§ Order of the day for the Third Reading read.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (VISCOUNT MORLEY)
My Lords, I suppose no important Government Bill before ever came to the stage of the Third Reading under more singular and remarkable circumstances. I am respectfully inviting your Lordships to give a Third Reading to the Parliament Bill which has been so changed—I am not saying rightly or wrongly—in its course through the Committee stage that it is our Bill, of course, no longer. And yet enough of our Bill survives, after all these operations in Committee, to excite the mortal dislike of noble Lords opposite, and to excite, also, a similar dislike among our small minority who sit behind me. That constitutes a very remarkable state of things.
The Bill that is now before us is not the Bill that was submitted to the judgment of the country. It is not the Bill that was passed by a great majority in the House of Commons. It is not the Bill to which your Lordships were good enough to give a Second Reading without a Division. It is this transformed Bill which, in spite of all these mortal aversions on one side and the other, will, I hope and believe to-night receive the Third Reading, because, though it is so disliked in both its forms, we are all alive, on both sides, and must o be alive, to what would follow its rejection here to-night—namely, a tremendous dislocation of Parliamentary business, great exasperation of Parliamentary and political opinion and temper, and the necessity of immediately setting to work, once more, to tread the same thankless and wearisome journey all over again.
I will now try to tell your Lordships what the Bill, as it now stands, really is. It need not be a very long description. On November 23 last year the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition propounded and explained to the House a broad and comprehensive scheme of which he said—It is the best substitute that we can find for the scheme provided in the Government Bill.It was thus formally set forth as the official Opposition alternative to the Government policy; and it was perfectly 573 well understood that in case the elections, then approaching, turned in favour of noble Lords opposite and they were to cross the floor of this House, they would be bound, and would willingly accept the obligation, to present and pass through this House a Bill modelled on the Resolution which the noble Marquess then proposed. What happened? Did the electors favour the policy of the Parliament Bill, or the policy of the noble Marquess set out in the comprehensive framework to which I have referred? I do not believe that any noble Lord who follows me in this debate will, for an instant, say that there was a majority in favour of the alternative policy and against the policy of the Parliament Bill. That being so, I think we had a right reasonably to expect that noble Lords opposite would follow the precedent which they had themselves set and prescribed, in terms, in the case of the memorable rejection of the Budget of 1909. What was the Motion on that occasion? It was that this House would not be justified in giving assent to the Finance Bill until it was submitted to the judgment of the country. I am not offering any remark upon that proceeding. But then, when the judgment of the country was ascertained, this House, in conformity to its sagacious traditions, set by many eminent Conservative leaders, accepted the verdict of the country as final and the Budget was passed.
Now see what has happened here. You have had the same, sort of circumstances. There was an alternative scheme propounded by the noble Marquess to the Parliament Bill of the Government. The electors rejected the alternative scheme and accepted the Parliament Bill. And now, instead of following the precedent of January, 1910, and accepting the Parliament Bill which the country ratified, you have boldly taken that Bill out of our hands. That is what has been done by some, at all events, of your Amendments. I should have supposed, from the precedents of great Conservative leaders, that if noble Lords opposite found, at a critical moment, that they were bound to accept some change which was unpalatable and unwelcome to them, they would at least have said they would make as little change as they could and not as much change as they could. The present leaders of the Conservative Party have taken exactly the opposite line. Instead of making as little change as they could, in the cir-cumstances 574 cumstances produced by what they themselves had done in 1909 and 1910, they have made, not as little change as they could at a critical moment, but as much change as they could. During the French Revolution, if I may refer for a second to that, somebody said, "Why, in six years we have lived six centuries." I think anybody who looks at the position of things, say, 20 months ago, may exclaim "We have lived through the changes and proposals of change of 20 years." The noble Marquess said truly that the proposal of the Bill which has been read a second time would deal a death-blow to this House as it now exists. Well, I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say that the effect of one or two of the Amendments made in the Bill in the course of its going through Committee, while not a death-blow to the House of Commons—that is a difficult House to kill—would impair the authority, prestige, and powers of the House of Commons, And this change is made on a Bill which everybody understood—I am sure I thought noble Lords opposite understood as thoroughly as we did—was meant so to adjust the relations between the two Houses that the House of Commons should have its powers unimpaired, made clear and definite, and that your Lordships' power should be limited and also made definite.
Now, broadly, what does the change amount to? The Bill that your Lordships read a second time retained the old practice and privileges of the House of Commons in regard to Money Bills, with the added abandonment of the right of rejecting Money Bills which your Lordships had practically conceded. But to-day the Bill takes away from the House of Commons the power of deciding what is and is not a Money Bill, and transfers that power from the House of Commons—a power which it possesses now—to a new tribunal. Under the second clause the Bill provided that if a Bill passed the House of Commons three times and was three times rejected in this House over a period of two years, that Bill became law in spite of its rejection by your Lordships' House. But now the Bill to which we are going, I hope, to give a Third Heading excludes from the operation of that clause a certain number of measures and insists upon their being passed away from Parliament by way of Referendum. That is an enormous change. The Government and the 575 supporters of the Bill hold by the principle of national opinion working through Parliamentary machinery. But you introduce a great innovating principle with most innovating machinery. You say that certain questions are only to be dealt with under the protection of safeguards, differing from such protection as is provided in ordinary legislation. I rather think subjects were mentioned by the noble Marquess in November, such as Tariff Reform, compulsory service, disestablishment of the Church—of course, Home Rule, and, for all I know, other matters. Those were taken out of the operation of the Bill which was read a second time. But that is not all. In fact, that is less important than what I am now going to mention.
The proposals in the Bill now set up a small tribunal—Parliamentary, it is true—which is to decide in each case whether a given Bill which has been read three times in the House of Commons, and rejected three times here, is a measure to call for special treatment. This Joint Committee, to decide whether a given measure is so great, so serious in its gravity, and moreover so little understood by the electors that there will be no assurance that they know what they are about and that they had studied the measure—it is that tribunal which is to supersede the Ministers of the Crown, to oust tie Ministers of the Crown, to override and supersede and put away the House of Commons. It is to have the right of calling a Referendum into existence in reference to a given Bill. It has the right of doing what your Lordships no longer claim, in terms at all events—the right of causing a Dissolution. Because, say what you will of a Referendum, I think most of us who have studied the working of a Referendum will agree that we shall be saved none of the troubles, expense, and turmoil of an election. This tribunal is not to consider what the House of Commons thinks, it is not to consider what the Ministers think, but it has to decide on any question referred; their decision in any question referred to them shall be final, and their conclusion for all purposes shall not be questioned in a Court of law.
I saw that some writer in the Press looked upon that proposal as being as bad as the Venetian Council of Ten. I wish I knew more of the Venetian Council of 576 Ten than I do, but I am perfectly sure that to compare it with this tribunal which the noble Marquess is erecting is not entire nonsense. But, though it is not the Council of Ten, it is a most remarkable new organ and instrument of government to introduce into our old system here. I do not feel sure that in all the speeches that we heard from that Bench even those noble Lords who made those speeches had fully realised what an extraordinary piece of machinery this is. I put this to you with all respect and with no desire to say anything that would irritate anyone. Say what ill you please of the Parliament Bill, nobody will pretend that the change from an absolute to a suspensory Veto, which is the change proposed by the Parliament Bill—and where there has been, let us mark, a large and sweeping opportunity for the full play both of Parliamentary and of general public opinion upon a given measure—nobody will pretend that that change is comparable in its magnitude, in its risks, and in its I possible dangers to the death-blow, if I may so call it, which the noble Marquess's proposals would be to the prestige, the authority, and the responsibilities of the House of Commons.
I suppose we have all asked ourselves very often during the last 20 months what the country probably expected—what sort of steps towards a settlement the country probably expected. Roughly my own impression is that a great many expected that this House would accept the Parliament Bill. They did not look forward—in my view; it may be wrong—to all these tremendous operations of reconstruction. They certainly did not look forward in a serious and expectant frame of mind to a broad supersession of our Parliamentary system by a Referendum. What do they expect now? I dare say they are at this moment somewhat bewildered. I should think, if you asked the ordinary steady voter—and I really do not much care on which side—what he would think a fair way out of the present difficulties, he would say, "Well you had better try the Parliament Bill. It will be worked under a most vigilant supervision; it will be worked under hostile and unfriendly eyes; but try it." That is my rough-and-ready expectation of what I believe to exist in the mind of the ordinary and what I call steady voter.
577 It is true, if you like, that the consequences of the Parliament Bill may be grave, and they will be grave [Opposition cheers] but they are intended to b grave; but nobody with the shadow of a sense of responsibility can hide from himself, looking not merely at what may happen to-night but later, and later even than that—later even than next week—nobody with a sense of responsibility can hide from himself that the consequences of the rejection of this measure will be in themselves far more grave, be they what they may, than any consequences that I can imagine following from it—grave, though I admit those consequences may possibly be. What I would desire would be that this inevitable Parliamentary and political operation should be carried through without anything like a social shock—I do not mean a superficial shock, but a real and wide-reaching social shock.
I have been exposed, and the Government have been exposed to a stereotyped kind of reproach that we have shown an obstinate and stubborn refusal to make any compromise. That is the ordinary view among noble Lords opposite, but let us look at it for a single moment. I put it in a very concrete shape indeed. Suppose a conference took place between leading men, responsible men, on the two sides. It is no doubt conceivable that the Ministerial negotiators might go a certain way towards meeting the views and appeasing the fears and apprehensions of noble Lords opposite in the harmless and comparatively secondary changes that have been made and proposed in the Bill as distinguished from others. Your Lordships are very angry with us for not conceding, but I have seen no sort of sign of any tiling like concessions from the noble Lords who sit; on the opposite Benches. It is unreasonable, you think, that we should be obdurate, but it is perfectly natural and in accordance with the fitness of things that the noble Marquess should be unyielding. I do not believe that the country would take that view at all; but, to be quite frank, I do not expect—and I am sorry for it—that if there were such a transaction as I am pointing to, the noble Marquess and his colleagues would throw overboard his excepted list, his proposal of the Joint Committee settling the matters of great gravity, and of the truly extraordinary powers given to the Joint Committee. But if you are going to talk of conces- 578 sions, if you are going to reproach us for not compromising, perhaps the noble Marquess will indicate to us where there might be a concession—if not, at all events he might hold out the chance. Every rational politician would desire that the two political Parties should travel together, at any rate as far as ever they can, along I this very difficult and stony road; but this new transformed Bill, to which I hope the House will give a Third Reading to-night, interposes, I fear, a fatal barricade.
