§ THE MARQUESS OF CREWE had the following Question on the Paper—
§ To ask His Majesty's Government when it is proposed to take action upon the subject of the reconstitution of this House, regarding which the Conference of Members of both Houses appointed by His Majesty's Government has recently reported.
§ The noble Marquess said: My Lords, in asking His Majesty's Government the Question which stands in my name on the Paper, I desire to confine myself strictly to its terms. I say this because a few days ago there appeared in the Press a by no means unnatural conjecture that I intended on this occasion to raise a debate upon the 610 subject of the reform of your Lordships' House. In my opinion it would not have been wise to take that course. It would I think have been idle, until His Majesty's Government, who are the only people in the position to deal with such a subject, are prepared to bring forward some concrete proposals relating to it. I should never have thought of asking your Lordships, in the course of a day or two's debate, to traverse the whole field over which we plodded day by day in my noble friend's Committee during several months. No useful result could follow from such a proceeding.
§ I shall therefore confine myself to the terms of the Question on your Lordships' Notice Paper; but I desire to impress with the utmost gravity upon His Majesty's Government, and upon your Lordships' House as a whole, the danger which in my view, and I believe in the view of all those who have been able to examine this question, would attach to complete inaction upon it up to the time when a General Election takes place. It is, of course, impossible for any of us to say when the General Election will be. One hears that it is likely to be deferred somewhat later than was at first thought. It was freely estimated at one time that a General Election might have taken place in November, or even October, of this year, and I understand that His Majesty's Government have taken all possible steps to accelerate the preparation of the new Register. But the general belief in the public mind is that a General Election is at any rate not likely to take place before the early months of next year. I repeat that if, when that General Election takes place, nothing whatever has been done towards the reconstitution of your Lordships' House, there are possibilities of serious constitutional danger. We know what the present position is. Your Lordships are subjected to the restrictions of the Parliament Act, which are complained of by some as practically sterilising the energies of the House. The Parliament Act, by the admission of its authors, of whom I was one, was never intended to be a permanent measure. Therefore it is reasonable to say that men of all Parties and of all views agree that that Act, if not repealed, ought to be seriously qualified by further legislation. That is, as I have said, a matter of general agreement.
§ But although it is true that the Parliament Act powerfully restricts the possible 611 action of this House as it might have been taken before that measure became law, yet it leaves extensive powers to your Lordships' House. I will give only a single instance. Supposing it had been the view of the majority of this House that woman suffrage ought not to become law until after a General Election. Supposing this House had shown itself so closely wedded to a system of proportional representation that it would rather have sacrificed the Representation of the People Act than agree to its passage without it—will anybody say that your Lordships could have been regarded as powerless and futile if you had rejected that Bill? Will even my noble friend Lord Salisbury take that view? We should have been on the edge, at any rate, of a social revolution if your Lordships had thrown out that I say this merely to show that the possibilities of the future are not altogether on one side.
§ Nobody knows what the constitution of the majority of the House of Commons will be after a General Election, and nobody knows what Government that majority will advise His Majesty to form. The possibilities are, of course, numerous. It may be that a General Election will take place, not only before the war is in any sense over, but while its ultimate issue, though not uncertain—because we have never admitted any uncertainty of that issue—may yet be so obscure as not to make it clear what the future, either abroad or at home, will be immediately after it. Expressing a purely personal opinion, and speaking for nobody else, my own view is that if an Election were so to take place in the full currency of the war, the present state of affairs as between Parties ought to be maintained. I do not think it is possible during the actual course of the war to resume a clear-cut Party conflict, even though the two or three Parties in the State were to be constituted on different lines from those which existed before the war.
