HL Deb 13 December 1928 vol 72 cc613-57

Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion moved by the Earl of Clarendon on Tuesday last:—

That having regard to the Preamble of the Parliament Act and to the Resolution passed by this House on 23rd June, 1927, it is hereby resolved—

1. That it is desirable that early steps should be taken to limit the the proposals in the present Bill, which certainly passed through the House of Commons without opposition and without even criticism.

On Question, Whether the word "for" shall be there inserted?

Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 25; Not-Contents, 54.

Reading, M. Banbury of Southam, L.[Teller.] Phillimore, L.
Rathcreedan, L.
Beauchamp, E. Carson, L. Shandon, L.
Chesterfield, E. Cawley, L. Southwark, L.
Strafford, E. Crawshaw, L. Stanley of Alderley, L. (L.Sheffield.)
Danesfort, L.
Bertie of Thame, V. Daryngton, L. Stanmore, L.
Gainford, L. [Teller.] Strathspey, L.
Armstrong, L. Monkswell, L. Sudley, L. (E. Arran.)
Avebury, L. Pentland, L. Ystwyth, L.
Hailsham, L. (L. Chancellor.) Midleton, E. Gage, L. (V. Gage.)
Morton, E. Gorell, L.
Salisbury, M. (L. Privy Seal.) Onslow, E. Hardinge of Penshurst, L.
Plymouth, E. Howard of Glossop, L.
Russell, E. [Teller.] Hunsdon of Hunsdon, L.
Argyll, D. Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.) Islington, L.
Wellington, D. Kenmare, L. (E. Kenmare.)
Ohelmsford, V. Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.)
Lansdowne, M. Dunedin, V. Meldrum, L. (M. Huntly.)
Linlithgow, M. FitzAlan of Derwent, V. Monk Bretton, L.
Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.) Muir Mackenzie, L.
Cromer (L. Chamberlain.) Newton, L.
Airlie, E. Ormonde, L. (M. Ormonde.)
Albemarle, E. Southwark, L. Bp. Parmoor, L.
Clarendon, E. Arnold, L Plumer, L.
Cranbrook, E. Balfour of Burleigh, L. Roundway, L.
De La Warr, E. [Teller.] Byron, L. Russell of Liverpool, L.
Iddesleigh, E. Darling, L. Sudeley, L.
Lindsey, E. de Clifford, L. Templemore, L.
Lovelace, E. Desart, L. (E. Desart.) Wraxall, L.
Lucan, E. Ernle, L.

Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.

number of members of the House, and to make suitable provision for an elective representation of the Peerage, and for such other representation or nomination as would ensure to each political Party a fair position in the House; and

2. That the following constitution of this House would in the opinion of this House fulfil these conditions—

  1. (a) 150 peers to be elected by proportional representation or the cumulative vote in each Parliament by the whole body of Peers, to sit and vote in the House;
  2. (b) 150 persons to be nominated by the Crown in proportion to 615 the Parties in the House of Commons in each Parliament, to sit for the life of the Parliament;
  3. (c) The Crown to have the power to appoint a limited number of life Peers in each Parliament.


My Lords, a Motion to change the membership and reform the constitution of your Lordships' House must necessarily prove of deep interest to every individual member. On the first day of the debate the noble Earl who is responsible for placing this Resolution upon the Paper and those who spoke after him said, quite rightly, that the consideration which must determine our votes in this House must be that of the public welfare. Whatever may be the result of the scheme to individuals, this will not, I believe, affect the votes that they give. The importance of the particular Resolution proposed by the noble Earl is that it is a very distinct advance upon the proposals of the Government which were expounded to your Lordships in the summer of last year by the then Lord Chancellor, the late Viscount Cave. These proposals have, no doubt, been most carefully framed. They are devised for the purpose of giving effect to the general view that there must be a reform of your Lordships' House. Upon that proposition I should assume that there is unanimity.

The noble Earl who framed the Resolution desired, as I understood his speech—and I followed very carefully the arguments that he put forward—to secure the fair representation in this House of all political Parties. That is, as I conceive it, and indeed as the words import, his main object, and here again I should imagine that, if it be possible to give effect to such a scheme as is suggested, thereby securing fair representation of all Parties in this House, there could be little doubt that your Lordships would approve it. But the difficulty in this case, as, I think, in every other in which proposals have been made for a change in the membership of the House or in its constitution, is that there are so many varying opinions as to the course which should be pursued, and it becomes difficult, and hitherto it has been impossible, to devise any plan which would obtain anything approaching the universal assent of your Lordships; and even more important than your Lordships' assent is the assent of the people of the country.

To change the constitution of the Second Chamber of Parliament is not a matter which can be left to this House, however interested we as members may be. It is for Parliament as a whole, representing the people and the majority of the people, to determine the form of change which should be adopted. It is in one sense unfortunate that this proposal is put forward so late in the lifetime of this Parliament. I am not for one moment suggesting any criticism of the noble Earl for having now put down this Motion, but nevertheless, as appeared from the speech of my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack, it is far too late as I gathered, even if the Government wished to do so, to adopt a proposal of this kind, for this Parliament's life is ebbing and is very nearly extinct. Nevertheless, it does seem that the Government might have given an indication of its view. I am aware that my noble friend on the Woolsack did express views of the Government which were not too friendly to the Motion and at the same time were not, as I understood the noble and learned Lord, hostile. Indeed, I think I remember that he said, in speaking of his own views, that he would deprecate the speech which he had made being accepted as one indicating hostility. Nevertheless he made it clear, as I thought, that the Government could not support this Motion and indeed would oppose it.


Oh no.


If it is "Oh no" I will accept this as one illustration of the case in which, as we were told, there might be a difference of opinion, although I am not suggesting for a moment that there was. We accept it, as I am told by my noble friend we should accept anything from either the noble Marquess the Leader of the House or the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack as meaning exactly the same thing. I am not intending to suggest that there is any difference. If I am told that I am wrong in thinking that any expression of opinion by the Lord Chan- cellor was to be taken as opposition to the Motion, I accept that without comment.


I apologise to the noble Marquess for interrupting him but I only did so to correct him. It is quite true that my noble and learned friend said the Government could not accept the Motion, but he did not say we should oppose it, which is a very different thing.


I will leave it to your Lordships to determine as to whether there is a difference of opinion or variation of opinion. The noble Marquess says they could not support but would not oppose the Motion. Be it so. I am not concerned with carrying on the discussion on those lines. I would prefer a more satisfactory examination of the views suggested, and I think it is incumbent upon us all to strive, irrespective of Party views and consequently perhaps of the mental attitude with which we first look upon these proposals, to examine them in order that we may give a fair-minded and almost judicial consideration to the proposition before us. In anything I may say, although it may not commend itself to many of your Lordships and although it may be in opposition to some of your views, I hope that at least I shall convince you that I have for myself, as have others who take the same view, striven to give real consideration to this matter, recognising as we do that the noble Earl who has proposed this Motion has made a genuine attempt to solve a very difficult question, evidently after very much thought and consideration, intending, as I believe, to find a solution, according to his views and the views of those associated with him, which would ensure in the future a fair representation of all political Parties in this House.

It is in that spirit that I approach it. If he will permit me to do so I would add that the arguments presented by the noble Earl in his opening speech upon the subject certainly were couched in what appeared to me to be the most attractive form, designed to fascinate for the time being and to lead one along the avenue which we were invited to walk with him. Further examination of those proposals has, however, convinced me, speaking for myself, that it is quite impossible to accept the Resolution as it stands. I cannot but think that these proposals would, and necessarily must from their very terms, result in a predominently Conservative membership of this House. That may not be a bad thing for the country. I am not for the moment concerned with arguing that. It may also be that the tendencies of most Second Chambers is to become more conservative than the House of Commons or its equivalent in other countries. Indeed, it is not an entirely unknown phenomenon for members who come into this House opposed to the Conservative Party to change their allegiance after a short period of time, and to find the Conservative atmosphere so predominating as to capture them effectively for the rest of their lives. That may be the result of sitting, in a Second Chamber, and not, perhaps, because it is a Chamber which is predominantly Conservative.

My objection to the Resolution is that if you proceed to the election of your 150 Peers, as proposed here, by proportional representation or the cumulative vote by the whole body of Peers, it inevitably must result in a very large majority of Conservative Peers out of that 150. It could not be otherwise, and I am sure no one would suggest that it would be otherwise. With a House composed as this House is it would follow that the majority would be something like four to one or more. I think it was the noble Earl, Lord Midleton, who said that in this House, composed of some 690 or 700 members, 475 might be taken as Conservative, 105 could be taken as Liberal, and 5 or 10—I think 10—as representing the Labour Party; and then there would be 110 or 120 representative of nobody, independent members. Here, again, I do not think I am drawing too much upon the imagination of your Lordships if I suggest that among those 110 or 120 who are not classed with any Party there will not be found an undue preponderance of Labour members. Without classing them as Conservatives, however, the result would be that in that 150 there must be a large majority of Conservatives, and the consequence of the selection of those 150 under paragraph (a) would be that this House would have a Conservative majority just as it has at present. Although the majority might not be so great, yet the fact would remain that this Second Chamber would always have a Conservative majority because, and only because, of the selection of Peers from the hereditary Peerage.

