§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion of Viscount PEEL, That this House do resolve itself into Committee in order to consider the following Resolutions—
- (a) Members elected, either directly or indirectly, from the outside.
- (b) Hereditary Peers elected by their order.
- (c) Members nominated by the Crown, the numbers in each case to be determined by Statute.
§ "2. That, with the exception of Peers of the Blood Royal and the Law Lords, every other member of the reconstituted and reduced House of Lords shall hold his seat for a term of years to be fixed by Statute, but shall be eligible for re-election.
§ "3. That the reconstituted House of Lords shall consist approximately of 350 members.
§ "4. That while the House of Lords shall not amend or reject Money Bills, the decision as to whether a Bill is or is not a Money Bill, or is partly a Money Bill and partly not a Money Bill, shall be referred to a Joint Standing Committee of the two Houses, the decision of which shall be final. That this Joint Standing Committee shall be appointed at the beginning of each new Parliament, and shall be composed of seven members of each House of Parliament, in addition to the Speaker of the House of Commons, who shall be ex officio Chairman of the Committee.
§ "5. That the provisions of the Parliament Act, 1911, by which Bills can be passed into law without the consent of the House of Lords during the course of a single Parliament, shall not apply to any Bill which alters or amends the constitution of the House of Lords as set out in these Resolutions, or which in any way changes the powers of the House of Lords as laid down in the Parliament Act and modified by these Resolutions."
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I do not think your Lordships will differ from me when I say that on this great subject we are in the midst of a rather disappointing debate. The subject before us stands in the very front rank of constitutional questions in this country, or rather in the Empire. The Government proposals in 644 the Resolutions before us are in fulfilment of pledges which have been given to a degree and in a form which I imagine to be quite unparalelled with regard to any promise of legislation. No less than three times in the gracious Speech from the Throne the promise has been definitely given.
I have here the words in which the promise was made, first of all, in 1920. His Majesty said—Proposals will also be laid before you during the present session dealing with the Reform of the Second Chamber, and it is hoped that time will permit of their being passed into law.A year passed, and again His Majesty said—My Ministers further trust that the work of a Committee"—I call your Lordships' attention to the words—now examining the question of the Reform of the Second Chamber will be finished in time to permit of proposals being submitted to Parliament during the course of the present session.Then, last February, in the present year, the promise was repeated in a blunter and more specific form—Proposals will be submitted to you for the Reform of the House of Lords and for the adjustment of differences between the two Houses.These Resolutions are, of course, in fulfilment, in obligatory fulfilment, of innumerable pledges given by competent and foremost statesmen in and out of office.
If your Lordships will recall the record of the occasions upon which this question has been brought forward and by whom it has been brought forward, you will be reminded of the position in which we stand to-day—a position, I am anxious to point out, which, unless we go forward, is generally discreditable not to the Government only, but to Parliament and this House. In 1884 and 1888 we had the very important and detailed Resolutions of Lord Rosebery. In 1888 we had also a Bill introduced by Lord Dunraven, a Bill introduced by Lord Salisbury and, a few months later, a Bill introduced by Lord Carnarvon. Your Lordships will note that all of those were statesmen of the very front rank. A considerable interval passed before Lord Newton's Bill was produced in this House in 1907. That Bill did not, in the form in which it was introduced, succeed in enlisting the favour of the House, but it resulted in the appointment of the Select Committee 645 over which Lord Rosebery presided. I was myself honoured by being a member of that Committee, and attended, I think, all its meetings. It sat for nine months. It had twenty-four sittings, and it produced a very elaborate Report. Nothing happened, and after the Parliament Act of 1911 it was universally recognised that the matter was imperatively urgent. It became, as Mr. Asquith described it, an obligation of honour, especially upon those who had responsibility for that Act.
The noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, the noble Marquess who leads the House, Lord Curzon, and many more, spoke at different times in no doubtful way as to the urgency and the imperative obligation of proceeding with the matter. Nobody questions the necessity of doing it. The question of difficulty was how adequately to weigh, to discuss, to compose and to compare the varied possibilities which had been brought to light, and all of which were worthy of consideration. Then came the war, but the necessity for the Bill was not in the least diminished in anybody's judgment by the fact that the war was going on. We had to carry on the business of Parliament, and the business of Parliament, if it were to be carried on consistently with the promises made, involved the pushing forward of this matter. Therefore, in the middle of the war, in 1917, the great Conference of the members of the two Houses presided over by Lord Bryce, was called into being. Again, I had the privilege of being a member of that Conference and attending all its meetings. It held forty-eight sittings and sat for six months. Your Lordships have before you the Report in the form of a letter from Lord Bryce which summarises the proceedings which took place. The recommendations made cover practically the whole ground of inquiry, both historically—in brief, of course—and practically, in a way no previous document had attempted to do.
Since that time, as I have said, the subject has been three times before us in the King's Speech, and constant promises, and even pledges, have been given by the present Government, or members of it, or those who belonged to it at the time, and notably by Mr. Bonar Law, who said that during the then session the matter was going to be definitely taken in hand and accomplished. Then, Lord Selborne proposed a Resolution in 1921 which, with some changes introduced by Lord Lans- 646 downe, was accepted by the House. Resolution said—That, this House urges His Majesty's Government to introduce at the earliest possible moment their measure for the reform of the Second Chamber.After all that, it became clear that some explanation was necessary for the very long delay which had occurred, and I want to call attention to that explanation.
The noble Marquess, Lord Curzon, who was leading the House, stated quite specifically why the delay had taken place. He said the matter was so elaborate, that they were discussing it so closely and were giving such meticulous attention to it, that to produce the result required would be a work of immense labour and care. He added—I do not think it much matters whether you call this a debt of honour or a debt of conscience; the distinction, in the circumstances of the case, is infinitesimal. It is an obligation upon this or upon any Government, and has been an obligation upon every Government since the passage of the Parliament Act, to proceed at no distant date with the reconstitution of your Lordships' House.Later in his speech the noble Marquess said—On every previous occasion everybody has known in advance that the scheme was academic, would prove abortive, and was introduced as an occasion for people to air their views—no doubt very sincere and serious views—but that the chance of its coming upon the Statute Book was infinitesimal and remote. We are now approaching the matter with the idea of really solving or at any rate attempting to solve it. … If, as I earnestly hope, the Committee will have completed its labours in the course of the present year and submitted its proposals to the Cabinet, and obtained the assent of that body to them, I hope not only that as one of the most important and earliest acts of the new session we may be able to introduce a measure on this subject to Parliament, …The Lord Chancellor went a little further, because during the present year, in February last, the noble and learned Viscount, in answer to a Question by Lord Gisborough, told us in detail what elaborate care was being taken in its perfection. He said—It would not be fair if the noble Lord at a very anxious and occupied season, were to press me too closely as to the precise moment when these Resolutions will have attained the degree of verbal perfection which we shall hope they will acquire before the noble Lord is called upon to address his mind to them, but I am sincerely of opinion that it will not be very unduly delayed.It was, therefore, in order to produce a degree of verbal perfection that we were asked to wait, and we were assured that the attention of the Government was being given to it for the purpose of producing the verbal perfection to which the 647 noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack had referred. Now, at last, the time has arrived when these elaborate proposals have come to birth, and, after the promises that have been made, some of us have been on tenterhooks of expectation to see how this elaborated scheme would appear—this scheme which had been delayed, as we were definitely told, only because it was engaging very much attention and because it was impossible to work it out in detail without giving a great deal of time to it. We were anxious to see how it corresponded with the verbal perfection which had been promised. The Resolutions are now before us. As regards elaboration, or definiteness, not of large principles but of anything like practical policy in the matter, or of the choice among the different possibilities which are open to us, we have hardly anything.
Suppose a stranger from overseas, who knew that this great constitutional question was at last before us for solution, had come down the day before yesterday, when the debate opened, to see how the Mother of Parliaments really handles so great a problem, what would he have found? He would have found, I do not say a very thin House but a somewhat meagre attendance, and a Government Bench which sometimes had two occupants and sometimes one. The difficulties are, no doubt, great; but that is what he would have seen. Certainly, he would have listened to a series of speeches admirable in quality, but necessarily weakened in their practical importance, because no practical material had been put forward by the Government. A long Resolution, or series of Resolutions, is given us couched in what for those who are familiar with the subject may almost be called platitudes. The knotty points on which decision must ultimately turn are almost evaded, or left practically un-mentioned.
