§ The PRIME MINISTER
moved "That up to and including 24th March Government business shall have precedence at every sitting."
592 I am extremely sorry that my first duty after the conclusion of the Address in a new House of Commons should be, on behalf of the Government, to make a demand for an encroachment upon the time which is normally allotted to private Members. I certainly should not make that demand except under the stress of absolute necessity. I pointed out, I think, the main circumstances with which we have to deal when I was addressing the House a week ago in the Debate on the Address. That Debate occupied five days, and it is well that I should remind the House at once or recall to their attention the position in which we now stand. My Motion is that the Government business should have precedence at every sitting up to and including 24th March. To-day is 28th February, and from to-day until Thursday, 24th March, both days inclusive, there are nineteen Parliamentary days. Of those nineteen days there would, under our normal procedure, be available for Government business four Mondays, four Thursdays, and partial sittings on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. That is, roughly speaking, three days a week for four weeks, or out of nineteen days twelve days in all.
On the other hand, under our normal procedure, private Members would have at their disposal evening sittings on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the whole of the Friday sittings; and that would work out at seven Parliamentary days. The effect of my Motion, therefore, if carried, will be to add to the twelve Parliamentary days, which, in any circumstances, the Government would have at their disposal and under their control, the seven more days which, under those conditions, would be at the disposal of private Members. The demand is not a very large one, though it is one I very much regret to have to make. But I may point out once more the circumstances which render it urgent, and, indeed, indispensible.
I will take just the present week. During the present week, consisting of five Parliamentary days, we must, if we are to meet the financial exigencies of the country, as I explained them the other day, pass through all their stages, including the Money Resolutions in Committee and on Report; the Second Reading, the Committee stage, and the Third Reading of Bills—the Bill for temporary borrowing, and the Bill to Redeem the War Loan, and we must further during the present week, if we are to be at all up to time, pass the Supplementary Estimates for the expiring 593 financial year. I come then to the second week, the week which begins on Monday next, 7th March. In that week we propose—and I am afraid we are not allotting an unduly large share of time to each of the topics that will have to come under consideration—in that week we have to get Mr. Speaker out of the Chair on the Army Estimates, which we propose to do on Monday. We have to get the Army Votes on the Tuesday and Wednesday, we have on Thursday to get the Civil Service Vote on account, and on Friday to take the Report of the Supplementary Estimates and of the Army Vote. That disposes of the second week.
Then there is the third week, which begins on Monday, 14th March. We propose on Monday to get Mr. Speaker out of the Chair on the Navy Estimates, and to devote Tuesday and Wednesday to Navy Votes, and Thursday the Report of the Navy Votes. That will be four days of that week devoted to the Navy. On the Friday we shall take the Report of the Vote on Account and the Committee stage of the Ways and Means Resolution which then becomes necessary, and the Army Report if not concluded. That brings me to Monday, 21st March. In that week we must take the Report of the Ways and Means Resolution, First Reading of Consolidated Fund Bill; on Tuesday the 22nd the Second Reading of Consolidated Fund Bill; on Wednesday, Committee stage of Consolidated Fund Bill, which is a very formal stage, and on that day we may perhaps be able to introduce one or two necessary and pressing Departmental measures of a non-controversial character, and on the Thursday the Third Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill and the Motion for Adjournment.
I think that shows the House that we have mapped out the time between now and 24th March on the most economical lines that we can possibly adopt, and that it is impossible between now and that day to introduce any other measures to the consideration of the House than the necessary financial measures of the country, which have to be carried into effect if things are not come to a standstill.
I might stop there, because I think I have abundantly shown that my Resolution, which only proposes to take the time of the House up to and including 24th March, is not only justified and warranted, but necessitated by the conditions of the case. That is really all that is strictly relevant to the Resolution which you, Sir, are 594 about to put from the Chair. I think it would be convenient to hon. Members in all quarters of the House if I were to take the opportunity to make a further statement, confined, as it will be, within the briefest possible compass as to the business which, if this Motion is assented to, we shall take after the 24th and before we ask the House to adjourn for its spring Recess.
§ Mr. A. J. BALFOUR
If I may say so, I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it may be convenient to go beyond the ambit of the strict limits of the Resolution upon the Paper; but I rise to ask you, Mr. Speaker, on a point of Order, whether, if the Prime Minister carries out that very convenient course, it would be in order for other Members in other parts of the House to discuss it as well as to discuss the strict terms of the Resolution?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I think it must be obvious that if the Prime Minister introduces matter contingent upon, but not strictly relevant to, the Motion, it must be equally open to Members in other parts of the House to discuss the topics which he brings forward. Perhaps it might be convenient, at this stage, if I said that the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Sir Henry Dalziel) could not be raised as an Amendment to the Motion of the Prime Minister.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
If I may say so respectfully, I anticipated that that would be your ruling. If the conditions had been normal I should certainly not have gone beyond the terms of my Motion. I believe I am speaking with the general assent of Members in all quarters of the House in claiming their indulgence, whilst slightly exceeding the technical limits of the Motion now before us.
I am going now, in a very few sentences, to outline the course the Government propose to take, in the event of this Motion being carried, after March 24th. On that day we shall propose, as I said about a week ago, that the House should adjourn until the following Tuesday, the 29th. Immediately upon its reassembling, subject, of course, always—I must make that safeguarding provision—subject to unforeseen exigencies, we shall present our proposals in regard to the relations between the two Houses of Parliament, and present them in the first instance, as I have already intimated, in the form of Resolutions. These 595 Resolutions will, I hope and believe, be both few and simple. They will affirm—I am speaking now in general terms—the necessity for excluding the House of Lords altogether from the domain of finance. They will ask this House to declare that in the sphere of legislation the power of veto, at present possessed by the House of Lords, shall be so limited in its exercise as to secure the predominance of the deliberate and considered will of this House within the lifetime of a single Parliament. Further, it will be made plain that these constitutional changes are without prejudice to, and contemplate in a subsequent year, the substitution in our second Chamber of a democratic for an hereditary basis. If this House should assent to the Resolutions, a Bill, to give effect to them, will without delay be introduced—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
We shall see whether they are academic when the time comes. The Bill will give effect to the operative parts of the Resolutions, but without waiting for that Bill to pass through all its stages in this House we have come to the conclusion—and in this respect only I have to vary what I said about procedure a week ago—that in order to avoid waste of time and labour, and to bring the main issue to trial and conclusion at the earliest possible moment, the Resolutions so assented to by this House will be submitted to the House of Lords. If that House agrees to them, well and good; but whatever it does, or whether it does not, we—I mean His Majesty's Government—regard the placing with all possible promptitude upon the Statute Book of provisions which will set free this House from the veto of the House of Lords, not only as the first condition of the legislative dignity and utility of the House of Commons, but as our own primary and paramount duty. In the prosecution of that cause we shall adopt all such measures within the limits of the Constitution as seem to us proper and adequate, and upon its successful accomplishment we stake, not only our fortunes, but our existence as a Government.
§ Question proposed, "That, up to and including 24th March, Government Business shall have precedence at every sitting."
§ Mr. BALFOUR
The observations of the Prime Minister naturally fall into two parts—that part of his speech which was relevant to the Motion, and that part of his speech which was irrelevant to the Motion just put from the Chair. I think they are of varying degrees of interest and of varying degrees of importance. I take them in the order of their interest and of their importance, and I take what the Prime Minister said upon the Resolution before I proceed to make such observations as occur to me upon the new programme of business he has laid before the House—which his mature consideration since last Monday has induced him to lay before the House—in respect to the proposed action of this House for the alteration of the status of the House of Lords.
With regard to the Motion before the House, it certainly seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman has got a strong case. This is the first time, I believe, since the Rules were introduced in 1902, when it has been found necessary to interfere with the rights then secured for private Members. Before 1902 the nominal rights of private Members were far greater than they are now, but those rights were restricted under the pressure of public necessity by successive Governments, with the result that nobody knew what private Bills or private Members' Resolutions were ever likely to come on, and great uncertainty and confusion were introduced into all our proceedings. We endeavoured to cure that, and I think did cure it, speaking generally, by the alteration of procedure in 1902. We greatly restricted the number of hours given to independent Members of this House for raising questions by Resolutions or introducing Bills to the notice of the House, but we hoped to secure, and have for seven years secured, that such rights as private Members possessed they should hold securely. I am sorry that the Government have found it necesasry under the special circumstances of this Session to interfere with those firmly-established privileges. But I admit that the public necessity is so great and the special circumstances of the Session are so peculiar that it is hard to say what alternative was open to the Prime Minister except the one he has actually adopted. Therefore I will content myself with asking whether 597 before this Debate concludes the Prime Minister will tell us what are the uncontroversial Departmental Bills he proposes to take on those days when Supply-will occupy but a very brief portion of the time of the House, and I also ask whether he will consider, if it should turn out that the amount of time given to Votes in Supply is, in the general view of the House, inadequate to the very large questions to be raised on them, he will do his best at some later period of the Session to remedy the necessarily hurried procedure which we must undertake if the law is to be fulfilled. These are the only two points upon which I desire information with regard to the strictly businesslike or relevant part of the right hon. Gentleman's observations.
I turn now to his revised programme of the business after Easter. I do not complain of his having told us too much of what the Government propose to do between the Easter Recess and the holidays we are promised some time in April, but I do rather complain of a great omission from his statement. In his original statement of business made on the first day of the Session I understood the Government's plan to be that they would take in the interval between what he called the Ecclesiastical Easter holidays and the longer holidays which were to combine the ordinary Easter holidays and the Whitsuntide holidays, he proposed to take, in the first place, the Resolutions on which were subsequently to be founded a Bill for dealing with the House of Lords, and, in the second place, the Budget, and that both the Resolutions and the Budget were to be dealt with in that interval. The right hon. Gentleman said nothing inconsistent with that object, but he did not make it quite clear whether that part of the plan had suffered revision as well as the other part.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I may say at once it has not suffered any change at all. I mentioned the only variation.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
Then, Sir, I also gather that the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned the only changes that have taken place in his original idea, and the Budget is the first business after Easter. I do not know that the right hon. Gentleman's speech is conclusive on that point, but he made a speech a week before the Dissolution in which he said:—If we are fortunate enough to enjoy the confidence of the House.598 I have no reason to doubt that that condition is amply fulfilled—If we are fortunate to enjoy the confidence of the House its first act will be to reimpose as from this week all taxes and duties which were embodied in the Finance Bill.That was to be the first duty of the reassembled House. The right hon. Gentleman has since discovered that the pressure of financial business, which must legally be squeezed into the interval which separates us from the Easter holidays, makes it impossible for him to carry out in literal terms that speech. If I may remind him, there is no legal necessity for proceeding to the destruction of the House of Lords. That is not a duty imposed upon us by statute, and I should certainly have conceived that under those circumstances the right hon. Gentleman would have felt that the pledges he gave just before the late House was dissolved became operative and binding absolutely as soon as the necessary financial business was carried through. I am sure that was the intention of the Government; at any rate, it was their intention on Monday last, and certainly before the House dissolved. I am not going into the circumstances, which require no Machiavellian intellect to conjecture what has induced the right hon. Gentleman to think that there may be other more interesting and even more pressing business than that of carrying through in the early days of the financial year beginning in April, 1910, the consideration of financial proposals for the year which began in April, 1909. I should have thought, in view of the denunciations which the right hon. Gentleman then passed on another place for postponing for a few weeks the consideration of the Finance Bill—I should have thought, I confess, that that consideration and the ordinary obligations of this House to as far as possible see that within the limits of each year the financial burden of each shall be legally levied as well as legally imposed, would have induced the Government to carry out-its specific pledge of a few weeks ago, and what I venture to think was the right hon. Gentleman's implied intentions six days ago, and introduce the Budget, though not part of it. For some reason they meant to hold it in terrorem over somebody; but the right hon. Gentleman meant to introduce it first. I suppose he has been told that that is not agreeable in influential quarters, where there is a passionate desire to see the House of Lords destroyed—[MINISTERIAL cheers]—I said a passionate desire. I intended to be, and I was, a 599 faithful interpreter of the wishes and aspirations of hon. Gentlemen to whom I speak. The right hon. Gentleman finds amongst his supporters that there is a passionate desire to destroy the House of Lords, but not a passionate desire to pass the People's Budget. In these circumstances, though I am sure the right hon. Gentleman must regret, as we all do, the necessity in which he finds himself of so rapidly making tactical evolutions in the presence of the enemy, it is so intelligible and from his point of view so eminently reasonable that he would be a hardhearted and brutal critic indeed who would measure out too severe a measure of justice to right hon. Gentlemen who find themselves in a somewhat difficult and embarrassing Parliamentary situation.
What do the Government propose? They are now going to introduce the House of Lords Resolutions before they introduce the Budget. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman how soon he hopes to be able to lay on the Table of the House these Resolutions? I understand the right hon. Gentleman says that the Resolutions for this year are to be few and simple, and we are also promised more far-reaching legislation next year upon the constitution of the House of Lords, or, rather, upon the creation of a new Second Chamber upon a representative basis. These simple Resolutions are to include a Resolution saying that the House of Lords is to have nothing whatever to do with finance. It seems to me an odd time for a Resolution of that kind, just when everybody knows that it is through the House of Lords that a freshly-elected House of Commons will have an opportunity of giving effect to what everybody knows is its real view, namely, that the Budget with which the Lords are said to have interfered does not carry out the wishes of the people. It is a most extraordinary illustration of modern democratic philosophy that directly the Second Chamber refers something to the decision of the people, and directly the decision of the people is shown to be not the decision of the last House of Commons—[Cries of "No"]—that is regarded as a conclusive proof why this outrageous interference with the will of the democracy is never again to be tolerated.
I would ask one further question about this financial part of the Government's proposals with regard to the House of Lords. The right hon. Gentleman said that their proposals would be simple. But it does not seem to me to be very easy to 600 draw up a Resolution about the powers of the House of Lords with regard to finance in such a perfectly simple form, because everybody agrees—at least, I think everybody agrees, for even hon. Gentleman sitting immediately below the Gangway agree that the practice of tacking has from the earliest time been admitted by every constitutional authority to be an illegitimate interference by this House with the privileges of another place. I hope the Government will consider—I think they must already have considered—that an alteration of our practice, which is to prevent the House of Lords offering an opinion upon a money Bill, if it is to be tolerable at all—personally I think it is altogether wrong—but even those who think it is right must admit that it is not just that this should be made an excuse for withdrawing from the cognisance of the other House matters which are not strictly relevant to the Finance Bill. Is the Government of the day to be judge whether tacking has taken place or not? But if the Government are going to carry their so-called democratic philosophy to the point, that everything which the Government of the day thinks., is right, well, of course, there is nothing more to be said. After all, the objection to tacking was that it was abused by the Government. The reason why men of all parties and opinions at every period of our history have said that tacking was objectionable is that it enabled a majority in this House that desired to make use of this weapon to entirely destroy the whole working of the constitutional machine. Therefore, if the rules against, tacking are to be really a provision against the abuse by the majority of the financial authority of this House, you must have as judges of what tacking is either a House of Lords or some external authority, and if it is to be an external authority, I do not know that the Resolution which embodies the creation and formation of the functions, powers, and duties of that independent body—I do not see how that could be embodied in a Resolution so elementary and simple that we can pass it as a mere annexe of the Budget of 1909–10, in addition to all the other work we are expected to do between the Easter holidays and the middle of April.
