§ 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 ISLINGTON
My Lords, this debate has now extended into the fourth day. All those who have listened to the previous three days' debate will realise that the speeches have been various and, to some extent, divergent on this most important subject. So divergent have they been that anyone who has listened to them might feel that it would be extremely difficult to secure that amount of general agreement which would form the basis of a scheme of reform in the future. Yet underlying these speeches there is a certain line of thought which indicates, I think, a current of agreement. Nearly everyone who has spoken in this debate has shown at least a recognition that it is both necessary and expedient to have some reform of this House, and all who have spoken have equally indicated that they are anxious for a very full examination of the whole subject in the autumn session.
Speaking for myself, I have always held that some reform of this House is necessary, although I do not think that the reform should be drastic, or in any sense dramatic. Anything in the nature of a drastic reform of this House is neither desirable nor, at the present juncture, feasible, but I hold that there are certain changes in the constitution of this House, and a certain extension of powers, not of an extravagant character—perhaps I might describe them as fuller and more precise demarcation of existing powers—which, if adopted, would materially strengthen the efficiency of our whole Parliamentary system. It is to strengthen our Parliamentary system that I am most concerned, and I believe that on that point your Lordships would all concur, because there is no doubt that of recent years that system has at least tended to deteriorate. What we want to do, in so far as it is possible, is to revise that system and to raise it once more to the place which it has hitherto held.
The Resolutions submitted by the Government have undergone considerable criticism. It has been said by nearly every speaker that they are mere skeletons. I am not myself disposed to criticise them; indeed, I welcome them, because I believe that, generally speaking, they point in the right direction for reform. The value of these Resolutions depends, of course, entirely upon the sincerity of their authors' intention to persevere with them in the immediate future. If the Resolutions have been submitted as a genuine guide towards 965 an early attempt to reform, they should be generally welcome as a set of propositions which have real value, though, as the debate has shown, they entail certain disadvantages in the eyes of various schools of opinion—those, for example, who are asking for a material increase of powers for this House, and those who would prefer to leave it well alone under the present system.
In regard to the first category, I think that any very material change is certainly impracticable at the present juncture, because an increase of powers on a really material scale—and, of course, a really material scale means the restoration of the legislative veto to this House—would, I respectfully submit, inevitably necessitate the substitution of a complete elective system for that which at present obtains in this House. I believe there is nobody in this House, and there are very few outside, who are at the present time prepared to see that substitution carried out. I would, therefore, suggest to your Lordships that, when the autumn comes, we should attempt to address ourselves, and indeed to confine ourselves, in the most accommodating spirit, to the consideration of changes which offer a fair prospect of general or sufficient assent—not merely the assent of this House, but the assent of the House of Commons, and ultimately of the country, for both those points have to be borne very carefully in mind. I assume that, whatever change is initiated in this House, it would have to form the subject of legislation, to be dealt with and assented to in mother place.
One word as regards the constitution of the House, as proposed in these Resolutions. The first aim that should be sought by your Lordships in the autumn is the reduction of the numbers of this House. I am of opinion that the effect of such a reduction would be quite considerable, and would bring this house into a closer conformity, both of numbers and of proportions, with the usual numbers and proportions prevailing in Second Chambers in other parts of the world. I suggest to your Lordships that this House, possessing 350 members, even though all remained hereditary members, would be far more powerful, both in the eyes of the House of Commons and in the eyes of the country, than the House of 700 members now in existence. Such a change would enable his House to exercise even its present 966 limited powers with a greater sense of assurance, and with even more public acceptance than at present, and, there again, the change would add to the strength and solidarity of our Parliamentary system, which is the aim that we should always keep in mind. I hope, therefore, that this change will ensue, even if no other can be effected, because I believe it would be a real means of strengthening this House and our whole Parliamentary system.
Assuming that this reduction in numbers were accepted, I should be disposed to support the proposals of these Resolutions for a sub-division of the surviving 350 members, thereby creating hereditary, nominated, and elective elements. It is true that such a House would be hybrid in composition. It is true that anybody who liked to look into it meticulously would find every kind of illogicality and anomaly. But I do not think we need be disturbed by that. After all, our Constitution has in the past proceeded on the most illogical lines, and has stood the test of time better than any other Constitution in the world. There are, of course, certain distinct advantages in nominated and elective elements. These advantages have been alluded to by previous speakers, and I am not going to delay your Lordships by repeating them. Here again, I hope that this important branch of the subject will be carefully explored and considered in the autumn months.
I have already said that, in my belief, however you may change the constitution of this House, you cannot restore the legislative veto other than by substituting a purely elective system, and to attempt such a task would only jeopardise the passage of any reform, a result which, at the present juncture, would be a great misfortune. We must always remember that, in approaching this very difficult question of reform, we must take into account not only what may be agreed amongst ourselves within the walls of this House, but what the House of Commons is likely to accept, and what will ultimately be accepted by the country. The present power of delay (as the noble Earl who leads the House, Lord Crawford, said the other day), even in the limited form which is granted to this House, is a very strong one. It can last over two and a quarter years. That means that it is a very potent check in the first half of a Parliament, while it practically assumes the force of a veto in 967 the second half. But there is no doubt, and I am one of those who strongly hold the view, that this power has been seriously curtailed, and to an unreasonable degree, in regard to the way in which Money Bills are now interpreted, and that thereby this House is prevented from dealing with any of those Bills which have any aspects of money attached to them.
The fourth Resolution is of the utmost importance. It may be, and I think it is, open to Amendment in regard to the composition of the Joint Committee, and especially in regard to the Chairman, but those points are matters of detail. The present system as it has worked out, beyond, I believe, the scope ever anticipated by the authors of the Parliament Act, reduces this country in regard to many important measures practically to Single Chamber Government. Bills entailing subjects of the first importance, quite outside taxation, can by means of an astute Bill draftsman, in conspiracy with an astute Minister of a Department, be manipulated in such a way as to get the Certificate of the Speaker as Money Bills, thereby depriving this House of any power to reject or amend them. I hope, therefore, that the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, when he winds up the debate, will assure us that the Government means business in regard to this particular Resolution, because I believe that here lies to hand a piece of machinery which will go far to restore the effective and proper functions of this House, and will again restore to its proper strength our Parliamentary system.
I should like to see this principle of a Joint Committee, to decide the question whether a Bill is a Money Bill or not, extended—anyhow, I would like to see the matter explored in the autumn—in regard to other matters. I refer, especially, to what are known as Orders in Council. As your Lordships are aware, the practice has become much too prevalent in recent years of slipping into a Bill, in an obscure clause, the power of an Order in Council. In time of war it was necessary, because you had to deal with these matters urgently, but in time of peace you should have a most meticulous discrimination as to the power that is to be granted to a Minister and a Government by means of an Order in Council. I would, therefore, suggest that it would be well worth considering the appointment of a similar Joint Committee, to which should be referred all 968 Orders in Council that are inserted in Bills, so that that Committee can determine that the effect of that Order in Council in the future will be strictly limited to the intention for which it was inserted in the Bill.
