§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion of Viscount FitzAlan of Derwent, That in view of the long standing declarations of Ministers that reform of the Second Chamber of the Legislature is of urgent importance to the public service, this House would welcome a reasonable measure limiting and defining membership of the House and dealing with the defects which are inherent in certain of the provisions of the Parliament Act; and on the Amendment moved by the Duke of Marlborough to the foregoing Motion, namely:—to leave out all the words after "that" and to add "in view of the failure of any scheme of House of Lords reform to arouse interest, this House regards further discussion of the question as inopportune and unprofitable."
THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
My Lords, if it had not been for the speech which the Lord Chancellor delivered on Monday I think there might have been some justification for hesitation on the part of this House in accepting the Resolution which was moved by the noble Viscount, Lord FitzAlan of Derwent, because it might have been urged that we were asked to make certain sacrifices and concessions of unknown extent in return for benefits which were at least problematical. But after the Lord Chancellor's speech I do not think anybody could possibly use that argument, for the offers which he made to this House—although it is impossible to examine them in detail; indeed, it would be impossible to examine them usefully until they are before us in concrete form—were of a very substantial character. They removed a good deal of the worst defects of the Parliament Act and the concessions which your Lordships were asked to make were, although considerable, at any rate not incommensurate with the advantages which we expect to receive.
The real question before us seems to be this: What is going to be the position of this House if we reject—I do not say the proposals of the Lord Chancellor because they are not really before us, but if we reject the Resolution of the noble Viscount, Lord FitzAlan of Derwent? We have in this country a weaker Second Chamber than that in any other great country and it is in 865 greater danger than any other of revolutionary legislation. The weakness of the Second Chamber lies not only in the restriction of its power but also in the fact that its constitution is indefensible. Eighteen years ago your Lordships' House passed a Resolution that the possession of a Peerage should not by itself qualify its possessor to sit and vote in this House. I do not suppose there is a single member of this House, and certainly nobody outside it, who would seriously urge that any man had the right to be an hereditary legislator entirely regardless of whether he was or was not in a position to fulfil the duties of that office. The constitution of this House as it exists at present is really indefensible, and it is very dangerous in days like these that there should be so great an anomaly, even if its practical results may not be very important.
The other danger which confronts us of revolutionary legislation arises from the character of the Socialist. Party. We have a Socialist Party in this country which is, I believe, numerically stronger than in any other great country, but whether it is numerically stronger or not it is certainly actually stronger, and actually a greater danger owing to the fact that it has captured control of the trade unions and through them of the working classes in a way in which no Socialist Party in any other country has done it. There is also another feature about the Socialist Party which is altogether peculiar, and that is that it is more subject to foreign influence than the Socialist Party in any other great country, and its policy and its attitude are more consistently anti-national than is the policy of any other Socialist Party in any other great country in the world. The Socialist Party is not a Party in the sense in which that term has hitherto been used in British politics. It is rather a kind of loose federation of factions holding mutually contradictory economic theories, and the only bond between them is one of destruction. They are all united in a policy of destruction, and that leads them almost insensibly—it may almost be said that they cannot help it—to rely for the success of their propaganda on the artificial stimulation of distress, unemployment, and discontent.
While the only bond between them is one of destruction, they are united on a 866 formula which they fondly imagine to be constructive—namely, the nationalisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange. In carrying out the first and most important step in that policy the Socialist Government, if it comes into office, will apparently have the help of the Liberal Party, which is now, so far as I can make out judging from the Press, committed to the policy of nationalisation and State-ownership of land. Therefore, since I suppose nobody will deny that there is a great probability that the Socialist Party may in the course of a few years form the Government of this country, it is probable that it will have the help of the Liberal Party in this policy, which will immediately bring it into collision with this House. In the face of that probability we are really asked by noble Lords in these Amendments to the Resolution to say that we are going to do nothing at all. We are asked to say, in effect., that we admit all the defects of this House, that we admit its abuses—though that may be perhaps rather too strong a word to use—that we admit that its powers are dangerously restricted and that this constitutes a great national risk, but while admitting all these dangers that lie in front of us, we are not going to move a finger to help or to strengthen this House in any way. If we adopt that attitude I think that the opinion which the country will form of the public spirit and the sense of public duty of this House will not be a very good one.
The issue before us is whether we are going to have an effective Second Chamber or not, and by accepting these Amendments we sacrifice that chance and we sacrifice also something else—the chance of preserving and maintaining the hereditary principle. I do not think it is generally realised how many enemies the hereditary principle has. They are not confined to Radicals and Socialists. The first thing we must do is to make up our minds whether we are going to defend that principle and to maintain it. There are a great many members of this House who, I gather, have no desire to perpetuate the hereditary principle, and their only consistent course would seem to be to advocate the complete abolition of the present House of Lords and its reconstitution on an electoral basis. But if we believe that the principle is a thing which we are bound to defend, which 867 we cannot abandon; if we believe that there is another institution of even more vital importance to the welfare of this country which would be imperilled by its abandonment; if we believe that in times like these, when every principle of government and every form of authority is being challenged by a common enemy, it is both futile and dangerous to surrender a principle of which you are the representative, in which you believe and which has proved itself by the test of centuries, then I submit that no time is to be lost in placing this House in such a position that we can sincerely, logically and consistently justify and defend that principle in its application to your Lordships' House.
The hereditary principle, as I say, has a great many enemies and they are not confined to the Socialist Party. It has a great many enemies in the Conservative Party. There is a very strong and growing class in the Conservative Party which desires to abolish the hereditary principle as applied to this House, not because they do not believe in it, but because they think that the people of this country have no belief in it and it is no use continuing to defend it. Their attitude is that of a man who says: "I believe this principle to be right and true and wise, but because A, B and C do not believe in it I shall not continue to defend it." That is not a very glorious attitude, but it is one which is only too common in these days. It is not very likely that the hereditary principle will be believed in by the people of this country considering that a very systematic, determined and violent propaganda is always being directed against it, unless those who should be its defenders take up the cudgels in its favour and defend it.
There is another section who equally advocate the abolition of the hereditary principle and, from their own point of view, perhaps, for the better reason that they do not believe in it. There are a good many members of this House who are of that way of thinking. Their attitude was very well explained by a distinguished Conservative Peer, who has borne office and whose views are therefore worthy of consideration, in an article which he published some few years ago in a monthly review. After saying that this House was entirely out of touch with public opinion, that its atmosphere 868 was entirely different from that of the public meetings which he addressed—and this appeared for some unexplained reason to distress him very much—and also that the conversation in the tearoom was deplorably lacking in sympathy with popular aspirations, he went on to use this strange argument. He said that there was a time when Peers were the most enlightened, the most experienced in affairs, the most travelled, the most used to the exercise of authority of any people in this country, and that therefore it was only natural that they should comprise the Second Chamber, but that those conditions had long ago passed away and, in so far as they possessed these qualifications at all, they shared them with others and were even excelled in them by others, so that the Peerage was now an anachronism and should be abolished. It is unnecessary, perhaps, to point out that the conclusions of that argument are as false as its premisses.
Peers were never regarded as, and never were, better or wiser than anybody else. The hereditary membership of this House owes its existence to the fact that the Peers were representative of certain very important interests in this country—originally, land and agriculture. It is worth noting that this House has continued to be representative of all the most important interests in this country. To-day it is infinitely more representative of the interests of the country than is another place. It is quite impossible to find any subject, even of the most technical character, on which one cannot obtain an expert opinion in this House. That certainly cannot be said of another place and it is becoming increasingly less so in another place. Therefore, if we are going to criticise the House of Lords at all, it ought to be on the basis of whether it does or does not represent the principal interests in this country and not of whether its members happen to be wiser or better than other people.
I mention these opponents of the hereditary principle only to emphasise the fact that if we lose this opportunity of reform of this House we are not likely to get another, not merely owing to the possibility of a Socialist Administration in the near future, but because we are not likely to get the same terms from any other Conservative Government. There is no difficulty whatever in defending this 869 House or in defending the hereditary principle, although many people have given up doing so, but there is one incidental feature of the hereditary principle as applied to this House which we cannot defend, and that is the fact that it contains many members who are not in a position—I do not say it is any reproach to them—to fulfil its duties. If that defect is removed, there is not the slightest risk or difficulty in defending this House before any audience in this country. In defending a strong Second Chamber, and even in defending and strengthening an hereditary Second Chamber, I believe that we shall receive great support in the country. I know that that is not the opinion of a great many others, but I believe it to be the case for a number of reasons.
I think that people are apt to forget the immense educative value of the work which the Labour Party has been doing in recent years in convincing the people of this country of the absolute necessity of a strong Second Chamber in order to check the vagaries, the follies, and indeed I may say, the iniquities of the Socialist Party. The noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, referred on Monday to the proposals made by Lord Lansdowne and Lord Rosebery about eighteen years ago for strengthening this House and I think he said something like this: Those proposals might have been all very well in those days but they are out of place now. The people of this country would never stand any strengthening—I think he said of any Second Chamber; but at any rate any strengthening of the present House of Lords. I believe that to be an entirely mistaken view. On the contrary, I think it was infinitely harder to advocate a strong Second Chamber fifteen or twenty years ago than it is now and for very good reasons.
Fifteen or twenty years ago a system of direct election on an ever widening basis wits regarded as a kind of fetish. We were to go on getting a more extended franchise until we reached the goal of universal franchise, which would synchronise with the millennium. We are shortly to reach that goal in this country by the admission of several millions of young women to the franchise, but the reception that that proposal has received at the hands of the British electorate hardly suggests that they 870 imagine that the Golden Age is going to open when that event takes place. If I may use a slang expression, the gill seems to be coming off the gingerbread. There is considerable disillusion in the minds of the public as to the results and benefits to be conferred by a popular franchise. They are inclined to reconsider many views which were commonly accepted some years ago and, by comparison, although an hereditary Chamber may not be popular, at any rate there is not the objection to it which existed some years ago. This disillusionment is not altogether surprising when we look around us and see in many countries Popular Government scrapped altogether in favour of a Dictatorship. That lesson has not been lost on the British public.
As for the results of popular suffrage in this country, they constitute not only a very grave national danger but also a national disgrace. All impartial observers have testified to the fact that there has been a growing deterioration in the whole conduct of Parliamentary life and business, a general lowering of standards and great loss of prestige. These things, of course, do not impress the public mind because they are gradual and slow in their operation, but there are other things which are impressing the public very much, and it is rather useful to consider certain events which have occurred during the last few years. Some fifteen years ago, in those critical days before the War, the British electorate saw a British constituency being represented in Parliament by a Hungarian spy in the pay of Germany. In the still more critical days of the War they saw other constituencies represented by gentlemen who used their country's difficulties in order to attain their ends by the threat of revolution and who took part in activities for which some of them were sent to prison. Among other activities was the formation of Soldiers' and Workmen's Councils with a view to producing a revolution. They have seen another British constituency represented by an Indian Communist, who was thought by the United States to be of such a dangerous character that they would not admit him within their borders.
They have seen certain constituencies—two at least—represented by persons who are actually members of a foreign 871 conspiracy against this country. They have seen another constituency represented by a gentleman who is an honorary member of a foreign Government, whose main objective is the ruin of the British Empire. They have seen a whole Party professing its sympathy with this Government—a Government whose power is founded on massacre and pillage on a scale of which even Attila and Tamerlane never dreamed. They have seen that Party forming an alliance with that Power, aiding and abetting its activities even when they were directed avowedly against this country in every quarter of the globe. They have seen constituencies represented by persons who co-operated with that Government in a General Strike, declared by Lord Balfour to be the most serious attempt at revolution since 1688. They have seen constituencies similarly represented by people who continued to maintain most friendly relations with this Government even when it was discovered plotting, under the camouflage of trade, against this country. They even entertained the representatives of that Government within the precincts of Parliament and sent an official representative to say farewell to the enemy envoy when he departed from Victoria Station.
All these things have been seen by the people of this country and they are the fruits of universal suffrage. We are so used to these things that we do not realise their full significance. We do not realise the significance of the fact that His Majesty's Opposition, in so far as their policy is manifest, apart from opinions that individuals may hold, is open to the charge of disloyalty. These lessons are not lost on the public, and they say: "If they do these things in the green tree what will they do in the dry." The public is frightened, and the fact that the Conservative Government is in power to-day with an enormous majority is the best proof that the public is frightened. If the Labour Party go on doing as they have done in the past the public will become still more frightened, and there are many old ideas which have gone out of fashion in the last few years which may possibly be revived.
It is nonsense to tell me that in face of these dangers the public really object 872 to the strengthening of the Second Chamber. Whether, and how far, they may object to the strengthening of an hereditary Chamber is another matter, but I think that after you have trotted out all the popular bugbears against the Second Chamber the public will reply: "What, after all, is a backwoods Peer as compared with a foreign spy?" They cannot but be saying to themselves: "If these are the fruits of direct election on an extended franchise what, after all, is the value of representative government?" These old shibboleths of democracy—and they are not, after all, so very old as things go—are being tested and they are not standing the test very well. They are looking rather shabby and worn and people are beginning to realise it. The people of this country no longer believe in democracy as a principle at all. They may defend it on the ground that it is a safety valve to give a man a vote, or at any rate that it removes an obvious grievance from him if he can express an opinion as to who his representative shall be, but that is not believing in a principle. If you go and tell any public audience that all authority and wisdom and virtue and power naturally reside in and are derived from the mass of the people they laugh at you to-day. I am not quite sure that if you were to go and tell them the reverse—that all those things reside in and come from institutions which are founded on certain fixed and immutable principles and truths—they would not cheer you.
I do not say that, because people have ceased to believe in democracy, they necessarily believe in Toryism. That would be absurd I do not pretend that they do. But at any rate their minds are open, their minds are ready to receive impressions, which they never were in old days; and moreover, they are more willing than they ever were to judge by practical results. They see the fruits of democracy also in the present position of trade unionism, and that is why the reforms which this Government have proposed in the trade union system have met with a very cordial reception at the hands of the working classes in this country. That only shows that some of the practical fruits of democracy have been tested and have been found out. In a very few years causes which now seem almost hopeless 873 may be believed in by the great mass of this people on one condition—that those who believe in them continue to adhere to them and to defend them, and to give up apologising for the existence of those causes and for their own existence. I am quite conscious that to a great many of your Lordships, if not all of you, some of these ideas may be thought fantastic, but there are strange tendencies in the world to-day and the public mind is open to receive impressions as it never has been in former years.
I shall be told, perhaps, that I am absolutely out of touch with public opinion and that we cannot put back the clock. That is one of the expressions which people are very fond of, but it is in reality very misleading. I grant you that in a sense you cannot put back the clock, but in another sense it is not true. There are certain situations in which you can put back the clock and it has been put back over and over again in the coarse of British history. In 1619 the Monarchy, the Church and the House of Lords were abolished and relegated to the scrap heap, and in eleven Years from then they were all back stronger than ever and they have survived ever since. They survived because those who believed in these institutions upheld the principles upon which they were founded and because people had learned by bitter experience what were the results of doing without those institutions. Of course there are great differences to-day and one cannot draw an exact parallel, but the people are beginning to find out now what are the results of giving up principles which were true but in which they have ceased to believe and which have not been defended by those who should be their champions.
I agree, however, that in a sense it is not possible to put back the clock. Those institutions which were abolished in 1649 and restored in 1660 still survive and are with us. But it is true that for a great many people they survive only as shadows of what they once were. Monarchy is a sentiment, the Church is a moral influence, and this House is an interesting and perhaps picturesque archæological survival. And it is impossible, of course, to revive the faith in those institutions which they once inspired, because, after all, they were 874 established at a time when people were perhaps foolish enough to believe that institutions and principles of Government were founded in the last resort on truths which were fixed, fundamental, and immutable. There is no use trying to revive that faith which has long ago vanished from the world. We have slipped our moorings and are drifting down the flood of political opportunism and expediency and so called democracy, and we have not any of us the faintest idea whither we are going; but there is one interesting feature of the situation, and that is that the flood which is bearing us along also has not the faintest notion where it is going, and is beginning to become a little anxious as to the result. It is not quite certain whether the flood is going to reach the still waters and the green pastures of the promised land; it hears sounds in front of it which resemble much more the roar of the rapids than the beating of swords into ploughshares, and the flood may not be disinclined to help us to drift into some haven which may give us shelter even if it is only temporary. If we are to attain this result, if we are to get into this haven, we had better seize this opportunity, which will probably, almost certainly, be the last which will be offered us, of putting this House in a position to play that part which it has so often played before in history—that of providing the last line of defence against the forces of tyranny and chaos.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Duke on the exceedingly frank speech which he has made and also on the frank way in which he has disclosed the reasons why he is supporting the suggestion that this House should be reformed—I assume in the directions indicated by the Lord Chancellor. He said quite frankly that he wants further protection against what he called the destructive policy of the Labour Party. Well, I think that is quite true. I do not, of course, believe in the destructive policy of the Labour Party. I believe they ought to have the same opportunity in the Second Chamber as any other Party has in this country, and therefore we come at once to this difference in points of view, that whereas he regards a Second Chamber as a thing erected as a barrier against the views and the policy of the Labour Party, I claim 875 that in the Second Chamber, as in the House of Commons itself, we ought to have an equal opportunity with all other Parties.
