§ 2.40 p.m.
Order of the Day read for the resumed debate on the Motion of Viscount Addison, That the Bill be now read a second time, to which the Marquess of Salisbury had given Notice of an Amendment to leave out all words after "That" and insert
this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which by the reduction proposed in the period of delay laid down in the Parliament
Act 1911 would go far towards establishing Single Chamber Government and thereby deprive the Country of a vital constitutional safeguard of its liberties.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
My Lords, I spoke on the Second Reading of this Bill and moved the adjournment. With your Lordships' consent, I wish now to give way to my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT JOWITT)
My Lords, this is a continuation of the debate which took place at the end of January and in the early days of February of this year. During that debate there were cross-currents because, while some of us were discussing the merits or demerits of the Bill, others were discussing the advisability of entering into a conference to see if some agreement could be reached. In the course of that debate I was asked various questions. I was asked, in particular, where I thought the sovereignty in this country lay. We are a democracy, and I believe that, with all its faults, its shortcomings and its drawbacks, true democracy is the best system of government yet invented. It is obvious that in a system of democracy, as the very name implies, it is the people who govern. But the people can govern only through representatives. That is why we take pains at least every five years to have an Election of new representatives, who, when they are elected, are representatives, not of a section of the people but of the whole people; and are representatives, not delegates.
For my part I can accept only with very considerable limitations what is called the mandate theory. Those of us who have read the debates of forty years ago—and I suppose that many of us have recently read them—will remember the delightful scorn which Mr. Balfour and Lord Quickswood—Lord Hugh Cecil, as he then was—poured upon the mandate theory. The latter gave an illustration showing what, in his view, was much more nearly the true theory. It is rather topical, and so I adopt it. He likened the electors to the Selection Committee of the M.C.C., selecting a team of cricketers to go to Australia. They choose the best available team to represent this country, but the M.C.C. are not so foolish as to try to control them in what they do when they reach Australia. That I believe to be much more nearly the true theory, and it certainly is the theory to 445 which Burke would have subscribed when he said that Members of Parliament were representatives and not delegates.
When I think of the last House of Commons, which sat from 1935 to 1945 and which, rightly and inevitably, took all sorts of decisions upon matters of the first moment which would not, and could not, have been referred to the electorate, and when I think of this Parliament having to take great decisions on questions relating to India and Palestine—which, equally, were never referred to the electorate—I, for my part, cannot accept the mandate theory. Of course, I concede that one of the most important matters which Ministers or leaders in this House ought to consider, when they are considering what course they should take with regard to any particular proposal, is whether or not that proposal was specifically referred to the electorate. That, I presume, is why the Leader of the Opposition, in the early days of this Parliament, speaking on August 16, 1945, used these words:But, at any rate, with regard to this"—"this" was coal nationalisation; he was dealing with nationalisation proposals—and other similar proposals, I would say this to your Lordships and especially to noble Lords on my side of the House. Whatever our personal views, we should frankly recognise that these proposals were put before the country at the recent General Election and that the people of this country, with full knowledge of these proposals, returned the Labour Party to power. The Government may, therefore, I think fairly claim that they have a mandate to introduce these proposals. I believe that it would be constitutionally wrong, when the country has so recently expressed its view, for this House to oppose proposals which have been definitely put before the electorate.During the debate in January and February several noble Lords discussed the possibility of the introduction in the next Session of a Bill to deal with the iron and steel industry. The proposal for such a Bill was plainly put before the electorate. Such a Bill, therefore, plainly comes within the statement I have just read, and would be one which the noble Marquess said it would be constitutionally wrong to oppose. Whilst I readily concede that no person in authority in this House has announced what ought to be done if such a Bill were introduced—and I make no assertion whatever that such a Bill will be introduced—yet it is common knowledge that the fate and the future of such a 446 Bill has been canvassed and discussed amongst many of your Lordships. Many of your Lordships in a prominent position in your Lordships' House have expressed in no measured terms your dislike of any such proposal.
I think the fact that those discussions took place and that the possibility of the rejection of such a Bill had been canvassed, was one of the matters—probably the meeting of this House in September last was another—which once more raised this old controversy, which had never been deeply interred. In fact, I doubt whether it was interred at all. It was covered with dust, and I think these matters blew the dust away. We had said quite plainly at the time of the last Election that we would tolerate no obstruction; and if it be true that prevention is better than cure, we have ample ground for saying that we should prevent such obstruction taking place. To those, therefore, who—if I may use the current jargon—are whole-hoggers on the mandate theory, that is my answer. That is what I should have said had I made the speech I was going to make in February.
Since February, the situation has completely altered. A conference was held, and the leaders of the various Parties met on seven occasions. We met not to try to reach an agreement but to see if conditions existed which might make agreement possible. Everything we did was to be ad referendum to our respective Parties. I confess that I went into that conference with the highest hopes, and I do not doubt that every single person on all sides of the conference did his best to try to bring about an agreement. We had, I believe, a real opportunity, one of those opportunities which do not often recur in a lifetime. In fact we achieved nothing—but we only narrowly missed achieving everything. It was interesting to find that we were discussing the matter on the basis that this House should be complementary, and not a rival, to another place, that the Lords of Parliament should be appointed and not elected and that we should have women amongst our members. For my part, I visualised a House of about 300. I believe it would not be difficult to agree on the 300 persons who would compose it—in fact I think it would probably have been easier to agree on individuals than to agree on the categories in which they should fall; and I 447 hope that we should certainly have had due regard for youth. And if we were to avoid, as we were all pledged to avoid, a permanent majority for any Party, we must have had a considerable Cross-Bench element—a proposal which, for my part, I should welcome most sincerely.
I would point out to your Lordships that the greater the powers this House is to have, the greater will be the tendency for the various Party leaders to secure the appointment to this House of men who will vote as they are told. I welcome a certain independence of mind amongst legislators; I do not accept the statement of the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, that to-day the House of Commons are the mere servants of the Cabinet—though sometimes I am tempted to wish it were true. More often, I have to meet the statement that Members of the House of Commons, and especially the vocal ones, are the tail that wags the Cabinet dog. In the amusing speech of the noble Lord, Lord Blackford, on the Criminal Justice Bill the other day, he likened the Members of the House of Commons to a military formation who line up and advance either by the Right or by the Left, as the case may be. Whether that has ever applied to Conservative Members I do not know, but I am quite sure that it does not apply to Labour Party Members; and I hope that it never will. If you want an illustration of independence of mind you might well get it from the attitude of those Members who, notwithstanding Cabinet advice, came to a certain conclusion on the question of capital punishment.
Our conference then broke down on the question of powers; and it is said—I have no doubt truly—that there is here some difference of principle between us. May I discuss for a moment what in my view should be the powers of a non-elected Chamber—because it is going to remain non-elected—in regard to the elected Chamber? First of all, it is obvious that the House should have the right to initiate discussion of any topic and, further than that, to initiate legislation if it is so minded. The House should have the right to reject or revise legislative proposals which come before it. I was misinterpreted the other day with 448 regard to the Criminal Justice Bill. I have read my words since and I did not suggest, nor did I mean to suggest, that your Lordships were in any way bound; I said merely that I individually had entered into a bargain, and that I was in honour bound. I agree that in exercising your Lordships' functions you must have adequate time to perform those functions thoroughly and efficiently. I agree further that you must have the right to require the Members of the elected Chamber to think again, in the light of discussions in your Lordships' House. It is right that when the other House do think again they should know what is the public reaction to the proposal; I do not mean by that that they must give way to popular clamour, otherwise there would be no point in debate and discussion; they would moreover become mere delegates, with their ears to the ground to try to discover what is popular, instead of representatives trying to think out what is right. And that, if we are honest with ourselves, we must acknowledge to be one of the dangers to which democracy is exposed.
But I believe that public reaction expresses itself quickly. The Conservatives set store by an adequate time for public opinion to form and to make itself felt after a dispute between the two Houses. An out-and-out rejection by this House of a Bill passed by the other place is a remarkable event, an event which is likely to focus public opinion. Is not nine months from the Third Reading of such a Bill in the Commons amply sufficient? Suppose we take the case of an important Bill from the Commons which reaches your Lordships, let us say, in May. Suppose this House decides to reject it in July. Under the proposal which we made at this conference, that Bill could not be passed until February of the following year. Surely by that time public opinion would have manifested itself? Reference was made on the last occasion by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House to the Hoare-Laval Pact, on which occasion, as we know, public opinion was mobilised almost in a week-end. The noble Viscount, Lord Hall, referred to the controversy about the Means Test Regulations. Is there any doubt that public opinion made itself felt on capital punishment within a week or so? I concede all those things, but I say that by common consent this House is not to 449 be a rival to the elected Chamber. If only our proposals had been accepted I believe that this controversy might have been stilled for many years to come—for another thirty-six years. I was asked what guarantee I could give that it would be stilled. Of course I could give no guarantee; but in our unwritten Constitution the best security that such an arrangement will not be upset is that it is an arrangement freely negotiated and agreed.
The Amendment which the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition is to move says that this Bill "would go far towards establishing Single Chamber Government." My Lords, those are very familiar words, are they not? I remember that a distinguished predecessor of mine in this office—Sir Robert Finlay, as he then was—spoke of the Parliament Bill in these words:It is a measure of violent revolutionary type. The Bill sets out what is virtually Single Chamber government. If anything, it is worse than Single Chamber government. I would much rather have no Second Chamber than an inefficient and sham one.And yet no one wants any extension of the powers which were cut down by that Parliament Bill. No-one desires that this House should have any control over finance. If the other place likes to give us the doubtful blessing of a capital levy every year, no one suggests that we should have any power to interfere.
Moreover, any legislation passed in the first three years of a Parliament can be carried into law within the life-time of that Parliament. No-one suggests any alteration of that. But we are now entering upon the fourth year and will that year be like the first, second and third years? May I tell your Lordships—because I have had something to do with this—the results of my researches? In the Bills with which I have been concerned, I have been interested to find what the result of our work has been. I take as examples the Coal, National Health Service, National Insurance and Industrial Injuries Bills, all of which came before this House in 1946. There were also the Agriculture, Transport, Town and Country Planning, Electricity and Companies Bills, which came before your Lordships' House in 1947.
I find that we have moved and carried 1,222 Amendments on those Bills alone. 450 It is perfectly true that many of those (I do not know how many) were Government Amendments, and it is also true that many of the Government Amendments were put down to meet points which had been raised by the Opposition. Of the 1,222 Amendments which were carried, only 57—that is, less than 5 per cent.—were rejected by another place. Of those 57, 42 wore on the Transport Bill and covered only ten points of substance. What is most striking is that this House sent these matters to the other place, in order that the Members there might think again; they thought again, and in every case we ultimately accepted their second thoughts. I believe that the value of your Lordships' work has been immense, and that the fact that I have been enabled to keep many of your Lordships in touch with the experts has been of great value. There is nothing in this Bill which would prevent that work continuing.
Of course, it is the fact that in the years 1946 and 1947 it would have been possible, under the Parliament Act, for the other place to carry this legislation through in the life-time of this Parliament. But next year we reach a different position. Next year, under the existing law, it will no longer be possible for the other place to pass a Bill unless it commends itself to a majority of your Lordships' House. If we continue to work as we have done in the past, this Bill will do no harm. If we pass it, the fourth Session will fall into the same category as the first three Sessions of a five-year Parliament. Herein, to my mind, lies the significance of the three months which divided us. Your Lordships will remember that we discussed twelve months from the Second Reading or nine months from the Third Reading—whichever was the longer—and we said that we would seek to obtain—but we had not obtained—authority from our Party to enter into such a bargain. The Conservatives, albeit reluctantly, agreed to discuss twelve months from the Third Reading, and said they would seek authority from their Party to such a compromise. Let us just see how that would work out with regard to the fourth Session.
I think I should be taking a strictly reasonable estimate if I said that a major, important and controversial Bill would take not less than six months from its introduction in another place to its Third Reading. That is almost precisely the time 451 taken by the Electricity Bill. The Transport Bill would have taken a very much longer time had not it been for the use—as many of your Lordships would say, the excessive use—of the guillotine. So I think we should agree that six months would be a reasonable time. This Parliament must come to an end on July 31, 1950 I suppose that no Parliament, except a war-time Parliament, has ever gone out on the last day of its allotted span. I assume, therefore, that we shall prorogue, say, three months before the permissible date; that is, about May 1, 1950. I will not make it April 1! If a complicated and controversial Bill were to be introduced on November 1, 1948, it might well not receive its Third Reading in another place until May 1, 1949. The Conservative twelve months would bring us to May 1, 1950, and your Lordships know that the Royal Assent cannot be given until one month later—that is to say, June 1, 1950. That is the real significance of the three months.
In the first three years, it is certain that under the existing law a Parliament which survives its full span, can pass what legislation it desires. In the fifth year, by common consent, the consent of this House to any legislation is necessary. Into which category is the fourth year to fall? The Conservative Opposition claim is that for two-fifths of the life-time of a Parliament the elected representatives of the people should be under their control. I know they said—and I am sure that they said truly—that they would not exercise their powers frivolously; but I am not aware that there is any set standard by which we can judge frivolity. However, nothing is lost by saying quite frankly that we cannot accept that measure of control. I know that your Lordships are apprehensive that there may arise in this country a Government either of the extreme Right or of the extreme Left. One might easily be a corollary of the other. My attitude is that I should dislike both equally. But do your Lordships really think that the existing powers we have under the Parliament Act are any protection against such an event? What a match-board protection against the rising floods of popular discontent!
When the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition was inviting us to enter this conference, he used these words: 452We on this side of the House ask for no more than that issues affecting the welfare of the electorate, where their judgment is unknown or doubtful, should be referred for their consideration, or at least deferred for a short time to enable their views to be found out.I could not agree to the first branch of the reference, but I can agree to the second—namely, "deferred for a short time to enable their views to be found out." The principle behind this Bill is that the two years laid down nearly forty years ago is too long. The circumstances of to-day are completely different. Forty years ago we had no wireless, we had never heard of the blessings or otherwise of the Gallup polls and we did not know anything about brains trusts. Public opinion to-day can make itself felt far more quickly than it could forty years ago. We claim that the suggestion which the noble Marquess made, and about which we sought to obtain authority—that is, as to nine months from the Third Reading or twelve months from the Second Reading, whichever was the longer—fairly met these requirements. Even now, I would urge your Lordships not to reject the Bill at this stage. Let the Bill go to Committee. I believe that in what I am saying I am using the voice of reason. I urge your Lordships to let the voice of reason prevail.
§ 3.10 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
had given Notice of an Amendment to the Motion, "That the Bill be now read 2a"—namely, to leave out all words after "That" and insert "this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which by the reduction proposed in the period of delay laid down in the Parliament Act, 1911, would go far towards establishing Single Chamber government and thereby deprive the country of a vital constitutional safeguard of its liberties." The noble Marquess said: My Lords, I rise to move the Motion which stands in my name for the rejection of this Bill. We have all listened with great interest to the agreeable and persuasive speech of the Lord Chancellor. He has referred to the inter-Party talks and has expressed his deep regret that they did not lead to concrete results. We, on this side of the House, equally share his regret at the failure of those talks. We went into those talks, as I know did the Government and the Liberal Party, in absolute good faith, and 453 we sincerely hoped that they would succeed. Indeed, I believe it was the universal desire in all park of this House that means should be found to settle this great question by agreement, and if we have not succeeded, it is not for want of trying.
Personally, I have no complaint at all to make of the spirit which inspired both the Government and the Liberal Party in these conversations. The talks, as I am sure the noble Viscount the Leader of the House will agree, were throughout objective and were inspired by an obvious desire to find a solution acceptable to all, if that was in any way possible. Unfortunately, as the Lord Chancellor has said, we came up against a difference of principle regarding the functions of the Second Chamber. The Lord Chancellor rather toned it down by saying "some difference," but the Government themselves agree in the White Paper that it was a fundamental difference; and it was over that fundamental difference that the talks broke down. Of that difference I propose to say something later.
