§ VISCOUNT FITZALAN OF DERWENT rose to call attention to the question of the reform of the House of Lords, and to move, That in view of the long-standing declarations of Ministers that reform of the Second Chamber of the Legislature is of urgent importance to the public service, this House would welcome a reasonable measure limiting and defining membership of the House and dealing with the defects which are inherent in certain of the provisions of the Parliament Act.
The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I need hardly say that it is with the greatest possible reluctance that I associate myself with any movement tending to impair the privileges and traditions of your Lordships' House, but we must look the facts in the face. It is undisputed that the position of this House under the Parliament Act is of a temporary character. I believe that is common ground to all Parties, and I think it is well for us to remind ourselves of the declarations of the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith—whose absence we all deplore; we hope he may soon return to take part in our debates—made in the first place on March 29, 1910, when, speaking as Prime Minister in another place, he said:
I do not put forward this Resolution which we shall submit to the House as a final, or as an adequate, solution of the problem.
A little later on he said:—
The problem therefore will still remain a problem calling for complete settlement—
and then came these so oft-quoted words:—
and in our opinion that settlement does not brook delay.
Again, on April 3, in the following year, he used these words:—
The Government regard themselves not only as bound in honour but by the strict letter of their pledges, and by the actual
terms of the Bill itself, to give effect to the Preamble as and when the proper time arrives.
§ It is beyond question that the Parliament Act was not intended by its authors as a permanent measure, and I suggest that but for the War and all the War meant in dealing with the normal course of legislation, this problem would have been grappled with long ago. We all know, too, that it has been the express intention of members of the present Government, stated on several occasions and especially by the Prime Minister himself when he received that large deputation from members of both Houses on July 20 last, when he said that it was his intention and that of his Government to deal with this question during the present Parliament. This being the situation, it seemed suitable and in accordance with the dignity of your Lordships' House that, before these proposals of the Government are announced in detail, your Lordships should be given an opportunity of expressing in a formal manner your willingness, if so be you are willing, to accept the principle of reform and to give consideration to such changes as it may seem good to the Government to bring forward.
§ My noble friend the noble Duke [the Duke of Marlborough], who has an Amendment down to this Resolution, urges your Lordships to do nothing but to adopt the policy of letting sleeping dogs lie—often a very tempting policy and sometimes a wise one; but those of us who are responsible for this Resolution regard a "do nothing" policy as specially dangerous to the interests of your Lordships' House and of the country. My noble friend Lord Arran has also given Notice of an Amendment, but I cannot help thinking that my noble friend cannot have given much consideration to certain statements made by the Prime Minister immediately preceding the last General Election. It will be convenient, no doubt, that these Amendments should be considered and discussed by noble Lords who will speak later and after they have been moved and explained by my two noble friends. We have chosen this particular moment for this debate as being probably the most convenient time for the majority of your Lordships. By the courtesy of those responsible for the arrangement of business in the House we have been allowed full time for discussion, and we 759 were particularly anxious to have it so as to enable your Lordships who are not in the habit of attending here regularly to have full notice and to come and by voice and vote take part in this debate. We are most anxious, whatever the result may be, that the decision should be come to by as large a body of your Lordships as possible.
§ The numbers of your Lordships' House are approximately 740. If we deduct 20 for Peers under age, we have a voting strength of 720. The House of Commons consists of 615 members. Therefore your Lordships' House has a voting strength of 100 more than the popular Assembly of this country. That is a remarkable fact and it is not, I venture to think, sufficiently appreciated or understood. I was surprised only a short time ago in discussing this question with a very prominent politician to hear him confess that he had no idea that your Lordships' House was numerically stronger than the House of Commons. So far as I am aware, no such condition prevails in any other country in the world. But out of this voting strength of over 700 how many do we get to vote? I have obtained some figures of Divisions in this House since the War. On one occasion—this was the largest Division which has taken place since the War—out of over 700 members 268 took part. On another occasion there were 261; on four other occasions there were over 200 but under 220. With the exception of six Divisions only, therefore, there have never since the war been 200 of your Lordships taking part in a Division.
§ I cannot help thinking that, that being the state of affairs, some limitation in the numbers of this House may be desirable, and if a limitation of membership is the view of the majority of your Lordships then I think it is expedient that that should be expressed in some such Resolution as I have the honour to move. With the asumption that there is a reduced number eventually settled for this House, the composition of that number is, of course, a complicated and more difficult matter. If it were a practical proposition, personally I should be glad to see the reduced number, whatever it might be, elected entirely from your Lordships' House, and by members of your Lordships House. I believe such a Second Chamber would be the most efficient in the world. But I recognise 760 that the time has come when so great a preponderance of the hereditary principle is no longer practicable. I believe, indeed I am convinced, that your Lordships would never agree to a total eclipse of the hereditary principle, and I am certain that those with whom I am associated would not consent to any change which would not leave some adequate representation of your Lordships in a reformed Second Chamber. But, on the other hand, I am equally certain that even the present House, of Commons, with its large majority representing Conservative opinion, would not agree to a preponderating element of the hereditary principle.
§ I further believe that election from outside in some form or other is necessary and, although this is not the time to go into details, I should like to say that while election by large constituencies has its theoretical attractions, the more you look into that point the less practical it becomes, and I believe a system of indirect election can be devised which would be simple and efficient. Without committing ourselves to any details, and of course keeping a perfectly open mind till we see what the proposals of the Government are, I hope those proposals will provide for a proportion of the Second Chamber to be elected by those of your Lordships who have the privilege of sitting in this House. I also hope, as I have just said, that there will be some elected element from outside and that there will be a smaller proportion nominated by the Government of the day as Lords of Parliament for a period. I attach great importance to this last-mentioned element because without it I do not see how a Labour Government could be properly represented in this House, and I think that the Government of the day ought to have the power of nominating in order to ensure that they should have adequate representation, not only for Ministers but for those whom they could regard as supporting their policy.
§ The Amendment of my noble friend the Duke of Marlborough seems to imply that there never will be a Labour Government. My noble friend is of a sanguine disposition. Elementary experience of politics makes it inevitable that the swing of the pendulum must come and that sooner or later we shall have a Labour Government again in office. I 761 assume that the new proposals will probably contain the right of Ministers to sit in both Houses, provision probably for joint conferences and, certainly I hope, the right of Peers to be eligible for election to the House of Commons. That I consider to be a very essential point. I do not wish to add anything offensive of foreign nations but, after all, the aristocracy of this country does pride itself on service to the State and I think it very important that noble Lords should be eligible, if deprived of seats in this House, for seats in the other place.
§ As regards powers, I think we must bear in mind that a Second Chamber must of necessity be, and ought to be, less powerful than the popular Assembly. Personally, I do not advocate any restoration of the power over finance held in the days gone by in this House. I believe the House of Commons ought to be, and must be, the ultimate authority on matters of finance, but I do think an amendment is required—and I say this emphatically—to the Parliament Act to relieve the Speaker from the absolute and uncontrolled power enforced upon him by that Act to define what is and what is not a Money Bill. We have had experience in this House of the working of the Parliament Act. We have had a Bill brought into this House in one Session as a Money Bill and exactly the same Bill brought into this House the following Session as not a Money Bill. That really is ludicrous and comic and would be laughable if it was not an infringement of the proper procedure of the British Parliament. No doubt there are differences of opinion as to what tribunal should be substituted for the solitary and autocratic dictatorship of the Speaker, but I cannot think that when the proposals of the Government are introduced dealing with this question, as I hope and believe they must be, there will be very much difficulty in coming to an agreement with regard to it.
Under the Parliament Act as it stands this House is in such a position that there is constant and probable danger of its being deprived of its legitimate functions of legislation. I should like to make one quotation from the Bryce Report with reference to what the legisla-
tive functions of the Second Chamber ought to be. It is stated in paragraph 43 of the Bryce Report:—
It has always been understood in this country—and this is the practice in nearly every country where a Second Chamber exists—that the Second Chamber should be entitled to full power in the sphere of such legislation as is not of a financial character. It may revise and amend, and in some cases refuse to proceed with, a Bill brought to it from the other House. It may initiate ordinary Bills both Public and Private. It may discuss all questions of general domestic and Imperial policy. In financial matters alone is its range of action limited by the long-established superior rights of the popular House.
As things are at present we have no security of being able to carry out those legislative functions as there described.
§ It is manifest that any scheme of reform must emanate from the Government. That was admitted in the debate in this House in 1925. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack then announced the intention of the Government to set up a Cabinet Committee to go into this question. The Home Secretary, speaking in another place on February 15 last, stated that the Committee had been sitting for some months. I assume that their labours have now been completed. Whether the draftsman has actually, as yet, put those proposals in the form of a Bill I do not know, but there is plenty of time for that to be done between now and the beginning of the next Session. There was a time when, in the ardour of political conflict, I was all for repeal of the Parliament Act. I was not alone in that idea. I now recognise that repeal would be wrong, but I am most earnestly for amendment.
§ VISCOUNT FITZALAN OF DERWENT
The noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, speaking in your Lordships' House on March 25, two years ago, said: "There is real danger in leaving matters as they are." I do not believe that that real danger is sufficiently realised or appreciated. I do not believe it is sufficiently realised that any Government with a majority in the House of Commons, and that majority lasting two years, could abolish the Monarchy in that time. They could do it in a perfectly legal way according to the law of the land, if they so wished, and without the people of the 763 country being consulted. I do most respectfully submit that no English Government ought to have the power of making such a revolutionary change in the Constitution of this country against the wishes and the votes of the Second Chamber, without that Second Chamber having the power to insist on the people pronouncing their verdict before such a measure should become the law of the land.