I noticed, too, that he was rather melancholy as to the progress of events in recent years. He reminded us somewhat of the Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah in some of the language which he used. But I should like to put this to him by way of consolation, that, although he stated so clearly that in his view in recent times the destructive forces had in a special manner come to the front, yet I do not think he can point to any harm which they have done. Nay, I would go further. I believe it is because we trust the public opinion in this country and do not trust the mere machine arrangements as regards a Second House, because we trust to the good sense in the long run of public opinion, that we in this country are more free than any other country from revolutionary movements and revolutionary principles. That I regard as a matter of the first importance, and what would certainly appeal to me, in the first instance, as regards the Second Chamber, is that we ought to do nothing which could in any case affect or diminish the loyalty of the people of this country towards the House of Commons. I regard that as one of the great loyalties of this people, both at home and throughout the British Dominions. They have it because, from the earliest times until now, it has on the whole recognised the value of public opinion as a great public institution and has in that way appealed to what we boast of in this country, to our system of law and good order.
I would like the noble Duke also to consider one other factor. I understand that he supports the principle of a Second Chamber. I agree with him in that. One of the reasons why the present House of Lords cannot be regarded as an effective Chamber is that while the Tory Party are in power we really have only one-Chamber Government in this country. That is a very serious consideration. He speaks of revolution and is afraid of it, but I might refer to reaction, that is reactionary Conservatism, although I am not in the least afraid of reaction being carried too far in this country at the present time. Does the noble Duke consider that at the present 876 time, with a Conservative Party as it exists in the other House, we have anything in the nature of a real and effective Second Chamber? He has never been amongst the small remnant of the Labour Party who are sitting in this House. If he had, he would have known, what has indeed long been known as regards the Constitution of this country, both among Labour and Liberals, who, I believe, are combined in this matter, that the Second Chamber is no effective Second Chamber when you have a majority such as we have at the present time in the House of Commons in support of the Conservative Party.
The present Conservative Party is in a minority of the electorate voting. It is in a considerable minority if you take the Liberal and Labour Parties combined. Not only that, but every by-election of recent times, whether won or lost by the Conservative Party (and most of them have been lost) shows a considerable reduction as regards the number of voters who are supporting that Party. In those circumstances I suggest to the noble Duke that if he would put aside his suspicion, if he would believe that no political Party in this country can in any true sense be called a destructive Party, and if he would approach political problems from that standpoint, he would lose the fear which he appears to have at the present time and would himself become one of the progressive elements in the future.
I hope I have not represented in an unfair form what the noble Duke has said. I should be extremely sorry if that could be made an answer to my speech up to the present time, but I must say that I do not think that the speech of the noble Duke had any very immediate reference to the question which is now before your Lordships—namely, the reform of this House in accordance with the suggestions and principles indicated by the Lord Chancellor. On that point, the first matter which is of extreme importance and to which no sufficient attention has been so far directed is this: Is it a feature of the programme as indicated by the Lord Chancellor that the Prerogative of the creation of Peers to be members of this Assembly shall be taken away from the Crown? That is one of the most important points, and I will emphasise what I mean in a moment. I understand 877 that the answer is that it is. In other words, Peers made Peers under the Prerogative of the Crown are now members of this House, but in the future this House will not consist of Peers created by the Crown but of a selected portion under the conditions with which I shall shortly deal.
Consider the enormous importance of this. I say constitutional government could not go on in this country unless there was a power in the hands of His Majesty, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, to create Peers. Such a creation has been effected on numerous occasions and when utilised it has saved the whole freedom and Constitution of this country. Let me give one or two illustrations. Perhaps I might take the latest of all, the Parliament Act of 1911. We know, of course, that Peers were not in fact created on that occasion, but we also know perfectly well that, unless there had been a power to create those Peers and unless there had been a threat that that power would be used, the Parliament Act would never have been passed. On many occasions throughout our history has the same principle been brought into force, and it has operated in the most beneficent manner. There is the case of the Treaty of Utrecht, when the twelve Peers were created who were called the Twelve Jurymen and of whom it was asked in satire whether they would vote through their foreman. What would have happened to that Treaty unless the power to create Peers had existed and had been exercised? It was exercised in that case by the Tory Party against the Whigs and the authority of Lord Marlborough. And then, in 1832, what would have happened to the Reform Bill unless this House had yielded to the pressure of the threat that new Peers would be created in sufficient numbers?
I want to go a little further than that. What Prime Minister of any Party would be prepared to take office and responsibility in this country if he was not able under conditions which may arise to ask for a creation of Peers in order that his power might be preserved and maintained? That is the essence of our Constitution; it is part of the flexibility to which the noble Marquess and others have so constantly referred. I do not believe there could be a more reactionary proposal, a proposal more inconsistent 878 with our Constitution, a proposal more deadly in its attack on ordinary public opinion than that you should constitute a Second Chamber in the way that is proposed, withdrawing from the Prime Minister his power of recommending to His Majesty the creation of Peers in order that the power of the House of Commons might be made supreme on any given occasion.
I admit that I was astonished when the Lord Chancellor referred to a passage which he quoted from some statement made by certain members of the Party to which I belong. I do not want in a debate of this kind to introduce anything like opprobrious epithets. I do not believe in them. I believe we ought to argue this matter in good temper and good language. But the Lord Chancellor took exception to certain words and used them as an argument for the reform which he was suggesting, whereas I should use them as an argument entirely destructive of his reforms. He pointed out a passage which has been issued by a member of the Labour Party, as follows:—Before taking office it should receive an assurance that in case of need a sufficient number of Peers would be created to carry a Bill for the abolition of the House of Lords.Would any Prime Minister or expectant Prime Minister undertake to carry on the government of this country in accordance with public opinion unless he had a power, or the assurance of a power, of that kind?
The constitutional position is quite clear and it is this. At the present time any Prime Minister is entitled to recommend to His Majesty the creation of Peers in order to meet some crisis in public affairs. His Majesty has the constitutional power of accepting or refusing that advice. If he refuses it then, on the principle of Ministerial responsibility, the Prime Minister in question has to say that he can no longer carry on the Government unless the power for which he asks is conceded to him. It is then open to His Majesty, if he can, to find some other Prime Minister. But I want to say that the only Prime Minister in this country who can conduct public business in accordance with public opinion is the Leader in the House of Commons with an adequate majority to support him, and if a man in that position asks 879 for the creation of Peers as against the obstruction of a Second Chamber it is the only way, so far as I know, in which the two differing features of our Constitution may be brought into harmony one with the other. This is so absolutely important from the point of view of constitutional security and constitutional management that I hope the noble Earl who is going to speak next will explain whether I am right in thinking that this power will no longer exist, or whether I have made some mistake in regard to the propositions put forward by the Lord Chancellor.
I will now deal with the Parliament Act, which was not carried without some trouble. The noble Earl did not take the view that it ought to be carried. I recollect very well scenes in the House of Commons at that date which, I suppose, the noble Duke would say were not creditable to the representative Chamber. The fact is that when public opinion or private opinion is largely excited there is always a chance in an Assembly of that character of individuals transgressing the ordinary rules of prudent action. This is what is contained in the Preamble of the Parliament Act:—And whereas it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation:I recollect being present at a great meeting of the House of Commons—I think I was asked to take the chair—when we were practically unanimously in favour of some principle of election as against the hereditary principle. I need not go back into that at the present time because we are not discussing it now.
What I do say is that so far from the proposals indicated by the Lord Chancellor being in accordance with the constitution of a Second Chamber on a popular instead of hereditary basis, it aims—and the noble Duke opposite recognised it—not at a popular basis, but at an exclusive basis, which will prevent popular opinion being the ruling factor in this country. It is absolutely inconsistent with the words and the principle which are contained in the Parliament Act and which were put in, no doubt, at the instigation of the Liberal Party. In order to substantiate what I say let me come to one or two of the principles which were indicated by the Lord Chan- 880 cellor. The first of them is really rather a matter of procedure than of principle, but we ought to understand what the principle is and this brings me to what the Lord Chancellor said in connection with the question of whether Bills are Money Bills or not being decided by the Speaker of the House of Commons. When the Parliament Act was being brought forward a question had arisen whether this matter should be decided by this House or by the House of Commons. It is not enough, as regards the privileges of the House of Commons, to say that the Commons are to be the sole repositories of power in reference to a Money Bill, if at the same time it is left to another body to decide that what the House of Commons consider to be a Money Bill is not a Money Bill at all. Therefore, this is not a matter between the two Houses; it is not a matter for this independent Committee to which the Lord Chancellor referred. It is a matter of the privilege of the House of Commons and that privilege is maintained at the present time by the Speaker himself, on their behalf, coming to the necessary decision. If the House of Commons are willing to give up a privilege of that kind, well and good, but it is not for this House to take any action of any kind upon that matter.
Any action of that kind by another body would naturally be construed as an infringement of the privilege of another place. One of the proposals is that this independent Committee is not only to consider whether a Bill is technically a Money Bill or not, but it is to go further into the matter and consider whether, on some principle which cannot be ascertained and cannot be defined, it ought to be regarded as a Money Bill or not. The very essence of the privilege of the House of Commons from the earliest times, the very reason for the passing of the Parliament Act (or one of the reasons for it) was that this matter should no longer be open to doubt but should be decided, as a privilege, by the House of Commons through the verdict of its Speaker And may I say one thing further? I do not think it was referred to by the noble Viscount, perhaps he did not think it necessary. It is not only the Speaker, but if he desires he may take into consultation with him two members of the Chairman's panel, and if this is to be regarded—as I think it should be—as a privilege of the House of 881 Commons I want to know what better tribunal you could have than the Speaker as representative of that House supported and aided by two members of the Chairman's panel.
The third matter to which the Lord Chancellor referred was the question of rates. If it were a matter of first impressions I do not know that I should not be in favour of questions of rates being considered and decided in this House, but it is not a question of first impressions. The claim of privilege has covered rates as well as national finance from the start of the controversy. Here again, if the first Chamber is willing to give up its privileges, well and good, but if not, I must say I deprecate a suggestion which can only be regarded as an attack on privileges which have been secured and sanctioned and acknowledged in the Parliament Act as a result of a long continuance of the authority of the House of Commons apart from this House. I know that in private legislation this House deals with the question of rates just as much as the other House does, through its Committees, but that is a different matter. It was acknowledged to be different when the Standing Order giving that power was sanctioned. From the very commencement to this day the claim of the House of Commons as regards rates has been dealt with on the same principle as regards all other matters of finance. Is this the time to seek to upset a principle of that sort? It seems to me to be putting your hand into a hornets' nest. Whatever we want for our own House, whatever reform we may think desirable, let us at least not attempt to interfere with the privileges which have been enjoyed elsewhere for centuries and which are confirmed in the very words of the Parliament. Act. Perhaps I should quote the words of the Parliament Act:—Nothing in this Act shall diminish or qualify the existing rights and privileges of the House of Commons.In the face of that how can a proposal of this kind validly be made?
The other two points which were suggested by the Lord Chancellor appear to me to be far more serious. I can understand what the Duke of Northumberland said as regards hereditary right. I cannot understand a small body of under 800 persons exercising a power to appoint representatives in a representa- 882 tive capacity. Whatever may be said as regards hereditary right, what can be said in favour of a mere voting right in order to select a portion out of the whole number? Is it not inconsistent with every theory of equality of government as between classes in this country? Is it not inconsistent really with every consideration of equality and even-handed justice as between the various interests concerned in this question? But I want to point out a little more than that. The evil of this Chamber at the present time is that it is too Conservative. If you had this representation of the Conservative hereditary idea to a number to be selected—about 100 or whatever it is—for a period of twelve years, I say that you would create a body so archaic and reactionary that it is impossible to imagine that public opinion in this country would allow it a measure of power in any Second Chamber.
I presume that my friends and myself would naturally be swept out of existence. I doubt whether the Peers in the Liberal Party would be admitted. At any rate they would only be admitted in very small numbers. Whereas now all Parties are represented, however feebly, in this House, you could not take a more certain step to eliminate all other elements than those which are Tory and reactionary. What sort of a Second Chamber would you get when the Conservative Party was in power? In order to make this reactionary Chamber secure the members are to be appointed for twelve years, one-third of them retiring every fourth year. If the noble Duke is right, and I think he is right in this, is it possible to imagine, at a time when all these new questions are coming to the front, when you want prudence as well as knowledge, when you want a tolerant outlook, a more certain source of disaster than to appoint an obstructive Second Chamber under such conditions?
Let me say a word on one other proposition, equally destructive as it seems to me—namely, the proposal to have nominated members. I understand that they are to be nominated by the Government in power for the time being and that they also are to have a twelve years tenure. Let me take an illustration. Suppose you have members nominated by the Tory Party, what will be the 883 constitution of your Second Chamber? You will have one hundred Tory members selected from the Chamber itself and one hundred Tory members nominated. It is not likely, perhaps, that you would have every elected member or every nominated member a reactionary Tory—I am not suggesting that—but no one can doubt that under a constitution of that kind you would have a Second Chamber so reactionary in its character that you would promote the very revolutionary movement which excites the fear of the noble Duke opposite.
That is not the way to proceed with any amendment of our constitution. You ought to proceed on an entirely different principle. You ought to express and to desire the greatest possible trust in public opinion as expressed in the House of Commons. It is by that trust that you will get security. It is by distrust and the attempt to manufacture a mechanical barrier that you will embark upon the path of revolution. I suppose I am as little a revolutionary—I am sure I am—as the noble Duke himself, but I do ask him to think again. If you have a large revolutionary party in this country—which is his view—what is the use of attempting to stem the tide by an artificial Second Chamber such as is suggested in the proposals of the Lord Chancellor? There is something in the hereditary principle and in the traditions of this House. We can point over centuries of time to great acts, great deeds, great thoughts and great advantages. To destroy that tradition and that history of tolerant thought and to put in its place this artificial Chamber, manufactured in a Tory spirit and so that it can only act in an extreme reactionary way, does mean, as I feel most strongly, that no greater evil could be done to this country. I have attempted as shortly as I can to deal with a very large and very difficult constitutional question, and if, as I imagine there will later be a Division on this topic, those who accept the view that I have put forward will support the Amendment to be proposed from the Liberal Benches by the noble Earl, Lord Arran.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD)
My Lords, I must ask the pardon of the House if a second member of the Government intervenes at a moment perhaps 884 earlier than would have been to the convenience of the House in relation to the whole trend of the debate. It so happens, however, that my noble friend the Leader of the House, who will naturally speak on the concluding day of the debate, was for that reason not available to address your Lordships to-day, and for many weeks I have had an important public engagement this evening which made it necessary, if I were to take any part in the debate, that I should take an early part. I hope that this explanation will also acquit me of any discourtesy if I have to leave the House at an earlier stage in the debate than I would otherwise have thought respectful to those speakers who may take part in our discussions later.
I think my first duty ought to be to answer a question which the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Haldane, asked on the first day of the debate. He asked whether it was the intention of the Government to carry this Bill into law in the lifetime of the present Parliament. Of course it is. The Prime Minister at the time of the General Election made it indisputably plain that, without imperilling the fabric or the main principle of the Parliament Act, it was the intention of the Government to deal with this matter, and I would invite the noble Viscount, who is so much concerned on this point, to reflect somewhat upon his own degree of antecedent responsibility. The noble Viscount was one of the authors of the Parliament Act and he was responsible for the Preamble. That some reform or other of the House of Lords was to take place was not only an obligation imposed upon the noble Viscount by the terms of that Preamble, but it was afterwards emphasised and made even more obligatory by the public statement of the Leader of the noble Viscount's Party that the redemption of this pledge was a matter of elementary honour with the Liberal Party. We know that until the year 1914, as a matter of honour, the noble Viscount was committed to the reform of this House.
But we must carry the matter a stage further. I shall have occasion to refer with more precision to this matter later in a different connection, but we know that the Coalition Government adopted the same view. We know that before this Government came into office enough 885 was said by him who alone was particularly entitled to explain to the country what were our proposed objects if we returned to power, to make it plain that this was among them. And now we are asked whether we hold ourselves at liberty to discharge the noble Viscount from a debt of honour too long unpaid, whether we conceive ourselves at liberty to address ourselves with effective power to a task which has been undertaken by every single Government since the Preamble of the Parliament Act, with the exception of the short-lived Government to which noble Lords opposite belonged and which, by a singularly unfortunate combination of circumstances well known to all, was not in a position to give any assurances of any kind at all on anything which could be effectively carried out.
I listened, I confess, with frank amazement to the speech that has just been delivered by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor. He spoke of the effect of this Bill upon the Prerogative of the Crown. He spoke with deep and surely novel admiration of the power which has on two or three occasions been assumed, nearly always disputably, by the Prime Minister and the Government of the day of advising the Sovereign by a great creation of Peers to overwhelm and submerge the opinion of this House. Then the noble and learned Lord, in what was surely, having regard to his own antecedents, a most amazing sentence, said in effect: "Such is the value of the Prerogative power on which you are laying rash and destructive hands. Had it not been for its existence in the year 1911, it would actually not have been possible to place the Parliament Act upon the Statute Book." The noble Lord spoke of the Parliament Act as a beneficent reform. I do not mind the noble and learned Viscount calling the Parliament Act a beneficent reform. He, at least, was honest in his paternity. I do not mind the noble Lords who sit below the gangway on that side speaking of the Parliament Act as a beneficent reform. But how about the noble and learned Lord?
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
Do I understand the noble and learned Lord it say that he always supported the Parliament Act? I am a little astonished, and I must ask a question or two. Am 886 I possibly confusing the identity of the noble and learned Lord with Sir Alfred Cripps? I discover that Sir Alfred Cripps was returned unopposed for South Bucks in the December election of 1910 as a Conservative candidate. He was approved as Conservative and Unionist candidate at a meeting of the local Conservative and Unionist Association. My noble friend Lord Desborough—I do not know whether he is in the House now—has undertaken many responsibilities in his life, but surely few greater than that of having taken the chair at this meeting, If the noble and learned Lord wishes to say anything I will make way. I cannot listen to inaudible remarks from the noble and learned Lord.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
the noble Lord is wrong. I am taking my information from the Bucks Free Press, which at that time gave more support to the noble and learned Lord than it is giving him to-day. Lord Desborough was the chairman, but it does not really matter very much who was the chairman. I am dealing with more relevant topics. The point is that, when Sir Alfred Cripps, as he was then, was approved as Conservative and Unionist candidate at this meeting, does the noble and learned Lord tell your Lordships—if I may have the attention of the noble Lord on rather an important matter; I assure him that I think it is very important and I have no doubt that I shall convince your Lordships—that at that meeting, on the eve of an election which was fiercely contested and which was contested almost exclusively upon the issue of the Parliament Act, he told the audience he was in favour of the Parliament Act? Perhaps the noble and learned Lord may think that not unimportant.