Perhaps it would be desirable first that I should say a brief word on the question of the composition of the House. This played a prominent part in the conversations, as was inevitable, for it was clearly stated in paragraph 4 of the White Paper—and I am glad that the Government have at last admitted this—that:These two subjects"—that is, powers and composition—though capable of separate consideration, were to be regarded as interdependent…I can only say that that makes it still more bewildering that the Government should have gone on with this measure, which deals only with powers. The question of composition, of course, does not arise directly under this Bill. That is one of our main complaints against the Bill. But I think that, without transgressing the rules of order in this House, I can say this: those paragraphs of the White Paper which deal with composition do not, as is frequently assumed, represent a definite inter-Party agreement. One often hears that said, but in fact it is, of course, not so. As is explained specifically in paragraph 5 of the White Paper, they are provisional proposals, and they had to be so.
To quote the words of the paragraph, which are very carefully drafted: 454If it had been possible to achieve general agreement over the whole field of Powers and Composition, the Party representatives would have been prepared to give the following proposals further consideration, so as to tee whether the necessary details could be worked out, and, if so, to submit them, as part of such an agreement, to their respective Parties.That was as far as it was possible to go at that stage. Everything was ad referendum and there were inevitably, of course, many matters of detail which were hardly touched upon. But, within those limitations, I would agree with the Lord Chancellor that this aspect of our talks was by no means valueless; and I have no doubt that paragraph 5 of the White Paper will be studied with all the trouble and care that it deserves, both by Parliament and by the British people. Aid if at any time in the future it is found possible (as I hope it may be) again to tackle this problem with the same good will, then what has been done on this occasion on the aspect of composition may, I believe, prove a valuable contribution to the solution of our problems. The Lord Chancellor spoke in a little more detail than I have on this question; but it does not, as I see it, arise (Erectly on the Bill, and I personally feel that I have said all that it is proper for me to say on this particular aspect on this occasion.
And now I would turn to the aspect of powers, with which this Bill is alone concerned, and with which my Amendment alone deals. As your Lordships know, it was on this aspect that cur talks failed. They failed because it was found that a fundamental difference existed between the Government and the Conservative Party as to the functions which the Second Chamber in this country should perform. There has been a good deal of talk in the Press and elsewhere—it was mentioned by the Lord Chancellor this afternoon—about the difference of three months between the Government and the Opposition with regard to the period which, in the event of a difference between the two Houses, should elapse before a Bill automatically became law. It has been suggested by those who have not perhaps studied this question with quite the same anxious care as we have that it is a comparatively small difference, and that it ought to be quite easy to bridge, and so on. But in fact this period of three months—as I think the Lord Chancellor himself has shown, 455 and as is made quite clear by the Government, as by us, in paragraph 12 of the White Paper—enshrines a vital difference of principle.
To explain this I think it is necessary—and I hope I shall not again be going over the ground which has already been covered by noble Lords in any former debates—to go quite briefly into the functions of the Second Chamber. As I see it, we in this Chamber have three main functions. The first is, with the wealth of expert opinion available, to discuss the great questions of the day. This, as we all know, is done week after week as the result of Motions which are moved by noble Lords, either on one or the other side of the House. That function in a Second Chamber, I suggest, has acquired additional value in the present Parliament. For since the present Government have completely abolished private Members' time in another place, we in this House have become the only forum for free discussion on the great questions of the day.
Then we have a second function. Our second function is to revise Bills which have been sent up from the House of Commons: to amend them or improve them, or both. That, too, as the Lord Chancellor has told your Lordships, is an important and, indeed, I think, a vital function, and it is here that the detached and expert character of this House acquires such especial importance. I am only repeating what the noble and learned Viscount has already said when I suggest to your Lordships that there is not a single Bill that has been sent us in the last three years that has not been improved during its passage through this House. I do not think there are any Ministers of the Crown who, with regard to their own Departments, have not paid tribute to the work that we have done. Often, of course, the majority of noble Lords here have not liked the broad principles underlying a Bill. In this Parliament that has been only too frequent, I am sorry to say. But if any Bill had been included in the programme of the Government at the General Election—and I withdraw nothing of what I said at the beginning of this Parliament—and had received the approval of the electorate, we have regarded it as our function here not to reject the measure, but to improve it and make it more workable. 456 And I think we may fairly claim that we have done that with considerable skill.
Every now and then, however, there comes before Parliament a measure for which the Government have no mandate—and I am going to say a word or two about mandates in a moment. On the great majority of these measures the view of the British people is well known. In that event no difficulty arises. There are, however, certain rare cases—very rare cases, I think, they have been in this country, up to now—where extremely controversial measures are introduced on which the view of the electorate is not known, or where there is good reason to suppose that it is hostile to the proposed legislation. The Lord Chancellor to-day poured scorn on the mandate theory. He said that it was inevitable that Parliament must do things which are not actually referred to the people—by which, I take it, he meant referred to the people at Elections. I would not dissent from that for one moment. But that is not the same thing as saying that Parliament, which, after all, is the servant of the people, can entirely ignore the views of the people. I am quite certain that that was not Burke's view. However Burke's words may be interpreted, they did not mean that Governments and Parliaments—and when I say Parliaments, I mean both Houses of Parliament—need not make every effort to ascertain the views of the people and act so far as possible in harmony with those views. That is the essence of Parliamentary democracy.
As I understand it, it was for that reason, and to deal with such cases as I have envisaged, that there was included in the 1911 Act a provision which conferred upon the Second Chamber certain power of delay in the passage of a Bill. As your Lordships know, the period was two years, and the purpose of the delay was to enable public opinion to crystallise and to express itself effectively. It was never the intention of that Act, and certainly not the intention of the Liberal Government of that day, that as the result the House of Lords should have the power to thwart or even to interpret the will of the people. As your Lordships know, we in this House, on whatever side we sit, have never throughout this present controversy claimed the right to do that. All that the provision in the 1911 Act did was to provide a breathing space to enable the British 457 people to make up their minds. This, I believe, is essential if Parliamentary democracy is to mean what the term implies—that the people should, in fact, rule. The power of delay is a vital safeguard, especially in this country, because, as your Lordships know, unlike the United States and other countries, we have no written Constitution, and it is possible for the whole character of our Constitution and of our social system to be altered by the passage of a simple Bill through Parliament.
I must say that I should have thought that this function of delay would have been equally with the others common ground between all Parties. For it is the ultimate safeguard of democratic government. But it became evident in the course of our discussions—if we did not know it before—that that was not the case. In spite of the extremely pleasant way in which the noble and learned Viscount: on the Woolsack put the position to-day, he did not remove the impression that the Government and their supporters really take the view that once Parliament has been elected—that is to say, the House of Commons has been elected—the majority in that House ought to have, in effect, a blank cheque to legislate as they think fit until the next General Election, whatever the British people may think. A good example of this doctrine is, of course, the abolition of the death penalty which your Lordships discussed only last week. I think there cannot be the slightest doubt in the mind of any noble Lord, in any part of this House, that the vast majority of the people in this country, in all Parties, are against that particular change. It has been demonstrated in every conceivable way. Yet a large section of the supporters of the Government in the House of Commons continue to demand that the measure should be passed, whatever may be the views of the country.
Your Lordships may have read the very significant remark made by one of the protagonists of this proposal, Mr. Paget, in an interview with the Press only last week. In the course of this interview the honourable Member said:If we are to hang people because the crowd wants it, then we follow a precedent set by Pontius Pilate.With all deference to the honourable and learned Member, I think that was an outstandingly foolish and wrong-headed 458 remark. For one thing, it shows an utter misunderstanding of the charge made against Pontius Pilate. That charge was that, with open eyes and for unworthy motives, he permitted the shedding of innocent blood. That was the charge against Pilate. No one can suggest that that is the issue with regard to criminal justice at the present time. But in any case (and this is more relevant to our discussion to-day), what did the honourable Member actually mean by "what the crowd wants"? To me the words are synonymous with—if perhaps a little more colloquial than—the words "will of the people." I can see no difference between those two terms. I see that noble Lords opposite are smiling. But the crowd in this case was a pretty distinguished one—it included the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, the Lord Chief Justice and the Judges. It was a very distinguished crowd indeed.
But in any case, as I say, I believe the term "what the crowd wants" to be synonymous with the "will of the people." Up to now we have been told that "the will of the people must always prevail" and indeed that has been the essence of many arguments for curbing the powers of your Lordships' House by means of the present Bill. Now we are told that that is only true when the will of the people coincides with the view of the majority in the House of Commons—and, so far as I can make out, if I may say so, a Socialist majority at that. When the will of the people conflicts with that view it becomes something quite different—it becomes "what the crowd wants," It is something to which no attention must be paid, to which, indeed it is definitely wicked to pay any attention.
If that represented the attitude of only one not particularly responsible Member of Parliament it would, perhaps, not matter so much. But unhappily, as we know from the debates on this particular Bill in another place, it represents the view very widely held in the Party opposite. To them, in their heart of heart—and it comes out constantly—the electors are not their masters but merely the lad ladder which they climb to power. Once they get there they propose to do exactly what they like, whatever the electorate or the people may want. To them Parliamentary democracy does not mean what it means to us—the rule of the majority. 459 It means the rule of a particular political clique to which they happen to belong. In effect, if not in name, these particular Members—and they are a formidable group—are single chamber men. That is what they are, and the reason that they wish to nullify the powers of the Second Chamber is because they want no check on their autocratic power either from this House, the people or anyone else. That is a pretty formidable threat which is facing this country—the threat of government by a ruthless, doctrinaire minority. As your Lordships know, it was exactly the same danger which led to the destruction of free institutions in Czechoslovakia and elsewhere. It is the same tendency.
I do not say, of course, that views of this extreme kind are held by noble Lords opposite in this Chamber. The vast majority of Socialist Peers in this House, as we all of us know, are moderate, sensible men. Indeed, I am quite sure that if they had their way this measure would never have been introduced at all. But, with all deference to them, it is not they who control the policy of the Government; it is the more extreme wing of their Party. If I may say so without offence, they are a mere façade of charming, elegant, liberal design, tolerated merely because it gives an air of respectability to the movement, and they will be retained only so long as they are useful for that purpose. But behind them far more sinister forces are at work, and it is those forces which have dictated the introduction of this Bill. For that reason, the retention of some effective power by a Second Chamber is of vital interest to all those who believe in free institutions, whatever the Party to which they belong. I say this in particular to the Liberal Party, who seem to be a little doubtful in their attitude to freedom in this matter.
No one can fairly say, and I am sure the Leader of the House would not attempt to say, that during the talks the Party to which I belong were rigid or unyielding in our attitude towards the period of delay. In the talks, we did not insist upon the retention of the two years' period from the Second Reading in the House of Commons, which was regarded as the minimum safeguard by those who framed the Parliament Act of 1911. We moved, first, to eighteen months from the 460 Second Reading, which was half way between the period in the existing Act and the period proposed in the new Parliament Bill. And, later, we moved from there still further, to one year from the Third Reading in the House of Commons. But, while we advanced, the Government never budged at all. The biggest concession they felt they could make was to offer nine months from the Third Reading in the House of Commons, as an alternative to one year from the Second Reading as in the Bill; and that is no material advance at all. For, in the case of any extensive Bill, the passage of the Bill from Second to Third Reading in the House of Commons takes about three months of Parliamentary time.
The Government may argue—I think the noble Viscount the Leader of the House is going to argue it, as I see he is already taking notes on the point—that nine months from the Third Reading at any rate guarantees to your Lordships adequate time to consider legislation on its first passage through this House. But what does that mean? All it means is that the present Bill, as originally drafted, was so badly framed, that it did not even provide adequate time for the Second Chamber to perform its other function, on which all Parties are agreed, the function of revision. That ought to have been a sine qua non in any Bill. The proposal of nine months provides little or no more breathing space for the British people to consider the issue and, if necessary, to bring pressure to bear on the Government, after an issue between the two Houses has definitely arisen. And if I am told, as I was told by the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, that the breathing space is not really necessary; that the public nowadays can form their views very rapidly and that the Government is always susceptible to public pressure, I would retort, "What about capital punishment?" On this question a considerable section of the Labour Party are paying no attention at all to the views of the people. The Government, at this very moment, if we are able to judge from the Press, are engaged in an uneasy struggle with their recalcitrant supporters. In this case they may win. But it might easily be that, in another Parliament, that extreme element will be in the majority and may determine to flout entirely the will of the 461 electorate. How can we have any assurance that future Parliaments may not adopt, with regard to other great questions, exactly the same attitude as is being adopted by Mr. Paget and his like on this particular issue? Under this Bill, the people will have no time to make their views on a vital issue really effective.
Clearly, if the views of the majority are to prevail, the electorate must have sufficient time, after an issue between the two Houses has arisen, to enable the strength of their feelings, one way or the other, to be adequately demonstrated by whatever means are constitutionally open to them. They may come down in support of the House of Commons: or they may come down against the House of Commons. I do not think it matters greatly on which side they do come down. What is vital is that the views of the people on a really big issue should prevail. That is the fundamental principle for which we stand in this Bill. We went a long way to meet the Government. We could have gone no further than we did without entirely sacrificing the principle for which we stand. Of course, it is always possible to get an agreement by sacrificing all one's principles, as it is always possible to get peace in a war by agreeing to unconditional surrender. But I am sure that is not a course which would commend itself either to your Lordships or to any other body of self-respecting men.
There is one further argument with which I should deal, because it has already been mentioned by the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor in his speech. He suggested that it was impossible for the Government to make any further concession of a period of time, because to grant one year's delay from the Third Reading in the House of Commons would hamstring their legislative programme, not only in the fifth but in the fourth Session of Parliament. Personally, I think that argument is entirely unacceptable. It is, in effect, the Single Chamber argument. It rests on the assumption that the House of Commons must always have their way, whatever the country wants. We do not accept that assumption. We do not ourselves claim the right to interpret the view of the people, but if a certain period is necessary to allow public opinion to crystallise and express itself in the first 462 three years of a Parliament, it is equally necessary in the fourth and fifth years. It might, indeed, mean—and I would agree with the noble and learned Viscount here—that the period of delay, in the last year of a Parliament, might overlap a General Election. That is possible. But what is so very terrible in that? All it means is that the people will have an opportunity themselves to decide on the question at the poll; and that surely, if anything, is democratic.
As your Lordships I now, under the Act of 1911, if the electorate support the Government in their views by re-affirming confidence in their policy and returning them to power, the period of delay which has already passed before the General Election is counted as part of the total period of delay under the Act, so that no time is lost. If, under the original Bill, a year and a half had already run out, there would be only six months to run after the next Election. And, at any rate, the people will have had an opportunity of expressing their views. I cannot understand why the Government, who profess, and I believe, sincerely, their attachment to democracy, are so unwilling to consult the people, except that there are, not perhaps on those Benches Opposite, but among supporters of the Party, powerful forces to whom what we know as democracy is merely a catch-phrase. That is what causes us and a very large proportion of the British people such anxiety over this Bill.
This truly, my Lords, is a great issue; a really great issue. It is not, as I tried to explain in the previous debate on Second Reading, a mere Party question. Indeed, I do not think that Party considerations should arise at all upon this Bill. It is the rights and the liberties of the British people that are at stake. That is what all your Lordships ought to have in mind. If the Government lake the view that the House of Lords, as at present constituted, is not the right body to exercise this delaying power, if they feel—as I know some of them do; perhaps all of them—that it is too heavily biased in favour of one particular political Party, by all means let its composition be reformed. As the Government know from the talks, and as the country certainly should be aware from the White Paper, we are not opposed to that. So far from taking a line likely to embitter controversy, we have, as your Lordships 463 know, persistently pressed for reform all through the last few years. But do not let the Government take away this essential safeguard to the liberties of the people. If they do (and I am afraid they seek to do it merely to save themselves temporary political embarrassment) posterity will not forgive them.
