Act.
§ Although these considerations might cause your Lordships to weigh very carefully whether you should or should not repeal the whole of the Parliament Act— as I said before that Act is a very imperfect instrument—there are two very valuable Amendments for strengthening your Lordships' House which have been placed upon the Paper. The first deals with this point. It has been felt that the determining of what is or is not a Money Bill should not be left entirely to the presiding officer of the originating House. Criticism in one House of the presiding officer in the other is not an agreeable task, and with some presiding officers, at some remote period, of course, in our Parliamentary history, it might be consistent with considerable encroachment on the rights of the Second Chamber. This provision of the Act has even been criticised by the authors of the Act, by those who might, therefore, be disposed to take the view that their own creation was very near perfection.
§ We all remember very well that on the occasion of the Safeguarding of Industries Bill the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, and others holding his view, contended that a Bill like that ought freely to be discussed in your Lordships' House, as it could not under any consideration be regarded as a mere Money Bill, and that to call it a Money Bill was in itself a travesty of the Bill. Obviously, it is extremely difficult to define what is and what is not a Money Bill, and perhaps the, proposal in the Resolutions is the best that could be made, by which a Committee of seven members of either House, with the Speaker presiding, is set up in order to decide, on the general consideration of the case, what is and what is not a Money Bill. Furthermore, there was one grave 536 defect in the Parliament Act, and it was that the machinery under that Act might be used to destroy the very Chamber whose powers it was designed not to destroy but to limit. This danger may be averted by the fifth Resolution which declares that such Bills cannot be passed into law without the assent of your Lordships' House in the course of a single Parliament.
§ That is a very brief sketch of the Resolutions that have been set down for your Lordships' consideration. Looked at as a whole, they constitute a House different from, and not a mere replica of, the existing House of Commons. Further, they retain in considerable measure the old historic links with the past. They strengthen the position of the House by a popular element, and they give the opportunity to all ranks of His Majesty's subjects to find a place in the Second as well as in the Representative Chamber. It is quite true that many of the details are lacking, and no doubt your Lordships, in the course of discussion, will raise, the question of those details. The Government invites the fullest and freest discussion from your Lordships on all these matters that are set before you. You will have, I agree, a very difficult task. You will, I am sure, have regard to the past, to tradition, and to that great continuity of history which binds one generation to another. You will, further, not be insensible to those pressing, swaying tides of public opinion, so complex and so inter-connected as to baffle the wisdom and penetration even of the wisest, and you will lend an attentive ear to those voices, confusing, contradictory and yet insistent, the dim premonitions of the coming time. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House do resolve itself into Committee in order to consider the following Resolutions:—
§ "1. That this House shall be composed, in addition to Peers of the Blood Royal, Lords Spiritual, and Law Lords, of—
- (a) Members elected, either directly or indirectly from the outside.
- (b) Hereditary Peers elected by their order.
- (c) Members nominated by the Crown, the numbers in each case to be determined by Statute.
§ "2. That, with the exception of Peers of the Blood Royal and the Law Lords, every other member of the reconstituted and reduced House of Lords shall hold his seat for a term of years to be fixed by Statute, but shall be eligible for re-election.
§ "3. That the reconstituted House of Lords shall consist approximately of 350 members.
§ "4. That while the House of Lords shall not amend or reject Money Bills, the decision as to whether a Bill is or is not a Money Bill, or is partly a Money Bill and partly not a Money Bill, shall be referred to a Joint Standing Committee of the two Houses, the decision of which shall be final. That this Joint Standing Committee shall be appointed at the beginning of each new Parliament, and shall be composed of seven members of each House of Parliament, in addition to the Speaker of the, House of Commons, who shall be ex officio Chairman of the Committee.
§ "5. That the provisions of the Parliament Act, 1911, by which Bills can be passed into law without the consent of the House of Lords during the course of a single Parliament, shall not apply to any Bill which alters or amends the constitution of the House of Lords as set out in these Resolutions, or which in any way changes the powers of the House of Lords as laid down in the Parliament Act and modified by these Resolutions."—(Viscount Peel.)
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
My Lords, I join with my noble friend in deploring the absence of the Leader of the House. No man could have contributed more to this discussion than he, for he has made this one of his life studies. My noble friend opposite will not think it disrespectful on my part if I do not follow him throughout all the meanderings of his eloquent speech. I fasten on one statement, that the Resolutions are a mere sketch to be filled up. I think a better simile would be a skeleton which he invites the House to clothe with muscles and flesh. But he deliberately invited suggestions from all your Lordships for this purpose, and I propose to accept that invitation, and to ask your Lordships for a few minutes to 538 concentrate on what seems to me to be a great omission from these Resolutions.
These Resolutions ignore the statement as to the proper powers for a Second Chamber formulated by the Bryee Conference and the recommendations made by that Conference in respect thereto. I do not intend to say anything about composition; I am going to speak about powers. It is true that the noble Viscount alluded more than once to the Bryee Conference, but he dealt with it and its work quite inadequately. What was that Conference? It was called a Conference on the Reform of the Second Chamber; it was appointed by the Government in the year 1917, and its terms of reference were—To inquire and report as to the nature and limitations of the legislative powers to be exercised by a reformed Second Chamber; as to the best mode of adjusting differences between the two Houses of Parliament; as to the changes which are desirable in order that the Second Chamber may in future be so constituted as to exercise fairly the functions appropriate to a Second Chamber.It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that the Resolutions of the Government entirely ignore the second reference, and the recommendations made upon it, and only very inadequately and very meagrely touch upon the first reference.
I ask your Lordships to remember how the Bryee Conference was composed. I do not suppose a stronger Conference was ever got together within the walls of Parliament. Lord Bryee was Chairman, and he was the greatest constitutional authority in the country en this subject. I will read the names of noble Lords who were on the Conference. They were: Lord Balfour of Burleigh, Earl Beauchamp, Lord Burn-ham, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Marquess of Crewe, Lord Denman, the Earl of Donoughmore, the Earl of Dunraven, the Earl of Durham, the Marquess of Lansdowne, Earl Loreburn, the Duke of Rutland, Lord Stuart of Wortley, Lord Sydenham, and myself. The Members of the House of Commons were equal in authority and experience, and it is most extraordinary how the whole work of this Conference, in respect of the method of settling differences between the two Houses and the powers of the Second Chamber, is ignored in the Resolutions.
Let me refer to Resolution 4 which proposes to substitute a Joint Standing Committee of the two Houses for the Speaker in order to decide what is or is not a 539 Money Bill. That adopts one of the recommendations of the Conference, but only part of the recommendations in respect to the treatment of Money Bills. I will tell your Lordships presently how this Resolution leaves the difficulty wholly unsettled. It merely establishes one authority in place of another. It does not say what is to be done when the Committee has pronounced that a Bill coming before your Lordships in the guise of a Money Bill really contains other and quite different propositions.
The purport of Resolution 5, as the noble Viscount has said, is to take out of the operation of the Parliament Act any question relating to the existence of this House. At the present moment the only exception to the automatic operation of the Parliament Act is a Bill for prolonging the life of the House of Commons. A Bill of that kind is by its provisions excepted from the operation of the Parliament Act. Resolution 5 proposes to add another exception; that is, a Bill dealing with the existence of this House. So far so good. I shall be able to show your Lordships that if the recommendations of the Bryce Conference were accepted in respect of powers and settling differences between the two Houses this special exception would not be required, because it would be dealt with automatically by the operation of the recommendations of the Bryce Conference.
Before I come to these recommendations I want to remind your Lordships of the state of things which the Bryce Conference had before it in respect of the working of the Parliament Act. You will forgive me if I remind you of the main provisions of that Act. They were very drastic in the matter of a Finance Bill. A Finance Bill may be passed by the sole will of the House of Commons in any one session. The House of Lords cannot delay the passage of a Finance Bill more than, I think, a month, and the sole authority for deciding what is or is not a Finance Bill is the Speaker. He may consult the Chairmen of Standing Committees in the House of Commons, but he is not obliged to take their advice. But, as regards any Bill that is not a Finance Bill, if the House of Commons enacts it three times within two years, and if the second and third enactments are of identically the same Bill as on the first occasion, then if the House of Commons so wills that Bill is presented for Royal Assent without relation to any 540 Amendment on the part of your Lordships or any vote on the part of your Lordships to which the House of Commons has not agreed.