My right hon. Friend (Mr. Austen Chamberlain) points out that it is necessary for somebody to define tacking. That will not be an easy thing to do, but if it is going to be done, I hope it will not be left entirely to the discretion of the present 601 Chancellor of the Exchequer. What is the second proposal which, I understand, the right hon. Gentleman to make? He intends to make a proposal, I presume, on the lines sketched out by the First Commissioner of Works, most elaborately, in a speech to which I have already referred, and which, I understand, was an official declaration of the Cabinet a few months ago. That practically entirely destroys any power the House of Lords may possess during the first two or three years of a Parliament. That was the intention of it, and evidently the Government mean to carry it out. I do not quite understand what relation that proposal has to the creation of the representative Second Chamber which we are promised next year.
It is notorious, and the Cabinet have made no secret of it—it certainly appeared on the very face of the Gracious Speech from the Throne—that there have been divisions in the Cabinet, one section of the Cabinet desiring a representative Second Chamber, and the other section of the Cabinet desiring the abolition of the Veto. I take it the statement the right hon. Gentleman has just made was a rather clumsy attempt to unite in Holy matrimony those two utterly incompatible views. The section of the Cabinet who want a really representative Second Chamber are to look forward in hope, if not in confidence, to the creation of such a Chamber by the legislation of next year. The other section are to have their more modest wishes immediately satisfied. But I do not quite understand how in this double policy the Government propose to approach the House of Lords. They are going, as I understand, to send up to the House of Lords, contrary to the original view of the Prime Minister, these few and simple Resolutions as soon as they have passed this House, and they are going to take what steps they can to induce the House of Lords to indorse them. Very well, but how can you possibly ask the House of Lords to indorse an interim arrangement, which leaves us without a Second Chamber, when at the very moment you are making that proposal you tell them that in your opinion there ought to be a Second Chamber, and a much stronger Second Chamber than the one which at present exists. I do not see how, without laughing and without general hilarity in every part of the Kingdom you can really ask the House of Lords to agree that for the six months, let us say, which separates the 602 Resolutions of this year and the legislation of this year from the legislation of next year, the country should be without a Second Chamber at all—practically without a Second Chamber—because, forsooth, next year you are going to introduce a measure for having a representative Second Chamber, proving beyond all controversy how valuable you think the element of a Second Chamber is in the working of the Constitution.
I think the whole policy of the Government as now explained by the right hon. Gentleman shows an utter lack of consistent statesmanship. In every sentence and in every clause of the revised programme he has put before us you see one consideration dominant, and one consideration alone: How is the Cabinet to be kept together and what lightning conductor can they find to dissipate the threatening electrical storm which menaces them from that side of the House as well as this? I do not think this is statesmanship, though I am not at all prepared to deny it may be very good Parliamentary management. I think he may have succeeded—I have no doubt he has succeeded—in satisfying the excellent Gentlemen who sit upon the same bench as himself, and it is quite possible he may have thrown sufficient sop to the ardent One Chamber Gentlemen who sit below the Gangway on that side of the House and to the strenuous opponents of the Budget who sit below the Gangway on this side of the House, but who are prepared on grounds of high policy to sacrifice their convictions on that particular point—I do not mean in any wrong sense, but the vote they would naturally give if that subject were considered alone and the vote their constituents would like them to give—because of some greater and ulterior gain that they hope to attain. I do not know whether the payment they are receiving in the way of legislative promises may not be sufficient. It just occurs to me as I am speaking—I have not had time to consider these views, I am sorry to say; I could have put my case much better if I had had notice of what I was expected to deal with—it occurs to me while I am speaking that there may be an explanation of what I understand to be the policy of the Government, which is to abolish the House of Lords for all veto purposes in the present year, then to leave a hiatus, and afterwards to introduce a strong Second Chamber of representative government next year or some subsequent 603 Session. I suppose it is in that interval that Home Rule is to be passed. At all events, it would be an extremely ingenious idea, and if it emanates from the fertile brain of the hon. Gentleman who leads the Nationalist party, I present him all my compliments. I cannot think it would meet with the approval either of the House or of the country. Indeed, I think the country, when they read the right hon. Gentleman's speech to-morrow, will be extraordinarily desirous of knowing what is the view of the Government upon the all-important question of the position of the Second Chamber in this Legislature of ours. We shall have plenty of opportunity of seeing their policy develop when we return after the Easter holidays. Meanwhile, I am bound to say the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, however well adapted it may be for securing an era of peace for the hardly-tried Gentlemen who manage their tactical affairs in this House, however well it may be for that purpose, it will be very little adapted either for raising the impression of the country as to the statesmanship of the Government which can suggest so ill-compounded a plan and great misgivings as to the composition of the party, the clash of whose various elements is driving the Government into this unhappy procedure.
§ Mr. JOHN REDMOND
I can assure the House that I am most unwilling, whatever the appearances, of obtruding the Irish view of this Question unnecessarily upon its attention. Indeed, nothing would be more pleasant to myself personally than if it were possible for me in the very grave and delicate situation in which we stand to remain silent, but I cannot do so. My colleagues and I sitting on these benches are, on the main question on which this Parliament was elected, in complete and whole-hearted agreement with the majority of hon. Members on that side of the House. [An HON. MEMBER: "On the Budget?"] No, I am not speaking of the Budget. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] That seems to surprise hon. Members above the Gangway, but I have been perfectly frank and candid, and I shall be so again before I resume my seat. I ask to be allowed to pursue my own humble argument in my own poor way. I say that on what I regard as the main question on which this House was elected, namely, the abolition of part of the veto of the House of Lords and the limitation of the rest of the veto of the House of Lords, we are in complete agreement 604 with hon. Members opposite, and on that question, which I maintain is the main question decided by the country, the right hon. Gentleman possesses a majority of 124. My object is not to pick a quarrel with him or his Government, not, indeed, to pick a quarrel with those on the other side of the House, who I know are, in the main, friends of Ireland and the Irish people, but to insist, as far as it rests with me and my colleagues, upon the right hon. Gentleman not throwing away and dissipating that great mandate and not destroying that great power he has got by receding in the smallest degree from the bold and, I believe, the statesmanlike policy which he laid down in his Albert Hall speech. Nominally, we are on a comparatively small point—whether all private Members' time is to be given to the Government between now and 24th March. My colleagues and I have always stood up in this House as the defenders of the rights and privileges of private Members. I cannot remember an occasion or any circumstances when we consented to a Motion taking away the time of private Members. Yet upon this occasion I declared last week, and I declare again now, we are willing to-morrow, without any delay at all, to pass the Budget into law, and we are willing at once to give up all private Members' time—we have already proved our willingness by the fact that we have not ballotted for any Motions or Bills since the commencement of the Session—and we are willing to give the Government a united and whole-hearted support on the one condition that they carry out what we believe to be the policy of the Government, and the policy of the Government, as understood, let me say, not only by us, but as understood by his own colleagues on that bench, and as understood by the great bulk of the Liberal party in the country.
I will not rake up again the precise words of the pledge of the right hon. Gentleman in the Albert Hall. I dealt with that on Monday, and, while I gave my opinion frankly, I think the right hon. Gentleman himself will admit that I gave it fairly and without unnecessary offence. I do not want to rake that up again, but the right hon. Gentleman on Monday last said that so far as asking for guarantees from the Crown was concerned, it was impossible for him to do so, or any constitutional Minister, until his veto was at least proposed, and perhaps considered and passed, by this House. I admitted the 605 plea, but my admission of that plea did not excuse the Government, because I think their veto plan ought to have been agreed upon and known by them long ago. I was under the impression—a mistaken one as we understand now—that their plan was the plan of the late Sir Henry Camp-bell-Bannerman, which had been adopted by a large majority in this House, but I had to face the fact that they had not agreed upon their plan, that they had not produced their plan, and that the House of Commons had not considered it. Therefore, I admitted the right hon. Gentleman was in a strong position when he said that under those circumstances he could not approach the Crown as to the use of the Royal Prerogative. I urged upon him last week that that made the greatest, the strongest, and the most unanswerable argument in favour of the immediate production of his plan. He has told us to-day that he is going to produce a Resolution at once embodying his plan.
But he told us further—and it was an important and interesting communication—that he is going to send that plan to the House of Lords. If it is either rejected or held up by the House of Lords, what then? The right hon. Gentleman, who is a master of lucidity, was, I am afraid, somewhat obscure on this point. These are occasions when one must speak with reference to the Crown and to the Royal prerogative and so forth in a way which, under ordinary circumstances, would be improper and perhaps out of order. But we must get to the bottom of things on an occasion like this. If the right hon. Gentleman intends, when his Resolution is rejected or hung up in the House of Lords, there and then to ask for guarantees and for the exercise of the Royal prerogative, why does he not frankly say so? If he means to do that, let him say so at once And let him say, further, if they are refused, does he intend to continue responsible for the Government of this country? I ask him, first of all, that this obscurity shall be cleared up. I ask, Is it the intention of the right hon. Gentleman, when his Resolution is suspended or rejected by the Lords, to ask for guarantees, and, if they are refused, does he propose to continue—in contradistinction to what he said in his Albert Hall speech—does he propose to continue responsible for the Government of the country?
Meantime what about the Budget? [Ironical UNIONIST cheers.] Let hon. Members lend me their ears. So far as we on these benches are concerned we stand 606 exactly in every particular where we did this day last week. If the right hon. Gentleman will pursue the course he has indicated about the Resolution, if he will say, further, that if it is rejected he will go and ask for guarantees, and if those are refused will not consent to retain office—if he will do that, and if, in the meantime, he will suspend the consideration of the Budget, I, for my part, will vote for his Resolution to-day, and will be perfectly satisfied with the situation. But if he does not, then nothing that the right hon. Gentleman has said alters my view that we should vote against the Resolution taking all the time of the House. I notice, with great interest, that the Leader of the Opposition kindly offered assistance to the Government. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that he and his friends would support this Motion.
§ Mr. JOHN REDMOND
Do not let the Leader of the Opposition now sink into obscurity. What does he mean? Is he with his friends going to support the Motion or not? Let me give my reading of the situation. The right hon. Gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition, is afraid for his life of an immediate dissolution, whereas, from my point of view, if there is to be a dissolution at all this year, the Government have everything to gain by an early dissolution on a bold policy. [A UNIONIST MEMBER: "What about yourself?"] As to myself, I can only say if the hon. Gentleman will come down and contest my seat in Waterford, I promise him a most attentive and courteous hearing, but not many votes. I repeat I believe it would be well for the Government to have an early dissolution on a bold policy. I am quite sure that that would not suit the Leader of the Opposition and his party. Hence they are most anxious to help the Government to secure the adoption of this Motion and to carry on business for the next four weeks, getting the necessary Votes in Supply for the sake of the Empire. Hon. Members who thought nothing of the rejection of the Budget by the House of Lords last year are quite willing now to help the Government, because they do not want an early dissolution. I hope that word of wisdom and that hint as to the probable future will find some legitimate hold in the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite.
607 One word about Reform. The Government has a mandate on the Veto. It has no mandate on Reform. Let the Government deal with Veto, and in some subsequent year or Parliament let the Liberal party or the Conservative party—led, it may be, by Lord Rosebery—tackle this question of Reform. But until the Question of the Veto is satisfactorily settled it would be madness, in my opinion, for the democracy of England to listen to the question of Reform. I am glad no mention has been made of the Referendum—that outlandish proposal which has recently appeared on this Question in some newspapers—a proposal which, for my part, I would not approve for one moment, and the effect of which would only be—[UNIONIST cheers.] Of course, you like the Referendum, but what would it involve? [UNIONIST cries of "It would kill Home Rule."] No, it would not kill Home Rule. It would mean the indefinite postponement of the curtailment of the powers of the Lords. [UNIONIST cheers.] Hon. Members having enjoyed themselves by cheering, I hope they will now listen to me for a moment. I again ask what would the Referendum mean? It would involve, in the first place, the passing of a Bill, and that Bill would be rejected by the House of Lords. The whole question would then be hung up, and all hope of getting a curtailment of the powers of the House of Lords would be put back for one or more generations. Hon. Members will, therefore, see, I think, that their cheers were a little premature.
Let me sum up my somewhat rambling observations. I make the same plea for indulgence as was made by a far more experienced and skilful debater. Like the Leader of the Opposition, I did not know beforehand what the Prime Minister was going to say. I have been giving my impressions of his speech. I say if no guarantees are to be asked for—if the Budget is to be carried into law through all its stages, and if this Session is for months more to meander along in the ordinary humdrum fashion, as if nothing had happened—we, for our part, cannot agree to this Resolution to give up the time of private Members. We stand exactly where we did. The right hon. Gentleman has nothing to lose from the point of view of his party or from the point of view of Empire, the interests of which must, of course, be paramount—he has, I say, nothing to lose by suspending the Budget for two or three weeks longer 608 than he intended. He has admitted that the Budget cannot now be passed within this financial year—that is, before 31st March. It must necessarily now go over into the new financial year. Whatever loss or confusion is caused by that fact will not be materially increased by postponing the consideration of the Budget and keeping this great weapon in your hands. In his speech the Home Secretary said—and indeed everybody knows—that it is a great weapon. You lose nothing, then, by keeping that weapon in your hands for two or three weeks longer until you have gone to the Throne and asked for your guarantees. Why do you want, before the crisis comes—before the climax—to straighten out the paths for those who may perhaps follow you? Why do you want to go out of your way to run the risk of dangers to the great policy you have at heart for the sake of undoing some of the mischief caused by the action of the House of Lords? The right hon. Gentleman has nothing to lose by suspending the Budget for two or three weeks longer until we see the result of the appeal to the Throne. The Leader of the Opposition quoted just now the pledge of the Prime Minister that the Budget would be the first business of this Parliament. I quote against that a statement in his Election Address a much more important document than the report of any speech, no matter how remarkable the occasion. In his Election Address the Prime Minister said the first and most urgent step to be taken in this Parliament was limiting the veto of the House of Lords. If the right hon. Gentleman gave the pledge quoted by the Leader of the Opposition, he gave this pledge also. Let him, I beg of him, for the sake of this great cause go this one step further. If he does I am convinced he will not alienate the support or goodwill of a single man sitting behind him.
