§ 2.35 p.m.
Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Amendment moved by the Marquess of Salisbury on Tuesday last, to Viscount Addison's Motion that the Bill be now read a second time. The Amendment was as follows: Leave out all words after "That" and insert:
While re-emphasizing its oft expressed readiness to consider proposals for modifying the basis of its membership which may conduce to the more effective performance of its constitutional duties, declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill
which would effect no change in this respect;
for which the nation has expressed no desire;
which would go far to expose the country to the dangers of a system of single chamber Government; and
which can only serve to distract the attention of the country from the economic crisis and from the united effort towards recovery which is so vital at this time.
§ The Marquess of SALISBURY
My Lords, by leave of the House and for the convenience of your Lordships, I rise to ask the noble Viscount the Leader of the House whether he has now any statement to make on behalf of the Government in answer to the appeal which was made to him last week by myself and by the noble Viscount who leads the Liberal Party here.
§ The Lord PRIVY SEAL (Viscount Addison)
My Lords, the Government have given careful consideration to the representations made by the noble 742 Marquess and by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. The Government are willing to enter into conference on the issues raised, without prejudice on either side, on the understanding that:
- 1. So far as discussions of the powers of the Second Chamber are concerned, they should be limited to ensuring reasonable time for the consideration of measures by the Lords, and for the discussion of differences between the two Houses.
- 2. The Bill now before the House should either be passed with or without agreed amendment, or rejected by this House, before the end of the present Session.
- 3. So far as the composition of the House of Lords is concerned:—
- (a) there would be preliminary conversations on the possibility of there being established a basis for further discussion;.
- (b) in the event of such a basis for discussion being provisionally agreed, the different Parties should examine the same with their own members, before the discussions were renewed; and
- (c) the preliminary discussions should be private and confined to a small number of the leading members of the Parties concerned.
- 4. The different Parties should also examine with their own members any suggestions emerging from the discussions relating to the Parliament Bill contemplated under paragraph I.
§ The Marquess of SALISBURY
My Lords, your Lordships will, I am sure, have listened with deep interest to the statement which has just been made by the Leader of the House, a copy of which he was good enough to send me. I have read it very carefully. No doubt the noble Viscount would claim that it represents an advance on the part of the Government, and that the present proposal which they have put: before your Lordships indicates a different attitude from that which they held during the debate last week; and no doubt in some respects there has been an advance. At the same time, the words which have been spoken by the noble Viscount to-day appear to me at any rate still to impose a vital limitation upon the scope of the discussions which are now proposed.
743 Under paragraph I he says that the discussions as to the powers must be limited—I will quote his actual words:to ensuring reasonable time for the consideration of measures by the Lords, and for the discussion of differences between the two Houses.As I understand that statement—and I have read it very carefully—it entirely eliminates from the scope of these discussions the power of delay, after a difference between the two Houses has arisen, to enable public opinion to become informed and to crystallize. To this power to delay, whatever its length may be, as I explained to your Lordships last Tuesday, we on this side of the House attach cardinal importance. To us it is an essential safeguard to the Constitution. Were we to enter into discussions on the basis of these words, as we understand them, our whole position, I am afraid, would be fatally prejudiced, even before the conversations had begun at all.
As I think is now generally recognized, we in this House are not asking for any powers wider than those we already have. That is not our case. But if, in the discussions which are now envisaged, the Government are not to be committed in any way on the question of the modification of existing powers, I think we may fairly claim that we should not be asked to abandon in advance what we regard as a cardinal principle. If the Government were willing to discuss the whole question of the existing powers, without prejudice on either side, I would make it clear that we should be very ready to co-operate in those discussions. But if my interpretation is right, and the words used by the noble Viscount are the Government's last words, then I am afraid we have no option but to proceed with the Amendment which is now under discussion.
§ 2.46 p.m.
§ Viscount SAMUEL
My Lords, viewing this matter as a whole, it seems to me that very considerable progress has been made, in this statement and in the discussions last week, towards agreement. In the first place, with regard to the composition of the House, the Government now say that they are prepared to enter into a conference, the preliminaries being in two stages. First, there is to be a small private preliminary conference among the leaders of the Parties to ascertain whether a basis for further discussion exists. If 744 that preliminary talk results affirmatively, the leaders will be at liberty to consult members of their Parties, and, if those consultations go well, then a full conference will be held to consider the whole matter.
With regard to powers, as the noble Marquess has said, a difficulty arises upon the wording of paragraph 1 of this statement. The words to which the noble Marquess has just drawn attention seem to imply that the suspensory period under the Parliament Act must be shortened—not "may be shortened," but "must be shortened"—to cover only what might be a reasonable period for the debates in the two Houses and for conferences between them, and that if the proceedings in Parliament on the Bill end in disagreement between the two Houses, then, after the formal ending of the Session, the beginning of a new one and the passing of the Bill a second time by the House of Commons, the Bill should be put upon the Statute Book immediately. On the wording of this paragraph which, no doubt, noble Lords will before long be able to consider on paper, that would seem to be the interpretation. I do not believe, however, that that is the desire or the intention of the Government. They have repeatedly said that they do not propose to establish what would be, in effect, single Chamber Government, although they think there ought to be a reasonable and proper interval for the working of this constitutional arrangement under which Bills can be considered.
What should be the length of that interval is a matter for consideration. I threw out a suggestion on the last occasion, but I am not tied to that; I am perfectly willing to consider any alternative. The wording of this paragraph would seem to allow, if not to require, that the interval should be even less than that provided for in the Bill now before the House. That, I am sure, must be a misunderstanding, and this point is now reduced to a question of drafting rather than of substance. The noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition has said that they do not propose to ask for any additional powers for a reformed House of Lords. Hitherto, it has always been suggested that if the House of Lords were put on a more rational basis it ought to be entrusted with larger powers, and that the Parliament Act should be amended 745 in that sense. That is not now urged in any quarter.
No one is now asking, in any circumstances, for larger powers for the new House than would be given to the present House of Lords, provided that provision is made for a full period of a year to elapse. In general, there is no question of reopening the Parliament Act settlement with regard to powers. That is not suggested in any quarter, so the Government need not fear that the conference would be asked to come to any conclusion which would prejudice the substance of this measure. The Bill, however, reduces the period to a matter of three months, and that, surely, is a point to be debated by the conference. For my own part, if I were asked whether I would be prepared to enter into a conference on the basis of. this statement, I would say, "Certainly; most gladly—provided it is understood that the suspensory period under the Parliament Act is not to be cut clown to nothing; that you will not limit the period, once a Bill has been dealt with in one Session of Parliament, to merely a few weeks or, conceivably a few clays." I think we felt last week that it was the general sense in all Parties that we should not necessarily be tied to the letter of this Bill, provided that we achieved its purpose. On that understanding, if I am. correct in it, I would be very willing to enter into this Conference.
§ Viscount ADDISON
My Lords, I am sure that it would not be your Lordships' wish to have a debate now on the interpretation of this phrase, which you see for the first time. But I would like to say, in reply to the noble Viscount who has just spoken, that it never entered anybody's head, so far as I have heard, to reduce the period below one year. That was not the point at all. This statement is put forward in an entirely reasonable way to see whether we can discuss, in a friendly and constructive manner, the criticisms which emerged on the point of view of time. The Parliament Act relates to time and lays down a period of two years. The Bill before the House proposes to reduce the delaying period from two years to one year. We are dealing with certain difficulties which might arise if a Bill were not sent to this Chamber until very late in the Session, when there might not be sufficient and fair bona fide opportunity for discussing 746 the measure. This is entirely a friendly effort to try and provide for the discussion in a friendly way 0? those particular issues. There is no sinister intention behind it at all and it has been completely misinterpreted.
I am glad at all events that the noble Viscount paid some tribute to the very considerable recognition which the Government have made of the desire of your Lordships for a discussion of other matters besides powers-—a very important departure from what was previously understood. I should like your Lordships to note that paragraph 3 (a) of the statement I made earlier this afternoon—and I think it is quite right—says that any preliminary discussion on these matters should be regarded as purely of that character, aiming at seeing whether a basis for further discussion can be arrived at. Then it is proposed that the matter should be discussed with the members of the political Parties concerned, before any further proceedings are taken, so that everybody will be taken fully into our confidence. I confess that I think paragraph 1 of my statement is a reasonable and fair attempt to meet the criticism that in some cases one year might not be enough and to try to arrive, if a case is made out, at some adjustment where dispute arises. I hope that during the debate which will now take place your Lordships will give friendly consideration to this very important Government statement. I am sure that if you do, you will recognize that we have made, if I may be allowed to say so, a very generous and fair-minded attempt to meet the criticisms raised last week.
§ The Marquess of SALISBURY
My Lords, I certainly do not wish to continue this debate, but one rather important point was made by the Leader of the House. He said that in one respect I have misinterpreted him. I shall be very glad to be told how.
§ Viscount ADDISON
I was referring to the fact that the noble Marquess made rather grudging recognition of the advances which the Government have made. It was to that, I think, that I was referring.
§ The Marquess of SALISBURY
The noble Viscount has given a definition of the purpose of paragraph I which seems to be identical with mine.
§ Viscount SAMUEL
If that is so, all is well. My Lords, if I may be permitted to make one additional observation, I should like to say that very great approximations have come from both sides. Both sides have made considerable concessions and the only point now to be made clear is the terms of the discussion of differences between the two Houses. If that means only conferences between the House of Lords and the House of Commons to try to resolve any difficulty, it would not be adequate, but if "discussion" means general discussion, then our objections, which have been objections largely of wording, would be met.
§ Viscount ADDISON
I cannot be expected, and I am sure the House would not except me, to give any further interpretation of the words of the statement. I think they are a fair presentation of the case and any further discussion would perhaps be more advantageous if the debate now proceeded.
§ 2.58 p.m.
§ Lord TEVIOT
My Lords, I feel that the position to-day is just about as difficult as it was when I rose from this place last week. I do not really know whether we are going to discuss the Amendment of my noble friend, and incidentally the Bill, or whether we are to discuss the statement of the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, which I think is quite impossible at such short notice. I take it, therefore, that I shall be in order in discussing the Amendment of my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition, and, incidentally, the Bill. I do not see in the circumstances how I can do anything else, and I hope 'that anything I say will not interfere in any way with the situation as I see it—although I am going to deal with facts that are sometimes rather unpleasant, so far as noble Lords opposite are concerned.
Like all other members of your Lordships' House, no doubt, I have tried to consider this matter with an open mind. It is an extremely important period of our history and I have tried to take out of my mind altogether any political prejudices which I may have and to look upon this as a subject for very serious consideration. In doing that, I have asked myself, in view of the difficult situation in which our country now finds itself: Is there anything in this Bill which will bring more raw materials to our industries? Is there anything in this Bill to 748 bring more food to our people, more dollars, more prestige to our country in the world, more friendly relations with foreign countries? And I am bound to say that I can find nothing in this Bill that will achieve any of these things. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House referred to 1911 and to the present time. Surely there is no comparison there at all. In 1911, as your Lordships well know, the Budget was thrown out by your Lordships' House. From 1918 to 1945 no legislation was passed of which your Lordships' House did not approve. This, quite obviously, has not been the case since 1945. Yet no single Bill has been rejected by this House—although some legislation, I have no doubt, would have made some of the ancestors of your Lordships turn in their graves—thereby proving that this House is quite as able as the other place to move with the times. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House referred to the September sitting of your Lordships' House. He said that there was just as great a crisis in 1932, when there were 2,900,000 unemployed, as there is to-day. I want to be as little controversial as possible, but the noble Viscount said that, and he seemed to me to indicate that that was the fault of the Tory Party and, no doubt, the Liberal Party of the day. May I remind him that when the Labour Party went into office in 1929 there were 1,116,000 unemployed, and by 1931, when they were still in office, there were 2,762,000 unemployed. I want the noble Viscount to realize that we are not going to accept the responsibility for 2,900,000 unemployed, as he seemed to me to suggest. I do not, of course, want to misjudge him. As is well known, after the Labour Government went out of office, although unemployment rose for a short time, it then gradually dropped away until it was reduced by one half of the legacy which they had left. I would suggest that we do away with any talk of that sort, because I think the noble Viscount will realize that it is not very reasonable.
It looks to me, therefore, as if the position that arose when your Lordships asked for a sitting in September of last year, when the Government had just taken totalitarian powers which practically ruled out Parliamentary government altogether, is in no way analogous to the position in 1932. Where does the "will of the people" come in when you 749 have Orders in Council which can be implemented without discussion in either House? This House was quite justified in being anxious in regard to what was going to happen during the three months recess, when any legislation could have been implemented without the knowledge of either Chamber. I consider that your Lordships would have been wanting in your duty had you not met. I ask myself: Is not this Bill another attempt to override still further government by traditional constitutional methods in this country, and to continue the drive to totalitarianism, which would wreck democracy by the removal of the last barrier between the Government and total power? I ally myself emphatically with my noble friend the Marquess of Salisbury in asking what measure or measures are contemplated to justify this arbitrary change which is suggested if this Bill has nothing to do with the nationalization of iron and steel, as we have been assured by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House. I think the country and this House have the right to know, particularly in view of the statement made in another place by the Lord President of the Council on December 10th last. He said:This Bill"—that is to say, the Bill which we are now discussing—may be related to a whole series of measures before this Parliament is done…. The Opposition do not know what is coming to them.Does the noble Viscount the Leader of the House know what these measures are to be? It would appear from what the noble Viscount has said that no mandate is now necessary. What is the motive justifying this Bill? If the Government in the last year of power before the General Election find any measure rejected by your Lordships, what is their worry? Do they anticipate defeat at the General Election? If they do, I can quite understand why this Bill is brought in. But is if quite fair if they do anticipate defeat, that they should shoulder the next Government with legislation which they would on no account pursue if they had their own way? It seems to me that these questions must be considered now; it is no use waiting until after this Bill has had. a Second Reading.
That leads me to another subject. I am going to quote from another distinguished 750 Minister of the Government, Sir Hartley Shawcross. He said in another place: "We are the masters now." We nave been led to believe—and I have always thought it—that the Government of the country were the servants of the people. According to that remark, the boot is on the other foot. If there is to be a Second Chamber at all, why alter the present powers? I do not see that under this Bill we shall have sufficient powers for the purposes of a Second Chamber. I thought this was well demonstrated by the noble Viscount the Leader of the Liberal Party in this House last week. I would, however, like to refresh Lord Samuel's memory. On two or three occasions he referred to the three Parties in this House. I would like him to remember that there is a fourth Party—the Party to which I belong; and that that Party has in the other place a larger representation than the Liberal Party. I would urge the noble Viscount to remember that, so that in any future discussions which take place my Party should be fully remembered, as no doubt will be the Liberal Party.
§ Lord TEVIOT
I am delighted to hear that, and I hope the noble Viscount, when referring to the number of Parties in your Lordships' House, will use the word "four" instead of "three."
As I have said, I wholeheartedly support the Amendment of my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition. The question of reform must take precedence over any curtailment of powers. I do not for one moment believe that if the situation were reversed noble Lords opposite would allow this Bill through in its present form. This country is in a perilous position to-day. It is no laughing matter; we have heard from the Chancellor of the Exchequer what a serious state we are in, and I would remind the Lord Chancellor that I have been superseded as a man of gloom. We: are getting the real facts of the situation from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I am very glad he is putting all this before us. That is all I have to say on this subject, apart from a final appeal, which is this. As has been said this afternoon in every part of the House, your Lordships want an efficient and powerful Second Chamber. If that be so, surely the noble 751 Viscount who leads this House—and docs it, if I may say so, with great charm and in a manner which makes one feel: "I only wish to goodness I could agree with him"—must see, before this debate is over, that the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition has suggested the right line to take. For those reasons, I shall most whole-heartedly support the Amendment on the Paper.
