§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN)
My Lords, I rise to move that this Bill be read a second time. The circumstances in which the Bill appears before your Lordships are no doubt fairly well known. After the rejection of the Budget in November, 1909, His Majesty's Government propounded their policy, which was this—formally, definitely, and by Statute to abolish the power of this House to intervene in finance, and in legislation outside of and beyond finance to take away from this House the power of absolute Veto. Then came two elections and two Parliaments. In the first of those two Parliaments the Resolutions upon which this Bill is founded were passed by a majority of between 100 and 120. In the second Parliament—still sitting—the Third Reading of this Bill was passed by a majority of 121, after three months of full discussion, in which many earnest and skilful disputants took part, and in which the two distinguished men who lead the great Parties in the other House, according to all accounts, which I am sure must have reached your Lordships from every quarter—these two men of unsurpassed Parliamentary character and experience were at their very best and fought their very hardest. That is the history, as far as it concerns us, of this Bill.
I hope your Lordships will not take it amiss if I go over in a very few sentences what it is that the Bill proposes. It has been much talked about during the debates on the noble Marquess's Bill which was read a second time last night. The provisions of it, stated shortly, are that a Money Bill passed by the House of Commons should become an Act of Parliament, on the Royal Assent being signified, notwithstanding that the House of Lords shall not have assented thereto. The question whether a Bill is or is not a Money Bill is to be decided by the Speaker of the House of Commons. That is the first clause. The second clause proposes to enact that any public Bill other than a Money Bill passed by the House of Commons in three successive sessions, whether or not in the same Parliament, having been sent up to the House of Lords and there 699 rejected in each of those three sessions, shall be presented to His Majesty and become an Act of Parliament on the Royal Assent being signified, notwithstanding that this House shall not have assented to it. That is, of course, the centre of the Constitutional conflict in which we are engaged. The other important clauses are that nothing in this Bill is to diminish the privileges of the House of Commons, and that five years shall be substituted for seven years as the duration of a Parliament. That is an epitome of the Bill, and it is so important that noble Lords should clearly understand what it is that we propose that I have ventured to give it.
The provisions of the Bill and the arguments for and against it have during many months past been the subject of close and tenacious argument on hundreds of platforms, in thousands of speeches, and in millions of leading articles. It cannot be said that this Bill has been suddenly intruded upon the attention of your Lordships' House. There is no doubt one new circumstance since last night—that is to say, that this House has now admitted in the most formal and definite manner that I can imagine, that its moral authority in discussing and opposing this Bill is not what it was before the noble Marquess's Bill received a Second Reading. The noble Marquess called the Bill a death blow. So it is indeed. Other noble Lords talked of burning the bridges and the boats; and therefore I submit with all respect that we are not proposing the Second Reading of this Bill to a normal House of Lords.
I am astonished to see that distinguished men, who I venture to think ought to have known better, say that this is a single-Chamber conspiracy. I am surprised to hear that, because it really shows some ignorance of the views held on the relations between the two Houses long before this Government came into being and long before most of its members came into being. In the year 1836 the very proposal which lies at the bottom of this Bill was brought forward by one of the chief of the utilitarian Radicals. He said—Be it enacted that if a Bill is passed by the House of Commons and thrown out by the House of Lords; is renewed in the House of Commons in the next Session of Parliament and passed, and again thrown out by the House of Lords, it shall if passed a third time by the House of Commons become law.700 Much later than that it was my fortune, in the year 1883 I think, to hear one who was not only a great orator, but one of the soundest and truest Englishmen who ever took part in our affairs—a man who was a Conservative in the best sense—Mr. Bright, propound that view. A quarrel was going on between the two Houses on the question of the County Franchise Bill. There was very much the same sort of excitement that there is now. He then put forward the very scheme which the utilitarian Radicals had proposed in 1836, and the very scheme which we propose to-day. Therefore it really shows an entire want of acquaintance with the history of these political ideas to say that we have invented this in order to pass a Home Rule Bill and that it is a single-Chamber conspiracy.
A remarkable argument is used on another aspect of the introduction of this Bill, and has found much favour among noble Lords opposite and the leader of their Party in another place. It really comes to this, that a General Election is totally worthless as a verdict upon any important issue, because Mr. Balfour, in copious and rather lurid language, says that the issue in a General Election is so mixed up, so confused, so clouded, and so hidden away amid a thousand other issues that you cannot be sure what is the decision of a majority of the electors. A General Election, therefore, is, in the words of Macbeth—A tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.Never before, even in the most heated controversy in this country, has that view of a General Election and its significance been taken. I have never assented to the idea that a Parliament is to be confined to a single great issue. On the contrary, I voted away from my own friends in 1900, after the war election. They objected, and do still, to the Education Bill and the Licensing Bill. My argument was that when a General Election returned a Parliament, it entrusted power to Ministers to pass whatever Bills they thought fit.
Let us take the great case of the most active and most fertile Administration in recent history, Mr. Gladstone's first Government, which sat from 1868 to 1874. He got his majority and the electors had in the forefront of their electoral vision the Irish 701 Church. But before that Ministry came to an end six years later the fact of that being the central question did not hinder the radical reform of land in Ireland, the complete reform of the Army, the establishment of a system of national elementary education, the introduction of the ballot, the abolition of tests at Oxford and Cambridge, and the opening of the Civil Service to competition. These things were not in the minds of the electors. How could they be? Probably they were not even in the minds of Ministers at the election, but the electors did what I believe most electors would do. They returned a First Minister in whom they had confidence and to whom they were determined to give a chance of showing his power and force and constructive ability, and they left it in his hands and in the hands of his colleagues. That is my view of the right theory of the result of a General Election.
Another point which has found great favour in the speeches of many noble Lords is that the cause which produced this Bill is violent Party vituperation, and that it is violent Party vituperation that has produced these remarkable results in the Bill read a second time last night and in this Bill which your Lordships may think fit to read a second time at some future date. I cannot imagine anything much more unreasonable. What a shallow view it is that an institution like the House of Lords, so famous, so entrenched in the roots of traditional power in a nation that is so attached to old institutions as our country is, should fall before the blast of a few Party trumpets! Let me diverge for a moment to say what, as I judge it, is the real root of what has happened, and the divergence that has come in the views between the House of Lords and the House of Commons. In his last speech in the House of Commons Mr. Gladstone said that these divergences between the House of Lords and the House of Commons were not temporary or casual, but were far deeper than that. They were due to a different mental habit, to different prepossessions, to a different order of political and economic ideas.
Let us see how far those differences went. My noble friend on the Cross Benches who succeeded Mr. Gladstone as the head of the Government used these words within a few months of that, speech. My noble friend referred to me the other night and he will 702 understand that I do not revive them for the purpose of any stupid gibe about inconsistency. A man has a perfect right to change his views, of course, but I think that a man who changes his mind ought to be very charitable in his language to those who do not change their minds. This is what he said, and the words bear on the very point we are arguing to-day. It is a third person report—In his judgment the House of Lords was not a Second Chamber at all, but a permanent Party organ controlled for Party purposes. They were told that the Peers never resisted the known will of the people. He wanted to know how the wishes of the people could be bettor expressed than through the representatives of the people. Who gave the Peers the right and instinct to decide as to what wore or were not, the wishes of the people when those wishes were expressed through their representatives.My Lords, I subscribe to the whole doctrine conveyed in those remarks.
I dare say some of your Lordships may recall the language used by my noble friend in the debate in November, 1909, and by my noble friend Lord Crewe, whose absence we all lament, and nobody more sincerely or for better reasons than myself. What did Lord Crewe say? He said this—I came here for the first time in the short Government of 1886, when I had charge of a Department. After that we went into exile for several years, and in fifteen years of Opposition I can say that neither I nor any of my noble friends—Lord Rosebery, Lord Kimberly, nor Lord Ripon—did the slightest good to himself or to any human being by attendance at the House of Lords. I cannot recall a case where anything we have said there had the slightest effect. I cannot recall a case when owing to any amendments of substance any of the Bills of the Government were modified in a single instance.You talk about a single-Chamber Government! During those fifteen years my noble friend Lord Crewe and others sat under a system of single-Chamber Government. My noble friend in a very dramatic outburst the other night spoke of the abject and degraded state to which members of this House would be exposed if this Bill, of which I am now moving the Second Reading, is passed. During all those fifteen years did he and my noble friends behind me feel that they were abject or degraded? Not at all. They took the institution as they found it and resolved, I suppose—I am sure my noble friend did—to alter it. It is this process, prolonged year after year, this prolonged and obstinate resistance, which prevented any of my noble friends effecting even a single amendment of substance in a 703 single Bill, that has made the present majority of the electorate resolute and determined that this system shall come to an end. That is what is the meaning of this Bill and the meaning of the Second Reading.
We have been asked what is the principle of the Bill. The principle is what every one of your Lordships has abundantly admitted, and nobody more abundantly than the noble Marquess opposite and Lord Curzon and Mr. Balfour, that in the event of differences between the two Houses it is the reiterated and deliberate decision of the House of Commons that must prevail.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN
That is the principle of the Bill. You may quarrel, if you like, with our method of enforcing that principle, but it is a principle which you all accept. Call it a single-Chamber principle, if you like, but it is undenied and undeniable, and to vote against the Second Reading of this Bill is to deny that principle. War, defence, treaties, finance, the whole control of executive government, the displacement of Governments, the power of changing Ministries and the power of forcing a Dissolution, all those vast powers which cover all the most important departments in the whole sphere of government are all withdrawn. Does it make all the difference between a practically single-Chamber system such as that signifies that you should no longer have an absolute Veto on Bills but a suspensory Veto under conditions such as are set out in this Bill?
I see it constantly said—"Oh, this is a log-rolling coalition." Some noble Lords agree. I wonder if they realise what it is that they are approving. I was reading of a controversy some time past on the same point when the speaker said—It is monstrous that the unity of the kingdom should be broken to please an Irish clique; it is monstrous that the unity of the Church of England should be broken to please a Welsh clique; it is monstrous to alter your land laws to please a Scottish clique; and, above all, it is monstrous to invade the rights and interests of property and capital to please a Labour clique.My Lords, if you come into power tomorrow are you going to act on that view? Is it possible? Of course it is impossible. In my opinion it is an impossibility. You 704 could not, if you came into power tomorrow, act in open antagonism to the Welsh people, the Scottish people, the Irish people, or the Labour people. Therefore, that is a perfectly idle remark.
