§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion of Viscount PEEL, 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.
§ LORD STUART OF WORTLEY
My Lords, though a recent addition to this House, may I be permitted to take part in this debate? I may remind your Lordships that as a member of the Bryce Conference I became acquainted with the difficulties of a question which, after all, concerns interests wider even than the interests of this House. I do not hope to be able to counteract by anything I can say either the effect of the rather frigid reception which was given to these Resolutions by the noble Earl, Lord Buxton, or the, effect of the rather jocose optimism of my noble friend, Lord Newton, with regard to the present state of things. The speeches of those noble Lords were somewhat discouraging to the authors of these Resolutions.
785 As a member of the Party which produced the Parliament Act and as a member of that Party who was not committed to the proposals of the Bryce Conference, Lord Buxton might, of course, be expected to find fault with anything which came from a Coalition in general and from the present Coalition in particular. But even in his speech I noticed significant passages about "this House as it is" and about "the effectiveness for the purpose of legislation and the transaction of business of your Lordships' present House"—phrases which have all the more significance if you take them in connection with the obvious preference that he expressed for bicameral or double chamber government. Then Lord Newton confessed that on a previous occasion he had tried to rear a brood of proposals of his own; that he had tried his luck before in this particular compartment of the political poultry yard. I wonder what he would have said if his proposals had been treated with the same ruthlessness as he extended to the very unfledged progeny of this later parturition that is before us to-day?
It seems to me that this is not the time, nor is this exactly a theme, for complacency, either sanguine or satirical. Those schemes for Second Chamber reform are, easiest to produce and are most immune from criticism which deal most with generalities and trace the vaguest possible outlines. Fault-finding and criticism fall the heaviest on those schemes which fearlessly probe the difficulties and explore all corners of the field. Lord Bryce's Conference faced all the consequences of dealing to the fullest extent with all the difficulties of their task. These Resolutions leave to others the most difficult part of the task. It looks very much like seeking to gain the credit of reform without incurring any of the responsibility.
I intend to vote for the Motion to go into Committee on these Resolutions, and, in doing so, I wish to notify all and sundry that I do not conceive myself to be committing myself to much in so doing. I find so little to take hold of until, at least, we get into Committee. There are one or two things, however, that I do wish to take hold of and to take note of—the fact that this is the proposal of the present Ministry of which the present Prime Minister is the chief; that two or three admissions or concessions appear in it— namely, that some hereditary element at 786 least is worth preserving; and that the Parliament Act is no longer like the Ark of the Covenant but is susceptible of amendment in two most important, if indeed I might not say fundamental, directions.
The noble Viscount who introduced the Resolutions tried to bring before us the terrors of possible violations of that most sacred thing which is called the Parliament Act. He said that if you venture, to repeal it you will have something like a revolution. Those are not his words, but I think that is practically the substance of what he said. It does not need much experience to know that you might amend the Parliament Act out of all effective operation and still be able to say that you had not repealed it. On the other hand, you might substitute for tin; Parliament Act something even more drastic and, for that very purpose, find that you had to repeal it.
The thing that I feel in doubt about is as to what is going to happen when we get into Committee on these Resolutions. Are Amendments going to be moved to fill in the details? Your Lordships must remember that the Resolutions provide nothing as to the proportions in which the three categories forming the new Second Chamber are to exist. It would be quite possible under these proposals to create such a preponderant hereditary element; that you would find at the end of it all that nothing was changed. On the other hand, you might give so much preponderance to the elective clement that the hereditary element would really disappear. There is nothing beyond what I have said about giving new powers to this or a reformed new House; still less is there anything in these Resolutions about the adjustment of differences between the two Houses.
What I want to know is this. Supposing, when we get into Committee, the Government move no Amendments to fill in details and give no indication of how they think those details should be filled in, what obligation attaches to any other Peers to move any Amendments to fill in those details? If unofficial Amendments are moved and carried, whose scheme will it be when it goes down to another place for approval or criticism? Will it go down to another place so amended that it is practically the work of somebody other than those who proposed the Resolutions? Will it go down in circumstances 787 in which it will be impossible to compare the scheme so completed, or to compare any particular detail filled in by this House with what may be taken as the standard which one always has in the case of Government measures—namely, the filled-in proposal of the Government themselves who, be it remembered, are entitled to describe themselves as the spokesmen of the majority of the House of Commons?
I think that if this Motion were negatived in this House it would present to the public an undeserved impression of intractable opposition to all, even to moderate, reform. I ask your Lordships to bear in mind that you have no occasion to be shy about admitting the need for reform, or at least about entering upon the discussion of it. You have no confession of delinquency to make. There are no humiliations before you to be feared. You are not going to be led between any kind of political Caudine Forks, or into any defile of dissolution or disgrace. You must remember that this House did not create its own hereditary constitution. It has never had the power to alter it. The hereditary element was originally very far from being the preponderant element in it. In 1265, when Parliament may be said to have been first set upon its legs in two estates, I believe there were only 48 hereditary Peers in your Lordships' House, and that they were vastly outnumbered by the distinguished ecclesiastics and professional politicians of that day. I abstain from saying "distinguished ecclesiastics and other professional politicians," but I believe that would not be far from the truth, when you remember that the monopolists of all the learning there was, being mortals, probably exercised their learning in the following of the political profession.
You can also bear in mind that in the last two centuries, for any change in the constitution of your Lordships' House— so far from being the work of the House itself, or even done with the consent of the House itself—it is the House of Commons that must bear the blame, if blame there be, for the enormous extension of the hereditary principle which has followed from the days of Queen Anne, when there were only about two hundred hereditary Peers, to the present day when there are more than seven hundred. This has been all done on the advice of Ministers who drew their authority from the support they enjoyed from majorities in the House of Commons.
788 I said that the House had never had the power to change its own constitution, nor to arrest changes effected from outside. It has often, on the other hand, expressed its own readiness to have its constitution altered. If your Lordships reject on the present occasion all Second Chamber reform, it will be the first time in your Lordships' history that you have done so. I ask you not to expose yourselves to misrepresentation by refusing to discuss these Resolutions, in minute detail if necessary It has been said by some speakers that the time is not opportune, that there is no urgency, that there is no wave of popular feeling outside in favour of these Resolutions or of any scheme at all. I take this state of calm, this absence of excitement itself, as a thing creating a kind of opportuneness in doing what we are asked to do. I ask your Lordships not to wait to build or rebuild your House until the storm has broken.