He has just informed your Lordships that, he was always in favour of the Parliament Act. I have been at the trouble—by no means an enjoyable recreation—of exhuming some of the pearls of rhetoric by which the noble and learned Lord described the Parliament Act and commended himself to that great Conservative constituency which returned him without opposition. I do 887 not know how far the eloquence of the noble and learned Lord to which you are often treated will reconcile your Lordships to these gems drawn from a far-gone past, but it is worth while considering some of them. He is reported to have said:—The issue is an extremely important one"—he was undoubtedly right there—and of a kind that is worth fighting about—your Lordships will recognise the old combative spirit which we have seen to-night—the Constitution, which, as we know, has been the safeguard of our liberties and rights in the past. Our good old Constitution was made in all its great principles before the Act of Union with Scotland or Ireland. It is an English product and we, the English people, will maintain it to the utmost.He did not happen to mention that he was not in favour of the old Constitution all the time. Yet can any one doubt that this audience, which was being swayed by the eloquence of the noble and learned Lord, which was sharing with him an admiration which we now know he did not possess for our good old Constitution, were without the knowledge that all the time the noble and learned Lord did not believe in our good old Constitution? He was in favour of the Parliament Act and forgot to mention it. Does the noble and learned Lord wish to make any observation?
§ LORD PARMOOR
I merely wish to say that it has nothing whatever to do with the statement I made. I am now in favour of the maintenance of the old Constitution and not in favour of this change.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
I cannot help thinking that the noble and learned Lord, who in the course of a long professional life must have learned when to intervene and when to remain silent, would have done better to remain silent. How can that observation help him? The point is that he stands for an election, a man of mature years in the very flower of life—in fact precisely my own age when he made those observations. He was a man indeed saturated with law—not perhaps law of the ordinary kind, but Parliamentary and ecclesiastical law—and must have known 888 the importance of thinking before he spoke. He goes to a constituency very anxious to be returned to the House of Commons. In the whole course of that Election, in the whole course of a series of superb orations, he forgot to tell the constituency that he was in favour of an Act to which the constituency was opposed. He spoke, I may say, of Mr. Lloyd George as "a young politician on the make." I have always deplored personalities in politics myself. He then said:—Why do we want a Second Chamber? There is one essential matter in regard to a Second Chamber, and that is to ensure that, before any great change is made upon some matter of national importance, the verdict of the people themselves should be ascertained.Are those still the noble and learned Lord's views?
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
No, I think the noble Lord had better not. If I have discharged no other public service to the House since I have been a member I have succeeded in this at least—I have persuaded for a brief moment the noble and learned Lord to silence. Let me proceed. The noble and learned Lord continued:—I am one of those who agree with Lord Lansdowne and"—I congratulate my noble friend—Mr. Balfour that the time has come when we might reform our Second Chamber in a rather drastic manner.
THE EARL OF BIRKENBEAD
The speech continues:—We ought, as regards the past, to have nothing but gratitude for the attitude that the House of Lords has taken. But I want a change, because I want it much stronger still.The noble and learned Lord wanted it stronger still, and we in this House have enjoyed the pantomimic performance of members of the Labour Party in this House! Only two days ago the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Haldane, opposed the Government proposal and said, in effect: "I will never support it if it will make the House of Lords stronger." Where is the consistency of thought? It is from such advisers that this ancient House is to be instructed 889 and with such a degree of inconsistency. I will make one more quotation from this crator:—We will not allow foreign money to interfere with our domestic affairs at home and we are determined by our own energy and our own determination to maintain what we have had handed down to us from old time.I have always tried to be a fair controversialist, and I therefore make it plain that the noble and learned Lord was referring to Ireland and not Russia in the observation which I have just read.
I do not know how the noble and learned Lord has the courage—I carefully select what I hope is a non-offensive term—to come down to this House and in arguments of a rather monitory character deny every profession of faith which he made, not in his youth but in his developed maturity. When the noble and learned Lord talks in terms almost of contempt of the Tory Party—when he uses the adjective "Tory," he almost declines into invective—I think of his record and history: of the fact that he was fifty-six years of age and, I will not say a very powerful advocate of the Tory Party, but he advocated it the best he could. Then, after all, that he should suddenly change and expect us to change with him, that is the circumstance which annoys me. It does not very much matter to me what changes of opinion the noble and learned Lord may undergo, but that he should reproach us, at least by implication, with being infected by the same weak-minded virus, fills me with indignation. He once explained it in this House by saying that he was it Christian Socialist. I hope I know what a Christian is, and I think I have some knowledge of what is a Socialist, but on the whole I am inclined to the view that the noble and learned Lord suggested that combination of things in the hope of distinguishing himself from some of his Russian colleagues.
There is another section in this House whose opinion on this matter is of no small importance, and that is the considerable and influential number of Peers who belong to the Liberal Party. I am greatly interested in discovering what their attitude in relation to these proposals is likely to be. I should have been in no doubt had a message not been courteously conveyed to me that in the result, no doubt by a road which is dis- 890 tinguished and distinguishable, they intend to support the same Amendment as the Opposition Front Bench—namely, the Amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Arran. This conclusion, which I understand was reached at one of those harmonious meetings which are now so agreeable a feature of our readjusted political life, was arrived at at the House of Commons yesterday. I confess that the conclusion so conveyed to me astonished me, and I will tell your Lordships why.
In July, 1922, the Coalition Government of which I was a humble member introduced certain Resolutions for your Lordships' consideration, dealing with the matter of the reform of this House. Those Resolutions were accepted by the Cabinet of that day on the very carefully considered Report of a Committee of which I was a member. The late Lord Curzon presided over that Committee. It consisted, if I remember rightly, half of Liberals and half of Conservatives. Mr. Lloyd George, then Prime Minister, appointed that Committee. It was under his authority as Prime Minister that it sat. The Cabinet which accepted the recommendations of that Committee, not inconsiderately reached, not without many, many meetings, was presided over by Mr. Lloyd George. It was with the authority of Mr. Lloyd George that my noble friend Lord Peel proposed these Resolutions in the House of Lords—with the authority also of every Liberal member of the Committee, every Liberal member of the Cabinet, and there were no inconsiderable Liberal names, whatever may be said of that deceased combination, among their number.
In order that I may make articulate and intelligible my surprise, may I remind your Lordships—for human memories in such matters are short and fallible—what were the Resolutions for which Mr. Lloyd George and his Liberal colleagues, equally with ourselves, were responsible? They were in these terms:—I. That this House shall he composed, in addition to Peers of the Blood Royal, Lords Spiritual, and Law Lords, of—
(b) is the present proposal—
- (a) Members elected, either directly or indirectly, from the outside:
- (b) Hereditary Peers elected by their order;"(c) Members nominated by the Crown, the numbers in each case to be determined by Statute.891 That, again, is identically the present proposal.II. That, with the exception of Peers of the Blood Royal and the Law Lords, every other member of the reconstituted and reduced House of Lords shall hold his seat for a term of years to be fixed by Statute, but shall be eligible for re-election.That, again, is the present proposal.III. That the reconstituted House of Lords shall consist approximately of 350 members.That, again, is entirely consistent with the expository statement of the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack.
Then follow two further Resolutions, which I will read to the House:—IV. That while the House of Lords shall not amend or reject Money Bills, the decision as to whether a Bill is or is not a Money Bill, or is partly a Money Bill and partly not a Money Bill, shall be referred to a Joint Standing Committee of the two Houses, the decision of which shall be final. That this Joint Standing Committee shall be appointed at the beginning of each new Parliament, and shall be composed of seven members of each House of Parliament, in addition to the Speaker of the House of Commons, who shall be ex officio Chairman of the Committee.V. That the provisions of the Parliament Act, 1911, by which Bills can be passed into law without the consent of the House of Lords during the course of a single Parliament, shall not apply to any Bill which alters or amends the Constitution of the House of Lords as set out in these Resolutions, or which in any way changes the powers of the House of Lords as laid down in the Parliament Act and modified by these Resolutions.I say without hesitation that, though we have done a little more—not a great deal more—there is no point of real substance in our proposals which was not covered by the authority of the Coalition Government, and therefore of every Liberal member of the Coalition Cabinet; and, indeed, noble Lords would do us injustice, however inadequate the result of our long deliberations may have seemed, if they attributed any lack of industry or endeavour either to the Committee of the Cabinet which sat through all those months, or to the Cabinet which revised our considerations. And I am not, I think, impinging upon a salutary and necessary rule, that of the non-disclosure of Cabinet discussions, if I make it plain in justice to the then Prime Minister, Mr. Lloyd George, that there was no 892 member of the Cabinet who gave more time and more care to those proposals; and Mr. Lloyd George, having given that time and that care, authorised, and indeed directed, one of his colleagues to place these proposals before the House of Lords.
And therefore I earnestly hope that I may without discourtesy be entitled to put a very direct question to the noble Earl who, I understand, is to reply to me on behalf of the Liberal Peers in this debate—I hope, I say, that I may without discourtesy invite him to inform your Lordships, fresh as I understand he is from discussions with Mr. Lloyd George, whether upon any of those points upon which the Coalition proposals were identical with these proposals Mr. Lloyd George and his then colleagues have altered their views, or whether they are still adherent to those views. For, if they are still adherent to those views, whoever else may oppose these proposals, the Liberal Party cannot, so long as they count Mr. Lloyd George as their Leader, without flagrant inconsistency depart from them.
Now I address myself to a different consideration. I am not so inattentive to the current of public affairs as not to be moved by the considerations which were so quietly and yet so tellingly put forward by my noble friend the Duke of Northumberland. I was glad indeed that on the whole, even if without enthusiasm, he was able to place that individual position which he occupies upon the side of the proposals of the Government. I say without enthusiasm, for the truth is that I have still to discover any Party which can put forward proposals for the reform of your Lordships' House with enthusiasm. Too many tired hands have tried to roll the stone of Sisyphus before, too many failures have clogged the steps of those who have attempted the reform of this venerable House, And yet I am not bold enough in prediction to say whether or not we are to be added to the numbers of those who have failed. Of this I am sure, that we should not have worthily discharged the obligations which we inherited and the duties which are imposed upon us if we had not made an earnest and an honest attempt to deal with this matter.
It is no new burden with which we have charged ourselves, unwelcome as it 893 may be. It was a burden, as I have already said, prescribed and incorporated in its framework by the Parliament Act itself. It was one which in the days of the Coalition was imposed upon the Coalition, which did not over-willingly undertake it, by a strong and constant pressure from without. I would address to those friends of mine in the Conservative Party who say that on the whole it would have been wiser to do nothing, this question: Are they quite sure that, with our historic commitments upon this matter, with the view which is held by, our supporters in the country and with the existing situation of this nation, with an unwritten Constitution and exposed to the risks which the noble Duke did not exaggerate, that it would have been possible for sane and prudent custodians of our public affairs, entitled by their public declarations to deal with this matter and expected by their supporters in the country to carry out those pledges, to let the years pass by and lay aside the opportunities of office with the admission that we had failed where we were most deeply committed?
There is a reason which weighs far more with me than the menacing predictions which were made to us of that which may happen if triumphant and extreme Socialism ever becomes dominant in this country. It was, if I may say so, the one passage in the speech of the noble and learned Lord with which I was willing to associate myself. He spoke of the good spirit, the commonsense and the patriotism which exists in the British people. He has spoken, and rightly spoken, of the fact that, in our long history, when rightly and confidently appealed to, that spirit has never failed the rulers of this country. If we had in power for a short and dangerous period a Party subversive of the fundamental Constitution of this country and indifferent to its history and its traditions, I am certain that in one way or another the people of this country would find some method of recalling them to their senses precisely as they recalled the extreme members of the trade unions to their senses in that General Strike which the noble and learned Viscount could never muster up enough courage to stigmatise as illegal.
But do not let tie make the mistake of supposing that mere statutory provisions 894 would ever enable you to stein a revolutionary stream if it possessed within itself the inherent strength to subvert and conquer the intelligence of the people of this country. No written Constitution in the long history of the world has ever availed for that purpose. None ever will avail. I could myself, without extraordinary pretensions as a constitutional lawyer, devise fifty methods in which any Socialist Government in office with a large and independent majority, without violating the forms of the Constitution, could destroy every element of stability on which the existence of that Constitution depends. No, it is not by formal documents or by statutory provisions that we shall defeat those movements if and when they arise. It is by reliance upon the strong historic spirit of our people. It is by strengthening ourselves by reading of the efforts that our nation has made in the centuries that lie behind us. I, therefore, am not one and never have been one who places undue reliance upon those legal safeguards. Nor has it been the genius of our people to exaggerate the importance of what is known to constitutional lawyers as a rigid in contrast to a flexible Constitution.
It may be asked then: Why are you so convinced that it is necessary that we should take some definite step in the direction of reforming this House at the present moment? There is a reason to which no answer can be made for the comparatively simple ground that no answer happens to exist. It is this. We are confronted to-day with a plain and indisputable fact. The Opposition, both in the House of Commons and here, is furnished by the Labour Party. I am not here to attempt predictions as to the future of the Liberal party. It is not my business and it would entangle me in useless diversion. We are bound at the present moment to accept the existing facts and the probability in any near future that our opponents will be the Socialist Party. I attempt no prediction as to when they will take our places, but any man would be very foolish, being confronted with an Opposition, strong in the constituencies, exciting expectations which are very attractive to large bodies of our industrial population, who made his constitutional preparations upon the basis that a time would not come, or even 895 not proximately come, at which that Party would be returned to power.
If one thing is obvious, it is surely that this House serves no purpose at all if it is not capable of functioning in relation to that which everyone knows must happen. If it does not happen to-morrow it will happen in five years; if it does not happen in five years it will happen in ten years. It is precisely as important that in five or ten years this House should be capable of functioning as it is important to-day. How can we function as long as there exists no means by which there can be adequate representation of His Majesty's Opposition? I do not say this in any spirit of disrespect to the noble Lords who sit upon the Front Bench opposite as representatives Of the Labour Party in this House. They adequately fill that rôle in every single respect except that they are not Labour members, and none of them ever has been a Labour member, or ever will be a Labour member. It is on the whole more convenient that the opinions of Labour should be expressed by those who understand something about Labour, by those who share the real views of Labour.
I do not blame noble Lords when they speak in this House. If I were in a minority as small as theirs I would speak in an extraordinarily inaudible and apologetic fashion. I make no complaint of them in that respect, but the real truth is that this House will never be effective when the Labour Government is in power, or when a Labour Government is not in power, unless there sit upon those Benches real Labour representatives and unless there sit behind them considerable numbers who share their views and who can afford then, the encouragement to which all leaders of every Party are entitled and on which the leader of every Party relies in debate.
Though I frequently, as your Lordships will have observed, read the speeches of the noble and learned Lord, I seldom read my own old speeches and then never without repulsion, but I had occasion to-day to cast my eye on a speech which I made on July 31, 1922, in your Lordships' House. By way of reassurance I will say that it is a very short passage to which I ask your Lordships to listen and I quote it because it will show at least that my mind, by was of prevision, was then working upon 896 these precise problems. As long ago as five years I said this—It does not matter what name one takes for this purpose"—of assuming the identity of the future leader of the Labour Party—Mr. Clynes or Mr. Henderson;I was wrong there I must admit—I do not understand the hierarchy of the movement—but supposing that to Mr. Clynes was committed the task of forming a Government, what would be his position in the existing circumstances? He has to form a Government. Some of its members would naturally have to become Peers. I do not, indeed, apprehend one particular ground for anxiety, because I am encouraged to hope that whatever happened the Woolsack would not go begging. Excluding that contingency from our minds, what is a Labour Prime Minister to do? Is he to make eight or nine of his Labour colleagues hereditary Peers? That might supply him with the orators; but I have enough experience of your Lordships' House to know that it is far easier to find orators than to find voters. I think we can always find oratory in this House. Our difficulty is to find support for our arguments and conclusions. It would be only reasonable if Mr. Clynes were to say: 'I must not only have my six or seven Boanerges from the trade unions to assist our debates in the Second Chamber'"—he was sanguine if he said that—and to contribute a new and not unwelcome addition to its personnel—'I must not only have them; I must have the cohorts,' and the question arises as to who are to produce the reproductive _processes which would enable us rapidly to multiply the number of Peers so that they would be afforded a chance of getting their measures through this House.I think those words were very prophetic. I know of no way other than that which is contained in the proposals of the Government by which this purpose can be attained.
I confess that I have a great, though a tempered, admiration for noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite and I should be very glad if we could always keep them with us as mouthpieces of Labour, if we could do it consistently with our own interest and in the interest of Parliamentary government. But it would appear unreasonable to expect we could be so fortunate. Noble Lords, like all of us, are gradually increasing in age. Although we see at present no decline of rhetorical vitality and resources, it may one day come upon them in common with the rest of the world. The next Labour Prime Minister may 897 combine a very great admiration for noble Lords opposite with a very clear determination to substitute fresh colleagues for them. Should such a state of affairs happen in what position shall we find ourselves?