There is another point. Any Government with a majority lasting two years could, quite legally, do away with your Lordships' House, or, for the matter of that, with any other Second Chamber that might be constituted in place of your Lordships' House. I spoke of the Monarchy just now. I do not think the abolition of the Monarchy is likely to happen—I do not believe it will—but I do believe that it is quite possible, and indeed probable, that a Government may be formed in this country which, if it had its two years majority in another place, would bring in legislation doing away with your Lordships' House and establishing Single-Chamber Government in this country without your Lordships being able to prevent it in any legal way at all.
I do not know whether the abolition of this Chamber would be in accordance with the wishes of noble Lords on the Front Opposition Bench. I think probably not, as regards, at any rate, most of them. But the tail is a very important item in the anatomy of all political Parties, and speaking for myself—and after all you cannot mix in the hurly-burly of political life in this country without ascertaining what your political opponents are at—I say without hesitation that the Socialist Party in this country are at Single-Chamber Government, and that if they get the chance that will be brought about. If your Lordships hesitate to think that as serious as I say it is, I suggest that you should read the debate which took place on February 15 this year in another place when certain of the Leaders of the Labour Party left no doubt of their inclination towards Single-Chamber Government. What we ask is that the dangers as depicted and announced by no less an authority than the Lord Chancellor should be seriously considered by your Lordships, and that we should be prepared to accept in an 764 unselfish spirit certain sacrifices which we in this House may be called upon to make to safeguard our country from these dangers of revolutionary change.
§ Moved, That in view of the long standing declarations of Ministers that reform of the Second Chamber of the Legislature is of urgent importance to the public service, this House would welcome a reasonable measure limiting and defining membership of the House and dealing with the defects which are inherent in certain of the provisions of the Parliament Act.—(Viscount FitzAlan of Derwent.)
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
, who had given Notice to move as an Amendment to leave out all the words after "That" and to add "in view of the failure of any scheme of House of Lords reform to arouse interest, this House regards further discussion of the question as inopportune and unprofitable," said: My Lords, on personal grounds there is no man in this House with whom I would rather not be at political variance than my noble friend who has just sat down. But the noble Viscount this afternoon has brought to the notice of your Lordships a Resolution somewhat sweeping in its terms, and I have felt it my duty to put down an Amendment to that Resolution the terms of which amount to a direct challenge. I have done so, not in the least for the reason which the noble Viscount suggested, that I prefer to allow sleeping dogs to lie, but because I feel strongly that once you challenge the principle of a Writ of Summons to this House, once you say that some other principle should prevail, once you suggest that some change should be made or that a series of changes should be made, you will eventually alter completely the complexion of your Lordships' House.
Suggestions have been made—they were tentatively put forward by the noble Viscount—that it would be wise if we were to consider proposals for the inclusion of elected members in this House: that is to say, the inclusion of the professional politician. We have had these proposals made before in this House and I am anxious to discover the views of Ministers on the matter. No doubt we shall hear them at a later stage. We know the views, or half the views, of the Secretary of State for India. 765 We know that he dislikes the ladies. We have yet to learn whether he dislikes the gentlemen. We have heard the views of the noble Marquess the Leader of the House on previous occasions. But I feel that while Professor Voronoff has produced a formula for the prolongation of the life of the individual, at present His Majesty's Ministers seem undecided as to the formula to be applied for the prolongation of the corporate existence of this House.
In the absence of guidance from any authority I am inclined to look for guidance on this particular matter, and for inspiration also, from the music-halls and, if I may be allowed to parody a popular ditty, I should like to say that nobody loves the professional politician, but oh! how the professional politician can talk! If we are to include him in our numbers we must look for a great prolongation of our debates. If he is to be paid, he will obviously have to justify his salary by long orations. If, on the other hand, he is unpaid, he will be equally anxious to justify his position by inspiring those who elected him with the view that he is performing his functions in this House in a proper manner. Surely it has been our pride in this House that we do not unduly tax the efforts of Ministers. I ask the noble Marquess the Leader of the House if it would be possible, were we to include the professional politician in our members, for us to carry on the affairs of this House, if they were similarly constituted to those of the House of Commons.
Could the Secretary for India, for example, perform the duties and functions of his office and at the same time make speeches throughout the country and in the Metropolis if he knew that all the time he would have to be here, contending against and struggling with those who desired to confront him in debate? Could the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, go to Geneva and attend the meetings of the League of Nations if he know that he might be confronted here by individuals with a desire to discuss matters connected with that subject? The whole attitude of noble Lords in this House is that we do not unduly strain the efforts of Ministers, and for this reason: we know that if we did so we should seriously impair the executive work of the Departments over which they preside.
766 I have a further question to ask. From what class of individual are you going to draw these elected members? At a time when taxation is very heavy, when every man is trying either to conserve or to make a small fortune of his own and when you have to look back to the days of Henry VII, under Dudley and Empson, to a parallel for existing taxation, the only class of individual that you can summon to our labours here is composed of those whose time is not required, is not demanded and will not be paid for by anybody else. The noble Viscount said that, although he would like to see the inclusion of elected members, he attached the greatest importance to the inclusion of nominated members amongst us. The nominated member is in theory nominated by the Crown, but in reality he is nominated by the Executive of the day. It seems to me that this places the Crown in a very invidious position. It will be whispered that Court influence is abroad, and these nominated men, being by nature dependent, will feel that they owe their existence in this House to an authority greater than their own. This is the very antithesis of the spirit of this House, where each member is absolutely independent, and where we, individually and collectively, fear neither Monarch nor Prince, but only the people whose trustees we are. And yet these are the lions that some noble Lords would like to employ to arrest those wilder spirits who they fear may at a later stage march down the broad road of revolution.
But while the noble Viscount and his friends are prepared to include a certain class of individuals in this House, he also possesses in his pocket an Exclusion Bill. Who are these Peers who do not attend our debates, and who do not attend our Divisions, according to the noble Viscount? Are they to be associated with the term "sporting Peers" or is that rather an offensive term? Perhaps it would be wiser if I associated them with the title of "recreative Peers." At this time, when the country is taking a far greater interest in sport, at a moment when the King and members of the Royal Family have been urging many members of this House to take a deep interest in the National Playing Fields Association, I think it is vital that we should have Peers like Lord 767 Desborough and Lord Lonsdale, whose ripe experience and athletic achievement would be a source of usefulness to us in the discussion of these matters. But the noble Viscount, if he will permit me to say so, has made the same mistake as I have often heard made before. It is impossible to swim Niagara and to address your Lordships at the same time, and because these recreative Peers have not been able to come here to make themselves into self-constituted totalisators to record the impressions and the views of (let us say for argument's sake) the noble Earl, Lord Midleton, and because they have not attended those Divisions to which the noble Viscount has alluded and which are so often advertised and so seldom mature, are they to be excluded from our midst? Surely the penalty to be imposed upon them for the fault that they have committed is in excess of that fault, and it seems to me as high-handed a proceeding to ask that they should be excluded as any of those carried out by Noy and Selden in the palmiest days of the Star Chamber.
May I say one word about the silent member? There are many noble Lords in this House who are silent, but listen to the debates with great interest. I remember that many years ago there was an individual in this House who made it his business to discover who made the longest speeches, and I was informed that, adding all the words together, in the course of one Session I had uttered more words than any other noble Lord in this House. If my memory serves me aright, the noble Earl, the Lord Chairman of Committees, was second. That was in our salad days, but if I now preserve silence along with many other noble Lords—a silence in conformity with the colour of the gilding of this Chamber—am I to be reproved, am I and are other noble Lords to be condemned, are we to be dismissed? If I threatened the noble Viscount that I might repeat the performances of my youth and asked him to inquire of the Leader of the House if that proposal was in conformity with his wishes, I feel certain that the reply would be in the negative.
There is this further consideration, of which I beg your Lordships not to lose sight. The noble Viscount dealt with it and attached great importance to it. It 768 is that, if you exclude Peers from coming into this House, you must give them the option of sitting in the House of Commons. The noble Viscount is pleased and gratified with that consideration. I have only to say this: if it is decided that you should exclude Peers from this House and should give them the option of sitting in the House of Commons, make quite sure that those younger and brighter spirits, that you desire to attract here, that you wish to have here to help in your deliberations, will not choose to go to the House of Commons, where they can win their political spurs. The effect of your proposals may be that, whereas you desire to retain the best in this House, the reverse will happen and you will only succeed in keeping the worst. I venture to give you reasons why we should not include new Peers. I cannot believe that the members it is suggested should be included will be our social equals and I cannot see that they will be our intellectual superiors. I would also remind your Lordships that I cannot see that there is any just or fair claim for asking that Peers should be excluded from this Chamber.
I now come to another consideration. His Majesty's Government have decided to clear out the "Reds." I think that the country is behind them in that policy. They were elected for that purpose and they have discharged their duties in connection with their promises to the satisfaction of their fellow subjects. But when we come to these proposals before the House, when we are told that some new members are to be included, that other Peers are to be excluded, that a Writ of Summons is no longer to carry with it the right to a Peerage and that a Peerage is no longer necessarily to carry with it a Writ of Summons, then I do with all sincerity ask this question: By what right or on what authority are those proposals made? The noble Viscount says that they are made because some deputation went to the Prime Minister some months ago expressing their views upon this matter and the Prime Minister promised to give it his consideration, and, furthermore, that the Prime Minister at some other time at a place somewhere in Scotland—I think at Perth—expressed an opinion on this matter. Because the Prime Minister expressed his views twice upon this sub- 769 ject, it is claimed that the noble Viscount and his friends can bring forward a Resolution for completely altering the structure and the composition of the membership of this House. I would ask the noble Viscount whether he, who by nature is so Blue in principle, who is so Blue in political position and, above all, who is so blue in blood, is prepared to go down to Sussex and, under the shadow of that mighty castle which bears his family name, to tell the people in Sussex that the Duke of Norfolk is too old in lineage or that he will be too young in years to demand his Writ of Summons to this House, a Writ which his forbears have demanded and have been granted since the year 1483?
