§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Amendment to the Motion for Second Reading moved yesterday by Lord Redesdale—namely, That the Bill be read a second time this day six months.156
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, it has often occurred to me that one of the reasons why this House is able to accomplish so great an amount of business with such expedition, is the well-established custom that those sitting on the Back Benches do not presume to engage in debate unless they happen to be experts on the subject which is under discussion. But here in the Bill which has been brought to your Lordships' notice by the noble Marquess we have a topic upon which all are more or less experts. It is a topic upon which old and young, Ministers and ex-Ministers, Cross-Benchers and Back-Benchers, can all join with some reasonable degree of equal authority; and it is that circumstance which has emboldened me to inflict myself upon your Lordships for a brief space.
Those who are middle-aged are familiar with the fact that for at least a quarter of a century this topic has been constantly before Parliament. Those who are young will be conscious of the fact that on their very entry into politics they were confronted with the urgency of the subject which is now under discussion. I can well remember when, so long ago as 1904, I crept self-consciously into this House, seeking the most inconspicuous seat, and incidentally falling over the outstretched legs of the late Duke of Devonshire, to the shattering of my own nervous system—I can remember very well that never-to-be-forgotten day, the very first occasion when I entered this august place. Harsh voices of complaint rose from the Liberal Benches about the automatic majority which the Conservative Party possessed in this House. And ever since then, at frequently recurring intervals, the same thing has cropped up, until at last we have arrived at a position where it can be debated in concrete form—the Bill which has been presented by the noble Marquess.
It might perhaps not be out of place to remind your Lordships of the immense number of times on which this topic has been before your Lordships in recent years. In 1911 there was Lord Lansdowne's Bill, which occupied many days of Parliamentary debate; in 1917 there was Lord Burnham's Motion; in 1918, Lord Crewe's; in 1931, Lord Selborne's; and in 1922 the Duke of Marlborough's; and also in that year, 1922, Lord Peel introduced a Resolution. In 157 1923 Lord Newton introduced a Motion, and in 1927 there were the well-remembered proposals of Lord Cave. In 1929 Lord Clarendon brought the subject before your Lordships; during the same year Lord Elibank also brought the subject before your Lordship's and in 1934, or rather at the end of 1933, the noble Marquess did the same. So I think it is reasonable to say that no Peer, whether he attends regularly or irregularly to the business of this House, or whether he ever attends at all, can be unfamiliar with the topic now under discussion and can have failed, however little political interest he may personally take, to have formed some views upon the subject.
At all stages throughout the years which have been quoted there have been difficulties of one sort and another preventing this topic from ever coming, so to speak, to a head; and, having listened myself for many years to the discussion of this topic, to the many and various views which have been expressed in regard to it, I came to the conclusion when the noble Marquess drafted the Bill which is before us that surely the moment was most propitious for the discussion again of this subject, with some hope of its reaching finality. I was disappointed yesterday when the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, speaking with the obvious approval of those Peers who sit upon the Liberal Benches, reverted with emphasis to the difficulties which were present to the minds of all who were engaged in politics in 1909, 1910 and 1911, and seemed to fear that this Bill—and in some measure it certainly does—was meant to under-cut the victory then won by the Party which he leads in this House.
I was disappointed for this reason. I myself was brought up to regard the late Mr. Gladstone as the reincarnation of the devil, and for many years I did so regard him. My Lords, how many years ago it is ! How far we have travelled from that kind of political bitterness which was the commonplace of a quarter of a century and more ago. Surely, the circumstances of the day, to say nothing of the War, which the nation waged not as a party but as a whole, have changed our views on politics to a very fundamental extent. I have felt that it would be out of place to recall to mind too acutely the differences which existed in 158 those pre-War and earlier days; and I had hoped, and I still earnestly hope, that this Bill may be made the occasion, not for a reversion to political rancour, but an occasion for co-operation in the truest sense of the word.
I listened last night to the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Snell, a speech which, if I may be permitted to say so, both in its manner and in its material, not only should have commanded, but did command, both the respect and in a large measure the sympathy of the House. I listened to that speech with the deepest interest because we on this side of the House, although we may differ in detail, are of course at heart all Conservatives, and it is of the deepest interest and importance to every one of us that we should understand the fundamentally different angle of approach to this great question which Lord Snell brought to bear upon the subject. And for that reason in particular I listened to every word he had to say with the closest attention. But I was left wondering at the end whether the noble Lord was perhaps looking quite far enough ahead. I felt that, even although one recognises that his political tenets would be unshakable, lie might possibly have given more credit to his political opponents for a wider vision than he appeared to give and for a less emphatic tendency to secure political advantage than he seemed to think was possible.
The noble Lord complained yesterday with complete justification that he, in effect, had always been on the side of the angels, that non-violence was his creed, and I know quite well that to the noble Lord and those who sit with him stability and security are as dear as to those who sit on this side of the House. The noble Lord knows as well as I and as well as any of us that the people of this country cannot prosper without that stability and security, and I am confident that neither he nor any of us would wish to disturb the Constitution of this country in such a way as to set these great essentials at stake. Having come to that conclusion, I wonder whether the noble Lord might not perhaps think it well to look just a little further than he did. He knows that under the Parliament Act this House can be swept away. He probably visualises the possibility of 159 a triumphant majority of his own Party at the polls, not just yet but in good time. He probably thinks that the measures which that Party will feel it its duty to introduce must of necessity be resisted by this House, conservative as it is in its elements, and he is apparently willing to take the risk of abolishing this House altogether in order that that resistance may disappear and that the instant wishes of the people who have returned his Party to power by a majority may be fulfilled without delay.
It is conceivable that, however distasteful such measures may be to those who now sit on this side of the House, they may not after all be so disruptive. It is conceivable that this country may quite well subsist after their passage into law, but let him bear in mind that the temporary advantage which he and his Party desire is secured at tremendous risk. History always tells us that the mild revolutionary, if he is lucky enough to escape hanging, invariably has to take refuge in flight from the more violent revolutionary who follows him, and what would be the consequences to the Labour Party if that fate is theirs? Should we not then have noble Lords sitting on that side of the House lamenting the fact that they had removed the one safeguard which stood between the disruption of this State and the people? Would they not then regret that in order to gain some temporary advantage they had opened the door of the flood-gates of the disruption to which I have referred? Once you abolish this House, in spite of the dictum of my noble friend Lord Redesdale, who quoted the precedent of Cromwell, I feel that we cannot look for its restitution until ibis State is brought at any rate to its knees.
Have the Labour Party thought of one other condition of force which might result? The noble Lord, Lord Snell, quoted with horror in his voice the effects of Fascism throughout Europe, and I have no doubt that what he said would find a considerable echo of sympathy on this side of the House. Let him bear in mind that force begets force. With this House swept away, with the country governed by a single chamber and that single chamber controlled, not by politicians of his particular line of 160 thought but by the much more extreme politicians who will in time displace him, does he think it possible let alone probable that then the people of this country, of whom an enormous number have much to lose—for bear in mind there is no class or caste in this country possessing the monopoly of wealth and authority; wealth in larger or smaller degree is spread far down in this country and vast masses have much to lose—are going to tolerate government by decree, autocracy introduced from below? Force begets force, and if you expose the people of this country to the kind of thing which the abolition of this House would entail, you will inevitably have force upon the Right resisting force upon the Left, and that is the prospect which the exercise of the Parliament Act to the extent of abolishing this House opens before this country.
Do not let the noble Lord think that his Party, or the Liberal Party either, have the monopoly of objection to force from the Right any more than they have a monopoly of objection to force from the Left. If on this side of the House very many of us have not had an opportunity of sitting in the House of Commons ourselves, as I have not, at least we have descended from a long line of forebears who have constantly sat in that House, and democracy as represented by the House of Commons is as dear to those who sit on this side of the House as it is to those who sit on the other. Autocracy whether from the Left or from the Right is equally reprehensible to us as it is to you, and think of what is at stake. Under the present Parliament Act your risks are immense, and if the noble Lord to whom I venture to address myself would think of it. in these terms, I feel that perhaps he might be induced after consideration to realise that those of us who support this Bill are not moved by the desire of Party advantage, but are looking far ahead and are as fearful of what may happen as the noble Lord himself.
May I for a brief moment quote a few words of the aforesaid Parliament Act? Clause 2 says:If any Public Bill (other than a Money Bill or a Bill containing any provision to extend the maximum duration of Parliament beyond five years) is passed by the House of Commons in three successive 161 Sessions (whether of the same Parliament or not), and, having been sent up to the House of Lords at least one month before the end of the Session, is rejected by the Rouse of Lords in each of those Sessions, that Bill shall, on its rejection for the third time by the House of Lords, unless the House of Commons direct to the contrary, be presented to His Majesty and become an Act of Parliament on the Royal Assent being signified thereto ….Those words are pregnant. They mean that in order to gain temporary advantage, if pressed by their supporters in the country and in the House of Commons, the leaders of the Labour Party are moved, to some extent against their better judgment, to introduce a Resolution abolishing this House, in course of time that Resolution goes to His Majesty for his Assent. It is an impossible position in which to place the Crown. If the Crown were to assent, the Crown instantly loses the allegiance of a large proportion of its subjects. If the Crown were to refuse, the position of the Crown would be intolerable and impossible.
Remember the Crown is the head of an Empire and not only of this country. The hazards to which the passage of such a Bill would place the Crown would be intolerable in the eyes of His Majesty's subjects—a hazard which, I believe, members of the Labour Party as loyal subjects themselves would hardly dare to subject the Crown to. But, under the Parliament Act, that is the procedure. Surely the moment has come when, having approached so great a degree of agreement upon many subjects and having in all Parties given up so much for the sake of unity, we might, on this occasion, endeavour to complete the structure intended by the Parliament Act, and in fact give effect to that Preamble which has taken nearly twenty-five years to come to fruition.
I have dealt more or less briefly with what Lord Balfour of Burleigh so aptly described as the sting in the tail of the Bill. The alteration proposed in the personnel of this House is, in the first instance, matter of chief interest to those who sit in this House, but the question of powers is of universal interest and of universal importance, and, important though the question of personnel may be, the question of powers is vastly more important still. That is why I have ventured to touch upon those powers 162 before coming to deal with the intimate question of the personnel. While leaving the subject of powers, I would hope that Peers of the two Parties who sit on the other side of this House could bring themselves to approach the question in a spirit of co-operation, realising the immense potential dangers which lie in the Parliament Act, and realising, as they must, that they are anxious, as we ourselves arc, to ensure to the people of this country a stable government under which they can continue to thrive as they have done in the past. If the subject is approached in that spirit I feel that the details of the Bill, at this stage at any rate, can be set aside in favour of the larger principle. The details of the Bill will be left to discussion at the proper time, but the great principles involved would be permitted, as I think they should lie permitted, to swamp the details and to give the occasion for the co-operation which I know the noble Marquess himself most urgently desires.
Before, however, I turn to the question of personnel may I devote a moment or two to a phrase which fell from my noble friend Lord Redesdale last night I In a speech of eloquent persuasion my noble friend committed himself to the statement that there was no demand for House of Lords reform. It depends where he looks for the demand. May I remind him that it is a matter which will not appeal to the Liberal Party or the Labour Party, but, on the other hand, it should appeal with great force to those who sit on this side of the House? May I remind him that as long ago as 1911 my noble friend Lord Selborne, at the conference of the National Union of Conservative Associations, introduced a motion for the reform of the House of Lords and it was carried unanimously, and that that body has, I think without the omission of one year, passed resolutions of a similar character ever since?
May I interrupt the noble Lord? The same statement was made last night by the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank. I did not say there was no demand. I said that generally speaking, in the ordinary way, you did not hear of it as compared with many other subjects which are of much greater interest to the people.
§ LORD HASTINGS
I think my noble friend in that is perfectly correct. You 163 do not hear of it unless you go to the conferences of the National Union. At any rate you do not hear of it much, if you hear of it at all; but after all the delegates to the National Union of Conservative Associations are elected by the constituency associations of the Conservative Party throughout Great Britain. They seem to me to number several thousands when I go there, but I do not know exactly what their number is. Anyhow there are a great many of them, and they must be taken to speak with the considered voice of the Conservative Party. They have bad preliminary conferences in their constituencies—I have attended plenty of them myself—and they have at those meetings been urged to raise this question of the reform of the House of Lords when they get to the conference in London or Liverpool or Leeds, or wherever it may be. They have done so frequently and they must be taken as representing the considered view of the Conservative Party.
It would not be reasonable to suggest, while that demand is consistent and insistent, that there is in fact in the country no demand for reform of the House of Lords. There is, on the contrary, a very strong and a very persistent demand. The purposes for which that demand is made are manifold. No doubt some desire that the House of Lords should be reformed in order to provide a permanent bulwark against the Socialist Party. There is no reason why they should not wish that. On the other hand, there are a very large number who support this resolution with entirely different motives in their mind. One of the motives that they have in their mind is the one that I have ventured to explain at some length at this stage, because the persons who hold those views are taking a longer view than the view taken by politicians who are thinking of an immediate majority. But I will leave that subject altogether. Possibly others more intimately concerned with the management of the National Union than I am will develop it at greater length. I thought it right and proper for a moment to touch upon it.
May I come to a consideration—quite a brief consideration—of the question of the constitution of this House as proposed in this Bill? The noble Lord, Lord Snell, and my noble friend Lord Midleton made great play with figures last night. May I 164 say, with the greatest possible respect to both of them, that I have long since ceased to be impressed by those figures? I think I have some sound ground. In the first place, all your Lordships, where-ever you sit, will know that this House is able to call upon a great reserve of expert knowledge upon every known topic, and when I opened my remarks I referred in passing to the fact that it was customary for experts upon a given topic to have the exclusive debate upon that topic when it came up for discussion in this House. Your Lordships will find on examining the figures that the change of personnel as between topic and topic in this House is very remarkable. The mere fact that relatively few attend any one debate seldom, if ever, influences that debate in the bad sense, because those who understand the subject are there and take part in it. That is what is required. Let it also be borne in mind that if a man desires to be an expert on any topic the place in which to become an expert is not here. The place for him to become an expert is outside. If by insistence on his constant attendance here you satisfy the ambitions of some who would reform the House in that sense, you deprive the House of that expert knowledge which can only be acquired outside. It is well to bear that in mind.
I was most grateful personally for the very exceptional manner in which the noble Marquess refrained—in fact he went further than refraining—from criticism of those who do not attend. He acknowledged that much service was being given by them elsewhere in as useful a manner as it was given by others here. I think unquestionably this House does benefit to a very great extent by the fact that not all Peers spend the greater part of their time in attending to the political business of this country in this House, but only come when such expert knowledge as they have acquired may be of use both to this House and to the country. I know the point is strongly felt by many that the creation of a House, whether by election or nomination, whose members would be expected to attend to its political business day by day, would not be in fact so expert a House as that which now exists. But that is by the way.
165 There is another point which I desire to make relative to these figures. Noble Lords ever since I can remember have pointed with some scorn to the fact that a very considerable number of Peers never come here at They have drawn their own moral therefrom. But perhaps because I cannot always agree with everybody, I draw an entirely different moral. In Lord Lansdowne's Bill in 1911 he proposed that the creation of Peerages should be definitely limited to five a year. Not only did he thereby place a restriction upon the Prerogative of the Crown far beyond that proposed by the noble Marquess, but he also in my view made no provision for certain circumstances which have existed because of the continually increasing population of the country. We are told that that increase has now reached its zenith, but that remains to be seen. At any rate hitherto the population has been increasing very rapidly and the opportunity for public service has increased with the increase of population. Moreover, the greater spread of wealth has given the opportunity to vast numbers of persons who in years gone by had not the means to serve the country to do so now. Consequently, the number of those who come into prominence by admirable and excellent service to their country is very much increased.
