§ 2.12 p.m.
Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Amendment moved by the Marquess of Salisbury to the Motion, That the Bill be now read 2a—namely, 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.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
My Lords, I hope you will be patient with one who in this matter is very much an old-timer. There are not many of us left now. My noble friend who sits below me, and leads me, is a parvenu compared with me and others of us. I put myself first, as being the junior. There is one we have lost, and I should like to say a word of affectionate farewell to Lord Rea, one of the old-timers, who was a personal friend of mine and, I am sure, of all who knew him. Then there are Lord Clwyd, Lord Rankeillour and, of course, Lord Simon, and Lord Samuel—who is senior to us all. They, I think, are all that remain in this House to-day of the men who took part in the early battles on this issue in the years 1906 and 1907. Thinking of those times, I received a little comfort and reassurance after the battering which we received yesterday from the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. He beat us up on these Benches. He said that we were all right ourselves, but that there were sinister influences behind us. When I remembered 531 those past times I felt refreshed, and I did not go home quite so depressed as I would otherwise have done.
It is an amazing thing that the 1911 Parliament Act now seems to be one of the most popular Acts on the Statute Book. I do not recollect that being so some years ago. I remember Mr. Arthur Balfour, the gentlest gentleman, saying that they were in the grip of an unscrupulous and revolutionary Government. The Party then in power are now represented in this House by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, and the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon. No one would dare to say that the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, is unscrupulous, and there are few who would say that the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon is revolutionary. There is another institution which has been forgotten since those days, and that is the Halsbury Club. I was reading in The Times this morning a report of a luncheon addressed by Lord Halsbury. Everybody was there: Lord Milner, Lord Selborne, the noble Marquess's father, Mr. F. E. Smith—a galaxy. They all spoke, and they all pledged themselves to repeal the Parliament Act. Lord Halsbury stirred them to such emotion that The Times reported…there were loud cheers, during which many members of the company rose and waved their napkins.Men of ancient lineage do not rise and wave their napkins unless they are under the stress of severe spiritual emotion. Therefore, when I hear all this vocabulary of question-begging abuse, "fellow-travellers, cryptos, sinister forces" and so on, it merely appears to me to come from minds which are rather frightened and rather fatigued with thought. The fact is that the issue is not a revolutionary issue—it is a perfectly simple, domestic and pedestrian issue. It is sometimes said of marriage that "the two shall be one;" but the question is: "Which one?" That appears to me exactly to represent this issue. Who is to have the last word?
If I had the great privilege of being led by the noble Marquess, I think I would address him in such terms as follows. I would say after compliments: "My leader, I listened with great interest to your speech yesterday. You explained that you wanted the time pro- 532 longed. You explained that you had a scheme by which the composition of the House could be improved. You made a number of other remarks which interested us all intensely, but I could not understand why, at the end of your speech, you said you were going to vote against the Second Reading of the Bill, because every proposal which was made could be met by an Amendment on the Committee stage." The title of this Bill is the widest thing I ever saw. It is "An Act to amend the Parliament Act, 1911" There is nothing you cannot do under that. You could have the period of delay prolonged, and instead of two years there could be three years' delay. I am not sure about this, and I do not know where one obtains instructions about order here, but I imagine that, as the Preamble of the Act is very wide, you might even introduce a new clause affecting the composition of the House. If that be the case, why is it necessary for the noble Marquess to move that the whole Bill be rejected on Second Reading?
Still continuing in the treasured role of his follower, I would say: "But we have a plan. We have a plan which is so attractive for amending the Constitution that, once it is known, all the people will follow after it. Hitherto no-one has known what it is" You took it to the Politbureau or the Cagoulard. These were secret meetings and we could not find out anything from the White Paper because that was an Agreed Statement, and I have never seen an agreed statement which gave any information at all. If only we could pass the Second Reading and proceed to the Committee stage, then we should know what the Conservative Party propose in the way of constitutional reform, and everybody would be pleased.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
That could not be done on the Committee stage of this Bill, because the question of the constitution of the House does not arise.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
The period of delay would arise on this Bill, and I imagine that if a clause were put in, it could at any rate expound what the character of the composition was to be. I quite agree with the noble Marquess 533 that it might be straining the rules of order to amend the Act in that sense, although the Preamble does say that it is desirable that the composition should be amended.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
I am glad to be fortified by the great authority of the noble Viscount. There is another thing I would say to the noble Marquess. I would say: "We are living here under"—to use the jargon of the day—"suspended sentence of death. If this place misbehaves, it will be finished in a moment, so far as the public are concerned" But here is a chance. Mr. Morrison, who is afflicted with a sense of statesmanship, comes forward and offers a settlement, something that will put this issue to rest. He offers something, and he makes a suggestion that may enable the matter to come to an end as between the two Houses. Instead of taking this opportunity, the noble Marquess, by his Amendment for the flat rejection of the Bill, has kept the issue alive. In fact, he seems to be determined to have a head-on collision with the House of Commons. Is this a suitable moment? Is it really strategically wise? The noble Marquess was advised by independent speakers, Lord Cromwell and Lord Bruce, yesterday that it was not wise. The whole of the Liberal Party, under the leadership of by far the most experienced member of your Lordships' House on this matter, Lord Samuel, advised him that it was not wise and that they were going to vote against his Amendment. I cannot understand how anyone who desires constitutional peace can approve the course which the noble Marquess has set.
We are all concerned with the well-being of Parliamentary democracy. Many of us are old Members of the House of Commons. Suppose we put aside these old prejudices of 1911 and see what can be done to build up a real Parliamentary democracy. The first thing I would say is this. The independence of the Members of the House of Commons is in danger. In the old days, Members of that House were lawyers, businessmen or trade unionists, who spent only part of their time there; if they lost their scat they got in again the next time; and it did not matter 534 very much. But membership of the House of Commons now is a whole-time profession, and the loss of his seat may mean to a Member of Parliament great economic distress and ruin. Therefore he is far more under pressure than he would have been in the old days. True, he was always under pressure of the Whips. That cannot be helped, because the Whips are Members of the House of Commons and if this enormous mass of social legislation is to be dealt with efficiently the business must be organised properly, with regard to rigidity and speed. Whips, then, you cannot avoid. But Members of Parliament come under pressure from outside bodies. Now the privilege of Parliament is a most precious thing; we believe that it gives Members the right to speak their mind, free from outside pressure. It is the inner keep, the sacred flame which keeps Parliamentary democracy alive. To give a passing illustration, the House of Commons came to a certain decision about hanging. I am not saying whether the decision was right or wrong, but it was unquestionably one of the freest and most conscientious decisions ever made there. One would have expected the noble Marquess to say: "Well, if we desire a free and independent democratic House of Commons, then at any rate, though we may disagree with them, we respect the line they have taken." But not at all. He brings in this Gallup Poll and he repeated again yesterday that the Gallup Poll supports his view.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
I have no desire to misrepresent the noble Marquess. I understood him to say that there was every evidence that public opinion had moved very swiftly on this matter. The Gallup Poll has been described as "a cross-section of public opinion," but I regard it as a very dangerous constitutional precedent, and one which may undermine the independence of the House of Commons. The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor yesterday quoted some remarks made by Lord Quickswood on the subject of a Member of Parliament and his constituents. I should like to quote a short passage written by the same noble Lord—though I do not know whether it refers to the same document. It was a 535 letter in the Morning Post, the loss of which we all deplore. Mr. Ponsonby (as he then was) had quarrelled with his constituents about the war—that is the First World War. He had taken a line against it and his constituents censured him. People then asked what he was going to do about this, and which way he would subsequently vote. Lord Quickswood's letter said:It matters nothing to his (Mr. Ponsonby's) Parliamentary action what his constituents, or any particular body among his constituents, may happen to think. Their function was exhausted when they chose him.… While his appointment is still effective it is both his right and his duty to act solely in obedience to his own judgment, and to ignore altogether the opinions his constituents may form about public affairs.To that the Morning Post leader added:That is a doctrine which, however disputable, has at least the formidable authority of Edmund Burke behind it.I think that is going rather far, but it is refreshing to see so authoritative a spokesman as Lord Quickswood giving so honourable a definition of the relationship between a Member and his constituency. So much for the House of Commons.
Now what about this House? There is an amazing amount of agreement as to what should be its functions. We are believers in bicameral government, and all of us here believe in the need for, and the usefulness of, the Second Chamber; and we are all respectful admirers of this House. First, there is the matter of revision. In all this Socialist legislation there are masses and masses of detail. If it were not for this House you would have to have a sort of Chairmen's Panel elsewhere to deal with such matters. Then there is the question of expert opinion. For anyone who sat here during the debate on the Criminal Justice Bill the other day, it was a privilege to listen to the discussion by such eminent authorities on the administration of justice. I am not speaking of the philosophy of crime and punishment. And that is the case, too, when your Lordships discuss Service and other matters. This is a Chamber of the highest possible authority in all such affairs.
Moreover, the patience, courtesy and toleration of this House are things for which new members, and members who feel they are in a minority, are most 536 grateful. There is no place where one may speak so freely as in this House. All that should be preserved. Yet the noble Marquess produces a White Paper in which there is a proposal, if I may use the expression, for a squad of paid Peers who are to be nominated by the Prime Minister for so many years.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
It was not I alone who produced this White Paper. It was not from me that the proposal for the payment of Peers emanated.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
I shall get into trouble if I pursue this. I might even get a letter from Mr. Morgan Phillips. I was misled by the description of the White Paper as an Agreed Statement. Your Lordships may remember what happened when the Tory Party tried to pack this House by creating twelve Peers in 1712. When they arrived Lord Wharton inquired: "Do you vote through your foreman?" Then there is this idea that you can get a House of Lords in which all Parties are equally represented. I can not understand it. You might issue Whips on a ration system. You might say that there would be so many Liberal Whips sent out, so many Conservative Whips, so many Labour Whips—and even, one day, so many Communist Whips. But you cannot make this House into an Assembly representing the flow of opinion in these channels. Nothing can do that. This House will remain inevitably a conservative House. I will say this, that you will get not a freshet but a spate from these Benches. The fact of the matter is that we are not rooted in the people at all. I feel that now I cannot act as I did when, as a Member of Parliament, I could go down to my constituency and see to the housing conditions and look into the sanitation and many things like that——
§ SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: Oh!
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
Oh, indeed! Compared with another place we are cut off. Anyone who has been a Member of the other place knows that perfectly well. When a man is a Member of another place, he goes down to his constituency every week——
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
I do not wish to underrate the honourable association of 537 your Lordships with the Government of this country, but I say respectfully, as a matter of fact, that the contact with popular feeling and with the change of popular feeling is much closer in the case of another place than it is in your Lordships' House.
§ SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: NO.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
In fact, we may say that they are a growing plant and we are cut flowers. Why is the noble Marquess driven to all these courses? For three years we cannot control the House of Commons, but for the last year, the frayed end of the quinquennial period, we do control the House of Commons; that is inevitable. Therefore, the whole issue is on the fourth year; that is to say, the result of the policy of the noble Marquess would inevitably be that in some Governments—it will not always operate against a Labour Government; I do not say that—you would have a quadrennial Parliament. If you think that a Government cannot be trusted for more than three years, give a Second Reading to this Bill and amend Clause 7 of the Parliament Bill; then it would be clone at once. That is no reason for rejecting this Bill on Second Reading.
I have just one final word to add to what I have said. Why has the Amendment been changed? Why am I allowed to speak on this a second time? I have already spoken. I now find that the original Amendment has been withdrawn and a new one has been framed. The shop window has been re-dressed. What is the reason for that? I notice the words "constitutional liberties" appear for the first time in the new style, and "the economic crisis" has disappeared. The economic crisis was a very strong argument. As to it, the Opposition's position was rather like that of the Punch correspondent who wrote from distant parts saying: "It is difficult to exaggerate the gravity of the crisis—but I am doing my best." The noble Marquess has withdrawn the economic crisis; that has gone. "Constitutional liberties" appears in its place; they have now become very important. May I very respectfully say this to the noble Marquess? Runnymede is really démodé. We are not Magna Charta barons. We are quite a different stock. The Runnymede cock will not 538 fight. We are trying to obtain a reasonable settlement which permits of the predominance of the elected Chamber. If we do not do that, and if we pursue this romantic course which the noble Marquess recommends, then I think the whole matter will end in tedium and ridicule.
§ 2.33 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, we have listened this afternoon to a very attractive speech from the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, which I think your Lordships have all enjoyed. It contains a very great deal of political wisdom indeed. There is a great deal in it with which we find ourselves in profound agreement. If I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Amwell, as well—he is not here this afternoon—there must be something rattier galling about starting one's life profoundly determined to destroy the House of Lords and ending up by defending it. It must be a matter of embarrassment to anyone in that position. The noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, has asked why we are proposing to turn down the Second Reading of this Bill. May I ask him this question? Does he, or does he not, believe in Single Chamber government in an unwritten Constitution? That is a very simple question. The noble Lord talks about suspension, but there is not one word about suspension in the Government statement in the White Paper. There is no reference to any suspensory powers at all. I cannot think that a Chamber which has outside it only a House which has no suspensory powers can be held to be anything but a Single Chamber government. In those circumstances, I would say that it is unprincipled to pass a Bill which is contrary to what we believe. If the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, can say something which indicates that the Government do not hold those views, and that he is prepared to advance on the White Paper, the situation might be different. Of course, we can compromise; anyone can compromise. We can appease. However, I think that that word is not desirable, for appeasement has seldom brought great advantages.
May I turn to this Bill for one moment? I feel that the circumstances of its origin are regrettable. It has had a most unfortunate birth. It has been frankly acknowledged that it is closely and intimately connected with some Steel Bill. That was acknowledged by the noble Viscount, Lord 539 Hall, in February of this year and it was acknowledged again by the Lord Chancellor yesterday. There was something rather Machiavellian about the way in which the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor worked out the timetable, almost day by day, by which the Constitution could be circumvented. I will, however, endeavour to divorce myself entirely from those circumstances of origin in examining this Bill.
