- 1. That it is desirable that early steps should be taken to limit the number of members of the House, and to make suitable provision for an elective representation of the Peerage, and for such other representation or nomination as would ensure to each political Party a fair position in the House; and
- 2. That the following constitution of this House would in the opinion of this House fulfil these conditions—
- (a) 150 peers to be elected by proportional representation or the cumulative vote in each Parliament by the whole body of Peers, to sit and vote in the House;
- (b) 150 persons to be nominated by the Crown in proportion to the Parties in the House of Commons in each Parliament, to sit for the life of the Parliament;
- (c) The Crown to have the power to appoint a limited number of life Peers in each Parliament.
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, in the first instance I should like on my own behalf, as well as on behalf of those with whom I am acting to-day, to accord to Lord Buckmaster our most grateful thanks for having removed his Motion upon this subject which stood upon your Lordships' Order Paper, thus making 485 the way clear for the Resolution which I have the honour to propose to-day. We thank him, I should like to assure him, for his consideration, and need I say that we are looking forward with intense interest to the part that no doubt he will take in the debate in your Lordships' House this afternoon.
At the outset of what I have to say upon my Resolution this afternoon I want to make it perfectly clear that the suggestions I am putting forward are in no way hostile to His Majesty's Government. We do not desire in any shape or form to do anything which would embarrass them on the eve of a General Election, and I think I can faithfully claim that at any rate the second part of my Resolution is the natural sequel to the Resolution which was moved by my noble friend Viscount FitzAlan in June, 1927. May I remind your Lordships of some of the words which occurred in that Resolution?—
This House would welcome a reasonable measure limiting and defining membership of the House.
I venture to assert that the second part of the Resolution which I have the honour to propose to your Lordships this afternoon, accomplishes that very thing. A moment ago I said that my Resolution was a sequel to that which was moved by my noble friend Viscount FitzAlan eighteen months ago. In one sense it is and in one sense it is not, because it does not go on in any words to touch upon the subject of either the repeal or the amendment of the Parliament Act.
§ May I say one word upon that subject, though it is not my intention this afternoon to raise it in a very serious manner? That there are defects in the Parliament Act many of us on this side of the House agree. The question of the repeal of that Act was discussed, and discussed very fully, upon a former occasion in your Lordships' House, and if I sensed the feeling of the House accurately I think I am correct in stating that it was ruled out and was not considered practical politics. But on the subject of amendment of certain sections of that Act a very different opinion was expressed, and I think that upon this occasion all I need say is that if the proposals we are laying before your Lordships' House are accepted, then 486 these matters in connection with the Parliament Act can be dealt with at a later stage.
§ Let me add this one word: although we do not want any assurance, we would like to know that those questions will be made a living issue when the Government goes to the country some time next year. Now I frankly admit that the object of this Resolution this afternoon is to prevent the question of the reform of your Lordships' House being shelved. I frankly admit that my object, and the object of those with whom I am associated, is, if I may use an unparliamentary expression, to ginger up the Government to deal with this question during the course of the General Election. I know that the fate of similar proposals which have been introduced into your Lordships' House on previous occasions has not been a very happy one, but upon this occasion I am, I freely admit, an optimist, at any rate in so far as the fate of these proposals in your Lordships' House is concerned. I am an optimist for four reasons: first of all, because of the fate in your Lordships' House which attended the Motion of my noble friend Viscount FitzAlan; secondly, because I believe that the proposals I am submitting to your Lordships' House are based upon a truly democratic basis; thirdly, because they provide for a much less unwieldy House than exists at the present time; and fourthly, because they are fair and equitable to all Parties in the State.
If your Lordships are anxious for any scheme to be adopted, it seems to be quite obvious that you must be prepared to make sacrifices Unless you are prepared to make sacrifices there is very little chance of your scheme being acceptable, or even of its being adopted. In other words, unless you are prepared to give something away, there is very little chance of success. I frankly admit that, under the proposals I have the honour to submit to your Lordships this afternoon, undoubted sacrifices are being asked of noble Lords, but I agree, and I agree implicitly, with some words that fell from the lips of my noble friend the Duke of Buccleuch on the last occasion when this subject was debated in your Lordships' House. May I quote those words?
What I think we have to consider is not so much how details affect us but what is really good for the country.