It appears to me to be natural, right and reasonable that this increase of public service should meet with its proper reward culminating in the grant by the Crown of a Peerage. The contraction of the Prerogative of the Crown with regard to the number of Peerages would, I fear, be gravely detrimental to the natural and proper ambitions of an increasing section of His Majesty's subjects. But that very fact surely carries with it the moral that the creation of a Peerage should not necessarily in the future be linked with legislative responsibility. A large number of Peers who attend regularly to political business in this House have been promoted after long service in the House of Commons, or have come to this House from a shorter service in the House of Commons in order that they may give particular service to their Party in this place, and it is natural and reasonable and proper that they should devote a very considerable proportion of their time to the political business for which their train 166 ing has fitted them and for which they have acquired a definite taste. But there are a very large number of Peers of recent creation who were created for reasons connected, with eminent service to the country and the Crown, deserving in every way of the preferment which His Majesty has thought well to give them, but who have never during all their lives had any political training, who have never given thought to the details of politics, and who might hope never to be brought into the vortex of a profession which is often positively distasteful to them.
If you look at your figures you will find that the worst offenders in the matter of attendance are recently created Peers and not Peers by inheritance. I know of two who, created some years ago, have taken their seats in this House but have never been in the House again. Although quite clearly the bandying of names is undesirable, I make bold to say that my statement is perfectly correct, and relative to numbers is even more than correct. The proportion of Peers other than those created after service in the House of Commons who attend political business here is much smaller than that of those who have become Peers by inheritance. Is there anything wrong in it? What is wrong is the age-old system whereby the creation of a Peerage is indissolubly linked to legislative responsibility. That, to my mind, is what is wrong, and I decline to join, and have for years declined to join, with those who decry the possessors of Peerages for non-attention to political duties, for that reason and that reason only.
I think the correct and proper solution is one such as is found in the noble Marquess's Bill which will give to those Peers who desire and who have the ability to take part in political business in this House the opportunity of election by their fellow Peers. I conceive that almost, if not quite, all of those who desire to give their best to the political business of their country—the majority of them at least—will find their opportunity in that election. For the rest, the great majority will be doing what they now do, and that is apply themselves to the duties of citizenship in perfectly worthy conditions elsewhere. They will be relieved of responsibilities which they have no desire to assume and which those of 167 recent creation even almost repudiate. I think myself that that is the strongest argument which can be used in favour of the restriction of these legislative Peers to a number such as is given by the noble Marquess in his Bill if we come to consider these restrictions in detail in Committee I should be amazed if Peers were found who normally do not take part in the business of this House to come to vote against that proposal, which in their hearts many of them will regard as a release from duties which they have not sought, and elimination from which will in no way prevent their successors in title in their turn from submitting themselves to the suffrages of their fellow Peers.
An objection which I have heard expressed to this Bill is the fear that the election of these 150 Peers will tend to be governed too much by political considerations. I think I have already referred to the fact that many, both in this House and outside it, regard as a great safeguard the mere fact that the great majority of Peers have no pronounced political attachments, whatever they may feel instinctively. That fact is regarded as a great safeguard of the fair conduct of the business of this House, and many rather dread the possibility of electing a House which is entirely composed of those who are politically-minded. Of course the fear is there, but the very fact that half the House is to be selected in another manner—a manner which I personally hope will be by creation by the Crown on the nomination of the Prime Minister of the day—would have, I think, an influence upon the election. It is the fact, I think, that the existence of those 150 members, who might quite easily comprise a number of Peers by heredity—there is nothing to debar them—would influence Peers, in selecting their own 150, against choosing those who had convinced and oft-expressed political convictions. In fact, in this House you would find it difficult to elect 150 of such Peers.
If we looked down the Roll of the House, I think any one of us would find it difficult to mark out 150 Peers who could be guaranteed to vote the same way always. Supposing my name were upon that Roll, what would Peers do about it? Is it a fact that I have always voted with the Conservative Government? Have I not recollections of 168 having done something quite different? And is there not the possibility that any Peer on these Back Benches will at any moment do exactly as I have done, perhaps more often than our own Front Bench would appreciate? No doubt noble Lords on the other side of the House would regard me as a casehardened Tory, but I have a certain independence, and from time to time I venture to display it. I do not think that there is any Peer sitting on this side of the House who does not possess much the same kind of independence and who has not on occasions displayed it. I doubt whether we could find 150 who could be guaranteed to respond to the crack of the whip on every conceivable occasion.
I fancy that I have addressed your Lordships too long. I will not try your patience any longer, but I want, if I may, to quote to you an extract from a speech made by the noble Marquess. Lord Lansdowne, in May, 1911. Those who had the privilege of listening to Lord Lansdowne in this House will know, with me, what a command of graceful language the noble Marquess had. In the course of that speech, having presented his Bill to the notice of your Lordships, he said:Such a House we have endeavoured to construct—not upon a site from which every shred and vestige of the old structure has been removed, but preserving the soundest materials which we can find on that site, strengthened and rearranged, so that the new Chamber, while faithfully serving the democracy, will be strong enough to resist the gusts of passion and prejudice with which all democracies are necessarily familiar.That is the spirit in which the noble Marquess has introduced this Bill into your Lordships' House, and that is the spirit in which I should hope that those who may not at the moment feel entirely with the noble Marquess will treat the introduction of this Bill. Can it but be believed, this Bill has not been introduced with the purpose of scoring Party advantage. No, my Lords, it has been introduced so that the foundations may be well and truly laid for a great and genuine co-operative effort so to buttress the Constitution of this country that under its renewed strength, and under our Sovereign Lord The King, the people of this country may thrive and prosper as 169 they have done in the past, bearing in mind that insecurity and instability spell destruction to any country, and that our people, like any other, can neither thrive nor even live under such conditions. My Lords, I beg most heartily to support the Bill which the noble Marquess has introduced.
had an Amendment on the Paper to leave out all words after "That" and insert "no Bill for the reform of the House of Lords will be of any value unless the reformed House has the power of rejecting taxation though no power of initiating taxation, and that this House therefore declines Do proceed further with the said Bill." The noble Lord said: My Lords, as I understood the speech of the noble Marqauss in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, his special argument was that something was necessary to be done with the constitution of your Lordships' Hoarse owing to the passing of the Parliament Act. May I be allowed to remind your Lordships what the Preamble of that Act was? It is now nearly twenty-three years since that Act was passed. The Preamble of the Parliament Act stated this:Whereas it is expedient that provision should be made for regulating the relations between the two Houses of Parliament:And whereas it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation …Twenty-three years have elapsed since that statement was placed upon the Statute Book, and one wonders why nothing has been done in the meanwhile to regulate the relations between the two Houses of Parliament.
That Act was passed chiefly owing to a crisis which had arisen through this House thinking fit to throw out, as it had never done before, a Finance Bill. It was only a stop-gap measure, as is shown by the passage which I have quoted: but curiously enough during all this time neither the Liberal Party nor the Conservative Party have attempted to deal with this matter. I remember very well that after the Parliament Act had been passed Lord Edmund Talbot, then the Chief Conservative Whip in the House of Commons, now a member of your Lordships' House, declared that whenever his 170 Party came into power they would repeal the Parliament Act. His Party have never attempted to repeal the Parliament Act. It is quite true that I remember very well sitting in this House and hearing the noble Viscount, Lord FitzAlan, say that he withdrew that. I suppose he saw the enormous difficulties which there were, and that the country as a whole was not prepared to have the Parliament Act merely repealed, but felt that something must he done, as was said in the Preamble of the Parliament Act, to regulate the relations between the two Houses of Parliament, and also—what to my mind has always been more important—to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis.So far, no Government has ventured to deal with this matter, and the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, in concluding his speech yesterday, said:I can only assure your Lordships that the question whether any legislation of this character ought hereafter to be brought forward is a matter which the Government are considering, but upon which we should not think it right to reach any hasty decision.That again shows that the Government, with their enormous majority in either House of Parliament, consider this such a very ticklish question that they are only now considering what may be done in the matter. It also clearly indicates that so far as this Session is concerned, and I think we shall find so far as this Parliament is concerned, nothing will be done in the matter at all.
As I understood the noble Marquess who introduced this Bill, the object of the Bill was to deal with the faults of the Parliament Act, and to do something to give this House greater power over Bills coming up from another place. I venture to say with due deference to the noble Marquess that it does not seem to me he deals with all the essential matters of the Parliament Act. Why do I say that? Because when he deals with the question of the Speaker's Certificate, at present, as your Lordships know, if the Speaker gives his Certificate that a Bill which comes up to this House is a Money Bill, we have no power except to delay it for one month. After that it receives the Royal Assent over your Lordships' heads. I know that the idea of the noble Mar 171 quess is to deal with the matter by setting up a Standing Committe. That may do something, but I have my doubts about it. No doubt it will do better than the present state of affairs, because I remember that in another Parliament I had the honour to support the rejection of a Bill coming up from the Commons during the time of a Labour Government. That Bill was introduced again in the next Session, and although it was practically the same Bill it had the Speaker's Certificate and your Lordships could do nothing with it.
As regards a Standing Committee, the noble Marquess's proposal, as I understand it, is that there should be three Peers and three Commoners, with Mr. Speaker to have the casting vote. I am sure that that would he no protection at all, so far as this House is concerned. You would probably have the three Peers considering that the Bill was not a Money Bill, and the three members of the House of Commons considering that it was a Money Bill, and Mr. Speaker would probably take the view that the House of Commons representatives took. Certainly we cannot tell who is going to be Speaker at any future date, and it might be a Party question and simply regarded as a Party question, and in such a particular case we should simply see Mr. Speaker giving his casting vote on the side which had elected him to the Chair.
I would also remind your Lordships that, as the noble Marquess has very truly said, his Bill does not interfere with taxation; that is to say, taxation would remain entirely in the hands of the House of Commons. What might happen under those conditions? We know what the Labour Party has said with regard to taxation. I think it was the first Labour Party which stated that it was practically going in for the confiscation of all capital. It was said that no man needed more than £5,000 of capital, and that the rest should be confiscated and taken away from him. Under the noble Marquess's Bill there would be nothing to prevent that being done by a Labour majority, and this House would be entirely powerless. On the other hand, they might not wish to confiscate all capital, but might say that the better way was to have a Super-Tax of 15s. in the £ and an Income Tax of 172 15s. in the £, and if they wanted—no doubt the Labour Party desires to get rid of landlords in this country—to increase the taxation of land, it would be easy to increase the Death Duties on land. As your Lordships are aware, the present Death Duties are very heavy, and if they continue in three generations even the largest estates will be broken up and come to nothing. Therefore I do not see what protection there is going to be in the noble Marquess's Bill on matters which really matter to us.
The noble Marquess rather objected to something in my Amendment. It seems to me that reform of the Second Chamber is no protection under this Bill as regards what is really essential. To avoid the danger, which is I believe very great, of a Labour Government coming into power, I am of opinion that there ought to be some reform of the Second Chamber on the lines of the Parliament Act, which suggested that when opportunity offered there should be a newly-constituted Chamber on a popularly-elected basis. My suggestion, which I have ventured to put on the Paper, is that you should have a popularly-elected Chamber, either directly or indirectly elected, with somewhat the same powers as the French Senate. The French Senate has power, not to initiate any taxation, but to reject taxation. That is a very important matter indeed. While you would not be depriving the House of Commons of its right to impose taxation on the people, you would have a Second Chamber to guard against confiscation or the over-taxation of the capitalist, who the Labour Party think ought not to exist in this country. If you had those powers in this House, then undoubtedly there would be a great safeguard indeed. I am quite aware it might entail a great sacrifice on the part of many of your Lordships, to give up the idea of an hereditary Chamber. I must say that I appreciate that idea. I believe in heredity in its proper place, and I believe that the hereditary system might very well be carried on as it is at the present moment. The sons of Peers might take their place in the other House before coming up to take their place in this House, and I should hope that the hereditary Peers would be in very large numbers in another place when this House is reformed and reconstituted.
173 I cannot help thinking that in these days you have to look at things from an entirely different point of view to that from which you had to look at them when you had the two great Parties, Liberal and Conservative, neither of which would have considered for a moment any of the suggestions made by the Labour Party for dealing with taxation. At the present moment you have only got, in effect, the Conservative and Labour Parties. That is at all events what is going to happen after the next Election, and I venture to say that however anxious your Lordships may be to keep the hereditary principle, and however much you dislike the idea of having a Second Chamber directly or indirectly elected, the great majority of those who now attend this House would be elected, and you would really make no sacrifice for all practical purposes. On the other hand, if you sacrificed the hereditary element you would be making some sacrifice in order to make quite certain When a Labour Government comes into power that this country does not suffer from very grave dangers indeed.
§ VISCOUNT ASTOR
My Lords, I have listened to a large number of debates during the fifteen years it has been my privilege to be a member of your Lordships' House and during the previous nine years when it was my good fortune to be a member of the House of Commons, and I do not think I have ever listened to a debate where, taken as a whole, the level of speaking has been so high. What has been extraordinarily interesting has been the conflicting points of view which have been submitted to us, the ability with which they have been put forward, and the patent honesty with which those views are held.
When the noble Marquess introduced this Bill in your Lordships' House I then voted for it because for a long time I have been in favour of a measure of reform for your Lordships' House, and because I thought it was important to see more clearly than one could even from his lucid speech exactly what the proposals were which he and those who have been working with him wished to put before your Lordships. I think that all who have taken part in this debate have one desire in common and it is this, that the Upper House should be as effective as possible in a bicameral Constitution. I 174 am convinced myself the more I study the history of this and other countries that a nation is weak that only has single-chamber government, and that it is vital that one should have an Upper and an effective Upper House. What is the source of weakness of the present Upper House? Why is it there is talk of reform? It is not because the standard of debate here is inferior to that of another place; I think it compares very favourably. The desire for reform does not come, or does not come largely, because of the non-attendance of a certain number of members of your Lordships' House. It obviously is not through lack of quality among your Lordships. As has been said more than once, there is available here among our numbers an expert on almost every subject and from almost every point of view. But the reason I am keen on reform—and it is the reason why many people want it—is that I do not believe it is possible nowadays, with the powers left to us under the Parliament Act, to use those powers effectively and to the best purpose so long as this House either entirely or mainly rests on an hereditary basis.
I believe that we are weaker to-day than was the intention of Mr. Asquith in 1910 when he passed the Parliament Act. I say this as a realist who tries to face facts as they are We have the power in this House of delaying for two years a measure with which we disagree. Mr. Asquith, when he introduced that Bill, pointed out at some length and with some care that that was a great power. When a controversial Bill—it might be an unpopular Bill—has to be before the public for two whole years, scrutinised during by-elections, in constituencies, at annual conferences, and in the Press, if it were a Bill which was unwanted by the people, it might be very difficult to carry it. During those two years, if the people as a whole did not want the measure passed by the Lower House, public opinion would be able to make itself felt so strongly, not merely by the Cabinet but by the rank and file of the supporters of the Government of the day, that they might be induced to withdraw it altogether or to modify it. That, I understand, is the reason why he advocated the Parliament Act with the two years delay.