What are the reasons why we are asked to accept this change? What are the real subjects about which the noble Viscount and others are so frightened? It is that a great social upheaval may sweep away the Monarchy, that is to say, the King, the Lords and the social, industrial and landed interests of this country. But the King and the members of the Royal Family to-day are the most popular people in the country and the Crown itself is the linch-pin of the Empire. It is asserted that capital will be attacked. But capital has already been attacked. During the lifetime of the present Government Death Duties have been increased and two or two and a half millions of individuals bear the financial burden of forty millions of the population of this country. I turn to the land. It is said: "Oh, but the land will be expropriated." At this present moment the rents of your Lordships' farms can be and are fixed by law, the wages of your labourers are fixed by a wage board. In those lands that your Lordships farm yourselves any profits that there may be are divided with the Government and any losses that you may sustain are divided with the general community. If it should so happen that in the future it was demanded by the State that a greater grip should be taken over the administration of the land, either for economic or social reasons, I cannot see that the future of your Lordships should in any way necessarily suffer, either financially or socially.
Those amongst us who have lived fifty years must have noticed that electric light has superseded gas, that oil has super- 770 seded coal, and that motor-cars have superseded carriages. For a time both systems run concurrently, but eventually unification of the system is demanded. What is true in the laws of science is equally true in the laws of psychology. Create the mixed House, if your Lordship will, according to the plan of the noble Viscount, but a House similarly created did not prevent, in France in 1830, a revolution which swept away that House and its King. The barriers of 1848 in Paris did not help to sustain a similar revolution when a similar House was swept away—again with its King. At this present moment the replica of the House which many noble Lords desire to see exists in Spain, where its portals are closed and Primo de Rivera reigns supreme. The truth is that this mixed House, this mongrel House—if I may use a phrase which may not be Parliamentary—cannot be sustained. Eventually it crumbles to pieces and a unification of the system is again demanded. The hereditary principle will give way to the elective and out of the House of Lords will spring a Senate, and when we have a Senate the only representative left of the hereditary principle will be the Crown, and when noble Lords by their efforts have succeeded in making to topple from their heads the coronets of those who own them, they must not think that thereby they will make more secure the crowns of those who are called upon to wear them.
Then, I do draw your Lordships' attention especially to this point: At what a time are you asked to do this? What is the occasion on which you are invited to embark upon this change? During the nineteenth century all over Europe statesmen were at great pains to build up Parliamentary institutions. Most of those Parliamentary institutions at this present time have failed and even in England to-day, our fellow citizens are more interested and take a deeper concern in the possibility of a strike or lock-out than they do in the extension of the franchise. The noble Viscount and his friends are not prepared to rely upon Parliamentary tradition, although tradition does count enormously in this country. Yet you seek to weaken it and you seek to create an emergency safeguard in its place, which you hope will act as a bulwark against these possibilities of danger to which the noble Viscount has alluded.
771 It will perhaps be argued later on by some noble Lords to this effect: "Oh, but we shall get more power. We shall be able in this way to regain our power." The noble Viscount has expressly disclaimed on his own behalf any intention of seeking financial powers or authority in this House similar to that which it possessed before 1912. After all, power is limited, not limitless. Alter the composition of this House and change it as noble Lords may think fit, but of this I am perfectly certain, that you will never be allowed to have greater powers than you possess now on account of the House of Commons, and I would ask Lord Sumner, who I know is going to speak and whose intellect is to my mind so overwhelming, if he will explain to my own satisfaction and not necessarily to his own whether it is possible for this House permanently to resist a great popular movement when the Executive of the day is in possession of the Army, Navy, police and all the other forces of the country.
The most we have and the most we can expect is two years delay. The noble Viscount is not satisfied with two years delay. During those two years you have the power and right of revision and delay. Two years means seven hundred days. Judging by the events of the last few weeks a great deal can be done in two days, and surely by our efforts and energies we are capable of doing a very great deal in seven hundred days. I confess I look forward, under the wise, prudent and careful leadership of the noble Marquess, to the proper exercise during that period of two years of our functions of revision and delay, and I am confident that in so doing we shall win the meed of approval of our fellow citizens and that this House will be regarded by them with respect and consideration. If the noble Marquess desires me to convey to him what I regard as the collective wisdom of this House, I would say: "Let him be moderate in exercising power, not equitable in engrossing it." In these two years one of two things will happen. Either the forces of political good sense, those forces of independence as represented by this House combined with finance—all those forces which help to make up what I may term the political "cosmos" as against the chaotic tendencies of the revolutionary—either they will prevail or the wilder spirits will 772 prevail, but why necessarily need it be a revolution as the noble Viscount fears?
Those who, like him, so apprehensively look forward might occasionally look backwards upon the history of our country. For a thousand years we have not had revolution, industrial, social or political. The revolutions of the past in this country have been religious—in the time of Charles I and in the reign of James II—and as we are not concerned to-day with things invisible but with things which are visible, it is not unreasonable to assume that with our people better fed, better housed, and better clothed than they have ever been in the whole of their history, better informed on political problems of the day, both men and women, they are not likely to lend themselves to those great social upheavals which distinguished the acts of other nations, like the Slavs and the Latins.
In the Middle Ages it was accounted a term of reproach against a knight that he in a "heinously cowardly manner fled from the field of battle, when pennons, banners and standards were raised against him." We have known for a long time that the mobilisation of the noble Viscount's forces was taking place, but the concentration of those forces was swift and sudden, and when I perceived the pennons concentrated together bearing the names of Howard, Percy, Scott, Montagu and others, I waited, not for the purpose of running away but in order that a better man than myself should come forward. Since, however, he did not, I frankly admit to your Lordships that I nipped into the breach. But let me say this at once. Those noble Lords, and I hope there are some, who may be in agreement with my views, if they desire to appoint any other noble Lord to take my place, gladly and willingly will I ride behind him; but until that noble Lord is forthcoming let me, with most profound respect, offer this advice to those noble Lords who feel inclined to associate themselves with my views. The advice which I give to them is this, that they should fight this Resolution of the noble Viscount cap à pie and do so à outrance. I make your Lordships these suggestions for reasons which I will syncopate, not elaborate. The first reason is that your Lordhips owe it to yourselves; the second reason is that you owe it to your ladies; and finally, your Lordships owe it to your fellow citizens of the British public, who say, and say 773 with some justice, that a Peer who does not believe in himself cannot expect others to believe in him.
Leave out all the words after "that") and add ("in view of the failure of any scheme of House of Lords reform to arouse interest this House regards further discussion of the question as in opportune and unprofitable").—(The Duke of Marlborough.)
§ THE EARL OF ARRAN had on the Paper an Amendment, after "Parliament Act," to add "but that in view of the omission of any mention of so grave an alteration in the Constitution from the official programme of His Majesty's present Government at the last General Election, it would be contrary to Parliamentary practice to introduce any measure dealing with the matter until after the electorate has had an opportunity of expressing its views." The noble Earl said: My Lords, I understand that it will be for the convenience of your Lordships for me to address you now on the Amendment which stands in my name, and that you will allow me to move it later at the proper time. I confess that it was with feelings of the greatest diffidence that I ventured even to try to amend any Motion brought forward by my noble friend Lord FitzAlan of Derwent. The noble Viscount's reputation for common sense, wisdom, and foresight is so great, and is so fully realised, by none more than those who were associated with him in Ireland during his very difficult period of Viceroyalty, that I congratulate those who are supporting this scheme of reform in having secured as their spokesman one whose opinions and words carry so much, and such universal, weight.
§ As far as I can judge, the chief of the two objects of reform of your Lordships' House—the two objects being alteration in the personnel and alteration in the powers—is an increase of the powers so as to be able to check or delay legislation of an extreme kind which might be brought forward by a Government of very advanced views. I venture to submit to your Lordships that England is a self-ruling nation and has the right to be consulted as to how and by whom it is to be governed. I would ask your Lordships to consider what would be the position if a Government of advanced views were to bring in legislation in 774 sympathy with its opinions and a Second Chamber armed only with powers—new powers—which had not been approved or given them by the nation, denied that legislation. The situation might be a very grave one, and the reply of the Government of the day might be an even more disturbing reply than that of the Liberal Government at the time when your Lordships threw out the Budget.
§ I would ask your Lordships to consider what authority this Government has from the people to make so grave a change in our Constitution as an alteration in the powers of the Second Chamber. I am perfectly well aware that the principle of the reform of your Lordships' House has long been one of the chief principles in the programme of the Unionist Party. I submit, however, that it has only been a latent principle, and I will give you my reason for saying so. On June 14, 1924, the Unionist Party put forward a pamphlet, called "Looking Ahead," comprising the principles of their Party, and in this was included the reform of your Lordships' House. When it came to a question of practical politics at the time of the General Election some months afterwards, the Prime Minister made no mention whatever of any reform of your Lordships' House in his Election Address, which, I understand, is taken as the official election manifesto of the Unionist Party. This appeared at the time to me, and I think to many others, a direct implication that, although the principle of reform still remained, it was not to be brought forward during the coming Parliament.