You say our majority is composite. The noble Marquess and other speakers in this debate have contended that for a Constitutional settlement you must have as many people as you can gather, in order that that settlement might have proper hold and weight on the mind of the country, to approve of it and support it. I wonder why, if it is a very virtuous thing—and so it is—to have as many groups of parties and sections of the community to support a great political settlement, it is such a very wicked thing, so unheard of, that English educationists, Scottish crofters, Welsh Nonconformists, the Irish, trade unionists, representatives of labour—that each of these groups has got a special resentment of its own against the action, hitherto at all events, of this House. This combination makes resistance to your Veto all the more inevitable. Clearly the more numerous are the reasons that bring a great body of men together, the more obvious it is that their concentrating on one particular point shows the depth of feeling that they have for their own interests and for the interests of the other groups who work with them. No man in his senses denies or disparages—I hope it is not impertinent for me to say so—either the talents or the benevolence of individual members of the House of Lords, but it has been, it cannot be denied, uniformly partisan, and it has been a partisanship, may I say, of the very worst description, because it has really been, in no inconsiderable degree, an unconscious partisanship. Unconsciously, noble Lords have constantly voted against Bills approved in another place partly from partisan reasons, no doubt, but partly because they thought that they were bad Bills. There is no question of that, but I think it would be a very narrow view to impute class depravity to any body such as the House of Lords.
But see the difference between the two Houses. The House of Commons, from the very nature of things, from the nature and the conditions of its existence, is constantly inclined to grope and feel the way forward in the direction of popular feeling and popular improvement. They have, in 705 our own time, widened the electorate; they have admitted within their body Jews, Roman Catholics, and Agnostics—they are all free to enter. They have reduced the cost of elections, they have secured the secrecy of the ballot, and they have done as much as they could to put down corruption in elections. They have done this with a sort of spontaneous and instinctive desire to make their House, as far as they can, a sensitive index to the feeling, the political wishes, and aspirations of the people who sent them there. The divergence has been growing. It is perfectly certain that the members of this House cannot be as sensitive to the feelings and wishes of the general bulk of our population. They may know some districts pretty well, but they cannot be as constantly watchful of the direction in which popular feeling is going as the House of Commons. And the history of this House shows that that is the case, because, if you go through a list of the conflicts between the House of Lords and the House of Commons, say, since the Reform Bill of 1832, you cannot but see that in these instances of prolonged, critical, and acute conflict between the two Houses, when the thing has been finally settled, that it was the views of the House of Commons that proved to be right, and the views accepted by the country with contentment and satisfaction.
I do not want to rake up immediate controversies, but one of the most satisfactory things done, and it is said in every household to-day—at all events in all these Imperial Conference gatherings—what thing has been better done than the recognition of the rights of self-government in the Transvaal? Do you remember the line taken by distinguished men in this House on that subject? The noble Marquess said, "It is a tragical act." The Duke of Marlborough used some extremely vehement language which—I wish him no mischief—I think I had better not read. Lord Milner used some very strong language which, again, I will not trouble the House with. It is only for the sake of good feeling I do not read it.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
I hope the noble Viscount will read what I said. I have no recollection of ever having said anything against the South African Union.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN
No; it was self-government in the Transvaal. I must again remind the House what the Bill does. The House of Commons has to pass a Bill three times. It is to be rejected here twice. Two years must elapse, so there is no sudden flood-tide. A General Election will loom, it may be darkly but certainly ominously, in the minds of the House of Commons during those two years, and it will be growing two years nearer. Just let me look for a moment at the question of Home Rule. I suppose I am the only man here—I am pretty sure I am—who sat through the whole of the debates on the 1893 Home Rule Bill. We had eighty-two sittings. Does any one suppose, when we bring in a Home Rule Bill—I do not say there will be eighty-two sittings, but there will be a great many sittings. It will be an immensely long process, and there will be all the blaze of the Press, all the thunder of the platform all the time. Are we to suppose that the reiterated and deliberate arguments used in this House by very competent advocates are to count for nothing, and that they will make no impression at all upon the mind of the voter? No one can think anything of the kind. There will be all this blaze of public opinion; perhaps some sort of blaze may come from the country immediately concerned. To suppose that a Home Rule Bill is to go through those two years unchanged, unmodified, for the purpose of the Government, is really to show a curious ignorance, it seems to me, of legislative conditions in this country.
Before I close I want to say a few words on the immediate aspect of the Bill. It is idle to pretend that the powers that we have left to the House of Lords will not be both substantial and important. There are those, I may confide to your Lordships, in my own Party, persons who have a good right to an opinion, who regard the powers to be possessed by the House of Lords as formidable, and even, if they were very unwisely used, as menacing to all the things that Liberals at all events care for. There is no doubt of this—that, if these powers were wisely used in a spirit of co-operation, they would enable the House of Lords to exercise a constant and very important influence on the whole character and shape of legislation. The fact that they could impose, or exact, two years' delay is really an effective instrument for bargaining. I 707 do not mean bargaining in any ignoble Party sense, but for pressing upon a Minister in charge of a Bill from the Commons the introduction of changes that were desired. The fact that by insisting over-much upon a certain provision in a Bill, controversial or non-controversial, the House of Lords could keep it back for two years—that in itself would be a very important element in discussions between this House and a Minister. This right of delay—and this is a very important thing indeed—would rest no longer upon the disputed survival of an antiquated right, but would rest on the definite and formal assertion of a modern Statute. That is a great difference. It would give the House of Lords a consciousness of power which it can never have under the existing system.
Now it is evidently the interest of His Majesty's Government to secure a more evenly-constituted body to exercise the wide powers which are contained in our Bill. For us to try to discuss matters so long as the House of Lords possesses the final Veto to every or any proposal would lead us no further than—what? No further than the Conference which failed. And so, in our view, will any Conference fail unless we went into the discussion on more even terms than we should if we went into a discussion to-day. We must make it clear that we regard the Parliament Bill as defining an advance in the democratic character of our institutions. The actual methods of the Parliament Bill are not necessarily final. When the Bill is passed it will be open to us to consider the reconstitution of the Second Chamber. As to which the assistance of the Party opposite is, as we have admitted all along, most desirable and even essential. We are all agreed that for a permanent settlement satisfactory to the mind of the country, and such as the country would be willing to help us in working—we are all of one mind that that will be best done by agreement. But whether a more convenient and less dilatory procedure may not be devised which may commend itself to Parliament and the country—that, after a certain amount of experiment, may appear to be desirable. But let me say this. A fair balance does not mean a balance against any article that the Government cares for and is pledged to. I agree with settlement by consent, but we do not and cannot mean by that, consent to a Second Chamber constructed 708 and planned on the principle of resistance to all the things that the Government and the present majority of the House of Commons believe the country wants and believe it is good for the country to have.
I would recall to noble Lords opposite that this is not the first Constitutional conflict we have had since the Reform Bill, and I hope they will remember that no names are held in greater honour, no men are considered to have rendered more useful service in the working of our Parliamentary institutions, than those who have by wise and prudent counsels avoided bringing things to extremities. To-night, and during the course of this Bill, it is for noble Lords to consider what will be a course leading to extremities. The Bill is there and the Bill stands. I do submit that the Duke of Wellington when he gave way on the Reform Bill of 1832 won universal approval; he saved the country from a great disaster. Coming down to our own day, nobody can forget the services which were rendered by Lord Cairns and the then Archbishop of Canterbury in connection with the Irish Church. Their wise and prudent counsels—and courage—avoided a great danger. Then later, in 1884–1885, it was the prudence and wisdom of men like the late Lord Salisbury that avoided a great disaster. So now, my Lords, I hope on this occasion we shall avoid—or you will avoid—a course which will land the country, which may land the country, in circumstances of great difficulty and perhaps grave confusion.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.(Viscount Morley of Blackburn.)
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
My Lords, I think the concluding sentences of the noble Viscount's speech had, perhaps, more effect upon the House than the remarks which preceded them. The noble Viscount's speech up to the last few sentences was a very disappointing one, and very little applause was heard from the crowded Benches behind him throughout his speech, which, though none too long, still occupied fifty minutes and offered some advantage to those who hold, or are supposed to hold, very strongly the views which the noble Viscount put before the House. When he came to talk to us of 1832 and to compare the condition of the House at that period with its condition to-day, I could not help feeling how much the noble Viscount has 709 lived in the atmosphere of the Cabinet of which he is an ornament, and how little he recognises the difference between the feelings of the people in 1832 and the feelings of the people to-day towards your Lordships' House. Why, the whole of London almost were in Palace Yard in 1832. Is anybody outside moved by the introduction of this Bill? Has any one of your Lordships received from the parts of the country in which you reside demands that you should vote for "the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill," which was the case in 1832? I go to as many public meetings as most men, and I have never yet on an election platform been asked a single question on this Bill, and I have always noticed the satisfaction with which other topics have been introduced which were less abstruse and nearer to the electors.
The noble Viscount disappointed many of us because he took the whole of his case for granted and did not show what were the derelictions on the part of this House which made it necessary to bring in this drastic, one-sided, and unprecedented measure. We heard a good deal extolling the present position of the House of Commons, and we had a quotation, which I confess I thought was strangely inadequate, in which the right of the House of Commons to override this House was put in the fore-front. We cannot mistake the House of Commons for the people. The Prime Minister speaks of the House of Commons, of the Government, as if it were the counterpart of the constituencies. He treats all questions which the Government have not taken Up as not having received the mandate of the people, but as soon as they are taken up he claims for them a mandate of the constituencies. I can only say this, in passing, that recognising to the full the importance of the House of Commons, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Morley, called attention, there is as much room for change and improvement in the House of Commons as there is in your Lordships' House. The noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, spoke last night of his experiences in the last campaign. Until the noble Viscount came to this House he was one of 62 Scottish Liberal Members out of a total of 70, there being only 8 Unionists Members; but by the votes polled at the last General Election in Scotland there should have been, not 62, but 41 Liberal Members, and not 8 but 29 Conservatives. I maintain that that is a distribution of electoral strength which has 710 long called for action by the Government, and which might easily overturn great Constitutional issues. I shall ask your Lordships to give some attention to the procedure of the House of Commons, because on that procedure under this Bill depends the decision of almost every political question for two years to come.