175 The essence of that is that the country should have an opportunity of examining the measure in controversy between the two Houses as a single issue and unbefogged by prejudice and misrepresentation. If it is possible to start a good strong red herring and befog the issue, obviously it is going to be much more difficult to get popular opinion mobilised against a Bill. Anybody who went through the two Elections of 1910, as I did, must be conscious of the fact that at the present day it is extremely easy to raise an atmosphere of suspicion, of misrepresentation, of prejudice, against the action of an hereditary House as opposed to the action of the popularly-elected Chamber. It is because of that that I think the House as now constituted is unable to exercise to the full the powers, such as they are, contained in the Parliament Act.
The noble Marquess referred more than once to the risk and the danger before this country. I agree. There is a risk, there is a danger; but that risk is heightened and increased by the fact that at present we are not able to use the powers of delay which are contained in the Parliament Act, for the reasons I have stated. This Bill proposes slightly to increase the powers of the reformed House. It is quite obvious that any measure affecting the Constitution has to go not only through your Lordships' House but through the House of Commons, and, with my knowledge of the House of Commons, I doubt very much whether it would pass a measure, either increasing at all the powers of the other House or increasing the powers of an hereditary, or a mainly hereditary, Upper Chamber.
I understand there has been what is called a "straw" vote. Postcards were sent round to members of the rank and file, asking them to say Yes or No whether they were in favour of a measure of reform. The answers, whether Yes or No given by that straw vote, really do not count. What is the good of voting on a proposal that you have not seen? It does not really mean anything. But I do know this, and I speak as one who not only at election times takes part in politics from the platform, but regularly takes part in elections at the street corners in a large industrial centre. That experience convinces me that it is extra 176 ordinarily difficult nowadays to defend or advocate the hereditary principle when an hereditary House is in conflict with the popularly-elected House. I doubt very much whether it could be done successfully.
What would be the effect of the noble Marquess's Bill if it were passed as it is Since it has been public I have been asking myself, as many others have had to do, exactly how I should vote. What would be the effect? Under Clause 5 it is proposed to create 150 non-hereditary members of your Lordships' House. I gather—although the Bill does not set it out in detail—that the noble Marquess had in mind an indirectly elected section of your Lordships' House. It is really immaterial whether it is indirectly elected or nominated. However selected that non-hereditary section, whatever Liberals, Labour, Conservatives, and probably a certain number of Independents it may contain, in any case the Conservative section of that non-hereditary portion of the Upper House would not be insignificant. I am not giving away any inside information. Anyone can work it out who studies the Bill.
Let us look at what would happen under Clauses 3 and 4, the clauses which deal with the selection of the 150 hereditary Peers. I have no hesitation in saying that the overwhelming majority of the hereditary Peers would be not only Conservatives, but blue-blooded Conservatives. There is where I differ from my noble friend Lord Hastings, who spoke just now. He indicated that he himself voted with a considerable measure of independence. All honour to him. He is able to do that because he does not have to account for his action and vote to any constituency. I understand that when the Home Rule Bill was before your Lordships' House a Scottish Representative Peer ventured to vote contrary to the way in which the majority of the Scottish Conservative Peers voted, and when next he submitted himself for re-election he was not re-elected. As I see it, the hereditary 150 members of your Lordships' reformed House as it would be reformed under this Bill would tend inevitably to be more Party, more partisan, less Cross-Bench, and less independent than now.
§ VISCOUNT ASTOR
But even twelve years come to an end. I think it would tend to make the electoral college select people to represent them whom they thought were strong Party men even without necessarily waiting to see how they voted during the twelve years. Anyhow that is my view. The result of that would be that because of the Conservative section in the non-hereditary portion of the reformed House, the hereditary Conservative majority would have a permanent and absolute control for all time over the actions of your Lordships' House—that is to say that in fact this House would be less independent, it would be more partisan, in the future under this scheme than it is at the present time. The effect of that would be that the Upper House would not be able to utilise the powers which it now has, because it is by no means certain, even if the Commons accept the change of personnel proposed in this Bill, that they would also accept the change in powers. I am afraid that as the result of that the reformed House as it would be reformed by this measure would be less able to utilise the powers that we now possess, and at the same time I am afraid that the scheme, if carried out, would create a sense of injustice which would tell at the next Election against a large number of Conservative candidates in the constituencies.
I have an enormous regard for the action which has been taken by your Lordships' predecessors in the past. On more than one occasion the House of Lords has stood for independence and the wishes of the people to a greater extent than was done by the Lower House, but the fact that this has been done in the past, the fact that your Lordships are able to congratulate yourselves on this, does make one realise that nowadays we are dealing with a different set of circumstances. Our motto should be "Noblesse oblige." After a great deal of consideration I have come to the conclusion that if we reform the House of Lords the reform has got to be much more drastic than is proposed in this Bill. I am always rather attracted when I see a composite scheme such as this, partly hereditary, partly ex officio, partly elected or nominated. It is very attractive, but in a democracy, where you are dealing with a complex and controversial subject, it seems to me 178 that simplicity must be the essence of our proposals. If we wish successfully to reform the Upper House we have to do it on a perfectly simple basis, either have it indirectly elected or have it nominated.
I myself would venture to approach the Liberal Party and invite them to a conference on a scheme of reform, and the contribution which I should make would be that I would not insist on the maintenance of heredity. If you were to make an offer like that to the Liberal Party they would find it extraordinarily difficult to refuse. I am not sure that even the Labour Party would be able to refuse to come into a conference on those terms. If such a conference were held I believe we should in fact get a reformed Upper House which would be sufficiently conservative with a small "c" to prove an effective safeguard and provide an effective bulwark against that dangerous legislation which is present before the minds of many of your Lordships.
This is not the occasion on which to indicate the Amendments which one is going to bring forward, and therefore I shall merely say that if your Lordships give the Bill a Second Reading I shall myself bring forward for the consideration of your Lordships—because I understand what we want to do is to test out the various alternative ways in which your Lordships' reformed House can be constituted—a scheme on which I have been working for some years for nomination. I only venture to speak today to explain the vote I shall give tomorrow. In its present form I become increasingly convinced that this Bill would not provide a greater safeguard against that dangerous legislation which we know may appear at some future time. I am afraid that, if passed in its present form, it would inevitably result in the loss of the seats of many of our colleagues in industrial centres. I still believe it would be possible to get agreement, certainly from the Liberal Party and possibly from the Labour Party, on consideration of a scheme of reform if we were not to insist on the maintenance of heredity. I venture to put forward these views because I do realise, as so many do, the importance of having an effective bicameral Constitution.
§ LORD DANESFORT
My Lords, this Bill is designed, as I see it, to avert a 179 great national danger. There are some critics who, in my humble opinion, are afflicted by a strange incapacity of political blindness and refuse to see any danger in the existing situation. May I recall some undeniable facts? In the first place we have recently conferred the boon of universal suffrage. That being so, the new electorate must inevitably contain a considerable number, a vast number, of uninstructed electors attached to no political Party and an easy prey to alluring programmes and unscrupulous persons. But that is not all. During recent times, partly no doubt owing to the catastrophic unsettlement of the War, there have emerged a number of wild political and social schemes, attractive it may be to the unthinking, but full of danger to the country. As a, result it appears to me that the democracy of the day is peculiarly liable to certain gusts of passion or unthinking emotion which may very well govern and dominate an Election. If that is so, surely it follows that some day or other, sooner or later, there may come into power a Government pledged to the destruction of our political, economic and social structure, and may do their best to carry that into effect.
This is not an imaginary fear. Take the programme of different sections of those who are opposed to this Bill. The Socialist Party have openly announced their intention of destroying capitalism and private industrial enterprise, and of absorbing by the State and under State control the banks, the land, and all the industrial undertakings, and, if need be, abolishing the Second Chamber altogether. If that is so, it appears to me that we have to find a remedy. But there is another section of the Socialist Party, the more adventurous section led by Sir Stafford Cripps, who, with a candour which is certainly creditable—I am not sure there is anything else creditable about it—proposes to pass, on the first day of the new Parliament, an Emergency Bill which will permit of revolutionary changes being passed, not by the House of Commons, but by means of Ministerial Orders which will be subject to no control whatever by the Courts. It may be said that this is too wide a policy for any one to accept, but let us remember that history teaches us that in many cases the extremists have been 180 able to impose their will upon the less adventurous and possibly more cautious colleagues who are working with them, and that is not an impossible thing to happen in this case.
Had there been no Parliament Act whatever in existence these facts would have constituted, as I think, a grave danger to the State, but the dangers have been tenfold increased and intensified by the passing of the Parliament Act. I do not pretend to recapitulate the provisions of that Act, which are well known to your Lordships. I think it is sufficient to say that under that Act the existing Second Chamber has been so paralysed as to render it powerless as a safeguard against sudden, unexpected and ill-considered changes. Are these not dangers flagrantly manifest? If that be so, surely it is our duty so far as we can, to face and to find some remedy for those dangers. What is the remedy that can be suggested for the purpose either of averting or minimising those dangers? It is a striking fact that the only remedy which has been suggested during the course of the whole of this debate for meeting those dangers in any way has been the reform of the House of Lords and the establishment of a Second Chamber, limited in numbers strengthened from outside, and possessed of powers which would enable it to give the democracy time to think, and, if necessary, to think twice before a measure is brought into law which has not been fully considered by them.
It has been suggested, I think by my noble friend Lord Strachie and others, that this Bill would not afford a sufficient remedy against revolutionists. That may be so. But this Bill does not attempt to impose, and was not intended to impose, any restriction upon the permanent desire of the nation, when it has manifested itself, for a change, even if that change be a violent change. This Bill, or something like it—something on the same lines—will undoubtedly meet many of the evils which we anticipate must arise from the present situation. I welcome this Bill. I welcome it as an honest attempt to meet the dangers which are present to the minds of us all. No doubt, as has been truly said, a Bill altering the Constitution cannot be passed into law unless it is a Government Bill. That is true. At the same time 181 I devoutly trust that this Bill may receive a Second Reading by a substantial and impressive majority and may go into Committee, and if that is so there will be at least three most important results.
In the first place, this House will have the opportunity of considering in detail not only the proposals of the Bill and of voting on them, but also of considering any other proposals such as might be brought forward by my noble friend Lord Astor who has just spoken or by any other of your Lordships—considering them and expressing their views upon their possibility or desirability. But that is not all. Those discussions, if they take place in Committee, will, as I think, have a most important effect upon public opinion in the country, and will educate that public opinion to realise the dangers of the present situation and the necessity for reform. There is another result, perhaps the most important of all, which these discussions in Committee might produce, and it is this. They might influence, and largely influence, the mind of the Government of the day, and they would give a strong lead to that Government and encourage them—I will not say force; that would be rather a vulgar expression—strongly encourage them to bring in a Bill of their own at the earliest possible time to meet the national danger. It is said, and with some truth, that there is no general agreement on this subject. There is never any general agreement upon any important Bill. If such an objection were raised to legislation it would paralyse any Government whatsoever. Any courageous Government, whether there is agreement or not, must do what is right and bring in Bills, and trust to their own capacity and the intelligence of the House of Commons and of this House to pass them.
May I, in conclusion, quote some remarkable words which were uttered by Mr. Baldwin only a few days ago in the Albert Hall, in which he strongly deprecated the complacency of the Conservative Party and their inability to face facts? What he said was thisIf ever we sit down—he was speaking of the Conservative Party—and are content with everything as it is and do not keep that burning desire for the welfare of the people in the forefront of our work and propaganda, the Party 182 will go to sleep as it has done before, and will be beaten into fragments.I think those are perfectly true words. Let the Conservative Party, and if I may humbly say so, though I am not entitled to do it, let any other Party, in the words of Mr. Baldwin, not go to sleep but do what they can to keep that burning desire for the welfare of the people in the forefront of their work. If they do that I think we shall eventually see a Bill introduced by the Government in the direction desired. For myself, I hope that the Government will produce a well-thought-out and reasonable scheme of House of Lords reform, and if they appeal to the wisdom and the good sense and sense of duty of the House of Commons they will succeed, and they will earn the thanks of this and succeeding generations.
THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN
My Lords, I am not quite certain what stage this debate has reached because it seems to me the Bill itself was killed by the speech delivered last night by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House. Are we engaged in discussing a project that this House thinks seriously is going to be converted into law, or are we responding to the initiative of the noble Marquess who introduced this Bill in having what, in effect, is an academic discussion as to the nature of the reform which this House should undertake? I am afraid, or rather I hope, that our discussions now partake of the second of these things, and that there is no longer any intention in this House of passing into law a Bill which in my humble judgment is a thoroughly bad Bill.
It is a Bill which, if I may say so, is by panic out of reaction. It is prompted mainly, not by fear of the Socialist Party, but by fear of the electorate. I venture to think, and I believe it is true, of the people of this country, that their primary characteristic is political common sense. I have no fear that if the issues, the bogies as they have been described, are presented to the free judgment of the people of this country in conditions in which they are able to exercise a reasonable judgment, they will vote for those things which this Bill purports to prevent them carrying into effect. If noble Lords are seriously afraid of the people of this country, of the mature political judgment of this country, a judgment which will be formed 183 after an intensive campaign in the constituencies, the defence will not be the thin red line of coronets and ermine in this House. If they really want to protect themselves against these evils, they should first of all remedy the system of election to the Lower House.
May I read to your Lordships the most recent figures of the way in which the existing system of election operates? They are, if I may say so, the only justification which exists at present for the fears which animate the noble Marquess who introduced this Bill. Just consider the figures at the election of that great body over which my noble friend Lord Snell so graciously presides on the other side of the water. In fifty-four contested constituencies in the South of London the following votes were cast:—For the Labour Party, 395,000; for the Municipal Reformers, 198,000; and for the Liberals, I am sorry to say, only 30,000. That is, 395,000 on the one side and nearly 230,000 on the other. And what was the result? Labour, fifty-four seats; Municipal Reformers, none; Liberals, none. That is the result of the existing electoral system in one place not far from this House. Let me give your Lordships the figures in the Glasgow municipal election last year. Labour polled 98,000 votes, the Moderates polled 91,000, the Scottish Protestant League 71,000, and the Independent Labour Party 35,000. That is 98, 91, 71 and 35, and in the result the seats were allotted as follows: 21, 7, 4, 3. One third of the electorate won two-thirds of the seats.
If you really want to establish protection against the kind of evil which the noble Marquess has in mind the first step is to give the people of this country, whom he accepted as the final authority, the opportunity to cast votes which represent their real opinion. That is the first remedy against revolution. I venture to believe that a system of proportional representation, I do not want to go into details, or of the alternative vote, or of the second ballot—there are many devices of which I think personally proportional representation is the best—will be by far the best protection against revolution in this country and immeasurably better than any attempt to reform the House of Lords on the lines of this Bill.
Now, may I say a word about the Bill? I do not want to say very much, because 184 I think the noble and learned Marquess who leads those who sit on these Benches gave a devastating and final criticism of it last night. It seems to me that it has five fundamental difficulties. In the first place, say what you like, it entrenches a permanent Conservative majority in this House. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, claimed for this House independence in voting. I am prepared to discuss with him later how many votes have been cast in the interests of Liberal or Labour Bills. In the second place, it ends, as I understand it, the system whereby this House is continuously refreshed by hereditary Peers appointed for their special experience and their service to the State—not the least valuable element in this House, as many speakers have testified. It ends that system, and so in my view does very grave damage to this House.