My first feeling about the matter is that the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor has done himself much less than justice in saving that nothing has been achieved. I believe that a meat deal has been achieved in this White Paper. If I may, I will explain to your Lordships why it is that this may not be the end of an old song but rather the beginning of a new one. I believe and hope that the latter interpretation is the correct one. May I, for one moment, examine the reasons? The White Paper is a document of great importance. In the first place, there never has been, at any previous period of our history, such a document signed by the leaders of all Parties and dealing with this controversial subject. The nearest approach to it was the Bryce Report. I do not think that anybody knows quite what authority that document had. Bishop Stubbs would have given a great deal to lay his hands on a document of that character some six centuries ago. Secondly, it is decided that we will have as a Second Chamber a non-elected Chamber. It is curious that in the long debate which we had yesterday there was no reference to that fact. I do not believe that such a decision could have been reached in any foreign country. I put it this way to your Lordships: that it should be regarded as a notable compliment to this House. I must confess that I come here by a mode of election myself. I am not here by any personal summons. I am here by virtue of a Treaty freely entered into between two independent nations. I think that those who wish to replace this House must bear in mind that an elected Senate is the obvious alternative to what we have here. I am sure that in the long run, if we did go through a period of great revolutionary change, we would end up by having an elected Senate, if this House did not do its job.
540 There is another important point to which I wish to refer. It has been said that this House is complementary to another place. I do not think that that has ever been said quite so clearly before. I would like to examine that point. To what are we to form the complement? Let us examine the chinks in the armour of the Chamber to which we are to form the complement. What is the weakness of democratic government, not only in this country but almost everywhere? I drew some enlightenment from what the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, said on this point just now. The first difficulty which democratic thinkers have underestimated is that a great body of people are not interested in politics. We know that in this country upwards of 25 per cent. of the people never vote at all and another 25 per cent. vote with great indifference to the result—in the local government elections, in point of fact, the percentage is much greater.
At the present time the Government, with a very large majority indeed, has been elected by 37 per cent. of the electorate. Where, then, is your argument about the majority? What is the position of the man who has not cast his vote? What rights has he? I do not imagine that anyone would deny that he has exactly the same rights as anybody else. We may deplore his action, but he is still a man, and still entitled to every possible consideration. If I may venture to say so, I think your Lordships' House are in some ways characteristic of those people who do not vote, because there are a number of members of your Lordships' House who never turn up at all and who take little interest in any aspect of politics, except perhaps in one or two particular respects. May I turn to the third point, that which was emphasised by the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate—namely, the question of Party discipline? Party discipline has presented a difficulty which every democratic Party has had to face. Anyone who endeavoured to discipline 100 peers would know that it is an extremely difficult task. From that point of view, I think there is probably no more undisciplined body of men existing today.
With this measure of agreement why is it that we cannot come to complete agreement, as the noble Viscount said?—and I have great sympathy with what he said. If His Majesty's Government have 541 really no sinister intention—I say "sinister" because we are anxious on this point—why is it that we cannot get a little nearer to complete agreement? I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, who yesterday spoke of compromise. What has been the compromise? The Leader of the House at an earlier stage, in February, said that the delaying period would be something between one and two years. That is where we were when the Bill started. Where are we now? Even during those discussions I think he adumbrated the possibility of some different period dating from the Third Reading. We, on this side of the House, on the other hand, have moved, at least for the moment, the whole way from two years to one year; in other words, the compromise has been entirely from this side and, so far as I can gather, there has been no compromise whatsoever from the Government on the question of powers.
What really counts is: What is the period at the present time? We have talked about a period of twelve months—the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, said that twelve months was sufficient time to allow for the formulation of public opinion—but the period is, in fact, six months. A period of nine months after discussions in this House would normally leave six months only. In almost every case there would be a delaying period of six months only as an effective time between a dispute and the final passing of the Bill. I would like to say a word about the formation of public opinion. It has been frequently said that public opinion forms very quickly in these days. I am myself not quite clear on what grounds that is claimed. A few obvious examples have been quoted, such as the questions of capital punishment, and the means test. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison, with whom I shall be discussing agriculture later, said that the only question which was worrying Scotland to-day was that of trapping rabbits. As your Lordships know, the Agricultural Bill is a big measure and what Lord Morrison means is that that is the only point that has really been grasped and understood in its full force. When we come to analyse the legislation of the last three years how much has been really understood in this country? Is there any- 542 one who would care to get up and give a concise and accurate picture of every Bill that we have had to examine? Is there any Member of Parliament, or any member of this House, who would like to do that? I have spoken to members of the Government, who are sublimely ignorant of the effect of many important aspects of some of the legislation which has been passed, and, if that is the case, it is clear that many members of the general public have no possible knowledge at all of what is in fact happening. All that is answered by We saying that we must establish our prestige and, if we establish our prestige sufficiently, power matters not at all. Prestige is, of course, important in every Chamber, and the Government have been extremely logical in this matter. They have done a great deal to raise the prestige of this House in the last three years. I think some of that may have been done unwittingly, but there is no doubt that a great deal of it has been done wittingly; and I am perfectly certain that at the time of Magna Charta, King John would never have spoken of the barones majores in the same warm, felicitous terms as those used by the Lord President of the Council in respect of this House.
I think it is proper to recognise that there is a distinction, such as was drawn by the noble Lord, Lord Lindsay of Birker, earlier this year, between two types of Houses—what I may broadly describe as a strong House and a wise House—I think the words "mature judgment" are used in this Report. The two things are different, and I think it is proper to recognise that fact. The noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, emphasised the advantages of the mature wisdom which can be drawn from a House of a certain type. I recognise that entirely, and I think we must acknowledge quite openly the fad that the powers which are given to those two types of House, and the use to which they are put, are entirely different. But there is, to my mind, one point which has been forgotten. Wisdom does not arise of itself; wisdom arises essentially under responsibility. If responsibility is removed, then wisdom does not develop with its force.
May I use a very simple example? When sitting here on Committee stages, I have sometimes felt as though I were a fat cucumber being watered for the 543 next agricultural show, whenever it came along. Because noble Lords opposite are very pleasant and make the running easy. But one is really not getting anywhere. It is all very well to say that there are 1,200 Amendments that have been carried; but what has happened to the National Coal Board? Would Sir Charles Reid have resigned if other Amendments had been carried? I do not know, I have no conception. But the mere fact that a large number of Amendments have been passed does not necessarily mean that we are fulfilling our function.
Now I will come to what seems to me to be the essence of this case. Do we or do we not believe in Single Chamber government in an unwritten Constitution? It is said quite specifically by the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, that we do not. If we do not believe in it, what are we to have in its place? Are we going to be, as has been suggested, simply an advisory Chamber? Is that the idea? If it is the idea—and I have seen nothing specific to contradict it—then I do not think we would be justified in giving a Second Reading to a Bill which accepts that in principle. I would give one further example, if I may. Is it quite appreciated what this Bill would do? We listened yesterday to the time- table given by the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor. On April 30, 1949, it will probably require two Bills to be passed which would make it a matter for the discretion of the Prime Minister when the House of Commons should be dissolved. That would be the result assuming that dissolution would normally take place some time at the beginning of May, 1950. That is the position to which we are asked to allow this country to be placed. Can we, in all conscience, say we think that right?
We do not for a moment say that we are the right people to make the appropriate decision. There may well be some wiser, better and more suitable ways of doing it. But someone must do it. I recognise that there are, in effect, two types of cases—one which I would like broadly to describe as the Party case and the other the constitutional case. We in this country have never been able easily to distinguish between the two. As your Lordships know, in America and other 544 countries the distinction is absolutely sharp and clear; there can be absolutely no doubt as to the meaning. We are looking at the constitutional issue—other noble Lords opposite, I know, are in many cases, looking at the Party issue. They say: "Suppose, for instance, that a decision to nationalise the taxicabs of London were reached. Should we be justified in holding that up, even for six months?" I would concede that the answer to that is "No." I feel that in a matter of that sort it should be within the province of the Government who carry responsibility to say: "We are going to nationalise them straight away."
But suppose that an altogether different decision were made. Suppose that it was decided to appoint, say, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council by public election. If that proposal came forward, I certainly do not think that a suspensory period of less than two years should be allowed. It would be improper I feel, for us in any way to agree to a suspensory period shorter than that, or at least to some adequate measure of time in which those matters could be fully and properly considered. Now how are we to distinguish between those two types of cases? If it could be done in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Lindsay of Birker, has suggested, I think it would change the view of many people in this House. There are some things in the structure of our life so worth-while that it is not worth taking a risk with them merely to help out what seems to us to be a temporary political difficulty.
Finally, may I ask this: Why do His Majesty's Government not use the ordinary checks that are open to them? Nature creates a check to everything in life. If I may say so, a spoilt child is probably best checked by whipping. Some people might not agree with that, but quite a number would. An overweening House of Commons is checked by reference to the electorate; an overbearing House of Lords would be checked by the introduction of new Peers. Noble Lords may ask whether I am suggesting flooding this House. My answer is: "Yes, if necessary." But will this be necessary? One noble Lord spoke about prestige. He must realise that those who speak in support of the Government policy carry great weight in this House. 545 I am sure that your Lordships will remember the remarkable speech made in this House last summer by Lord Dukeston, who, I regret very much, is no longer with us. It was on a critical point which, if I may say so with respect, had got a little out of hand. The noble Lord made a most statesmanlike speech, giving us an insight into trade union problems which, frankly, many of us did not possess before. That speech did much to sway opinion in this House. But without necessarily favouring the flooding of this House with new Peers, I think we may criticise the Government for not using more freely their power of strengthening this House with men of their own way of thinking. I do not cast any reflection on those who now represent the Government here. We recognise and welcome their intervention in any form of debate. But why has the Government's power of strengthening the House not been used more fully? Lord Balfour of Burleigh yesterday suggested an extension which would make it easier—the creation of Life Peers. So at any time it would be possible to take appropriate steps if this House were really recalcitrant—I do not know whether what I am saying will be popular on these Benches, but I am putting forward my own view entirely. There is a natural check which His Majesty's Government, if they thought fit, could operate.
I must refer again to what I have said earlier. Unless we can see that there is some real measure of advance, some real chance of coming to an agreement which is worth while, would it not be unprincipled to go into Committee on the question when we could see no answer? If the noble Viscount the Leader of the House has something further to say, it is possible that it might be worth while. We have constitutional duties in this House which have been given to many of us willy-nilly, and we are in honour bound to carry them out to the best of our abilities. If we feel that, we should never allow to take place what we have seen in many countries—Germany in particular—a constitutional revolution which is directly contrary to the wish of the great majority of the citizens of the country.
May I end by quoting again the words of John Stuart Mill. I see no reason why these words, spoken in the abstract, should not be given full recognition to-day: 546nobody should have the consciousness of having only themselves to consult."Only themselves to consult"—that seems to me to be the position which His Majesty's Government are anxious to set up in the House of Commons. I feel that it is not only contrary to the present Practice of the Constitution but something to which it would be very unwise for the people of this country to agree.
§ 2.57 p.m.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, on a matter of such real gravity for the well-being of the country I think it only right that there should be some contribution from these Benches. As I spoke on this matter earlier and strongly supported the proposal for inter-Party discussions, I should like briefly to express my view now that those discussions have taken place. To my mind—and here I think the noble Earl who has just spoken will entirely agree With me—by far the worst possible outcome of this matter would be that this Bill as it, now stands should become law. I say that for three reasons, which I would briefly indicate. First, because it would leave this House unreformed. On rare and difficult occasions, the Second Chamber delays a Bill. Whatever may be the period of delay, what matters above all is that at those critical times when the House so acts it should be clearly seen that it is acting, not on grounds of Party interest or sectional judgment but on the impartial grounds of the public interest. As the House is now constituted, that can never be clearly seen, even when it is true. And, thereby, as things are, the moral weight of this Second Chamber is disguised and lost.
This Chamber, as it is, is hamstrung and severely handicapped in fulfilling the-proper duty of a Second Chamber. That, I would urge, will be even more the case if, after all this careful discussion, no action is taken. I do not believe that things will merely revert to the situation in which they were before. When opportunities are lost, the position does not merely go back. The noble Earl said that astonishing progress has been made, and I agree with him; but I am not prepared to agree that any progress will have been made if this opportunity is lost. Secondly, it is evident I think and almost agreed, that the delaying period in the Bill of twelve months from Second Reading in 547 another place is unsatisfactory, and should not be allowed to stand without amendment. Such a period allowed to an unreformed House would be hardly distinguishable from Single Chamber government. To that extent, this Bill as it stands brings us to the brink of Single Chamber government.
Thirdly, if this Bill becomes law as it stands, against the will of this House, it creates the possibility that under another Government of another colour the Bill will be revised. The Bill as it stands—and for this I would say the Government are seriously to be blamed—is the Bill of a Party. If it becomes law, it will invite Party retaliation later. Thus a dangerous, unhealthy and deplorable situation may arise, in which every change of Government means a Party change in our Constitution. For such reasons I say that the worst thing that could happen is that the Bill as it now stands should become law. But that is precisely what will happen, so far as I can foresee, if the Bill is now rejected on Second Reading. Nothing can prevent it, save the fall of the Government before December, 1949. It would be unwise to presume that the Government will have fallen by then, and it would be foolish to submit the settlement of a constitutional matter upon such a gamble.
What is the alternative? Only one can really satisfy the public interest—an agreed solution of this matter. Here again, failure to find an agreement when so much progress has been made, will not leave things merely as they are. Must we regard agreement as still altogether impossible? The mere fact that so much progress towards agreement upon the composition of the Second Chamber has been made between all Parties in this House and in the country is of incalculable importance. It has raised a hope, a prospect—even a near prospect—that this grievous and longstanding cause of friction and discord might be removed for a long time from the field of political controversy, with all the beneficial results which would follow. It is perfectly true that, if there is to be such an agreed solution, composition and powers must be taken together. Over powers there is apparently a great gulf between the Government and the Opposition. I confess that in my view opinion is on both sides very much influenced by 548 the fear, or the expectation, of what might happen by way of legislation in the fourth year of this present Parliament, and when this House is still unreformed. But surely we must try to keep in mind the whole picture, powers and composition, and the long-term prospect of a constitutional settlement to which we are reaching out.
On a general view, I think that with a reformed House, there is everything to be said for a twelve months' period of delay from the Third Reading in the House of Commons. Delaying powers are exercised very rarely, and only on particular occasions. A reformed House would be sure to use them with a great sense of responsibility, with a balanced judgment, not subjected to Party interests and with a wide concern for the public good. It would still be conservative, I agree with the noble Viscount, but not conservative in a Party political sense. It would have the conservatism of wide wisdom and long experience. For such a Chamber, a delaying period of twelve months is by no means unreasonable. The Government say in the White Paper that the danger is that the machinery of democratic power will work too slowly rather than too quickly. It is slow, very likely, in relation to the general mass of legislation, but it could easily work too quickly in any particular moment of serious crisis; and in the public interest fourth year legislation may naturally require a closer scrutiny and more effective power of delay, even though that may embarrass the Government.