I will go further. I have searched, with many others far more able than myself, the speeches of the Prime Minister during the General Election, and I have found only one allusion during that time to reform of the House of Lords. The Prime Minister said:—
I think it is our duty to consider, within the framework of the Parliament Act, whether it is practicable to make provision for the machinery of the Second Chamber for preserving the ultimate authority in legislation to the considered judgment of the people, and, if it is practicable, the adaptation or amendment of the constitution of the House of Lords would be a necessary condition for carrying this into effect. It is a question of very consider-
able difficulty. But it is one of great importance, and if a Unionist Government should have time and power it would receive our attention.
I submit to your Lordships that those words, although very carefully framed and spoken only four days before the General Election—and spoken not in England, but in Scotland, where speeches do not always in toto reach the general electorate—were an insufficient warning for so grave an alteration in our constitution to be made in the coming Parliament. They show that the Prime Minister did not consider it to be a measure of the first importance.
§ I will call attention to the fact that the Prime Minister used the expression "if a Unionist Government should have time." There are some measures which are so pressing that time must be made. This apparently did not seem to be in the category of those pressing measures. I still maintain that those words, taken in their most literal and active sense, were insufficient warning to the electors that they had to choose, yes or no, whether the Second Chamber was to receive greater powers. I know also it has been said that the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, whose absence we all regret to-day, said at the time of the passing of the Parliament Act that further legislation on the matter would brook no delay, but, owing to circumstances over which no one had any control, delay has occurred, and during that delay of over sixteen years vast changes have come about in the electorate. I would ask your Lordships to consider whether the electorate to-day have not a right to be consulted on such a question as this. It is not right merely to say that they must be content with the views of those who voted fifteen years ago.
§ Another argument has been brought forward and that is that in the election addresses of many Unionist candidates reform of the House of Lords has a place. I quite agree. I believe it has. But that was done so many times and without any action being taken that at last it assumed the character of that fable of our youth "Wolf, wolf!" and nobody paid any attention to it. I do not see that changes in the Parliament Act will do very much good to those who fear the dangers which have been so lucidly put before us by my noble friend Lord 776 FitzAlan in his speech to your Lordships. The Parliament Act gives two years delay. If the advanced Party brought forward any of those measures which I see mentioned, for instance, in the Morning Post this morning, like the abolition of the Second Chamber and of the Peerage, the disestablishment of the Church, and the abolition of the right of testamentary bequests, and your Lordships delayed them for two years, if the people of England were opposed to such measures it would not be long before they made their voices heard and made them heard so strongly that no Government would dare carry such measures knowing the country was against them.
§ It is complained that other measures—measures of finance, for instance—cannot be dealt with here to-day. I do not see how that fact, grave though it is, can be altered. Finance is the crux of the whole situation. I would ask your Lordships to consider how great a change in the whole of our structure could be made in one Budget, and unless your Lordships propose to give to the new Chamber, without consulting the people, the power of dealing with the Budget I do not see how any amelioration of the present circumstances or dangers could be brought about. To give to the Second Chamber powers ever finance—and I think it is the only way of dealing with these possibilities—would be to give to the Second Chamber, in my opinion, powers that it has not really possessed in practice within the memory of man. Although up to the time of the passing of the Parliament Act the Second Chamber possessed in theory the power of throwing out a Budget, yet once this Chamber put that power into practice that power, even theoretical though it was, was taken away and the House was deprived of that power.
§ The situation, grave though indeed it may be, is not affected by the Parliament Act in any way. The whole danger arises from the fact that the Party of advanced views has become far more numerous and far better organised than it was, sufficiently so to become one of the greatest powers in the State, and even if the Parliament Act had not been passed and your Lordships had still the power of throwing out a Budget, the same results would occur if you did throw out the Budget of the advanced Party, only those results might be in this age more 777 stirring than they were then. As far as I can see the only way in which you who dread the future can help the position is by the constitutional means of persuading the electorate to your own opinion or persuading the electorate at least to give you powers such as you never possessed before. Without drastic alterations no reform of your Lordships' House can be of any use.
§ Before I sit down I should like to make one remark about the composition of your Lordships' House in any such Chamber. I confess that I most sincerely hope that if any alteration is made the hereditary system will be entirely abolished, because I believe it will be a source of weakness to any decision that the Second Chamber may make. Many people do not realise how deeply distrusted and disliked the hereditary system is in many parts of the country—far more parts of the country perhaps than is generally recognised. If you keep any remains of the hereditary system when the new Chamber comes into being and that Chamber takes some drastic course in the way of refusing legislation, such action will be attributed to the hereditary element and to the hereditary Peers. I know it is argued that if you did away with the hereditary Peerage the services of many eminent Peers would be lost to the State. I see no danger of that. Take any of the occupants of the three Front Benches of your Lordships' House. Would not any of the Peers who sit upon them, if they wished to sit in a reformed Second Chamber, be certain of election to a seat or to nomination for a seat, not through their Peerage but through their personalities and their performances and services in the past? I think the fears that the services of such Peers would be lost is one which is without foundation. I would add this. If you keep the hereditary system in any way, in these days when privilege is disliked more cordially than it has ever been disliked, it will amount to a confirmation of the privileges of the privileged class, because, while in the other classes it takes 40,000 electors to return one representative to Parliament, in this case the representative would be returned to Parliament by every three or four voters, which I think in itself to be a grievance and a justifiable grievance.778
§ In concluding my remarks I would urge these considerations upon your Lordships. Firstly, unless you get the approbation, approval and permission of the electorate to make such changes as are necessary in the powers of your Lordships' House to meet the needs which the promoters of reform think necessary, those changes will be useless in checking advanced legislation and may lead to that very upheaval which all Parties in the State are so anxious to avoid. Secondly, I believe that the hereditary system would, if continued, weaken the effect of any decision of your Lordships' House and take away the great strength which is so much desired by the supporters of reform. Lastly, I would urge that all of us, either by creation or by inheritance, have been entrusted with great responsibilities towards the State. We are face to face with some of the most serious situations in our history, as has been envisaged by the views put forward by my noble friend Viscount FitzAlan, and I ask your Lordships how will posterity judge us if in face of these great happenings we should resign these responsibilities and desert our posts before we have been relieved of them by the people of England themselves.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT CAVE)
My Lords, you have now heard the views of all three noble Lords who have placed Motions on the Order Paper and I think it would be for the convenience of the House if, at this stage, I put before you the views of His Majesty's Government from whom you will expect some expression of opinion on this important matter. Some two years ago, when this matter was discussed on the Motion of my noble friend the Duke of Sutherland, it was my duty to inform the House that while the Government admitted the importance of this question they desired to have time in which to refer the matter to a Cabinet Committee and to consider the advice that might be tendered by that Committee. That Committee was appointed and reported some time ago. The Cabinet have now had time to consider that Report and I feel that your Lordships will now require from us some more definite pronouncement.
Though the views which we have formed may be modified by the course of this debate, at all events they are the result 779 of full reflection. Let us begin by acknowledging, what in our hearts we all admit, that there is a real and an urgent problem to be considered and if possible to be solved. That that is so is plain if from nothing else from the persistence with which this matter has been brought from time to time before your Lordships' House. There were the Resolutions of Lord Rosebery in 1888. There was the Bill of Lord Newton in 1907 and the Report of the Select Committee on that Bill. In 1910 the late Lord Lansdowne brought before the House, first a Resolution and then a Bill. Although we shall greatly miss the advice of the late noble Lord upon this Question we have at all events the advantage that he more than once, and indeed as recently as in 1925, gave his views to the House. Then there was the Report of the Bryce Committee, upon which both Houses and all Parties were represented, in 1918. There were next the Resolutions brought before the House by the Coalition Government in 1922. Perhaps I may be allowed to remind the noble Duke who moved the Amendment just now, that immediately after the Election of 1922 he himself brought this matter before the House and urged the Government to go forward. I regret to find that he has changed his views and desires now that we should do nothing. At all events I do not see how he can maintain the statement in his Amendment that this question has failed to arouse interest, in view of the facts which I have stated and of the attendance of your Lordships to-day.
Let me just take the points and see how far we are agreed. I believe that on this Question there is a large measure of agreement in all parts of the House. We are all agreed I think—or most of us are agreed—that the Parliament Act, however much some of us resisted it, and however deeply we regretted its passing, cannot now be repealed. But most people who have thought the matter over at all are, I believe, convinced that the Act contains some glaring defects which it is possible to cure without infringing the principles of the Act. First of all, as to Money Bills. It has been pointed out time after time, and I have never heard it disputed, that the system set up by the Act under which the Speaker of one House is empowered by his single and uncontrolled decision 780 to prevent a Bill from being rejected or even amended by the other House is indefensible and cannot be sustained. In saying that I am not in the least reflecting on the impartiality of individual Speakers. The objection is founded on reason and justice and now, as the noble Viscount has pointed out, upon some experience of the working of that system.
I will not dwell upon that point because it was considered by the Bryce Committee, who condemned the provision in the Act altogether and added that the arrangement places on the Speaker responsibilities with which it is not desirable to load an office whose perfect impartiality everyone desires to observe. We think that Parliament should be asked to adopt the recommendation of the Bryce Committee to this effect, that the question whether a Bill is, or is not, a Money Bill within the meaning of the Act, or is partly a Money Bill and partly not a Money Bill, should be determined by a Joint Standing Committee of the two Houses, that Committee to be composed of an equal number of members of each House and to choose their own Chairman. That is a fair arrangement which would certainly form part of any proposals which we shall bring before your Lordships' House.
At the same time we think it would be desirable to deal with a difficulty which has arisen in practice. Some of the Speakers' decisions, however impartially reached, have in fact given rise to doubt and anxiety. It has happened more than once that a Bill which embodies new principles of legislation and which makes a great change in the law of this land has been certified as a Money Bill because it took the guise of a Finance Bill. The decisions on that matter have been somewhat conflicting. To give only one or two instances, the Safeguarding of Industries Bill, which I am sure some of your Lordships would have wished to criticise and if possible to amend in detail, was prevented from being discussed here. Then the Bill to which the noble Viscount referred, the *War Charges (Validity) Bill, was at its first introduction not certified as a Money Bill and on its second introduction was certified as a Money Bill.