I confess that I think we have a right to complain of the description which Lord Morley gave of the genesis of this Bill. In his opening sentences he said that from the date of the rejection of the Budget of 1909 His Majesty's Government gave clear indications that not merely would they remove from this House the whole of its powers as to finance, but they would bring to an end its complete Veto on other subjects. That is the language of autocracy; it is not the language of argument. It is the decision of the Government; it is not the decision of the people, and never has been. In that respect I challenge what was said the other night by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, and repeated last night by the noble Viscount, Lord Haldane. The Lord Chancellor said—Had there been before your Lordships a Bill more definitely approved than the Parliament Bill at a General Election?And Lord Haldane said that it was as near a Referendum as it could be. I submit that that is a very partial statement. I do not want to labour small issues or side points. I might say something of the difficulty of asking constituencies in the month of December to reject a man whom they had elected in January, when during half of the intervening period there had been a suspension of hostilities owing to the demise of the Crown. I might say something about the election being taken on the old register—a point that would have been taken pretty broadly by noble Lords if a Government on this side had gone to the country on a December register. I might say something also on the unseemly strife which, after the election of January, 1910, we saw between Parties in the House of Commons, who apparently came to the conclusion that their only chance of security was to agree to this Bill as the way out of their domestic differences. But I put all that aside and will come to close quarters with the main issue.
I admit that this measure was placed before the country in December, 1910, but I say that it was so placed before the country, and the election was so timed, as to preclude any possible alternative being 711 discussed by the country. What were the circumstances? The Conference sat for five or six months. The agreements of the Conference and the disputed points were alike concealed from the electors. During those six months the Opposition were chained up. Had we proceeded with our views for the reform of your Lordships' House we should have been held, in diplomatic language, to have been guilty of an unfriendly act. The Referendum, which for a long period had been in our minds as the proper outcome and issue of these disputes, had to be brought forward at the last moment as if it were a forlorn hope instead of a considered policy. Your Lordships will perhaps allow me to say that I speak from knowledge on that subject. It had been under discussion from the beginning of the whole proceedings. Then the Lord Chancellor told us that for six months the Parliament Bill was before the country. Last night the noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, told us that the difference between the Referendum and the submission of matters at a General Election was that you must have discussion on the Bill itself. You must have the illumination of the electors by this discussion. The Veto Resolutions were discussed briefly. The Bill never passed the other House of Parliament. It was never heard of in this place at all. Our alternatives were put aside. The noble Earl's (Lord Rosebery's) Resolutions had to be brought forward at the last moment, and if the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack boasts that your Bill and your policy was before the country for six months, what does he think of a procedure which enabled our policy to be hidden from the country until about six days before the polls?
I also think we have a right to complain of the statements that were made to the electors as to the past conduct of your Lordships' House. If your Lordships will bear with me for a few moments I would like to raise a point on which the noble Viscount, Lord Morley, was discreetly silent. He showed great courage when he descanted at length on the Home Rule Bill, because I assume that if the will of the people means anything, he will admit that the rejection of the Home Rule Bill of 1893 by this House, though it led to a collision between your Lordships' House and the other House, was unquestionably accepted by the people. The best proof is to be found in the fact that, although this 712 Government have been in power for five and a-half years, they have not yet touched the question, and from their public utterances it seems likely that when they do touch it it will be a very different Bill from that from which your Lordships saved the country eighteen years ago.
The noble Viscount paid a high tribute to Lord Salisbury for his conduct over the Franchise Bill of 1885. That was the most signal victory ever obtained by your Lordships over the House of Commons. I will not go into details, for time presses; but we all know that the settlement on which the House of Lords insisted was not merely accepted by the House of Commons but has remained the shibboleth of both Parties up to this date. And that is not the only class of measure on which I think we can claim to have done good work. The noble Viscount spoke of measures for Ireland—Irish Land Acts. Undoubtedly there was great friction in this House on some of those measures. There has been a rejection of one or two of the least important; but I should like to know if any one can say that the Irish Land Bills as amended by this House fell short of the purpose which those who designed them had intended? I would also ask whether the Purchase Acts initiated by those on this side of the House, which were in the forefront of Unionist measures and in the background of Liberal measures, have not had as much or more to do with the present improved condition of Ireland as any of the measures relating to the land which came from the Liberal Government?
The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, in words which were astonishing coming from him, said that this House is—the invincible obstacle to Liberal legislation, and wrecks all our principal measures.I am not going back, as some of the critics of this House have done, to the Reform Act of 1832. I would no more dare to take up your time by vindicating the action of this House in the forties than I would attack the House of Commons for their neglect of social questions at that time. The Factory Acts—all those measures on which the Liberal Party of that day obstructed the efforts of Lord Shaftesbury—all these remain in evidence. Therefore let us take measures within living administrative memory. I go back to the great Parliament of 1868. Were all Liberal measures wrecked in that Parliament? Practically every measure passed by the House of Commons was 713 passed by this House. Two measures of importance were rejected by this House. The first was the Ballot Bill. How long had that Bill been before the House of Commons? It had been before the House of Commons for thirty-eight years—from 1833 to 1871. It was twenty-four times rejected by the House of Commons, then finally hurried through in the expiring embers of a session at a time when there was no limit to the period of the sittings; and yet your Lordships underwent abuse because for six months you had delayed that which the House of Commons had delayed for thirty-eight years. The second measure rejected by this House was the Bill dealing with purchase in the Army, on which I can only say that my sympathies were all for the abolition of purchase. That was a measure which also received the support of Lord Derby's distinguished relative throughout his career. That measure was a hardy annual in the House of Commons for something like twenty years. Finally, by the efforts of Sir George Trevelyan it was pressed on the Government of the day, and made part of a great scheme for the re-organisation of the Army. Four-fifths of the scheme were dropped in the House of Commons, and the remaining fragment came up here. Your Lordships rejected it on the ground that you wished to see the complete scheme. That Ministry, which for a period of nearly thirty-two years consecutively had held office, had ignored and pooh-poohed and put aside this question, as they had done the Ballot Bill, and then they proceeded to declare that your Lordships' House had come between the people and a reform which they had so long desired.
Then to come nearer home, I take the case of the Licensing Bill in 1907. The subject had been before the country for forty-three years, and between 1864 and 1880 Motions dealing with it were rejected thirteen times by the House of Commons; and this is a most remarkable fact, that when the noble Viscount entered the House of Commons it had already carried Resolutions for Local Option and Sunday Closing by large majorities, and did so in the two subsequent years. Twelve years later, in 1893, the Liberal Government at last introduced a Bill, but threw it over without carrying it, I think, to a Second Reading. Finally in 1907, when they brought their Bill up to this House, they claimed not merely that they had 714 a mandate for the Bill, but a mandate for all the punitive and confiscatory clauses which it contained. And with grim humour the Lord Chancellor, who now charges us with wrecking all Liberal measures, asked your Lordships on that occasion not to allow the unpopularity of the Bill in the country to preclude your Lordships from showing that independence of judgment which would be shown in carrying it against the wishes of the country. I would like to know what man in this House will tell me that if that measure had been sent to a Referendum there would have been a majority for it in the country, with all Ireland seething against it. The inference I venture to draw from all these facts and from this recital is this, that the House of Commons for a period of thirty years can delay action on a particular subject, but if the House of Lords hesitates for a single session it must be subjected to censure. If noble Lords propose to send a matter for the consideration of the people they are told that they are interfering with the sacred rights of the House of Commons. It is not because we oppose the people but because we oppose the Ministry that we are called in question this day.
I much regret that the Lord Chancellor is not in his place at the moment, because I should like to say a few words regarding what fell from him the other night on the question of fair play and on which both noble Viscounts opposite said something. We quite realise that it is difficult to carry on proceedings in a House in which so large a majority is on one side. The moderation shown by the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, has been acknowledged throughout this House, but it is impossible to carry on business permanently by the self-denial of one Party. But surely fair play could be sought and should have been sought in a change in the constitution of this House. It cannot be obtained in a change in the powers of this House such as that proposed in the Bill which we are discussing to-night. What is the fair play which the Government intend to put in force in opposition to the present system? I think only members who have sat in the House of Commons can properly gauge it. The Government hold the majority of the House of Commons in their hands. I mean nothing disrespectful in what I am about to say, but since the recent decision as to the payment of Members every one must realise that the Government have an even 715 greater hold upon their supporters than before, for to the terrors of a General Election must be added in future, not merely in case of revolt the loss of official support, but also a pecuniary loss to a man who may have given up a great deal on coming into Parliament on the strength of the certainty of some remuneration. Certainly the position of the Government is strengthened, while the position of the private Member has been weakened. We see only to-day that one man who raised a difficulty about this Bill on the Government Benches has received warning that the official support will be withdrawn from him at the next election unless he conforms. And there is the lamentable fact that by far the most independent and eloquent man on the Liberal side, Mr. Harold Cox, has been summarily ejected from the House of Commons, and is not received by any constituency.
It is worse than that. Under the present procedure, the Government bring in a measure and assign the time for it. The Government, through their partisan Chairman whom they have put in the Chair, settle even the subjects which are to be discussed in the Bill and the limit of time to be given to each part of the measure. And what then takes place? We are told that there will be a second and a third opportunity for the House to deliberate. But what is that opportunity worth? The men are the same; the place is the same; the subject is the same; the conditions are the same. We have only the addition that the desire for consistency will lead most men in the second and third years to vote the same as before. Then we are told under this Bill that any disputed points on the most contentious question of what are and what are not Finance Bills are to be settled by the Speaker of the House of Commons—the servant of the House of Commons, a man who, as was said by one of his eminent pre-decessors—has neither eyes to see nor ears to hear anything ut what the House of Commons bids him.Yet he is the arbiter placed between the other House and your Lordships' House on these important questions. And this is what is recommended to us in the name of fair play!
The noble Viscount spoke of those who were opposed to the Bill as having fought their hardest and done their best in opposition, but they fought with the rope round 716 their necks and with the guillotine falling, with the Government absent from the Front Bench, with the Foreign Secretary abroad, and very often with an Under-Secretary representing the Government most of the time. Those were the conditions under which they made their fight. The noble Viscount passed lightly over the interregnum, that period in which the Government, who tell us this is a temporary measure, propose to carry measures of the first importance both to the Church and the State, without any interposition from this House or the constituencies. That is the species of fair-play which the head of the English law recommends as being an adequate safeguard for the people and a sufficient recognition of the rights of your Lordships' House. I only trust that the humblest litigant who comes to that Bar will obtain from the Lord Chancellor a greater measure of fair play and of justice than that which he proposes to concede to your Lordships, whose talents in the same sentence he extolled, and to his political opponents whose respect he has enjoyed.