It is because we believe that the proposals which we are submitting today are good for the country that we are asking your Lordships to adopt them, and I believe that if we can persuade noble Lords in this House that these proposals are sound they will be willing to make those undoubted sacrifices and to put patriotism before privilege. I should like to assure your Lordships that there is no thought whatever of improving the position of the Party to which I belong in these proposals. They are advanced, let me assure your Lordships, in the genuine belief that they really will improve the Constitution.
§ I have no desire to repeat arguments that have been used in your Lordships' House, but I confess that on a subject of this kind, when the ground has been amply covered on more than one occasion, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find any new argument to apply to the subject. I intend this afternoon to make use only of such arguments as I consider essential to my case. Your Lordships will recollect that on the last occasion when the subject was debated in this House my noble friend the Duke of Marlborough moved an Amendment, which was subsequently withdrawn, to Viscount FitzAlan's Motion. That Amendment called upon your Lordships' House to do nothing in this matter. I do not know if I have sensed the feeling of some of your Lordships accurately, but I believe I am right in saying that there are still some members of your Lordships' House who hold that view. Speaking for myself and for those with whom I act, I am bound to say that we regard that as a dangerous road along which to travel. We concur with the late Lord Chancellor, Viscount Cave. Let me refer to some very important words that he used in the debate in June, 1927. He argued that there was an undoubted peril in tampering with the Ark of the Constitution, but he went on to point out that the Constitution received in 1911 a blow from which it would not recover unless some sound remedy were discovered, and he added that, if there was a peril in moving, he 488 considered that there was a still greater peril in standing still. It is with the object of remedying that still greater peril that the Resolution that I am putting to your Lordships this afternoon is conceived.
§ Let me say one word about the hereditary principle. I admit that, from the point of view of the Legislature, the hereditary principle is to-day a very difficult one to defend. But most of our national life is built up on it. So far as I am concerned, I frankly confess that I am a firm believer in heredity. I believe that, when you get a section of the community which for generations past has been charged with the duty of carrying on the administration of the affairs of the country, that section of the community is capable of transmitting, and does actually transmit, to its heirs and successors, sometimes in a limited degree, sometimes in a greater degree, the actual capacity for government. Holding that view, I am second to none in asserting that the House of Lords, taking it as it is constituted to-day, has in the past performed its functions extremely well. It has behind it a remarkably good record—a record as good as, or perhaps better than, that of any other Second Chamber in the world. Some mistakes, indeed, have been made, but I am one of those who feel that on the whole it has interpreted the will of the people both wisely and well.
§ You will ask me: Why then should we make any change? It seems to me that the answer is very clear. Times have changed. Let me refer your Lordships to some remarks which my noble friend the Leader of the House made in the debate on this subject in your Lordships' House eighteen months ago. He drew your Lordships' attention to a resolution which had been moved and accepted at a meeting of the National Union of Conservative Associations on the eve of the General Election in 1924, calling upon the Government to do something with regard to the constitution and the powers of the House of Lords. Similar resolutions have been moved on many other occasions, and while you may say that this is merely the expression of a body of opinion that is entirely Conservative, it does represent a very considerable proportion of the electorate to-day. There is another reason. A new Party, 489 the Labour Party, has come into being. That Party has a great deal of support in the constituencies in this country. It has a great many members in the House of Commons itself. But can your Lordships say that that Party, which has now become the official Opposition, is adequately represented on the Benches opposite? Our proposals are designed, in the first place, in response to that great call from a very large proportion of the electorate of the country and in the second place to remedy the defect to which I have just drawn attention.
§ I should like, if I may, to turn now to the proposals themselves. Upon the first part of the Resolution I need say very little, but I understand that there is a certain amount of (shall I say?) apprehension with regard to the word "limit" in the first line of the first part of the Resolution. Let me say a word in explanation of it. Our idea in making use of that word was merely to suggest that it was desirable that the House should be reduced in numbers without committing ourselves to the actual number itself.
§ May I now turn for a moment to the second part of our Resolution? Your Lordships will notice that in paragraph (a) of the second part no mention is made whatsoever of four different categories or rather four different sections of this House. I refer to Princes of the Blood Royal, Bishops, Law Lords and Peeresses in their own right. With regard to Princes of the Blood Royal and Law Lords our suggestion is that they should sit ex officio. With regard to Bishops our suggestion is that they should share and share alike with those who are elected in this House by the Peers themselves. My noble friend Lord Davidson of Lambeth, speaking in this House as Archbishop of Canterbury during the last debate, made what I think were two very valuable suggestions if I may say so. While he regretted that the number of Bishops sitting in the future in this House if your Lordships' House was reformed would be diminished, he did, I think, if my memory serves me correctly, suggest that five would be the appropriate number if the numbers of the House were reduced and Peers Temporal were asked to make sacrifices. He went on to make, if I may say so, another extremely valuable 490 suggestion and that was that the Bishops who should sit in this House should be selected by their own order.