§ 3.13 p.m
The Lord Archbishop of CANTERBURY
My Lords, like the noble Lord who has just spoken, I have a considered speech in my hand about the Motion and the Amendment, but I do not propose to deliver it. It seems to me it would be a disaster if, at this time, noble Lords were to spend three days on end, delivering their opinions upon the general constitutional question of the relationship between the two Houses, the past history of the House of Lords and the present contents of the Bill before us. Such topics would seem to me to detract from the real situation in which we now stand and to be unreal, distasteful and harmful. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, and, indeed, the noble Marquess the Leader of the Conservative Party here held up before our eyes on Tuesday the vision of a real opportunity by which, after many years, a sore and vexing constitutional question might be faced and solved. The noble Viscount ended with a peroration which I should be glad if every member of this House would take away and read again. There is the real question before us: can this House now seize that opportunity and rise to a great occasion?
This Government, during their history, have done some things requiring great courage and great imagination. Here is an opportunity in which the Government, with the consent of all other Parties, are on the verge of another great imaginative action which would be of untold value to the nation as a whole. The offer was made. The Government have replied. May I say that I am sorry myself that it has been tied up in such a number of words; I still have not discovered what they all mean. They are obscure, and it seems to me that it was unnecessary for the Government to be obscure or to go into verbiage at this stage. Their situation is absolutely secure. Whatever this House may do, the Government can have their Bill in—I think the noble Marquess 752 said—November, 1949. Their position is absolutely secure. If I may say so, I think they might have been generous and said in reply to the challenge the simple words: "Yes, we are ready to enter into conference." As I say, I am sorry that they did not make that perfectly simple, generous reply, instead of tying it up in a number of words.
Having said that, let me agree that the Government have made a very real advance, as the noble Viscount pointed out. There is now hardly anything between the Government and the Opposition. It has been narrowed to such a point that it really would be disastrous if the whole matter were now to be dropped and we were to go back again to a long debate upon this Amendment and upon the Second Reading of the Bill. The small difference is on the matter of powers. May I say that, small though the difference is, the subject is of immense importance? You cannot properly separate the composition of this House from the powers of this House. I do, however, bear in mind that so far as the powers are concerned, that matter could be fought out and, if necessary, the Bill be rejected on the Third Reading. The Bill is concerned with powers and their operation. There can be a free fight upon the Bill in Committee, and the majority of the House can determine what it likes as to powers in amending the Bill, but the fact remains that whatever we do will be perfectly ineffective if it is rejected by the other House, because the Bill will be passed over our heads. However, in the debate on the Bill there is still an opportunity for discussing powers. I am inclined to think that if this all-Party conference met, they would, as the noble Viscount has said, find themselves peaceably discussing the real matters of dispute as to the powers of this House.
However that may be, one thing about which I am deeply concerned is that this moment shall not he lost for an all-Party conference. I implore those who are responsible for the conduct of affairs in this House to see that, instead of relapsing into a long series of debates, which will only exacerbate feeling and make agreement over differences less likely, we get back to the real question, which is how we are to establish straight away the beginnings of an all-Party conference. I feel profoundly that a long debate now can do no good whatsoever. I think it 753 can do only harm, and can only injure the vision which is held up before us. I am bound to say that I feel that the Amendment, if it were carried, could do no good whatsoever. I agree with almost everything that is in that Amendment, and if I had nothing else to consider I would vote for it, but I cannot see what good it will do. It will not mean the end of this Bill and of its subsequent enactment under the processes of the present Parliament Act. It will not stop anything and it will not help anything. Finally, what I should like would be for the debate to be now adjourned, so that without further delay conversations on the proposals put forward by the Government, all but accepted by the noble Marquess the Leader of the Conservative Party, and accepted by the Leader of the Liberal Party, could begin. If that cannot be, and if the debate must continue and the Amendment be put, then, for myself, I can only say that I hope the Amendment will be lost and that the Bill will be given a Second Reading. I say that for this reason: that if the Bill gets its Second Reading something can be done with it that otherwise cannot be done. If it is not given a Second Reading it will pass into law in its present form. I should devoutly deplore that, because it is a bad Bill. Let it be given a Second Reading and let it be amended. There will then at least be a chance that, when it passes into law—and no one can stop it doing that—it will be in a better form than that in which it now is.
§ The Marquess of SALISBURY
I very much dislike interrupting the most reverend Primate, but he said that I was all but in agreement with the Government's present position. I am not. I think this one paragraph in their statement vitiates the whole statement. The most reverend Primate said that the question of powers would be discussed in the debates on the present Bill. But if we go into a conference under the terms of this statement, we have to accept the Government's definition of our powers before we commence discussion. This statement does not make that position clear. I should not like it to go out that I was in agreement with that.
The Lord Archbishop of CANTERBURY
I had No intention of misrepresenting the noble Marquess. What I meant was that the difference of opinion was so small as to be unimportant. I hope that if the conference 754 begins it will be found that there is no fundamental difference. The second paragraph mentions the question of limiting powers. Your Lordships' House has power to insert a provision in that regard in the Bill. However, I do not wish to keep your Lordships any longer. I think everybody will have realized that we are dealing with a number of obscurities. I have already suggested that the Government could simply say "Yes," and leave it at that. But, speaking for myself, I devoutly hope, for the reasons I have indicated, that if we have to go to a Division the Second Reading will be carried, so that your Lordships' House may control the Bill and see that it is made a better measure. I hope, secondly, that rather than continue what may be an ineffective debate, we shall do everything possible to see that the fullest advantage is taken of this opportunity and that it is not lost.
§ 3.23 p.m.
§ Viscount SIMON
My Lords, may I venture to ask a single question in order to clear away confusion? The whole House is anxious to be clear on what I really think is very far from clear at present. I therefore venture to ask this question: Can the Government say that they will confer on powers—that is. as between one year and two years, and as to the date from which the time is to count—as well as on composition? It is no use for anybody to go on using language that I must say leaves me completely unable to interpret its meaning. One is loath to believe that the Government have made the statement deliberately incomprehensible, and I would venture most respectfully to inquire what is the answer to the question I have put.
§ Viscount SIMON
The question is, as I have stated: Can the Government say they will confer on powers—that is as between one year and two years and as to the date from which the time is to count—as well as confer on composition? If they will say so, then we have the basis for a discussion: but if they will not say so, then it is manifest that there is a difference between us which I think at least excuses the anxieties which we feel on this side. Personally I find this paragraph quite incomprehensible.
§ 3.26 p.m.
§ Viscount ADDISON
My Lords, it is interesting to know that a sentence anywhere is incomprehensible to the noble and learned Viscount. I must say it interests me exceedingly that anyone could construct a sentence which is incomprehensible to him. Now this statement, notwithstanding the animadversions of the most reverend Primate, is an exceedingly clear statement. That is my view. I am now replying to the noble and learned Viscount. We are prepared to discuss both subjects. It says so in the statement. Then with regard to discussion of powers, we say there what it is we think we should discuss. That is in paragraph 1. With regard to the composition of the House, we say how we should proceed with the discussion. That surely means that we are willing to discuss. And we also say that we propose to proceed by seeing whether there is a basis for further discussion, and, if there is, we are then to report that to our friends before we go on any further. That is a perfectly clear statement and it means that we are prepared to discuss. Now so far as interpretation goes, I am most willing to discuss these things in a friendly way. The Bill before the House deals with time and it deals with Parliamentary proceedings. It alters the Act and it substitutes one year for two. It relates to time. Those are questions which we are prepared to discuss with good will, and we say so. I cannot pretend to interpret it any better than that.
§ The Marquess of SALISBURY
I am very grateful to the noble Viscount for what he has said, but he has not made the matter any clearer. With great respect to the most reverend Primate, I think it would be better if we were to get on with the debate and allow everyone to say what he has to say.
§ Lord TEVIOT
I want to ask the noble Lord this question: does any discussion as suggested by him mean ipso facto that he has the Bill?
§ Viscount ADDISON
The' most reverend Primate stated so; if the Bill is rejected on Second Reading, it will not, in fact, make any difference, because the Bill will be passed, only we shall not have the advantages of any Amendment which we should otherwise have; that is all.
§ 3.31 p.m.
§ Viscount CECIL of CHELWOOD
My Lords, these attempts to make things quite clear by conversation across the table in your Lordships' House very seldom succeed. I think the real difficulty we are in is that, contrary to the opinion of the most reverend Primate, we are not at all near agreement. We could not be near agreement unless we were prepared to assent to Government policy as a whole. I feel that this is not a small matter of whether we shall have three months, six months or nine months or any of these various times that have been mentioned; that is not the issue at all. The question is much bigger than that. In my view, it is not a question of dates or of the exact length of the delay which this House should be entitled to impose upon legislation. It seems to me to be quite simply a question of whether the House of Commons, without reference to the electorate, can pass any legislation it chooses, including any alteration in the constitutional powers of itself or of this House or, indeed, of any other section of the Constitution.
That is the Teal question. No doubt, that is more obvious in some parts of this Bill than in others. The curious mass of nebulous verbiage contained in the concluding part of Clause 1 of the Bill goes, perhaps, rather further than other parts of the Bill, but in principle it is merely as I have stated. The proposition that it should have a retrospective effect as well as a prospective effect really illustrates what seems to me the vice of the whole system, the contention that the House of Commons is apparently absolutely sub-sovereign and supreme in this country. That is the proposition, in my view, which is established in this Bill. It is quite true that, if we passed a Bill entirely depriving this House of all its powers, your Lordships might still continue sitting in this Chamber, with the Lord Chancellor presiding with his usual dignity; but it would be a revolution in this House and a revolution in the country. So far as I can see, if this procedure of the Government is sanctioned by public opinion—because, after all, it will have to go before public opinion sooner or later, whatever devices the Government may adopt—there is really no control at all over any House of Commons that may be elected in the future. It means that at any time, to meet any Party 757 object or other object, all supervisory powers which are left to this House can be set aside.
Whether it is one year or two years makes very little difference. At the end of a Parliament, when it has become obvious, as it often has become obvious in our history, that the actual Government have lost all power in the country and have lost all support, it will still be possible for the Government to force through, in the way that they are now proposing to force through this Bill, any other Bill which may be produced. That seems to me to be the serious matter that we have here to consider. It is not a question whether there should be one month, two months or six months, or anything else. It is a question of this procedure that, without any reference to the country or without any reference to anybody else, one is prepared to say that a Resolution of the House of Commons is sufficient to carry any change in the law, without any recourse to anybody else.
Your Lordships may say that I am putting the matter too high, hut I have read, with what care I could, all the debates that have taken place on this question in another place, and I observe that a section of the: supporters of the Government there said, quite plainly and openly and definitely, that they saw no use whatever in a Second Chamber; that they wished to see it abolished. They were even rather angry with the Government that they had not abolished it straight off. That is the section which this Bill has been brought in to appease. It is a Bill that was forced upon some members of the Cabinet by the extreme Left section of the Cabinet. Of course, I was not there, so in a sense I am only guessing, but I do not suppose anybody doubts that in practice that is what happened. It is not only the enthusiasts in another place who have used language of this kind. There have been certain passages in certain speeches made by Ministers which seem to indicate that they have rather welcomed such talk about the abolition of the Second Chamber, as a warning to this House not to do anything to hamper whatever the Government of the day might choose to do. They thought it would be a useful warning to (his House. What does that mean? It means that they are prepared to use this procedure which they have adopted in this case for any other measure which they 758 may desire to promote in order to diminish the powers of this House.
To my mind, this is a most violent procedure. As for the excuse that has been made for the violence of that procedure, I do not need to say anything very much, because it has already been amply discussed and, no doubt, will be discussed by other speakers in this debate. But, in point of fact, the only suggestion that I have seen—I do not think the Leader of the House quite agreed that that suggestion was valid—is that this violent procedure is necessary in order to secure the passage of some Bill connected with the steel industry. Of course, that is not so at all. That cannot be true, because the worst that this House could do would be to reject the Steel Bill, and the only effect of that would be that it would have to be passed in the first Session of the new Parliament. That would be the only effect, and if the constituencies agreed to support that measure it would be passed as a matter of course. If they did not approve it it would certainly be right that it should be rejected; nobody can doubt that.
If your Lordships accept the view, as I am going to urge, that the sovereign power in our Constitution is in the people and in the electorate, and not in the House of Commons or in this House, or anywhere else, any attempt to substitute for the people any body or person is a vital breach of our Constitution. The only effect on the Steel Bill of passing this Bill, if that is the excuse for this Bill—even supposing we took full advantage of our existing rights—would be to delay the Steel Bill for one year, unless the constituencies rejected it when the General Election took place. To tell me that the effect of one year on the Steel Bill is a sufficient excuse for a measure of this kind is something which I am quite unable to believe. What seems to be at the bottom of the minds of those who use that argument is that there is something degrading to the House of Commons in allowing the electorate to review any decision to which they may come. They regard it as putting the House of Commons under the subjection of the electorate. That is the fundamental error which I think underlies the whole of this legislation.
I hold most strongly—and I hope 'he House will support me in so holding—that it is the people who are the sovereign 759 power and that any attempt to substitute for the people any body or person is a vital breach of our Constitution. The advocates of this Bill seem to hold that the House of Commons is itself a sovereign body. That is not so. We live, as I see it, under the most complete form of democracy that has ever been established in any country. I do not regret that; on the contrary, I believe it is the best and safest form of Constitution for us, and the essential point of it is that the sovereignty lies with the electorate—that is, the people—and not with the House of Commons or any other body. In the discussions which took place on this Bill elsewhere there was a certain amount of talk about the iniquity of overruling the decisions of the House of Commons. I venture to submit strongly that the House of Commons has no authority whatever other than that which is given to it by the votes of the people. That is the source of the authority; they own no authority independently of that. To set it up as having a right in itself to legislate in this country in defiance of the wishes of the country is, in my view, a very dangerous position to take up.
I think something might usefully be said about the present position of the House of Commons. One thing that strikes me, at the close of a fairly long political experience, is the immense diminution in the position of the House of Commons that has taken place in that period. The old doctrine of Burke and others that the House of Commons, once elected, should exercise its powers without being overruled by the Government, or even by the electors who elected it, has almost disappeared. Your Lordships will probably recollect a scene in one of Dickens's novels, in which a Member of Parliament is depicted as receiving a deputation from his constituency, who complain bitterly that he has acted entirely on the orders of the Government of the day. They are described as regarding that as a gross infringement of his constitutional duty, which was to decide every question on the grounds of what he thought would be most in the interests of the country, irrespective of the pressure of Ministers. The whole of that conception has absolutely perished. If a Member of the House of Commons dares to think for himself and to vote accordingly, 760 he must be ready not only to fight individuals in his constituency, not only to expose himself to the frowns of his Party leaders, but to be told that unless he is content to vote as his leaders tell him, his chance of surviving the next General Election is very small. The Party organization will run a' candidate against him, and the Party organization is controlled by the Government.
Even when I was in the House of Commons that doctrine was growing, but there was still some degree of personal independence left to its Members. Now that has been almost entirely swept away; and that is the case at least as much on the Left as on the Right. The independence of a Member of Parliament on the Left wing of the House of Commons is certainly no greater than the independence of a Member on the Right. The majority of the House of Commons now consists—and let us remember this, because it is the real fact—of the obedient servants of the Cabinet of the day. The truth is that in the last half century the independence of the House of Commons as such has greatly declined, and the powers of the Cabinet have very greatly increased. We are indeed approaching the plebiscitary conception of Government, whereby, when once a government has been put in office by a plebiscitary vote, it becomes all-powerful. We have seen this happen to some extent in this country, and very completely in other countries of Europe. The best instance I can give, of course, is the case of Hitler who, once having got control of governmental machinery, used it in order to establish a complete tyranny by himself and his immediate assistants; and, as is well known, the same thing has happened in other countries on the Continent.
That is a very serious matter for our consideration, for there is no worse tyranny than the tyranny of a bureaucracy. I do not deny that the danger is not very obvious or perhaps imminent in this country, but if I read history rightly, Europe has always moved more or less together. The political tendencies on the Continent have always had repercussions in this country, and I doubt not that that is true to-day. What happened in Berlin yesterday and in Moscow to-day may well happen in London to-morrow. Let me mention one other symptom which seems to me very ominous. In the last half 761 century the leaders of the House of Commons, have come to insist that almost every phrase in a Government Bill is officially inspired. No change in it is to be permitted. It is quite true that sometimes influences outside induce the Government to modify their proposals, but the normal course is to treat every clause as a question of confidence in the Government. Indeed, in that particular, the power of the Cabinet has been carried further in this country than in any other country.