I have often admired and envied the power of lucid statement possessed by my noble friend, Lord Peel, who introduced these Resolutions on behalf of the Government. We have had many examples of it in recent years, but on this occasion his task was a different one. There was very little to elucidate; the points of difficulty which required close argument were not there, and he had to content himself with admirable and dignified rhetorical generalities with which we all agree. He must explain for himself. These are his own words— 648I might even say that these outlines are themselves rich in undisclosed articulations. They are presented in the form of Resolutions and not as a Bill. The modern Merlins of draftsmanship have not yet applied to them the complicated canons of their mysterious art. The hand of the master is no doubt there, but it is the hand of a master not enmeshed or entangled in a wilderness of inordinate detail.That was not an exaggerated form in which to describe the lack of detail in the Resolutions.
It may be said quite fairly that out of a desire to respect the dignity and capacity of this House the Government wished to leave it unfettered as regards vital details. But that is not the constitutional way to do this. It must rest in the end with the Government; no one but the Government can carry through the two Houses of Parliament definite proposals of this kind; and it is a pity to leave this House too unfettered and unguided in discussing this matter. It was not exactly said that it was out of respect to this House that this course was taken, but it was suggested that this is the right way. If so, why wait so long? Why should these general principles not have been given to us to discuss in the way that seemed best and with the freedom which is now offered a long time ago? We have been waiting; we have been told what we were waiting for; but, although we waited, it did not come. That is how the matter stands at this moment.
I hope, however, we shall go forward; that we shall pass this Motion and proceed, in Committee, to discuss the Resolutions in detail, filling in what seems to us necessary in order to make them operative in the right way. With the experience I have had on two Commissions I say simply, and with sangfroid, that I am in favour of the recommendations of Lord Bryce's Conference, though I have no meticulous veneration for their exact words or their exact provisions. I am prepared to have any one reconsidered or amended according to the wisdom of the House. I am even ready to support, if the House so desire, a proposal which did not appear in the Report of Lord Bryce's Conference, but which appears in the Government Resolutions—namely, that of nominated members. If the House desire, I am prepared to support that, and I should not worry about meticulous details of the proposals provided they are taken in the large sense as a basis for our discussions.
649 When this question is considered, some debate always arises as to whether we should first discuss and decide the composition of this House, or deal first with its powers and duties and then with its composition. That does not seem to me an exceedingly important matter. In the long run, the two must be produced together, in whatever order they are debated. You may say we must settle what the new body is to be before we can entrust it with great powers, or you may say that we must know exactly what the duties of this new body are before we are prepared to constitute it. Either way is open to argument and discussion, and I do not very greatly care which comes first, for both must be considered before a final settlement of either can be satisfactorily made. This is made absolutely clear by Lord Bryce's Report.
We have now both these questions before us. We have the question of the powers and the question of the constitution of the House to consider and debate. The question of powers, their limitation or extension, was discussed by Lord Selborne in his very weighty speech two nights ago. Things are ripe, I think, for discussion in detail on Resolutions numbered 4 and 5, and whether they are discussed before or after the other proposals does not matter very much. I am not going to say anything about powers because that subject has been largely dealt with, and will, no doubt, be referred to in later speeches, but I should like to say something about the composition of the House. We have a proposal, usefully definite so far, that it should be composed of about 350 Peers. When we come to details everything depends on the proportion in which members are to be elected and non-elected members.
If you will look at the different suggestions put forward—they are admirably summarised in the Rosebery Report of about twelve years ago—you will see how very different, to different minds and at different times, the proportion has presented itself as being appropriate. I think we shall need and ought to have some guidance as to the Government view of what the proportions should be. The relative proportion of outside and inside elections, election by the country direct or indirect, and election by members of this House will have to be considered. Then there is a very important matter indeed—namely, the maner in which the outside election is to be carried on, what 650 the constituency is to be, who are to be the electors. I can hardly imagine that any one will seriously urge the direct election of members to this House over an area so vast as to make such election almost unmanageable and extremely difficult to carry out.
These may be details, but they are not incidental details. They are details that are vital to the result, and they run along the large lines of principle that we must follow if we are to produce a satisfactory issue out of these discussions. Upon some of these points I should be ready to stand simply by the proposals of the Bryce Conference, but, as I have said before, I think they are perfectly reasonably open to modification, and I should be prepared to give respectful attention to such modification as may be proposed.
There is another point upon which I ought to say a few words, because not only is it very important in itself, but it was alluded to twice in the debate two nights ago. I refer to the position of what are called Spiritual Lords of Parliament. In the last debate a reference to this point and a definite appeal to myself were made both by Lord Buckmaster and by Lord Burnham, in the course of their interesting speeches, and I ought, I think, to say a word about the matter. The wording of the Resolution before us, notwithstanding the Merlin hand to which Lord Peel referred, remains, I think, singularly obscure. The first Resolution leads one to suppose that the Lords Spiritual should remain exactly as they are at present. That interpretation was reached, after reading the Resolution, by no less a person than the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, when he spoke the other night, and, I think, also by Lord Burnham. But a closer examination of the Merlin draftsmanship shows, when we come to the third Resolution, that apparently the Spiritual Peers would hold seats for a term of years, and be eligible for reelection, the presumption being that they had been elected in the first instance, and that, I imagine, is the intention which His Majesty's Government were attempting to express in the Resolution. The point is certainly not clear, but I have no doubt it will be made clearer before we have finished.
I have no hesitation in saying that it is perfectly reasonable and, indeed, in fairness, necessary largely to reduce the number of bishops in a House largely diminished 651 as a whole. I personally take no exception whatever to that. The condition of things has entirely changed during the course of centuries, so far as the proportion and, possibly, even the work of the Spiritual Peers, or Spiritual Lords of Parliament (I think that is the correct term), are concerned. I think I am right in saying that if we go back a good many centuries, to a time when this House, indeed, was already in vigorous action, I mean about the year 1300, we should find that the proportion of lay Peers to Spiritual Peers in the House was a little over one-half; that is to say, there were ninety or ninety-four Spiritual Peers and about fifty lay Peers. That was the proportion then, and no one suggests that we should go either to that length, or, indeed, anywhere in that direction. If we go forward 250 years, we find that, in the middle of the sixteenth century, the Spiritual Peers represented one-half of the whole House; there were twenty-five Spiritual Peers—or twenty-six, when the new See was formed—and only fifty lay Peers. That was the condition of the House in the days of Queen Elizabeth. As we stand to-day, there are about 600 or more lay Peers—I forget the exact number—and there are the same number of bishops as sat in the reign of Queen Elizabeth.
I should not feel, nor, I think, would the Church of England at large feel, that there was any harm in concentrating the very real responsibility which lies upon those Spiritual Lords of Parliament who have seats in this House—in concentrating, rather than extending it over the whole Bench of Bishops. I believe the work would be just as well done, and, though there would be some difficulties, and, perhaps, some disappointments, there would also be some advantages in that concentration, provided the House at large was to be a smaller House. In fact, it would be consistent, fair and logical, in relation to the diminution that was taking place in the other branches of your Lordships' House. In the Rosebery recommendations of 1908, it was suggested that there should be ten bishops, that is to say, the two Archbishops and eight bishops, elected by the Episcopate. In the Bryce Report it was suggested that there should be only five bishops, and that they should be elected by the Joint Standing Committee. These are details upon which I shall have something to say when the time comes, but into which I do not wish to enter now. All I desire to maintain is that, so far as I am 652 concerned, I think it not only logical, reasonable and consistent, but perfectly fair, that the reduction in the number of bishops should be a real one; nor do I believe that it would be any great detriment to the assistance they are able to contribute to the discussions in your Lordships' House.
Another point was raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, who is not now in his place, to which he specially called my attention. He asked whether I should not agree with him in saying that it would be eminently desirable that, if persons whose qualifications were of what are called the spiritual kind—I apologise for the word, and do not pretend that it is very suitable—were to sit in this House, the practice should be extended beyond members of the Church of England, to whom it is limited at present. I am entirely in favour of that view in theory, but it becomes an extremely difficult matter when you try to reduce it to practice. In the Rosebery Report, to which I have referred, these words occur—The Committee would gladly see within the House representatives of the other great Churches of England, Scotland and Ireland, but they have not been able to formulate any definite recommendations with that object.It is not until they try to formulate definite recommendations with that object that most people realise what an exceedingly difficult task it is. What bodies are you to choose among persons who do not belong to the Church of England? If you take every denomination which exists, the number is, of course, very large indeed. If you go down to every group, there are some forty-five or fifty bodies in England—Seventh Day Adventists, or anything else they may be—that probably have considerable numerical strength positively, though it is extremely small proportionately, and the difficulty of deciding where you would draw the line in allowing any of these bodies to send members to this House would be enormous.
