HL Deb 25 March 1925 vol 60 cc685-727

THE DUKE OF SUTHERLAND rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they are prepared to introduce legislation for the reform of the House of Lords in the near future, in view of the importance of passing such legislation during the lifetime of the present Government; and to move for Papers. The noble Duke said: My Lords, we meet together to-day to discuss a problem that bristles with difficulties and has proved itself to be one of the most complicated and difficult questions of modern times. Many of your Lordships who have considered it have given it up in despair, and when I look around me and see the wealth of ripe experience, sober logic and grey-haired knowledge that for many years have debated and discussed and considered this problem in all its aspects and in all its phases, I am sometimes tempted to think that a mere novice like myself is initiating perhaps a hopeless task. If any scheme is to succeed, in my opinion, we must all make sacrifices for the common good.

The ideals of every noble Lord in this direction cannot be realised. Each particular scheme of each noble Lord cannot be considered on its merits. There is nothing gained by discussing private schemes at this juncture. Debates in the past have been unproductive, chiefly because everybody discussed his own particular scheme and canvassed his own particular scheme, and each scheme was different from the others. Every Peer differed in his views and there was no agreement on the question. Whatever scheme is adopted I do think that the only way is to have an agreed one. It must be agreed, not only by the majority of members of this House but, if possible, by the three great political Parties in the State. The Labour Party, in my opinion, should realise that it is to their interest to assist in a reform which would make the Second Chamber work more harmoniously in the future with a reasonable and non-revolutionary Labour Government. I believe that with a Labour Government really in power, they would be very glad to have the right to nominate a number of life Peers to do their work in this House, quite irrespective of the hereditary principle. If the Labour Parry will not assist in this reform, I believe that the Government must see what can be done to produce a scheme agreed between the Conservative and Liberal Parties alone.

I look to the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, who is going to take part in the debate, and who originally placed us in this awkward predicament, to help us carry out these reforms, which he undertook, in 1911, to do at some future date. I have always learned to connect Lord Oxford's name with three little words, namely, "Wait and see," which he once used on a famous occasion. Well, we are waiting to see what he will do to-day, and when one remembers the cry of "Mend them, or end them," used in respect of the House of Lords at the time of the Parliament Act, one cannot help thinking how much more satisfactory it would be for Lord Oxford to be handed down to posterity with some better epitaph than "Wait and see," such as "It is never too late to mend" or "Better late than never." If he wishes to substitute one of these adages for "Wait and see," I humbly submit that he will throw his great experience, vast legal knowledge, and brilliant intellect into the task of mending this House, after fourteen years' delay. If the House is not mended now, it will surely be ended in a few years' time. It is not for me, to-day, to put forward any special or particular scheme, nor, as I said before, do I consider it a suitable time for any noble Lord to bring forward his own scheme. It is to His Majesty's Government that we look as the central authority to find out the best way of bringing forward an agreed scheme in which all three Parties could have their say.

There are certain broad lines on which I think the majority of your Lordships are agreed. We know that the powers and constitution of the House of Lords must be kept completely separate, and be considered separately in relation to each other, although at the same time they are intimately connected. Nearly all of us feel that the number of Peers should not exceed from 350 to 400. Very few of us believe that the Speaker should be sole judge of what is and what is not a Money Bill. Only yesterday we had a case in point when the British Sugar (Subsidy) Bill came before this House. It came before your Lordships for one reason and one reason only, because it needed amendment, and yet obviously it was a pure Money Bill. At other times we have had Bills that were doubtful Money Bills certified as such. We had the War Charges (Validity) Bill which was certified as a Money Bill the other day, but two years ago that Bill was introduced into your Lordships' House not as a Money Bill; yet, comparing the two Bills, only two or three words had been altered in the Bill which was before the House the other day. Therefore I think that the majority of us believe that either a Joint Committee of both Houses should decide the knotty point of what is and what is not a Money Bill—a Committee presided over possibly by the Speaker—or else a small Commission, consisting of the Lord Chief Justice, the Lord Chancellor and the Speaker, should decide this very difficult problem.

I also think that many of your Lordships agree with me that Peers who no longer remain members of this House after it is reformed should be eligible to stand for another place. Most of you agree, too, I think, that Ministers of the Crown should be allowed to speak in both Houses; I do not know whether you also agree that they should be allowed to vote in both Houses. Further, the Parliament Act must not be used to alter the constitution or weaken the powers of this House as they at present exist. Further, it seems to me obvious that a certain number of Peers must be elected, and some nominated, and if so, in what proportion, how many, and by whom, is a matter to my mind that must be discussed between all the Parties under the auspices of the Government, in order to get an agreed measure.

We know His Majesty's Government are anxious to see the reform of the House of Lords carried out. They have said so quite recently in no uncertain terms and given us definite pledges on the subject. For instance, in Looking Ahead, that publication that was so carefully prepared and edited by the Conservative Shadow Cabinet a short time ago, every line and every word being carefully considered by the Shadow Cabinet, we read in regard to the House of Lords reform:— The Unionist Party holds unswervingly to the conviction that the existence of an effective Second Chamber is essential for the purpose of securing the revision of hastily prepared measures, and of safeguarding the considered judgment of the people. It recognises the establishment of an effective Second Chamber means a reconsideration of the composition and powers of the House of Lords in the light of modern conditions. But we have a definite pledge from an even more authoritative source than that, from the most authoritative source possible, that of the Prime Minister.

Mr. Baldwin, speaking at Perth on October 25, 1924, said:— Mr. Asquith said many years ago at the time of the passing of the Parliament Act, that the position of the House of Lords as left under that Act could not remain as a permanency, and he regarded the Act itself as an emergency Act until time could be found to deal with the whole question of the Second Chamber. His desires to complete the work on which he embarked have never been fulfilled. The position of the Second Chamber has never been properly regularised, and it is a matter of grave doubt whether safeguards in the Parliament Act as they stand against hasty legislation are sufficient to prevent it being carried behind the backs of the electors, particularly in regard to all Bills which have financial provisions in them. The present regulation with regard to financial Bills seems to open the door to far-reaching legislative changes being carried when they are not really financial changes but only camouflaged as" such. So I think it is our duty to consider, within the framework of the Government Act, whether it is practicable to make provision for the machinery of the Second Chamber for preserving the ultimate authority in legislation to the considered judgment of the people, and, if it is practicable, the adaptation or amendment of the constitution of the House of Lords would be a necessary condition for carrying this into effect. It is a question of very considerable difficulty, but it is one of great importance, and if a Unionist Government would have time and power, it would receive our attention. This is a very important statement, and it really contains a statement from Lord Oxford as well, that makes it clear that both Mr. Baldwin and Lord Oxford think this matter must be dealt with. I hope, therefore, to sec them both working together in conjunction with Lord Haldane, if that were possible, for the common end.

Not only that, but I find on referring to the OFFICIAL REPORT that practically every prominent member on both sides of this house, whether in or out of the Government, during the debates on the Resolutions produced by the Cabinet Committee in 1922, recorded their desire that this House should be reformed in some way or other. Lord Salisbury, our present Leader, made a most enthusiastic speech on the subject, to which I am sure he still adheres, in which he told us that he fully agreed with every word Lord Selborne had said on the subject. The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, had made an even more enthusiastic speech, and at the same time he made our flesh creep with the evils and horrors that would befall us if we did not reform this Chamber. I believe Lord Selborne was quite right. The noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, also made two most interesting speeches in favour of this reform, the first on the Government Resolutions when he was Lord Chancellor at the time of the Coalition Government—a great speech—and the second, an equally brilliant speech, from the other side of the House in December, 1922, after the first Conservative Government was formed. Both these speeches were enthusiastic to the last degree towards the reform of this House. Some prominent Liberal Peers also expressed the same views. I shall not quote all these speeches; they were nearly all in the same vein and noble Lords have no doubt read them.

It seems to me that we have now reached a complete concordat about the reform of this House. We have now, therefore, a number of prominent and responsible people agreeing on the necessity for the reform of this House. The Prime Minister has told you in no doubtful terms that he considers it necessary; Lord Oxford, some years ago, thought it absolutely necessary; Lord Salisbury and Lord Birkenhead have told us the same thing in no uncertain terms; Lord Peel told us so when he introduced the Government Resolutions of 1922. I do not believe there is one member of the Government on the Front Bench at this moment who has not at some time or another spoken strongly in favour of the reform of your Lordships' House. In fact, I think we have reached practical unanimity in favour of some measure of reform.