We should find ourselves in this position. We should still have the assistance of noble Lords who must have affronted all their deeply-rooted democratic principles in order in the public interest to become hereditary Peers at all, and we should find that they had undertaken those prodigious sacrifices and were condemned, I would almost say to the ignominy of sitting on the Benches in this Chamber without having the encouragement and refreshment of office. Then we should obtain, suppose, a dozen more hereditary Peers and the same process would set in every time the Labour Government came into power unless they committed themselves to a number of spokesmen. But by that time they would certainly be entitled to all the respect which attaches to venerable personages. They would be compelled once again to recruit your Lordships' House with hereditary Peers. Therefore it is indispensable there should be a reform which would make it possible for the Labour Party to be represented not only by leaders but also by followers in this House.
It will not be supposed that we did not consider the alternatives of an elective Second Chamber. We exhausted them and, having now spent some three years of my life in sitting upon Committees which have, been employed exclusively upon this subject., I have formed my clear conclusion, which I am certain will never be altered, that you cannot reconcile an elected House of Lords with the authority which the House of Commons justly claims for itself. I cannot give your Lordships the stages through which we passed. I must merely state my separate conclusion upon that point. If, then, you are not to have an elective House of Lords, what are the alternatives? I believe that by a gradual process of considered elimination we have reached the only method, imperfect as it may be, which is available for our purposes.
We are told by the noble and learned Lord that the system of inviting all the hereditary Peers to delegate their powers 898 upon a certain selected number among them is revolutionary, irreconcilable with the hereditary doctrine and in itself a dangerous subversion of the privileges of this House. I never heard a more amazing, or more paradoxical, or more foolish doctrine. Has the noble and learned Lord never heard of the elections of Irish Peers and Scottish Peers? Have they destroyed the value of Scottish representation or of Irish representation? It is astonishing that such doctrines should be so confidently proclaimed founded upon so little reflection. I can see nothing which is not exactly analogous with the Irish and Scottish system in the proposals which we make, and in my judgment those proposals are not only not inconsistent with the dignity of hereditary Peerage but they are, on the contrary, expressive and illustrative of it.
This method of election is an assertion of the dignity of this House. The dignity of this House is neither maintained nor served by continuing the fiction that as a deliberative legislative Assembly we consist of some 700 or 720 Peers. I had the curiosity to inquire how many members of your Lordships' House had not even taken the troube in the course of the present Session of attending in this House in order to take the Oath. I discovered, with the assistance of the officials of this House, that 156 of your Lordships have never taken the trouble to qualify them-selves without penalty to take part even in the task of voting in this House. Among that 156, the more analytically minded among your Lordships may be interested to learn, there were included six Dukes, two Marquesses, thirty-three Earls and seventeen Viscounts. All ale others were Barons. Can it really be supposed that 156 members of your Lordships' House who have not taken this trouble—and if you were to examine the names of the last two or three Sessions of Parliament believe me you would find a great recurrence of the same names amongst the abstainers—would feel it to be a great deprivation if they were invited, not indeed to come often—that might be regarded as an invasion of their privileges—but were invited to come once in about four years in order to vote for somebody else who was willing to come and have the privilege of being a 899 Peer of Parliament? It seems idle to suggest that that could be treated by them as an invasion of their privileges.
Let it not be thought that the abstainers are all of them, or very largely, what used to be known in the heat of an earlier controversy as "backwoodsmen." I have my mind on a different class. This House has been reinforced upon the most generous scale in the last fifteen years. These various contributory strata—of which the noble Duke spoke with an admiration and appreciation that is not exaggerated—who are able to inform your Lordships upon topics so variegated have been largely added during that period. There are leaders of commerce, leaders of the Press, leaders of science. Some of these, a very few—we had an admirable illustration last night in the speech of my noble friend Lord Dawson of Penn—have assisted us by their ripe experience. But in too many cases the faulty conception of the function of a Peer of Parliament has been lightly accepted. When they have appeared at the Bar of your Lordships' House, clad in a crimson robe, and have taken part in that official pageantry, they appear to think that the rest of their duty is completely discharged when they have accepted the change in that unimportant nomenclature by which a Peer is saluted by his domestic staff. I should like to ask how many of these new creations assist us in the Committee work of this House. Our debates are very important, the methods in which we carry out our legislative processes are equally important, but the work of this House could not go on if we could not find men who year in and year out would come and take part in the unadvertised Committee work of the House, on which there is no limelight, but which nevertheless is essential to the efficiency of this House as a Second Chamber. When we speak of those who contribute their part to the service of this House, if any useful purpose would be served by particularisation—and I see none—I should not be unwilling to establish this thesis very completely.
I have this to add. Our proposals are very moderate. If I tried to answer the question of the noble Viscount as to whether we are strengthening the House of Lords I should have to give a very doubtful answer. If to provide that we shall be told by an impartial authority what is a Money Bill—if that is to in- 900 crease the powers of this House we are increasing them, because we have too long experienced the fate of those whose position in relation to that diminished field upon which we are still entitled to operate has been contracted still further by the decisions of one who, however distinguished, is still a functionary of the other House, and who often must take his decision in circumstances of the hectic rapidity with which we are familiar at the end of each Session as it concludes It is unquestionably true that over and over again wrong, indisputably wrong, decisions have been reached as to what is and what is not a Money Bill—decisions inconsistent with one another. If it is to increase the power of the Lords to say that there shall be an impartial body to decide, then we are increasing it. But how illogical and how unreasonable the view is! We are not asking for any invasion upon finance. We are asking solely that we shall have an authoritative, competent tribunal to determine what is finance and what is not finance.
What is the only other respect in which it could even be alleged that we are increasing the power of the House of Lords? It is that we have said that, inasmuch as the Parliament Act in its own terms has asserted a principle under which legislation may be passed, that that important Act shall to this extent be treated as being written and fundamental legislation in the sense in which those technical terms are understood in Latin countries—that its own terms, which are the only scanty charter we have left to us, shall not be affected without a direct and specific appeal to the people. If that is to increase the power of the Lords, to that extent we are increasing it. But I cannot believe that any noble Lord will dispute the reasonableness and the justice of that claim. I say that had it been honourably avoidable, had it been possible for us consistently with our pledges, our obligations and our duty to avoid or postpone this constitutional issue, I for one would gladly so have avoided and so have postponed it. We have reached the clear conclusion that we are entitled and bound to carry this matter forward. I am not discouraged and I shall not be discouraged by Parliamentary criticisms here or elsewhere, for with no small experience of the feelings of this country I am satisfied that we have a quarrel here 901 which we can carry to the issue and bar of public opinion, and I for one shall approach that appeal in a spirit of confidence and hope.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
My Lords, I cannot but feel that after the brilliant speech to which your Lordships have just listened I have special need of the indulgence of your Lordships' House. I have neither the wit nor the ability to rival the speech to which your Lordships have just listened. I hope the noble and learned Earl will allow me, in trying to answer the question which he has put to me in regard to the attitude of the Liberal Party, to say that I think the criticisms which he has made were entirely fair. I have no sort of complaint to make of the terms in which he referred to the Liberal Party, and I shall do my best in the course of my remarks to give an answer to the question he has asked.
I think I have some reason to hope for your indulgence, because I cannot but feel that the question asked me and my noble friends was not really so important as the questions which were really sot to their own supporters by His Majesty's Government. It was far more important to His Majesty's Government to know what was thought by the noble Duke who opened the discussion this afternoon than what might be thought by the members of the Liberal Party. It was of paramount importance that, they should ascertain as soon as possible whether they had the support of their own followers or not. I confess I was unable to follow the argument of the noble Duke. He assumed that the country would support the change which is proposed, because it would create a stronger Upper House, and he advocated these suggestions which have been made because they constituted an hereditary Upper House. For my own part it seems to me that the less this House is hereditary the more popular will be its support and the stronger it will be. The more you infringe the hereditary principle in this House the more likely it is to secure the support of the people in this country. I do not suppose that His Majesty's Government will be surprised to know that, in so far as the plan that they have outlined receives the support of what I might call their own extremists, the less likely is it to receive the support of the Liberal Party. When the time comes I hope that my noble 902 friends will support the Amendment that has been put down in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Arran.
I am glad that we have had this interval in which to consider the proposals of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. It is quite evident that important constitutional changes of this kind need long consideration before any useful opinion can be pronounced upon them. These things should never be done in a hurry. We heard the silver eloquence of the noble and learned Viscount, who was well able to skate over thin ice or, if I may change the metaphor, to direct the attention of your Lordships to distant prospects and to divert it from the precipices near which he was really moving. The interval has given us an opportunity of realising how near to those precipices the suggestions of the noble and learned Viscount really came and how deep the precipices are near which he moved. Therefore it is that with some diffidence I venture to put before your Lordships the reasons why we are unable to support the suggestions of His Majesty's Government in this matter.
In the first place, however, I should like to say that I do feel that the proposals of His Majesty's Government are a very remarkable tribute to the action of my noble friend Lord Oxford and Asquith. One of the most important acts of his career was the passage of the Parliament Act through the Parliament of this country. The noble and learned Viscount has said that the Government have no intention of repealing or making any vital alteration in that Act. That is a matter of very sincere congratulation to the members of the Liberal Party. Let us remember what the principle of that Act is. It is that it should be possible for the Government of the day to pass into law a measure which they recommend to Parliament within the lifetime of a single Parliament. Although His Majesty's Government may not mean to interfere, I hope to show your Lordships in a few moments that their proposals might be carried to a very different conclusion.
This is, of course, a difficult matter to discuss. It includes the two allied questions of the powers and the constitution of your Lordships' House. I think that those of your Lordships who have gone 903 into the question will find that there are almost as many opinions as to how your Lordships' House should be constituted as there are people with whom you begin to discuss the subject. Everybody has his own panacea for the reform of your Lordships' House, and that panacea is bound up with the question of the powers which it is thought that your Lordships' House should have. Let me say in passing that I am on the whole inclined to agree with what was said by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Haldane, two days ago, to the effect that the best remedy would probably be found in a method of election by members of the House of Commons. It is probably in that direction that we must look to find a solution of the difficult problem of how to constitute this House. We are in another difficulty with regard to this matter to-night. It was obviously difficult for His Majesty's Government to speak with precision upon the proposals which they had to put before your Lordships' House. There are important questions such as the proportion of nominated Peers to hereditary Peers, and there was the question—a very important one—of the selection of the joint Committee which they proposed should be elected. I am sure that the more light His Majesty's Government can throw upon these subjects the better we shall be pleased.
The real criticism that I wish to make of the proposals of His Majesty's Government is this: that, though not directly, indirectly they might very easily lead to the total repeal of the Parliament Act. It might come about in this way. Let us suppose these proposals pass through your Lordships' House and have become law and another Government takes the place of that which now rules this country. I do not suppose that the present Government would do anything of the kind, but I say that it is possible that a subsequent Government might proceed to repeal the Parliament Act. What then would be the position in which we found ourselves? We shall be in a far worse position than at present, and even in a worse position than we were in before the passing of the Parliament Act. At that time there were powers to create a majority in your Lordships' House. But imagine what would happen if this proposal passed into law. It would be impossible to create a 904 sufficient number of Peers to pass a measure into law within the lifetime of a single Parliament. You might have to wait for the period of four years which, I think, was adumbrated by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack as being the period before which no fresh election to this House could take place. Indeed you might have to wait eight years before you were able to nominate so many Peers as to influence the proportions of your Lordships' House and secure a sufficient majority to obtain the passage into law of a Bill which the Government of the day was anxious to pass.
It is on account of that possibility in the future that it is quite impossible for my noble friends and myself to support the proposals of His Majesty's Government. I am not concerned particularly to defend anything that was done by the Coalition Government. None, I think, of my noble friends beside me were members of that Government, and indeed I am not sure that I would not be prepared to say that the proposals read out by the noble and learned Earl are really another proof that Coalitions are inexpedient for the government of this country and that it is better that we should be governed in the old traditional way. But I do say that the position of any Liberal or Labour Government which found that the proposals of His Majesty's Government had been carried and that on a subsequent occasion the Parliament Act had been revoked would really be an impossible position. It would mean a permanent Conservative majority in this House. As I say, I am quite sure that the present Government do not intend to take any action of that kind, but the proposals do lay themselves open to a dangerous course of action which other Governments might be prepared to take.
Naturally it is not only of the present condition of things that the Liberal Party think to-day, not only of the constitution of the House or the attendance of the House. What we think of is what happened between 1906 and 1910. The Government, with an overwhelming majority in another place, brought in one Bill after another that had been discussed at the General Election and for one or two years before. The Education Bill and the Licensing Bill were 905 both rejected, other measures were constantly altered and emasculated, and provisions to which we attached importance were cut out. We feel that your Lordships' House is too ready to work hard when there is a Liberal or Labour Government in office but may not be ready to act with the same independence when a Conservative Government is enjoying power. I am bound to say that when I look back upon those years when the Liberal Government of 1906 was in power, it is quite evident that a very real reform, going further than that suggested by His Majesty's Government, is necessary. If there was a Scottish Bill before your Lordships, the night trains from Scotland brought relays of Scottish Peers to your Lordships' House and they, helped by noble Lords who enjoyed English titles, would cut about the proposals of His Majesty's Government. And when we had gone through Committee stage on a Scottish Bill the same thing would happen with regard to an Irish Bill, when noble Lords would come over from Ireland and revolutionise the measures we had proposed.
I feel to-day, as I felt then, that it was a very great mistake on the part of individual members of the House to constitute themselves both judge and jury in the same cause. They were advocates and then voted upon the decision. I cannot help thinking that in those days it would have been far wiser on their part if, having put their case before the House, they had abstained from giving any vote on the questions which interested them so keenly, and that may become the unwritten law of this country in the future. I ask myself whether there is anything in these proposals of the Government which will prevent anything of the kind happening in the future. One result, at any rate, will be that what has been de facto the case will become de facto the law of the land—that Peers who did not attend will not attend in the future, because they cannot attend, and that seems to me to be but a small measure of reform. It gives very little chance to a Liberal or Labour Government to secure in this House a majority, or anything approaching a majority, unless a very much larger measure of reform is brought in than is at present indicated.
906 We want efficiency in this House, and I ask again whether this measure of reform will give it. More than one member of your Lordships' House has said, and I think there is general admission, that more representation is wanted of minorities than exists now. I make no criticism of the quality of the Labour members of this House, but we want more of them, and the more of them we have, representing every section of the Labour Party the better we shall be pleased. I hope we may have representatives of that extremist section of the Labour Party which finds no representation upon the Front Opposition Bench to-day. We want representation of that section of the Labour Party which wants confiscation instead of compensation, and if we are to have merely the present House—I think that is really what it comes to—the present House, consisting of those who generally attend, with a certain proportion of nominated members, it does not seem to me to be a sufficient reform.
There are one or two questions that I should like to put to the Government, and to which I hope they may be able to give some reply. Will the hereditary element retain a majority in the new House, as indicated by their proposals? It is obvious that a great deal depends upon the fact whether or not they propose to retain the hereditary majority. Can they give us any figures to show us what is their idea with regard to the proportion of nominated to hereditary members? Then there is the question of the Joint Committee. I think it is a matter of general admission that it is a weakness in the Parliament Act, and that it would strengthen the Speaker if something were done in this matter. The noble Viscount rightly referred to the War Charges (Validity) Bill. I am afraid I was one who voted against the measure. Something ought to be done to ensure that we can get a sound opinion upon the subject of Money Bills and one which will be generally supported throughout the country. Something on that line will meet with our support. So long, however, as we think we see in the proposals of the Government a House of Lords with a permanent Conservative majority which cannot be altered, we are obliged to oppose the proposals of the Government.
It seems to us that those proposals, unless they are vitally altered by 907 further explanations from the Government, will only enhance the power of your Lordships' House, and for my own part I stand by the Preamble of the Parliament Act—an Act which I shall always be proud of having had some share in passing through this House. The Preamble says that your Lordships' House should be constituted upon a popular basis. I admit the difficulty, but although Committees, from the Bryce Committee onwards, have considered the matter, it would be stupid to suggest that the matter was entirely insoluble. We do not wish to stereotype existing circumstances, and therefore we shall support in the Lobby the Amendment to be moved by Lord Arran, who asks that a General Election should take place before the proposals are carried into law. There was a General Election on the Parliament Act, and upon the Parliament Act alone, and when there is a question of introducing further reforms into the House we think it not unreasonable to ask that another General Election should take place.
§ VISCOUNT SUMNER
My Lords, the course which this debate has taken since it commenced on Monday has, I think, at any rate demonstrated this, that there is no failure of any scheme of House of Lords reform to arouse interest, and that therefore there is no ground for your regarding further discussion of the question as inopportune and unprofitable. It is a long time since any discussion has aroused so much interest in Your Lordships' House, and we have at the present moment, I understand, as ninny more noble Lords to hear as those who have already spoken. If that is right the foundation has already gone from the Amendment which the noble Duke has proposed, and as I have heard no one say one word in support of its principle, I take it the noble Duke stands alone in the House as its supporter.
There is another Amendment which has not been moved but has only been expounded to us by Lord Arran, and it is interesting to learn that it is that Amendment which, when it is moved, the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, and his friends, propose to support. What is the inference to be drawn from that? It is that Lord Beauchamp and his friends are not prepared to say by their votes 908 that they would not welcome a reasonable measure limiting and defining the membership of the House of Lords and dealing with certain defects which are inherent in the provisions of the Parliament Act. It is not disputed that the Parliament Act is defective. Everyone of its parents recognises that there was something less than perfection. It is not possible to dispute that there can be no unlimited and undefined membership of this House, except through the right of every Peer on accession to his title to attend here upon receiving his Summons. That is the only unlimited and undefined characteristic in the membership of this House.