§ On the other hand, it is possible that the end of the war may be in immediate sight when a General Election takes place. If that were so, it is difficult to believe that some return to controversies between Parties would not be actively set on foot. I ask the House to consider what would be the position of this House in a revival of Party controversy of that kind. I confess I look forward with great dismay to such a prospect. Personally I have no fear of 612 the actions of any Government, whatever its complexion, which is chosen by the majority of the British people. We cannot always get a Government of the precise complexion which we prefer. But one thing I do dread, and that is the possibility of a conflict between the Government of the day and your Lordships' House, compared with which the conflict that took place a few years ago between your Lordships' House and the Liberal majority in another place would be merely a pale shadow, regarded as a constitutional conflict. It is impossible to say what the effect on the future of the Constitution, possibly upon the existence of any Second Chamber at all, might be if such a conflict were to arise. And it is for that reason that I implore His Majesty's Government to take into serious consideration the possibility of dealing with this matter before the life of this Parliament is closed.
§ Before very long, I suppose, we shall be invited to consider a further term of life for the existing Parliament. Unless I am mistaken, that has to be done during the present month. It is possible that the date which is then mentioned may give, or at any rate appear to give, some indication of the time when His Majesty's Government expect that a General Election may be held. But be that as it may, I cannot see why, in the course of the present autumn, your Lordships' House, to whom I should have supposed in the first instance consideration of the subject would be remitted, should not undertake the consideration of a Government Bill on this subject. So far as I know, the only important measure which we are likely to have to consider in the immediate future is Mr. Fisher's Education Bill, deserving, of course, the closest consideration and examination, which it will no doubt receive here, though not at the same length as has been devoted to it in the other House.
§ When that measure is passed there does not appear to be anything impending which should prevent the consideration in the autumn by your Lordships of this subject. I am assuming—and I do so confidently—that it is not proposed to adjourn your Lordships' House for a very long period. During the whole progress of the war the Government of the day has always assumed that the House would not wish to part for a period at any rate of months with the power of being called together for a consideration of public business. I assume, 613 therefore, that no very long adjournment will be proposed, and that we shall consequently have a considerable period in the autumn to consider such a measure. And I put it seriously to the noble Earl, the Lord President, whether, in view of the considerations which I have stated, and which, as I firmly believe, cannot be traversed, he will not advise his colleagues to proceed with the consideration of this subject; not necessarily, of course, precisely on the lines which my noble friend's Report indicate, though I hope that close examination will show that those main lines might reasonably be followed in preference to the many other alternatives which some would prefer. I can hardly think that His Majesty's Government would desire to give the whole matter the go-by, realising how deeply it has occupied us in the past, and realising also the untoward results which may follow a complete neglect of it in the immediate future.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON)
My Lords, I agree with the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition that the present time would be singularly inopportune for a discussion of the general question of the reform of your Lordships' House; or, indeed, for a discussion of the particular proposals that are contained in the Report of the Conference of which the noble Marquess himself was a member. Moreover, elastic as our system is in this House, I conceive that such a discussion would be out of order in strict relation to the terms of the Question which the noble Marquess has placed upon the Paper. That is the Question which I will endeavour to answer. But before I do so, may I take the opportunity—I am sure the House would wish me to, because it is the first occasion that has presented itself—of testifying to our general recognition of the immense amount of time, of care, and of thought, devoted by the members of Lord Bryce's Conference to the examination of this problem.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
To that I should like to add that it is really a great tribute to Lord Bryce personally that he should have brought his colleagues to so considerable a measure of agreement. Reading through the Report of his Conference for the third or fourth time, as I did this afternoon, it seemed to me to be a 614 model of patient investigation, of careful and well-balanced reasoning, and of an earnest desire to reconcile conflicting points of view; and of this we may be sure, that whenever this (10vernment, or any Government, proceeds to legislate upon the subject, this Report will be of invaluable assistance to them in taking up the duty.
I noticed that the noble Marquess did not ask whether any action had already been taken by the Government in connection with the presentation of this Report; and I assume that he did not ask the question because he was well aware in advance of the reply that I should be compelled to give. I will be candid about the matter. Since the presentation of the Report it has been simply impossible for the Government, amid the overwhelming duties connected with the war that have rained upon them, to address themselves to a question of this great moment with the time and the seriousness that it demands. In other times, under a pressure less severe, it would have been the duty of this Government, or of any Government, immediately to consider the Report of such a Conference. But not only have we ourselves been absorbed; Parliament has been absorbed with important business in what have been, as we all know, and what continue to be the most anxious days of the war, and we have not yet been able to turn our attention to this matter.