Unchecked and unregulated power of this character can go very far to undermine our proper Parliamentary system. An instrument like this can lend itself (and, as I venture to say, has lent itself) to very arbitrary methods of government—the imposition of unnecessary powers; powers which are both irksome and unpopular with the people, which invariably necessitate great expenditure, and which have gone far outside the original scope contemplated in the Order when it was passed through the House. Here again is a fitting duty for this House, in joint action with the House of Commons, to perform, and although it may appear a small and trivial matter, I think if you will but look below the surface you will see that it is a matter of great importance and one which will restore to both Chambers that proper Parliamentary power which has undergone certain deterioration of recent years.
One other point I would like to suggest for consideration this autumn. Outside Orders in Council, a practice has cropped up of recent years of introducing matters of great political, and in some cases Imperial, importance, and regarding them as merely Departmental matters for administrative action within a Department. I think here, too, some joint body might well investigate such questions. I will not go into them this afternoon, but merely give one illustration—one that has become the law of the land, but which I think should have formed a proper subject for legislation and which, if it had formed a proper subject for legislation, would have had to go through proper procedure in both Houses. I refer to the Mandates, which is the new scheme of imperial trusteeship throughout the world.
I will take the Palestine Mandate. That was dealt with the other day by the House of Commons. In order to secure discussion it had to be taken on the Estimates of the Minister, and a reduction of the salary of the Minister had to be moved. Your Lordships know the view that you took of the Palestine Mandate, and so far as the decision of His Majesty's Government is concerned it has been come to on a purely Single Chamber basis. I think that matters 969 of that importance, involving great expenditure and potential issues of the first magnitude, are matters of sufficient importance to form the subject of legislation, and that that legislation should undergo proper discussion and consideration in the House of Commons and in the House of Lords. Had that happened with regard to the Mandate for Palestine your Lordships' decision on that occasion would have given that proper period for reconsideration which I believe would have reduced to more harmless dimensions the Mandate as it stands to-day.
In conclusion, I would say that if the reforms are taken up seriously by His Majesty's Government, and I hope we shall hear before this debate terminates that that is to be the case—if the reforms embody some of the proposals in the Resolutions, and others that may be put down in the course of discussion in the autumn, I believe they will go some way towards reviving the proper functions of this House, towards fitting it into its appropriate place in its relation to the House of Commons, and thereby towards strengthening the fabric of our Parliamentary system. That is, in my judgment, the real and true object that we should all have in mind in endeavouring to reform this House.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, there can be no doubt that when this discussion was at last commenced, at this late period of the session, we were suffering under a feeling of considerable disappointment. We had hoped for years that the attempt to put upon their proper footing once more the powers and position of the Second Chamber in this country would have been undertaken much sooner. And when at last it was undertaken, after considerable pressure, it was a further disappointment to us to find that all we were to have was to be Resolutions, and that the actual legislation dealing with the Resolutions was still not yet in sight. And, lastly, when the Resolutions themselves appeared, it was a final disappointment to find that they were of such a sketchy character as not to promise anything like fulfilment at a near date.
The noble Viscount, Lord Long, delivered a speech the other day of a very interesting character on these Resolutions, and perhaps he made more favourable comment on them than almost any other speaker in 970 the course of these debates. I think he based his approval of the sketchy character of the Resolutions upon the fact that in the debate, so far as it had then proceeded, there was no very general agreement among your Lordships as to what form the reform of the House of Lords should take. Of course there has been disagreement, but I think there was rather more agreement than my noble friend admitted. I do not say every speaker, but almost every speaker, including, I think, my noble friend himself, considered that a vital reform of the Parliament Act was very necessary.
I am not sure, however, whether the really urgent character of that modification of the Parliament Act is as well realised now as it was eleven years ago. As time has gone on we have tended to forget the urgency of the question, as it presented itself to us in 1911. That is a natural but, I think, a very dangerous frame of mind. It has been already noticed in these debates that all through the war, and all through the period of the Coalition Government, we have lived under very unusual circumstances, speaking in a Parliamentary sense. The Parliament Act has not been an urgent question, but nothing is more certain than that in the years that are before us the Parliament Act may, and probably will, become once more a most urgent question. There is sometimes, I think, a fatal optimism about our countrymen, and even in your Lordships' House. Once the difficulty has passed out of sight, even for a moment, we tend to disbelieve that it exists. That is not a wise frame of mind. Sooner or later there must be a Government in power in this country which will want to use the Parliament Act, and will use it—will use it even against the wishes of the country. I do not think it can be doubted. And those of us who are interested in the subject, and who remember what happened at the time of the passing of the Parliament Act, are deeply in earnest in our anxiety that some reform should be passed. I do not say a reform which will repeal the Parliament Act, but one which will have the effect of eliminating its most mischievous qualities. That is the point of view from which we have approached that subject; that was the burden of the speech of my noble friend Lord Selborne, who spoke with such weight on the first night of the debate.
Lord Selborne pointed out what could be done under the Parliament Act in certain 971 circumstances; how it would be in the power of the House of Commons in the early years of a Parliament to force upon your Lordships' House and upon the country legislation of a most far-reaching character, of a character which all of us would deplore, and which, I think, would be fraught with danger to the country. I know that my noble friend Lord Crawford very good-naturedly chaffed Lord Selborne for making our flesh creep on these matters, but I do not think my noble friend went a yard beyond the truth in the warning which he gave to the country. These words are big words, but they correspond to facts. There is no doubt there would be power under the Parliament Act to carry out legislation of a profoundly confiscatory character; there is no doubt that it would be possible to nationalise all the means of production; and there is no doubt that there would be a consequence of demoralisation and pauperisation in the country, if these things took place, which would be profoundly bad, not only from our point of view, but from the point of view of all those moderate men throughout the country whose opinions ought to have weight. That appears to us to be the danger, and when noble Lords try to reassure us, and point to the powers which we still retain in the House of Lords, and say: "Look how useful those powers have been during the last few years, how much weight the deliberations and decisions of your Lordships' House have had upon legislation," then we reply: "Yes, but we have not had a Government in power, or a Parliamentary majority in another place, who would wish, or who would be able, to use these adverse powers."
I should like also to call your Lordships' attention to another point. I doubt whether, in the circumstances which I am trying to make clear, the Lords would be willing to use all the powers that they possess, as matters stand. Nothing, after all, is more humiliating than the process of the Parliament Act. The fact that, in the case which I am putting, your Lordships have to deliberate and to decide with the knowledge that everything you do in the early years of a Parliament may be absolutely futile, that this rather contemptible process of passing a Bill through again and again without the change of a comma may be gone through, and, finally, that the Bill itself may be forced upon the country over your Lordships' heads, has upon the House an effect so demoralising—as I 972 know, for I have witnessed it—that your Lordships seem to be unwilling to use even the powers which you have. Noble Lords say: "Well, if we are to have no power why should we try? If the country does not want us to interfere, why should we push ourselves forward? We will go into the country and attend to our business. We have lots to do on our own estates. We are of use in our counties upon the bench, and there we will go." That is what they did and it was impossible to get them back, for I have tried. They felt as any reasonable man would feel if his intervention was only admitted in this way upon sufferance, that it was not worth while and was hardly dignified to intervene at all.