We on this side of the House are always ready to discuss any comprehensive solution to this problem which preserves the essential safeguards of the Constitution. But this Bill merely opens the way to the enemy in the gate; to all those evil forces which desire to overset free institutions, and have overset them in other countries. It is a measure that has no mandate, it has no justification, and it is fraught with danger. As such, I suggest to your Lordships that we have no option but to oppose it. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Moved, To leave out all words after "That" for the purpose of inserting the following Resolution: "That this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which by the reduction proposed in the period of delay laid down in the Parliament Act 1911 would go far towards establishing Single Chamber government and thereby deprive the country of a vital constitutional safeguard of its liberties."—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, in the earlier stage of the debate on the Second Reading of this Bill, which we are now resuming to-day, a widespread desire was expressed that an effort should be made at this time to reach an agreed solution on the House of Lords question as a whole. Indeed, the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, has said that in that debate a universal desire was expressed in this House that the time, which seemed for many reasons especially propitious, should be seized to end that long-standing political controversy. In pressing that point of view, I ventured to say that I believed that if a conference of Party leaders could get together they could now agree on a plan which would be acceptable to four-fifths of the nation. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has said that on the question of the composition of the House the conference had achieved nothing. Well, it did, indeed, achieve nothing if we limit our considera- 464 tion to immediate results. But I venture to submit to your Lordships that the conference was well worth while, because it did agree unanimously upon a plan, and that plan I still think would be acceptable to four-fifths of the nation; certainly its provisions were received with a general expression of approval by almost all the organs of public opinion.
Let noble Lords mark this point. Here you have a plan endorsed by the leaders of the Labour Party which would have carried forward as an institution into the new age this House of Lords, with its name, its procedure, its place in the Constitution and its traditions, with the one exception that heredity was not to be regarded in itself as a sufficient title for a share in the powers of legislation. It was agreed among us at the conference that special care should be taken to carry forward into the new House all the ablest of the present members; and especially, as the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, has said, that we should take care that youth should have its day, and should not create a new Chamber which, being nominated, might have all the signs of senility. Those younger members who have already been able to show talent and energy in the country's service ought not to be deprived of an opportunity of continuing that work. I think it will not be denied that if the question of the powers—of the year or two years—could have been settled, the rest—the composition proposals—would have been agreed with very few dissentients. Had that been done, the country would have said that the House had given an outstanding mark of farseeing political wisdom in putting forward such a scheme.
But on the earlier stage of this Second Reading debate much attention was drawn to the fact that even the one year which was left for consideration after a Bill had been passed in the House of Commons was not really a year, because it did not allow for a comparatively long period that might be occupied by the procedure of the House of Commons itself. The House of Commons might be using up a great part of the time of the House of Lords. The force of that argument was agreed by the Government. On the earlier stage of the debate I threw out for consideration the suggestion that an Amendment—small in form, but important in substance—might be made to alter the 465 words "Second Reading" in the Parliament Act to "Third Reading," so that the period of two years, or one year, instead of running from the Second Reading in the House of Commons, should, in the passage of a Bill, run from its Third Reading. That, in the conference, the Conservative Party ultimately accepted. I quote the words of the White Paper:The Opposition Leaders…might have regarded as acceptable a period of eighteen months from Second Reading.… Indeed, in order to facilitate such agreement, they would have been prepared to suggest for consideration by their supporters an even shorter period of twelve months from the Third Reading in the Commons.So that there was a measure of agreement there. It is not quite true to say, as the noble Marquess said, that the Government would not budge an inch. They did; they made a very important proposal. They agreed that the term should run from the Third Reading, and not from the Second Reading, but they said they could not make it longer than nine months.
That was the breaking point; that is the point now outstanding which caused the failure of the whole conference. We of the Liberal Party thought that there the Opposition made a mistake, and that they ought to have accepted nine months. We attach less importance than we have done hitherto to the precise length of the period, for two reasons. The first reason is that, as was very lucidly stated by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, the country to-day is much more alert politically; it moves far more quickly. That is due very largely to the radio, which is a far more powerful and more speedy agent for the dissemination of ideas than even the printing press. Our political life has been profoundly affected by the system of broadcasting. That is a very important consideration in this regard. The second reason is that if only we could get a new Second Chamber on a rational basis, consisting entirely of men of authority and weight whose judgment and experience was accepted by the nation as valuable, such a Chamber, when it threw out a Bill proposed by the House of Commons, would have far more weight and far more influence upon the public opinion than has the present hereditary Chamber. With such a Chamber in being, it would matter little whether the period from the Third Reading was six months, nine months, twelve months or 466 eighteen months. That is not what would count. What would count would be that this new House of Lords, containing such and such men, by a majority of 100, or whatever it may be, had registered the opinion that this Bill was undesirable. It is that which would influence the mind of the nation far more than any question of whether the six months, eight months or nine months had elapsed from the Second or Third Reading.
Consequently, we cannot agree that, in the words of the noble Marquess who has just spoken, "this question of twelve months or nine months raises a vital issue of principle." We do not think it does anything of the sort. The question is what it purports to be. It is the difference as between nine months and twelve months in the period that is allowed for the consideration of legislation before the Bills pass under the Parliament Act
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I do not say that. I say that it is a fundamental principle. Th. Government also agree that it is a fundamental principle.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I will quote from paragraph II of the White Paper:But the Government representatives and the representatives of the Official Opposition"—that is, my friends and myself—considered that the difference between them on the subject of Powers was fundamental, and not related only to the length of the 'period of delay.'
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
But what that means is that, there was, enshrined in the three months, something more than the mere delay. I understood that the Government accepted that. I know the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Samuel, never has accepted that view.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
I leave it to the Government spokesmen to explain their own position. If that is their view; I can only say that I do not agree with them. I quite understand that they think a fourth Session is in peril, and they may regard that as a fundamental difference 467 of principle. But I do not regard even that as a fundamental difference of principle. Viewing the whole controversy historically, and from the broad problem of statesmanship, this is not a fundamental difference of principle, and it certainly ought not to be allowed to become the deciding factor when a really important matter is in question—namely, the change from a hereditary House of Lords to one of a character such as is really desired by the country as a whole.
I think that here the Conservative Party are making a great mistake. They are making a mistake strategically, taking the long view, and they are making a mistake tactically, taking the short view. Perhaps they underestimate the degree to which the present constitution of your Lordships' House is an electoral asset to the Labour Party; a great electoral asset, and a great handicap to the Conservative Party. I think the Government are entitled to great credit for their willingness to sacrifice that asset. The reason is that they expected to obtain a long-term strategical benefit, by gaining a reputation for constructive statesmanship; they were effecting, according to the desires of the nation, a great change, showing a very moderate spirit and ending a great controversy, and thereby raising their prestige as a Government and a Party. I think that is perfectly true. Whatever were their reasons, I think it is to their credit that they entered into the conference, that they came to an agreement with the other Parties and that the proposals are such that no one can say they are on a partisan basis, so far as the composition is concerned. The Conservatives, for a momentary tactical gain—if it is a tactical gain—are making a strategic loss. When they go to the country at the next Election they need a programme and a policy which will be acceptable. It is not enough for Lord Woolton to raise an election fund of £1,000,000—too much money chasing too few ideas. What they need is to come before the country with a policy and a programme which is acceptable to what I will call the central mind of the nation. Their action to-day, if persisted in, will not help them to that end.
My mind goes back to another conference, of which I was not a member, but which was held in the critically 468 historical month, as it proved to be, of July, 1914. That was the Conference on Ireland, when the King, on the advice of the Prime Minister, summoned a conference at Buckingham Palace to try to reach an agreed conclusion on Ireland on that terrible and dangerous problem at a terrible and dangerous moment. That conference at Buckingham Palace contained the leaders of four Parties, the Liberals, the Conservatives, the Irish Nationalists and the Ulster Unionists. Every outside point was decided: the two Parliaments which were to exist in Ireland were agreed, and everything was agreed. The conference failed because the Parties could not decide whether the counties of Tyrone and Fermanagh should be on one side of the line or another, or whether the frontier should run between them. That conference broke down and the loss to Ireland, Britain and to the world is incalculable. This question of a year or nine months from the Third Reading is on a par with Tyrone and Fermanagh. If your Lordships' House agreed that the whole of this vast enterprise should fail on that issue, I believe the future will hold them blameworthy.
We are now asked to throw out the Bill. This is more than an immediate issue, and it is more than one which relates only to this Question. I have two arguments to address to your Lordships. First, this raises the whole question of the working of the Party system in This country. The recent history of Europe has shown that it has been the breakdown of the Party system in the democracies which has led to the downfall of democracy in many countries—in Germany, in Italy, in Spain, in Greece to a great extent: and in France to-day, democracy is in peril through the intransigence of Parties. Here in this country, with our long experience of democracy, we have learned better; we have learned that part of the working of the Party system itself is the co-operation of Parties when it is in the best interests of the nation. In 1915, when Mr. Asquith formed his Coalition Government, half of us in the Liberal Cabinet gave up our seats to the Conservatives without a moment's demur; and it was obviously in the interests of the nation. The Lloyd George Coalition Government of 1916 to 1922 governed the country for six years. Again, in 1931, with much heartburning 469 and controversy, at a moment of national danger, a Coalition Government was formed which succeeded in its purpose. Again, in 1940, there was Mr. Winston Churchill's Coalition Government. Mark how many of our great controversies have been settled already by agreement. At the end of the First World War, a great number of our democratic controversies—matters that had been in controversy for generations—were settled by the acceptance of the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference.
Towards the end of this recent war, by general consent, the education question was settled by the Coalition Government. That question had also been a leading controversial issue in the nation for a considerable period. In this Parliament, as the Lord Chancellor pointed out, a great number of Bills have been passed, after careful consideration and revision in which all Party considerations have been put aside—Agriculture, Health, National Insurance, Town and Country Planning, Companies, Transport, Coal, Electricity. Happily, we have given up the old, dangerous and often fatal doctrine that it is the duty of the Opposition to oppose. It may be sometimes; but also, very often, it is the duty of the Opposition to co-operate. Now there arises this question, whether the position of the Second Chamber ought not also to follow those precedents and be settled in precisely the same way, after half a century and more of bitter controversy. That is the first point that I would put to your Lordships. We do not want to have a ding-dong battle over the House of Lords, here and in the country.
Among the communications that I have received from members of the public on the question of capital punishment, I received one postcard which was anonymous. Perhaps I might be allowed to read it to your Lordships:I see you specifically want to retain itthat is capital punishment—for political murders among other kinds. Does that mean if one murders a politician, one always gets hanged? I would suggest a clause being put in the Bill which will class the murder of all or any politicians as 'justifiable homicide'.It is because Party controversy is often carried to excess that politicians as such have had a somewhat bad name among the electorate.
470 The second point I wish to make is this. What practical result will follow if we accede to the recommendation of the noble Marquess and throw out this Bill? Suppose your Lordships endorse all his arguments and agree with everything he says, what help would it give to the carrying out of his policy to throw out this Bill? Will the Bill not reach the Statute Book? Of course it will. We all know that it will pass under the Parliament Act, and will become law. But if it is thrown out now, it will become law unamended, textually as it is to-day, with the provision that the period in the Bill is to be one year from the Second Reading, and with all the disadvantages and dangers which have been pointed out from various sides of your Lordships' House—and even although the sponsors of the Bill, the Government themselves, have declared that they are perfectly ready to offer an alternative period of nine months from the Third Reading in the House of Commons. To reject the Bill is to reject that offer. And what advantage will there be in it? The Bill will reach the Statute Book in a worse form than it need have been. It would be no good going to the country and saying: "This is the result of a monstrous tyranny of the Government and of the Labour Party." The country would say: "It is due to the irrational action of the House of Lords itself, which threw out the Bill on Second Reading instead of allowing an opportunity for its amendment." The stock of the House of Lords, which has been rising for a number of years, will go down with a slump, because it will be said that the House of Lords has challenged a head-on conflict with the House of Commons for this utterly inadequate reason.
We on these Benches shall vote for the Second Reading of this Bill, and we trust that your Lordships' House will pass it in order that we may offer an Amendment—unless the Government will put down such an Amendment—embodying the view of the majority of the conference and putting into the Bill a compromise proposal of the Government. If the Bill were allowed to pass the Second Reading, and that Amendment were proposed, it might be passed with unanimity. I see no reason why any section should vote against it. The alternative, as I say, is a head-on collision with the House of Commons. The people at large will note 471 draw any fine-spun conclusions about the clauses of this Bill. They will say that after a great deal of obscure manœuvring, the House of Lords, without attempting to amend the Bill, threw it out, although the Government proposed a not unreasonable compromise. That is wrong on the long view, and it is wrong on the short, tactical view.
Putting aside for a moment the aspect of reform, and assuming that the conference had never been called, had never sat or broken down, let us take the Bill as it stands in itself, and the specific issue whether to reject it or send it to Committee. There are many independent members of this House who carry great weight. They are really the strength of the House; they are those who have no special Party affiliations. Suppose that to-day and to-morrow a number of those members were to express the desire that this Motion should not be pressed to a Division. Suppose that the Conservative leaders acceded to that desire, as they have on similar occasions acceded to the expressed wishes of the House; and then suppose the Bill were amended as desired. Would that be condemned by public opinion? Would the nation say that the House of Lords had made a great mistake not to throw out the Bill on Second Reading? On the contrary, everyone knows that in this country, in the Dominions and throughout the world such an action would be regarded as a great proof of common sense; and a sign that in these days of international stress and domestic controversy there still resides a great deal of wisdom and strength in the ancient British Constitution.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, the first point to which I wish to direct your attention is the fact, which is often forgotten and more often overlooked, that this British Parliament of ours has more, power than any other Legislature in the world. The whole of our liberties are held at the good will of Parliament, whether they are our personal individual liberties or our corporate liberties, in any society to which we may belong, in any company of which we may be members or in any trade union to which we may belong. That is the special reason why, under our Constitution, there is more need 472 than anywhere else for a Second Chamber with powers of revision and of delay. The late Lord Bryce, who was a great constitutional authority, stated that a certain book written by McKechnie is the best book on the reform of the House of Lords. I should like to read your Lordships one sentence:The main reason for the continued existence of the House of Lords lies in the impossibility of vesting the supreme power of the Sovereign Imperial Parliament in any single Chamber, however perfect.The constitutional position, as laid down on the first day, I think, of this debate by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, has remained completely unchallenged and undisputed from that day to this. I can restate the doctrine in three sentences. The 1911 Parliament Act cut down the life of Parliament from seven years to five; and gave, in place, of the absolute veto which had been used by your Lordships' House, a suspensory veto which imposes a two-year period on a Bill, with precise reference to that life of Parliament of five years. As has already been stated, that gives to the Government of the day a clear run of three years. Now we have an entirely new scheme, which is that the Government or the House of Commons are to have an entirely clear run. The suspensory power exercised by the Second Chamber, which has always been a feature of the Constitution, is to be entirely done away with.
§ SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: No.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
Indeed it is, because the argument is that the House of Commons is supreme. I will quote noble Lords' sentences in a moment. I know that when the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack and the noble Viscount the Leader of the House talk about this Single Chamber government it is to some extent veiled, but when your Lordships listen to the noble Viscount, Lord Hall—I am sorry he is not here to-day—there is Single Chamber government naked and unashamed. That is the issue. I do not want to labour it, for it has been made by my noble Leader. That is the issue of principle which is really before us. I challenge anybody to deny that that is an issue of principle which ought to be submitted to the electorate. I maintain that here is a great constitutional change. We are a Second Chamber with powers 473 of revision and delay, and it is our duty to see that the electorate are apprised of a great constitutional change of this kind. I deny absolutely that of which we are accused, that we claim to rectify mistakes and take decisions. Nothing of the kind. We are here to see that any great constitutional change is submitted to the electorate. That is all that we claim to do: to refer back to the people for decision.