And yet, singularly enough, the noble Earl and his friends, instead of challenging that proposition, prefer either to allow the Motion to pass in silence, or perhaps even to honour it with their lips with a more or less half-hearted consent. And I think at bottom it is fair to say that there is nobody in the House, except the occupants of the Front Opposition Bench, who is prepared to dispute one single word of the proposition which my noble friend Lord FitzAlan of. Der-went advanced to your Lordships. Speaking for myself, I thought that Motion was safe and carried when he sat down. It was presented to your Lordships so tersely and so effectively, with such firmness, such moderation, and, if I may say so, such wisdom as have not in my knowledge ever commended a Motion to the House before on its first introduction. I think and I trust that that Motion is safe of passing your Lordships' House.
May I say a word more upon the point in Lord Arran's proposal that is attractive to Lord Beauchamp and his friends? That point is that the present Government, with a large majority in the House of Commons and a considerable amount of support shall we say? in the country outside, have no mandate to introduce a measure of this kind at all. It seems a little singular that, if it should be the will of the House of Commons, led by the present Government, to present to this House a measure of that kind, the doctrine should be invoked that the will of the House of Commons is not to prevail in a single Parliament. It is one exception, I suppose, to the general rule. This is that single Parliament in which 909 the will of the people as expressed by the House of Commons is not to prevail. It seems inconsistent. But, of course, the doctrine of mandates, recent, I think, in constitutional history, and complicated as it is, is one to which it is popular to appeal.
But may I point out that it comes ill from the noble Earl and his friends to appeal to that principle on this occasion. If a mandate is wanted the Preamble to the Act of 1911 is that mandate. It is not customary of recent years to embody Preambles in Statutes, but when it is done it is done for the purpose of recording that in the view of the Legislature there is a certain step which ought to be taken, or a certain end of which ought to be attained. And the Legislature, having at the instance of Mr. Asquith's Administration inserted that Preamble, I submit to your Lordships that it declared, with a declaration which was available to all their successors of whatever Party, that the Legislature of 1911 considered that Act to require further supplementing. I am quite well aware that it is to be supplemented in a different direction from that which the noble Earl and his friends would support. That is obvious, but at the same time if they made no use of the three years or thereabouts during which they had the opportunity of satisfying the demands of that Preamble, why should an attack be made upon a Government of another cast when it proposes to use the same Preamble as its mandate, and to propose an addition, a modification, which I assume its followers in the House of Commons will support?
I can well understand that the history of the years 1906 to 1911 is dear to the noble Earl and his friends. If they cannot regard the Act of 1911 exactly with the pride which belongs to a legitimate offspring, they may at any rate extend to it the affection which often belongs to a natural child. But why we should be regaled with a fresh account of the controversies of 1906 to 1911, sore as they were—they were before my time in your Lordships' House—when we are face to face now with an entirely new combination of circumstances, is more than I can understand. Will your Lordships take notice that, whether the danger of the misuse of the Parliament Act be great or small, it has not affected the mind or 910 the policy of the noble Earl and his friends in the least? Rather than have their pet child treated with unkindness or with want of consideration they are prepared to run the risk held up to us that a use may be made of the Parliament Act by the next Labour Administration which everybody seems to agree would be disastrous. The next Administration, as an alternative to the present Government, may possibly not be a Labour Administration. Liberalism has great forces in the country, latent it may be, but in skilful hands they may be made great use of before another General Election. But, at any rate, the chance, that power may not be in the hands of the noble Earl's friends after the next Election, but may be in hands which would make worse use of it, is not one that has affected him or the course he proposes to take on this occasion one whit.
Now, this discussion began, and I beg to remind you that it will end, as a discussion upon the Motion of my noble friend Lord FitzAlan. But, of course, the very important course that was taken by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack introduced a totally different aspect into the formal discussion that was taking place, because for the first time, I think, as the spokesman of a united Government, fulfilling the pledges which, as they all recognise and always have recognised, were given by their Leader before or at the General Election, he explained in outline the changes they are prepared to recommend to Parliament within its present lifetime. I think it is one of the wisest steps that the Government could have taken, and, if I may be allowed to do so, I should like to thank the Government on your Lordships' behalf—I trust with your support—for the courtesy shown to this House in giving it timely notice of the plans, which are in formation, because it is this House which is most concerned in the matter. It is the assent of this House which is required to the passing of any such measure, and it is therefore right and most considerate that we should have the maximum of time to digest and consider the plan which is proposed.
But, all the same, although the advantage is great, and we shall avail ourselves fully of the opportunity, it is not a mere formality to say that we are 911 not discussing now, and not voting now, upon the proposals of the Government; we are only discussing those proposals for the purpose of elucidating their meaning, for the purpose of conveying our own present impressions on the matter, and thereby rendering the Government, as I believe, the greatest service that is in our power, by putting it in possession of the mind of the House, while there is still time on the one hand to modify its proposals, if it should think fit, and still time on the other hand for opinion in this House to mould itself to the Government's proposals. None the less the part of the discussion which relates to the speech of the noble and learned Viscount is to the full as important as the part of the discussion which relates to the original Motion.
Before I say what I should like to say about the outlines of the Bill, I should like to put to your Lordships briefly this question: Are you or are you not satisfied that the danger of the present situation, if nothing is done to amend the Parliament Act or to alter the constitution of the House, is imminent and grave? Your Lordships will no doubt have observed that, from the beginning of this discussion and in many previous discussions also, it has been pointed out, that within the four corners of the Parliament Act it is possible lawfully in slightly more than two years for a determined Government, backed by a resolute and a determined electorate, to pass a series of measures which would destroy the Constitution as we know it and hamstring the political Party which is opposed to extreme measures. It has been pointed out that, within the strict and correct definition of a Money Bill, it would be possible to introduce by financial measures changes of the most far-reaching character in the whole system of industry and of private capital.
I shall not detain your Lordships by dilating upon this. I would, however, remind you of the strong body of economic advisers that the Labour Party can command, men whose talents are great and whose interest in public affairs seems to be principally on the financial and economic side, and I would suggest to you that on a topic like this they enjoy the best advice it is possible to command. Any one who, as I have wasted my leisure in doing, will try to frame a two or 912 three-clause Finance Bill, by which you can confiscate, let us say, all railway property or most industrial property, in such a form that no Speaker, no Joint Committee and no lawyer could deny that it deserved the name of Money Bill, which is all we have in the Act, will be astonished to see how much could be done by a resolute, determined, well-advised and well-directed Government desirous of doing so. No one has said that the views expressed by the Lord Chancellor, by my noble friend and others with regard to what it is possible to do under the wording of the present Parliament Act, are not correct. What has been said by the noble and learned Viscount opposite is that if you did not commit these things to lawyers, who, not being trained politicians, are not trained to interpret measures of this kind, but left them to those who understand the minds of the people who passed the measure, you would get a better result. That may be so, but I have not heard it disputed by anybody that, as the Act stands, the ruin of our Constitution of which we have been told is possible. All I say is that, if that is to happen, it is not the law that will help you. Neither law nor lawyers nor Courts, as the Act stands, can come between you and that ruin.
A word or two as to the prospects of such a Bill. I do not stand here as an alarmist and I am prepared to say that I wish to give as much fair consideration to the views and The claims of the Labour Party as is consistent with not agreeing with those views. I am certainly strong in the opinion that our first duty to an opponent and to ourselves is to try to understand him and as far as possible to ascertain his mind and the reasoning and the ideals that prompt his policy. It is only so that we can do justice to him and to ourselves. Some of your Lordships will perhaps be tempted to say "Peace in our time! Things are quiet now. The coal strike is over, the General Strike is over, the sympathetic strike may soon be a thing of the past. Why bother?" You may be influenced by the circumstance, to which perhaps we pay an excessive amount of attention, that in this House the Labour Party and its views are represented by a body of men—feeble in numbers but in nothing else—of most extraordinarily conciliatory appearance and demeanour. Even when the noble and learned Viscount chastens 913 us and reminds us, as he did the other day, that, if we once endeavour to add one ounce to the power of this House, the consequences will be very serious and the controversy very bitter, he rebukes us with the mild indulgence of a nurse troubled with a pack of unruly urchins and desiring to call them to order. When his colleagues dilate upon their particular branches of the political cause to which they have attached themselves they again abstain from the more lurid expressions and the more menacing sentences which I gather from what I read in The Times are sometimes hurled at the Front Benches from the Back Benches of another place. But then the leaders here do not lead the Party. The leaders here have, I dare say, their own means of communication with those who do lead the Labour Party, but, so far as I can judge from what we see and hear of them, they receive perhaps enough attention but no very great amount of attention from them.
Just consider what is not only possible but likely. Four years ago the advent to office of a Socialist Government would have seemed most unlikely. In 1924 we had a Labour Government which held its own for nearly twelve months and made at any rate a gallant attempt to deal with a new task with somewhat inadequate materials. Such has been the rapidity of their progress that now the probability is that sooner or later—I do not ask whether it is sooner or later—a Socialist Government is the alternative to a Conservative Government. The Party, which supports them with a zeal and an expenditure of time and thought, and voice that we on our side might envy, has been held up in the prosecution of demands which it considers just. It has seen its Government in office once and has been disappointed. What will be the demand of that Party next time when, as some time must be the case, its members and its forces are sufficient to return a Government which can govern and not merely hold office? They will have, and must have, a long list of drastic and far-reaching measures, to which they will consider they are entitled and about which they make no secret that from their point of view they are entitled, and, whether their particular hue be Radical or Labour or Marxian Socialist, or even something more extreme than that, they will inevitably con- 914 sider that their desires, as expressed successfully at the polls, must prevail and that any constitutional conventions or any constitutional rules that stand in the way are mere rubbish that ought to be scrapped.
Put yourselves in their place. Consider their education, their past, and their ideals, and ask yourselves if they are likely to do anything else. The Parliament Act was all very well when it was entirely a matter of dispute between Liberals and Conservatives. The Liberals had a use for the House of Lords; they profited by the use they made of it in many cases and they did not want to destroy it. Therefore the danger to which the loopholes in this Act exposed the House of Lords was one that might be regarded as not very serious so long as politics were in the hands of two Parties only and those Parties held by the conventions ruling for many generations. This is completely altered when you have a third Party. It is completely altered when you have the likelihood of minority elections, where three-cornered fights may produce a very singular result in the relation between the principles of those voting and the principles of those elected. It will be altered all the more, beyond the possibility of our foreseeing, by the circumstance that we expect to have a large increase, estimated at some millions, in the number of the electorate. That may be or may not be entirely desirable, but the addition will be an inexperienced class, likely for many years to be amenable to sudden impulses in the direction of change.
In those circumstances what will be the position if, as is said in the passage which the noble Viscount quoted from a draft programme of the next Labour Government, the House of Lords stands in the way of that Government,securing itself, so far as possible, against political sabotage"?Their lawyers will then tell them that the Parliament Act is their resource. The law has forged the sword, the law has sharpened the sword, why in the name of goodness should not they take it up and use it? That is what they will ask themselves and I want to know what is the answer to it. The only answer to it at present is that it is not a thing that 915 orthodox politicians would do, but their answer is that they care nothing at all about political orthodoxy. They have their own code, their own ideals and, what is more, a great deal of power.
Would your Lordships notice this? There is a passage, the next to the one that I have just read, in which the writer said:—.… the Labour Party must be prepared to deal with that obsolete survival, the House of Lords, in prompt and drastic fashion. Before taking office it should receive an assurance that in case of need a sufficient number of Peers would be created to carry a Bill for the abolition of the House of Lords.I quite understand how the Lord Chancellor came to say that this was silly and outrageous nonsense, but I think I can show your Lordships how far the substance of the thing is from being nonsense, because the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, declared, after reading that passage to your Lordships, that unless the power of getting enough Peers created to carry such a Bill remained in the hands of the Prime Minister of the day, of whatever politics he was, constitutional government would be impossible. And in an oration so vigorous that I think it must have been intended to be audible outside the walls of this House—it was certainly not very appropriate to your Lordships' surroundings—he justified that position, and said not one word to suggest that it was an extreme case and that we must not take it that a responsible Labour politician would take that view. That means that in the view of these gentlemen, with the support of the noble and learned Lord opposite as a constitutional authority, the first thing that might have to be done in order to get rid of us would be to ask for the creation of enough Peers to carry a Bill for the abolition of the House of Lords.
I do not know to what extent on that occasion we should find ourselves following the cry which the noble Duke uttered in moving his Amendment, which invited us to resist to the death, against all risks and all numbers. I imagine that the creation of sufficient Peers for the purpose would be quite enough to put an end to the Peerage as we know it, and it would be intended to do so. What is the good of creating some hundreds of Peers unless you carefully select persons who will be so incompatible with the existing Peerage as to bring the insti- 916 tution to an end with as much rapidity as possible? I am not controversially arguing whether that is right or wrong. When people get Parliamentary power at a General Election they have to decide what they think right or wrong. I therefore invite your Lordships, if there are any waverers among you on the point, to regard the danger of leaving the Parliament Act as it is. I am of opinion that the Government are well warranted in deciding that they are pledged to take steps within the life of the present Parliament to carry out what they propose in regard to the Parliament Act.
There are noble Lords who have a strong feeling—more than a sentimental feeling too—against laying hands at all upon the ancient constitution of this House, next to the Monarchy the most ancient portion of our civil institutions. And with that feeling I can sympathise. I think I can well understand it. But where is that to lead us? Are your Lordships pleased with the present situation in which we stand? Does it strike you as being exactly what the dignity of your Lordships' order and your place in the Constitution ought to result in, that we should hold those decorous—too decorous because so uninteresting—debates that are required to take place until, somewhere towards the third week in July, we are provided with other business to do? We have our Wednesday afternoon lectures when we are addressed upon a varying choice of subjects—the League of Nations and matters of that sort, or electricity, or the misdoings of what are called rentiers or the hard lot of His Majesty's coloured subjects in various parts of the world. Those discussions we listen to with respect but with patience. I am often reminded when I listen to them of the working man who said, in regard to certain conduct of his wife: "Well, it amuses her and it don't do me any harm."
These discussions are repeated with remarkably little change until another place has got sufficiently through with its work to send us something to do. We have had but little to do lately except to listen to or take part in those dicussions. Sometimes they are a little drowsy, sometimes, if I may dare to say so, a little dull, but they hardly seem to be discussions worthy the assemblage of fifty or sixty noble Lords until it is time to go 917 out and have tea. How do your Lordships like another incident which occurs annually in our procedure? At the end of July or the beginning of August—it depends on the arrangements in another place—Bills are showered upon as thick and fast, and we are called upon by a kind of informal guillotine Resolution to get them through and be quick about it. It is done in various ways. A former Leader of the House rather addressed us in a tone of: "Now, get on with your work; the gentlemen are waiting to go home." The noble Marquess who now leads the House and who so often and so feelingly protested against that in the past, is good enough to repeat his protest when he has to perform this unwelcome task now—but the result is always the same, and he cannot help it. We either have to pass things without discussion or sit late at night to discuss them. At any rate the Bills have to be got rid of and sent back to the other House quickly, and that is done. On these occasions your Lordships remind me of the kind of advertisement we see of a horse for sale: "Nice manners, quiet to ride or drive, has carried a lady."
Do your Lordships think that this gilt-cage kind of performance is exactly what this House ought to be engaged in, not in its own interests, not for the sake of its own dignity, but for the sake of rendering that service to the country which it is its highest pride to perform and for which it has the greatest qualifications? You hear objections taken to what is called the hereditary principle and there are some who would apparently rather go to the death than see the hereditary principle continued for a single hour, just as some noble Lords would go to the death rather than let a single impious hand be laid upon the institution. I can well understand zeal for it. But what is the hereditary principle? It is a great deal more than a principle, it is a fact. The Peerage has been for upwards of two centuries the great repository in this country of administrative experience and public service. It is in its ranks that it has always been possible to find men with traditions of administrative experience, with devotion to the public service that has been the badge of their families, and, may it be added, who are not too ambitious and certainly not too 918 ill satisfied with their lot as it is to be over insistent on demands for rewards for their services. Destroy that—and that is what is meant by destroying the hereditary principle—and you will destroy once and for all a repository of political and administrative experience which is not to be found in any other country and which cannot be replaced by any other political system. That may be a poor defence of your Lordships' House, but that is really what is, at bottom, the vital value of the hereditary principle.
Now, I think that if we find in the proposals of the Government a serious endeavour to conserve the House as it is, and the hereditary principle as a just and considerable constituent in the House, to protect it from the risk of random and ill-considered onslaughts which it has no means of resisting, and to ensure that it will have an opportunity of rendering public service in a legislative as well as an administrative and official character, the Government deserves the welcome which any Government is entitled to ask for seriously considered measures. And, if I may say so, this Government is particularly entitled to receive it because it has for the first time taken the responsibility and the burden of making concrete and authoritative proposals for legislative change in this tangled and difficult subject.
I only wish to dwell very briefly upon the concrete measures which have been proposed. I think the Lord Chancellor's exposition may be put in this way. There were two things to be considered. One is the safeguarding of the institution as we have it from the dangers to which it has been exposed by the ill-considered clauses of the Parliament Act. The other is the reconstitution of the institution as we have it so as to base it upon some different principle and thereby qualify it for the receipt of powers that are usually confined to those who have been elected by the people. That is a perfectly logical, simple and intelligible division. The next step is that the Government are about to fulfil the Prime Minister's pledge to carry out the reform within the framework of the Parliament Act, and it is a question in their minds whether it is within the framework of the Parliament Act to reconstitute our membership on the principle of popular election or not. They have come to the conclusion that it is not within the Parliament Act, but 919 would involve going outside its scope, and in their view of constitutional practice they think that that is not a matter to be undertaken, or one to which they are pledged, without submitting it to the country at another General Election.