By then the Government are a good long way from their initial impulse. They may be unduly concerned with buying up their opportunities and sometimes with risking everything upon a dying venture. They may be a Government of tired men—I believe that this is a very real danger—and tired men often do unwise things. This Government may think that no such dangers can be said to apply to them. Yes. But if ever they find themselves again in Opposition, they might well think it applied acutely to their opponents. They have never yet been able to think of this House as anything but hostile. They have never tried to imagine how serviceable a reformed House of Lords might be to them in Opposition, in the fourth year of a Parliament's life. If such a reformed Chamber embarrassed the Government, it would not thereby become a rival to the House of Commons. 549 The noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, talked about "marriage" and hoped to solve the "marriage problem" by saying that one party to it should always overrule the other. Surely marriage is a true partnership, and it is a partnership of co-operation between the two Houses which would thus result. The House of Lords could delay the Commons so that the country might think again. As Parliament drew to an end of its life, the Second Chamber could, on a great issue, so delay the Commons that the people would have to be consulted again. There is nothing conceivably undemocratic in that. That is a proper power for a reformed Second Chamber to exercise.
I could wish that the Government would accept both things: a reformed House and a twelve months' period of delay. But if they do not accept the latter (and, after all, they are the Government in power), I cannot see anything so dangerous in the nine months' period as to justify abandoning the hope and prospect of a constitutional settlement. I cannot see a fundamental difference of principle between those two dates, provided that there is a reformed House. Nor do I see any likelihood of a profound difference resulting in practical experience—and that for two reasons, which the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, indicated yesterday and which I will indicate very briefly. First, public opinion formulates itself now far more rapidly than ever before, and public opinion has an effect which no Government can easily ignore. As we know, for the first three years of Parliamentary life the Second Chamber cannot by itself frustrate the Government. That is accepted. The only check upon the Government during those three years is public opinion outside. I do not see any principle which requires that in the fourth year there should not only be public opinion but also the controlling power of a Second Chamber.
If to the period of debate in the Lower House—perhaps three months, perhaps six months—is added the nine months' delay which this House may require, public opinion will have had the fullest opportunity of knowing what at stake, of considering it deliberately, and of making abundantly obvious whether it agrees with the Second Chamber or not. And—dare I say it?—I think it is possibly true that in these days public opinion does not 550 much care to give its mind to one subject for too long. I think by the time public opinion has had one year and three months to discuss a subject it will be quite ready to get rid of that subject. The second reason is this. The action of a reformed House in rejecting a Bill would have far more direct, clear, powerful and penetrating power than any action of this House, as now constituted, could ever have. It would not be smothered under mere Party cries; it would stand on its merits, as a warning from wisdom and experience, that both Government and people must think again. So, my Lords, I greatly hope that this Bill will not be rejected on Second Reading.
If it be given a Second Reading, two things can happen. First, it can be amended so that the period of delay—whether nine months or twelve months—may begin from the Third Reading in the House of Commons—and that at least is a real improvement; secondly, it will give the Government the opportunity to say whether they will, in consultation with the other Parties, take up and put through the reform of the House of Lords. If they will not say that, then the Bill should be rejected on Third Reading. If they will say that, then, as I think, nothing ultimate hangs upon the mere difference between nine and twelve months. It might be said that it we reject the Bill now, we could then do the kind of thing I have indicated when it comes back again to us in due course. But could we? The Government might well then be unwilling to accept any Amendment, and unwilling to take up the question of reform at all. It has not been easy for them, I am sure, to go so far towards that as they leave now gone. And in that event, the Bill as it stands, with all its disastrous consequences, would become law. Indeed, I believe that in this Gilbertian world to vote for the rejection of the Bill is to vote that this Bill shall become law.
Scripture has been rather frequently quoted in this House in recent months. I would recall another text:Agree with thine adversary quickly while thou art in the way with him.History is full of examples of opportunities offered, and refused, which never come again—or at least never come in so favourable a guise. There are, I would fully agree, dangerous tendencies about in this unsettled world. If the matter is not 551 settled now, who can say in what shape it will next present itself, or that then we shall not deeply regret this lost opportunity. The best security for the future—a far better security than a niggle between nine and twelve months—is a solution now. All sides have made great sacrifices.
§ SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: No.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
I am astonished. I thought the Opposition had accepted some things that they did not like. At any rate, if not all sides, one side has made great sacrifices. At least, the field of provisional agreement does provide a stable basis—adequate, as I think, if not all that could be desired. Is that to be jeopardised by the remaining field of difference? Nothing, I believe, could more encourage and stabilise the people at this time, or more discourage the dangerous elements, than to know that in the worst of times all Parties have combined to end an old sore and to affirm together for long to come the Constitution under which we shall be governed.
§ 3.10 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
My Lords, your Lordships have listened to an impressive oration from the most reverend Primate, and I am sure each of you will give the utmost attention to it. Yet this is a practical matter. We have to consider the actual facts, and not—if the most reverend Primate will forgive my saying so—general observations about the virtue of agreement. We have to consider what we are actually going to decide when the Division is called on this question. There are two questions that will be decided. The first is whether we agree to the Amendment that has been moved. But much more important is the question: Are we in favour of the principle of the Bill that has been presented? The main question that arises on the Second Reading of every Bill is: Do we agree with the Second Reading? In this case (again with all apologies for differing from the most reverend Primate) talk about "the last chance of agreement," and that kind of thing, is quite beside the point. What will happen if we reject this Bill? It will have to be produced at the next Session of Parliament; it will again 552 come up for consideration and, if necessary, we can at that stage go into Committee and discuss the details. Even if that failed—if I read the Parliament Act aright—I understand that there will be a third opportunity. So the idea of this being the last chance of agreement to settle the controversy is really not ad rem.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
I did not say that this was the last chance. I did imply that it was the last chance of doing it with the present atmosphere of good will which has been generated by those joining in the discussions.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
The most reverend Primate is a much better judge of atmosphere and good will than I could ever pretend to be. But there is here, I think, a tendency to say that good will is always promoted by surrender. I do not believe that is true. If this Bill were passed to-morrow it would not settle the question; it would leave the question just as open as before. In the argument I am about to address to your Lordships I hope to show that that would be really postponing the matter or moving back the field of battle; it is not doing anything as to the final settlement of the question.
My noble friend Lord Stansgate, with a vivacity and vitality which made me very envious, assured us that what was happening was that there was a most well-meaning, peacefully-inclined Government, anxious not to make any change of importance but just to facilitate the working of the Parliamentary machine. Then a wicked Opposition in the House of Lords said they were going to hamper this admirable, peaceful and peace-loving manœuvre. The noble Viscount knows as well as I do that that is a mere caricature of what has actually happened. What has actually happened is this. There was no idea of further reform of the House of Lords at the last Election—at least I heard of none, and certainly there was no pledge for it at all. Then owing to a difficulty which arose in the House of Commons, because they proposed to do something which some of their supporters were not at all sure about, they said: "Let us transfer the controversy to a controversy between the two Houses." That was the object of the whole manœuvre. Nobody 553 pretends that there is any real reason for this Bill at all. It will not make any difference to the time in which they will be able to pass their measures whether they retain the existing law or change it. The only possible difference would be that there may be a General Election intervening between the final adoption of the measure and its proposal. To a democratically inclined Government—if such a thing exists—that ought to be an encouragement. They would receive a further pat on the back from their constituents, and be told to go on and prosper. I do not know whether that will happen or not.
If you look at the history of this thing—and I venture to ask the most reverend Primate's attention to this—it is not quite so simple as might appear from his speech. When it was begun in 1911, it was a perfectly clearly understood proposition that, at the earliest possible moment, a Bill would be introduced for the reform of this House. Everybody remembers the phrases that were used by Ministers at that time. A phrase well remembered was that of the late Earl Grey. He said: "It brooks no delay that we should proceed to the reform of the House of Lords." That is a phrase I remember being quoted over and over again. Not only reform, but the principles of reform were laid down in the Preamble to that Act. I have it before me, and it says:And whereas it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation.…It went on to say that when that had been done, then, of course, provisions would have to be made for defining the relations between the two Houses. I have a perfectly distinct recollection—as unfortunately I am now of an age to have a distinct recollection of this matter—that what was contemplated was not a further diminution of the powers of the new House, but an expansion of their powers, because, being a House founded not only on hereditary principles but on other grounds, they could be trusted with greater powers than were given under the Act of 1911.
The position at that time was that we had, in the most specific way we could possibly have it, an undertaking that the Government of that time, and their suc- 554 cessors, would at the earliest possible moment bring about a reform of this House and, as I think, give it extra powers beyond those which were given to it under the Act of 1911. Therefore, when we are asked to say, as we are now by the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, and the most reverend Primate, that we ought to accept this proposal because it is such an immense thing (and I think the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said the same thing) to get a promise that this House will be reformed, I would point out that we have had that promise for thirty-seven years, and nothing has been done. If the Government were to produce a Bill for the reform of this House, and that Bill had been agreed by all those who were competent to agree upon it, that would be something. But a mere vague statement in a White Paper on the general principles—not even a precise statement—I venture to think is not even worth the paper upon which it is written.
I do not propose to ask your Lordships to listen to me on the question of the delay of nine months and twelve months, because, to my mind, the importance of the Bill is not so much a question of a few months more or less of delay, but rather the procedure which has been adopted to present this Bill to Parliament and which is designed to force the Bill through Parliament, whatever may be said about it. That procedure is equally applicable to any future Bill, and I am quite sure it will be used again. There are many many Members of the House of Commons who are already demanding that there shall be a pure Single Chamber. Of course, whenever some future Steel Bill, or some equally ill-considered measure, is produced the difficulty will arise again. They will have this procedure ready to hand and they will force through their measure. They will have established Single Chamber government. Therefore, the aspect of the matter which I ask your Lordships to consider is what Single Chamber government would really mean in this country. It would mean the uncontrolled power of the House of Commons, as I think everybody will admit who looks at things impartially—the uncontrolled power of the Government of the day. That is the aspect to which I think attention should be most closely drawn. The question I would venture to submit to your Lordships is this: Is it desirable that we should be ruled by a 555 Cabinet oligarchy That is the real question we have to consider and nothing else, for that is rapidly becoming the nature of our Government.
Just consider, if your Lordships will for a moment, the present working of the Constitution. A General Election takes place, with the result that there is a Labour or a Conservative Prime Minister in power. He chooses his Cabinet, and nobody has any constitutional right to interfere with him. The Cabinet, so chosen, decide all questions of administration and most questions of legislation. If any of the majority in the House of Commons resist, if they only protest against any part of the policy of the Government, they are sent for by the Party caucus. We have seen it happen. They are told that, unless they withdraw and apologise, they will be turned out of the Party. To be turned out of the Party may not seem a very serious matter to people who are not familiar with the working of these things. What it means is that there will be a candidate of a more orthodox character run against the rebel. I know all about it. Of course, the result is either the success of such a candidate or, at least, that the rebel loses his seat. Nowadays, that means that he loses his position as a Member of Parliament and the emoluments he receives in that position. It is useless not recognising facts as they are. That is the threat held out over every Member of the House of Commons who ventures to express an opinion different from that of the Government of the day. Everybody knows that, and it would be well, if I may venture respectfully to say so, if the most reverend Primate were to consider that aspect of the case. We have seen the thing in operation, and we know how it works.
There was the celebrated Nenni case. I had no sympathy with the so-called "Nennies"; I thought they were quite wrong; but surely, on a matter of public importance, they had the right to their opinion. One would have thought, that as Members of Parliament they had a right to express that opinion. No doubt, in the circumstances, it was quite right for the Government to pay no attention to that opinion. But what happened? They were sent for, and they all said obediently that they meant no harm and that they would not do it again. One refused and was turned out of the Party. I venture 556 to say that if you consider the working of that it means uncontrolled domination of the House of Commons by the Cabinet of to-day.
There is a case on the other side. There was a gentleman—I do not know him personally—who expressed some doubts (not more than doubts) about the steel policy of the Government. They were not afraid of him; there was no formal procedure; he was just "chucked out" of the Party. To my mind, the position has been emphasised by the Criminal Justice Bill. If I may say so, with the utmost respect, I was rather surprised that the Lord Chancellor should have cited that vote as proof that the House of Commons was independent. What are the real facts? Why was the House of Commons allowed a free vote—and I call your Lordships' attention to the word "free"? I think the reason is perfectly well known; it was that the Cabinet were undecided as to what was the best policy to pursue with regard to the Criminal justice Bill, or with that particular matter. It was because the Cabinet were undecided that the other members had their free vote. Surely, that demonstrates most clearly the rigidity of the rule that there is no such thing as a free vote in the House of Commons.
I have heard some suggestions that, after all, this was not a new departure on the part of this Government, and that Conservative Cabinets, when they were in power, had done much the same kind of thing. I personally have some knowledge of this matter, and I do not think it was quite so autocratically done as by the present Government. I admit there is some ground for saying that it was under a Coalition Government, consisting mainly of Conservatives, that this kind of procedure was begun. But that merely strengthens my case. It shows—looking at it from a constitutional point of view—that it is becoming common form that followers of any Parties with a majority in the House of Commons must do as they are told by the Government of the day. I shall be told, perhaps, that that does not matter, because the Cabinet obtain their power from the electorate and that therefore the chief power still remains with the electorate. I merely remind your Lordships that Hitler made a precisely similar claim; he claimed that 557 he had the support of the people of Germany. Similarly, Stalin claims that he has the support of the people of Russia. That does not, however, prevent these gentleman being, for all practical purposes, autocrats with despotic power.
That is not the only case, of course. Go back a little into history. I am old enough, unfortunately, to remember something of the Second Empire in France. I do not pretend to have made any research, but I have always understood that that was an autocratic Government, that although the Emperor Napoleon III was a despot, in the ordinary sense of the word, yet undoubtedly he was placed in power by the vote of the French people. The reason I cite these cases is to impress upon your Lordships that it is not the origin of the powers of a Government that sets that Government's character; it is the powers themselves. If they have despotic or oligarchic powers, then they are despots or an oligarchy, as the case may be. At present, we have a modified form of Cabinet oligarchy. I do not see any possibility of doubt of that plain statement of fact, and, that being so, I contend that it is of the utmost importance that there should be, in proper cases, an appeal to the people. That is to me the main argument for a Second Chamber. I am not bothered about the question of delay or suspense or anything of that kind, except so far as it bears on that main proposition. The question is, has the Second Chamber a right to ask, in proper cases, for an appeal to the people before it accepts legislation?