How is the claim that this suspensory power is to be entirely eliminated, justified? Because I say that that is what it does. The White Paper says this. We have heard a little about it to-day, and I am very glad we have, because I have not heard much about it before. It says, in a bracket and very unobtrusively:that public opinion formulates more rapidly in modern conditions than was the case thirty years ago.We have been told to-day that that is due to the radio, to Gallup polls and to the Brains Trusts. I wonder whether, on an issue of this sort, there is any great foundation for that statement. On an issue of hanging, on an issue of Hoare-Laval, there may well be; but this is a much more difficult issue to put before the country than that, and one which it is just as important or even more important for the country to understand. I wonder how many times the B.B.C. has really explained the suspensory veto? I do not believe that even the élite of the Third Programme have heard much about the suspensory veto. As for this extraordinary mumbo-jumbo of a proviso to Clause 1, I do not suppose that any single elector really knows that it exists or what it is about. I should not have known what it was about, however often I had read it, but I am told that it means that any Bill which is introduced after this Bill can still be got through Parliament under this Bill. I do not believe that the radio has been effective in the least on this particular question. Still less do I believe that the Press has been effective, because it is so limited.
The noble Viscount, Lord Hall, gave as his reason for abolishing the suspensory period that there are now 34,000,000 electors who send Members to the House of Commons, compared, of course—he did not mention the figure—with the 7,000,000 or 7,500,000 that there were in 1911. I do not believe that the 34,000,000 474 electors who now send Members to the House of Commons have had any opportunity whatever to judge of the merits of this great constitutional change. The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor mentioned a Gallup poll. I have not heard of a Gallup poll upon this question, at least not one that fully put the facts to the voters. I am sure that we should have heard if there had been one. As for the Brains Trusts, they may have talked about it; I do not know. But how many of the 34,000,000 electors have listened to it? I cannot believe that there is any real justification put forward and, for that reason, I am going to support the Amendment of the noble Marquess.
I must refer to one other argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Lindsay of Birker, and other noble Lords, that in these democratic days we, the House of Lords, ought not any longer to attempt to exercise any great influence. We are to revise and that is all. Tribute is paid to our power of revision. But the essence of a power to revise is the power to delay. How many of the 1,222 Amendments which the noble and learned Viscount mentioned—at all events, the important ones—do your Lordships think we should have got from another place if we had not had a really serious power of delay? Why is this Bill produced now? In relation to that, I should like to ask your Lordships to remember what happened between the years 1906 and 1910, and to compare the history of 1906 to 1910 with the years 1945 to 1948. Between 1906 and 1910 a number of important Government measures were thrown out by the House of Lords. I was not a Member of another place and I was not sitting here, but I naturally remember vividly all about it. I remember that there was ploughing of the sands on one side of the House and there was filling up of the cup on the other side, and finally the Government decided to make this new provision. What did they do? There was a General Election in 1910 which bore upon it but, not content with that, they drew up their proposals and they had another General Election in the same year, 1910, which was absolutely a referendum to the people on these particular proposals. It was after that that the Parliament Bill went through both Houses of Parliament.
I do not think that I can do better than read a comment which I obtained 475 from The Times, a paper which has been fair to the Government. This is what it says:It is wholly out of accord with the decencies of constitutional usage that suddenly, without cause or provocation and without discussion, let alone consent, a single Party should by virtue of its majority seek to diminish the remaining powers of the Upper House for the purely cynical purpose of easing the passage of a single controversial measure.In order to cover what I consider is this sinister and unconstitutional purpose, an entirely new theory has developed about the 1911 Parliament Act. It is now said that the 1911 Act enables the House of Lords to thwart the will of the people. One might think, from what noble Lords say about it, that it was passed with that purpose in view. What has been the real effect of the 1911 Act? I say that the 1911 Act was much better devised than even its authors supposed at the time. I believe that it was miraculously well devised for the purpose which it has served. Under the 1911 Act we know our place. I believe that it works well. If your Lordships want a final proof that it works well, look at the history of the last four years. It has worked well under a great Socialist majority in another place. Whoever would have thought that possible thirty years ago?
I do not want to follow the noble Viscount who spoke last about the White Paper, other than to say that I do not think it is any use trying to make out that the difference is slight. I believe that the differences unrevealed are much greater than the differences revealed in the White Paper. Consequently, I think we must now seek some other way of advance, and it is to that proposal that I want to devote the rest of the time that I wish to occupy your Lordships. In the search of a way out I am going to turn to what might have been considered rather unpromising material, if I may say so with respect—namely, the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, who is an ardent supporter of Single Chamber government. I am sorry the noble Viscount is not here. He said that he was a House of Commons man; I am proud to say that I am a House of Lords man. I was never in another place, and I have been in your Lordships' House now for more than a quarter of a century. I am glad to know that the noble Viscount says we already have the 476 nucleus of the finest critical body in the world; coming from him, that is something. The popular idea of your Lordships' House, of course, is that your Lordships spend most of your time shooting grouse and, when you do have an hour off to come to the House, you spend the whole of it safeguarding your own privileges and what is called obstructing the will of the people. My own view of the House of Lords, I venture to tell you in a few sentences.
I think the House of Lords is the finest Second Chamber in the world, and what I would most ardently desire would be for some of the 34,000,000 voters to see your Lordships' House at work. If I could I would introduce those voters into your Lordships' House on three different occasions. I would bring them when your Lordships are in Committee on such a Bill as the Criminal Justice Bill. I am not talking about Clause 1; I am talking about the humdrum work of going right through that Bill, with the benefit of the experience of the greatest of legal noble Lords, and of such people as Chairmen of Quarter Sessions and experienced magistrates. I think the average voter would be astonished at the intimate work which your Lordships do, and how effective it is. Secondly, I would like the voters to see your Lordships on a great occasion—either a great national occasion, an international occasion or an Imperial occasion. There again, I believe they would be surprised at the manner in which the House conducts itself. Thirdly, and perhaps most important, I would like the voters to see your Lordships when a matter of acute Party controversy—such as the Coal Bill (not that that was so controversial) or the Transport Bill—was discussed. They would see your Lordships' House really dealing with that Bill in the way we know your Lordships do. Why? Was it because your Lordships did not dare to throw out the Transport Bill; or was it because your Lordships knew what your duty was and were really trying to do it? If only we could make the voter understand that that is the spirit in which your Lordship's work is done, a great deal of prejudice would disappear.
I want now to make a point which is so often overlooked. About half the Members of your Lordships' House who actually do this work are Peers of first creation. I see before me on the two 477 Front Benches at the moment two hereditary Peers. I count the noble Marquess as a Peer of first creation because he was made a Peer on his own merits. But among the Peers on the two Front Benches literally a majority of six to one are Peers of first creation. In those circumstances, it is really misleading, although technically accurate, to speak of the House of Lords, as the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, did on a previous occasion, as being of an overwhelmingly hereditary character. If Life Peerages could be allowed, I believe it would effect a tremendous change in the whole situation, The strength of your Lordships' House is the recruitment of able and wise men of every Party, of every political colour. The country does not realise to what extent the hereditary principle has been diluted—strengthened, if you prefer—by the advent of Peers of first creation.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
May I interrupt the noble Lord to say that the proportions in the Division Lobby may be very different from those on the Front Benches?
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
I do not think that is so. The noble Viscount seeks to perpetuate the myth that the backwoodsmen come along and vote. In fact they do not. The backwoodsmen came along in 1911, and they were defeated; and, quite honestly, they have not been here since. As a proof of that, there was no rush of backwoodsmen to take the Oath when this Bill was introduced. I do not think your Lordships see many unfamiliar faces. Those of your Lordships who sit here come along when there is something interesting, or something to which you can make a contribution. It is time that the myth of the backwoodsmen was exploded.
I was about to refer to the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, who I am sorry to see is not here. The noble Viscount, talking of the House of Commons, or the people, said:is that voice to be thwarted by an unrepresentative House of Lords who receive their power merely from hereditary rights, and many of whom have little or no contacts with the people?There is a soap-box flavour about that. If the noble Lord had only been in a more congenial atmosphere, he might even have developed the grouse shooting theory! I wanted to say, with regard to 478 the recruitment of the House of Lords, how much everybody welcomes the recent additions which have widened the experience and knowledge of your Lordships' House—men who are connected with trade unions, with the Labour Party, and with Left wing feeling generally. But those members are not welcomed here because they add to Party spirit; they are welcomed here for their wisdom, for their experience and for the general contribution they can make. The whole point of your Lordships' debates is that we do not handle things in a Party manner.
Let me try to express, in one sentence, what we want the House of Lords to be. We want the House of Lords to be a body of independent opinion which will possess the confidence of the country and of all political Parties. The creation of Life Peers will bring that about. To accept a hereditary Peerage is to accept a burden. It is a great pity that noble Lords who have recently come into this House on these Benches should have had to accept the burdens of hereditary Peerage in order to get here. Your Lordships know very well that the burden of hereditary Peerage has kept out of this House many men who would have been great assets in our deliberations.
Returning to the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, I feel that in his case and mine extremes meet, because there is a good deal in his speech with which I think I can agree. After saying that this House ought to have powers of revision, criticism and delay, he goes on to say:There is a case for leaving the matter alone.I think he was talking about powers at that moment, but I apply his words a little wider—I was very much moved by the words the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, said about the history of this House. I am a new member. I am a House of Commons man really, 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 altered at all? You can have something which is too symmetrical.It was in the search for something that was too symmetrical that the conference failed. I do not mean this in any way disrespectfully but no fancy House of Lords will ever be satisfactory; the House 479 of Lords must be reformed by organic growth and evolution. In one sentence—the powers that we have now would be right if the composition were right. Therefore, it is the matter of composition which ought to come first. That can be dealt with by the simple expedient of allowing the appointment of Life Peers.
To go back again for one moment to the 1911 Act, I invite your Lordships to think of the progress that has been made since 1911 in this matter of the House of Lords. The Socialists, on their side, have advanced from requiring the abolition of the House to agreeing that there should be a revising Chamber. The Conservatives also have advanced because, as we now know, they no longer claim that there ought to be additional powers. That was a great surprise to the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate. He did not even know of that It shows how little is known about these things. What can the 34,000,000 electors know about that if the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, did not know that the Conservatives are no longer demanding power over finance bills? This reform by evolution is a constitutional method to pursue. It preserves tradition—and the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, agrees that we should preserve tradition. I do not agree with the noble Viscount opposite that the scheme in the White Paper would have preserved tradition; I think it would have been a vital break with continuity. An alteration to allow Life Peers is the only way, I submit, by which young men can be kept in the House. No fancy scheme can keep them—I do not believe that any effective scheme could be devised.
Above all, a constitutional matter like this ought to be dealt with by agreement; for what one Party does another Party can undo. The absentee question can easily be dealt with. Proposals for dealing with it were made by the grandfather of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, as long ago as 1888. We could easily get rid of absenteesim. I believe that this proposal to make Life Peers offers a real way of solving the problems both of powers and of composition. I earnestly hope that consideration will be given to that in the course of the delay that will occur before this Bill becomes law. In the meanwhile, I am quite certain that there is no option but to vote for the Amendment.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, I listened with great attention to the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, because over a long term of years I have been accustomed to listen with great interest and respect to his speeches. He speaks as one who has political experience such as is possessed by no other man in this House. I was, on that account, all the more astonished to hear his speech to-day, because surely that speech was couched in the language of opportunism. Now the language of opportunism is something which we can only meet and counter with the language of principle, and it would appear to me that this is largely the issue. The noble Viscount told us quite a lot about how to win and lose elections. He held up to us the handicap which he suggested we hereditary Peers were imposing upon our own Party. Before turning to the matters of principle with which I hope to be allowed to deal, I would like to touch upon that particular matter. Actually the hereditary principle is ingrained in all of us. Does anyone doubt that the man who is the son of a blacksmith makes a better blacksmith than the man who is, say, the son of a butcher? Heredity underlies so many things. Some of us look back to a very long ancestry; some of us do not. But those who do not surely, in a way, have the greater glory, for are they not ancestors themselves? Will it not be that in time family tradition will point to them as the great men who founded their own families? And even suppose they have achieved nothing beyond—in collaboration with their colleagues in another pace—eliminating the likes of me, even that may quite easily figure in family history as an event entirely comparable to the slaughter of the dragon by St. George. Of course, all of us, whether we look back or forward, have regard to heredity.
But let us put that subject entirely to one side are deal with more serious issues, because it has been agreed, not by all and sundry but by the majority, as the noble Viscount rightly claimed, that heredity per se should not be a qualification for membership of this House. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, and others have borne witness to the fact that the addition to the membership of this Chamber, of Peers of first creation, whether hereditary or for 481 life only, has been, would be, and will continue to be, of immense value to this House. There is no clinging to heredity as such; there is only a claim that an hereditary Peer has at least an equal claim to others because his qualifications may surely be equal to theirs. Beyond that we do not go. On the other hand I am not and I think most noble Lords are not at all intimidated by the suggestion of the noble Viscount that the fact that the hereditary Peer is able to, and does, take part in legislation in this House is a handicap either to himself or his Party. I have certainly never found it so in my own public experience, nor in that of others. Did not Lord Balfour of Burleigh tell us, with great truth, that Peers who do not feel they have a contribution to make, do not consider that they are, in themselves, qualified to take part in debates in this House? They do not come here nor do they attempt in the country at large to pose as persons qualified to lecture the people upon the political developments of the day.
I do not think that there is anything in that suggestion, but I do consider that where the powers of the House are adequate to the purposes of the country it is reasonable and proper that the House should be so constituted as to command the absolute confidence of the country. Therefore, if we have to deal with these matters of reform at all, it is surely proper that the powers should remain as they are until such time as the House has been reformed in a way that will enable it to count on the complete confidence of the country. If anything had been happening during these last years to give evidence of defect in the work of the House, if our machinery had in any way broken down, there would be a strong case for reform; but, as has been stressed by speakers before me and will be by speakers after me, incontrovertibly the House worked perfectly. Try as we may and might, I am perfectly confident of this: that however large a degree of agreement we may reach in the future on this matter, we shall never constitute a Second Chamber which will work better than the present Chamber, and we shall be extraordinarily fortunate if we succeed in making it work so well.
Let me come to the much larger question of powers. I was not able to follow the noble and learned Viscount on the 482 Woolsack when he seemed to feel that by insisting on the retention of the present powers of the Second Chamber, we should be placing the Government, of which he is a distinguished member, at some risk. At this stage of Parliament, what would further delay amount to? I think the noble and learned Viscount showed us cogently that a Bill presented under the terms of this measure would be passed into law by May, 1949. Under the permanent procedure of the House, it could be delayed until the next General Election ensued, which at the latest is likely to be in May, 1950. Is that a very serious delay? Surely the best method of discovering what the electorate really desire is to have it submitted to them at a General Election where they can register votes. It is not easy for an electorate of the size we have—34,000,000 to 35,000,000—to express their opinion other than at the polling booth. I know there are occasions, such as that which has just been before the House, which rouse the feelings of the public, and that it is possible for them to make their opinions felt; but that is a very exceptional matter. Particularly in these days, when the Press is so truncated as to be unable to report the great events that are going on, I do not think it is really possible for the public to know what is happening until candidates for Parliament of all Parties have the opportunity and duty of going to their constituencies and explaining the issue to the public. Then the public can express itself in no unconsidered terms. It is doubtful if they can in other ways.
The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel is fearful that unless we agree to this drastic curtailment of our power of delay, we shall place at risk the other policies for which we stand. Did not the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, my leader, say in his speech how easy it is to make free with the Mammon of Unrighteousness—though he did not put it exactly in that way? Have we not had enough of appeasement? I do not think the people of this country ever took much pride in others who gave way to that kind of consideration. If it is right that the people of this country should rule, it is right that the House of Lords should give them an opportunity of ruling. What do we stand for? Those who have spoken in favour of this Bill, it seems to me, have largely claimed that this is a case where 483 the House of Commons must always prevail. We hold that the House of Commons, like the House of Lords, are the servants of the people. It is not a question of whether the House of Commons should, or should not, prevail. It is a question whether the will of the people should prevail. How is it possible to make certain that the will of the people shall prevail, unless we in this House have a sufficient delaying power to compel the Government of the day, whatever complexion it is, to refer their proposals from time to time to the people?