I should like to know when it will be opportune, or could be opportune? Will it be an opportune time when we get from Coalition to Party Government? Will the present Coalition last for ever? What sort of Government is likely to replace it, and, if not likely, what sort of Government is possible as replacing the present Coalition? Can anyone say that one may not some day get a Ministry anxious to establish a Single Chamber form of Government? I am under no illusions. I know perfectly well, as Lord Newton said, that you are not going to stop revolutionary action by paper constitutions or by ideal Second Chambers. We all remember that even Houses of Commons have been made to take to flight in certain circumstances. If revolutions come the decision will not go in favour of those who have the best arguments, or the greatest amount of political virtue; the event will be decided by the number of machine guns or aeroplanes or poison gas or stink bombs on each side. I am under no illusions as to that.
I want to remind your Lordships that in this case, as long as the Parliament Act is unamended on the Statute Book, the subverters, the upheavers, the House of Lords abolition men, the Single Chamber men, will have the law on their side, and your resistance, the resistance of those who do not like Single Chamber Government, if it is to be made effective, will have to be revolutionary, or it will be nothing and it will not prevail.
789 I referred a short time ago to the Parliament. Act, and to the extent of the amendment which is proposed in it by these Resolutions. Mr. Asquith's Parliament Act operated only upon the powers of this House. He very wisely thought it prudent to leave the constitution of this House severely alone. Some disrespectful persons at the time said, I remember, that what he had promised was a reformed Second Chamber with real powers, and what he had left us was an unreformed Chamber with sham powers. It is now, I think, generally admitted that the Parliament Act, went a great deal too far in cutting down the powers of what ought to be an effective Second Chamber, or at least that it was only justified in going so far as it did by the fact that it left intact the hereditary composition of this House.
I do not think that anyone would contend that a real Chamber, a real Senate, should be trusted with so little power as those shadowy powers left to this House under the Parliament Act. Even in the case of Money Bills themselves it is very arguable that not only in respect of the certifying of Money Bills, and depriving your Lordships of the power to veto them, the privileges of the Commons have probably gone Farther than is compatible either with the public interest' or even with liberty itself. They go so far in the direction of the application and expenditure of money that they absolutely encroach in many ways upon the province of pure legislation. It is to be remembered that the original mischief at which the privileges of the House of Commons were aimed was the mischief experienced or apprehended of the claim by the Crown or by the House of Lords to tax people without their consent. That mischief has been effectively guarded against during the centuries by the ample securing to the House of Commons of what is called the "initiative" with regard to financial proposals, and to go further, in the case of unjust taxation, or taxation imposed by a majority in the House of Commons which has lost touch with the people, may amount to an act of grave injustice, and in that case a veto from an effective Second Chamber not only becomes a security for popular liberty, but is a means of ascertaining the true trend of the popular will. There are other powers which might be restored to a reformed Second Chamber if you could get a satisfactory composition.
790 There is a great objection nowadays to power being given to a second House to compel a dissolution of Parliament, but that objection has generally been founded entirely upon the hereditary constitution of this House. It would probably be not nearly so objectionable if it were a power exercised by a reformed House. After all, it is only those who object to a Referendum who object to the direct ascertainment of the popular wishes. These organic questions ought to be surely the subject of concurrence between the two branches of the Legislature and ought not to be decided by the elected House alone. Take, for instance, the redistribution of seats, for just dealings with which, in the year 1884, this House contended, and successfully contended. It would be a monstrous thing if a majority in the House of Commons, a Party majority, were able so to manipulate seats in redistribution as to secure greater permanence of power to their own Party. Take, for instance, the question of members' salaries; take the question of Government grants and subsidies (which, after all, are the expenditure of public money and come within the terms of the Parliament Act), subsidies of all sorts to Departments, or undertakings, which might be made the subject of interference of the most unjust kind with the natural and healthy flow of the popular life.
I wish to combat what I consider to be the very insidious and unfair campaign which has been going on for some time in the Press and elsewhere; a campaign which puts it forward that there is a desire in any quarter to restore the unfettered veto of the House, of Lords. I have met no responsible politician who has ever said or written anything of the kind. You must examine this phrase to understand its full significance. Unfettered veto means unfettered by conditions of any kind, and veto means a final, not a suspensory, veto. A veto must mean a veto such as this House had before the Parliament Act. And the House of Lords must mean the House of Lords with its hereditary constitution unamended and as it stands to-day. In a previous stage of this debate the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, did not go so far as to say that. He said he wanted a repeal of the Parliament Act, but he qualified it by making it clear that he only proposed a repeal of the Parliament Act in favour of a Chamber reformed in some way so that it should meet the popular desire.
791 If you have a Second Chamber, and that seems to be agreed, surely it should have real powers. It is very difficult indeed to find any answer to the question, why, if your Second Chamber is not to have real powers, you should have a Second Chamber at all. You require a Second Chamber more than ever you did before the events of recent years. Single Chamber Government was known and said, even in the time of Oliver Cromwell, to have its defects. You have other things now to take into account. You have the menace of the movement to upset the authority and discredit the influence of all Parliaments; and you have a movement to replace majority rule by what is called an "energetic minority," which we know may be, and in some cases has been, a minority which proceeds by exterminating and massacring all who disagree with its political opinions.
The noble Earl, Lord Buxton, expressed fears of the possible results of entrusting this House, and, indeed, any new House which may be created, with real powers which might come into conflict with those of the popularly elected House. I submit that the noble Earl's fears are based really upon the assumption that all Parliamentary majorities in another place, whatever they do or propose, are so beloved by the people right through every month and year of their career, even to the moment when the people are just on the point of changing them into a minority, that you ought to treat their wishes and proposals as absolutely infallible. I do not know whether any House of Commons majority has ever kept its popularity after the first or second year of its active existence. During Conservative Ministries, almost from the first-session, you have Liberal politicians contending from the housetops that the House of Commons is misrepresenting the constituencies and during Liberal Ministries' tenure of office their popularity has usually been put to the test by the action of this House, very often to the great disillusionment of ardent believers in an infallible House of Commons. I have on previous occasions referred to the fact that this House, certainly in the thirty years ending 1909, had on every critical occasion when it had an opportunity, divined the popular will better than the popular House, and even in 1909 this House, though it did not hit off the exact trend of the popular mind, yet on the, real merits of the case has been fully justified by the consequences.