§ I want to say one word upon the subject of Peeresses in their own right, and when I do this I am not aware whether I am speaking for myself only or whether any of those with whom I am associated share my views. I should like, if I may, to express my own views. If the legal bar preventing Peeresses in their own right from sitting in this House can be removed, and I hope it can be, it seems to me only right and fair that Peeresses in their own right should have a voice in the election of the 150 Peers who, if our proposals are accepted, will eventually form the nucleus of the new House, and I venture to suggest that it would be only fair that they themselves should be eligible to appear and be represented among the 150 representatives.
§ There are, of course, a great many other questions which will be raised in the debate. I cannot, nor would I attempt to, range over that very wide field, for if I were to do so I should be keeping your Lordships far longer than I am entitled to do; but inter alia there is the question of what is to happen to those Peers who are not elected to the reformed House. I would only say this upon that point, as I know that Lord Temple-more is going to raise it during the debate—that so far as we are concerned we hold the view that those Peers should be entitled to stand as candidates for election to seats in the Lower House. I now come to my final observation, which I can put in a sentence or two. These proposals are not put forward with the idea that they are absolutely perfect in conception. They are put forward as a basis for discussion now that your Lordships are once more debating this question in the House. I have very little doubt that during the course of this debate we shall receive valuable and constructive suggestions in so far as they are concerned, and I would only add that, speaking for my own part and for those whom I represent, we shall be only too glad to accept such suggestions, providing they do not in any way either attack or impair the basic and fundamental principles underlying the proposals. I beg to move.
- 1. That it is desirable that early steps should be taken to limit the number of members of the House, and to make suitable provision for an elective representation of the Peerage, and for such other representation or nomination as would ensure to each political Party a fair position in the House; and
- 2. That the following constitution of this House would in the opinion of this House fulfil these conditions—
- (a) 150 peers to be elected by proportional representation or the cumulative vote in each Parliament by the whole body of Peers, to sit and vote in the House;
- (b) 150 persons to be nominated by the Crown in proportion to the Parties in the House of Commons in each Parliament, to sit for the life of the Parliament;
- (c) The Crown to have the power to appoint a limited number of life Peers in each Parliament.—(The Earl of Clarendon.)
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, I beg to thank the noble Earl for his courteous reference to myself, and to assure him, and all your Lordships, that I shall be only too glad at any time to sacrifice my own personal convenience for the purpose of securing a full and adequate discussion of a subject so important as this, for I do not think that any one of your Lordships can doubt that the subject of the noble Earl's Motion is one of grave and immediate concern. The life of the present Government draws fast to its final stage. Whether the remainder of its allotted span be measured in terms of months or weeks matters but little, but the end is certain, and the end is near, and there is no one, not even the most competent and brazen-mouthed prophet, who can venture confidently to predict what Government will take its place. It is the fate of every Government that its popularity wears thin by use, and no one can deny that in, the subjects of domestic and international policy, of our industries and our finance, there are subjects which will leave this Government open to severe and even devastating criticism upon the platforms at the next Election.
492 What, then, is going to result? We of the Liberal Party do not venture to assert that we are going to be returned as a Government. Why should we? We are attacked on the one side by our traditional enemies and on the other by our own ungrateful offspring. What results? You have added to the difficulties the fact that there are five million new and untried voters in the electorate, and three millions of them are between the ages of 21 and 30—three millions of voters who, if, as I sincerely hope they will, take a keen interest in the issue, will bring to this consideration all the eager and the untried enthusiasm of youth—of youth which is not prepared, as we who have grown older are only too often prepared, to accept with tame and timid acquiescence all the wrong and the injustice of the world. Is it surprising, then, that people look forward and see with ill-disguised apprehension the figure which appears to take more formidable power and shape every day, and realise that in the near future the Labour Party may not merely be seated in office but throned in power?