I know, of course, that the composition of the Second Chamber is open to criticism; I understand that we are all agreed on that, and have been agreed upon it since at least 1911. But I believe you could go back to 1888, if you examined the facts, and find general agreement that some reconstitution of this House ought to be made. That is the point; and it may well be that that ought to take place before you settle any further diminution of the powers of the House. I think that is right. But this House ought to be made strong enough to go to the people about measures upon which their support is in reasonable doubt. That is the essential point; and, as I see it, it is the only safeguard against revolutionary change. The tendency to-day in many European countries con- 558 stitutes a very real danger. This country has always felt in its history a backblow from political violence abroad.
Take the case of Czechoslovakia, which used to be an almost model democratic state. Events there may seem remote at present. But that gives us an opportunity to take proper precautions against extreme policies here. I listened with attention to the speech last night of the noble Lord, Lord Lindsay of Birker, and he did not deny that this was a very real danger. It was a very striking statement—though I must add that his scheme for dealing with the danger seemed to me rather visionary. I do not think that the creation of a judicial tribunal who should say whether or not something was consistent with the Constitution of the country is the practical way of dealing with it. The noble Lord said it was a real danger. That being so, I say that this is not the time to diminish our defences but rather to strengthen them. I do not want to appear to place my case too high. I should be the last person in the world to accuse the present Prime Minister of being a despot or desiring to be a despot. The same may be said of most, if not all, of his colleagues. But they are preparing the way—that is what I want to impress upon your Lordships—and smoothing the path for revolutionary successors and for the definite and complete transformation of our Constitution from a democracy to an oligarchy or even to a despotism.
In one way, I am not altogether sorry for the breakdown of the recent negotiations. I cannot believe that a Second Chamber as there sketched would have been strong enough to resist a tyrannical Cabinet. We want somebody with the authority of a Senate. As things stand, that means that it must in some way be indirectly representative of the people. Evidently we shall get nothing in that direction from the present Government. Why should they do anything about it? They have their majority; they can do what they like. They have no reason to make a serious concession to us. They have the power and they will not resign it or limit it. This is where your Lordships have a very serious duty, as I venture respectfully to think. The remedy in the end must be left to a future Parliament. It may be asked: "If we get a Conservative Government, for instance, would they take the necessary 559 action to restore the Constitution of the country"? There is a great tendency in such a case for a Government to say: "Well, we have a majority in the House of Commons. The other House will be in difficulty. Why should we do anything? Let us leave things as they are." I am afraid that that was very much the attitude of the Conservative leaders during the period which succeeded 1911.
With the utmost respect, I venture to appeal to my noble friends opposite on this point. Let me beg them to treat these dangers that threaten us as really serious, and to resolve that, as and when they have the power to do so, they will re-establish our Constitution on an unshakable foundation. In the meantime, it seems to me right that the House should dissociate themselves altogether from the Government's attack and should reject the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ LORD FRASER OF NORTH CAPE
My Lords, I have come up to-day from Portsmouth as a serving officer with a very elementary knowledge of Parliamentary procedure but with the same regard for the welfare of my country as your Lordships have. Of course, I must look at these things through naval eyes because I think perhaps naval procedure is rather superior to Parliamentary procedure. If I may make a comparison with the Navy, I would compare another place with the captain of a ship and, with all humility, I would compare your Lordships' House with the navigating officer. The captain of a ship is appointed by an outside authority. He must take command and he must set the course to be steered. The navigating officer must watch the safe navigation of the ship of State. But at any time the navigating officer can go to his captain and say: "Sir, unless you alter your course you will run your ship into danger," and he makes an entry in the log. But the captain does not regard that signal of danger from his navigating officer as flouting his authority or as thwarting the will of the people. On the contrary, he regards it as very wise and experienced advice. But the fact remains that the decision must finally rest with the captain. If the captain damages his ship, it is an outside authority which is responsible for removing the captain; it cannot be done 560 by the navigating officer. In my opinion, your Lordships' House has a prestige and a wealth of knowledge and experience superior to that of any other body in this country. To my mind and in my comparison, the fact that your Lordships reject a Bill is a signal to the captain and the nation that the country is running into danger.
With regard to the time limit, it seems to me that in comparison with the tremendous danger signal which your Lordships are able to give in this way, the time limit is of secondary importance. In my view, there are two requirements. First, it must be long enough to allow public opinion to crystallise. Secondly, it must be long enough to prevent the more turbulent members of any Party hustling their leaders into ill-judged and unwise actions. With regard to the first, what man can say how long it takes to crystallise public opinion? If a ship goes full speed ahead, I think it is obvious that she will get there in half the time than if she goes at half speed. If the Government and the Opposition go full speed ahead in the Press, in speeches and on platforms, then public opinion will crystallise more quickly. With regard to the point which was raised about the position at the beginning of a Parliament and the position towards the end of a Parliament, the same simile will apply. A captain starts in command, and follows his instructions; but when his time and command are running out, he has probably finished his instructions and may then be acting either injudiciously or independently on his own. But at that stage, the captain is starting to think of his further employment, and he will take the utmost care that his followers, the outside authorities, are fully in agreement with what he is doing. If not, he will find that the First Lord of the Admiralty will say: "No further employment for you."
There are two things which I have learnt in the Navy. The first is this. Looking round the world to-day, one sees that the barometer is still falling. The storm has not yet passed, and we must take the ship of State united on its course while that situation lasts. In a ship there must be a port watch and a starboard watch like the Government and the Opposition. But the biggest job in a ship in olden days was a job which was called 561 "Splicing the main brace," for which a suitable reward followed. My Lords, in heaven's name let us to-day "splice the main brace" together. The second thing which I have learnt in my sea experience is a very useful thing to know by anybody who goes to sea—namely, how to avoid a head-on collision. We have a little rhyme which says:if you see three lights ahead Starboard your helm and show your red.The choice of showing your "red" is unfortunate, but I think "starboarding your helm"—to the right—equalises the influence of "the red" in the Navy. Those are the things I have learned, and I cannot believe that at this time, with men of good will, this question cannot be settled. It is for that reason, and from listening to the debates, that I shall myself vote for a Second Reading of the Bill.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ LORD SCHUSTER
My Lords, we have had a long and interesting debate, and your Lordships may well criticise anybody who delays you from the Division which is to come; but some of us (and I myself in particular) find it exceedingly difficult to give a silent vote on this Bill. My difficulty arises largely from the fact that I do not wholly agree with all that has been said, either from the one side of the House or the other. I would like to say a few words in the first place on the text supplied by the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, who, I might observe, gave me great pleasure and great stimulation when he quoted the old saying about the two parties to marriage and asked: "Which one is to be on top?" For my own part, whatever views may be held on this side of the House, I have no doubt about the answer to that question. It is the House of Commons. I think that is the well-understood doctrine which has now prevailed for many years.
The function of this House is a revisory and a suspensory one. It is not a function to control that which the House of Commons, on reflection and after considering what an informed electorate may say, chooses to decree. Why is that? It is because we live, for good or evil, under a democracy. That is a form of policy which has many disadvantages and also many advantages. Anyhow, nobody has been able to devise a better one for the present day. The majority in a demo- 562 cracy are living inevitably under the rule of the majority. It must be for the House of Commons finally to prevail. Therefore, when we are told that some barrier should be set up against a revolutionary change, I cannot accept the doctrine. It appears to me—as I think the Lord Chancellor said earlier in the debate—that a change which was intended to be revolutionary would sweep away any paper, any wooden or, indeed, any steel barrier, and if this House was to try to turn itself into such a barrier, I think its fate would be of minor importance, compared to the general catastrophe.
That is not to say, however, that this House is not to fulfil the function which through many years has been accepted by all Parties (and particularly the Conservative Party) as being its proper function—namely, the function of causing the House of Commons to think again, of enabling the electorate themselves to consider the question, which may not yet have come before them. Therefore, there should be sufficient delay to enable those things to be done. It is quite clear that if you have, as in the case of your Lordships' House, a Chamber which, in theory is omnipotent, and the House of Commons which is also itself, in theory, omnipotent, you may arrive at a hopeless deadlock. In such a deadlock, which is likely to prevail? In the old days there were means of dealing with such a deadlock. Lord Stansgate has himself, I think, already cited the means whereby agreement to the Treaty of Utrecht was obtained. The threat of the creation of new Peers was enough to pass the Act of 1832. The threat of the creation of new Peers was enough in the long run to pass the Parliament Act of 1911. I think those who framed the Bill which later became the Act of 1911 wisely thought that it was not an expedient which could be employed without making the whole situation ridiculous.
Therefore, being wise after the event, I have for long thought that the Act of 1911 was a wise and statesmanlike device, not, indeed, enabling all this common sense to prevail, or enabling other things to prevail, but for removing a constitutional deadlock which might otherwise have brought disaster. What is the situation now? I am not capable of following the mathematical proposition, 563 and I do not want to argue again the question whether this Bill does or does not produce Single Chamber government. I have already listened to several speeches which prove that that is so, and I merely state dogmatically that it does. That being the case, I cannot see how that wise settlement, as I think it was in 1911, could stand any longer; or how this House, deprived of a power which is necessary for its existence could continue to function.
The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel (who I am sorry to see is not at the moment in his place), made an appeal to the House which, in truth and effect, was an appeal to the Conservative Party. What he said was: Accept this Bill lest something worse befall you. Then the most reverend Prelate the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, in slightly different words, said the same thing, and called upon us to agree with our adversary while there was time. If this were some matter which admitted of compromise, if we did not believe that the effect of this Bill, if passed, would be to establish Single Chamber government, there would be a great deal to be said for acceding to Lord Samuel's invitation to give this Bill a Second Reading. But, if we do not believe that, how can we accede to that invitation? I am now hardened by some thirty-three years of close observation of political Parties and political morphology—sometimes from the wings. I quite agree that a rigid adherence to principle, as to other virtues, does not always bring the rewards which it deserves. I quite agree that Parties and combinations, by manœuvres and compliances have from time to time succeeded momentarily in snatching political advantages. But I also notice this: that when Parties and combinations, for the sake of momentary advantage, give up that which is really in their backbone as a principle, their failure is certain.
It may well be that the cry of "the Lords against the People," having been raised, the electorate will say that they prefer "the People." I should not be at all surprised if they did. They might dislike the line which we have taken. But if I were an elector and I found that a Party, after continually protesting that disaster might come from a concession they were desired to yield to the other side, nevertheless yielded it, I think I 564 would say: "Of all Parties I will not have that one." Disaster would come—and well-deserved disaster. I do not want to be offensive or annoying about this, but I believe that we have at least one instance in fairly recent English political history where such conduct on the part of a Party has brought disaster.
If my views could have any effect on those who think with me on this matter, I would say that this is not an occasion on which principle should be surrendered. I am not prepared at any time to commit suicide for a comma or to die for a punctilio. But this is not a comma and not a punctilio. It is a matter of high principle on which we have to decide this afternoon. We have to decide whether or not we will be a party to, and announce our adherence to, the doctrine that there shall be Single Chamber government. I think those with whom I have acted during the last four or five months know well that from the very start of the discussions on this Bill in this Chamber, my great desire has always been that, if any means could be found, we should give this Bill a Second Reading and proceed to amend it in Committee. I thought—wrongly thought—that His Majesty's Government, when the Bill so came, would consider seriously the criticisms which we have made, and would make some attempt to remove our fears and so turn this Bill into what the Conservative representatives at the conference desired—a Bill which we could all accept.
A conference has been held and we have had discussions in this House extending over approximately a day and two-thirds. We have had speeches from the Government Front Bench and from the Woolsack, and every opportunity has been given to the Government, if they have any disposition to reach the eirenicon to which the most reverend Primate invited us, to take the first step in that direction. They know well that they have only to take one step for us to step towards them. But they have consistently, either by direct denial or by silence, refused every offer which has been made to them, though they have made—again I do not want to be offensive and I hope that the word will not be thought to be so—a provisional and, I think derisory offer during the conference itself.
565 In those circumstances what am I to do. I had hoped that I might vote for the Second Reading. How can I do that now when, on the Government's own showing—either by speech or by silence—it involves the surrender of a principle for which we stand; for which I stand equally with my friends here? We believe there should be two Chambers. We do not believe that the so-called Upper Chamber should dominate, or enforce its will upon, the Lower when once a matter at issue has been debated and brought before all those who ought to express an opinion upon it. But we are determined that for our part we will take no step to what we regard as a disaster—the destruction of this House as a suspensory and delaying Chamber.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ LORD CATTO
My Lords, I did not intend to take any part in this debate, but last night as I was leaving the House I had the privilege of a short conversation with my noble and learned friend Lord Simon, and he emphasised to me the point that this Bill involves a constitutional change which should require a clear mandate from the electorate. And he used this argument—that the Parliament Bill was preceded by two bitterly-fought Elections, so that the opinion of the country could be properly ascertained. The profound and almost unique knowledge of the noble and learned Viscount on constitutional law and practice impressed me greatly and, during the night, I have been turning over in my mind whether such a view—and it is a very important view—constitutes a valid reason for the rejection of this Bill without further effort at discussion and amendment in the Committee stage. In examining the argument of the noble Viscount, I would have been inclined to agree with him had this Bill, in fact, entirely abolished the suspensory period or made it completely ineffective. That would, indeed, have been a constitutional change on which the country must speak. But, a reduction of the suspensory period, whilst, without doubt, it is a fundamental change, is not necessarily a constitutional change.
Now I do not recollect—there are noble Lords here who may correct me on this—that the suspensory period was ever a feature of the two bitterly contested Elections before the Parliament Bill. I believe that I am right in saying that the period of two years was decided upon by 566 the Government then in power. I was a voter then and I have no recollection that the suspensory period was a feature at either of those Elections. The question was a far broader one than that—it was whether the House of Lords could indefinitely hold up the will of the House of Commons. It is, therefore, a debatable point as to whether an amendment of the suspensory period is, in fact, a fundamental constitutional change. But without doubt, it is a vital change and one that we have a right and it duty to resist. But I am not convinced that, on its constitutional aspects, the best way of doing that is to reject the Bill to-day and, therefore, prevent it going forward for further discussion, and possibly amendment, in the Committee stage. It seems to me to be right and proper to let it go forward to Committee stage. It would then be quite clear that we had gone to the limit of our constitutional rights of discussion, whereas the Amendment of the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition simply slams the door.
But far more important than that is this point. We should not kill the Bill, for if the Government proceed with it under the Parliament Act, then we shall have it imposed on us in its existing form, whether we like it or not, and we shall have it missed an opportunity of further discussion. Nothing is lost by the Bill going to Committee stage, for it can be rejected there if no amendment is possible—I think I am right in regard to that point, but if I am not no doubt noble Lords will correct me. Going to the last ditch in an endeavour to reach an agreed settlement is not a sign of weakness, as some noble Lords seemed to suggest to-day and yesterday. On the contrary, in a long experience, I have often found that it was when things seemed most hopeless that the spirit of compromise became most effective and strong men agreed in the general interest of the country.