792 How is it that this superior faculty of divination has been vouchsafed to this House, in spite of the disqualifying constitution of the hereditary principle? I do not know but that the hereditary principle is at least some kind of security for good behaviour. The man who sits in this House, and wants his son to sit here after him, is pretty sure to keep his eye on popular opinion and so to order his proceedings that this House shall still be there when the time comes for his son to succeed him. It has been said that the great fault of the present constitution is the presence, or shall I say the dangerous absence, of gentlemen who are called "backwoodsmen." The noble Viscount in introducing these Resolutions forgot that there were possibly two or more kinds of backwoodsmen. He fixed his eye upon only one class, and he used what I submit are rather hasty words to intimate that we did not want here—these are his words— "those who for the greater portion of their lives are engaged on other business." I do not know whether he meant a resident country gentleman busily engaged in local work, respected in his locality and prevented from attending this House so frequently as he did largely by the taxation which has been imposed by the Government of which the noble Viscount is a member.
There is another kind of backwoodsman which might have been referred to—those noble Lords who, when they have achieved their red robes and all the other attributes and dignities of a position in this House, are content never to visit its walls again. The noble Viscount's words about "those who for the greater portion of their lives are engaged in other business" might well be countered if we were to say that we do not want anybody in this House, or in a reformed Second Chamber, who is not wanted anywhere else, much less do we want a House which consists—I will use an American word—of mugwumps. I do not know how the word came to be constructed, but everybody knows what it means. There are the "perfectibility" men of the days of the Philosophical Radicals, the "Viewy" men of the later days; I do not like to whisper the word prigs or pedants. Moreover, I do not think it would be a good thing for the country if this House consisted entirely of men who live only in London.
As to backwoodsmen, your Lordships may remember a passage in Mr. Disraeli's speech at the Crystal Palace in 1872. I 793 have not the exact words by me, but you will remember that he contended that there were certain noble Lords who enjoyed such an influence in their localities that their position might be compared, in its representative character, almost to that of a member who sits for a constituency in another place. His words were found quite shocking by those who pinned their faith to the maxims of the political cookery books of those days, and, no doubt, it was a terrible shock to some political feelings, but I submit that his words had in them a good deal of common sense, because he hit upon the fact that a representative character is not conferred by popular election alone.
Perhaps I have shown myself more friendly to these Resolutions than some of my younger noble friends sitting near me may approve. I have great sympathy with the younger members in your Lordships' House, especially those who have never had a chance of sitting in the House of Commons, owing to the operation of the hereditary principle. That in itself is an interesting fact, because it shows that, contrary to the ignorant representations of persons outside, the operation of the hereditary principle is not necessarily to set up an assembly of a decrepit or a senile nature, but in some eases the contrary. I must say that I admire the desire of some of the younger members of your Lordships' House to have an opportunity of proving in days to come that even an hereditary House can act with public spirit, and commend its decisions and its actions to the people at large. It is a most creditable desire on their part, and one with which I have great sympathy.
I do believe in a decrease in the numbers of this House, because thereby you will get rid of the reproach, if it be a reproach, of the preponderance of the hereditary principle, which, as I have shown your Lordships, was no part of the original design or structure of this Assembly. I should welcome the arrival of sonic elective element into this House from outside. And here I may say that I subscribed to the conclusions of the Bryce Conference, and expressed a preference for choice by the local groups of members of the House of Commons, but that would not necessarily exclude my supporting a proposal to have them chosen by local authorities, so long as you get the local knowledge I prefer the groups of Parliamentarians, because, 794 after all, the Parliamentarians are there for the purpose of dealing with Imperial questions, and have a knowledge of those questions which can hardly be expected of members of local authorities.
I should welcome the nominated element, because the nominated element will at least tend to secure places in the new Senate for men of special experience and signal public service, and, amongst other things, you must remember that it would solve very easily the difficulty of finding places in a Second Chamber for members of an advanced Radical Ministry, or even of a Labour Ministry. I do desire more powers than these sham powers that are all that the Parliament Act has left to this House. I do desire some means of adjusting differences between the two Houses which shall, in the last resort, leave the decision to the people themselves, and I do believe that a Second Chamber could be set up which would be trusted by the nation with powers that no hereditary Chamber would ever get from either theorists or practical politicians. I think that the time is opportune for a change on moderate lines, and in desirable directions, having as its aim the popular acquiescence and contentment which, most surely of all things, gives stability to our institutions.
§ VISCOUNT LONG OF WRAXALL
My Lords, I do not think I should have ventured to take part in this debate at all had it not been for two facts. The first is that, as I have ventured to say to your Lordships on other occasions, I naturally enough regard this, among other questions, far more from the point of view of the House of Commons and the attitude adopted by members of that House than from the point of view of your Lordships, who have sat here, yourselves or your predecessors, through succeeding generations. The other fact that leads me to ask your Lordships' leave to say a few words is that I think I find myself almost alone in the particular opinion that I hold with regard to this question.
My noble friend who has just spoken, and who, if he will forgive me for saying so, has given us much food for thought in the interesting speech which he delivered and which I think some of us will read again with advantage, because it has covered the ground very fully—my noble friend says that this is a calm period, and that it is 795 therefore wise to take the opportunity, and to legislate. He urges your Lordships to take prompt action, and to deal in a broad spirit with this question of the reform of the House of Lords. If we are quite sure, not only in your Lordships' House, but in another place and in the country, what is the reform that they want, what is the object that they have in view, then I entirely agree with my noble friend that you could not have for this particular reform a quieter time than you have now.
But are we agreed? I have listened, I think I may say, with great care, and, I hope, not an entire absence of intelligence, to this debate, which has proceeded now for two days, and I have found the widest divergence of views among the speakers who have addressed your Lordships. I believe that is a representation of the opinion generally held in the country in regard to this question. All are agreed upon two or three of the proposals which my noble friend laid down. I, like my noble friend, have met nobody who, by speech or writing, advocates unfettered power for the House of Lords; that is to say, the complete restoration of the original powers. Everybody acknowledges that there must be some limitation. I believe that everybody—and I do not exclude the authors of the measure itself—holds to-day that the Parliament Act went much too far, that it has not only injured your Lordships' House by an undue limitation of power, as my noble friend explained just now, but that it has done great harm to the Parliamentary institutions of this country, because it has made it possible for men to believe that a Government, whatever its reasons might be—I do not want to raise any controversial question, and I give them credit for the best reasons—is prepared to treat with indignity and insult a part of the Parliamentary Constitution, a Chamber which has attaching to it all the dignity and credit which belongs to your Lordships' House. That is not a good thing for Parliamentary institutions, whether they be hereditary or representative.
I believe, therefore, that there is a very widespread agreement that the Parliament Act ought to be materially altered. But surely, it is a fact that nobody would suggest the reform of your Lordships' House, if it were not for some other reasons besides that alteration of the Parliament Act. I dislike the Parliament Act intensely. 796 I think it is a thoroughly bad Act of Parliament, and that it ought never to have been passed. I hold with regard to it precisely the views which I held when it was passed through the House of Commons, when I had more than one opportunity to express them, and did not hesitate to express them, I hope, plainly. I think it is a thoroughly bad Act of Parliament—bad in the interests of the country, quite apart from the interests of your Lordships' House—and that it ought to be drastically altered.