Thirdly, I think the system proposed for election is a bad one because it means that any five hereditary Peers can elect a Peer of Parliament, and I hesitate to think of the kind of House you would get once it is clearly understood that any five can return a Peer of Parliament. Fourthly, the Bill does not contain within itself the proposals for the second half, and I do not see how we can possibly consider the proposals of the Bill unless we understand how the whole House is going to be constituted. Finally, there is the point made with conclusive force by my noble friend Lord Reading last night, that this is the undoing of the Parliament Act, and giving to this House the power to nullify every piece of legislation which any majority in the House of Commons may be returned to carry out, for the duration of the whole of that Parliament.
If anybody thinks that you are going to strengthen the authority of this House by giving to the Labour Party, or to the Liberal, the opportunity of going to the electors of this country and saying: "The great Conservative Party's contribution, the contribution of the great majority of the Peers of Parliament, to the future of this country is to re-entrench in an Upper House a power which can nullify completely every single thing which figures in the programme put before the people at an Election," I am quite certain that that will be giving to those Parties the one argument which will result 185 in the total abolition of this House. But in saying that, I would like to add a word to the noble Lords on the Labour Benches. I think that in putting into their programme, if they have put into their programme, the abolition of this House, they are inviting the opposite Parties to put down a programme for the restoration of the power of this House, and I would ask them to consider very carefully what is the result of proposing the abolition altogether of a House which even now has only powers of revision and delay. It is directly inviting the other side to go to the country and secure a mandate against revolution, which will in effect be giving back to this House powers which neither they nor we wish it to exercise.
The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgman (who I do not think is here to-day) cast some jibes at the members who sit on this Bench on the ground that they have not yet put forward any ideas of reform. He said that somehow or other we were guilty of not wishing for freedom of speech because we had not put forward a scheme of reform—a process of ratiocination which I confess I am wholly unable to follow. But I welcome the introduction of this subject, and I congratulate the noble Marquess who introduced this Bill on having introduced the subject, because I think the discussion of reform is a very valuable thing; and purely on my own account and not in any way as representing my colleagues, I am going to put forward to-day, if I may, a few ideas on that subject as a contribution to that discussion.
I think that the powers which this House exercises under the Parliament. Act, given a good electoral system, are the right powers for a Second Chamber: revision, delay, but no power finally to withstand the will of the people as expressed in the Lower House or to force any Government to go to Dissolution on account of the action of this House. Those powers are very formidable powers; the difficulty of this House as now constituted is that we do not dare to exercise them. That is the real difficulty we are up against. Our powers are ample. Anybody who has had experience knows the effect on any Party or any majority or any Government of having to wait for eighteen months or two years for its legislation, with the prospect of 186 by-elections and criticism in the interval. It is a very formidable power, and I think that it is the right power for a Second Chamber. Now why does not the House of Lords exercise that power more vigorously and (if you like) more effectively? It is because in present circumstances it lacks authority.
How are you going to restore authority to the Second Chamber so that it can exercise wisely and intelligently those powers which in our view should be exercised by the Second Chamber? In the first place, it is no use anybody contending that heredity in itself to-day carries authority with the public mind. Nobody believes that heredity in itself carries authority in political or in any other matters. There was a great deal to be said for heredity in the days before universal education and a popular Press and so on, because then knowledge and experience were handed on from one generation to another. Now, knowledge and experience are much more widely diffused, and heredity in itself does not carry authority. I do not think that heredity is unpopular, but it certainly does not carry with it authority. The authority which this House does exercise —and I believe that it does exercise a great deal—is based on one thing and one thing only, and that is its experience.
The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, last night gave some very remarkable figures which seemed to me to explain why this House, in spite of all the criticisms which have been directed against it in other places, does exercise authority and possess influence in this country. The figures which he gave were these: that it contains 143 members who were once in the House of Commons; it contains 104 Privy Councellors, thirty-eight who are or have been Cabinet Ministers, twenty who have been Viceroys or Governors-General, eleven who have been Governors, ten who have been Ambassadors, and six great soldiers, sailors and airmen. And most of these, be it noted, have come in by the non-hereditary road. Now that is what gives this House its authority—that its members do speak from a great deal of practical experience of public life.
If you are going to restore authority to this House you have got to retain those characteristics—they are vital—and you 187 have got to do two other things. In the first place, by some means or other you have got to see that all Parties in the State are adequately represented in it, so that its political debates are genuine political debates and reflect the political controversies which are going on in the country; and in the second place, I venture to think that it might be possible to strengthen the economic knowledge in this House. After all, in the old days the authority of the Peerage depended not only on heredity but, as one noble Lord said last night, on the fact that the majority of the Peers were in fact the big business men of the country. It was true in the days when agriculture was the primary industry; and if by any means we can reinforce this House by a great deal more experience of industry, including trade unionism, we shall, I think, do a great deal to give influence to its conclusions. If in this House projects of legislation can be discussed with real knowledge of their effects on the economic life of the country, it will add greatly to the power which it exercises now by reason of the fact that it represents a great deal of political experience of the nature of which the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, spoke last night.
I venture to believe that you do not want a great and dramatic project of reform, at any rate at this moment when the world is in transition, and this country is in transition, and perhaps it is not very easy to see the exact kind of institution which may be necessary when Mr. Walter Elliot has finished his reforms and the reorganisation of the country has created more departments, many of which ought to be directly represented in this House. I venture to think that at this stage at any rate we should move with a minimum of speed, and that there are two things which might be done without great difficulty. I put them forward purely as a personal view for consideration. One is that the issue of Writs calling for attendance should require some qualification of experience. I will not go into the details of the matter, but I suggest that there should be some experience in public life or some experience of public office before any hereditary Peer can receive an actual Writ calling for his attendance. The other is some extension of the principle of life Peerage, which might make it easier to get that representation of those 188 other interests which are not adequately represented in this House than by the ordinary method. Those I merely throw out as personal views. I believe that any attempt to bring forward a measure of reform, and above all a measure so reactionary and dangerous as this Bill, can merely do harm to your Lordships' House and to the prospects of stable government in this country. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will refuse to give a Second Reading to this Bill. I think it will be to stultify ourselves if we pass a Bill to which there are the greatest objections, knowing perfectly well that it has no prospect of ever being passed into law.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, it is with a great deal of diffidence, and a heightened consciousness of my own inexperience, that I rise to speak on an occasion when this House has been fortunate enough to secure so many distinguished speakers to assist it in its deliberations on this measure. I feel that it is almost presumptuous for so junior a member as myself to address your Lordships on an occasion of this kind. At the same time, I think I am entitled to put the blame to some extent on your Lordships' shoulders, for if our little band on this side of the House were not so weak and so small, it would have been unnecessary for inexperience to rush in where experience fears to tread. The whole of this debate has concerned itself, and will concern itself, with two separate subjects of discussion. The first is the Bill introduced by the noble Marquess, which, as has already been pointed out, must be counted a dead letter, and the second is a discussion of the merits and demerits of the whole case for a reform and change in the constitution and the powers of a Second Chamber in this country. This second subject does seem to me to be, as the noble Marquess has just said, by far the more important from the point of view of the country as a whole, and I would like, with your Lordships' permission, in my capacity of a private member of the House and without committing the Party which I am privileged to represent, to add one or two concrete suggestions as to what might be done in the future.
As the noble Marquess who has just sat down, and the noble Viscount, Lord 189 Cecil of Chelwood, are the only two speakers hitherto who have made definite constructive proposals, I think this perhaps will not be repeating what your Lordships have already heard. I should like, in the first place, to accept one suggestion offered by Lord Cecil of Chelwood yesterday—namely, that if it were possible men of good will in all Parties should come to some sort of agreement upon a revised and reformed Second Chamber. I do not agree with the noble Marquess, however, that those who sit on these Benches are alone responsible for refusing to come to a compromise. I think that all Parties are equally responsible, and I feel certain that the only way of avoiding what will inevitably happen, otherwise, in the future—namely, a long period of sterile quarrel over constitutional reform, which inevitably holds up all measures of social reform—will be sooner or later for the various Parties to come and each make a compromise and sacrifice of its own ideas, in order to bring about some mutual agreement for reform.
The only other suggestion I would put forward is in contradiction, I think, to the proposal of the noble Marquess, as to the powers of a revised Chamber. I do not think it should be the function of a Second Chamber in this country either to veto or even to delay legislation that has been brought to it from a popularly elected Chamber. It seems to me that if delay or check of that kind is necessary, it should be the product of the will of the people themselves, and a system of referendum which has been practised with great success in other parts of the world should be introduced in this country. I would, therefore, propose that the revisory function which this House performs so ably to-day should continue to be the function of a reformed Second Chamber, however its constitution and personnel may be altered.
Your Lordships have allowed me to express this personal point of view, and I will conclude what I have to say by remarks to which I think my colleagues would be in general agreement. I venture to disagree, as many others have done, but for strangely different reasons, with the proposals of the noble Marquess in this measure, because, as it seems to me, it does not separate the good grain from the chaff in our present system. He is not content with the present efficiency 190 of the House as a revising Chamber. He is not content with preserving the variety and detail and thoroughness of the expert knowledge which gives the debates in this House so high and intellectual a level, and produces so thorough an examination of all the detailed problems which come before the House for consideration. I think that in a democracy which requires qualification for any profession save that of legislator, it is extremely important that such expert knowledge should be available, and that this represents a solid asset towards sound legislation which our country cannot afford to lose, what ever reforms may be contemplated.
The noble Marquess is not content with that. He is not content even with that atmosphere of courtesy and mutual respect, and the readiness to listen with attention to all sides of each case which is brought up—an attitude of mind and an atmosphere that are specially precious at a time when prejudice, passion, and intolerance tend everywhere in other parts of Europe to stifle the still small voice of reason. The noble Marquess is not even content with preserving the admirable tradition according to which your Lordships give your services without any thought or prospect of remuneration or reward, and devote your energies and your time to work on Committees and elsewhere that those who have experienced it know to be quite exceptionally tedious. He insists upon adding to the good grain of wisdom and reasonableness the chaff of the hereditary principle. I venture to think—and in this matter I think I shall be borne out by noble Lords who occupy the Liberal Benches—that the hereditary principle is, in these days of democracy, as much a survival from the past as, for instance, the hairy covering or the rudimentary tail that appears in the embryo of the unborn child.
On this point I venture to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. There is nothing in the science of heredity to justify a belief in the transmission of talent and ability over an indefinite number of generations. I am sorry that the noble Lord is not present this evening, but I suggest very humbly that the authorities to whom he would refer himself have not delivered themselves in favour of human heredity over a 191 long series of generations. On the contrary, biological research has shown what we might call an equalitarian tendency in nature, a tendency for individuals to rise or sink to the normal level of their species; so that the wonderful gifts possessed by the founder of a great family invariably vanish after a number of generations which succeed him. Your Lordships will think immediately of the noble Marquess who introduced this Bill, and of the magnificent record of his family, and I would only say that there is a very true proverb which says that the exception proves the rule.
If this measure is passed and if a reformed Second Chamber with a preponderating hereditary element is allowed to dissolve a popularly elected assembly, the ensuing struggle would almost certainly sweep away your Lordships' House, as the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, has already pointed out, and might lead to civil strife and the overthrow of Parliamentary Government. The present friction between your Lordships' House and another place would be aggravated to a quite unimaginable extent, and I implore your Lordships in the interests of a truly reformed Second Chamber, in the interests of that peaceful social evolution of which this country is justly proud, and in the interests of the democratic principle which we all hold at heart, to reject this measure and to accept the Amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale.
§ LORD HUTCHISON OF MONTROSE
My Lords, as a new-comer to your Lordships' House I should like to make one or two observations. I recognise the great sincerity and conviction which are behind the noble Marquess in bringing forward this Bill. There is no man in our political world who holds our respect and regard more than he does, and he will, I am sure, realise that we who disagree with this Bill feel that we disagree with some pain from one who is such an ornament to our political life. I feel that this Bill has been introduced without considering the times in which it is brought forward. After all, we have only to carry our minds back two and a half years to the terribly grave economic crisis through which this country went, when we trusted the people and we were given that wonderful mandate to put the 192 country right, which I am sure ought to carry conviction to each one of us that we can indeed trust our own people. It seems to me it would be wrong, with a House such as we have in another place, to bring in a controversial Bill like this when there was no mandate given at that time by the people.
Moreover, I, who support the National Government and believe that a national effort is needed to carry this country through many years of troubles ahead, believe that this Bill will give ammunition to our opponents. There could be no finer controversial weapon placed in the hands of those who oppose the National Government without argument, without real foundation for their opposition. Such a weapon would introduce into our political life the wrong kind of Party warfare. Going back in my mind to the many elections which I fought, I can well imagine the difficulty of trying to give reasoned answers to the question why a Bill like this is brought forward at this time. I think the Government are very wise to say that they take an absolutely neutral line on this Bill. It may well be that the discussion which we have in your Lordships' House will produce ideas which at some future date may he of value. But not to-day. I feel that our House as it stands to-day has probably stronger roots in the minds of our people than we seem to think. I do not think we need have fears such as the noble Marquess expressed when we are faced with the actual representatives of the people as to what they may do.
After all, threatened men live long. I venture to suggest that this House will long survive the various threats of Sir Stafford Cripps and such as he. There is no logical reason for this House. You cannot defend it in logic, and yet, coming up here from another place, I have been filled with admiration at the way in which business is got through, the way in which business is talked without the ordinary delaying tactics of Party warfare in another place. This House is in many ways an example to another place in the way in which business is dealt with. I feel that if we start to deal with the basis on which this House rests, which is the hereditary element, we shall go a long way towards ending this House, or at any rate altering the whole status of it and reducing it to the position of 193 a continental Senate. I think that would be perfectly disastrous.
When you look at the terms of this Bill and how it is proposed to constitute the House, you find the evils of every system. You have got the hereditary element, which will be the dominating force in this House if this Bill becomes law. At the same time, you have got all the weaknesses of nomination, no doubt to be carried out by the Government of the day, which will lead to endless wire-pulling and log-rolling. I think there is a great deal of force in the argument which has been used that if you have a body of 700 Peers electing 150 to represent them you will then have real Party control. Each Peer elected will have to account to his fellow Peers for his actions in this House, and freedom of vote and freedom of voice will be largely withdrawn. I am glad to think the noble Marquess did recognise that we in Scotland have a just claim to our representation through the Act of Union, and I hope our Represertative Peers from Scotland will not be drawn into electing further Peers from the main body.
Clause 13, I think, would really weaken your Lordships' House. I believe that the Parliament Act whereby, after repeated going and comings between the two Houses, a Bill ultimately is allowed to become law as the voice of the people demands it, is really a safeguard for your Lordships' House; but if you bring in a clause whereby you would be forced to have an Election before a certain measure became law, you will undoubtedly stimulate the demand for the abolition of this retarding Chamber. It would be a terrible calamity to our political machine to put the power of Dissolution, which is what would amount to, into the hands of your Lordships' House. For that reason I consider it would be a dreadful calamity if we started on the basis of Clause 13 to deal with the Parliament Act. After all, the people are all-powerful. We have given democracy the power through our institutions to rule; and to say that you can stop the people from abolishing this House if they want to abolish it is, in may opinion, ridiculous. They can and will do so if they make up their minds to it.