I admit that that prospect would fill me with more curiosity than alarm, were it not for one fact. How under our present Constitution is it possible that this House can keep pace with the ever-quickening pulse of public opinion? There, on one Bench of your Lordships' House, sit all the representatives that this House can produce of the Labour Party. Nor is it likely that even the magnetism of office will attract more than a very few disjointed and negligible items from the rest of your Lordships' House. I am not decrying for a moment the activities of that Party. By a zeal which I appreciate, and by a not infrequent reiteration which I do not so greatly admire, they do undoubtedly occupy a very considerable part in the business of your Lordships' House. But change the Benches and put them there [the Ministerial Bench]: how do you propose that they shall govern? How is it possible, with this House constituted as it is, that they could get anything more than a courteous hearing and a decisive defeat on any question that they brought forward for your consideration?
And I do not for a moment say that as a representative myself of a Party that has been in a permanent minority 493 in this House. The real difficulty of this House, speaking as one of that minority, is this, that you are always faced with a solid immovable body of opinion, which has the defect of being incurably honest and sincere. You cannot convince it: their convictions are already there, partly by tradition, partly by association. They are satisfied with principles which they hold to be the principles which are essential to the welfare and the safety of the country; and how, in those circumstances, is it possible that they could ever respond to such a Government as that which I have suggested? I feel satisfied that you must all realise that, if the Labour Party does come into power with this House unregenerated and unreformed, there is a danger of a violent collision in which a powerful, if not an irresistible, force will meet with an immovable object. And the physicists tell us that the result of that collision is that you generate infinite heat, and in that heat there may be consumed many of the things that all of us hold dear. It is to avoid that hazard, it is to call attention to that risk, that the noble Earl has put down his Motion for your consideration this afternoon, and I beg of you to give it your most earnest care.
I am not going to deal at any length with the actual proposals, for this reason. I appreciate thoroughly the care and the skill with which those proposals have been put forward. I think they are deserving of all possible consideration, and undoubtedly of very careful debate and discussion in this House; but I think it is almost out of the question at this stage in the history of the Government to expect that they can be adopted and carried into effect. Still less do I think that any Party would be willing to pledge themselves to any definite scheme at such a time, remembering that in vain is the net spread in the sight of the bird, and that anybody who accepts these proposals without question to-day as a member of a Party will find, when he faces his constituents upon the platform, that they, who have not had the advantage of the full and careful consideration which he has given to them, may subject him to some extremely unpleasant experiences.
But the real thing which I do appreciate in connection with all these proposals is this: I think it is of the 494 utmost value to bear in mind that these proposals do not propose any interference with the Parliament Act, and I regard that as of the utmost consequence, I believe that, any scheme for the reform of this House that is based on, or associated with, the alteration of that measure is doomed to defeat. I do not think that everyone here quite understands the way in which the Liberal and the Labour Parties regard that measure. It was the end of a long, historic struggle, that had lasted for very nearly a century, and it was believed that with its passage you had removed the odious necessity which from time to time had occurred of trying, to overawe and overrule the authority of this House by the introduction of a large number of new men. The Parliament Act had as its basis a scheme for effecting the consent of this House to measures without recourse to that particular method of influence. And if once that is given the go-by, if once it is thought that any of these proposals are designed for the purpose of whittling away what I beg you to believe large bodies of people in this country regarded as a great victory—if that is once done, I feel very strongly convinced that the proposals will be regarded with suspicion, and that they will not receive popular support.
It is a strange thing when these issues arise how often the real thing is lost sight of in the quarrel that is once more brought up between this House and the elected body in another place. Let me give an illustration of what I mean. The Finance Bill of 1909, which was the real moving cause that led to the Parliament Act, was rejected by your Lordships' House, who disliked the Bill, possibly not without reason, and who determined that the consequences of their dislike might take themselves to wherever they pleased to go. What was the result? The Bill on the whole was not, I believe, a very popular Bill in the country. Had you gone to the country on the issue of that Bill I think it would have been difficult to maintain the position. I am speaking with the utmost frankness—I never can see any use in making imaginary and pretended situations. My belief is that, with the various forces that had been growing against the Liberal Government at that time, had the issue been taken on that 495 Bill, when nearly everybody would have been smothered with bits of blue paper from some central office, the reaction would have been very strong. But directly your Lordships refused the Bill the whole issue of the Bill was swept out of sight and the thing upon which the country was asked to determine was: Will you have your measures, brought forward by your elected body in one place, rejected by a body over whom you have no control? You know what the answer to that issue was. Believe me, that will be the answer again and again. If you follow out the fate of that Bill, can anything be more remarkable? Its chief author assisted at its funeral. The Bill has now been buried deep beyond the chance of resurrection, and it is only on a few platforms that its spectre can from time to time be seen. If, instead of doing what you all believed was the right thing to do, you had done the wise thing and let that Bill go through the situation would have been a very different one.