I can add nothing to the outspoken language in which the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition described what our condition would be under this Bill. Lord Rosebery, in masculine language, said it was "a degrading and abject condition." The Government will find it very difficult to dispose of those terms; but if they find it difficult with regard to the House at large, they will find it still more difficult with regard to the situation in which they propose to put individual members of this House. You are to say to a man who has been elevated to the Peerage for his success in ruling various Dominions of the Crown, or to a man who has sat for twenty years in the House of Commons, or to a man who has been a Minister of the Crown or even Prime Minister, "Not only shall you not give a vote which shall dispose of the Ministry of the day, not only shall you have no right to influence the Executive; more than that, in all ordinary matters you shall have no right to bring to a conclusion that experience and knowledge for which you were sent here and which entitle you to form a judgment; you may warn, but you cannot restrain; you may complain, but you cannot avert; you may criticise, but you must not govern; you may talk, but the decision will be left to the merest tyro who has found his way into the House of Commons." 717 That is a position which I think individual members of this House who have performed public service may well resent. There is only one man on the Front Bench opposite who has had the courage to step in where others have feared to tread. The noble Earl, Lord Carrington, who never loses an opportunity outside this House of explaining the strong zeal which animates him for democratic institutions at the expense of the Peerage inside this House, went out of his way to urge your Lordships to give up reform, to accept restrictions, and to content yourselves with "clinging to your seats and to your coronets." We have no appetite for the gilded impotence for which Lord Carrington would give us credit.
We look upon this Bill as an unjust Bill and as a short-sighted Bill. Indeed, even the noble Viscount opposite must be aware that the Bill if passed as it is will leave behind a rankling sense of injustice. Are you wise in pressing a Party which represents nearly half the British people as hardly as you are pressing us to-day? Are you not drawing rather a heavy cheque on your balance of public confidence which some day you may find it difficult to honour? Have noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite entirely forgotten the revolution of the wheel and the seventeen years out of twenty in which they sat in Opposition from 1886? Do they suppose that if this Bill is passed in the face of the protests of five-sixths of your Lordships' House and of a minority in the House of Commons representing twenty-one millions of people, it will have any permanency on the Statute Book? We have made our contribution towards endeavouring to relieve the situation. I do not think that in the whole annals of Opposition in this country you will find so important a concession by one Party to another as that which was outlined in the Bill of the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, which was read a second time without a Division last night. I think we can detect on the benches opposite a certain feeling not only of astonishment, but of hesitation, with regard to that Bill. After all, it gives up privileges and rights which have been enjoyed for generations, and which would be enjoyed by our descendants. It gives a wide representation, and while you have had nothing but evil to say of the balance of Parties, it does give to the Party which has been in a minority of one to five in this Assembly a practical equality in an Assembly which, 718 unless it is to be a rival of the House of Commons, can never be its exact counterpart. It is not a theoretical change forced on us from without, but a practical evolution from within. Yet in the face of all this, the Lord Chancellor said—We are invited to surrender at discretion after we have obtained the victory, to lay down our arms and accept the solution of our adversaries.Is not that exaggerated language? You asked for equality. You asked for fair play. A majority of 400 will be brought down, you say to 40, we say to under 20, and under certain conditions it will be no majority at all. As Lord Curzon pointed out the other night, in Joint Sittings with the House of Commons such a majority as there is in the present House of Commons would give the Government a certain victory. If we go a step further, we come to the Referendum. I notice that the Prime Minister has not rejected the Referendum in such vigorous terms as some noble Lords who sit on the Front Bench opposite. What is the worst under the Referendum which could happen to you? Is it not strange to see the representatives of democracy in this House complaining of procedure which, in nine cases out of ten, would give a verdict to the House of Commons, and in the tenth case would put them in the power, not of the Peers whom they profess to fear, but of the people whom they profess to represent?
We have been asked why our Reconstitution Bill was put forward. That is very germane to the question which is now before us. We recognise that this is a crisis in which it is the duty of every man to do his best to find such a reasonable settlement as will prevent those dangers of which the noble Viscount so eloquently spoke. We recognise also that the time has come when we can no longer rely on the unwritten law of the Constitution, and that in some form or another the relations between the two Houses must be decided by written law. We recognise further, as one or two of my noble friends behind me who are among the warmest advocates of the position of this House recognised twenty years ago, that some reform of this House is necessary if it is to be strong enough to hold the confidence of the people, and to be a check on the democracy. The Prime Minister flattered the House of Commons the other night by telling them that the powers of interposition on the part of this House were as obsolete, and had been for 719 years, as the powers of the Crown a century or two back. I am not sure that the Duke of Northumberland was not a more accurate student of history and a more faithful judge of events when he warned your Lordships that the encroachments of the Crown were not always so dangerous to the people as the encroachments of the Commons. I say without hesitation that we desire to strengthen this House, and we desire to do it by the Bill, or something like it, which was before your Lordships yesterday.
I shall no doubt be asked, after the speeches made in the House of Commons and after the speeches of Lord Rosebery and Lord Lansdowne, why, if we think the Bill before us now so deplorable, we have not the courage of our convictions and do not move the rejection of the Bill. The answer is that those with whom we act feel that we cannot look only at the immediate issue before us, at the partial instrument which we are asked to read a second time. We have to look at the whole field of controversy. And when we do that we remember that your Lordships' House have by Resolution agreed to surrender certain powers which are touched in this Bill; that by the Bill read a second time last night we have agreed to effect a great change in our constitution; that by the constant statements of the spokesmen of all Parties we are agreed that when the will of the people is clearly pronounced we will not stand in the way. We admit that for some change—not for this change—the people are fully prepared. If we took the other course and rejected this Bill summarily we would create at once an issue of the first magnitude. We would arouse the extremest feelings. We would close the door to the wiser counsels which we yet believe will prevail on the opposite side of the House. That would make all negotiation impossible. Another reason is that this Bill is brought before us as a temporary Bill, and as such we mean to deal with it. We do not accept the idea that this Bill can permanently remain on the Statute Book. When we ask your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading, or not to object to the Second Reading, we know that we are making a very heavy demand on the forbearance of the House. If we allow it to be read a second time it means that we must forget the number of unjust charges the fruits of which are enshrined in the Bill. We must ignore the vituperation to which the noble Viscount, Lord Morley, referred, 720 and we must do it simply because we believe it is more patriotic sometimes, as well as more courageous, to refuse battle than to accept it.
But if we do read the Bill a second time I venture to say that we shall have grave Amendments to propose. We believe that in this atmosphere it can hardly be seriously argued that such questions as the power and position of the Crown, the establishment of National Councils in Ireland, Wales and Scotland, and other Constitutional issues can possibly be left to the hazard of a chance majority in the House of Commons at a given moment. I am not stating the gist of our Amendments, but merely mentioning subjects which cannot possibly in this discussion escape the most serious and prolonged attention of this House. I would say on my own part that if the House of Lords is to be a reality in the future and not a sham, we must have some other tribunal than the Speaker of the House of Commons to act as arbiter between the two Houses.
There is one other subject I should like to mention before I sit down. If we are to negotiate with the Government, surely we must be allowed to do so on something like equality. We cannot negotiate on the terms which the noble Viscount has suggested to us. The Government say, "Pass the Bill, and we will come to an understanding with you." But we should then go into the matter as bond slaves, and not as free agents of a great Assembly. The noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, begged us to accept this Bill as a mere evolution of the Constitution. We are prepared for evolution, but this Bill is not evolution. It is simply a catastrophe so far as this House is concerned. If the Government refuse to negotiate, it will not be the last chapter of this Bill. On the contrary, they will have opened a chapter which will never be closed until some fair and just scheme, fair and just to both Parties, can be discovered. We ask for a permanent settlement. You are proposing what can only be a permanent sore, and what must always leave, so long as it remains on the Statute Book, a sense of inequality and injustice. You are proposing to apply to the great majority in this House fetters which you have not dared to put on the white population in Africa or in Australia. Do we not present a sorry spectacle at this moment, when the representatives of the great Dominions overseas are here amongst us, 721 and you have proposed to this House conditions which would not be accepted in any of the countries from which they come, and which we have not imposed upon them?
We were asked whether we had said our last word on our Reconstitution Bill. I venture to hope that the Government have not said their last word on this Bill. You can, of course, as Lord Beaconsfield said of the Liberals in his day—you can agitate against a class in the interests of a class. "But that," he said, "is not a precaution, it is not policy, it is vengeance." I venture to tell the Government that they will not settle this question by merely introducing a punitive measure of this kind. If they wish to make a permanent settlement, if they wish to free themselves and their legislation to which they attach importance from the continual and galling attacks of the Opposition, they cannot do that by trying to force down the throats of a free Assembly a measure which asks it to give up its privileges and leaves it none of its rights. They can only give the country a permanent, a just, and a statesmanlike settlement by acting as the agents and the spokesmen of the great majority of the people.
§ LORD MARCHAMLEY
My Lords, the House has listened with deep interest to the remarkable speeches which have been delivered by leaders on both sides of the House, and I very much regret that the exigences of Party debate should have made it necessary that in my few modest and short observations I should have to follow the noble Viscount opposite. I am sure that the House will acquit me of anything like unseemliness or impertinence if I venture to express the opinion that the Unionist Party throughout the country, particularly noble Lords opposite, have only themselves to thank for the fact that we are this afternoon discussing this Bill. I think I shall gain acquiescence from the opposite side of the House when I say that this is a most remarkable Bill. It is, if I can describe it in a colloquial phrase, a chicken-coming-home-to-roost Bill. It is the retribution, the headache that follows a somewhat protracted political debauch.
From the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Midleton, I do not think that noble Lords opposite have even yet really appreciated or fully gauged the position of Liberalism and of the Liberal Party throughout the last five or six years. The noble 722 Viscount, in a very able speech, talked as if the Unionist Party were the injured Party. That is not so. During the past six years the lot of the Liberal Party has been indeed a cruel, painful, and pitiable one; it has been almost ridiculous. Our position has involved the negation of the supposed inherent right of the British people to govern themselves. In 1906 the Liberal Government were put into office by one of the largest majorities ever recorded. At two subsequent elections the Government were continued in power by majorities, perhaps not on such a large scale, but of considerable significance. In 1906 we came into power chiefly upon the education question, allied with the general unpopularity of the Unionist Government. But although we have been in office six years, to what extent have we been able to give effect to our ideas and our policy upon educational affairs? We have made no progress whatever, and we never shall under our present Constitution and with the present relationship between the two Houses. With this House constituted as it is, we Liberals would never be able to give effect to our ideas and policy on the education question, or carry out our ideas and policy with regard to plural voting. For all the good that Liberal electors have done throughout the country during the last three elections upon these vital matters, they might as well have been playing marbles or spinning tops.