I will not go over any of the ground again that has been well discussed in Committee. I can only say that those discussions in Committee struck me as fair and in excellent temper on both side, but it was a serious discussion directed, as I am bound to think and I regret to think, to most unfortunate ends. Surely all the turmoil and mischief, whatever else you may say of it, that followed the rejection of the Finance Bill in 1909 warns noble Lords opposite of the tremendous fallacy, the horrid fallacy, of supposing that because you believe you have a right, therefore it must be patriotic statesmanship to assert and exercise that right. History swarms with examples of the disaster and ruin that have followed that fallacy. I wish they would allow me to suggest, that they should put in gold letters over the room where the noble Marquess and his friends assemble the well known quotation—"Things are what they are, and their consequences will be what they will be. Why, then, should we deceive ourselves? "I humbly and respectfully commend that piece of wisdom to the attention of noble Lords opposite.
What you want in this crisis is not heroics and it is not logic. We are not afraid of either. We are capable, I dare I say of taking heroic action, and we will do the best we can to defend our action by logic; but this is not a case for noble Lords or people outside to say our right is so and so, and we are bound to vindicate it. In a phrase that fell the other day from the lips of the most rev. Primate in his supplications he asked for a renewal of the "Spirit of wisdom and government." That is what is wanted now amongst us all, and not logic and not heroics. I will only say this further—to pass this Bill to-night and to allow the real Bill to pass by-and-by is not surrender to the 579 House of Commons, it is not surrender to the Government; it is a surrender to the verdict and the judgment of the country at the last General Election.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Viscount Morley.)
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, it is sometimes said that it is not a bad thing to see oneself as others see us, but I think we may well be rather slow to see ourselves on this side of the House exactly as the noble Viscount who has just sat down sees us. He has given an account of our dealings with this Bill which I can only describe as something like a parody of the proposals which we have made and as a violent exaggeration of the effects which those proposals are calculated to produce. What the noble Viscount in effect suggested to the House was that your Lordships, having decided to read this Bill a second time, had proceeded afterwards to transform—I think that was the expression he used—and to convert it into a Bill which was "our Bill" no longer. I am prepared to maintain that our treatment of the Bill has on the contrary been scrupulously correct and Constitutional, and I should like in the few words which I propose to address to the House to make my statement good with regard to each of the different stages through which the measure has passed since it came to this House.
Your Lordships gave a Second Reading to this Bill, profoundly though most of you disliked it, for I conceive two reasons. We were all, or nearly all, of us committed to the view that some readjustment of the relations between the two Houses had become inevitable, and we were, therefore, ready to discuss any proposal which His Majesty's Ministers might desire to urge upon us for that purpose. Apart from that, I think, the noble Viscount is entirely warranted when he claims that we could not do otherwise than have regard to the fact that this Bill was before the country on the occasion of the election in December, 1910. We have, of course, never admitted that the Bill had been fully explained and discussed at that time, nor, again, do we admit that the verdict of the electorate was an entirely conclusive verdict with regard to everything that the Bill contained, because we know—we have had it very recently admitted by noble Lords opposite—that this Bill was by 580 no means the only matter before the electorate and that the election, according to their statement, turned also upon the question of Home Rule and upon other questions.
I understand, however, that in the view of the noble Viscount the fact of our having given the Bill a Second Reading carried with it the obligation to pass the Bill through I the Committee stage virtually unaltered. I take it that he would have allowed us to correct a few inelegancies of drafting or anything of that kind, but so far as the main provisions of the Bill are concerned it is quite clear that he disputes altogether our right to deal with the Bill. We on the contrary maintain that it was our Constitutional right, our duty, to go through the Bill and to revise it, and to send it down to the House of Commons with such alterations as seem to us essential in order to remove its worst defects. We discharged ' that duty to the best of our abilities, quite unaided by anything that was done on the Benches opposite, and encountering an attitude of uncompromising resistance which, I must say, seemed to most of us wholly at variance with the expectations held out to us as to the manner in which the measure would be treated.
Well, my Lords, is it the case, as the noble, Viscount has told us, that the Bill in its present form is virtually unrecognisable and, something wholly different from the Bill as it left the House of Commons? There are virtually two clauses only—two clauses of primary importance—in this Bill. There is the clause dealing with the rights of the House of Commons over finance, and there is the clause dealing with the rights of this House in regard to general legislation. It was over the claim of the House of Commons to deal with finance that this great controversy first arose. The noble Viscount very properly traced it back to the reservation of the Budget of 1909 by your Lordships. Now we have in effect conceded the principle of the first clause. Upon that clause, even with our Amendments, is writ large the supremacy of the House of Commons in matters of finance. We do not challenge it. We have, it is true, ventured to suggest a change in the words defining a Money Bill. What does our suggestion mean? We have suggested an alteration in the language of the Bill taken from the mouth of the Prime Minister himself, from a passage which we have again and again 581 quoted, and which noble Lords opposite have entirely failed to explain away. The noble Viscount said just now that there had been no yielding on our part at any point. I think he is mistaken. Throughout the discussion of these Amendments we endeavoured, whenever our proposals Were taken exception to, to recast them in a shape which would remove those objections and meet the views of noble Lords opposite. This was conspicuously the case in regard to the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Cromer, which was completely recast in deference to what was said by the noble Viscount and others in reference to it. And let me say that if you have further criticism to offer we are even now ready to consider whether the language of that Amendment might not yet further be improved. Then we have left the Speaker in the clause in spite of the overwhelming arguments that were brought forward on this side of the House against imposing these new duties upon that distinguished official. I am sure the House has not forgotten the weighty observations of Lord Peel upon that subject. In spite of that, the Speaker remains in the clause, and all that we have done is to give him the assistance of a carefully-constituted Committee of high authority, of complete impartiality, to relieve him, who is, after all, an official of the House of Commons, from the responsibility of discharging single-handed this new and onerous duty of arbitrating between the two Houses of Parliament. Is there, then, in our treatment of the first clause, anything deserving of the description given by the noble Viscount? Yet I find the noble Viscount describing our changes in that clause as involving a death-blow to the prestige and the authority of the House of Commons.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
I did not mean to apply that to the Money Bill clause only, but to the whole operation.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
At any rate, so far as the first clause is concerned, I hope the noble Viscount will not press his observation that anything that we have done can be legitimately interpreted as a death-blow to the prestige and authority of the House of Commons. We desire to take nothing from the House of Commons. We desire to assume nothing for ourselves except such powers over finance as we ought to possess, as we do possess, and as the Prime Minister himself admits we ought to possess.
582 I pass to Clause 2. Our position with regard to Clause 2 is a somewhat different one. In the region of finance the members of this House are always regarded, and perhaps naturally, as being trespassers. Any interest that we take in financial questions, any desire that we evince to interfere in financial matters, is always resented as an encroachment upon the sphere of the House of Commons. But in the case of Clause 2 no such question arises. We are not dealing with finance at all. We are dealing with general legislation of which this House is every whit as much seized as the of her House of Parliament. The Constitutional powers which you are going to take away from this House under this clause are powers which have been exercised, which have been admitted to be Constitutional powers, and which, after all, are the solitary safeguard which the people of this country have against ill-considered and hasty legislation, pressed forward by an impetuous Minister, with an equally impetuous House of Commons at his back. This clause strips us, in regard to general legislation, of everything except the meagre opportunities afforded to us by a delay of two years. And yet that clause, in spite of; the noble Viscount's complaints, remains in the Bill, and that clause, despite anything we have done, will operate over by far the greater part of the whole area of general legislation.
Now what are the reservations which your Lordships have asked permission to make? We suggest that legislation dealing with the Crown and the Protestant Succession should be dealt with exceptionally, and should not be undertaken without a reference to the people of this country. Is that a very serious encroachment? The noble Viscount told us, when he was dealing with this matter the other day, that in his view it was inconceivable that there should ever be a House of Commons less loyal to the Crown and the Protestant Succession than the present House of Commons—I am not sure that he did not say than this House. Then if, as a measure of precaution, we press for this change, can the noble Viscount seriously contend that we are very materially altering the scope of the Government Bill?
What is our second reservation? It is directed to prevent the present Government from tampering with the Union until the people of this country have had an 583 opportunity of expressing their views upon the subject. The country has twice expressed its views in a very unambiguous manner. The noble Viscount, I think it was—though it may have been one of his colleagues—said the other day, "Oh, but the question of Home Rule is now looked upon in a very different light by the people of this country." Perhaps it is. All I can say is, if the people of this country have changed their minds give them an opportunity of telling you so. At any rate, do not, when this immense question comes up for decision for the third time, cheat the people of this country of the opportunities that they have had on former occasions of telling you whether they desire the change or not.
I come to our third reservation, the reservation of capital questions in regard to which there is reason to believe that the opinion of the country has not been adequately ascertained. So far as I can make out, this proposal filled the mind of the noble Viscount with especial horror. To hear him speak, one would have thought that under our clause this House was claiming for itself the right of disposing of these reserved matters. It cannot be said too often that this House makes no claim of the kind. All that our clause contains is a proposal that if the Government of the day, or if either House of Parliament, or if the Speaker of the House of Commons has reason to believe that, in a grave case, the judgment of the people has not been ascertained, the Committee which we propose to set up should have the opportunity of investigating the matter, and, only if it is satisfied, of sending the issue for judgment, by a Referendum of the people. It is not this House which would decide. It is not the House of Commons which would decide. It is not the Speaker. It is the people of the country who, if there is a doubt, will have the last word in regard to such matters as these. Our proposal, expressed in a single sentence, comes really to this, that we desire that the Government of the day should not be able to do behind the back of the people what they could not do if it was done in the face of the people. That is all that this tribunal, which tills the mind of the noble Viscount with alarm is able to secure, and in our view, if the time has come for curtailing, as you propose to curtail, the rights and opportunities of this House, it is inevitable that as a safeguard you should introduce into your measure some precaution of this kind.
584 Are these, then, such very unreasonable reservations? Do they deserve all the hard things that have been said of them by the noble Viscount? I should like to remind the noble Viscount that in the important Divisions which have taken place during the Committee stage of the Bill he has only found about thirty of his independent supporters to go into the Lobby with him in regard to these matters. Out of a total minority of forty-eight, I think between fifteen and twenty were official members of the Government, and I may say in passing that it will interest us extremely—I do not know whether there is likely to be a Division to-night—to see whether the noble Viscount's appeal, which we all noticed with a certain amount of sympathy, is responded to by his friends.