I am, in one sense, in a most difficult position. I have to take a course which possibly may bring me before everything is over into conflict with the representatives of the democracy of England, although on the main issue we are absolutely united. That is a very hard thing for a man in my position, remembering my experience, extending over thirty years, in this House. There has not been a democratic measure passed in those years for England that has not been passed by our votes and with our aid in this House. We have on every occasion supported the representatives of the democracy in England. They have, in 609 the main, supported us, and there are bonds of steel between us on the really great principles that divide party politics in this country. It will be a very hard thing if a wrench occurs between us. I hope one will not. My desire is not to say one word to alienate the friendship of those old and true friends of Ireland on the other side of the House. But at the same time, I believe, if the right hon. Gentleman does not follow out to the letter and in the spirit the pledges on which he gained his majority of 124 there will result nothing but disaster to the hopes of the democratic party in this country. I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite, even if they may differ from me in the future—I do not honestly think we differ much at present on anything I have said on this Question—but if they differ from me in the future upon any action that we may take, I ask them to believe that we take it reluctantly, that we are anxious to work hand in hand with them, that we have the same object as they have—to free the democracy of this country from that power which, so long as it exists, will effectually and permanently prevent the realisation of all their most cherished dreams and aspirations. I thank the House for having listened to me so patiently, and I conclude by saying again, that unless I hear further from the right hon. Gentleman on these two points about the guarantees to be asked from the Throne and his action afterwards, and the suspension of the Budget meantime, my Friends and I will vote against this Motion.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
Strictly speaking, the Motion is one for considering how we shall deal with the time before Easter. The question that is propounded is very much that which is heard in the churches at this time of the new year—what good work can we do in Lent? The Government have their own very modest plan of settling their account and paying their bills, but much more polemical matter of considerable interest has been introduced. In the speech of the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond), to which we have just listened, the hon. Member put his finger in a moment on what is the real difficulty in the Government's way. I confess that I commiserate with the Prime Minister to some extent. He has gone a long way from the position he took up with a great show of resolution on the first night 610 of the Session. Then the right hon. Gentleman treated the suggestion that the Resolutions should go to the House of Lords with something like contempt. Now the Resolutions are to go to the House of Lords. Then he went a few steps further from his path to explain that he had not the slightest intention of asking for any constitutional guarantees—for any guarantees; they certainly are not constitutional.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
What I said was this: That if the occasion arose, I would tender such advice to the Crown, as having regard to the exigencies of the case, I thought desirable in the public interest. The Noble Lord represents me as having the intention that I would never ask.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
The right hon. Gentleman certainly said that before the matter had been submitted to both Houses of Parliament, it would be quite out of the question to ask for them; but now, on this occasion, he has said nothing whatever on this subject, and yet it is a subject on which he very well knows the votes of hon. Members behind me depend. As the hon. Member for Waterford says, what is the use of playing fast and loose with a great constitutional question? If the right hon. Gentleman is, as I believe him to be, a constitutional Minister, he must know very well that the advice he is urged to give would be a scandalous outrage upon the Constitution of the country. I have been at pains to investigate the any two precedents on the subject. The course recommended by the hon. Member for Waterford was, though in an immensely more moderate degree, taken in the reign of Queen Anne—that is to say, twelve Peers were created. As soon as the House of Hanover came to the Throne the great Whig House of Commons, which was responsible for setting the House of Hanover on the Throne, impeached Robert Earl of Oxford for giving the advice to the Queen which was supposed to have resulted in the creation of those Peers. The language is somewhat bombastic, and will probably make the House laugh, because it smacks of the eighteenth century, but it does not lack vigour. The sixteenth article of the 611 impeachment of Robert Earl of Oxford, as passed by the House of Commons, runs:—That whereas the said Robert Earl of Oxford, having on all occasions used his utmost endeavours to subvert the ancient established Constitution of Parliaments, the great and only security of the Prerogatives of the Crown and of the Rights, Liberties and Properties, of the People, and being most wickedly determined, at one fatal blow, as far as in him lay, to destroy the freedom and independency of the House of Lord, the great ornament and nearest support of the Imperial Crown of the Realms, and falsely intending to disguise his mischievous purposes under a pretended zeal for the Prerogative of the Crown; he, the said Robert Earl of Oxford, on or about the months of December or January, 1711, whilst the House of Lords were under an adjournment, and had reason to expect that, on their next meeting, matters of the highest importance would be communicated to them from the Throne; they having, some few days before, given their humble opinion and advice to Her Majesty, that no peace could be safe or honorable to Great Britain or Europe, if Spain and the West Indies were to be allotted to any branch of the House of Bourbon; being the Lord High Treasurer of Great Britain, and one of Her Majesty's Privy Council, and assuming to himself an arbitrary discretion and control of Her Majesty's Councils, contrary to his duty and his oath and in violation of the great trust reposed in him, and with an immediate purpose to render ineffectual the many earnest representations of Her Majesty's allies against the said negotiations of peace, as might shelter and protect his secret and unwarrantable proceedings, together with other false and evil councillors, did advise Her Majesty to create and make 12 Peers of this realm and Lords of Parliament; and pursuant to his destructive counsels, Letters Patent did forthwith pass, whereby 12 Peers were made and created; and did likewise advise Her Majesty immediately to call and summon them to Parliament; which being done accordingly, they took their seats in the House of Lords on or about January 2, 1711, to which day the House then stood adjourned, whereby the said Robert Earl of Oxford did most highly abuse the influence he then had with Her Majesty, and prevailed on her to exercise in the most unprecedented and dangerous manner, that valuable and undoubted prerogative which the wisdom of the laws and constitution of the Kingdom hath entrusted with the Crown for the rewarding of signal virtue and distinguished merit; by which desperate advice he did not only, as far as in him lay, deprive Her Majesty of the continuance of those seasonable and wholesome counsels in that critical juncture, but wickedly perverted the true and only end of that great and useful prerogative, to the dishonour of the Crown and the irreparable mischief to the Constitution of Parliaments.I quite agree, and, as I have said, the language is somewhat bombastic, as the language of legal documents of that period was apt sometimes to be, but from the point of view of constitutional law there could not be a more conclusive proof that the course now recommended is unconstitutional. If any impeachment by the House of Commons does not determine a constitutional point of that kind there is an end of the determination of constitutional points of law altogether.
Then we come to 1832. The Reform Bill was first rejected in the House of Lords, and there followed a dissolution. It was then sent up to the House of Lords and rejected on the Second Reading. After the Prorogation which then followed, and 612 before the introduction of the third Reform Bill, Lord Althorpe, who was the Leader of the House of Commons and principal Minister in charge of the Bill, wrote to Lord Grey:—I told him that I felt a very decided objection to making any great number, and that I was convinced that the Cabinet would not agree to make this application to the King. His answer was that if this was the case he had made up his mind to resign. I advised him to speak to you about this tomorrow. I confess that I have had my misgivings upon this subject, and that was the reason I mentioned it to you this morning. I feel what I believe to be an insurmountable objection to overwhelming the House of Lords by a large creation of Peers; but still I must admit that if it was clearly proved to me that a revolution would be the consequence of not taking this step, and that not only the House of Lords but every other thing of value in the country would be overturned, it would be a very strong tiling to say it ought not to be taken.Those are the precedents and the course which the right hon. Gentleman is recommended to take is to create not ten or sixty peers, but to advise the Crown to create five hundred. What makes it most amazing is that when it is asked why that advice should be given at this particular moment the answer is not because the right hon. Gentleman has such a hold upon public opinion, that however often the country is asked it is certain to support him, but, on the contrary, that if the matter is put off for a few months, so-ephemeral, so precarious is the hold of his policy on public opinion, that the country will certainty take the other view and the Government will not get the necessary support at the next election. That is to ask the Sovereign to make hay of the Constitution while the setting sun of Radicalism still shines. The plain truth of the matter is that the course pressed on the Government is unconstitutional to the point of insanity. There is not merely no precedent, but there is nothing even distantly resembling a precedent for such a course. That being so, there remains only to consider whether the Government's own plan is one which will meet the reasonable desires of hon. Members to introduce a constitutional reform. The Government plan, as I understand, is to bring forward a Resolution, to carry it through this House, to bring it forward in the House of Lords and then to wait and see what happens. They expressly refrain from saying that they would at that stage make any application to the Crown. I do not understand what advantage there is in the change. If these veto Resolutions are to go no further, if there is not to be a Bill founded upon them, I do not understand why the Budget is to be postponed and why the more convenient course of taking 613 the Budget is not to be adopted. I understand very well that what the Government are really trying to do is, by a series of manœuvres, to avert the evil day when the discrepancy among their supporters becomes manifest by a Division. They conceive, and this is the fundamental error, that they can carry through a great national revolution by a series of log-rolling manœuvres.
It must be admitted that they dare not submit the Budget to the consideration of the House of Commons till they have squared a certain number of votes from Ireland by offering a wholly different consideration. They know perfectly well that they cannot propose Home Rule to this House without alienating a great body of British public opinion, which is not less indispensable. Accordingly, Home Rule is postponed to an indefinite future. The Government has a majority in favour of the abolition of the Veto of the House of Lords, but that majority wholly depends on various considerations first to one section of opinion and then to another, and yet they think they can carry through a revolution. Was there ever such a masquerading of statesmanship? I have examined many calculations which have been made as to the numbers of the last election, which are all very interesting if you are analysing a party victory, but a party victory is not the same thing as a national movement, and you cannot change the fundamental constitution of the country without a national movement. Supposing this insane plan of creating 500 peers is carried out does anybody think it will finally settle the Question, and that a Second Chamber numbering 1,100 peers would be a permanent part of the polity of this country. As soon as a more rational House of Commons was returned the matter would be reopened, and a Second Chamber of a proper kind would be created. Was there ever a more insane folly than the notion that by linking together certain large bodies of opinion and straining the Royal prerogative past all precedent you can get a revolution, which, if it is to be lasting, must depend on the will of the people, extending far beyond the limits of one party or one class.
Personally I hear with great regret that the reform of the House of Lords is to be postponed to a future Session, so far as the Government are concerned. I believe that reform of the Second Chamber is the true solution of the difficulty in which we find ourselves, but, of all the silly proposals 614 first to abolish the Veto of the Second Chamber and then to reform its Constitution! We have all heard of the plan of making a cucumber salad, of slicing, peppering, salting, and vinegaring it, and then throwing it out of the window. The Government plan is a different one. They begin by throwing the cucumber out of the window, and next year they are going to get the cruet-stand and make a salad. A more futile proposal was never made. If you are going to take the trouble to reform the Second Chamber, I presume you are going to give it certain substantial powers, but, if so, why do a thing so necessarily difficult and offensive as abolishing the powers of the present Second Chamber altogether this year? The plain, natural course is, first to reform the composition of your Second Chamber, and then see what powers you propose that the reformed Chamber should have. But you begin at the wrong end. To begin by destroying the thing altogether is only defensible on those principles of party tactics which alone guide the Government. Let us have done with the pretensions of the Government to taking a strong and statesmanlike attitude on a difficult matter. They have already changed their attitude twice. In the Albert Hall speech it is manifest that they contemplated an immediate appeal to revolutionary resources. Since then they have modified the position, and last Monday the Budget was to come before the Veto, or the initial stages of the Budget; and the Resolutions were not to go to the House of Lords at all. Now they have made a third modification, and the Resolutions on the Veto Bill are to come before the Budget, the Budget being wedged into an extraordinarily narrow place. It is like a poor relation. I have heard the statement made by an old gentleman that we all have some relations whom we are ashamed of. The Government have now quite a large number of these legislative relations. The first is the Budget, which used to be their favourite child, and now, poor thing! must be kept out of sight lest it be contumeliously rejected before they have had time to develop their own proposals. Then there is Home Rule. That has long been in a position of very doubtful welcome. It is lucky if it gets a place at the lower table when it dines with the Prime Minister. Now there is to be a third one, the reform of the House of Lords, which is put off till the next year, and I doubt whether it will ever be admitted within 615 the precincts of Downing Street at all. Already there are some people who would rather that it was away. Gentlemen on this side do not like the Budget, and Gentlemen on that side do not like the reform of the House of Lords. It is only on the Treasury Bench that there is anything like complacency about the proposals the Government put forward.
It is not by the tactics of a faction that you can do these things. It is not in order, in the Prime Minister's phrase, to obtain all the objects on which the Liberal party have set their hearts, that you can make a great constitutional change. You want to approach the matter in a wide spirit, you want to try and find out what the great majority of the people really care for, and what they really want, and not rake together eighty Members from this side and forty from that into the Lobby in favour of some proposal which, by its ambiguity, more or less satisfies both the one and the other. What you want is to treat the matter with something like the patriotic feeling with which the great men of the past have treated matters of equal importance. If not, you are doomed to fail. Already hon. Members sit there, a gang of disconcerted wreckers, engaged on an enterprise of which only the destructive character has any attractive aspect for their supporters. They will go on from bad to worse. All these ingenious, dexterous explanations and renewed explanations, and explanations once more renewed, will not save them in the end from the fatal weakness of propounding a policy which has no national support behind it in the least commensurate with its importance. Sooner or later it will become clear that those have the title to the confidence of the country who are prepared to reform and to work the Constitution, and to reform and work it in the interest of the nation as a whole, and not those who, at the bidding of conflicting passions and in the interests of merely partisan objects, are resolved to destroy what is ancient without any sense of the gravity of their enterprise, and without any measure of the support by which alone such an enterprise can be carried through.
Sir HENRY DALZIEL
The speech of the Noble Lord, whose return to this House we all cordially welcome, may be summed up in one phrase, and that is, that there is no precedent for the course which is indicated by the Prime Minister. I will say to the Noble Lord that we are not 616 here to-day to be governed entirely by precedent. I do not agree with the Noble Lord that there is no complete precedent for the course that is indicated, but we are here, if necessary, to make a precedent. Does the Noble Lord suggest that, no matter how high a majority, no matter how strong the feeling in the country may be, under no possible and conceivable circumstances can the will of the people, as expressed to the House of Commons, be made effective in law? Is that the position of the Noble Lord that if we came back to-morrow with 300 or 400 majority he can show us no way in which we can make the will of the people supreme if the House of Lords stands in the way?