The moral effect upon the House was deplorable, and exactly that effect would reassert itself when the Parliament Act was once more employed. If one or two Bills of vital importance were forced upon the country over your Lordships' heads, I venture to say that in all parts of your Lordships' House it would be said by noble Lords: "In those circumstances we will not trouble the House of Lords any more." Those are the reasons which have made us so urgent to have some reform, and have caused us to press it so earnestly upon the country and upon the Government. It may be said, of course: "You are assuming that the House of Commons on these occasions is not truly representative of the country." We do assume it, and with some confidence. Consider the debate which we have had in the last few days. In the course of that debate two noble Lords of great distinction have argued, at any rate to some extent, that a restoration of the powers which we have lost, or some of them, was not very necessary. The noble Earl, Lord Crawford, rather took that line, and the noble Earl, Lord Buxton, who was speaking with great experience and authority from his knowledge of what goes on in the Dominions overseas, also argued somewhat on the same lines.
Let us see what they said in the course of their speeches. The noble Earl, Lord Crawford, having contended that the powers were not really required, said—I believe that the sense of responsibility felt and exercised by members of this House, or rather the members who do the work of this House, is really greater than that felt and exercised by members of the House of Commons.That is precisely what we contend is often 973 the case. And the noble Earl, Lord Buxton said—Of late, on more than one Occasion, the country has found that the House of Lords was a truer exponent of public opinion, more sympathetic and a more independent representative of national feeling than the House of Commons.I agree; and that is our case. It is because on occasions, and very often of late, a greater sense of responsibility is felt here than in another place, and because it can be truly said even by a noble Earl of very strong Liberal opinions like Lord Buxton that the House of Lords is a truer exponent of public opinion, a more sympathetic and more independent representative of national feeling than the House of Commons, that we say that this power to pass Bills over the head of your Lordships' House is not in the interests of the country and may often be contrary to the wishes of the electors. It is for these reasons that we are so urgent to have a change.
What, then, is the object of change which we require in The Parliament Act? Let us state it in its most moderate terms. Do not let us think of the dignity of your Lordships' House, which is an important matter but secondary to the welfare of the country. What is it that is essential? Seeing, as I have ventured to contend in agreement with the noble Earl, Lord Buxton, that we are on many occasions more truly representative of the feeling of the country than the House of Commons, what seems to be essential is that there should be some effective safeguard so that no Bill can be passed over our heads until the electors have had an opportunity of applying their considered judgment to the proposed change. Then, it appears to me to be essential that the Parliament Act should not apply. I do not say that the Parliament Act should be repealed, though, no doubt, most of us would like that; but stating it in its most moderate terms, the securing of an opportunity for the considered judgment of the country is essential.
How can that be done? Many proposals have been made. I am not going to trouble your Lordships with all of them, but I will mention one or two. There are, of course, the famous proposals made in Lord Bryce's Report. In the case of a deadlock between the two Houses there is to be a series of Conferences between representative Committees of both Houses and an attempt to come to terms by means of 974 those Conferences. They are very important because they give an opportunity of delay in which public opinion may be tested; but they seem to me to fall short of what is essential if they do not secure any opportunity for the expression of the considered judgment of the country itself. Then there is the plan which is known as the Referendum. That is the plan I have always advocated up to now. It is the most logical plan. It is the plan which prevails in some of our Dominions and in a considerable number of the States of the American Union. Undoubtedly, it is a very drastic change in our procedure; it is novel; it is also complicated in its operation. I will not go into all the arguments at this stage of the debate. I believe we shall come to the Referendum ultimately, but it may be doubted whether it could be carried here and now.
There is, however, a more moderate form by which the opinion of the country can be secured, and which, I think, is well worthy the consideration of your Lordships' House and of Parliament. It is a very simple reform. It is, that before what are called the coercive powers of the Parliament Act become operative, there shall be an intervening Dissolution of Parliament, and it shall be only upon the request of the new House of Commons, or on the decision of the new House of Commons, that the coercive powers of the Parliament Act shall operate. That is a very small change compared with the other, and a very simple change. Though, of course, it would not do it so scientifically or so completely as a Referendum, it would secure to a great extent the considered judgment of the people before anything of the first magnitude was carried under the powers of the Parliament Act. I suggest that expedient for your Lordships' careful consideration.
But it is not only the question of deadlocks which has to be dealt with. There is the other great department of the subject, contained, I think, in Resolution No. 4—namely, the question of Money Bills. I do not intend to labour this point, because all your Lordships who have listened to the debates must be familiar with it, and I am afraid it is becoming almost a bore. A proposal is made in the Resolutions to deal with the difficulty of what is claimed to be a Money Bill. I have examined that proposal with great care, and I am afraid I am bound to say that my conclusion is that it is wholly inadequate. I am not 975 referring to the question of the Chairmanship of the Joint Committee to whom Money Bills are to be referred. I think it a pity, of course, that the impartiality, as it were, of the Committee should be overset by putting as Chairman the Speaker of the House of Commons who, whatever the greatness of his position, naturally must look at the question more especially from a House of Commons' point of view. But that is relatively a small point. Your Lordships will remember that the Bryce Report did not propose that the Speaker of the House of Commons should be Chairman of this Joint Committee. The Committee proposed—and I think they were wise in proposing—that the Committee should choose its own Chairman either from its own members, or from outside its own members but still from within the ranks of members of either House of Parliament. That is a small change which it would be easy to introduce.
But the proposal of the Government is effected in another and much more important respect. It is not merely that it differs from the Bryce Report—which in this respect I thought to be very good—on the question of the Chairmanship, but that it gives no guidance to this Committee which is to be created as to how it is to determine what is a Money Bill and what is not. All that is suggested by the Government is that you should hand the question over to a Committee, and leave them to settle it. No words are proposed by which this decision can be arrived at. That was not the policy of the Bryce Report. The Bryce Report proposed certain directing words. They were rather vague, I know, but they were a great improvement upon the present system. Those words said in effect: "What you members of the Committee have to consider is not merely the avowed but also the underlying purpose of the so-called financial proposals, and, if the underlying purpose is not financial but broadly political, then you are to say that it is not to be a Finance Bill and it is not to have the privileges of a Finance Bill." That appears to me to be sound policy. I do not say that the directing words of the Bryce Report are perfect, but at any rate they are a great improvement on the present system, and it would be quite possible for your Lordships to find even better words. Those are the directions in which, as it appears to me, we ought to seek to improve upon the Government proposals.
976 I am sure your Lordships will have gathered from my observations that in my humble judgment the first part of the Resolutions that we have to consider is that which deals with the powers which it is proposed to confer upon the reformed Second Chamber, and then, after that, to turn our attention to its constitution. The essential thing is to put right the Parliament Act—to put it right as moderately as we can, but to put it right, not necessarily, as I said, by repealing it, but by modifying those parts of it which really militate against the interests of the country. When we have determined the powers we could go on to consider the constitution. Your Lordships are no doubt aware that I have on the Paper an Amendment which will be passed, I hope, without disccussion, for it has not been hitherto objected to. I mean that I hope it will be passed this afternoon. If that Amendment be carried the order of the Resolutions on the Paper could be altered, and the fourth and fifth—the Resolutions relating to powers—could be taken when we get into Committee in the autumn before we deal with the first three Resolutions, which relate to the re-constitution of the House. If, as I hope, your Lordships will pass this, then, some day or other, we must approach the question of the constitution of the House.