Now we come to the Third Reading. I have heard not very well supported rumours of proposals for putting an end to the existence of the Bill at this stage. I can scarcely credit them. It seems to me that, having passed the Second Reading of the Bill, and having spent, as we did, a considerable amount of time in amending it, to interrupt our course at this stage and to put an end to the measure by rejecting it on the Third Reading would be a step which would render this House almost ridiculous in the eyes of the people of the country. The noble Viscount made, I thought, a somewhat singular suggestion to me in regard to our Amendments. He said very naturally that they varied in importance, and he asked. Cannot the noble Marquess indicate to us to-night whether he is prepared to make any concessions, and what kind of concessions those might be? A more extraordinary suggestion. I suppose, never has made. Surely, whatever opportunities there may be afterwards, and the noble Viscount knows better than I do whether there will be such opportunities, for considering whether any of these proposals of ours should be pressed or not for me or for any one else, on the occasion of the Third Reading, to announce that we were ready to throw overboard any part of the changes which we, have deliberately introduced into the Bill would be, to say the least of it, a very unusual Parliamentary manŒuvre. But I am quite ready to say one thing to the noble Viscount, and that is that in our view some, at all events, of the Amendments which we have introduced into the Bill are so essential that we should 585 certainly not be prepared to recede from them in substance so long as we remain free agents. But we are ready to pursue this controversy upon Constitutional lines, and in that conciliatory spirit which the noble Viscount invited just now.
May I be permitted in that spirit of conciliation to ask the Government to consider for a moment what is really the situation with regard to this group of Constitutional problems, of which we are discussing after all only a fragment this evening. The ultimate goal which you have in view on that side of the House, and which we have in view on this side, is a reasonable reconstitution of the House of Lords. And may I be permitted once again to remind noble Lords opposite that we have shown that we are in earnest in this matter by the introduction of the Bill to which the noble Viscount referred in his speech—a contribution to the solution of the problem which seems to us, at any rate, very much more substantial and useful than the only contribution which, so far as I am aware, His Majesty's Government have made. I mean the meagre and nebulous reference to House of Lords reform which is to be found in the Preamble of the Parliament Bill. The noble Viscount will recollect that he himself described our Bill as a helpful contribution to the consideration of the subject. Then there is the question of the reform of procedure as between the two Houses. That matter has been constantly referred to during the course of these discussions, and we are all perfectly well aware that there are suggestions, useful suggestions, that have found favour on both sides of the House, suggestions for resort to conferences between the two Houses, for joint sittings, and finally for the Referendurn. The noble Viscount described the Referendum a moment ago as involving the broad supersession of the Parliamentary system, quite forgetting that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, and many of the noble Viscount's colleagues, are perfectly prepared to accept the Referendum in special cases as a useful adjunct to the Parliamentary system.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Not to introduce it into the Constitution, but to allow it to be used in a special Act of Parliament dealing with a particular subject. I have never consented to admit it into the Constitutional system.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Surely the difference is only one of degree. I admit that the noble and learned Lord's dose of Referendum is a very homeopathic one, but what we care about is the principle of the Referendum, and whether it be employed in the manner suggested by the noble and learned Lord or in a more liberal manner is a question which may very well be discussed.
Then finally, we have this Bill upon the Table upon which for the time you are concentrating your attention, wrongly we think, because we are persuaded that you should have begun at the other end and not begun where you actually have. But even with regard to this Bill, dangerous and bad as we think it, we have beyond all question gone a long way to meet you. If it is possible to slate these things in the shape of a fraction, I should have said we have gone five-sixths of the way to meet you under our proposals embodied in this Bill. At any rate we are convinced and shall remain convinced, that this Bill will leave this House in a shape in which it will or certainly ought sufficiently to serve your purpose, and in that shape we send the Bill down to the House of Commons, asking for it—I do not know whether we shall ask successfully—that it may be treated in accordance with the ordinary decencies of Parliamentary warfare. My Lords, we believe, that you have ready to your hand all the materials for an honourable settlement, and, therefore, it seems to us almost inconceivable that His Majesty's Government should prefer to resort to other methods, methods which have been condemned by statesmen of both great political Parties, and which seem detestable in the eyes of all right thinking men.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I ask leave to interpose a few words on this very grave occasion. It is proverbially difficult for those who are themselves engaged in important affairs to estimate aright the true proportion of the events in which they are taking part, but after making all allowance for that, I venture to believe that the next few days may loom large in the history of England. The historian who 100 years hence recounts what took place in the opening year of the reign of George V may have to regard these days as being among the most momentous in their issues of any which the Constitutional 587 historian has to record. If that be so, it is eminently desirable that we who are making history should be sure that the country understands, if not in full detail, yet as clearly as may be, what are the actual points at issue, and where the fight is now being joined in these strenuous days by protagonists in the affairs of State.
It may seem a strange and presumptuous assertion to make, but I make bold to say that the average elector up and down the country does not to-day realise with any approach to truth what are actually the points at variance. We have had in this House nine or ten days of high debate—the noble Viscount who leads the House has referred in laudatory terms to the spirit and tone of those debates—and on every day we have had, at the least, some speeches of great power, permanent interest and solid argument, but they have been very little before the minds of the people at large. Those who in the House of Commons or in the country outside follow our proceedings in a few of the great newspapers are, no doubt, privy to what has been happening, and have shown their interest in many ways; but I am persuaded that that is not the case with regard to the mass of the people outside that range. Our discussions have been weighty and important—I can say it without affectation as I have taken no practical part in them—but they have been very little noticed by people generally. It would be out of place to go now into the causes. Certainly I am not blaming journalists as such, for though it has other and higher functions, a newspaper is in the main a business concern, and gives its readers what its readers want. I have had the curiosity to turn up the files of the last few weeks of the newspapers on either side of polities that circulate most widely among the less leisured, the less literary, the less studious portion of the public. I looked specially to see what account was given of three speeches, those of Lord Courtney, Lord Peel, and Lord Weardale. None of those speeches were of the Party kind, which can be more or less taken for granted on such occasions. Each of them dealt carefully with the practical difficulties which might arise under the Parliament Bill as drawn up by the Government. I was prepared to find them reported briefly, but I was not prepared to find only a few lines given to such 588 speeches, while the descriptive accounts of the debate were such as to make one doubt whether the writers had really been present at all. I believe the outside apathy and listlessness at a great juncture in our history is in part due to the unfamiliarity of average men in an old Constitutional country with the study of Constitutional problems. They have been under the impression that these things, so to speak, take care of themselves, that they do not practically concern the individual in his daily life, or at all events that they do not press upon him or call for his immediate attention or consideration. I venture to think that before we are very many years older there will be a different view taken by the average elector about Constitutional questions. I think this unfamiliarity with the subject explains in part the apparent apathy with which a good many of these discussions have been received.
That apathy is also partly due to the fact that the average elector is satisfied with the belief that the issue was decided at the last election, and that the question of victory or defeat upon the large principle which underlies this Bill was settled then. Ask the average voter in the tram-car or in the railway train and he will say that it is going to be decided in a week or two whether a House whose members sit simply by hereditary right is to be allowed to prevail over the elected representatives of the people, and is going to maintain its power to reject Budgets. Not only will you find such an opinion on the lips of the average man, but in the leading articles of the evening papers to-night you will probably find, though in more guarded or clouded language, the same sort of account given of what is happening. Now notice that that is simply a total misapprehension of the facts. The real fact is absolutely and entirely different, as the noble Marquess who has just spoken has made quite clear. Notwithstanding what Lord Morley said, it is certain that the big issue on which the opinion of the country was taken is no longer at stake. On those larger questions the House of Lords has, rightly or wrongly, fallen in with the views of the House of Commons, and has accepted what was, as I at least am ready to maintain, the verdict at the last General Election.
The point now at issue is a different one. You can only get at it by comparing 589 the Bill as it was introduced with the Bill as it is now. We have already been reminded by the leaders on either side of what from their point of view the differences are. I should myself put it that the Bill is altered by in the first place an attempt to make more explicit what is a Money Bill, and to prevent that indirect tacking to which reference was made in the House of Commons and here, the Speaker being helped by a Committee in deciding such questions. In the next place the Amendments enact that on certain great Constitutional questions the House of Commons shall not be able, until the country has been consulted, to overrule the reiterated objection of a reformed House of Lords, the appeal to the country being by the Referendum. The next is that the House of Commons shall similarly be restrained from independent or single-Chamber legislation on certain other issues of great gravity on which the opinion of the country has not been definitely ascertained. It is then provided that the advice or decision as to the need of submitting a matter to the country shall rest with a Joint Committee to be appointed in such a way as best to ensure impartiality.
I have tried to express in a cold-blooded manner and as fairly as I can the changes which this House has suggested in the Bill. If that is a fair account of the Amendments, the issue now before Parliament is—Can these changes in any form be accepted by those who are responsible for the original Bill? I do not argue at all whether they are good or bad proposals, but it does seem to me to be an unfair use of language to speak of these changes as "wrecking Amendments." The main principles of the Bill are untouched. There are suggested safeguards, suggested checks in the working out of these large principles. If the cheeks go too far, suggest modifications and let us hear how far in the way of check or curtailment of absolute one-Chamber freedom you are prepared to go. For example, in regard to the Joint Committee, the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, has said two or three times during these debates that he welcomed suggestions from any quarter as to how a Committee can be so constructed as to ensure impartiality. That is surely a moderate mode of suggestion, and to describe it as a wrecking Amendment would seem to, me to be a straining of words. Similarly, with regard to the Referendum, 590 there are many possible ways of varying the manner in which it is here suggested that the opinion of the country should be taken, and we have yet to learn that friendly suggestions would not be welcomed as to some better way of ascertaining the opinion of the people on questions on which they have not yet been adequately consulted.