Some noble Lords have referred to the reasons for this Bill. Steel and iron nationalisation has been mentioned. It is well known that on financial and economic grounds, many of us have grave misgivings, on such an experiment, especially at such a time as this, when the world is experiencing the worst political and economic blizzard it history. But that matter can be dealt with when the time comes. Do not let us confuse that Issue with the issues before us to-day. Nor 567 need we look for motives. In my view, the question before us is quite plain: it is not a question of whether we accept this Bill; it is a question of whether we allow the Bill to go to Committee stage. I, for one, think that that is the reasoned common-sense attitude to adopt. For those reasons I cannot support the Amendment of the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition with so much distinction. His arguments yesterday were most convincing because of his charm in expressing them, but I warn your Lordships that the course he advocates is wrong. For the reasons I have given, I propose to vote against this Amendment.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ LORD CHATFIELD
My Lords, during this long debate I have listened very carefully to the eloquent speeches made by noble Lords of the greatest experience and political wisdom. As one who sits on what are called the Cross Benches, like a great many of those old State servants who have never had strong political affiliations and therefore have no guiding Whip to tell us which way to vote, it is necessary for me to listen carefully to the wisdom of the House and try to make up my mind as an independent individual about what really would be best for the country and what the country would support. It is certainly the case that the debate has taken what might be called Party lines. That, perhaps, is inevitable in a House which is constituted—and there is no doubt many of us feel, unfortunately constituted—as ours is today. The division is partly on constitutional principles and partly, perhaps, because one Party are going to gain if the Bill passes and the other Party are going to lose. The Liberal Party have taken the moderate line of advising a compromise.
The strongest argument that has influenced me has been that advanced by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. I cannot help feeling that there is something wrong about the introduction of the Bill in this way—its being rushed through in the last two years of the Government's power. However honestly the Bill was brought forward—and I do not doubt the honesty of any Party—however strongly the Government may feel that this is a necessary Bill with the Constitution of the House of Lords as it is, there is the unfortunate fact that it is tainted by Party advantage. I do not think one can really accept the fact as 568 stated, for instance, by the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, yesterday, that there is a mandate for this Bill. It may be that in the Election addresses in 1945 there was included, as one of many dozens of proposals, that the reform of the House of Lords would be undertaken. But was the Election really fought in any way at all on that issue? Was the matter mentioned in 10 per cent of the constituencies?
I myself spoke in the 1945 Election and went to several large towns. I found there were only two things that interested the electorate—the nationalisation proposals, and the large poster that was put up in the town in which I was speaking: "Vote Labour for more pay and less work" I fought that argument very strongly and, I think, with some success, as the Member for whom I was speaking won his seat. But who is it that wins the Election? Is it to be imagined that the large mass of political opinion, thoroughly inbred in individuals and families, changes when a Conservative Government is turned out and a Labour Government comes in with a majority change-over of 300? Of course it does not. As my old gardener said to me, "I always vote Labour, for my father voted Labour and my grandfather voted Labour." That is the spirit and principle in which a great number of people always vote. How is it then that there is a sudden switch over from one Government to another? It is due to the large floating independent vote—people who have no politics and do not care about politics, who are not affiliated to any political club and do not take any interest in political work. Do you mean to tell me that if we could ask those people whether they were in support of this Bill they would say "Yes" or "No"? I do not suppose they have any idea. It would take them a long time to think it out and talk it over in their clubs, in bars and with their families, and they would make up their minds and change them again half a dozen times before eventually coming to a conclusion.
It was said in this House yesterday that Party is the essence of democratic government; that without it everything would break up and there would be the danger of dictatorship, and so on. That is perfectly true, as regards the Lower 569 House. The Members are there to represent the different Parties in the country, and it is essential and vital that they should represent their constituents and perform their duty in that way. But I venture to suggest that that is not so in your Lordships' House. The value of your Lordships' House is in direct proportion to the lack of Party politics here. If this House is to be reconstituted on Party lines, then two things can happen. One is that the House will represent political opinion in the country at the moment—in which case it will be a mere mirror of the House of Commons. The other is that, as at present, it will not do so—in which case it is merely an unsatisfactory House because it is not trusted by a great proportion of the public and it has no authority except that which has been born in it. As an Independent member of your Lordships' House, I feel that I am just as likely to be right as anybody who has some slight Party inclination, in imagining what the independent elector who counts is thinking.
My own feeling is that it is wrong to pass this Bill as it stands. Whether or not a mandate was thought of for the reform of the House of Lords, it cannot be said there was any mandate for this Bill. The Bill has never been before the country. If there was a mandate for reform, how far does that mandate go? Would it have justified the Government in reducing the suspensory powers of the House of Lords to six months, or to one Session, or how far could they go? Could they have gone so far as to suggest the abolition of the House of Lords altogether? I do not know. But certainly it cannot be said that there is any mandate at the present time for the Bill as it stands. My noble and gallant friend who preceded me used a nautical saying:If you see three lights ahead, Starboard your helm and show your red.He then said that the reference to "red" was unfortunate, and no doubt what he had in mind was:When to starboard Red appears, It is your duty to keep clear.That is my feeling at the present time. I consider that it is a little dangerous to tinker with the Constitution in this way, and that to pass a measure of this nature weakens the whole spirit of the British Constitution. The Bill is unwise and un- 570 fortunate. If the Government wanted to have it, I suggest that they should, first of all, have brought in their Bill, whether a dreadful or an excellent Bill, and if the House of Lords turned it down they should have gone to the country on the question of the reform and the powers of the House of Lords. It is not the powers of the House of Lords that need altering; it is the reform of the House of Lords that is necessary. If the House of Lords were properly reformed, then the powers they have would always be well exercised, and they should be left as near as possible to what they are now. Therefore I feel bound, without any political prejudice, to support the Amendment of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ LORD TEVIOT
My Lords, I will detain your Lordships for only a short time. This is not a Party matter, as I see it. I am forced to my feet by the speech yesterday of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. He has rather advertised the view that he says the Liberals should take. I feel, as a Liberal National, that I must get away from that view, because I do not agree with it. I am going to ask the noble Viscount a question. I was unable to be here when he spoke yesterday, but from the OFFICIAL REPORT I see that he said: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 GovernmentI would like to ask the noble Viscount whether that Amendment is that nine months should be the period of delay.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
That is what I meant by saying "the majority of the conference" Of course, it would be open to the House to amend that.
§ LORD TEVIOT
That is what I wanted to find out from the noble Viscount. That brings me to the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, on January 27 of this year. It appears that since then he has altered his mind—as, of course, everybody is entitled to do. I propose to read an extract from the speech he then made. He said: 571With regard to this Bill, I think it is a bad Bill. Some of my noble friends do not agree with me. I think that the two-year provision in the Parliament Act is right and that the shortening of the term is wrong. I also think that there ought to be very full opportunities for discussions upon this matter in the country. I think, further, that the Steel Nationalisation Bill promises to be a most harmful measure, and I would not do anything to give it more facilities than it would otherwise receive.That change of mind in a great statesman such as the noble Viscount disturbs me a great deal. And, in view of it, still more do I agree with my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
I am sorry to be the cause of disturbance in the mind of the noble Lord, but may I point out that since then the Conservative Opposition have agreed that if this Bill were altered, to make the period one year from the Third Reading, they would be willing to accept it?
§ LORD TEVIOT
I agree that that is so. I think the minimum time we should have is one year. With regard to the question of letting the Bill go to Committee, I think that a conference, composed of comparatively few men, is far more likely to arrive at some agreement than a Committee of the Whole House; and the conference had many sittings. I feel that every avenue has been explored to enable an agreement to be reached and, so far, that has not come about. I propose to read one or two statements from a book called The Problems of a Socialist Government. It was written and published by Victor Gollancz in 1933. The contributors to the book are the present Leader of the House, Lord Addison, the present Prime Minister and Sir Stafford Cripps. This is the sort of thing that leads me to agree with what my noble friend Lord Cecil said, and also with what fell from the noble Lord, Lord Schuster. If you have genuine, strong ideas when you are in Opposition, I do not think you are likely to change your spots when you get into power with an immense majority.
Now may I just read this statement on page 49 of the book—it is made by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer:I have already dealt with one aspect of the difficulties arising from the House of Lords; that is the immediate problem but it will be equally necessary to eliminate delay and opposition consequent upon a Second 572 Chamber in subsequent legislation. There is only one safe and satisfactory means of doing this and that is by the abolition of the House of Lords. Some form of revising or consultative Second Chamber may be set up in the future, but there will be no time to do this in the initial stages of socialisation and in any event there can never be more than one sovereign body and that must be the House of Commons.That is a statement which, whatever the right honourable gentleman may have felt, contained what I have no doubt were his views at that time, and I have no doubt they are now. The present Prime Minister said:I associate myself with his conclusions"—that is to say, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer's conclusions. This suggestion of the possibility of the Second Chamber being done away with altogether indicates a very dangerous mood, and when the suggestion comes from such an authority as I have just quoted, endorsed by the present Prime Minister, is it surprising that we who have the welfare of our country at heart, and who believe that we should have some sort of stop on wild legislation, should feel that we cannot go any further in regard to this Bill?
I do not believe, either, that the majority of the people in the country want this. A curious thing happened only within the last month or so. A stout-hearted Socialist met a friend of mine, who asked him how he was getting on. He said: "I am fed-up. I am a one-man business, and I am never allowed to do what I want. I am continually signing papers and getting licences. Now they are going to tackle the House of Lords. "So this person said to him: "I should have thought that was just your 'cup of tea,'" and he replied: "No, you must not touch them" What was behind that man's mind? I imagine that he thought: "I am a Socialist. I am prepared to gamble with wild schemes of legislation, in the form of nationalisation, but if they go wrong and there is trouble I still have the House of Lords as a safety value behind me."
There is just one other thing I wish to say. I quoted this in a speech I made in the first debate we had upon this subject. Why should not one take up the very words that are said by the prominent members of the noble Viscount's Party? The Lord President of the Council said in another place on December 10, 1947: 573This Bill may be related to a whole series of measures before this Parliament is done.… The Opposition do not know what is coming to them.Is that not very sinister? Is that not a threat? It is time we realised that these people mean what they say; and if they do mean what they say, then I can have nothing whatever to do with this Bill. It is our job to protect the rights of the people. And to do this we must have the necessary delaying powers which will enable them to consider and understand all questions adequately. There appears to be nothing in the Bill to protect our people from wild legislation. Taking all things into consideration, and taking the noble Lord's Party supporters and prominent men at their word, I support with complete confidence the Amendment of the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition.
§ 4.35 p.m.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, we had perhaps no very great hopes of the support in this Chamber of the noble Lord who has just spoken. We are inclined to regard him as having long ago crossed the bourn from which no fellow traveller returns. But, none the less, he has opened up an avenue of discussion, and I propose in due course to follow him a little way along it. Before I come to that, may I just say this by way of preliminary? I have endeavoured to look at this matter with all the detachment and objectivity of which I am capable. In venturing to make an ultimate appeal to your Lordships, I have come to my conclusion, admittedly and deliberately, on a short view of the matter.
What may happen in the future if we get to a Third Reading is not the subject which we are discussing to-day. So far as I am concerned, whatever action I take to-day, I hold myself absolutely free to take what course seems to me right if a Third Reading should ultimately be attained. When the provisions of this Bill were first adumbrated in your Lordships' House in the debate upon the Address, I was amongst those who expressed views upon it which were, I hope, Parliamentary but I know impolite, and who allowed themselves some speculation as to the internal strains and stresses within the Government which had led to the introduction of this measure at all. I do not recant any of the views upon this Bill which I expressed upon that occasion; indeed, if 574 I had to make a similar speech to-day I might even, in the interval, have found some other opprobrious epithets with which to garnish it. But in my view, what has happened in the interval has utterly changed the situation which existed at that time.
It may be that I attach undue importance to one of the two parallel subjects—although one is not contained within the four corners of the Bill—which inevitably are in our minds today. I believe overwhelmingly in the immediate importance of the question of the reform of the composition of the House, and of these two twin subjects that one carries in my mind the predominant weight. It is for that reason, in view of the events that have happened since we first became acquainted with the contents of this Bill, that believe that the right course to-day, involving not the smallest sacrifice of principle of any kind, is to accord to this Bill a Second Reading, in order that we may discuss it in Committee and endeavour to arrive even now, and in spite of the failure of the conference, at a solution which shall be what a considerable number of members of the House know in their hearts to be the right answer—namely, a solution by agreement.
I am, unfortunately, old enough to remember as a young man something of the acrid atmosphere in which the battles of forty years ago on this subject were fought. It would be a sad thing for the political life of to-day if that condition of affairs were to be reproduced once more. I am told that at the present stage the people of this country are tired of the subject and are no longer interested in it. I believe that the relative composure with which the country has so far received the report of the discussions on this subject is due to two factors. The first is that they want the matter settled by agreement; and the second, that they believe that it is right that it should be settled by agreement and that they look to the two Houses of Parliament to achieve that end, having got so far, without stirring up once again all the old dust of conflict that we knew long ago.
It is just because I agree up to a point with the terms of the noble Marquess's Amendment that I am prepared to take an opposite line from him. I believe that it would be immensely to the detriment 575 of this country if we were to develop a system of Single Chamber government. I would point out that there is not a little doubt about whether the course that he is recommending to the House to-day is the best way to avoid a Single Chamber government threat in this country. The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, who has just spoken, cited some examples of extreme views on the future of this House—indeed, so extreme as to lead to no future for the House at all. One noble Lord said last night that there was in the ranks of the Government supporters what he called a restless and unsettled element which was impatient of the powers of this House. I think that that is true, and I believe that by rejecting this Bill on Second Reading you will be putting into the hands of that restless and unsettled element exactly the weapon for which they have been waiting. If this House rejects this Bill to-day, it will be the first time since the year 1914 that your Lordships have seen fit to reject a Government measure on a Second Reading debate; and that alone should be sufficient to bring home to you with how grave a decision you are confronted.
Although this House and the country may up till now have been comparatively apathetic on this subject, do you believe that if this Bill is thrown out on Second Reading, without leaving an opportunity of considering Amendments or giving one more chance of settlement by agreement, the country will be allowed to continue apathetic? Surely not, if some of the wilder spirits who, in another place—not here—support His Majesty's Government are let loose to pour out the kind of violent stuff of which there has already been an indication and of which I ventured to quote an example during the debate on the Address. There are plenty of people who are waiting hopefully for your Lordships to throw this Bill out this afternoon; and what they are waiting for is, not to see the House of Lords strengthened or re-composed, but to see it depart into oblivion.