How this reform is to be carried out must be a matter for the Government to arrange. It is impossible for us to decide it amongst ourselves, nor can we get an agreed measure without some central authority like the Government to co-ordinate our discussions in this direction In any case, I believe that whatever scheme is brought forward must be as simple as possible. I think that the Rosebery and Bryce Committee schemes were much too complicated, but I believe that the interesting and complete details given in the Reports of those Committees may be of some considerable assistance to us now. To my mind the scheme must be one that the man in the street can understand and sympathise with, and one that the House of Commons will readily support. It is no good bringing forward an emaciated and bloodless corpse, or even a skeleton as the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, called the Government Resolutions of 1922. Whatever powers the reformed House is given your Lordships will agree with me, I think, that it must never be a serious rival, and must never expect to be a serious rival, to the other House. It must be strong enough to act as a buffer between the State and revolutionary legislation of a spasmodic and fugitive character that is not really desired by I the country.

It may be that the Labour Party will refuse to assist us on the ground that they might be strengthening something that might at some future date revise their own legislation. That would be a narrow and ill-advised view. The House of Lords of the future should not, in my opinion, be overwhelmingly of one political doctrine; and the rejection of any Government measure in the reformed Second Chamber should not involve the resignation of a Government, as it naturally would in the Commons. Nor, again, should the Second Chamber be subject to dissolution when Parliament is dissolved. No one knows better than I do how great are the traditions of the House of Lords. It existed, as we know, long before the House of Commons and is directly descended from the great Council of Saxon times. This House is an essential part of the history of England and its influence throughout the long ages has affected the lives of our forefathers more than anything else. Let us take care, therefore, in framing our scheme of reform that we do not destroy something that can never be replaced.

Unlike America, which, as your Lordships know, has one of the strongest Second Chambers in the world, which has power to reject or amend Money Bills and at times can even overrule the President's dictum, we have no written Constitution. For that reason it is far easier for the greatest political changes to be made in this country than for them to be made in a country which has a written Constitution. The French Senate also has great powers over Money Bills and the Budget, and I honestly think there is hardly any other country in the world, except Ireland, which has such a weak Second Chamber as we have. The time is now fully ripe for His Majesty's Government to attempt a great constructive effort in co-operation with all Parties.

The alternative to this reform must, in my opinion, eventually be single Chamber government. I believe that an un-reformed hereditary House on present lines would not be endured for six months by a real Labour Government with a clear majority and full powers; it would be abolished altogether by means of the Parliament Act. Then Queensland, Costa Rica, and Great Britain would be the only countries in the world governed by a single Chamber. This question has already been put off too long by successive Governments, and I very much doubt whether any Government after this one will be in a position to carry out this reform even if they wish to do so. I know that legislation on this subject cannot be passed immediately at this stage in the life of the Government, but in a matter so intricate and involved much time for preparation is necessary to get that legislation into proper and reasonable shape. I believe this is our last chance. Let it no longer be said in the future as in the past by the assailants of your Lordships' House: "It is unpurged, it is unrepresentative, it is absentee." I beg to move.

Moved, That there be laid before the House Papers with regard to legislation for the reform of the House of Lords.—(The Duke of Sutherland.)


My Lords, I admit that the noble Duke's speech has filled me with a little disappointment. I am not referring to its substance; to that I will come in a moment. I am speaking, for the moment, of the place from which he has risen and the Bench which he occupies. It was only a few days ago that he made another Motion critical of the slowgoingness of the Government and then he crossed the floor and delivered his speech from this Table. When a noble Lord does that one is filled with a certain amount of expectation and even hope that he means to cross the floor in a more permanent fashion.


My Lords, may I explain that point to the noble and learned Viscount? I had, on the occasion referred to, a very large number of figures and notes on the numbers of aeroplanes and the amounts of money spent in connection with the French Air Force, and I therefore asked the Conservative Chief Whip whether he had any objection to my using that desk purely for the purpose of dealing with my notes, which were very voluminous. It does not mean that I am not a Conservative.


Unfortunately, it has happened to others of us who have had to speak from the back Benches with voluminous notes and figures. When a noble Lord comes across and speaks from this Table it at least suggests a desire to put himself in a position for more effective criticism. I was very anxious to welcome the noble Duke to a seat on the Bench beside me, but I saw, as I see to-night, that he was divided between the sections of the Opposition. To-day he is flirting with my noble friend Lord Oxford, and I fear that the welcome will have to come from my noble friend Lord Beauchamp. I have no doubt that my noble friend Lord Beauchamp will welcome the noble Duke to a seat upon that Bench.

However, that is only by the way. I come to the substance of the noble Duke's speech, and from the substance it may be rather more apparent why the noble Duke could not cross the floor. We have heard of this subject before—it has come up from time to time—and the noble Duke's criticism amounted to this: The Government is going too slow. It has not produced a scheme; let the Government produce a scheme and produce it quickly. A scheme is that for which we have been looking for a long time and it is not only the possession of what the noble Duke called "grey-haired" wisdom that is required in this matter. It is a very difficult matter indeed, and I was in hopes that the noble Duke would suggest to us some scheme by which this House might be reformed in a fashion that would be consonant with public opinion. But the noble Duke carefully avoided that. He has given us no detailed plan; possibly, because he is too well acquainted with the history of the past.

This question has been raised from time to time. It was raised in 1888 by Lord Rosebery and in 1889 by Lord Dunraven, who shared Lord Rosebery's views and brought in a Bill to give effect to them. The proposition then was that local authorities—county councils, town councils, and so on—should elect a large part of the House, but that was a proposition which was speedily turned down by your Lordships yourselves and it was also turned down by public opinion. The reason public opinion turned it down was that it was felt that these local authorities were not bodies which were mixed up in politics and that it was very undesirable that they should assume a political complexion. Their business was to administer local affairs and not to choose a Party in Parliament. That made an end of the propositions of 1888.

Time elapsed. I never liked to speak of "the Conservative Government" when I am referring to the Coalition Government, but a Government with a large Conservative element in it—not the noble Marquess (Lord Salisbury) who carefully abstained from mixing himself up at that time with these things—had an experience which very much encouraged it. They appointed a Conference upon the question of the suffrage, and it was almost successful Conference, because it landed the Government into such an agreement that they were able not only to pass the great Franchise Act of 1918 but also to include women—a most controversial point, which they successfully solved. The success of that Conference gave rise to a desire on the part of the Government to try their hands again at the question of this House. They were entitled to say that there was a question. I was a member of the Government of my noble friend Lord Oxford which put in a Preamble to the Parliament Act in which we said that the question brooked no delay. No more it did, but it remained a question, although it was one which there were considerable reasons for trying to solve.

A good deal of water has flowed under the bridges since then. It has altered somewhat the position, as I will tell your Lordships in a moment. But at that time undoubtedly there was a great desire to deal with the question of the Second Chamber, and Lord Bryce's Conference was called together for that purpose. There was no more admirable person than Lord Bryce to deal with this question. He had a profound knowledge of the Constitutions of the world, and he set to work, armed not only with that knowledge, but with a great power of expressing himself. He had to preside over 29 colleagues, some of whom were Peers and some of whom were not, and poor Lord Bryce had a very difficult time indeed. One thing the Conference agreed on at the beginning was that at least a good many—I think it was to be a majority—of the Second Chamber should be appointed in some other way than by hereditary title. Having got so far, they got no further.

The, question then remained how the others were to be appointed. One view was that they should be appointed by the House of Commons, but that was stoutly objected to. There was a section of the Conference which said that they must be appointed by the Peers, or by a body in which the Peers would exercise a very great and preponderant influence. The result was sharp dissent from the very proposition which Lord Bryce laid on the Table for consideration. That dissent was headed, I think, by the noble Marquess opposite, Lord Lansdowne, by Lord Loreburn and by the late Lord Balfour of Burleigh, among others. Their influence was so potent that it proved quite impossible for Lord Bryce's Conference to make any Report to the Prime Minister, and it ended by Lord Bryce writing to the Prime Minister a letter—a very remarkable and peculiar procedure which could only be justified by sheer necessity. Lord Bryce, as Chairman of the Conference, wrote to the Prime Minister a, most admirable letter. It appears in a Blue-book. It gives an account of how they had found it impossible to agree to what he put forward. He suggested as the most reasonable view, and the one which on the whole was supported by the majority, that the majority of the House should be appointed from outside.

Then came the question how they were to be appointed. There were four views put forward One was that the members of your Lordships' House should be selected by direct election by large constituencies. I myself sat on the Cabinet Committee which was appointed by the Liberal Government long ago to go into this matter, and at first it struck me, as it strikes a great many people, as reasonable and rational that great constituencies should select the members of the Second Chamber. But we soon found that the constituencies would be so vast, and the labour and expense so great, that it was impossible for the representatives of "grey-haired" wisdom to submit themselves for election in this fashion—at any rate, in any very large numbers. The result was that by general consent the motion for direct election by large constituencies was turned down.