Just as the question of a mandate is a question for the Government to decide, and not for us, so I think we must recognise that the Government, having the responsibility of making proposals, are entitled to interpret the framework and the scope of the Parliament Act for themselves. If they consider that the wording of the pledges given would be exceeded by introducing a compact scheme for a complete reconstitution by the insertion of an elected element, we must not only bow to their decision but we should on this occasion recognise it as probably very wise. They have only a limited amount of time left and we all desire that a measure should be passed. Nothing that has been said, so far as I know, in any way purports to commit either the Government or your Lordships upon the subject of further amendment on a future occasion, if it should be found to be desirable. I think there were passages in the Lord Chancellor's speech which state this with clarity, and the only thing I have heard to the contrary is a sentence which fell from my noble friend the Secretary of State for India, that after spending three years excogitating the reform of the House of Lords, alone with other things, he had come to the conclusion that there was no satisfactory way by which you could reinforce it by an elective element. That may be so. I do not propose to discuss at present whether any extension of the House by introducing an elected element is desirable or not. All I desire to say is that I understand that to remain open, and I think it likely that the course of events may make this a concrete question which will have to be dealt with. There, I think, we may leave it.
The other side of the question is this: Is the proposal to have a certain number of nominated Peers within the Parliament Act or not? Is it inconsistent in the Government to propose to include nominated Peers and at the same time refuse to take up the subject of elected Peers There again I take it that their answer is—and it seems to me that we 920 have no quarrel with it—that the principle of the Parliament Act, so far as it has a principle and is not merely an ad hoc measure, is that the King's Government must be carried on, and carried on by Ministers who possess the confidence of the House of Commons. If that is to be done it must be possible for them to get their measures passed, if they have been properly before the electorate, without unreasonable delay. That, at any rate, I think, is the principle of the authors of the Act. I think it goes a little further. If the House of Lords is not so constituted as to make that possible, if it is not possible to find in the House of Lords as it is, or to add to the House, by creation of Peers on the usual scale, a body of men adequate to defend measures and to support the action of the administration to which they belong, then it is right for the purpose of carrying out the object in view to make some addition, or prepare for an addition, to the numbers of the House; and that is what I understand is to be done.
Much in these proposals is still unsettled, and much, I dare say, must be open to discussion. On the other hand, in some matters of detail I have no doubt that your Lordships would be disposed to say that much must be left to the discretion and judgment of the Government, who have to take the responsibility for the proposals and to carry the measure through. But in this matter all that is before us is some adequate proposal to enable a Ministry that is not at the moment fairly represented in this House to do its work here and to give it an opportunity of strengthening its forces by nomination. I have no fault to find with that as a principle. As a matter of principle, I think the Lord Chancellor said, and certainly I agree with him, that nominated members ought to be small in number; but "small" and "large" are words that, until you see them translated into figures, it is impossible to discuss.
I should like, however, to make a further observation on this point, because I am not quite sure whether the exposition that was given us was clear on the point or not. I think it was said that the nominated Peers, like the other Peers, should hold their office for twelve years, subject to the quadrennial retirement. I want to make a suggestion on 921 that point. There is, I think, a danger there of defeating the object that we have in view. The whole object of these nominations is to enable the Government of the day to bring into the House the support that it ought to have. Suppose You have a certain number of nominated places and they have been filled up, then, until one of the quadrennial elections comes round, you have no further places to fill except such casual vacancies as arise by death, and you might in such a case as that find that a Prime Minister, who came into office and required, and was entitled to expect, the opportunity of making these appointments, had no appointments to make, and he and his Party would then have a genuine grievance. In the same way, is it obligatory to fill up these vacancies as they occur, or is it optional? If it is obligatory, then, when first the scheme begins to work, the whole of the places would have to be filled, and a change of Government might leave the House reinforced by a large body of nominated Peers who were by no means in sympathy with the next Government that came in.
I know it is said that this can be guarded against by its being the duty, as it would certainly be the interest, of the Prime Minister making the appointments to consider the future as well as the present and the interests of his opponents as well as his own, and that you would have to rely, as I have no doubt you could properly rely, upon the honour of the Prime Minister to consider both sides. But then you must ask yourself how the other side will like having it left to him. His choice may not be exactly the one that meets his opponent's views, though he and his opponent are both honourable men and both nominees are equally competent persons. It occurs to me that a more effective plan would be to say that the nominated persons should be members of the House during the lifetime of the Government that appoints them. I think it is objectionable to leave it optional whether to fill the places or not, because in that case you have a House which might suddenly have a number of persons added to it whenever the Prime Minister thinks that it is time to do so. If the appointment were made simply for the period of the Ministry that appointed a 922 particular Lord of Parliament, he would then vacate his seat when the Government went out of office, and there would be an opportunity to the next one of filling his place and the object would be attained. That is the only criticism that I have to make upon that particular proposal.
I should like to say a word on the question of Money Bills. Lord Parmoor—I will not say that I am sorry that he as not in his place, because I am sure that he must be tired and has perhaps heard quite enough of this discussion—delivered an argument to your Lordships on his authority as a great constitutional expert, the gist of which was that a Money Bill was a matter of the privileges of the House of Commons, that the appropriateness of the Speaker as the person to decide what was a Money Bill was marked out by the fact that he was the guardian of those privileges, and that therefore this proposal was an unconstitutional attempt on the part of this House to filch two things from the other House: (1), part of its privileges, which, it seems, extend to rates as well as to taxes; and (2), the nomination of the person who is to decide whether a Bill is a Money Bill or not. I hope that I am not disrespectful in saying that I think this argument sophistical. This Bill will never get on to its feet unless it is passed by the House of Commons, and if the House of Commons wishes a change in the present method of deciding whether a Bill is a Money Bill or not, and whether a Bill shall be a Money Bill if it goes, beyond a certain line, there is no question of privileges. It has given up its privileges after it has given its vote for the proposal, and it is no more to us than if the House of Commons were minded to alter its constitution and its privileges one way or another, as no doubt it would be able to do.
As to the definition of a Money Bill, what are the instructions to the composite body which were suggested, not, I think, as the language in which the clause is to be introduced, but as a guide as to the way in which it should be considered? The Bill is to be regarded as a matter of substance rather than of form.
§ VISCOUNT SUMNER
I am obliged to the noble Marquess. One quite understands that, difficult as it is to put the matter into perfectly satisfactory phraseology, that provision is of the utmost value. The public danger that exists in framing as a Money Taxation Bill something that is really a great project of social or economic change is, of course, that a measure which properly and by the Constitution belongs to the consideration of the Second Chamber is illicitly and on illegitimate grounds withdrawn from it. Therefore the instruction to have regard to the substance and effect, and not to the form, of a Bill is, I take it, a direction to consider not merely the means employed in the collection of a tax or the levy of a duty but the object to be attained. I would like to suggest that the words could be strengthened by not merely putting it negatively, that you are to have regard to substance and effect, but also by introducing some words affirmatively, indicating what a Money Bill is, the gist of which would be that a Money Bill is properly a provision for the financial service of the year, and not a method of taking from one class for the benefit of another, or of transferring wealth from those who have got it to those who have not.
With those observations I, for my own part, regard with extreme favour, and as an instalment probably of more to come, these proposals of the Government. I say "an instalment of more to come" because I think that well and wisely managed, as I am quite sure this House is minded that they shall be, the changes proposed here, giving confidence in its own independence and security, will lead to a gain in the authority and reputation of this House which will make the public itself demand that further steps should be taken to give this House further powers and to buttress it with some kind of popular element in the future.
Before I sit down I would like to say this. There are people who accuse us of being greedy for power and of being anxious to repeal the Parliament Act, which we are not; to obtain security for ourselves, which I think is a legitimate aspiration; and of wishing to take power from the House of Commons. 924 I believe that to be entirely fallacious. Power belongs neither to the House of Commons nor to the House of Lords, but to the people. Two or three generations of democracy have taught us that lesson, and we have gone on, step by step, increasing the measure of our democracy, until now our system is such that if democracy wants a thing and organises itself to get it, neither House of Parliament, nor both of them together, can prevent it. A majority of the House of Commons, supporting a Ministry in which it has confidence, either has power to carry out the will of the people then and there, or, if the will of the people has not been so expressed as to be intelligible and clear, it will at any rate get that power whenever the matter is referred to the people and the answer is given clearly.
No, our desire I take it, is to be restored to a greater scope and fertility of what is popularly called service. We desire to be of more use to our country than we are allowed to be at present. We believe ourselves to be capable of being of more use to our country than we are now. We do not think that as a debating society the best use is made of us. We do not think our sole function should be to take page after page of Amendments in Committee, and run through them because they are called drafting Amendments, and we do think that under a constitution which does not break loose from the past, but makes a wise alteration in it, a more balanced arrangement can be arrived at and, if more balanced, then certainly one more peaceful and more durable.
THE DUKE OF BUCCLEUCH
My Lords, I will not take up your Lordships' time for very long, but as, up to the present, all the speakers have been from England, and this Bill affects what we consider a somewhat important part of the country, I hope you will not object to my saying a few words. As I understood the speech of my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack, it is not so much desired by the Government that we should go into details, but what they want to know is whether the House, as a whole, is or is not in favour of the Government scheme. I think the case of Scotland is one which is somewhat in point. At the time of the Union there was apparently a larger proportion of 925 Scottish Peers than English Peers, compared with the importance of the two countries, and at that time, as you are aware, the Scots had not conquered England or developed the British Empire for the benefit of England as well as of Scotland. Consequently, the voice of Scotland was not regarded as of so much importance, and therefore Scottish Peers were only given sixteen seats in this House. But whilst they were given sixteen seats, which had to be decided by election at the beginning of each Parliament, the Scottish Peers were given all the privileges of Peers of Great Britain, except the right to sit in this House.
What is proposed, I understand, with regard to your Lordships, is that if any of you fail to be elected to sit in this House you will be in exactly the same position as Scottish Peers not elected to this House have been in for over 200 years. I think that is a fairly good precedent and one which, on the whole, has worked well. Although there are a certain number of Scottish Peers—not many—who are disappointed, on the whole the arrangement has worked well and given satisfaction. At the time of the Union there was considerable opposition, and still is, because some people would sooner have a separate Government for Scotland, but no one, I think, can controvert the opinion that it has been infinitely better for Scotland, and also England, that the Union took place. Scotland has helped a great deal towards the progress of England, and England has helped a great deal towards the success of Scotland, and those who would prefer to go back to the old system are but grasping at the shadow and missing the substance. I think it is the same in regard to this question, and that it would be a very great mistake if, given this opportunity, your Lordships should grasp at the shadow and miss the substance.
What I think we have to consider is not so much how details affect us but what is really good for the country. During the discussion there has been too much said as to how the proposals will affect one Party of the country or another. What is really required is some measure of reform which will commend itself to the country at large. A good deal has been said about nominated members, but 926 as no one knows how many will be elected and how many nominated by the Government of the day, it is not of much use discussing that question, although, of course, whether you will like the proposals or not will undoubtedly depend to a large extent upon the number to be elected to sit here. I think also that some noble Lords were rather alarmed as to what would happen if a large number of the Socialist Party had seats in your Lordships' House. So far as I know, up to the present the noble and learned Viscount the Leader of the Opposition and the turbulent spirits who are his colleagues have not in any way infringed upon the decorum of your Lordships' House; and I think that even if there were large numbers of that Party in the House, either the chilliness or the stuffiness of the atmosphere of this House would prevent their having any effect upon your Lordships' sensibilities. And if changes were made in the composition of this House—and it is not inconceivable that changes may have to be made in our procedure—it does not matter as long as the business of the country can be properly carried on; though I must say for myself I should have preferred if some of those members who are not to be elected by your Lordships had been elected by the House of Commons, instead of being nominated by the Government.
There is a considerable feeling of sympathy in the country for your Lordships' House, and I do not think the feeling against it on the whole is very great. But even those who are in favour of it do not by any means consider its constitution perfect, and, though they may not expect to have a perfect Second Chamber provided, they consider that a large number of practical alterations can be made in the composition of your Lordships' House, which will enable it to carry out its functions. The mass of the people of the country would like to have a proper Second Chamber with a sense of responsibility for its position and its duties. Several speakers have referred to the small number of Peers who attend our debates with any regularity, and the large number who never attend at all. It must always be remembered that of those who do not attend there is a very large number in the public Services, the Army and Navy and the Colonial and other administrative Services, both at 927 home and abroad. There are, unfortunately, a large number who are not able to afford to come here; but, over and above that, there is a great number who practically never come to your Lordships' House unless some very big question is to the fore—the Peers commonly called "backwoodsmen," who, though they may never have taken part in our proceedings, may on some occasion be able to turn a Division on some very important question. It is those Peers that the feeling of the country is against, and under the proposals of the Government, if they would not be eliminated altogether, their numbers would be reduced.
With reference to Scottish Peers, there is one thing about which I should like to warn your Lordships. There are 16 Scottish Peers elected, and each Peer has 16 votes, and if one Party has a majority it can put in all its nominees. As a matter of fact, there are not enough competitors for it to matter much, but I do hope that in a reconstituted House there will be some representative system, say, one Peer one vote, so that the opinions of everyone will have a chance to be represented, and so that a temporary majority may not elect just those they like and leave the other Parties in the lurch. I think the real point we have to attend to is what is for the good of the country. These proposals are very moderate proposals. Many of us would probably have liked the proposals in both directions to be more far-reaching, but at least a House reconstituted on the lines suggested will be a House full of men who have given their time to the affairs of the country, who have plenty of experience and who feel their responsibility.
When my noble friend Lord Birkenhead was speaking of the new Peers he omitted to say that nearly all of those Peers who have previously served in the House of Commons, and even the bulk of the hereditary Peers who have previously sat in the House of Commons, have greatly benefited by their experience in that House and have taken a great interest in the work of your Lordships' House. I feel that what the country wants is to get rid of those who are irresponsible, and, although these proposals will not satisfy everyone, they will give considerable confidence that even those measures to which the 928 majority of this House are specially opposed will have fair treatment at your hands. The country will have confidence in this Assembly, and these proposals will therefore contribute to true progress, and possibly avert civil strife and bloodshed. I hope that your Lordships will accept the Motion of my noble friend, and that the majority of your Lordships will favourably consider the proposals outlined by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack.
§ VISCOUNT ASTOR
My Lords, there is one point which has been made by several speakers with which I find myself in complete agreement. Several noble Lords this afternoon have emphasised the fact that undoubtedly on certain occasions the Upper House ought to be able to stand up successfully to the Lower House. Where I think I should differ from some of your Lordships who have spoken is as to the frequency and the nature of those occasions. Undoubtedly some noble Lords who have spoken would like to reject, hold up or disembowel measures which personally I think ought to go through with the support of this House. But I do contemplate the desirability on certain definite occasions, on certain constitutional issues, of the Upper House being able to stand up successfully to the Lower House.
Before examining in a little detail the Government's proposals, I should like to interpose one question on a matter which has not been mentioned by any spokesman of the Government. Your Lordships will remember that a year ago and two years ago, when I tried to persuade you to admit Peeresses to this House, it was made quite clear by the spokesman of the Government that any measure of reform must be accompanied by the admission of Peeresses. I hope that before this discussion ends some representative of the Government will tell us how it is proposed to have Peeresses in the Upper House—whether the 20 Peeresses in their own right are to be part of the electorate which selects the Peers, or whether the representation of women is to depend upon the nominated element.
As regards the proposals of the Government there are three points which I want to put before your Lordships. First of all, we should examine the proposals to see whether in fact this House, as reconstituted under the Government's pro- 929 posals, will be a more effective safeguard and bulwark against dangerous, revolutionary Communistic legislation; secondly, whether it will prove an unnecessary and unreasonable check on those measures of social reform to ameliorate the conditions of the people which are sent up periodically to your Lordships' House; and thirdly, what will be the effect which the changes proposed by the Government will have upon the three Parties at the next Election. Now, as I understand the Government proposals, they will definitely strengthen the hereditary influence in your Lordships' House. First of all, they will make the Upper House as an hereditary institution less vulnerable by eliminating the 200 or 250 Peers who either have never come into the House or else attended very seldom. Secondly, the Government's proposals will ensure that the hereditary influence is to occupy a dominating influence in the House. Thirdly, they will perpetuate and entrench this particular form of representation because they are to take away from the Crown the right to appoint Peers to sit in the Upper House. I understand that the proposals also contemplate that the House of Commons shall not be able to amend the constitution of the reformed Upper House under the Parliament Act.
The proposals will therefore increase the power of heredity in the machinery of government. This is a very important result. I suggest to your Lordships that it conflicts entirely with the development of the machinery of government in all countries. Monarchies are safe where Monarchies are what is called constitutional and have graciously and gracefully given up their hereditary powers to the elected representatives of the people. What are the probable results of this? I am afraid that it may mean a more constant interference, a more constant attempt to retard progressive social legislation. One only has to study the history of social reform during the last century to see that the great measures for improving the conditions of women and children and the conditions of the people in this country generally have in the main only passed in spite of the very frequent opposition of the Upper House. I fear very much that an amended House may try and use the powers, which it at present possesses but does not always use, to amend or hold up measures which 930 undoubtedly the country at large demands.
The point which I wish to discuss is whether the proposed alterations in the constitution of the House of Lords are likely to make the Upper House better able successfully to resist any dangerous revolutionary proposal that may be sent up by what I shall call—in order not to offend anybody's susceptibilities—a Bolshevist Government. Let us imagine a Bolshevist and Communist Government sending up a proposal definitely dangerous to the Constitution of this country. The Upper House in such a position ought to be able to hold it up for two years under the Parliament Act in order to allow public opinion to make itself felt or, as I think, in such a case it ought to be able to refer the issue to the people at a General Election. I have no fear whatever of the verdict of the people on such an issue if a fair issue could be put before the electorate, but if the Upper House is mainly hereditary, if the hereditary element of the Upper House dominates the proceedings, there is no doubt whatever that the revolutionary Government, which is trying to pass the hypothetical proposal which we are contemplating, would attempt to befog the issue by claiming that the hereditary unrepresentative Upper House was challenging the rights of the elected representatives of the people. In such circumstances I should have grave misgivings as to the result of the popular vote. The point I wish to put is that an amended Upper House, where the hereditary influence is increased and predominates, is less likely to be a bulwark and safeguard against revolutionary proposals than a House whose constitution has been much more drastically altered.