It is for that reason that I view with infinite alarm the question of a collision between this House and an advanced Government. It is impossible, as I said before, to control or to influence this House to forsake strongly-rooted, deeply-held convictions. They will act upon them whatever the consequences may be. Surely every one of your Lordships can realise that in such a situation, which I do not think I have over-painted by a single stroke, there exists a danger to the Constitution of this country which it is our duty, as the body which has always above everything desired to preserve, to modify and to continue the Constitution, to concern ourselves with, and to seek to remove. The proposals for that removal are, as I have said, of extreme ingenuity. I do not suppose that the people who put them forward expected that they would be accepted wholesale. I feel sure from the speech of the noble Earl that he was most anxious to have criticism in order that they might be made more perfect, and I sincerely hope that criticism will be provided. I will not deal with that part of his Motion at all, largely because there is so much that one could criticise, I do not mean adversely; but there is so much that provokes discussion that I think we might lose ourselves in the discussion and lose sight of what I regard 496 as the fundamental things of the first part of the Motion.
What I want to do is to persuade the Government at this late hour that they ought now to make some provision that will enable a Labour Government, if it be returned, to function. It could be done by passing even a small Resolution enabling the Government, during the period in which it is in office, to appoint people to assist in your Lordships' House in order that their Bills might be properly presented. At the present moment it might be difficult even to fill the offices, and something must be done. Your Lordships will realise that the Labour Party themselves cannot well make Peers because they are opposed on principle to the very essence of hereditary titles, and to ask members of the Labour Party to accept them is making a very great demand upon those men, a demand to which I very much doubt whether they would readily assent.
I certainly do not propose to keep you long in this discussion. My object has been to attempt in the few sentences I have uttered to impress upon your Lordships, and if I could through your Lordships upon the country, the urgent need for something to be done, by which you can accomplish what, after all, has been the very essence of all the many reforms through which this country has passed—the moulding and development of existing institutions so that they may meet new needs. It is certainly urgent for this to be done. The feet of the young men and the young women are at our door. You can almost hear their quick impatient tread. I want to know whether this House is going to do nothing but lie like the fallen trunk of some great tree uprooted by heavy gales, barring the whole path of progress, or is it going to do something by which not merely fair audience—that is secured to everyone in this House unless he forfeits his right—but fair and sympathetic consideration of the different measures that are brought forward, can be afforded by this body? Upon the right answer to that question depends, I believe, not merely the welfare of this country, but something far greater—the welfare of the whole realm.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down made, as he 497 always does, a very eloquent speech. I admit that we on this Bench appreciate the compliment that he paid us when he said that he regarded us in some sense as an offspring of the Liberal Party. Still more do I appreciate that argument because I understand that the noble Lord is not averse from the hereditary principle, and in that way I think I may claim his assistance, or at any rate his sympathy, as a valuable asset to the Party to which I belong.
The noble Earl, Lord Clarendon, made a most admirable speech. I desire to deal with the matters to which he referred and to explain clearly and frankly the attitude of the Labour Party. At the outset, may I state their attitude from the programme accepted by them at the Birmingham Conference? The first article of that programme is—that we should maintain (that is, that the Labour Party should maintain) "the unquestioned supremacy of the House of Commons." The second is that we should give an "uncompromising resistance to the establishment of a Second Chamber"—that would mean also, of course, the adjustment of a Second Chamber—"with authority over finance"—that is not asked—"and power to hamper the House of Commons and defeat democratic decisions." When I come to the terms of the proposals it appears to me that they will interfere with the unquestioned supremacy of the House of Commons, and would certainly give power to hamper the House of Commons and to defeat democratic decisions.