The next question which Lord Bryce had before him was the question whether the Peers should be selected by nomination by the Crown. That, again, shattered on the rocks, because it was at once pointed out that the Crown meant the Prime Minister of the day, and that the Chamber would therefore be of a partisan character according to whoever was in power. Then they came at last to the proposition which on the whole, I think, had most favour, that the election of those who were to sit in the Second Chamber should be made in the House of Commons, acting on the principle of proportional representation, and possibly with a division of constituencies. But that left to be disposed of the question of how the section to be selected by the Peers was to be got together, and it was over that that the violent struggle came in which the noble Marquess opposite took so prominent a part. It became quite clear when the letter of Lord Bryce came to be discussed in this House that your Lordships would not look at it. There was another suggestion on which, I think, there was something like agreement—namely, that Peers elected were to hold their office for twelve years. It was then pointed out that the complexion of Parliament might vary in that time, and also that public opinion might become appreciably different. There were all sorts of other people to be in the House. Law Lords were to be there ex-officio, and a variety of important people who would have added to the difficulty of getting a Chamber which was in accordance with the public opinion of the time.

There were other difficulties on which I do not propose to add more than a few words. There was the question about Money Bills. The Speaker's power to certify was alluded to by the noble Duke Lord Bryce's Conference inclined to a different view—that the authority should be a sort of Joint Committee of the two Houses. But it was obvious to outside critics that such a body would not have the judicial temper of the Speaker, appointed not by the House of Commons to discharge this function, but appointed by Statute and placed in a judicial position. I do not think your Lordships have had to complain of the decisions of the Speaker in this matter. He has acted thoroughly impartially and several times overruled propositions made to certify Bills as Money Bills Speaking for myself, and echoing what I think is the view of the critics, a Speaker holding his office under statutory authority and in a judicial position is a much safer person than any Committee could be appointed by partisan opinion in the two Houses, and giving rise to a great deal of criticism on its proceedings.

Finally, there was Lord Bryce's solution for a conflict between the two Houses. There was to be a free confer- ence. I do not know why it was called a "free" conference. That term must have come in at the early stages of the deliberation, but it became a conference of quite a different kind. There were to be sixty members, thirty from one House and thirty from the other, and they were to have the power, if the two Houses disagreed, to take a Bill into consideration and propose Amendments. The Amendments were to be sent to the House of Commons, and if that House did not accept them the Bill was lost. If the House of Commons accepted them then the Bill could go forward. That was obviously giving an enormous power to a body which was selected by a sort of secondary election and putting the power of Parliament in subjection to a body of this kind. The result of all this was that the proposals of the Bryce Conference were not well received either in this House or outside. I remember well the debate which took place upon them and the hot feeling there was among many of your Lordships with regard to the proposals. You said, in effect: "After all, why should so many of us, the vast majority of us, be turned out of this House in order to make room for a body which probably is not any better than ourselves?"; and in the end the opinion of this House was manifest—it did not want to have anything to do with the proposals.

But the matter did not stop there. There came the Government of 1922, which took these things into consideration. They were considered by the Cabinet and a series of Resolutions were proposed in this House. I think Viscount Peel was in charge of them. These Resolutions were very different from the proposals of the Bryce Committee. It was proposed that there should be 350 members of this House. Some were to be selected from outside. But one of the drawbacks of these Resolutions was that they used words like "some" and "any," which can be used by mathematicians by way of symbols, but which are wholly inapplicable to the proceedings of Parliament. We wanted to have numbers. The Government Resolutions took care not to tell us how many were proposed, and the result was that there was much ambiguity and great uneasiness as to how many were to be selected from outside and how many were to be taken from within the House.

Then it was said, in another Resolution, that the hereditary element in your Lordships' House, was to be selected by their own order. That, of course, gave rise to another set of questions, and people asked whether this was an adequate and sufficient reform of the Second Chamber. Finally, there were to be members nominated by the Crown, and I think that proposal gave rise to the greatest bitterness of all. Whom were the Crown to nominate—ex-Ambassadors, Field-Marshals and Admirals? Were these the people who would be likely to add to the capacity of this Chamber for dealing with the difficult and delicate questions which come before it? There were other difficulties. The Parliament Act was to be broken into because no Bill for the reform of this Chamber was to be capable of passing into law unless both Houses agreed to it. There were other difficulties, but I should be taking up more of your Lordships' time than is justifiable if I entered into them at this moment.

What does all this amount to? It amounts to this: that your Lordships have tried your hands three times and have wholly broken down in the effort, notwithstanding the "grey—haired" wisdom to which the noble Duke referred, to find a solution of this problem. The House of Lords did not come here as the result of any Statute or as the result of any plan fashioned in modern times. You must go to the historical method and you find that it has grown up and has become what it is by slow degrees. A body like that can only be dealt with in one of two ways. You may sweep it away; you may put a Second Chamber in its place which is in the nature of a Senate. It is very difficult to construct a Senate, but it can be constructed in one way. You can make it a Senate which accords with the opinion of the times as manifested by the election of the House of Commons, and which will change as the House of Commons changes. That is a perfectly feasible plan, but I do not think we have reached that stage yet. Nevertheless, it can be done. I myself have put a plan in a Bill on which I have expended a good deal of time and trouble and which I think would be quite workable, but I do not propose to bring that Bill to your Lordship's attention now. Possibly I never may.

But there is another fashion in which things work. Ours is an unwritten Constitution, and because it is an unwritten Constitution it is a Constitution which develops and varies as decade succeeds decade. The position of the House of Lords to-day is not the same as the position of the House of Lords fifty years ago. It is no longer a body that is irresponsive to public opinion. Your Lordships have shown in recent years great readiness to acknowledge the force of public opinion and to respect it. During the days of the late Government you were very good to us, you recognised that we stood for a good deal in the country and that it was not expedient there should be conflict between you and us. You met us handsomely on every occasion. That is a spirit which in itself goes a long way to get over difficulties. You do not reduce anything to writing, you do not lay down any rigid propositions or attempt to define, nor do you deal with abstractions. You deal with the concrete situation that arises, and your Lordships take up the position that whenever you see clearly that public opinion is supporting the lines taken by the other House you will not stand in the way.

As I have said, that state of things is different from the state of things fifty years ago. In those days the House of Lords did throw out and mangle Bills. It even parted with its right to deal with Money Bills very reluctantly. Now, unless there is some passing eccentricity, this House does not attempt to interfere with Money Bills, nor have we any experience to show that it is necessary it should. It is not my business to give advice to His Majesty's Government nor would they thank me for it. But if I did, I think it would assume the form of a single sentence: Let well alone. Things are not worse than they were; they are better than they were, and I doubt whether anybody elected from outside, anybody nominated by the Crown, or nominated by a selection from among your Lordships' members, which might not always be a selection of great wisdom, would do better than your Lordships' House as constituted at present has done. As I have said, we are not dealing with a written Constitution. It is not necessary to go to the Senates in the Dominions, nominated as they are in Canada and New Zealand by the Crown, or as they are in Australia through direct election, or as they are in France through a very different system of local government to which we have no analogy in this country. It is not by going to these analogies that you get light.

We are the only country in the world which has a thoroughly unwritten Constitution, a developing Constitution. That quality is the quality which has enabled us to surmount many difficulties and which, as generation succeeds generation, more and more closely shows itself as expressive of the opinion of the day, whatever that opinion may be. I am not pretending that the constitution of this House, as it is to-day, can be defended upon abstract principles. If you must go to abstract principles, then I have indicated to your Lordships that I know another way which it is possible to consider. But if I interpret the sentiment of this House aright, it is not a sentiment which requires or calls for any violent changes. Let us, rather than attempt any rash thing, remain as we are, carefully watching and accommodating ourselves to the opinion of the time. It will not avert changes which some of your Lordships would not like to see, but then you cannot avert them whatever machinery you set up, because when these changes come, as they have come and will come, they come as the outcome of a tremendous democratic opinion in this country which you could not resist even if you would—a public opinion which is more potent than Kings and more potent even than Parliaments.

It is well that we in this Chamber should remain people who observe and watch that opinion, who mould ourselves to it so far as it is right, and reserve ourselves for the purpose of delay and of ensuring full consideration of the questions that come up. If that is well done, then I think it is a method preferable to the method which the noble Duke has at least suggested—the method by which the Government should add yet a fourth to the set of schemes which have been already put before your Lordships and over which your Lordships' House has invariably been disappointed.