I cannot for a moment believe that the country would accept any such proposal. If you intend, as you do, that this House should give a fair representation to all Parties, you cannot have half of it composed of hereditary Peers selected from the body of the Peerage. This seems to me so fatal to the noble Earl's proposal that if the matter goes to a Division I shall feel bound—and I believe those with whom I am usually associated would take the same course—to vote against it. I do not mean to say that it is impossible to have a Second Chamber containing a representation of hereditary Peers. I do not commit myself. I do not say that, in order to get the assent of the House of Lords to any proposal that might be put forward, it may not be necessary for a time that there should be a representation from the body of hereditary Peers, but it can never be half the House, and it can never be in such numbers as would ensure a Conservative majority. Assume for a moment that a Labour Government is in power. How can it be a fair representation of political Parties in this House if you have a small representation of Labour and an overwhelming majority of Conservatives? Therefore, I suggest that this proposal cannot stand. It is better, no doubt, than the proposal of June, 1927, by which, according to the views of some at any rate, it was intended that for all time there should be a majority of hereditary Peers. But we need not discuss that, because it was doomed to obscurity very soon after it emerged, and that proposal has ceased to be practical politics. Again, the claim in the last part of the Resolution to have the power to appoint a limited number of life Peers in each Parliament is designed to limit the exercise of the Prerogative of the Crown to create Peers, and it would thus prevent the use of the sole instrument which exists under our Constitution for the purpose of preventing deadlocks between the two Houses. For these reasons I find it necessary to oppose this proposal.

I still desire, however, to make it plain that I am not only strongly in favour of a Second Chamber, but I think this Chamber requires reform, and as a Party we are pledged to it. When the Parliament Act was passed it was stated in the Preamble that it was intended to change the basis of membership of this House, and I think the language indicated that there was not then sufficient time to do it. It has been the subject of declaration since. Then came the War, when it was impossible to take any steps, and after the War various Governments have declared that it was necessary to reform the constitution of this House. I think, therefore, that the noble Earl is right in the first part of his Resolution in proposing that there should be a change, and if the Resolution were confined to that—and with one other exception to which I will refer in a moment—I would myself support it. Whether I am speaking for the rest of my Party I am not quite sure, but at all events this part of the Resolution asserts a proposition from which I could not dissent.

I do not propose to analyse every word of it—it is not intended to be taken as laying down a proposition unchangeable as the laws of the Medes and Persians—but I understand it to assert that there should be representation in order to ensure to each political Party a fair position in your Lordships' House. I am not leaving the earlier part out of consideration, though I very much dislike the word "limit." in the first line, for the reason that I think it would interfere with file Prerogative of the Crown if it were left at that. I do not pause to discuss it because I understood from observations made during the debate that there would be no objection to changing that word to "reduce" if that is so, and if the sentence then read "to reduce the number of members" I would support it, provided it stopped there, Indeed, I think that would be adopting the Amendment which I see on the Paper in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Newton, subject to the substitution of "reduce" for "limit" If I may say so, I think it was a very useful Amendment to place on the Paper because it enables us to give effect to the view which we all hold in this House. We all desire to see the House reformed. We are all anxious to get a fair representation. Therefore, I think we should give effect to it by our vote. I certainly shall if that is the form in which it is proposed to your Lordships.

In any event, reform must be made effective. It is a pity that we do not know the view of the Government upon it. After all, it is very desirable that popular approval should be secured for any reform that may be put forward, but we are unable to force it. I think there was very great force in the observations of my noble friend Lord Midleton, on the last occasion, when he pressed the Government at least to give expression to their views. We shall never get further forward if we have to wait for universal assent in your Lordships' House. There must always be differences of opinion, whether on our side or on the other side of the House. There may be more differences of opinion amongst your Lordships who sit on the Government side of the House than there are amongst the few of us who sit on this side. However that may be, it is useless to wait for agreement. Therefore, the proposal should be put forward.

There are many considerations I should have liked to put before your Lordships, but I shall only indicate them as I do not desire to take up more of your Lordships' time. It seems to me, for example, that in a Chamber whose function in the main is to revise and review there should be opportunity for considering Bills. We should not be forced into the position so well described by the noble Earl, Lord Midleton, of having them in an avalanche at the last moment. On this matter I am not attacking any particular Government. Every Government has the same vice. The very fact that it is a Government seems somehow or other to breed it. What it wants to do is to get its Bill through. It has had trouble with it in another place and it says in effect: "For Heaven's sake do not let us have trouble in the House of Lords. Send it up at the last moment. Do not give them time to consider it. There are too many there who know too much about the subject. There are members there who can speak with experience of government and administration. There are men who are familiar with commerce and can give views which really weigh with the country. It would be really intolerable if we had our Bill discussed again, especially by those who can bring expert views to bear upon the subject. In order to prevent that, let us do what the last Government did." And each Government really pacifies its conscience by taking the precedent of the other.

So it goes on time after time and will go on until your Lordships adopt some means of expressing your disapproval by rejecting a Bill if a Government does not see the error of its ways. The noble Marquess the Leader of the House has expressed himself as not unsympathetic, though perhaps not exactly in the same language, to the views that I have put forward; but may I crave that I stand in this instance very much with my noble friend the Lord Chancellor and, although there may be a difference in our language, it must be taken, whatever the noble Marquess may say, that we both intend the same thing.

May I suggest that it is worthy of consideration, in discussing these matters an d in discussing future proposals, whether, for example, the suggestion of my noble and learned friend Lord Buck-master in the very eloquent speech he delivered on the last occasion could not he adopted. I see very great difficulties though I do not pause to enquire into them at the moment because it is not really in practical shape before your Lordships. Again, questions of joint meetings or conferences of this House with the House of Commons and matters of that kind are all questions which deserve consideration when we are discussing the constitution of your Lordships' House.

May I say, in conclusion, that when the attempt is made to reform your Lordships' House in order that there may be a fair representation in the numbers sitting on this side of the House and representing the Labour Party, other considerations will also have to be taken into account which may very much affect the question when you are inviting Labour members to come and sit in the House to take part in its debates and become members of this House of Parliament. I do not pursue the subject because it is not really a matter which is before you. These are merely suggestions for consideration. The conclusion to which I come—and which I have tried to express to your Lordships with a desire to treat the subject, as it deserves, most careful consideration, with the object of arriving, if possible, at some view which can be put forward as that of your Lordships' House or of a considerable majority—is that whilst quite unable to accept the Resolution in its present form, I think the first part of it well expresses the view of all your Lordships, or, if not of all, of the vast majority. I think that the expression of that opinion by your Lordships' House and by the different Parties in the House, to the effect that what they desire is to get fair representation of the Parties, must have its effect either upon this Government or any other Government which may succeed it.

In the end your Lordships may, by the united wisdom of the members of this House, be able to put forward some solution which a Government can accept, and thereby ensure acceptance also from the people—a solution which would make this House a real Second Chamber, restore to it the power, the authority and the influence which it had in the past, and even enhance its authority and influence. Nevertheless, we must always remember that the Second Chamber must not interfere with the rights and privileges of the House of Commons, but it may bring the united wisdom of your Lordships and all the vast knowledge, experience and wisdom to be found in your Lordships' House to bear upon the problems which beset us every day and which will increase in importance from day to day, so that this House, when it does pass a judgment upon a measure, or upon a particular clause of a measure, will speak with a restored influence and with the authority which I myself would like it to possess as a Second Chamber of great historic renown.

LORD NEWTON, who had given Notice to move, as an Amendment, to leave out all words after "House" at the end of part 1 of the Resolution, said: My Lords, in moving the Amendment which stands in my name on the Paper, I need hardly say that it has been framed in the interest of preserving agreement so far as is possible, and avoiding difficulties which arise from endeavouring to go too much into detail, but I must confess that at the same time I am not so much impressed with the solemnity of the occasion as perhaps I ought to be. Long familiarity with this question and long experience of it has prepared me for disappointment, and I am under few illusions as to the result.