We all know how difficult it often is to attempt to repeal Acts which are already on the Statute Book. Administrative steps have been taken which make repeal a virtual impossibility. Surely, before any of these administrative steps are taken, it is better that the people should be acquainted with what is intended and should affirm their desire that it should be undertaken. We agree that in the first three years of Parliament a majority clearly carries with it the accepted view of the people who sent them there. But there comes a time when issues arise which could not have been placed before the people, because they were not thought of by either Party. Is it not right and proper that there should be a Second Chamber which should have the power to say to an autocratic and powerful majority in another place: "You shall not do this until it can be assured that the electorate is of the opinion it ought to be done." I have the feeling that we are not endeavouring to stand between a majority in the House of Commons and the people, but to stand against autocracy, whether it is derived from one Party or another. We do not want anything in the nature of dictatorship or totalitarianism or autocracy in this country. If we do not have a Chamber with adequate power to ensure that the majority in another place will be compelled to remit their proposals to the people, then autocracy is firmly established.
I am far from agreeing with the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, that we are taking grave electoral risks. I hope I shall never have a better platform to stand upon than the one which will enable me to say, and say with truth, that this Second Chamber is the one thing that stands 484 between us and dictatorship, if not slavery. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House smiles—and he is a moderate man. Shall we always have moderate men in control of affairs? We have reactionaries on both sides. Have we never heard of Fascism? Is it completely dead? No, my Lords. I do not think we have any right to suppose that we shall for all time have moderate men holding the majority in the House of Commons. I feel that the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition must be right in principle in moving, in effect, that this Bill be rejected. It cannot be right to play with these fundamental rights of the people. It can only be right, no matter what may happen to us, to stick to our principles, and to determine that through no action of ours shall the rights of the people of this country be placed at risk. For that reason, I am going to support the noble Marquess in the Lobby.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE
My Lords, it has been a great privilege for me to sit in your Lordships' House and to hear the very able and eloquent speeches which have been made. I would like especially to pay my tribute to the most able appeal that was made by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, in a speech to which I am sure on all sides we listened with the greatest pleasure and appreciation. The noble Viscount, from the Liberal Benches, made an appeal to the Conservative Opposition not to support the Amendment of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. He appealed to them on the ground that not only would the action be unwise in a statesmanlike sense, but that it would not benefit their own Party. It would be quite absurd for me to make any such appeal to the Conservative ranks from my stand as a Socialist, and I have no intention whatever of taking that line. Instead, I will endeavour to show that our leaders, in being willing to go so far as they did to effect a compromise in the conference, showed great statesmanship and wisdom. Further than that, they have been willing to take a measure of risk in order to achieve agreement.
I would like, in the first place, to dispel a myth which has not been enunciated in this House, but which, I think, has been put forward elsewhere. It is the myth that no great constitutional change ought ever to be made except by general agreement. 485 I think those who put that forward are entirely forgetful of what happened with regard to the passage of the original Parliament Act that we are to-day seeking to amend. Was that Act carried with general agreement? Quite the contrary. The Parliament Act, 1911, was carried in the teeth of the most bitter opposition.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
I am not sure whether the noble Lord is really representing anything that has been said on this side of the House this afternoon. I do not think that is at all the view that has been expressed. The view that has been expressed, of the difference between this and the original Parliament Act—whatever its merits—is that this comes out of the blue, and the country has never been consulted, whereas the Parliament Act, 1911, came after two General Elections, one a specific General Election, fought on the issue of that Act.
§ LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE
It is only right and proper that I should allow the noble Lord to intervene, and I am quite prepared to do so, but I must remind him that I was most careful to say that I was not referring to anything that was said in this Chamber. I said that it had been said elsewhere. I venture to repeat that the original Parliament Act was carried in the teeth of violent opposition.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
I deeply regret interrupting, but I must say to the noble Lord that he is wrong. It was not. The House of Lords assembled on a critical decision on a hot night in August. The Government Motion was carried because many Conservatives abstained; thirty-seven voted for the Government and fourteen Bishops voted for the Government.
§ LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE
I did not imagine that what I had to say on this could possibly be disputed in this House. We know perfectly well why the Motion was carried. It was carried because the Conservative Party were divided into the hedgers and the ditchers: the hedgers were prepared to hedge, in order not to have their house swamped, and the ditchers were prepared to fight to the last ditch. In the final 486 Division the hedgers beat the ditchers. I was going to quote the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, but he intervened before I could do so. After the 1911 Act had been resisted by the Conservative Party up to, shall I say, the ditch before the last—I will give that to the noble Lord—the noble Lord comes down to this House to-day and says: "It is a marvellous Act. It is one of the finest Acts ever put on the Statute Book." It may be that if and when this Bill which we are now seeking to carry becomes an Act, those who follow the noble Lord in the days to come will say that the amendment which it makes to the original Act is one of the most beneficent in history.
I remember quite well that on the last occasion when we were discussing this matter the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, said that you never knew what would happen in this House, because if a number of dockers were made Peers, in a hundred years' time those who held their titles would be mostly Conservatives.
§ LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE
It was noticeable that the B.B.C. reported the noble Lord as saying that if a number of dockers were made members of this House, in a hundred years they would all be Conservatives.
We are told by noble Lords on the opposite Benches that this proposal of ours is a revolutionary measure. Let us see in what the revolution consists. I think the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, put it very well in saying that when a new House of Commons is elected, for the first three years it is safe to assume that all the decisions of the Government are the decisions of the people, but that when you pass the rubicon between the third year and the fourth year an entirely different situation arises. It is then entirely untrue to suggest that the decisions of the Government are the will of the people; they have become autocratic decisions, from which, very likely, the people entirely dissent. The only change that this Bill proposes to make is to alter from three years to four the length of time in which a Government will be certain of carrying a Bill within a single Parliament. That difference is, in my opinion, a very small matter. It is not true, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, said that this Bill removes the suspensory veto of the House 487 of Lords. He made that statement, but when he came to try to justify it he did not do so by the terms of the Bill, but by quoting from certain people in the Socialist Party who he alleged were in favour of Single Chamber government. But it is not true of the Bill. The Bill does not remove the suspensory veto. What it does is to reduce it from two years to one. Incidentally that has the effect of meaning that the first four years instead of three are immune from the need of having an intervening election. That is the whole difference. That is the one advantage that the Government proposes to get out of the Bill.
There is just one other point in the speeches to-day to which I want to refer. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings—I am not a shorthand writer, but I took down his words as far as I could—said: "We are not endeavouring merely to protect the country from an autocratic Socialist Government. We are endeavouring to stand between any autocratic Party Government and the people." Is that really the fact? Does the noble Lord suggest that, if there is a Conservative Government master in the House of Commons, this House stands between them and the execution of their will?
§ LORD HASTINGS
I think that this House would most properly stand against reaction, just as it would stand against the kind of thing which might emanate from the noble Lord's Party.
§ LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE
It rather depends upon what the noble Lord calls "reaction." What he calls reaction might not be the same thing as those on this side of the House would call reaction. I have sat in the House of Commons under Conservative Governments for a considerable period, and I do not remember a single occasion—and I believe those of your Lordships whose memories are longer than mine will carry this back further—on which this House, as a House, threw out a proposal of the Conservative Government because they thought it was not liberal enough.
§ LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE
My heart and sympathy go out to the noble 488 Lord for his futile efforts. We think that in this position our leaders on this side of the House entered into this conference and made great concessions—I believe no one would deny that—but one thing they were not prepared to change was the principle of reducing the powers of the suspensory veto from two years to one. If they had done that, it seems to me that they would have sacrificed everything. That the Parliament Bill was designed to effect, and if they had lost that there would have been nothing left which would have been worth fighting for.
What noble Lords opposite seem to be interested in is not really a suspensory veto, but a suspensory veto which will carry the period over another election, which is an entirely different thing. Personally, I know quite well that our leaders went as far as a large proportion of our Party were willing that they should go, and had they gone further I do not think they would have carried the rank and file of our Party with them. There was a great deal of truth in what the noble Viscount the Leader of the Liberal Party said. The present Constitution of this House is an asset to those who want to deny it power. If a change is made in the Constitution of this House by creating, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, advocated, a large number of Life Peers, everything that is done in that direction adds to it a moral basis which, whatever the technical devices, will give it greater power in resisting the will of the House of Commons. Our leaders, in being willing to agree to a reconstitution of the personnel of the House of Lords, were taking a considerable risk, though in my opinion a very wise risk.
I am not in the least disagreeing with them, but it seems to me—and I think it seems to the great bulk of my Party—that if they are putting the House of Lords in that much stronger moral position, it is all the more important that its powers of suspension should be strictly limited. If those on my side of the House were of opinion before the conference that it was desirable to restrict further the powers of the House of Lords, and to limit the length of the veto, I would say that from our point of view it was far more necessary after that conference, when the composition of the 489 House of Lords would have been so reformed as to give it a stronger moral basis. I notice that the noble Lord is a little amused at what I am saying. I want to make it perfectly clear that I am not disagreeing with that improvement of the House of Lords. I think that it would be an excellent thing. What I am saying is—and I thought the noble Lord would not deny this—that that would give it a stronger basis, and make it all the more necessary that the powers of the two Houses, in relation to one another, should be strictly defined.
I have finished what I have to say. I am certainly going to make no appeal to those sitting on the Benches opposite to reconsider their position. What I have done is to try to put our point of view and give the reasons—which seem very strong to me—why I think that the concessions offered by our leaders in this conference went to the limit of what the rank and file of our Party were prepared to accept and of what I believe to be sound wisdom in the interests of the successful government of this country in the days to come.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BRUCE OF MELBOURNE
My Lords, I think it will be generally agreed that, at the recent conferences which were held between the leaders of the three great Parties in the State, a greater measure of progress, both in regard to the composition and the powers of this House, was achieved than ever seemed possible in the past. It seemed to me, having in mind what was then accomplished, that there was a possibility, if we in this House now act with wisdom and restraint, that this great fundamental problem might at last find a solution which would be acceptable to the great majority of all Parties in the State. The system of democratic government which we enjoy in this country is regarded throughout the world as a model. That system has been progressively evolved on the basis of a two-Chamber Parliament. It is my conviction that the great majority of the people of this country desire that system to continue. In this matter I think a tremendous amount depends on how we act now and what decision we come to in respect of this important issue. I think it is obvious that there are only two practical courses 490 open to us: the first is to reject the Bill on the Second Reading, as is suggested by the Amendment of the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition; the second is to give the Bill a Second Reading and, in Committee, endeavour to bring it into line with the views that so many of your Lordships are known to hold. I propose briefly to examine the results which would probably flow from the adoption by your Lordships of each of these alternative courses.
If the Bill is rejected on Second Reading, I think there are some very potent considerations that we shall have to take into account. In the first place, if we reject the Bill it will none the less become law at the expiry of the statutory period of two years—that is, November 11, 1949—and, as has already been pointed out, it will become law in its present quite unsatisfactory state. Secondly, if we adopt that course, it is inevitable that the Government would let the matter rest there, and the present opportunity, so long sought for and created by the discussions at the Three-Party Meetings, of achieving real reform of the Second Chamber, both in its composition and its powers, would be lost. Thirdly, if the Bill is rejected on Second Reading this issue will almost in evitably become a major political Party issue, engendering serious differences and great controversy at a time when all our energies should be unitedly devoted to facing the almost overwhelming problems that confront us. In that atmosphere the Government, even if they desired to do anything in face of the rejection of this Second Reading, would have the greatest difficulty in maintaining the position which they took at the Three-Party discussions. Rejection would also give encouragement to those who would like further to reduce the powers of the Second Chamber and to those who desire Single-Chamber government. These are serious considerations and they must be taken into account.
On the other hand, there are very strong grounds which can be urged against giving the Bill a Second Reading. I think the argument might very well be used by the Conservative Party that at the Three-Party Conference the composition and powers were accepted by all Parties as being complementary. The noble Marquess pointed out that this Bill deals only with powers and that if the Conservative Party is not to compromise its position it 491 must reject this measure. I am prepared to admit that, on the surface, that argument seems unassailable, but in fact it is not quite so strong as it at first appears. The real point of this Bill is the period of the suspensory power. The difference of opinion is as to how long it is necessary for that suspensory period to be, to enable public opinion to formulate and express itself before any proposed Statute becomes law. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, referred to the material difference which the composition of the House would make in regard to the safe period for suspensory powers. But, unless I have misinterpreted what the Conservatives have said, I have never gathered that they felt strongly on that subject.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
We differ absolutely from what the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said. I shall hope to return to this matter at greater length when I wind up to-morrow. So far as I know, there is not a single Conservative Peer in this House who thinks that the moment you reform a Chamber you ought to render it impotent.
§ VISCOUNT BRUCE OF MELBOURNE
With regard to the first part of what the noble Viscount said, that—if I may put it vulgarly—"suits me"; it is precisely the point that I was making. With regard to the second point, I am sorry that I do not quite follow the reasoning behind it as applied to the argument I am trying to address to the House. The point I was trying to make was this: that the issue is the period of suspensory power. The argument has all turned on the fact that if the period is considerably shortened, great detriment will be done. But I have not heard it argued, save by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, that if the composition of the House is changed, then you should be prepared to revise your views as to what the suspensory period should be. Consequently, it seems to me that we cannot really take the line that because this Bill deals only with the suspensory power and leaves in abeyance for the moment the question of the composition, that is a reason why in no circumstances should we allow the Bill a Second Reading. My view is that it ought to go to Committee. I wish to make it clear that I am not assuming that the period should be nine months or twelve months: I am dealing 492 only with the question of whether we should reject the Bill on the Second Reading, or whether it should be allowed to go to Committee. The view I have formed is that it should be allowed to go to Committee.
On this question of the period, I do not think that anybody can foretell what will happen if and when the Bill goes into Committee. Various noble Lords would say that they know beforehand that there will be absolutely no shifting at all from the two points of view, and that therefore we should be in a position in which nothing would be achieved. I am not prepared to accept that argument in advance. We have heard a good deal of public opinion lately, and we have also seen a little of public opinion. I think most political Parties now realise that they have to watch their step in relation to public opinion. If I were a member of the present Government, I would not feel completely confident in my own mind that the people would be on my side if this matter were fully threshed out in Committee and it became apparent that the whole difference turned upon three months—the period which I venture to say it does turn upon. I know that the protagonists on both sides will not accept this narrowing of the issue. They say that there is some other great concealed principle which has not, I venture to say, revealed itself in this debate. But if the public found that the issue was turning upon the question of three months, I am not sure that they would not come to the conclusion that the Government were being unreasonable and that the period ought to be twelve months. Therefore I cannot in advance accept any statement as to what the decision is going to be.
For those reasons, it seems to me that nothing would be gained by rejecting the measure on the Second Reading; in fact, a tremendous lot might be lost. On the other hand, if the Bill goes to Committee it may be that agreement will be reached in this House as to the period. If that could be achieved, we could then go forward to dealing with composition of a reformed House. Even if that is taking too optimistic a view and agreement is not reached in Committee, the position will be no worse than if we had rejected the measure on the Second Reading, but I venture to suggest that we would not have created anything like the atmosphere of antagonism or hostility that we shall create 493 if we reject it on Second Reading. There might still be hope that advantage could be taken of the greatest opportunity we have ever had. I would urge most strongly that the rejection of this measure on Second Reading would be a great mistake, involving grave danger. Rather should it go through its Second Reading with a fair warning as to what the attitude of everyone is, and the issue of the suspensory period can then be threshed out in Committee. Even if we cannot reach agreement then, we shall yet have done no harm; but if we can reach agreement, a very great accomplishment will have been achieved.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ LORD LINDSAY OF BIRKER
My Lords, greatly encouraged by the speech just delivered by the noble Viscount, I venture to intervene in this debate, not in order to urge upon your Lordships again the considerations which I urged upon you in an earlier debate, and not even to defend those considerations against the misrepresentations of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, but because I think—and, greatly daring, I want to suggest this—that there may still be a way out of the impasse, that could be arranged on the Committee stage. Of course, that depends upon the interpretation put upon the objections made by the Opposition. I find that interpretation difficult to understand, because they seem to say such very different things. However, I had the great advantage of having a talk on this matter, if I may be allowed to say just this, with my noble and learned friend Lord Selkirk. I think the point which he made to me in a private conversation is a sound one and that something should be done about it His point was not, I think, made in the first part of the debate, but it seems to appear in the White Paper. No doubt it would be simpler to refer the whole thing to a committee of that reasonable nation to which both the noble Earl and I belong and, if they had the advantage that we enjoy of belonging to the same college, the thing would be simpler still! But, nevertheless, I think it can be done, although I am bound to admit that, when I listened to the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition, I thought in the words of that most lovely of English sonnets:Since there is no hope,Come let us kiss and part.494 As I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, I thought that we might just part! However, in spite of that, I am going to try.