My Lords, it is with some reluctance that I interpose even for a very few moments between the Question which the noble Duke has put and the answer which we may, I suppose, expect to receive from His Majesty's Government, but there are one or two things which your Lordships will perhaps allow me to say. I listened with very great interest to the concluding part of the noble Duke's speech. If he will allow me to say so, he showed what I wish I could share, the ardour of youth and the buoyancy of a man experienced in aerial navigation. I wish I had the ample pinion and the soaring imagination which are necessary for a sanguine view of a practical solution of this most difficult question. I have neither a strength of wing to ascend to those flights nor a strength of head to keep me from dizziness if I approached them. I therefore remain, it may be through the chilling influences of advancing years, upon the flat level to which pedestrian exercise is most appropriate. And I say that because I am not, as your Lordships are aware, wholly without experience in this matter.

The Parliament Act had two objects—one immediate and the other, I will not say secondary, but ulterior. The immediate object was, first, to give statutory force to the constitutional usage under which the House of Commons is the supreme and ultimate authority in matters of finance; and, further, to provide that the force of an Act of Parliament should be given to any Bill which, though rejected by your Lordships' House, had passed the ordeal, in three successive. Sessions and for two years, of the assent of the House of Commons. That is the law of the land. It may, or may not, have been wise; it is not material for the purpose of this discussion to retraverse the ground of that old controversy. But, as I have said, the Parliament Act had an ulterior purpose, expressed in its Preamble. The intention was there defined that sooner or later—and I am one of those who have been quoted rightly as having said that it was a matter that did not brook delay—the Second Chamber in this country should be reconstituted upon a popular and not an hereditary basis That was the intention of the framers of the Act, and, when it became law, it was the expressed intention of Parliament.

It is quite true, as the noble Duke has said, that, through circumstances which are matters of history, during the two years which immediately succeeded the passing of the Act the Government of that day felt itself disabled by more immediately urgent domestic problems from submitting proposals to Parliament to carry out their intentions. The war then broke out and interposed, of course, an unforeseen but an unavoidable obstacle to the carrying out of that purpose. The noble Duke has quoted a phrase used by the present Prime Minister in which he appears to have said that he would undertake this task when he had time and power to do so. I do not, therefore, think that any Party in the State is blameworthy for the delay which has taken place, but I wish to reaffirm, in the clearest possible terms, everything which I then said, and which, so far as intention is concerned, was embodied in the Preamble of the Parliament Act, as to the importance and indeed urgency of this matter.

I spent an hour or two a few days ago in the always thankless, and often depressing, task of re-reading some of my old speeches, made during the constitutional controversy of 1910 and 1911, and I was going to say that I am relieved—I do not know that I am gratified—to find that there is nothing I then said that I would not reiterate to-day, or which I now recede from or recant. It is, I think, impossible to defend, either upon logical or upon practical grounds, the constitution of this House; in its present form as a Second Chamber, nor do I believe there is any difference of opinion on any Bench in any quarter of the House upon that subject. I said then, and I repeat now, that it ought to be reconstituted, subject to two all-important conditions—because I hold now as strongly as I did then, that a Second Chamber is a useful and indeed an indispensable part of a really democratic constitution, subject to the two conditions that the Second Chamber is properly composed and properly empowered.

I am not going—it would be an abuse, indeed, especially until we have heard the views of His Majesty's Government—to make on this occasion any concrete suggestion as to the form in which the change should take place, but I should like, if I may, to lay stress upon what seem to me to be the essential conditions of a real reform. A real reform would not consist in what in those days used to be called by some rash and adventurous politicians an attempt to protect the people against their own representatives. That is not the attitude from which any reform of the Second Chamber ought to proceed, nor is it the object to which it ought to be directed. I think the Second Chamber in this country—from which I entirely agree authority in finance ought to be removed, as it has been—ought to have legislative initiative in all matters which are not covered by that exception. I think, further, it ought to have—and to this I attach very great importance—the power which your Lordships' House as now constituted has most beneficially exercised in the past, and never more beneficially than during the years which followed the war—namely, the power of free, untrammelled, independent criticism of the policy and the action of the Executive of the day. I think further that any Second Chamber worthy of the name, and capable of rendering real service to the government and administration of the country, ought to have, as it was our intention in the Parliament Act that it should have, the freest and fullest powers of revision, of consultation, and, within reasonable limits, of delay.

I believe that a body entrusted with powers of that kind would not only be beneficial but is really indispensable to the working of our institutions; but when we come to the question of what changes ought to be made in the composition of the body, there I agree with my noble and learned friend Lord Haldane that you are launched upon a sea of conjecture, of conflicting, diverse, unequally-balanced opinion, for the formation of a decision upon which, notwithstanding the elaborate researches of the Bryce Committee, we are really not much more advanced than we were fifteen years ago. If there is, as I believe there is, substantial agreement in regard to the end to be attained, the end being not the composition of the body—that is a means to the end—but the successful achievement and discharge of the functions which I have ventured to enumerate as appropriate to a Second Chamber—if there is a concordat as to the end it ought to be possible to find some method of providing an instrument adequate and appropriate to the purpose. The responsibility of suggesting the form and character of that instrument must rest with the Government of the day and not with irresponsible persons, however intelligent and however inventive—and there is no field of unlicensed conjecture in which the freedom of suggestion and of hypothesis finds a freer road. However tempting that irresponsible method may be, any real suggested reform must come from those who are responsible.

My noble and learned friend Lord Haldane said just now: "Let us remain as we are." Well, that is a very Conservative doctrine—an ultra-Conservative doctrine—and I suppose we are to take it, for the moment at any rate, as the last word of the Labour Party. I am a little more advanced. I do not believe that we ought to remain as we are. I see Lord Banbury of Southam in his place. He is almost the last survivor of the unadulterated—I was going to use another expression—Toryism with which I was familiar in my early days in the House of Commons, where I am sorry to say he has left no representative, so far as I know, of the cult which he still pursues in solitary but magnificent isolation. But making that possible exception, I do not believe that anywhere, except on the Labour Benches here, there is any one in this House who is in favour of leaving things exactly as they are. I certainly am not.

I have already indicated to your Lordships that I hold quite as strongly as I did in 1910 and 1911 that there is a necessity for a Second Chamber for the purposes that I have endeavoured to define, and that your Lordships' House, as at present constituted, full as it is of legislative resource, of administrative experience, and of most valuable assistance derived from experience both in the work of legislation and in the criticism of administration, does not satisfy the requirements which the country demands. I wish to make it perfectly clear that, so far as I and my political friends are concerned, we hold to those two fundamental propositions, and we hope to receive from the Government, to-day, some guidance and enlightenment as to the manner in which they can be given practical effect to.


My Lords, I think it will be for the general convenience of the House if at this point I endeavour to put your Lordships in possession of the views of His Majesty's Government on the question introduced by the noble Duke with so much force and ability, and as to the action which we propose to take. His Majesty's Government regard this subject not only as one of real importance, but as one which calls for consideration and, in due course, for action. They are not disposed to pass it by, either as a subject not deserving serious attention, or as one too thorny for them to embark upon. I am well aware that there is in this House a body of opinion, not quite so exiguous, I think, as the noble Earl appears to suppose, which is against taking any action at all. I know some members of this House and persons outside it who point to the great traditions and the great achievements of this House, as it is now constituted; to the fact that it contains a great number of men experienced in political matters and having behind them great public services; to the fact that this House has on many occasions contributed by its debates to the enlightenment of our people upon matters of great importance, and more than once has shown by its decisions that it stood nearer to the general opinion of the country than the other House. And those noble Lords, using a phrase of Lord Melbourne's, are disposed to say: "Why don't you let it alone?" It may be somewhat of a surprise to some of your Lordships, though, I admit, not to me, that the noble and learned Viscount on the Front Opposition Bench is disposed to take up the same attitude.

To those who hold that view I want to say just this word. Is there not a real danger in leaving matters exactly as they are? Let us see how we do stand. First, there is the question of Money Bills, as to which the House has, in substance, no power whatever except to debate them. When they come to us from another place they must be passed, and passed in the same Session, whether we wish it or not. And the power to say what are Money Bills is vested by Statute in the President of the other House. I doubt whether anybody in any quarter of the House really thinks that a right arrangement. I have the greatest confidence in our Speakers, and I am sure that any man likely to be elected Speaker of the House of Commons would do his best to come to a right decision. But, after all, even Speakers are only men, and it seems to me that it is not right that a decision on a matter of this importance should be vested wholly in one who spends all his time in the atmosphere of another place, and who, perhaps, cannot, fully appreciate the views which we hold. I am encouraged in that view by the fact that the Bryce Conference, to which reference has been made, took the same view, and proposed that the decision as to whether a Bill is or is not a Money Bill should be entrusted to a body representing both Houses. As to what that body should be I say no more to-day. But I think that the principle of some change of that kind does require careful consideration.