I confess, speaking for myself, and, I believe, for the vast body of your Lordships, we shall be very cautious how we change the constitution of the House. We shall be very reluctant to lay profane hands upon its ancient structure. For my part I have a great respect for the House of Lords. I have been a member of it for a great many years, and though I suppose it is not very becoming in any of us to boast of our proceedings, yet I must say that upon a great occasion there is, I believe, no deliberative body in the world which shows to greater advantage than the House of Lords. There is an amount of knowledge, a self-restraint, a carefulness to avoid all that is unnecessary verbiage, cautious judgment, and, on occasions, great eloquence, which I do not think are surpassed in any other deliberative body in the world. It would be a profound grief to myself if in anything I do or advocate I were to destroy, or even injure, this great character, which, through the centuries, we have acquired. It is due, not entirely but largely, to the hereditary character of this House, the fact that members of it have considered what it is their duty to do rather than the 977 question as to whether they will be returned to the next Parliament if they do it. The obligation which is thrown upon us does act, I believe, as a great incentive to us to do our duty, which no other means of appointment would surpass.
I think also—it has been said, but it must be repeated—that it would be an unfortunate thing for this country if the hereditary character of the House of Lords were altogether abolished; not merely for the sake of the House of Lords, not merely for the sake of our Parliamentary procedure, but because it would leave a greater hereditary official than your Lordships' House—the King himself—as the only hereditary office left in this country and Empire. To leave that one great office alone bearing its hereditary character quite by itself would be to expose it to obloquy, and perhaps danger, which all of us would consider the most deplorable thing that could happen in this country. Therefore, I am sure we must maintain in large measure the hereditary character of the House of Lords.
The real point, and this is the conclusion I arrive at, is this. Given that you must have certain minimum changes, modifications of the Parliament Act, to deal with deadlocks and with the definition of a Money Bill, the question is how much change must you have in the constitution of the House of Lords in order to make those modifications possible? That is the issue we shall have to try in the autumn. It is perfectly true, as the noble Viscount, Lord Long of Wraxall, said, that the feeling in the country as to the hereditary principle of your Lordships' House has been a good deal modified during the last few years. At the time of the passing of the Parliament Act it was treated with contempt by a large section of opinion. I see no evidence of that contempt now. On the contrary, I agree with the noble Viscount, and other speakers, that there is a growing opinion that there is a great deal to be said for the hereditary principle after all, and that partly by the acts of the House and partly by reflection on the essence of the case, the country is coming round to the conclusion that the hereditary principle is very valuable.
I do not want to alter it, and I should counsel your Lordships to make as moderate changes as you think absolutely essential to the powers of the House of Lords, and then see how far you must go in altering its constitution. It may be found that you 978 will have to go very little distance at all. At any rate, that appears to me to be the process by which we should approach this subject; first, the powers, with due moderation, and then what the necessities of the case demand in the matter of the constitution. So long as in what we do we deserve and receive the confidence of the country that is all we require, and that confidence will display itself, I hope, in the course of our deliberations. We must not think of ourselves. We are trustees; we have always acted as trustees; I hope we shall do so to the end. If it be necessary to alter our constitution we must be content, but if not, none will be more satisfied than myself that we have succeeded in saving the country from the dangers of the provisions of the Parliament Act and at the same time we have as little as possible laid hands upon the ancient structure of your Lordships' House.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, the noble Marquess who has just spoken has contributed to our debate a measured and moderate speech upon which I ask leave to make some detailed observations in a moment. He has been kinder to the Resolutions, and to the framers of the Resolutions, than perhaps the generality of your Lordships who have taken part in the debate. Having listened, as was my duty, to the whole of the debate I miss any tone of real enthusiasm for these Resolutions. Two of your Lordships, indeed, spoke of them without open disfavour—Lord Willoughby de Broke, upon grounds which were a little particular to the individual speaker, and Lord Islington, who has addressed your Lordships this afternoon. Lord Islington was careful to qualify any limited tribute he paid them by insisting strongly on a proviso, in relation to which he clearly felt considerable doubt—namely, that those who brought the Resolutions forward were sincere. Having listened to this debate for four days I find little excuse to approach the conclusion of it in a spirit of excessive elation or optimism. We must rather take a careful note of the force of that which has been said and of the general trend and tendency of the debate. I notice that those who most freely criticised the barrenness of the Resolutions were not always those who were most forward in making positive suggestions of their own.
It may, perhaps, interest the House to know that when the Committee of the 979 Cabinet, of which I was a member, was first constituted to examine into this question the same kind of easy optimism prevailed as to the discovery of a solution as I have observed with pleasure to be reflected in the observations which have fallen from many of your Lordships. I do not know that any very important State secret is disclosed if I inform your Lordships that the Committee consisted of five members of the Cabinet. The noble Marquess who leads the House, Lord Curzon of Kedleston, was the Chairman, Mr. Austen Chamberlain was a member, I was a member, Mr. Winston Churchill was a member, and Mr. Herbert Fisher was a member. We approached the consideration of the matter with a realisation that it was one of extreme difficulty, but hoping that it might be possible for us to discover a solution which would satisfy the wishes of a general body of moderate, reasonable opinion.
The noble Marquess who has just spoken has made eulogistic reference to the Bryce Conference. The Bryce Conference rendered a very valuable service in this matter. It consisted of a number of very distinguished men, and they spent immense time and labour upon their consideration and upon their conclusions. I yield, I hope, to no one in my recognition of the reputation of Lord Bryce as a diplomatist, as an authority upon constitutional matters, or as a sympathiser upon a very large, even a cosmopolitan scale, with the cause of oppressed nationalities, but I should be speaking with less than sincerity if I were not to make it plain that I rated Lord Bryce's knowledge of the actual political conditions which exist in this country far below his experience and knowledge in the matters which I have more particularly enumerated.
There were two objections, each of which seemed to us, as we gradually studied and mastered this document, to be decisive against the suggestion that we in our turn should make ourselves responsible for those proposals. The first objection was that we were satisfied that no House of Commons, not even this House of Commons, could for one moment be persuaded to accept the conclusions of the Bryce Conference; and, in the second place, we were persuaded that, even if this House of Commons could be induced to ratify the recommendations of the Bryce Conference, there was not the slightest prospect, after 980 such a reference to the new constituencies of this country as would undoubtedly follow upon a decision which, as I shall show your Lordships when we come to those detailed proposals, would be so far-reaching, that we should obtain a ratification from the constituencies.
Having reached these conclusions, it would, of course, have been futile for us to make ourselves responsible for recommending these proposals to this House, and we had therefore to address ourselves to precisely the same task—very inviting at the first prospect, far more tedious when it is more closely approached—of deciding what positive proposals we were in a position to put forward which we thought could enlist, so far as they went, the sympathy of this House, and might, in the second place, afford a nucleus for suggestions and additions on the part of your Lordships, who, after all, are the persons most closely affected by these proposals and by the fact that it has been found necessary to bring forward proposals at all.