I want to insist upon the point that the Parliament Act has not been working at all for the last eight years. Almost a generation of younger Peers has grown up in this House who have never seen the Parliament Act in operation. Since war was declared we have been working under exactly the same conditions as we were before the Parliament Act was passed. The Parliament Act operated for three years, from 1911 to 1914, and if you want to understand the problems which the Bryce Conference had to face you will forgive me for reminding you how that Act worked within those three years. Let us consider its operation in the House of Commons. Ministers could look ahead with perfect certainty of carrying their measures into law within two years so long as their majority in the House of Commons remained faithful to them. Therefore, they could in advance measure out their time, and give each Bill just so much time as they chose. If they had thirty working days and only one important Bill the House of Commons might have thirty days for the different stages of that Bill. If they had two Bills, then the House of Commons would have fifteen days for all the stages of each of those Bills. So it came to pass that Bills came up from the House of Commons with great chunks of clauses which had never been discussed by that House at all. They were passed by means of what is called the "kangaroo" and the "guillotine," and whole blocks of clauses came up here which had never been discussed in the House of Commons.
What was the effect of that upon Members of the House of Commons? I remember very well that, at that time, attendance in the House itself perceptibly fell off, and that, although Members could not be absent from the building, they were found much more in every other room of the House of Commons than in the Chamber itself. The proceedings in the House of Commons itself, even on the first appearance of a Bill under the Parliament Act, assumed an artificial and unreal aspect. But if that was true of the first occasion, what about the second and third introductions of the Bill? There could be no change in the Bill, except a mere change of date, because, if any Amendment was 541 made, the Bill ceased to be the same Bill, and consequently the Parliament Act did not work. The Bill had to be the same Bill. It had been already discussed for several weeks in the previous session, and the Government, of course, gave about two days for discussion on the Second Reading.
When it came to Committee, there could be no discussion at all, because there could be no Amendments. The Government allotted one or two days to Committee, but no Amendment was made in Committee, and consequently there was no Report stage. Therefore, a most important Bill, which had passed on the first occasion by means of the "kangaroo" and the "guillotine," and whole, blocks of clauses of which had never been discussed at all, was put through on the second occasion in about a week for all its stages, and the same happened on the third occasion. Nobody who was watching the operations of the House of Commons at that time could possibly fail to admit the deplorable effect on the House itself of the operation of the Parliament Act.
Then the Bill came here, and your Lordships were told that you could make no important Amendments, because no important Amendments would be accepted. They had nothing to bargain with. I remember perfectly well noble Lords reproaching us for not attempting to amend the Homo Rule Bill. But take a Bill like the Government of Ireland Bill, or an Insurance Bill, and you find that finance is worked through every clause in the Bill. We are not allowed to touch finance in any shape or form, and consequently effectual amendment was practically impossible. All we could do was to say whether we were prepared to take responsibility for the measure itself or not. What happened in this House? Those who remember the years immediately after the passing of the Parliament Act will recall how deplorable the attendance in this House became. Noble Lords were not prepared to cooperate in enacting the farce under which they were working.
We were told—we may be told to-day— that, if public opinion is against the Bill, the delay which this House can interpose under the Parliament Act, and which is, at the most, sixteen months from the date on which the Bill reaches this House, will enable public opinion to manifest itself. How is public opinion to manifest 542 itself? So long as the predominant Party in the House of Commons is obedient to the Government Whips, what has the Government to fear? And what about the Press? Now that we know that the whole of the Press, in the Metropolis at any rate, is controlled by a small group of gentlemen, many of whom are confidants of the Ministry, and practically, you might say, members of the Cabinet, who do not sit in Downing Street, the Press gives us no help. It is a deliberate invitation to direct action of some kind. Suppose that a Bill was brought in for a large capital levy. How is public opinion to manifest itself? Is it suggested that all taxpayers should strike, and refuse to pay? I know of no other effective method of voicing public opinion, in the short interval which the Parliament Act allows before a Bill is presented for the Royal Assent.
That is the position which the Bryce Conference had to meet, and Lord Bryce, with his great constitutional authority, took considerable pains, in his letter to the Prime Minister, to lay down what he thought ought to be the functions of a Second Chamber, and what he understood the Conference over which he presided thought those functions ought to be. These statements are; so important, and have been so completely ignored by the Government in their Resolutions, that I ask your Lordships' permission to read them. On page 3 I find this sentence from Lord Bryce's letter to the Prime Minister—Not less difficult was it to adjust the respective functions and powers of the two Chambers, vesting in the Second Chamber strength sufficient to enable it to act as a moderating influence in the conduct of national affairs, and yet not so much power of delay as to clog the machinery of Government, or dispose that Chamber to embark on controversies for the sake of asserting its own power.Then, on page 4, under the heading "Functions appropriate to a Second Chamber," I find among those functions, this sentence—The interposition of so much delay (and no more) in the passing of a Bill into law as may be needed to enable the opinion of the nation to be adequately expressed upon it. This would be specialty needed as regards Bills which affect the fundamentals of the Constitution or introduce new principles of legislation, or which raise issues whereon the opinion of the country may appear to be almost equally divided.And on page 5, under the heading "Position which the Second Chamber ought to hold in our Constitutional System," 543 there are three paragraphs to which I draw your Lordships' attention—It was agreed—that is, by the Conference—that a Second Chamber ought not to have equal powers with the House of Commons, nor aim at becoming a rival of that Assembly. In particular, it should not have the power of making or unmaking Ministries, or enjoy equal rights in dealing with finance. This was prescribed, not only by long established custom and tradition, but also by the form of our Constitution, which makes the Executive depend upon the support of the House of Commons, and would be seriously affected in its working by extending to a Second Chamber the power of dismissing a Government.The Second Chamber should aim at ascertaining the mind and views of the nation as a whole, and should recognise its full responsibility to the people, not setting itself to oppose the people's will, but only to comprehend and give effect to that will when adequately expressed.It should, by the exercise of this authority, and especially by evincing a superiority to factious motives, endeavour to enlighten and influence the people through its debates and be recognised by the people as qualified, when a proper occasion arose, to require the reconsideration of important measures on which their opinion had not been fully ascertained.And lastly, on page 13, under the head of "Legislative Functions of the Second Chamber," the Report says:—It has always been understood in this country—and this is the practice in nearly every country where a Second Chamber exists—that the Second Chamber should be entitled to full power in the sphere of such legislation as is not of a financial character. It may revise and amend, and in some cases refuse to proceed with, a Bill brought to it from the other House. It may initiate ordinary Bills both Public and Private. It may discuss all questions of general domestic and Imperial policy. In financial matters alone is its range of action limited by the long-established superior rights of the popular House.I venture to say that those quotations with which I have troubled your Lordships lay down clearly, and with the greatest authority, the lines on which the functions of a Second Chamber should be drawn, and, speaking for myself alone, I say that I unhesitatingly adopt every word of Lord Bryce's statement.
Now, how did the Conference proceed to deal with the problem thus put forth by Lord Bryce? I do not propose to trouble your Lordships by reading it, because you can refer to the document, but under the head of "Adjustment of Differences between the Two Houses" the Conference sketched out a process by means of a Free Conference and a Free Conference Committee of the two Houses, 544 which dealt with the whole of this problem. You will find it on pages 14, 15, 16 and 23 of the document. But that to which I want particularly to draw your attention is that this process recommended by the Byrce Conference was meant to be in substitution of those provisions of the Parliament Act which enact that the House of Commons can get a Bill presented for Royal Assent within two years, if it passes it a third time in the same form within those two years.
The Resolutions which are before your Lordships entirely ignore these recommendations. They ignore them, and they propose no substitution for them. I ask your Lordships to turn back with me for a moment, and to consider this question of what is and what is not a Money Bill. I have endeavoured to show your Lordships that the Resolutions of the Government only touch the fringe of that question by changing the authority by whom the decision is to be given as to what is or what is not a financial measure. But if you turn to page 14 of the Bryce Report you will see that Lord Bryce and his Conference dealt with the subject very differently.