All this leads me to the conclusion that if it were to happen that an extreme Government were placed in power by some wave of popular feeling, we could have no sufficient security in the House of Commons. It might well be unwilling or unable to stand up for liberty or justice. It may be said, perhaps, that there is no danger, since the majority of this country have never been in favour of tyranny. I am certainly of that opinion as to the country, but we must remember that revolutions do not usually come from majorities; they more often have been the work of minorities. I remember reading in a work by a French historian that the great French Revolution was the work of a small minority of the French people—I think he put it at something like one-fifteenth or one-sixteenth. It is often said that our revolution of 1688 was accomplished by a minority of the people of this country. Remember, too—and this I venture to say for the benefit of my friends on the Left—that revolution is not always to the Left, but might equally be to the Right. Hitler, I believe, was technically on the Right. Communism is, no doubt, a possible danger, but the domination by a great accumulation of capital is also a risk which I, for one, certainly do not despise.
It may be said that the people of this country are not at all likely to accept Communism or extreme Capitalism. I agree. But the whole question is whether, under the Constitution as it is proposed to be established by this Bill, and the procedure by which this Bill has been promoted, the people will be consulted at all. I accept, most profoundly, the slogan, "We must trust the people," and for that purpose we must take care that our Constitution makes proper provision for their consultation; and that is one more reason why a Second Chamber is 762 essential. I believe, myself, that, apart from a few extremists, the vast majority of the people of this country are agreed, first, that they want a Second Chamber for the kind of reasons which I have tried to develop, and, secondly, that they do not want that Chamber to be all-powerful.
At this point it is right for me to say a few words about the functions of this House. They are two-fold. In the first place, we give much of our time to the discussion or consideration of various public questions, like Palestine, or Civil Aviation—I cite the subjects of one or two debates which have recently taken place—Foreign Affairs and many others. Sometimes our debates lead to a Resolution, but not always They may raise questions of Party politics but not often. In any case, this House has no power by Resolution to compel a Government to alter its policy, because it has no power as the other House has, to call for a change of Government. Its function in this respect—and a very important function it is—is to advise and discuss, even though it cannot enforce its opinion. I venture to think that to carry out this part of its duties—I hope I shall no: be regarded as impertinent in saying this—this House is exceedingly well constituted, and, if I may be allowed to say so, does excellent work. It consists, as your Lordships have been reminded, o £a certain number of highly qualified experts—political, agricultural, legal, ecclesiastical, administrative, diplomatic, economic, military, naval, aerial, scientific, medical and literary. And, besides these, there is. a body of persons of various callings and professions who may be described—again I apologize if I may be thought to be over-familiar—as normal citizens. In any discussion, the experts on that subject are listened to with courtesy. There is no custom, as there is elsewhere, for the House to empty except for some specially interesting or exciting episode. But the experts—and it is to this that I wish to draw your Lordships' attention—if they are to influence their audience, must talk common sense. The result is often admirable—a well-informed debate conducted in intelligible language. I would venture to remind your Lordships that we have somewhat the same plan in our Courts of Justice. We have juries who represent the common people,
763 and a Judge—a legal expert who, if he is to have any influence with these juries, must talk common sense. That plan answers very well for criminal justice, and I think it answers equally well for advisory discussion.
Besides the actual constitution of the House, it has 'behind it—and of this I am not afraid to remind your Lordships—a great tradition, going back to the earliest times of our history, in which it has, no doubt, made mistakes (who have not?) and perhaps in its advice has sometimes been wrong. But I believe in old days, and certainly during my lifetime, it has been moved by high public spirit and patriotism which would shrink from no sacrifice necessary for the country. It is said, as a matter of great reproach, that many of its members sit by hereditary right. My Lords, the human race all over the world—far more in the East than in the West, far more in the Highlands than in the Lowlands—has attributed great importance to the hereditary principle. I suppose it has been thought that when you are choosing someone to discharge particular duties, the fact that he and his father before him lived in an atmosphere where those duties were recognized to involve serious responsibility, is some recommendation, and perhaps as much as the power to make an ad captandum oration from the hustings. However that may be, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and I venture to submit that, for an advisory and consultative body, the hereditary principle, so far as it has been applied, has produced excellent results. It seems to me doubtful, therefore, whether, from that point of view and in this respect, any change in the composition of the House is really needed, except to provide for some Life Peers for various reasons and, perhaps, for the release from their duties of those Peers who have shown that those duties do not interest them. These were two proposals made by my father when he was Prime Minister in 1888.
I now come to the legislative functions of the House, because you must distinguish between the two. Here, different considerations arise. Our Constitution is based on the Parliamentary system, and its legislation is directed largely by Party principles. The Second Chamber has, therefore, in determining its legislative 764 action, to be guided by consideration of its effect on Parties, and, if that action is to be impartial, its Party complexion—that is, the Party complexion of the Second Chamber—cannot be ignored. In the present House, the large and permanent Conservative majority makes it certain that Liberal or Socialist measures will be regarded with less favour than those which are labelled Conservative. That cannot be regarded as satisfactory, nor will the difficulties be cured unless the Party aspect is safeguarded. I am not going to trouble your Lordships by any attempt to analyze the various proposals for reform that have been made in this respect. I venture to say that you must consider what your object is, and your object is to restore the impartiality, the Party impartiality, of this House.
To my mind, the only satisfactory solution is one which would ensure that legislative decisions in this House are in accord with the considered views of the electorate. I say "considered," because if the opinion of the electorate is to be determined solely by the voting at the last General Election, it would mean, of course, that the Second Chamber would always give the same decision as the First, and that would make it useless. I suggest, therefore, that, keeping the present House as it is, with full powers of discussion and recommendation, the legislative duties should be entrusted to a section of it who should be chosen with regard to the political opinion shown in the last two General Elections. The easiest way of doing that would be to entrust each new House of Commons with the right to nominate, by Proportional Representation, one half of the Legislative Peers, who should hold that office for two Parliaments. Therefore, assuming that the Legislative Peers were two hundred in number, one hundred of them would be chosen in each House of Commons when elected. On the Right, the Legislative Peers would no doubt be mainly chosen from the existing Peers. On the Left, some who are not now Peers would have to be added.
So, under this system, the House of Lords would consist, first, of existing Peers who would have the right to sit, speak and vote as now, except that they could not vote on matters of legislation; and secondly, of a certain number of Legislative Peers, chosen as I have described.
765 The plan involves the separation of the advisory from the legislative function of the Peers, but otherwise makes as little change as possible in the House as we know it. In any case, I feel strongly two things. I think it is a grave mistake in the present economic and international position to ask the people of this country to address themselves to a complicated and difficult controversy. If we were actually at war, no one would have suggested such a thing. We know that in wartime all contentious legislation was laid aside. The present position of our country seems to me hardly less anxious than then. In the second place, I most certainly agree with the most reverend Primate that, as the question has been raised, it ought to be given a permanent and, if possible, an agreed solution, and not be dealt with in defiance of all precedent, as Party fanatics in the other House have boasted, by proposals dictated by Party exigencies of the moment.
The right course therefore seems to me to refer the reform of the House to some Committee representative of all views—and I think there is general agreement that something of that kind should be done. In the meantime, I venture to take up a suggestion which fell from the noble Marquess, the Leader of the Opposition, on the last occasion we debated this matter—namely, that we should adjourn sine die the consideration of the Bill after we have had our debate. I understand that the existing Parliament Act says that when any particular measure has not been passed by this House—it does not matter whether it has been adjourned or not; the crucial thing is that it has not been passed—that sets up the Parliament Act machinery. I think it would be much better to adopt the suggestion made. I do not know what the noble Viscount thinks of it, but as he suggested it, I venture to press my argument, which if I rightly understand, is also the argument of the most reverend Primate.
With all respect to the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, I cannot agree that we ought to accept the Second Reading of this Bill. I cannot think that would be right. It seems to me a bad Bill. The noble Viscount himself said that it was a bad Bill, and, for the reasons I have very haltingly tried to suggest to your Lordships, I strongly think it has been improperly proposed. It is an unconscionable political manoeuvre!—there are no other 766 words to describe it. If the Government choose to force it through, then no doubt they have whatever powers the Parliament Act gives them. Let them take that course, and they must take the undivided responsibility for the result.
§ 4.4 p.m.
§ Lord ALTRINCHAM
My Lords, the noble Viscount who has just addressed the House always speaks with great acceptance and I have never heard him make a more cogent or illuminating speech than he made this afternoon. So far as I am concerned I most profoundly agree with all that part of it which dealt with constitutional doctrine. I am sure that even those who might not agree to the full must have been impressed by the arguments he put. The noble Viscount is not a Party man; throughout his life he has been a pioneer in progressive causes, and nobody can say that there is about him any suspicion of reactionary prejudice. Therefore, I think the House is bound to respect the argument which he has addressed to it—even those quarters which may not be disposed at first to lend it very much weight. What particularly impressed mo was the way in which he brought out the increase in the power of the Executive and the decrease in the authority of the House of Commons. That is an incontestable fact, which makes the powers and the composition of the Second Chamber both matters of first-rate importance at the present time. I was delighted to hear him state that argument with such force.
I was very glad also to hear his defence of the principle of heredity. It is difficult, I think, to deny all virtue to the principle of heredity when one thinks of the services rendered by three recent generations of his own family to the country, the Commonwealth and the cause of international peace. Whether there should be two categories of Peers, as he suggested, one for Lords of Parliament and another for Peers with a voice but no vote, is, after all, a matter which requires a good deal of study and thought; but the great thing is to retain the hereditary principle. That is, I am quite convinced, the right thing to do, not only because of its value in itself, but because there is no other principle which will not' make the Second Chamber overshadow the First. I hope, therefore, in any discussions which may 767 take place, that that consideration will bear weight.
I am sure that noble Lords opposite who may have criticisms to make of this House are not really critical of those who give their time to its debates. I believe they will agree, too, that an increasingly whole-time Parliament, in which members have to deal with a vast range of questions, a Parliament whose Lower House Members have, in recent years, lost a great deal of their independence, can ill afford to lose the services of independent and public-spirited specialists. To-day, however, the issue is not the composition of the House: it is the powers of the House. And if I may put it to the most reverend Primate, it is a more fundamental issue than he seems to think.
The Lord Archbishop of CANTERBURY
May I interrupt the noble Lord? I did not say that it was not fundamental. I said that the powers and composition of the House could never properly be separated. I said that quite distinctly. I said that in my opinion it was a bad Bill. I did suggest that under the terms put forward by the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, it seemed to me that powers as well as composition could be discussed.
§ Lord ALTRINCHAM
I am very glad to draw that further explanation from the most reverend Primate, but I think the difficulty between this side of the House and His Majesty's Government is more profound than he thinks, because what we are really being asked to do in the first place, unless we have completely misinterpreted the proposals that are being made, is to concede the point of principle. I am delighted to see that the noble Viscount opposite shakes his head, but no explanation he has given has removed that impression. Can we be assured that we are not going into a conference committed in any way to passing the Second Reading of this Bill before the conference takes place? That is the acid test. If we are being asked to give the Bill a Second Reading first, then we are being asked to concede in principle what we will never concede of our own free will, and the issue turns on that.
The Lord Archbishop of CANTERBURY
I cannot agree, and once again I ask for clarification of this question. I certainly assumed, when I spoke, 768 that there would be no need to commit ourselves to the Second Reading of the Bill before the conference takes place.
§ Viscount ADDISON
There is no reference whatever in the Government statement to the Second Reading.
§ Lord ALTRINCHAM
I am glad to have drawn that much from the noble Viscount. If it is quite clear this is to be a conference without commitments on both sides—
§ Lord ALTRINCHAM
I am bound to say that I am not clear. The new statement seemed to impose conditions in advance, and nothing the noble Viscount has said has removed that impression from our minds.
§ Lord CROMWELL
What is the meaning of paragraph 2 if in fact no reference is made to the Second Reading of this Bill?
§ Viscount ADDISON
I do not wish to interrupt the noble Lord, but the words "without prejudice" are in the very first sentence. On the other point, the words are "before the end of the Session."
§ Lord ALTRINCHAM
I am still not clear. If the answer which the noble Viscount has given means that the Government are prepared to enter a conference with the noble Lords beside me, and with the noble Lords who sit on the Bench below, why cannot they simply say "Yes," instead of producing a statement which nobody understands, and which appears to impose conditions upon us? The word "Yes" is a very simple word, and everybody understands it. But here is a whole page of what are apparently conditions, which are not at all clear to our minds.
I would suggest to the noble Viscount that precedents which he himself quoted in the debate last week hardly support the case which he made. All the precedents—particularly those of the period to which he referred. when the present Parliament 769 Act and the Government of Ireland Bill of that period were before Parliament—support our argument for unconditional inter-Party conference. No conditions were laid down at that time. The noble Viscount's historical summary, which imputed mistake to this House in not passing the Government of Ireland Bill, seemed to me to miss the true moral of events. In 1910 and onwards the Home Rule issue was inseparable from other issues of the greatest gravity. The European situation was already becoming very dark—perhaps not so dark as it is at the present moment, but still very dark. In 1909 there had been the crisis of Bosnia, and the controversy over the eight dreadnoughts, when, as I think my present Leader, Mr. Churchill, said, the Government proposed four, came to six and 'finally compromised on eight.
The year 1910 itself was a year of the most serious international friction, and quite early in the following year there was the third crisis of Agadir, which led up to the First World War. The Liberal Government of the day were bound to the Irish Nationalists because the Budget of 1909 could not be passed except with the Irish vote. Nevertheless, they suggested an inter-Party conference on the main constitutional issue, without any conditions on either side, and without asking that either the Parliament Bill or the Home Rule Bill should first have a Second Reading. That conference was persevered with for five months, and when it broke down it was not on the constitutional issue, except: in one respect. I believe the Parties were agreed—and I have refreshed my memory by looking at the official biographies of Lord Asquith and Lord Balfour. The conference broke down merely on the question whether the safeguards for any change in the organic law of the Constitution should or should not include Home Rule for Ireland. Home Rule was passed under the powers of the Parliament Act, but: it had to be suspended almost at once, and its future application was immediately made subject to the promise of an Amending Act. That was little consolation to the Unionists at the period.
In face of the imminent danger of war in Europe, the nation was profoundly divided; and in 1914, as everybody knows, it had reached the edge of civil war. Who is going to maintain that the 770 bitter state of faction in this country, which arose from the failure of that conference, did not prove the final temptation to the German General Staff in 1914? Who is going to assert that the First World War might not have been averted by inter-Party agreement on the constitutional issue in 1910. Liberal Ministers went a very long way at that time. I remember Mr. Lloyd George making special proposals to Lord Balfour on the question of the international situation. It was a tragedy that inter-Party agreement at that period broke down. I beg noble Lords opposite, if they are going to quote precedents from the past, not merely to try and find snippets, from individual speeches which support some part of the case, but to look at the broad sweep and the whole complex of events; if that is not done, history, like statistics, can prove almost anything.
On this point I feel bound to refer, if only in passing, to what I thought was a remarkable passage in the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, last week. Hitherto we had been led to believe that the doctrine of the mandate is sacred in the eyes of Ministers and of the whole Government. It was the Holy of Holies, the Ark of the Covenant. Whatever sacrifice it demanded, even if it meant throwing out of the window considerations of practical expedience, or even national safety and prosperity, Ministers have told us in this House, again and again, that they must not deviate from the mandate or they would be dishonoured by the act. But suddenly, last week, the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, dropped the doctrine of the mandate, and offered the Ark of the Covenant, for sale to anybody as so much old junk. "Mandate?", he said; "a mandate required for modifying the fundamental institutions of the British state? Whoever heard of such an argument?" He really said that. I wondered what could be in store for us, apart from the Parliament Bill. We have heard since then the announcement that university representation is to be abolished. There is certainly no mandate for that, and no doubt a strong case will be made out when the subject comes to be discussed. But this abandonment of the doctrine of the mandate does seem to me to be an extraordinary change of front by the present Government.