781 Those may be small matters, but the same thing might happen in matters much more important. It has often been shown that under the form of a Finance Bill enormous changes, indeed almost any change, in the law of the land can be made, and we think that this ought to be taken into account and that the Joint Standing Committee to which I have referred should have some discretion in the matter. We propose for present purposes to include in our suggestions the following: That, in coming to their decisions as to whether a Bill is or is not a Money Bill, the Joint Standing Committee shall henceforth have regard not only to the form but to the substance and effect of the Bill. Then there is a further point which also arises out of the Report of the Bryce Committee. That Committee recommended that Bills dealing, not with national charges, not with charges on the Exchequer, but with charges upon local rates, should not be held to fall within the category of Money Bills or financial provisions, and that the House of Lords should have power to deal with matters affecting local rates. That seems to us a fair and wise proposal and one which might well lead to a considerable amount of economy in local affairs, and our view is that Parliament should be asked to adopt that recommendation also.
There is another and even more important defect in the Parliament Act to which the noble Viscount, Lord FitzAlan, has referred. I do not think that it can have been present to the minds of those who proposed the Bill that was to become the Parliament Act or of those who accepted it in this House, that this Act, which goes so far in curtailing the rights of the House of Lords, might itself be used for further curtailing or, indeed, for entirely destroying those rights without the consent of this House. During the discussion of the Bill great stress was laid upon the safeguards, as they were called, which were contained in it. We were reminded that before a Bill could become law it must be passed three times, that there must be a lapse of at least two years and that the duration of a Parliament was restricted to five Years. These were all pointed to as matters that protected the House of Lords and would give the people a chance of pronouncing upon the proposed measure. The noble Earl who has 782 just spoken himself dwelt upon that point. But what is the value of all that if, within the space of two years, all those safeguards may be swept away at the will of the House of Commons without our having a word to say on the matter?
This is not a mere extravagant fancy. The point may be carried a little further. It is possible, as has been said, that a Bill for completely abolishing the Second Chamber might be within the letter of the Parliament Act, and that it would be possible for a majority in the other place, desiring to do away with the Second Chamber, at all events to put upon the Sovereign the burden of deciding whether he could constitutionally withhold his assent from such a Bill. That is not a mere suggestion of ours, for I have before me an article by one of the leaders of the Labour Party, who occupies a seat upon the Front Bench in another place. In dealing with what is called "A Draft Programme for the Next Labour Government," he says this:—In securing itself so far as possible against political sabotage, delay and harassment, the Labour Party must be prepared to deal with that obsolete survival, the House of Lords, in prompt and drastic fashion. Before taking office it should receive an assurance that in case of need a sufficient number of Peers would be created to carry a Bill for the abolition of the House of Lords. These would have to be selected from reliable sources, e.g., every hundredth elector of Poplar or every thousandth members of the Miners' Federation. It must promise them a clause in the Bill abolishing titles or allowing their holders to renounce them.Of course, this is silly and outrageous nonsense, but it is not fair to leave it so that it should be even possible that some future Government should bring before Parliament, and should pass without the consent of this House, a measure that would entirely destroy the powers of the House and set up One-Chamber government. In order to meet that possibility, we suggest that the provisions of the Parliament Act by which Bills can be passed into law without the consent of the House of Lords in the course of a single Parliament shall not apply to any Bill which alters the constitution or the powers of the House of Lords, as set out in the Parliament Act and in any Act that may be passed to amend it.
783 Those are the proposals that we would make for the amendment of the Parliament Act. Your Lordships will notice that the proposals that I have outlined do not include any proposal for dealing with what are called deadlocks between the two Houses. It has, of course, often been pointed out that, under the provisions of the Parliament Act by which a Bill thrice passed in another place may be presented for the Royal Assent although rejected by this House, a majority of the other House may force upon the Statute Book within the space of two years any measure, however subversive, although the electors may never have been called upon to pronounce an opinion upon it. It has been suggested that the best check upon that provision would be that the provisions of the Parliament Act shall not operate unless the matter has gone before the electors themselves, either by the intervention of a General Election or by a direct reference to a vote of the people. Of course, there is force in that criticism, and I should be the last to decry the arguments which are brought forward. The Government, however, having considered the matter, take the view that there are strong reasons against including in their present scheme proposals of the character to which I have referred.
The Prime Minister has said, as the noble Earl has reminded us, and, indeed, said at the General Election, that he intended if there were time to make suggestions within the framework of the Parliament Act; and all the amendments that I have outlined up to this point do, I think, fairly come within that restriction. But if the suggestion were so to amend the Act that it shall not take effect without a popular vote it might be that the change would be so radical that it would be difficult to propose it without first going to the country upon it. In that respect I have some sympathy with what has been said by my noble friend. Let me add this, that if this point were insisted upon it would naturally raise the whole question of the continuance of this House in its present form. It could only be expected that, if we made a proposal so vital, we should be called upon to face the question whether this House should continue as a hereditary House or whether some elected body should take its place or some elective element should be inserted in the framework of the House. Indeed, the whole ques- 784 tion of the Second Chamber would be raised, and we do not think it right to make that proposal at this time. Accordingly any suggestion for dealing with differences which may arise between the two Houses is excluded from our proposals nor do we propose to introduce the equally wide question of introducing an elective element into the House.
That brings me to the other part of the Motion of the noble Viscount in which he suggests that your Lordships would welcome a reasonable measure limiting and defining membership of this House. I think I appreciate the reasons which are urged by the noble Duke and others against any proposal to alter the constitution of this House. Your Lordships, I am sure, will not suspect me of any failure to appreciate the great qualities of this Assembly, which is the successor of the Great Council of the Realm, or its public services in the past. I have often borne witness to the fact that in this House, as it is now constituted, you will find a wealth of knowledge upon almost every subject under the sun, a volume of experience of public service, and a breadth of mind which is willing to consider any subject only from the public point of view. The admiration, which I felt for this body when I viewed it from the Bar, has only grown since I have had the honour during the last eight years to occupy a seat in this House. But there is much to be said in favour of the view of the noble Viscount that some change is desirable. To begin with, I greatly doubt whether Parliament would consent to make even the moderate amendments in the Parliament Act which I have described unless at the same time this House were willing to consider its own constitution and to make some equally moderate changes in that constitution.
Further, I believe there is strong feeling amongst those who have watched the proceedings of this House that some change in the manner in which we are now constituted must very shortly come. Of that I will give two illustrations and two only. First I put in the forefront the fact that a Party, the Labour Party, which is supported by a large vote in the country and which returns one-fourth of the members of the other House, is inadequately represented in this House. In saving that I am, of course, making no reflection upon the 785 noble Lords who occupy seats upon the Front Opposition Bench. I have no doubt that as individuals they possess, or some of them possess, all the virtues and most of the vices of Labour leaders outside. But I think they would be the last to claim that they are really typical representatives of Labour. And I am sure they would not say that the views of their Party are properly represented by nine or ten Peers out of a total of over seven hundred who are entitled to sit in this House. That condition of things is not only unfair to the Labour Party; it reacts unfavourably upon the whole of this House. It discourages regularity in attendance and it blunts the edge of debate.
We think that machinery must be found by which it will be possible to include in this House a substantial number of representatives of that Party or of any other Party that may arise hereafter. What we propose is that the Sovereign shall be authorised to add to the House a limited number of nominated members—not necessarily a large number, but a sufficient number for the purpose which I have mentioned. These members would, of course, be nominated on the advice of the Government of the day, and the proposal is that we should accept the recommendation of the Bryce Committee that those members should be appointed for a period of twelve years, a time long enought to enable them to learn their duties in this House and to act independently in exercising their privileges. They would sit here for twelve years, one-third of them going out of office every fourth year.
That is the first proposal as to the Constitution, and that proposal to increase the number of this House adds force to the second criticism which was justly made, I think, by the noble Viscount who proposed this Motion. He said, and it is surely true, that the numbers of your Lordships' House are too great for a Second Chamber. This House numbers 741 members, or, if you exclude minors, 716. This means that all those noble Lords cannot make their contribution to our debates. Necessarily some of them must be absent or give way to others. The very incentive to attend is in these days less, for the incentive to render, by your attendance here, service to the country is necessarily 786 absent when it is impossible for a Peer to take his fair share in our debates. The result is that, according to a Return which has been presented to the House, of some 700 Peers about 400 have either attended less than ten times in a year, or have not attended at all. It is inconceivable that such a state of things should not injure the reputation and standing of this House.
We are not proposing, as the noble Earl wishes to propose, that the hereditary basis on which this House rests should be abandoned. That system has existed for centuries, and to attack it and propose an elective House would be to stir the Constitution to its very depths; but we do think it would be right to reduce the numbers of hereditary Peers by adopting something similar to the Scottish system of elective Peers. We propose that the hereditary Peers should be called upon to select from their ranks a fixed number of Peers who shall be entitled to sit in this House, and that those Peers shall be elected, not as in the case of Scottish Peers as Peers for that Parliament, but for the same period of twelve years, one-third to retire each fourth year and to be eligible for re-election. Of course that proposal raises some questions of detail which must be settled later, such as what is to be done with the Scottish and Irish Peers, whether the election should be by some method of proportional representation, and what should be the position of a Peeress in her own right. All those questions, I think, will have to be left to be considered if and when the general principle is accepted.