I believe most firmly that if, on this Second Reading, you decide to reject this Bill, you will be taking a most serious step—however much it may be against your desires—towards Single Chamber government in this country. And for that reason, if for no other, I should feel 576 impelled to vote against the Amendment in order that we may have an opportunity of discussing the matter again. The opportunity in the conference came so near to realisation that it would be a thousand pities if we were to let it fade away into space, perhaps never to show itself again in our time. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, yesterday applied to my noble friend, Lord Samuel, the term "opportunist" If opportunism means reluctance to see a great opportunity thrown away, then I think that on behalf of my noble friend I can accept that description and venture to include myself within it.
There is another aspect, and I think it is perhaps neither fanciful nor far-fetched to suggest that some attention should be given to it at this moment. The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, in his speech talked about the political backblow that this country often receives from disturbances in other countries of the world. If any vital principle were involved in allowing this Bill to go through Second Reading, I agree that it would be idle to put forward the additional consideration which I have in mind. But although it has been said that it is normally the case that in a vote on the Second Reading the House expresses its view for or against the principle of a Bill, I would ask what is to stop the House from saying: "Although we do not agree with the principle of this Bill, we propose to allow it to go forward to Committee because we still hope that a solution may be found by consent; but if such a solution is not found, then the Third Reading will supply us with the opportunity which we shall require." Where is any sacrifice of principle involved in taking that course?
The other consideration which I had in mind and to which I was leading, although I agree it must be secondary, is this. True it is, no doubt, as the noble Viscount said, that the state of affairs in this country is often influenced by the state of affairs abroad. But is not the converse equally true? Does not what this country does sometimes influence the course of events abroad? At this moment almost everywhere democratic institutions are assailed, either from within their own countries or from outside. I submit to your Lordships that it would be a tragedy if Parliament in this country arbitrarily threw away an opportunity to show the 577 world the efficacy of democratic government in its power to obtain results by the consent of all Parties of the State. If we here, in this Parliament, which has, after all set the pattern in the past to the Legislatures of the world, were to say: "In spite of the deep fissures which divide us on so many issues and in spite of an initial failure, we have in the end come together and settled, at least for a time, this ancient, vexed and explosive question of the House of Lords," would it not be effective in rekindling the confidence and revitalising the zest of those in many countries abroad who at this moment are striving against the tyranny which is stealing over their own countries and who are endeavouring to preserve not the mere form, but the real spirit of popular Government?
For those reasons, I would earnestly and urgently appeal to your Lordships to take the view that, with the breakdown of the conference, the last word upon this matter has not yet been said. No doubt the statesmen who were engaged in it were unable to arrive at a conclusion. But the statesmen who took part in that conference were, after all, with all possible respect to them, not the only statesmen possessed by Parliament or by your Lordships' House. What is statesmanship except common sense on a grand scale? I would respectfully beg of the House at this point not to terminate this crucial matter but to determine to take it into its own hands and see whether in the Committee stage there cannot be brought to bear upon it the concentrated wisdom and experience of this House, with a view to reaching an agreed end. If that attempt fails, the position has not been in the slightest degree compromised. If it succeeds, it will have infused a new strength and virility into the political institutions of this country, and it will have put heart and hope everywhere into democracy itself.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
My Lords, this historic debate draws to its close. After the initial debate upon the Second Reading and the debate upon this Amendment, and after many weeks spent—and sincerely spent—in conference, we are back where we started. Varying views have been expressed in the course of this debate. Perhaps the nearest approach to agreement that has been shown is in the regret that the conference failed. I, in 578 common with all those who took part in that conference, fully share that regret. I am sure that all of us who went into that conference went in with a genuine, single-minded desire to secure agreement, if agreement could be reached. And we certainly should not have broken off, unless we were convinced that there was a fundamental difference which we could not resolve. That is clearly and fairly stated in the White Paper. I do not speak for that section of the Liberal Party. As between us and the Government, the case is plainly stated at the end of the White Paper, in paragraph II.But the Government representatives and the representatives of the Official Opposition 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.'That is the crux, as it is the sole content, of the Bill. It is upon that issue, upon that fundamental issue, that we shall vote to-night.
I think that there could be hardly anyone on this side of the House who would accept the virtual abolition of the suspensory power. After the speeches that have been made at an earlier stage in these debates, I find it difficult to understand how any Liberal can accept that; certainly no Liberal in the Asquith tradition can. It is fair and relevant to recall that situation and how Mr. Asquith dealt with it. Mr. Asquith's Government had for four years been subjected to an extreme provocation which this Government have never experienced. I say that as a Conservative. For four years this House—or, rather, its predecessor—had rejected a succession of Bills for which the Liberal Government of the day had a clear mandate. But in face of all that Mr. Asquith was scrupulous to insist upon two things. First, he made it plain that any reform must give to the Second Chamber an effective power of delay—namely, the two years laid down in the Parliament Act, 1911. If I may be forgiven for saying so, it is quite wrong to say, at Lord Catto did, that the two years was not submitted to the electors. Every term of that Bill was submitted to the electorate. Secondly, he declared that before introducing an important constitutional change, he would submit it specifically, and indeed textually, to the electors and obtain a clear mandate.
579 That was the attitude of a great Liberal leader—a great constitutional lawyer at the height of his power and at the peak of the political fortunes of his Party. It is indeed a somewhat ironical contrast that it is the Leader of the Liberal Party in eclipse who now urges us to give a Second Reading to a Bill which has never been submitted to the electors and which, as I shall show, destroys, and is intended to destroy, any effective power of delay. By long tradition, both here and in another place, to accept the Second Reading of a Bill means that the principle of the Bill is accepted. The noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, toyed a little with that idea to-day; but, good House of Commons man that he was, and good debater that he is, no one knows better than he how true that is. We are going to vote against the Second Reading of this Bill because, unlike those noble Lords opposite, we do not accept the principle of the Bill. It is said that we could amend it in Committee. But we know that the Government would not in any Committee give the only conditions under which we could possibly accept this Bill. It was on that that we broke down, after weeks and weeks of conference. It really is attempting to throw dust in the eyes of the House to suggest anything else. Therefore, we know that any Amendment to preserve that power would be opposed by the Government, on instructions (to use the Lord Chancellor's happy phrase), and thrown out by the House of Commons if we passed it.
I add only one word in reference to the very sincere speech, if I may respectfully say so, which was made by the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, because it was so amply replied to by the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil. We are all in favour of agreement; one might almost say we are all in favour of fine weather. But the real practical issue is: What agreement? What the most reverend Primate really said—and I do not think I misrepresent him—was: "On merits, I think you were right in what you stood for in the conference. I think the right thing is a reformed House of Lords and a delay of one year from the Third Reading in the House of Commons." But he went on to say, in effect: "If you cannot get that, take whatever the Government will give you." May I say to him——
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
The noble Viscount does not misrepresent me, but may I just add that I did not regard a period of nine months as so dangerous as to be unacceptable?
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
I am coining to that and I promise the most reverend Primate that I will deal with it fully. I am sure he will take it from me, speaking for those on this side of the House, that we hold the view with very deep sincerity, as a matter of principle, that this is a fundamental principle and issue on which we cannot give way.
Here it may be convenient to deal briefly with the invitation of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, that we should accept any reduction in the time factor, on the ground that if the House of Lords were reformed it would be so authoritative that the House of Commons would never resist it, and that, therefore, such a reformed House should be given much smaller powers. He said that if there were a reformed House, with such a Chamber in existence it would matter little whether the period from the Third Reading was six months, nine months, twelve months or eighteen months. That appears to me to be a very odd non sequitur. Why should a reformed House have less power—indeed, so far as delaying power is concerned, no effective power at all? A curious corollary of this argument is that the more the House is reformed, the less power it should have; and the less it is reformed the more power it should have. But the argument is as unsound in fact as it is in logic. What reason is there to suppose that a Government and a majority in the House of Commons would accept the view of a reformed House? The whole basis of the Government case, as it has been made in regard to the six months' difference between us, and on which our discussions broke down, is that the Government contend that once the House of Commons has expressed its definite view there is no justification for delay. The noble Viscount's case for a progressive reduction of powers in a reformed Chamber is, I think, a combination of special pleading and wishful thinking which will not carry either mental or moral conviction to the majority of your Lordships.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
Would the noble Viscount forgive me for interrupting? He left out one part of my argument which 581 was the essence of it. I did not say that a House of Lords of a different character would ensure the yielding the House of Commons. What I said was that a House of Lords of that character would have so great an influence upon the public opinion of the country that the operation of its rejection of a Bill would be much more effective than that of the present House of Lords.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
But there is to be no power of delay; so how is the opinion in the country to operate?
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
It has come down to within three months. The noble Viscount is always prepared to give way. After all, if one runs far enough one will always get somewhere! I venture to suggest to your Lordships that the straightforward course for those who think this Bill is bad is to vote against it on Second Reading. The Bill has been so thoroughly examined, both in what it does and in what it leaves undone, in a debate in the highest traditions of this House, that I need not speak at undue length. I think it proper, however, that I should briefly review the principal arguments advanced by the Government to justify the Bill. No justification is sought, no claim is based, on the actions of this House while this Government has been in office. By the unanimous testimony of Ministers we have behaved admirably. We have neither blocked nor rejected any Bill; on the contrary, we have greatly improved many. The Lord Chancellor congratulated us once again on having made over a thousand Amendments in a few innings—if we may carry on the M.C.C. metaphor which he so happily introduced.
The argument is entirely based on fears for the future, and the Home Secretary put it in this way:The difficulties arise when people, not easily recognisable, turn up to take part in the discussions and to vote.As I look round this Assembly, I do not see a large number of unfamiliar faces. We shall see some additions presently, but the real truth—as my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh pointed out last night—is that those people do not in fact turn up. If the Government were so fearful as to what would happen, and that the 582 backwoodsmen would appear and rout the Government on every occasion, you may think it strange that the Government did not introduce this Bill at the beginning of this Parliament, before they knew how we were going to behave and when, indeed, they (or some of the more timid or more credulous of them) may have thought we would not behave as well as we have under my noble Leader's guidance, which has been readily followed on all occasions. Why not introduce it then?
If this alleged argument about the backwoodsmen has any validity at all, surely it is an argument not in regard to this Bill, which deals only with powers; it is an argument for the reform of the House of Lords, a matter upon which the Bill does not touch. There is room for argument as to what is a reasonable period of delay, and I confess that quite frankly. But I must say, at the outset, that I doubt the validity of the argument that to-day the public are so much more quickly and fully informed that a much shorter period of delay is required. The noble Viscount the First Lord of the Admiralty, as I understood him, in our previous debate based his argument for that contention on the fact that to-day there are four or five times as many electors as in 1911. It is true that there are, but I should have thought that, mathematically and educationally—if I may put it so—the argument surely worked the other way: the larger the electorate, the longer time is required adequately to instruct them. Indeed, I have often heard representatives of the Labour Party say that a programme like the one to which Lord Chatfield has referred—"More pay, less work"—is only put across by placing it for years assiduously before the country.
The Lord Chancellor had a different argument for it. He said: "Now there is the radio, and that has changed everything." Modesty, I suppose, forbade him to add that there is also the Government intelligence Service, which is an active agency. But against the radio, which is, of course, a very important factor, must it not be said that if radio has come into being and increased in recent years, newspapers are greatly curtailed, not in numbers but in content? Should a recent unhappy forecast prove true, they may become smaller still. The result of that reduction, inevitably, is that Parlia- 583 mentary debates are scantily reported. I very much doubt whether scientific tests of opinion would support the Government contention that public opinion is so quickly and so fully informed. I should shock the Lord Chancellor if I told him that I had heard of a constituency in which, I regret to say, a number of people had not the least idea who held the office of Lord Chancellor. Some of the people there even thought that Mr. Morrison was Prime Minister. But, stating it as fairly as one can, is not this the highest at which the case could possibly be put—that a little is known about a lot of topics, but that it certainly takes longer to give the enlarged electorate the arguments for and against a proposal on which they can form a considered judgment? The Bill, while pretending to give a year for popular opinion to crystallise, does nothing of the kind.
But before I examine the merits of a particular period, may I draw attention to a revealing statement made by the Lord President in the House of Commons? Because it puts fundamental issues so clearly. He said:It has been argued that the House of Lords must have a proper and adequate opportunity in which it can judge what public opinion wishes. I will answer that perfectly frankly by saying that this Government and this Party do not admit the right of their Lordships to judge what the public wishes from the angle of determining whether legislation should proceed or not.That was re-stated and re-affirmed very plainly yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Amwell, who, after a long and distinguished career in the House of Commons, during which he held Ministerial office, and standing high in the councils of his Party, has now, I am glad to say, joined us here. This is what he said yesterday: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"—not for consideration in the country, butfor its own 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"—I think that he is right there—the value of the principle of a revising Chamber.584 He was right there, but perhaps he does not claim a majority for the next statement:But beyond that we believe in Single Chamber government.What the Lord President said and what Lord Amwell said, even more plainly, amounts to a flat claim that there should be no delaying period at all. That is a claim—
§ LORD AMWELL
But you did not quote all that I said. What I distinctly said was that, so far as I understood the position of my Party, we were only in one sense in favour of Single Chamber government: that was, in the sense that the final decision, not only upon issues of legislation but also on questions of when and upon what to appeal to the country, should rest with the House of Commons.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
I do not think that I have in the least misrepresented the noble Lord. I read out exactly what he said as taken down and accurately reported in Hansard. He said, in effect, I am in favour of a Second Chamber as a revising Chamber, but I am not in favour of it as a delaying Chamber. That is a claim, as he says, for Single Chamber government qua suspensory power, and not a claim for Single Chamber government qua ordinary revising power in legislation. I have not I think misrepresented either the noble Lord or the Lord President in the very least.
I thought at the outset of our debate here that Ministers were singing rather a different tune. But it is now clear that, whatever personal views Ministers may hold, the official view and order is that there should be no effective period of delay during which the country can reflect. I must deal with one other argument raised here and raised even more clearly by the Lord President in another place. It was this. In these difficult times, the Lord President said, economic measures are needed whichare frequently urgent, and long suspense may be dangerous.They must, he said, "be dealt with promptly in the public interest." There 585 is surely no ground for complaint that this House has held up any emergency economic measure which was necessary in the public interest. But I must resist the claim that all knowledge and experience and constructive ideas on economics re-side in another place. If your Lordships look back over the economic debates that have taken place in this House over the past two years—debates as constructive as they were critical—you will find that, so far from holding up action, this House was continually pressing for action which the Government, unfortunately, did not take for months. I think that our contribution does not compare unfavourably with that of another place, either in fact or in public esteem. Surely, what is needed in these economic matters is co-operation and the pooling of ideas—which we have given to the full and which the noble Viscount the Leader of the House and Lord Pakenham have, perfectly frankly, repeatedly acknowledged, and have expressed their gratitude for in our debates.