I well remember during the short period before the Transvaal War when there was a general demand on the part of the Uitlanders in the Transvaal for the franchise, a noted American said that had he been President Kruger he would have given them all the franchise and all the votes they wanted, but he would have kept the counting in his own hands. That is exactly what your Lordships do. You have no objection to our voting. You do not even object to our returning a Government to power, but you keep the counting practically in your own hands, and by your majority decide whether Liberals shall or shall not give effect to their policies and ideas. The noble Viscount opposite spoke a good deal of fair play. But how does it appeal to your Lordships' sense of impartiality and fair play that when you are in office you are in a position of unchecked power, but that when we are in office—in so-called power—we really have no power whatever? We might as well be employed 723 in building sand castles for noble Lords opposite to knock down. I shall not forget the first session of the Parliament of 1906, because I was then Chief Whip. We sent up to your Lordships a large number of subsidiary measures, all of which you passed; but all our measures of primary importance, to the extent of four, your Lordships either directly or indirectly rejected. This House might almost have been skittle experts, with such deftness of precision did you knock down all our big Bills when they came up. Still, the country did not show commotion, and I really marvelled at the time that that should be so. If seemed difficult to flog it into a recognition of the overwhelming difficulties with which we had to contend.
Then your Lordships became bolder; your appetite seemed to grow in eating, and in 1909 you rejected the Budget. A more stupendous act of foolishness never was perpetrated by any House of Parliament. So long as your Lordships only claimed to deal with the ordinary measures we sent up, perhaps no difficulty would have arisen, but when you laid hands on the ark of the covenant itself—the right of the British people to supervise and control their own financial powers and the taxation of the country—you then claimed that you had power, not only to dismiss the Commons when you wished so to do, but to hold up the finances of the country in order to secure your own ends and aims. It is a pity that noble Lords opposite, particularly those on the Front Bench, could not have consulted some crystal gazer when about to take that action. If the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition could have had a peep into the future, could have seen himself moving the Second Reading of the Bill which he moved a few days ago, I think it would have made him hesitate. I know how difficult it is for leaders to control the turbulent and fighting spirit of their followers, but I cannot think that the action of the leaders of the Tory Party was wise when they rejected the Budget two years ago. Hotheadedness and inexperience got the better of a calm judicial frame of mind and of experience. I believe it was Palmer the Rugeley murderer who on being found guilty exclaimed, referring to the speech of the prosecuting counsel, "It is the riding that did it." I cannot but think it was bad riding on the Front Bench opposite that has brought about the present position. Whether your Lordships do or 724 do not pass this Bill one thing is bound to ensue. Your power of crippling and curtailing Liberal legislation is absolutely gone.
My Lords, I think this Bill is in a measure a good Bill, and it is my intention to vote for it. I am bound to say it is not altogether the Bill that I should have liked to have seen introduced into this House to settle the difficulties which have occurred during the last five or six years. At the beginning of last year I ventured to forward to the Press a little alternative scheme of my own which would have more fully dealt with and met the difficulties and the deadlock winch have occurred. I did so not from any altruistic motive, but from somewhat of a selfish motive as a Party man. I feared very much that the Liberal Party would not be able to hold their own and carry the election if they introduced into the House of Commons anything like a single-Chamber form of Bill which was embodied in the "C. B." Resolutions passed a few years ago. I thought they would be defeated if they went to the country upon this single-Chamber Bill, and because of that I ventured to urge an alternative scheme of my own. If defeated, it would have been the greatest disaster that any Party would ever have had to face, and we should have had grafted on our financial affairs a system of Tariff Reform, which to many people spells disaster to the country. But I must frankly say that I was utterly and entirely wrong. The country did not reject the Bill which had been introduced into the House of Commons by the Government, and therefore I shall never claim to be a prophet on these matters again. I had not appreciated the strength of the feeling throughout the country that your Lordships' power for altering democratic measures and Liberal legislation should be determined.
Now we have a Bill passed through the House of Commons and introduced into this House which does give, I frankly acknowledge, single-Chamber government in one shape or form, but single-Chamber government tempered by two years' delay. May I ask your Lordships to consider for one moment how far that delay of two years does remove it from the category of a single-Chamber measure? As an old electioneerer, I say it goes a long way to remove this Bill from that category. That two years' delay is very much more important than appears upon the face of it. I do not think we need fear that any revolutionary 725 legislation will be rushed through the two Houses of Parliament even if this Bill is accepted in toto by your Lordships. Noble Lords who have not been in the House of Commons do not know the peculiar relationship that exists between Members and their constituents. It is of a very delicate and sensitive character. A Member is largely concerned, no doubt, for the safety of the Government of which he is a supporter, but he is very much more concerned for the safety of the seat which he occupies, and if any Bill were likely to prove obnoxious to a section of his constituents he would be very soon made aware of it, long before two years had passed over. Deputations would wait upon him, pressure would be brought to bear upon him, and, realising the state of affairs, he would come up to London and see the Whips, and they would have a most uncomfortable time. He would say to them, "It is absolutely impossible for me to hold my seat if you propose to push on with this Bill. When the Second Reading comes on, or any other stage of the measure, you must not look to me for support." Long before six months had passed over it would be well known whether the Government could carry the Bill to its Second or Third Reading in the other House. Not only that. Legislation is like a good many things. If you hang it up for too long it becomes stale, and I do not think any Bill, unless it were one of cardinal importance and hacked up most strongly by the people throughout the country, would stand two years' delay, with three times passing through the House of Commons.
But apart from this, I ask your Lordships to consider the circumstances in which this Bill was passed by the House of Commons and ratified and adopted by the country. If there are degrees in what you may call an ad hoc election, surely the last election presented the superlative degree. It was an election taken upon one specific matter alone; the verdict of the country was sought upon the Bill of the Government and upon nothing else. It is all very well to say, as did the noble Viscount opposite, that other considerations had sway. But that is not so. The question was one between the Lords and the Commons, and that was the only one debated at the election in January last. Do your Lordships contend for one moment that you can stand against the deliberately expressed will of the people, expressed as it has been practically in two 726 elections? You cannot do so. It is absolutely impossible that you should be able to do so, and if you could it would be a most lamentable fact. If it were possible for you to maintain that position and reject this Bill, you would be heading straight for revolution, because there is no other means by which the power of the people could be made to prevail. The noble Marquess, in his speech the other day—a speech to which I listened with close concern—said that in his opinion this House had lost ground with the country. I rather think he gave, as the reason the House had suffered discredit in the country, the fact of the continued and frequent additions to it from the House of Commons and elsewhere. I am one of the incursionists. I am of the "frequent additions." But you are not the only sufferers. We likewise, coming from the House of Commons, are in some respects sufferers, because we find your Lordships very dull. I sat in the House of Commons—no doubt every Member will think the same of his own constituency—for the most intelligent constituency in the United Kingdom. It is a constituency that only recently, within the last fortnight, has received its long delayed raced of recognition in one of the articles of the "Punch-cum-Belloc" series in Punch. It is a constituency that delights and glories in the name of Pudsey. I often wish when listening to debates in this House that I was back in the sun-flecked groves or the Elysian fields of Pudsey.
Although, as I say, I was not entirely in favour of this Bill, I press it on your Lordships because I recognise that it is an honest attempt on the part of the Government to solve the difficulty, and I believe the two years delay will remove any suspicion of single-Chamber government. Unless your Lordships are going to stand in the way of the expression of the popular will you are bound to accept it, for no Bill has ever come before you with greater popular credentials. It may be that when you are passing the Bill you will state your formal objections to it. You may say that at the present time you are submitting to major force, but that the time may come when, as the noble Viscount pointed out, you may have another period in office and be able to mould the relationship between the two Houses of Parliament in the way you desire. But at the present juncture the wisest and the most statesmanlike thing 727 you can do is to take this Bill which comes hot from the crucible of the country and pass it.
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE
Your Lordships will, I think, agree with me that any atmosphere of unreality which might have hung over our recent discussion with regard to the composition of the House of Lords has now been entirely dispelled by the consideration of a far more important aspect of the Constitutional struggle—namely, not as to who shall sit in the House of Lords but what they shall do when they are there. As to the functions of this House, we on this side at any rate are agreed upon this proposition—that the House of Lords, whether hereditary, nominative, or purely elective, shall be of sufficient authority to exercise those powers which are appropriate to Second Chambers in all well-regulated countries.
We heard just now from one speaker—and it was alluded to in the brilliant speech we have just listened to from my noble friend Lord Midleton—that there is a certain amount of apathy in the country among the electors with regard to this matter of the House of Lords, and the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has constantly, and I venture to think with great truth, taken the view that the people do not care so very much about Constitutional questions provided they get what they want. That is a view with which I find myself in hearty accord. The electors are quite right. They think that the reform of the Poor-law is a great deal more important than the reform of the House of Lords. The "man in the street" takes what has always been the Tory view of the British Constitution. In this matter the "man in the street" is on the side of the angels. He takes the same view as Lord Bolingbroke and Lord Beaconsfield took—that the British Constitution exists to promote the social welfare of the people. From the slight study I have made I have been led to the same conclusion as Lord Beaconsfield—I hope I may say this without disrespect to noble Lords opposite—that the Whig tradition with regard to the Constitution is that it is a contrivance for the purpose of keeping the Radical Party in office, and that it ought to be manipulated from time to time in order that it may properly discharge the function of keeping the Party opposite in their places.
But although it is true, in a sense, that there is a certain amount of apathy about 728 this question, I was glad to hear my noble friend Lord Midleton make this point, that he had not at any rate received any letters from anybody begging him to pass this Bill. I can only tell you that I have received a great many letters from all parts of England imploring me to use what small influence I have to secure the destruction of this measure—letters in which noble Lords opposite and their friends are described in perfectly accurate terms, which I will not repeat on the present occasion, and letters which evidently show that a great many people are watching this struggle with a great deal more interest than some of us, at any rate, give them credit for. The frame of mind of the ordinary elector with regard to the present controversy is either one of contempt for it as a struggle between Party politicians for Party purposes, or of bewilderment with regard to the many counter proposals which are put before him; or else he entirely fails to realise the magnitude of the fraud which it is proposed to commit upon him on the present occasion. But there is no doubt of this, that, whatever the man in the street may think of what is going on here, we are face to face with one of those periodical encroachments which the Radical Party have made from time to time on the ancient Constitution of this country, and the less it is realised out of doors the more it is the duty of noble Lords who belong to the Constitutional Party on this side of the House to protect the interests of the people, which are, unconsciously to them, being sought to be taken away from them by noble Lords opposite.