When I read the statements in the White Paper, I think that the differences between the Government and the Opposition, though real and fundamental, are nevertheless reconcilable; that is, if I understand what the Opposition are really concerned about. My experience of political controversy is that where people differ is in the things of which they are frightened. How many times, in discussing politics with people who strongly disapprove of something, have I ended up by saying "Yes, I see what you are afraid of and I think it is something to be afraid of, but not to be afraid of so much as the thing I am afraid of." I think the way to understand this difficulty is to try to find out what people are really frightened of, to try to examine those fears, to see how far they are legitimate and to see how far they can be provided for.
THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY
May I ask the noble Lord to speak a little louder? We are losing all his valuable remarks.
§ LORD LINDSAY OF BIRKER
If I may use a classical allusion, we are now between Scylla and Charybdis, both very unpleasant things—or perhaps I ought to say between Charybdis and Scylla. Charybdis was a whirlpool very dangerous but not really very fearsome. Scylla was a disgusting and horrible monster, very alarming but not quite so invariable in her attacks. Let us begin with Charybdis. The fundamental concern of the Government is expressed in the sentence in the White Paper in paragraph 8, where they say:The danger in modern conditions is that the machinery of democratic government may act too slowly rather than too quickly.I beg noble Lords to consider that. I am sure it is true in the times in which we are living. I am sure the danger to democratic government is that people in these days, when wise far-reaching legislation is thought to be necessary, will despair of Parliamentary government because they cannot get through the elaborate schemes of reform that they consider to be essential.
President Roosevelt once said, and very truly, I think:Democracy is endangered not by strong but by weak government.495 If noble Lords will consider the history of the Third French Republic, which ended in complete disillusion in democracy and with disaster and defeat, I am sure they will find that why it fell was that no Government had enough control over the Chamber to be able to put through a far-reaching scheme of reform. I am sure that is all wrong. Time and again the people voted one way, and time and again they said: "It is no good. We cannot get it through." That was because the Government were what many noble Lords opposite would call "too democratic." The Government (that is the Cabinet) had too little control over the Chamber, and the democratic representative Assembly voted out one Government after another, with the result that no Government could ever get through an elaborate scheme of reform.
The need for such elaborate schemes does depend on the times in which one is living and moving. Times change greatly in that respect. Professor Pollard, in his book on Henry VIII, calls attention to the fact that in Shakespeare's King John there is no mention of Magna Carta. Why? Because in the time of Henry VIII what people wanted was legislation. They were living at an extremely difficult changing time, and they wanted a Government which could put things through. We are living in a time like that and, if the Government cannot put things through, they are bound to be criticised. If the Government cannot put things through, it is not just that that Government will fall but that the people will gradually come to despair of constitutional government. In a constitutional way, I am sure that is true; I pray noble Lords on the other side to think about it, and not to go away with what, with great respect, I should call elementary remarks about democracy. I am sure that is true. What happened in France was due to the fact that people despaired of constitutional government; they turned to non-constitutional government, and they turned to the Communist Party.
If you want to increase the power and the numbers of the Communist Party in this country, make them think that this House is not going to allow any Government, especially any Labour Government, to carry through an elaborate programme 496 of social reform. If you give people the impression that this House is not going to do that, then I think not only will you fatally discredit Parliamentary government in this country, but you may find difficulty——
§ LORD ALTRINCHAM
Would the noble Lord forgive me for interrupting him? Does he suggest that this House has given that impression during the last three years?
§ LORD LINDSAY OF BIRKER
I agree that they have not, but when I listened to the debate in your Lordships' House on this subject, and when I heard what many of your Lordships would like to do—and have said that they would like to do—I think that the general feeling about your Lordships' House is correct. Your Lordships sometimes say, of course, that you may be trusted always to be reasonable and not throw out anything unless there is a very strong public opinion about it. This is not perhaps the language to use in your Lordships' House, but I think the only answer to that can be put as it would be in America. The only answer to that is: "Oh, yeah?" And that is what I think other people will say. I have tried to state what I think the Government fear, and what I and all of us in this House fear. I think there is something the Opposition fear, and are right to fear; and unless somehow we manage to meet that fear we shall not be doing justice to the situation. That fear is expressed in the White Paper, though not very clearly, in the third sentence on Page 5. Dealing with the fear of Single Chamber government it says:And this is an especial danger in a country like Great Britain where there is an unwritten Constitution and fundamental constitutional changes can be made by a simple Bill. The Opposition leaders regard the safeguard of some effective power of delay by the Second Chamber as vital at all times and especially at the present juncture, when political instability is so evident throughout the world.That I call Scylla, and I think there is something in that fear. If we consider recent events, we shall see there is. One of the oddest things that happens at the present time—although I think I could explain the reason for it—is that when people are determined to conduct a fundamental constitutional revolution and destroy Parliamentary democracy, they want to do it in a legal way; and they 497 make a great point of doing it in as legal a way as possible. There I venture, with great diffidence, to differ from what was said in the first speech in this debate by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack.
Considering this circumstance, I do think that people clearly mind very much whether things are done legally or not. Any safeguard you could put up against these fundamental constitutional changes would, therefore, not be mere matchboard. This is, I hope, a very remote danger; and I think it is a very unlikely danger. But, nevertheless, it is such a fearful danger that I think it is reasonable to do something about it, and I consider we ought to try and meet this fear. We ought to try to do something which would prevent this sort of thing happening. Suppose that, as a result of misery and disaster in this country, there were an Election through which the Communist Party or Fascist Party gained a majority in the House of Commons. If they gained a majority in the House of Commons, to judge from their behaviour in other places, it would do a great deal to prevent that free discussion and expression of public opinion upon which this side of the House, quite rightly are relying as a safeguard in ordinary circumstances. They suppress it and they use their dictatorial powers to suppress it, and all that the ordinary people may know is that this particular reform, as it would be called—this very destruction of the Constitution—had been carried out in a legal way. Am I being fair? I think there really is something in this. I try to be fair, and I am indebted to the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, for putting this to me. I think there is something in it, and that the more you look at what happens the more there is in this point. I think it is remote; but, as I say, though remote, it is terrible. I can understand the Opposition saying "It is all very well, but the delay might be quite enough for the ordinary Bill (however much we disapproved); it might be quite enough for a Steel Bill, and enough for the clause on the death sentence—quite enough for anything this Government would want to do, however much we disapproved of it—but it would not be enough for this particularly curious legal perversion of the Constitution."
So much for my attempt to describe Scylla—nasty beast that she was. But 498 judge my surprise when I read a little further. I should have expected the text sentence to say that the Opposition leaders believe there is no danger that they would use their power, except to insist on further delay to prevent constitutional changes. That would be a promise or pledge of some importance. But what the leaders say is that:They believe there is, no danger that such a power would be used frivolously.What made them use that contemptible adverb, which does not amount to anything at all? I am sorry I feel a little disheartened about it. They do not say what I hoped they would say—that something might be done to prevent constitutional changes being passed in any way. But, mark you, the result of not confining the issue to fundamental constitutional changes, on which I think they rightly lay such stress, is that you leave a ground where judicial, or at least quasi-judicial, decision is possible and necessary, for a ground where a decision upon general policy will depend on political judgment with all its imponderables. Secondly, you have, as the Paper goes on to say:" to treat all Bills alike and give them all the same time." Thirdly, and in my submission, most important, you do nothing to meet the legitimate fear of the Government that you will, therefore, finally (I am sorry to say this, but I think it is true) either discredit democracy or make the good of this House so "evil spoken of" that its great power to serve good government will be taken away from it.
If you want to safeguard the use of the suspensory weapon for rare but great emergencies, do not make it a weapon for ordinary use. If you do, your ordinary use of it will so discredit it that you will not be able to use it at all. I do not suppose that it is enough to say: "Think how good and reasonable we are; we shall never use it badly." How often have I heard noble Lords on the other side rebuke the Government for making remarks of that kind, and saying: "If you mean this, put it in the Bill." So I beg noble Lords: Do not, therefore say that all Bills must be treated alike. There is already a special provision for Money Bills. Do not say that our Constitution is unwritten, for that is not entirely true. A little bit of it is 499 written already, and you might write some more. The written part is small, but it is real. Do not take up the attitude that you cannot distinguish between Bills proposing fundamental constitutional changes from other changes. I suggest that the effort to distinguish Bills proposing fundamental constitutional changes from other changes should be made by a strictly legal body, what I would call a quasi-judicial body—say a committee of Law Lords or members of this House who have held high judicial office, chosen by some agreed machinery at the beginning of each Session—which should have the power of saying whether or not proposals put before the House represented fundamental changes of the Constitution. I do not believe for a moment that you could not erect a body which could be trusted to be free from political prejudice and which people would trust, I know this is an unusual suggestion, but I think we are living in unusual times. Apart from the conversation which I have had with my noble friend opposite, I have not consulted anybody about this suggestion. Perhaps the Government will repudiate it; I hope that they will not. But I think we might safeguard the essential power of the Government to avoid revolution by being able to put large schemes of reform through in the usual way, and yet prevent attributes of democratic Constitution being too easily destroyed.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
May I put this to the noble Lord? I take it that this particular Bill, which clearly represents a constitutional change, would not, under his plan, go through?
§ LORD LINDSAY OF BIRKER
This particular Bill would go through by the operation of the Parliament Act, to which noble Lords do not object.
§ LORD ALTRINCHAM
I thought the noble Lord was suggesting that any Bills declared by a committee of Judges to embody fundamental changes, should be exempted, in the same way as a Bill to prolong the life of Parliament, under the present Parliament Act. Is not that the suggestion?
§ LORD LINDSAY OF BIRKER
No. Noble Lords opposite were very much concerned about this point of constitu- 500 tional changes, yet they only wanted this extra three months.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF GLASGOW
My Lords, I realise that to-day we are discussing the powers of your Lordships' House, and that discussions on its composition have been postponed indefinitely. Nevertheless, I hope your Lordships will not think me irrelevant if I comment on the fact that there is no mention in the White Paper, in the Agreed Statement, of Scottish representation. I am not going to discuss this matter now, except to say that many of us in Scotland do not wish for representation by a Scottish Committee, as is the custom in another place. We think that we should be represented by Scotsmen who have been elected in Scotland. Some of us, too, are of the opinion that the only other National Church in Britain, the Church of Scotland, should have representation. This, again, is a matter which will be thoroughly discussed at the proper time, when I hope and believe that our arguments will be fortified by Scottish public opinion.
With regard to the Bill before the House, it is impossible to discuss such a change without being controversial. I was in Portsmouth last week and there I saw the Guildhall. I had not seen it since it was bombed. The walls were intact, and outwardly it showed an imposing façade; but inside it was an empty shell. That is more or less symbolic of the condition of your Lordships' House if this Bill passes. To all intents and purposes, the Bill gives the country Single Chamber government. That is what it is, whatever may be said about it. I say that any British Government which proposes such a thing either have no alternative because their hands are forced, or they have deliberately blinded themselves to the dangers ahead. This is not the moment to discard the time-honoured traditions of British democracy, and to emasculate the powers of an institution which, for hundreds of years, has reviewed the laws and protected the liberties of the people.
Look at the countries of Europe to-day which have been sliding down the Gadarene slope to perdition because they discarded their old traditions and failed to protect their liberties. For many years 501 —I am afraid I shall be in a minority here—I have feared that whenever a country obtains universal suffrage, with by no means universal education, and the vote at twenty-one, that country, unless it takes the greatest care to safeguard its freedom, is in danger of developing into a police State of either the Left or the Right. Looking round the world to-day, which of your Lordships can say that my fears have been entirely unjustified? We have had universal suffrage for a comparatively short time and it may be—I do not say that we are—that we are on the way.
If your Lordships think I have been over-stressing the dangers ahead, let me remind you that this proposal for Single Chamber government comes at a time when a Minister of the Crown, with all the authority of his position, is reported to have said only a few weeks ago that there was a moment when the Labour Party were divided on the question of revolution or constitutional government. That time, they chose constitutional government. What are they going to choose next time? Here, in this long-established institution, in this House of Lords, is something of our old democracy, which is stable and which has proved itself in the past to be a bulwark against tyranny. I ask that we should hold on to it and permit it reasonable power.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ LORD AMWELL
My Lords, with respect to my noble friend, Lord Lindsay of Birker, I propose in the course of what I wish to say this evening to touch on the elementary subject of the meaning of democracy, because I think it is very desirable that we should have a clear understanding of what we mean by that term, which has been used so much in the debate upon the Bill before us. What the Opposition are claiming in this Amendment is not the right to safeguard liberties, but the right to hold up legislation at the end of a Parliament. If this Amendment were carried, it would leave the position in status quo ante, which means that even this Bill could go through, involving, as the Opposition say it does, great constitutional issues. Therefore it is perfectly clear that what is being claimed is not the right to appeal to the country or to hold up legislation so that the nation may express its view, but the right to relegate whatever issue may be chosen at the end 502 of a Parliament to the decision of a General Election. It is that right which we repudiate as being an undesirable thing.
My introduction to politics happened more than sixty years ago when, a scrubby youngster, I found myself at the tail end of a procession on its way to Hyde Park to demand the mending or ending of the House of Lords. From that moment I became a saviour of society. Some years later, when I was teaching myself shorthand, I joined a group of fellow students running a manuscript magazine in the system. Every student contributed an article, and, snowball fashion, the manuscript went round the students until the collected essays came back to student number one, and the snowball began again. I remember that the title of my first article was "The Anomaly of a Second Chamber." Now I am part of that anomaly. And I do not feel overwhelmingly constrained to go back to Victorian times for my political enthusiasms. I feel rather that I should look upon constitutional questions in the mellow and restrained light of experiences that have been forced upon me. Even before the second Home Rule Bill—I hate to think how many years ago: it was the occasion of the demonstration I mentioned—the tradesmen, the lower middle classes and, even more so, I am sure, the masses, had begun to substitute for the old obsequiousness and homage, a sort of kindly toleration for our noble selves. We remember the Gilbertian milkmaid who was quite convinced that the Lord Chancellor was a clean old gentleman, and there was, a note of conscious self-pity in the Peers who implored that young person toSpare us the bitter pain of stern denials,Nor with low-born disdain augment our trials.Hearts just as pure and fairMay beat in Belgrave SquareAs in the lowly air of Seven Dials.In discussing the Bill before us, it is advisable to begin with both the fundamental issues involved—one, the right of this House to correct, and the other, the right, which is claimed, at any rate, to delay. At the present moment we are discussing only the right of this House to delay legislation at the end of a Parliament. There is the issue of revision on the one hand, and, on the other, the larger constitutional question of the position of both Houses vis-à-vis the great 503 body of commoners of the country. A certain Member of the lower House who had distinguished himself in prison reform, brought a Bill to the Bar of the House of Lords at the time when that was the custom, and the Lord Chancellor, who went personally to receive it, congratulated the Member of Parliament upon his discovery of the House of Correction par excellence.
It is a fact to be taken into account that there is no widespread objection to a revisory Chamber, subject to the dominant will of the Commons. There is considerable objection to the hereditary principle in legislation, but that is a matter for Parliamentary reform, for the internal reconstruction that might or might not be considered desirable. Some of us had hoped that, as a result of discussions, common ground would be found on the lines of a more compact assembly for the purposes of legislation, a smaller House explicitly representative of the brains, character and experience of the nation, unweighted on the side of this or that political Party—although I do not know how that would come about. After all, some anxiety might be felt—certainly I would feel it—as to the effect of Party nomination, however fair it might be, on the independence of a large complement of members of this House. I suppose we should hope for the best, like the Great Chamberlain at the time of the Gunpowder Plot, who went down into the vaults to investigate and reported that he had discovered twenty-five barrels of gunpowder. He had managed to get ten of them removed and thought that perhaps the remainder would not do so very much harm!