Again, I must ask your Lordships' permission to read extracts from the Report. It says—A Bill brought into the House of Commons whether to raise revenue or to appropriate revenue for particular public purposes may, while purporting to be concerned only with the raising and spending of money, have effects—industrial, commercial, social, or political effects—more important and far reaching than would be its direct financial effects. Many large changes— indeed, some revolutionary changes—might be carried through by measures purporting to be financial. The Conference thought that, if the new Second Chamber, elected as proposed, is to be of real service, its views ought to be heard regarding such changes. It would appear to be required, in the interests of the people, and that not merely as taxpayers, but as citizens also, that such measures should not be hastily hurried into law without due consideration; and a Second Chamber constituted as proposed would seem fitted to furnish a safeguard for this purpose.Then, a little lower down, the Report says—An examination of the cases of doubt—that is to say, what or what is not a financial measure—which had arisen in this country and elsewhere, showed that most, perhaps nearly all of them, could have been disposed of after a not very protracted discussion round a table by a dozen practical fair-minded men; and the Conference was thus led to believe that the best method of 545 treating these doubtful and disputable Bills would be to refer them to a small carefully selected Joint Standing Committee of both Houses of Parliament, making its decision final.Now I come to the way in which such Bills would be dealt with when that Standing Committee had given its decision —It would be the duty of such a Committee to consider not only the professed objects, but also the underlying purpose and the probable effects of such a Bill, in order to determine its character and to report which (if any) of its clauses are, as being strictly financial, fit to be dealt with by the House of Commons alone, and which (if any) may properly be subjected to examination and amendment by the Second Chamber in respect of the economic or social results to be expected from them, these matters being of general national policy. Should the Committee report in the latter sense, such provisions as were declared to be non-financial would be open to rejection and amendment by the Second Chamber, subject always to the ancient rule that no amendments should be made by the Second Clamber which could increase any charge upon the people. If amendments were made in Bills declared to be non-financial, and these, were not accepted by the House of Commons, the differences between the two Houses would fall to be adjusted in the manner … provided for the ease of an ordinary non-financial Bill.The meaning of that, I think, is quite clear. Suppose some great revolutionary change to be tacked on to what is ostensibly a financial measure. The Standing Joint Committee of the two Houses would state which clauses of that Bill were financial and which were not, and those clauses which were not financial in the strict sense could be dealt with by the House of Lords just as any other Bill. And then, if difference arose between the two Houses, the matter would be settled in the manner recommended by the Bryce Conference for the adjustment of differences between the two Houses. The Bryce Conference provided a complete method of dealing with the case of revolutionary finance as well as for adjusting differences between the two Houses on other measures and, what is of extraordinary importance, those proposals were practically unanimously agreed to by the Bryce Conference. Lord Bryce says, on page 18 that there were only one or two dissentients. I remember perfectly well who they were. One was the representative of the Irish Nationalist Party and the other was the representative of the Labour Party. Otherwise, those most important recommendations were accepted by all the Conservatives and all the Liberals on that Conference.
546 The Resolutions, as I have already said, ignore these recommendations altogether, and they propose no substitute for them. Although I am one of those who agreed to the recommendations of the Bryce Report in this respect, I admit there are other methods in which a difference could be settled. There is the method of the Referendum—carefully guarded, reserved for very special and great occasions, but a method which I have personally always liked. Then there is the method of the joint sitting, to which my noble friend referred—favoured by many people, though not by myself personally. There is also another proposal—namely, that the Bill should not go automatically for the Royal Assent immediately after the House of Commons has passed it a third time, but should be held over till after the next General Election, and then, if in the first session of the new Parliament the House of Commons passed a Resolution requesting that that Bill should be sent to His Majesty for the Royal Assent, that it should be so sent. Those are three alternative methods to the method of the Bryce Conference.
But I submit that in any case, whatever method is adopted for settling differences between the two Houses, the process of the Free Conference is absolutely essential. I believe that if there was real machinery, as recommended in the Bryce Report, for a Free Conference between the two Houses, differences would be settled three times out of four, without any crisis arising or any real deadlock. And therefore, whatever method is proposed, I hope your Lordships will agree, to a proposal for a Free Conference.
I would ask your Lordships to consider for a few moments why some such method of dealing with differences of opinion between the two Houses is required, and why Lord Bryce was abundantly justified in the careful language he used as to the powers required by a Second Chamber. I am prepared to show your Lordships that there is at the present moment under the provisions of the Parliament Act—I do not say the whole of the Parliament Act, but under certain provisions of the Parliament Act—no real stability for liberty, for property, or for the Constitution. I have described the method of the Parliament Act. By that method there is no assurance whatever that some fundamental measure affecting liberty, or property, or the Constitution might not be passed into 547 law within two years—and, if a so-called financial measure, within one session— although a large majority of the electors might be opposed to it. Your Lordships have only to look at what has happened in Russia and what has happened in Ireland to see that, if once reckless fanatics get control, they will stop at nothing.
I will give your Lordships an indication of the kind of measure which, if such men did get control, might be passed under the Parliament Act in the time I have mentioned, although a majority of the people might be altogether opposed to it. You might have a measure for prohibition: if that could be introduced in the guise of finance it could be passed in one session; if not, in two years. A measure for suspending Habeas Corpus might certainly pass into law within two years. A law did that during the war, and that is absolutely a precedent; and I will show your Lordships presently how that precedent might be used. Any form of nationalisation of property might take place: if under the guise of finance, in one session; if otherwise, within two years. Land might be nationalised; railways, ships, banks, or, indeed, the whole of our industrial and commercial system, as at present known, might be abolished. And we know there are many people in this country with whom the abolition of that system is a political and almost a religious creed. A capital levy-might be made most certainly within one session under the guise of a Finance Bill.
The Government themselves have partially recognised the truth of this statement by their proposal in Resolution 5—that the constitution of this House shall not be dealt with under the Parliament Act. There is a deliberate proposal specially to safeguard the Second Chamber as proposed to be reconstituted. But I ask you to consider whether, after all, the Second Chamber is really the most important part of the Constitution. Are not the House of Commons and the Crown more important parts of the Constitution? But there is no proposal to safeguard either the House of Commons or the Crown. Your Lordships may ask me how the House of Commons could be endangered. I think I can show you that without difficulty. The case of the Crown, of course, is quite clear. Under the provisions of the Parliament Act this country could become a Republic within two years. Is not the Crown more important than the House of Lords?
548 Now I come to the House of Commons. How could the House of Commons be dealt with under the Parliament Act? Do what was done in the war—give the Cabinet the power by Orders in Council to legislate: the House of Commons is gone, a soviet is established. And you have a precedent for that, because it was done during the war. We know that there is a Party in this country that is impatient with our Parliamentary methods even under the Parliament Act. Their course is very simple. When they have got their Cabinet, in two years they can get through a measure enabling the Cabinet to legislate by Orders in Council, and the whole House of Commons is destroyed, as well as the House of Lords. And yet these provisions contain no safeguard either for the Crown or for the House of Commons.
If a majority of the people of this country really wish for these revolutionary changes, of course no Second Chamber will be able to stop them, whether reformed or not reformed. The whole point of what I am trying to put before your Lordships is that by the Parliament Act a Constitution has been framed under which these things could be done easily, even although the majority of the people of England should be against them. And no other civilised country is in this position—nor one single Dominion of the British Empire. The Irish Free State will not be in that position. We alone in England, Scotland and Wales will be in that position.
To secure constitutional stability by the method recommended by the Bryce Conference, or by one of the other methods to which I have referred, in my judgment this House would be doing a patriotic thing if they consented to changes, to great changes even, in the constitution of this House. If I saw real powers such as Lord Bryce has laid down as essential to the constitutional stability of this country once more granted to the Second Chamber, reluctant as I should be, I would vote for very great and even drastic reforms in the constitution of this House. But if we are not going to secure that stability, if we are going to be put off with a kind of tinkering with the great subject contained in these Resolutions, I cannot imagine who thinks it worth while to propose great changes in the constitution of this House. If the Government are really in earnest, if they will allow us to clothe the skeletons of Resolutions 4 and 5 with muscle and flesh, and, not going one hair's breadth 549 beyond the functions laid down by Lord Bryee as essential to the Second Chamber, if they will agree with us in giving the House such powers, then, as I have said, I for my part would vote for great changes in the constitution of this House. If we are going to be put off with a sham, I, for my part, will have nothing to do with the wrecking of the ancient constitution of this House. If we are to be a sham and not a reality, let us at any rate preserve the traditions of a thousand years.