The noble Marquess's questions were addressed rather to the future. A considerable portion of his speech was devoted to a consideration of the circumstances that will arise when next we are confronted with a General Election. With what he had to say about the attitude of Parties on that occasion, the possible evolution of the Party system in this country, I, perhaps, could hardly deal; it would be scarcely germane to the subject to do so. I did, however, note with much interest that he stated most emphatically, and with all the authority that attaches to his position, that he—and I am sure he spoke also for his friends—regarded the Parliament Act as of an essentially temporary nature which must in time—and let us hope in no long time—be replaced by some better constitutional instrument.
The noble Marquess then went on to lay stress upon the grave consequences of delay, upon the desirability of not letting a matter of this description simmer, of not allowing public opinion to form in 615 hostility to it, and of taking advantage of such time as may be at our disposal between now and a General Election seriously to approach the matter. With a good deal that he said on that point I, in common with your Lordships, will be in general agreement; but I should like to put to him and to the House one consideration. It is this. The reference of this matter to Lord Bryce's Conference was an attempt, based upon the lines of a successful endeavour of a similar description elsewhere, to deal with an intensely controversial matter by agreement. Such agreement, or a large measure of such agreement, was secured and was acted upon in the case of the Representation of the People Bill. Now as regards these proposals I have already pointed out that great credit is due to the noble Viscount for having secured a not unsubstantial measure of agreement amongst his colleagues on the Conference. Whether that agreement would be maintained in debate upon a Bill in this House, it is not for me to conjecture—I take the Report of the Conference as it stands—but I respectfully point out to your Lordships that there are two other forms of agreement that are required in order to induce His Majesty's Government to take its hands off the war machine and devote itself energetically to legislation of this kind. They are some assurance of Parliamentary agreement, and some assurance of agreement in public opinion.
Let me remind your Lordships of what happened in the case of the Report of the Speaker's Conference. After Mr. Speaker had written his letter to the Prime Minister and his Report was made public property, a Motion was made in the House of Commons by no less a person than Mr. Asquith, calling the attention of that House to the subject and inviting an expression of general approval, and calling upon His Majesty's Government to legislate in the matter. That Motion was, if I remember aright, carried by a majority of 341 to 62—in other words, by an overwhelming majority of one House of Parliament in favour. On that basis His Majesty's Government felt justified in proceeding without delay. There were similar manifestations, I think, of public opinion throughout the country. I do not know whether the whole of the people are so absorbed in the war that they have not had much time to devote to the Report of Lord Bryce's Conference, but I have not yet observed any very general signs of public 616 enthusiasm in favour of these proposals, or of public desire that they should be proceeded with without delay. I do not want to exaggerate that, or to misinterpret public opinion, but if noble Lords are anxious that the Government should devote themselves in this matter to the preparation of a Bill and to placing it with Government authority on the Table of both Houses, I would suggest that they should take such steps as may be open to them to marshal and organise public opinion in order that His Majesty's Government, before taking such action as is suggested, may be assured that it has public opinion behind it. Such an assurance has, I must confess, not vet reached us, and I think that this preliminary stage ought to be gone through by noble Lords before they come, as no doubt they will at a later date, to press the Government to make some more definite declaration upon the matter.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
My Lords, I rise not, of course, to discuss the merits of this subject, but because I wish to make one or two observations upon points which fell from my noble friend beside me and from the noble Earl opposite. I do not find myself wholly in agreement with my noble frond Lord Crewe about the expediency of trying to take some step between now and the General Election. I think that all the objections which the noble Earl pointed out apply, and, more than that, that we are in this enormous difficulty, that it is evident that the Government has not made up its mind in the least on any question of principle in this matter. On that I want to say a word.