The debate throughout has been in one sense hampered and in another sense helped by constant references to Home Rule, and to the question whether or not the country was consulted about it. That was inevitable, because the Home Rule question is the chief object-lesson of difficulty raised by such a Bill as this. Home Rule may be right; it may be true to say that it would now be supported by former opponents, and many voters may have realised in December that Home Rule was involved in the Parliament Bill. Still, I seem to have recollections of phrases about the bogey of Home Rule, of the red herring of Home Rule, and so on, and the Government reminded us repeatedly that the real question before the country was the Parliament Bill and the powers of the House of Lords. Will anybody contend—the noble Viscount has not contended—that a specific or definite scheme of Home Rule was before the electorate in December? I do not mean a detailed Bill, but a specific and definite scheme in large outline. Obviously the House of Commons cannot beforehand submit to the country the details of a complex measure, but were even the large principles of the next Home Rule Bill before the country? I understood the noble Viscount to say the other day in reply to Lord Lansdowne, that "We wait to draw up our Bills till the time approaches for laying them on the Table." If it be true that the supporters of the Government and possibly even the Government themselves are absolutely unaware what the large provisions of the Home Rule Bill are, can any one say without an abuse of language that the Home Rule Bill was in its large principles before the country at the last election? We know nothing about retaining the Irish members at Westminster or about the financing of Ireland from England; and upon such questions as these it depends what Home Rule means, so widely apart are the different ways of dealing with the subject. It is surely a strain of language to say that the present House of Commons has authority to deal by itself with the 591 whole matter exactly as it likes without the intervention of this House. But I did not mean to enter on the Home Rule question.
My one point is that the differences between Lords and Commons now turn mainly on the mode of safeguarding the working of this Bill from abuse. Nothing in the debates that we have listened to justifies us in doubting that these matters are capable of arrangement if there is good will on both sides. But if across the questions of statesmanship which we have to weigh there conies in the petty question—petty in such a context—of Party triumph or defeat, disaster must be the outcome whichever way the issue goes. There is always a peril for all of us that in hours of conflict and difficulty our treatment of great questions is unconsciously swayed by considerations which are quite alien to the large problem which is at stake. A master of contemporary thought some time ago read a paper on the way in which personal feelings or prejudices were apt to sway a man at times of great public crisis. He called it a matter of temper, "that weakness or defect which we know by the name of temper, whether irritable or querulous or acrimonious, or despondent and gloomy." The thought comes in, "You are out, we are in, and we mean to use the power of conquerors as we have the right and power to do. We will strain every Constitutional or unconstitutional right rather than spoil our triumph." It is the vae victis of old Rome, the "hands up" of South Africa. Disaster awaits the land or the Government or the Party so led. I feel that more deeply than I can say. Is a great element and factor in our national life to be mishandled in that way, contrary to every high tradition of English Constitutional history and progress? Is it not contrary to every high tradition of English Constitutional history and progress to deal with these things by a mere coup de main?
It is extraordinarily difficult now to see any waterway into a calm haven. Contrary to the rule of natural science heat in Parliamentary discussion induces hardening, and I imagine there is hardening on either side in more ways than one. Yet even now I dare not myself quite despair. I believe in the power of conference among men of good will. I have been rather surprised to hear so little reference made to the great speech in which Sir Henry Campbell- 592 Bannerman introduced his Resolution on this subject in 1907. If any of your Lordships will refer to that speech you will find frequent reference to the value of repeated conference. If men of responsibility will have courage to resist the thraldom either of Party temper or of a tyrannical group which subordinates the well-being of the country as a whole to the thought of its partisan ends, an outcome which would, if I may use the expression, "save the face" of both sides ought not to be unfindable.
I am not in the secrets of either Front Bench, but if rumour, which is very often false, speaks truth for once, a mode of outcome, honourable to both sides and different from that which the Bill suggests, was on the verge of common acceptance among a good many leaders not so very long ago. The opportunity is still yours of shaking off the trammels which have hampered you, and of reaching a solution which shall genuinely effect the great change which the Government desires, and which the country has supported, and yet effect it in a manner which could be accepted, I will not say without dislike or apprehension, but without any sense of humiliation by those who are sitting opposite to the Government to-night. I noted the eloquent words in which the noble Viscount referred to the prayer of which I was allowed to be the mouthpiece in Westminster Abbey a week or two ago, that "the spirit of wisdom and government" might be given to our rulers wisely to govern the Kingdom. If that could yet he done our country would add another to the examples she has given to all lands of her power of settling a great and thorny question with mutual consideration and respect, with high public spirit, and with common sense.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
My Lords, I have not troubled your Lordships during the course of these debates, because I must admit that I was not in sympathy with some of the concessions made by my noble friends on this side of the House. I do not admit that it was not the right of this House to reject the Budget of 1909. That which gave point to the objection entertained in respect of that measure was that it embodied the whole scheme of the year grounded upon innovations which dated back only to 1860. At one time there was a Standing Order in your Lordships' House which prevented the introduction of what was called "multifarious- 593 ness"; but on the difference that arose between the two Houses on the repeal of the Paper Duties the Chancellor of the Exchequer decided to introduce for the first time in our history a Budget which contained all the financial calculations and provisions of the year. That was a great innovation, and it ought to have been resisted, though since 1860 it has, I admit, been proceeded with in that form. The effect was that the House of Lords was deprived of any control over the finance of the year, of that control which undoubtedly it possessed by a Statute which I have quoted more than once—the Statute of the 25th of Edward I. It was not a musty and unknown Statute, but one which was referred to in the Petition of Rights, where it was expressly recited as one of the Statutes guarding the liberties of the people. Therefore, do not let anybody suppose that it must be taken for granted, because for a long series of years this House did not exercise its power, that therefore we had superseded the Act of Parliament. I say in the presence of my noble and learned friend—and I challenge a denial—that the disappearance of an Act of Parliament by desuetude is unknown to the English law. Every Act of Parliament has a right to command the obedience of the subjects of this Realm, however old it may be, and the only mode of getting rid of it is to repeal it; and here now the attempt is being made to repeal this Statute.
I want to say one word by way of protest, because I do not think we ought to admit, as some of us have admitted, that we have no right to deal with finance. If you refer to ancient practice and are so regardful of it that you will not interfere with it, then I ask, What are you doing now? Is this kind of legislation a showing of reverence for ancient practice? On the other hand, if we are to turn over a new leaf, to begin a new system of government and to have everything at large, what reason is there why Peers should not interfere in questions of finance? The Peers have to pay a good deal. I should like to have a calculation of how much of the Budget is made up of contributions from the Peerage. I snake this protest because I think that we are getting into the habit of taking things too much as a matter of course. I am not going to suggest that there should be any new legislation on the subject, but I absolutely deny that the Peers did any- 594 thing wrong, or that they were not perfectly within their rights, in what they did in 1909. They would have neglected their duty if they had not done what they did then. They took precautions that the country should be consulted before the extraordinary measures of finance which were then propounded were passed into law. After listening to the most rev. Primate cannot help feeling that your Lordships have an object-lesson of what single-Chamber government would be. We have seen the mode in which the highly-gifted and eloquent Peer before me (Viscount Morley) has treated our Amendments. What may we expect from those who are not so highly gifted and not so moderate as himself?
I deprecate one observation of the noble Viscount. What did his language mean? Is it not from beginning to end a threat of what will happen if your Lordships' House does not submit to this Bill—of the things that will follow, the terrible disturbances that will arise, and so on? It is veiled in quite decorous and Parliamentary language; but I want to tear that veil aside, and to see what is meant. Does it not mean that your Lordships are to be overwhelmed, with small respect to the Sovereign—to whom, in my Parliamentary experience, it was rather indecorous to refer at all—and without respect even to this extent, not that he has been consulted or will be consulted, but that it is a foregone conclusion? Some of those newspapers to which the right rev. Primate referred are sufficiently decent not to put it in plain terms, but they use such expressions as "it is surmised," "it is supposed," and so on, so as to conceal the grossness of the contemplated action. But it is suggested that His Majesty has been applied to, and has agreed to make as many Peers as will be necessary to force this Bill through the House. I want to deal plainly in this matter, and I say that that is a gross violation of Parliamentary decency. Everybody knows what has been said, and the allusion is enough; but let us, at all events, consider whether there is not something due to His Majesty, to whom we all profess loyalty.
I deeply lament that the principle of heredity has been given up. I am not an ancient and bigoted old Tory who cannot recognise new things, but I think I could quote good authority why the principle should not be given up. Does any noble 595 Lord remember what Lord John Russell said on this subject? He said—If the hereditary privileges of the Peers are overthrown the hereditary prerogatives of the Sovereign will also be sacrificed. 'Do not,' said an accomplished orator in the House of Commons many years ago, 'hang the Crown upon the peg of an exception' The Sovereign does not inherit wisdom any more than the Duke of Norfolk. Let me add what is, perhaps, the most important security of all. The prospect of any great democratic change would shake public credit and bring the nation to its senses; so that. I cannot say I feel any alarm lest events should lead to the abolition of the House of Lords, involving, as no doubt it would, the fall of the Monarchy.It may be said that the House of Lords is not to be abolished. It may or may not be so in words, but it would be the same thing. You may not say that this House is abolished, but I should like to know what man, with the spirit of a man in his heart, would consent to sit in an Assembly mocking the actuality of debate when, at the end of it, he is obliged to submit to what the Minister for the time being thinks proper to dictate. I do not believe that any of your Lordships would consent to belong to such an Assembly as that.
I will give the noble Viscount a little information. But for the existence of these Amendments which my noble friends have introduced I would myself have moved the rejection of the Bill on the Third Reading; and I can tell the noble Viscount now that unless these Amendments are accepted in substance, in meaning, and in operation I will myself never consent without a Division to the passing of this Bill. I do not believe the people of the country understand what is going on in Parliament. They do not know that the Constitution of the country is in peril. I doubt whether they would believe it if they were told. But the Constitution is in peril. The passing of this Bill un-amended would mean the destruction of the Constitution and threaten the destruction also of the liberties, aye, and the lives of His Majesty's subjects wherever they are. It is the most momentous piece of attempted legislation I have ever known in the course of my long life. I have been in politics more than sixty years, and I have never witnessed such an attempt to abolish the Second Chamber and to obtain supreme power, not so much for the House of Commons—for it is idle to pretend that House is independent—as for the Minister in power and the political caucus. It is not a question merely of Party division. 596 It is a question of life and death to the Constitution.