There are other matters with which we might have dealt, but we dealt with all the matters—and I make this most plain—upon which we, as the members of that Committee, found ourselves in agreement. It would not be true to say that our failure to reach closer agreement sprang from the circumstance that we were members of a Coalition Government. So far is this from corresponding with the truth that, of all the members of the Committee, the one with whom I found myself in closer individual agreement than I did with either of my colleagues who belonged or had belonged to my own political Party in the State was Mr. Fisher; and I would venture to make this one prediction to those of your Lordships who are now embracing the task of clothing, as somebody has said, the skeleton—though I am unaware that such a task has frequently been undertaken even by the least occupied people—I think it will be discovered that the difficulty grows greater precisely as you march one word away from the proposals which we have committed to the Order Paper. I look forward with the greatest satisfaction and interest to the efforts—and, indeed, I wish them much success—of those of your Lordships who believe themselves to be possessed of suggestions which have some chance of being accepted by the nation—because that, of course, is a condition precedent to the undertaking of the labour by 981 any sensible member of this House—and which will at the same time deal with and, to some extent, correct the admitted constitutional mischiefs under which we labour to-day.
The noble Marquess has said that he will shortly move, when I have put the principal Question from the Woolsack, that that part or those parts of the Resolutions which deal with powers should be given priority of discussion to those parts of the Resolutions which deal with the constitution of the House as amended. We have considered the suggestion of the noble Marquess and we feel in practice no objection to it, but I should be concealing entirely my own view if I did not make it plain that I disagree, very respectfully but quite completely, with the view taken by the noble Marquess. It seems to me to be clearly and demonstrably wrong that we should consider the question of powers before we can determine the question of constitution, and, if your Lordships will allow me. I will shortly state the reason which led me very clearly to this conclusion.
If you consider the long and bitter controversies of the past, in which many of us have taken an individual part, if you measure the force of the successful invective which was from time to time unscrupulously employed in the country to undermine the authority and greatly curtail the constitutional power of this House, you will find that, where it has been successful, it has nearly all been founded upon the admitted imperfections in the constitution of this House as it exists to-day. They need neither exaggeration nor very much repetition. They were summarised by one of the leading assailants of this House in the last fourteen years in a brief and epigrammatic sentence, when he said of this House—It is unpurged; it is unrepresentative; it is absentee.And when one recalls, as those who took part in them closely in the country may be allowed to recall, the great campaigns which led to the Parliament Act, after a stormy history, being ultimately, under durance, accepted by this House, one recalls, too, that the whole driving force behind this movement in the country was the argument founded upon the constitution of this House. I, for one, therefore, reached without doubt the conclusion that we could not even conjecture what powers 982 the country will ultimately be prepared to concede to the Second Chamber until we have reached a clear conclusion as to what is to be the character of that Assembly in respect of which we are attempting by way of prediction to allot powers.
If that be true, it is of course to that aspect of the case that we must in the first place devote our attention. I share completely with the noble Marquess the view which he has stated as to the powers which it is desirable that an efficient Second Chamber should possess. I share equally with the noble Marquess the view which he has made plain of the dangers to which, in existing conditions, this country, and perhaps this Empire, are exposed.
Even there, however, it is necessary to make a rather important qualification. While an unscrupulous Government, returned to office, perhaps, as the result of a blind, momentary and fugitive expression of popular excitement, might, if you have an unreformed Second Chamber, or even such a Second Chamber as this, sweep away everything upon which the security of our government and our polity depend—while this is undoubtedly true, let us recognise this, that though no one proposes that this House shall reassert its right to reject Money Bills, if we have in this country a Socialist or a Communist Government they do not, believe me, need to travel the long and statutory road in order to effect the destruction of our liberties, and, indeed, to bring down the whole of our civilisation. They can do it by printing an unlimited number of Treasury Bills or by passing confiscatory legislation through this House, which would be rightly enough pronounced by any Committee you may set up a Money Bill.
Here again, we go back not to one artificial breakwater or another, but we fall back with infinite confidence—a confidence which throws its roots deep back in our national history—upon the conceptions which we have of the common sense of our people, and the disinclination of any section raised to office by the votes of our people to do anything which will inevitably produce the destruction of that system to which they, too, belong, and in belonging to which they, too, take a pride. Therefore, in my judgment we must not lay too much stress upon the mischiefs which may flow from an uncorrected system, while we must not underrate them.
983 I have sometimes thought that a useful lesson was to be gained from a recollection of the incidents which preceded the passing of the Parliament Act. Lord Lansdowne spoke with scant appreciation of these Resolutions, and I am sorry that the noble Marquess is unable to be present in his place to-day, because all our mischiefs, or nearly all of them, began in my judgment from the moment when that most unhappy decision was taken to reject, in this House, what was known at the time, in nauseating phrase, as "The People's Budget." I used every political influence which I possessed with the leaders of our Party at that date to avert a decision which seemed to me to be so short-sighted and so disastrous.
I was reminded only a few days ago by an ardent and very experienced follower of the noble Marquess (Lord Salisbury) who, by the way, in passing, I would congratulate upon the high position to which he has recently been appointed as the Leader of the Die-Hards. It is a name which fills me with envy, and reminds me of the galloping days of d'Artagnan and even of the exploits of Brigadier Gerard. The gentleman to whom I allude, Sir Frederick Banbury, reminded me a few days ago that I happened to be yachting with him in the Channel, and that we sat from twelve until two in the morning arguing on this very question. I was insisting then, as now, upon the folly of that unnecessary decision, and he, a Die-Hard then as he is a Die-Hard now, was constantly adopting the other side of the controversy and declaring that not only the nation but the Tory Party were inevitably ruined if this Budget were not rejected. Having decided to reject the Budget, surely the only things that remained was to carry the thing through to the end, but what did we do then? Having adopted the combative rôle, we suddenly flung down our sword and armour, and began to talk about the pacific doctrines so earnestly insisted upon in the New Testament. But the rôles were incompatible, and the reason we have ever since found ourselves in this dilemma, in which argument and sustained logical defence is so difficult, is that we abandoned then, at the moment in which we had deliberately left ourselves without a serious defensive arsenal, those great powers which the wisdom of our ancestors had enabled this House to possess for centuries.
But if we are told now that it does not matter what is the constitution of the 984 Assembly, the answer is in a sentence. In the first place an Assembly can never possess the confidence of the country which consists of seven hundred and fifty members but in which the whole effective work is clone by about two hundred. That is a fatal blemish. We may talk until we are black in the face, but nobody is willing to treat seriously an Assembly five hundred members of which never darken our doors except on some unusual and undesirable occasion. If you take the two hundred who discharge the whole of our laborious work, and who are content to come here day after day, making arrangements to stay in London, undertaking the charges of travel without the assistance of one of those allowances which sweeten life in so many directions—if one analyses these services, what do you find? With some very honourable but very few exceptions, we find we get no help from those who, growing thicker like locusts in the sky, have honoured your Lordships by accepting Peerages in the last few years. We have all of us welcomed Peers like Lord Long here, giving us great and valuable assistance. Lord Armaghdale is here almost every day, and there are many others. But, looking, as it is my duty to look, through the lists of Committees and the records of Committee service, I find that these noble Lords are like birds of passage, with brilliant plumage, who gratify our eyes for a fugitive moment, and then afterwards depart and enjoy enhanced dignity in the provinces.