I cannot help thinking, with a certain amount of concern, that I believe my association with this particular question is longer than that of any noble Lord who is present here this afternoon. Twenty-one years ago, at the giddy and irresponsible age of fifty, I brought forward, contrary to the advice of my friends and strongly discouraged by the Government, a Bill for the reform of this House, yet in spite of its frigid reception that Bill was referred to a Select Committee, which was presided over by Lord Rosebery and which was composed of the most eminent members of the Unionist Party, and so far as I am concerned I never expect to move in such distinguished circles again. That Committee sat for something like a year, considered the question most attentively, and finally issued what I imagined to be a valuable Report, but when that Report was brought down to the House the Government refused to look at it. We were not even allowed to discuss it. Three years afterwards, in a period of death bed repentance, so to speak, with the shadow of the Parliament Bill hanging over it, the Government of the day passed the so-called Rosebery-cum-Lansdowne Resolutions, and, as was correctly remarked at the time, the procedure much resembled setting to work to build a house in the midst of a hurricane and, naturally, when the Parliament Bill made its appearance, nothing more was heard of these particular Resolutions.

For a time the question slumped, hut during the War a very important Committee was constituted composed of members of all Parties under the chairmanship of Lord Bryce, and that Committee, after enormous labour, produced very elaborate and extremely complicated proposals. I should doubt whether there are more than two or three people in the House at this moment who could say what those proposals actually were. Then, in 1922, the Coalition Government brought forward Resolutions of the same character, and, if I remember correctly, my noble friend Lord Peel was the exponent of those proposals. The subject recurred from time to time, and I can remember that in 1923, at my instigation, this House adopted, without a Division, a Motion in favour of reducing our numbers. Everybody remembers what took place last year, and I need not dwell upon it at any length, but I recall that at the time I was not in the least taken in (if I may use a vulgar expression) by the assurances of the Government. I thought my noble friends Lord FitzAlan and Lord Midleton were entirely mistaken in the hopes excited by the statement made on behalf of the Government by the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Cave. My suspicions were verified, because shortly afterwards the Prime Minister, in what I can only designate as a callous and signal manner, threw over the Lord Chancellor and the whole proceedings looked some-thing like a political practical joke. I cannot help remarking, in connection with that, that if the Prime Minister were desirous of throwing over one of his own colleagues it would have been so very much better if he had thrown over his Home Secretary instead of allowing him to saddle the Party with the load of the "flapper vote."

Now there comes forward my noble friend Lord Clarendon with proposals producing this most singular result, that apparently the proposals, or at least the greater part of them, find favour with the Liberal Party, judging by the speech just made by the noble Marquess, Lord Reading. They did not find favour with the Labour Party, and they do not find any favour with the Front Bench—the Government. I should have thought myself that what was good enough for the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Reading) would have been good enough for noble Lords upon the Front Bench, because the proposals which are contained in the Resolution of my noble friend Lord Clarendon are proposals to which they have committed themselves over and over again. This is rather a discouraging feature, but perhaps it is not so discouraging as it appears, because, judging from the final remarks of the noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack, it is quite possible we may hear a totally different opinion expressed before we end the debate by my noble friend the leader of the House.

Long consideration of this question convinced me many years ago that the first thing to do is to adopt the very simplest methods in altering the constitution of this House, and to endeavour as far as possible to discover some means of agreement between the different Parties. After many fruitless attempts my noble friend Lord Clarendon has at all events, as I have just explained, succeeded up to a certain point, and we have obtained, so far as I am able to ascertain, the agreement of the Liberal Party to these two very important principles—limitation of numbers and representation of all Parties in a fair proportioning in this House. This may not sound much; it may sound like the well-worn platitudes to which we are well accustomed; but at all events it is an advance, even if it is only an advance on paper. So far as I am concerned I have long ceased to believe in the election of persons from outside, or to put any faith in the elaborate schemes which have been put forward from time to time. I believe that the obvious and the only effective measure of creating a proper political balance in this House is by the creation of life Peers, for it is perfectly obvious that in order to obtain this balance, with the House constituted as it is, you would have to make such a gigantic number of life Peers that the House would be far more unworkable even than it is at the present moment. The obvious way of meeting this difficulty is to reduce the number of hereditary Peers, and to do it by the simplest way—namely, by allowing the hereditary Peers to elect their own representatives. This has the advantage of being not only a simple plan but of not infringing the hereditary principle.

It is plain, therefore, that the reduction of the numbers of this House is the basis of all reform, whatever may be suggested, and this has always appeared to me so extremely important a point that I, personally, have often thought that we ought to have endeavoured to set about this particular reform without studying too much the opinions of other people or without any regard, for instance, to the Parliament Act. What tells more against us as an Assembly than anything else is the grotesque appearance which this Assembly presents. When I say "grotesque" I am, of course, alluding to its enormous size, and to the fact that it is constituted largely of absentees, and that it contains a large number of persons who would not be tolerated in any other Assembly for various reasons. I have often pointed out the extreme necessity of cutting down our numbers, but I am not ashamed to return to the case again and to illustrate it by figures.

At the present moment the temporal and spiritual Peers number all told, and all ages included, something like 740. That, in itself, is a large number, but to these you must add prospective members of this House in the shape of those ladies who are clamouring for an entrance with-in its portals and who number something between 20 and 30. Then you have also to consider that when this Government goes out and the new Government comes in, and also in the interval, there will be a shower of honours, and it is quite conceivable that there may be another 40 or 50 Peers added to the 740 persons I have already enumerated. That means that we are within measurable distance of numbering something like 800 members—that is to say, 200 more than the House of Commons contains, and double the number of any other Legislative Assembly in the civilised world. In this vast and unwieldly crowd—I might almost say mob—the Conservatives are in the proportion of something like ten to one. In those circumstances, how can the ordinary plain man, the ordinary voter, believe, unless he is well educated in politics, that this House can really be impartial? It is inconceivable, judging by its appearance, that it could convey an impression of impartiality.

But now let us consider for a moment how the 700 Peers—whom I may call the 700 able-bodied Peers; that is to say, those of full age and capable of voting and so forth—discharge their duties. You may divide them into three classes. There are the permanent absentees; there are the Peers who only put in a very occasional appearance, say once a year, in the same spirit, perhaps, as people go to levees or the Derby, and in the third place there are habitual attendants. Amongst the 141 who have never set foot inside this place during the present Parliament you have the modern Warwick, Lord Rothermere, who is still firmly convinced that the seat of Government is fixed in Northcliffe House, an obsession which will probably last him till the end of his days. Then, taking the Peers who attend with a certain amount of regularity, at a liberal estimate you can put them at anything between 150 and 200. That leaves about 300 unaccounted for, and it is not an exaggeration to say that the work in this House is really done by not more than 50 or 60 people. As an instance of the want of—what shall I say?—want of responsibility attaching to many Peers, I will ask you to look at the House this afternoon. Here we are discussing our future. I do not suppose that there are 100 persons on these Benches, and I shall be very much surprised, if a Division takes place, if 200 Peers take part in it—that is to say, less than one-third of the total number.

I would like to adduce an even more striking instance of the way in which noble Lords show that they feel no sort of responsibility with regard to this House. I remember when the late Marquess Curzon was promoting the Peers' War Memorial, he circularised every-body, and I do not suppose there is a single Peer who did not lose a near relative in the course of the War. The number of persons who replied to him was actually less than half the total number of the House. All this shows how little responsibility many members feel, and everybody must recognise how dangerous this is to our reputation and how important it is to get rid of undesirable or useless members.

My noble friend the Earl of Clarendon, in moving his Resolution, had a good deal to say about sacrifices. Personally, I do not see that sacrifice comes in at all. I should be quite prepared to sacrifice 200 or even 300 backwoodsmen and should not feel a pang of any sort in doing so, nor do I believe they would themselves suffer any pang. Many of them could be got rid of without their ever finding it out. But there is one thing everybody must recognise, and I think this was remarked upon by the noble Marquess, Lord Reading. In attempting to solve this problem it is perfectly impossible to please everybody. My noble friend has succeeded in pleasing the Liberal Party. He certainly has not succeeded in pleasing Lord Parmoor, and if the noble Lord, Lord Parmoor, represents the feeling of his Party we are not likely to obtain any co-operation from them. But the acceptance of the principle embodied in the first part of this Resolution does mark a certain step, and I think that the principle involved is one which will commend itself to reasonable opinion in this country. That being so, I can only say in conclusion that if the Government are unable to give any approval to this principle, then I am afraid that the effect upon the country will be singularly unfavourable. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Leave out all words after "House" at the end of part 1.—(Lord Newton.)


My Lords, my noble friend the Earl of Clarendon has asked me to say on his behalf that, as perhaps your Lordships will have anticipated, he is prepared to accept the Amendment which the noble Lord. Lord Newton, has just proposed. I may add also that he wishes me to say that he is prepared to substitute the word "reduce" for the word "limit" in part 1, although as to the effect of that I propose to say a few words shortly, because it must not be supposed that by making a concession with the object of attaining unanimity on this occasion we concede an implication that this change of words does not involve.