§ The Marquess of LANSDOWNE
My Lords, like my noble friend who has just sat down, I deeply regret that the noble Marquess the Leader of the House should not be here this evening to take charge of these Resolutions. I know well how intense is the interest he takes in the subject, and I know we are right in believing that nothing but absolute necessity would have prevented him from being with us to-night. But I own that I doubt whether Lord Curzon's greatest friends and most enthusiastic admirers can pity him very much for having been spared the task of taking charge of this, to my mind, very incomplete and unsatisfactory scheme. I am quite disposed to make every allowance for the circumstances under which it has been prepared. We know well the immense difficulty of the subject. We know, too, how severe the strain of business, both at home and abroad, must have been on Ministers of late, and I confess that if His Majesty's Government had come to us to-night and had done what Lord Curzon did a year ago when he spoke upon this subject—thrown themselves upon our indulgence upon the ground that it had been physically impossible for them to deal adequately with the question—I should certainly not have been extreme to mark the omission. But pressed, no doubt, by their critics and feeling the weight of the pledges by which they are bound, they have made their effort, and I am afraid the result has been to lay upon this Table what I can only call a very half-baked scheme of House of Lords reform.
I wish I could believe that its production has really brought us an inch nearer to the solution of this immense problem. I do not think it has, and yet His Majesty's Government certainly have had abundance of materials upon which to work. I had occasion not long ago to look at my own I 550 accumulated papers, and I was dismayed to find the bulk of those which deal with the question of House of Lords reform. They carried me back to the old days when Lord Rosebery came forward as the pioneer on this question. Then I remember there was a Bill of Lord Newton's, I think another Bill of Lord Dunraven's, and I must confess that I found among these abortive projects a little infant of my own which I had the temerity to produce somewhere about the year 1911, and which has now been completely forgotten, unless, indeed, it be recalled by some who desire to prove by quotations from it that my opinions then were not precisely the same as my opinions this afternoon. But apart from these, there is the monumental Paper laid before the Government by the late Lord Bryee—a Paper from which my noble friend, Lord Selborne, quoted largely and with such effect.
To me it is a matter of surprise that Lord Bryce's Report should have been, I will not say completely ignored, but so much ignored as it has been in the framing of these Resolutions I know it has been said, and I dare say it will be said in this debate, that Lord Bryce's scheme was a kind of compromise, that it is not conclusive, that all that he did was to readjust the- opinions of his colleagues. It is true that there was not absolute unanimity amongst the members of the Committee, but this I am able to say, and with the utmost confidence, that as regards those striking passages which the noble Earl, Lord Selborne. read just now as to the proper functions and duties of a Second Chamber, Lord Bryee had the whole of his colleagues at his back.
Now I turn for a moment to the Resolutions on the Table. They are much compressed. They are remarkable for their omissions, and they seem to me to fail altogether to carry us to an adequate conclusion. I dare say many of your Lordships may remember a very clever comedian, who a few years ago used to delight his audience by producing what he called "potted plays." They were short productions, they had very little correspondence with the plays which they purported to epitomise, and nobody took them very seriously. This scheme, it seems to me, might be described as a potted scheme of House of Lords reform. I think it may salve the conscience of the Ministers who have promised to pro- 551 duce a scheme, but I do not believe for a moment that it will satisfy the appetite of those who believe, as my noble friend opposite does, that a proper solution of this question is really vital to the future and the welfare of this country.
My noble friend pointed out that in this question we are concerned partly with the powers of a Second Chamber and partly with its composition. My noble friend, I think very rightly, puts the powers first, because it seems to me obviously of no use to set up a scientifically constituted Second Chamber and then to give it powers which are wholly illusory and inadequate. I will say two or three, words, and two or three words only, upon the question of the composition proposed in these Resolutions. I agree generally with what I presume is the general idea of the first Resolution, that it is desirable to have a Second Chamber which shall be of mixed composition; but when we turn to the Resolutions and see how it is proposed to carry out this mixture, I am struck by the number of important points on which we are left almost entirely in the dark. The new House is to consist, besides the Peers of the Blood Royal, and Lords Spiritual and Law Lords, of members elected either directly or indirectly from outside, of hereditary Peers elected by their order, and of members nominated by the Crown. Not a word is said as to the number of each of these categories. Surely, it it not merely a detail whether you are to have one hundred hereditary Peers or two hundred, or whether you are to have a larger or smaller fraction of members nominated by the Crown, or members elected from outside.
Another point upon which the Resolutions are curiously silent is this. We are not told anything as to the mode of election. Now the mode of election is one of the most difficult points which has to be encountered when this question is discussed, and to bring this scheme forward without a syllable to show how these elective Peers are to be elected seems to be a confession of weakness and irresolution far from creditable to the authors of this scheme. With regard to the nominated Peers, I cannot find in the Resolutions a word to tell us in what direction the Crown is to look for these specially nominated members. The subject has often been debated, and different categories have been suggested which might be represented in this House with great advantage to it, 552 but there is not a word upon that point in the Resolution.
Then, I understand—and this seems to be rather a novel suggestion—that all the Law I Lords and all the Spiritual Peers are to be retained. I have always held very strongly that it was desirable that the Spiritual Peers should be strongly represented in this House, but one may hold that opinion: and yet not be quite convinced that it is necessary that the whole Episcopal Bench should be retained when other parts of the House are being so materially diminished.
There is, further, one small point about which nothing is said, and which may, I dare say, be of interest to a good many I of us. Under this scheme there will be two kinds of Peers. There will be the chosen Peer who will continue to be a legislator, who will, with an attenuated body of his compeers, be found looking I dare say wistfully round these Benches for the comrades by the side of whom he has sat for so many years, and perhaps wondering at the novel surroundings which he will have to encounter. But what is to become of the remainder? There will be a great balance of at least several hundred Peers who, I suppose, might be distinguished from the elected Peers as the common or garden variety of Peer, i without a seat in this House. When Lord Bryce's Conference dealt with this subject we were careful to stipulate that the ordinary Peer, if he found the door of this House shut to him, might at least attempt to knock at the door of the other House of Parliament. I think that is an omission which certainly should be made good.
But these three Resolutions are, after all, a very crude sketch, and what really matters are the subsequent Resolutions dealing with the question of powers. My noble friend dealt so fully with that question that I am not going to follow him at any length. I think that as far as it goes the fourth Resolution is sound in principle, but, as my noble friend pointed out, it only touches the fringe of the question, and it leaves outside a great area of unexplored ground full of difficulty which will have to be explored sooner or later. The proposal of the Resolution contains, however, one blot—I mean the suggestion that the Chairman of the Joint Committee which is to decide whether a Bill is or is not a Money Bill should be the Speaker of the House of Commons. If you wish your 553 Committee to be obviously a dispassionate Committee, the way to do it is not to appoint as Chairman a member who, in spite of himself, cannot fail to be a strong House of Commons man. I very much prefer the proposal made by Lord Bryce, or, if you like it better, the proposal that the Chairman should be chosen by the members of the Committee themselves.
The real blot in the scheme, however, is the manner in which it deals with the question of ordinary legislation. Unless I misunderstand the Resolutions, they leave ordinary legislation exactly where it stands now, under what I cannot help speaking of as the illogical and ill-conceived legislation of 1911. I noticed, not without satisfaction, that the noble Viscount told the House that the Parliament Act had been passed in, I think he said, an atmosphere. That is perfectly true. The atmosphere in which the Parliament Act was passed was not an atmosphere conducive to wise and temperate legislation. An attempt was made to justify it on the ground of charges against this House which were wholly unfounded and unfair. The country was asked to believe that this House had stood between the people and a great body of beneficent legislation. That charge absolutely broke down. What were the leading cases? One of the leading cases was the rejection of the Home Rule Bill of 1892 by this House. What followed upon the rejection of that Bill? There was a General Election, and the people of this country, by an overwhelming majority, supported the action of the House of Lords. I would almost venture to say in passing that if you were, to put the same issue to the country now the verdict of the country would be the same as it was on that occasion.