It is not from anxiety about emergency economic measures that this Bill stems but from something very different. The genesis of this Bill, as every one knows, is a compromise about the Steel Bill (we were left in no doubt about this yesterday) which the more responsible members of the Government wisely refuse to introduce at the present time of economic stress. Not for the first time the Government speak with two voices. In order to resolve and postpone internal conflict in the Labour Party, we are invited to pass not a piece of temporary emergency legislation but a permanent Bill to undermine and alter the whole structure of the Constitution.
Assuming that some period of delay is right and necessary—and one or two Government spokesmen in this House apparently still consider they have to ride this horse for a place—is the period in this Bill reasonable? It is suggested that there would still be a year for reflection. But if the electors are to reflect, they must know what they have to reflect about. Unless you are a pure philosopher, you cannot reflect in a void; you must reflect on something. And there the year in the Bill is wholly illusory. It dates from the Second Reading in the House of Commons. But Bills which emerge from the House of Commons often arrive here in 586 entirely different shape from that in which they entered the House of Commons. Take the Transport Bill. Although great "chunks" of it were never considered in another place, it came to this House in a wholly different condition from that in which it entered the House of Commons. Conversely, there was the Companies Bill, which was an entirely different Bill when it emerged from this House and went to the other place. That is not the end of the story. After a Bill comes from another place, it goes through the process—the very necessary process—of revision. There may be hundreds of Amendments, to which the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor has referred, and no one can tell what form a Bill will take until it has passed its Committee and Report stages in this House.
I do not make any apology to your Lordships for dealing with this in some detail, because there has been a great deal of slurring over it. If a conflict arises, it is on the Bill in the form in which it emerges from this House after Third Reading. Until that form is known, the people do not know whit they are to reflect upon. The case has been argued by the Government as if the issue were always to be the simple rejection here of a Bill which reaches us substantially in the form in which it was introduced in the House of Commons. Surely that may well be the exception and not the rule. I can well imagine that if we should disagree in future it would quite likely be upon Amendments to a Bill—and possibly a very complicated Bill at that. This House might well be expressing the will of the country which, though not averse to a Bill, was strongly opposed to it in the form which the Government were trying to impose. It is clear, therefore, that the so-called year is completely illusory and that in practice a year might be reduced to a few months. We cannot have an Act with variations. We must have an Act that meets all cases.
Then it is argued that a suspensory power will lead to constant conflict. Why should it? It has not done so in the past. Any suspensory power exercised by this House, or by a reformed House, must be exercised with a great sense of responsibility, for irresponsible action by any Second Chamber would deprive it of 587 its powers. But, conversely, the existence of the power, the knowledge that there is a delaying power, is a safeguard—the only safeguard—to the public against an irresponsible Government introducing and trying to force through unpopular Bills. I believe the danger of no power is much greater than the danger of the present limited power. In the words of the Amendment, to which I wholeheartedly subscribe, it would:deprive the country of a vital constitutional safeguard of its liberties.To-day, constitutional safeguards are as important as Parliamentary institutions. Indeed, the safeguards are the corollary and the insurance of the institutions. That is profoundly true in this country, where an Act of Parliament for the smallest and most unimportant matter requires the same Parliamentary procedure as that for the most revolutionary change.
I agree with the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, that what we do in this place may have a great effect on the world outside. But I draw a wholly different conclusion. It is our duty to give an example to the world outside in the defence of democracy and democratic institutions. It has been argued that no constitutional safeguard or Parliamentary process could withstand a revolutionary change. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack called it yesterday, "a matchboard protection." But surely that is a most dangerous doctrine. It would cut at the root of all Parliamentary institutions and democratic government. Of course, if a change, however drastic, is generally desired by the majority of the people, that change can and would be made by the due process of Parliament. That is democratic evolution. But, as we have seen over and over again elsewhere, revolutions are not made by majorities. They are made by tyrannous minorities usurping the functions of Parliament and overriding the wishes of the people. And note this, my Lords: wherever it can, a minority of that kind endeavours to proceed under the camouflage of an appearance of Parliamentary process. I think this is a most dangerous and cowardly doctrine. Parliamentary government and constitutional safeguards are the ultimate insurance of democracy against minority revolutions, whether of the Right or of the Left.
588 This House does not claim equal and concurrent powers with the House of Commons. It does not claim the right to reject Bills for which the Government have a mandate. It does not claim the right to force a General Election. But it does claim the right and duty to give the country time for reflection and for expressing its opinion on important matters which have not been submitted to the electors, and on which public opinion is doubtful or apparently hostile. The death penalty is as good an example as we could have. It is a specious and false argument to suggest that this limited power renders the Government impotent in the closing stages of a Parliament. If the Government are returned at another Election, after they have run their course and their term is finished, under the Parliament Act the Government can bring in the Bill again and the time runs as from the Second Reading of the Bill in the previous Parliament. Of course, if the Government are not returned by the electors, then they have been rendered impotent. But they have not been rendered impotent by the House of Lords; they have been rendered impotent by the electors. I cannot see that there is anything very undemocratic in that process. Nor is there any real risk of irresponsible action. Any Second Chamber acting irresponsibly would sign its own death warrant. There is nothing in our record in this House to justify that fear.
This is a bad Bill. It is bad in its origin. It was introduced, not because there is any case for the Bill on its merits, but to make a sordid, internal accommodation within a Party caucus. It is bad in itself, because the pretended year is not, in fact, a year. On important and complicated Bills like the Transport Bill the period may be only a very few months. It is bad because it is retrospective. Retrospective legislation is never popular and seldom right; and retrospective legislation on a vital constitutional matter is, I believe, unheard of. We are not bound by precedent, but long established precedent in Parliamentary government is the result of practical wisdom and experience which it is unwise to disregard. It is bad because it contains no reform of composition, which would be its sole justification. It is bad because it can only deflect the country from its main purpose. The crisis and the need for national unity will 589 not be less a year hence, either in economics or in the whole foreign field. Last November, at Sheffield, Mr. Morrison said:What a strange moment this would be to start political stunting.It is a stranger moment still to-day.
The issue before us is plain. Your Lordships have committed no crime; you have not even been guilty of an indiscretion. But, blameless as you have been—indeed, loaded with the eulogies of Ministers here and in another place for the model way in which you have behaved as a Second Chamber—you are to be subjected to preventive arrest and taken into protective custody. And why? Not because of what you have done or left undone, but for fear lest at some future time you should reflect the will of the people of this country and revise some irresponsible vote—as, indeed, you have done in the case of the death penalty—or hamper some unwanted and unpopular dictate of a disunited and discredited Government. We have shown ourselves scrupulous in the exercise of our functions and the discharge of our duty, which is our trust. On this Bill our duty is clear. If we passed it, we should betray our trust and dishonour ourselves.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (VISCOUNT ADDISON)
My Lords, it is no easy matter to sum up a debate in this House which from its beginning until now has exceeded five days of Parliamentary time. I will, however, endeavour to do so as briefly as I can and, so far as I can, to get away from figurative language and deal with the realities of the case. I must say, with great respect, that much of what I have heard in this debate reminds me very forcibly of what I heard in the other Chamber (which then belonged to this House) in the years 1909, 1910 and 1911. At that time, I well remember, the Parliament Bill was to "break down the last barrier of constitutional safeguards"; it was to be the "end of real deliberative government," and we were to be delivered over to all manner of perils. The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, must well recall some of the speeches. I remember hearing Mr. Churchill say, with regard to the two years' delaying power in the then Parliament Bill (the Parliament Act, as it is now), that the powers retained by the 590 House of Lords were formidable and menacing. That is how he regarded what was left by an Act which we had teen previously told (I heard it in so many speeches) was to remove the last safeguard against proper constitutional government. We heard it said many times then that it was the introduction of Single Chamber government. Day after day we heard about it. Now it has come again. I will deal with the facts of the case in a few moments, but I want to suggest, with the greatest respect, that much of what has been said has but a very distant relation—if, indeed, any relation whatever—to the Bill that is before the House.
How did it come about? It came about, your Lordships will remember, by the discussion of an Amendment put down by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, which requested a conference on the constitution of the House before we proceeded further. We have had that conference, and the result of it is before your Lordships. Now that Amendment has been replaced by another Amendment, to which my noble friend Lord Stansgate made reference earlier on. What is the fact? The importance of this observation your Lordships will see in a moment or two. The fact is that we have agreed in this country to live under a system whereby Governments are elected every five years; and they are expected during that time to discharge their duties as well as they are able, according to the pledges they have made to the people, or according to the principles for which they stand. Then, at the end of the five years, there is a General Election and, if the people do not approve, they select somebody else. That is the system. There is a great deal to be said for that five-year system Many of us have an intimate knowledge of some countries whore they have an election, say, every three years. It is a fact that in some of those countries the dread of an election, or the preparation for it, is continually thwarting the work of the Legislature. I think we all agree that, on the whole, our system of giving a good spell of trial to a Government is a good system and has worked well. It is much better than having frequent, disjointed, unco-ordinated elections.
In saying that, I would point out to your Lordships that this Bill does not propose to destroy or cramp the work of the Second Chamber. I agree with the 591 noble Marquess in saying that the debates in this House have been of a very high standard. But he claimed that we were the only forum for discussion of vital public questions. We are a very good forum, and a very famous forum. But I do ask myself: What is the House of Commons doing all this time? Surely they are debating public questions. They sometimes do it all night—thank goodness we do not!
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
With great respect, I do not accept that as a correction. I am sure that if the noble Marquess were to attend some of these debates in the House of Commons he would admit that they are exceedingly free.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I think the noble Viscount missed my point, although perhaps quite naturally. What I said was "free discussion." What I meant was that private Members in this House can raise debates on subjects of urgent public interest and discuss them, whatever the Government say. That is not possible in the House of Commons now, owing to the fact that the Government have taken private Members' time.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
That particular point is true, but the noble Marquess knows perfectly well that every night in the House of Commons there is a Motion on the Adjournment, on which some particular public issue or other is raised. I know that every week we have to consider a list of questions which will be discussed on the Adjournment. The form is different, but the discussion is just as liberal.
However, let me come down now to some of the accusations which it is my duty to meet with regard to the proposals in this Bill. What does it mean, this remarkable occasion? What did the conference mean? It meant that the Labour Party accepted the recognition of the work of a responsible Second Chamber. That is why we met. Further than that, when we first debated this subject, your Lordships will remember that it was only after four or five days of discussion that we finally arrived at an arrangement under which we went into conference on the question of composition and powers. Some noble Lords have represented that the Labour Party, in coming so far—and I 592 will go still further before I have finished—have made no advances in this matter. All I have to say is that that is to betray a lamentable ignorance of what the Labour Party have stood for, and what many of their members think about this House. There was considerable hesitation in entering into a joint conference with regard to the composition and powers of this House. With great public spirit, that hesitation was put aside, and I am sure that noble Lords opposite will recognise that in our discussions we have never allowed it to intrude into the impartial consideration of the questions before us. That joint conference, in its discussions, first on the powers of this House and secondly as to the possibility of reforming its constitution, marked an immense advance, though with great reluctance, on the part of many members of the Labour Party. When we are told that the Labour Party made no advances, I am bound to make that statement to correct it.
Now let me come to the Bill itself. What was it that we discussed with regard to time? It was: How long does this House require for the bona fide discharge of its duty? Let me take an extreme case. Sometimes it happens that a Bill does not come to this House until the middle of the summer; and that will be so this year. The Representation of the People Bill and the Gas Bill will not reach us until towards the end of this month, and there will be only a limited time for this House to discuss them. The position was worse last year, and I would like here to pay tribute to the way in which the House helped us to deal with our work. In the discussion it was pointed out that a year might, in a case of that kind, give this House a very short time for the actual consideration of the measure, since one of these Bills had been introduced in the previous December and six months or seven months of the year had already gone. It was with respect to that, and in order to give the House time to have bona fide discussion of the matter, that the suggested compromise as to time was made. I will return to that matter before I conclude.
The noble Viscount and the noble Marquess opposite drew the attention of the House to the words in paragraph II of the White Paper. I will quote them to your Lordships, because I agree completely with the noble Lords and I will 593 reveal what the difference is. Paragraph II says:But the Government representatives and the representatives of the official Opposition 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.'That is a true statement. Now what is the difference? I have heard many times during the course of this debate of this "fundamental difference," but we have never once been told what it really is. I will tell your Lordships what, so far as I understand it, this difference is. Surely it is no: suggested by anybody that nine months would not give adequate time for the discussion of the Bill; or that the public would not in that time become well acquainted with its contents.
It is not the fact that the first time the public hear of a Bill is when it comes to this House. In some cases it has been before the House of Commons for months and has been the subject—if it is a controversial Bill—of acute controversy. It is not, therefore, when it comes here, that the issues of the Bill suddenly emerge. In the vast majority of cases, they have been well known long before. It is not right simply to count the time the public has to obtain information from the date of the introduction of the Bill in this House. Our view is that, for the adequate discharge of the duties of this House, the period proposed is adequate. If it were nine months, for example, in the case of the Transport Bill of last year, that nine months would have gone forward to the following March—all through the winter. Does the House not think that the public would have been seized of the issues a long time before that? Of course they would. No; that is not the issue. The issue is that the period of delay shall be used to force the House of Commons to go to the country on an Election. That is what the fundamental difference is, and we cannot possibly compromise on that.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
It is no good the noble Viscount putting into our mouths things that we do not say. He is quite in order in putting an interpretation upon things we do say; but I made it clear in my speech that we do not claim the right either to thwart the people or to force the Government to go to the country. What we do say is that the public must have time, not only for their views to crystallise, but, if they do 594 not agree, to express themselves in no uncertain fashion. We believe that this needs a longer time than the Government will admit. We believe that, either by by-elections or by other constitutional means, the country must be enabled to express its views. But it is not true to say that we wish to force the Government to go to the country.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I know. But I am trying to give the only interpretation that I can find is practicable to the demand. For example, the noble Marquess himself expressed wonder that the Government were so unwilling to consult the people. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, was much more frank; he talked about this House compelling the majority in another place to refer things to the people. And the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, was, I thought, equally frank in the speech we listened to this afternoon.