Having said so much with regard to Lord Newton's speech, may I be allowed to add, I hope without discourtesy, that I wish to pass away from it as quickly as I possibly can. I have not sat in this House for twenty years since the date when, at the tender age of fifty, he introduced an epoch-making Resolution which attracted the attention of many of the most eminent men of the day, but I have quite frequently heard from his lips the speech that he has just made at not very long intervals during the last seven or eight years, and I confess that it has never filled me with less satisfaction than to-night. Upon this occasion, of all others, the noble Lord has thought fit to fall foul of his own order, to denounce some of its members as "backwoodsmen" and to refer to them in other terms of abuse and to give not your Lordships—because you know both your fellows and the noble Lord—but the world at large, if his voice reaches so far, the impression that we are a crew hardly fit to be tolerated on the face of a civilised earth. I, on the other side, venture to say that (of course outside the United States of America) you will not find in the whole wide world a thousand persons and their families better fitted to sustain the traditions and to discharge the public duties of a great, country than you find in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. I say nothing about their shortcomings. I think we know them well enough to forgive them.

But I do wish to say that the scanty appearance of our Benches on this and on other occasions is not due to mere laxity on the part of noble Lords. They devote a large part of their public time to local labours of the greatest value. They know that, since the Parliament Act, the field for the activity of their order is not conspicuously in this Chamber, and, furthermore, Ministers are not the only persons of whom it is just to say that, if they labour elsewhere, they ought not to be blamed for not being present here. Nor, again, are Ministers of the Crown the only persons who have spent in the public service more than they brought to it when they took office. Many Peers are not here because they cannot afford to be here, because recent political changes and recent social schemes have undermined their position and they have to maintain the dignity of their families as best they can. You will agree that they may well absolve themselves from attendance here to listen to speeches of that kind. I would only say one thing more in this connection. We are approaching a General Election. The noble Lord's speech will be, I have no doubt, invaluable to the supporters of the official Opposition Those who will fail to appreciate, as we appreciate, the noble Lord's peculiar ideas of humour, will make the most of the language in which he has denounced the Peerage, and I have no doubt that' we shall hear a great deal of this again.

With that single exception, I should like to congratulate your Lordships on the course which this debate has taken. I believe that a substantial step has been taken since the summer of last year. On the foundation which my noble friend Lord FitzAlan then so weightily and wisely laid is now raised a visible superstructure by the Motion which has been introduced by my noble friend Lord Clarendon, and it has been received in the House in a way which I am convinced that all of your Lordships will welcome. Those who are really desirous of seeing something done will recognise this debate as being a real step forward, and I hope that, before it closes, that step may be taken a little further than it has been taken up to the present moment. The noble and learned Marquess opposite said with great truth that this is the kind of reform as to which there must be unanimity—I suppose one should say such unanimity as is possible in human political affairs—and also that it cannot be left to your Lordships to frame a scheme. Both statements are by no means new to us, but they are of value because they are so fundamentally true.

One reason why my noble friend has not thought it necessary to proceed with the more detailed portion of his Motion is that it is not for your Lordships, and well we know it, to frame a scheme and dictate it to a Ministry, still less to the public at large. I have always believed, and I think I shall always maintain, that this is a reform which can take place only when a Ministry undertakes the introduction of a Bill, and that such a Ministry can only make proposals in detail for which it is prepared to take responsibility because they have originated in its counsels. That being so, I have never taken much interest in the discussion of mechanical details, though I have often noticed that it is these that charm some politicians more than any other. For example, it is now, I think, three or four years since I first began to engage in private conversations upon this matter, and one of the first questions that I was asked, particularly by members who sit in another place, was: "What are the new Peers to be called?" It appears to be regarded as an important thing to specify whether they should write the letters "L.P." after their names. Those details, I dare say, will have to be discussed some day and, like decorations, will have a certain value in their proper place. But we can do no more than enunciate a principle, with the object of having discussion, of eliciting opinion and—as I am glad to say on this occasion—of securing approval. It is only in that view that my noble friend put upon the Paper the proposals which have attracted our Lordships on all sides so justly and so strongly.

In point of fact, we are in this difficulty in this House. If we make proposals, we are told with perfect truth that it is the Government that must make proposals and the country which must approve them. If, nevertheless, we make proposals, as has been done on this occasion, they at once become the subject of minute and even bitter criticism. Every letter is scanned, every possible objection is raised and we find that we are getting no further. And yet there is no other way open to us of doing what we want to do—that is to say, of telling the country what offers we are prepared to make, how far we are ready to go, how changed we are from the House of Lords of thirty years ago—than by putting upon the Paper detailed proposals, every one of which might have to be recast or might never find favour with a Government. I think that in this respect your Lordships must all agree that a most remarkable change has come over the feeling of this House in the last two years. That it should be proposed from this side of the House—and I hope it is going to be received with acceptance—that the time has come for the remodelling of its constitution and for the admission of new elements in the manner suggested here, or in some other manner, is a step in advance of which I think we may all be proud, and my noble friend first and foremost.

I should like to dismiss, before I go any further, an observation that I want to make about the second part of the Motion, without further discussing that part. It is as to the implications of the word "limit." The noble Marquess cherishes as, I will not say the palladium of the Constitution but as the key to peace, as the olive branch that the Prime Minister carries in his beak in case of acute difference between the two Houses, the possibility of the creation of Peers for the purpose of carrying whatever measures he wants to carry. If the numbers of your Lordships' House were fixed, of course at once the exercise of the Prerogative in that fashion would naturally come to an end, but I protest against the accusation made by the noble Marquess in June of last year and, though not at length, repeated now, that that involves any kind of invasion of the Royal Prerogative. Although the number of Peers who sit in this House, and the mode in which they get here, is altered by law, the Prerogative of the Sovereign to create such Peers as he likes remains exactly where it was before.

What is really the effect of fixing the numbers of this House is to cut down the privileges of the Peerage, and I should not have thought that that would be very offensive to the noble Marquess. Years and years ago Peers managed to establish, as part of the Peerage law, the principle that a Peer was entitled to his Writ of Summons in every Parliament. The effect of fixing the numbers of the House, and the method by which they would be selected, would be to settle that a Peer as such would not be entitled to a Writ of Summons. That is the whole change that will be made, but the whole change, I agree, includes this, that it would no longer be theoretically in the power of the Prime Minister for the time being to pack one branch of the Legislature to such an extent as might be necessary for his purpose, provided the Sovereign should be pleased to accept his advice. It is no time now to go back upon the history of this ancient quarrel, which I hope may never be reopened. Once and once only has this power of creating Peers actually been used, in a somewhat dubious case in the early part of the 18th century.

When use has been made of it the use has been that of menace, and I can hardly think it is the key to peace, or a weapon of the Constitution of which anybody can be proud, that it should be possible for the Prime Minister of the day to threaten this House with such new creations of Peers as would enable him to carry his will whatever the opinion of the Chamber might be. I trust that those conflicts are over. The House of Lords has certainly learnt much since the Parliament Act, although it has suffered much. I think the country has learned much, too, and I do not believe that the possibility of advising a large creation of Peers is one which now figures largely in the Constitution or is of any real value in the management of the affairs of the country. I therefore reserve my assent to the view that in limiting the numbers of the House, which is one of the first things we require, liberty should be left over to the Prime Minister of the day to advise the creation of an unlimited number of new members. How could you expect a House consisting in great part of nominated members, representative of the Parties in the House of Commons and brought much more closely than at present into immediate contact with the people of the country, to submit to have the balance turned against them, whenever it did not suit the Prime Minister of the day to submit to their conclusions?

The course that this debate has pursued has been interesting and novel. The intervention of the Lord Chancellor on the first day gave us two passages that were attractive, and I may almost say caused a thrill. One was that he tackled the noble and learned Lord who leads the Official Opposition. I notice that he has introduced a most logical practice of describing that Party as the Socialist Party. I notice also that he dealt faithfully with the misapprehension of what was really meant by this scheme which had pervaded the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor. I must say that it fills me with astonishment that a statesman, if I may call him so, in the position of the noble and learned Lord, should have rejected holus bolus such an offer as is made in this Resolution. Imagine the case of 1924 over again, and visualise this Bench sparsely occupied by the scanty but diverse Peers who now adorn Benches opposite, and remember also the closely filled Benches of the Opposition of those days. I remember well sitting over there and seeing these minor constellations scattered at long distances on the Government Front Bench. Think of their position facing a House not very well disposed to them, although I think not unkindly——


Very kind.


possibly too kind—and being told "You have no real remedy. You have had an offer from your present opponents of a form of Chamber which would enable you to bring into the House spokesmen and statesmen from your Party in the Lower House, to back you up, and you would not take it." Instead of that Lord Parmoor has delivered a speech which in the United States would have entitled him to be called a "spell-binder," and which appeared to me to echo the language of the street corners, or wherever one hears Socialist orators. The whole idea was rejected utterly, although the change, which need not be a final change of course, would, at any rate in that event, have given the Socialist Party the opportunity of being represented from those Benches with argument, with persuasion, by the force of character and to a certain extent by the force of numbers. However, they have taken their course, and I do not suppose the country will forget it.