But when I seek for other reasons for the reform of the House I have had greater difficulty in finding them. Surely, there can be only one or two. The first would be if the record of your Lordships' House in the opinion of all thoughtful men were such as to make it urgently necessary that there should be an entire change in its constitution. I only repeat here, now that I have the honour of a seat in this House, views which I have frequently expressed in the other House and, as opportunity occurred, in the country, when I say that I believe the record of this House to be one so wholly admirable as to be almost extraordinary. When it is thought how through the centuries the history of this House runs, when it is remembered how few and far between has anything in the shape of scandals been connected with it, everybody must admit that this House is justified by its work, and has a record of which not only this House but the country at large—and the Empire—may well be proud. I believe at this moment the country and the Empire are proud of its record, and I believe with my noble friend, Lord Newton, that public opinion in regard to this question has entirely altered.
My noble friend who has just sat down says that that is no reason for not going on with your reform. It may be no reason for not proceeding with some measure of reform, but it is a very good reason for not following the lines which seemed inevitable a few years ago. Then there was undoubtedly in this country a very strong feeling, without, as I believe, any just foundation, against this House and against the hereditary principle. I remember discussing this question with a leading member of the Radical Party, a man belonging to the middle class, who was talking to me in a very Radical constituency. He said to me: "Mr. Long, you cannot at all events 797 defend the hereditary principle." I said: "Well, I am quite prepared to defend it. I wholly deny your assertion, and I am prepared to defend it; but what is it you desire to substitute for it?" He said, "I am a moderate man I hope; I am not extreme, but I want to see an elected Chamber, because I believe it would be stronger and more effective."
I said: "Yes, that is quite an intelligible view," and I added: "My friend, there are four Peers who live in your county and whom you know." I mentioned their names. One happened to be a master of hounds—not my noble friend, Lord Willoughby de Broke, but another equally distinguished master of hounds. I said: "You know these four Peers; what do you think of them?" My friend said to me: "I think they are the very best fellows in the world. They are the salt of God's earth, and the best men in this country." "Now," I said, "if we have a popularly-elected Chamber as a Second Chamber, as you desire, do you think any one of those Peers will be elected to it, or will ever offer himself to go through the turmoil and disagreeable consequences of a popular election?" He replied: "No, when I come to think of it, I do not think they will." "Then," I said, "they will not he in the Second Chamber." I will not tell your Lordships exactly what he said in reply, but he finished up by declaring that if there was the smallest risk of that he was for an hereditary Chamber and no popular Chamber at all.
I have troubled your Lordships with that story because I think there is a great deal which grows out of the view that that gentleman expressed. I have already said that I think your Lordships' House holds a firmer position in the country and the Empire than it has ever done, and I believe that that position is due not only to the way in which your Lordships have conducted your business, not only to the speeches and public conduct of distinguished men who have led this House or filled high places in it for many years, but also to the fact that your Lordships' House is well known throughout the whole of the country because many of your Lordships are resident in different parts of the country, take leading parts in our country's work, although taking no part here, and are to the people of this country a guarantee of the character of the work that this House does, and of the security that your 798 Lordships' House will always be to them, as it has always been, a barrier against dangerous and drastic changes.
If you are going to abolish the hereditary system altogether I hope you will take care that you get in its place something that will be, so far as you can judge, as good, because I do not believe that if you increase the powers of the House of Lords, but risk its constitution, you will get the benefit or the improvement that you seek. If, by accident or hasty action, you fill the House with men who take a totally different view of their duties and responsibilities from that which has hitherto prevailed, I venture to think you will not be reforming the House but doing it irreparable injury, and therefore doing irreparable injury to the State.
So far as I can gather, I believe that I hold views which are different from those held by others who have spoken, and for that reason I asked leave for a short time to trespass upon your attention. I think I differ from all those who have spoken in this one respect, that I do not find fault with the Government for the proposals which they have made. On the contrary, I think they have done exactly what a wise Government would do, and I believe their actions have been justified by the speeches which have been delivered in this House. As I said a moment ago, almost every speaker has taken a different line, and if you discuss the question with men outside you will find that their views vary to a most remarkable degree. I think the Government did good service to the House and to the country in placing on the Paper Resolutions which are extremely vague, and which are open to any Amendment that we like to make. I am not familiar with your Lordships' procedure, but as I understand it these Resolutions lay themselves open to any amendment.
My noble friend who has just spoken asked what would be the fate of these Resolutions if they were amended out of recognition, and went down to the other place so changed. I really was rather surprised to hear my noble friend ask that. I do not think it much concerns me, or the House, or the country. What we want, if we are going to change this great Chamber, is that we shall have something in its place which the great majority of us are agreed will be a real improvement. That we are not going to get in a hurry. Some of the noble Lords who have ad- 799 dressed the House have spoken as members of Lord Bryce's Committee, among them the Archbishop of Canterbury. I, in common with many of your Lordships, have studied the report of that Committee with the greatest possible care, but there is a great deal of it with which I entirely disagree, and I find myself in disagreement also with some of the definite proposals made by His Majesty's Government. I have already said that I believe in the hereditary principle, and think that it ought not to be lightly abandoned.
It is now twenty years, I suppose, since I was first called upon, as a member of the Government of that day, to sit on a Committee of the Cabinet charged with trying to draw up proposals for the reform of the Second Chamber, and from that time to this I have held one opinion in connection with these reforms which is unshakable, and which I believe is well-founded. It is that there is no choice between the hereditary principle, altered and amended as I will endeavour to indicate it might easily be, and a popularly elected body. I believe that any attempt to set up two or three or four different classes of Peers, one elected, one nominated—one to be born a Peer, and the other to be created a Peer—will fail here in your Lordships House, for I do not believe it would stand the examination of Committee. And, if I know anything of the other place, I am convinced that, even if it emerges from consideration in your Lordships' House, it will not stand examination in the Lower House for twenty-four hours.
It is no good approaching this question in the belief that you can maintain a varied system under which you will get a good Chamber. I am confident that these various proposals will break down, and that you will be driven thereby to adopt the principle of a popularly elected House. I do not say that that is a bad proposal: I am not condemning it; I am not, for the moment, concerned to say anything for or against it. But I say this, mere platitude though it may be, that if I am right, and if there is no choice between the hereditary plan, by which your Lordships' House is now constituted, and a popularly elected body, you are taking a tremendous step and a step very largely in the dark. At all events, such studies as I have been able to make, either by reading or on the spot, have not convinced me that you can be quite certain of getting a more effective 800 Second Chamber than you have now, even if you go in for direct election.