We will do the supporters of this measure the fullest justice that we possibly can, but I do not think I am understating their case when I suggest that it is not based on any national demand for a national settlement. That argument is not open to them, because if they say that one-half of the people are in their favour we are perfectly entitled to say that the other half are in our favour. This, therefore, cannot be a national settlement when approximately half the electors are dead against you. What runs through Radical speeches, both indoors and out of doors, is that this proposal is based on nothing else except the necessitous condition of the Radical Party. We have heard that argument over and over again. It was repeated for the thousandth time by the noble Lord who has just sat down, that the Radical Party with regard to the House of Lords suffer a permanent disability in— 729 shall I say?—the game of Party politics; that they go into the struggle with one hand tied behind their backs, on account of the House of Lords. That is not our fault. They have had an equal chance—a greater chance than we have had—since 1832 of packing the House of Lords with their own supporters. You have taken full advantage of all the opportunities that have been offered to you in this respect, and you are easily first in the race of sending your former supporters in the House of Commons and others who can be relied upon to support you up to the House of Lords. You have no right whatever to find fault with the majority against you in the House of Lords to-day, because so many of them are creations of your own Party.
But when it comes to all this talk about the handicaps and disabilities of the two political Parties in the State, what I want to know is, How about the Irish? You say we have a permanent advantage in having the House of Lords on our side. We say you have a permanent advantage on your side, if you are going to look on statesmanship as nothing else except a game, in having eighty Irish votes that Mr. Gladstone bought for you when he first capitulated with regard to Home Rule for Ireland becoming part of the programme of the Radical Party; and it is subject to these eighty Irish Members, who very much over-represent the number of electors behind them and who have to be treated by the Radical Party on the strict United States interpretation of most-favoured-nation treatment, that you have in the House of Commons the majority you at present have. We are always hearing the argument—the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack is particularly fond of giving expression to it—that the existence of the Radical Party with a House of Lords is an impossibility. I have never been convinced that the existence of the Radical Party is a necessity to the State at all. I have always felt inclined to agree with what I believe Talleyrand said to a deputation who waited on him and explained that they must live. "Je n'en vois par la necessite," was his reply. We may, I think, say the same thing with regard to the Radical Party. Instead of regarding their existence as a national necessity, I think a great many on this side of the House and a great many people in the country regard their existence at the present juncture as something very like an Imperial calamity.
730 I submit, with great respect, that noble Lords opposite have very little case against the House of Lords at all. The argument runs through all their speeches that they are never able to do anything while in office on account of the House of Lords. That was insisted upon in its most naked form by the noble Lord who has just sat down. I know noble Lords opposite can take extracts from former speeches of Statesmen illustrative of almost any point of view they desireto support. Let me take an extract from a recent speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, at Fakenham. I take it from the Morning Leader. His Lordship is reported to have said that in 1906 when the Liberals were returned to power with a great majority—great changes commenced, and looking back over five years he saw a great record of work accomplished.That does not tally with what has been said by other speakers—Though the Government in some cases have failed—they had not, for instance, succeeded in putting the educational system on a proper foundation—there had been other things which had changed the face of the earth, and each year had brought its crop of measures of social reform.That is what the noble Viscount said. Radical speakers always assume that the House of Lords possesses and exercises an absolute Veto over legislation. Nobody knows better than the noble Lords opposite how misleading that is. We have no absolute Veto. I am one of those who heartily wish we had an absolute Veto over a great deal of legislation. Everybody knows perfectly well that neither the Conservative Party nor the House of Lords has ever opposed any measure for the social welfare of the people. As my noble friend Lord Midleton reminded your Lordships so eloquently just now, the Tory Party and the House of Lords have always been the pioneers with regard to measures for the social welfare of the people. I was about to illustrate that argument by the historical instance which he brought forward, but as he expressed it so much more eloquently than I could hope to do I will leave that recollection in your Lordships' minds. But the immediate necessities of noble Lords opposite, for which I understand they desire this Bill to pass into law, have nothing to do with the social welfare of the people. We shall never oppose your national insurance scheme or anything of that kind. The Bills which you think the House of Lords will probably 731 demand a reference to the people upon have nothing to do with the welfare of the people. Home Rule for Ireland, for instance, is not going to add a single day's work or a single shilling of wages to the working classes of this country. Disestablishment of the Church in Wales is not going to add work or wages to the working classes, and the same remark equally applies to "One man one vote."
I should like to say a word with regard to the argument which is always dinned into our ears that the House of Lords committed suicide when they rejected the Budget. I, for one, am absolutely and entirely unrepentant with regard to having, not rejected, but referred the Budget to the people, and I should have been prepared to support the noble Marquess, not only in referring the Budget once to the people, but, if he had thought fit to do so, in referring it twice to the people, because after that celebrated Budget I do not suppose the Radical Party ever went to the polls with a greater chance of a sweeping victory, or at any rate maintaining their position. They had all the prestige of an enormous majority in the House of Commons; they had the people's Budget, and all the arguments about black bread and horse flesh and that kind of thing; they had the cry of "Peers against the People," and class against class; yet in spite of that you came back to the House of Commons having lost 100 seats, and you could not pass your Budget for four or five months until you had managed somehow or other—I am sure I do not know how—to placate that portion of your supporters who hated the Budget and were very unwilling to vote for it until they had been able to extract their own terms from the Radical Government. The House of Lords would have done a most signal service, in my humble opinion, in the cause of free government by giving the people of this country a second chance of considering that Budget.
The Budget either was or was not a revolution. If it was a revolution then the House of Lords was quite right in referring it to the people. If you cannot refer a revolution to the people then you had better not have a Second Chamber at all. If it was not a revolution, then for the Radical Ministers and their supporters to go about the country proclaiming almost in terms that it was a revolution partakes 732 very much of the nature of a conspiracy against the Constitution of this country. If they did that with a desire to draw the House of Lords into the position of rejecting the Budget in order to rake up a case against the House of Lords afterwards—they evidently did so, because the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his eloquent way described the House of Lords as "rats caught in a trap"—I say that was a treasonable conspiracy against the Constitution of this country, the proper way of dealing with which should have been by impeachment. The noble Viscount, Lord Morley, in proposing this Bill, said that after all there was nothing new about trying to do away with the House of Lords—I am, perhaps, paraphrasing what he said in a slightly exaggerated way—that there was nothing new about the present proposal, because it was analogous to something that had been brought forward by Mr. John Bright in 1836—
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE
I beg the noble Viscount's pardon. It does not very much matter whether it was brought forward in 1836 or in 1883. The reason why it did not take effect either in 1836 or in 1883 was that the people of the country realised that it was a single-Chamber conspiracy. They are determined to have double-Chamber government. On the only occasions when the people of this country have had to do without double-Chamber government for any length of time they have always come back to it in the long run, and, not only that, they have always come back to the hereditary House of Lords, because the institution set up in its place was absolutely valueless. Everybody knows quite well that it was not on account of the rejection of this or that particular measure that the campaign against the House of Lords has taken place. The fiery cross, the destruction of this part of the Constitution, went out when Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's Government came into power in 1906, and it was perfectly evident that they did not intend to exercise their power in the first instance for the common welfare of the country but in order to destroy the House of Lords. They had one of the finest majorities that has ever been returned to the House of Commons, and after having had two encounters with the people they 733 are obliged to come back to Parliament and say that the whole world is wrong, that they cannot govern with the machine that was good enough for the great Statesmen who governed this country in the past, and that for the future the British Constitution is to be modelled on the lines of such countries as Greece and Costa Rica.
You say that you always have single-Chamber government whenever the Conservative Party is in office. I do not think that is a very good argument for Radical Cabinet Ministers to bring forward on this or on any other occasion. If the decrees of the Conservative Government go through, then it tallies with your own theory of government that the laws which are passed by the representatives of the people in the House of Commons ought to become law; and as I ventured to put before your Lordships just now it is not available for the Party opposite to criticise the majority in the House of Lords seeing how very many Peers they themselves have sent up to this House. The principle of this Bill is to limit and whittle away the powers of the House of Lords in such a manner that any decree, not so much of the House of Commons but of the Cabinet, shall become law in two years' time provided it is passed by the other House three times. The noble Viscount, in his explanation of the Bill, did not lay very much stress upon Clause 1, which provides that any measure of a purely financial kind shall become law without the House of Lords being any party to it. I would remind those who think this a reasonable proposal that this gives full play to the entire doctrines of the school of Mr. Philip Snowden, who have for their object the abolition of capital by means of taxation. But the powers of the House of Lords in this country are so small that they will not stand any whittling away or else they will be gone altogether. It is the deliberate opinion of Mr. Marriott, who has written a very admirable book on Second Chambers—I have no doubt many of your Lordships have read it—that of all Second Chambers the ancient House of Lords has less power than any other.
The point I wish to put to noble Lords opposite is this. If you think it is really a fair proposal that any measure which has been through the House of Commons three times, although rejected by the House of Lords three times, shall still pass into law, then the first Bill which ought to 734 be the subject of the provisions of the Parliament Bill is the Parliament Bill itself; the Parliament Bill ought not to be passed into law until it has been sent up to this House from the House of Commons at least three times. The Prime Minister is always going up and down the country saying that the Royal Prerogative has disappeared, that it is no longer exercised and has fallen into disuse. It may be that the divine right of Kings no longer exists, but a great many people in this country would much sooner submit themselves to the divine right of Kings than submit themselves to the divine right of the Radical caucus. This Bill is calculated not to diminish any exercise of the Royal Prerogative; it is actually calculated to revive it. Let me take this instance. We will suppose that this Bill is passed and that a Home Rule Bill is then produced in the House of Commons and sent up to the House of Lords. In the House of Lords it is rejected, we will say for the sake of argument, three times. In the meantime there has been a prodigious agitation against the Bill in the country, and we will also come to the supposition, which is not an extravagant one, that the Radical Party decline to drop the Bill and still proceed with it. Very well. You are then face to face with this situation that, instead of there being a House of Lords to refer the Bill back to the people, the only power which is what Mr. Bagot used to call "getatable" will be the power which used to reside in the Sovereign himself; and if the House of Commons stand firm, there is nothing between the electors who do not desire the Bill and the passing of the measure but the actual Royal Prerogative. So that instead of this measure placing the Royal Prerogative beyond the reach of the people, it would actually tend to bring it more into play, to revive it and make it a living thing.