My noble friend Lord Bryce presided over a Conference in circumstances of great difficulty. Instead of, as is usual, being given a principle and asked to work it out, he was given no principle but was asked to preside over a Conference and to see whether agreement was possible. Of course, agreement was not possible, and there were dissents at every turn. My noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh headed one dissent, and there was another dissent by my noble friend Lord Loreburn and others who were associated with him. But all this was as nothing to the storm of dissent which arose in every quarter of public opinion as expressed in the newspapers; yet I venture to say that this nation owes my noble friend Lord Bryce a debt of gratitude for what he did, because it was obvious that he could not present 617 a Report from the whole Conference, but what he did present was one of the most illuminating and helpful State Papers of Our recent records. So long as this subject is under discussion, so long will those who discuss it turn to the composition which my noble friend signed with his own signature and sent to the Prime Minister, indicating the course of the inquiry and the various views presented. Why did my noble friend take this course? Because the Government failed in the duty of the Government, which was to make up its mind on some policy and lay that policy down for the Conference to try to bring about an agreement. If ever there was a question on which it was hopeless to expect agreement without a principle being given in advance it was this question, and because no principle was given it was obviously impossible for the Conference to come to any sort of agreement.
In this condition of things, and with this hopeless disagreement, I am entirely with the noble Earl in thinking that it would be most inexpedient to make any attempt to bring a Bill before Parliament unless there is general agreement, which I do not think is possible, upon the form which that Bill should assume. It is perfectly plain that there is not going to be perfect agreement in the form expressed in Lord Bryce's memorable letter, and I do not gather that the Government have anything more in their heads. Nor is it much to be wondered at. I take a great interest in this question. I was in a Government which did not neglect it but was constantly considering it, and we found it intensely difficult to come to a conclusion. That was the reason for the delay in regard to the Preamble of the Parliament Act; but there were views which very definitely presented themselves and present themselves now.
At one extreme is the idea that in a reformed Chamber you should get a Second Chamber with a large hereditary clement. At the other end is the antithesis, which is that the most conservative and effective of Second Chambers is one which is nearly a replica of the House of Commons, and should not hold office longer than the House of Commons, and should be elected by the House of Commons. It may be paradoxical, but I believe that to be the most conservative and effective Second Chamber which you are going to get in this country; that with any other, you are 618 likely to be in conflict. You have just added to the electors at least 8,000,000, and probably a good many more. You are also verging upon a new state of social questions upon which it will be very easy for the two Houses to come into conflict and about which unity of policy is essential. It is perfectly obvious that democracy is progressing at a tremendous pace in this country. The war has accelerated that pace; all old notions are being reconsidered, and there is a general feeling that the distance between the conditions of the poor and the conditions of the rich should be réndered much less than it has been hitherto.
Another very serious consideration which arises out of the war is the financial prospect. My noble friend Lord Emmott made a most interesting speech on Tuesday in which he gave some figures of a reassuring kind, but economists have not been unanimously satisfied about Mr. Bonar Law's figures given in the House of Commons. Those who are interested in the subject have only to turn to the current number of the Economic Journal and read the articles appearing there, in which you will find an estimate, supported by a good deal of plausible reasoning, that we might to expect as at least possible that we shall have to make provision for a debt of £8,000,000,000 at the end of the war. I will not go into the reasons for that. If that be so, then we have to provide £400,000,000 for the interest, £80,000,000 for a 1 per cent. sinking fund, £50,000,000 at least for pensions, before we can begin to live; and to begin to live with the social problems in front of us, and with the new outlook, suggests that the provision of £800,000,000 will not be too much. All sorts of changes will have to be made. Cottages have to be provided in enormous numbers. The State has already undertaken large obligations. The electrical supply has to be forthcoming if the production of the country is to be developed, and on all hands the prospect is one of largely increased expenditure. Therefore, though I think it the idlest of all things to prophesy, the last thing I should wish to commit myself to is, that those economists are wrong who think that we cannot look forward to an expenditure of less than £800,000,000 as the amount which we shall have to meet as the annual expenditure if the war goes on a little time longer.