There is no justification for immediate action of a far-reaching character owing to the record of your Lordships' House. I believe that there is no demand for it at present, so far as public opinion is concerned. Therefore, the only other justification is the existence of the Parliament Act. I have already stated my views about the Parliament Act. I listened to the extremely able speech delivered by my noble friend, Lord Selborne. I did not agree with all that my noble friend said, though I agreed with a great deal. But Lord Selborne put before the House with great force the dangers of not amending the Parliament Act. He threatened us with revolutions, and so on. He talked, and others have talked, of the possible accession to power of the Labour Party and the consequences that may follow from such an accession. It may be that it is because I have sat longer, perhaps, as a colleague with leading members of the Labour Party, and that I have sat opposite to them in the House of Commons for a longer time, I suppose, than anybody else in this House, but my views about them are very different from those of my noble friend.
I disagree entirely with the policy of the Labour Party, so far as I understand it, in regard at all events to domestic matters. I sometimes think that His Majesty's Government, when they are framing legislation, or considering proposed amendments, and so on, are too apt to keep an eye on the Labour Party, and one eye upon their own friends. I do not believe in that; I believe the Labour Party does not want it itself. They are a definite political Party, working for definite political ends. But I deny altogether—and I do it because I think it is a mistake that an impression of this kind should get abroad, and because I think it should be shown that there are two opinions on the subject—I deny that there is any justification for holding the opinion that the Labour Party is more likely than others to go in for a Republic, or for hostility to the Crown, or anything drastic of that kind. I do not believe there is any foundation for it.
But supposing there is foundation for it, and supposing that dangers of this kind demand a reform of the Parliament Act, I base my demand for it on totally different grounds. I base it on the fact that it is 801 a thoroughly bad Act, and ought to be drastically altered. If your Lordships' object is to protect yourselves, and to protect this Empire against far-reaching and dangerous changes in the future, you will not do it by reforming the Parliament Act, or by reforming the Second Chamber. The danger to which we are exposed from a Government of extremists is the danger of financial legislation and financial action. Whatever changes you may make in the Parliament Act you could not—and I do not believe you would—ask for a return of those powers which would enable you to deal with financial questions as a popularly elected Chamber can do—not even if your Chamber were popularly elected, because of this I am as certain as I can be of anything, that, however the Lower House is constituted, it will never consent of its own free will to share with anybody the control of finance.
When we come to the present position under the Parliament Act in regard to financial measures, however, that is a part of the Parliament Act which justifies all the adjectives which I have already applied to it. In icy humble opinion it is a monstrous thing that the eminent man who presides over the Lower House should be able, of his own ipse dixit, to say whether a Bill is one that your Lordships can properly consider or whether it is a Money Bill which is the concern of the Rouse of Commons alone. That is intolerable, and it is one of these features of the Parliament Act which, in my judgment, make it so unfit for the Statute Book, and which justify the demand that it should be altered.
I hope your Lordships will not think I am suggesting that you should not welcome reform, if reform be necessary. I agree with my noble friend who has just sat down that it would be a very great mistake if your Lordships were to adopt a course—I do not think there is the least prospect of it—which would result in throwing out these proposals. I hope they will be reserved for consideration in Committee in the autumn. If that is done, two advantages must follow, to one of which I attach very great importance: that is, that this question of the Reform of the House of Lords will conic concretely and definitely before the eyes of the country, these Resolutions and the speeches that have been made by leading members of your Lordships' House will be considered, undoubtedly, in the country, and when your 802 Lordships return in the autumn I venture to say that you will be in a much better position to deal with them in Committee than is the case at present. Your Lordships also will have an opportunity of considering the matter at your leisure. As my noble friend said, it would be a misfortune if the idea were to get abroad that your Lordships were opposed to all reform. Such an idea could not be circulated with any possible justification, because your Lordships have always shown in the clearest possible manner that you are ready to deal with well-considered reform.
May I say one word about what I should like to see done by this House so far as it can be done without waiting for the legislation which is essential? I believe that the hostility to the hereditary principle is dead and that the position is entirely altered. There is nothing extraordinary in that. Let me remind your Lordships that up to the middle days of my long life in the House of Commons, a comparatively short time ago, one of the most prominent questions was the disestablishment and disendowment of the Church of England. I rejoice to know that, in the interests of the State, that question has disappeared into the far background. We never hear of it now, and there is apparently no public opinion upon it. That is not the only question as to which there has been drastic changes in the attitude of this country. I believe that the hereditary principle to-day stands stronger among the people of this country than ever. If that is really true it seems to me there is a still further reason why we should be careful as to the steps we take.
At the same time, there is a feeling, which is not an unreasonable one, that the Peer who succeeds to his Peerage should not have the right to sit in the House of Lords directly lie comes of age in the same way as he inherits his property or succeeds to his various positions. If your Lordships took a view of that kind it would not be difficult to fix an age at which a Peer should succeed, whether twenty-five, or twenty-seven, or thirty, or whatever it may be. It would have the immediate effect of automatically reducing the number of Peers, and it would prevent that statement being made which is practically the only one that is now made, that not only is the House of Lords hereditary, but that a mere boy sitting here may by his vote exercise a tremendous effect on the future of the country.
803 I am not so much moved by the question of numbers as some of your Lordships are. When I hear the criticism that the House of Lords has grown from some two or three hundred to seven hundred odd, I ask myself whether the critics do not forget that the population has grown from something like 25,000,000 at the time these figures were taken to 45,000,000 now, and that the House of Commons has grown from what it was when I first entered it, some four hundred members, to over seven hundred. The increase in the number of members of the House of Lords is not materially different from that in the House of Commons, and it is not to be wondered at when you realise the extent of the increase in the population. At the same time, if it could be automatically reduced by some simple process it would be an excellent thing; at least, so it seems to me. I cannot help thinking, too, that one of the suggestions or proposals made by the noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, in his speech the other day, is well worthy of consideration—namely, whether it should not be necessary that a Peer, before taking the Oath and his seat, should make it perfectly clear that he meant to take an active part in the work of your Lordships' House. Such a change would, it seems to me, still further strengthen the position which your Lordships' House occupies at the present moment.