I am no constitutional or any other kind of lawyer, but this seems to me to be the point we are discussing. The people, the Commons, the Lords and the King represent a constitutional hierarchy in which, upwards from the people, every member in turn stands four square upon the shoulders of the member below. From foot to top and back again there is freedom of traffic but no break in continuity. It is precisely because this noble House is unrepresentative of the public will, except through that order, that it cannot with propriety either force a General Election at any time or delay Bills beyond the length of time necessary for its own 504 examination of them. In saying that, I think I am stating the position of my own Party. As was stated by the last speaker, we accept, as does the majority of the nation, the value of the principle of a revising Chamber. But beyond that we believe in Single Chamber government.
I will not keep your Lordships long, but I want to discuss for a moment the elementary question of what we mean by government and by democracy. This House has no claim to the right to go over the heads of the Commons to the people, as would be the position if it relegated an issue to a General Election at the end of a Parliament, because this Chamber is not responsible to the people except through the Commons, and cannot be properly and directly controlled. The hierarchy stands—people, Commons, Lords and King—which is a very different thing from this House going over the heads of the lower House to the people, even if there were any reality about a claim of that character, which I doubt. No one can deny that the year of delay proposed in the Bill is sufficient for second thoughts, even for a full year's quota of Bills. If anything more than that is demanded, it cannot be otherwise than for the purpose of cutting—if it is thought necessary—through the constitutional sequence, and forcing a claim to protect the electors, much as dictators have claimed to protect other nationals. That is quite illegitimate. It is the business of electors to protect themselves, and they can do that best by exercising their own eternal vigilance. They do not require more than a year to do that when any great issue is involved.
When we come to face the matter, we know that the public memory is short—that what is exciting one day, becomes boring the next—and that an issue which is before the country for many months will not be, at the end of that time, the live issue it might have been at the beginning. It seems to me that there is a lot of nonsense talked about holding up legislation to allow the people of the country to express their opinion. We are no more capable of judging whether the mind of the nation has changed—in fact, we are less capable—than the nation's elected representatives, who are in touch with their constituents, and who can be dismissed. The people in a democracy 505 must learn by their mistakes. What is being claimed is not merely the right to deal with the question of constitutional changes, but, in this case, with a particular change in social reform and social legislation. Our opinion as to the state of the mind of the nation is no more valuable—not even as valuable—as Gallup Polls. I think the Gallup Poll idea is a very dangerous one; it can easily be, and I think has been, misused. I do not think such methods can safely be substituted for the ordinary constitutional procedure in the country. But I claim that if we say we are more likely than the House of Commons itself to be able to interpret the minds of the people upon any issue, then we are guilty of the highest order of presumption.
The Motion for the rejection of the Bill argues that a reduction of the period of delaywould go far towards establishing Single Chamber government, and thereby deprive the country of a vital constitutional safeguard of its liberties.The same famous Lord Chancellor whom I quoted just now deplored the unsatisfactory way in which these matters are drawn up; for the language is of a very ambiguous character—the kind of ambiguity that has recently evoked the scorn of Sir Ernest Cowers. We are left to guess what is the intended antecedent of the word "thereby," and to judge Whether it is the reduction of a period of delay, or the establishment of a Single Chamber government itself, which is to deprive the country of safeguards. The vital word is "government." I invite the noble Marquess to re-read the Amendment, and to see whether I am not correct. What do we mean then by "government"?
Let me take an illustration which I think is relevant. In the West, democracy does not mean government by majority. That phrase has been used two or three times in the debate this afternoon. It is an illusion to suppose that democracy, at any rate as we in the West understand it, means government by a majority; it does no: mean anything of the kind. It means government by all—certainly with a majority decision upon disputed matters, because that is a system which cannot be improved upon; at least no one knows of any kind of improvement upon it—but only after the minorities 506 have taken part in the act of government by their advice, their persuasion and their criticism. Of course, in the East, democracy is supposed to mean some-thing else. The revising Chamber (the House of Lords) then takes part in the act of government in precisely the way that minorities take part in the act of government; and if it claims to do more than that—if it claims to interpret, in any way hostile to the House of Commons itself, the mind of the country—then it is claiming to exceed the Constitution of the country, which is based upon the hierarchy to which I have referred. In other words, our right is to exercise what minorities exercise in a democracy—the right of advice, of persuasion and of criticism.
The final decision, including the proper time for an appeal to be made to the country, and upon what issue, rests with the elected Chamber. In that sense, and in that sense only, we on this side of the House are in favour of Single Chamber government. There is no question of safeguarding liberty. The majority of this House—even if we exclude the backwoodsmen to whom reference has been made—consist of members of one Party. I am not going to make too much of the point, but it is the fact that they are Tories—perhaps not so black-hearted as those in another place (even Mr. Michael Foot might agree with that); but they are Tories. In my opinion, it is talking with tongue in cheek to say that a permanent committee of one Party constitutes a safeguard of liberty. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury—and I want to challenge him upon this point—knows that if we had a permanent, or even an accidental, majority of Socialists in this House, a Tory Government being in power in the lower House, a permanent Committee of Socialists, charged with the authority to delay Bills for more than the time needed to review them—that is to say, a single adequate debate, or so—would not be accepted by the noble Marquess and his friends as a safeguard of liberty.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I would certainly accept whatever was laid down by the Constitution. I have given my approval, as the noble Viscount the Leader of the House knows, to the principle that there should be no permanent majority in this House. The noble Lord 507 seems to think that what I am fighting for is a permanent Tory majority in this House. That is not so, and I am sure the Leader of the House knows it is not so.
§ LORD AMWELL
I think the real point is that there is a permanent Tory majority in this House, whether the noble Marquess is fighting for it or not.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
If I may interrupt the noble Lord again: that is why we want the House reformed. That is what his Party will not do, because they like to have a "pot-shy."
§ SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: We are.
§ LORD AMWELL
I know that I raised it, and I raised it for a certain purpose. I am sure that if this House was of that complexion the noble Marquess would say, with the character in Addison's Cato:Curse on their virtues; they've undone the country.Such popular humanity is treason.A President of the United States once said that the declaration that the people are hostile to a Government made by themselves, for themselves and conducted by themselves, is an insult. But that is precisely the kind of declaration which, if not implicit in this Amendment, is implicit in the circumstances it is designed to perpetuate—namely, that of having an assembly available to make on behalf of one body—that is the history of the Tory Party in this House anyhow—just such a declaration.
It has been said, with truth, that the majority have acted with restraint—which was mentioned by the noble Marquess this afternoon—far removed from the wild and indecorous days of old. Indeed, I sometimes find myself wondering whether my own Party is quite so revolutionary as it makes out. The Opposition in your Lordships' House seem ready to concede much 508 for the sake of peace and quietness, but it may be a case ofVen he wash asleep in ped So quiet as a mouse I prays der Lord' Take anyding But leave dot Yawcop Strauss'.There may be a number of Yawcop Strausses in cold storage besides the one made of iron and steel. A character in The Importance of Being Earnest had been living, so it was conjectured, a double life, pretending to be wicked and being all the time good. I should hate to think of the noble Marquess leading a double life, pretending to be good and waiting on an opportunity to be really wicked. I think it would be better to remove temptation and to let the feet of Nemesis continue to be circuitous and obscure.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ LORD DE L'ISLE AND DUDLEY
My Lords, we listened to the opening remarks of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack and, if my recollection is not imperfect, he quoted from the speech of a former Tory Lord Chancellor, in which he said that Single Chamber government had arrived—referring to the great controversy in the early years of this century. He held up those remarks, in his very polite and persuasive way, to ridicule. But apparently, listening to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Amwell, Single Chamber government is to arrive. That is really the issue. It is all very well to say that, in 1911 or thereabouts, somebody said that Single Chamber government had arrived. We have to take the situation as it is to-day. As the noble Lord, Lord Amwell, has said, that is virtually the proposal before the House.
§ LORD DE L'ISLE AND DUDLEY
I think in the sense that both he and I mean. The noble Lord, Lord Lindsay, shakes his head, but I think he came in during the remarks made by the noble Lord.
§ LORD DE L'ISLE AND DUDLEY
Not all of them. In fact, I am a little puzzled by the last three speeches from the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, the noble Lord, Lord Lindsay of Birker and the noble Lord, Lord Amwell. They all seem to me to make different arguments 509 for the same Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, said that there was still a power of delay; the noble Lord, Lord Lindsay, said there should be some power of delay in very special circumstances, and the noble Lord, Lord Amwell, said that there should be no power of delay at all. I am inclined to believe that the noble Lord, Lord Amwell, is right in his interpretation of what is intended.
I must say that it was with great interest that I listened to the speech of the noble Viscount the Leader of the Liberal Party. With his usual wit and power of aphorism, he made a taunt at my Party, saying that there was too much money chasing too few ideas. Although he is not here, I am sure he will not mind if I say that the trouble with his Party is that there are too many leaders chasing too few followers. This is the crucial question: Does the Bill, in effect, so diminish the powers of delay that the Second Chamber has no power to do anything but offer the most tentative revision to measures offered to it by the House of Commons? I re-read a speech which the noble Viscount made in the debate we had in January, and after reviewing previous legislation which had been passed under the Parliament Act, 1911, he made the following remarks:It is only when a Bill has been passed by the House of Commons, and when it has been rejected, or is about to be rejected, by this House, that the country becomes alive to the situation. The noble Viscount "—I think that was Viscount Addison—said that the period of one year was ample time in which popular interest could be aroused. But even a year is hardly sufficient to mobilise opinion, to fight a measure at by-elections, to carry on propaganda and generally to arouse popular feeling. If the period is reduced to three months and three weeks, or three months and eleven days—as it would have been in the two cases I have mentionedߞthat is clearly totally inadequate to fulfil the purpose of having any delay at all.Until I read the noble Viscount's speech to-morrow, it is perhaps a little soon to form an absolutely sure opinion, but it seems to me that he has rather altered his ground. Does he, or does he not, believe that the power of delay given by the Liberal Party in 1911 was the proper power for a Second Chamber? If he does, then I submit that he is doing a disservice to our Constitution in voting for the Second Reading of this Bill. If he no longer feels that there should be a 510 power of delay, then I hope that a member of his Party will tell us so.
It is not only the fact that the Bill in contemplation seriously curtails the powers of the Second Chamber, but what affects my mind, and, I think, the minds of noble Lords who sit on these Benches, is the manner in which it has been introduced. The noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, said that it hid been advanced, not in this House, but by members of my Party, that no measure of constitutional change should be introduced except by agreement. I have read the debates in both Houses, and I have been unable to find any remarks of that nature. What has been said is that if you have no mandate from the people for such a proposal, then you should not proceed with that proposal until there has been agreement. That is the difference, Apparently—I did not know it, I admit—we have a written and an unwritten Constitution. That may be, but we have the omni-competence of the Legislature. There is no organic law; there is no supreme court; there is nothing to act as a referee in what are matters of constitutional importance.
The noble Lord, Lord Lindsay, would like to see some such body proposed. I think it is a pity that his Party did not call him into consultation before they framed this Bill. I am afraid that we cannot give a Second Reading to this Bill merely upon the assurance that he may have sufficient powers of persuasion on the Committee stage to introduce a totally new conception into our Constitution. it is, as I said, a fact that in our unwritten Constitution there is this legislative omni-competence that makes it peculiarly necessary for our Parliamentary institutions to have a division of powers—not an equal division of powers but still a division of powers.
The second point to which I, and I think those who think with me, object most particularly is the retrospective clause in this legislation. The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, quoting I think from the noble Lord, Lord Quickswood, in a speech made when he was a Member of the House of Commons, likened the British representative institutions to the Selection Committee of the M.C.C. and a Test Team. May I take that analogy a little further? For the purposes of my argument, I will assume that the Rules Committee of the M.C.C. is supreme in the cricket world—I hope I 511 am not causing any concern to the noble Viscount, Lord Bruce, by suggesting that the M.C.C. is assuming any powers over the free cricket institutions of the Australians. Let me assume for the moment that that Rules Committee make all the rules, and that the Test Team is sent out to play the Australians. When they get there the M.C.C. passes a rule that no left-handed batsman or left-handed bowler should take part in Test cricket. Then, if it becomes apparent that two of the most powerful members of the Australian team are both left-handed—well, that is just too bad! That is what the Government are doing by this present Bill: they are altering the rules at their own sweet will.
Our institutions are free and democratic institutions—and I would stress that freedom and democracy did not begin in 1945. Such institutions pre-suppose that there must be consent. The noble Lord, Lord Amwell, took the point very well. Now there is one predominant reason why in successful democracies force does not take the place of government by majority, and that reason is that there is discussion and consent, and that the rules are observed. I entirely agree that the doctrine of mandate may be stretched too far, and I am certainly not one of those who wish to run it to death. But surely it must be a fundamental of our Constitution that if you are going to alter it by any radical measure—and I call this a radical measure—you must first of all consult the people. It is only thus, in my view, that we shall retain our representative institutions. Lord Amwell, again, said that this was not government by majority but government by the whole people. That should indeed be our ideal. The noble Lord was perfectly right in saying that government by majority was only a device. May I support the view by a voice which is not only respected on these Benches but is often quoted on the Liberal Benches—the voice of Mr. Gladstone?
§ LORD DE L'ISLE AND DUDLEY
I would not dissent. Gladstone said:Decision by majorities is as much an expedient as lighting by gas. In adopting it as a rule, we are not realising perfection by bowing to imperfection. It has the merit of avoiding, and that by a test perfectly definite, the last resort of violence; and of making 512 force itself the servant instead of the master of authority. But our country rejoices in the belief that she does not decide all things by majorities.It is because that wisdom was not heeded in Europe that we have seen the failure of so many democratic institutions. Therefore I say that you are doing serious harm and creating a very evil precedent if you alter the Constitution for your own particular purposes.
I was deeply interested in the arguments adduced by the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor. He gave us a very good forecast of what we must expect in the way of legislation and the legislative time-table. It was interesting to hear his remarks about the Steel Bill, because the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, was challenged on this point by the Leader of the Opposition in the last debate on this subject in these words:It is not even as if this iron and steel industry, the nationalisation of which is, after all, the motive force behind the Bill …And Lord Addison interrupted:That statement really is not correct.Are we seriously to believe that the curtailment of our powers was conceived by the Government in their wisdom, without any reference to the Steel Bill? If it was in fact with reference to the Steel Bill, then the criticisms that are made both in your Lordships' House and in another place, that this Bill was brought in particularly for that purpose, are correct; and I say it is doing a great disservice to our institutions that this measure should have been introduced for such a purpose.
It is often advanced by spokesmen of the Socialist Party that the present composition of the Second Chamber is unfair to their Party. In fact the Home Secretary, when he spoke in the debate on the Second Reading in another place, said:All we seek, all we ask, all we demand, all we are willing to take, is political equality for all Parties in the State.If that were so, then I do not think that the recent conference would have broken down, because it was precisely for that purpose that the representatives of the Conservative Party and, I think, the Liberal Party went into conference with the Government. But unfortunately the Socialist leaders cannot make up their minds under what principle they are supporting this measure. Mr. Chuter Ede in another place said in the same speech 513 what I thought to be a little contradictory. He said:We 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.…The Socialist Party must really make up their minds and tell the country. Is all they want equality with the Conservative Party and an equal chance? Or do they really advance that the House of Commons in all matters shall be omni-competent? That is Single Chamber government. That, I think, is the real question at issue between us. Therefore, when I listened, as I did, to that persuasive speech from the Liberal Benches, I was extremely sorry that the issue should, as I thought, have been clouded in any way.