Then we come to the famous Land Taxes of 1909. We all know the fate of those Taxes. They failed absolutely as a revenue-producing proposal and have been igno-miniously scrapped after costing the country several millions of money and finding employment for a large number of useless officials. The real feeling of the country in 1911, and probably now, is not that this House has exceeded its rights or deprived the country of useful legislation; the real feeling is that in these democratic days people do not like a Second Chamber composed almost entirely of hereditary Peers. That is a feeling which has always 554 seemed to me to be natural. Most of us are quite ready to respect that feeling at the present time and to make suitable changes in the direction of these Resolutions. But if you are going to assume that we are sooner or later to have a Second Chamber not based upon pure heredity but constructed on scientific and democratic lines, what right have you to assume that that Chamber, when the two Houses disagree, is always in the wrong and is to be automatically overruled by the mere lapse of time? And what right have you to deny to that Second Chamber the right of meeting the other House of Parliament on terms of equality, or the right, if necessary, to require an appeal to the country on the question at issue?
In the course of his speech, the noble Viscount suggested that the question was whether this House should be in a position to delay legislation or destroy it. I maintain that we have never desired to destroy legislation. We have desired to prevent legislation being hurriedly forced upon the people; we have desired that the people should be given a full opportunity of judging; but we have never suggested that we should have an absolute right of destruction pure and simple. That part of the question has been left untouched by the Resolutions. The Government had, however, only to look at Lord Bryce's Report in order to find the means of dealing logically and coherently with the question. Lord Selborne has quoted that part of the Bryce scheme, and I will not repeat what he has said. Let me, as to these Resolutions, remind you of what Lord Curzon said when we were discussing the possibility of dealing with House of Lords reform last year. He told the House that the subject was one which could not be dealt with by rough-and-ready methods. My complaint of these Resolutions is that they are rough-and-ready and ill-considered methods.
We had a right to expect that His Majesty's Government, having all these materials before them, would investigate the subject thoroughly for themselves, would make up their minds as to the line they would take on the more important issues, and would then come down here with a complete scheme which they were ready to justify, and on the details of which they were prepared to give the House all the guidance in their power. The Government are apparently not prepared to do 555 that, and I own, if that is the position, that I cannot see that we shall gain very much by debating these Resolutions in detail or by attempting to transform them into the flesh and blood of a Bill likely to be accepted by Parliament.
The Marquess OF CREWE
My Lords, I am so fully in agreement with what has just fallen from the noble Marquess as to the futility of attempting to discuss this question at any length that I shall be as brief as possible in using the few words I am obliged to say from having been so closely identified for many years, in different capacities, with this particular question. Every speaker so far has complained of the form in which the Government have produced their scheme. It has been described as a fleshless skeleton, and it is only possible to ascribe the form in which it has reached the House to the fact that after all the examination that has been given to it— I am bound to say I am inclined to defy contradiction—the members of His Majesty's Government, whether in the form of a Committee or the whole Cabinet, have been absolutely unable to agree on any of the important details of this measure. It does, as the noble Blarquess implied, make it something of a mockery to bring this shapeless monster down for consideration by your Lordships' House. Therefore, I most heartily join, while regretting the absence of the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, in congratulating him on the fact that he cannot be here. As was said of another Minister on a former occasion, he is felix opportunitate morbi, and all the eloquence and rhetorical skill of the noble Marquess, had he been here and had we heard a speech from him instead of the most competent essay which the noble Viscount in charge of the Resolutions gave us, would not have enabled him to make a case.
I have very little to say about the Resolutions on the Paper. I entirely agree with Lord Lansdowne that as regards the first, the proposed composition of your Lordships' House—composed partly of here ditary Peers, partly of Peers elected somehow, no one; knows how, and partly of nominated Peers—everything depends on the numbers of the respective classes. If you are going to have 350 Peers and 300 are to be hereditary members of your Lordships' House, twenty nominated and thirty elected somehow, then this House will not differ greatly from its present appearance, 556 because there are not so many as 300 Peers who habitually attend our debates. If you are going to have 300 elected Peers and divide the remaining fifty between nominated and hereditary Peers, then the case will, no doubt, be altogether different. I do feel we have a right to complain that His Majesty's Government have not deigned to give us some intimation, without tying themselves down to particular numbers, of what their ideas are on this subject.
This point really has a very important bearing on the matter which was raised at great length by the noble Earl behind me, and was also fully alluded to by the noble Marquess opposite—namely, the fact that the Parliament Act is, in its main features, being continued in the proposals of His Majesty's Government, because it is only right to recall that when the Bryce Conference reported in effect that the Parliament Act should be repealed and something else substituted for it—the system of Free Conference, if not that of joint sitting —it was intended to alter the composition of this House almost completely. Roughly speaking, the proposals of the Bryce Conference were that there should be 246 members elected by groups of the House of Commons, and somewhere about eighty, drawn in the first instance from your Lordships' House, to be named by this Joint Committee, of which mention has already been made, with the ultimate view that that number of hereditary Peers should be gradually reduced as fresh selections were made, only with the proviso that the number within this House of 320 members should never fall below thirty hereditary Peers, or three occupants of the Episcopal Bench.
That complete change in the composition of the House may have made it somewhat natural that the provisions of the Parliament Act should be departed from, but if, on the other hand, the House is going to remain mainly hereditary, with a mere sprinkling of introductions from outside, then it becomes quite another story and the question arises whether the Parliament Act ought to be departed from at all, while we are left in so great a condition of uncertainty that it makes it exceedingly difficult for many of us to say precisely what steps ought to be taken in that regard.
Lord Selborne is not in his place, and I do not want to enter into a discussion, 557 either with him or with the noble Marquess, about the circumstances in which the Parliament Act was introduced, or the reasons which seemed to us to make its introduction necessary, and which, I still hold, did so. The noble Earl made no attempt to describe the difficult circumstances in which the Government of that day found themselves, in being unable to proceed with legislation as they desired, because the House of Lords, as it then was, appeared to make a claim to deal on a large scale with questions of finance—though not in detail—and it also claimed to be able, in effect., to force the dissolution of Parliament whenever it chose. That made our position, as we conceived it, intolerable.
And when the noble Marquess opposite points to the Land Taxes of the Budget of 1909–10 when the present Prime Minister was Chancellor of the Exchequer, and speaks, not without satisfaction, of their presumed failure as a method of raising money, I must be allowed to remind the House that they were thrown out by your Lordships, not because you believed that they were going to fail, but because you feared they might succeed, and that very large sums of money would be extracted from the pockets particularly of large urban owners of land, and, indeed, of landowners generally. I do not want, however, to carry on a discussion about the merits or demerits of the Parliament Act. It was avowedly a measure, passed hastily and to meet a particular occasion, and how far it needs modification, I repeat once more, depends to my mind very greatly upon the conclusion as to the composition of this House, and any intention there may be of setting up a Second Chamber which is to be something of a rival of the House of Commons.
I have really nothing more to say about the Resolutions. I do not know that, as they stand, I could vote for most, of them, certainly not for Number 1, because I have not the least idea what it implies. As regards Number 4, for the reasons which I have stated, the powers of the House have to depend so largely upon its composition. Resolution Number 5 which was explained, I think, by the noble Viscount, is justified on the ground that it would be possible for a Labour Government— the Labour Party, even the most moderate members of it, having expressed preference for Government through a Single Chamber—to bring in a Bill if they came 558 into power, in the first year of their office, decreeing a form of Single Chamber Government, and abolishing the Second Chamber altogether, and that could be passed, under the Parliament Act, without any power of resistance.
I remember that, in the course of the Bryee Conference, there were a great many discussions as to how far constitutional legislation ought to be placed on a different basis from ordinary legislation. As no doubt your Lordships know, in almost every country, constitutional legislation can be passed only under far greater difficulties and with many more safeguards than ordinary organic legislation. But we found great difficulty in dealing with that question as a whole. His Majesty's Government are apparently making an attempt, in the fifth Resolution, to deal with one item of if, and I should be sorry to express a final opinion upon it until the whole matter has been argued at length, whenever we come to that Resolution. I must, however, once more, in sitting down, join the noble Marquess in complaining most explicitly that His Majesty's Government have placed us all in a position of very great difficulty by not appearing to have any fixed mind on any one of the important points with which we shall have to deal when the Resolutions come to be considered singly.