I should not have taken part in this discussion if I had merely spoken as a critic, for nothing is so unhelpful as a critic with no alternative proposals. There are two alternatives to heredity—one is election and the other is nomination. My noble friend the Earl of Birkenhead has stated the case against having any large addition of elected members to your Lordships' House. I should like to emphasise the fact that the simpler the constitution of this or any other House the better. There is considerable risk in getting the country to accept a House the constitution of which is not simple, and it is because of 931 that that I should myself prefer as far as possible to have it on one basis, either elected or nominated. It is difficult to defend a House partly hereditary and partly elected, or partly elected and partly nominated. I would like to suggest to your Lordships that the principle, which the Government have adumbrated, of an addition of nominated members, should be amplified and extended. I agree entirely that at the initiation, in order to provide continuity, the reformed Upper House should be mainly hereditary and appointed by the seven hundred Peers. The numbers which have been indicated by the Government are rather excessive. The smaller we can make the House the better the attendance will be. I should myself be quite satisfied with a House of two hundred or even one hundred and fifty. You would get a far better attendance.
I would suggest that this completely hereditary House should be gradually transformed into a nominated House, that every year, or periodically if you like, a definite proportion of the Upper House should retire, that they should be replaced by a nominated element to hold office for ten, twelve or fifteen years, and that the nominated element should be appointed in proportion to the Parliamentary strength of the three Parties for the time being. I would make the further suggestion that the ultimate responsibility of selecting the members of the House should not rest entirely upon the Leaders of the three Parties, but that they should be invited to submit panels consisting of not less than twice and not more than three times the number of members to which their Party is entitled and that some tribunal appointed by the Lord Chancellor or Privy Council should make a final selection out of the panel. I believe in this way we would get a House which would be truly representative, experienced and safe and able more effectively to stand up against revolutionary proposals, if ever such proposals were put forward by what I have called a Bolshevist Government. The noble Duke who spoke just now said, and I agree with him, that the overwhelming majority of your Lordships' House are really anxious to put first and foremost the welfare of the nation. I believe that on many occasions in the past your 932 Lordships have by your actions indicated that. I believe on this occasion there is a real opportunity of sacrifice and service, and that we should consider not so much the defence of our own position and our own privileges, but the setting up of an Upper House which would be able to withstand more effectively any really dangerous anti-constitutional proposals which might be submitted to your Lordships' House.
There is only one further point that I wish to make and that is the effect on the Party to which I belong—and to which I believe most of your Lordships belong—of the Government proposals, at the next Election. I think it is difficult to say that the Government's proposals have been before the country at the last Election or in previous Elections. It is quite true that reform in the abstract has been before the country for the last twenty or even forty years, but no one could say that this particular plan was ever before the country; in fact, the surprise which was expressed two days ago when the Government scheme was outlined indicates that even your Lordships, in the main, had no idea of what the Government's proposals were going to be.
During the last few months I have made a point of discussing this matter with some of my former colleagues and others now in the House of Commons who are members of the Conservative Party and of getting their views on the question of heredity. I have been very much interested to find that the overwhelming majority of the Conservatives whom I consulted said: "For Heaven's sake do not strengthen the hereditary element in the Upper House." Many of them expressed the opinion that if any attempt at reform were made we should be bold and abandon this particular principle of representation. As I see it, there is a real risk of the Party to which most of us belong losing thousands of votes in the industrial centres if such a measure as is proposed is passed; we may be setting up a House which will prove to be a greater obstacle to the passage of reasonable social proposals; and we shall not, in fact, have put in the place of the existing House what I think is absolutely necessary—namely, an Upper Chamber which will be a real safeguard and bulwark against revolutionary proposals.
THE MARQUESS OF HUNTLY
My Lords, I am one of the four survivors, I believe, of the members of your Lordships' House who took part in two Divisions on Lord Rosebery's Motions in the eighties in favour of the appointment of a Committee of this House to consider the efficiency and the constitution of the House, and I do not like to pass this occasion by, having voted for those Motions, without giving my views, which have not changed since then, on the present proposals of the Government. I should like first to allude to some mistakes that have been made as to the numbers that are in this House. The noble Earl, the Secretary of State for India, mentioned that there were 156 Peers out of 720 who had not taken their seats. I do not think that the number is quite so many as 156. I have counted the names on the card and I think it is more like 145. Four-fifths of these who have not taken their seats are precluded from doing so by illness, or disability, or absence abroad.
If your Lordships look down the list you will find that it is correct to say that four-fifths of those who have not taken their seats are not able to come and present themselves for the purpose. If you take off from the list the names of those who are prevented from coming by disability you are left with 600 members who could be present. I admit that a good point was made by the noble Viscount, Lord FitzAlan of Derement, when he said that 268 Peers was the largest number that had taken part in a Division in this House since the War and that means about half the available numbers of the House. That is not a satisfactory state of things. The argument that we are stronger in numbers than the House of Commons will, I think, be found to be a false argument. Though I do not agree that the reduction from the 600 that would be available to the 350 to be elected in the new House is too large, I would rather see a House fairly representative of the hereditary element even if we had to have 400 members. I would rather that than see the number reduced to that suggested in the proposals of the Government.
Another proposal is that in regard to nominated members. I have not heard any suggestion that instead of nomination there should be an increase in the number of life Peerages. I think you would meet the difficulty of providing a 934 Socialist Government with the means of promoting their adherents if the power of creating life Peerages was extended. I would sooner deal with those who wish to have seats in this House by offering life Peerages than by nominating them. The next proposal of the Government to which I take exception is that a Peer who was not elected for the House of Lords should be able to present himself for election to the House of Commons. In my opinion that is rather a dangerous proposal. It has not, I think, been criticised so far by any speaker in this debate. During the debate on Lord Rosebery's Motion in 1888, I remember, a very remarkable speech was delivered by the late Marquess of Salisbury, who was then Prime Minister and Leader of the House.
His words were so remarkable that I venture to read to the House what he then said:—It is not only that the hereditary principle ought not to be extirpated, nor that it ought to be largely diminished, but that no Second Chamber can answer with such a Government as we have got, that no Chamber is likely to answer in the long run so well as a Chamber based on the hereditary principle. My reason for that opinion is this. It is because most of those who sit in this Chamber do not themselves select the profession of politics as a thing winch they love, but come to it by the operation of external causes, that the result is we have a body that would be defective indeed for a First Chamber, where we require all the eagerness, devotion and intense application we can get. We have a body that brings to the consideration of political matters a feeling which might be described by enemies as one of languor, but which I would describe as one of good nature and easy-going tolerance which enables them to accommodate themselves to the difficult part of playing second to the House of Commons.I thought at that time, and I think now, that Lord Salisbury expressed, with his usual great acumen, the fundamental principle which should guide us in considering the constitution of this House and its place in the Legislature. I regretted then, and I regret now, that he did not assent to Lord Rosebery's Motion for the appointment of a Committee, as I believe that such an inquiry would have reported in support of the principles that he enunciated.
In that debate, too, Lord Cairns also made a very striking statement. He said that "We ought not to allow our constitution to be made an annual." That is one of the faults of these discus- 935 sions. For the last fifteen or twenty years we have had this question of the reform of the House of Lords continually brought up, and I consider that, instead of our having an annual discussion, the time has come when it is absolutely necessary that the question should be settled If you reduce the numbers in this House and allow those Peers who are not elected or selected for this Chamber to offer themselves for election to the House of Commons, the result will be that You will have a House here composed of those who cannot get into the House of Commons. I think that would be destroying, or allowing to be destroyed, the very element of strength which the hereditary principle gives us. If you allow Peers who do not get nominated for this House to put themselves forward for membership of the House of Commons you take away the very element of strength with which the hereditary principle supplies this House and you will lose the talent and the ability which we all respect.
There are many instances of how well the hereditary principle works. The representatives in this House of families of long standing, such as the Cavendishes, the Cecils, the Fitzmaurices and the Stanleys are worthy representatives of their forebears, and I have no doubt that the descendants of the 250 Peers who have been added to this House since I first took my seat in it in 1869 will also bring lustre to the names they bear and prove worthy followers of their ancestors. If you weaken that principle and allow those who by natural descent should become members of this House to become members of the House of Commons, you will destroy the very element which is the backbone of this House. The proposals put forward by the Lord Chancellor were only sketched in outline, and I suppose we shall have them more fully before us later, but I could not help putting forward these criticisms upon the points with which I do not agree, and I hope that when we see the proposals of the Government the objections raised will be given consideration.
§ EARL FORTESCUE
My Lords, I am in sympathy with a good deal that was said by my noble friend Viscount Astor, just now, but I cannot follow him in the idea that the strengthening of this House or of any other Second Chamber would make much difference if a Bolshevist Gov- 936 ernment were in power. I do not think that any Second Chamber would be likely to make any difference to them. I remember some years ago the Earl of Rosebery in this House spoke of Costa Rica and Greece as being the only more or less civilised communities which had no Second Chamber. I do not know that Costa Rica has been much more stable than any neighbouring Republic in Central America, and Greece has had the advantage of a Second Chamber for some years now with revolutions at intervals. Portugal is another example of the absolute futility of a Second Chamber alone to stand in the way of revolution. I believe it was Sir William Harcourt who said that it was about as hopeful to reform the Papacy as to reform this House, but notwithstanding that, I trust the Government will proceed with their proposals and do their best on the lines indicated by the Lord Chancellor on Monday.
There are a good many points, of course, on which further information will be anxiously awaited, and especially, I think, on the question of the proportions between nominated and elected members in the new House. I trust that there will be no scope in the new constitution for gerrymandering so as to enable the Party for the time being in power to fill this House or the reformed House with its own adherents. I think there is a good deal to be said for the idea that all members, whether nominated or elected, should be appointed for three Parliaments rather than for a term of years. The difference between three Parliaments and twelve years, taking one Parliament with another, would not be very great, but it would ensure the Prime Minister of the day being able to have his share at any rate of friends in the Second Chamber. It is no doubt wise and right to give generous terms to the hereditary principle in the first instance, as it makes the transition much easier, but I think the hereditary character of this House has been much exaggerated.
There is a lot of cheap clap-trap talked about our being here by the accident of birth, but there has never been a time when there has not been a considerable proportion of Spiritual Peers and Law Lords and first creations who owe their positions here to their past services and their character. Quite apart from that, 937 the number of hereditary Peers is continually diminishing. When Queen Victoria came to the Throne—it was some time ago, but I think there is one member of your Lordships' House who was born even before that—there were only about 350 hereditary Peers on the Roll. Something like 70 of them have dropped out within that 90 years. I quite agree with Viscount Astor that the less hereditary this House is the less will its action be liable to misrepresentation. At present, whenever your Lordships hold up or amend a Bill sent from the House of Commons, it is put down either to hereditary stupidity or to selfishness, because we are looked upon as the representatives of property, land and so forth. If this House is reformed and not flooded with hereditary Peers there will then be a possibility of people thinking when we differ from the House of Commons that it is possible that the House of Commons may have been mistaken. The privilege of holding a seat in this House by descent is a great one, but in my opinion it is not the greatest possession of your Lordships. Your greatest possession is the tradition of public service in the Army and in the State and in your own counties. No legislation can take that away and as long as that tradition is maintained a title will be of value.
§ VISCOUNT NOVAR
My Lords, we have listened to various comments upon the suggestions that have been made by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, and to my mind it is now most important to secure adequate support for the most necessary end that he has in view. We are suffering from the policy of cutting the Gordian knot, rather than untying it, to free ourselves from the effect of constitutional changes hurriedly-adopted in order to deal with a difficult and almost unique situation, and the object of those who raised this question is to take time by the forelock and urge that, if further changes are to be made in the character of the Second Chamber, they shall be carried out only after mature deliberation and not in a time of political excitement or to secure a Party triumph.
Everyone is agreed as to the necessity of having a Second Chamber. All modern States of Anglo-Saxon tradition who have had to create their Parliamentary 938 institutions have provided themselves with a Second Chamber, and democratic Republics also have their Senates. But the experience of the newer States shows how extraordinarily difficult it is to constitute a Second Chamber having a representative character and adequate powers to delay rash legislation without opposing the legitimate action of the Lower House—a Chamber which is not overwhelmingly representative of only one Party in the State. This can happen as easily in a democratically-elected House as in an hereditary House. For example, the Federal Senate of Australia has at times been entirely representative of the Labour Party and at variance with the Lower House, whose political complexion was of a different nature. Nowhere, probably, would you find a community ready to claim that it had solved all the difficulties of a bi-cameral system. Indeed, I have heard a distinguished Canadian express the opinion that the House of Lords was the envy of other communities; but he referred, of course, to the House as it was before the Parliament Act, for we have now drifted into the most dangerous of all constitutional situations in that we have a powerless Second Chamber, to which, nevertheless, men look to protect the country from ill considered measures.
If reform is to be seriously tackled, our aim should be to place your Lordships' House on a basis which would reconcile moderate men of all Parties to the restoration to it of those powers without which a Second Chamber is a useless Parliamentary appendant. The difficulty is to discover how changes are to be effected without destroying the prestige or the tradition of an ancient historical institution. No brand-new Second Chamber would appeal to the imagination of the people or be in harmony with our traditional methods of slowly evolving our national institutions. If changes are to be made, care must be taken that they are not of such a nature as to tempt succeeding Governments to recast the Second Chamber to suit their own Party purposes. The best reforms are those which are least dramatic and grow out of small beginnings, proceeding step by step.
One such step is the proposal to limit the number of Peers and, as regards the powers of the House, the measure to limit 939 the Speaker's authority to certify Bills not dealing with the financial service of the year as Money Bills, leaving it to the proposed mixed Committee to decide in case of conflict whether any such Bill is or is not a Money would be another step in the direction of restoring the former powers of the House of Lords. As regards constitutional changes and, I would add, even foreign policy and national defence, it would be well that your Lordships should also have adequate power to secure sufficient delay to enable the nation to come to a deliberate decision on such questions. In this matter the Lord Chancellor might perhaps have the same power as Mr. Speaker has in regard to Money Bills and might certify Bills as being on constitutional or other such lines, and accordingly Bills on which the opinion of the nation should be sought.
It is as well, before attempting any great measure of reform, to realise what is the strength and value of the House of Lords as at present constituted. It is not a representative Chamber in the political sense of the word, but from the national point of view it has a very real representative character, unique of its kind. The modern House of Lords has amongst its numbers representatives of all our great national interests, men who have made a success in science, industry, shipping, banking and agriculture, and also men who have spent their lives administering local affairs and are familiar with the application of laws and reforms made by Parliament. This, I think, is in itself an enormous advantage. The House also contains men who have served in various capacities in different parts of the Empire and are therefore familiar with the views and conditions of the Dominions and Crown Colonies. I venture to say that in no other country would you find an Assembly able to produce so many experts, so many men fitted by experience and achievement to debate and advise the country on questions affecting its vital interests.
One of the regrettable consequences of the Parliament Act is that, by curtailing the powers of your Lordships' House, it has diminished interest in its proceedings, and consequently they are so badly reported that the full value of its debates is lost to the public. It cannot, in my 940 opinion,, be to the advantage, of the country wholly to sacrifice the peculiar contribution which your Lordships' House makes to the State and make it a mere attenuated replica of the House of Commons, dependent for its personnel upon alternating Party victories or the machinations of Party caucuses.
My Lords, in a matter like that under debate, when the question at issue is the establishment of some system intended to last a long time, it is of the greatest importance to consider the fundamental facts, and to avoid building up an elaborate structure on a foundation which may prove to be treacherous. The assumption underlying all proposals for the reform of your Lordships' House is that this country will continue to be ruled by a democracy, that is to say, that the ultimate control of policy will continue to reside in the votes of the great mass of the people, irrespective of their fitness to exercise control. I am unable to imagine that this will be the case. We are all of us placed in this world in conditions not chosen by ourselves, and the continued existence alike of individuals, of institutions and of nations depends absolutely upon conformity with the conditions imposed upon us by the nature of things which are inexorable. If we conform, existence is possible. If we do not, the penalty is death.
The absolutely necessary condition for survival is the continuous production of food and all the other things which make life possible, which are shortly summed up in the word "capital." No system which does not give security for capital has any real chance of survival, and that is precisely the besetting sin of democracy. Democracy had the most marvellous chance that any system ever enjoyed. It has been in existence more or less throughout the period when the results of the industrial revolution put into the hands of mankind the possibility of production so immense that with reasonable organisation poverty could have been overcome. Instead of turning these advantages to account, democracy has one long record of "doles," plunder and restriction of output—defects which, far from tending to disappear as time goes on, are every year intensified and are obviously rushing civilisation to destruction.
941 The situation has already passed far beyond the control of representative institutions. The real enemy is democracy—the fact that political power is in the hands of the people, the huge majority of whom are so near destitution that their first desire is to make life safe and pleasant for the inefficient and unlucky. Against this overwhelming impulse the House of Commons is equally impotent with your Lordships. No system of Government arranged on these principles contains any possibility of permanence. The struggle will not be in Parliament, but between the two opposing forces of production and plunder throughout the country. Until that is settled tinkering with Parliamentary institutions is mere waste of time.
§ [The sitting was suspended from twenty-five minutes before eight o'clock until a quarter past nine o'clock.]