The other thrill was this, that this debate was conducted—I think it was a new idea—upon the principle of serial fiction in the newspapers—"to be continued in our next." The Lord Chancellor, making an appearance of a slightly ambiguous character, wound up with that sentence which has struck us all, to the effect (I do not presume to quote his words) that this is what he thinks, but still what he really means is that he anticipates that what the noble Marquess who leads the House is going to say 48 hours afterwards will be the same as what he has said. That, of course, has kept up the interest of this discussion wonderfully. We have not known for certain until to-night, until the noble and learned Marquess opposite elicited a prompt word from the noble Marquess who leads the House, where the members of the Government would be when the rest of the House was going into the Lobbies. We now understand, however, that they do not propose to be in either Lobby. Well, is that their last word? Can it really be that the leaders of a Party possessed of an enormous majority in the House of Commons, who are about to seek the suffrages of the country again—I suppose marching at the head of a united army, with banners flying, and may I say with trumpets blowing?—can it really be that they do not know where they stand upon this question? Or is it that they will not say? And which of these two positions is the more consistent with the duty of a Government, and the dignity of our constitutional leaders?

Something was said by the Lord Chancellor about the impossibility of forcing the Government view of this question upon their supporters in another place. It was with great gratification that I learnt as a new fact that Lord Cave's proposals, which were the thrill of the discussion in June, 1927, might have been carried if the Government had only chosen to carry them; they could have forced them through, and I am inclined to think without a very great deal of difficulty, but they thought the question was one of those which ought not to be forced, that conversion must come by degrees, that it does not burst as a sudden light upon the degenerate mind, and that members of their Party in another place, mindful of their constituents, might be allowed time to get their bearings. Still, after mature deliberation in 1927, the Cabinet did know their own mind, but they had a tenderness for the feelings of their faithful and enthusiastic followers. Now can it possibly be that this subject, which I am sure has been before their minds at frequent intervals for the last four or five years, is one upon which they have no fixed convictions at all; or is it really the right way, to treat this great question upon "hush-hush" principles, and say: "We are about to go to the country, and it is usual to tell the country what we are going to ask of them, but for Heaven's sake, don't use the words 'House of Lords'"? Of course, the House of Lords will be mentioned for good or evil: it cannot be kept out of the picture.

But I can quite understand that there may be some situation, though my mind is not able to fathom what it is, that makes Ministers themselves loath to commit themselves to any scheme, or to any time. Now, they have not been asked to introduce anything this Session at all, and I think, considering what has passed, members of your Lordships' House on this side have exercised a good deal of forbearance in that matter. Ministers have not been asked to accept as an ultimatum, or even as a fixed proposal, any particular outline or scheme. We have said again and again it is the business of the Government to introduce its own Bill, it is the business of the House of Lords to consult beforehand, to ascertain where it stands, and, either publicly or privately, or both, to let the Government know how far it can go; and, I think I may add, we should all agree that, where the Government has a view upon matters of detail, it would be almost the duty of the House to give way unless there were some strong ground of principle against it, because the Government is responsible for the legislation.

Now, in those circumstances is it really all that we are to expect that, without further explanations of their views, Ministers will seek a refuge on the steps of the Throne, and watch us return from the Lobby, interested, but not too much interested, in the balance of the Division? I cannot help hoping that the part played by the Lord Chancellor may be balanced by an equally satisfactory part played by the noble Marquess. The Lord Chancellor examined the proposals with a discretion and an impartiality that left one in doubt. Sometimes his attitude was that of a devout lover, sometimes of a gay Lothario, and it was impossible to tell which was really the rôle that he was playing; and he cast upon the noble Marquess the office of a veiled prophet who, in full time, would enunciate to the House the oracles with which he was charged.

I make an appeal, a sincere, even a hopeful, appeal, to the noble Marquess to say, as the noble and learned Marquess opposite has said, that, cut down as the Motion now is, there is not anything that any member of the Government would wish to negative or would fear to associate his name with. Is it possible that any sincere friend of the House of Lords could say it is not desirable "that early steps should be taken to reduce the number of members of the House," it is not desirable that any steps, early or otherwise, should be taken, "to make suitable provision for an elective representation of the Peerage, and for such other representation or nomination as would ensure to each political Party a fair position in the House"? What is that attitude, except that of the noble and learned Lord opposite [Lord Parmoor], who cannot, owing to his principles—I should say owing to the principles of the Birmingham Conference—permit himself, or be permitted, to say anything except, "No House of Lords, no Peerage, no arrangement that can possibly result, even in the fears of the most apprehensive, in a permanent Conservative majority in the House of Lords"?

People seem to forget that the Conservative Party, like another Party, may be fissiparous, and that in time there may not only be a Labour and a Conservative Party, but a Right and Left wing of the Conservative Party, and then all this would become past history. But is it possible that any member of the Government wishes it to be understood that that is his political position at the present day? I say nothing about platform difficulties at the General Election. I fully appreciate that they are there, and it may be that they are great, and in these matters I know there is a great deal to be done by reticence, and that sometimes wise Ministers refuse to rush in where angels fear to tread. But, still, I have difficulty in believing that, if it was wise and right to take rapid steps to add to the electorate five millions of fresh voters, and so to produce that constitutional change which, as my noble and learned friend Lord Buckmaster has wisely observed, has brought about a position in which we may have great changes of opinion, great acuteness of division and possibly heat and violence—I cannot believe that if it was wise for them to come to a rapid conclusion on that matter, it is wise for them on this matter to remain veiled in mystery, and to let the opportunity pass by.

I hope they will remember, if things should go unfortunately, the opportunities that they have had of dealing with this question at a time when they could have settled it, and at a time when, in the result, the country would have been saved, after an adverse Election, from violent changes which they at any rate must deprecate. I cannot think that it could be any satisfaction, if that were to happen, to reflect that they had let their time go by. I venture also to say that it is hardly fair to the country and, perhaps I may add, not very kindly to us that we and our hopes and our chances should be allowed to hang upon the turn of the luck in a few constituencies in the North of England which will probably be lost in any case.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Newton, who moved the Amendment, seemed to anticipate that I was going to make a very different speech from the speech which was delivered by my noble friend upon the Woolsack. Even my noble friend who has just sat down seemed to anticipate that there was going to be a new revelation to your Lordships when I rose to address you. I feel becomingly modest at so much importance being attributed to the humble observations which I design to address to your Lordships. I can assure you that they may be a little more developed but they will not differ from those of my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack. Indeed, I deprecate a little the friendly exaggeration with which my noble friend spoke to me. After all, he is more recently from the House of Commons than I am and it is in the House of Commons that the difficulty lies. I have been here a quarter of a century and I have almost forgotten the sort of jumpy feeling we used to have when an Election was in prospect. I think you will find that on these matters my noble friend upon the Woolsack is at least as good a guide as I am.

I desire to refer to the speech we have just heard. It was, of course, an admirable speech, moderately phrased and incisive in argument. My noble friend wanted me to explain the real foundation for the attitude of the Government. It is a question of time. This year is not the same as last year. Last year there was time; this year there is no time. I am aware that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, suggested that even in what remained of the present Parliament we should legislate upon the constitution of the House of Lords. That I am sure is not the view of my noble friend Lord Clarendon or of those who are acting with him. It is evident from their speeches that they do not anticipate that anything can be done in this Parliament. Of course they are absolutely right. It makes a vital difference. I am making no complaint of the line which has been taken by my noble friends. On the contrary, they will receive nothing but praise from me. They desire to commit your Lordships' House, and I think they are well advised in doing so, to certain broad principles with an illustration, as the Motion stands on the Paper, of how those principles might be carried out. I do not agree with the illustration; I do not agree, that is, in the provisions suggested in the illustration, but that does not affect my point for the moment. I think my noble friends were very well advised to lay down certain principles. They were very well advised, if they will allow me to say so, in adding an illustration of those principles, because had the bare principles stood alone upon your Lordships' Paper no one would have realised how far my noble friends were prepared to go.

I would make an observation or two, not altogether favourable, upon their particular illustration; but the spirit which it showed was of immense value in this controversy because my noble friends showed that they did not shrink from a vital change in the personnel of your Lordships' House, that these principles were not merely put forward as empty phrases but were intended to be translated into substantial provisions which would have a far-reaching effect in altering the constitution of your Lordships' House. Therefore, I think they were very well advised. They ask us to go one step further. They not only ask your Lordships to accept these principles; they ask that the Government should be identified with them, and that is a very different thing. Let me repeat for the sake of clearness that we do not in any degree desire to oppose this Resolution especially as it is going to be amended; but we do not wish to be identified with it.