Then there is the more difficult, and perhaps more important, question as to Bills other than Money Bills. The position today, as your Lordships know well, is this, that any Bill, even one making fundamental changes in the Constitution of the country, a Bill attacking contracts or property or any one of our great institutions—any Bill whatever, if passed and insisted upon by the other House, must in time become law. It is there, I think, that the real danger lies. That Act has not yet been critically tested. So far, we all know that only two Acts of Parliament have become law under the Parliament Act. One of them was immediately afterwards amended, and the other was immediately afterwards repealed. The real test has not yet arrived. It is only if you get in another place a majority determined on some revolutionary change—a majority which uses its power to pass a Statute of the nature which I have described and which insists upon passing it into law—that the real danger in which this country stands will become manifest.

The noble Earl said, and of course I agree with him, that he is not in favour of one-Chamber government. Then we want real two-Chamber government. If his words are to have effect, he must help us to find a way in which it is impossible for one Chamber, by using such means as exist, to force its will upon the other House without consulting the nation. I hope that noble Lords who hesitate in regard to this matter will ponder that point and I am sure they will come to the conclusion that it is, at all events, a matter for further consideration. Those are two or three of the reasons why we think it right to investigate this matter and to see whether some way which commends itself to all reasonable people cannot be found. But we recognise, and this debate, so far as it has gone, shows that it is one thing to say that a remedy is required and quite another thing to find a right remedy.

Opinions as to the course which Parliament should take are very many and differ very widely one from the other. So the second point which I want to make is that, granted that something ought to be done, some time is required by, and some time should be given to, the Government of the day for investigating all the proposals which have been or may be made with a view, if possible, to putting their views before Parliament. I think that this debate even so far as it has gone has Keen full of suggestions which ought to be considered, and we look forward to the further phases of the debate to furnish those who have to consider this matter with more views to which also attention should be given. I do not doubt that the debate must occupy some time, and I hope that full opportunity will be given for a general expression of the views of the House.

I do not propose, to-day, to endeavour to find an answer to the many questions which arise, but I should like to raise for your Lordships' consideration one or two topics which seem to me to demand an answer. One question is how, except under the one-sided machinery of the Parliament Act, are the differences, the obstinate differences, between the two Houses to be adjusted when they occur? Many proposals have been made. One was the proposal to call a Conference of the two Houses which was put forward in the Bryce Report. I call it a Report because your Lordships will find, if you look at the letter, that Lord Bryce said he was authorised to report in those terms to the Government of the day. The difficulty about that suggestion was that in the end the Bryce Report recommended that unless the Conference of the two Houses agreed upon a solution the view of the House of Commons should, as now, prevail.

Then there is the suggestion as to joint sittings, the difficulties about which I know you all understand. There is also the further suggestion that if no solution has been found after all other means, conferences and so on, have been tried, the matter in difference shall be referred to a vote of the nation, to what is some- times called a Referendum or poll of the people. That is, I think, a solution which certainly deserves consideration; for no one can say that a measure of that kind would enable this House to thwart the wishes of the country as a whole. It is much too soon, of course, to pronounce an opinion upon it.

The second question that I have in my mind is this. Is it, and should it be, a condition of those amendments of the Parliament Act to which I have been referring, that the composition of this House should be changed? Would any Parliament consent to enlarge the powers of this House as limited by the Parliament Act without, at the same time, requiring the constitution of this House to be considered and, if need be, amended? Then, thirdly, assuming that some change in our constitution must be made, is Parliament, including the House of Commons, prepared to recognise the ancient and constitutional rights of members of this House and to include in the Second Chamber of the future a fair representation of the Peerage? I suppose that few would deny that some reduction in our numbers is desirable. Assuming that to be so, it appears to me that the rights of members of this House exist and are established, and unless they are fairly recognised any reform will meet with difficulties which may prove almost insuperable.

The effect of the Bryce Report, if adopted, would have been to reduce the number of Peers in the Second Chamber within a very short time to eighty and in a few more years to a minimum of thirty. I never thought that a fair recognition of the rights of this House, and, I think that, whatever happens, there must be in the new Second Chamber, if a new Second Chamber there is to be, a fair and adequate representation of those who to-day are entitled to sit in it.

There is one other question which I will only mention like the others, for your Lordships' consideration in time to come. Is this Parliament, including the House of Lords, prepared to include in the Second Chamber an element representing a wider sphere? That is, should there be here members either elected directly or indirectly or nominated by the Crown on the advice of the Government of the day? Should there be in this House members from outside? I think the proposal for making this House elective has rarely, if ever, found favour. It is condemned in unsparing terms by the Report of the Bryce Conference, which contained members of all Parties. Nevertheless, I think people have a feeling that the introduction to this Chamber of what is called a breath of fresh air—of some element from outside—would give us strength and would rather help than hinder our debates. I would like to add this. Unless some such proposal finds favour, I do not see how the Labour Party can ever be adequately represented in this House. By "adequately represented," I mean so far as numbers are concerned. That is a point which your Lordships will have to consider and provide for, and I hope in some such way as I have outlined a solution may be found.

These are serious questions. The Government have given the problem very careful consideration. I will not say that I have not got an answer to every one of the questions. I suppose there is no one here so poor as not to have his own scheme for reforming this House, but as a Government we certainly have had no time to formulate our proposals. To appoint another Commission or another Conference would, I think, be useless. I agree with what has been said both by the noble Duke and by the noble Earl, that no solution not put forward or supported by the Government of the day is likely to meet with general acceptance. I agree that we must ourselves consider the matter and the Prime Minister proposes to appoint a Committee of the Cabinet which shall fully examine the problem in all its aspects in the hope that in the near future, possibly next year, we may be in a position to put before Parliament proposals for dealing with this difficult and most vital question.


My Lords, I think the noble Duke who asked this Question is to be congratulated on the fact that it has produced at least the declaration which we have just heard from the Woolsack. We have also had the advantage of speeches from two successive occupants of the Woolsack. The present system as between another place and this House in regard to Money Bills is indefensible, and that surely is an argument which must convince the Government that has a majority in both Houses, that they should deal without delay with a subject which has really become a reproach to us as a Legislature. I do not wish to say anything that reflects in any way on any one who may occupy the Chair in the House of Commons, but even during this Session we have seen that a measure, having been rejected by your Lordships last year, was withdrawn from us in the present year through being certified as a Money Bill.

That inequality of treatment in itself enforces the argument, which I will not further press, since it has brought out a statement from the Lord Chancellor that it is absolutely necessary for the protection of this House and the country that some form of Committee or Tribunal should be established other than that of the House of Commons, acting through its Speaker, for passing judgment on its own cause. If such a thing was necessary on the occasion of the passing of the Bill to which my noble friend Lord Oxford referred, it has become much more necessary now. In the interval we have added to this House something like thirty or forty men who hold the highest positions in the world of commerce, and are sent here to reinforce the judgment of this House on commercial matters, yet who find themselves debarred from dealing with matters which are commercial and by no means only financial, owing to the position in which this House is placed. The result is that their criticisms cannot be anything more than academic. That is surely a very bad adjustment of the intellectual forces of the country.

There is another thing which has made the position of this House much worse since the Parliament Act was passed. I am not going to cross swords with the noble and learned Earl on the question of the rights which may properly be given to a Second Chamber, but I should like to submit that, whether he was right or not to take away from this House anything more than the power of delay, the work to be done in this House has immeasurably increased in the last few years, even with our limited powers. I do not think it should be open to any one of your Lordships to say that it is not worth his while to come here under our present powers in order to do very material good in assisting the legislation of the country. The haste of the age, the enormous rapidity with which measures of first-class magnitude have to be pressed forward, makes the review of a Second Chamber, on which Lord Oxford insisted, more important than it was at the time when the Parliament Act was passed.

I should like, as one who has sat for a considerable time in Parliament, first in one House and then in the other, to register my protest against the system under which we are asked to do business. It is absolutely of no use for your Lordships to attend here if the majority of your criticisms cannot be addressed to a responsible Minister. I referred just now to finance, and in the remarks I make I am not attaching the slightest reflection on the ability or public service of those who sit on the Bench below me, but anybody who has been concerned in public offices in this country knows perfectly well that if a man is simply given a brief to speak for the Department without himself having any power in that Department, it is almost impossible for him either to meet the points which arise in debate or to make concessions, or even to give to those who have the power to make them really sufficient and strong arguments in favour of the course proposed.