Then the great generalisation may be made that in an Assembly of seven hundred and fifty people you will probably discover that some have moral characters less worthy than others. I have stated the proposition in a form which I hope will command the maximum of assent. In those conditions it would appear naturally to follow that our reputation as a legislative body would gain something if we had a convenient method of excluding from our discussions and deliberations those who seem less likely to make a meritorious contribution to that considerable side of our work which is concerned with either ethical or cognate topics. I well remember a bitter gibe which appeared in a newspaper very hostile to your Lordships' House—I think it has found salvation now —at the time of the Great Budget. That paper stated the name of a noble Lord whom I will not more particularly recall, except that the state of his lordship's mind 985 had occasioned very considerable and sustained anxiety to his relatives for a decade, and it announced that his Lordship was seen advancing upon the portals of your Lordships' House with a look of inflexible hostility to the People's Budget on his face. Whether he did so advance I cannot tell because I was not there. But the mere circumstance that that taunt could be made illustrates in the clearest possible manner another respect in which reform is vital if your Lordships are to regain the confidence of the country as a whole.
And therefore my first proposition is this, that your Lordships would in my judgment be most ill-advised if you did not embrace the opportunity which will be afforded to you by the reflections of the recess and the activities of the autumn to correct the present right possessed by every hereditary Peer to take part in the legislative functions of this House. A process, in other words, should be undertaken not altogether incomparable to that which gradually excluded from the judicial functions of this House so many of your Lordships who, I am sure, were very qualified to make interesting contributions to these debates.
The question of the precise number who ought to remain is one upon which no one could possibly dogmatise. One noble Lord in an interesting speech—I think it was Lord Islington—suggested the number of three hundred and fifty. I should have thought that a number of three hundred or three hundred and fifty might, well be chosen as a body which numerically would be extremely adaptable to the efficient discharge of Parliamentary business, which would exclude those of your Lordships whose qualifications for legislative contribution are least conspicuous, and would at the same time absolve the Second Chamber from the general charge that it is alike unwieldy and absentee. But as to the precise numbers I say nothing, because this may easily be made the subject of discussion in your Lordships' House. If there were such a selection it is quite apparent that no invidious proscription of those who, in one shape or another, have happened to attract unfavourably the attention of their countrymen need be attempted, because it may he assumed that the normal processes of selection would procure their elimination. And therefore, in my judgment, a first and a most im- 986 portant step would be taken if the numbers were reduced.
Then I shall be asked: "How do you propose that the three hundred and fifty who remain shall be selected?" Of course, I know, and your Lordships know, what the Resolutions say. The Resolutions say, with a judicious avoidance of detail which I can assure your Lordships will be found to be infinitely difficult and infinitely controversial when the discussion of them is attempted in the autumn—the Committee of the Cabinet, judiciously avoiding the difficulty which is found the moment one grapples with details, says there ought to be a partial system of election. I assented to these Resolutions because on the whole I was in agreement with most of them. I could not discover any Resolutions which were in the least likely to be brought forward with which I should probably find myself to be more in agreement than these, and therefore I made myself jointly responsible for them. But I make it completely plain that I dislike absolutely any infiltration at all of the elective principle in this House, and I will presently inform your Lordships of the grounds which led me to that conclusion.
I agree with Lord Islington that you may either have an elective House of Lords, or you may have an hereditary House of Lords. I do not myself believe that you could ever set up a hybrid Assembly, partly hereditary and partly elective, which has the slightest chance of survival. Just consider the consequences. We should be indulged, on some controversial topic, with a very eloquent speech by an elected member. Possibly, if we were to follow some of the suggestions which have been made, he might even have behind him the dazzling prestige of having been elected by a county council, or by one of the Parties in the House of Commons. Armed with a weight which would naturally impress some people in this place, if his views were not accepted and if the opinion for which he was contending was overborne, in the undoubted exercise of your Lordships' powers even as they would remain, what would he and his friends say? They would say: "Who sent you here? We are elected, and you have no right at all to assert an obsolete claim to an hereditary right, the whole principle of which has been conceded to be wrong and to be indefensible. You have no right at all to stand against the will of those of us who 987 come here, representing somebody at any rate, and in that respect having the advantage over you."
I should certainly not, as an individual member of the Government, feel the slightest resentment if your Lordships as a whole were not willing to make an invasion of the hereditary principle. I heard Lord Willoughby de Broke, who has great knowledge of these topics, say that, whether you were talking of foxhounds or Lords, there was a great deal to be said scientifically and eugenically for the hereditary principle. I do not quarrel with that expression of opinion, with one or two qualifications on which I need not insist. But obviously one is that you must not eugenically begin that process which is to illustrate happily the hereditary principle by selecting parents of unsound constitution. But it seemed to me that, subject to that qualification, which ought to be borne in mind, a great many scientific arguments might be mobilised on behalf of the noble Lord's views.
What Lord Salisbury said was absolutely true. We have in this country an hereditary institution; it is the Monarchy, and it would, I think, be a very dangerous innovation to bring into our Constitution this formidable circumstance, that an institution which means so much to us should be left divorced of any constitutional parallel in the realm. This case of the Monarchy in the British Empire is no ordinary case. There have been great Monarchies in the past which have completely changed their Constitution—as Germany, under the stress of war failure, changed her Constitution—without a single real reverberation in the whole body politic. But this Monarchy differs, so far as I know, from any Monarchy which has ever existed in the history of the world in this respect, that our greatness and our prestige are bound up in the existence, the devotion, the mutual inter-dependence of the Empire taken as a whole, and, whatever any other Monarchy might do without its head, this, at least, is as certain as that the night follows the day, that the dissolution of the British Monarchy would mean the dissolution of the British Empire as we know it to-day. And therefore every one of us should lay his hands upon that ark of the covenant with a feeling of the deepest responsibility and anxiety.
I hope I shall not be accused of disloyalty to any of my colleagues in speaking 988 so plainly, but I think we are all entitled, indeed bound, as members of this House, to bring whatever ideas we possess into the common stock, without reservation. I myself was confronted by one of the most formidable difficulties in the path of the argument which I have just ventured to address to the House, the argument, namely, in favour of the hereditary principle, and it was no less formidable than this. We are threatened, either proximately or remotely, with the advent into power of a Labour Government—or, if I should be thought in such a connection to be controversial, I should say we are threatened, or we are flattered, with the prospect of the advent to power of a Labour Government. No more formidable objection could be stated to the constitution of any Second Chamber than that a great Party in the State, very likely to obtain office in the not very remote future, does so obtain office and ceases to find in that Second Chamber as constituted to-day an efficient or even a possible instrument of government. And your Lordships will bear in mind side by side with the observations which I have made upon the desirability of maintaining the hereditary principle, the absolute necessity of so dealing with this House that it will become a possibly available instrument of government should the Labour Party assume office.