There is no argument that we have heard in favour of legislation without any appeal to the people. The only argument you are able to bring forward is your own majority in the House of Commons. There is we admit in the House of Commons a majority in favour of the Bill, but we have a much larger majority in this House against the Bill, and you have a Bill which in the country would be rejected by the electors. We need not analyse the majorities in the two Houses. The majority in 735 the House of Commons is subject to quite as destructive and critical analysis as is our majority in the House of Lords; and, as the late Lord Salisbury used to say, "It is not the House of Lords who have left the Radical Party; it is the Radical Party who have left the House of Lords." One by one the Radical Party have thrown over in the House of Commons all the great principles which used to be common ground between the two Parties, such as the unity of the United Kingdom, the Establishment of the Church, the authority of the Law Courts, and the protection of private property. You have got, in your desire to destroy the House of Lords, nearer to success at the present moment than ever you have done before. If you pass this Bill, it will be passed by noble Lords opposite and their Party entirely on their own responsibility, and I trust that noble Lords on this side will be no party whatever to passing this Bill in the shape in which it is at the present moment. The creation of Peers may be the way in which you may choose to force it on the electors of this country, but I submit that the time for the creation of Peers to pass this Bill is not yet. It has only been before the people in a purely, technical sense at the last General Election, and the usage of the Constitution is that the question of the creation of Peers does not arise until a Bill passed by the House of Commons is rejected by the Peers, then submitted to a General Election, and rejected by the House of Peers a second time.
We are asked to read this Bill a second time. My noble friend Lord Midleton observed, with great truth, that it was placing a considerable strain upon some noble Lords on this side of the House, and speaking for myself I would have willingly supported the rejection of the Bill on Second Reading. Still on the Committee stage we shall at any rate have a full and a free examination of the clauses of the Bill. A full and free examination is possible here, because we have no closure like they have in the House of Commons, and we shall remember in this matter that we are trustees for a great many people. There are forty-five million inhabitants of this country and only seven million electors, and the House of Lords represents that portion of the inhabitants who are not electors just as much as do the House of Commons. This is not a struggle, as it is always represented to be, between the Peers and the people; 736 it is not a struggle between the Lords and the Commons. It is a struggle, as Mr. Lowell put in his book about the English Constitution, between the Lords and the Cabinet. I will go further than that. It is a struggle between the Cabinet and that vast body of opinion which still realises what free government means in a free country. The only argument you can produce in favour of this Bill is the argument of necessity, which Pitt used to observe, very truly, was the argument of tyrants and the creed of slaves. You may adopt the argument of tyrants if you desire to do so, but we on our side do not wish to adopt the creed of slaves. We do not wish to pass this Bill, because we are afraid that some day or other a worse thing may overcome us. The Parliament Bill will destroy the House of Lords itself, because nobody would care in the future to sit in a House of Lords which cannot exercise those powers which all the second Chambers in His Majesty's Dominions oversea and in every country of Europe where representative government is carried on can exercise and do exercise.
§ LORD EVERSLEY
My Lords, I hope I may be permitted, as an old Parliamentarian, to say a few words on the Bill before us. In the first place, I desire to repudiate the suggestion of Lord Midleton that there has been any great change in the attitude of the Government to its supporters or any stricter application of Party manœuvres in another place in respect of Bills before the House as compared with past times. Still less is it true that this Bill has been forced through the House of Commons by an improper use of the guillotine or the other processes for the purpose of stopping discussion. My recollection of the House of Commons goes back to the days of Lord Palmerston. Lord Palmerston's Government, I need hardly point out, was kept in office for something like ten years by a majority of not much more than twenty-five, and that Government could only have been carried on by the strictest application of the Party whip, and I undertake to say that during the forty or fifty years which have elapsed since then there has been no practical change in the attitude of Governments to their Parties or any great change in the application of the Party whip. So far as I have observed, the state of things in the House of Commons now is very much what it was at the time I speak of. I have never known a Bill such as that before us which had been more 737 fully and ably discussed in the House of Commons.
I also repudiate the suggestion made a few days ago by the Duke of Northumberland and also by Lord Ampthill, that there has been any deterioration in the personnel of the House of Commons. I undertake to say there is not a word of truth in those statements. No doubt there have been great changes in the House of Commons during the last fifty years. New classes have come in. The Irish Nationalists, the Labour members, and the Welsh members form new classes who seem to me to have added to the ability and variety of the House of Commons without detracting from it in any respect whatever. The noble Viscount, Lord Midleton, devoted a considerable part of his speech to meeting the statements made by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack that the Liberal Government for some time past, and Liberal measures, had been unfairly treated. The noble Viscount pointed out a number of measures that had been before the House of Commons for twenty, thirty, and forty years, and then went on to say that it was not unreasonable that the House of Lords should be given an opportunity of delaying those measures for a further number of years. I should have thought, if such measures had been discussed so long in the House of Commons and had only reached ripeness after so many years, that the argument ought rather to have qeen that public opinion had been concentrated upon them, and that they might reasonably be passed into law after such long discussion and consideration. But the noble Viscount seemed to think, notwithstanding all the discussion that those measures had had, that time House of Lords would be justified in yet further delaying them. Four years ago when the Education Bill was under discussion I made a careful examination of the number of Bills which have been passed by the House of Commons and rejected by the House of Lords, and I found that since the year 1832 about sixty measures had been passed by the House of Commons and rejected by your Lordships. Of those sixty Bills I found that all, with only two exceptions, were subsequently passed by your Lordships after delays sometimes of five years, sometimes of ten, and even of thirty and forty years.
§ LORD EVERSLEY
Generally they were passed in a very much stronger form than when originally passed by the House of Commons and rejected by your Lordships' House. I could quote several instances in support of that, and I would say that as a general rule delay has caused the measures to be passed in a stronger form ultimately than the form in which they were originally propounded. Only two of those measures, as I have said, which were originally rejected by the House of Lords still remain unpassed. Those are the Home Rule Bill of 1894 and a measure for the abolition of the Lord Lieutenancy in Ireland, which was passed by the House of Commons in 1850. The difference between the two Houses has been greatly accentuated of late years. It began in Lord Melbourne's Government as regards Irish measures. The wise counsels of the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel in the days of the Reform Act of 1832 prevented any issue between the two Houses upon English and Scottish measures, but Irish measures were abandoned to the free will of the House of Lords and numerous cases occurred in which those measures were rejected.
The action of the Lords was still more accentuated in the Government of Mr. Gladstone, between the years 1869 and 1874, again in 1880 and 1884, and again in the later Government in 1894 which was presided over by my noble friend Lord Rosebery. My noble friend Lord Morley has called attention to the speeches made by Lord Rosebery on that occasion. I need hardly remind the House that several measures of that Government which came from the House of Commons were rejected by the House of Lords, including the Home Rule Bill of 1894 and other Bills of importance. It became a question with that Government how best to deal with the matter, and after grave consideration the Government came to the conclusion that it was not by reform of the House of Lords, but by dealing with the Veto, by restricting the Veto, that an alteration could be made, and Lord Rosebery was commissioned by the then Government to lay the case before the country. Lord Rosebery spoke at several large meetings in different parts of the country on the subject. I have myself a perfect recollection in the matter, because the first of those great meetings addressed by Lord Rosebery was at Bradford, which I then represented. It was at Bradford that Lord Rosebery opened his campaign against 739 the House of Lords and presented the policy of his Government and of his colleagues. He devoted himself, in the first of those great speeches at Bradford, mainly to an attack upon your Lordships' House and upon the policy of rejecting Liberal measures; but later, in the two speeches which he made at Glasgow and Devonport, he propounded the remedy of his Government and stated that his colleagues were all united in the belief that the crisis could only be met by the suspension of the Veto of the House of Lords. The noble Lord made use of these words—I say confidently that no such act of insanity as our proposing reform of the House of Lords has ever for an instant occurred to any of us. We want to readjust the relations of the House of Commons to the House of Lords, so that the deliberate will of the House of Commons shall not be overborne by the action of the House of Lords. In our opinion the time has come when the right of the Lords to oppose an absolute Veto to the wishes and to the legislation of the House of Commons shall for ever cease.That is exactly the policy of the present Government. For my part I have no wish to twit the noble Earl with any change of mind upon the subject. The noble Earl has a perfect right to change his opinions, and, after all, sixteen years is a long interval in which to effect this. He has been seated during that time on the Cross Benches, and probably his divergence from his old friends has become greater. But, none the less, the statement made by Lord Rosebery on that occasion on behalf of his colleagues and representing all their views has a significance which cannot be disregarded. His statements then were made on behalf of all his colleagues after full consultation with them and represented their views on the subject, and his colleagues included among their number such men as Lord Spencer, Lord Granville, Lord Kimberley, and Lord Ripon, the mainstays in those days of the Whig Party, and with whom I am sorry to say there are very few to be compared at the present time. In my judgment what has taken place has immensely strengthened the case in that direction. Lord Rosebery's Government was followed by ten years of Unionist Government. At the end of that time a Liberal Government came into power under Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. It came into power with an immense majority and with a definite programme, but your Lordships set to work deliberately to destroy the measures of that Government. One after another they were presented to this House and were 740 rejected by large majorities here after having been carried by enormous majorities in the House of Commons. It seemed to me that the position of the Government in those circumstances was most humiliating, and one which they could not possibly endure.
The time has at last come when the issue must be taken. The issue has been before the country at two General Elections, and it seems to me a definite and clear one. The fact that your Lordships have passed a Reform Bill in the House of Lords seems to me to be an admission of the case which we have made. It is an admission that great evils exist from the present state of things and that a remedy must be found. In our opinion the remedy is not in the direction of reform of your Lordships' House, but in the direction of the suspension of the Veto in the manner suggested by the Bill now before us. In my humble judgment, if the Government were not to persist in this measure and carry it to a conclusion, they would lose the confidence of their supporters, and would be considered traitors to the cause which they were sent to Parliament to represent. In my belief, therefore, they will do well to press this Veto Bill to a proper conclusion, and I feel very confident that one way or another it will pass into law before the end of the present session.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, I am sure there is no member of your Lordships' House—certainly no one sitting on this side—who does not feel that the discussion which is taking place on this Parliament Bill is the most important and perhaps the most critical that has ever taken place in this House. For, after all, what does the Parliament Bill mean? It is nothing more or less than an attack on our Constitution. It proposes to alter that system of Government under which for so many centuries this country has lived so well, so happily, and so free. Whatever guise the Government may choose to give it, they propose to hand over the administration of this country to the tender mercies of a Single Chamber. As my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke said, we have only to study the course pursued by every other important civilised Power to see the necessity of double-Chamber government.