771 What then is the difference between us? The precedents are all in favour of inter-Party conference without condition; inter-Party conference which can be arranged at once, if the Government will only use the simple word "Yes." Otherwise, on grounds of principle, we cannot agree to give this Bill a Second Reading. We cannot give our consent to the principle which is implicit in the Bill—that no Second Chamber should have the power for more than a short summer recess of delaying the First Chamber's assertion of its will, however suddenly formed, and however gravely the balance of the Constitution may be upset. To accept that would mean that the First Chamber would be entitled to enact, as the noble Viscount who preceded me said, of its own supreme volition, any constitutional change. I am taking an extreme case, but who knows what a minority Government might do in the times to come whatever the will of the electorate? They could alter the whole of our judicial system; they could establish new political offences, and a political court.
Any of these things could be done. We would be accepting the principle that the First Chamber, of its own volition, should be able to introduce any constitutional change, however fundamental and however little its merits and demerits might have been discussed before the electorate. The Dominions, the United States of America and other countries have written Constitutions and organic laws. Our only safeguard in this country against extremism, against the tyranny of what might be a small minority in this country which had seized the levers of power, is a Second Chamber; and to give this Bill a Second Reading would mean accepting something so near single-Chamber Government that the balance of our Constitution would be permanently destroyed.
So much for the principle at stake. If we are forced to a Division on Wednesday—and I still hope that the Government may see the wisdom of conferring, without condition, before that takes place—I shall vote for my noble friend's Amendment with an absolute conviction that the course we follow is right. I hope that Ministers will reconsider, and in expressing that very earnest hope I should like, before sitting down, to add this. It would be disingenuous to pretend that all 772 Parties are not in some measure responsible for the deadlock which we have now reached. The heart of the problem with which we are faced is this. Parliament is suffering, and has for some time been suffering, from a kind of constitutional malaise. The reason is that the First Chamber has come to express unlimited democracy, though under the control of a very much stronger Executive, while no corresponding or complementary adjustment has been made in the Upper House. It is obvious that Lord Salisbury—I mean the grandfather of the present Leader of the Opposition—felt that, even eighty years ago. I came across a quotation from him in Lord Crewe's "Life of Lord Salisbury." I do not know whether it occurred in a speech in this House or where it was said, but Lord Crewe is sufficient authority for it. In 1869, nearly eighty years ago, Lord Salisbury said:The Peers are too much of one class, and therefore of one mind; they want more representation of diverse views and more antagonism.
§ Lord ALTRINCHAM
If that could be said of this House in 1869, just after Disraeli's modest reform of the franchise in 1867, how much truer it is since universal suffrage was introduced! The result is that Governments of the Left, with large majorities in the House of Commons, have always had a sense of inhibition and possible frustration because of the Conservative majority, overwhelming and potentially adverse, which dominated this House. That this has nourished a sense of impending frustration in other Parties is easily understood. It has given them a grievance and has poisoned their minds. That, I think, is particularly true of the Socialist Party. So great has been their vexation at what might possibly occur, however well the House of Lords might be behaving at the time, that they have developed an irrational prejudice against this House. That is the atmosphere in which we are trying to deal with this question in which the whole future of the country is at stake.
Noble Lords opposite, and honourable Members of their Party in another place, feel that however moderate the conduct of this House, they must somehow, to use a colloquialism, "get back 773 on it and put it in its place." I hope noble Lords behind me will forgive me if I add that the responsibility on our side is far from light. Perhaps the Liberals are excepted from this because they have been out of power so long in the recent past, but neither the Party opposite nor the Party on these Benches can afford to be self-righteous on this question—neither the Conservatives, who neglected the problem because it caused them No 1nconvenience, nor the Socialists who have allowed Party resentment and prejudice to submerge their constitutional sense. Some might even prefer a Chamber which they can honestly abuse than a Chamber which they could not. If we are candid with ourselves about this on both sides—candid, and ready to confess ourselves—I believe that we shall not find ourselves so far apart. But I am sure that the conference must be unconditional. I trust, therefore, that Ministers, at the cost of a little pride, may even now enable us, without sacrifice of principle, to consider with them how to remedy a constitutional maladjustment which all of us here are anxious to correct.
§ Lord BALFOUR of BURLEIGH
My Lords, before the next noble Lord speaks, will the House permit me once more to try to find out what we are talking about? The difference is quite simple. In the statement made by the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, the last sentence in the limiting condition about powers reads:… and for the discussion of differences between the two Houses.That means one of two things. It means either discussion between the two Houses of differences, or discussion in the country of differences between the two Houses. There is a very great difference between the two.
§ Viscount ADDISON
The phrase clearly relates to the procedures which are dealt with under the Parliament Act, under which a period of two years is allowed for proceedings, which period it is now proposed should be reduced to one year. We are told in certain quarters that in certain circumstances one year is insufficient. This statement means that we are prepared to enter into discussion of those differences.
§ Viscount SWINTON
I am very much obliged to the Leader of the House for elucidating it a little further, but I do not 774 think he has yet made it clear, and it is really vital that we should understand where we are. The period of delay may be a period of two kinds. First, there is the period which it takes a Bill to pass through the House of Commons and through this House and back to the House of Commons, when there is either agreement or disagreement. As my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition said, that is the way we read it, and it seems to me there is no other way of reading it You must: read the previous words:… limited to ensuring reasonable time for' the consideration of measures by the House of Lords, and for the discussion of differences between the two Houses.But that is not the period of delay which we have had in mind. That period must take place in any bi-cameral Parliament, because the Bill has not been either passed or rejected until discussion by both Houses has taken place. The whole point is this: Is it limited—and this is a commitment we are asked to make before we go into discussions—to that period of Parliamentary time and Parliamentary discussion, or is it intended to cover what is to us, as the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said, the cardinal principle, the time for consideration by the country after the issue has arisen in a definite form between the two Houses?
§ Viscount ADDISON
May I answer that straight away? It is completely impossible to put into any form of words what time would be required for he discussion by the country of a particular thing. Someone might claim that it was a month; someone else might claim that it was a year. What we are prepared to discuss is the time required for the proper and decent consideration of these differences between the two Houses of Parliament. We are told that one year is not enough, and we are prepared to enter into discussions. No one can say—the noble Viscount could not say—how long would be required for some imaginary public discussion.
The Lord Archbishop of CANTERBURY
I have had some discussion with the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, and others on. this matter. If discussions took place without prejudice and with complete liberty to resume freedom of action at any moment, it would not mean giving away anything.
775 On the other hand, the Government make it perfectly clear that in their opinion the present period of delay under the Parliament Act is too long, and that they will not keep it as long as it is now. They make that perfectly clear.
§ Viscount SWINTON
My Lords, with great respect, may I point out that the most reverend Primate has not appreciated the difficulty which we have encountered, or the limitations which we understand would be put upon us if we go into these discussions. The vital words are:Without prejudice on either side, on the understanding that"—That means that it has to be a mutual understanding between us. It does not say:On the understanding that the subject to be considered is not some new power which we do not already possess under the Parliament Act but the power of delay which we do possess under the Parliament Act.We are asked to go much further, and to say that we will agree to raise only any matter which (as the noble Viscount the Leader of the House has just said) is concerned with reasonable time for Parliamentary discussion. To us that is quite impossible. It is vital to us that there should be a time for consideration in the country after the issue between the Houses has been made plain. I should not have the least difficulty, if I entered into discussion, in putting in the Bill some safeguard which would ensure that the country had that time for consideration. The period of two years under the Parliament Act was inserted not merely to give time for Parliamentary discussion, but to give time for consideration in the country after the Parliamentary discussion had come to an end.
§ 4.33 p.m.
§ Viscount STANSGATE
My Lords, the first debate I ever heard on this subject was forty years ago. I heard the noble Viscount then, and if I may say so, I never fail to grow in admiration for his contribution to the public weal though I disagree with what he says. Let us give credit to those who stand for the supremacy of the people through their elected representatives. That was what we fought for. All these demands were made before. I should like to know what we are discuss- 776 ing. I do not know. Are the Opposition going to vote for the Bill or against it? Are they going to suspend the Bill? I myself should think that a little Jesuitical. By far the best thing is for honest men to thresh out honestly honest differences. I make no apology for being what is called a Party politician, because my politics, such as they are, offer just a little light to allow me to go by. I believe most men work in that way. Therefore, all I want is a discussion of the realities of the situation.
There is this question of time—six months or twelve months—or whatever it may be. Forty years ago with the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, when I was a Back Bencher and he was a rising Under-Secretary, he made a very eloquent speech on behalf of a six months period. If he will look up Mr. Spender's Life of Campbell Bannerman he will find that the Liberal Cabinet of that day had prepared an elaborate scheme and that the Prime Minister tore it up and moved his own Resolution, which was exactly what the Government say in the statement to-day—that in the life of one Parliament the will of the people should prevail.
§ Viscount SAMUEL
That is not the same thing as I urged. Would the noble Viscount say that a Bill introduced by the present Government, in the fifth year of their term of office, should necessarily go through so long as it was in the same Parliament—
§ Viscount STANSGATE
The noble Viscount supported Campbell-Banner-man's Resolution which provided for a six months' period. I will examine the reference; in the meantime, I should be glad if he could help me by explaining what has happened to cause him to change his view.
§ Viscount SAMUEL
The noble Viscount has made this point in a recent article. The noble Viscount is putting his own gloss on it.
§ Viscount STANSGATE
I should be very loth to do the noble Viscount an injustice. It is clearly stated in Mr. Spender's book that he spoke in favour of a six months' delay. The noble Viscount has altered his mind. Of course, he is entitled to do so; but he will forgive me if I adhere to the faith in which I was brought up.
§ Viscount SAMUEL
I have altered the views which the noble Viscount attributes to me, but which I never held!
§ Viscount STANSGATE
What is the situation now? Two years is the standing period at this moment. In any case, under the Parliament Act, this Parliament will terminate in the autumn of 1950. Allow for a month or two at the end of a Parliament, for no Parliament ever exists for its full quinquennium, and you will see that about the early summer of this year the Parliament Act will cease to shelter the Government. That means to say that the Opposition are asking that in the course of four or five weeks the power to decide the Government of this country shall be passed from the Cabinet and the House of Commons to reside in the Opposition of the House of Lords. That is an intolerable position; that is single-Chamber Government.
The noble Marquess opposite said that he planted his standard in 1689. I thought that he might have said a word in praise of the Reform Act, but perhaps that was asking too much. 1609 was the period. Of course, 1609 inaugurated a century in which the House of Lords completely dominated the Parliamentary machine. We do not know exactly what is the position of the various Parties at this moment. No one is against a conference, but I am deadly afraid of a conference in which we do not enter with honest opinions and with honest understandings. That is the dangerous thing. It is much better that honest people should argue and disagree than that we should rely on a benevolent yearning which means nothing at all.
Let us assume there is to be a conclave. The noble Viscount and others are to enter with a few selected people. Once they are in, we have all to wait outside and wait for the smoke to come from the chimney. When they confer, they must have an agenda. Are they going to take powers or composition first? I hold firmly—and this was the view of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman—that you must put powers first and not composition. Composition is easy. I should have said that composition does not present so much difficulty as powers, but I do not know. I was amazed to-day—someone will correct me if I am wrong—by what the 778 noble Marquess the Leader of the Conservative Party said, that he accepts both subsections of Section 1 of the Parliament Act, 1911; that is to say, not only that a Money Bill should enjoy the immunities of that Act but that the definition of a Money Bill should remain in the hands of the Speaker and his advisers. Is that generally accepted? I did not gather that the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, accepted that.
§ Viscount CECIL of CHELWOOD
I thought it was quite well understood that the question of jurisdiction over a Money Bill was never accepted until the Second Chamber chose to throw out the Budget of 1909. I personally was violently opposed to the action of the Second Chamber in doing that, but I was overruled and they did it; that was a mistake. But the question of Money Bills has always been treated as quite separate from that of ordinary Bills.
§ Viscount STANSGATE
I have never seen a scheme of reform proposed—and schemes have been proposed by many eminent statesmen—which did not propose to make some alteration in the definition of a Money Bill, and to take it out of the hands of the Speaker and put it in the hands of a Joint Committee. If that idea is abandoned, that is splendid. Then we come to this question which is entirely a question of time, and involves the claim that this House is in some way specially endowed to ascertain when the public must be consulted. That really is the crux of the whole issue.
§ Viscount STANSGATE
Mr. Asquith, in a passage of magnificent Parliamentary satire which has been read by my noble friend below, made a point on that matter. I would like to ask noble Lords opposite what exactly they mean. In the early days of the Parliament Act dispute, an earlier attitude existed. Lord Halsbury and his friends held that this House was an estate of the Realm and was perfectly entitled to express its opinion in opposition to the Lower House. They claimed that they could do that of their own opinion, because they were one of the 779 Houses of Parliament. That view was defeated in 1911 and a new view took its place. Now we have a new situation, which is not that this House should interpret what the people wish, but that we should interpret when the people ought to be consulted. I hope that someone will explain how this interpretation is to be made and where the information is obtained. Members of the House of Commons go down every week to meet their constituents. Surely they are better equipped than noble Lords to ascertain what is the movement of public opinion?
Take a simple case. Here is the Parliament Bill. Noble Lords are of opinion that it is necessary to oppose it. They wish it to be submitted to the electorate, because they think the electorate should be consulted as this is a very important constitutional change. What evidence have they? The Bill was introduced in November in the House of Commons. There were four by-elections before Christmas. The Conservative Party increased their vote in one, but the significant by-election was immediately after the introduction of this Bill. The Government was in sore distress about Gravesend, and the significant victory at the Gravesend by-election came immediately following upon the introduction of this Bill. Since then, of course, there has been—if I may be forgiven for using the words of Cromwell—"the crowning mercy" of Camlachie. The Conservative Party have been heartened by a victory, but 400 voters who supported them in 1945 were absent.
How can you say, on slender grounds like that, that you are specially endowed with power to ascertain when the public should be consulted? Is it not much more likely that what you are really saying is: "We do not like the Bill; we think we will send it back to the country. There is just a chance that the Government may be defeated. In other words, we will take a chance, because nothing can happen to us but something may happen to a Government which we dislike?" I believe that is the real interpretation of the matter. It is quite idle to say that we can all agree on this one great question. It has to be threshed out and it has to be decided. It is approached, but it is not dealt with absolutely, by this Bill of the Govern- 780 ment. It is for that reason that I hope that the Leader of the House will persevere on the course that he has announced and ask for the Second Reading of this Bill. Once you get a decision on what are the powers of this House, you have something on which you can stand.
The question of composition is not really very difficult. I am a new member of this House and I apologize for even venturing to speculate upon these affairs, but I am hopeful that old walls will go down and that women will be admitted to your Lordships' House. The most reverend Primate, the Archbishop of York, made a very liberal speech in which he said he would like to see Free Churchmen (and, I would hope, the Chief Rabbi) on the Episcopal Benches. Then, of course, we would have Life Peerages, which would introduce all sorts of new elements. That is a very worthy suggestion. We already have the nucleus of the finest critical body in the whole world, but it must not attempt to usurp the functions of the electorate. Therefore, if indeed such a Chamber were constituted and it was clearly understood that the functions of the House were as defined in paragraph 1 of this document—namely, revision, criticism and delay, so that the public should have the benefit of searching cross-examination on whatever was happening by critics of eminence—then I think the House would certainly gain in usefulness and in public esteem.
I do not know whether this will find any favour at all, but I would like to add a suggestion that has often been made, that this House should have the right to ask Ministers from the other place to come here and defend their policy. I would not have asked for that had it not been that, in reading the old debates, I noticed the idea received the support of very eminent statesmen such as Lord Haldane, Lord Buckmastcr, Lord Birkenhead, Mr. Churchill and, I think, Lord Cecil. Then indeed the House would get the Ministers replying to points raised. I do not mean any disrespect to my noble friends; they would go to the other place to answer criticisms. If this proposal were adopted there would be established a critical House, critically examining Government policy, which would be very much to public advantage.