I agree that the Parliament Act has got to be amended. I suppose it is impossible to do that without an alteration in the constitution of your Lordships' House. It may seem to be an impertinence for one who has only sat in this House for a few weeks to offer such a suggestion, but I bring this from outside, and perhaps I may say what older members of your Lordships' House would not say—I urge your Lordships and the Government to go very slowly in elaborating this matter, for the reason which I advanced a few moments ago—namely, that there is no half-way House between the hereditary principle and a Chamber wholly composed of elected members. I remember that we had this out in a minor way in 1886,1887 and 1888, when we were called upon to discuss local government reform. Then it was not the hereditary system, but very nearly. The old Court of Quarter Sessions was not composed on the hereditary principle but on something which was very similar, and we had to decide what change should be made. Your Lordships will recollect that all sorts of propositions were made, one of 804 which was that there should be a Chamber composed of three sorts of members—elected, hereditary, and nominated. Those suggestions were all dismissed, because we knew that such proposals could not be carried through Parliament and that, even if carried, they could not last. Therefore, any attempt to set up a Chamber which was partly hereditary, partly elected, and partly nominated was bound to fail.
May I, in conclusion, express my thanks to His Majesty's Government for bringing forward these Resolutions. It is true that they were pledged to make some declaration on the subject. Neither your Lordships nor the country at large would have been satisfied if some proposals had not been made. These Resolutions have given us an opportunity of discussing the question and of making suggestions. Therefore, we thank the Government for what they have done, and I hope that in the autumn we shall approach the examination of these Resolutions with the idea of trying to make them workable. I confess that I view with very great anxiety the project of trying to alter the character of this House from an hereditary to an elective one. If that is to be done I hope we shall insist on such a complete change in the Parliament Act as will justify the sacrifices which your Lordships will be called upon to make.
THE MARQUESS OF ABERDEEN AND TEMAIR
My Lords, the noble Viscount who has just sat down has spoken with the eloquence, the clearness and the absolute frankness which we all expect from him and all appreciate. Amongst other points with which he dealt, he gave his opinion unreservedly about the Parliament Act. I could not help wondering whether he would endorse the somewhat mollifying and judicious utterance of the noble Lord, Lord Stuart of Wortley, upon that point when he indicated that he did not think the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, would go so far as to advocate the absolute veto. Perhaps the noble Viscount on some future day will tell his opinion upon that point. I agree with the noble Viscount that the attitude of the public mind towards the House of Lords during recant years has been far more favourable than at some former periods; indeed, some year or two ago one not infrequently heard some such expression as that the House of Lords was really more representative and more democratic than the other House of Parliament.
805 With regard to the Resolutions as a whole, notwithstanding the somewhat tepid or even cool reception which in the main they have received, I think it must be admitted that they have had the effect of evoking a most interesting discussion, and of eliciting valuable opinions. If in a sense the Resolutions were intended as a sort of kite—I do not use the word in an opprobious sense—they have certainly served the useful purpose of bringing out many suggestions. As the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, pithily remarked in his very interesting speech, owing to the form in which the Resolutions have been presented the House has had the advantage of discussing not only what is contained in the Resolutions, but matters not within them, in a manner which would not have been possible in a Second Reading debate.
After all, however, in this House we, fortunately, are not so rigidly confined in regard to rules as is the other House of Parliament. Incidentally, I may remark in reference to that, that there is probably no other Assembly in the world Where the proceedings are conducted without the presiding genius having to intervene on a point of order. We are, in a sense, a law unto ourselves, and it is a remarkable thing that during all these years there has practically been no difficulty in regard to points of order. We have, of course, our Standing Orders, and adhere to them, but, if two noble Lords rise simultaneously, and neither is disposed to give way to the other, there is no intervention on the part of the noble occupant of the Woolsack. The difficulty is settled by vote. I remember an occasion when two very notable Peers, Lord Cairns and Lord Granville, both rose at the same time to speak. There were cries from the supporters of each advocating that he should be heard, but as neither would give way a vote had to be taken. I voted in the Division and—which was perhaps not surprising—I found myself in a minority on that occasion.
As I have observed, points have been discussed which are not contained within the Resolutions, and I propose to resort to that privilege, and to allude, very briefly, to one or two features which we might have expected to be adumbrated. One of these was alluded to briefly by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buck-master, and it was also dealt with somewhat fully by the most rev. Primate. I refer to the suggestion that in any change 806 of the constitution of this House there should be a representation of religious bodies in addition to that of the Established Church. I feel a certain diffidence in alluding to this, because of my great respect, for and deference to the Episcopal Bench, but as the most rev. Primate gave, as it were, his blessing to the idea, laymen need have no scruple in following his lead. The most rev. Primate indicated his personal view as favourable to the suggestion, but he also stated that he thought the difficulties were of a very formidable kind, partly owing to the vast number of denominations which exist.
That, no doubt, is ostensibly a difficulty, but I venture to say it is much more so in appearance than in reality. Although the various denominations are loyal to their own tenets, yet above and beyond that there is a sort of freemasonry which enables them to coalesce upon questions with which they are all concerned in common. That may be illustrated by the mention of one or two names, though I admit it is not prudent to mention names. But there are one or two well-known names which are recognised by the whole body of Non-conformists as outstanding names deserving absolute confidence and esteem. For instance, there are the names of Dr. Clifford, Dr. Jowett, and Dr. Scott Lidgett. They are all well known and recognised as Nonconformist leaders, apart from their connection with any particular Nonconformist body. I thought it an agreeable omen that Dr. Scott Lidgett's portrait appeared recently side by side with the portrait of the most rev. Primate. I will not mention any name in regard to Scotland, but in this connection I will refer to another point made by the most rev. Primate. He observed that in the case of these various bodies the President or Moderator for the time being generally held office for one year only. In view of what I have just stated about the distinctive recognition of notable persons, I do not think there is any real difficulty from the cause referred to by the most rev. Primate. Whether the representation should be by nomination of the Crown or by election by the bodies concerned I do not stop to inquire.
When I spoke of the coalescing of these bodies I meant to refer to one happy feature—the things they agree upon. There is one thing which is conspicuously absent, and that is anything like 807 hostility towards, or jealousy of, the Church of England. I think the noble Viscount alluded to a former period when he was accustomed in the House of Commons to hear allusions which would indicate a movement for Disestablishment. That seems to have vanished. I think that is a good sign. There has been something that is even more than a tendency towards the establishment if not of actual union yet of friendly co-operation. An instance of this was seen not long ago when there was a meeting at Lambeth of representatives of various denominations. A Joint Committee was formed, consisting of an equal number of Anglicans and Nonconformists. They met together to discuss the subject of unity. That could not have happened some time ago.