It has been abolished before, but I hope when that time comes, if it ever does, the people will see that the political 194 machine which is to be created by a single-chamber form of government would be infinitely worse and infinitely less protective of their interests than the present form of Constitution. I am not afraid of the people, nor am I afraid of the Socialist Party. I do not believe they will have the power to convince the people of the necessity of interfering with our constitution, and for that reason I think it is bad political tactics to bring this measure forward to-day. We want to carry on this National Government after the end of this Parliament into further constructive efforts for the benefit of this country and the world at a very difficult period, and I for one, though I recognise the great sincerity of the noble Marquess, regret that I must oppose the Second Reading of this measure.
§ LORD ROCKLEY
had given Notice that, on the Motion for the Second Reading, he would move to insert, after "That," the words "this House, whilst regretting that the Bill does not contain a provision for the limited extension of the existing Acts of Parliament for the creation of life Peers, resolves that". The noble Lord said: My Lords, like the noble Lord who has just addressed you, I feel some diffidence in doing so as a very new member, almost the most junior member of this House, but perhaps I may claim attention as I believe I am the first member to address you during these two days debates who was also a member of Lord Bryce's Conference on the reform of this House in 1917–1918. A great deal of ground was scanned during that very interesting and, I may well call it, non-Party Conference, and a great deal of ground has been gone over in the last two days here. If it is true to have said of that Conference that its end could be described as quot homines, tot sententiœ, I think it is equally true to say that of the debates we have just heard. The debates we have heard seem to me to disclose three possible lines of action in this very difficult problem. First of all there is the line of the abolition of the House of Lords. That was touched upon yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Snell. I could not quite make out whether he fully endorsed it or whether he did not. I think he was careful in his phraseology; and it has been indicated as a possible course by one or two other speakers, but I 195 cannot think that would be generally accepted. You have only to go back to history to see what some of its results were. The noble Lord, Lord Snell, mentioned Cromwell and his effort to reconstitute the Second Chamber after there had been only one Chamber.
May I remind your Lordships what the situation was when only one Chamber existed between the years 1649 and 1653? They suspended or annulled the Habeas Corpus Act, they suppressed the freedom of the Press, they stopped trial by jury, they imprisoned the Lord Mayor of London, they extended the law of treason of Edward III, and matters came to such a pass that I believe it was seriously suggested they should pull down and sell cathedral churches. That was all under a single chamber, and I cannot think that that ancient history would suggest we had better go back to it. There are much more recent matters of history that bear upon the same subject. I would ask your Lordships to cast your eye upon the formation of the Third Republic in France. There the most prominent statesman by far at that moment was M. Gambetta, who at first was in favour of a single chamber, and I believe argued strongly for it, but before he died in 1882 he pronounced definitely in favour of two chambers and had no hesitation in saying so.
If you want a third instance of a single chamber in our own Empire, to be observed at this moment, I would ask your Lordships to look at Queensland. The history there is very instructive. Between 1919 and 1922 the Legislative Council—that is to say, the Second Chamber—was abolished. It was abolished after two Bills had been brought in and rejected proposing its abolition. There was then a referendum to the people, such as was referred to by Lord Bridgeman and Lord Listowel just now, and that referendum decided by a majority of 66,000 votes that the Legislative Council should not be abolished. In spite of that a new Government proceeded to abolish the Legislative Council, and at this moment there is only one Legislative Assembly in Queensland. And this is democracy! I do not think that is a precedent that we particularly wish to follow, and it remains to see what the future of Queensland's history may be.
196 The next alternative that was obviously disclosed during this debate was that of staying exactly as we are. Some noble Lords have argued on those lines, but that means refraining from efforts to improve our debating power. It means making no attempt to add experienced members, or to regulate or diminish our numbers. I cannot say that that attitude of mind appeals to me. I do not like closing the door on any efforts at reform. After all, outside conditions are constantly varying, and if suitable measures of reform can be agreed upon I should certainly be in favour of accepting them. On that ground I shall vote for the Second Reading of this Bill. I do not mean by that that I agree with everything in it, if I may say so, but I think that we must not close the doors to reform, and I am anxious to find any good reform that can be made.
That brings me to the third alternative as disclosed in this debate. If you attempt reform, how far is it to go? It is easy, as one noble Lord said just now, to try and reform our Constitution in one part, but it is very like touching a house of cards, and the whole thing may fall down. At any rate I should like to proceed with great caution, and one of the reasons why I have put down the Motion which is on the Order Paper with regard to life Peerages is that I was anxious to focus discussion to some extent on this subject, elicit opinions, and see how far—and I believe it ought to be a very considerable way—the Parties in this House would agree to something of that kind. I was very glad to hear the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, express his personal feeling that that was a possible line of procedure.
I mentioned Lord Bryce's Conference just now, and one of the conclusions to which I think one came after listening to those very interesting discussions was how extraordinarily difficult almost any line of reform would be. There were fifteen members of this House and fifteen members of the other place at the Conference. Some alas! are no longer with us—Archbishop Davidson's shrewd counsels, Lord Lansdowne, Lord Loreburn. I see the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, present. He added very much to our discussions. There were also Lord Stuart of Wortley, Lord Younger, and I think there was also the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, who is 197 still in this House. As I have said, the difficulties seem very great. Take such matters as these: Do you want a strong Chamber like the United States Senate or do you not? You have to make up your mind definitely one way or the other. I do not feel at all sure, after hearing Lord Strachie's speech, which was his way of thinking. It is a matter that has to be decided as a preliminary one.
It was talked of at the Conference that election should be by very large constituencies or whole counties. A system of double election might be favoured—either that or a system of one election simply by the very large constituencies. It was suggested that with very large constituencies you would hardly get members of all Parties to stand. It would mean much more expensive elections. I do not know quite whether we could expect to get the Labour Party to come in on those lines. If it was to be double election by members of the House of Commons who represent those constituencies, there was again the danger of more political caucus work than. I think is to be desired. Again, in large elections, experienced men of sixty —I advisedly say experienced—would be less likely to wish to stand. It is not their fancy, possibly, after many years in the other place, to wish to go on standing at hard-fought elections for the rest of their lives. Yet we should lose their experience.
Again, if the Second Chamber members are partly nominated and partly elected as was, I think, advised by Lord Bridgeman last night, another difficulty presents itself. I would refer once more to the Third Republic in France. When the Senate was first constituted it consisted of seventy-five life members and the remainder, making a total of about three hundred, were elected in the ordinary way. But it was very soon found that those seventy-five members were accused of being quite unrepresentative, and their votes were not considered on a par with those of the other members. Since that time they have all been absorbed as elected members of the Second Chamber.
One suggestion was made yesterday by my noble friend Lord Cecil. He said it might be possible that the Government of the day should nominate a third, say 100 of the members of the Second Chamber for three Parliaments. That system 198 has been substantially in vogue in Canada for a number of years. The criticism there was, and has been, that Canadian Ministries last a very long time, certainly that of Sir John Macdonald did as did the Ministries of Sir Wilfred Laurier and Sir Robert Borden. The consequence was that while one Party, as the Government, nominated a large number of the Second Chamber, by the time that Government went out of office a very large proportion of the Second Chamber was hostile to the new Government which came in. That process was repeated on more than one Occasion as successive Governments followed each other.
I am merely raising these points to show how difficult it is to come to complete agreement on any one thing. Therefore, I come to my concluding question: What reform then is to-day desirable and, above all, easily practicable? There I would ask the House to consider very seriously the Motion which I have on the Paper. It may be better that I should only ask through that Motion that noble Lords who speak should express opinions and that when it comes to the point I should either not move it or ask to withdraw it by permission of the House. But I do want to focus opinion upon it, and see how far we can come to an agreement on that line at any rate. The Wensleydale decision in 1856 is surely a mistake; at least I think most of us might think so to-day. I cannot see why we should not have more life Peers, but limiting their total number, and also the number created in any one year. By having an arrangement of that sort we might tend towards balancing Parties more evenly in this House and without any serious difficulties.
If I may go back for a moment, and I have taken the trouble to look it up, to the debates on Earl Russell's proposals in 1869, I see that his amended preamble to the suggestions he then made contained the words:persons likely to add weight to the deliberations of the House.As originally intended their number was to be limited to twenty-eight at any one time and to four creations in any one year. That proposal was not proceeded with. More success attended the Appellate Jurisdiction Act, 1876, and the amending Act of 1887, and I should very much like to urge that we might proceed 199 further on similar lines. There was a proposal made in 1888 by the late Lord Salisbury that the total number should not exceed fifty at any one time, but again the matter eventually dropped. There is one other method that occurs to me, if it is possible, and that is that by Resolution of this House we might disqualify Peers who do not attend or vote for a certain number of times.
That concludes what I want to say about life Peers. There is one other Amendment that I should like to see. It concerns Clause 13 upon which so much comment has been directed. Rather than see the proposal as it stands in Clause 13, I should like very humbly to suggest an alteration of the Parliament Act. Perhaps I had better state what the position is now under the Parliament Act. The Act provides that if a Bill passed in the other place is rejected in three successive Sessions by your Lordships' House it shall forthwith by presented for the Royal Assent. I should like to see that Act amended so that this provision should not apply to any proposal for the reform of the Constitution unless it is passed by a two-thirds majority in the other place. By the term "reform of the Constitution" I mean any change affecting the relative powers of Lords and Commons or the Prerogative of the Crown. I hope that in other speeches in this debate special attention will be directed towards the question of life Peerages, and also how much further we can get as conditions or necessities may require in the future.
§ LORD STONEHAVEN
My Lords, the formidable list of occasions when this matter has been considered by your Lordships, which was read by my noble friend Lord Hastings, shows that this is a matter that has been of long interest to your Lordships. I venture to think that that interest does not grow less as time passes. Contrary to the view of my noble friend Lord Hutchison, I should have thought that an occasion when you had a combination of Conservative, Liberal, and Socialist Parties, acting together in a National Government, would have been the very time when there would have been some hope of carrying out a reform of the Constitution such as is involved in any reform of your Lordships' House. Unfortunately, that has proved not to be the case, because 200 the members of your Lordships' House who belong to the Liberal Party, who were so keen on the reform of the personnel of the House when the Parliament Act was passed, appear to have lost their interest in that branch of the subject. They are quite content, I gather from the speech of the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, yesterday, with the present composition of the House. The noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, did make some tentative suggestion that the House might be improved if some experience were required before a Writ of Summons could be issued to an hereditary Peer. He also advocated strongly the appointment of life Peers. With that I think all of us would be in agreement, but apparently my noble friend is not sufficiently keen on the further consideration of the suggestion to be induced to vote for the Second Reading, and so the suggestion remains purely academic.
I cannot help thinking that we have got to take the Socialists at their word, and as they say that if they get into power they propose to abolish the House of Lords, it is our business to take such action as we can to thwart their intentions. You may say, and it is said, that if there really is a determined effort on the part of the country to abolish the House of Lords, nothing can prevent that being done. My noble friend Lord Hutchison said that. I do not see that we need accept that defeatist attitude. I do not believe that the country as a whole is anxious for unicameral government. At the same time, experience throughout the world shows that Parties of the Left insist as their first action on abolishing Upper Chambers. That has been the experience in Australia for instance. They cannot get their measures through a Second Chamber. It reminds me of the well-known story of the occasion when Franklin and Washington were discussing over a cup of tea whether there should be two chambers or one. Washington, I think it was, poured his tea into the saucer because it was very hot. "There you see," said the other, "the reason for a Second Chamber." Far be it from me to say that legislation which would come from the Lower House with a Socialist majority would be hot-stuff, but at any rate I think we are bound to admit that it would be new and probably indigestible.
201 The common sense of the country has been frequently referred to, but I am certain that there should be a Second Chamber to examine legislation which may be passed in a hasty moment of enthusiasm or even hysteria by the Lower House. If that is so, I cannot see how noble Lords can pretend at this time that this House, composed as it is, can be satisfactory. In the first place, can a House be described as of satisfactory composition when, as was pointed out last night by my noble friend the Earl of Midleton, one-quarter of its members have not even taken the elementary step of taking the Oath and so qualifying themselves to exercise their functions? That in itself seems to me to condemn the present composition of the House. There is more in it than that. The power exercised through the Constitution is constantly shifting. It was predominantly in the hands of the Crown, it was then exercised by your Lordships' House and it is now exercised by the House of Commons. With the extension of the franchise the power of the House of Commons becomes greater. But that does not alter the fact that we are still governed by a Constitution consisting of Crown, Lords and Commons.
If the Socialists get into power and carry out their threat of attempting to abolish this House, it can only be done in one of two ways. I do not think for a moment that they will wait two years to let the operation of the Parliament Act take effect. They will either threaten the addition of such members to your Lordships' House as to make it perfectly ridiculous, or else they will present an ultimatum to the Crown and force the Crown to create an abnormal number of Peers. Consider the position of the Crown in the Empire to-day—the absolute keystone of the whole thing. Drop the Crown, and the Empire crumbles. It is unfair to put a strain upon the Crown which the Crown was not intended and is not constructed to stand. It seems to me that it is our business to take account of the situation as it is, to take the noble Lords opposite and those who act with them at their word, and when they are good enough to tell us that their intention is to abolish the Upper House, to take such steps as we properly can to see that that does not occur.
202 I am not satisfied with this Bill as it stands; I think its provisions as to the composition of the House can be improved, but my noble friend Lord Salisbury indicated that he was quite prepared to accept ideas and Amendments with regard to that. The composition seems to me a secondary matter as compared with the powers. The all-important thing is the powers. I am in disagreement with Clause 13. I agree with noble Lords opposite that it is quite impossible to go back on the Parliament Act in that respect, and that you have got to accept the fact that the will of the House of Commons as expressed should become the law of the land if it can be found that the country desires it. I favour very strongly the proposals put forward by my noble friend Lord Bridgeman last night for the adoption of the referendum. I cannot see why a system which is thoroughly democratic and which works satisfactorily in every one of our self-governing Dominions should not be made part of the law of the land here. Whether we like it or not, we are confronted with considerable changes. The referendum can ensure that a measure which passes the Lower House and is rejected by this House can then be submitted to the people, and if the people express a desire for it they shall have it. Then it has also this advantage. What is the use of the Commons pretending that they alone know what the people desire, and the House of Lords saying that they know what the people desire, when the only way to ascertain what the people really desire is to ask them? And why not do so? There is nothing mysterious about the method.
It is tried, as I say, in Australia, both in the Federal and in the States Parliaments; it exists in the Constitution of Canada, both in the Federal and the Provincial Parliaments; it exists in the Constitution of New Zealand, and it exists in the Constitution of the Free State. It enables a Government which is at the head in the Lower House of a majority different in. political complexion from the majority in the Upper House, to insist on the people having the measures which they think they want, if the people express a desire for them. For some reason which I have failed to grasp, I know that hitherto the referendum has been unpopular. Noble Lords belonging to the 203 Liberal Party who are opposed, I am sorry to say, to much change in the House, cannot see their way to support what is a thoroughly democratic proceeding; but if, as I hope will be the case, this Bill is given a Second Reading by your Lordships, I trust that alterations will be made in the composition, which I confess seems to me to be a secondary matter compared with the powers, and that as regards the powers a great deal more support will be found for the referendum than has been found in the past.