§ Lord BUCKMASTER
My Lords, I think it may be doubted whether any Resolutions more vague and tenuous were ever introduced to the notice of your Lordships' House for the purpose of dealing with a grave and complicated subject. I have never disguised my anxiety to see some reform of this House effected, and for reasons rather different from those which have already been given in this debate. I have always been apprehensive lest, in the quick changes that are taking place in popular opinion we may find a Government installed in the House of Commons which will be quite unable to obtain effective representation in this House under its present constitution. It seems to me to be a great risk that the Constitution of this country will run, if it remains so constructed that it is unable to give effect to the quick beating of the pulse of popular opinion.
Supposing for a moment that the Labour Party be returned to power, not necessarily at the next General Election but the 559 one that succeeds: how could it possibly work with this House constituted as it now is? It seems to me quite unthinkable. It could not find in this House its representative anywhere. I believe my noble and learned friend, Viscount Haldane, whose absence and the reason for it I greatly regret, is the only member of your Lordships' House who has ever expressed any approval of the Labour Party, and I do not know any one else who would be able to represent it.
§ Lord BUCKMASTER
I should doubt it; but suppose we say that there are four or five Peers who would represent the Labour Party, it would be perfectly impossible to constitute a Labour Government upon the lines on which the constitution of this country is now constructed. It has always been a matter of great anxiety to me to see if it were not possible so to reform this House that our constitutional machine may be able to operate, whatever may be the result of the Elections for the return to power of a Government which take place from time to time. These Resolutions, so far as I can see, go no way at all to help in that difficulty, and indeed I cannot help thinking that they have not been seriously put forward, because, supposing they were all agreed to, what would be the result I The Government would be no nearer the solution than it was before, because all that would have happened would have been that there had been an agreement that a Joint Committee should examine what was a Money Bill and a Resolution passed that this House would be better constituted with 350 members than with its present total of 700 odd. As has already been said, the means by which these men are to be elected—which is at the heart of reform—is left completely untouched.
Again, bearing in mind what I have ventured to trouble your Lordships with, see what they do with regard to the Episcopal Bench. I suppose no one would desire that the House should be constituted without having the representatives of the English Church here, but I think I am not misquoting the most rev. Primate when I say that he himself would welcome the addition in this House of representatives of other spiritual bodies besides the Church of England, and I am satisfied that you would make this House 560 much stronger if it were possible for them I to be introduced. But no such thing is even hinted at in these Resolutions. You are to keep the House exactly as it was, retaining some of the elements which have given rise to some of the most acid and most unjust criticism in the past. You are doing nothing, so far as I can see, either to alleviate the popular demand for alteration in this House, or to render its construction any more secure, or any more capable of defence, than is the House as it now stands.
Of course, everybody knows the difficulty in which the Government stand. They are faced, on the one side, with the danger of giving to this House too extended powers, and, on the other side, with this consideration: that if they make a strong House, a House based on a strong representative basis, it will not be content with attenuated powers; and as between the two—the powers you are to give and the way in which you are to constitute the House—they have a difficulty which I admit is extremely hard to solve. I have merely risen for the purpose of pointing out the reason why I regard these Resolutions as perfectly useless. I cannot believe your Lordships will accept them, or if you do I think you will do so because they accomplish nothing at all and there is no mischief in doing so. I cannot help thinking that the wiser plan would be to reject them altogether and to let us have another set produced after more mature reflection, which may afford a valuable contribution to a very important question.
§ Viscount BURNHAM
My Lords, the only reason I rise is that I was a constant member of the Constitutional Conference which has been so much alluded to this evening, and I would remind your Lordships for a moment why that Conference was appointed. It was appointed by the Prime Minister because of the common admission that there were new dangers and added difficulties in the State on account of there being passed through Parliament at that moment a Bill to establish universal suffrage. I do not think anybody' can say-that those difficulties and those dangers are overpast, when you have regard to the vast masses of unpolled electors every time that an appeal is made to any constituency in the country, and I say unhesitatingly, in agreement with my noble friend, Lord Selborne, that the basis of our discussion, the stipulation of our agreement, was that 561 there was to be drastic amendment of the Parliament Act, so as to rescue us from our present impotence; and in that agreement I Lord Crewe, and those who act with him, did not differ from the rest of the Conference.
The Conference worked, as Lord Bryce said, laboriously for six months and held some fifty sittings. If ever there was a free conference in the whole of our Parliamentary history I believe it was the Bryce Conference. Every member said the thing which was in him, and many opinions were expressed. Of many meetings it might have been said quot homines tot sententiœ. Allusion has been made to the fact that in the Resolutions the whole bench of bishops are retained. I well remember when Lord Hugh Cecil threatened the most rev. Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury i with his dire displeasure, because he said he had given up the whole of the innate rights of the Church of England, in consenting to reduce the number of bishops holding diocesan See? to five, who were to be drawn from the number allotted to the hereditary Peerage.
The Government, it is said, has paid but scant attention to the recommendations of the Conference. I do not think, however, that there ought to be any objection taken to the fact that they are introducing Resolutions, however nebulous, as a possible basis of legislation. It was by a Resolution that this House once took the most foolish step, I think, in the whole of its history, when in 1856 it resolved in the case of Sir James Parke that no Lord of Parliament should be summoned here for the term of his natural life. If that had not been done I think a good deal that has followed would have been avoided. It was by a Resolution that Lord Inchiquin strove in the 'seventies to limit the prerogative of the Crown to add to the number of the Irish Peerage. Therefore, I am the last to think that the Government has done wrong to present Resolutions, and I differ there from my noble and learned friend i who has just spoken, because surely it is an advantage that these things should be thrashed out now, and there is no more convenient way of doing it.
What seems to me, however, the real test is whether these Resolutions and the scheme they incorporate will make or re-make this House into a real legislative Chamber. What the Conference of Lord Bryce fully ascertained was that without 562 any question this is the weakest legislative Chamber in the whole of Europe. There is not one, except perhaps that of Norway, which is in a position of such degradation as ourselves. And in one of the Reports that we made it was laid down that in almost all countries, whether democratic or not, the Second Chamber has, at all events in theory, equal powers of legislation with the Lower House. Where a Constitution is federal in many cases the Second Chamber has greater power than the Lower House, and in nearly every case of a federal State, though the Lower House may originate financial measures, the Senate reconsiders and advises upon them.
We all know that, after all, this place, with its proud traditions, has become a gilded monument of departed greatness. It cannot be said that we have here any large feeling of responsibility in the legislative affairs of the country. We may have had it before, but certainly have not had it since the Parliament Act was passed. I am not one of those who think that the whole of the danger which is run now is due to the Parliament Act. I tried with others to fight it clause by clause, and I look upon it as a legislative atrocity. On the other hand, I do not fancy that those who joined in passing it adequately foresaw how much its danger's would be increased by the subsequent course of events. Whilst the House of Commons retained its old position, and whilst the distribution of political power was the same, though the evils may have been great enough, they were not so great as they are now. Everybody admits that we are coming to a government by groups, and as the government by groups is increased so the power of the Executive Government is increased. It cannot be avoided.
And that makes it all the more necessary that in respect of legislation there should be some power of revision, giving time to the electorate and the country for the second thoughts on reflection, of which Lord Bryce speaks so wisely in his Report. Even in financial affairs it seems to me that the Resolutions, as presented, do not improve the existing state of things. We must credit the Speaker of the other House with a high conscientiousness which, if he were left alone to decide whether a Bill is a finance Bill or not, would probably lead him to a just and right conclusion. If he is merely the Chairman of a Com- 563 mittee with a casting vote, being, as he always says he is, the voice of the House of Commons, he is almost bound to vote with those over whom he presides and for whom he speaks. I look upon the present as the worst of all solutions in respect of Finance Bills. It certainly was not that which was contemplated by the members of the Conference. A majority dependent on that sort of corporate feeling is likely to be a very mechanical one. I hope, therefore, that when we have, in the freedom of discussion, to consider these Resolutions, we shall at any rate pay some respect to what our Conference thought to be the right way of dealing with the subject.