Why? My noble friend upon the Woolsack has indicated to your Lordships that it is impossible for the present Government to be identified with any special method of carrying out what I believe to be the necessary reform of your Lordships' House until there is a greater measure of agreement amongst their own friends as to what ought to be done. I am not speaking of agreement with other Parties. I have great respect for noble Lords opposite. I have great respect for noble Lords sitting in other quarters of the House, but I should despair of any reform being carried if I depended upon their efforts. I know that we shall never agree. We may come to a compromise some day, but, I doubt it. What I care about is agreement amongst our own friends. No one who witnessed the history of last year but must be convinced that in the House of Commons—I am not speaking of your Lordships' House—there is no such general agreement. How can the Govern- ment be identified with any special method of reforming your Lordships' House until their supporters in another place are able to come to some agreement on the subject?

Personally I have nothing to say against the Resolution of my noble friend Lord Clarendon as it stands on the Paper after it has been amended by the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Newton. I agree, personally, that the numbers of your Lordships' House ought to be reduced. I agree that the hereditary principle ought to be maintained. I agree that there ought to be fairer representation of the other political Parties. I do not imagine there is any member of your Lordships' House who is more convinced of those three conclusions that I am. As to the second part, I am afraid I cannot speak in the same terms of it. I do not object to it because of its Conservative character. The noble Marquess [the Marquess of Reading] seemed to think that was fatal.


Fatal to a fair House.


Do not let us quarrel about phrases. Being a Liberal he was opposed to it because it had a Conservative majority. I do not quarrel with it on that ground. My belief is that, as this subject comes to be debated and dissected, it will be found that in the long run a Second Chamber ought to be on the whole Conservative and I doubt whether there are many members of the Liberal Party who would not assent to that broad doctrine. Such a Chamber is hero in order to check thoughtless, careless, headlong legislation, and necessarily it ought to be on the whole Conservative in its complexion, but that does not mean, of course, that the House ought not to contain representations of the other Parties in a far greater proportion than it does at this moment. I have a great compassion for noble Lords sitting on the Bench opposite. They have to work very hard indeed in order to maintain anything like a show. Rather like a stage army, they go round and round. I shall never say a disrespectful word about them. I honour them for their efforts, but, undoubtedly, they would be much more comfortable if they had a few friends behind them.

Why I object to the terms of the second part of my noble friend's Resolution is because it abandons almost for the first time among all the numerous schemes for reform which I have had to consider, the principle of continuity. The Lords of Parliament who are to be nominated in order to give other Parties proper representation are to be changed every Parliament in order to hold exactly the same balance of opinion as in the House of Commons. In every other system I have examined, Lords of Parliament, whether they are hereditary or for life or for a term of years, were to be appointed without reference to the General Election of members in another place. They were to hold for a term of years and then lay down their responsibility, but not at the time of the General Election. So that under all those systems there is from Parliament to Parliament a spirit of continuity carried on in your Lordships' House which makes for the stability for which a Second Chamber exists. Therefore I criticise very respectfully the second part of my noble friend's Resolution. We cannot consent to identify the Government with either the second or the third paragraphs.

I regret very much that our friends in another place have not been able to make up their minds. They are not so old as we are. They do not realise as we do who have passed through the fire what are the dangers when a Government composed of our political opponents is in power. Not that I desire for a moment to suggest that your Lordships ought to throw out the Bills of a Liberal or a Labour Government. Sometimes it may be right to do it. Very much more often it is right for your Lordships to accept what is sent from another place whether the Government be a Liberal or a Labour Government, but undoubtedly the kind of experience through which the older of us have passed has convinced us that a Second Chamber, and a Second Chamber with power, is a real necessity for the Constitution of this country. The younger men another place do not realise this. I think they have taken a very great responsibility upon themselves in making it difficult for your Lordships' House not only to initiate but to carry through what we believe to be necessary reform. But they must bear their responsibility and nothing but experience will, I am afraid, show them where they are wrong. In these circumstances, without agreement amongst our friends, and without time to carry through any proposal, it would evidently be madness of the Government to identify themselves with any scheme.

My noble friend has submitted to us a sort of sketch or outline. It will become a more barren outline if Lord Newton's Amendment is carried than it was before. The moment the Government accepted that and identified themselves with it a demand would be made to fill in that outline. Every sort of question would at once be submitted to us. I need not go further to illustrate the argument I am trying to submit to your Lordships than the present debate. The question of how far the limitation was to be carried, how far reduction was to be made, and all the arguments which the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the Opposition [Lord Parmoor] submitted and what threat there was to the power of the House of Commons, would have to be taken into account. There was an Amendment appearing in the name of a noble Lord sitting on the Liberal Benches [Lord Strachie], but it has disappeared from the Paper. That illustrates another matter which would require to be filled in if the Government were to identify themselves with the sketch. There would also be a question as to what powers were to be attributed to the reformed House of Lords. The Government would not be able to decline responsibility in the way my noble friends do, in the way they are entitled to do. On the contrary, we should be called on to say what modification in the powers of the House of Lords those alterations in the personnel carry with them. And there are the other details which are dealt with in part 2, all of which would come for review, on every one of which we should be challenged. What is to happen to the hereditary Peerage itself; that is, to those members of it who are not selected as members of your Lordships' House? All these questions would have to be determined.

No, my Lords, the Government must not accept the sketch until they are prepared to fill it in, to fill in the whole picture, and they cannot fill in the whole picture unless they have time to do it. In this Parliament there is no time, and therefore to accept my noble friend's sketch—although, personally, I agree with every word of it as it has been amended—and to leave ourselves open to the obvious demand "Fill in your outline with every sort of detail"—that, in the absence of agreement, would be impossible. Those are the reasons which have led us to take the course which my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack has announced to your Lordships. But if disappointment is felt by some of my noble friends at the line we have felt ourselves bound to take, I would say this by way of comfort. The action of your Lordships' House upon this Motion will be even more significant if it is taken without the influence of the Government. It will be the unfettered, uninfluenced conviction of the House of Lords, with no official pressure of any sort or kind. You will all vote as your opinions and convictions demand that you should vote. That will stand upon record before the country and before the House of Commons as the pure undiluted opinion of your Lordships' House. That appears to me to be well worth something for, after all, it is not Governments which are going to decide this question ultimately. It is not the timidity or inexperience of members of Parliament. It is the irresistible logic of circumstances which will bring home to Parliament and to the country that an efficient Second Chamber is essential, and that for an efficient Second Chamber there must be a change in the constitution of the House of Lords. I praise my noble friends who sit behind me, if I may do so, because they have done something in this debate to push forward the realisation of that ideal, and I hope that before very long their efforts may bear the fruit that they deserve.


My Lords, one of the most interesting things about this debate is the very obvious difference in the atmosphere in which we are discussing this Resolution from the atmosphere of the debate that we had in this House eighteen months ago. On that occasion the debate was initiated by the proposal of a private member of your Lordships' House, and it appeared likely to be one of those academic discussions of which we have so many. But suddenly in the middle of the debate it was taken up by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Cave, who then occupied the Woolsack, and its character was completely transformed, because he sketched to your Lordships some very reasonably concrete proposals of the Government as to what should be done in the matter of the reform of this House and of some changes in the Parliament Act. And lest it should be thought or supposed that these suggestions were merely suggestions put forward from a debating society's point of view, intended to be discussed and to form the subject merely of a pious Resolution at the end of the debate, the matter was emphasised at a later stage by the noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, who took part in the debate and who told your Lordships quite definitely that it was intended to pass these proposals into law, during the lifetime of the present Parliament, and he spoke about the obligation of honour which had been upon the Government to deal with this matter which had been too long delayed.

What a change we have in this debate! In this debate the noble Earl, Lord Clarendon, with whose proposals I will deal in more detail in a moment, put down a Motion, not, I am happy to say, dealing with the Parliament Act, but dealing with the constitution of this House. At almost the earliest moment the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack got up, and not only did he not say that the Government would pass these proposals into law during the lifetime of the present Parliament, but he said the Government could not give their approval to them or vote in support of them. In fact, the greater part of his speech consisted of a somewhat emphatic and hasty running away from having anything to do with the proposals. What a change! When I address, as I sometimes do, meetings of the electorate in the country I always venture to impress upon them the importance of educating our electorate to their responsibilities, a process with which I am sure noble Lords opposite will sympathise, although they might not approve of the form of education which I offer them. I think it rather looks as if in this House from 1910 onwards we may have been gradually educating the electorate of this House which in time to come under a transformed constitution may elect Peers, for we notice now a very different tone and a very different method of discussion from that with which this subject used to be approached.