Just imagine for a moment, by anticipation, what would happen in the existing circumstances if, to-morrow, the efforts and exertions of those many gentlemen from all quarters who are still blind to the shining virtues of myself and my colleagues as Ministers, met with that success, the prospect of which has refreshed them during weary week after weary week, month after month, and year after year, when they have comforted themselves with the belief that our Dissolution was imminent. Supposing that at last they were proved to be right and we fell, and that we fell in circumstances which made it not hopeful—and I say this without the slightest desire to offend—to send for the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, to form a Government of the Independent Liberals, or the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, to form a Government of the Die-Hards. If we fell it might be, it might conceivably be, that neither of those Parties would commend itself to the majority of the uninstructed electorate. Supposing that happened and one of the Labour leaders was sent for.
989 It does not matter what name one takes for this purpose—Mr. Clynes or Mr. Henderson; I do not understand the hierarchy of the moment—but supposing that to Mr. Clynes was committed the task of forming a Government, what would be his position in the existing circumstances? He has to form a Government. Some of its members would naturally have to become Peers. I do not, indeed, apprehend one particular ground for anxiety because I am encouraged to hope that whatever happened the Woolsack would not go begging. Excluding that contingency from our minds, what is a Labour Prime Minister to do? Is he to make eight or nine of his Labour colleagues hereditary Peers? That might supply him with the orators; but I have enough experience of your Lordships' House to know that it is far easier to find orators than to find voters. I think we can always find oratory in this House. Our difficulty is to find support for our arguments and conclusions. It would be only reasonable if Mr. Clynes were to say: "I must not only have my six or seven Boanerges from the trade unions to assist our debates in the Second Chamber"— and to contribute a new and not unwelcome addition to its personnel—"I must not only have them; I must have the cohorts," and the question arises as to who are to produce the reproductive processes which would enable us rapidly to multiply the number of Peers so that they would be afforded a chance of getting their measures through this House.
Without attempting at this moment, because we must approach all these things tentatively, to reach a decided conclusion upon these two difficult questions, I would content myself with indicating in the clearest manner at my command what the nature of the difficulty is and in most humbly asking your Lordships to give deep attention to these formidable considerations during the recess, in the hope that the collective wisdom of the House will succeed where we, unhappily, in this particular, fail.
I desire now to say a word or two upon the subject of powers. Although the question of the constitution comes first, the question of powers is, as the noble Marquess saw and said, one of incalculable importance. Bur when once the people of this country—of whom I am sure that in their sane and normal moments they are as deeply convinced of the wisdom of having an effective Second Chamber as 990 we are ourselves—saw here a body not unwieldy in numbers, constituted as we could constitute it in its personnel of the wisest and most experienced men in this House, I believe you would find an immense reaction against the restrictive legislation to which we all of us so much object.
We must, indeed, be careful in dealing with this subject. There are still awaiting us the same enemies in the country who, finding us weak and not wise some twelve years ago, took such terrible advantage of that unwisdom and that weakness. If it is true, as the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said, that the loud and strident voice of that malignant hostility is not heard in the streets to-day as it was heard in those unhappy days to which I have just referred, it is because the circumstances are different. It has not been your Lordships' duty in the last few years to stand in convinced and conscientious opposition to something on behalf of which the vulgar passions of the mob could be mobilised. Those were the circumstances which existed then.
It is true that we must prepare ourselves, as far as we can, to entrench this House deeply and firmly in the confidence of the country. How should, we approach that problem most wisely at the present moment? We shall not do it by arming the whole of the Labour Party and the whole of the Independent Liberal Party with a cry in the country by repealing the Parliament Act. The noble Marquess disclaimed the intention to repeal it, but, of course, it would cut the heart out of the Act if you do repeal the bulk of it in such a way as was actually implied by the language of the noble Marquess. In this connection he used a phrase which led me to think he might as well say quite frankly that he proposed to repeal the Parliament Act. He said, if I understood him aright, that he claimed, and claimed quite reasonably, that no Bill of which this House disapproved should become the law after a General Election unless another General Election had intervened. That is to repeal the Parliament Act, which was passed because the House of Lords made a proposal in relation to finance which I do not touch upon only because I have had so much to say already and I shall have a further opportunity when we come to the detailed consideration of the Resolutions.
But a proposal of a fundamental character is made in connection with finance. We 991 have also made a proposal which is of equal importance—namely, that the existing constitution of this House ought not to perish under the Parliament Act, an idea which was entertained in many quarters. If, in addition to that, and until we have regained by our constitution the full confidence of the country, we are to go to the country with the proposal that the Parliament Act shall also cease to be operative in the sense that your Lordships shall still possess the right of forcing an appeal to the country on any issue, then I must say plainly to your Lordships that I greatly doubt whether the time is opportune for making such an alteration.
One knows the kind of argument with which the constituencies will be flooded against us. It will be said, and truly: "At the present moment you have an immensely increased electorate"—consisting, I suppose, of some 20,000,000 of voters—"in other words, if there is anything in democracy which is not delusive and wrong, there never was a moment in the history of the country when it might be claimed that the elective House was relatively stronger and the hereditary House relatively weaker." At such a moment it will be said by the spokesmen of the Labour Party: "You are actually proposing to us that if we win our Election—if we go to the country with the burden before us of overcoming all the prejudice and all the opposition with which we shall meet—we are to be placed in the position that if there is a single Bill that we bring forward to which the hereditary House objects we cannot carry it into law if the House of Lords takes a different view unless we once again go to the country in five years' time when all our popularity has faded and our power of winning an Election has passed. You will never get us to agree to that." I would not agree to it myself if I were a member of that Party.
Therefore, what you have to do is to decide whether there is some alternative remedy which may be resorted to. We were not able as a Committee entirely to see eye to eye in all the details of a possible alternative scheme, and it may be that an expression of opinion in this House might produce a different result. I should myself rejoice if it did produce a different result. There was much discussion, as the House knows, upon the possibility of a joint session of the two Houses in the hope that by such a session you might at once reinforce the 992 dignity of Parliament, which Lord Islington believes to be failing, and you might, preferably, discover a method by which, when men want to agree and only a margin of extreme opinion made conciliation and agreement impossible, the defect might be made good.
Various suggestions in this respect have been made. It could not, of course, be a joint session of all the members of the two Houses of Parliament, and it would, of course, require very careful discussion, and, it may be, a complicated process of bargaining, before it could be determined what the right proportion of members was. But, of course, you could, if you wanted to do so, secure that any Government that was returned to power in the House of Commons could not carry its proposal in the lifetime of the then existing Parliament unless the allotment of members in the joint session gave a majority to the Government. The proposal of a joint session would have the advantage that it would afford an additional and an alternative method of reaching a conclusion between the two Houses, and it would make it impossible for the Government with an uneasily balanced majority, like the fifty or forty with which Mr. Gladstone, and after him Lord Rosebery attempted to deal with constitutional reforms to carry their reforms within one general session. I hope that may be discussed when the matter is more closely gene into.