Sir HENRY DALZIEL
The Noble Lord anticipated a majority at the last election but did not get it. Of course we anticipate a majority under conditions which deserve a majority. Can he show me one way out of a position in which we have an overwhelming majority returned to the House of Commons for a certain policy and the House of Lords stands in the way other than the weapon which we suggest should be used by the Prime Minister? There is no other constitutional way. Therefore if the Noble Lord agrees with me in regard to that it is tantamount to saying that no matter how united the democracy, or how determined on a given policy, it must always be subordinate to the will of the House of Lords. That is a totally indefensible condition of things, and that way breathes revolution. If that is the position of the Tory party we welcome the situation. We suggest proceeding by constitutional means; we are determined if it is possible by constitutional means to assert the will of the people as expressed by the electorate. I consider that the Noble Lord's speech failed entirely to suggest any course but the one which we are asking the Prime Minister to adopt. We had rather a remarkable speech from the Leader of the Opposition. Like all his supporters now, even the Noble Lord, he is in a terrible state of anxiety about the fate of the Budget, this Budget that represents Socialism and robbers, and injustice, and all the other things we heard at the election. They are in a desperate state of mind lest it should be lost. I can hardly understand the consistency of that position. The friends of the Budget will take care of the Budget, and I am hopeful and confident that the 617 Budget will still pass into law. The Leader of the Opposition complained that the Budget was being held up, so to speak, in order that the veto might be proceeded with. The premier position for the veto has been our policy throughout the election, and it is our policy now. The Leader of the Opposition said the Prime Minister had said that their first duty would be to carry the Budget. I will read exactly what the Prime Minister said:The limitation of the veto is the first and most urgent step to be taken, for it is a condition precedent to the attainment of the great legislative reforms which our party has at heart.Speaking in East Fife on 18th January, he said:I promise no legislation of any kind in the next Parliament until we have settled our conclusions with the House of Lords, and until we have overcome the obstacle, the permanent obstacle, that prevents us from giving effective expression and legislative embodiment for those views, it is no good whatever talking about legislation for the benefit of the people.So that on nearly all the occasions on which the Prime Minister has alluded to the question of policy in this new Parliament he was clear and distinct that his intention was to deal with the veto in the first place. Therefore, I consider we are justified in pressing that course upon the Government. I conceive it to be impossible, in an important Debate like this, to put any plea forward on behalf of the independent private Member so far as the taking of his time is concerned. I have raised that question on many previous occasions and in many previous Parliaments, but I am reluctantly forced to the conclusion that, so far as the private Member is concerned, our usefulness is that his political life is now almost finally closed. Both sides of the House are treated in the same fashion. They deal with us sometimes gently, sometimes severely, but the end is the same. The private Member to-day has no real power whatever. The ideal private Member in the eyes of the Leaders on both Front Benches is one who will always cheer Ministers at the right moment and always vote in the right Lobby. Therefore I think it is useless to put in a plea on his behalf on the present occasion. But what we can do when our time is taken from us is to use what influence we have to see that the time is properly occupied and, of course, the speech the Prime Minister has made this afternoon has very materially altered the whole situation so far as the outlook in this House is concerned. As I understand the statement of the Prime Minister, it is that we are now to have the Resolutions at the 618 earliest possible date embodying the policy with regard to the House of Lords, and that the Question of the Second Chamber is not to be dealt with in any shape or form in the course of the present Session. If that is the view of the Government, while it is not by any means satisfactory, it is a little better than the position taken up by them last week. As to the Resolutions, I regret exceedingly that their policy has not been introduced in the first place by way of a Bill. I think, and I always have thought, that the first reading of a Bill in regard to their policy, as soon as their policy was Tabled, at the earliest date, would have given great satisfaction indeed to their supporters, and would greatly relieve an acute situation. But that is not the policy of the Government. If I have any influence with them, I would ask them now to alter it, to drop the Resolutions and to introduce their policy in a Bill. But, of course, I see difficulties in regard to that. I see the difficulty, perhaps, that you cannot at the same moment introduce the policy into the House of Lords. I still consider, as we with a majority in this House were returned for one plain purpose, namely, to carry out a Bill to abolish the veto of the House of Lords, that that policy ought to be placed in a Bill and sent from this House with the least possible delay. Of course, Resolutions have this advantage, that if there are certain Members of the Cabinet who are in favour of what is called a strong elective Second Chamber, then probably their political conscience is satisfied with the fact that the Resolutions are really not to take the effect of law. From that point of view I greatly regret it. I see no advantage in Resolutions. They will take practically as much time as a Bill would take. They are bound to do so, and therefore we shall have to go through the whole process again, going over the same ground and prolonging the Session much longer than would otherwise be the case. The only possible advantage I see for Resolutions is that they bring the issue in its final form nearer to us so far as this House is concerned.
As I understand the intentions of the Government are to have the Resolutions embodied in the main clauses of the proposed Bill, and that there will be nothing in regard to the alteration of the constitution of the Second Chamber. Therefore we have progressed a little from the position taken up last week. We are to have these Resolutions without any mention of the alteration of the constitution of the 619 Second Chamber introduced in this House. The Government hope and believe that they will be accepted by a majority in this House, and that we shall record the highest majority possible in this House in support of them. At the same moment the House of Lords will be considering the same Resolutions, and of course one does not need to be a prophet to know that the Resolutions will be rejected by the House of Lords. The only tactical point in favour of the Resolutions is the saving of time in regard to this House. If the House of Lords are uncompromisingly opposed to the substance of the Resolutions, we will know at once whether there is any possibility of our policy as embodied in the Resolutions being turned into law. If the House of Lords reject the Resolutions, then, of course, to use a common phrase, "the fat is in the fire." We shall know then where we are. We know that the House of Commons is in favour of this policy, and, by the way, not committed to any elective Second Chamber, and I am content to support the Government so long as they go on the principle of dealing with the Veto, and then being able to deal with the question of the constitution of the Second Chamber when the opportunity arrives. The Government would know that they have a large majority in the House of Commons for the limitation of a veto on the lines of the Campbell-Bannerman Resolutions, and at the same time they could anticipate being in possession of the information that the House of Lords is opposed to the Resolutions. They would naturally say, "What is the use of us wasting the time of the House of Commons passing a Bill when the House of Lords is totally hostile to the purpose of our policy?" We would then arrive at a very interesting situation—a situation which the leader of the Irish party put to the Government. What is the intention of the Government at that point? When they get a majority of this House, as I believe they would for these Resolutions, and when they are rejected in the House of Lords, what is the Government going to do? Are they going then to the Crown to ask for the guarantees of which we heard so much during the election? I think that is the position we have got to get to if there is any reality in the policy of the Government. If they can assure us that the moment a condition of things has arrived such as I have indicated, they will then 620 and there make up their minds to ascertain in a constitutional fashion, after the Bill has passed through this House, embodying the policy of the Resolutions, the attitude of the Crown, this, I think, will leave no doubt that there is real daylight in regard to the policy we are supporting. For my part, if the Government will give a pledge that that is their policy, having arrived at that state of things, and that they intend to ask those guarantees, they will have my most hearty and loyal support.
But why all this delicacy and explanation now of the position of the Government in regard to guarantees? We know the position of the Prime Minister in regard to them. He tells us exactly where he stands in regard to them. He tells us we are under a misapprehension, and that our votes were obtained under a false interpretation of what he said. He says we misinterpreted his statement when we thought that he, immediately after the election, would ask for guarantees. I am one of those who made the mistake. I was at the Albert Hall and heard the speech, and that was my interpretation of it. I believe it was the interpretation of the audience he was addressing. I know it was the interpretation of the leading organs in the Press next morning. We at once accept the interpretation which he now gives of his position. But what is the position of other Members who sit on the Treasury Bench? The Home Secretary the other night accused us in this matter. The right hon. Gentleman said it was absurd and unreasonable that we should form the view that guarantees were to be asked for before any legislation was carried out. What did the right hon. Gentleman himself say next night after the Albert Hall meeting? After the lecture he gave us the other night it is exceedingly interesting to see what his immediate interpretation was of the Prime Minister's statement. I may say that I gave him notice that I would call attention to what he said in order that he might be here to correct me if I am wrong. The right hon. Gentleman, speaking at Oldham on 11th December, said:—The Prime Minister in his speech last night, said with a clearness none could mistake and with a solemnity all could appreciate, that no Liberal Government will ever again take or hold office under the conditions which have prevailed in the Parliament which is now drawing to a close. This is a statement which is binding on every Liberal, official or unofficial. If you support us the consequences of this declaration cannot fail to emerge in action after the election is concluded.There is no mistaking what that means if the English language means anything. 621 It means that the policy as understood by the Home Secretary was that the Liberal Government would not take or hold office unless they had the guarantees which I understand they are going to ask for. The right hon. Gentleman made the same statement at Manchester. He said:—Whatever may be the result of the election be sure of this, no Liberal Government will at any future time bear the burden of office without securing guarantees that the reforms should be carried out. (Prolonged cheers).The right hon. Gentleman has not only continued to bear the burden of office, but he has taken on an increased burden. He has taken on the burden of the Home Office, an appointment which I venture to say is thoroughly well deserved and very popular among the supporters of the Government. The Prime Minister's statement seems to have been a tit-bit with the right hon. Gentleman, for he in his speeches invariably brought in the sentence about guarantees. He made similar statements to that which I have quoted at Southport, Dundee, Inverness, Bristol, and Glasgow Then he comes here and tells us that it is absurd and unreasonable for us to suppose that they were to have guarantees before they produced their policy. I say it is a very inconsistent position, and I should like to hear the Home Secretary endeavouring to reconcile the statement he made a few evenings ago with what he said at the places I have named. I could quote the Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Hobhouse) and other Members of the Government who said exactly the same thing. Therefore, whether we like it or not, we have to face the fact that the supporters of the Government in this House put that interpretation on the Prime Minister's speech, with regard to his policy, and we are returned here to carry out that policy. We say, therefore, that if there is any weakness in the political situation, it is not the weakness of the Liberal party in this House. I do not pretend to speak for anyone but myself, but so far as I have ascertained, the feeling is that that is the first policy of the Government, and that we are willing to support them in every way, and on every possible occasion, if they will show that they earnestly desire to carry out the policy the country gave a verdict upon. So much for guarantees.
Let me say one word about the new policy which has been launched upon us during the past few days. I suppose no one will deny that the proposal to tinker the Second Chamber is a new policy so far as the Government are concerned. During 622 the election it was no part of the Government programme. The Prime Minister is the proper exponent of the policy of his party. He made his statement at the Albert Hall, and in it there was not a single word about Second Chamber policy. The policy there was the Campbell-Bannerman Resolutions. He spoke afterwards on many occasions throughout the country. Speaking at Ipswich, he pointed out the three great issues before the electorate at that time, and there was not a single word or hint about an alteration in the constitution of the Second Chamber. In his election address there was not a word about the reconstitution of the Second Chamber. Not a single word in any of the speeches which he delivered gave any indication whatever that that was to be the policy of the Prime Minister if he was returned by a majority to this House. Therefore I say we have grave reason to complain of the Government that without any consultation with the party, without any mandate whatever from the country, within the last few days and since the beginning of the Session, they have launched a policy on the party and the country of which hitherto they gave us no indication whatever. I ask the House to mark this. Every Minister who has spoken since the Government came into office after the election has advocated a Second Chamber policy. He has advocated an alteration in the constitution of the Second Chamber. Take the Under-Secretary for the Colonies (Colonel Seely). He goes down to fight an election, and what does he say is the first policy of the Government? He says he is not speaking for the Government, but as he is Under-Secretary for the Colonies I presume he does not ask the electors to return him to support a policy which he does not anticipate will be the policy of the Government. He wants to be elected on the same democratic franchise. The policy of the Second Chamber is interdependent with regard to the other policy of the veto, and he says that that Chamber ought to be formed and the relations between the two Chambers should be on the lines laid down in the case of South Africa.
That is a new policy for a Government candidate. It is not the policy which the Under-Secretary for the Colonies advocated when he was standing as a candidate for Liverpool. So therefore some change must have taken place in the situation. Some new policy has been brought forward in the Cabinet, and I suppose that we are 623 expected without any notice or without any consultation to give it our most hearty support. I tell the Cabinet and every Member of the Front Bench that they are there because we support them in this House, and it is not open to any Cabinet to force a policy on the party for which no mandate has been obtained from the country, and as to which I very much doubt if they have any majority in this House. Here is the most serious aspect, I think, of this new policy. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy went down the other night to a by-election in which he is now engaged and enunciated there his new policy. He said: "And now comes the question, What is the Government to do next? Some people have been writing to the newspapers, thinking it is quite easy for the House of Commons to pass what they call a Veto Bill before they pass the Budget, and they think that we ought at once to deal with the House of Lords. I will tell you"—he, a Member of the Cabinet, fresh from the Cabinet Council—"what the Government themselves propose. They propose before we attempt to deal with the Budget that we shall give Parliament an opportunity to discuss and take a vote upon our proposals as to how the House of Lords ought to be constituted and what powers ought to be conferred upon them. If the House of Commons then decide to support the Government proposals we shall rapidly, I trust, pass through its various stages the Budget Bill, and we shall then proceed to carry out in the form of a Bill the proposals in regard to the reconstitution of the House of Lords which will then come before Parliament in the form of a Bill."
It is quite clear, therefore, that the policy of the Cabinet was to bring in a Bill immediately for the reconstitution of the House of Lords. I am very glad indeed, and it is very satisfactory, I think, that that policy has now been abandoned. It is not now the policy of the Government to proceed this Session, as the Chancellor of the Duchy said, with a Bill for the re-constitution of the Second Chamber. Therefore, I think that the protest which has been made by some of us outside this House has had its effect, and I am very glad that the Government have recognised the strong feeling of the country with regard to this proposal of a reconstituted Second Chamber. As I indicated before, we are here for one policy alone. We believe that the Government have a majority 624 to carry that policy to a successful issue. We have no desire in the slightest degree to embarrass either the Prime Minister or the Government. We are anxious to support them. But if they desire our support, they must proceed upon the policy which we were elected to support. They must not abandon that policy and take on a new policy which was never before the country.
Let the Government go boldly forward with their policy of limitation of veto. Let them keep absolutely aside this question of the reformed Second Chamber, and I believe they will be able to make good progress. It is not only as to the form of the proposed Second Chamber that I object. I say that by launching this policy you are turning the public mind into a new channel which was never anticipated, and which can only have the effect of weakening public opinion, so far as our other policy is concerned. Therefore, we must limit ourselves to the policy which we were elected to support. If the Government make it clear that if these Resolutions are adopted they will ask for guarantees before wasting any more of the time of the House—because, after all, it is wasting the time of the House if we are unable to do anything effective with regard to the larger question of policy—and if it is clear that the question of a reconstituted Second Chamber is not an integral part of their policy, and that there will be a full and free opportunity of opposing and giving our views with regard to it when the proper time arrives, if the Government show earnestness in carrying out that policy, then I believe they will receive the hearty support of the great mass of the party both in this House and in the country.