781 But what one has to ask is: What will really occur? What is likely to occur? Are all these things that are being talked about likely to result in agreement? I do not think so. Perhaps there is a change now—I do not know—but these schemes for reform have been promoted for many years by the most eminent statesmen—Lord Salisbury, Lord Lansdowne, Lord Clarendon, Lord FitzAlan, and, of course, the late Lord Salisbury—and powerful Governments like the Government of Mr. Lloyd George and the Coalition of Mr. Baldwin have not been able to satisfy the reformers because they were asking for more than the Government thought they could, in the public view, afford to give. If these things could not: be extracted from Prime Ministers of that standing, with that comprehensive support, how can we suppose that they were likely to be obtained from a Labour Prime Minister? However, if people are in a mood to agree, I am all in favour.
There is a case for leaving the matter alone. I was very much moved by the words the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, used about the history of this House. I am a new member. I am a House of Commons man, and I have always stood and will always stand by the House of Commons. I entered this House knowing that the two Houses are linked together in the history of our land, that all the main figures in that history have marched on this stage, and that it is a privilege to be here at all. Why not leave it alone? Is it really necessary that it should be handed over to the planners? You can have something which is too symmetrical. There was a rumour that when the troops were advancing in Italy in 1944, it was only in the nick of time that somebody prevented the American sappers from straightening up the Tower of Pisa!
You may say: "Yes, but think of the danger." That is quite true. Think of the immense powers that are in the hands of this House. But the greatness of those powers is also the measure of the weakness of this House. If those powers were abused, it would be the end. I support this Bill because in a way it relieves that danger and helps to prevent the abuse of the powers of this House. That is why I support it, and would call it in a way "The House of Lords Protection Bill." It is especially a Bill for the protection of the leaders of the Conservative Party. Noble Lords, remembering what happened 782 in 1911, may feel that this Bill can protect them from the storm of obloquy and even ostracism that swept over Lord Lansdowne and Mr. Balfour. There is a case for saying that if the Government and everyone else wish to try and agree, why should we prevent it, whatever our feelings or hopes may be. There is a case for leaving the Parliament Act as it is, with the amendment proposed by this Bill, which would, at any rate, prevent an abuse which might bring about a disaster.
§ 4.57 p.m.
My Lords, I am one of those to whom the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, would, I think, have referred as the ordinary man in your Lordships' House. I dare say, therefore, that your Lordships will forgive me if I frankly say that the statement of the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, might have been written in Amharic for all that I could understand of it. Therefore I find myself, together with other noble Lords, in a little difficulty, in that I do not know where we stand in regard to this Bill at the present time and, despite all the explanations, I am still pretty well fogged. One effect of this Bill, if it is passed, seems to be absolutely clear. The important point is that this House will be reduced to the status of a debating society and that, in effect, for the first time since Cromwell, there will be established what amounts to a single-Chamber Government in this country.
If that is the effect of the Bill—and that is what I think it is—presumably it; is the policy of His Majesty's Government, and, if it is the policy of His Majesty's Government, I suggest that it might have been better if they had said so in the General Election of 1945. So far as I know, they have no mandate for this Bill at the present time, and if they made it clear that we were to have single-Chamber government, and it were put to the electorate to-day, I do not believe the people would vote for it. The Government's case seems to be based upon two propositions. The first is that a new situation has teen created by the advent of a Socialist majority in another place without a corresponding Socialist majority in your Lordships' House. That is a situation from which I do not dissent; indeed, I think it is true. But it is a situation that has been foreseen for a great many years by a number of noble Lords, such as the 783 late Lord Salisbury and the late Lord Birkenhead. Lord Birkenhead said in 1925:I, for my part, am of opinion that if there were no other reasons for entering at once upon the task of the reform of this House, an imperative reason would lie in the fact that if and when a Socialist Party is again returned to power in this country, we must at least have a Second Chamber in which they can press upon those Benches men who really share their views and are really authoritative in their counsels and some measure of support in the Benches behind them. If you do not secure that, by the very change which events will have made in the character and contribution which it is in its power to offer, you will yourselves have destroyed the House of Lords because you will have acquiesced in circumstances which necessarily resolve its destruction.I believe that was wise advice on the part of the late Lord Birkenhead, and I, for one, deplore that that policy was not adopted many years ago. It is of interest, incidentally, to note that the most vociferous of those who abused that policy in the year 1925 were the late Lord Haldane and his friends who belonged to the same political persuasion as noble Lords opposite.
The second proposal, which seems to have been advanced by the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate—and it is one which has always caused me a certain amount of astonishment—is that your Lordships have no right to be (I think I am quoting correctly what the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, said last week) "final arbiters of what is or is not the opinion of the people." That would be an extremely interesting argument and I daresay it might prove very powerful—if your Lordships had ever claimed such a right. But you never have done so. All you have claimed, as I understand it, is the right to adhere to the not illogical view that the people themselves know better at any given moment what they require than either your Lordships or even their representatives in another place.
Therefore, your Lordships have never claimed the right to decide the opinion of the electorate. All you have declared is the right to refer matters back to them in certain cases—and such cases are bound to arise—where there is great dispute. As the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, pointed out, there are inevitably matters which it is impossible to present to the electorate at a General Election. In the majority of cases, the opinion of the 784 people at any time is obvious. Alternatively, there may be no strong feeling. But there will always arise, from time to time, cases in which there is widespread controversy, and in which it is desirable that the matter should be referred back to the people. Again, just because the electorate voted for a certain programme in 1945, it does not necessarily follow that they will be of the same opinion in 1949. After all, it is not a crime for people to change their minds. Indeed, since the majority of the people can no longer change their jobs or their clothes, or practically anything else, their minds are about all that they have left to change.
Even such exalted beings as Ministers of the Crown have been known to change their minds. In the many crises with which, I am sure, their names will be forever associated in history, the late Minister of Fuel and Power, Mr. Shinwell, and the Minister of Food, Mr. Strachey, have been almost household words in that respect. Even that eminent Statesman, the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack (I am sorry he is not here at the moment), if my memory serves me aright, changed not only his mind but his political orientation some time ago. It is no crime; people are allowed to change their minds, and surely they are all the more entitled to do so when asked to vote, as they were at the last General Election, for a programme which even the authors admitted was largely in the nature of an experiment. I do not believe that even the Government themselves could foresee what the precise result of their nationalization schemes would be. Indeed, I think that if they had done so we might have had fewer of those schemes. Therefore, is it too much to ask that the people of this country should be allowed to change their minds if they wish, and that machinery should be provided to enable them to do so? Or are noble Lords opposite suggesting that this should in future be the privilege of Socialist Ministers alone?
Again, if people change their minds, is it suggested that they have to continue to have thrust upon them Socialist-sponsored legislation which they no longer require or desire, because there is no machinery set up for reference back to them? As I understand it, that, apparently, is the doctrine of the Government. Certainly, it is the effect of this 785 Bill. Since the Government have removed the machinery, or have proposed to remove the machinery, for referring back legislation to the electorate, I am driven to the conclusion that the Government do not wish to consult the electorate. One cannot help wondering about this. I thought the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, was rather reticent on the point, and I have had to use my own conjectures upon the matter. It seems to me that there are only two possible reasons. The first possibility—which is a reason that is entirely creditable to noble Lords opposite—is that they are anxious lest legislation which is urgent and pressing for the recovery of the country should be delayed by your Lordships. I think that is most creditable—if indeed that is the belief of noble Lords opposite. But I cannot help feeling that such anxiety, if it indeed exists, is ill-founded. There has never been any suggestion of procrastination or lack of responsibility on the part of this House. Bill after Bill has been passed by your Lordships, who have been almost over-anxious not to embarrass the Government at a time of crisis.
In any event, if this were the cause of the Government's anxiety, surely the fault lies in the composition of your Lordships' House and not in its powers. As the Government do not propose to reform the composition of your Lordships' House, I can only conclude that this is not the cause of their anxiety. The only other possible reason for the Bill must be that the Government are uncertain of the approval of the electorate for various measures which they intend to introduce during the next two years—legislation which may be in no way connected with the present problems of national recovery. The most obvious of these is the Bill for the nationalization of the iron and steel industry. If noble Lords opposite object to this explanation I am very sorry, but it seems to me the only one that they have left to us, the only remaining explanation which fits the facts.
Finally, I do not think that this Bill can be considered in isolation. It must be considered as part of a, pattern that His Majesty's Government have woven since they came into power. It is an intricate pattern and it has one or two well-defined characteristics. The first is the steady concentration of power in the hands of the Government. The second is 786 the steady encroachment on the liberties of the people. It seems to me that this is yet one more step down the same road, and I do not believe that it is a road that leads to either liberty or democracy. I sincerely hope that the Government may be able to reconsider their last offer, or at any rate to make it intelligible to us. I hope very much that we may, even at this late moment, be able to compromise and to have the discussions which have so very reasonably been proposed by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and that we may still take the opportunity which exists to-day, as it has never existed before, to resolve this question once and for all. I do not believe we can do that unless the Government are prepared to play fair with us, as we are prepared to play with them. To do that, we must all go into any discussions with our hands free.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Viscount LAMBERT
My Lords, few survive who listened to the last speech of Mr. Gladstone in the House of Commons. The question then was of controversy between the two Houses. I remember that he spoke, summing up the situation, with matchless eloquence. He uttered no threats. He said that he would use no hard words, that he would impute no motives, that he would make no allegations or imputations. But, he continued, with prophetic insight, the controversy was one which, once raised, must go forward to the final issue. The issue was not joined until 1910—that was sixteen years later. Then we had a series of elections. Your Lordships mutilated, mauled and defeated Liberal measures—Home Rule and the Disestablishment of the Welsh Church—and, in the last resort (which I think was a great mistake) rejected the Budget of 1910. That Budget was passed after an Election. Then the Parliament Bill was introduced and it was passed. I remember full well the excitement of members of both Houses when the Third Reading of the Parliament Bill was passed in another place. If this Bill is rejected, as I hope it will be, without any flummery of this statement, not a dog will bark.
It has been brought in by the noble Viscount in a most reasonable fashion. I remember the noble Viscount the Leader of the House coming to the House of Commons with a very distinguished medical 787 record—he helped Mr. Lloyd George with his Insurance Bill—and judging from his manner last Tuesday and to-day, he has not lost his bedside manner. This might have been an ordinary little Bill. He did call it "a very modest and very reasonable Bill." He cited in its support the recent series of by-elections. I am an old hand at Parliamentary elections, and I may say that it is a remarkable thing that a Government should have gone on for two years without losing a by-election. There was the one at Glasgow, but had it not been for a split vote the Government would have kept it, so there was not much in that.
I want your Lordships to understand that there is an imponderable element today in the electorate. There is a £400,000,000 a year subsidy for food, and I can quite understand that any Government candidate would say, "What controls are you going to take off?" If controls were removed it would mean that the cost of living would rise; and I know how sensitive all the housewives are to the cost of living. The noble Viscount went on to say that Prime Ministers and the Houses of Parliament are sensible of public opinion. He instanced the Hoare-Laval pact. Mr. Baldwin was pliant, but there may be other Prime Ministers. Suppose that the Minister of Health were now Prime Minister; he is not so very pliant in his dealings with the doctors today; and I have doubts that he would be just the same as Mr. Baldwin. We are told in the Labour manifesto that the "people's will" must be carried out. I have here the words, in Let us Face the Future;We give clear notice that we will not tolerate obstruction of the people's will by the House of Lords.I do not know that it had been obstructed. Your Lordships have passed—I am sure with misgiving—several nationalization Bills.
Again, I have something to do with the "people's will." Let us take events from the time of the extended franchise. In 1918 Mr. Lloyd George was returned with an immense majority. It was a war Election. The Government lasted only four years. That may be an omen, because the last Election was not inseparable from the war. Mr. Baldwin, after some fumbling, won the Election in 1924. Then we had the great collapse of 1931.
788 Fewer than sixty Socialist Members of Parliament were returned to the House of Commons. Was that the "people's will"? We had an Election in 1945. There was a wearied, tired electorate, torn with the agonies of war, bedazzled with all sorts of promises, and an immense majority was accorded to the Socialist Government. That will not be permanent. But according to this Bill any measure passed by the House of Commons, by all-night Sittings or by the guillotine, becomes sacrosant. It must become the law of the land, assuming this Bill is passed, within four months.
I decline, with considerable experience, to believe that a new Moses, in the shape of the Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison), has arisen, or that we may assume that Vox Attlee is Vox Dei. I do not believe it. I think these things will change and that a little delay might be good. But (and here I speak as an old Parliamentarian) we are delving into fields that Parliament never entered before. We are delving into industry; and that, to my mind, is dangerous. Politics and industry do not go together. I take the question of food. Food is the most vital of our requirements. Figures were given on January 28 in the other House about the amount of home-produced food. Before the war home-produced food was only about 30 per cent. It went up in 1944 to 42 per cent., but came down in 1946 to 39 per cent. We ourselves produce only 40 per cent. of our food requirements. How can we get food from abroad? Only by exports. What did one Minister say in the House of Commons about three years ago:Increased exports are demanded. There never was a greater fallacy offered to this or any other assembly. You might imagine that if you fail to increase exports this country's standard of living will diminish.I cannot imagine such a statement being made by any responsible Minister, but this statement was made.
Who is the Minister responsible for one of the greatest industrial revolutions in the country? He is the late Minister of Fuel and Power, Mr. Shinwell. He introduced a measure into Parliament which has entirely dislocated the management of the coal industry, and the coal industry is second in importance only to agriculture. What had been the result? In another place they talk of coal, 789 There is a gentleman there, Colonel Lancaster, who knows something about coal, and when he speaks one ought to listen. He has just been telling the country that, whereas private owners made 2S. o, d. a ton profit, the loss made by the Coal Board is 3s. 3d. a ton. That is gravely serious; do not let there be any mistake about that. I observed that the trawler owners, when the Coal Board fired a broadside of dearer coal at them, simply adopted the policy of non-violence and the trawlers did not go to sea. In effect, they said: "Dear coal, no food." There it was, as clear as crystal.
Are we to give a Second Reading to this Bill which is avowedly to promote more nationalization? I am sure your Lordships must have had some qualms about the nationalization of the railways. Then there is the airways system. B.O.A.C. lost £10,000,000 last year. That Corporation is managed by a very successful solicitor and an extremely able (and I must say, far-sighted) politician, because he quit the Liberal Party just in time. The Minister of Transport is a very estimable Member of Parliament, and I have not a word to say against him. He is listed in Who's Who as a designer by trade, and Chairman of the Co-operative Society. I do not suppose that he will be even as good as the Minister of Civil Aviation at gathering in the shekels; and if he loses more, what will become of the country? There is another institution which has been nationalized—the Bank of England. That is a branch of the Civil Service, and it issues our pound notes. Can the noble Lord behind me tell me what is the real value of a pound note to-day? We used to say: "As safe as the Bank of England." We may say now: "Erratic as the value of a Bank of England note." I regard as one of the most amazing financial transactions that one has ever known the fact that the Treasury, with all its resources, and with the great respect which it enjoys, issued at the latter end of 1946 2½ per cent. Bonds. They were issued at 100; to-day they are 80. What must the little investors, who bought at 100, think now that the Bonds have fallen to 80? If the late Chancellor of the Exchequer went on speculating on the Stock Exchange like that he would soon qualify for a Member of Parliament's pension.
790 I ask your Lordships: Is living easier to-day than it was two and a half years ago? Can anyone say that it is? We are getting more and more controls, rationing of bread and potatoes, and we do not know what else. A lady down in Devonshire (she voted Labour too!) said to me last week: "Do you think rationing will be over this year?" I said: "I am afraid that I shall not live to see it"; and I am sure that I shall not, at; the rate we are going on. Will things get easier? I tell your Lordships that, in my opinion, they will not. It is axiomatic that one cannot have abundance with high taxation. The tax receivers do not produce commodities of general use; they are generally an infernal nuisance, but that is another matter. High taxation increases the number of food consumers who do not produce food for themselves. I have been looking in the Economic Digest at what has happened since 1938. In 1938 there were 950,000 agricultural labourers and fishermen; in 1947 there were 1,090,000. That represents an increase of 140,000. If you take the Government Departments—and the local government departments, because they are coming along well with new officials—the increase has been 686,000 officials, which represents four times as many as before. How can we expect food to be plentiful if we have so many more consumers than producers?