It is said that some of these bodies have central bodies (and quite rightly), and presidents, but it is an almost invariable rule—and I say this as an outcome of a long discussion which we had upon the subject—that these moderators, or chiefs, or chairmen, are elected for one year. A man sits for a year and then ceases to sit. As a representative in this House, he might sit on afterwards, but that is an arrangement which would require very peculiar adapta- 653 tion, and, unless you could have a real electing body to choose these men from the various denominations, to choose them for us, so to speak, or unless—another possibility—they were simply nominated by the Crown, and chosen and named by some authority, I believe it would be found exceedingly difficult to formulate definite plans. If, however, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, who was rightly anxious on that subject, will bring his acumen and his skill to bear upon it, and produce a plan which would work fairly for practical purposes, I can assure him, not only of my readiness to support it, but of my welcome for such a proposal. I believe the gain would be a real one, in a House which was largely elected, and I should be wholly at one with him in desiring it. I have taken that point in some detail, because it seemed to devolve upon me to do so, but the question will, of course, have to be worked out in its minutiæ when we come to a later stage.
That is practically all that I desire to say. I repeat that I sincerely hope that we shall pass the Motion to go into Committee, that we shall go into Committee on the details of the different Resolutions, and I feel that it is worth while taking infinite pains about the matter. Not only is the subject one of great historic, practical and constitutional importance, but it is one that affects and bears upon really the honour of successive Governments, the advantage of Parliament, the credit of our Constitution, and I would venture to say, the good and well-being of the Empire as a whole. Therefore, I hope that we shall go forward and pass these Resolutions, and work them out in detail afterwards.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
My Lords, the most rev. Primate has dealt in a full and very incisive manner with the shortcomings of the Government in respect of the paucity of these Resolutions. The Resolutions do not cover the whole ground. They do not pretend to do so. They are very cautious, and, if I may say so, they are extremely modest. They are, in effect, an invitation to your Lordships in the first instance, and ultimately to the public as a whole, at this particular stage of Parliamentary evolution, to deal not with details but with four or five governing features which must control any measure of reform of your Lordships' House. I believe, quite honestly, that this is the best form of procedure. His Grace asked just now what an intelligent stranger 654 would think coming here and witnessing the manner in which the Mother of Parliaments deals with an important question? If the stranger was intelligent enough I am sure I could convince him that there is much to be said for our method of procedure.
It is true it prolongs discussion. That, in itself, is no disadvantage in a House where unofficial Peers are masters of the time and masters of their own procedure. It prolongs the area and the extent of discussion. It allows discussion not on a formal stage like the Second Reading of a Bill, but on the Motion put down at Lord Salisbury's instance, that your Lordships resolve yourselves into a Committee. This gives a conspectus of the whole field, not limiting any individual Peer to discussing what is in our Resolutions, but giving him power to discuss what is not in them. It has this advantage: that we have an investigation proceeding before the Resolutions are considered seriatim, and also before a Bill is presented. Many of your Lordships will remember—I was not in the House at the time—the Bill introduced in 1911 by the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne. That Bill contained an elaborate schedule of the qualifications and disqualifications—extending to each and all of your Lordships—as to the right to sit in this House. I venture to say that that schedule would never have been produced if your Lordships had dealt with this matter in general form in a Committee stage, before the much more solemn and formal stage of presenting a Bill to Parliament had been reached. That proposal could not have survived two days' discussion on a Motion for going into Committee in your Lordships' House.
Although I can detect no enthusiasm on the part of your Lordships for these Resolutions, I notice that few members of your Lordships' House have thought it necessary, or right, to attack any one of them individually. Your Lordships may think they are incomplete. They are, but so far as they go I have not, quite frankly, observed any particular hostility to them. They do not go far enough. That is conceded. It is obvious. There are notable omissions. The Order Paper of the House shows one or two subjects which, of course, are elemental, on which no indication is given in the Resolutions. Amendments are already before your Lordships, and more Amendments are bound to come. But the 655 subject is very difficult indeed, and I do not think the Lord Archbishop quite exhausted the subject by saying it was discreditable that nothing should have been done yet. He reminded us that Bills on this subject have been introduced into this House during the last forty or forty-five years. Is it possible that the consistent failure of those Bills, many of which never reached Committee stage at all, and some of which did not even reach the Second Reading stage I believe, should neither have reflected a very strong desire on the part of the House of Lords nor a corresponding anxiety in the mind of the public outside to change the composition, or in those days the powers, of this Assembly? That consideration, my Lords, really cannot be ignored, if for forty or forty-five years Bill after Bill has been presented, Committee after Committee has sat, and there is no driving power, either here or elsewhere, to carry these measures beyond the academic stage.
And each one of your Lordships will bear me out when I say that there does exist, here and elsewhere, a strong body of opinion against any change. It has not been freely expressed in this debate as yet—I do not know whether it will be; but, looking round, I estimate that fifteen per cent. of the members of the House are present at this moment—but it exists. I do not think that my noble friend, Lord Willoughby de Broke, is present, but he, I fancy, came nearest to expressing that view on Tuesday, when he told us with complete frankness—he said it in relation to the reduction of numbers—that he would only consent to any reduction of the numbers of the House in return for certain terms or concessions. That view is very intelligible indeed. I shall point out in a moment that these Resolutions do contain what we may call concessions of a rather more extended character than my noble friend indicated.
As to the reduction of numbers, however, I think that on the merits of the question there is pretty universal agreement. Our figure is approximately 350. It corresponds pretty closely with the figure of Lord Lansdowne and of the Bryce Committee, and I believe generally would command assent. Our present numbers are 700 or more. Of these 120 members have not taken their seats since the beginning of this Parliament. Some are minors; some are too infirm to attend; others 656 (looking through your Lordships' Roll) do not mean to attend. And there is unquestionably a danger in having excessive numbers. The most rev. Primate says that he docs not attach so much importance to the actual number to be chosen as to the constituent parts of that number, as between members nominated or elected from outside and those selected by your Lordships from your Lordships. The proportions in this difficult question vary in every Bill, and change with every Conference. There is no platitude to guide us on that particular problem, but the Resolutions show clearly the three main component parts from which the actual proportions will have to be determined.
Let me here say that I apologise if it was not made clear that the Government contemplate that the number of the right rev. Prelates should be reduced. The Resolution says that they shall be eligible for re-election, which means that they must, in the first instance, be elected, and presumably, therefore, that they have no right to sit in their present numbers.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
I am quite sure, if I may express a personal opinion, that the bishops ought to be elected by their own Bench—whether by proportional representation or not shall be settled by the two Primates of England.
May I come back to the question of numbers? There is really a danger in excessive numbers, because there do come moments of emergency, moments of crisis, when the additional Peers who attend this House do not, as a rule, add to the wisdom of your Lordships' deliberations, but who, none the less, may come up and give a determining vote upon questions of crucial importance, without the profound sense of responsibility which, from my few years' experience in this House—I state positively—governs the action and the conduct of every Peer who makes it his duty to attend here in a regular manner. I believe that the sense of responsibility felt and exercised by members of this House, or rather the members who do the work of this House, is really greater than that felt and exercised by members of the House of Commons. And I say that with the knowledge I have gained through having been elected seven times 657 to the other House. We therefore think that it is impossible to maintain the view that the existing numbers shall be as they are now, because every time a recurrent crisis occurs—and they may be separated by ten, or fifteen, or twenty years, when there is a gigantic whip up of Peers who, so far as Parliament is concerned, perform few functions—your Lordships' House is unquestionably weakened.
Lord Willoughby de Broke is ready to consent to this reduction if the powers of the survivors are adequate. Lord Selborne says the same thing from a different point of view: that these Resolutions, or the reduction in numbers, are pretty useless unless the Parliament Act is greatly modified. I am rather disposed to think that some of your Lordships have forgotten the terms of the Parliament Act, or have not read that notorious Statute lately, and that members of this House and members of the public as a whole, underrate the powers which are conferred by that Parliament Act upon your Lordships, and especially if these Resolutions are passed into law, enhanced as those powers will then be.