If this be so, it gives rise to a set of social problems in which it is most im- 619 portant that the two Chambers should be as nearly as possible of one mind. I say, parodoxical as it may seem, that I believe this to he a real source of Conservative instinct. The First Chamber will agree with a Second Chamber with which it is in sympathy and will delegate to it powers, even of checking itself and retarding its action, which it would never tolerate in a Chamber that was different; and in the face of these tremendous changes of which I have spoken, what chance is there of your Lordships here—if you desired it, which I am sure you would not—being able to resist the demand of the coming democracy for a change in the constitutional relations in this country?
I have risen to say these things, not because I wish to speak in an alarming way, not because I wish to speak as a pessimist at all, but because I think they are enormously serious. I feel that our great comfort and mainstay is that we are dealing with a great, sane, generous, good-natured people, which has never been revolutionary when it has been properly treated, and which is not likely to be revolutionary in the future if we do not raise revolutions. It is because I am afraid that to take action on the footing of the proposal in the letter of my noble friend Lord Bryce to the Prime Minister, or anything remotely approaching to that—or anything falling much short of what I have indicated to your Lordships as what seems to me the view which is gradually looming out and likely to be pressed on—will be a source of great danger, that it is with some relief I learn from the noble Earl that the Government is not in the slightest degree likely to take any action at present, and, as I gather, has not even made up its mind in the least on the principle which it will desire to follow.
§ VISCOUNT BRYCE
My Lords, I had not intended to take any part whatever in this debate, but some remarks which have just fallen from my noble and learned friend make it necessary for me to do so, because it would not be right that some of his statements should go uncontradicted. I thank my noble friend for the kind words he has been good enough to use about the Report, and the small share which I bore in that Report, but I must express my regret that he should have thought it necessary, in spite of the remarks with which my noble friend Lord Crewe opened the debate, to diverge into what was prac- 620 tically a discussion of one of the schemes which was before the Conference and which was dealt with in it. I think it extremely undesirable that we should venture at this stage to enter into any discussion of the schemes or of their merits, and I am sorry it should have been begun.
I cannot follow my noble and learned friend into the general consideration—economic, financial, and others—into which he seemed to me to diverge, and whose relevance to the particular question I confess I have failed to discover, but I do want to point out to your Lordships that I think he has, unintentionally, very much exaggerated the amount of what I will call the haste and comparative indifference with which this scheme was received. The scheme appeared at the moment when the mind of the country was entirely occupied by two questions of the gravest import. One was the position of our Front in France; the other was the situation in Ireland. It was perfectly impossible for the newspapers or for public opinion in the country to devote themselves with due deliberation to a question of so very difficult a nature, and I think that to speak of a storm of disapproval is a complete, though unconscious and unintentional, misrepresentation of the facts. It was my duty to read a good many—I think nearly all—of the statements which I saw in the Press, but I did not find them always very illuminative. They did not all seem to be the result of a close study of the proceedings of the Conference, but I certainly did not gather that they were in any sense whatever an indication of general disapproval, either by the Press or by the public, of the suggestions which the Conference had put forward.
Similarly, my noble friend has, I think, very much exaggerated the differences of opinion which, as he stated, arose in the Conference itself. You could not possibly have any body of men treating a question which bristles with so many difficulties—which in time past has been the subject of so much controversy, upon which in time past so many people have committed themselves to views—without having some difference of opinion; and I do not believe, if I were to take my chance of any five members of your Lordships' House, that you would find that those five members, even if they belonged to the same Party, would necessarily be agreed upon all the rules or principles which ought to be laid 621 down for the constitution of a Second Chamber. There must be objections taken to every scheme. We are perfectly well aware that objections could be taken to this scheme, and that they would be taken to any scheme that has been proposed or will be proposed. If you were to go, as some of us have gone, into an examination of the conditions of the Second Chambers in other countries you would find that there is no Second Chamber against which serious objections cannot be and are in fact taken; but, nevertheless, this does not prevent these Chambers from rendering extremely valuable services to tae countries in which they exist.