We have heard a good deal about this statement from the Government. That is purely a manoeuvring for position. There is no question of real conversation to settle this matter. In 1935 the Socialist Party put forward a manifesto in these terms:Labour seeks a mandate to carry out this programme by constitutional and democratic means, and with this end in view it seeks power to abolish the House of Lords.That was the Labour Party programme in 1935. Does anyone think that a Party which holds those opinions is going to enter into real conversations for the reform of the Second Chamber? I may be wrang—I hope I am—but I regard the situation of this country, from the point of view of food and vital commodities, as extremely grave. We have spent the Loans from America, and we are eating into our reserves. What is to happen after that? I hope that Sir Stafford Cripps will be able to tell us. What are we hoping for now? The Marshall Plan. Well, before the Marshall Plan goes through there will be a good deal of talk in America and some 791 uncomplimentary things will be said about Britain. For my part, I can only say that as an Englishman I am sad; I am really humiliated that old England is to head the queue of nations pleading for the bounty of America.
I am glad the noble Marquess who moved this Amendment has broached the question of the reform of this Chamber. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, showed with remorseless logic that it is possible now for this place to function only because three parts of its members neglect their duties. If we had 800 members here I do not know how we would get through the Lobbies. But the hereditary principle, in my judgment, is indefensible. There has been a great change in the House of Commons since I first entered it. Men went there with a certain amount of private means and they were fairly independent. Now, membership of the Commons has become more like a profession, and it is very difficult to get the best young men to go into Parliament. There is no question now of large fortunes being left to them—death duties have seen to that. Therefore, I am sorry to say, you get a different class in the House of Commons. Young men who have to make their way will not adopt a Parliamentary career because there are so many uncertainties. A man is elected and in four or five years he may be turned out, and what is the good of an ex-Member of Parliament? To be an ex-Member of Parliament is no qualification for any commercial concern. Moreover, Parliament to-day is delving into industry, and therefore it is more and more essential that you should have a Second Chamber which commands the respect and the confidence of the country. I would add two words to the world renowned dictum of Abraham Lincoln: We want in this country "government of the people, for the people, by the best of the people."
§ 5.6 p.m.
My Lords, I wish to refer for a few minutes to the Government statement made at the beginning of the debate in this House and also to the second intervention which, I think, was made by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House in reply to certain questions. As I understand it, if we went into this conference we should be committed to a delay for discussion only in both Houses, 792 and we should not be able to consider a delay which would permit the people in the country to crystallize their views on a contentious measure.
I think we must get right down to the difficulty which is before us, and I cannot help feeling that the introduction of this Bill is a great waste of Parliamentary time when our efforts should be concentrated on the economic and financial difficulties of the country which, as we all know, are very difficult at the present time. Yet His Majesty's Government have chosen this moment to introduce a Bill—and a contentious Bill at that—which will divide both Houses considerably, and which has been neither asked for nor wished for by the people. We have heard from the noble Viscount the Leader of the House who introduced this Bill various reasons for its presentation, but, like Ministers in another place, he has completely failed to disguise the fact that one of the main reasons for its introduction is the advent of the Iron and Steel Bill. Coupled with this is another reason which goes very much deeper and which reflects the views of the Left Wing of His Majesty's Government and the continuous pull of the crypto-Communist element of the Socialist Party. It was only towards the end of last year that the Minister of Health, in a speech in Morpeth, said this:After next Session it would not be possible to use the Parliament Act to destroy the powers of the House of Lords in this Parliament, because after next Session the House of Lords will be able to reject such a Bill.The Bill which is before us to-day, and which at first sight appears to propose to limit the powers of this House, will, in fact, destroy the powers of this House as we know them to-day. It is obvious that this Bill has been forced from within, and the forcing has been done by the Minister of Health. The nationalization of iron and steel was no doubt pushed out by the pressing needs of our economic situation, but rather than risk severe Party strife, the Prime Minister, owing to the postponement of that nationalization Bill, has allowed a measure to come forward before Parliament which will tamper with the Constitution. There is little doubt that this Bill is a declaration by the Government that they are determined to carry through their complete programme of socialization in the present Parliament by removing all those checks which are at present provided by the 793 Constitution, and regardless of the fact that they have not the exclusive representation of the national interest.
None of the major objections to the Bill have, in fact, been effectively answered by the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House. Perhaps one of its most objectionable features is the evil precedent set up by the retrospective clause. Retrospective legislation is unusual and, I would suggest, very dangerous. Surely any proposal to make such retrospective legislation ought to be justified by a very good reason. It seems almost inconceivable that the Leader of this great House can give his support to a Bill which antedates a constitutional change without bringing forward any real, substantial reason for doing so. I always thought that it was immoral to cause a preventative war, but this Bill seems to be doing that very thing, and I am not at all sure that the real intention of the Bill is not to qualify us all under Defence Regulation 18b. There is little doubt that a Bill which upsets the balance of the Constitution is going a long way towards single-Chamber Government, and I maintain that there ought to be an overwhelming reason produced before this House is asked to accept such a proposal.
I would suggest that perhaps one of the motives underlying the present proposal is to allay the sense of injustice felt by the Socialist Party owing to the lack of balance of Parties in this House, which in their opinion might always lead to the power of delay being used only when their Party was in power in another place. In fact, the noble Viscount the Leader of the House has admitted that feeling in this debate. I am quite prepared to accept his argument as a real and substantial grievance, but it clearly constitutes, in my opinion, an objection, not to the powers, but to the composition of this House. But in spite of the Opposition being predominantly Conservative, it does not by any means follow that when a Conservative majority exists in another place, this House is always subservient to it. I have had personal experience of this (matter. In fact, I moved an Amendment against the Government during the debate on the Coal Royalties Bill, which was successfully pressed to a Division, and was inserted in the Bill.
794 I need hardly remind your Lordships that under the Constitution the supreme authority under the Crown is divided between the two Houses. It is true that they are divided in unequal proportions, but if those proportions are felt to be unfair surely the proper course for His Majesty's Government is to secure agreement for alteration by negotiation and not by the presentation of such a Bill as this. I maintain that no Administration should tamper with the constitutional issue of the relation between the two Houses without dealing with the need of reform of this House, The argument that during the thirty-six years since the introduction of the Parliament Bill the Conservative Party have made no efforts to amend the composition of this House cannot be sustained. Many efforts have been made by Conservative Peers to raise the issue, notably in recent years, in 1929 and 1933. On both those occasions the efforts met with censure by the Socialist Party; that cannot be denied. And only recently, in the opening stage of this debate, the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, put forward an offer of negotiation.
The responsibility for taking the initiative however, should, I maintain, rest with the Government in office. I would remind noble Lords who sit on the Government Benches that the Preamble to the 1911 Parliament Act places upon any Government who seek to revise the provisions of that Act a moral obligation to promote an agreed reform of the composition of this House. I hope that the present unwillingness of His Majesty's Government to consider a reform of the composition of this House is not moved by a cynical view that it may be good Party tactics to stave off any improvement in its composition so that attacks upon it may be more easily justified.
I should now like to refer to the major argument on this Bill, which is whether the proper delaying period should be two years or one year. I do not think that there; is any great disagreement amongst your Lordships that there should be some period of delay. The question is whether the delay as set out in this Bill is sufficient to allow public opinion to crystallize on a contentious measure. I would draw your Lordships' attention to the Bryce Report, which gives an interesting definition of the powers of delay which they 795 recommended should be given to a Second Chamber and which was agreed to by all three Parties who sat on this Commission. This definition was as follows:The interposition of so much delay and no more in the passing of a Bill into law as may be needed to enable the opinion of the nation to be adequately expressed on it.That is the test to which I would ask your Lordships to direct your attention.
It has been shown by other speakers that, as the Constitution stands at present, the delay is approximately eighteen months, sometimes a little less; but by this Bill the delay would be brought down to under six months, sometimes to as little as three months. I suggest that the delay is so short that public opinion would be unable to crystallize on a contentious measure. And there is yet another point of view, which I feel is of the utmost importance. Would this House have the slightest chance of getting its Amendments into a Bill accepted by the Government in another place if it had not the power of two years' delay behind it? There is little doubt that if this House had not sufficient power to hold up a Bill in a way that impressed its point of view, we should not have seen the admirable results of revision which have been carried out in this House, and which I think were admitted by all Parties. I would suggest that an important point to remember is that the time when a Bill becomes an issue before the people is really when it reaches this House, when further discussion takes place on contentious points. That, of course, is one of the main reasons for the maintenance of a Second Chamber, which allows the people further time for consideration before the adoption of a contentious Measure.
Nearly all democratic countries to-day—certainly most of those on this side of the Iron Curtain—have Second Chamber Constitutions, with proper powers of delay. In 1861 the great political writer, John Stuart Mill, wrote the following:The consideration which tells most, in my judgment, in favour of two Chambers is the evil effect produced upon the mind of any holder of power, whether an individual or an assembly, by the consciousness of having only themselves to consult. It is important that no set of persons should in great affairs be able, even temporarily, to make their ' sic volo' prevail, without asking anyone else for his consent.796The same reason which induced the Romans to have two Consuls makes it desirable that there should be two Chambers, that neither of them may be exposed to the corrupting influence of individual power even for the space of a single year.These reasons, which are so admirably set out by John Stuart Mill, are, I suggest, sufficient justification for a Second Chamber with proper powers of delay. I would further suggest that the great increase of legislation which nowadays confronts Parliament makes all the more necessary a Second Chamber with proper powers.
Surely, My Lords, the future Constitution of this country, which is an unwritten one, is really a much more important thing than Party; it should be dealt with by agreement and certainly not forced through by the predominance of one Party. I suggest that this Bill deals with a grave constitutional issue in the wrong way and at the wrong time. This Bill places the nation absolutely at the mercy of a single Chamber, which may no longer represent the views and wishes of the electorate. We do not have to go very far back into the history of England, when England was a Republic, to see that even then a Second Chamber was considered necessary. Your Lordships will no doubt recall that the House of Lords was abolished during the period of government by the Protector, but was reconstituted, after some eight years, in 1658. At that time, during a debate, one of the Commissioners of the Great Seal, while discussing in another place the reconstitution of the House of Lords, used these words:If anything inconvenient should chance to slip out at one door, must it not pass two more before it comes abroad to the detriment of the people?Again, in that debate it was further argued that:The barons anciently were the great bulwarks in defence of the liberties of the nation. How oft did they fight for Magna Carta? There is a necessity for a House of Lords. Had there not been a House of Lords, then we had not been a House of Commons neither. They always fought battles for our liberties.I would commend this debate of many years ago to those in another place who feel that this Bill does not go far enough and who would like to abolish this House altogether. What is the use of a Second Chamber without proper powers? It would be a negligible quantity. The 797 weakening of a Second Chamber is, of course, normally a manifestation of revolutionary thought which is closely allied to the fundamental doctrines of the Communist Party, which cries for its abolition. Very recently we have heard of the heated debates in the French Constituent Assembly on this very subject of the powers of a Second Chamber, and it was only after a referendum of the people that the Second Chamber, the Council of the Republic, was established with certain legislative powers.
The Prime Minister has suggested that the limitation of power, as set out in this Bill, is necessary as a safeguard against the possible transfer of the leadership of this House into irresponsible hands. On the contrary, I would suggest that the delaying power which now exists is a safeguard against possible irresponsible leadership in another place, and a protection to the nation. Who knows when, and in what circumstances, we may have a more extreme faction at the helm in another place, when they would be able to pass as many revolutionary Bills as they chose within the five years of Parliament, even though they might have lost the confidence of the people? This Bill is nothing more than a whited sepulchre, erected by a group of nervous men in order to throw dust in the eyes of the people at a time when the country is in the throes of an economic storm and when everyone should be concentrating on the national difficulties, rather than on a constitutional issue which has been brought in by a side door through pressure from irresponsible members of the Socialist Party.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Lord CALVERLEY
My Lords, I have listened with great interest to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, and especially to his closing peroration. He reproaches this Party for not tackling and taking the initiative with the reform of the House of Lords. I would remind the noble Lord that the Conservative Party have a past in this regard. The Coalition Liberal-Conservative Party have a past and have never handled as a Government what is, after all, a prickly pear. I for one am glad that in this Bill which is now before us we have had the good sense to leave out that pious Preamble about the reform of this House and 798 go straight on with the business as to whether there should be second thoughts or third thoughts. I always listen with great respect to whatever the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, has. to tell us. But when he mentioned the power of the Executive, he said it with such eloquence that I almost imagined that the power of the Executive had come into being only since May, 1945. I want to remind my noble friend that fifty odd years ago W. S. Gilbert said that M.P.'s down below there "in close proximity," or something like that—
§ Lord CALVERLEY
It was in the days when there was not even a Labour Party, so they cannot be blamed. Those M.P.s had to do as they were told. To refer to this Bill, I wish again to say how glad I am that we have knocked out the pious Preamble and that we are ready to discuss—at any rate, the rank and file members of the Labour Party are ready to discuss—the reform of the House of Lords when we have put this Bill on the Statute Book. That is the opinion of the rank and file. Before coming down here, I re-read the 133rd Psalm and I wondered whether that was to be our theme song, or whether His Majesty's Government were going to base their policy upon the 3rd Chapter of Relevations, verses 14-17. I hope that His Majesty's Government will stick to their guns in this regard. After all, I was brought up in the Radical Party, as was the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate. It was the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, who made me interested in politics by a great speech in my home town, in which he denounced, in proper English and without qualification, your Lordships' Horse of that day. Lord Rosebery changed his mind because he had the idea that Lloyd George's Budget of 1909 was going 799 to revolutionize the country as there was in that Budget a weak clause, which was never operative, about the taxation of land values.
The noble Lord, Lord Lambert, who has just left the Chamber, mentioned the last speech of Mr. Gladstone in another place, which I believe was made in 1893. These were his words:It is intolerable that an irresponsible House"—that is the House of Lords—should be able to overrule the electorate of 6,000,000.There were 6,000,000 voters in those days. I was looking at a copy of Mr. Gladstone's diary only the other day and apparently, so far as I could weigh it up, he would have liked to go to the country in 1893 about the issue of the House of Lords. He did not do so, because he was overruled, as he says, by the majority of his Cabinet. In that speech of Mr. Gladstone there was a certain amount of bitterness, but it still stands that the people of this country will never allow an irresponsible House to overrule the predominant partner, which is the House of Commons.
Lord STANLEY of ALDERLEY
Would the noble Lord say that he is equally irresponsible with the rest of your Lordships?
§ Lord CALVERLEY
I do not understand the relevance of the noble Lord's interruption. Perhaps he will explain it to me when we get outside. At any rate, the point I want to make is this. After the experience of these last thirty-seven years, is it wrong to say that there must not be a second time of asking, and certainly not a third time of asking, which usually appertains only to the Church in banns in marriage? Why should this House ban legislation of the House of Commons three times? With the change and the speeding up of legislation there is a good and substantial case for second thoughts, but they should be real second thoughts and not gerrymandering. I agree with noble Lords opposite that there should be real time for reflection in regard to Bills which your Lordships still have the power to reject. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said last week that this House has been praised, and properly praised, almost overpraised, for the work of the 800 past two or three years. The people realize that the stock of this House has increased during the past three or four years—and even longer, during the war years.
The noble Marquess referred to there being a battle of flowers and somebody throwing a bomb. I disagree with him there. The most that we could throw would be a jumping cracker, or something like it. The noble Marquess, however, has only to go to the Moses Room, or to a similar committee room, and he can manufacture a time bomb or a delayed action bomb—though not an atom bomb. He can come to this House and drop a bombshell by saying, "We refuse that this Bill shall have a Second Reading." That he has a right to do. He has a right to command his forces—I was going to say to bring them to heel, but there is no need for that, since they are independent. They can reject our Bills. I put it to your Lordships, quite frankly, that this House of Lords is the cause of the overwork of the House of Commons. I ask you to reflect on the King's Speeches in the first and second Sessions of Parliament. Your Lordships, time and again, complained of the overloading of the legislative programme. I am certain that if I had been a member of the House of Commons—which I had the honour to be for many years—I should have complained.