So, with regard to the Constitution it may be put in this way: That the House shall consist of not more than 350 members and shall be composed, in addition to Peers of the Blood Royal, Lords Spiritual and Law Lords, of (a) hereditary Peers, elected by their Order and (b) members nominated by the Crown, the numbers in each case to be determined by Statute; that with the exception of the Peers of the Blood Royal and the Law Lords, every other member of the reconstituted House of Lords shall hold his seat for a term of years to be fixed by Statute, but shall be eligible for re-election. I ought, perhaps, to add that we agree with the view expressed by my noble friend that a Peer not elected to this House ought to have an oppor- 787 tunity of presenting himself for election to the House of Commons.
These are the suggestions which we have to make on this subject. Obviously, they are consistent with every word of the Motion moved by my noble friend Lord FitzAlan, and we propose to vote for his Motion. Of course, our suggestions do not cover all the points that have been, or may be, raised, and it may well be that a more ambitious scheme would have greater attractions for some members of this House; but they are a step, if a cautious step, in the right direction, and they are framed on the principle which is familiar to us in this country, of proceeding gradually along known lines. I am not without hope that the proposals I have outlined will find a measure of support even in quarters which do not usually act with us, for after the scheme was framed I read with interest a speech of Lord Buckmaster made on April 2, 1925.
He outlined his views and summed them up in a passage which I will read:—If you agree on the fundamental principle that the members of this House should be reduced, that the principle of hereditary representation should be retained, that the Speaker's power should be subject to control, and that the provisions of the Parliament Act should be preserved, subject to this: that there should be some further safeguard against some measure that would completely abolish either the Crown or the Second Chamber; then it appears to me we have got a common foundation on which we can work.I read that with interest, because it seems to me that the mind of the noble Lord and our suggestions run very much on the same lines. That there is a peril in asking your Lordships to touch the Ark of the Constitution, I admit, but it received a blow in 1911 from which it will not recover unless you can find a remedy, and if there is a peril in moving, I believe there is a greater peril in standing still. And if, now that the matter has been raised, we act with courage as well as with caution, it may be that we in our generation may do something to avert the dangers which threaten us and to restore and strengthen the fabric of the State.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
My Lords, it falls to me to state the attitude of those whom I represent on this Bench to the proposals which have been laid before the House, and the matter is not an academic one. We are very few in this 788 House, we are only a minority in the other House of Parliament, but as time goes on a General Election is drawing near, in which the country will have to express its opinion. There is one principle of which we have heard very little in the course of this debate, and yet it is the principle that is going to be the vital principle at the General Election, a question on which the attitude of people will turn. Do you intend, or do you not intend, to strengthen the position of this House as against the other Chamber? We want an answer to that question.
In the mild and statesmanlike speech of the noble Viscount, Lord FitzAlan, we did not have that question touched upon. It was obvious that the noble Duke in his Amendment was shy of it. It was obvious that Lord Arran was very much against any strengthening unless the country were first consulted. And I should think it is quite obvious that no measure which can substantially strengthen the House of Lords can be carried unless with authority from the people at the polling booths. That is a very important consideration, because it rules out so much that is being said. There was the Scarborough Conference, there was what the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, said at that Conference, and what he has said since in this House and in other places. The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, has always said that this House must be strengthened, that it must be in a position to defend its views against attacks which arise when those views are inconsistent with the views of the House of Commons. Well, if that means the strengthening of this House in the sense of giving it more powers, in the sense of enabling it to make its will prevail to a greater extent than is the case now, all I have got to say is that a sharp issue is raised which will be heard of, and heard of a great deal, when the General Election comes.
That defines very much the attitude which we who sit on this Bench take towards this question. If you are trying to strengthen the House of Lords, very well, we part from you. We shall protest as long as we are here, and when the question goes before the country we shall define what we believe to be our constitutional position. There was very little to be heard of that in the speech of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. He took the somewhat 789 prudent line which is the general line of this Government. He did not commit himself to anything very violent or very strong, but he put forward certain propositions on which I shall have to say a word in a moment. I cannot think that the noble and learned Viscount's programme was in any sense a fighting programme. Does the Lord Chancellor wish to see the powers of this House strengthened? I think he does. I think most of your Lordships do, but it is not convenient for the Government to announce that they are raising that issue. They do not want to add to various other items with which they will have to deal when the appeal to the people comes—such little matters as trade disputes, and a variety of other things, which I will not enumerate now, but which will be on their shoulders together with this matter. It will not be convenient when the Election comes to take this question in a sharp form on the principle of adding to the powers of your Lordships' House, because a dividing line would become apparent.
Does the noble and learned Viscount in the speech which he has made desire to strengthen the powers which the House now possesses? I think he desires it, but whether his propositions will strengthen it is another question. The noble and learned Viscount spoke of the desire that there is that this question should be dealt with. He said that there had been a series of proposals put forward which showed that there was a very real anxiety to deal with the matter. His phrase was "there has been a persistent demand." He took various instances of that. There was the proposal of the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, there was the proposal of the late Lord Lansdowne, there was the proposal of what is called the Bryce Committee. The proposals of Lord Rosebery and Lord Lansdowne were made a long time ago, and definitely and distinctly their purpose was to add to the strength of the House of Lords, to expand its powers. There were to be members elected under some of these proposals by local authorities, and there was to be a new element brought in which would add to the strength of the Chamber. All that was appropriate to those days, but I say most emphatically that it is wholly out of date in the days in which we are living.
790 The noble and learned Viscount went on to give us various points in regard to which he said that the Government had come to a decision. His speech was a very important one, because for the first time we have got the Government's views definitely. We had them before, I know, in the matters which were put before us as the result of the old Cabinet Committee—it may be the same Cabinet Committee, for anything that I know, which has gone sitting on—but they were so vague, and so loose, and they went so completely to pieces that we have heard very little of them for a long time. But now we have these proposals restored and put in definite form for us by the noble and learned Viscount. He did not tell us when the Government proposed to bring them forward. Do they propose to bring them forward in this Parliament? I doubt whether they will make much of them if they do. Do they propose to bring them forward at the General Election? Well, they may cover a good deal of ground which they had better sound carefully before they venture upon it, because it may turn out very difficult ground. We will see when the proposals are put forward whether they will excite much enthusiasm.
First of all, the noble and learned Viscount has announced that the Government propose to do that which will certainly sadly disappoint the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, and the Scarborough Conference. They propose to keep the Parliament Act. Well, I think they are wise. I think they would have got into great trouble if they had tried to get rid of it, but then they have been asked to get rid of it. It is one of the things which has been chiefly called for, and, if there has been persistence, it has been the persistence of a section of the Conservative Party which is anxious to be rid of the Parliament Act. To be rid of the Parliament Act would, indeed, increase the strength of this House. But, although the noble and learned Viscount says that the purpose of the Government is to keep the Parliament Act, yet he says their purpose also is to alter it, and in two respects.
One is the transference from the Speaker to a Joint Committee of both Houses of the right to determine whether a Bill is a Money Bill or not. I have always been in favour of the 791 solution of certain questions jointly between the two Houses by conference, by settlement, but in what is called the Bryce Report the passage which introduced the proposal to which the Lord Chancellor has referred is not a passage for which, so far as my memory serves me, Lord Bryce claimed the concurrence of his colleagues. The whole character of it was that it was not a Report of what has been called the Bryce Committee. In a letter written by Lord Bryce himself to the Prime Minister he said this in effect: "Well, it is difficult to say that we agreed." In fact, a number of people had very loudly dissented from the proposals of the Committee. I think they included Lord Balfour of Burleigh, Lord Loreburn, Lord Lansdowne and certain others. "But," he said in substance, "this is what all of us together tended to recognise as good." And among those things came the proposal for a Joint Committee in place of the Speaker. But the Joint Committee was to be rather large and it was not quite apparent what was to happen if there was an acute difference of opinion between the sections composing it. I should be very sorry to give assent, without a good deal of consideration, to the proposal to substitute for a single individual the decision of any large Committee. It may be that you can effect some settlement of the matter better than that which the Parliament Act contains, but the matter is one which caused great difficulty when the Parliament was being drawn and I doubt whether it will turn out to cause much less difficulty to-day when it is taken up in a practical shape.
Another remark of the Lord Chancellor was this. He said that what is a Money Bill is a matter to be considered not merely from the point of view of technical words but having regard to the substance and effect. I agree so far with that. I think it is a great pity to try to determine what are really considerations of State—political matters—merely by looking at the words from the point of view of lawyers. Lawyers are not trained to Parliamentary affairs in the same way as others are sure of being trained and the result is they take views which are sometimes called too technical, which means that they have left out of account the point of view of the people 792 who used the language originally. Therefore I do not take exception to what the Lord Chancellor said about substance and effect. But what we want is that the tribunal should be a really good tribunal and, speaking for myself, I am not satisfied that you will get it in any such Joint Committee as the noble and learned Viscount suggested. Then he said that the House of Lords might be left to deal with local rates. It may be that there is a good deal to be said for giving this House the power of dealing with questions which arise in connection with rating, providing it is well done, but what the noble Viscount has not made clear to us is really what the substantial powers of the House are to be.
He told us of the change in the constitution that was proposed. That consists of two things—the reduction of numbers to 350 and the introduction of nominated members. I can only say that so far as that side of the matter is concerned I think the reconstituted House, according to that plan, will be a very bad House. We do not want a body which simply resembles the present one. The curse of the present situation is that your Lordships are to so great an extent out of harmony with the spirit of the other House. You are out of harmony even with the Conservatives who sit there. You are out of harmony with their propositions and with their point of view. I do not myself believe you will ever get an effective House in this country until you get a House which is much more in sympathy and contact with the other House than this House is at present.