Upon one thing at any rate the Conference was, with hardly an exception, agreed, and that was as to the extreme importance and gravity of this question. I think the longer our deliberations lasted the more I was struck by the sense which emerged from the discussions of the extraordinary value which a properly constituted Second Chamber would have in the constitution of this country. Therefore I have ventured, if I may do so respectfully, to support what was said by my noble friend Lord Crewe when he commended this question to the very earnest attention of His Majesty's Government, and I regret that any different opinion than that should exist in the mind of my noble and learned friend, because I can safely say that the longer our deliberations lasted the more we were impressed—and the more I think those who have outside Parliament addressed themselves to the subject have been impressed—with the undesirability of leaving things where the Parliament Act now leaves them, and the urgency of bringing this question to a permanent settlement.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, I am quite conscious that there are other Questions upon the Paper, and I certainly do not desire to abstract any great quantity of time from the period which the noble Lords in whose names these Questions stand will desire to use in placing them before the House. But there are one or two points that I should like to submit for your Lordships' consideration.
The noble Earl the Leader of the House has led us to understand that the Government is so occupied with other matters that it finds itself quite unable to give time for the consideration of this question. I must say I heard the statement with great 622 regret. Every one knows how absorbing must be the questions of a wider and more international character with which the Government is engaged, but it is their first duty to provide us security at home, as well as victory in the field. It is no use pursuing this war without regard to the effect of the social fortes that are fermenting in this country and may produce dangerous results if they are not properly guided and controlled.
There are two things to which, I think, we should all agree. The first is, that in order to obtain stable and wise government—and at no time in our history will stable and wise government be more needed than when this war is ended—it is necessary there should be two Chambers to our Constitution. I think also that most of us, possibly not all, would be in agreement that this House as at present constituted will be quite unable to stand the storm that will be raised against its existence by the large and newly enfranchised electorate that will take part in the next election. It would be, to my mind, something both pitiable and dangerous if, when this war is over, we were once more to be restored to some of the old barren controversies that have occupied the platform for the last thirty years. Unless we can clear them out of the way, and proceed to deal with the other new and difficult problems which will await us, we may run the danger of a great disaster. There can be no doubt that one of the most important of all these questions is the proper constitution of the Second Chamber of our two Houses of Parliament, and the proper adjustment of the relations between the two Houses themselves. I am uneasy lest this matter should be treated as one that can be postponed and put off, and it may be found that the growing tide of popular opinion will make short work of the whole matter and sweep the Second Chamber completely away. I sincerely hope the Government may find time, among their very many grave and arduous duties, to consider a question which, in my mind, is one of the most important and serious to which their attention could possibly be directed.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, I rise with some reluctance to take part in this debate, but I should like to say one or two things, having been a member of the Conference to which allusion has been made. I venture, very respectfully, to express my agreement with much of what 623 the noble and learned Lord has just said. I am very glad to hear his adherence to the principle of there being two Chambers, and I am afraid I also rather agree with him that there are dangers to us in the present constitution of this House. I do not want to go further into that point, because it would be debating the subject upon its merits, which almost every speaker heretofore has refrained from doing. I could not sit down without bearing a word of additional testimony to the well-chosen words which have been used by more than one speaker as to the skill, courtesy and knowledge which the noble Viscount (Lord Bryce) brought to bear upon our deliberations. I agree that his letter to the Prime Minister is perfect monument of learning, and will be useful for a long period of years to any one who desires to study this question.