But the Labour Government know the past history of this House, when it was the rubber stamp of the Conservative Headquarters, when it opposed almost every piece of Radical, Progressive, or Labour legislation. The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, only the other day was praising the Lord Chancellor. He quite rightly gave him a bouquet, but it was for a little Bill on Common Law which I thought, from what the noble and learned Viscount said, was rejected by this House fifty-five years ago, and introduced and passed through the Commons by the then Home Secretary, that greatest of Yorkshiremen, Mr. Asquith. The noble and learned Viscount told the Lord Chancellor that the clause of Mr. Asquith was even better than that of the Lord Chancellor; and I can well understand it, because if there is one thing that North country people have, it is the ability to express themselves in terse, logical and good English. My Lords, you are like a woman with a past. You have a past. This House has been responsible as I say 801 for the overloading of the legislative programme in these days. Do you think that the Labour Party would have adopted the policy of Lord Rosebery when I believe he coined that phrase about "ploughing the sands"? Do you think he would have adopted the policy of the 1910-1914 Government—I believe they called it "filling the cup"—of sending Bills to this House to be rejected, and of futility and frustration? To-day it is too dangerous for this House to attempt to commit suicide; and that is what it would amount to. This House can only destroy itself, because it stands high in the esteem of the people in the country.
I was only a youth when I was shouting for Lord Rosebery in the streets of Yorkshire, but I remember that some years afterwards I had a more responsible position, that of leading the revolt instigated by the then right honourable member for Cleveland and the then learned and right honourable member for Walthamstow, who were full of philosophic doubts. We put our money on Mr. Churchill. When he said he was astonished at the moderation of the Liberal Government, we young fellows all agreed with him, and I was sent to Lancashire, to a somewhat delicate conference, because it was a revolt against the pundits, the doubting philosophers of the Liberal Party. As it was, there was another General Election in December, 1910, and those young fellows said: "Never again shall the House of Lords be in a position to demand the dissolution of Parliament; that is the prerogative of the House of Commons on a vote of confidence in the Government." Therefore, this House should not take exception to this Bill. There should be safeguards, but not what the Americans call the gerrymandering of legislation and constituencies.
I want to tell the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, that he is very much to blame for the introduction of this Bill. Before he went grouse shooting in August there were many veiled threats of this up and down the country, in regard to the introduction of a Steel Bill. But if His Majesty's Government, in their wisdom, wish to introduce a Steel Bill, they have a perfect right to do it; and they have a right to expect that, after due examination, that Bill shall receive the Royal Assent in a reasonable length of time.
§ Lord CALVERLEY
Certainly. This House is an amending and revising Chamber. That is my point. I want to put it very bluntly. If the House of Commons sends to this House a major Bill, this House has the right to reject it; it has a right to its second thoughts over a reasonable length of time—I should say anything from nine to twelve months, but not nine to ten weeks—and also to allow the country reasonable time. I want to make that perfectly plain. I do not want to pull a fast one over the noble Marquess. And, if I wished to, the noble Marquess is far too wide-awake to allow me to do it. I was not going to address your Lordships as "any friends," but, most of us, truly, are friends, and this brings me to the matter of the speech which was made during the debate on the gracious Speech, by the most reverend Primate, the Archbishop of Canterbury. I always listen with great respect and affection to what the most reverend Primate has to say to me.
On that occasion he said: "Would this break up the unity of this nation?" There is nothing more certain, my Lords, than that it would be a very grave matter if your Lordships took a hand in the game of breaking up that unity. As a youngster, I found it the easiest thing in the world to go to a street corner and make a speech, with great heat and very little light, upon the theme: "Down with the House of Lords." I do not want any more of that sort of thing. On the other hand, I plead with your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading. After the Second Reading, let the Bill be suitably amended, if you wish, and then, if your Lordships are in the mood for reforming yourselves, take steps to that end. For my own part, I do not want the sack yet—I tell you that quite frankly. I am afraid that I am rather enjoying myself in this House.
§ Several Noble Lords: So are we.
§ Lord CALVERLEY
I do beg the House to act in accordance with the reputation that it has built up since we have 803 had a Labour Government and have faced new conditions—it has meant that your Lordships have had to look upon new and novel proposals—and to do as I ask. Further, I would like to say this to your Lordships, and I can say it quite candidly, because I am one of the least of the eight hundred odd members. This House has lately enhanced its reputation. I would ask you to give this Bill a Second Reading. Let it be made water-tight in the matter of its precautions; by all means let there be second thoughts, but do not let there be third thoughts. For those reasons, I plead with your Lordships to agree to a Second Reading of this measure.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ The Earl of HALIFAX
My Lords, it is always with great pleasure, which I have no doubt the House shares, that I listen to a speech made by my old friend who has just addressed us, even if I cannot always pretend that the arguments that he adduces produce the intellectual revolution in my mind that the vigour with which they are asserted would clearly entitle them to expect. But I am also sure that your Lordships share with me admiration for the way in which the noble Lord has been able to overcome the hampering restrictions of terseness and logicality that, as he says, haunt and hamper every North-countryman. The noble Lord said that he was enjoying himself in this House. I am sure that I speak for all your Lordships when I say that we enjoy his attendance here.
I venture to ask leave to intervene in this debate for a few moments only, because of a feeling that has grown in my mind that the House is in a position of no little difficulty, and is in some danger, perhaps, of moving into a position that is slightly ridiculous; for, as I see it, the House is trying to debate two things at once. It is at times apparently trying to debate the merits, or the demerits, of the Parliament Bill, and at other times it is debating upon the terms on which discussion of that Bill might be postponed. That, as was pointed out earlier, is likely to be an unprofitable attempt at mixing two totally different subjects. I confess that, in the somewhat confused position in which our affairs have been placed, I could have found it in my heart to wish that the noble Marquess, who leads the 804 Opposition, had moved the adjournment of the House until the situation, in one direction or the other, was made more clear. I therefore do not rise for the sake of contributing anything to the discussion about the merits or the demerits of the Bill, but I want to direct the few observations which I have to make to the narrower, though, in my judgment, more important question of whether or not there is to be, or can be, as things stand, a conference between Parties on the whole subject.
With all respect to my noble friend who has just addressed us, I think that the debate upon whether or not we should vote for the Second Reading is, at this stage, a debate that would be quite premature, and for this reason. A vote upon the Second Reading is clearly, at this stage, not a condition of the establishment of a conference. The Government do not suggest, as a condition of a conference, that it should be preceded by a vote for the Second Reading. Therefore, while such a vote would not help a conference one way or the other, it would clearly defeat the whole purpose of the appeal which has been made by my noble friend who leads the Opposition, to postpone consideration of the Bill until some idea can be formed of the possible value of such talks as may be enabled to take place. I suggest that the real question to which we can all most usefully apply our minds at this moment is: Are we, or are we not, to have such a conference as the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, sketched in the statement that he made? I do not conceal my view that the House and Parliament and People and Nation, at this moment are in face, as the most reverend Primate has said, of a great and almost unique opportunity to come very near to settling a great constitutional issue that has, in some respects, embarrassed the life of the Nation over many, many years. And it is an opportunity which may never return.
There is the opportunity before us. It is for us here and now to decide whether or not it should slip through our fingers and again disappear. We are all now fully sensible that the difficulty that blocks the way to grasping that opportunity arises on the wording of the first paragraph of the statement that the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, read at an earlier stage. As a layman, with 805 no knowledge of what may have been passing between those who are principally concerned, I confess that I am totally unable to appreciate the difficulty that has arisen. The Government seem to me either to be moved by some purpose that is sinister or to be a good deal less intelligent than their appearance on that Bench would suggest. Even now, at this stage, I would like, if I may, to ask the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, one or two plain questions, and ask him whether he is able to follow me in the quite logical argument by which I myself seek to explain the matter.
Do the Government really want to have a conference? The answer to that must presumably be, "Yes," or else they would not have come so far as they have already to meet my noble friend, the Leader of the Opposition. Do they mean to have discussion on powers, within limits? The answer to that must be, "Yes," because indeed it is apparent in the circulated statement, and the noble Viscount said so earlier to my noble and learned friend, Lord Simon. Within what limits do they intend the discussion on powers to range? Clearly they must intend the discussion to range between the limits of two years and one year. They do not intend to go beyond the existing Parliament Act powers, and the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, if I understood him rightly, said that it was fantastic to suppose that they were arguing for a period of less than one year.
And if this is so, why in Heaven's name cannot they say so? Because—the noble Lord who spoke last put his finger on the same spot that many of my noble friends on the other side have been touching also with great force—we are not concerned in all this business only with the adjustment of differences in a conference, with the discussion between the two Houses; we are also concerned—we on the Opposition side, and I believe it is also the position of many on the side of the Government—that reasonable time (whatever reasonable time may be) should be given to the country to appreciate what are the points at issue and what judgment they, in turn, should form on it. And that is the kind of question one would suppose that reasonable people like the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, and the noble Marquess, the Leader of the Opposition, could settle in five minutes. The fact that they do not settle it, or do 806 not appear to settle it, suggests to me that there is something more difficult and more sinister behind it which I, in my simplicity, do not understand. That embarrasses me and makes me nervous.
Yet the position is that we would find that 90 per cent. of the members of the House and 90 per cent. of the people of the country want a conference to be held, if there is a chance of a conference finding a settlement of this issue. On any basis of logic, it would appear that the noble Marquess and the noble Viscount mean substantially the same thing. Yet it also would appear that each side is afraid of being led into a trap by the other side. Both sides would strenuously deny, and. with perfect honesty, that they are trying to do that. But if I have to choose between who is doing the leading into a trap, I am bound to conclude, on a superficial judgment, that the difficulty the Government have in putting plain words on paper to let plain men understand, makes me rather more suspicious of them than I am of my noble friend. The result, however, I venture in all seriousness to assert, is intolerable to the House and to the country, and I appeal with all the force I can command to my noble friend, the Leader of the House, who I think can help us more than anybody else, to show the means by which the House can be extricated from a position it ought never have been asked to accept.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ The Marquess of SALISBURY
My Lords, I would like to make one intervention and there is a question I wish to ask the Leader of the House, if the House will permit me. I think your Lordships have all been very impressed by the speech which has just been made by the noble Earl, who was obviously actuated by no bias on either side and seeks only to find a satisfactory solution. What I should like to understand is, first, what is the meaning of the Government's form of words in paragraph 1, and secondly, why should it not be altered to a more simple form acceptable to us all? I ask the Leader of the House—I am aware he may not wish to answer it to-day, but he can consider it—whether he would be willing to omit all the words after "limited to" in line 2 and add "the powers of delay." That would satisfy all of us. The sentence would then read: 807So far as discussions of the powers of the Second Chamber are concerned, they should be limited to the powers of delay.That would enable the discussion to range over the whole area between one year and two years. I ask if the Government would consider this suggestion. I do not ask for an answer immediately. I think it would satisfy all of us here.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Viscount ADDISON
My Lords, I hesitate to intervene and I only do so because the noble Earl and the Leader of the Opposition have asked me to do so. I agree with the noble Earl that the majority of sensible people want a conference and would like it to succeed, if possible. I assure him there is no sinister intention behind the words on the paper. I am sure we are nothing like so clever as he seems to suggest. I may say that we discussed many forms of words to put into this sentence on what the discussion would be about. We have misgiving—and there is no good hiding it—as to what is meant by "delay" so far as concerns what is called the public discussion of an issue. You cannot define it. In some instance the issue might be simple and readily resolved one way or another; in others it might be very complex and difficult. I can only reassure the noble Earl and the House, with complete sincerity, that there is nothing sinister, obscure or tricky about it.
It is just a straightforward attempt to put into words what we should be discussing. I think the time occupied in discussing the differences between the two Houses always would include public information. The public know about differences often before they arise—and sometimes when they do not arise. They are the subject of headlines all the time. There is no obscurity about that. I think the time would vary a good deal, but with good will we are willing to explore the position. I would answer the noble Earl's question, as to whether it would be something more than one year and something less than two years, by saying: "Yes, it would." If anything was done at all to meet the case put by the noble Marquess opposite, where this House had had a very short time to consider a complex view, and an arrangement was arrived at that was mutually satisfactory, it would not be less than one year and it would clearly be more. All I can say in response 808 to the noble Marquess's appeal is that I will discuss his suggestion with my colleagues and communicate with him again.
§ 6.31 p.m.
My Lords, after what has passed, I shall confine anything I have to say to the Bill. I really wish that those noble Lords who, like I do, remember the passages of 1911, would find it convenient to forget them, because I do not think they help a fair and calm consideration of the Bill in front of us. I listened carefully to the reasons given by the noble Viscount who leads the House, when he spoke last Tuesday, for bringing forward this measure. One of them, as your Lordships will remember—it has been repeated this afternoon—was that this House met last September at a very difficult period. As that reason has come from the other side, I will not use the short and sharp word that I would use if it came from our side, but I will say that that reason lacks the congenial good nature that generally distinguishes British politics. The second reason he gave was that a claim had been put forward by this House that it was entitled to confine the Acts of His Majesty's Government to those for which they had received a mandate from the people. I do not think any such claim has ever been put forward. It certainly has never come from me. I have never concealed my own opinion, that it is the business of the Government to govern and to decide each question which comes before them on its merits.
Perhaps I may be allowed to say a word on that point, because it is one on which I am afraid I am at variance with the most reverend Primate in what he said. In the first place, I think it is for the people who have the power to decide how they use that power; and the people who have not that power cannot, by compliances which they ought not properly to make, try to control how that power is used. For that reason, I could not vote for the Second Reading of this Bill, because that would mean admitting the principle. But it is one thing to say in argument that the Government have received no mandate for the action which they take, and another to claim the right to decide the question. Although I certainly think—and we all think—that possibly it is quite proper for any Second Chamber to say at the end of a Parliament: "This is a very controversial 809 measure. There is a General Election coming along. Had you not better wait to see what is the decision of the people?", I think your Lordships would be slow to do that.
There is, however, another danger latent in this Bill. I do not say that the Government have it in mind, but I do say that it could be used. Suppose that this Bill goes through as it is to-day. Let us take a case. Suppose, as might happen, that the handling of this crisis by the Government led to another crisis, and still a further crisis, so that their chance of success at the Polls became very problematical. Supposing that this Bill were law—and as we have been told it imposes a delay on this House of three months—it would be a simple matter to pass a short Act abolishing this House altogether. There is nothing in the Parliament Act to stop that occurring. Having passed that Act, a subsequent Act, could be passed prolonging indefinitely the life of Parliament.
§ Viscount ADDISON
That is not correct. If the noble Lord will study the Parliament Act, he will see that it would require the consent of both Houses to alter the life of Parliament.
I beg the noble Viscount's pardon. It is true that it requires the consent of both Houses to alter the life of Parliament, but it does not require the consent of both Houses to pass an Act abolishing your Lordships' House. That is the point I am making, and that is the danger. The only power that can stop that, and always would stop it, whether it was a purely Tory Government, a Labour Government or any other Government, is this old hereditary Chamber. I cannot imagine any circumstances, except the stress of war, that would lead this House to grant the extension of the life of any Parliament.
There are three main criticisms made against your Lordships' House. The first is that when there is a Labour majority in another place there is a Conservative majority in this House. That is perfectly true. The world has been stiff with Second Chambers, from the days of Solon on. I think there have been few of them which have not been more conservative than the popular Chambers connected with them. I doubt, indeed, whether there has been a single one. As I understand it, it is the purpose of any Second Cham- 810 ber to be able to impose delay, and it is not likely to do that unless its members are somewhat more conservative in complexion than the popular Chamber of the moment. That does not mean to say, so far as that is concerned, that I would not welcome a wider basis in this House; but any Second Chamber must have that conservative complexion.