The matter is so difficult that if I had the duty, which I have not, of tendering to your Lordships advice as to what is to be done, I would say: Do nothing at present. You have a House that works. It may not exercise much direct influence, but you discuss things here, you go over a good deal of ground and you are a valuable element in the State. You bring notable powers of speech to debate. Leave the House of Lords alone for a time at least, because if you do raise the question of changing the constitution of the House of Lords then, to my mind, it is inevitable that it will have to be a very real change if it is to be approved by the public. It will have to be a change which will make a true Second Chamber, a Second Chamber which may have larger 793 power and one that will be in sympathy with the popular spirit to a much greater extent than is the case to-day. That would, indeed, mean a great change in the constitution. It would mean the substitution for this House of a Second Chamber with its own Speaker, without judicial functions, and so closely related to the other House that I am not sure that the best way of ascertaining the constitution of its members would not turn out to be by election by the other House. If a body of that kind were made small enough—there is the paradox—and powerful enough, I believe it would be far more powerful than your Lordships' House is to-day. However, that is in the remote future.
The real alternative to leaving the House of Lords as it stands to-day is to alter it in some such large measure as I have spoken of which may raise interest in the public outside. I think a reformed House of Lords in that sense—that is to say, a Second Chamber in sympathy with public opinion—would be a body that would lend itself to tranquillity because it would get rid of the disturbing feeling that the measures which the representatives of the constituencies have passed may be east aside freely. In a few days we shall see how far this House has come into sympathy with popular ideas on the subject of its composition. There is the question of whether women are to be introduced here as they have been introduced in the other House. That is a broad question of principle in which some take one view and others more strongly take another view. It has been decided by Parliament; it has been decided by the public, and we shall see how far this House has responded to the changes in feeling which have taken place since the question was last debated here. But to-night, and in the course of this debate, our duty is very different. Our duty is to define what our attitude is to be, and for my part I prefer to confine myself to this, that I cannot assent to any proposal the purpose of which is to strengthen the power of this House against the other House of Parliament.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
My Lords, the noble and learned Viscount who leads the Opposition has made exactly the speech that I thought he would make after listening to the noble and learned 794 Viscount on the Woolsack. The position of the noble and learned Viscount is this. He wishes for no change whatever in the composition of this House and no increase or change in its powers. I am not surprised, because if the Parliament Act had been designed for the sole purpose of arranging the Constitution in the best way to suit a Socialist Government when it came into power, I do not think it could have been framed better for that purpose than it was framed.
The danger is this. I, and those who have been associated with me, have never contended for one moment that this House ought to have equal power with the House of Commons, or that it ought to be able to oppose the deliberate opinion of the electorate. What I have said, and I repeat now, is that as the Parliament Act is at present framed it is possible in this country alone for a majority of the House of Commons to make fundamental changes of which the majority of the electorate do not approve. We have contended, and I contend now, that the Constitution will never again be stable until by some method or another it is assured that such fundamental changes cannot take place unless the majority of the electors so desire. My noble and learned friend who leads the Opposition might like to leaves things as they are, knowing how convenient the Constitution in its present form is, or would be, for a Socialist Government, but I very much doubt if, when that time came, he would be able to sit still.
Imagine a Socialist Government in the House of Commons with a working majority and the whole representation of that great Party in this House the nine or ten noble Lords whom we see opposite us. The position is impossible. It is not a question of the qualification or of the ability, which we all recognise, of those noble Lords. It would be perfectly impossible for a Government with any self-respect to be content with things as they would be. It would, as a matter of fact, be confronted with this dilemma: either it would have to advise His Majesty to create a large number of additional Peers, or it would use the Parliament Act to abolish the Second Chamber altogether. That may be a good thing or a bad thing to do, but what I, and those who agree with me, contend is that it is quite absurd that such a 795 measure as that should be passed by exactly the same process as a Bill for the drainage of the Ouse.
This country alone of all free civilised countries is in that position. Other countries have a written Constitution. We have none, and the advantages of being without a written Constitution are far greater than the disadvantages. This Parliament is a sovereign Parliament. I think hardly any other Parliament, if any, is a sovereign Parliament, that is, a Parliament which has no check on its powers. I think the advantages of a sovereign Parliament are far greater than restrictions on that sovereignty. But this position carries with it a great peril, a great peril which has been touched upon by the Lord Chancellor and has been completely ignored by Viscount Haldane, but which none the less exists. We have heard tonight from the Lord Chancellor a speech of the utmost possible importance, so important that I should not think it right to endeavour to deal with it to-night. I should like to read it, to weigh it and to think over it. But I recognise its supreme importance and I recognise it, as indeed every man who knows him would expect, as an attempt by the Prime Minister to redeem his pledges, for the Prime Minister is a man whose word we implicitly trust.
In answer to my noble friend the Earl of Arran, I cannot admit that this matter has not been before the country continuously since the year 1911. I am not going to re-quote what has been already quoted in this House, but I will recapitulate and add some facts to the chain of evidence. The Earl of Oxford and Asquith has been quoted. No member of the Liberal Cabinet would have denied for one moment that when the War broke out his Party was pledged to deal with this question. Immediately after the War, in a common manifesto, Mr. Lloyd George and the late Mr. Bonar Law renewed that pledge. In 1922 Mr. Bonar Law renewed it on his part again, and in 1924, in a statement of the policy of the Conservative Party to which Mr. Baldwin wrote a foreword and for which he in that foreword took authority, this question was given great prominence. As has been also stated to-night, Mr. Baldwin in a very important speech before the last General Election, renewed that pledge. If I may 796 say so to the Earl of Arran, it is really quite impossible for a Prime Minister in every speech he makes during General Election to deal with every subject he wants to bring before the public. He must deal with some subjects in one speech and with other subjects in another speech. That is exactly what Mr. Baldwin did.
I want to say something presently on the subject of what are called "mandates." I have reminded your Lordships that some other countries protect their Constitution by having it embodied in a great Act. Others differentiate between different classes of legislation so that the more important the subject the more elaborate the process. I need only remind your Lordships of the Constitution of the United States of America. According to my mind, and I expect to the minds of most of your Lordships, it is a far too rigid Constitution and one which I should be very sorry to see repeated here. Nevertheless, that Constitution does pay homage to what I may call the distinction between fundamental and ordinary law. Then again, unless my memory deceives me, in the Union of South Africa there are certain parts of the Constitution of the Union which can be changed only in a joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament, and then only by a two-thirds majority. That is another method of safeguarding fundamentals. The Australian method is well-known. It is that of a referendum, that is to say, a ballot of the electors on a particular question.
The Parliament Act itself was not without a provision of this kind. May I remind your Lordships very briefly what the Parliament Act does? It says that, if a Bill is certified by the Speaker to be a Finance Bill, this House has no say in the matter at all and the Bill can be passed into law within the few weeks of a single Session. If the Bill is not certified by the Speaker to be a Finance Bill, then it passes automatically into law at the end of two years, no matter what this House does, if in the meantime the House of Commons has passed it three times without change. The Lord Chancellor has told us to-night that in the judgment of His Majesty's Government the provisions of that Act regarding finance require amendment. The noble 797 and learned Viscount, Lord Haldane, did not commit himself as to whether they did or did not, but I rather gathered that he thought they did not. I ask him this question: Suppose a Socialist Speaker quite honestly certified a Bill for the nationalisation of all banks as a Finance Bill, does he think that this is the right way of dealing with such a question? Such a Bill must necessarily contain financial provisions. It may be a good thing to do or a bad thing, but all that and my friends contend is that such a matter should not be treated under the Parliament Act as a Finance Bill.
Then we come to questions of a different class, to constitutional questions. I would remind the House, though I am sure that I need not remind my noble friend Lord Beauchamp, that there is one very important exception to the operation of the Parliament Act. To one Bill, and to one Bill only, the Parliament Act does not apply, and that is a Bill to prolong the life of the House of Commons beyond five years. I think that this was a very excellent exception to insert, but what is the position when the Parliament Act itself might be amended under the Parliament Act, and when that one exception might be struck out by the operation of the Parliament Act? Surely that is one loophole. The Lord Chancellor has indicated another in suggesting that this House might be abolished under the operation of the Parliament Act. On this occasion I shall confine myself solely to constitutional illustrations, but surely the Government are not going far enough. They propose only to add a Bill for abolishing the Second Chamber to the list of exceptions. Surely, if this Chamber is valuable, the Monarchy is far more valuable and it ought to be quite impossible to touch the Monarchy under the provisions of the Parliament Act.
Further, I want to put in a plea for the House of Commons itself. Has it occurred to my noble friends who sit on the Liberal Benches that under the Parliament Act the Cabinet could be given the right to legislate by Orders in Council, as was done in the War and for the purposes of the War under the Defence of the Realm Act? That would be perfectly possible under the Parliament Act, and the effect would be very nearly to reduce the House of Commons 798 to impotence and immensely to increase the power of the Cabinet as against the power of the House of Commons. I must say that I think it ought to be quite impossible to touch the powers of the House of Commons in that way. It may be asked what Government is going to propose such measures? Is any Government likely to propose the substitution of a Republic for a Monarchy, or the abolition of this House, or an increase of the powers of the Cabinet as against those of the House of Commons? That must be only a matter of opinion. What I do say is that there is no free civilised nation in the world except ours which takes that risk, a risk which, I may remind your Lordships, curiously enough has not only been incurred but incurred in this country—I agree that it was under totally different circumstances—after the Long Parliament had cut off the King's head and then proceeded to abolish this House and finally to make itself perpetual. That usurpation was ended only by the sword of Cromwell. What we look for is a Government that will prevent such evils from being even contemplated again in this country.