I am tempted to make one other reference and that is to the literary or journalistic phase. There is a Weil-known newspaper, the British Weekly, which is open, so to speak, to all opinions, and has, I am sure, a large circulation not only amongst Nonconformist circles but in Church of England homes and parsonages. All these things point to a certain facility in carrying out what is looked for and expected. In the Church of Scotland there was a special requirement that in any reform of the House of Lords that Church should be represented.
Let me allude to one other topic—namely, the admission of women to the House. My noble friend Lord Muir Mackenzie has an Amendment on the Paper in this direction, and, therefore, I need not dilate upon it at any length now. But after all, this House has had what some people might regard as a narrow escape; I allude, of course, to the case of Lady Rhondda. The first Report of the Committee was reconsidered and overruled, but the ice has been broken and that crack cannot be frozen over permanently. I presume that in any further move for a reformed Chamber something will be heard of this new feature as well.
I agree with the noble Viscount that this debate has had its uses. Whatever may be said as to the form and shape of the Resolutions, it has paved the way for further steps in the future. Opinions have been elicited and it has brought out the difficulties, as well as the facilities, and, notwithstanding what the noble Viscount who has just sat down has said, I believe there is an expectation that something will be done. Lord Stuart of Wortley observed 808 that there is a favourable attitude at present towards this House on the part of the public. Is not that a reason for taking steps now rather than putting off the matter to a time when circumstances might be less favourable for a satisfactory settlement?
§ LORD CHARNWOOD
My Lords, I believe it will be interesting to some of your Lordships if I base what I have to say upon a few points in the constitution of the American Senate, a body which shares the renown of your Lordships' House and is the one outstanding instance in which the principle of election has been applied to the Second Chamber without cause for dissatisfaction. May I first remark, however, that here, and I believe also in Canada, we have a Second Chamber, the main justification of which lies in the very fact that it is not elected? We have a House of Commons who must, and should, and do, constantly have in mind their constituents, and we have here an Assembly, necessarily of slighter powers, composed of men who happen to be a very representative body of Englishmen on the whole, but who need not give any thought whatever to their constituents because they have none; and that is the main reason why your Lordships are attended to in the country as you are.
In America, upon the other hand, the principle of having two elected Chambers has been found acceptable. It is acceptable because it happens to be necessary. Your Lordships know quite well that the House of Representatives in America represents the whole people of the United States, unequally distributed as they are over a large number of States large and small, whereas the Senate represents those separate States, so that each of them, whether large or small, has two senators and no more. Formerly they were elected by the Legislature, but now they are elected by the whole people of the States, but the principle is the same. That was not an ingenious device for the purpose of constituting a Second Chamber, but it has still this abiding good result in so large and vast a country, that it prevents remote and thinly populated regions from being entirely overlooked. That is an advantage, but the real, and almost the sole, reason for this system lies in the fact that it was necessary to conciliate the claims of the people of the United States with the preexisting rights of a number of States, each of which jealously maintained its inde- 809 pendence of all the others. The only possible way of doing that was by the machinery which I have described. It was necessary because without it those States would never have come into the Union. It was the natural and the necessary basis upon which to found the Second Chamber.
But where there is no such natural basis for a system under which there are two elected Chambers it is, I submit, absolutely vain to try artificially to create such a basis, and I believe that other countries where it has been tried have found it so. I will refer in a moment to the powers possessed by the Senate, but let me here make one serious criticism on the Resolutions; Resolutions which the whole course of this debate has led me to welcome and which, in general, will demand most sympathetic consideration in Committee. I can understand all the rest of the Resolutions, but what I cannot understand is the proposal to put into this House an elected element. In order not to labour the point which Viscount Long of Wraxall has dealt with, may I say that I conceive that this proposal is a concession to fallacious ideas and to prejudices which died the moment the Parliament Act was passed? I see in it possibilities of many inconveniences, and I believe that these elected gentlemen would, in this House, be "neither fish, flesh, nor good red herring." That is the one part of the Resolutions which I regard with the greatest caution.
I pass now to the fact that the Senate of the United States possesses great powers which, conceivably, some members of this House might envy. Those powers, like its elected character, are justified by the necessity of the case and not by any desirable results they have produced. The States have their representatives sitting separately, and with full powers. The Senate has almost equal legislative powers with the other Chamber. When I say "almost equal" I mean that it is subject to this restriction, that it cannot initiate Money Bills, but it can, and does, amend Money Bills, and it plays a very lively part in the framing of miraculous tariffs. There is no means by which it could be made to give way to the other Chamber, and there is no tradition whatsoever that it ought ever to give way.
In addition, it has certain altogether peculiar powers of an executive kind. As your Lordships know, the President of the 810 United States is, during his term of office, virtually an irresponsible and irremovable officer, and there must therefore be some check upon him. Since he represents the people of the Union as a whole, the body to check him is necessarily the Senate, which represents the States. That accounts for the fact that it has a veto on all the most important appointments which he makes, and, as the Government of this country has occasionally found out, not altogether agreeably, it has an equal voice with him in the making of Treaties. This whole system, that which political philosophers once thought a perfect system on other grounds, exists simply because it had to be, in the peculiar circumstances of the case, which do not exist in this country.
I should like—I hope not at too great length—to enquire how these great powers actually work. There are, I think, two points to be noticed. The Senate always contains a number of eminent men. It is a great Assembly. There have been times when it has been very highly respected indeed; there have also been other times. I happen to have in my pocket the opinion of an extremely eminent American about the Senate in his day. It is an opinion I really cannot possibly read in any place where there are reporters present, and I would only suggest to your Lordships that you must not suppose, with all respect to our dignified colleagues in America, that the Senate is at all exempt from that reprobation which attaches in America to the word "politician." Nevertheless, it is a great and distinguished body, always containing eminent men. This fact, however, necessarily detracts from the quality, efficiency and estimation of the less popular Assembly. That is an effect for which nothing can compensate. You cannot have two bodies elected without one of them detracting from the quality of the other, though possibly it may be a mutually rendered service.
There is, however, a more important point than that. This whole system in America of checks and of balanced powers, which thwart one another until no one is held responsible for anything, and, at times, it seems as if nothing could ever be carried through except a job, works very well in times of crisis, when a sound public opinion is aroused; but normally it works very badly. None of your Lordships ever heard it said that the United States are better governed than this country, but 811 many Americans do say that this country is not only a better governed country than their own but is also a much more popularly governed country, a much more effective and living democracy, to use a word of which I am not very fond. The notorious political evils with which the great people of America gallantly and indefatigably contend, are largely, though by no means, of course, wholly, due to that Constitution. It is a Constitution devised by statesmen who dreaded popular government for States which were jealous of central government, and for a people which hated all government. The natural consequences followed, and, in this unfortunate system, so discouraging for the hopes of democracy, the great power of the Senate plays a very large part indeed. I hope that your Lordships do not really envy the great powers which your colleagues in the Senate possess.