There are two other criticisms, and they are very old. I have traced them back to the 'nineties, and they cover practically all the members of your Lordships' House. We are, therefore, all subject to them in one form or another. The first one is that membership of your Lordships' House is derived by inheritance. That is perfectly true. The second is that members are drawn very largely from the House of Commons. The argument there is that no one whose abilities assure his political power in the future would ever wish to leave that House. I deny that absolutely. As a matter of fact, the major ingredient in excessive political zeal is probably ambition, and I do not think there is any harm that your Lordships' House: should be recruited from those of us who are more reflective and less ambitious. Facts themselves are the best answer, for not only do Peers who command most confidence and a great deal of your Lordships' friendship come from another place, but we have also in this House very many Peers whose fathers also came from another place and who have left sons whose great abilities are the best testimony of the excellence of their fathers. But if this Bill were to become law, I know of very few men of first-class ability who would be willing to come up and take part in a debating society with no power at all, unless they had the misfortune to inherit that position.
The Bill, as it stands, is single-Chamber Government in disguise, and it makes it possible to reduce the Constitution to single-Chamber Government at very short notice. I think we might very well consider what happened the last time that was tried. It was tried 300 years ago. The period commenced with the trial and the murder of His Majesty the King. I think your Lordships may be amused to recollect that when Lord Fairfax's name was called in that assembly a clear voice rang through Westminster Hall declaring that Lord Fairfax "Was not such a fool, "—a judgment which I think many of your Lordships would probably 811 endorse to-day, and which says something for the hereditary principle. The point to remember is that that Act was speedily followed by the abolition of the House of Lords. In a very short time the House of Commons lost its supremacy, with startling rapidity, and became practically a cypher in the government of the country. Moreover, if the Government are put into the position of being able to prolong their life at will, what remedy have the people if they are discontented, save that of taking arms in their hands? As it stands to-day, this House may appear illogical, but it works, as even His Majesty's Government have acknowledged. The Austrian Empire seemed pretty illogical, but it also worked, and your Lordships will consider how much happiness and peace have been enjoyed in Europe since the disappearance of the Austrian Empire.
There is another point, and an important one—at least it seems to me to be important. There is no proper locus to argue this question. It will be seen that we cannot. Suppose that it comes to a General Election. We have very small opportunities of presenting the case as it should be presented, and as we feel it ought to be presented, to the country. I therefore think that there is no proper locus to put this before the country, and I think it is, to some degree, unconstitutional in itself for that reason. I certainly am not willing to discuss any great changes in this House until I am assured what its powers are to be. It appears to me that if the powers are to be those given in this Bill, it will not be worth anybody's while to belong to such a Chamber, or to work for it. It does seem to me to go too far, and it will be better, I think, and more honest of the Government, if I may say so, to go for a single-Chamber Government, and abolish all titles of honour. It would come to an end, in time, because I do not believe this country can be governed by a single Chamber. But as this Bill stands, I think it opens too big a door to misuse, and I hope the Government will consider that before they force it further.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Viscount BUCKMASTER
My Lords, I am one of those who share the surprise and disappointment expressed by the 812 noble Earl in that it seems impossible to bridge the gulf which separates both sides of the House. I do not suggest that the noble Viscount the Leader of the House is guilty of any mischievous intent, but I must admit that his words do not seem capable of being easily understood. Even now, it appears from the further statement which he was good enough to make that, if we entered into these discussions, we should do so with our hands tied behind our backs, in so far as the possibility of discussing a power of delay is concerned. In other words, to put it plainly to the Leader of the House, as I see it we should have agreed that we would not ask for any extension of powers at all without any corresponding advantage. If the noble Viscount would accept the simple proposition that we should go into the conference on the basis that the powers should not be less than one year and should not be more than two years, then, so far as I can see, the gulf would be bridged. As I understand it, however, the noble Viscount is not prepared to say that. The powers have ipso facto to be less. We have to go in with our hands tied behind our backs, and that is no good. Therefore, to my great regret, I am compelled to abandon that aspect of the matter and address myself as briefly as I may to the Bill itself.
I was one of those who originally thought that there was something to be said for giving this Bill a Second Reading. It is because I have been convinced of the error of such a course that I venture to address your Lordships to-night, hoping that my conversion may cause my words to carry greater weight than might otherwise have been the case. It did, in fact, seem that there was something to be said for giving this Bill a Second Reading, if it could have been coupled with some undertaking that there would be no further encroachment on the powers of your Lordships' House. The noble and learned Viscount who sits upon the Woolsack, indeed, suggested that such would be the probable course of events, but in fact no specific promise could or would be given. The result is that we find ourselves in the position of another great Law-giver, King Canute—the only difference being that he was wise enough to escape, whereas your Lordships would most certainly be engulfed.
813 I find it difficult to put a limit to a reform such as this. I do not find it easy to gauge its consequences or to guess its ultimate extent. If one thinks there is no danger of further encroachment, it is surely only necessary to look at the reasons put forward in support of this Bill. What are they? The Government have not suggested that your Lordships have improperly rejected any measures; there is no charge of provocation in the thankless and exacting task of revision. If our affairs are in disorder, is that suggested as being your Lordships' fault? If an economic crisis casts its shadow across the land, if our liberty is rapidly diminishing, is that due to coercion or provocation on the part of your Lordships? Would any diminution of your Lordships' power have prevented it? I think, rather, that those who have contributed to the discussions in your Lordships' House would feel that wider powers might have served to prevent some of the ills from which we now suffer.
Be that as it may, I am not advocating that we should have them. What then is the real reason put forward? We are told that this Bill is to prevent a political crisis. Yet your Lordships have shown no desire for any clash. Your Lordships have studiously avoided any excuse for a political crisis. If it were really thought that the risk of such a crisis existed, why was this measure not introduced when the Government first came into power? Why did they wait until this moment to introduce it? It is suggested again, as the noble Viscount, Lord Lambert, said, that: it is part of a pledge to resist obstruction contained in a Labour leaflet. But your Lordships have not obstructed the will of the people. I suggest that the reason for introducing this Bill is something wholly other than appears on the surface. I am particularly sorry that this should be so, for I have been trained, as have all your Lordships, to regard our Ministers as guardians of our Constitution. One would have thought they would not put forward any Bill encroaching on its foundations without the most careful thought and the most solemn deliberation.
If we look at the greatest of all democracies, the United States of America, we find that their Constitution is most jealously guarded; and theirs is a written Constitution. One would suppose that it would be less in need of protection than 814 ours, which is not in writing. In America they require a very large majority in both Houses—I will not weary your Lordships with the details—not before they alter the Constitution, but before they even assemble the convocation at which the Amendment is to be discussed. Yet here we have a measure encroaching vitally on our Constitution, put forward for the flimsiest reason and on the slightest pretext. I feel that Pitt was right when he said that experience had taught him the danger of altering the established form of government. While I do not say that that is a risk that must never be run, I do suggest that it is one that should not be taker at the present moment. Further I feel that we have an added cause for alarm in this matter because of the record of the Government themselves. Over a period of years we have seen rule by Order, the delegation of dictatorial powers to individual Ministers, and the free and frequent use of the guillotine preventing the discussion of vitally important measures. It is not altogether unreasonable in such a case to suggest that the delaying power of two years now in your Lordships' hands should not be reduced.
Particularly is this an unfortunate moment to reduce it. It is a moment when the utmost effort of every individual and the united endeavour of the whole country is needed if as a nation we are to survive. The Government are seeking to create a sense of urgency and a sense of crisis in order that they may force this Bill through. I suggest—and I am sure your Lordships will accept what I say as having no personal allusion to the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House; I speak purely of the Government—that they are not physicians seeking to heal a patient; they appear before us as quacks, seeking by fear to create a belief in some disease which does not exist in order that they may force some spurious remedy down the unhappy victim's throat. I urge your Lordships to reject this Bill and to support the Amendment of the noble Marquess, and, if I may, I would urge your Lordships to do it not in defence, most certainly, of the privileges of this House but in defence of the Constitution, and in preservation of that liberty which throughout the ages his been the birthright of our race.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ The Earl of SELKIRK
My Lords, at an early stage in this debate the most 815 reverend Primate said that the debate would probably do harm. I do not think it has done any harm. I think it has been a very informative debate, and my only regret is that more noble Lords on the other side have not taken part, because those who have done so have given us a very valuable contribution. The noble Lord, Lord Calverley, stated definitely that he hoped that this Bill would be on the Statute Book before we discussed powers at all. That, I am afraid, was a suggestion that this was a trap which was being laid for the Opposition to walk into. I hope that that is not true. But I would like to make a further comment on what the noble Lord, Lord Calverley, and the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, said. I think it is curious that they used very similar words. Lord Stansgate said that this House was usurping the functions of the electorate; and Lord Calverley said we were overruling the electorate. There is no possible question of that. I ask the noble Lord to give one single comment or quotation from any members of your Lordships' House which has contained the words "overruling the electorate." I challenge him to do it. There is no foundation whatsoever for what he said.
I agree with what the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, said, that we are in some confusion, and it is rather a curious confusion, because it is noble Lords opposite who are in fact defending the hereditary position and it is noble Lords on this side who are saying that there should be some reform. It is curious, because it was the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, who told us that we should keep the House as it is. In view of that opinion, it is rather a pity that we cannot extend the area of common ground—and the area of common ground is already fairly big. I do not think any noble Lord questions for a moment that there should be a Second Chamber. I believe there is also agreement that we should not be just a debating Chamber. I emphasize that responsibility is an essential feature for this House. I submit that this is a big opportunity; and I feel that to press this Bill at the present time is most unfortunate. It would indeed be unfortunate if the Labour Party were to have it said of them that they had tinkered with the Constitution for a temporary political advantage—because those are the argu- 816 ments which we have heard. It may be that there are others, but that is an argument which has in fact been used.
We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, for having given us that admirable quotation from John Stuart Mill, because it shows clearly that what the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, said in his speech is not just a fad which he has invented but something which was thought about long before he was born; and that he was merely expressing a modern version of the same line of thought. The view which has been expressed by the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, is, I think, entirely without precedent: that it is for the Government to decide what is their mandate and what they can do and it is for this House merely to accept what they decide. That, if it is accepted, is an entirely new step in our Constitution. There is no precedent for it. If I may turn his own phrase, I would ask, What is that but "newfangled Cæ esarism"? May I ask him to recall what was said on the subject of the duties of this House by the Lord President of the Council when he introduced this Bill?
I will take first the question of the rejection of Bills upon which the nation is not yet determined. The noble Viscount quoted various other statements, particularly some of Mr. Asquith at a time of heat in 1911. May I give him a more recent authoritative comment, and that is the Report of the Bryce Conference?In only one respect does this subject present a serious difficulty. It has always been understood in this country and in nearly every country where a Second Chamber exists that the Second Chamber should be entitled to full powers in the sphere of such legislation as is not of a financial character.Then it goes on to say:In financial matters alone is its range of action limited by the long-established superior rights of the popular House. Accordingly it was with questions of finance and with these only that the Conference found it had to deal.I do not question the authority of the Bryce Conference. It is true that there were certain recommendations which did not receive universal approval, but the members of that Conference represented all Parties and I think represented the leading people of that date. That was the view they expressed. Now I would remind noble Lords of what the Home Secretary said: 817We hold the view that the restricted powers which we propose in this Bill are the maximum powers which should be allowed to any Second Chamber, no matter how constituted.I would say that what is proposed is a complete breach of the constitutional procedure of this country; and I think that very strong reasons should be advanced for it and that the reasons should not be temporary political advantage of any kind. I should like to mention briefly what could be done. The result first might be the censorship of the Press and the B.B.C. and the restriction of the franchise. I am not suggesting that noble Lords opposite would be a party to these things, but they are forging the tools by which these things could be done. You can abolish trial by jury, or you can restrict trial by jury. You may say that that is difficult. I would ask you to read again the retro-active clause of this Bill. How many members of the general public understand it? None.
It would be possible for a Government to extend the life of Parliament. I know that it is held to be impossible, under the Parliament Act, to extend the life of Parliament, but I would ask any lawyer to look at the Parliament Act, Section 2. We are changing "three" to "two" in the same section. Is there any reason why an ordinary Act should not amend the Parliament Act by leaving out the words:or a Bill containing any provisions which will extend the maximum duration of Parliament beyond five years"?I think there is no question that legally it would be possible to take that phrase out, and an unscrupulous Government (which, I admit, I have in mind) could do it; they could have a Parliament of any length they might decide.
But what above all we are anxious about is what I would call the enabling Acts. These again are things that have taken place, to a very large extent, and which we have seen happen. They are not simply new ideas in this Parliament; they have been growing up for a long time. The noble Lord, Lord Lindsay of Birker, in his introduction to Mill's Essay on Liberty, produces ideas which describe admirably what are the dangers. He says this about Mill's idea of absolute liberty.
State interference promotes liberty if it expresses collective as against individual 818 interference. But government is impossible without giving power into the hands of individuals and hence arises the danger that that interference which claims to represent the collective will may really be the fad of an individual bureaucrat or be administered by a tyrannical official.He goes on to say:Liberty is possible only where there 1.3 a Government sufficiently strong and sufficiently skilled to substitute ordered and reasonable for arbitrary and capricious interference, and Where there is a guarantee that State interference shall represent the collective will and not the arbitrary will of officials, in democratic institutions, and, above all, in the spirit of a people who, in Walt Whitman's words, 'Rise at once against the never-ending audacity of elected persons'.I feel that the spirit of the people is showing itself to-day in the medical profession. It is implicit in any democracy to believe in the principle of vox populi vox Dei. I do not think that any speaker to-day has questioned that. It is clear that some duties of Parliament cannot be justified in democratic theory. The problem of Parliament is, how is the will to be interpreted? It is not easy, but it is certain that a Resolution of one or both Houses of Parliament is not the vox Dei. Still less so are those Government orders which pour out departmentally in very great numbers. I am informed that in the year 1947 there were 2,909 Orders published; that is to say, three every hour. I suppose there have been two such orders issued since we started sitting this afternoon. If those are to be enforced, how can it be done? It can be done only by a police Stale, and by nothing else. It is the sensibleness of Parliament which prevents a police State being created, and it is the status of Parliament which, I submit, is in some degree being reduced by this measure.
How does this House make itself felt? Ultimately, it is by Division, but in actual fact it makes itself felt by the good offices of the noble Lords who sit on the Government Benches. We have had many charming words said about the work of this House. I feel that we should reciprocate to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, and to the noble and learned Viscount sitting on the Woolsack, by expressing our appreciation of what they have done, during last summer and at other times, in the way of helping us on these Benches to get our wills expressed. It is their work which has done that, and we appreci- 819 ate it very greatly indeed. However, are all future holders of those offices to be so actuated by a deep and profound sense of duty? Is that inevitably the case? Why should the Government have any noble Lords here at all to speak on their behalf? Only because the Ministers of the Crown Act, 1937, which deals with this, says that there is a limit to the number of Ministers sitting in another place.
There are two functions of the Second Chamber in regard to liberty. One in regard to the protection of the liberty of the subject, is torepresent the more permanent attitude and tendencies of the nation.They are the words used by the Bryce Report. Secondly, I suggest that we have to maintain stability in an unwritten Constitution, which is far more difficult to do than in a written Constitution of any sort. There was a period—I was just leaving school at the time—when people believed with facile confidence in any form of democracy which contained a ballot box and a debating Chamber. The Government would then be perfect, there would be no difficulty and everyone would be happy. We watched what happened to 820 the Weimar Constitution. There was the referendum and the initiation of the Popular Republicans, rather like a motorcar at a motor show, while here we had our old Constitution, old-fashioned and unfitted for those people. We have been at war for one-third of the last thirty-five years, and we are the only major country which has maintained intact its Constitution. Here is a unique opportunity. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House has earned our deep affection and our respect. The noble Viscount who sits on the Liberal Benches has unparalleled experience in this matter. His position, by tradition and by his personal qualities, remains unique. Because of its uniqueness, I would ask your Lordships to take an opportunity which may not recur.
§ Lord AMMON
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Viscount Hall, I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Lord Amman.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.
§ House adjourned at seven minutes past seven o'clock.