I ought to add a further observation. It may be asked by some noble Lords: "Supposing that my merits as a legislator do not appeal to my colleagues in the House of Lords so that I shall not be elected a member of this reduced Chamber, what is going to happen to me? "For instance, the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, speaking in this debate, said that looking round at his colleagues he felt the greatest doubt as to whether they would elect him to the reformed Second Chamber. I should have thought that my noble friend would have secured a very large number of independent votes upon his merits as the very type of what he loves to describe himself, a backwoodsman. Every one will admit that we shall have back-woodsmen in the reformed House, and I do not think the noble Lord need be apprehensive in that respect.
Another noble Lord may say: "I am quite certain that I am not a backwoodsman, and I have no other merit which leads 993 me to anticipate a favourable result if my name is submitted against that of others for election. I am neither fish, flesh nor good red herring. Am I to be excluded from the House of Lords and also be unable to submit myself to election to the House of Commons?" I think the fate of such an one would be harsh, and it would be impossible for the Government to deny to those members of this House who were not elected to form the reduced Second Chamber the right to submit themselves for election as members of the House of Commons. That I think would be an extremely reasonable proposal, which the Government would find it impossible to resist if this particular reform were adopted.
I think I have covered in general outline the ground which has been mostly made against the Government. I rose for one purpose only. I do not take exception to the complaint that no enthusiasm has been shown. I confess that I saw little prospect, when the debate began, that your Lordships would indulge in any extravagant manifestations of joy. My purpose was roughly to afford a kind of apologia for the failure of the Committee to produce proposals more immediately provocative of enthusiasm. Of this I am sure, that if I have indicated some of the difficulties which beset us, if I have given some guidance as to the general nature of the considerations which must influence us in reaching a decision in relation to these difficulties, I shall have attained my object.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The EARL OF DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, the House being in Committee it had been my intention to move at once postponement of the first three Resolutions until Nos. 4 and 5 had been considered, but that is a course which I cannot take, except with the general consent of the House. I had thought, until I heard the speech of the Lord Chancellor, that the House was generally willing to agree to postponement of those Resolutions, and if I hear in any quarter that that should not be done I will postpone my Motion until the autumn.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
The Government is quite prepared to accept Lord Salisbury's suggestion. No Motion 994 is required. If your Lordships, as a whole, agree to it the order will be altered in accordance with what Lord Salisbury suggests. It does not matter in the least to the Government, and they shall be put down in the order Lord Salisbury desires.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
I do not quite understand what the relations on this particular point are between the noble Earl who has just spoken and the noble and learned Viscount (Lord Birkenhead) sitting beside him. I understood the noble and learned Viscount, then on the Woolsack, to explain that he took exception to the proposal which was made by the noble Marquess that the powers of the House should be considered before its composition was decided upon. On this point I find myself in complete agreement with the view of the Lord Chancellor. It seems to me almost impossible to consider the powers of a Second Chamber without having any conception whatever as to its composition.
It is evidently the view of the noble Marquess, and I understand it is also the view of the Lord Chancellor (though I am not sure whether it is the view of the Government as a whole) that it is desirable to maintain this House, in the main, as an hereditary body. But the Resolutions give us no hint as to what the relative proportion should be of elected members, nominated members, and hereditary members, and I confess that when it comes to voting on any Amendment that may be proposed, either giving the House less power than is proposed in the Resolutions, or, what I am certain will be suggested in some quarters, giving them more, the votes of many of us would be governed by the conclusion reached as to the relative proportions, assuming that the three classes are to form part of the House.
May I remind your Lordships that in the proposals of the Bryce Conference the House was to be mainly elected? There was to be a certain hereditary proportion, speaking from memory I think it began by being eighty out of rather less than three hundred members, which was finally to be diminished by the course of time to about thirty. That would be mainly an elected House, and would, therefore, be entitled to the powers, or something like the powers, which elected chambers obtain in other countries. On the other hand, if the House is going to be ninety per cent. hereditary there seems no substantial reason 995 for greatly changing the powers which under our present constitution your Lordships possess. I hope the House will not agree to the proposition of the noble Marquess, and perhaps we may be favoured with some indication as to the real opinion of the Government. The two members of the Government who have spoken last have expressed diametrically opposite views.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
There is no serious dilemma. It was conveyed to the Government by the noble Marquess, who has a right to speak for a large number of your Lordships, that he and his friends preferred to discuss powers first. No doubt, it would have been wiser if we had consulted other noble Lords as well; but it did not occur to us to do so. We are most anxious to oblige every one if we can. I should have preferred that we should discuss the constitution first, but when the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, was good enough to intimate that there was a desire to discuss powers first and asked me whether I held a strong view against it I said I did not, provided that the discussion was complete. The discussion would take place in two compartments, and while I thought we should consider the constitution first yet it seemed to me that we should cover all the ground, though less conveniently. The Government were not in two minds on the matter. We still adhere to our decision; and still speak with one voice.
§ VISCOUNT LONG OF WRAXALL
I find myself entirely in agreement with the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe. In the debate the other day I said that in my opinion the constitution of the House of Lords, if it is to be reformed, should precede any alteration of its powers. I base that view on the fact that there has been general agreement in the debate, an agreement which is represented in the country, that your Lordships have exercised all the powers conferred upon you with great wisdom and discretion. When we talk about the crises which have from time to time arisen in consequence of a division of opinion between your Lordships' House and the other House, one has only to remember how very seldom they have occurred to realise the wisdom with which you have exercised your powers. I think we ought to know definitely what the future constitution of this House is to be before we decide what alterations, if any, are to be made in its powers.
996 Great importance attaches to this decision. When we are asked to consider amendments to the powers of your Lordships' House most of us will be largely guided by the constitution of the House that will have to administer those powers. In other words, I prefer to know the men who are to administer before I consider the powers they should be called upon to exercise. I would much rather know what the House is going to be, see it amended in its constitution and limited in its numbers, than make changes in its powers first, and then decide who are going to administer those powers. If it is not possible to debate the question now I hope the Government will accept Lord Salisbury's generous offer not to move his Motion now, but adjourn it until the autumn when it can be discussed.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
There is great inconvenience in discussing the subject now unless we are going to decide it. I am quite sure that your Lordships will never agree to take your own constitution to pieces unless you are going to get some adequate powers in return. That is the reason why I thought powers should come first. If there is a strong feeling in the House that the matter should not be pressed now of course I will not press it. But I must enter this caveat. I do not want my noble friend, Lord Crewe, to think I have abandoned the idea.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
I have been making inquiries and I find that an alteration of the order of these Resolutions should be decided by the House itself. It is not a matter within the discretion of the Government. It will have to be done by Resolution of the House.
§ Moved, That the House do now resume.— (The Earl of Crawford.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed accordingly, and to be again in Committee after the recess.
§ EARL BUXTON
My Lords, I wish to ask His Majesty's Government whether they will state for the convenience of the House, the procedure that they propose to adopt in Committee on the House of Lords Reform Resolutions; whether they propose that the Resolutions should simply be discussed as they stand on the Paper, or whether the Government intend, for the guidance and convenience of the 997 House, to place on the Order Paper their considered proposals for carrying out Resolution 1 (a), (b) and (c).
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I do not think it is reasonable to ask the Government as to whether they are going to put down specific proposals on this subject. It is entirely open for the Government, or for those who are contributing to the solution of this problem, to put down detailed proposals during the recess.