It seems to me that you gain nothing for this House in the restoration of legislative power by anything that could be framed by virtue of these Resolutions. You must lose something in the prestige and the dignity which were always attached to this Assembly. You break the continuity of our constitutional life, because you cannot think that the House which will take the place of this, different in all its features, is likely to have the same standing which has been given to the House of Lords by its long-drawn history. May I say you are not likely to gain in the personnel of the House? While this House is the weakest in Europe in its constitutional position, I venture to think it is the strongest in its personal composition. The quality of its membership is not disputed. Of late years it is no longer true to say that it is all drawn from one class. The leaders in all the walks of national life find their way here by different ways—some people think them devious, but, at all events, they find their way here. Therefore, you are not likely to gain in that respect.
Is it worth while to pass any Bill framed on the Resolutions that are now presented to us? If we are free to amend them according to our likes, and in view of the findings of the Conference of which so much has been heard this evening, then I certainly do not think our time will be wasted. I should not object to any amendment of our Constitution because it does not fit, with taste and symmetry, into its ancient fabric. Part of this House is true Gothic, far the larger part is Victorian Gothic, and nobody will quarrel with any amendment of our status merely because of some loss of decent draperies which have so long enveloped it. But 564 on other grounds I hardly agree. On other grounds it seems to me it is not worth while to disturb the foundations of the State for any petty purpose. If we understand that the Committee on these Resolutions will be as free in the spirit of its procedure as was the Constitutional Conference, then I welcome it. Otherwise, I am afraid your Lordships will waste your time to no effective end.
§ Lord WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE
My Lords, I do not suppose that any of you have ever heard any important Resolutions, dealing with a highly important subject, brought forward by a responsible Government that have received less support than these Resolutions. We have now been debating them for two hours and a half, from very different points of view, and not a single speaker has been found to stand up for any single part of the Resolutions.
§ Lord WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE
I have no doubt that some of the noble Lords seated on the Front Bench beside the noble Viscount will get up later and propose to justify these Resolutions. They are very much to be congratulated on having such a suave and persuasive advocate as the noble Viscount, who has come to the rescue of the Government to explain divers measures on different occasions. I feel very much inclined to agree with what I think was passing in Lord Lansdowne's mind and certainly in that of Lord Buckmaster, which I may translate into the vernacular. I think the noble Marquess and the noble and learned Lord thought that these Resolutions were not worth powder and shot, and that there was not a very great deal of advantage to be gained by debating them in detail.
I had made up my mind to move that the House should go into Committee on these Resolutions this day six months, but I found, after consultation with some of my noble friends, that the view seemed to prevail that it would be a good opportunity of thoroughly debating the subject. I do not desire that there be any mistake about my own position on the question, which does not matter to anyone but myself. I do not think that we shall be taken any further by Resolutions in this form, and if the Motion to go into Committee is carried, I wish it to be clearly 565 understood that I am not committed to the acceptance either of the substance or the purport of these Resolutions in any way whatever.
Your Lordships will allow me, perhaps, to make one or two very brief remarks with regard to this proposal to reform the House of Lords. The question has been under consideration for a long time, and, like many of your Lordships, I am not exactly the first of my family who has had the honour of a scat in this House, ft appears to me that the constitution of the new House of Lords as recommended by these Resolutions would really be satisfactory to nobody except those who wish to make an inroad upon the hereditary principle. I would submit to all those who think that the House of Lords would be strengthened if part of it was elected, part of it nominated, and part of it ex officio, that there are very strong arguments in favour of having a House of Commons or a House of Lords whose members are all there upon the same engagement. If the Peers are partly nominated, partly elected, and partly ex officio, there will be two or three different classes, and you will run the risk, when an important decision is taken, of having the Division lists carefully scrutinised by active and ingenious persons outside to see how many hereditary Peers, how many elected Peers, and how many ex officio Peers voted in favour of a certain course being followed. I have given serious consideration to a possible reform of the House of Lords, and I have always thought that once you begin to interfere with the hereditary principle there is nothing very much between that and having the whole of the House of Lords elected, either directly or indirectly.
But the composition of the House of Lords is a matter to which we can refer later on. Do you not think that what those outside who have given serious thought to this subject are mostly concerned about is what the powers of the House of Lords are to be rather than its composition? These Resolutions, even the fourth and fifth, leave the Parliament Act virtually unaltered. It is perfectly true that there is an attempt to remove one of the greatest vices of that Act—namely, the vice of leaving the decision with regard to Money Bills to the Speaker. It is proposed, I admit, to alter that; but if the Speaker decides in an adverse sense, the whole force of the Parliament Act is 566 brought to bear upon the House of Lords which is to be set up by these Resolutions, and we shall be no better off than we are now under the Parliament Act. There is so little gained by the fourth and fifth Resolutions that it is really not worth while talking about them and, as far as I am concerned, I do not propose to be a party to giving up my seat in the House of Lords in return for the very slender improvement in the Parliament Act which these Resolutions suggest.
It is not good enough, my Lords! If you wish to get rid of that very serious flaw, that very serious defect in the constitution set up by the Parliament Act— namely, that of leaving in the Speaker's hand the decision as to whether a Bill is a Money Bill or not—surely (and I submit this perfectly seriously) that could be done by a Bill without altering the composition of the House of Lords. The hereditary Peerage as we have it in the House of Lords can carry on perfectly well if the Parliament Act is amended. I submit to your Lordships that the hereditary Peerage is not half so unpopular in the country as it thinks it is. It is the fashion to say that the hereditary principle is out of date and all that sort of thing. It is, however, the only really sound principle upon which you can found any institution—
§ Lord WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE
Yes—whether it is the Monarchy, or the House of Lords or a pack of fox hounds, the three most important institutions in the country that I can think of. I wish to treat this subject seriously, and the proof that the hereditary principle in selecting legislators is sound is before your Lordships this afternoon. Here we are! What else can you want? I have often argued this matter on the platform in Manchester and the north of England, places where they are thought to be against an hereditary Peerage. They are really very much in favour of it, particularly in regard to themselves and their own families. The thing is perfectly sound and it can be explained to the people in I the country. It is the fashion for speakers to say that it is impossible to defend the hereditary principle on the platform. I have been extremely irritated by Conservative speakers who have made that ignorant criticism. Nothing is easier, and the way to do it is this. Some gentleman is 567 ennobled by his Sovereign on the advice of the Minister, for some specific act into which we will not inquire too closely— we heard something about it yesterday afternoon and I do not wish to pursue it; but generally speaking he is ennobled by his Sovereign on the advice of the Minister for some specific act towards the State. He is deserving of his Peerage, and the experience of the hereditary Peerage has been, throughout the hundreds of years that it has existed, that that man's family has from time to time, not always, thrown up members who have taken their seats and have reflected lustre on the debates in the House of Lords.
I am not at all sure that the hereditary principle is not as popular as it used to be. The noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, whose voice I heard again in this House, like the rest of your Lordships, with the greatest pleasure and with the deepest sense of association, gave a splendid defence of the hereditary Peerage this afternoon. He said in that Parliamentary language of which he is so complete a master, and which I will translate into my own vernacular, that the hereditary Peerage has been absolutely right every time. The Prime Minister, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, did everything that he could to discredit the hereditary Peerage. I dare say from his own point of view he was perfectly right, but there was no form of rhetoric to which he did not resort in order to attack the House of Lords collectively and, in some cases, individually. My own name, amongst others, had the honour of being mentioned at the time.
The Budget of 1909 was presented to Parliament as a deliberate challenge to your Lordships, and, as the noble Marquess has reminded your Lordships, what was said in this House about the Budget— the main reason for rejecting that Budget being the Land Taxes—has turned out to be absolutely right. It is the Land Taxes and their author that are discredited, and not the House of Lords. The Land Taxes have had to be abandoned. They have been nothing but an expense to the country, and the rejection of the Budget by your Lordships shows that we were absolutely right. The people of the country are not such fools as not to recognise these things.