Lord Selborne made our flesh creep. He told us that all sorts of terrible things could happen under the Parliament Act: a Republic could be proclaimed, banks could be nationalised, prohibition could be enforced. Prohibition has been enforced in one country which has got a Second Chamber which, by the powers vested in it by the Constitution, by every paper guarantee and so forth, is much stronger than this House. Republics have been established in countries where there were Senates which had ten times our power, and, although what Lord Selborne says is, of course, true, it is only true in relation to other very big considerations.
Lord Selborne starts by assuming that the House of Commons which is going to do these terrible things does not represent public opinion. That is a large assumption when you have got a Parliament Act, because it cannot be done for two years, perhaps two and a half years, under that Act. He also assumes—but this is not a point I dare insist upon, because it raises a kind of question of political philosophy which it is not relevant to discuss—that a House of Commons is not entitled to commit a mistake which that House of Commons knows the public desires to commit. We should think it a mistake, a profound 658 and a terrible mistake, if some of those things were passed. It does not follow that if the House of Commons commits that mistake—we call it a mistake—in carrying out the wishes of the people, it is the function of Second Chambers also to save the public from committing mistakes. But I do not insist upon that; it is a very, very old problem, it dates back to Aristotle, but it is a problem of political philosophy which should not be ignored.
Lord Willoughby de Broke, who spoke after Lord Selborne, I think corrected what was on my noble friend's lips because he pointed out that if you got the Soviet Government which Lord Selborne talked about that is not going to be impeded by a House of Lords. The stability of Britain does not depend upon its Constitution. There are very much wider and very much deeper foundations, and it is upon the good sense and the strong mind of the British electorate as a whole that we have depended against these dangerous revolutionary movements, and so long as this House rests upon an hereditary system so long will it be unable to meet the other House on terms of equality.
Let me refer for a minute or so to the powers under the Parliament Act. In the first place, pray remember that the Septennial Act is repealed and that under the Quinquennial Act the range of power of your Lordships under the Parliament Act is proportionately increased, and very greatly increased too; because it means that during, certainly two years, possibly two and a half, and, indeed, in certain conditions two and three-quarter years before the statutory date of Dissolution, the operation of the Parliament Act is nil and your Lordships are supreme. That is a tremendous power. These Resolutions extend those powers still further. Resolution 3 is the limitation of numbers. That Resolution is put in for the convenience of Parliament, but it has great reactions. If the third Resolution had been the law in 1911, the history of British domestic politics would have been very greatly changed.
The fourth Resolution refers to Money Bills. I shall not detain your Lordships except by referring to it in passing, but it is important; it is an additional safeguard; it makes it quite certain that before your Lordships are precluded from dealing with a Money Bill this House shall have the right to express its opinions to a 659 properly constituted and statutory authority. That is valuable, very valuable indeed, especially in conditions outlined as possible, and perfectly possible too, by my noble friend Lord Selborne, in reference to efforts to tack. Finally, Resolution 5 is very important indeed. Under that Resolution the application of the Parliament Act of 1911 to modifications of your Lordships status, rights, and powers is strictly limited and in itself prevents the Parliament Act from being used to destroy the powers conferred upon this House if re-constituted according to these Resolutions. That, again, I submit to your Lordships, is a very large, indeed a very fundamental, strengthening.
What are the alternatives? I shall not deal with them at any length because I have already spoken much longer than it is my habit to address your Lordships, but let me run through some of those alternatives. The repeal of the Parliament Act, which some of your Lordships want, is rather a controversial issue, but it can only be accompanied by a wholly elective House of Lords. No Peer will argue that the Parliament Act can be repealed unless the hereditary system of this House is completely wiped out and replaced by an elective system. I presume that is a platitude. May I assure the most rev. Primate that I am not in the least afraid of platitudes? A platitude is an acknowledged truth, and if we can get a little acknowledged truth in these things we shall be much assisted. Lots of people say that it would be a very good thing to abolish the Parliament Act, and to have an elective Chamber such as exists elsewhere. But it is not so simple as that. Anything of that kind would have incalculable reactions upon the hereditary Monarchy, and in that would be concurrent and consequential reactions upon all kinds of Imperial and Dominion questions. This powerful bond of unity, perhaps the most powerful which exists, could not fail to be impaired if that alternative were adopted.
The other alternatives are formulated at great length and with most wonderful clearness in the late Lord Bryce's proposals. A good deal has been said about a Free Conference. It is quite intelligible, though I never understand why it is called free; but that is the name that is always applied to it.
THE EARL OP CRAWFORD
It is not only an old term as the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, reminds me, but it is an old practice. We have in this House, to-day, a free conference in embryo. It exists to-day. It is a very useful domestic device, and we can extend it if we like. It lies within the inherent right of the Legislature, and, so far as I can make out, no Statute is required for it at all. But it is not going to help you in the least in any big constitutional issue. There is not a chance of it smoothing the way in a big dispute between your Lordships' House and another place, not in the very least. Nor does it follow that the joint session would do so with much simplicity either. I have been studying the joint session pretty closely, and I have not yet convinced myself that it is as powerful as the rights which already exist under the Parliament Act. I may be wrong in that, but I am inclined to doubt whether the speculative element which must enter upon the composition of a joint session is not such that, under certain conditions, the rights of this House under the Parliament Act would not be notably reduced. As I say, we propose considerable modifications as regards the relations between this House and the other, as regards the protection of this House, and as regards the employment of the Parliament Act. I think that the alterations will be very useful. We do propose large modifications and, of course, if necessary, we can go further.
Now let me turn again to the alteration of the constitution for one moment. It is the basis of the 1911 Bill. We are blamed because we do not deal with powers and constitution concurrently. Well, Lord Lansdowne's Bill only dealt with one of those two. It never mentioned powers. It devoted itself to the strengthening of the personnel. Lord Buckmaster, in that regard, pointed out something which I think of excessive importance, also a platitude. Let me trouble your Lordships with another platitude, this time a platitude of Lord Buckmaster. The noble and learned Lord said that under our constitution, government by a Labour Party, so far as this branch of the Legislature is concerned, would be impossible. He said he believed that there was one Peer who 661 was prepared to join a Labour Government, and he mentioned Viscount Haldane. Lord Haldane denied that impeachment altogether. Your Lordships, therefore, have to lace this fact, that with the most extended electorate we have ever had, perhaps the most extended electorate in the world today, it would be impossible, if that Electorate were to choose a Labour Government, for it to be represented by tried and trusted supporters in this particular House. That is a very serious thing, and the way to meet it is to make it possible, by constitution if necessary, that there should be members of this House nominated by the Crown in such numbers as may be determined by Statute.
THE EAKL OF CRAWFORD
Members nominated by the Crown, the numbers in each case to be determined by Statute. That is paragraph (c) of Resolution 1. The second Resolution says that all those persons shall hold their seats for a term of years to be fixed by Statute, but shall be eligible for re-election. Under these conditions Peers nominated in that way would rank as others, holding their seats for a term of years, and, if they so pleased, they would be eligible for re-election. I think that an elective element will go far to remove the difficulty to which I refer. A nominated element will be really valuable in that connection. I frankly say that I have never contemplated direct election—the most rev. Primate asked a question about that—nor, indeed, is it easy to say that any one method of election is preferable to others. Lord Bryce, your Lordships will remember, contemplated two or three different methods of election to complete the process. He wanted chiefly, however, a microcosm of the House of Commons.
Yesterday, one of your Lordships—I cannot recall who it was—expressed, in passing, a hope that local authorities would not be concerned in elections for this House. Some people, I know, are very much afraid of that—afraid, in short, that any duty of that kind would introduce a needless element of Party politics into local affairs. I respect their reluctance, but I very much doubt if that additional duty would have any effect of that character. The elections would be very few, they would occur at long intervals, the numbers to be chosen would be very very small 662 indeed—100, 120 or 150 for the whole country—and, moreover, the areas for choosing those members of this House would be very large. It is therefore almost impossible to conceive local authorities being brought into the whirlpool of Party politics, and being deflected from their ordinary duties of county government. Above all, the electors under that system—not direct electors, but electors chosen by (that horrid word) colleges from county councils, town councils, and so on—would be very responsible people.
Suppose it were the duty of Lancashire to elect, shall I say, fifteen or twenty Peers, to this House, the Peers to sit for twelve years. The electorate would represent the two cities of Liverpool and Manchester, forty county boroughs, the biggest, or one of the biggest, county councils in the country, and a couple of Universities. I do not believe for one moment that the duty of electing fifteen or twenty Peers at intervals spread over three or four years would have the smallest effect upon the local government of Lancashire, or that it would infect them with any such tiresome thing as Party politics. I am sure, on the other hand, that a strong element would be added to this House, if it were based upon election by elected representatives such as I have described.