To my mind, the most striking fact about this whole question of Second Chambers is that now, since the Parliament Act—not, I venture to think, before that Act—this House enjoys a universal respect and confidence enjoyed by no other Second Chamber in all the world, and is probably able to maintain and to safeguard that satisfactory and proud position. The authority of your Lordships' House, which I believe to have been greatly increased by the restriction of its former powers, is a growing authority. It is bound to grow as years go by, and it is almost wholly an authority for good. I believe that it would be the very greatest unwisdom to go further than these Resolutions go. It would be very unwise to renew bitter division in the country in the attempt to restore to any substantial degree powers which pretty well half of your Lordships' countrymen greatly resented when you had them, and which would be more, and not less, resented if any newly devised and differently constituted Second Chamber were to be set up.
You can improve the position of this House in some of the ways that have been indicated in this debate, but if you drag in the elective principle—save, possibly, as to the election of Peers by Peers, which I will not discuss now—you will surely convert this House into one for which nobody cares anything at all; and if you insist upon a very substantial increase of the powers of this House, to set up a bulwark against some supposed coming 812 revolution, I believe you will gain a capacity to provoke, but you will forfeit the growing power to restrain, to enlighten and to guide, public opinion. I apologise if I have spoken at all in the manner of one laying down the law to wiser persons than myself. I have only done so because my speech would be more prolonged if I put it in more deferential phrases. I would only respectfully, but if I may say so very earnestly, ask your Lordships to consider well both the high value and the causes of that unique position which you occupy to-day. It is a unique position among Assemblies of the kind, for your Lordships constitute the only great Assembly in the world, so far as I know, in which, as a rule, votes are determined by debate.
My Lords, as one of the comparatively few elected members of your Lordships' House I would like to say a few words. I was not in the House when Lord Willoughby de Broke made his speech, but have read the OFFICIAL REPORT and I agree with nearly every word of it, except the statement that he would have moved the adjournment of the debate for six months but for what friends of his had told him. I should in that case have moved for a Royal Commission, because it would have had exactly the same effect. During the thirty years that I have had the honour of being a member of the House I have many times heard comparisons made between the Parliamentary system of this country and those of other nations. I have heard the subject discussed both by our own people and by foreigners, and always I have heard it stated that, whatever faults it may have, the House of Lords was the very best Second Chamber in the world. And I always understood that that was agreed.
I have not, seen any appeal made for the reform of this House that had any weight behind it. Lord Newton was in favour of a reduction in numbers, and he gave us an account of how, if the present rate of creating Peerages continued, there would soon not be room in this Chamber for them. He also stated that so far as he could observe all the recently created Peers came here, took their seats, and apparently had no disposition or intention of returning to the House again. If that were so the overcrowding would not have been so dangerous. As regards the taxpayer, whether the numbers of this House are large or small it 813 will make very little difference. It is quite different in another Chamber, where every additional member is an additional pull upon the pocket of the taxpayer.
Many of your Lordships may remember that for many years I was a very constant attendant in this House, and took my full share in the debates. For some years I have not been able to attend, through ill-health and other circumstances, and lately I found myself called a backwoods Peer. There are other members of the House who have had seats in the House much longer than I have—men who have held important posts in the Government and great offices of State but who are not now attending the House, because of infirmity and the difficulties of travel. I am sure that all those Peers take a keen interest in what is going on, and that if it was physically possible they would be in their places whenever any important matter came before your Lordships' House, to give you the benefit of their long experience and knowledge. I do not think it would be fair to call such people backwoods Peers, and if anything happened to deprive this House of their services it would not tend to the efficiency of the House. I do not think it has been stated during this debate that there is any real desire for the so-called reform of the House of Lords.
There is a piece of information which I am very anxious to get. In May, 1909, I put a Question in this House as to the practice of collecting Duties and Taxes, and, if they were not paid, of taking proceedings against the people who owed them, as soon as the Budget for the year was published and before even the Finance Act had reached the House. As a result, I understand, of the debate on that day, instructions were given not to take proceedings. Three years afterwards, Mr. Gibson Bowles took proceedings against the Bank of England for having deducted Income Tax from certain dividends. The Bank based their Income Tax on the new Budget, and Mr. Bowles won his case.
What I am very anxious to know, is this; Putting the Parliament Act on one side, is there any Act that empowered the House of Commons to claim that all Finance Acts or Bills should be initiated there, and which said that the House of Lords had no right to deal with them? If there is not such an Act, and I am informed that the practice which now prevails is based only on a Resolution of the 814 House of Commons itself, similar to the one I have just mentioned relating to Duties and Taxes, it shows that your Lordships have had that constitutional right for very many years, and you have never desired to exercise it. It shows certainly that this House has never had any intention of being antagonistic to the House of Commons, and that its only wish has been to carry out the wishes of the people as far as was in its power.
As Viscount Long said, I think there is no choice between an hereditary House of Lords and an elected Second Chamber, but I do hold that if your Second Chamber is to be impartial and to treat matters in a judicial form, as your Lordships have always done, the members of that Second Chamber should be elected for life. Nobody would ever dream of electing our Judges for a term of years and of requiring them afterwards to seek re-election.
My Lords, I have listened with great interest to this debate, but I am still not in sympathy with these proposed reforms. At the same time, I wish that the noble Viscount who introduced these Resolutions had given us rather ampler details. For instance, it is proposed that the reformed House should consist of 350 members, and it would be interesting to know what proportions would be allotted to England, Scotland, and Ireland. There are many other details which might have been given to which we should have listened with interest. I quite agree with what more than one noble Lord has said in the course of this debate about the influence which this House exercises in the country, but I will go further and say that it wields a great influence throughout the whole Empire. One might almost say that in some places the attitude towards it becomes almost reverential.
I am a New Zealander, and I may be pardoned for suggesting that, if there is any reform required, it might be in the direction of giving an opportunity to other parts of the Empire. After the war was over several British generals received Peerages for their eminent services. I have not a word to say against any of them. They did their work nobly, and, if anything, the reward which they received fell below what, they had deserved of their country. But, at the same time, I think some of our generals front the Dominions 815 ought to have been given Peerages and seats in this House. That would have been a courteous and gracious act, and it would have met with appreciation. Whether or not it is too late now I do not know, but I think all the Dominions have well earned the privilege of being represented in this House.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned to Monday.—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.