§ Mr. T. M. HEALY
As everything which has been said to-night has been directed to a consideration of the action of the Government, I should like to say a few words with regard to the action of the Opposition, because it seems to me, from the point of view of independent Members, that after what has occurred during the past week independent Members of this House may now go about their business. I should like to point out what has occurred since we met on the first night of the Session. The Government then laid down an important line of policy. They were quarrelled with, and quarrelled with seriously, by a number of their supporters, and undoubtedly a crisis of considerable magnitude developed. What did the leaders of the Opposition do? Instead of keeping the Government on the run, instead of pressing them in any way, or 625 causing them any embarrassment, the first thing they did was they sprang to the rescue of His Majesty's advisers, for they put down a Motion which they knew very well would not command a majority of Members of this House against His Majesty's Government. They put down the Motion of the Member for Worcester in respect of Tariff Reform, and thereby, after the exciting days of Monday and Tuesday, delivered us over to the dullness of Wednesday and Thursday, and as if that was not enough, on Friday they gave us Hops, well knowing, as they must have known, that if they come here as an Opposition to oppose the Government, the business of an Opposition is to oppose.
What have we had to-day? If this were an ordinary Session no doubt ordinary tactics should prevail. This is not an ordinary Session. This is a Session in which we have had a King's Speech promising us no Bills except Bills dealing with the question of the House of Lords and the Budget. And accordingly to say that we would treat the Government on an occasion of this kind by considering what is the convenience of the Government, seems to me to involve this proposition—that we are considering not the convenience of the Government, but the convenience of the Opposition; because if the Opposition are serious, if they believe the Budget to be bad, as I believe in regard to Ireland it is bad, if they believe the proposals of the Government in regard to the House of Lords are bad, and if the Opposition believe that they have the country behind them, I should have imagined that the Opposition would have grasped the very first opportunity of turning the Government out. The Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir H. Dalziel), who has just sat down, said with regard to the Members of the Government: "They are there because we support them in this House." I say they are not there for any such reason. They are there because the Opposition support them, or rather they are there because the Opposition do not oppose them. And accordingly I think it well that the country should consider whether this House is not engaged in a game of make-believe, and I am greatly afraid it is, because so far as last week is concerned we know this, that on Friday the great thing that was troubling the Opposition was whether that terrible calamity was about to occur, that they would defeat the Government and put them in a minority. Can anybody deny that? And accordingly now what 626 you have done by the promise of the Opposition to support this Motion is this, that this terrible Government which you condemn so much, and the authors of this Budget which you hate so much, are being given by you a complete reprieve until Easter next. And that being so I ask anybody outside this House, where these games are not understood, to say can their conduct as an Opposition be regarded as serious? We know very well that regard must be had to tactics. There is an old proverb which seems to me to be in point in this case:—He that will not when he mayWhen he will he shall have nay.And I am seriously concerned, having regard to my antagonism to the Irish portion of this Budget whether if this game goes on the sole result of the Session will be that the Government will have sent their Budget up to the House of Lords, and having passed that Budget will have escaped, and the Opposition will have refrained from coming to close quarters with them. That is practically my summation of the present situation as between both sides of the House, and I simply take note of this fact that whenever the Opposition find the Irish determined to vote against the Government they are going to support the Government, and whenever the Irish find that the Opposition are going to support the Government then the Irish will oppose the Government, which is a situation that from the point of view of the independent Member, if I may use a French expression to express it, is I find difficult of orientation.
That is the situation. Let the Government distinctly understand that any threats that may be held out to them as regards either tactics or the House of Lords by their dissatisfied supporters, such as the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy, they can treat absolutely with disdain, because on that side of their policy they are certain of the support of the Opposition. Then, whenever the Opposition threaten them with any terrible pains or penalties, they may be satisfied that their independent supporters opposite will grow suddenly loyal and that the Irish Members will abstain. And so it shall go on from month to month during this Session, neither party avowing what is the fact, that they do not want another dissolution of Parliament. I think, therefore, I may be sure that what I have said will not be grateful to any section of this House, but I believe, at the same time, it is most essential that serious 627 people outside who regard us as serious people inside should know exactly where we are. Therefore, so far as I am concerned, I do not think it matters in the smallest degree if the Opposition intend to support this Motion or intend to abstain. I do not think it matters in the smallest degree whether they pass the Motion or whether they do not. The Opposition have made up their minds that this terrible Government, on which they have lavished so much talk, and this terrible policy to which they are so much opposed, shall have another reprieve. They have given them a long day, and the result is that persons like myself may go away about their business.
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
The hon. and learned Member for Louth has given his view of the situation in which the House is placed, and the position which is occupied by different parties in it. The hon. and learned Member said he was afraid that the expression of his opinion would not be grateful to any party in this House, and I think that gave a certain added satisfaction to the expression of his view. Though I cannot agree with what he considers to be the attitude of Gentlemen on these benches, I do agree with him that it is desirable that the country outside should understand what we are doing, and should pierce behind the make-believe, of which there has been so much during the short sitting we have had in the present Parliament. The position of the Opposition was clearly stated by my right hon. Friend on the day after the opening of the House at a function at the Constitutional Club. The hon. and learned Member for Louth suggests that we are refraining from coming to close quarters with the Government. We are anxious to come to close quarters with them at the earliest possible moment on the big and real issues which divide us from them. On these great issues, whether they concern the relations of the two Houses, or whether they concern the Budget of the expiring year, we are ready to take up the challenge at any moment when the Government will throw it down. If we have any criticism to make on the conduct of business by the Government under these circumstances, it is that they have gone back from the definite statement of the Prime Minister that the Budget should be the first business brought before the House of Commons, and that the Government would, at the 628 earliest possible moment, take the opinion of the House upon it. What is it that the hon. and learned Member would have us do? He says we are consulting the convenience of the Government. I shall not, of course, be talking disrespectfully of Ministers if I say that their convenience is not a matter with which we really have any concern. They will understand the sense in which I use those words; there is no personal discourtesy to them.
But when great issues of this kind are at stake and when the real business of the country is concerned, personal convenience is a matter which always has to be sacrificed, by Ministers first of all. It is not the convenience of Ministers that troubles or concerns us at all; it is the question of how the King's Government is to be carried on that troubles us. There is certain necessary business which must be done unless the law is to be broken, and unless, even with a broken law, the grave difficulties and possibly a complete standstill be produced in our Executive Government. Unless the financial business which the Government have announced will be taken before Easter, is taken and passed by the two Houses of Parliament, there is no authority to pay the soldiers or sailors, there is no authority to pay the Civil Service, and there is no authority to pay old age pensions. There is no money to pay any of these things, and if there were money there is no authority in anyone to issue it for that purpose. Under these circumstances, we are governed by the principles laid down for us by my right hon. Friend when he said that in all that was necessary for carrying on the King's Government we shall be ready to give His Majesty's Ministers any support we see necessary, as long as they concentrate their efforts on those measures that are so necessary, and still refrain from interposing between the House and the consideration of the Budget, which is long overdue, and is only one degree less necessary than the financial business of which I have spoken, any other contentious business. The hon. and learned Member says that if we mean business we should have jumped at and sprung at and grasped at the first opportunity of turning the Government out. We do not so read our duty to the country or to our constituents. We want a clear issue, we want to come to close quarters with big issues, but we are not going to upset the Government of the country on some minor point or side issue, when the Government are demanding no more than is necessary 629 for any Government to demand, and when the result of defeating them would be to throw the business of the country into confusion. I do not claim for my right hon. Friends, for my hon. Friends and myself, a larger share than others of patriotism, which ought to be the common property of every party in this House, but, at any rate, we are not willing to throw the whole affairs of the nation into confusion by a snap Division on a somewhat minor point which settles nothing. We are anxious to get at once, and as quickly as we can, to those great debatable points which divide us one from the other. I want to ask the Government for a little more information as to what they do propose in regard to the Budget of the present year.
The Prime Minister and his colleagues, both in this House last Parliament and in the country, dwelt upon the confusion introduced into finance, the injury caused to trade, and the great interests adversely affected by the postponement of the Budget, until the opinion of the country was expressed upon it. The opinion of the country has been expressed upon it. You can have that issue before the House at any moment. Why do you not do it? We know why the Government do not do that. They do not do it because if they brought the Budget before the House they have not got a majority for it at this moment, and the confusion is to be made worse confounded, the injury to the great interests of which the Prime Minister spoke is to be increased, the uncertainty is to be continued and multiplied, whilst the Government are negotiating and bargaining, whilst they are receiving deputations from each section of their supporters in turn, who tell them what they are to do and how they are to do it, and whilst they are struggling to purchase support, by concession in other matters, by changing their attitude every time they make a speech about the House of Lords, and producing on each occasion fresh proposals to render more palatable those which have already been rejected by this House—while, by these means, the Budget is to be delayed until a majority has somehow been bought for it, and a system of log-rolling—which was to be introduced for the first time by Tariff Reform—is now in full swing, the whole programme of the Government, and the whole business of the country, are to be put up to auction. How long is that to continue? The Prime Minister did not expressly say on Monday last that the Budget would 630 be taken before the Resolutions were discussed by the House, but, if he will read his speech, I will undertake to say that he himself, reading it with a fresh mind, will derive from it the impression that that was obviously his intention at the time. He began by explaining why he did not proceed with the Budget at once because of the necessary financial business, the still more urgent financial business which is covered by the Resolution we are discussing to-day. Then he came to the Budget, and said:—I have been pointing out that these other measures must necessarily have precedence, because they have all to be passed before the end of the financial year.Then he goes on to describe the situation in regard to the Budget, and to say how the Government propose to deal with that Budget, and finally he said:—I have made it clear that we mean to pass the Budget and get it through before we adjourn for the spring Recess, and that it shall not pass from the control of the House until the decision has been taken by the Resolution.Did any human being then, or will any human being now, if he reads the speech again, pretend that it was not in the mind of the Government to lay the Resolution about the House of Lords on the Table of the House, and then to proceed with the Budget, but, before passing the last stage of the Budget, to take the decision on The House of Lords? Of course the Government has made a complete volte face on this subject, and of course we know why. But really there are interests at stake in this matter of the Budget which I think are graver even than the fortunes of the Government. It is not in the interests of trade, it is not in the interests of the money market, it is not in the interests of the credit of the country, which the Government boast of as so largely the creation of Free Trade—or, at any rate, a great asset; of it—that this uncertainty should continue. The Government themselves know that their borrowings are affected by the uncertainty that the market is put to by the delay, that the vast floating debt for which they have to provide hangs like a millstone round their necks, depreciates securities, and lessens our credit. Is that state of things to go on indefinitely whilst the Government settle matters with the independent parties, who are, after all, so dependent on them just as they are so dependent on those parties? I cannot help smiling when I hear Members of those two parties boasting so loudly of their independence, the kind of independence of men who know that if they cannot hang 631 together they will hang separately, while the Government is in the same position. I want to know before this Debate closes what is now the latest plan of the Government. Do they mean to take the whole of the House of Lords Resolutions before they proceed with the Budget at all? Do they mean to defer the collection of the Income Tax indefinitely, with all the inconvenience that that causes to the Treasury with all the disturbance it creates in the money market, and the injustice which it necessarily involves as between taxpayer and taxpayer? One man has had his Income Tax deducted by the banks through whom he has received his income, and accepted by the Government from those banks, while another man has had no demand for his Income Tax, whatever from the Government, and the Government, if I am rightly informed by letters I have seen in the Press, has actually, when this Income Tax was offered, declined, acting on Government instructions, when it is voluntarily tendered to them.
The Prime Minister said that he hoped there would be but little loss resulting from the delay in regulating the financial position which had occurred, but that there would be some. That loss, whatever it was, he explained, would be due to the dislike, the very natural dislike, of a taxpayer to pay the same tax twice in the same year, and also to the difficulty which the Government would have in collecting the tax twice over in the new year. Of course, that is true, and it is true that the Government, not having foreseen all the other financial business which they had to get through, and not having chosen to deal with non-contentious finances in an uncontentious way last Session, as they might have done even after the Budget had been referred to the country, have now come to the point at which they cannot collect the whole of this Income Tax within the current year, and a great portion of it must be collected next year. But you could take an Income Tax Resolution even on your own programme. You have time by your showing for doing that—sacrifice your Departmental Bill, take your Income Tax Resolution, and begin to collect your Income Tax to-morrow. I believe that even now you might collect by far the greater portion of what is outstanding within the present year, but, of course, if you do not begin now, with every week you aggravate the situation, and every 632 week you put it off you make it more certain that the taxpayer is going to be called on to pay twice in the one year, and you make it more certain that not only will your Income Tax of the expiring year suffer, but that the Income Tax of the new year will suffer also.
The Government, in pursuit of some way out of their dilemma, in trying somehow to secure a more stable equilibrium amongst the various parties of which they are composed, are deliberately aggravating the financial situation, are deliberately sacrificing the real and solid interests of the country, quite apart from the party interests on either side of the House, to the necessities of their own position at the moment and to the bargains which they still have to conclude. I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Louth that it is well that serious people outside the House should understand all that this means. I hope they will take note of it. For my Friends and myself, anxious as we are to challenge the Government on the great issues of which I have spoken, and to take the decision of the House upon those great issues as early as we can, and grave as is the injury which from their course of action has accrued to the country at large, are not prepared to upset the King's Government merely in order that they may be turned out of office a little earlier than will otherwise be the case.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Lloyd-George)
The right hon. Gentleman, who has just sat down, has made it perfectly clear that, in supporting the Motion before the House, the Opposition are not doing it for the convenience of the Government. They are doing it entirely for their own convenience. It is perfectly obvious to anyone who realises what would happen, if they turned out the Government on this Motion, they would have to submit a similar Motion to the House immediately afterwards; and they could not possibly go to the country until they had passed the very Bill and the very Supplies which we are inviting the House now to give facilities to the Government to carry. Therefore, he need not have proclaimed any intention of unselfishly supporting His Majesty's Government on this occasion, as they are simply taking the course which he himself would have to follow if he found himself in the position in which the Prime Minister and I are.