I attach the very greatest importance to the constitution of the House. I think it is one of the most difficult—certainly it is one of the most important—topics to be discussed. For my part I think it advisable to strengthen this House first. I do not think we ought to lay down an elaborate code of what we think this House has got to do, and then say we will construct a House to fulfil those duties. We must not adapt our personnel with a view to any special series of problems. After all, there are great varying cycles of problems with which Parliament has to deal. Twenty-five years ago we were thinking of nothing but domestic problems; then came an interval of war problems; then again followed an interval of domestic problems; then another great war problem. The next cycle is an economic problem, and the cycle after that will very likely be a Dominion problem.
What I want to see is a House of Lords so manned and so equipped that it can deal with each and all of these problems as they may arise unexpectedly, and not a House constituted with a view to a special series 663 or sequence of problems, not a House specially constructed to deal with what we think is going to be our immediate difficulty in the future. As the House must be constructed to handle that group of problems, I would much rather the House was made as strong as it is humanly possible to make it. Upon that strength the House of Lords would be in a position to deal with any question, any problem, any issue, any trouble with which we may be faced. These Resolutions do lay the foundations for a reconstituted Second Chamber. They have the advantage of carrying forward the fine traditions of your Lordships of to-day. These Resolutions are rooted in an historic and an honourable past, and, I think, amplified, as they will be and must be, they will ensure for the future a House of Lords with increased experience, increased authority, and, I hope, increased independence also.
§ EARL BUXTON
My Lords, I am one of those who take rather a different view from that of previous speakers who have discussed this question. I am one of those, and I believe there are a large number of noble Lords, who are altogether opposed to the Resolutions and to the scheme as a whole; whether it may be expedient to divide is another question. On many occasions in the other House, and on occasions in this House, I have heard the Government introduce their proposals, but I have never heard a proposal received with less enthusiasm than the Resolutions which are now engaging your attention. Not a single noble Lord has spoken in their favour. This experience rather reminds me of Wordsworth's "Lucy,"A maid whom there were none to praiseAnd very few to love,and I do not think the Government themselves are much enamoured of their offspring. The Resolutions are obviously the result of compromise, though the noble Earl did his best to defend them as a compromise. The noble Viscount in introducing them said that a Coalition Government was the only Government that could produce these proposals in this way. But it is the Coalition which has been fatal to these Resolutions. The members of a Coalition Government have varying ideas, and the result is that we have a proposal which has neither substance nor form.
I do not disguise from your Lordships the fact that I do not think we have at 664 the present moment any reason or demand for a drastic reform of this House at all. An overwhelming case ought to be made out to justify such a grave constitutional reform and before we lightly pass from an unwritten to a written Constitution. The first essential on the part of the Government was that they should make out a good case for reform. The noble Viscount who introduced the Resolutions, and the noble Earl who has just spoken, did not give one single argument in favour of this reform. They dealt with the Resolutions, but gave no reasons why at the present time we should deal with this question. The chief reason advanced by the Government for dealing with this reform is that they are pledged to it. They must have fairly easy consciences if they think they have redeemed a pledge repeatedly given by the Resolutions they have put on the Table of the House.
After all, the only pledge this House has in regard to this matter is the Preamble of the Parliament Act, which said that after the Parliament Act had passed there ought to be a House substituted on a popular instead of an hereditary basis. By no stretch of imagination can it be said that these Resolutions, or any Bill founded upon them, will give you a House constituted on a popular basis. But is this House, and is the Government, pledged in the sense that they are bound to carry through Resolutions in this way? Since the Parliament Act, eleven years ago, circumstances have altered materially, entirely and radically, and I think the noble Earl was right when he suggested that in the view of many of your Lordships there is no public demand at the moment for a reform of the House of Lords. If that is so, I do not think this is a propitious moment at which we should deal with the question.
I have been a member of this House for but a few years and in South Africa for most of them, and it may be presumptuous of me to deal with this question at all. But the mere fact that I have been out of active Party politics for six or eight years does enable me to look at it with a more, I think, open and detached mind. I make bold to say that the House of Lords at the present moment carries more weight and influence and prestige than it did before the Parliament Act. Its unrestricted powers for destruction, which came in conflict with public opinion, have been curtailed under the Parliament Act. And may I say, 665 incidentally, that I was very glad, as a member of the Government which passed the Parliament Act, to hear the satisfactory defence of that measure from the noble Earl? I believe, those powers having been curtailed, that the House of Lords has advanced in respect and influence in the country.
§ EARL BUXTON
I will put it this way, that the noble Earl, in reply to Lord Selborne, made out that the Parliament Act was not such an absolutely destructive measure to the House of Lords, as some noble Lords have contended. But, as I was saying, of late, on more than one occasion, the country has found that the House of Lords was a truer exponent of public opinion and a more sympathetic and a more independent representative of national feeling than the House of Commons. The independence of the House of Lords is, I understand, often a cause of complaint and anxiety to the Government Whips. Noble Lords sit out debates, they will listen to arguments, and, what is still more serious and more distressing, they are actually impressed by arguments and vote according to the conclusions they reach. The idea that in the House of Commons no speech ever turned a vote is certainly not true of your Lordships' House. The result is that this Government, a Unionist Government, which in the ordinary way commands a large majority in your Lordships' House, is often in great anxiety as to what may be the result of a particular Division. That is an excellent thing for the soul of any Government. It keeps them up to scratch and makes them take care to put their proposals properly before the House.
One reason for this greater independence and broadmindedness may be the influx that has taken place of late years of ex-Members of Parliament. It may surprise noble Lords to know that at the present moment there are, partly created and partly succeeding, 150 members of your Lordships' House who at one time or other were members of the House of Commons. They bring their experience and tradition and tolerance to the debates, and have some value in keeping your Lordships in touch with public opinion.
Whether that is so or not, I do not think there is any demand at the moment in any quarter, with the exception of some 666 of your Lordships, for what is commonly called a reform of the Upper House, from which I exclude certain proposals for internal reform which have been referred to in the course of the debate but which could be met without any great constitutional reform. I should like later to refer I to one or two of these.
By a reform of the House of Lords is generally meant a great constitutional change from top to bottom, making it a brand new Chamber and cutting adrift from all the traditions of the House of Lords. The noble Earl, Lord Crawford, who has just spoken, dealt at considerable, though not undue, length with the reasons why the Government have introduced the Resolutions, and he deprecated criticism of the introduction of these Resolutions, implying that they were intended to be of a somewhat innocuous character, so that your Lordships would be able to put them into shape. That may be so, but the most rev. Primate showed the position which has led up to these Resolutions, and how the Government, by repeated references in the King's Speech and in other ways, had pledged themselves to deal with this question. These proposals had been heralded to such a degree that I think we were reasonably disappointed when we found that they were of the ineffective character which is now revealed.
The real reason, of course, is that which was expressed by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack some months ago in an ingenuous and frank speech. He said—and this is perfectly true, and applies also to the Government of which I had the honour of being a member—that the Government were unable to come to agreement on various points, and that they were therefore presenting Resolutions. They had sufficient unanimity to produce Resolutions, but not sufficient unanimity to produce a Bill. After all, a Bill has to be precise, consistent and watertight, while Resolutions are pious opinions, which can be as vague as you like, and as full of holes as a sieve.
It is all very well for the Government to put these Resolutions before the House in the way they have done, but it is rather hard on noble Lords that they should have been put in this way, without further thought, without further form and without greater precision. Because, as has been pointed out by previous speakers, the whole question of the constitution and the powers turns on the details of the system and the 667 method by which they shall be carried out. In this hybrid body, there will be no fewer than five different classes of members. There will be Lords Spiritual, Law Lords, elected members, selected members, and nominated members.
§ EARL BUXTON
I exclude Royal Peers; they do not come into the question. The proportions between these members, the method and period of their election, and a hundred other questions which naturally arise when one views the matter, are not defined. The real difficulty of dealing with this matter of the reform of the House of Lords, and the real reason why I do not believe that you can ever have a body which will carry confidence in the country or be as effective for good as the present House of Lords, is that, when agreement has been come to in regard to certain propositions and principles, all the rest is a matter only of opinion.