What is our position? There is not a man on the Government Bench who has any connection with the finance of the country in any shape or form. There is no representative of the Foreign Office, no representative of the Colonial Office. That is not all. When I was first a member of this House, and that is not so long ago, there was an attempt to make some sort of a division as between the two Houses in regard to political places under the Government. There are now, I think, fifty-one or fifty-two offices under the Government, without counting the Law Officers. Of these, forty-three are held by members of the other House and nine by members in this House. What is the effect of this on your Lordships' House? We are not allowed to debate a large proportion of subjects, or vote upon them. It goes further than that. What is the inducement to a man who desires to serve his country if you say to him, when an Election is taking place, that he may go and speak for the candidate, he may subscribe, he may organise, and he may take the chair at any number of meetings, but the day the Election is over his part is ended; he may go back to the House of Lords where, on a large number of subjects, we are muzzled, and where we have to consider a number of measures on the last days of a Session and have to choose between getting rid of a measure which has a good deal of public opinion behind it, or postponing it, or debating it under conditions with which your Lordships are very familiar?

The consequences which I foresee, and which I feel bound to put before your Lordships, are these; that this starving of your Lordships' House has induced a number of Peers to absent themselves from our deliberations. I attended debates in this House long before I was of age. I stood on the steps of the Throne, and I tell your Lordships—I can quote figures to make my statement good—that the average attendance on minor occasions, also when there is a Bill of moderate importance and even when there is a Bill of great importance, is less in the year 1925 than it was in the year 1875, when there were between 350 and 400 fewer members of your Lordships' House. If you are to starve this House by continuing the operations of the past; if you say to 715 men who are only desirous of an opportunity of serving their country, that they may come here four days out of five but they will have nothing to do but wait and then in a week discharge the work of months, the result is this—it is happening at this moment—that those who are to succeed regard the possibility of the deaths of their fathers and being called to this House as a sentence of political death. That is the position. I could give your Lordships the names of many men who have been approached to stand for constituencies They say it is useless to do so, for when they go to the House of Lords they must give up politics, because it is no longer an occupation or pursuit in which they can give the service they desire to give to the country.

Therefore, in the interests of the personnel of your Lordships' House, we should reject the unwise counsel of the noble and learned Viscount opposite. It is not wise to leave the matter alone. It is a case, as described by the noble Earl some years ago, that does not brook delay. It brooks delay much less in the year 1925 than it did in the year 1911. The Lord Chancellor has said that there is no real danger. I think there is real danger. So long as you leave it in the power of the House of Commons to abolish this House—under the Parliament Act it is in their power to do so at this moment—you leave a real danger in case a Socialist majority should ever obtain power in this country. There is a real danger on the other side, too. So long as this House is recruited very largely from members who cannot possibly be in sympathy with the Labour Party you cannot expect that this House, able, eloquent and distinguished as it is, will command the confidence of that Party which has already once controlled the Government of the country.

I make two appeals to His Majesty's Government. The first is that they will assign without delay a Session next year in which they will employ the whole force of the Government in dealing with this urgent matter. I make this appeal from the point of view of helping public business. I ask them first to deal with the composition of this House before they consider powers. I hazard this opinion, that your Lordships' House will never give up its present powers and rights unless some arrangement is made for a proper representation of the House of Lords in the new Senate or House to be created. I cannot believe that we shall be asked to do so. I cannot endure the idea of the aristocracy of this country being reduced to a position like the aristocracy in some foreign countries, where they are a mere embellishment without service. That is the first appeal.

The second appeal is this. I do not believe there will be any satisfaction in another place with the composition of this House unless there is some direct representation of the people with the hereditary Peers in this House. Whenever reform is made it must be on comparatively simple lines. Nothing abstract, nothing in the nature of fancy franchises, is lively to commend itself to either House of Parliament. If the noble Marquess below me, who has taken so great an interest in this question, would endeavour in the present year to bring all Parties in this House into an informal conclave—a further Committee with evidence coming on the top of three or four Committees that have already sat is not likely finally to settle the matter—if he could, under the ægis of the Govern- ment, bring members from all sides of this House into conclave and obtain what is likely to be the best scheme and one which leaders of other Parties will allow us a reasonable chance of carrying in this House, I hope he will agree to frame for next Session a comprehensive scheme for the reform of this House. In that case we shall owe the noble Duke a very considerable measure of gratitude for having introduced this Question to-night.


My Lords, in rising to address your Lordships' House for the first time I shall not, I hope, detain your Lordships for more than a few moments, but I would beg that that indulgence should be given which I know this House always so generously accords to those who, like myself, are engaged in this somewhat alarming duty. I feel that this indulgence is required in my case more than in some because, unlike most of your Lordships, though by no means all, who speak and take a principal part in the business of this House, I have not had the advantage of that apprenticeship in another place which is so useful to those who, like myself, are sooner or later called to service in the Second Chamber. I do not intend to go into any detail as to the composition or the powers that I think this House ought to have. I merely wish to put forward, very briefly, my views—the views of one who has not up to now, in the nature of the case, been able to take an active part in politics, but has always, when outside this House, taken a very great interest in political matters.

May I say, as one of the latest recruits, and as one who, I fear, could not possibly hope to obtain a place in any reformed Second Chamber, how very much I welcome the Motion which the noble Duke has thought fit to make to-day? I think it was the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, whom we are all sorry not to see here to-day, in one of his inimitable speeches in another place during the debates on the Parliament Act, who said that he thought; that the only two countries in the world which had single-Chamber government were Greece and Costa Rica, The noble Duke has to-day added a third, of which I was not aware—namely, Queensland. Since the days when Lord Balfour made that observation we have had the war, and innumerable other nations and countries have come into existence. I do not pretend to know the Constitutions of all of them, but I do say that no country, in my opinion, is so defenceless against sudden or revolutionary change as this country has become under the working of the Parliament Act. I am not, I hope, an undue pessimist or alarmist. I have generally found up to now that the things that we are most afraid of are not quite so bad when they come, and, conversely, that the things that we most look forward to are, when we get them, frequently very disappointing. As an illustration the late Labour Government was not so bad as some of us feared, and it is possible that, as time goes on, the Government which I and noble Lords who sit on these Benches support will disappoint some of its more ardent supporters. But I must qualify this by saying that the Labour Government was harmless because they were in a very great minority, and I shudder to think what might be done by a Labour Government with a full and uncontrolled majority in the House of Commons.

I listened with great respect and interest to the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, but I could not help thinking, as the noble Earl made his speech, that it sounded as if we were back in what I might call the good old days when the Liberal Party succeeded the Conservative Party and vice versa, and no great harm was done. I think that the right note was struck in this case by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack when he drew attention to the presence of a revolutionary party in this country, and I think it is against a Labour Government, possibly controlled by revolutionaries, that we need to have a strong Second Chamber. There were signs of the hand of extremists in the last Government. Your Lordships know very well that during the last weeks or months of that Government many strange things happened, and in the explanations that we had we knew very well that, although the voice was that of Mr. Ramsay MacDonald or of the noble and learned Viscount opposite, the language was directed from Poplar or the Clyde.

We had a good example of what the more extreme members of that Party would like to do in the debate on the Army and Air Force (Annual) Bill a year ago, when I think it was the hon. Member for Shoreditch who moved to reduce the strength of the Regular Army by 150,000 men. That may be an extreme case, and, of course, the proposal was defeated very easily, but the fact remains that this sort of thing could be done under the Parliament Act, and I think that we in this House and in the country are rather apt to lull ourselves into a false security because, as the noble and learned Viscount remarked, during the past fourteen years the Parliament Act has been invoked only twice—namely, in regard to the Home Rule Bill, 1912, and the Bill for the Disestablishment of the Welsh Church in the same year. Since then, for various reasons which are well known to your Lordships, the Parliament Act has not been invoked. We have now a Conservative Government in power, and I personally hope that they will run their full course and will come back again for a further term after the next Election. But they may not. One of these days the pendulum will swing, and we shall, no doubt, have a Government in office composed of the supporters either of the noble Viscount opposite or of the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith—it is not for me to conjecture which is the more likely eventuality.

If we allow, as I think we must, that further powers are necessary to this House, we come to the question of the constitution of this House, in regard to which we are faced with grave difficulties. Many of us would like to retain this House as it is, with all its glorious traditions attaching to it, but, as has been said, I think, by all the noble Lords who have spoken with the exception of the noble and learned Viscount opposite, we cannot do this. I do not think that the country would tolerate a House which had, not necessarily the powers which existed before the Parliament Act, but those powers which, in my opinion, a Second Chamber ought to have, if it existed only by the hereditary right. Whatever system we adopt, I do hope that in the House that will emerge—I am expressing my own personal view—we may have members directly representing India and our great Dominions overseas. The British Empire is a most glorious institution, and I sometimes think that this country is a little slow in recognising that fact. In my opinion it would be a magnificent idea to have our oversea kinsmen represented directly in the great Senate of the Empire.