I am aware, all your Lordships are aware, that we approach this particular question from a special point of view. Underlying the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Clarendon, was really the premise that he desired a House of Lords, or a Second Chamber, which might be an effective barrier to Socialist legislation. Let me put before your Lordships our view on the other side. We desire that the Second Chamber, whatever it may be, shall be an effective barrier against reactionary legislation, particularly during the periods when the Conservatives have a majority in the other House. I want to discuss more in detail the actual proposals. A leading objection to my mind, and to the minds of those with whom I am in political agreement, is 498 this, that at present when a Conservative Party is in power we really have single-chamber government and the advantages of a second-chamber government are not secured. Instead of there being a mitigation of that evil it would be enhanced and strengthened should the proposals which are brought forward by the noble Earl be accepted.
I do not want to follow the noble, Earl in his language, which was very striking. He only hopes to "ginger up," I presume, Lord Salisbury, the Leader of this House, and also the Leader of the Conservative Party. That is his ambition. It will be for the noble Marquess to say by and by whether that ambition is to be realised or not. But let me deal with the four points to which the noble Earl referred and on which he relied in his main argument in support of his Resolutions. The first of these was the acceptance of a Resolution in this House in 1927. He said quite truly that that Resolution had the advantage of the support of the late Lord Chancellor, Viscount Cave, and of Lord Birkenhead. I recollect particularly Lord Birkenhead saying that if the Resolution was carried it was the duty and the desire and the intention of the present Government to carry it into effective operation. What was its fate? Immediately it was really discussed and considered, immediately the issue was raised, which the noble Earl rightly raises, of an advantage to the State and country—immediately those matters were considered the Resolution disappeared in ridicule, if I may use such an expression. Where are those, proposals gone? I should think that the last matter to which the noble Earl would have referred would have been the unhappy fate of the proposals of 1927.
The second point of the noble Earl is that, as he says, the proposals are democratic. I beg to say that in my view they are most certainly not democratic in any sense. I use the word "democratic," I should like to explain, not in the Greek sense in which it is used as being opposed to oligarchy. I use the word as embracing all classes and ranks of people of this country. When I use the word "democratic" I mean an expression of popular will, backed up, as it ought to be, by a majority, small or great, of the electorate. How can these 499 proposals be said to be democratic? Let us look for a moment at the second Resolution:—(a) 150 Peers to be elected by proportional representation or the cumulative vote in each Parliament by the whole body of Peers, to sit and vote in the House.Every one knows—I do not think it is open to discussion—that those 150 Peers will, in substance, all be men of Conservative mind and feeling. It is quite impossible to produce any other result from a representation of 150 Peers so selected.
It does not matter that you suggest proportional representation. Personally I have always been in favour of proportional representation, although I differ in that respect from some of my political friends. But if you consider the constitution, the feeling, the opinion and the bias of the electorate—that is, of the 700 Peers more or less from whom the 150 are to be selected—you at once have a body impervious to what I may call democratic ideas in the wider sense. You erect a barrier behind which Conservative feeling can entrench itself without any fear of being disturbed, or at least with the hope that it will not be disturbed; and if you once start from any elective proposal of that kind. I say it is hopeless to expect that any Party which desires that the popular will should through the House of Commons be the governing factor in this country, can for a moment support it. I think if the Second Chamber is reconstituted it ought to be constituted with far fewer members than the present House of Lords, with the hope that there will be a good average of attendance, but that is not the matter we are discussing at the moment.
Then the noble Earl supports this proposal because he says it would be fair and equitable to all Parties in the State. I want to put this question to the noble Earl, who is very frank in his views upon these points: How can you have a representation which is fair and equitable to all Parties in the State if you begin with 1150 Peers elected on the hereditary basis? I am not concerned to criticise unduly the hereditary basis, but I am concerned to say that, except in words and phrases, it is really impossible to suggest that you will get a fair and equitable political distribution in this country if you load your dice at the beginning. 500 That is what happens by the election of the 150 representatives of the hereditary Peers. I hope the noble Earl will not think I am persistent in bringing this matter to his mind. We are to have a House of 300 members subject to special nominations; 150 members come as representatives of the hereditary Peers, a body who, if they were elected on any I rue basis, as I hope they would be, would be by a vast majority almost unanimously representative of what we call the Conservative side in our political life: that leaves another 150 which, as I understand, are to be nominated in proportion to the number of representatives of the various Parties in the House of Commons. How would that work? Supposing there was a Conservative majority in the other House, you would have 150 elected Conservative Peers, reinforced, I suppose——
§ THE EARL OF CLARENDON
The noble Lord will, I hope, forgive me if I interrupt him. He used the words "150 Conservative Peers." That would not be so under my proposal. Under my proposal the Peers elected to this House are elected on proportional representation. That would not mean 150 Conservative Peers. It would mean a very much lesser number and a fair proportion of Liberal and of Labour members.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I had not overlooked that and in fact I mentioned that there would be proportional representation, but what I said then and what I say now is that having regard to the constitution of this House, having regard not only to our Benches but to the Benches on this side generally, whatever proportional representation you have, you would have a very large majority indeed of Conservative Peers elected by the hereditary Peers. Can any one doubt that? Can any one think that they are going to elect—they could not find them. I am afraid—representatives of other classes or of other creeds than the Conservative class and the Conservative creed? Of course, they would not. And I would put this to the noble Earl: he is advocating this scheme I think—I do not want to impute motives to him—for the very reason that it would ensure a strong Conservative majority as against democratic ideas, as a barrier in this House against progressive legislation.