§ LORD MARKS
My Lords, as a keen supporter of the National Government I very much regret that while we have a National Government a Bill has been brought in which may cause misunderstanding outside and misinterpretation as to that which is meant by the Bill. Whatever we ourselves consider may be the result of this Bill, of one thing I am quite sure: we are going to throw on to the political platforms of this country a slogan and a cry which will give greater and more forceful ammunition than anything else that we could possibly do. In the House of Commons, for the first four years of my membership there, I knew full well that frequently one of the platform troubles, and at by-elections some of the controversial points, ranged round the House of Lords. For the last fifteen years of my association with the House of Commons that point was never raised in any election in which I was concerned, and I never heard it raised in connection with any political proposals in the House of Commons, the reason being that the Parliament Act had been passed and that there was a recognition in that Act that the will of the people was to be supreme. In that Act delay was provided for, to which no one has objected.
But when there has been no demand for this from the political platforms of the country, no cry made by the people themselves that that which we have been doing here has been oppressive or that that which we have been doing has been one-class legislation, to bring in now when we are united a Bill which is to stabilise the position of one Party and to strengthen those who have against those who have not, will lead to the greatest misunderstanding which has 204 ever been caused by anything in your Lordships' House. The controversies today in reference to political matters are surely keen enough, and the national troubles which we all have to meet are surely well enough understood, without bringing back an old cry that has been dead for twenty years and giving the people now one more chance to do what I saw them doing after speeches by Joseph Chamberlain and John Bright, marching in thousands in procession with banners: "Down with the House of Lords!" You will be starting a new cry; you will be providing them with a faggot which they can easily blow into a flame. I therefore ask those who may be considering this Bill which no one imagines can ever become law, to remember that by this Bill they are going to make a gesture which will become, presently, a menace to those of us who are desirous of helping them.
We stand united in most things of importance. No challenge has been made lately concerning that which we have done. It is suggested that those of us who have come from another place and who have had some experience there, may give our experience here with some little advantage, that those of us who may be experts in some direction may give of our knowledge when such may be useful. The House of Lords never stood in the public eye in so high a place as it stands in at this moment. Right the way through the country there is no controversy; there is no challenge. People know that that which we discuss, we discuss from the point of view of that which we believe. We have no constituents to worry, no persons to challenge, and none to criticise. But now we are about to do something which is to say to the people that whatever they do must be done hereafter wholly with the consent and by the favour of a privileged House of Lords.
That will be a danger; it will be a menace; and those of us who went through the controversy before of "The Peers versus the People" do not want to see it revived. It was dead, and it ought to remain dead. We were told last night by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House that the Government propose to take no part in this matter. For that I am devoutly thankful. I wish it to be understood, amongst those who 205 know that I am supporting this Government from one section of the House, that the Government which I am supporting has nothing to do with a Bill which is going to add trouble wherever a political meeting takes place hereafter, or wherever a by-election takes place. We shall be undermining the good that we have done.
Since I have been in this House, like my noble friend Lord Hutchison, I have been charmed with the good spirit, the fairness, and the comradeship that have been exhibited by those who have been here as the descendants of great names, towards those of us who came here with no prestige but only just a little experience of another place. We have been met on equal lines, without any distinction, and it is to my mind going to be a vital error if we do anything which would lead people to feel that we still want this House to be an aristocratic Assembly, a privileged and hereditary House, and that nothing can go through here of which we do not heartily approve. Lord Hutchison said he has trusted the people and was willing to trust them. If you want an illustration to show that what has been done has not been the result of fear and panic of something which might never eventualise, look at what happened at the last Election, when a large and great Party was swept away because people had seen that there was misunderstanding as to their motives, and risk as to their actions.
I believe the people of this country are sane and sensible enough to know that when there is any trouble on it is well to have a body of men such as constitute the House of Lords, who are not acting merely for their own Party. I heard with regret that there had been evidence of a desire for the reform of this House, but the noble Lord in endeavouring to prove this desire said it came from a meeting of the National Conservative Association. It was a desire only from them, and never from the people, and never a challenge of what we were doing. I ask noble Lords, who know that this Bill cannot pass, and know that we are having simply a debate which will be misunderstood outside, to let there be a sufficient majority against the Bill, when a Division takes place, to enable the people to-see that it was purely a debate, that there was nothing real about it, and that it will never do any harm. In that 206 Division I hope with others to help to swell the majority against this Bill.
§ LORD HUNSDON OF HUNSDON
My Lords, you will be glad to hear that most of the points I wished to raise have been dealt with, more ably than I could hope to do, by other speakers, and therefore I shall not have to trouble your Lordships for very long. I have listened with interest to the attacks on this Bill, and I am afraid I have a certain amount of sympathy with them, but I intend to vote for the Second Reading for reasons which I will give. The first is one which the noble Marquess will probably consider the least important of all. It is that he and his committee have given an immense amount of time and trouble to the preparation of this Bill, and I do not think it would be very polite to throw it out on the Second Reading. The second reason is that the noble Marquess has not only expressed his intention to consider Amendments, but has invited us to prepare Amendments for consideration, and that can only be given on the Committee stage. The third reason is that there is a very large body of opinion in favour of Part II of the Bill. As the noble Marquess has invited suggestions I should like to make one.
My opinion is that Bill is too heavily weighted, and that it provokes more controversy to the square inch than any Bill I have seen, and especially is that the case, so far as this part of the House is concerned, in regard to Part I, which deals with the personnel of this House. In my judgment all we ought to do at this stage is to show the people what should be done to ensure that they will have the last word before any drastic changes are made. What instrument should be employed for that purpose is really a matter of very minor importance, it seems to me. This Bill, contrary to what my noble friend has said, is intended to increase the power of the-people, and if any alteration of the power of this House is necessary for that purpose it is purely incidental, and of very little importance.
The noble Marquess has expressed his great admiration for this House, and for its personnel. We all know that from his devotion to this House; but I see in this Memorandum of his that he says 207 that "it is recognised there must be an outside element introduced into the constitution of this House." I am not very good at reading between the lines, but I should say that what he means is this: "I hate having to propose any alteration in the personnel of the House, but I am bound to do it because other people say it is necessary." With all respect I should like to suggest to your Lordships that on this occasion, as this Bill is not going to become law, we in this House should express what we think is best for the country and not what we think other people consider best. The proposal in Part I is that we should have a hybrid Chamber. My opinion of that is that it certainly must cause the loss of a great deal of the prestige and tradition of this House, and that this House would then have less influence in the country than it has as at present constituted.
I think the noble Marquess. Lord Lothian, referred to the question of the nominated Peers. I do not suppose many of the people who suggested that we should have an influx of nominated Peers are aware how many nominated Peers there are in this House at the present moment. I took the trouble on the First Reading to examine the Division List, and I found that about 30 per cent of those who took part in the Division were nominated Peers—that is, those who had been nominated by Prime Ministers and did not sit here as the descendants of their fathers. These included the occupant of the Woolsack, the Lord Chief Justice, the Master of the Rolls, several other Judges, ex-Viceroys of India, and the Leader of each of the three Parties in this House. That makes the nucleus of a pretty strong team, and I do not see why we should want any more nominated Peers. I object to the introduction of any outside element. If you have elected Peers they have constituents, and they will have to talk to show their constituents how active they are, as happens in another place. The whole character of this House will be changed, and it will be a talking place instead of an acting place, where members talk solely for the purpose of influencing their fellow members.
We are told that the hereditary principle is obsolete. Well, I should very much like to know what principle is not obsolete. Certainly democracy is 208 obsolete almost everywhere. The only thing that is not obsolete is dictatorship in some form or other. Of course, I am not going to argue the question of the hereditary principle. I am certainly not going to use the stud farm argument, though there is a great deal in it; but there is much more in it than that. The sons of distinguished people are brought up in distinguished society. The sons of great statesmen are brought up from babyhood in an atmosphere of statesmanship, and more than that—and much more than that—they are brought up in the doctrine of service; with the result that you see in this House (and you have not far too look) men who have devoted their whole lives to the service of this country, with absolutely nothing to gain, except their own self-respect. Well, that is a magnificent example to set before the country and, in my judgment anyhow, example, in this country at all events, is more powerful for good than all the Acts of Parliament that ever were passed.
My Lords, while I am entirely in agreement with the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, that your Lordships' House is in need of reform, yet I find it quite impossible, as I very much regret on personal grounds, to support the provisions of this Bill. I assume that the object of any Bill of this kind is to secure powers for this House so that the Constitution of our country may be safeguarded from eruptions from the Eight or from the Left which may not have behind them the good will of the majority of the electors of this country. To obtain greater powers presumably the prestige of your Lordships' House must be enormously enhanced.
The Bill would attain the object, firstly, by excluding about four-fifths of those of us who have the privilege of sitting here—perhaps because it is reckoned that only about one-fifth of the members of this House are suitable to be legislators. One just wonders whether the majority who are unfit to be in this House will, in fact, elect the best 150 to represent them. They may do so, but there is no guarantee. Next, the Lords Spiritual will be reduced to five, and that will impose an intolerable burden on a very few. It is a very drastic pruning, but I understand from the Memorandum 209 that Part I of the Bill is not to be regarded as the last word, so perhaps I need not dwell upon that. Thirdly, there will be introduced 150 Lords or Ladies of Parliament in pursuance of a Resolution passed by both Houses of Parliament. One wonders who they will be. Various suggestions are made in the report of the committee, and I will not weary your Lordships by dealing with the suggestions, with which we are all familiar.
I ask myself whether the House will really be strengthened when it consists of 150 hereditary Peers who by reason of the system of election may not be the best element, of their order, and 150 miscellaneous Lords and Ladies of Parliament. Personally, I feel very dubious. There is another question which was dealt with in the report, and that was the question of the payment of members. Will it be possible to confine payment merely to a small section of the Lords of Parliament who have passed the "means test"? I see no objection at all to payment of those who must have it, otherwise many who in the eyes of the supporters of the Bill would be a valuable reinforcement to your Lordships' House would be debarred from accepting election or nomination. But will it not be most invidious that one section of this House will be paid and the remainder not? Will it not involve eventually the payment of all members of your Lordships' House? Well, it is not a matter for discussion at length at this stage, but perhaps it is not out of place just to mention the fact that we should reckon on a great additional cost of this House.
Quite apart from such considerations, one is doubtful whether the prestige of this House will be in the slightest degree enhanced by the provisions of this Bill. It seems to me that a House reformed on these lines will be a spurious Second Chamber. It will follow in many respects, as the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, said, the model of another place, with all the weaknesses which year by year become more apparent. If that is to be the model then there will be two legislative assemblies too much alike, and in the circumstances it seems difficult to imagine that there is any justification for maintaining a Second Chamber. I have done my best recently to find out 210 from every conceivable source what opinion of your Lordships' House is held by the man in the street, or the man in the tram. The conclusions I come to very much coincide with those of the noble Lord, Lord Marks—namely, that there is no justification for any great inferiority complex here. So far as I can ascertain public opinion of this House is favourable. I am told that we are given credit for some impartiality because we do not periodically have to fear what electors may think of our utterances, and I am told that we do not on the whole suffer by comparison with another place.
We most certainly have not earned an unenviable reputation for making lavish promises which can never be fulfilled. Until ten years ago I had never had any contact with politics at all, and perhaps my first introduction to it was unfortunate. My first experience was to listen to a candidate for political honours who with tremendous fervour advocated the cause of Protection in the Election in which Mr. Baldwin suffered defeat on that issue. I heard that same candidate appeal to the electors at the next Election and warn them of the dangers of Protection, saying that he always had been against it, and so on. I do not suggest for one moment that all candidates are weathercocks of that order, but at any rate I was rather astonished and disgusted; and since then I have found that a simple soldier has a good deal to learn about political expediency and strategic advances to the rear, called by various names.
Whether I am right or whether I am wrong in my estimate of public opinion about this House, the point is to discover what can be done to obtain greater security for the Constitution by the restoration of some powers to this House. Personally, I find it very difficult to imagine that any successful reform of the personnel of this House can come by legislation. Surely, reforms on these lines must be a domestic affair for this House, only to he conducted within this House—reform in the first instance by the elimination of those who bring discredit upon the House. It may be, as the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, stated, that such seldom or never come into this House. But the point is: Do the public know that? I do not think that they do. It can scarcely be questioned that any 211 legislative assembly, or indeed any institution which ostracises its delinquents, cannot do anything but better its reputation. In former days monarchs dealt faithfully with nobles who were found unsuited for their position: they amputated the heads of some and they banished others, and they subjected some to forfeitures; since those salutary practices were discontinued nothing has taken their place.
So far as I know, this is the only institution of any importance in the country which does not deal drastically with those who fail to reach a certain recognised standard. Take the General Medical Council: it protects not only the public but an honourable profession against those who transgress a very high professional and moral code. Lawyers do the same. Indeed, it is difficult to think of any profession or of any Service which allows its good name to be tarnished by misconduct of its members. The Church, with some difficulty I believe, unfrocks its failures, and the Navy and the Army and the Air Force deal ruthlessly with officers who are guilty of dishonourable conduct. In some cases in the professions, I believe, decisions do have the force of law behind them. In other cases they do not, but in the latter cases public opinion within the profession is so powerful that the decisions are just as effective as though they had the force of law behind them. I believe your Lordships' House is alone in that it imposes no penalties and no disabilities on its offenders. You may say that there is no precedent and that there is no machinery for action such as is taken in the professions and the Services. Perhaps not in this country, since the powers of kings were curtailed, but if one looks into history abroad one sees that in the days when nobles ruled Venice the Venetians found no particular difficulty in instituting a Council of Ten to deal with these nobles who had become degenerate; and I am thinking on those lines.
The introduction of outsiders into this House is an abdication and surrender to the fallacy that there is nothing in the hereditary principle. To deny this principle is to deny the ordinary forces of nature. Every stock-breeder knows that, but he also knows that nature is not mechanical, that every now and then 212 things do go wrong, and that unworthy specimens appear, and he deals with the situation quite simply by elimination. There is every justification for the hereditary principle provided this fact is remembered and acted on. If we had a tribunal functioning in this House to safeguard the reputation of the House it would be the first step towards developing a legislative assembly which would have the whole-hearted confidence of the country. I doubt if ever there has been any animosity against those who were genuinely noble. How could there be, when nobility implies, amongst other things, a full regard and consideration for the claims and interests and well-being of the whole community, and service in return for a certain position of privilege? There you have real representation, the best that there could be, and if there are any gaps, experts and specialists can always he called in to supply information.
I do not believe it is too late to have an effective internal reform, in spite of many things that may have militated against the good name of this House. I believe many hold that the events of 1910–11 were gross pusillanimity, and of course the scandalous sale of honours in recent years can hardly have done your Lordships' House any good. If there were a systematic reform on the lines I have briefly indicated, and if the reformed House applied itself to the anomalies that exist to-day—one law for the poor and another for the rich—I believe that in due course powers would not be withheld, and the House might become a genuine bulwark of the State that in the next few years may be urgently required.