It may be said that there is no general demand that any action should be taken. I admit that this is true in a way. In a large democracy with an enormous electorate such as we have enfranchised, and in a time of unexampled unemployment and dearness of living, naturally the matters which excite the electorate most are those which have to do with the creation of employment, cheapness of food and such like, and those of us who have taken part in Elections, and attended meetings, know fully what points most go down with the electorate. In spite of that, I believe there is a very large thinking section of the electorate which is very interested in this question, and is looking anxiously to see whether this House and the Government are in earnest on the question. I hear a lot of talk in these days of democracy and democratic rights, but the people who talk the loudest about those things are usually those who would deny all powers, if not existence, to this House. There is nothing undemocratic in a Second Chamber. The French have a very strong Senate as a Second Chamber, and the greatest democracy in the world has a Senate so strong that it has been enabled in the last few days to veto an appointment by its own President.

Opinions may differ as to the causes of the great Conservative victory of a few months ago. I do not suppose for a moment that my opinion will coincide with that of the noble Viscount opposite, or of Lord Oxford. I see that the other day Mr. Arthur Henderson, the late Home Secretary, said that it was because all the old women of both sexes voted for the Conservative Party. Even if that be so, I do not sec that it is anything to be very much ashamed of. One of the things which may be said for growing older is that one more easily detects fraud, and that was perhaps unfortunate for the late Government. However that may be, in my opinion vast numbers of old and young men and women voted for the Conservative Party as a mandate to put our house in order, and I consider that an amendment of our constitution is not the least important part in setting our house in order.

Before I sit down I should like to refer to a saying of Lord Selborne, whose absence we all deplore and whose keenness in this cause we all recognise. He said in this House, in a debate in 1922, that after the passing of the Parliament Act the attendance in this House became deplorable, and that members stayed away because they thought it was no good coming. The same thing was said by Lord Midleton, who has just sat down, although he adduced fuller reasons for it. But is the attendance any better to-day How many of the 700 Peers who are entitled to sit in this House are in regular attendance? Is their absence due to their considering that their attendance here is sham and a farce? Personally, I do not look upon attendance here in that light, and as long as this House, as it stands, is a part of the Constitution, I shall continue to attend and do my best to help in my small way in the carrying on of our business. But proud as I am to be allowed to sit here, and much as I should grieve if the day should come on which I was excluded from this House, I value the safety and institutions of this country far more, and I therefore welcome heartily the Question of my noble friend, and was exceedingly glad to hear from the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack that the Government are not unmindful of early, and I hope very early, action on this most important and, I think, vital question.


My Lords, I will only intervene for a very few minutes after the interesting speeches that we have heard. Not the least interesting was from the noble Lord behind me, who promises to be a very useful debating member of your Lordships' House. I intervene because I wish to thank the noble Duke for having brought forward this Question to-day, and afterwards to thank the Lord Chancellor, as the mouthpiece of the Government, for the promise to deal with the matter. I do this because I have been an active supporter of the movement ever since the passing of the Parliament Act, and in my official position as head of the Conservative Party organisation I did my best to promote it. Year after year at their meetings the Conservative Party passed strong resolutions demanding this reform both in the constitution and the powers of this House, and I had the greatest hope that the Coalition Government of 1918 would carry out the promises made in their Election manifesto, and deal effectively and efficiently with this ques- tion. It would have been, I thought, very desirable that the two Parties together should be responsible for the change, rather than that one Party of its own motion should make the proposal.

That is the position which we are in now, and I am sorry that the Unionist members of the Coalition played with the matter in 1918—I repeat the word "played"—and ended futilely by bringing in a Resolution which never went any further. I think the country itself would have been very much more likely to have accepted a decision if both Parties had had a hand in the solution of the question. I was interested in listening to the speech of Lord Oxford. I notice that the other day—I think in addressing the Liberal Party—he said he had stopped the House of Lords from being able to stop any measure permanently. That is perfectly true, but he might have gone on and said that he had provided constitutional means for carrying the most revolutionary proposals.

There is another point to which I will call attention. The Franchise Bill of 1918 stipulated that all Elections were to take place on one day, and therefore, if at any moment some question of vital importance is interesting the country, you have a simultaneous expression of opinion without the possibility of any correction or modification of it. In former days polling was spread over a period of a fortnight, and when the boroughs went very much one way the counties nearly always corrected that, and sent a reasonable minority to Parliament. In 1906, when my Party was in very bad odour, the boroughs having gone against us we nevertheless came back with a working Party of about 152 or 153. Contrast that with the position of the Liberal Party. It came back from the last Election with only forty Members, and I say in his presence what I have said to him privately, that I am perfectly certain that if we had had the old system of the counties voting after the boroughs the noble and learned Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, would have remained Member for the County of Fife, and they would have sent him back as an excellent watchdog to the other House.

Some provision ought to be made so that some Government with revolutionary ideas would not be able to exercise the full power which the Parliament Act gives them. It is not to be supposed for a moment that they would bring in a series of Bills to deal with the questions in which they were interested. They would simply bring in one Bill, and sweep away those safeguarding provisions which the noble and learned Earl embodied in the Parliament Act. I have only to say that I thank the noble Duke very much for having brought forward this Question. I thank the Lord Chancellor for what he has said, and I hope that it will come to fruition before very long. I am sure that the Party to which he and I have the honour to belong, and those who manage and organise it, will be very grateful for what has passed in this House to-day.


My Lords, the noble and learned Earl, Lord Oxford, has paid me what I consider to be the greatest compliment which any man could pay me, inasmuch as I understood him to say that I was a rare and genuine Tory. Holding that opinion, the noble Earl will see how very distasteful it is to me that there should be any question of an alteration in this historic House, and I should not have supported, as I do most whole-heartedly, an alteration, if I did not believe that, partly owing to the efforts of my noble friend Lord Oxford himself, and partly owing to the advent of the Labour Party, it is absolutely necessary that some steps should be taken to give increased power to this House, if we desire to preserve that great Empire of which we are all so proud. The Parliament Act, as your Lordships know, enacts that any measure passed in the House of Commons, if it is passed in three successive Sessions—which is only two years—becomes an Act at once. Let us suppose that the Labour Party are in power, and not merely in office, as they were last year, and let us suppose that the tail will wag the dog, which is probably what will occur. What would be easier than for them to pass a Bill abolishing this House and establishing single-Chamber government? All they would have to do would be to remain in office for two years. Then we should be face to face with a single Chamber. That is, to my mind, a very horrible outlook, and I am prepared to sacrifice all the old historical associations connected with this Chamber in order to prevent something of that sort happening.

But there was in the Parliament Act another provision, which dealt with Money Bills. The noble Earl, Lord Midleton, has alluded to the very extraordinary episode which occurred a few days ago, when a Bill which was not certified as a Money Bill last year became a Money Bill this year, though there was practically no alteration, except drafting changes, in the later Bill. But that is not all. There are before this House at the present moment two Bills. The Trade Facilities Bill is a Bill to enable the Government to guarantee loans to certain people. I took the opportunity to-day of looking up the Parliament Act in order that I might refresh my memory, and I find that the Parliament Act says that a Bill for the raising or guaranteeing of any loan is a Money Bill. But the Trade Facilities Bill has not been certified as a Money Bill, so far as I know. Why not? There is another Bill called the British Sugar (Subsidy) Bill. I am sorry to see that the noble Lord, Lord Bledisloe, is not here. What does that Bill do? It says that certain moneys provided by Parliament are to be given to factories manufacturing beet sugar. What does the Parliament Act say? It defines as a Money Bill a Bill which imposes charges "on money provided by Parliament." That is exactly what the British Sugar (Subsidy) Bill does, but that is not certified as a Money Bill, either.

Therefore we are face to face with three different Bills within a period of four or five weeks, which are sometimes Money Bills and sometimes not Money Bills. Having had some experience of the other House, and having been asked by Mr. Speaker Lowther to be one of the members to advise him on whether or not Bills should be certified as Money Bills, I venture to say that I never contemplated such a situation as this. I may say that I did not accept Mr. Speaker Lowther's invitation, because it was necessary to be one of the Chairmen of Grand Committees, and I did not wish to be that, because it would have deprived me of any opportunity I might have had of preventing any bad Bills, like those of the noble Lord, Lord Newton, from obtaining a Beading in the other House.