So far as I can understand, the only difference between us turns on what time may be necessary for revision, and so forth, whether nine or twelve months, and that the power of delay shall be so exercised as to compel the Government in the House of Commons to go to the people for an election. I cannot see what else it means. And if that is the meaning—I am glad to find it is not meant to be so—then it is not possible for a Government such as is now in control to accept it for a moment: and I do not believe a Conservative House of Commons would accept it either.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I am trying to be honest with myself. I cannot see what the fundamental difference is unless it is that. There is nothing else that it could be, so far as I can make out. We have been told that this Bill commits the country to Single Chamber government, or words to that effect. Let us be quite frank about this. The noble Marquess spoke of the possibility of this country being ruled by a ruthless and doctrinaire majority.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I understood the noble Marquess to say "a House of Commons based on a ruthless doctrinaire majority." Your Lordships will notice—at least I notice, for I and the members of the Party for which I speak are very sensitive people—that the majority is "ruthless and doctrinaire" only when it is opposed to the Conservative Party. Otherwise it is a majority of extraordinarily sensible people. The moral of that is not lost upon us, and I want to point the moral to this House. We have been in politics a long time, and many of your Lordships will recall what has really happened about this Single Chamber government business. Since the end of the First World War until 1938, except for three years or so when there was a Labour Government without a majority, this country was ruled by the Conservatives, with an absolute majority in the House of Commons the whole time. This House never once tried to hold them up; members of it never made speeches about the importance of delay. It is fair to say that during part of that period the reputation of this House sank very much, because it was said to be just an instrument of the Tory Party—and to be quite honest, so it was; that was a correct description.
For twenty years or more we had Single Chamber government, until the Labour Party was elected in 1945—I am of course excluding the war period. We had more than twenty years of uncontrolled Conservative Single Chamber government in this country. I do not remember any protest being made about it. There is a good deal in this discussion which is remote from reality. The provision for a delay of a year or nine months after a Bill comes to this House gives abundant and elaborate opportunities for Second Chamber criticism, for the direction of the public mind on issues of importance, and so on. We do not take it kindly, and we cannot be expected to take it kindly, when we are described as the only people who are a "ruthless and doctrinaire majority." It is only when the Labour Party in the House of Commons is in a majority that the perils of Single Chamber government are talked about so much. It leaves me rather cold, and I am speaking as an old politician. I heard 596 just the same about the Parliament Act in 1911, in nearly the same words.
There is one other thing, and let us be quite frank about it. It concerns the reform of this House. I welcomed the noble Marquess's first Amendment—although of course I did not want it to defeat the Bill. I was glad that he put that Amendment on the Paper because it suited my disposition. I was glad he called attention to the need of reform of the Constitution of this House in these days, changed as the times are. But if that was the feeling of the Conservative Party, why in the world did they not do anything in all those years? The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, spoke of the importance of this matter, and he was very kind to his friends. I am not being quite so kind, for I confess that, the enthusiasm for the reform of this House does not move me so much as it might have done if I did not know that for twenty-five years the Conservative Party could have done anything they liked and that this House would have been gladly acquiescent in their proposals. I am glad we have come to a discussion of this issue now. I think it is a very important issue and I do not in the least wish to minimise it.
Lord Cecil spoke of Cabinet domination, and so on. He and I are old Parliamentarians. I can remember the Whips being put on with great strictness thirty years ago—and so can he. It is nothing new to find that the Whips are put on; it is nothing new in Parliamentary life to discipline members of the Party who are trying to destroy the solidarity of the Party. Nobody does it more effectively than the Conservative Party. I have known that Party do it many times. I am not blaming them for it. You cannot run the House of Commons in modern times without a certain amount of discipline. I do not like splinter Parties; they are very bad. One of the reasons for the weakness of French Governments for a long time has been the great variety of small Parties. You cannot have ordered Parliamentary business unless you have a limited number of Parties. I prefer two—a Government and an Opposition. If you are going to run Parliamentary business in a businesslike way you must have a certain amount of discipline.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
Nobody has been better aware of that elementary truth than the Conservative Party themselves. It is not a discovery by the Labour Party. We have learnt it from the others. The business of Parliament cannot be run without discipline.
I have tried to reply to some of the points that were raised. I am sure that everybody who thinks of the realities of Parliamentary life must admit that the time allowed to this House to discuss, to deliberate and to refer between another place and this House is ample. I shall come to a suggestion as to the Committee stage in a moment, but I want to ask the question which the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, asked us yesterday and which was also asked by the noble Lord, Lord Catto, by the noble Viscount, Lord Bruce of Melbourne, and by others. I speak with great sobriety. I honestly think that we are in the presence of an almost unexampled opportunity so far as our constitutional machine is concerned. I have heard the question of the House of Lords spoken of, discussed and argued for more than thirty years, and often with great bitterness. It was a most remarkable event that the leaders of the three Parties in this House came together and discussed these things without prejudice and with complete frankness, in an effort to see whether we could make some suggestions which, without committing ourselves, we could submit to our respective Parties for their consideration and referendum. We met round the table with that aim in view. It was a remarkable occasion. Nothing like it has ever occurred, to my certain knowledge, ever since the Parliament Act was passed into law. It may well be that, if this opportunity is thrown away, it will not occur again for another generation. That may well be so. And much worse may befall us.
What advantage will there be in throwing out this Bill? The only advantage that I can see will be that the noble Lords will say to themselves: "We objected to this, so we voted against it. Some time later on, if a Conservative majority is returned, we shall then be at liberty with a free conscience to repeal it or alter it." That is a sort of mental satisfaction. It is a kind of delayed action satisfaction for the future. I can understand that so far 598 as it goes. But the disadvantages are terrible. In the first place, I think it is obvious that the Bill will then be passed into law in its present form, as the most reverend Primate said. It cannot be altered; it has to come back here in another Session without a comma being altered and, as the noble Marquess below the gangway said, it will go through. We agree that that may not necessarily be the case; but if the Bill is rejected it makes it impossible to do anything to meet the point of view that this House, under it, may not have sufficient time in which to discuss Amendments.
With the Motions on the Order Paper and this debate before us, I am bound to admit that I do not think the temper is quite so good as it was. I am sorry to say so. I wish, however, to say this. In view of the immense importance of this opportunity not being lost if we can possibly use it, I am most anxious that your Lordships shall have a chance of considering the Bill in Committee. If your Lordships reject it, you close the door. I am holding it open and I am authorised, by a special meeting of our own Party this morning, to say this to your Lordships' House. I am afraid that the last sentence indicates a little alteration of temper. Still, this will be faithfully adhered to:
"If the Second Reading is carried, the Government will be prepared to consider an Amendment on the lines suggested in the White Paper"—
that is, the nine months from Third Reading, or whichever may be longer— "as to the time to be given to the Lords for the consideration of Bills. But otherwise"—
and this is the point I mentioned— "will not, without further reference to the Party, enter into further negotiations on the powers and composition of the Second Chamber."
We have that opportunity to give effect, if need be, to what we agreed to do in our mutual discussions and what is referred to in the White Paper. No possibility whatever is open to us if your Lordships reject the Bill. I say that with the greatest possible respect and with extreme regret, and I appeal to your Lordships not to take so mistaken a course.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I should explain to your Lordships that, although constitutionally I have the right to reply on my Motion, I did agree with the noble Viscount that I would waive that right because it seemed to me proper that on a Government Bill they should have the final word. Therefore, I do not propose to make a speech to your Lordships now. All I rise to do now is to make my comment upon the concluding words of the noble Viscount who has just spoken. He said that he was willing to make an offer. But it is not an offer at all. This is exactly the proposal about which the conversations broke down. At the time the Government made that offer, we made it perfectly clear that it was impossible for us to accept anything less than one year from the Third Reading, because that would not in any way preserve the fundamental principle of the suspensory period, and we could only accept that if there was agreement over composition. Moreover, I thought that the Government had already made the offer of nine months;
§ but now they talk about considering an Amendment only if we pass the Second Reading of this Bill. That is not an offer that is worthy of the consideration of your Lordships' House. I am most surprised that the noble Viscount the Leader of the House has thought it worth his while to put it forward, and I am certain that I speak for my supporters when I say this. The Government have tried to blackmail this House, to the effect that if we do not accept this "offer," then there will be no further opportunity for negotiation. That is a matter for the Government. But, so far as we are concerned, I would make it clear that we are always open to negotiation for a fair and balanced settlement of this question, and our offer remains open. If there is no fair and balanced settlement, the blame must rest with the Government.
§ On Question, Whether the words proposed to be left out shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 81; Not-Contents, 177.601
|Canterbury, L. Abp.||Ammon, L. [Teller.]||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Amulree, L.||Marley, L.|
|Jowitt, V. (L. Chancellor.)||Amwell, L.||Mendip, L. (V. Clifden.)|
|Boyle, L. (E. Cork and Orrery.)||Meston, L.|
|Wellington, D.||Braintree, L.||Milverton, L.|
|Calverley, L.||Morrison, L.|
|Reading, M.||Catto, L.||Moynihan, L.|
|Willingdon, M.||Cawley, L.||Nathan, L.|
|Chorley, L.||Pakenham, L.|
|Amherst, E.||Cozens-Hardy, L.||Pethick-Lawrence, L.|
|Gainsborough, E.||Cromwell, L.||Piercy, L.|
|Graham, E. (D. Montrose.)||Cunliffe, L.||Quibell, L.|
|Huntingdon, E.||Darwen, L.||Rathcreedan, L.|
|Perth, E.||Denman, L.||Reith, L.|
|Russell, E.||Douglas, L. of Kirtleside.||Rennell, L.|
|Elgin, L. (E. Elgin and Kincardine.)||Robinson, L.|
|Addison, V.||Rochester, L.|
|Allendale, V.||Foley, L.||Rothschild, L.|
|Bruce of Melbourne, V.||Fraser of North Cape, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Esher, V.||Glenconner, L.||Sherwood, L.|
|Hall, V.||Gorell, L.||Sinha, L.|
|Leverhulme, V.||Hare, L. (E. Listowel.)||Stamp, L.|
|Mersey, V.||Harmsworth, L.||Stanmore, L.|
|St. Davids, V.||Henderson, L.||Swaythling, L.|
|Samuel, V.||Holden, L.||Tovey, L.|
|Stansgate, V.||Inman, L.||Trent, L.|
|Wimborne, V.||Kershaw, L.||Uvedale of North End, L.|
|Latham, L.||Walkden, L. [Teller.]|
|London, L. Bp.||Layton, L.||Westwood, L.|
|Winchester, L. Bp.|
|Richmond and Gordon, D.||Aberdeen and Temair, M.||Townshend, M.|
|Rutland, D.||Cholmondeley, M.|
|Sutherland, D.||Exeter, M.||Airlie, E.|
|Milford Haven, M.||Beatty, E.|
|Abercorn, M. (D. Abercorn.)||Salisbury, M.||Beauchamp, E.|
|Bessborough, E.||Maugham, V.||Hesketh, L.|
|Birkenhead, E.||Monsell, V.||Hillingdon, L.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Ridley, V.||Hindlip, L|
|Cathcart, E.||Simon, V.||Howard of Glossop, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Swinton, V.||Hutchison of Montrose, L.|
|Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch and Queensberry.)||Templewood, V.||Hylfon, L.|
|Trenchard, V.||Jessel, L.|
|Dudley, E.||Kenilworth, L.|
|Dundonald, E.||Aberconway, L.||Killearn, L.|
|Fortescue, E. [Teller.]||Aberdare, L.||Kinnaird, L.|
|Haddington, E.||Altrincham, L.||Leathers, L.|
|Haig, E.||Amherst of Hackney, L.||Llewellin, L.|
|Halifax, E.||Balfour of Burleigh, L.||Lloyd, L.|
|Howe, E.||Balfour of Inchrye, L.||Lovat, L.|
|Iddesleigh, E.||Barnby, L.||Lyle of Westbourne, L.|
|Ilchester, E.||Belstead, L.||Merthyr, L.|
|Iveagh, E.||Borwick, L.||Milford, L.|
|Lichfield, E.||Brabazon of Tara, L.||Monkswell, L.|
|Lindsay, E.||Brand, L.||Monson, L.|
|Lucan, E.||Braye, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Macclesfield, E.||Broadbridge, L.||Moyne, L.|
|Mansfield, E.||Brocket, L.||Oaksey, L.|
|Manvers, E.||Broughshane, L.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Midlothian, E. (E. Rosebery.)||Bruntisfield, L.||Oxenfoord, L. (E. Stair.)|
|Minto, E.||Butler of Mount Juliet, L. (E. Carrick.)||Polwarth, L.|
|Munster, E.||Queenborough, L.|
|Onslow, E.||Carrington, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Poulett, E.||Chatfield, L.||Remnant, L.|
|Radnor, E.||Cherwell, L.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Rothes, E.||Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.)||Rochdale, L.|
|Sandwich, E.||Roche, L,.|
|Scarbrough, E.||Clydesmuir, L.||Rockley, L.|
|Selkirk, E.||Courtauld-Thomson, L.||Rotherham, L.|
|Shaftesbury, E.||Daryngton, L.||Royden, L.|
|Spencer, E.||De L'Isle and Dudley, L.||Rushcliffe, L.|
|Stanhope, E.||Denham, L.||St. Audries, L.|
|Winton, E. (E. Eglintoun.)||Deramore, L.||St. Oswald, L.|
|Ypres, E.||Digby, L.||Salfoun, L.|
|Dormer, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Astor, V.||Dulverton, L.||Sandhurst, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Ebbisham, L.||Savile, L.|
|Buckmaster, V.||Ellenborough, L.||Schuster, L.|
|Cecil of Chelwood, V.||Fairfax of Cameron, L.||Selsdon, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Fairlie, L. (E. Glasgow.)||Sempill, L.|
|Davidson, V.||Forres, L.||Somers, L.|
|Devonport, V.||Foxford, L. (E. Limerick.)||Soulbury, L.|
|Elibank, V.||Gage, L. (V. Gage.)||Teviot, L.|
|Falmouth, V.||Gifford, L.||Teynham, L.|
|FitzAlan of Derwent, V.||Glendyne, L.||Thurlow, L.|
|Hailsham, V.||Glentanar, L.||Tweedsmuir, L.|
|Hampden, V.||Grantley, L.||Waleran, L.|
|Harcourt, V.||Greville, L.||Wardington, L.|
|Kemsley, V.||Hacking, L.||Wolverton, L.|
|Knollys, V.||Hamilton of Dalzell, L.||Woodbridge, L.|
|Long, V.||Hampton, L.||Woolton, L.|
|Marchwood, V.||Harris, L.|
|Margesson, V.||Hatherton, L. [Teller.]|
Then the proposed Resolution agreed to.
§ Resolved in the negative, and Amendment, agreed to accordingly.