My Lords, I should have hesitated to intervene in debate in your Lordships' House so soon again had it not been for the fact that this subject is one in which I am particularly interested and one in which I have taken some active part during the last few years. I am sorry to observe that the Benches opposite are so sparsely occupied because I think, having regard to the way the debate, has gone this afternoon, that some of the members of both Oppositions might have found it possible to return to this House at the rather late hour of a quarter past nine. Some of those noble Lords have been members of the House of Commons when they have not been granted this respite within which to take dinner. However, I hope that they will do me the honour, in the morning, of reading such remarks as I may make this evening, if they take sufficient interest in this debate.
I was particularly interested and very much surprised to hear the remark made by the noble Earl, Lord Arran, when he stated that the Government had no mandate to pass during the lifetime of the present Parliament the legislation which was outlined by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. If I may be permitted to refer to my own personal experience. I remember that at the General Election after the War I included this question of House of Lords 942 reform in my Election address, and I think I am right in stating that probably 75 per cent. of the Conservative and Unionist candidates did likewise. And not only during that Election but in subsequent Elections Conservative and Unionist candidates have put this particular reform in their election addresses. In 1922 a Committee, of which I was a member, sat in the House of Commons, and we discussed this question at great length in a large number of meetings—twelve to sixteen at least.
At various times resolutions have been passed by Unionist Associations in the country and only last year, at the annual meeting of the Scottish Unionist Association, a resolution stood in my name, advocating a measure of reform of the House of Lords to be passed during the lifetime of the present Parliament. That resolution was put to a meeting representing Conservative and Unionist associations throughout Scotland. There were present five or six hundred delegates from all over Scotland, and that resolution was not only passed unanimously but with a measure of sympathy and acclamation that showed that this particular problem was one which was of particular importance to the community. It was not fair of my noble friend Lord Arran to suggest that because the Prime Minister did not actually place this particular point in his Election Address but only dealt with it at an important meeting at Perth, we as a Party were not in any way committed to pass this measure during the lifetime of the present Parliament. The fact that the Prime Minister stated this matter at that meeting at Perth and all that has occurred subsequently go to prove, apart from the speeches and promises made by Governments during the past three or four years, that we are perfectly entitled to go forward and pass this measure as soon as possible.
We have heard during the debate many references to revolution. Personally, I agree with what was said by Lord Parmoor and confirmed in the admirable speech of the Secretary of State for India, that the core of the people is sound and that, so far as bloody revolution is concerned, we have nothing to fear in this country. I cannot believe that the references to revolution which have been made in this House during the past two 943 days really refer to revolution of the character I have just mentioned. I believe that the revolution to which reference has been made has rather been that form of peaceful evolution which ultimately develops into what some people call revolution. That is the revolution of which you have been talking during this debate. It is that sort of revolution, that peaceful revolution, which the Parliament Act makes possible to-day, and I consider it to be one of the most important aspects of the proposals which were outlined by the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor yesterday, that that class of revolution will be stopped for ever, or at any rate for as long as those proposals are put into force. The mere fact of limiting the number of members of your Lordships' House prevents the possibility of any Government in power creating a sufficient number of Peers wherewith to swamp your Lordships' House and bring into force legislation which, otherwise, your Lordships' House would decline to ratify. I regard that as one of the most important aspects of these proposed reforms.
Another point which has struck me very forcibly is that the Government is right in the decision—the unalterable decision, as I understood it to be from what the Secretary of State for India said this afternoon—that no section of this House should be elected from outside, that the three-quarters (or whatever the number is to be) would be selected from Peers who are already members of your Lordships' House, and that the remainder should be nominated by the Government. I attended the Committee in the House of Commons in 1922. We had a large number of meetings and at the end of those meetings we came to no conclusion, principally because—I might almost say entirely because—we could not agree upon what system the members of your Lordships' House should be elected. One member of that Committee suggested that election should be by county councils, another by the House of Commons, another by the grouping of counties and towns, and others by a combination of one system with the other; while there were still others who suggested that the whole of the Second Chamber should be elected. The result was that the meetings broke down upon 944 that issue. Therefore I suggest, if this measure comes before this House and we find ourselves debating the question of the election from outside of a portion of the members of this House, we shall find great difficulty in coming to unanimous decision.
But apart from that, I believe that it would be the greatest mistake to have any portion of a reformed House of Lords elected from outside. I believe this principally because I think if this were done that we would begin to create in this House a section which, deriving its responsibilities from electors outside, would very soon come into conflict with the elected House of Commons. Whilst it might take some time, still over a period of years I think that it is highly probable that a situation would be created similar to that which resulted in the Parliament Act of 1911. I think that we might go to our Dominions and see what they- are doing there. After all, we cannot forget that the Dominions modelled their Constitutions upon the Mother of Parliaments. When they set up their Second Chambers, their Senates as they call them, they tried as far as possible to imitate what had been done in the Mother Country and to create a Second Chamber which was as nearly as possible on the same lines as this House in which we are sitting to-night.
Following out this idea they created in their various Dominions Second Chambers which are entirely nominated by the Governments of the day. They have, so far as I am aware, in no Second Chamber any representatives who are elected by the people. What is the result? These Senates have done their work well and have earned the gratitude of the people of the Dominions, just as this House has done in the past and I hope will do in the future. They have in that way avoided the conflicts which might have arisen between the Upper and the Lower Chambers, because the different sections of those Chambers have been varied from time to time according to the complexion of the Parties in power. They have at the same time set up machinery under which, when there is a difference of opinion between the two Houses, they are able to meet together, to negotiate and to arrive at some satisfactory conclusion. I say that we shall be embarking upon a very dangerous voyage indeed if we in this House agree 945 to any measure which provides for elections from outside. I earnestly hope that the Government will stick to their proposals so far as this is concerned.
The Socialist Party are to-day like cooing doves. We have had speeches made by their leaders all over the country regarding this House and its iniquities in the past, but to-day we listen to speeches made in another place representing the friendly eye with which they now look upon this House. As one who has stood on platforms opposing the Labour Party, I say that I regard their new-born friendliness with very grave suspicion. I think indeed that the Labour Party is rather in the guise of a boa constrictor lying in wait to swallow us whole as soon as it gets the opportunity. Accordingly, while this measure of reform does not seem a very large measure and may not appeal to those who want a great deal more, and certainly does not appeal to those who want nothing at all, I believe that it goes just far enough and that it will provide that strength and security which this House requires to enable it to go on and do the work which the country demands from its Second Chamber. There are numbers of people in this country to-day who do not want Second Chamber government at all and we have to be very careful how we progress. But I believe this measure will find support from sixty or seventy or even seventy-five per cent, of the people of this country and I hope that the Government will go on with their proposals. So far as I am concerned I shall vote for the Resolution of my noble friend Lord FitzAlan and I shall support the proposals of the Government as whole-heartedly as I can.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
My Lords, no one regrets more than I do that this, the oldest Second Chamber in the world, with the greatest historical record of any Chamber in the world, a Chamber which, though, like all human institutions, it may have occasionally made mistakes, has on the whole deserved well of its country, should under the necessities of the present situation have to be changed in any way. But I admit that as things are there must be some change. I understand that at the present moment we are discussing the 946 Resolution of my noble friend Lord FitzAlan, and all that the Resolution says is that there should be some change in the composition of this House. It is true that the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has outlined certain proposals which, I understand, may be put in the form of a Bill and submitted to this House next Year, but we are not dealing at this moment with anything but the Resolution of my noble friend below me, and therefore I do not propose to go at any length—indeed I will go hardly at all—into the proposals, or rather the suggestions, of the Government. The proper time to do that is next Session when we shall have a Bill before us.
I will, however, say this, that I do not quite agree with my noble friend who has just sat down that it would be at all wise to pledge myself now to support the suggestions of the Government. It really means that you pledge yourself to support a Bill which you have not seen. I have very great confidence in the Government of the day, but my confidence in them is not sufficiently great to cause me to pledge myself to support something which I have not yet seen. I prefer to reserve my decision upon that Bill until I have seen it. All I will say about those suggestions at the present time is that I think they demand very great sacrifice from your Lordships and that you get very little in return. I hope that when the Bill does come before us His Majesty's Government will be prepared to accept some modification of their proposals.
One of the proposals, and it is the only one that I shall allude to for a moment, is that the Government of the day may nominate a certain number—the number is not stated because I understand the Government have not yet made up their minds—who shall be nominated apparently to support noble Lords sitting opposite to me at the present moment. It is true there are not many noble Lords who sit on those Benches, and it is true, apparently, that all that is necessary to become an occupant of the Front Opposition Bench is to sit for a few days on one of the Benches behind when you are immediately invited to sit on the Front Opposition Bench. That may be a little unfortunate for noble Lords on the Front Opposition Bench for it leaves nobody to 947 cheer them when they make remarks. For myself I am not sure that I desire to see a great many noble Lords, members of the Labour Party, sitting on the Benches opposite. I was for a great many years in the House of Commons and I sometimes had occasion to preside in Committee, and my recollections are not such as to make me welcome with great enthusiasm some of the honourable Members whose conduct I had occasion to deal with at that time.
I should say this, that I understand that if I vote, as I shall, for the Resolution of my noble friend Viscount FitzAlan of Derwent, I am in no way pledging myself to accept the suggestions of the Government, and that when those suggestions come before us it will be quite open to me either to support, or to, amend, or to vote against them. Anything I do now is merely to show, first of all, my confidence in my old friend who sits beneath me, and whose orders I followed for a great many years in another place, without question, and in addition, to give as my opinion that in the unfortunate circumstances in which this country finds itself we are bound to destroy to a great extent one of its oldest institutions. In these circumstances and on that understanding I shall have great pleasure in going into the Lobby in support of my noble friend tomorrow.
§ LORD DANESFORT
My Lords, I rise to support as warmly as I can the Motion of my noble friend Lord FitzAlan of Derwent, and at the same time to thank the Government for having responded so clearly and so concisely to the invitation contained in that Motion. It is a cause of great satisfaction to me and to many of your Lordships to know that the Government have definitely realised the great dangers of the existing situation and the absolute necessity for dealing with that situation during the existence of the present Parliament, and that they have put forward a definite scheme which will, if not completely at any rate to some extent, alleviate the present intolerable situation under the Parliament Act. As to the proposals of the Government regarding proper certification of Money Bills those proposals appear to me to be most essential and most valuable, and I cannot but believe that they will receive the approval of the vast 948 majority of reasonable men who desire to see that purely financial matters are left in the uncontrolled discretion of the House of Commons but that measures partly financial but involving many other considerations than finance should not be certificated as Money Bills under the existing system.
I turn to measures other than Money Bills. I can well conceive that it would be difficult in existing circumstances to have gone further than the Government have gone, but I trust it will not be considered ungracious of me if I express my regret that they have not seen their way to go further. Indeed, I am emboldened to express that regret, and, it may be, to put forward some suggestions for the consideration of His Majesty's Government, by reason of certain words which were used by the Lord Chancellor in his speech on Monday last, when he told us that the views which the Government have formed may be modified by the course of this debate. What are those proposals of the Government as regards Bills other than Money Bills? They are that the provisions of the Parliament Act shall not apply to Bills which alter the constitution or powers of the House of Lords, as set out in the Parliament Act or in any amendment of that Act—and those last words are important in view of the Bill that we are promised next Session. That provision would undoubtedly prevent any sinister action on the part of another place in abolishing the Second Chamber. That is so much to the good. It would also prevent a Minister from advising the Sovereign to swamp this House by the creation of some hundreds of Peers introduced for the purpose of passing some highly improper Bill. That, too, is all to the good.
But might I point out that in the Government proposals there is no suggestion whatever for settling irreconcilable differences which may arise between the two Houses. Suggestions have been offered by the Bryce Committee and many of the Committees which have sat upon the question, that these irreconcilable differences which may from time to time arise should be settled either by Joint Session or Joint Conference between the two Houses or by some other method. For some reason which at the present moment, in the absence of further 949 information, I am unable to ascertain, there has been no suggestion of that character put forward.
There are many Bills, far-reaching and dangerous measures, which under the Government's proposals and under the operation of the Parliament Act could be passed into law in the existence of one Parliament and within two years, against the wishes of this House, without any previous sanction of the people and, it may very well be, against the wishes of the people. As an illustration, take Bills for nationalisation. There is nationalisation of the banks, a proposition often put forward by prominent members of the Socialist Party. There is nationalisation of the land, which has a somewhat familiar sound, and nationalisation of the mines or of the railways. Every one of those proposals is within the regular authorised programme of the Socialist Party, and they would be untrue to their principles if they did not at the first convenient opportunity introduce Bills for the purpose of carrying into effect their authorised programme. Those are new, untried and dangerous experiments, yet every one of them could be carried into law even if the amending Bill of the Government were passed, in two years and in the existence of one Parliament, without any reference whatsoever to the people and even though those proposals ha dnever been referred to in the Election campaign of the Party that sought to introduce them.
Let me suggest another illustration. You may have Bills for far-reaching measures of land reform or wide alterations in the relations of landlord and tenant, and those measures, if the speeches of members of the Socialist Party can be trusted, might very well be accompanied by total or partial confiscation and total or partial repudiation of contracts. In passing, I may remind the House that, according to the American Constitution, Bills involving violation of contracts are outside the Constitution. Here, however, such Bills could be passed under the existing Parliament Act without any reference to the people or any opportunity being given to the country of judging of the justice of these proposals.
May I give one other illustration of the sort of Bill that could be carried into law 950 in the same way? Take a Bill for the purchase by the State and the distribution and sale by the State of foodstuffs, of raw materials and of other imports into this country, and the dealing with those purchases and those sales entirely without regard to private enterprise and, in fact, to the elimination of private enterprise. We know what a serious effect that would have upon the commercial and trade industries of this country. Yet that is a Bill which your Lordships could not touch, at any rate you could not prevent it passing if it was sent up from another place three times in succession within the space of two years during one Parliament. It may possibly be said that disastrous Bills of that character could be repealed in a new Parliament. Some of them possibly might; some, I think, it would be very difficult to repeal; but whether they were capable of repeal or not in another Parliament I believe that in the meanwhile irremediable damage would have been inflicted upon the commerce and trade of this country and upon the country as a whole.
These are dangers which existed at the time of the passing of the Parliament Act, but the dangers which then existed have been greatly intensified since that time. You have in the first place a greatly increased electorate under the Act of 1918, and large further increases in the electorate are contemplated or threatened and may be carried before another General Election. To my mind it is inevitable that an electorate of that character, many of the voters wholly new to the responsibilities east upon them as electors, may be subject to sudden gusts of emotion or of passion and may vote for measures from which, upon maturer consideration at another Election, they might recoil with horror. But no opportunity is given under the Parliament. Act for such repentance.
To my mind there is another reason why the danger is greater to-day than it was at the time of the Parliament Act. At the time of the Parliament Act there were practically two Parties, and two only, in the State, the Conservative and the Liberal Parties, divided no doubt on seine questions of importance but neither of them ever had directed their energies to vast and untried methods of unconstitutional legislation. To-day what is the position? The Liberal Party—it may 951 be revived, I hope it will—is for a moment somewhat in a state of decay. The Socialist Party has emerged in large numbers and has gained an improved position in the constituencies. That Party, may I remind your Lordships, is always influenced and often controlled by the extremist and revolutionist section. Do not let us forget that the Socialist Party to-day is a Party pledged to suppress independence of thought amongst its members in the House of Commons. Once a policy is resolved upon by the Socialist Party in the House of Commons members of that Party dare not, on pain of expulsion, vote against a policy which has been so announced.
When we are told that a two years' period of consideration may possibly prevent the Party from carrying out a policy which is proved to be dangerous and disastrous, let us remember that that policy of suppressing independence in the Socialist Party will certainly keep the Party together for two years and will enable these Bills to be carried through, however evil their influence may be. May I say one other word in quite a friendly spirit in the presence of members of the Socialist Party seated opposite me? We cannot forget that they are the Party who voted for recalling our troops from China and exposing our subjects in China to the possibility, indeed almost the certainty, of massacre and ruin. In giving that vote the moderates in the Socialist Party, such as they are, were coerced by the extremists into giving a vote for a policy which would be disastrous and ruinous and which has been condemned by the nation at large.
Such are some of the dangers which appear to me to be totally unprovided for in the Government's proposals I fully recognise that it would be difficult, and possibly inadvisable, that such far-reaching measures as I have ventured to indicate should be completely exempted from the provisions of the Parliament Act, but I should like respectfully to ask the Government whether it may not be 952 possible to provide that such measures as those to which I have referred should not pass into law under the Parliament Act until after a General Election had taken place, when the will of the people on these measures might be more clearly ascertained.
My last word is this. While I heartily thank the Government for having produced the proposals which they have done, may I suggest to them that it is quite possible that your Lordships may not have in this House another opportunity so favourable, possibly no opportunity, for putting this historic Chamber upon a new basis in which other elements than these hereditary elements might be included, and in which it would be possible to give powers to a reconstituted Chamber which would guard against such dangers as I have indicated, dangers not merely affecting your Lordships' House but affecting the State as a whole, the industries, the prosperity, the commercial supremacy of this country. I would ask the Government to consider this point and see if it is possible to go somewhat further than they have done as yet, with a view to safeguarding the interests of our people and the rights of our people, to see that legislation is passed which is in accordance with their wishes; and to keep in view the object of safeguarding those rights and ensuring that far-reaching and untried experiments in legislation shall not be tried and shall not be carried into law without the sanction, or against the wishes, of the people as a whole.
My Lords, I understand that no other noble Lord desires to address your Lordships to-night, and I therefore beg to move that the debate be adjourned until to-morrow.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned till to-morrow.—(Earl Russell.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.
§ House adjourned at five minutes past ten o'clock.