This Bill is a bad Bill in every sense. It possesses every vice that a Bill could possess. It is unjust and oppressive. It is tainted with Party spirit—I had almost said Party spite. One can hardly conceive that men familiar with Constitutional principles should have contrived such a mass of unconstitutional, bitter, and selfish proposals. Are we to submit everything now to the House of Commons in its present condition? Is the House of Commons in its present condition an independent body? Let any man who has views of his own in the House of Commons attempt to express them and see what will happen to him—what has happened in our recent experience. I can only say that I regard the present situation as the most momentous that has arisen in the whole of my political life; and if an attempt is made to force this Bill through without the safeguards that my noble friend behind me has provided against injustice and tyranny, especially the tyranny of the political caucus, I should regard myself as a coward and unfit for the position I hold if I submitted to it without challenging a Division. I should certainly vote against the Bill, and in so voting I should believe that I was doing no trifling service and incurring no trifling obligation, but I should regard it as a duty, and a solemn duty, to God and to my country.
§ THE EARL OF DURHAM
My Lords, I am very glad that I do not share all the misgivings of the noble and learned Earl who has just spoken. I am also glad that he has told us he does not intend to-night to force a Division, because in that case it would have been my duty to have supported His Majesty's Government. I am no enemy of the House of Lords even as it at present exists, and I am a strong believer in a Second Chamber. But we have to consider the present situation. It rests with your Lordships and not with His Majesty's Government whether we are to have a political crisis of the most serious and painful kind. In this year of all years I should have thought we would all have tried, if possible, to avoid what would be a national disaster and disgrace and certainly a mockery to our recent loyal declarations.
We have to decide now, not what the House of Lords has done in the past or 597 any question as to its faults or virtues, but whether or not the Parliament Bill shall receive a Third Reading. I think it is absolutely necessary, in the interests of the House of Lords itself, that you should give this Bill a Third Reading. As I have said, I am no enemy of the House of Lords. I should like very much to see your Lordships' House strengthened by some fresh Constitutional measure. But if there is a Division to-night I shall vote for this Bill. I will explain later why I voted the other day against the noble Marquess's Amendments. Some of my noble friends told me they were surprised and shocked at my action. I hope they have recovered from their surpise and are not still suffering from shock. After all, my Lords, this Bill is the result of some five years of somewhat barren conflict between the two political Parties in the State; and I much regret that the House of Lords has forced upon a Liberal Government the necessity of bringing in a Bill to enable them to carry on the business of the country. I cannot blame any Government, a Liberal Government or any other, which says, "We cannot carry on the business of this country unless we are safeguarded from capricious interruption of our work and our duties." They naturally would claim such safeguards. If there were a managing partner in some business who had a junior partner hostile to him, who could at any moment interrupt and stop his operations, would that managing partner long remain in his position? I am afraid he would soon resign; and, my Lords, if you wish the present Government to resign, what Government, I wonder, will you find to take its place? For my part, I am afraid, unhappily, I cannot think of a better one.
I would like to refer to the Amendments which the noble Marquess moved and carried in Committee. I hope, in doing so, that I may be allowed to express my admiration of the speech he made on that occasion. In tact, demeanour, courtesy, and dignity it was the best speech I ever heard; and yet the very next day I read in a Radical newspaper that the noble Marquess had uttered "bitter invective" against His Majesty's Government. In a crisis I do not trust newspapers or extremists. I would much rather rely on the commonsense opinion of both Parties in the State. It is for that reason that I hope we shall hear, perhaps not to-night but in the near future, that His Majesty's Government are going 598 to be conciliatory in this matter. The noble Marquess challenged them, and said that so far all the concessions had been offered from the Opposition Benches. I can hardly agree with the noble Marquess there; but I do confess I should be glad to hear that His Majesty's Government can see their way to consider the noble Marquess's Amendments carefully, and perhaps separate portions of those Amendments and state what they could accept and what in their opinion would be fatal to the Bill. The noble Marquess's wishes as regards the Crown and the Protestant Succession must meet with the approval of every loyalist. I can conceive of no objection to them. The Home Rule question, of course, is a different matter. Although I have not the alarm on that subject that some noble Lords feel, I think that when a Home Rule Bill is produced the real difficulties of His Majesty's Government will commence. There are other portions of the noble Marquess's Amendment, however, which I confess I do not like, and that is the reason I voted against it.
I quite agree with the noble Viscount in his opposition to the Referendum. I think it is a matter which requires far more consideration by the country than it has received up to the present. I also object to giving to the House of Lords the power of referring some of the Bills to which the noble Marquess referred, and which might seem to be of importance, to the proposed Joint Committee, and, through them, to a Referendum. If you consider the matter impartially it comes to this, that it is to be in the power of noble Lords opposite to make almost any Bill one of paramount importance by offering determined resistance to it. If you absolutely refuse to accept a Bill from a Liberal Government, you might make that Bill in the eyes of the Joint Committee of such importance that they would send it to the country by means of a Referendum. So that it would really be in the power of the opponents of the Liberal Government, under Lord Lansdowne's Amendment, to resist legislation and force an appeal to the country whenever they wished. That I cannot support as a member of the Liberal Party, though by no means a partisan of the present Government. In my opinion this Parliament Bill is not so dangerously revolutionary as some people represent. I certainly cannot regard the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill as a bloodthirsty revolutionist, and I do not 599 detect, looking upon the noble Lords who support him, that lean and hungry look which betokens dangerous men. I can only hope that this Bill, which is in a measure a temporary one, will not be used bitterly and tyrannically by His Majesty's Government. I cannot conceive that any English Government would be so forgetful of the interests of the country as to put such a Bill into operation in a tyrannical manner. At the same time, no Government with a sense of dignity could consent to conduct the business of the country subject to the approval of the Opposition in the House of Lords.
I think, further, that it was a mistake on the part of the noble Marquess and others opposite to analyse the Division List upon the Lansdowne Amendment. Forty-six Liberal Peers voted, of whom I was one. It is quite legitimate criticism to twit the Government with the paucity of their supporters, but you invite retaliation, and I would like to ask the noble Marquess whether he could analyse quite satisfactorily the composition of Ins own supporters. The noble Marquess brought in a scheme for the reconstruction of the House of Lords. It was introduced under what I might call pro-consular patronage, and amongst the provisions in that Bill specially supported by Lord Curzon and Lord Selborne was the proposal that Peers should possess certain qualifications to enable them to sit and vote in this House. As Ministers have been twitted with the composition of their minority on the noble Marquess's Amendment, I should rather like to ask, What of the composition of the majority? Can the noble Marquess go to the country and defend the majority by which he carried his Amendment? He would be obliged to admit that he and other noble Lords on the Front Opposition Bench had declared that most of the noble Lords who constituted that majority were not qualified to sit in a reformed House of Lords. What weight in the country could the names of the noble Lords who supported the noble Marquess have under those conditions? The noble Marquess has given away the whole case by proposing to sweep away many members of the House of Lords in the reformed Second Chamber and by at the same time using the enormous majority of the existing House of Lords to thwart the Government Bill.
600 I have no desire to say anything hostile or controversial. My sympathies are far more with noble Lords opposite than with the Government over this Bill. At the same time I do plead for calm consideration of this Bill, and I would ask the noble Marquess to consider before the Bill is sent back to the House of Lords whether it is not possible for him to drop some portion of his Amendment. I do not know whether His Majesty's Government would meet him half-way. That is no affair of mine; I am not in their secrets. I have only risen to-night to ask noble Lords on both sides of the House whether we cannot get through this crisis with as little bitterness and friction as possible. In my opinion it will be a serious misfortune for the House of Lords if the Third Reading of this Bill is not carried now, and also if the Bill is not accepted by your Lordships when it is again sent up by the House of Commons.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, the noble Earl who has just sat down will, I am sure, not contradict me when I say that he and I have been very intimate friends from our earliest days. He mentioned that a good many of his friends had looked askance at his voting in support of His Majesty's Government against the Amendment of my noble friend behind me. No one looked more askance at his so voting than I did. I will tell the noble Earl why. The noble Earl left his Party and joined us in 1886 on the question of Home Rule, and he and I worked together in the County of Durham for the Unionist cause. Therefore I thought my noble friend would at any rate have supported the Amendment of the noble Marquess inasmuch as that Amendment was drawn in order to shield the country from Home Rule. As Home Rule was to my mind the most important part of that Amendment, I withdrew the Amendment that stood in my name, which safeguarded us from Home Rule without au appeal first being made to the country. It is quite possible that my Amendment would not have been in order. I accordingly withdrew it, and I and my noble friends behind me from Ireland devoted our speeches to that part of the noble Marquess's Amendment which dealt with the question of Home Rule; and I do not think any one will contradict me when I say that we who represent Irish Unionists in this House dealt very fully with that question.
601 I made a long speech on the subject myself, in which I asked various questions of His Majesty's Government when portraying the dangers that I thought would ensue if Home Rule were granted. I asked the Government how they proposed to maintain the present prosperity of Ireland when a Home Rule Parliament was established, and no one contradicted me when I said, that Ireland was never more prosperous that it is at the present moment. We have always asserted, and we assert again, that a Home Rule Parliament in Ireland will mean ruin, bankruptcy, and, in all probability, civil war. I pointed that out on the last occasion, and I asked if capital were withdrawn from Ireland how His Majesty's Government proposed to maintain the present prosperity of that country. I hope I shall get an answer to that question. I should like to know who is going to follow me, as it is very difficult to get answers from noble Lords opposite. I have asked the question before but leave been unable to extract any reply. To have this important matter of Home Rule, for which this measure is brought forward, carried through your Lordships' House without any answer to the dangers that I have pointed out is to my mind absolutely without precedent. Do you intend to smash the Constitution at the dictates of Mr. Redmond? You propose to bring ruin and bankruptcy to Ireland, and when we from Ireland bring this matter to your Lordships' attention not a single member on the Front Bench opposite takes the slightest notice of our remarks. We have but one conclusion to draw from that—either that noble Lords opposite and the Government cannot dispute our statements, or else they dare not do so for fear of displeasing the noun who makes them toe the line; that is, their real leader Mr. Redmond.