§ THE EARL OF CLARENDON
I must interrupt the noble Lord again. I do not think he has quite gathered what the proposals really mean in so far as nominations from the House of Commons are concerned.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I hope the noble Earl does not think I call it interruption. I do not. What I am dealing with for the moment is the election of Peers as representatives of the hereditary body. There may be a difference of opinion, but my own view is that Peers so elected will be predominantly Conservative. However you elect them, you cannot help that because the electorate itself is predominantly Conservative at the present time. Now we come—if I may have the noble Earl's attention, for I should be extremely sorry if I did not quite understand his meaning—to what I may call the second 150 Peers. They are to be nominated by the Crown in proportion to the Parties in the House of Commons.
§ LORD PARMOOR
The Resolution says:—150 persons to be nominated by the Crown in proportion to the parties in the House of Commons in each Parliament, to sit for the life of the Parliament.Supposing that was the only proposal put forward for the constitution of the second Chamber I for one would say that it would require very careful consideration, but included as it is between the election by hereditary Peers and the interference with the prerogative of the Crown, I say at once that it would have no beneficial effect at all. Let us consider the effect of this second 150 Peers. Take first of all the case which often has happened, and which I have no doubt the noble Earl hopes often will happen, of a Conservative majority in the other House. Then you would have a Conservative majority as against either the 502 Labour or the Liberal Party as regards these nominated Peers. I think there is no question whatever about that. The result would be that an extremely Conservative body in this House would be still further strengthened because the nominated Peers would be stronger than any others. I want to know what would happen then to second-chamber government. Supposing you had a large Conservative majority in the other House and you had your elected Peers plus the Conservative nominated Peers forming, as they undoubtedly would in my opinion, a large majority in this House, you would get single-chamber government and nothing else.
That is one of the great faults of our present system. It is a matter you must put right if you are to have a Second Chamber which will not be brought into conflict with popular opinion. I say emphatically on behalf of the Labour Party that we want protection against reaction just as much as you want protection against what you consider too much progressive legislation. You must give the Parties the same protection whether you call them Socialists or reactionaries. How does the noble Earl deal with that I say there is only one way in which you can prevent the real evil of single-chamber government. We know very well how single-chamber government has worked during the period that the Labour Party has been a Party in this House. The members of this House know how futile was our opposition to the interference, and the wrong interference as we regard it, with the trade union principle, and how we fought in vain against the mining settlement which has brought so much misery, appalling misery, to the mining districts in this country. What protection have we against reactionary measures of that kind? Everyone knows that this House, either in its political outlook or its judicial outlook, is not favourable to trade unionism. Of course you have bias of that kind.
If you ask me, I think the only way to have a fair Second Chamber is so to constitute it that the bias of the different Parties in the first Chamber is directly represented in the same proportion in the Second Chamber, and as for saying that you can possibly get any result of that kind by these proposals, of course 503 it is impossible. I do not wonder at its being impossible. Why is this reform wanted? I think myself it is absolutely essential to have reform of the Second Chamber, but why is this reform brought forward now by the noble Earl, and why was it brought forward last Session and supported by the noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, and the late Lord Chancellor? It was avowedly said that you must reform the House of Lords in order to have a sufficient barrier against what was called destructive Socialism. If you start from that point of view you will never arrive at a just result. I might just as well say: "Let us start from the point of view that we want a barrier against reactionary government or against reactionary bias, and for that reason the Labour Party ask your Lordships to constitute a Second Chamber in which the Socialist element shall be inherent, so as in substance to have a safe majority under all conditions." Why, you would not look at it. How, then, can you ask us to look at it from your point of view? I say, give us the same safeguards against reaction that you are asking for against Socialism. Let there be equality in either case and you will have our support of any proposal to improve the Second Chamber. But that is not what you want, and I am afraid I should not get your support for a proposal of that kind.