What is an ideal Second Chamber? I presume it should be a body of men who are trained in the art of government, who are imbued with ingrained nobility of character, who are willing to face unpopularity when they are convinced of the essential rightness of any particular course of action, men able to take a long view and appreciate the effect of legislation, not five years, but fifty years ahead. That is a brief aline, but I cannot see that the reform proposed in this Bill will produce anything approaching this ideal. I firmly believe it could be attained if we had a tribunal sifting 213 material in your Lordships' House and working up to the principle that privileges are only justified by the acceptance of responsibility, and I submit that all the responsibilities are not in Westminster, and no legislation can do this. The course I have suggested has not the objections which wewerw raised by the noble Marquess, Lord Reading. It has nothing to do with another place, it has nothing to do with electors. I cannot see that any Government or any Party will ever ask for a mandate from the country for the reform of your Lordships' House, because they know that the effect of it would be disastrous to themselves. I do not know what the course of this Bill will be, but if it does not reach the Statute Book perhaps some day some consideration may be given to the views of a very humble Back-Bencher.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
My Lords, I propose to vote for the Second Reading of this Bill, not because it is a perfect Bill, but because it will give this House an opportunity of considering whether or not there cannot be several alterations which, in my opinion, are absolutely necessary for the safety of the country. I do not for a moment say that a reform such as is indicated by my noble friend Lord Salisbury, or indeed any reform, will improve this place. It is forty-two years since I was elected a member of the House of Commons. For forty-two years, with the exception of five months, I have been a member of one or other of the Houses of Parliament, and though I have always had, and still have, a great opinion of the House of Commons and a great veneration for all its customs, I cannot conceal from myself that, at any rate, the procedure in this House is suite as good as the procedure in the other.
I was not here yesterday, but I read the speech of my noble friend Lord Midleton, and I see he said that one of the drawbacks of this House was the fact that only a small number attended. That is undoubtedly a drawback. He illustrated that fact by pointing out that in a Division last week forty-two members voted with the Government and thirty-three members voted against it, and he proceeded to argue that that was a very small proportion of the members of this House. Since I have been a member of this House I have observed this, that 214 though there has never been a very large number of members in attendance, they have always been in attendance in the Chamber and they have listened to the speeches.
In the House of Commons there are generally very few members in the House. The majority of the members are, if it is summer, on the Terrace or in the smoking-room or in the tea-room or in the Library; there are very few members in the House itself. When the Division bell rings the various members come up. They are met at the doors by their Whips who say: "You are Aye" or "You are No" and the members go into the Lobby as they are told without in the least knowing what has been going on or what has taken place. There was in the old days, when I first went there, a very salutary rule that no member could vote until he had heard the Question put, and consequently when the Question was put and before it was put a second time the doors were locked and no member who was outside could vote. But the Liberal Party altered that. As soon as the Liberal Party had a majority it said: "Never mind about their listening. Leave the doors open and let them come in whenever they want to. What does it matter whether they have heard the debate or not? Their leaders have told them what to do and they jolly well have to do it." Therefore I do not see myself that there is a very great difference between not coming to the House and coming to the House and not taking any active part or knowing what you are doing. I do not think that you are likely to improve the constitution of this House by the manner which my noble friend has suggested.
There is another point which seems to me to be vital and it is this. This House has no power now. It can practically do nothing. Anything that is passed in two years, if the Government in power exists three years, becomes law, and not only that, any financial proposal becomes law at once. The weak point, if I may say so, of my noble friend's Bill is that it does not restore to this House the power of veto over finance. I am not suggesting that this House should have the power to initiate taxation, but I do suggest that it should have the power to veto taxation, and I suggest it for this reason. I am glad to see four members of the Socialist Party in front of me. I 215 do not think that they will deny that their object, if they come into power, as I am afraid is not unlikely at the next Election, will be to spend money. That they have said over and over again. How are they going to get that money? There is no hole in the ground to which they can go and dig up money to give to their friends and supporters. They have to find that money somehow. How will they find it? The probability is that they will say—it was said at the time when I had the honour of being a member of the House of Commons— "No man is worth more than £500 a year." What is to prevent them saying: "We will impose a Super-Tax of 20s. in the £ on all incomes above £2,000." I think it is very likely they will do that.
See what happens? They will do it, as I believe Miss Bondfield said when they were in power, in order to take from the rich to give to the poor—a very popular proposal, inasmuch as the rich are few and the poor are many. But they have gone further than that. They say that the evils which exist at the present moment are owing to capitalism. If they take away a person's capital they do away with capitalism. Therefore, what is probable, if they do not put an Income Tax of £1 on every £ over £2,000 a year, is that they will impose a Death Duty of say 50 per cent. on every estate of £100,000 and upwards. At the present moment there is a Death Duty of 50 per cent. on every estate of £2,000,000. Why should not they extend that? And we can do nothing. I remember reading a pamphlet or article by Mr. Page, the American Ambassador, and he said that one of the reasons for the prosperity of England was that for many hundreds of years there had been gradually accumulating an amount of capital, and that in America, being a new country, they had not had the opportunity of accumulating capital, but as soon as they had accumulated a sufficient amount of capital they would outstrip us in commerce and various methods of business. That, I think, is absolutely correct.
Unless we do something to restore the power of this House, as certain as I am standing here the Socialist Party when they come in will do, as my noble friend Lord Stonehaven said they would do. What they say they will do—and they have said it, everyone of them—is to 216 abolish capitalism. Some of them have gone even further; they would like to abolish the House of Commons and make themselves dictators. I hope that if you give a Second Reading to this Bill, in Committee an Amendment such as I have suggested will be put in. If not, I reserve to myself the right to vote against the Third Reading. I agree with the noble Lords who have said that unless you do something to increase our powers, and give us power, under certain circumstances, to prevent the country being ruined in financial ways, we shall find not only that we may be abolished but that what little we have got will have gone. It will be no consolation then to say: "Well, we told you so."
There is one other point, and only one, that I should like to emphasise. It might be said that nothing serious could be done in the way of a financial imposition without a Bill, and that such a Bill might not be certified as a Money Bill by the Speaker's Committee if the proposal in this Bill is carried. I was a member of the House of Commons when payment of members was introduced. There was no Bill. It was put in the Vote of Supply. I remonstrated, and said I thought they could not put in Supply something which was novel and for which they had not received the authorisation of a Bill. I was told by the Liberal Party, then in power, that there was going to be a Bill, but on further examination, I found that what they meant was that, having got the Vote in Supply, it would be put in the Appropriation Bill, which, as those of you who have been members of the House of Commons know, means that there is no opportunity to discuss it. Under the Bill of my noble friend Lord Salisbury the Appropriation Bill is exempt. Therefore you cannot tell what an unscrupulous majority might not do unless there is some safeguard in a Second Chamber such as I would have liked to see introduced without any alteration of the numbers of this House. But I am afraid that cannot be achieved without some alteration such as is suggested by my noble friend.
§ LORD CRANWORTH
My Lords, it is some eight or nine years since I accompanied some 240 members of Parliament both from your Lordships' House and another place to a large chamber in these 217 buildings, where we approached the Prime Minister of the day and expressed the urgent need for the reform of your Lordships' House. That Prime Minister agreed with us most heartily. He said no one was more aware of the need of that change than he was and that it should have the immediate attention of His Majesty's Government. Since that day I have attended almost innumerable Conservative and Constitutional assemblies throughout the country and at nearly all of them there has been a resolution urging the reform of the House of Lords. In every single case, so far as I can remember, that resolution has been carried, and carried in most cases without any opposition at all.
I feel therefore a measure of surprise when I hear some of the speeches that are delivered from the Benches on this side of the House, and I say to myself: What changes have occurred during those eight or nine years that have caused there to be no longer any necessity for any alteration in your Lordships' House? Can it be that under the National Government there is no longer any possibility of some sudden chance Election in which extremists, supported by probably an equal number of disgruntled electors and of disappointed voters, bring in a Party with unlimited powers? I say to myself, as I study the newspapers and the results of the by-elections, that that seems to me a curious conclusion. Then I say to myself: Is it by our assiduity of attendance that the House of Lords has suddenly risen to such a pinnacle in the estimation of the country that there is no longer any fear of any unpopularity whatever?
I have been a member of your Lordships' House for thirty-five years and I well recollect that when I was first a member if any Bill of great importance, such as one of the three Bills we have been considering lately, had been under discussion there would have been no room at all during the afternoon for humble Back-Benchers. Yet, as we heard from the noble Earl just below me, the biggest, Division on those three Bills was seventy five. It has been said during the course of this debate that that is all very well, but that the level of debates in this House stands high, that the House gets through its work with expedition, and that it shows on the whole a fair measure of impar 218 tiality. I venture to think that that is largely due to the unwritten laws of your Lordships' House.
As has already been mentioned, it is generally expected that any one who gets up to speak shall have some knowledge of the subject on which he is going to speak. Then it is understood that if one of your Lordships ventures to speak against the leaders on his own side, and even to vote against them, he will not be considered a pariah—or at least only temporarily. It has been suggested by my noble friend Lord Hastings, in other words and I think with great truth, that after all it is not the number of heads that counts so much as what is in the heads. But having educated the people of a country for one hundred years to consider that, numbers are the only things that count and that two people who only just escape being certified are worth exactly twice as much as, say, a professor of economics, you can hardly expect the people of that country to do otherwise than say, when Lords do not vote in important debates, that the time has come when some change is not undesirable.
There is one argument to which I wish specially to refer because I cannot follow it in any way. It has been put forward in the highest places on both side of the House. It is that the Government have no mandate whatever to introduce legislation such as this. I have known many Governments and I fail to recollect any single Government which felt itself bound not to introduce any legislation that had not been put forward in the programme at the Election. What about this Government? We have had three major Bills before us in the last two or three weeks. One was a Tithe Bill, and I have failed to find any single person who has anything to say in favour of it with the possible exception of my noble friend Lord Eltisley. I do not think that any one can suggest that there was any mandate for that Bill. The second Bill is the Betting and Lotteries Bill, which is described by its supporters as a very brave Bill. I think that that is a very just description. I sometimes wish there was not such close connection between bravery and foolhardiness. At all events cannot recall any candidate at the Election speaking in favour of such a Bill, nor did I see any poster "Vote for Jones and have less dog racing."
219 Then we come to the Petroleum (Production) Bill. Suppose a candidate at the last Election had got up and said: "Vote for the National Government, and vote for me, and we will introduce a measure which for Socialist principles will out-Stafford Cripps." Would he have got in? I venture to suggest to your Lordships that he would not be an M.P. at this moment. When the last Election took place we were not quite so fond of Socialism as we are at the present time. We had had a very small dose of it and the taste of it was still bitter in the mouths of the people of this country. I do not think he would have got in.
Have not the Government got a mandate from the country for legislation such as this? What was the mandate given the Government? I venture to suggest that it was to repair the damage that had been done in the preceding two years. It was to restore the credit, financial and otherwise, of this country. It was to ensure peace. It was to give us prosperity and to deal with the vast problem of unemployment. Surely, within that vast mandate the Government could bring in a Bill to ensure that progress towards those objects should not be shattered by a chance majority obtained by extremists supported by disgruntled dog-racers and tithe-payers? I myself consider that they have a very definite mandate. I have heard it expressed on both sides of the House that the view of the people must prevail. That is the very object of this Bill. It is that the will of the people should prevail, and not that the chance votes of disgruntled people should force on the country some measure or measures which the people who voted for them really had no intention of approving. That might apply just as well to extremists on the Right as to extremists on the Left.
There is one other word that I want to say about this Bill. I find myself almost exactly in agreement with the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, in regard to it; so much so, that I was surprised to hear him say that he is going to vote against it. However, he is perhaps just as surprised to find that I am going to vote for it. I regard the vote given for the Second Reading of this Bill as a vote for the reform of the House of Lords. That is how I put it. I look upon other matters as matters for the Committee stage. 220 I find two great objections to this Bill in detail. One is that I think the country would never really feel that a change is justified which leaves an hereditary majority permanently in this House. The second is that I feel very doubtful about the further powers which the Bill proposes to confer on this House. After all, how many of your Lordships really know what powers your Lordships have? If you do know, you certainly know them only by hearsay. So far as I am aware there is only one man with the courage to put them to the test in your Lordships' House, and that is the noble Lord who has just spoken, Lord Banbury.
I think I have finished all that I intended to say, but I would finally add that in my judgment this measure—or rather a measure such as this, not necessarily this but a measure reforming your Lordships' House—is esentially a matter for a National Government. I believe that it is a task worthy of the majority which they were given, and I venture to hope that your Lordships will give a Second Reading to this Bill by such a majority as will cause them to "sit up and take notice."
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
My Lords, I hope your Lordships will forgive a member of this House who has been here only a short time if he says one word, in view of the fact that he is a very old Member of Parliament. I am one of, I suppose, very few in this House to-day who were elected to the 1895 Parliament. Lord Banbury is another, and indeed he was a member of the House earlier than that. Moreover, with three of my colleagues on these Benches I was in the Government which passed the Parliament Act.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
A noble Lord says "Shame!", but I would say that I heartily agree with the plan of the Parliament Act to give power of delay only; and I would say to Lord Banbury that when he says in his melancholy way (unused as I am to a melancholy speech from him) that your Lordships' House has no power and asks, "What are three Sessions and two years? "my reply is that he seems to be gifted with perpetual youth. Two years may be nothing to him, but it is so much in legislation that it has been quite enough to ensure that 221 none of those dreadful disasters which he fears has ever happened. Indeed, if you examine the probabilities of Parliamentary life, you will find that the powers conferred upon this House by the Parliament Act are of almost overwhelming importance.
Since this Bill was introduced, I have been at pains to try to find out from those who really know, that is to say from the servants of this House and of the House of Commons and civil servants, and the people who have to do with the laws which we pass, how this great institution, the House of Lords, really works. It alas astonished me to find that every one of them without exception takes the view expressed by more than one speaker yesterday, that your Lordships' House for all purposes of ordinary legislation and review is the ideal Second Chamber. They all used that same phrase. When you come to consider it, it is very remarkable. Great changes have taken place in our forms of legislation. All of those have made your Lordships' House as at present constituted more and more valuable. First of all, there is the fact that the guillotine has become part of the regular procedure of the House of Commons. Under all Governments, whether they be of my noble friends representing the Labour Party or of the Liberal or Conservative type, the guillotine is becoming part of the established custom of the House of Commons, and that makes it more than ever essential that there should be a revising Chamber. This revising Chamber works, as we are told, admirably, and is the ideal Second Chamber to correct the mistakes made under the guillotine, when a good deal is discussed at great length and a great deal is passed over without any discussion at all.
Then there is the, other principle, which we are told, especially by many of our judicial advisers, is a very dangerous one, under which legislation by reference is achieved by a Bill being passed enabling a Minister by Order to decree this, that and the other. Now those Orders have to lie on the Table of the House, not only in the House of Commons where the Bill is introduced, but in this House too. I think that what I say is correct; I have even higher authority than that of the noble Viscount who leads the House for what I am now saying. It is a great safeguard to the 222 public that those Orders which are ordered to be laid upon the Table of the House are laid upon the Tables of both Houses, except in the case of Orders imposing taxation. Again and again in that case, as in the case of Bills passed under the guillotine, your Lordships' House has intervened to make a Bill a proper and workable Bill
Again, in the ordinary procedure of Parliament, in the setting up of Committees, whether Private Bill Committees or Select Committees, and in all the ordinary business of the House, whether originating Bills in this House or in dealing with Bills originated in the other House, I am told by those who do know that this House is the ideal Second Chamber. And why? I have come to this conclusion, that whereas my noble friends on these Benches and your humble servant speaking to you were right in saying that the best solution was to give the House of Lords power to delay for at least two years, we were wrong—and I say this quite boldly—in saying in the Preamble of the Parliament Act:And whereas it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis.If that means constituted by such method of election as is proposed by the noble Marquess's Bill for about half the new House, I say that that is a great mistake.