I come to the second part—the more contentious part of his speech. I was 633 amazed to hear him dwell upon the injury to trade and to business, on the damage to the commercial interests of this country, which happened how? Upon the hanging up of the Budget for a few weeks. The right hon. Gentleman admits himself that we could not possibly deal with the Budget before Easter. It is therefore purely a question of a few days after Easter. If it will irreparably injure trade that you should put off the Budget by, say, a fortnight, who is responsible for putting off the Budget for three months? When did the right hon. Gentleman discover this irreparable injury to the business of the country through not collecting the Income Tax and the other different taxes imposed by the Budget? He seems to have discovered it now for the first time. We pointed it out to him in the late Parliament, and now he has discovered that there was some ground in our complaint at that moment. The right hon. Gentleman says, "Why did you not bring in a sort of non-contentious Bill when the House of Lords threw out the Budget? Why did you not bring in another Budget dealing with the Income Tax, and the taxes the House of Lords allowed us to impose?" Why, the Government that would do that would be guilty of a gross betrayal of the privileges of the House of Commons, and would allow the House of Lords to dictate to the House of Commons what provision it should make for the finances of the year. They would simply, having thrown out one Bill, say, "Send us up another," and, if we complied with that request, they might throw that out and say, "Send us up another." That would have been an abject surrender that no Member of the House of Commons, with any sense of self-respect and decency would support for a moment.
The right hon. Gentleman has been very severe on what he calls our change of attitude. I ask what change of attitude? The Prime Minister, in his opening statement this Session, made it perfectly clear that so far as he, and the Government of which he is the head are concerned, the one business of this Session was to deal with the problem of the Lords. Has there been any change of attitude in that respect? He made it perfectly clear that he would proceed, in the first instance, by way of Resolution. I will come later to the question raised by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir H. Dalziel). The Prime Minister made it absolutely clear, and the only point where there has been any departure 634 has been indicated by the Prime Minister in his speech—that is, with regard to the sending of the Resolutions to the House of Lords. He did not then preclude or prejudge the decision which we have arrived at now. On the contrary, it was one of the questions which we were considering as to its desirability, and we have come to the conclusion it is better to send them up to the House of Lords in order to get a decision at once as to the relative position of the two Houses on this great issue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy wanted to know why we are proceeding by Resolutions before proceeding by Bill. I should have thought that from his point of view he certainly would rather impress upon us to persist in the course indicated by the Prime Minister. What is his point of view? And I think it is also the point of view of the hon. and learned Member fox Waterford (Mr. John Redmond). He says, "You ought to have full powers," and he indicated his methods by which we should be empowered with those powers: "You ought to know you have full powers not merely of carrying your Bill through the House of Commons, but of carrying your Bill even if rejected by the Lords." That is their position. A good deal has been said about guarantees, but it is obvious that no Minister standing at this box, whatever the position of the Government might be, could say, "Here we propose to go to the Sovereign and ask him in certain contingencies for guarantees." Some of us have given very definite pledges upon that question, and we have no desire to shirk them. On the contrary, we shall certainly stand or fall by them. But what is the position taken up by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford and the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy, who takes the same view? They both admit that you could not possibly ask for the exercise of the Royal Prerogative upon proposals, I will not say publicly formulated, as that is not the case, but upon proposals which have not received the sanction and approval of the House of Commons. That is absolutely essential. It is obviously impossible. I ask the hon. Gentleman to put himself in the position of the Prime Minister, as that is the only way of judging it. If he were in that position could he go to the Sovereign and say, "We ask for guarantees"? The Sovereign would say, "What for? Are you sure you have got the support of the House of Commons to begin with for your proposals?" Are you sure the House of Lords will 635 reject them? A great deal has been said about the guarantees which were given in the case of the Reform Bill. But they were never asked for until it was certain not only that the House of Commons approved of the Bill, but also that the House of Lords would reject it. The hon. Member also said that, from his point of view at any rate, we should have these proposals and a general outline of the Bill approved or rejected by the House of Commons at the earliest possible moment, and that we should also know whether the House of Lords would be prepared to proceed with a measure drafted upon those lines. If they are not, I can assure all our friends in the House and outside that we do not propose to plough the sands. Unless we find ourselves in a position to ensure that our proposals not merely will pass the House of Commons, but can be passed into law, we shall not continue in office. That has really been the policy of the Government all through. It must be obvious to every Member of the House who has experience of these matters that it is exceedingly difficult to discuss such questions as has been put in the course of the Debate. We must in this matter appeal to the confidence of hon. Members. I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Louth (Mr. T. Healy) that if we are merely playing a game it will soon be obvious. Parliament need not wait very long for that. Just a few weeks, that is all. But when Ministers say that they stake the existence of their Government upon taking a certain definite course, is that playing a game? On the contrary, I can assure hon. Members behind me and on the benches opposite that in this matter of bringing to an issue the question of the relations of the two Houses and the predominance of the House of Commons, there is no shrinking or hesitation, and the Government will absolutely stake its existence on the advice which they will give to the Sovereign if ever it becomes necessary to take that course.
My hon. Friend (Sir H. Dalziel) has asked me, What about reform? He is wrong in saying that reform was absolutely precluded by every discussion which took place before the General Election. As a matter of fact, if he will refer to the speech delivered by Sir Henry Campbell-Banner-man in moving his Resolution, upon which, in my judgment, the country has pronounced, he will find these words:—Let me point out that the plan which I have sketched to the House does not in the least preclude or 636 prejudice any proposals which may he made for the reform of the House of Lords itself. The constitution and composition of the House of Lords is a question entirely independent of my subject.That is entirely the view of the Government at the present moment. We adhere absolutely to that declaration of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. The question of the veto stands by itself. Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman never contended that the House of Lords would be a perfect Second Chamber after it had been deprived of its veto. What he said was that the urgent question to deal with was the veto. Why does the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) press us to proceed at once with the reconstitution of the House of Lords? Because he knows that if we began to do that instead of dealing with the veto first, the Government would be put off and the settlement of the really urgent issue would be delayed. Even if you created 500 Peers, and even if all the 500 were of the most satisfactory character when they entered the House of Lords—how long they would remain so I do not know—no one can believe that that House would be much nearer perfection. Therefore, the question would have to be faced by any Government. That Chamber would have to be put on a proper basis, because it must be obvious to anyone that even then it would not be holding the balance fairly between parties. Even if the Campbell-Bannerman Resolutions were carried it would operate as a check upon Liberal legislation, and never upon Conservative legislation. Under these circumstances no one can pretend that that Chamber would not need revision. The Government are of the same opinion as they were three years ago, that the urgent immediate problem is to settle the relations of the two Houses by dealing with the veto.
Therefore I do not think there is any difference between the view taken by my hon. Friend and those who sit beside him and that which has been taken throughout by the Government. We could not possibly preclude reform from the final operation of dealing with the Constitution, otherwise we should be acting in direct contravention of what was laid down by Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman himself when he introduced his Resolutions. The House may depend upon it, the Government are in earnest in dealing with this matter. I do not know how a Government can show greater earnestness than by saying that if they find themselves not in a position to carry their proposals into law they will not hold office. [An HON. MEMBER: "You 637 said that on the Licensing Bill."] Hon. Members may say that they do not believe our declaration. They need only wait a few weeks. If then the Government do not carry out the definite pledges they have given throughout they will be entirely in the hands of the House. But I do entreat hon. Members on both sides. This is a matter of the greatest moment to the democracy, not merely of Great Britain, but also of Ireland. I am not sure that it is not a matter of even greater importance to the smaller races of this Kingdom than to the great and powerful race that lives in England. The people of England, if they are very keen upon a subject, may be able to overpower the resistance of the Lords, but the smaller races have no such power. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Waterford that this matter will not be carried through without great sacrifices or without great effort. We are fighting against a very powerful combination of interests. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. A. Chamberlain) to talk about log-rolling. There never was greater log-rolling than on the other side during the last General Election. It was purely a log-rolling business. The brewers, the great landlords, and all those who would be interested in a tariff, are a powerful combination which cannot be overcome without unity—without such unity as, after years of tribulation, hon. Members opposite are beginning to find. They know perfectly well that they cannot carry any great cause even to within sight of victory without unity, and the lesson which they have learnt is one worth our bearing in mind. You cannot carry to victory a great cause like this without unity, courage, comradeship, loyalty, and sacrifice. I say to the hon. Member for Waterford that the sacrifices when you are going to war must be on all sides. All must take the risks. I appeal to all who believe in the future of democracy and who know how much it is bound up with this issue to act together, to act promptly, to act boldly, and to act without hesitation.
§ Sir CHARLES CRIPPS
I do not know whether I ought to call the speech to which we have just listened an apologia for the Government or an explanatory statement for the purpose of making clear what I think no one at present really understands. But whatever point of view we approach the question, the right hon. Gentleman has not made the position of 638 the Government any clearer. I agree with the right hon. Member for East Worcestershire that in discussing this question it is essential to draw a distinction between necessary Supply and the Budget. No one denies that whatever Government may be in power the necessary Supply must be granted in order that the Government of the country may be carried on. The old notion of redress before Supply would be a barbarous anachronism at the present moment, because it would be utterly impossible for any Government to continue in power and not at the same time have the means of fulfilling its obligations to the Civil Service, the Army, and the Navy. But what we say as regards the action of the Government is that it is all very well to be a Free Trade Government in economic questions, but to carry the policy of the higgling of the market into great constitutional questions is a course of action of which no responsible Government in this country ought at any time to be guilty. No one who has listened to the Debate can doubt that the action and the attitude of the Government are actuated, not by any direct patriotic motive at all, but solely by their desire to maintain, if possible, the coherence of the disconnected forces by which they claim to be supported in this House.
As regards the Budget, I cannot agree that it was ever stated on this side of the House that the holding up of the Budget per se was a great injury to trade. What was said by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer was that, if the Budget was held up beyond the financial year, and you had two demands for Income Tax within the same financial year you must expect great dislocation as regards the financial conditions in this country. Surely that is absolutely true. I should like to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he denies the statement, which I now reiterate, that it is most unfortunate, as regards the financial conditions, not to pass your finances in a particular year, and to have a double charge of that kind in the succeeding year.
§ Mr. LLOYD-GEORGE
The real confusion has been created, not by what the hon. Member thinks, but is due to the fact that those assessments were not signed in November and December, and collected in January. But as to being collected in March and April there is very little in it.
§ Sir CHARLES CRIPPS
There is everything involved in collecting the Income 639 Tax during the particular year in which it is assigned, and you get a maximum of financial difficulty by postponing the collection of Income Tax to a succeeding year. The conditions which so arise are entirely different from the postponement of the Budget owing to the intervention of the House of Lords. And let me say, also, in answer to the argument of the right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that he did not condescend to say whether the reference of the Budget to the country was a proper step to be taken or not. What he said was that the reference by the House of Lords of the Budget to the country was a gross interference with the privilege of this House. Now that is the very matter on which I join issue with him. I say if there is one constitutional duty that the House of Lords has more than another, it is their right to intervene in matters of finance to the same extent as they are entitled to intervene in matters of ordinary legislation. Of course, whether it is expedient to carry out an intervention of that kind is a matter of policy, but I beg to say that as a matter of constitutional right, I do not believe any constitutional lawyer on either side of the House will find any fault with the statement I make, namely, that so far as constitutional right is concerned the House of Lords are absolutely justified in the action they take. There is another matter in connection with the Budget. I was astonished the other night to hear the Leader of the Labour party make the suggestion that new Members in this House ought not to take any part in the Budget discussion. I cannot imagine a more undemocratic or unconstitutional principle advanced than that.
Surely if there is one principle more certainly established in our constitutional practice than another it is that every Member of the House of Commons, after a General Election, not only has the right, but is bound, in this House, to put forward the views on which he was elected and on which he had the support of his constituents. I am bound to say that as far as I am concerned in my election there was no matter more to the point, and the attitude I took up was that if returned to this House I would use every legitimate means to oppose what I called an iniquitous, unjust Budget. And I intend to do that as far as I can, and not in any sense taking an obstructive attitude. But, in so far as we are talking about these constitutional 640 questions, can any doctrine of tyranny, any doctrine of autocracy, be carried further than that laid down by the Leader of the Labour party, namely: That however much the constitution of this House may be altered what passed in an old House of Commons, which was elected under different conditions, should be binding not only upon that House of Commons but on its successors immediately on the morning of a General Election? That brings me to what I consider a most important matter as regards this constitutional crisis. I suppose everyone will admit that a constitutional change is a matter of the greatest gravity, and that we should have every opportunity for discussion both in this House and in the House of Lords. But when you come to great constitutional crises you have to consider the whole position of the democracy and the whole position of Government in every department in this country.
The other night the Home Secretary likened the last election to the process of a person in the hands of a dentist who is having his teeth drawn out, and he actually said that although the party opposite suffered in that way during the last General Election, yet his opinion was that they had what I think he called a mandate, both in reference to the Budget and also in reference to constitutional reform. I recommend this point to him, that a man does not generally go on a filibustering expedition immediately after he has had all his teeth extracted at the hands of the dentist. But what is much more important than that is this. I deny wholly that at the last election there was anything in the nature of a mandate, cither for the passing of the Budget or for a constitutional revolution, such as is suggested by the Prime Minister. So far as the Budget is concerned, I do not suppose there is in this House the slightest difference of opinion. It is known perfectly well that, apart from jerrymandering or log-rolling, there is a majority returned to the Parliament of the United Kingdom opposed to the proposals contained in the Budget. And upon that point I would like to say that the action of the House of Lords has been justified up to the hilt. The reason why they took that action was that they considered those novel proposals ought not to be passed until the assent of the country had been ascertained. The Government went to the country, with the result that a new House of Commons has been returned in which there is a majority 641 against the proposals of the Budget. Now I will come to the constitutional question.
I am not concerned in the attack which was made, for instance, by the Hon. Member for Kirkcaldy upon his own leaders, nor am I concerned in the views put forward by the hon. Member for Waterford. But when you find those views being put forward, when you find those who have studied the speeches and opinions of occupants of the Front Bench opposite, coming forward and saying that the position has not been appreciated and understood, or, if it has been appreciated and understood, is now being departed from by the Members of the Government, surely you have the strongest possible argument that ever could be advanced against the approaching of great constitutional reforms at the present moment. No constitutional change of this kind ought to be approached unless there is a large consensus of national opinion in its favour, and no one who has watched the progress of the election or who has heard the speeches in this House can for a moment say that he really believes that any mandate has been obtained from the country for a policy foreshadowed by the Prime Minister, and to which reference has been made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Of course, the guarantees asked for by the hon. Member for Waterford are impossible, because they could not be given in accordance with any constitutional doctrine known to this country at the present time. The Prime Minister is threatened with an adverse vote of the Irish party unless he gets up and makes a statement before the end of this Debate that if those Resolutions are not carried he will ask for guarantees from the Crown.
I say without any hesitation, and without reference to the precedence mentioned by the Noble Lord who represents Oxford University, that no Prime Minister and no Government could, under any circumstances, if they understood the Constitution of this country, give, at this stage, a guarantee such as is asked for by the hon. Member for Waterford. That brings me to this point. If no such guarantees can be given, what is the position of the supporters of the Government in this House? I have heard Member after Member, other than those sitting on the Irish Benches, get up and say that unless a guarantee is given they are not prepared to support the Government at the present time—in other words, they ought not to give their support 642 because they are asking for guarantees which the Government cannot give. If they act in accordance with the principles they have enunciated, so far from supporting the Government in the constitutional crisis they are seeking to bring about, they ought to vote against them, because it is impossible for any Government to give the guarantee which they demand.