Now I turn, if I may do so, to what I may perhaps be permitted to call the New Constitutions of Clarendon which have been put before your Lordships, and I propose to say at once, what I believe to be the fact, that the noble Earl who introduced these proposals was perfectly and absolutely sincere in saying that he desired and intended these proposals to be fair to all Parties. I shall endeavour to show later that., however sincere in his intention, he has not been entirely successful in its execution, and I ascribe that partly to the effect of that ineradicable bias which naturally grows among such an overwhelming majority as the Conservative Party has in this House, and has had for generations, until they find it really impossible to conceive that any proposals can be adopted which do not ultimately and in the end give them a preponderating influence in the House. The noble Marquess himself, speaking with his great responsibility, said in the course of his remarks just now that he could not help feeling that a Second Chamber ought to be at any rate more Conservative than otherwise.


Hear, hear.


I do not wonder that your Lordships cheer that sentiment. I have just suggested that it is inevitable with their associations. Let us look at what the noble Earl proposes, because, although I understand that the second part, which the noble Marquess very properly called an illustration, is going to be dropped, still it gives us an idea of what was in the mind of the noble Earl. There were to be 150 Peers elected by proportional representation by the whole body of Peers. It was stated that there were 105 Liberal Peers. I wonder if that number means those who actually receive the Liberal Whip or whether it means those who were Liberals when they were created Peers, because, as your Lordships have already heard, there have been known to be movements from one side to the other subsequent to a creation. But let us accept those figures. Our own figures, as your Lordships know quite well, can just be counted on the fingers of two hands. Out of a total number of 700 Peers, that gives roughly 100 who are not Conservative. The proportion to be elected would therefore be one-seventh. If you like I will give your Lordships one-sixth.


Might I interrupt the noble Earl, since I gave figures? I particularly pointed out that there are 120 other Peers who are not accounted for—either Bishops or others who are certainly not Conservative, but independent. Therefore the real proportion is 475 to 225.


I do not know how independent they are. They do not, so far as I know, associate themselves with either of the Opposition Parties, and I think I should probably not be far wrong if I associated them in their general political action with the Party opposite. Anyhow, I will give you one-sixth instead of one-seventh. That means that, out of 150 Peers, there will be 125 Conservative Peers and 25 Opposition Peers, with an overwhelming majority against them.




I do not know why not. One of my noble friends has kindly worked out the actual proportions to be elected, and he makes it, at the outside, something like 20 Liberal Peers and 5 Labour Peers, so that there our unfortunate number will be reduced to the fingers of one hand instead of two. That inequality—for it must be admitted to be an inequality—is to be redressed by the nomination of 150 persons in proportion to the Parties in the House of Commons. Even the most successful Party at a General Election can hardly hope to have more than two-thirds of the whole House, so that, out of those 150, another 50, assuming that there was a Labour Government in power, would also be Conservative Peers. You then get, out of your total of 300 Peers, 175 Peers who will represent the Conservative Party and 125 on the other side. I do not know why the noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack referred to the calculations of my noble and learned Leader as a travesty upon the proposals of Lord Clarendon, but it really seems to me that there is no method of arithmetical examination of these figures by which you can get away from that conclusion.


But surely—I argued this question or I would not interrupt—the noble Earl is including all the independent Peers and making them all Conservative, as well as all the Law Lords, who do not take the Conservative Whip. Is that putting a fair construction upon the figures? It is making an alteration in the proportions of some 30 or 40 on one side.


I shall be prepared to make a calculation on a different basis when I hear from any of the Law Lords or Bishops that they are anxious to take the Labour Whip. Until then I think I shall be right to leave it as it is. Then the Crown is to have the power to appoint a limited number of life Peers in each Parliament—only a limited number. This is quite clearly and is, I suppose, intended to be, a limitation of the Prerogative. How can any Party which is in a minority in this House be expected to accept as fair a reform of this House which leaves them still in a minority, and in a permanent minority?

Let me put it this way to your Lordships. This House, as matters now stand, has a historical origin and a traditional manner of dealing with the difficulties of this overwhelming majority—that is to say, it is careful not to use it to oppose all progressive legislation when a progressive Government is in power. I would remind your Lordships, indeed, that one of the Acts which I have heard most constantly denounced from the other side of the House, the Trade Disputes Act, was passed in this House by a Liberal Government without a single vote being given against it or a single noble Lord rising, so far as I recollect, in opposition to its passage. That is the wise line which your Lordships have taken, and the result is that, as the thing stands, it more or less works. But when you are going to make a reform of the House of Lords in its constitution—I am confining myself to its constitution—and when you go to the country and say: "This is not the old House of Lords that we have heard of, this is not entrenched prerogative, this is not the old mass of hereditary Peers, but this is a reformed House of Lords and they must be given powers, they must be trusted"—then I think we are entitled to say on this side of the House that this is a sham reform and a reform which, because it is a sham reform, is very much worse for us than no reform at all. For these reasons we are unwilling to accept the Greek gift which the noble Earl, Lord Clarendon, has so kindly offered to us.

I was very glad to see that in these proposals there is no present intention of tampering with the Parliament Act. But how do we know, if we are to have a reformed house of Lords, with an incursion into it of 150 nominated members, anxious to exercise real power as well as to sit in your Lordships' House, that we may not very soon find a clamour for—what shall I say?—power to deal with rates, which was one of the suggestions male last year, or perhaps in a very short time for some qualification as to what is or is not a Money Bill? Changes in the Parliament Act, it seems to me, might very well follow. I would be prepared to suggest for myself that it is far safer for any future progressive Prime Minister in command of a majority in the other place to rely upon the Parliament Act and the Prerogative of the Crown rather than upon any measure of reform of this kind.

Noble Lords are always very kind to us. They pity, as well they may, our sparse numbers and our arduous labours, and they endeavour to attract us with the bait of having sitting behind us, say, a Lord Silvertown, better known, I believe, in another place as Jack Jones, and perhaps 30 or 40 more who, like the ranks of Tuscany, will cheer when we rise to address your Lordships. I confess that it would be a great comfort and support to me, when I face the serried ranks of your Lordships on that side of the House, to know that we had at any rate some small battalions behind us; but if I were interested in getting through this House a Bill passed by a Labour Government in another place, it would comfort me very little to know that I could put into the Division Lobby 125 Peers against 175 on the other side. That would be very poor comfort. Your Lordships appear to forget that, while the Prerogative of the Crown exists and is at the command of the Prime Minister of the day, he can still, when he is in office, if he chooses, put into this House some 20 or 30 Peers. It is true that he cannot put them here as life Peers, but only as hereditary Peers.

I have a passage here from some observations made by the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, which shows that he apparently did not think that this scheme was entirely fair, because he said on the last occasion when we discussed this matter:— The main objection seems to me to be that by these proposals you will ensure a perpetual Conservative majority. As I have said, from the ranks of the hereditary Peers, under these proposals, you will get a majority. He went on to suggest that that would be cured to a certain extent by the nomination of representatives of Parties and the power to create life Peers. That is what a noble Lord on the other side said I about these proposals.

I notice also that Lord Midleton made a statement which rather attracted my attention to the question of numbers. He said:— When you get a proposal which reduces the difference of Parties in this House from a proportion of three to one to something like an equality, I must confess that I think we have reason to complain that the header of the Labour Party in this House, instead of recognising the desire for justice shown by my noble friend, should have made the grotesque presentment of it that he gave to the House. It is very kind, no doubt, to reduce the disparity, but our claim is that that disparity ought to be removed in the case where a Labour Government is in office and entitled to have its proposals go through the House. I said last year, and I think it should be repeated, that when you speak about single-chamber Governments the Conservative Party have a single-chamber Government permanently in operation. There is no measure sponsored by a Conservative Government which they are unable to get through the House. They can rely upon that. There has been no measure proposed by the Liberal Party, and certainly there would be no measure proposed by the Labour Party, which they could get through your Lordship's House, except by the favour of your Lordships.


The Rabbits Bill was rejected by this House.


It was not passed.


Was it a Government Bill? I dare say there are some occasions connected with agriculture when noble Lords take the law into their own hands, and I can make my statement perfectly correct if I say no Bill of real political importance.

I should like to say a word, since I have mentioned the matter, about the Prerogative. The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Sumner, chastised all of us in turn. He began with Lord Newton, who I think is well able to take care of himself. I think he chastised the Liberal Benches, he chastised us, and, indeed, I am not sure whether he was chastising, or sorrowing over, the Front Government Bench. He said some rather remarkable things about the Prerogative. He said that the Prerogative was a Prerogative to create Peers and not to create Lords of Parliament. That is, I think, one of the most remarkable statements that has ever been made, especially coming from a distinguished lawyer. The fact of a Lordship of Parliament is frequently established by a Writ of Summons. A Writ of Summons and a Lordship of Parliament may indeed be said to be too mutually concurrent and dependent things; but he states that they are quite different things, and that the King's Prerogative is not diminished if he is entitled to create a person with the title of Peer but with no right to sit in Parliament.