I am not particularly anxious to put myself up for election among the members of your Lordships' House. I do not wish to say this in an ungracious way, but 568 backwoodsmen will very likely stand a very poor chance of election. If there are only to be about a hundred or a hundred and fifty Peers, it seems to me that the tendency will be for both Front Benches, and people who desire things to be comfortable, to put their heads together and create such a House of Lords as will be amenable to the opinion of the Government of the day. Some of the most valuable members of the House of Lords, from the outside point of view, are those so-called backwoodsmen who are not afraid to state their opinions without reference to either Front Bench. I am afraid that that class of Peer, to whom I always listen with so much pleasure—I am not listening to one now—will tend to disappear from your Lordships' House.
I am well aware that it may be said, and may be said with justice, that if you reject these Resolutions, and if you set your face against any reform of the. House of Lords, you will have nothing but the Parliament Act to fall back upon. It has been rightly pointed out this afternoon that the Parliament Act, as it stands, constitutes a very great danger. It seems to me that there is this to he said. It is difficult to believe that the propertied classes, and others who desire the stability of the State for various reasons, will be able to dig themselves in against a socialistic or confiscatory Government behind a reformed Second Chamber. If a Government of that kind got a sufficient majority of the country behind it to vote in favour of passing confiscatory measures, and doing away with the Monarchy, then a Government fortified in that way would equally be strong enough to sweep away any sort of reformed Second Chamber that might have been put up in the meantime as an earthwork against it.
But in case we may not all be thought too intransigeant and not constructive I will tell your Lordships what my terms are for considering a reform of the hereditary system. My terms are the complete and absolute repeal of the Parliament Act, and the return to a Second Chamber, without any qualifications, of full pre-Parliament Act powers. On those terms I, for one, am perfectly prepared to debate with your Lordships the construction and the personnel of the Second Chamber. It seems to me that in regard to these Resolutions we shall not get very much further. I think there is a great deal to be said for the Amendment in the name of Lord 569 Raglan, in favour of "such modifications of the Parliament Act as will give the House a more effective control over all except purely financial legislation," and if he presses it to a Division I shall be very much inclined to support it.
§ Lord PHILLIMORE
My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Oranmore and Browne, proposed his Amendment, during the last Irish Home Rule Bill, for a Second Chamber, I ventured to support his proposal with certain arguments which I think received favour from your Lordships' House. I gather that we are all supporters of a Second Chamber, and of a strong Second Chamber, and as the authority of my old friend, our great statesman Lord Bryce, has been referred to, I would ask any noble Lord who has any doubt, on the subject to study that melancholy book, his "History of Modern Democracy." You will see there both the necessity of a Second Chamber, and the difficulty of providing, artificially, for a Second Chamber; the attempts that have been made in various countries, and in our Dominions, to find a source of explanation for a Second Chamber, and the melancholy failing that there, has been because it has been almost impossible to get an origin for the Second Chamber different from that of the First Chamber, the result being that the Second Chamber is only a pale imitation of the first. The United States of America is probably one example to the contrary, and there the extent of the several sovereign States requiring representation has made it possible to have; two different constituent bodies. Probably, in one or two small countries something of the same kind can be traced.
In this country we have the enormous advantage that we have to our hand the elements of a Second Chamber having a reason in itself and an origin for the Second Chamber different from that of the First. I am but a recent member of your Lordships' House. I never had the honour of being in the Lower House, and, being a man much immersed in business, and I employed publicly and privately, I was seldom able to be present as a spectator at the debates of either House, and when I came as a new member into your Lordships' House the thing which struck me most was the difference in your Lordships' House when seen from inside compared with what it was when seen from outside, If I, living in the world of business 570 and in London, was so ignorant, what must other people be? I confess to your Lordships I had no idea how much the control of this Chamber was in the hands of noble Peers who had such claims upon popular estimation that really the other House could not possibly stand comparison. When I found that those who really swayed this House were people of the rank of Cabinet Ministers, Governors of our great Dependencies, leaders in my own profession and in the great Services of the State, I felt that if any ordinary citizen had any knowledge how far this House was ruled by noble Lords of the calibre I have described much carping against the House of Lords and much unfair criticism would be dissipated.
This leads me to the reason of my rising to trouble your Lordships this evening. I have followed the racy utterances of Lord Willoughby de Broke, and I agree with a great deal he has said. I agree that it is not worth while tampering with the hereditary Peerage; I agree that it is not desirable to have an admixture, and I also agree that what is most; desirable is the repeal of the Parliament Act, root and branch. But it is obvious that we shall not get that, done yet. What should be done at the moment is to prepare the way for a sound popular opinion which would lead ultimately—we must wait patiently—to a repeal of the Parliament Act. The reason why this House does not have the weight it ought to have in the opinion of the nation is this. As a rule the business of the House is done by noble Lords who attend, who have political experience and knowledge, who have great intellectual qualifications. What the public feels is that, at any moment the sober opinion of men who are in touch with popular opinion, in touch with business, who really have governmental instincts, may be overruled by an inrush of Peers who do not attend, who have not trained themselves, who are not in touch with business, Peers who come merely to vote, with minds steeped with prejudice and assisted by ignorance.
That brings me to venture to trouble your Lordships with a scheme which I thought out some years ago when I did not know that I should ever have, the honour of being a member of this House, but when, as a close student of constitutional history all my life, I thought it worth developing. The idea of this scheme is not to interfere 571 with the hereditary Peerage but to require that every Peer who not only speaks but votes should have some training, should give some attention to business before he is qualified to vote in your Lordships' House. Let me trouble your Lordships with a brief outline of my scheme:——(1) In future a Writ of Summons shall not issue to a Peer upon his succession to the Peerage unless upon his application in the form of a Petition to the Crown.(2) The Petition shall contain an undertaking that the Peer will for five years after the receipt of his Writ of Summons, unless and except when employed in the public service, attend in his place in the House and serve upon Committees as may be directed by the Standing Orders of the House.(3) Standing Orders may define this attendance and provide for dispensation on good grounds and attach penalties for non-compliance.(4) If the Petition be presented within six months of succession to the Peerage, or within six months of a Report by the Committee of Privileges, the Peer shall be entitled to his Writ of Summons forthwith. But if it be not so presented no Writ of Summons shall issue to him till the next Parliament is called.Two objects would be gained by this proposal. In the first place, Peers who are unwilling to put themselves under discipline to qualify themselves for the exercise of their high duties would never apply, and would remain self-disfranchised. In the second place, those who take their seats will be workers, will be taught business especially by serving on Committees, and will be in association with political thinkers and the heads of business and captains of industry. An obvious penalty under the third provision would be suspension from voting, and another provision of the scheme would prevent sudden qualification in order to vote on a particular occasion.
I conceive that an hereditary Peer on succeeding to the Peerage would put to himself this question: Am I prepared to discharge my duties in the House of Lords? If he is he presents his petition, he applies for his Writ of Summons, and submits himself to the duty of attending the House for so many years, for the duration of that Parliament, or whatever the case might be. Those who were idle or dissipated, or who 572 had no care for political business, those who felt that their line did not lie that way, that they were better rearing cattle or hunting foxes, would never apply. There would be no danger of a sudden vote of Peers who were described on one occasion as Peers whom the doorkeepers did not know; they would be disqualified. If later on they repented, if they married and their wives insisted on their taking their seats, they might apply at any time and qualify. But a great number would be eliminated, there would be a purge of your Lordships' House in respect of a large number of Peers, and the public would feel that only those did vote who had qualified themselves by experience and practice.
The moral effect would be such that it would be felt that your Lordships' House was a House of experts; not a representative House, but a House of experts. Although many would be here by hereditary training, great families throwing up from time to time in accordance with all well-known physical laws hereditary statesmen, the House would be composed of people who could be regarded as experts; of those who had received Peerages, who would at once sit, under my scheme, on the theory that they were people of distinction, as, I trust, in nine cases out of ten they would be. In those circumstances this House would so gain in moral weight that it would be possible to carry the repeal, or at any rate a drastic amendment, of the Parliament Act, which, old Liberal as I am, I heartily join in desiring.
§ Lord STUART of WORTLEY
My Lords, on behalf of the most rev. Primate the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.— (Lord Stuart of Wortley.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to. Debate adjourned accordingly till Thursday next.