The position taken up to-day by the Government, as explained by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is, of course, entirely different from what was stated by the Prime Minister last Monday. The Prime Minister said then, quite definitely, that if the Resolutions were passed in this House he did not propose to send them up to the House of Lords, and that after the Resolutions had been passed in this House he intended to go on with the discussion of the Budget. The change made, owing I presume, to tactical considerations, is an unworthy artifice when you are dealing with great questions of constitutional reform. Perhaps in ordinary matters of politics the higgling of the market, and the Dutch auction as between the Front Bench and other sections of the House, may be matters of necessity, but when you come to constitutional questions, when you are touching the very foundations of our rights and liberties, when you come to attacking the basis of our Constitution on which we have relied for centuries, then, I say, it is a crime for the Government to undertake an attack of that kind by getting the spirit of groups on various questions, knowing perfectly well that they have not got the opinion of the country behind them. Surely that position is emphasised by what we are told as regards the tactics of the Government when they come to questions of constitutional reform. The real constitutional question is the change which they wish to introduce either into this House or into the House of Lords. That is the first point which you have got to determine. You have got to see, as regards this House, whether we are really a representative body. You have got to see, as regards the other House, whether, in the words of the King's Speech, you can get an impartial authority which would treat equally legislation sent up by either one party or the other. Is it possible that this House of Commons is going to undertake a constitutional reform whilst putting off to another occasion, which may never arise, the constitution of the Second Chamber with which they are affecting to deal?
643 7.0 P.M.
The question of the power with which a Second Chamber ought to be endowed depends upon the constitution of the Second Chamber, and until you know what the constitution of the Second Chamber is, how can anybody, or how can any House of Commons, really determine on satisfactory constitutional grounds to what extent, if at all, the veto should be limited, either for matters of legislation or of taxation? The first question must be, if there is to be a constitutional change, what form of Second Chamber shall be established in order to bring about the reform? I challenge hon. Members opposite to deny where you have a reformed Second Chamber there is practically no institution of the kind in Europe, or America, or in the Colonies, where the full right of veto is not allowed and where the two Chambers are not looked upon as being co-ordinate in matters of legislation and in a very large number of matters of taxation.
It is impossible to contemplate the government of this country under the Single Chamber system. The evil of such a proposal lies in this, that it is based upon the supposition that this House is necessarily the representative body. It is very often not a representative body at all. I have noticed when I have been in the House—I have been exiled from it for the last four years—that the House takes the most aggressive attitude as regards the assertion of its claims as it becomes uncertain whether it represents the feeling of the people of this country or not. If we are to embark upon constitutional reform we ought first to require this House to see that our electoral methods are brought up to modern days. I entirely agree that we ought to have a method of proportionate representation. We ought to have redistribution.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. and learned Gentleman is leading the discussion very far away from the Motion on the Paper.
§ Sir CHARLES CRIPPS
I will not carry it further except to say that if you have constitutional reform you must approach the subject as one subject. You cannot approach it in the way suggested by the Government without, in my opinion, creating greater difficulties and injustices than exist at the present moment. I certainly hope, when this question of constitutional reform is to be taken in hand, we shall approach it as the hon. and 644 learned Member for North Louth (Mr. T. M. Healy) said, in a spirit of sincerity, and not in a spirit of make-believe, not in a mere party spirit as between the two sides of the House, but in order to put it on a patriotic basis, so that we may in the future, as in the past, have the best form of Government for guaranteeing the rights and liberties of all classes in this old country of ours.
§ Mr. G. N. BARNES
I rise with some considerable degree of diffidence to take part in this Debate which has already been taken part in by those giants of constitutional law. My contribution will last only for a few minutes, and it will be, I hope, presented from the point of view of common sense. With regard to the point made by the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down that I have suggested that new Members in this new Parliament should not again discuss the Budget, he charges that this suggestion was undemocratic, and sets up a precedent. I think it is a sufficient answer to say that the circumstances under which we are here to-day are precedents in themselves, and that the House of Lords, in rejecting the Budget last year set up a precedent which in itself is sufficient to justify many more precedents. I desire to state our point of view in regard to this matter as it now stands, and as it emerges after the statements made by the Government. We welcome the statements which have been made that the reform of the House of Lords is no longer a practical political issue for this Session. It may be in the near future, but so far as we are concerned now the reform of the House of Lords is not being dealt with. I express satisfaction at that, because, in the first place, as I said last week, I do not think, and my colleagues do not think that that would be a step in the right direction now; and, in the second place, because we do not think that the country gave us any mandate to deal with the House of Lords in that way.
I heard the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the quotation he made from the speech of Sir Henry Camp-bell-Bannerman two years ago in introducing his Resolution, and with all due respect I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that there is no inconsistency in the view I have just put and the statement of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. We know that even when the veto is abolished so far as finance is concerned, 645 and when the veto is limited so far as legislation is concerned, we are not even then satisfied with the House of Lords. We are not satisfied to leave 600 gentlemen, or whatever the number may be, simply because they are sons of their fathers to have any legislative control over the people of this country, and, therefore, after having done the immediate practical business that lies before us, we are quite willing at the right time to give consideration to anything that may be put forward with a view to still further clipping the wings of their lordships. I am glad therefore that that part is removed from the arena of practical discussion, and that we are now discussing the veto pure and simple in the two aspects I have mentioned. I want, however, to dissent from the view put forward as to Resolutions versus a Bill. I do not suppose we shall be able to influence the Government in the attitude they have assumed. We are told in explicit terms that Resolutions are to be submitted to the House on 29th March, and that we are then to discuss these Resolutions, and that they will afterwards be sent to the House of Lords. I regret that, because, in my humble judgment—I speak only as a layman, without any knowledge of constitutional law—there are dangers lurking in that particular method which I will try to put before the House.
In the first place, a week or ten days ago when the Government may have had a comprehensive scheme in their mind for dealing with the House of Lords, including reform of the House of Lords, there may have been need and justification for these Resolutions. The Government may have very well argued that they wanted to get the mind of the House of Commons upon a few Resolutions. They may have said, "We may have these Resolutions altered, varied or amended, therefore we want the opinion of the House upon them, so that, having got the mind of the House of Commons, we can then frame our Bill." I could understand that to be a sensible view of the situation when the Government had in their minds the carrying forward of a great scheme, including not only abolition and limitation of the vetoes, but the reform of the constitution of the House of Lords; but when the Resolutions are shorn of the proposal for reform the matter assumed a much simpler character, and it seems to me we might have had the whole poposals put into a Bill and have got to the discussion of that Bill instead of the Resolutions.
646 What guarantee have we when the Resolutions are adopted that the House of Lords may not say, "We are not called upon to deal with Resolutions. Produce your Bill, and when you produce your Bill we will give our opinion upon it!" That seems to me, I will not say a reasonable view, because I do not want to be put into the position of defending the House of Lords for a single moment, but, at all events, there may be some justification for that view of the House of Lords if Resolutions are submitted to them. It does seem to me that Resolutions cannot by any possibility have the same importance as a Bill. They cannot have the same constitutional or legislative value as a Bill, and, therefore, if we are going to rise to the position, as I gather the Government are, of reaching this acute constitutional stage on Resolutions instead of a Bill, the Government may find themselves in this position, that a higher authority may say, "I am not called upon to deal with the constitutional issue or to exercise my Prerogative on a Resolution, but only upon a Bill." If, in spite of all that, we shall be sent to the country, the country will be confused and bamboozled by these constitutional issues, and they will be told, "You are not called upon to express your mind upon a Bill—the Bill has never passed the House of Commons or the House of Lords"—and, therefore, I say there are dangers lurking in these proposals; and it seems to me that we may suffer in an electoral sense by the substitution of these Resolutions for the Bill, which, I still think, would be the workmanlike and straightforward way of getting on with the business.
There is one further point, although I admit that the statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer has very largely cleared the ground so far as it is concerned. I was deputed by my colleagues to press for some more explicit statement on the part of the Government than that made by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister, as has been stated by the hon. and learned Member for Water-ford (Mr. John Redmond), is generally pretty explicit in his terms, but he used a lot of vague and general words this afternoon which conveyed no very intelligible or clear idea of what was to follow in the event of rejection of the House of Lords of the Resolutions. I understand, however, now that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said on behalf of the Government that in the event of the House of 647 Lords rejected the Resolutions and not complying with the wishes of this House, in that event the Government will not continue in office. I take that to be a sufficiently explicit statement, and therefore with that in my mind my colleagues, as well as myself, can have no difficulty in voting with the Government.
§ Mr. LLOYD-GEORGE
May I make an appeal to hon. Members to let us have this Resolution as soon as possible because there is certain financial business which is absolutely necessary we should get through to-night. It is true we have left it to the last moment, but I am told the consequences will be very serious unless we get it through; therefore I shall be extremely obliged if hon. Members will let us get through the financial business as soon as possible.
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will take the opportunity of answering a question which I put to him as to what are the intentions of the Government with regard to the Budget. Is the Budget to be taken upon any date? Is it to be taken after the first of the Resolutions on the House of Lords, or are all the Resolutions to receive consideration first?
§ Mr. LLOYD-GEORGE
I thought the Prime Minister made it perfectly clear that we are not going to touch the Budget until the Resolutions dealing with the House of Lords have been disposed of.
§ Mr. GIBSON BOWLES
My first words in this new Parliament will be words of congratulation to the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil). We are the only two survivors of the Free Food party. We are only two, and we have lost, one a son and the other a brother who, if they had been allowed to remain in this House, might have done some Parliamentary service. But Birmingham insisted that there should be in this House at one time only one member bearing one of these two execrated names. My Noble Friend opposite cited the precedent of the impeachment of Lord Oxford for making twelve Peers. I am afraid, however, that the Noble Lord, probably from forgetfulness, failed to describe the true nature of that precedent. It was a precedent created by a Tory Prime Minister who created twelve Peers to form a Tory majority in the place at the 648 other end of the passage, and he did it in order to carry through that House the Free Trade Treaty of Utrecht—an object with which I am sure my Noble Friend will sympathise. If we need a precedent none better could be found than that one to justify the Government in creating Peers in order to carry a Free Trade measure or to defend Free Trade.
The Noble Lord also forgot to tell us, with reference to the impeachment of Lord Oxford, that when it came to the point, and when Westminster Hall was filled with peers for his trial, the House of Commons refused to proceed with the impeachment, and that experience may be repeated on the present occasion. But I am not concerned either with the making of Peers or immediately with the prohibition of the veto. My concern to-night is solely and wholly with finance and with its bearing upon the three financial proposals now-made by the Government. I do not know whether the House appreciates the almost desperate state in which the country is financially at this moment. It is verging upon bankruptcy, and should nothing be done very soon Great Britain will go bankrupt on the 31st March for £21,000,000 and on the 5th April for another £21,000,000 representing the War Loan. As to the War Loan, let me remark that that is no part of the Budget of this year, and that the necessity for making it has not been created by any action in the House of Lords. That loan is one of the most shameful episodes of many shameful episodes that occurred some years ago, and when the proper time comes perhaps I may offer a few remarks upon it showing where the responsibility lies. The War Loan is not payable until 5th April next. The Prime Minister said he thought it had escaped attention, but it has not escaped my attention. Perhaps some hon. Members may remember that more than a year ago, in December, I recalled this very War Loan, and pointed out the gravity of the situation that would arise unless we had the money to meet it. This was published in one of those pamphlets which are very laborious to write, but which are perfectly harmless, because I never knew of anybody who ever read them.
The other deficit arises from an insufficient collection of taxes. What are we asked to do to-night? We are asked to authorise the Government to borrow twice and spend indefinitely. But surely when you have failed to collect your rents and you are in a difficult situation the true 649 method, instead of borrowing, is to see whether you cannot get at those rents. Let the House consider what has occurred, and what is still occurring, during the present financial year. The Government have been collecting taxes without a semblance of authority. The Commissioners of Income Tax and the Commissioners of Customs are levying taxes for which they have no authority. Some doubt has been expressed as to whether they are demanding the Income Tax. I know they are, because I received last November one of those papers in which the Commissioners informed me that, acting under the authority of Act of Parliament, they required me to pay a very large sum, for me, in the shape of Income Tax before 1st January. That statement was entirely false, because they were not acting under the authority of any Act of Parliament, and they had no power whatever to require me to pay that tax, yet I paid it in order to relieve a distressed Treasury. There are, however, a great many persons who disregarded the illegal mandate made upon them. The result has been that an enormous number of illegal taxes have been levied, and the Government is in the position of receiving stolen property. A great number of persons have paid no taxes at all, or, at any rate, no Income Tax. That is a situation which seems to me to demand most urgent attention, and to be more pressing than constitutional reform and more pressing than borrowing. In my opinion, the first thing to be done in order to meet this deficit is to pass an Income Tax Resolution legalising the Income Tax that has already been collected, and legalising the demand for that much larger amount of £25,000,000 out of £39,000,000 which still remains to be collected.
When you pass your Resolution, and, of course, your Bill, you will immediately get £25,000,000–that is the £21,000,000 deficit and £4,000,000 to spare. Speaking of those Resolutions, it has been stated that there is authority to levy the taxes which have already been levied because this House has passed authorising Resolutions. But that is not so. Those Resolutions, by usage, suffice for their ordinary purpose of authorising the collection of taxes during the month or two pending the passing of the Act, but they do not authorise the collection of taxes not for one or two months but for eleven months, and they do not authorise the collecting of taxes when the Bill not only has not passed but 650 when it has actually been rejected. Whatever authority those Resolutions may have given, I venture to say that at this moment—I am speaking in the presence of the Attorney-General, and with the greatest respect for him—no court would hold that the Government is authorised to levy taxes upon Resolutions when the Bill founded upon those Resolutions has been rejected. The most pressing need is to collect the amounts that are due to us before we begin borrowing and authorising to spend. What are we attempting to do? We are attempting to pass three Bills. One is to authorise temporary borrowing. I am not at all sure that is necessary, because I believe that the twelfth clause of the Exchequer and Audit Act gives ample power in this respect.