He admonished us that if we rejected this offer of reform we should only have ourselves to thank if we regretted it in the future. All of your Lordships have in your youth learned the lines "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes." We do not want any gift of a wooden horse within the walls of Troy. We think we can maintain it better without your assistance than with it. We regret that we should not be able to accept the offer which is made, but we have not observed that enthusiasm for our policies, or that anxiety to make them successful, which makes us think that any real offer of help is likely to come from that side of the House.

I should like to say one word upon the Motion, supposing the second part is cut out. The Motion will then stand thus:— That it is desirable that early steps should be taken to limit the number of members of the House, and to make suitable provision for an elective representation of the Peerage, and for such other representation or nomination as would ensure to each political Party a fair position in the House. Much must depend upon the interpretation of the word "fair." I have already pointed out to your Lordships how the word "fair" is interpreted by the noble Earl who brought the proposals to your notice—that that Resolution contains a survival and continuance of the hereditary element. The Party to which I belong is opposed to the ultimate and permanent continuance of the hereditary element, and the Liberal Party also, I think, is committed to the non-continuance of the hereditary element. Your Lordships always pray in aid, on these occasions, the Preamble of the Parliament Act. You found yourselves upon the Preamble of the Parliament Act, and that insists upon the elective and not the hereditary basis. How then is it possible to accept a Motion couched in those terms?

I do not want to deal with what I might call the smaller fringes of the question, the numbers of the Bishops, the Ladies, the Law Lords, and so on. I do not think that those are of great importance, but I might express my own personal opinion. It seems to me that if we are going to have a reformed House of Lords it would be extraordinarily foolish not to start it with a nucleus of 100 or perhaps 150 of your Lordships who have had experience in carrying on the business of this House; but if we are going to carry out the Preamble of the Parliament Act, and make a reformed chamber which the country will ultimately accept, you must provide that when those hereditary Peers die their places will be filled, not by an hereditary but by some elective method. I am there merely stating my own personal opinion. I think it would be foolish to start a perfectly new Assembly. That would answer the question of continuity which the noble Marquess spoke about.

The noble Marquess said he despaired of agreement with this side of the House, and he therefore does not share the view of Lord Sumner, that we shall be perverse and wicked people if we do not accept this olive branch, or, as I would prefer to call it, this wooden horse, which is now tendered to us. There was one phrase that he let drop as to which I should like to know what are the implications. He said that he wished to see a reformed House of Lords with power. That struck me as having a, certain sus- picious sound. Does that mean he wishes to hark back to what I may call the Cave proposals of last year? Does it mean some further power over rates, over Finance Bills, and interference with the Parliament Act? Those words "with power" to our suspicious ears have an ambiguous sound, and I am not really quite sure what they mean. I cannot help thinking myself that, agreeing that a Second Chamber is desirable, agreeing that it is desirable that we should properly consider and properly revise legislation, and admitting that in some cases even it would be proper that we should delay legislation for reconsideration (all those are powers which we have now), the ultimate authority and the ultimate weight in the country, either of this House of Lords or of any other House of Lords, must be its moral weight. It must depend upon the care with which it deals with public matters, and the common sense and good feeling which it brings to their discussion. It is our moral authority that must count in the country and in Parliament, and not any fictitious authority created by machinery.

I propose to say nothing disrespectful of those 400 Peers who never attend your Lordships' debates, nor perhaps even of the nearly 200 who, I believe, never even take the Oath. It is perfectly true, as has been said, that many of them occupy themselves in public work in an entirely commendable way in the country. They work upon the county councils, where I am told the work is growing and becoming very heavy, and is likely to be much increased by the proposals of the Government. Some, no doubt, do not occupy themselves with public work at all, but there is no doubt that, constituted as the House is now, they are to some extent a menace to the smooth running of our political life, and no Party is more aware of it and suffers more from the danger of it than the Party of noble Lords opposite. If I may give only one instance of that—a crucial and an important instance—the passing of the Parliament Act, in which the Prerogative had to be asked for, and the Assent obtained to the use in the last resort of that weapon, your Lordships will remember that the Government of the day, anxious to avoid a crisis, and a crisis of that character, had the utmost difficulty in getting the Parliament Act passed through this House, against the influence of those who were less acquainted with political conditions than those who more habitually attend your Lordships' debates. That large, unknown voting power, without a close acquaintance with political opinion and political trend of thought, is really something of a danger, and, so far as proposals of this kind get rid of that, I cannot help thinking that they may be to the advantage of the country.

It may be that the noble Earl who initiated this debate thinks that I have been ungracious in the way in which I have dealt with his proposals, and he may even think, like the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Sumner, that we are unwise in not accepting them. That is not the view of our Party, and I can only repeat that, although a reform of this House may be desirable and although some reform of its constitution no doubt is desirable, and is long overdue, unless that reform is a reform which is, in fact, fair to all the Parties in the State, it has very little chance of any reasonable acceptance, either here, or in another place, or, above all, in the country.


My Lords, I hope you will allow me the privilege of saying one or two words before the Question is put. In connection with the latter half of the Resolution, as my noble and learned friend Lord Sumner has informed your Lordships that I and those with whom I am associated agree with the Amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Newton, it is unnecessary for me to say anything about it. I think I have no cause to complain, speaking from a general point of view, of the reception which has been given to the proposals which I have laid before your Lordships, and I think I can say—I know I can say—that the reception which they have been given by those sitting on the Liberal Benches is very gratifying to all of us on this side of the House. My noble and learned friend Lord Reading made some reference to the fact that there have been occasions in this House when Peers of are political faith have changed to the Conservative faith after they have been in this House for some little time. Are we to read into the words spoken by the noble and learned Marquess that he and some of his friends will cross the floor of the House at no very distant date?

With regard to the attitude that has been adopted towards these proposals by His Majesty's Government, I must frankly say that those of us who have been responsible for this Resolution are disappointed, to say the least of it, that the Government do not feel able to support them to-night, though they do not desire to oppose them. I would only say this in that connection. I do not wish to pose as a prophet, but it seems to me inevitable that, when an Administration which is in favour of advanced legislation comes into office, there is absolutely no doubt of a clash between this House and the House of Commons. It was in order to avoid that—at any rate that was one of our purposes—that the Resolution was designed. I venture to think that though that clash is a spectre it is not a bogy. The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Sumner, has explained that we are ready to accept the Amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Newton. I would only add this, in order to meet noble Lords sitting on the Liberal Benches, that we are prepared also to omit the word "limit" in the first line of the Resolution and substitute for it the word "reduce."

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, I understand that the noble Earl desires to move the Motion with the word "reduce" instead of "limit."


That is so.


I take it that your Lordships will give leave for the alteration to be made?


My Lords, I beg to move to leave out of the Motion the word "limit" and to insert the word "reduce" The Motion will then read as follows: That having regard to the Preamble of the Parliament Act and to the Resolution passed by this House on 23rd June, 1927, it is hereby resolved— That it is desirable that early steps should be taken to reduce the number of members of the House, and to make suitable provision for an elective representation of the Peerage, and for such other representation or nomination as would ensure to each political Party a fair position in the House. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Line 4, leave out ("limit") and insert ("reduce").—(The Earl of Clarendon.)

On Question, Whether the Motion, as amended, shall be agreed to?—

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 52; Not-Contents, 8.

Argyll, D. Cecil of Chelwood, V. Fairfax of Cameron, L.
Wellington, D. Chaplin, V. Hanworth, L.
Churchill, Hardinge of Penshurst, L.
Lansdowne, M. Falmouth, V. Harris, L.
Normanby, M. FitzAlan of Derwent, V. Howard of Glossop, L.
Reading, M. Leverhulme, V. Hunsdon of Hunsdon, L.
Sumner, V. Islington, L.
Albemarle, E. Jessel, L.
Beauchamp, E. Ampthill, L. Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.)
Clarendon, E. Balfour of Burleigh, L. Melchett, L.
Cranbrook, E. Buckmaster, L. Newton, L
Eldon, E. [Teller.] Byron, L. Ormonde, L. (M. Ormonde)
Iddesleigh, E. Carson, L. Pentland, L.
Iveagh, E. Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.) Plumer, L.
Lytton, E. Rathcreedan, L.
Midleton, E. Crawshaw, L. Russell of Liverpool, L.
Mount Edgcumbe, E. Darling, L. Stanley of Alderley L. (L. Sheffield.)
Scarbrough, E. Davidson of Lambeth, L.
Desart, L. (E. Desart.) Stanmore, L.
Bertie of Thame, V. [Teller.]
De La Warr, E. Arnold, L. [Teller.] Muir Mackenzie, L.
Russell, E. [Teller.] Gorell, L. Olivier, L.
Hemphill, L. Parmoor, L.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Resolved in the affirmative and Motion, as amended, agreed to accordingly.