Now I wish to say a few words to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. He will remember that when he was speaking on the Second Reading of this measure he drew attention to the speech I made on that occasion. From what he said he seemed to consider that I put forward more than anything else the question of Home Rule. The noble and learned Lord then stated that he considered that the antagonism to Home Rule was weakening, and that there was not the same opposition to Home Rule at the present time as there was in the year 1893. I drew attention 602 in the speech I made on the Amendment of my noble friend behind me to that statement of the noble and learned Lord, whose absence from the debate on that day I thought at the time was very remarkable.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I express my great regret to the noble Marquess if I in any way disappointed him by not being present. But on that day I was obliged to devote no less than twelve hours to dealing with an accumulation of arrears of work which demanded my attention and could not be postponed, and I was at work in my room from early in the morning until late at night on that particular day. I need not say that I would leave been only too pleased to have been here had it been possible.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
I am sure the noble and learned Lord with his usual courtesy will forgive me for having referred to the matter, and perhaps he will not mind if I address the same remarks to him now as I addressed to noble Lords opposite on that occasion. I pointed out then, and I point out again, that although the antagonism to Home Rule is not quite so apparent now as it was in 1893 owing to a new generation leaving arisen which wants educating with regard to the dangers of Home Rule, there is still a deep-rooted objection to it throughout the country; and if the time ever comes when a Home Rule Bill is introduced into Parliament the Government, notwithstanding their talk of the "Home Rule bogey" and their idea that the opposition to Home Rule is dead, will have the rudest awakening that any Government ever lead. I have recently visited the North of Ireland, and was present at the greatest demonstration I have even seen of any sort or kind. I refer to the demonstration which took place at Belfast on July 12 last. I was present at the great march past in 1886, when Lord Randolph Churchill was a leading spirit in Irish affairs, and I was present at the great march past Mr. Balloter in 1893; but, important as those great gatherings were, they sink into insignificance when compared with the great demonstration of July 12 last. I only wish that your Lordships could have been present, and, more than all, that the members of the House of Commons could leave been there. They would then have realised that, so far from there being apathy with regard to the 603 question of Home Rule, Ulster was up and determined. Ulster has shown by its meetings and the resolutions it has passed that it will not have Home Rule.
Let me describe what I saw. I saw in Belfast a gathering of upwards of 200,000 people, and in other parts of Ulster large demonstrations were held varying in numbers up to as many as 30,000 people, and at each of those meetings a resolution was passed calling upon their leaders to adopt all necessary measures for resisting any Home Rule Government that might be forced upon His Majesty's loyal subjects in Ireland, and solemnly assuring their leaders that they would stand by them loyally in any action they might have to take and in any danger they might have to face. My Lords, I have spent a long period of my political life in the North of Ireland, and I can tell your Lordships that those men are neither braggarts nor boasters. They are determined that they will not have Home Rule, and speaking as one who has seen those great demonstrations in Ulster and who knows the feeling of the country there I warn your Lordships that if a Home Rule Parliament is established on College Green the most serious consequences will follow. I remember Lord Randolph Churchill's well-known saying—Ulster will fight, and Ulster will be right.A truer sentiment was never uttered. Ireland does not possess a more law-abiding subject than myself. When I went to Ireland in the year 1886 as Lord Lieutenant there existed there a condition approaching to anarchy, but in three years, by enforcing the law, we restored order, and it would be the saddest day for me as an Ulsterman if I saw lawlessness again taking place in the province which I love. But if a Home Rule Parliament is established on College Green there will be not only lawlessness and disorder, but bloodshed; and if blood is shed it will be upon the heads of His Majesty's Government. I say that with a full sense of responsibility.
I have merely risen to warn His Majesty's Government that if they establish a Parliament on College Green they will ruin Ireland, bring it to bankruptcy, and in all probability create civil war. And why do they propose this? Not because a great many of the supporters of the Government want Home Rule. They were careful to keep Home Rule in the background at the 604 last General Election, and if the Government had had a majority independent of the Irish Party I am confident that we should never have heard of Home Rule at all. But they have to toe the line to Mr. Redmond, and obey his orders. It is because North of Ireland people feel that they would not obey the orders of Mr. Redmond, or of the Nationalist Party, or of a Hibernian Parliament on College Green, that they are determined, if the worst comes to the worst, to fight in order to protect their rights and liberties, civil and religious; and, speaking on behalf of the loyalist Unionist population of Ireland, I beg His Majesty's Government to consider very seriously before they refuse to accept the Amendment of my noble friend behind me.
THE EARL OF DUNRAVEN
My Lords, it certainly is neither my business nor my province to reply to any of the questions that my noble friends behind me have asked His Majesty's Government, and I have no desire to do so. But I might be allowed to remind the House that I, too, have the honour and privilege of corning from Ireland, and with regard to the opinions expressed by my noble friends behind me as to Home Rule I utterly and entirely differ I from them. At the same time—it may sound paradoxical—I sincerely hope, though I am afraid the hope does not rest upon very solid ground, that the Bill will find its way on to the Statute Book substantially in the amended condition in which it is in your Lordships' House now. I confess I was astonished to hear the noble Viscount opposite, in moving the Third Reading, describe the Bill as having been so completely changed as to be practically a different Bill and not the Government Bill at all. Surely, my Lords, His Majesty's Government have got the Bill in its entirety? There have been additions made to which they take objection, but they have the Bill without anything subtracted from it. They have it absolutely in its entirety, and, amended as it is, it satisfies, as far as I can see, all the demands His Majesty's Government have made and all the requirements of the case.
This Bill, as we all know, is a temporary measure—an expedient to enable His Majesty's Government to carry on the business of the country. What are the alleged difficulties that the Government have had to contend with? If I may put it in this way, What are the counts of the 605 indictment against this House? Apart from all the rubbish that was put forward at the last two General Elections, the two real counts were that this House had invaded the privilege of the House of Commons, by referring the Budget to the people, and that this House, being so largely Conservative, consistently refused to pass Liberal legislation. Surely as regards Money Bills His Majesty's Government have got in the Bill as now amended all they ask for? This House relinquishes all power to deal with Money Bills. That is what His Majesty's Government desired, and what His Majesty's Government have now got. It is perfectly true that the Opposition have said that some safeguard must be introduced against tacking direct and indirect, and that some authority must be set up to decide whether or not a Bill is a bona fide Money Bill, and His Majesty's Government agree to that. The two Parties are absolutely in accord as to the necessity of setting up some authority to decide that question. The only difference, therefore, lies in this—there is a difference of opinion as to how that authority should be constituted. His Majesty's Government propose that the Speaker of the House of Commons, an official whose duty, I might say whose primary duty, it is to uphold the privilege of the House of Commons, should be the arbiter in a case of dispute between the two Houses on a matter of privilege. The Opposition propose a Joint Committee. The noble Viscount opposite denounced that Committee as a complete innovation. Bat is it not equally totally new to impose on the Speaker of the House of Commons the duty, not of giving his opinion as to a matter affecting the privileges of the House of Commons, but of giving a final judicial judgment as to whether a certain action on the part of this House is an infringement of the privileges of the House of Commons? It is noble Lords opposite who are guilty, if anybody is guilty, of innovations, and they surely must not complain if in order to make sonic of them as innocuous as possible an innovation, such as the constitution of this Committee, is proposed on this side of the House. I do not press that matter. My point is that it is absolutely unthinkable that a great crisis, with all the consequences that may ensue, should be forced on the country upon such a comparatively trivial matter as the exact constitution of the authority which is to decide what is and what is not a Money Bill. His Majesty's Government have really got all for which 606 they asked, for as regards Money Bills this House relinquishes its rights.
Now as to the other count of the indictment—that this House invariably rejects Liberal legislation, and that His Majesty's Ministers, having during their somewhat long wanderings in the wilderness accumulated a great mass of legislative proposals, do not find that they have a fair and reasonable opportunity of placing them upon the Statute Book. I submit the Government cannot make good their case. It would require the fingers of many hands to count the Radical measures passed. Half the fingers of one hand would suffice to count the Radical Bills rejected. But let that pass. Assume the complaint to be justifiable. Have you not got all you want in that respect also? You complain of this House rejecting your measures. Under the Bill as amended this House can no longer reject your measures. You can pass over the heads of this House every Bill of yours that this House has ever rejected, and any new Bill on any and every subject without the assent of this House, and I cannot conceive what His Majesty's Government require more than the absolute satisfaction of the demands that they themselves have made. They complain of the operation of the Veto of this louse. This House has, temporarily at any rate, put aside the Veto. It is perfectly true that the Amendment of the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, reserves certain matters for the judgment of the people. What are those matters? They are questions connected with the Crown and the Protestant Succession. You can pass measures affecting the Crown and the Protestant Succession if you want to over the heads of this House, but the Amendment says that you shall not pass them without the consent of the people. I need not argue that point except to say this, that the only reason His Majesty's Government have adduced or can adduce against that part of the Amendment is that it is impossible to suppose that this Ministry or any Ministry would wish to interfere with the Crown or the Protestant Succession. I dare say that is so; but at the same time this House cannot in a matter of this gravity consider personal characteristics of Ministers. It is impossible to imagine that His Majesty's Government will really seriously object to that part of the Amendment which reserves to the judgment of the people 607 any question relating to the Monarchy or the Protestant Succession.
The other questions which are reserved to the people are the setting up of Statutory Parliaments in the United Kingdom with legislative functions. Under this Bill as it stands amended you could pass any Home Rule Bill for England, Ireland, Scotland, or Wales, and set up any body you please with whatever administrative functions you please over the heads of this House and without consulting the people, and all that the Amendment of the noble Marquess says is that if you desire to set up Statutory Parliaments with legislative functions the opinion of the people must be asked. I cannot understand what real objection His Majesty's Government can have to that part of the Amendment either. The House will understand that there is no question of the merits or demerits of Home Rule involved. My noble friend Lord Londonderry did go into the demerits of Home Rule and its possible effects. I do not propose to follow him, because that is not the question before the House, further than to say this. I disagree with every word my noble friends from Ireland said on the subject in Committee. With the facts staring them in the face I cannot understand how they can argue that Ireland has prospered under the Union, or that the administration of Ireland is, economically or in any other respect, satisfactory. Nor can I conceive how any man can be blind to the fact that the root of all the troubles besetting us lies in the impossibility of Parliament dealing with all the business that comes before it; and that in devolution the only possible cure for congestion is to be found. I would beg the House to remember also that there is no question involved as to the rights and powers that this House ought to have to ultimately reject a Home Rule Bill. The whole question around which really the trouble is centred and out of which the quarrel arises is the very simple question whether so great an organic change as would be involved in setting up a Parliament in Dublin with legislative and administrative functions ought or ought not to be submitted to the judgment of the people. His Majesty's Government, as I understand, say it is not necessary, because the people of the country knew perfectly well that Home Rule formed part of the general programme of the Govern- 608 ment and that having been returned to power at two General Elections they clearly have a right to deal with the Home Rule question in any way they please. But, my Lords, what kind of Home Rule? Home Rule is a most indefinite and elastic term. It may mean anything and it may mean almost nothing. Only noble Lords opposite have the slightest idea of what they mean by Home Rule. If a Bill had been debated in Parliament and was therefore before the country, or if definite Resolutions on which a Bill was to be founded had been before the country, I could understand there being sonic strength in the arguments of noble Lords opposite that the result of the last two elections gave them practically a mandate to carry Home Rule. But there is not an elector in the country who has the faintest idea of what you mean by Home Rule; and surely to say that because you have been returned to power after two General Elections—in which about a dozen questions were involved, and in which, as we all know perfectly well, the electors swallowed some half-dozen questions they did not like at all in order to get the other half-dozen which they earnestly desired, and which elections every one must admit turned principally on the Constitutional question and the relations between the two Houses—you have therefore a right to bring in and pass without consulting the people any measure of Home Rule of any sort or kind you like, is pushing the theory of representative government almost to an absurdity.