When we have agreed—and I think there is agreement—that there shall be two Houses, a bicameral system; that the hereditary system shall practically disappear; that the House shall not be one-sided in politics, but representative of the country as a whole; that it shall be, as the noble Earl said, reduced in numbers and made workable; and that, contingently, these backveldt Peers, these panic-stricken Peers, who sometimes come and swamp the House of Lords, shall no longer be able to retain that privilege; and finally, it is agreed that the House of Commons must be predominant, and must, as regards strict finance, have complete control. It is then, after arriving at this measure of agreement, that our difficulties begin. There are hardly two members of this House, or of the other House, who are agreed with regard to the functions, the powers, the membership or the form of election of the Second House, and there are no principles or convictions which can be applied to them. There is, therefore, a wide field for ingenuity and controversy in regard to the matter.
I should have at least thought that the Government, in considering these Resolutions, would have paid some regard to the Bryce Conference, to which reference has been made, and which did go exhaustively into the subject and make certain definite proposals. Personally, I am not able to 668 agree with some of them, but that is neither here nor there. At all events, that Conference had an opportunity of going exhaustively into these matters, and one would have thought that the Government would at any rate have paid some attention to their Report, and would, to a certain extent, have based their plans upon it. But as regards Finance, as regards the Parliament Act and the suspension of the Veto, and as regards the Constitution, not a single one of the proposals of the Bryce Conference has been adopted by the Government. The noble Earl, and Lord Peel also when he introduced the Resolutions, threw over or turned down, in considering the constitution of the new body, the proposition put forward and accepted by the Bryce Conference, that the new House, so far as it is elected, should be elected by the House of Commons. That was turned down by both noble Lords, and they have proposed the system, rejected by the Bryce Conference, that the election should be made through the local county councils, and other local bodies of that sort. I understood that to be the noble Earl's contention, and that, certainly, is what Lord Peel said.
§ EARL BUXTON
Both the noble Lords representing the Government have turned down the main proposals of the Bryce Conference, that, so far as members of this House are elected, they should be elected through the House of Commons; and they have accepted the proposition, which the Bryce Conference, after going exhaustively into the matter, turned down, that the members of this House should be elected by the county councils. Does that, not show the impossibility of dealing with this question on practical lines? Here you have the Bryce Conference, who went into the question carefully and made certain proposals; you have the Government, who, we may assume, also went carefully into the matter—we know they must have done so, because they have been a very long time bringing it to fruition;—and you had the Liberal Government, of which I was a member, also going into the matter very carefully and very exhaustively. None of these bodies agreed in any detail, which shows, to my mind, that it is not possible to create a body which is likely to gain the 669 confidence of the public. When it is known that it is necessarily a thing of shreds and patches, founded on no accepted principle, and shorn of the prestige and power which attaches to this House through its antiquity and its experience, it will not, I think, gain the acceptance and therefore the confidence of the people at large.
I believe that there are only two methods of dealing with this question. One is to leave the House as it is, with certain internal reforms and improvements, on which I think there is general agreement, but maintaining its continuity and its authority; and the other is, as the Preamble of the Parliament Act says, to put it on a broad and popular basis. I have doubts whether that would be a good plan. But as between those two alternatives I do not believe there is a half-way house out of which a habitable dwelling can be made, with solid foundations which will stand the wear and tear of political crises and political life. It seems to me that it is essential that a strong case should be made out before we embark on what is practically an uncharted sea, without rudder or compass, and attempt to make a new Second House to take the place of this House.
If your Lordships will allow me, I should like to refer to one or two points made by the noble Lord with regard to the constitutional position. He used what I thought was rather an ominous phrase. He said that if you are to have a House on terms of equality with the other House you must have it partly on a representative basis, and Lord Peel talked of its being a strong and efficient body. That, I think, raises a very dangerous question indeed. Is it intended that this new House, which is to be on terms of equality, or more or less terms of equality, with the House of Commons, and is to be a strong and efficient body, is to be a House which, apart from legislative matters, is to meet the precipitate action of the Lower House, or is it to act as a buffer against progress—if you like, revolutionary progress? I am afraid, from such indications as we have heard, that one of the main reasons why the Government embarked on this question was that they were afraid of a Labour Government coming into office at some time or other.
Lord Crawford spoke of Lord Selborne making our flesh creep by his horrible suggestions as to what might happen if a 670 Labour Government came into office. I am quite certain of this, that nowadays this Upper House, however constructed, can be no real bulwark against a Labour or any other Government controlling and maintaining a majority in the other House. No such Government, and no such House of Commons, would allow their measures to be perpetually thwarted and delayed by any Upper House, however constituted. The only result would be that instead of having the constitutional crises which we have had in the past, if such an attempt were made by the Upper House we should have what would amount to a revolutionary crisis, and the Upper House would disappear at once and for ever. Therefore, if we are asked to vote for this reform of the House of Lords on the ground that it will create, a much stronger body than the present House of Lords, it seems to me it is a very dangerous thing to ask of us.
I do not believe, however, that this nondescript body will carry more weight than the present House of Lords. It will have the inherent defect that it will be a brand new artificial body, founded on no accepted principle, and without the traditions of the House of Lords behind it.
If I might trespass for a few minutes more upon your Lordships' attention, there is one point to which I attach great importance. I believe that this House, however created, will not carry more real weight than does the present House. If it does, it willbe, as I have said, a dangerous menace to our Constitution as a whole. But whether it does or does not, I think there is this danger to be anticipated from any artificial House of this character: The House of Lords, after all, bows to public and popular opinion, when that is properly and constitutionally expressed. But the reformed House of Lords, however it is constituted—whether its members are elected or selected by their Peers, or nominated—will be, as Lord Peel said, composed of men of weight and experience. They will be sent to the new House to make that House a live and active body, to uphold its powers and its privileges. By its very creation and constitution the Second House will be entitled, and indeed will be invited, to assert its powers and privileges, and I should not be surprised if it were to try to magnify its office and try to do more than it was intended it should do. It is bound to be, in certain circumstances, less progressive than the House of Commons, and to my mind the stronger you make this Second 671 House the more meddlesome it will become, and instead of having very infrequent conflicts between the two Houses, we shall have not only friction but I am afraid hostility and conflict on many occasions.
I think that the constitution of this House, and the fact that it must make itself an effective part of the Constitution will lead to these conflicts between the two Houses which we all so deeply deplore. We want simplicity and stability in this matter, and I think we have neither. It is true that we do not yet know how these Resolutions will work out. The Coalition was in labour for a long time and they have now produced this ridiculous, anæmic mouse. We have got to work at the matter on going into Committee, and see whether it can be made a little stronger and a little less anæmic, but in my opinion whatever we do in Committee we shall never be able to make an effective House or one which will be of advantage to the country.
If your Lordships will give me a few minutes longer I would like to add that I have so far endeavoured by criticism to be destructive in what I have said. I would now like to say one or two words of a constructive nature, because I agree that the House of Lords cannot be left, after all that has occurred, as it now stands. There are certain internal reforms which would be greatly to its advantage. The noble Lord mentioned a particular one—namely, the question of numbers. He said that the House was too large, and was often swamped by those who in the ordinary way took no part in our debates. That can be dealt with in one or two ways, and I am only attempting to indicate, without arguing or endeavouring to be exhaustive on the subject, how it can be met. In the first place, there are the reckless additions made to this House without regard to its efficiency. That is a matter which I presume will be obviated in the future. Then there is the question of how to deal with those who do not attend regularly, who take no interest in the work of the House, and who come in only to make it difficult for others to work and carry on the business. The noble Earl, Lord Crawford, said that about 150 members of your Lordships' House had never yet taken the Oath in this Parliament, though it has been in existence since December, 1918.
§ EARL BUXTON
It does not matter what the numbers are—at any rate, there is a very substantial number. Would it not be possible to ordain that at the beginning of each Parliament, unless good and sufficient cause were shown, every member of your Lordships' House should take the Oath, say within the first three months of a new Parliament, and that, unless he did so, although he could sit, he should not be able to vote during the existence of that Parliament. That suggestion, or at any rate some rule as to attendance, might do something to reduce the numbers.
But much the most effective way of dealing with this matter is one to which your Lordships have given attention on more than one occasion—namely, by providing that the possession of a Peerage should no longer, in itself, give the right to sit and vote. I need hardly say I am not going to argue that matter now. Lord Willoughby de Broke in his speech offered very ingenious support to the proposal, and his main proposition was that the House of Lords is like a pack of foxhounds, because both of them are hereditary. That, I think, is a compliment to the House of Lords, but I think Lord Willoughby forgot that there is this difference between the House of Lords and a pack of foxhounds: in a pack of foxhounds the hounds are eugenically married, and the best ones—not necessarily the eldest—are selected for the business they have to carry out, whilst the others are rejected. But, at all events, your Lordships have yourselves on more than one occasion endorsed the view that I have put forward. You have also endorsed the main proposition of Lord Salisbury, Lord Selborne and others, who, when they were members of the House of Commons, wished to retain their seats there.