The second Bill we are asked to adopt is one to provide for borrowing for the War Loan, and the third is authorising expenditure from the Consolidated Fund. Why are we proceeding in this way? Is it said that it is beneath the dignity of this House to go to the House of Lords with a Kill? But you are going to do it with three Bills, and if there is nothing derogatory in going with three there can be nothing derogatory in going with one. If you had your Resolution and your Bill making legal the collection of taxes which has taken place and giving authority to levy those not collected, I do not think you would want your temporary borrowing Bill at all. Is it reasonable to go to the Lords under present circumstances? You are practically going to the Lords and saying to them, "I cannot collect my rents and I want to borrow." This rather reminds me of the passage in which Sir Charles Surface proposed to sell his ancestors, when Careless, looking at the portrait of his uncle, said:—He has an unforgiving eye and a damned disinheriting countenance.Are you to go to the disinheriting Lords and say, "We cannot collect our rents. Will you kindly back a bill that we may take to a gentleman in the City to borrow the money?" The Lords will be inclined to reply, "Why do not you collect your rents? The money is there? It is all in the City. They have it saved up for you, and only because you have no legal right to demand it they are lending you your own money at 2½ per cent.—money which, if you had the Resolution and the legal authority to demand it, you might have without any interest at all." I earnestly hope there may be still time to 651 consider the order of procedure, that there may be still time to set up in Ways and Means the Resolution and to carry this Bill, either in substitution for or in addition to the three others we are promised.
I come to the Budget of 1909–10. In my opinion, and I speak purely financially, that Budget is dead and can never be revived. You are not to come to it in the financial year of 1909–10, but not till 1910–11. You are not even to bring it in till the financial year is ended. When it does come to this House, it will be a new Budget presented to a new Parliament, and you cannot refuse discussion of it, or pass it immediately. But there are other reasons why, in my opinion, it is dead. There are parts of the Budget which are not only dead, but which are really in such a condition that you may nose them as you walk up the stairs. There are parts of it that have, by efflux of time mortified, gangrened and fallen off the Budget. It is no longer possible to get a farthing of the land values in 1909–10 under the Budget Bill of that year, and the reason is simple. Not one of these land values is to be levied except upon occasions which are to arise only after the passing of the Act, and the Act itself manifestly cannot be passed till April. Take, again, the Super-tax of Income Tax. You will not get one penny of that this year, for the reason that it entirely depends upon returns which have not been and cannot be made. I am, under the Finance Bill, liable at this moment to a penalty of £50, and £50 per day, if the court so decides, because I have not made a return which I was bound to make by 31st December last. But those returns cannot be made, and those returns cannot be enacted by a Budget which is not going to be passed till April. You cannot put time back, even if you try with the best intentions, to make a Budget so retroactive as to impose a penalty in April for a thing which ought to have been done in the previous December. That is impossible. Therefore, I say you have no foundations in this Budget and in this year for any Super-tax whatever, and that neither from the land values nor the Super-tax, at least, can you hope to obtain one single penny. Therefore, when the Budget is introduced in April it will not be the same Budget without the change of a comma; there will have to be many commas, many semi-colons, and many lines changed; and it cannot be 652 passed without a certain amount of discussion.
I have risen purely to put as far as I could the gravity of the financial situation before the House. I think it is measured by one fact alone. For years, for generations, this country has stood in the proud position of being able to borrow money cheaper than any other country in the world. Cheaper even than France, which comes next, and infinitely cheaper than Germany, of whom we are called upon to be afraid. The London and North-western Railway Company can borrow cheaper than Germany. Now a new thing has occurred. I took out on Saturday the prices of Consols and French Rentes, and I find for the first time since the days of Napoleon that France is now borrowing cheaper than England, so much has our credit suffered. My belief is that the damage to our credit is purely temporary. My belief is that it rises from the unfortunate series of circumstances which have deprived us of legal authority to collect our taxes, which has forced us to collect them illegally, and which will permanently deprive us of many of them; but the situation is such, and I do earnestly ask the attention of His Majesty's Government to my suggestion whether it is not possible before we ask authority to borrow and authority to spend, to embark upon what I think is the most pressing and urgent work of all—the collection of taxes, absolutely due, the collection of arrears of taxes not yet paid, and the justification and legalisation of the illegal conduct of those who, without warrant, have collected taxes up to this time.
I will not detain the House very long, because the last speaker has said more forcibly and a great deal better many things that were in my mind, but I do want to call the attention of the Prime Minister and of the House to one sentence in the right hon. Gentleman's speech on the last day of the last Session, to which reference has been made this afternoon, and the promise contained in which ought, to my mind, to be carried out first of all. The right hon. Gentleman said:—The result of a General Election, I trust, will be that the new House of Commons will assemble at such a time as to make it possible fur it to provide, both retrospectively and prospectively, for the needs of the current financial year. If we are fortunate enough to enjoy its confidence, its first Act will be to reimpose, as from tills week, all taxes and duties which were embodied in the Finance Bill.I was greatly disappointed on the first day of the Session to find that the Prime 653 Minister had apparently forgotten that, or, at all events, that he was so interested in party fortunes as to have put aside the financial condition of the country for the time being and to deliberately announce the intention of borrowing ten or twelve or twenty millions extra, when by carrying out his own pledge he could perfectly well have got them within a very few weeks. We know from what has passed in another place that the result of the General Election has been that the House of Lords will consider that they have got a mandate from the country to pass the necessary taxes, even more from what Lord Lansdowne said on the first day of the Session. Therefore, it is quite clear that the Government have nothing to fear whatever from the House of Lords in thinking first of the financial condition of the country and trying to put that as straight as possible.
If the Government had come to this House and had said, "It is above all things necessary to maintain the finances of the country on a firm footing, it is above all necessary to avoid borrowing as far as possible," if they had come down to us with a proposal to legalise the taxes which are non-contentious and which are really going to bring in revenue, they would have found no opposition, I think I may say, from either side of the House, because the question before the country is no longer the Budget or the land taxes or the licence duties, it has shifted to the House of Lords. The House of Commons has been returned without a mandate on either side to do anything, and the country wants to express its opinion about the House of Lords; and, in spite of what has been said by the hon. Member for Water-ford (Mr. John Redmond) first of all, and echoed from the other side, I for one do not care how soon the country is asked its opinion, but I am quite sure it will be in favour of a firm and stable Second Chamber and that the question of the veto of the House of Lords will be relegated to that limbo from which it will not very easily return. I do ask the Prime Minister if it is now too late to suspend the Standing Orders, if necessary—he will get no objection to that from either side of the House—bring in a Bill and pass it through all its stages in this House in one day. He could then send it up to the House of Lords, where it could be passed through in one day, and within three days the taxes could be legalised, and a great deal of bother saved. I see that does not altogether 654 win favour on the Government Bench, but it was the proposal of the Government themselves that if they were returned with sufficient majority the Budget should be so treated. They have not been returned with sufficient majority to carry the whole of the Budget, but I think this is an occasion on which all parties might unite so as to give the country the taxes they want, and avoid borrowing further.
§ Mr. BELLOC
I only rise to point out what I fear has been pointed out too often, and what therefore I shall point out with the utmost brevity—the real question before the House, the question which is being debated by everybody who cares about the present political situation of the country, and the question on which every journalist in London is fighting on one side or the other, and on which he is preparing his article. It is whether the declaration we have just had from the Chancellor of the Exchequer makes the situation which was unreal real again or no. After listening carefully to that declaration, I say that so far as I can judge—and I say it with deference, for I know what a confusion of issues is now raised—the situation remains as unreal as ever. The only thing that has been saved to-night, and perhaps the only thing it was intended to save, is the thing or the name, "the party system." I hope I yield to no one in respect for the talent and the accuracy of the hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Gibson Bowles) where finance and statistics are concerned, and he is perfectly right when he says that from a technical or, if you please, a legal point of view every day that passes introduces greater confusion into finance, but that is not the real issue upon which we are met, and that is not what the people who sent us here are concerned about. There are twenty ways in which that might be met, from a Resolution passed without debate to a Bill in one form or another to be rapidly passed by general consent of this House. I am somewhat suspicious that these arguments about the financial condition of the country are introduced mainly—and they are introduced with a wonderful unanimity by both Front Benches—in order to cut us off from the real issue, which is this: Shall legislation, if it passes this House, which I think is doubtful, against the veto of the House of Lords become law or shall it not? Those who wish that it shall become law have put their reasons so often and in such detail before the House during 655 the last two days that I shall not recapitulate them, but I would appeal to the Noble Lord the Member for the University of Oxford (Lord Hugh Cecil). When he says our majority is composite and that we have no real mandate, let him think for a moment of what the situation is. Ever since the men of my age were boys—twenty-five years—democratic legislation—and by that I do not only mean the legislation which is technically or pedantically called democratic, but legislation heartily demanded by the voice of the people—has been blocked by the presence of what I have called the committee of the plutocracy under which we live. If desired, I will give one example—Fiscal Reform. Another example is to be found in the action of the last Parliament in contemptuously refusing the principle of one man one vote. A further may be quoted in the contemptuous rejection of the Land Valuation (Scotland) Bill, and still another in the refusal to treat a voter in London in exactly the same manner as he would be treated in any other great constituency. The Noble Lord has asked where is our mandate. May I point out that, so far as we here are concerned, that question is not germane. We may be a small minority, but we are certainly here to carry out our mandate. If there be a majority against us, let that majority form its own Cabinet and take up its seat on these benches, and we will sit in opposition Let me say a word to the Opposition about the position of parties in this House. We have, to begin with, as has been frequently stated, the figures 124. If you do not believe that is the majority, try to govern yourselves without it. I wish those who call themselves our leaders—a phrase singularly meaningless to me—had given you that task. I think you would have failed. Remember that that majority of 124 was gathered in spite of the fact that it cost, roughly speaking, £1,000 to stand as a candidate for a seat in the British Parliament. It was gathered together in spite of the fact that plural voting still obtains. It was gathered together in spite of the fact that of every two adult males only one has a vote. It was gathered together in spite of the fact that you have such anomalies as University representation—seats which are sometimes called fifteen-pounders. If I had paid £15 I should have had yet another vote. In spite of all these anomalies and absurdities, in spite of everything that makes 656 the electoral system of Great Britain quaint, beautifful, and historic, but not representative, in spite of all this we have got 124 majority. But the Government have not used it. After the declaration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, there are many who may think that the situation has been made real again, and that we are coming to a decision on this matter, sometime in the remote future—April, I believe, is now the date when we shall give a vote, not upon hops but on the Lords. But I venture to suggest to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that that is not sufficient when one considers the psychological temperament and frame of mind of the electors. I admit that if every man had a vote, and if it were possible to solely concentrate political interest on the subject for a few months the question of the House of Lords might be made the dominating issue. Then there would be some logical ground for the position taken up to-night. But all the world knows it is not so. All the world knows that long before April the elector will be led every passing day to believe that he is being bamboozled, that he is simply being taxed by men who are paid high salaries but do nothing for the people. The longer the election is deferred the more this canker and spirit of despair will enter into the minds of the electors. I confess I did vote in January, but I very much doubt if now, after what has occurred, I shall take the trouble to vote in April. And that feeling is probably shared by many others. In fact, I fear that the state of things still remains unreal. I sincerely hope opportunity will be given for many of us—but for the Opposition it would be most of us—to express the opinion, which is certainly the opinion of Liberals throughout the country—I say I hope the opportunity will be given us to express our opinion by vote in this House to-night. If the Front Bench as at present self-constituted will give no pledge they will not lose. The Government will be carried on, and we shall not become bankrupt by 31st March, because the Government will be saved by the Opposition. But those of us who are not organised, who do not call ourselves a party, will be heartily glad the country should know that there exists a condition of compromise.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
I confess I do not take quite such a despondent view of this afternoon's work as my hon. Friend who last spoke. I think we have gained certain definite points as a result of very hard 657 work on the part of some of us. Let me recapitulate what we have gained. We have gained that the issue before the country is to be the veto of the Lords and not the reform of the Lords. For myself, I am strongly in favour of reforming the House of Lords and making it a completely elective Chamber, but not now. Our second great gain has been that on 29th March next the veto Resolutions will be introduced, that they will be sent to the House of Lords, and that if they are not accepted the Government will resign—of course in the event of being unable to get the guarantees asked for. There you have a great point gained, because now we shall have the country understand that this is a pledge made explicitly in this House by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer that this shall be the main business, and that we shall have these guarantees, or else His Majesty's Ministers will resign. The third great gain, one unexpected by some of us, is that the Government will not touch the Budget until the House of Lords have dealt with the Resolutions on the veto. There has been no more anxious defender of the Budget than myself, no one could have been more anxious to see it passed into law; my one fear has been that it would be thrown out. Now it will not be thrown out; it will be kept alive. Everybody knows that at the present time there is a majority in the House against the Budget, everybody knows also that were it introduced it would be defeated, and therefore the very fact that we are not introducing it on 29th March, but that we are introducing instead a measure dealing with the House of Lords, means the actual salvation of the Budget. When we go to the country again on the veto of the House of Lords I do not think hon. Members opposite need have any doubt that we shall get a majority on that question.
There are three points upon which I should like to get some extra assurances—or, at any rate, I should like to put before the House what is, I hope, the only intelligible reading of the situation. In the first place both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to the non-acceptance by the House of Lords of these Resolutions as the criterion on which the Government would base their demand for guarantees. I presume that that covers the case in which the House of Lords declines to consider the Resolution 658 until a Bill has been sent up. It is most important that this matter should be made absolutely clear. The point I want to be quite clear about is that the Government shall not try to ride off, on the explanation that the Lords have only deferred the Resolutions and not rejected them, from their demand for guarantees or resignation. I do not think it possible that they would do so, but I want the point to be placed before the House. The second point I want to be made clear is this, that there shall be no introduction of the Budget a day or two before the rejection by the House of Lords of the Resolutions in order to get the defeat of the Government on that issue, and not on the Resolutions, and in order to avoid the necessity of going to the Crown for guarantees. It is always possible for the Government to get themselves defeated on an issue other than the House of Lords, and I want to make it certain that they will make the veto of the Lords the real and only issue at the next General Election.
§ Mr. SEDDON
I simply want to ask a question. I claim the same right as other speakers to get information on a point in which I am myself concerned. I am interested in the passing of the Budget, but I am also interested in getting, if possible, from the Prime Minister some information as to the Departmental Bills which are to be dealt with. Last year, on 4th August, the then Home Secretary (Mr. Gladstone) introduced a Bill dealing with shop hours in this country. He stated that it was introduced for discussion in the country. Since then we have had a General Election, and the union with which I am associated has interviewed most Members of this House and has secured an overwhelming expression of opinion in support of the view that some time should be given this Session to the discussion of this question. I ask the right hon. Gentleman, when he is formulating his plans for Departmental Bills to be discussed this Session, to bear in mind the honour of a colleague who is no longer a Member of this House, and to give some assistance to a question which certainly deserves consideration.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Ordered, That up to and including 24th March, Government business shall have precedence at every sitting.—[The Prime Minister.]