Then as to the Referendum. I wish the Referendum did form a part of our Constitutional outfit. As a matter of fact the Referendum has only been referred to to meet the requirements of this temporary Bill. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack does not object to a Referendum if introduced in a Bill for a defined specific purpose. I wish he would bring in a short Bill for the purpose of using the Referendum for solving this very question which is now agitating the two Houses, and which is the real root of the trouble between us. I wish he would ask the people of this country the simple question whether they think that the question of setting up a Statutory Parliament in Ireland should or should not be submitted to them. That would settle the whole matter. The demands of His Majesty's Government as regards the 609 rejection of Liberal measures in this House and the exercise of your Lordships' Veto have been met. The Veto is gone, and the demands of the allies of His Majesty's Government, the official Nationalist Party in the House of Commons, have been met also. They have over and over again said that the only obstacle in the way of Home Rule is the Veto of the House of Lords. Well, the Veto of the House of Lords is set aside. Therefore not only should His Majesty's Government be satisfied, but the Nationalist Party in the House of Commons should be satisfied also.
I confess I cannot see why His Majesty's Government should be so reluctant to submit this question of Home Rule to the judgment of the people. His Majesty's Government say that a great change has conic over the spirit of the people in regard to Home Rule. I quite agree. A great and salutary change of opinion has manifested itself in spice of all obstacles in Ireland, and has reflected itself upon public opinion in Great Britain. I feel convinced in my own mind that if a sound and wise Home Rule measure were submitted to the electorate they would approve of it and accept it, and I do not know why His Majesty's Government should be so reluctant to consult the people with regard to it, unless it is that perhaps my faith is a little more robust than theirs on the subject. His Majesty's Government say they are satisfied that the majority of the electors of this country would accept a Home Rule Bill. The Nationalist Party in the House of Commons are of the same way of thinking. In a letter which I saw in The Times yesterday Mr. Redmond, speaking for his Party, said—I am quite convinced that Home Rule for Ireland has at its back the goodwill of the overwhelming majority of the British people.If Mr. Redmond and the Nationalist Party are absolutely convinced that the overwhelming majority of the electors of Great Britain are in favour of Home Rule, and if His Majesty's Government are convinced also, as they say they are, that the great majority of the electors in Great Britain are in favour of Home Rule, then why in the name of commonsense should they object so strongly to asking the people the direct question and so settling the matter? I would ask noble Lords opposite to consider this in connection with a remark made by my noble friend Lord Londonderry 610 in Committee on this Bill. My noble friend was arguing in favour of asking the, opinion of the people on this subject, and he said that if an appeal was made to the people and the people were in favour of it, although he and his friends believed that Home Rule would be fatal to Ireland, they would only have one thing to do—bow to the will of the people,. That was a most important, and, I think, wise and statesmanlike and eminently Constitutional pronouncement. You are perfectly convinced that the great bulk of the electors would approve of your Home Rule Bill; Mr. Redmond is absolutely convinced that the overwhelming majority of the British people would approve of your Home Rule Bill; and my noble friend behind me, speaking for the most strenuous opponents of Home Rule, says that if the people approve of your. Bill they will make the best of what they consider a bad job and cease from their objections and accept it. That is the situation, and there you have, as it seems to me, all the elements necessary for an amicable and final settlement, and why the opportunity of an amicable and final settlement should be lost I cannot conceive.
I think His Majesty's Government have made a great tactical mistake. My noble friend behind me has taken up a much stronger position than he occupied before, if he will forgive me for saying so, upon Home Rule. I do not think its opponents can make a strong case at all; but in shifting his ground completely and taking up the line, not that the opponents of Home Rule will oppose Home Rule of any kind to the bitter end but only until they know that the will of the people is in favour of it, my noble friend Lord Londonderry has taken up a very much stronger position, and one which will give the opponents of Home Rule a great advantage which I deplore. I do not wish to weary the House by talking about Home Rule, or giving my reasons for being a Home Ruler. I will only say that I believe it to be absolutely necessary, not only for the welfare of Ireland but for Great Britain and the British Empire. But to be beneficial it must be subject to certain conditions. It must, of course, be a workable scheme in itself. It must be generally acquiesced in—I do not say generally approved of, as that, perhaps, is impossible to expect—but acquiesced in as, it may be, a necessary evil. It must 611 be framed on federal lines, and the Constitutional question must be settled before it or along with it. The power to a Home Rule Parliament must, of course, be a delegated power. A statutory Parliament using delegated powers, unless those powers are derived from a stable and central authority, would not have a chance of carrying on its business successfully. Any number of examples can be adduced where federation and delegation have worked admirably, but federation has always been to or delegation from a strong central authority, and if a statutory Parliament in Ireland is ever to have fair play and a chance of success it must derive its power from and be under the supremacy of a strong and stable central form of government here. In any reconstitution of your Lordships' House a strong Second Chamber is absolutely essential. It is essential to any scheme of Home Rule. I do not believe in trying to frame a Constitution for Ireland out of the wreckage of the British Constitution. I do not believe that a statutory Parliament in Ireland would have a chance of carrying on its business if it was under the authority of a Parliament in such a state of chaos as the Parliament of this country is now in. I am, perhaps, singular in those ideas—I am sure I am singular in this House—but I can assure His Majesty's Government that I am not singular in holding those views as far as Ireland is concerned. I can assure the Government that the vast majority of the people of Ireland would infinitely rejoice if any means could be found whereby these inseparable questions of Home Rule on federal lines and the settlement of the Constitutional question here could be raised above the burden and heat of Party politics, and could be settled as such pave questions ought to be settled, coolly, dispassionately, and by way of conference, compromise, and methods leading to common consent.
I have tried to give your Lordships as shortly as I can the reasons why, not in spite of the fact that I am an ardent Home Ruler but because I am an ardent Home Ruler, I approve of the Bill as amended and hope it may take its place on the Statute Book in very much the same shape as it is in now. I am quite sure that your Lordships' House in doing what it has done in the way of amending the Bill is justified by the circumstances of the case, and that the whole duty and object of the House or 612 of any similar legislative body is to see that the will of the people shall prevail. It is absurd to pretend that the present Ministry, or any Ministry, are gifted with such infallible insight, as to be able to know what the will of the people is about any Bill that has not been definitely before them; and although this House has gone dangerously near unconstitutional lines, I think justifiably, in putting aside the Constitutional check which it has exercised and ought to exercise, I say that if it consented to abolish all checks, to make Ministers absolutely supreme, and not to insist that the people should have Constitutional means of expressing their opinion on matters of vital interest to the country, it would be guilty of a grave dereliction of duty which I do not believe the country would ever condone.
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE
My Lords, as some impression seems to have prevailed, perhaps on account of something I may have said in the Committee stage of this Bill, that I was going to ask your Lordships to reject the Bill on the Third Reading, I would like to take this opportunity of telling noble Lords opposite that for the present, at any rate, they need not be afraid, and that the measure, for the moment only, is in comparatively smooth water. I say this because there has evidently been a considerable searching of heart in the Radical camp in the last two or three days and in that agreeable and refined Press identified with the Party of noble Lords opposite. Listen to the Star—It is rather a grotesque bit of irony that Lord Morley should be forced to beg Liberal Peers to save the Bill from Lord Lansdowne's rag tag and bobtail.Other newspapers as well have been good enough to suggest that I was going to move the rejection of the Bill on Third Reading, and though I wish entirely to associate myself with everything Lord Halsbury said, I do not propose to take that course.
I must say that when the noble Viscount opposite painted in such gloomy terms the formidable consequences that would ensue from the rejection of the Bill it became very tempting indeed to move its rejection. He did not say to whom the consequences would be formidable, and whether or not he was really thinking of himself and his Party in the position of George Stephenson's cow that got in front 613 of a railway train I am sure I cannot say. But for the present we will leave the consequences to take care of themselves; we shall have an opportunity of discussing them at a later stage when the Bill comes back from the House of Commons. I would gladly have supported the rejection of this Bill on Second Reading and I took the opportunity of telling your Lordships that extremely interesting piece of news at the time, but other counsels prevailed and it was agreed to proceed to the Committee stage. Two Amendments were put down to the Bill—one proposed by the noble Marquess and the other by myself. I will not be guilty of the impertinence of comparing the relative value of those two Amendments. I may be allowed to retain my own opinion with regard to that. But after the exceedingly generous way—too generous in my view—in which the noble Marquess drafted his Amendment I cannot follow the statement of the noble Viscount opposite that there has been no disposition to yield on the part of the noble Marquess. I am not finding fault with the Government's attitude of no compromise. It is the only thing about the Radical Party that I thoroughly respect. They do not give way, and they do not attempt, outwardly at any rate, to alter their views to suit their critics, or to whittle away any part of their policy in order to gain the votes of those who disagree with them. I deplore the tendency to look at the British Constitution after the manner of a valetudinarian and to be constantly feeling its pulse and examining its tongue. I think the vitality of the Constitution will survive the attentions of the doctors who are trying to do so much for it at the present moment.