§ EARL BUXTON
I beg the noble Marquess's pardon. But Lord Selborne, Lord Curzon, and two or three others desired to retain their seats in the House of Commons and not to take their places in this House. That obviously was cutting into the hereditary system. That change, if adopted by your Lordships' House, would obviously rapidly and largely reduce the membership of the House, and would probably be the best way of making it a popular body, and making it more effective.
673 We have already discussed the question of Finance and other matters. There is one direction in which the Government themselves could do much, and that is by introducing some of their important but non-Party Bills in the first instance in your Lordships' House. I believe that one main reason why that is not done is that administrative Ministers like to introduce their own Bills. There is a simple remedy for that in a practice which I believe exists in every Upper and Lower House throughout the Dominions—namely, that the Ministers should be able to sit and speak in both Houses, though, of course, they can only vote in their own.
I have offered one or two suggestions to-night because I do not want it to be thought that I and other Peers for whom I believe I can speak do not consider that there are very considerable reforms required in this House. I do not think, however, that you will assist the influence of this House, or the general effectiveness of the work of government, by undertaking a great constitutional reform on which no two people can agree as to how it should be carried out, which has no popular feeling behind it, and which, I believe, will create a body that will cause friction between the two Houses and not be nearly so effective for carrying on the work of government as your Lordships' present House.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down has informed us that he was formerly a member of various Liberal Administrations, but in the course of his speech he enunciated some of the soundest Conservative arguments that I have heard from any member of this Assembly. I do not know whether that is a prelude to his entire conversion to the Conservative Party. I have listened to all, or nearly all, the speeches delivered upon these Resolutions, and I am still uncertain in my mind as to who is in favour of the Resolutions, and in favour of reform, and who is not. I assume that the noble Marquess, Lord Curzon, is in favour of the Resolutions and in favour of reform. I assume also, as they acted for him, that my noble friends, Lord Peel and Lord Crawford, are in the same position. On the other hand, I assume that the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, is in favour of reform, but is not in favour of the Resolutions.
Altogether, the impression that I have gathered is that the House is discussing a 674 subject for which, on the whole, it entertains a profound dislike. The House seems to me to be in the position of a gentlemen who has got entangled with a lady, who has found himself constrained to offer marriage, and who is only too anxious to slip out of his engagement, if possible. I am driven to the conclusion that nobody is ardently zealous for the reform of this House, except election agents and the ingenuous candidates who put reform in the forefront of their electioneering addresses, coupled with "homes for heroes," hanging the Kaiser, and making Germany pay for the war. These seem to me to be the only people at the present moment who are genuinely anxious for what they would be pleased to call thorough-going reform.
In former days when I was still middle-aged I was a dabbler in reform myself, and I brought in a Bill about fifteen years ago which really received quite encouraging support, and was solemnly discussed by all the most eminent members of this House in Committee. I really think the proposals that I and other people brought forward at that time were of some utility. I think that if they had been adopted then they would have gone some way to meet the difficulty in which we found ourselves. But everything has been completely changed since then by the passing of the Parliament Act, and what might probably have been of some use in 1907 and 1908 is of no earthly use at the present moment.
My political observations during the last thirteen or fourteen years, for what they are worth, have convinced me that there is nothing whatever to be gained by what I may term toying and flirting with the elective principle so far as this House is concerned. I agree with the noble Earl—the ex-Radical noble Earl—who spoke just now. It may sound an absurdity, but I am personally convinced, and apparently this ex-Radical is convinced too, that the strength of this House and its improved position (which no sensible person can deny) are due to the fact that we are not an elected Assembly. I may be an eccentric person, but I am convinced of the fact that, to use a vulgar phrase, the country is "fed up" with elected bodies, and that the reason why we are able to exercise the influence which we do upon public opinion is solely because we are an irresponsible body, and therefore honest in the opinions which we express.
675 The noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, in the course of his speech remarked that he could not see how, in the event of a Labour Government being formed, this House could, so to speak, run in double harness with it. I agree with him. On the other hand, are these Resolutions, if we pass them, going to help us towards acting with the Labour Party, supposing the Labour Party is ever in office? Does anybody seriously believe that a democratic revolution in this country is going to be stopped by a certain number of Peers elected by county councils or by members of the House of Commons? The idea is, in my opinion, an absolute and complete delusion.
There is only one of the Resolutions for which I feel any enthusiasm whatever; but with that I am heartily in accord and have been for a long time. I need hardly say that the Resolution of which I am in favour is the one which proposes to restrict the number of members of this House. It is very desirable to draw attention to this question of numbers and I make no apology for repeating the arguments which were advanced by my noble friend Lord Crawford. We have, at present, in the House of Commons, the largest elected Legislative body in the world. There are, I think, 707 members of that House. In this House the voting strength is, I understand, 717. It is not only a larger body than the House of Commons, but there is every prospect that it will increase indefinitely; there is practically no limit to its possible expansion. Not long ago we were growing at the rate of a Peer a fortnight. The rate has been slightly reduced and it is now something like a Peer every three weeks. And a very simple calculation will show that in a few years this House will number at least one thousand members.
The chief contributor to the size of this House is Mr. Lloyd George, who has created no fewer than eighty-seven Peers in less than five years. I wonder whether the principle upon which Mr. Lloyd George has acted in regard to this House is the same as that upon which a farmer fattens up a bullock or even a pig. I always have my suspicions as to what his ultimate intentions may be. Talking of the Peers created by Mr. Lloyd George, it is worth remarking that of the last four promotions to the Peerage which he has made, one found it necessary to decline the honour, 676 and each of the other three found it necessary to come here and read a long explanation as to why he was present here at all. It is quite conceivable that this may be the one unique opportunity on which we should have the privilege of seeing or hearing these noblemen. They might each of them slightly vary the Cæsarian epigram by saying: "I came! I read! I disappeared!" because the vast majority of these recently created members of this House take every opportunity, so far as I am able to observe, to keep away from it.
If all these Peers were created for the purpose of being useful here there would be nothing to be said against it except that it would be physically impossible for this chamber to contain them. But they obviously cannot be selected for this purpose because, as I have pointed out, most of them make it a practice to keep away from the place altogether. In that procedure they are not singular, since it is the practice of a majority of the members of this House. As my noble friend Lord Crawford pointed out, and as I desire to point out, again, no fewer than 121 members of this House have not taken the Oath during the present Parliament and have never been near the place at all. The largest number who have taken part in a Division in the present Parliament is, if I am not mistaken, 268, and that was a Division in connection with the Government of Ireland Bill. The number of Peers who serve on Private Bill Committees is eighty at the outside, and I do not suppose there are more than one hundred Peers who take any active part in the debates in this House. I would assume, roughly, that there are one hundred of what I might call active participators in debate, and there are, perhaps, two hundred inactive—or shall I say supine—participators who take part in the deliberations and vote. That leaves a total of approximately three hundred. But the Government proposal is that the number of members of the House should be reduced to 350, which, to my mind, is of quite a generous nature.
For the 350 to 400 noblemen who would be automatically excluded under the Resolutions I do not feel it necessary to show any pity whatsoever. Those who come here are people who are not bound to come here unless they are members of 677 the Government; they come here because they like it. The people who do not come here stop away because they prefer to be elsewhere. I know Peers who actually glory in the fact that they never come to this House and never intend to come. I remember once encountering a nobleman who told me that nothing would induce him to come to the House of Lords because, he said, it was not worthy of him; in other words, he considered that he was too clever to take any part in its deliberations. I am not quite sure, but I rather think he is under restraint at the present moment. There was a nobleman who thought he was too clever to attend this House. On the other hand, I do not think I can remember ever encountering a nobleman who thought he was too stupid to come here if he wished to do so. There would be no hardship, or practically none, in excluding the Peers of whom I speak, because it is extremely probable that most of them would never even realise that they had been excluded. It would be a sort of painless operation of which they would be practically unconscious.