I am very glad indeed to hear from the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack that the Government are going to set up a Committee. I have had some experience of Governments and of Committees, and I find that as a rule the appointment of a Committee means that nothing is done. I hope that will not be the case now. I sincerely hope the Government will take this matter in hand at once. I do not for a moment say that it can be done this Session, but it ought to be done next Session, and for this reason. If it is done next Session I have not any doubt that the new Chamber, or the altered Chamber, will work satisfactorily, and that when the Election comes three years later—I hope it will not come before—it will not be open to the Labour Party to say: "Oh, well, what has the Conservative Government done? They have re-established the House of Lords, with all its powers and all its wickedness." But if you leave it till shortly before the Election, as certain as I am standing here the Labour Party will take up that attitude, and the whole case will be misrepresented, and it will react disastrously on the Conservative Party. I noticed that the noble and learned Viscount, alluding to what took place in 1889, said that the county councils wore objected to because it was not desirable that they should be political bodies. To a great extent they are political bodies now, and the noble and learned Viscount will remember that in 1889 the position of this House was very different from what it is now, and it was not necessary then to reform this House, because it had sufficient powers and it was doing its work extremely well.

I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Templemore, said just now as to the great debt of gratitude we owe to the noble Duke for having brought forward this subject, and I earnestly hope that the Conservative Government—because I am quite certain that they can do it if they only put their mind to it—will as soon as possible set up some Committee or, as I would much rather, make their own plan and submit it to the House, so that this year or next we might have before us a measure which would ensure that the country should not be governed in future by a single Chamber.


My Lords, like all those who have spoken this afternoon I am fully alive to the great danger which might beset us at any moment when a Labour Government came into office, but I rather differ, perhaps, as to the best means of combating that danger. Most of those who have spoken would like to see your Lordships' House reformed in a very large degree and made a partially nominated, partially elected and partially hereditary Chamber. The noble Lord opposite has pointed out how very difficult it would be to bring about such a policy, and I am convinced that if we are to safeguard our Constitution and our country it would be absolutely necessary to go in for a purely elective House. If anything approaching a Senate was set up it would have the advantage of being able to deal with money matters in the same way as the Senate in France or in the United States is able to do. Without such powers I confess that I would rather see your Lordships' House remain as it is. After all, most questions are dependent upon finance.

The noble Viscount, Lord Younger, referred to the changes that had taken place in the procedure of Parliament, in the size of the constituencies, and from the fact that Members of Parliament are paid. Those facts, in my opinion, very much increase the danger which is to be apprehended from the other risks which have been indicated already. Therefore, if a scheme could be devised which would preserve our ancient rights to some extent and under which a permanent House could be set up—permanent in the sense that it would not be liable to be subverted by a succeeding Government but would really form part of the Constitution of the country—well and good. But I think we must be prepared to face the fact that if we wish for a Second Chamber to preserve the country, the nation and the Empire from those risks which have been adumbrated, we must have an elective Senate. The noble Duke himself said that this is the last chance of reform and that it depends on the action of the Government. Surely a matter of this importance ought not to be dependent upon the action of the Government, but of the nation at large, and even of the Empire.

The noble Lord, Lord Templemore, in an admirable speech advocated the inclusion of representatives from India and the Dominions in any Second Chamber that might be created. That is a possibility; but it is not a question of what the Government wishes, but what the nation and the Empire generally require. I do not take the somewhat pessimistic view that something ought to be done in a hurry to avert the dangers which have been enlarged upon by noble Lords who have spoken. It seems to me that we must bear in mind the possibilities of the future and, though I would very much like to see your Lordships regain your old rights and privileges, it seems to me that we must be prepared to accept the creation of a Senate in place of your Lordships' House if there is to be any great alteration in its constitution.


My Lords, I rise to support as strongly as I can the Motion made by the noble Duke. To my mind the reform which he advocates is essential, not indeed in the interests of this House or of any Party in this country, but of the nation as a whole. I con gratulate him on having already secured a valuable ally in the person of the noble Earl, Lord Oxford. It may be that Lord Oxford's methods will not be the same as those of the noble Duke, but he is as convinced as the noble Duke or as any one in this House of the necessity for reform and for that reform to come quickly. In that respect we have seen a remarkable conflict between the attitude of the noble Earl, Lord Oxford, and the noble and learned Viscount who leads the Labour Party.

The noble and learned Viscount proposes in this case to leave well alone. The explanation of that attitude given by Lord Oxford appeared to be most inadequate. He suggested that the attitude of the Labour Party is due to their inherent toryism. As a Tory I rather resent that suggestion. I think it is an exceedingly libellous reflection on the Tory Party. The truth is that this view of the noble and learned Viscount, voicing, as I suppose he does, the whole Labour Party, is due to the complete incapacity of the Labour Party to look ahead, to see the dangers of the future and to provide against them. That is a topic which I need not elaborate now, but it inspires the whole of their policy. Want of vision, inability to look ahead, incapacity to provide against future proposals and schemes fraught with danger, the result of which they cannot foresee, characterise the whole of their policy. Therefore I am not at all surprised that the noble and learned Viscount should think all is well and refuse to take any remedial steps.

The experience of every civilised nation in the world has been that in order to secure stability of government and progress there must be an adequate Second Chamber. I was very glad to note Lord Oxford's strong tribute to a Second Chamber. He said that a Second Chamber was an indispensable part of a democratic constitution. That is the foundation of the argument of the noble Duke. At the present moment we are living under what is virtually a single-chamber system of government. As the noble Lord pointed out just now, if the Government in power has a sufficient majority in the House of Commons and sufficient recklessness, there is no measure, however disastrous and ruinous, however unauthorised by the people who send representatives to the House of Commons, that that Government could not pass into law in the course of two years—not only financial measures, but measures of any sort, even to the abolition of this Second Chamber, the existence of which Lord Oxford agrees is so essential, or the abolition of the Monarchy itself.

That is a position of intense danger. It is an intolerable position, and it is necessary for us, seeing the danger, to provide for it now that the time is ripe and we can do it. I am one of those, who was in favour of a reform of the Second Chamber long before 1911, which would have made it more suitable to exercise its then undoubted powers. If this change was desirable in 1911 I venture to think it is absolutely essential now, and for at least three reasons. One is the fact that we have a greatly enlarged electorate, which, like all electorates, is subject to gusts of passion, and in which you may have great swings of the pendulum that do not represent the abiding and lasting views of the people at large. The second reason which makes it desirable, and indeed essential, is the Parliament Act, with the results I have already indicated. And the third reason, one I think not without weight, is that we live under an unwritten Constitution.

The noble and learned Viscount seems to think that rather an advantage. He said: Oh! we shall develop; we can enlarge our minds under an unwritten Constitution. The real danger of an unwritten Constitution is that you are powerless, with a large majority in the House of Commons operating under the Parliament Act, against the most dangerous changes. Against such changes a written Constitution would be a bulwark. In the United States of America, with their written Constitution, it has over and over again happened that changes of the Constitution which had passed through Congress have been vetoed by the Supreme Court as being contrary to the Constitution. We have no such safeguard. The House of Commons, under the Parliament Act, can do anything. Therefore the fact that our Constitution is unwritten makes it, to my mind, all the more vitally necessary that there should be a Second Chamber armed with adequate powers which would give the people time to think.

There is only one other point that I want to make. The noble Earl, Lord Oxford, indicated the sort of powers which he would be willing to give to a reformed Second Chamber. But when those powers are examined they really come to this—they give a right to talk rather longer than we can now. There was not a suggestion in the speech of the noble Earl which would give this House any real power of preserving the foundations of our Constitution and resisting dangerous changes. It appeared to me that he attached more value than perhaps one of his great experience ought to attach to conversations—talk ending in nothing, backed up by no power behind it. He did not touch upon the real point. When there is a fundamental difference between the two Houses of Parliament, how are you going to settle that? You cannot settle it by talk, without power in this House. I was delighted to hear in the speech of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack a real suggestion for settling what should be done when there is a fundamental question between the two Houses. The suggestion he threw out was based on what prevails in some of our Dominions and in other countries of the world, that there should be a joint sitting of the two Houses, and if that did not result in agreement, that then there should be a referendum and an appeal to the people.

What I feel most strongly is that the governing principle of our action in any reform of the House of Lords should be to have regard to the opinion of the people. That is the only ground on which we as a democratic country can act and work, and that is the object, I venture to think, at which we should aim. If, owing to some fleeting changes of opinion of the electorate, some great and potent and unheard-of changes in the Constitution or in the social or economic life of the country as a whole are proposed, surely it is essential that this House should not merely be able to delay measures for two years, but should have some real power to see that the opinion of the people shall, in the long run, prevail.


My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Birkenhead I beg to move the adjournment of the debate.

Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(The Earl of Clarendon.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.