I will not now enter into the wisdom or propriety of altering the Bill in Committee, but I may be permitted to say that the process has given noble Lords opposite an opportunity of criticising our proposals instead of defending their own. I have not heard in these debates at any stage of this Bill any satisfactory defence of the proposition that the British House of Lords ought to have less power than the Second Chambers of all other civilised countries. I do not believe there is an answer, but if there is I should be very happy to hear noble Lords opposite give us one. They wrap up their proposals in speeches destined to show how exceed- 614 ingly moderate the Bill really is. Lord Durham, in the speech which he delivered just now, spoke in that strain. It is very much the same frame of mind as an Oriental potentate adopted towards one of his victims whom he had condemned to be executed. He informed him that the State executioner performed his duties with such consummate skill and such an exhibition of art that to have one's head cut off by him was really more of an honour and a pleasure than otherwise. When the victim laid his head on the block the executioner made some preliminary flourishes with his sword and retired. The victim then asked when the execution was going to begin, and he was informed, "If you will just shake your head you will find it is all right," and when he did so it fell to the floor, so skilfully and painlessly had the operation been carried out. That, my Lords, is the sort of painless execution that is proposed by the noble Viscount under this Bill.
Another argument that has been hinted at, sometimes on this side of the House, not as a reason for accepting the Bill but as a reason why legislation of some kind is necessary, is that the people of this country at the last two General Elections decided, according to the view of noble Lords opposite, in favour of the Parliament Bill, and, according to the view of other noble Lords, that some alteration in the Constitution is required. I will not deal with the latter view. But with regard to the Parliament Bill, this Bill is a totally different class of measure from any other measure which is capable of being judged by the ordinary rules of Party politics, such as a Budget, or a measure for national defence, or the whole category of measures for the social welfare of the people. This Bill may justly, without any rhetoric, be described as a revolution. I think it was rhetorical to describe the Budget of 1909 as a revolution. But this Bill is absolutely a revolution in terms. I believe my definition will be accepted by noble Lords opposite just, as much as by anybody else. It is a revolution to effect by main force a radical change in the Constitution of the country when at least half the people are strongly opposed to it; and you ought only to be allowed to effect your purpose of bringing about this revolution by main force. We on this side have extreme reluctance to consent to it, and I say we have neither the right nor 615 the power as trustees of the British Constitution to compromise in any single particular with regard to this Bill. We think that the whole essence of this revolution, if you intend to bring it about, is that you ought to be compelled to bring it about by main force—it may be by the creation of Peers, which is just as much main force as if you did it by ships and men and guns, or as if you brought into this House a regiment of Guards to sweep out noble Lords who sit on this side.
With regard to the Third Reading, I shall be sorry in a sense when this Bill has left the House of Lords and we have no longer control of it. At the same time I am not going to oppose the Third Reading, but I want to make my position clear. I am only withholding opposition to the Third Reading on the distinct understanding that the essence and substance of the noble Marquess's Amendment to Clause 2 is the irreducible minimum which we can possibly accept on this side of the House. We will not consent to any arrangement of any kind conceivable by which that Amendment would be whittled away in any sense whatever; and we would be absolutely failing in our duty to the people of this country if we did not insist, no matter what the consequences may be, on the retention of this Amendment to the bitter end.
THE EARL OF MAYO
My Lords, I quite agree with what Lord Willoughby de Broke has said with regard to his not moving the rejection of the Bill on Third Reading on the strict conditions which he has mentioned. I am entirely with him, and I think many others are with him there also. But I rise principally to refer to the speech made by the noble Earl, Lord Dunraven. He has every right as an Irishman to speak as he did, but he said that he differed from his noble friends behind him on the question of Home Rule and yet hoped the Bill would pass as amended. I must ask him why he comes and tells us this on the Third Reading of the Bill, and why he did not come during the Committee stage and help us with his opinions in the debates on the different Amendments that were put forward, especially the noble Marquess's. He says it depends entirely upon what sort of Home Rule we are to have. I can only say this, that we do not want any sort of Home Rule at all in 616 Ireland, nor do we want any form of Devolution either. I was glad to hear, however, that the noble Earl approves of the Referendum with regard to Home Rule. We are in complete agreement with him there. But the Government do not wish for a Referendum, because they are pledged to the Nationalist Party to grant Home Rule under this Bill whether it be a sound or wise measure or otherwise.
Then the noble Earl said he hoped there would be an amicable and a final settlement with regard to Home Rule. I cannot see how you can have an amicable or a final settlement of Home Rule on any lines whatever. If the matter was left to the Referendum and it was fully assured to go to the country and we could explain what Home Rule was when we had the Bill before us, I should be prepared to give way if the decision of the country went against us; but till that time comes I do not think there is the least likelihood of there being an amicable or a final settlement of Home Rule. The noble Earl said also that the opponents could not make a strong case against Home Rule, and he went on to say that Home Rule was absolutely necessary for the welfare of Ireland. I ask the noble Earl, What about the financial part? He and I fought together on the question of the financial relations between the two countries, and as has been said the difficulties of the Government will commence when they bring in a Home Rule Bill. The real difficulty that will face the Government will be the question of finance. They know that as well as I do. I regret that the Committee which was appointed has not yet reported. As I said before, we are still in the dark with reference to that Committee. Lord Dunraven said there should be a strong Constitution in this country coupled with Home Rule. But what do the Nationalist Party care about a strong Constitution in this country? They do not care for a strong Constitution. All they want is Home Rule for Ireland according to their lights, and the Constitution of this country may go into St. George's Channel for all they care. We do not want any sort of Home Rule whatsoever in Ireland, and much less any form of Devolution.
§ LORD AVEBURY
My Lords, I do not approach this question in any Party spirit. I look upon this Bill as a plain man of business, and I ask myself, Is it going 617 to be for the advantage of the country to pass it? I feel strongly that when the history of this campaign comes to be written the verdict will be that no case has been made out for such a fundamental change in the Constitution of the country. To listen to noble Lords opposite one would think that no Liberal legislation had been passed by this House. On the contrary, the present Government have passed more Bills than any other Government in the same time. Out of over 250 Bills, there have been only four postponed. The first of these has since been passed. The second was introduced into the Budget, and the other two were dropped because, I suppose, they did not receive the support of the country. In the course of the debates in Committee I challenged noble Lords opposite to produce a single case in which your Lordships' House had insisted on your Veto in opposition to the wishes of the country. The noble Earl Lord Russell, said lie would give us an instance, and he referred to the Reform Bill of 1832. Even if that had been a case in point, I think that if he could not produce a single instance except one that happened eighty years ago it was a strong confirmation of the argument I used. But the illustration was not in point, and the noble Earl did not show so much knowledge of English history as I should have expected from one of the Russell family, because, after all, though your Lordships' predecessors did their best to defeat that Bill, they still finally passed it.
Then I ask myself, How is it that so many of our countrymen are prejudiced against the House of Lords? In my judgment it is to a very great extent because the Government and their supporters have embarked on a campaign of calumny and misrepresentation against this House. If a tenth part of what has been said were true, the case would, I admit, have been serious. But it is not true. I do not include in that indictment noble Lords opposite who have spoken much more moderately and courteously than some of their colleagues, although I think they have in many cases greatly exaggerated their case, as the noble Viscount, Lord Morley, did in his speech this afternoon. But I have here a whole sheaf of potations from Ministers' speeches attacking this House in most unmeasured terms. I think, however, that at this period of the evening I shall best consult your Lordships' 618 wishes by not reading them. I should, however, like to read one quotation from a speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer at Llanelly on December 22, 1909. He said—I am a Welshman, and when I go to the House of Lords sometimes and stand by the Throne listening to questions affecting my fellow-country-men being scoffed at, my blood boils within me. Remember this, Wales is only a laughing stock in the eyes of the house of Lords.Could there be a greater misrepresentation than that? I should like to know of any case in which your Lordships have scoffed at Wales or the Welsh people. I will undertake to say that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not be able to produce a single case of the kind. But, unfortunately, Liberal Ministers go about the country setting rich against poor, North against South, England and Scotland against Ireland, and Wales against all, as far as they can possibly do so; and it was to a great extent on these misrepresentations of your Lordships' House that the result of the last Election depended. But although misrepresentation may succeed for a time, truth will prevail in the long run, and I have no doubt that the time will come when the country will do justice to your Lordships' House.
Before I sit clown I should like to say a few words on the question of finance, because on that point I cannot go so far as my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition in this House. We hear a great deal about the privilege of the House of Commons with regard to finance, but I venture to think that it is a misnomer. It is founded On a Resolution of the House of Commons passed in 1678, but I believe I am correct in saying that that was never agreed to by your Lordships' House. So that it is not a question of a privilege but a claim. No doubt the House of Commons in matters of finance must be the predominant partner, but policy and finance are so closely interwoven, as we have already seen in these debates, that if we give up our power over finance altogether it will be a very serious matter for the country. There are a considerable number of countries under single-Chamber government, but their finances are in no case in a satisfactory condition. Among those engaged in trade and commerce there are very grave apprehensions in this country in regard to what would be the result of handing finance over to a single Chamber. I believe that in expressing that opinion I shall be supported 619 by the overwhelming majority of the business men of this country. They feel great objection to this Bill, and I believe that those who constitute the educated classes in this country are also opposed to the Bill. But as Lecky said some time ago—It is curious to find in modern England that extreme enthusiasm for education is combined with an utter disregard for the opinions of the educated part of the community.I suppose this Bill will now pass. But I cannot think, as the most rev. Primate pointed out in his impressive and admirable speech this afternoon, that our countrymen generally realise the extreme gravity of the change that is being effected, and I cannot believe that this Bill, even if it be now passed, is destined to become a permanent part of our Constitution.
§ On Question, "That the Bill be now read 3a," a noble Lord on the Cross Benches said, "Not content," but on the LORD CHANCELLOR'S declaring "The contents have it," he did not persist in his opposition.
§ Bill read 3a accordingly with the Amendments.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
My Lords, I move, to follow Clause 5, a new clause providing that in this Act the expression "Public Bill" does not include any Bill for confirming a Provisional Order. This is merely explanatory of what a Public Bill means, and the terms have been drawn up by the authorities of the House and submitted to the Lord Chancellor.
§ Amendment moved—
After Clause 5 insert the following new clause—
. In this Act the expression "Public Bill" does not include any Bill for confirming a Provisional Order.—(The Earl of Camperdown.)
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Your Lordships may remember that this Amendment was dealt with in Committee. I have since made inquiry, and I understand that the authorities in this House consider that the term "Public Bill" would include a Bill for confirming a Provisional Order. On the other hand, in the House of Commons the term "Public Bill" would not be held to include a Bill confirming a Provisional Order. I think that if the point is to be raised the way in which the noble Earl has raised it is a satisfactory way. The Government did not intend that the description "a Public Bill" should include a Bill for confirming a Provisional Order.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Moved, That the Bill do pass.—(Viscount Morley.)
§ On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.