On other matters I want to express, respectfully, my agreement with the noble Earl the Leader of the House as to the position in which the Government is placed. I should like to see them take up the question, but I do think the challenge he used was a perfectly fair one—that more evidence should be given of general agreement before the Government are asked to attempt to formulate a scheme. I think that perhaps the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Haldane, went a little too far as to the amount of dissatisfaction which was expressed at the proposals contained as the result of the Conference, but I hope it will not go out—and this is the one point on which I am rather inclined to dissent from the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Bryce—that it was in any sense an agreed Report. Much of it was agreed, but there were very serious divergences of opinion upon some other points. I personally felt all along, and I feel now, that it was a grave mistake not to let those who disagree state their disagreement in their own language. Pressure was put upon us not to do so, and we consented but I am bound to say, excellent as I think the letter of the noble Viscount to the Prime Minister was in many respects, I am one of those who think it gives but a very pale reflection of the feelings some of us hold as to the proposed new constitution of the Second Chamber. It contained an inadequate statement of our objections, and I think no real progress will be made unless and until those who think the scheme, as a whole, can be carried into effect will make some public demonstration in this House or the other House of Parliament to see what 624 amount of agreement there really is, not amongst those who composed the Conference, but amongst those who will have to live under the two Chambers. I do not conceal that I think the particular method suggested for the constitution of the Second Chamber is the worst that could possibly be devised.
§ LORD BURNHAM
My Lords, as I am the only member who sat throughout the whole of these two constitutional Conferences, I should like to say a few words on the speech of Lord Haldane. To my mind, it was a gross caricature of the proceedings of the Second Chamber Conference, and it did not hear any sign of his being informed of the proceedings of the Speaker's Conference. I can assure him that there was no more guidance given from above, or from the Government, in the one case than in the other. All the Speaker did, when his Conference assembled, was to say that a hope had been expressed by the Government that we might arrive at some sort of national agreement upon the suffrage and electorate of the country. There was no other guidance than that; and in the same way the noble Viscount who presided over the Second Chamber Conference said that it was hoped to arrive at a measure of national agreement. There was more agreement in the Second Chamber Conference than there was in the Speaker's Conference.
In the Speakers Conference there were two great divisions on the main questions—woman suffrage and proportional representation. With regard to woman suffrage, those who disagreed reserved their liberty of action in the House of Commons when the Report appeared in statutory form, and, I believe, took advantage of the independence they had claimed. There was a reservation made in the course of the proceedings in the Conference held in regard to the reconstitution of the Second Chamber, but there was a larger measure of agreement on the real principle at issue, because I do not believe there was a single member of either House who took part in the Second Chamber Conference who did not take it as assumed, from the first, that the existing constitutional arrangements under the Parliament Act were unsatisfactory and ought to be amended. I do not think Lord Balfour of Burleigh would disagree with me as to that. Therefore we started on common ground, and, more than that, for the particular plan that was put forward in this House this afternoon by 625 the noble Viscount I do not think there was one single champion in the Conference. He has produced here the official programme of the Labour Party, which was that every session there should be elected as a Second Chamber a sort of Revising Committee which should have to deal simply as constitutional experts with the drafting and re-drafting of Bills. There was only one member, I believe, at the Conference that sat with regard to your Lordships' House who was of that opinion.
With respect to the question that has been put by my noble friend Lord Crewe, I am bound to say that I largely agree with him that it was the hope and expectation of us all that something would be done during the currency of this Parliament to produce a legislative proposal for the reform or reconstitution of the Second Chamber. I think that it is urgent, but not only for the reasons that have been put forward. It scents to me that the best reason for reconstituting this Chamber is that unless your Lordships regain confidence in yourselves you are not likely to exercise that amount of public authority in the future which will be so virally requisite. I am afraid that you fear your fate too much to try in any way to revise what has been done elsewhere.
I would only, in conclusion, draw your Lordships' attention to this fact. I am told by those who are electoral experts that the increase in the electorate and the power of our democracy is far greater than was anticipated. All the calculations have proved wrong. It was said, when the Representation of the People Bill was under discussion in another place and here, that under its provisions a greater number of men and women were being enfranchised than under all the Reform Acts of the last century put together. It has turned out that the increase is larger still; in fact, it is difficult to imagine who will not exercise the franchise as the Registers are being made up. In these circumstances I think that we all want to feeel a little more the sense of public responsibility, and still more that we should enjoy that public confidence that I am afraid can never be extended to your Lordships' House as it is at present constituted.