After all, what do the Socialist Party claim? They claim that for five years, if they are in the majority or whoever is in the majority, they have a lease of the Government of the country, and that the lessors, who are the people, shall have no right of entry at all. What is more, the lease is one which can be converted at the lessees' will into a freehold. The noble Lord, Lord Lindsay of Birker, I think alone among his Party, has so far seen some force in the arguments which apparently the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, addressed to him. I sometimes wish that the noble Earl would spend more of his time addressing similar ideas to more of the colleagues of the noble Lord, Lord Lindsay. But the noble Lord seemed rather to think that that was a far-fetched idea. It is fetched only from the other side of the Iron Curtain. Are we really to suppose that our country is so wise and that all our politicians are so good and so virtuous that no persons will try to seize hold of a great political machine for their own purposes and to follow the standards of the Communist Party in Czechoslovakia? It was not the Social Democrats who followed up the Communists.
We are being asked to do what Mr. Churchill said Hitler was asking our Government to do in 1939. He said that the British Government offered a pound, that Herr Hitler demanded two pounds and they compromised on one pound seventeen and six. I think that is the offer and the value of the offer which the Government have made to the Opposition.
514 In effect we are being asked to do this. We are being asked to give a Second Reading to a Bill and thus allow as a precedent and give our approval to a system by which the Constitution can be altered without reference to and without a mandate from the people. We are being asked to validate retrospective legislation. We are being asked to allow to come about Single Chamber government in this country. We may not be popularly representative in this House, but I believe that we do represent duty. For my own part, I feel my duty to be clear. It is to support the Amendment of my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition. Lord Salisbury, and to reject this measure which is both unconstitutional and ill-considered.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ LORD CROMWELL
My Lords, it is with deep regret that I am unable to accept the advice of my most respected Leader on this occasion. My remarks are addressed chiefly to those members who sit on the Cross Benches, and who owe no political allegiance. The Liberals appear to be with me, and I am afraid that the loyalty of the Conservatives to their Leader will weigh too strongly will them for any argument of mine to turn them from their purpose. Therefore, I appeal to those independent members save us from ourselves. There is probably not a single noble Lord here today, on either side of the House, who thinks that this Bill as at present drafted is a good one. As the reasoned Amendment of the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition says, it goes far towards setting up Single Chamber government. It is, unfortunately, like so many Bills that come to your Lordships' House, ill-considered and ill-digested. In my view, its practical effect, if it becomes an Act in its present form, would, in extreme circumstances, barely give your Lordships time to debate Bills, let alone to amend them, before they automatically become law under the special machinery devised for that purpose.
May I say that, if a Division had been taken on the noble Marquess's Amendment when the Bill was first introduced into your Lordships' House on January 27 last, I should have unhesitatingly supported the Amendment; but a good deal of water has flowed under the bridge 515 since that date, and in particular an Agreed Statement on the conclusions of the conference of Party leaders has been issued as a White Paper. If I state the position correctly, the alternatives before us seem to be either, as the noble Viscount, Lord Bruce of Melbourne, has stated, that the Bill in its present form will probably become law in a year or two, under the Parliament Act machinery—which I venture to suggest no one on either side of the House really wants—or, alternatively, that this Bill, as amended in Committee to give more breathing space, becomes law, but possibly in a shorter time. I know that many of your Lordships think there should be no compromise and that vital principles are at stake. But I myself would rather accept half a loaf than no bread. I feel that no sacrifice of any of my principles will be necessary in voting for a Second Reading of this Bill, on the understanding that I and other members who vote like me reserve the right to move what Amendments we think fit and to press them to a Division.
At this stage, I would urge the Government to make a gesture and allow words to this effect to be put in as an Amendment when the proper time comes:one year from the Third Reading, in lieu of one year after the Second Reading in another place.That would really alter the present position very little, if at all. By that conclusion of my sentence, I may seem to be giving away my case. As has been pointed out by a previous noble Lord, I would suggest that it would be almost impossible, if a Second Reading were denied this Bill, for any other interpretation to be placed upon our action by the people than that, for the sake of the difference between twelve months and nine months, we would not give way; that we "stuck in our toes." As I see it, that is not the position, but I think it will be quite impossible to explain that to the people either by the wireless, brains trusts, or any other method you like to adopt. I agree that it was made clear from the start that the leaders on either side were not bound in any way by what took place at the conference, but it is clear to me, at any rate, that our leaders—that is the leaders of the Opposition—were prepared to recommend acceptance of this to their 516 supporters provided—and this is an important proviso—it had been possible to reach agreement on the whole question of the composition and powers of the Second Chamber. That, obviously, is not possible at this stage, but it will become so if a Second Reading is given to this Bill.
Similarly, if the powers of the Second Chamber could be agreed, the broad principles of composition are set out in the White Paper. It appears we have already arrived at the position of "Which was born first, the chicken or the egg?" If the Government are sincere in wishing for an effective Second Chamber, let them show it now by agreeing to the reference in the Bill to the Second Reading being replaced by the Third Reading when the appropriate time comes. That would leave one year from the Third Reading, instead of one year from the Second Reading. If they are prepared to give an undertaking to this effect I, for one, will help to make this possible by voting for the formal Second Reading of the Bill, as being the only method of bringing this about. I think the country is anxious for the deadlock to be broken. I think the Government would agree that, if not all, at least most of the sacrifices have so far been made by us. I urge the Government, therefore, to make this gesture of their sincerity.
May I take the opportunity of asking the Leader of the House, who has just come in, this question: Is the nine months referred to by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack a definite Cabinet offer? I am not asking for a reply at this moment, but perhaps he could answer my question when he replies finally. My second question is one which the noble Viscount may not be able to answer, but it is: Will the Whips be put on in another place to carry out the will of the Cabinet—if, in fact, it be the will of the Cabinet? I accept what the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack said, that the Members of another place are representatives and not delegates. I also agree with what I think he said or implied—namely, that democracy can work only if the leaders lead, even though they may be in advance of public opinion. I hope I shall not be misunderstood by the noble Viscount who sits on the Woolsack (I may be overstating it, but he will correct me if I am wrong) but, dealing with the opinion 517 which he expressed, that it is unlikely that further sacrifices or reductions of the delaying time sill be made or asked for later, I can say only that I place the same reliance on that as I place on the phrase used by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in another place—namely, "A once-for-all levy." By that, if I may say so, I mean no disrespect to either the noble Viscount or the right honourable Member.
§ 6.45 p.m.
My Lords, I have listened to every speech that has been made in this House this afternoon—and there have been some very persuasive speeches on the side of, call it what you like, compromise or appeasement. There has been the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Bruce, and that of the noble Lord, Lord Lindsay, and of course that of the noble Viscount on the Liberal Benches, Lord Samuel. I must say that, having given the matter very careful thought, I unhesitatingly say that the noble Marquess who leads my Party is taking the correct course in declining to give this Bill a Second Reading. I think perhaps a good many Lords may have been impressed on the surface by what the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said. But what, in effect, did he say? As I see it, he said that you should be prepared to throw away your principles and deal in the black market.
Will you allow me to follow it up? The noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, said that half a loaf is better than no bread. But surely what the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said was, that if you give this Bill a Second Reading, you might get something better out of the Government. In other words, by sacrificing your principles you might get an extra half a pound of butter off the ration; you might get a little more in the distant future by not taking this strong stand now. I do not agree. I think we should take a strong stand. The noble Marquess the Leader of our Party has gone a long way with regard to compromise, both in the composition and powers of the House, perhaps a little further in certain things than some of us thought right.
There is only one point I would like to mention in regard to the composition of the House, and it is one which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of 518 Burleigh. I think his words were: "No fancy House can possibly give an opportunity to youth." Several speakers have said that if a nominated House were appointed, it would not be difficult choose the individuals, and that youth would be given every chance. I think that is probably quite correct when the first nominated House is appointed, but I do not see how young people can have a chance in a nominated House at a later date. Surely the best way to judge a young man is by his usefulness in a House of Parliament. The only testing ground would be another place, and its Members might not wish to come here. It has been suggested—I think it is an attractive suggestion, and one which might easily commend itself to all Parties—that Peers should be enabled to attend here and speak although not nominated as "Lords of Parliament." The suggestion is that they should have the chance of proving their mettle, while not being allowed to vote. I think that in relation to the matter of reform of composition, the question of youth has really not been properly considered. I hold that it is important that youth should have a chance. That is all I have to say, except to repeat that I entirely support my noble Leader in the course he has adopted.
§ 6.50 p.m.
My Lords, I feel some diffidence in entering this debate as I have so recently joined your Lordships' House. I was abroad when this Bill saw the light of day, and I was not a member of this House when it was debated in the early months of the year. Thus cannot claim, like other noble Lords who have spoken to-day, to have close knowledge of the work and traditions of this House. But, possibly, a House of Commons background with the rough-and-tumble of elections, and a sojourn in a far country in which Constitution-making has been the order of the day, and, perhaps, a fresh mind, may induce your Lordships to extend to me your toleration in what I have to say.
Coming here with, I hope, a fresh mind, the first thing that surprises me is that this situation should ever have arisen. What has occurred between the two Houses to occasion any clash? Your Lordships' House enjoys a very high prestige just now, both at home and 519 abroad, a prestige that has been heightened by your handling of affairs in recent years and months, since the present Government came into power. The noble Viscount who leads this House, and my noble friend who leads the Opposition, enjoy to a marked degree the esteem and trust of the people of this country. All Parties have worked harmoniously in the months that are past and to the general satisfaction, I believe, of the people of this country. The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor has said that measures which have not the support of this House, or which are not approved of by the majority of this House, are in danger. But measures that have been passed through in the years that have gone have not necessarily had the support of the majority of the House. The principles enunciated at the beginning of this Parliament by my noble friend Lord Salisbury have been scrupulously observed, and no measure that has come from the other place, having the mark of the will of the people, has failed to receive good treatment.
Many progressive and useful measures have been initiated by this House during the present Parliament, while practical and workmanlike Amendments have been made and accepted in other legislation. When I say "workmanlike," I am reminded of a cartoon which gave me great pleasure when I was in India. It was published in Punch and it depicted the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition and the noble Viscount the Leader of the Liberal Party, wearing coronets and equipped with pneumatic drills, preparing the road to allow the wagon of the Transport Bill to pass. They may not have liked the look of the wagon, but they were preparing the way for it, so that it should pass smoothly and proceed more safely on its road.
It is not only at home but abroad also that the conduct of this House has been admired. When I turn to your Lordships' handling of affairs affecting overseas countries, a particular instance, which made a deep impression upon me, comes to my mind. There were many people in India who were frankly sceptical of the intentions of His Majesty's Government, and of the people of this country as a whole, towards India. They were sceptical as to whether transfer of power 520 would, in fact, take place. No single event did more to impress the attitude of this country upon the people of India than your Lordships' handling of that situation. No doubt, many of your Lordships had anxieties and, perhaps, forebodings, but having decided to pass the legislation you passed it; and you gave your blessing to the two new Dominions. So, my Lords, I make the point that both at home and abroad this House has done little to deserve what has come upon it to-day.
I call to mind the more recent issue relating to the death penalty. To characterise that as a clash between the two Houses of Parliament would of course be quite incorrect, for here we have a situation in which your Lordships' view is fortified by the votes of responsible Ministers in another place, by the judgment, if not by the vote, of the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor and, undeniably, by the overwhelming views of the people both in England and Scotland. From Land's End to John o' Groats there are many to-day who are thankful for the revisionary powers of your Lordships' House. I would say that its prestige has not stood so high for many years. Why then, when your Lordships have acted at all times with a sense of grave responsibility, has this situation, this bolt from the blue, or this bomb in the Battle of Flowers, as my noble friend has so happily phrased it, arisen? It certainly does not originate from the personality of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House; and many of us feel sorry for him that he is reluctantly called upon to weaken the powers of the House which he so ably leads and graces. But the answer is this. Behind him, and away to the Left, there is a restless and unsettled element to be reckoned with, an element sometimes in support and sometimes in opposition, but whose good will it is necessary to secure. That element is frankly impatient over the continuance of the powers of this House. So we have this Bill, and the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor says, in effect, that your Lordships will be well advised to take this lest a worse thing befall.
In his opening speech the noble and learned Viscount indicated that rumours—they were no more than rumours—which were current about a certain 521 measure which has not yet seen the light of day and rumours about the treatment which that measure might receive in this House, have been a contributing cause of the decision of His Majesty's Government to bring in this present Bill. It has always been against the policy of this country to fight preventive wars. The theory of the preventive war, of course, is that before anything happens to you, you attack another country and render it helpless. I think that this measure must be regarded as something in the nature of a preventive war. I cannot see that in the actions of this House, either in its behaviour or in connection with overseas legislation, any cause has been given to justify such a step.
My noble friend Lord Salisbury has, I consider, shown a better solution of the difficulty in the Amendment which he moved when the Bill was first debated. It was he who opened the door to negotiations; that should not be lost sight of. If those negotiations had been successful, they would have removed the charge made against this House, that its character is unrepresentative (I want to stress again that it was my noble friend who suggested these negotiations) and at the same time, they would have preserved what in our view is the minimum time necessary for reflection in the passage of legislation. I am not one of those who regret those negotiations, and I am frankly sorry that they broke down for, in my belief, a House constituted broadly on the lines which my noble friend and his colleagues were prepared to agree to would have commanded respect no less high than your Lordships enjoy to-day, and would have been found acceptable to modern thought in this country and elsewhere. I might express the doubt voiced by other noble Lords whether it would have worked any better than the present Chamber. But such a change would have met criticism and I believe would have commanded high respect.
May I make an observation, which I think will be in order, in relation to the proposal in the White Paper with regard to Scotland, in which I am closely interested? Under the Act of Union, Peers in Scotland have the right to elect a certain' number of representative Peers. In any proposal which might arise, whatever change might come about, Scottish representation in a newly formed House should be based on 522 Scottish wishes expressed in Scotland. I would add another Scottish point. The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, in assembly in Edinburgh recently, expressed an interest in the negotiations and suggested that they might be represented in any reformed House. The Lords Spiritual represent the Church of England: why should not the Church of Scotland be represented? However, all these changes are not to be proposed at the present time, and I cannot pursue the matter further.
I regret that the negotiations broke down, but it seems to me, as an outsider, that the Government were less interested in the composition of your Lordships' House than in the insistence on the time-limit question. Here was the parting of the ways. Because we on these Benches feel it is essential, whatever the agreed composition of the House might be, that there should be a period sufficient b ensure reflection by the country after discussion in Parliament, and a clear definition of the issues involved. I will not go over the ground which has been gone over before. The technicalities of the time question have been fully explained. But I would say that such a proposition would apply with redoubled force if the House were remodelled on the fully representative lines proposed. If we agree to-day to the reduction of the suspensory period now, it may be taken that it never will be lengthened. Whatever might happen about the reform of your Lordships' House, it would be decided that the short period proposed in the Bill would never be lengthened. I feel we must safeguard that position. The noble Lord, Lord Cromwell and the noble Viscount, Lord Bruce of Melbourne, suggested that we should give a Second Reading to the Bill and move Amendments in Committee. It seems to me that the whole burden of the Bill is to carry out a reduction in the time limit, and any Amendments which would be satisfactory to us would not be acceptable to the Government in Committee stage. Therefore, 'I cannot see how it would further matters to take the course the noble Viscount suggests.
I referred earlier in my remarks to the Left Wing which His Majesty's Government feel bound to assuage and placate. There will always be an extreme Left Wing in every Parliament. I had a good friend once who was a member of such a 523 Left Wing, the late James Maxton, whom many of my colleagues will remember. I recall that at the conclusion of a debate, when the Government of the day were being criticised pungently by James Maxton for their slowness in certain reforms, he raised in his hand a Christmas card and displayed it to the House (the debate was immediately after the Christmas recess). The somewhat striking card showed the face of a well-known Member of Parliament in a gilt frame, with the Palace of Westminster in the background—a formidable combination. Inside the card contained these lines from Tennyson:A land of settled government,A land of fair and old renown,Where freedom slowly broadens down.With a wealth of meaning, Maxton said: "Ave, slowly!" There are always those who believe that our reforms proceed too slowly. But those reforms must be sure. And it is because our freedom has been surely built in this country that it is standing the test to-day, when the freedom of others has fallen. I feel very earnestly that the line adopted by my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition is best designed to safeguard the freedom we have built up. For that reason I urge its support.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Viscount Stansgate.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.