There are two sorts of people who run our country, those who are elected and those who are nominated, or, in this case, who succeed. About 30 per cent. of those who take part are nominated. I am quite sure that if you attempt to revise the proceedings of a popularly-elected Chamber by another popularly- elected Chamber you will be going backwards not forwards, and running into the very dangers from which you seek to escape. Take the case of those who form our public life; there are the members of the House of Commons, the members of this House, the Judges, and the magistrates. I submit that to put an elective element into this House, however elected, would be as bad for this revising Chamber as to put an elective element into the Judicial Bench or to make your magistracy elective. For the East seventeen years, as one of His Majesty's Lieutenants of counties in a 223 great county, I have been largely responsible for the appointment of magistrates. A very small number are elected, and I do not think that anybody in this House, including my noble friends who represent the Labour Party, would say for one instant that it would be wise to have an elected magistrary. For that reason I am quite sure that the proposals in this Bill, made with great knowledge, great care and great thought by a man who knows more about it than almost anybody else, the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, are in effect, though he does not know it, retrograde and calculated to cause the very dangers which he seeks to avoid, by bringing in an elective element which will rob this House of its extraordinary power and value as what it is in effect, a nominated Second Chamber helping, occasionally controlling, and sometimes delaying an elected First Chamber, and which will lead inevitably, I fear, to a clash between the two elected bodies which will end in the destruction of the Second Chamber.
Of course it is quite true that there are anomalies in this House. What are termed the backwoodsmen have been referred to by several speakers—people who come here after not having been here for years and years, and propose to vote on an important subject. We all know that it is very absurd. The best story I have heard—there are many versions, but this is the true one—is as follows. A Peer whom we will call a backwoodsman walked into the House for an important Division. Not having been here for many years—it was not so very long ago—he said: "Who is that talking?" and the answer was "Hush! It is Lord Salisbury." The reply of the backwoodsman was: "Well, he always made a very good speech, but why did he cut off his beard?" That is the authentic story, but there are many other versions of the same kind, which are quite frankly absurd.
I am told there is a way out of this difficulty, and again I will refer to my humble experience as Lord-Lieutenant of a county. A great many magistrates cease to attend or take any interest in their duties, and it is possible, with the Lord Chancellor's approval, to write to each of them and ask if he proposes to continue his function. If he says he cannot, he can be struck off the Commission 224 of the Peace, with the Lord Chancellor's approval. I should have thought it was not impossible to take similar action in the case of the backwoodsmen. I am told also that it is still legally possible for any member of this House to take part in the Final Court of Appeal, and that even the Judicature Act of 1875 has not actually robbed him of this right. I speak under correction, but whether that is so or not I have a legal opinion of great eminence in my pocket which justifies me in making the point. If it is possible, my point is that the right is not exercised. Your Lordships long ago surrendered, either by Act of Parliament or voluntarily, your right to take part in the proceedings of the Final Court of Appeal. Would it not be possible for your Lordships, yourselves, greatly to reduce the number of those who, while taking no part in the affairs of this House, still have the right to come and settle the affairs of this country, although they know nothing about them?
Lord Cranworth made very good points as to whether or not there was a mandate. Assuming there is a mandate, I think it would be extraordinarily unwise to choose this particular moment to try, by adding a democratic flavour to the House, to increase its powers of delay or refusal. I do not think that really under this Bill you would make it any safer against revolutionary change from either the Right or the Left. After thirty years experience of Parliamentary life I do not think it would work that way in practice. I do not think that such a Second Chamber would so well stand onslaughts from the electorate as your present Chamber. I think you are stronger as you are. If there be an old building of acknowledged beauty which stands in the way of traffic, it would be, I think, rather rash to renovate a part of it, if the building stands well repaired and in good order and doing the job it is meant to do. I think the old building has a better chance of surviving than any part-new and part-old one.
I do not fear revolutionary change, nor do I think there is the least reason to fear it, or that there is risk of the Speaker abusing the power of his great office and declaring a Bill to be a Money Bill which is not a Money Bill. Consider what has happened in the past. Since 1895 no Speaker has been opposed in 225 his own constituency; no Speaker's decision has ever been challenged, and the Speaker has grown in power and responsibility. Believe me, no Englishman can rise to that position who will not be fair and impartial in the important matter of Money Bills. For these and other reasons, while acknowledging the care mead and thought given by the noble Marquess to this Bill, I shall have to vote against its Second Reading.
My Lords, in rising to support the Second Reading of this Bill I must offer an apology for my presumption in addressing this House after having been a member only for a very short time, on a topic which has exercised your Lordships' minds for many years. I do so only because I have heard that there is urgent need and an urgent desire for reform of the Second Chamber, and it seems to me that the matter falls rather under three categories. In the first, the point of view is that we should do nothing, and should preserve the House of Lords without change, because everything is for the best and it is a perfectly organised Second Chamber. The second point of view is that although we would like to retain the Second Chamber with no alteration, there should be a certain amount of alteration to strengthen the Chamber in the way which is provided in Part II of the Bill. The third point of view is that the Second Chamber should be reformed so as to be an up-to-date Chamber, and strengthened so as to stand the pressure of what may come upon this House in the future.
I feel that it would be very badly interpreted in the country if a refusal was given to the Second Reading of this Bill. All round the country it would be said that the House of Lords did not want any reform and were quite content to get on as they were, although they had been told that dangers might be in front of the country which in time would require a stronger Second Chamber to deal with them. I do not think it is possible that stronger powers should be given to this House unless some reform takes place. So We come to a reformed Second Chamber, and I think the Bill opens up a very wide field for discussion if it passes its Second Reading And goes to Committee. We may not all of us be satisfied with the provisions of the Bill.
226 The essence is that we want to get something really efficient for the future if we are going to reform the Second Chamber at all.
I understood Lord Marks to say that this demand emanated from the Central Office "of the Conservative Party, but I can assure him that it only emanated from the office of that body because constituencies all over the country had passed resolutions urging the Government to deal with the question without delay. Those resolutions have been passed by constituents who have come up to the annual conference, and year after year nothing has been done to move us one step further, although we believe that the time is ripe and that the future may necessitate a stronger Second Chamber. I need not recall to your Lordships' minds how in the last twenty-five years a complete change has come over a great deal of our administration. You hear, I know, that many people fail to attend this House with the regularity that they should. But do your Lordships all remember the amount of work that many members of this House do in local administration in parts of England far remote from London, where it is not possible for them constantly to be going backwards and forwards, to be in their place in this House and yet doing that most important work on county councils, and on local administration in their own counties? I am sure that it is because of that important work that some members of your Lordships' House are not as regular attendants as they might be.
There is one point that I would like to suggest with regard to the provisions of the Bill, if I might do so with all humility, and that concerns the question of the number of Archbishops and Bishops who, it is proposed, shall sit in this reconstituted Chamber. I feel that the time has come when we ought to approach this matter in a rather more broad-minded and tolerant manner. I think that representatives of other denominations should find a place in a Second Chamber. I, for one, cannot see why the Church of Scotland should have no representative in this Chamber. You may well say it is no concern of mine, as I do not live in Scotland. But still, these problems which are followed with such interest by the representatives of the Church of England in this House 227 affect every denomination in the country, and I am sure it would be all the better if in this Chamber we had the opportunity of hearing the views of other denominations.
Your Lordships know too well the difficulties that might come upon us in these days, when the swing of the pendulum at Elections may be very violent and may cause a great change in the political situation. We wish, if possible, to have a Chamber more on non-Party lines than we have at this moment. We wish that it were not Party, Party, Party, at every moment in the Second Chamber. We hope to see people with broad minds, people who have done great work for the State directing the affairs of this House. Now these proposals which are before us seem rather vague and nebulous as to the strength and efficiency of the Opposition. No deliberative Chamber can be adequate and efficient unless it has an adequate and effective Opposition. We should like to assure the election of members of the Opposition to this House, but I do not see in the provisions of this Bill anything which makes it inevitable that that shall happen. If noble Lords elect each other they are, as has already been said, almost sure to elect those with whom they are in political sympathy, and it might cause the House to become one-sided, which is exactly the opposite of what we wish to see in a well-constituted Second Chamber. There is danger in the future that a violent swing of the pendulum might cause such a complete alteration that it would he essential for this House to take a much greater and more active part in the control of the affairs of the nation. As it is at present constituted I do not believe that would he possible.
It is said that this House enjoys great popularity. Perhaps individually its members do, but as a Chamber I am afraid it is rather the popularity of a nonentity, and if we tried to take a very active part in affairs that so-called popularity might very easily fade away. We want to strengthen the Constitution, we want to establish it on broad lines, we want to make it efficient for the future, and I believe that that can be done. But it requires the fullest discussion. We want to have the most searching inquiry made into the best methods. In order that that should be done I feel it is essential that 228 the Bill should be given a Second Reading, so that all the relevant points may have the fullest consideration, and we can devise a scheme which I trust the Government will take up, and which will eventually become the law of the land. It does not brook long delay. It cannot be done in a moment. It will take time to work out the whole scheme; but I sincerely trust that the Bill will receive a Second Reading, in order to enable that full discussion to take place.
THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (THE EARL OF ONSLOW)
My Lords, so. many of your Lordships have already addressed the House and have put so much better than I could do the points that I should have put before you had I discussed the matter in detail, that there is no necessity for me to detain your Lordships for any length of time. But I would urge you to give this Bill a Second Reading and so enable the House, as the noble Lord has just said, to discuss the problems which this Bill raises in detail and point by point in Committee. The noble Marquess who introduced the Bill invited your Lordships, if you gave it a Second Reading, to move Amendments and make such alterations as the House may think best. I think we have a great opportunity now to discuss this very difficult question in detail. House of Lords reform has been debated very many times, and from what I have heard, both to-day and on former occasions, it is the opinion of a very large majority of members of your Lordships' House as well, I think, as of a large majority outside your Lordships' House, that such reform is desirable. In fact, it has always seemed to me that the unanimity in favour of reform is only equalled by the diversity of opinion as to how that reform should be carried out.
If the principle of reform is accepted, may we not then say that we accept in principle this Bill for Second Reading? We may not agree with many of the details, we may not agree with any of the details, but at any rate we do concede the principle that reform of the House of Lords is desirable and necessary. If we do that and the Second Reading is carried, then the Bill will go into Committee and we can discuss it point by point. The question of House of Lords reform has been considered by ad hoc Committees, by the Bryce Com 229 mitten and by many others, and there have been Resolutions and debates on the subject in this House. But those have all been debases at large. All the points have been dealt with first by one speaker and then by another, but we have never yet been able to get down to the details of a Bill as we can in Committee.
In times gone by I think all Governments have been rather chary of tackling this subject and, if I may say so I am heartily in agreement with the decision of His Majesty's Government not to take any part in the question to-day, but to remain neutral and hear what the result of the discussion in your Lordships' House has been and how that discussion may affect opinion outside. But on one occasion a Government did take up this question. That was the time when proposals were made to your Lordships' House, known as the Cave proposals, made by the then Lord Chancellor, the late Lord Cave. Then, if I may say so, and I do so without offence because I was a member of that Government, these proposals were not very successful, they did not meet with any great approoation either in your Lordships' House or outside, and the reason was not far to seek. That Government tackled this question without being able to ascertain opinion outside.
Discussion in Committee on this Bill will give an opportunity to the Government and the country to know individual opinions of your Lordships on all the details, not only of the Bill but of any Amendment which any noble Lord may elect to propose. I would therefore express to your Lordships the same opinion as I did the other day upon a different and minor question—namely, the South Downs Preservation Bill—when I asked your Lordships to give the measure a Second Reading, whatever opinions you might hold on the question as a whole, in order that the Bill might go to Committee to be properly thrashed out. For the same reason I would venture to ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading to this Bill so that it may go to Committee where all the details of House of Lords reform may be carefully considered and the opinion of your Lordships' House recorded thereon.
My Lords, on occasions like to-day's it appears to me 230 that the one question of supreme importance is whether or not the proposals before us are calculated to meet the particular dangers which are threatening the country at the present time. May I therefore begin by saying a few words about the conditions of the country with which the Bill we are now considering must. be capable of dealing if it is to have any effect at all? At the present moment we, as a nation, are living on capital which is being dissipated at a great rate, and that capital is not being replaced. The Budget is now, and for many years past has been, balanced in name only—that is to say, it has been balanced by using as revenue, to be spent on consumable goods and non-reproductive services, large masses of money that under any sound system of finance would have been devoted to maintaining and increasing our means of production.
The manufacture of most of what the Americans term "capital goods" has either ceased altogether or is being carried on by means of subsidies—that is to say, at a loss. Conditions are such that without a subsidy it is not worth while to pay unemployed men to work. Riots are temporarily being staved off by subsidising the whole of the working classes, employed and unemployed, to abstain from rioting. The trade unions have been allowed to organise the working classes for plunder, and the delicate business of preserving the solvency of the country is prostituted to the cupidity of an electorate that, from the point of view of economies, is imbecile. Parliament is over-awed by the display of force or potential force by the organised bodies. of workmen controlled by the trade unions. Even after an Election like that of 1931, Parliament did not dare do more than nibble at the question of how this country was to be preserved from bankruptcy, because it has no organised body of citizens behind it able and ready to oppose force to the force or threat of force which is at the disposal of the trade unions. This country's fate is sealed unless within a limited time, probably not more than three years, arrangements can be made for permanently increasing real revenue to equal expenditure, or permanently reducing expenditure to equal real revenue.
231 What use would the Bill be for this purpose? The only way to do these things is to organise the thrifty and responsible members of the community in the same way as the reckless and idiotic are at this moment organised, so that the former can and will exert pressure on Parliament greater than that now exerted by the disruptive elements. In what way does the Bill help to do this? The power of your Lordships' House to do anything of importance almost certainly ceased in 1911. Nothing that can be done now is ever likely to restore power to this House. Does any one for a moment imagine that the House of Lords, reformed on the lines of the Bill before us, could stop that flood of organised non-reproductive expenditure which must be stopped if this country is to survive? As well try to mop up Niagara with a pocket handkerchief!
The organised wastrels are at the present time over-awing the House of Commons, partly by means of the voting power of the masses and even more by the revolutionary violence to which they openly threaten to resort if any serious attempt is made to resume sound financial methods—that is to say, pay a man what he can earn and no more. What conceivable House of Lords could possibly succeed where the House of Commons has dismally failed? It is because I am convinced of the futility of trying to achieve anything so long as this country is controlled by a process of counting heads that I am opposed to any attempt to reform your Lordships' House. It is barking up the wrong tree. Things are getting rapidly beyond the control of Parliament. No system can endure which depends upon mass subsidy. If salvation is to he found it will be when the thrifty and intelligent members of the community organise to re 232 sist the plunder to which they are now subjected. When organised revolutionary force, dependent either on voting or on noting, can be met by greater force supported by the intelligence and patnotism of the best elements in the country, then will peace and prosperity be at hand. I venture to think that if the noble Marquess, instead of introducing this Bill, had devoted his great talents and his great position to organising the best people by the sort of methods I have outlined, the prospects of this country would be brighter than they are.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Lord Bayford.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.