But the fact is, as my noble friend Lord Crawford pointed out, that the right of a larger number of, shall I say, politically uninstructed noblemen to come here to take part in the debates and to influence important decisions is a distinct source of weakness to this House. I have always thought that in this respect the Radical Party, the Socialist Party, and the Labour Party had a distinct grievance against this House. If I were an ardent Liberal or a zealous Socialist, with my mind set upon carrying a particular measure, nothing would cause me more acute disappointment and fury than to think that my pet project had been thwarted by Peers who had come down for the express purpose of voting against this particular measure and whose political knowledge really was nil. I confess to feeling even a pale glow of indignation myself when I reflect that a nobleman whose notoriety is solely due to the fact that he is a road hog or a co-respondent in a divorce case, can come here when he likes and take part in a most important Division. The presence of what I may call these politically uninstructed Peers is not only a source of weakness but a potential source of danger. I can imagine that these persons, under the leadership of a determined and resourceful person, like my noble friend, Lord Willoughby de Broke, 678 might defeat the Government programme with disastrous results.
On this particular question I share emphatically the opinion which was expressed by my noble and learned friend, Lord Phillimore, who spoke in the previous debate; and, if I may venture to say so without offence, I think his speech contained the one useful suggestion which has come forward in the course of the debate. I am entirely of the opinion of my noble and learned friend that what we ought to aim at is to make this House as much as possible a House, if not of experts at all events of quasi-experts, by getting rid of the persons I have mentioned by a process of exclusion. It really ought not to be beyond our capacity to carry out a reform of this kind without any elaborate Act of Parliament, or bringing in legislation for which it is necessary to secure the assent of the other House. It seems to me that it is an operation which could be simply and easily performed by ourselves if we set our minds to it. I am convinced that if we carry out this reform—personally, I have for years thought it an urgent and most necessary reform—it will go a long way towards removing the ignorant prejudice which still prevails in many parts of the country, and will do more than anything else to secure that modification of the Parliament Act which every sensible person desires.
I have only one further observation to make and it is this. I would like to suggest to the Government that if we do go into Committee on these Resolutions the Committee stage should not be taken during the present session, because it seems to me that it would be only a mockery to do so. I think that they should be held over and seriously discussed, if they are discussed at all, when we meet in the autumn.
THE EAKL OF JERSEY
My Lords, I do not propose to detain your Lordships very long at this period of the debate. I am not optimistic enough to hope that my efforts to obtain further information from the Government as to their views is likely to lead to any great results, but, in view of one or two sentences which fell from the noble Viscount, Lord Peel, when he introduced these Resolutions, I cannot refrain from seeking a little more guidance as to what is really in the mind of the Government. The noble Viscount said that if any Government was capable of dealing 679 with this subject it is a Coalition Government. The inference is that if this Government is not capable of doing it no other Government will be capable of doing it. That is, in fact, what the noble Viscount has told us.
I want to know this. Are we to believe that these Resolutions are the last word which we may expect to hear on this subject? Shall we be given an assurance that this Coalition Government really intend to deal with this subject? The noble Viscount told us that they were capable of doing so. Do they really intend to do so? May we know what their own views are? Are they themselves satisfied with these particular proposals, and do they wish your Lordships to accept them? I remember it being stated with some degree of authority—I think I might say with some degree of pride also—that every pledge made at the last General Election has been redeemed by the Government, except that of the reform of your Lordships' House. I suppose that now, after these Resolutions have been introduced, we shall be told that all their promises have been fulfilled. Personally, I find considerable difficulty in calling to mind any one promise that has actually been carried out in letter and in spirit. I suppose that is probably due either to my own faulty memory or to my inability to appreciate true statesmanship as it is now understood.
But I cannot refrain from suggesting to His Majesty's Government that the mere introduction of these Resolutions, which they must have known would not be acceptable to your Lordships' House, is not really a fulfilment of the pledge then given. There is in my mind a suspicion—no doubt, it is an unworthy suspicion, but I must admit it is there—that the Government would not be altogether displeased if we were to relieve them of a somewhat awkward predicament by rejecting the Resolutions. If we arrive at the stage when they will be considered in detail, it will be very interesting, and it will be very instructive, to see what attitude the Government adopt towards such Amendments as are to be brought forward. There will be afforded then, indeed, an acid test of their sincerity in this matter. My own curiosity on this point prompts me to express a hope that your Lordships will see fit to go into Committee on these Resolutions. In any case, the discussion which has taken place has itself afforded ample evidence that your Lordships are sincere in your desire 680 to explore every avenue which may lead to a solution of this question.
If the noble Viscount, Lord Peel, had been here I should have suggested to him that the Government which are capable of dealing with this problem are also capable of doing so in a real and practical manner. Is this all that they are able to propose after these many years of effort? They have had long enough in which to draft these Resolutions. Can they offer us anything more tangible? If they cannot, it is a very poor compliment to their statesmanship and their ingenuity. If I may suggest it with all respect, it reminds me of a classical quotation: Parturiunt montes, nascetur ridiculus mus. The noble Viscount spoke in his opening speech as if this were a matter for compromise. Do the Government realise how much they are asking this House to give up, and how little they offer us in return?
I venture to suggest to your Lordships that we ought not to think only of ourselves in this matter. I would ask you to reflect upon what it is the Government propose. They ask us to betray the heritage handed down to us, and to admit we are unworthy of the privileges which our predecessors won for us. They ask us to deprive our successors of their birthright. Why are we asked to do these things? Why are we to say that it is this generation of all others that has proved itself unworthy of its trust? Is it because your Lordships' House insists upon its right to stand between the country and panic legislation—legislation introduced by a Government at the bidding of extremists who are here to-day, and who very often, fortunately, are gone to-morrow? Is this why they want to undermine the independence of the one stable institution that is left to us?
I remember the last occasion—I think it was the last occasion—on which your Lordships threw out a Government measure on Second Heading. It was when you rejected some fantastic, extravagant project brought forward by the Ministry of Health. The very next day there was a chorus of approval of what you had done. The Press was wonderfully unanimous, and I do not believe any single person was sorry for what your Lordships had done, except perhaps a few gentlemen who were deprived of jobs to which they had been confidently looking forward. That is a small instance, but it is the most recent one that occurs 681 to me, of how your Lordships' House represents the people.
I noticed, in the interesting analysis which the noble Viscount gave us in introducing these Resolutions, that he showed no real enthusiasm. I think the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, said that not very much enthusiasm has been shown in the matter at all. Certainly, the noble Viscount not only did not show much enthusiasm, but I do not think he made any real attempt to justify the proposal. Nor am I in the least surprised that he did not do so. I am well acquainted with his sense of justice, and I certainly fail to see any justice in the proposals now before us.
I believe that in a certain Eastern Empire it was not uncommon for a man who wished to provide for his family to offer himself as a substitute for a criminal condemned to execution on the understanding—an undertaking which I believe was always honourably observed—that adequate recompense should be paid to his dependants after his demise. What is it that your Lordships are asked to do? You are asked to offer yourselves for execution, but instead of providing for your successors you are asked to deprive them of the very small hereditary privileges that are still left under modern legislation. As the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, said the other day, it is not good enough; and unless the Government are prepared to accept tangible Amendments, ensuring effective powers to this House to protect, I will not say your Lordships, but the country, against any wave of con-fiscatory and ill-considered legislation which may be brought forward, I for one shall not believe the Government have the least wish to see this matter seriously dealt with.
The noble Viscount said he hesitated to suggest the repeal of the Parliament Act, imperfect as he admitted it to be, because of the discord which such action would provoke. At a time when such a vital matter is being considered as the whole being of your Lordships' House that seems an inadequate reason for declining to face what is surely the essence of the problem. But I must admit that it is somewhat typical of the attitude of the Government whenever they have to deal with difficult problems. It is the line, certainly, which appears at the moment to be the line of least resistance, but I am not quite sure 682 that their successors will be very grateful to them for the legacy which may be left.
A few years ago I should have been opposed to any drastic measure of reform, but I now recognise that some measure of reform is inevitable and possibly in certain circumstances desirable. It is for your Lordships to see that the reform is beneficial and equitable, and I cannot believe that that can be said of the present proposals. It should be made clear that any discussion on the constitution of your Lordships' House should be based, and should be made conditional, on the restoration of real power; otherwise, I hope you will say that we will continue to do our best in the interests of the country under our existing constitution, just as this House has always done in the past. I hope this debate has made it clear that if an agreement is found to be impossible the fault will rest with His Majesty's Government and not with your Lordships' House.
§ LORD STUART OF WORTLEY
My Lords, I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned till Tuesday next.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned till Tuesday next.—(Lord Stuart of Wortley.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and Debate adjourned accordingly till Tuesday next.