It is somewhat interesting to notice the manner in which the various members who form the present Ministry view the question 741 of a Second Chamber. The Labour Party are honest. They say frankly that they prefer single-Chamber government, and I think we must admire them for their straightforwardness. But what is the attitude of noble Lords opposite, and of those who hold their views? They say they desire double-Chamber government. Sir Edward Grey spoke very strongly against single-Chamber government. The noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, has also put forward that view. But with all deference to them, I think they are endeavouring to throw dust in the eyes of the people of this country, for they must know full well that if this Parliament Bill becomes law in its proper sense it will certainly mean single-Chamber government at the end of two years. If a Bill is sent up three times to your Lordships' House in the short space of two years, on the last two occasions it will very likely be rushed through the House of Commons—as we have seen this Bill rushed through, by means of the closure, the guillotine, and the other modes of procedure adopted by the present Government. The Government will be able to carry through Parliament measures which very likely they know the country does not want and upon which they certainly have taken great care not to consult the country. I venture to suggest that that condition of affairs is nothing more or less than single-Chamber government. Why is this measure brought forward? We know full well that one of the greatest complaints urged in the country by supporters of noble Lords opposite is that the House of Lords offer what they call a blank wall to Liberal measures. That is a very curious statement to make. The noble Earl opposite, the Minister for Agriculture, has frequently boasted in this House of the harvest of Bills that have become law since his Party have been in power.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
I think the noble Earl can congratulate his colleagues also for I find that in the last five years 226 Government Bills have been passed into law by your Lordships' House. Only eight Bills have failed to pass this House, three of them because the two Houses could not agree with regard to Amendments. That being so, what becomes of the suggestion that the House of Lords presents a blank wall to Liberal measures? Certainly there was one Bill your Lordships 742 rejected—the Licensing Bill. But what was that Bill? It was a Bill which we considered, and I think rightly so, to be of a vindictive and unjust character, a Bill which did not promote the cause of temperance. It would have brought ruin to a great number of people who had invested their money in an absolutely honest undertaking.
What was the feeling in the country when we rejected the Licensing Bill? My noble friend Lord Midleton alluded to the appeal of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, who said he hoped your Lordships would not allow the unpopularity of the Bill to prevent its passing into law. We had a further proof that we had the country at our back in rejecting the Licensing Bill. During the time that Bill was before the country the present Home Secretary, Mr. Winston Churchill, fought a by-election at Manchester on being appointed President of the Board of Trade. What was the result? He was defeated. Then as to another measure. We are always being told that your Lordships rejected the Education Bill of 1906. That Bill was not rejected. It was amended, and was dropped by the Government because they would not accept the Amendments which your Lordships rightly insisted upon—namely, the provision that in a free country parents should have the right of choosing the kind of religious instruction which their children should receive in the schools. The action of your Lordships was fully vindicated, for two years afterwards Mr. Runeiman introduced an Education Bill in which were embodied those very Amendments upon which your Lordships had insisted in the case of the previous Bill.
One noble Lord pointed out that your Lordships had never resisted the will of the people when that will had been clearly expressed. He quoted with truth the case of the Irish Church Bill. Your Lordships rejected that Bill, but after the General Election took place in which the people clearly showed that they wished that Church disestablished, you acceded to the will of the people. Again, turn to the Trades Disputes Bill as it was called. Your Lordships passed that measure although it had been declared by the Government themselves to be an inefficient measure, altered during its progress through the House of Commons. When the General Election took place undoubtedly the Trades Disputes Bill occupied a very prominent 743 part among the important questions of the day, and your Lordships put on one side your own ideas and passed that measure because you considered that it had received the support of the country. Can it be maintained, then, that the cry against your Lordships' House of permanently rejecting Liberal measures is justified? The noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, does not think so, for at Rhyl on October 30, 1907, he said—Whenever the nation had been in earnest with a measure the House of Lords had in the end been no permanent obstacle.How, then, can noble Lords opposite who support that view of Lord Haldane reconcile their consciences to bringing forward a measure to deprive your Lordships of the powers you have always possessed, and which it is admitted you have never brought to bear against Bills upon winch the country has decided? But Lord Haldane found salvation because of the action of the House of Lords in respect of the Budget. In the House of Commons he said, on April 6, 1910, that he would willingly have left the House of Lords alone had it not been for their action on the Budget. In his mind, then, so far as general legislation was concerned, the House of Lords had only exercised those functions of revision and delay which it was proper for a Second Chamber to perform.
I am not going into the action of this House on the occasion of the Budget of 1909, because Lord Willoughby de Broke said everything as to that, and what he said entirely commends itself to me, and, I think, to noble Lords on this side of the House. But I would remind your Lordships that the House of Lords proved that it was a better judge of the will of the people with regard to the Budget than the Government of noble Lords opposite. The Budget is now law. But no one will contradict me when I say that it did not become the law of the laud on its merits. It passed the House of Commons on the first occasion by a majority of 230, but after the General Election it passed through the House of Commons by a majority of only 93. How was that majority obtained? It was obtained by a policy of log-rolling, by squaring Mr. Redmond in order to induce the Nationalists to vote for the Budget. I do not think any one will dispute that had that log-rolling not taken place the Budget would not be the law of the land at the present time. Mr. Redmond himself 744 said in Dublin that if Home Rule were put on one side he would fight the Budget, but if it were a question of the Budget and Home Rule he would accept the Budget. Therefore I maintain that the Budget only passed the House of Commons because the Government promised Home Rule. There is another point, and it was alluded to by my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke. Long before the Budget was referred by this House to the country attacks were made on your Lordships by some of the most important leaders of the Party opposite. As far back as January, 1907, Mr. Lloyd George, speaking at Carnarvon, said—He would say this to his fellow-countrymen. If they found the Government manœuvring their artillery into position for leading an attack on the Lords, the Welshman who worried them into attending to anything else until the citadel had been stormed ought to be put into the guard-room.Therefore this attack was made on your Lordships long before you referred the Budget to the country.
I do not think it can be said for a moment that this Parliament Bill can be looked upon as even intended to be a permanent settlement of this great Constitutional question. To my mind the Bill establishes a system of Parliamentary procedure whereby an autocratic Prime Minister at the head of a subservient majority can carry any measure he chooses through the House of Commons, and eventually it would become law. Or there might be the case of a weak Prime Minister held in the hollow of the hand of a Party of extremists and revolutionists, not unlike the present situation I venture to say, who would insist on the measures they brought forward becoming the law of the land whether the House of Lords desired them or not. If the Government had desired to arrive at a settlement of this question they ought to have dealt with certain other complaints that have been made. One of those complaints is that there are too many Unionists in your Lordships' House. As my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke said, that is not the fault of the Unionist Party. We have frequently found that, when free from the pressure of the Radical Whips in another place, noble Lords having entered tins House have changed their politics and become Unionists. Why? Because they do not desire to see the Constitution undermined. The Parliament Bill offers no settlement of tins question. It does not 745 propose to equalise the two Parties in this House. No; the Bill that proposes to do that is the Bill of my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition. That Bill deals with this question, a question which the Parliament Bill has entirely left out.
Then there is another point of complaint—namely, with regard to the hereditary principle. We hear of many speeches made by members of the Party opposite on this subject, notably the not very eloquent one of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in which he talked about the "first of a litter," but we do not see anything in this Bill which proposes to deal with the matter, however much the Radical Party may complain of it out of doors. Again, the Bill of my noble friend Lord Lansdowne does deal with the hereditary principle—a matter which, if you had wished this to be a permanent settlement, ought to have appeared in your own Bill. It is as well to look the facts in the face, and I think the "man in the street" if he studies the question will come to the conclusion that this Bill is proposed to be passed for purely Party purposes. The Prime Minister told us that it was not an end in itself, but a means to an end. What is to be that end? Mr. Balfour, in his speech at the Albert Hall the other day, put the matter in a nutshell. His expression was—If there had been no question of Home Rule there would have been no Parliament Bill.My Lords, I believe that to be absolutely true. The object of this Parliament Bill is to pass Home Rule in order to obey the mandates of Mr. Redmond, who forced the Prime Minister to toe the line before he would give his support in the House of Commons. This is the repayment to Mr. Redmond. I maintain that the question of Home Rule is the most important question of the day, and that this measure is brought forward for the purpose of securing Home Rule I do not think even the Prime Minister himself would for one moment deny.
I trust your Lordships will insist on this matter being thoroughly thrashed out in this House when we go into Committee. I sincerely hope that Home Rule will never be permitted to become the law of the land until the people of the country have said with no uncertain voice that they desire it. I believe if the people were asked that question to-morrow they would reply as 746 they did in 1886 and 1895. Therefore I say to endeavour to obtain Home Rule by such a measure as this is a betrayal, not only of the trust of the Government, but of the people themselves. I have not only ties of blood with Ireland myself but I have also had the honour of serving the Sovereign in an official capacity in that country, so that I have both a private and official knowledge of Ireland; and I can say from my experience that if Home Rule were granted to Ireland it would turn what is now a prosperous country into a country of ruin and misery and bring about in all probability civil war. That is why I maintain that this question should be brought prominently before the people of the country before Home Rule is ever permitted to become the law of the land. In that connection I may refer to a letter to The Times on November 25, 1891, in which the present Prime Minister made use of this expression—I retain the opinion which I have more than Once expressed, that it is desirable, both upon tactical and other grounds, that before the General Election comes the country should be made aware of the general outline of the proposed settlement.It is Home Rule that he was referring to. Speaking at the Manchester Reform Club earlier in the same year he gave expression to the same opinion. He said—He confessed he was one of those who had felt that it would be desirable before the next General Election to give a general outline of the Home Rule Bill.No outline has been given of what their idea of Home Rule is, and I conclude by again expressing the hope that your Lordships will stand firm on this question and insist, so far as lies in your power, that Home Rule shall never become the law of the land until the people of this country have declared for it with no uncertain voice.
Further debate adjourned, till To-morrow.