I quite recognise, and all those who agree with me recognise, that the Parliament Act itself cannot be repealed. I dislike the Parliament Act as much as Lord Haldane loves it, but I agree with him at any rate upon that point. What we contend for is such an amendment, within the scope of the Parliament Act, as Mr. Baldwin contemplated in the speech that he made at Perth. I humbly submit that the Parliament Act cannot be amended without a change in the constitution of this House, a reduction in the number of hereditary Peers who sit here and an addition of Peers drawn from some other source, if only for the reason that I have already given, that otherwise the Constitution would not work with a Socialist majority in the House of Commons and only nine Socialist Peers in the House of Lords. It is a perfectly impossible and preposterous position and, in my humble judgment, no Socialist Government would tolerate it for a month.
Now I come to the speech of the noble Duke who opposed the Motion of my noble friend Lord FitzAlan. The noble Duke will pardon me if I say that he did not really touch the essence of the sub- 799 ject at all. I cannot pass over one statement that he made, because it may go out to the public and create a completely false impression. He said in effect that the reason why some three or four hundred Peers never attend in your Lordships' House is that they are amusing themselves in some form of sport. I believe that to be a complete and utter misrepresentation of the facts of the case. Many of them are of course most excellent sportsmen. Surely he selected a very singular example when he named my noble friend Lord Desborough, who not only may be said to be the finest example of a sportsman we have in the House but who may also be said to be almost its best attendant. No doubt many of your Lordships who attend this House as well as those who do not attend it are great adepts in various forms of sport, and long may it be so!
There are a variety of causes why Peers do not attend, but the most common and potent cause is that a great many of those Peers cannot afford to come to London very often. They have been so impoverished by the War, their whole position has been so much changed that they have to live in the county where they reside and where they are constantly doing splendid local work. It ill becomes one of their number to state what they never will state for themselves and to which very little prominence has been given—namely, the extent to which those men have suffered owing to taxation due to the War. They never complain. They served during the War themselves with all their sons, they gave all they had to give in the War, and they are giving all they can give in taxation now. They can no longer afford to come to London as they used to do and that, though not the only reason, is the chief reason why so many of these Peers do not attend.
A House of 700 is an unwieldy House. A House of which, for whatever cause, so large a proportion of members cannot attend is not easily defended. A House, in which only one or almost only only side of opinion is represented, is not easily defended. For all these reasons I welcome what the Lord Chancellor said on this subject. Of course, like other noble Lords, I must reserve to myself the right of judgment when I see what is proposed in actual print, but, quite contrary to Lord Haldane, I understood, though the Lord Chancellor did not say 800 so, that these were the proposals which His Majesty's Government intend to make during the life of this Parliament. I sincerely trust that that is so. If that is so, I think they may feel confident that they will be enthusiastically supported by their Party and that the country will be grateful to them for adding to the stability of the Constitution.
§ LORD TEMPLEMORE
My Lords, over two years ago I ventured to speak on the Question asked by the noble Duke, the Duke of Sutherland, on this subject, although I had only been then a short time in this House. If to-night I support the Motion of the noble Viscount, it is because two years' experience with fairly regular attendance in this House has not in the least altered my views. I am not one of those in the Conservative Party who think that the Government have been unnecessarily dilatory in this matter. Indeed, situated as they have been since they have been in office, I do not see how they could possibly up to now have brought forward a measure for the reform of this House. We all know that in the first Session, 1925, they were fully occupied with such measures as the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act, the Rating and Valuation Act, the Tithe Act and other matters, all mentioned in the King's Speech of that year. Last year, as we all know to our cost, they were fully occupied in the business of the General Strike and the coal dispute. This year up till now they have been engaged in the serious situation in China and, last but not least, in the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Bill, which is regarded with dislike by noble Lords opposite and with, I imagine, somewhat mixed feelings by the followers of the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, but which we on this side of the House regard as a necessary measure. For these reasons I acquit His Majesty's Government absolutely of any dilatoriness in this matter.
But, in my opinion, the urgency is very great indeed and is growing greater as time goes on. Other noble Lords have dealt with the danger to the Constitution of the present position of this House. I propose for a few moments to refer to the attendance of this House with a view to showing how bad it is and is becoming. It is said that the debates in this House are the best debates that one 801 can hear anywhere. I am sure all will agree. On the other hand—I speak with all respect to the House for I have not been here very long—the attendance is lamentable and shows signs of becoming worse. I have been referring to some of the Divisions on important measures since this Government took office, and the figures are rather instructive. On the Second Reading of the Tithe Bill, an exceedingly important Government measure, on December 3, 1925, the number of those who voted was 54. During the Committee Stage of the Rating and Valuation Bill on December 14, 1925, the largest number voting in any of the Divisions was 71. On the Second Reading of the Electricity Bill in December last year the voting was 127. On the Second Reading of the Merchandise Marks Bill in the same month the number voting was 76. On the Motion of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, last year condemning the action of my noble friend in reference to the Closure the number voting only totalled 123. The measure that apparently most stirred the House was the Bill of my noble friend Lord Astor dealing with Peeresses, in which Division 206 Peers voted. I do not complain of that and still less of the result, for I hope it will be the same next Monday; I only say that the importance to this House and the country of that Bill is very little compared with some of the measures I have mentioned.
What is the reason for this state of things? Some of the reasons have been mentioned by the noble Earl who has just sat down—namely, that Peers cannot in these times afford the time or the money to come from distant parts to your Lordships' House, that others are engaged in most useful work in their borough or county, that other Peers are managing their own estates, which they have to do to a great extent now, with fewer agents or no agents, and these estates take more management than before the War. I think there is another reason besides those. I think that in the minds of many Peers there is a feeling that under present conditions it is useless to attend the House, that our debates are more or less academic, and that in any legislative dispute it is always in the end the will of another place, and not by any means the will of the people, that must prevail.
802 This debate has served a good purpose to-day for one reason: we know exactly the amount of help we are going to get in this measure from the Party opposite. We have had a speech on this matter from the noble and learned Viscount (who has now left the House) and he more or less threatened us—very pleasantly of course, as he always does—that if we brought up this matter, the Labour Party would make an electioneering cry of it. We have not had the pleasure of hearing, so far, any statement from the Benches occupied by the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, and those who follow him, and I very much wonder whether we are likely to get from him and his friends any more help than we are likely to get from the noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, and his friends. It all goes to prove that, as I expected, the onus falls upon the Government and they will have to carry the thing through alone. The noble Duke, who brought forward the Amendment, uses in his Amendment these words:—in view of the failure of any scheme of House of Lords Reform to arouse interest.I wonder whether the noble Duke ever in these days addresses meetings in the country. I do occasionally, and I can assure him that when this subject is mentioned I find that it arouses very great interest indeed among both working-class and other audiences. As to the contention of Lord Arran that this subject was not before the country at the last General Election, I am pretty certain that it was in the manifesto of the Prime Minister, and was regarded as part of the programme of the Conservative Party by many hundreds of thousands of electors who voted for us.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
I will ask the noble Lord to quote the Prime Minister's manifesto. Having said what he has, I am entitled to ask him to read the Election Address.
§ LORD TEMPLEMORE
I do not want to cross swords with the noble Earl, but I was under that impression, and I think it is beyond contradiction, that this subject was regarded as part of the programme of the Party to which I belong when we came in, in 1924.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
I have already said that it was not in the Election manifesto at the General Election.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
I have already read out what the noble Lord proposes to read. My noble friend said it was in the manifesto—the Election Address—and I maintain it was not in the Prime Minister's Election Address.
§ LORD TEMPLEMORE
I am very much afraid that I cannot do so. I will put it this way: It was distinctly regarded by the Conservative Party that the reform of this House was part of their programme when they came into office in October, 1924. One final word and I have done. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr—I am sorry he is not here—during the debate on this question, over two years ago, referred to a sentence in a speech I made, in order to accuse us on this side of desiring to impede democratic progress and the will of the people. That was denied by my noble friend who leads the House, in a speech concluding the debate, speaking for himself and for the Party behind him. Of course I can only speak for myself, but I here and now wish to make a most emphatic denial that I had any such idea in my mind at all.
I am really not so foolish, or so ignorant of the progress of political thought in this country, as to imagine that at this time, even if one wanted to, one could create a Second Chamber as a sort of rival of the House of Commons in finance and other matters which have been the special province of that Chamber; but I do think that this country requires, and is entitled to have, a Second Chamber constituted in such a manner as will entitle it to the powers which I think it ought to have—namely, the power to prevent hasty or revolutionary legislation, which may do permanent harm to the country, from becoming law until the people have had a 804 chance of saying whether they want it or not. By advocating this I probably risk personal exclusion from such a Chamber, but the times are far too dangerous for any personal view to weigh. Feeling as I do, I support the Motion of my noble friend, and if he goes to a Division I shall certainly go with him.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
On behalf of the Duke of Northumberland, I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned until Wednesday. I should like to ask whether it would be possible to meet on Wednesday at three o'clock.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned till Wednesday next.—(The Earl of Midleton.)
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I have made inquiry since the matter was suggested to me in different quarters of the House, and I find there is general agreement that it would be for the convenience of your Lordships if we met at three o'clock rather than at a quarter to four o'clock, on Wednesday.
§ LORD NEWTON
Might I suggest that we should meet at an earlier hour on Thursday? A Division taken after seven o'clock is always inconvenient.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The difficulty is the Judicial Business on Thursday. On Wednesday there is no Judicial Business and we can meet as early as we like, but perhaps the matter of Thursday can be mentioned to me again.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly until Wednesday next at three o'clock.
§ House adjourned at twenty minutes past seven o'clock.