What is the third matter, which I think has not been sufficiently discussed at the present time? It is the proposal that the Crown should have the power to appoint a limited number of life Peers in each Parliament. So long as the hereditary principle is preserved, whether by election or not, so long can there be no interference with the unlimited power of the Crown to appoint additional Peers on the nomination of any particular Prime Minister. I do not think that our Constitution would ever have worked unless that power had been in operation. I may perhaps be allowed to refer to one historical incident. In the Sunderland and Stanhope Government in 1720 a proposal was made to limit the number of Peers in this House to the numbers then existing, and there were to be no new nominations except in the case of death. What was the answer to that I should like to read one passage from Green's History which, I think, has 504 always been considered one of the classical passages dealing with this question. I will not go into the proposal, as I expect your Lordships all know what it was, but Green wrote that this proposal jarred on the good sense of Sir Robert Walpole as a statesman. I need not recall that he was opposed to Sunderland and Stanhope, who brought it forward. The passage continues:—It would in fact have rendered representative government impossible.I think that is perfectly true.For representative Government was now coining day by day more completely to mean government by the will of the House of Commons,"—if that was true in 1720, it is doubly true at the present time—carried out by a Ministry which served as the mouthpiece of that will.The Ministry which was a mouthpiece of that will must have, under the control of the Prime Minister, the power of securing the creation of Peers.
The Prime Minister, of course, does not create Peers. He nominates them. But we all know what happened in 1832, and again at the passing of the Parliament Act, Most fortunately it was not necessary to exercise that power. I hope that it never will be, but the possible exercise of that power made it possible for democratic desires to find a means of expression that they never could have found in any other way without something in the nature of a revolution. The passage continues:—But it was only through the prerogative of the Crown, as exercised under the advice of such a Ministry, that the Peers could be forced to bow to the will of the Lower House in matters where their opinion was adverse to that of the Commons, and the proposal of Sunderland"—that is, the proposal for limitation—would have brought legislation and government to a deadlock.This has been universally regarded as true in every English history that I have read, and I happen to have been a student of history. Taking that to be true in 1720, is it not infinitely more true at the present moment?
In these proposals, you are constituting a Chamber with a permanent Conservative majority. You may have on the other side of the Lobby—as I hope we shall have, but I am no prophet—a 505 majority predominantly in favour of the views of the Labour Party. At the present time it would be open to the Prime Minister to suggest the creation of new Peers or, in the alternative, to resign his position. It would be open to the king either to create the Peers or to find some other Prime Minister to manage his Government. I regard this prerogative as one of the great safeguards of the respect in which every Englishman holds his Constitutional Monarchy at the present time. This is the great occasion for the exercise of the prerogative and, most fortunately, in every instance it has been exercised for the good of this country and in order to raise a barrier against revolutionary principles.
There are two other considerations that I should like to put before your Lordships. I am one of those who feel very strongly that nothing should be done that could interfere with the power of the House of Commons or with our loyalty to the House of Commons. We talk of law and order and of orderly progress by evolution. Why? It is because we are loyal to the real sovereignty in this country, the sovereignty which should keep its power unshared with any other body, the sovereignty of the House of Commons itself. We all have that loyalty. It is not confined to one Party or another. For centuries of time, first against the Kings and then against the oligarchy, it has stood for freedom, for progress and for all that makes life in this country a pattern to other countries of the world. I should regard any interference with that sovereignty as a matter of the deepest concern. I hold entirely to the view put forward at Birmingham by the Party to which I belong. One other consideration comes under the same head. I do not suppose that anybody in this House—I can speak only for my colleagues on this Bench—desires Communist revolution. The great barrier against Communist revolutions is the Labour Party. Communists themselves have said this on many occasions, quite rightly, and the reason why the Labour Party stands as a barrier in support of all that is best in this country is that, by trying to get what it can by constitutional methods, it puts its whole weight against revolutionary and disorderly procedure.
This is a very important question.
506 This is not an occasion—I am sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buck master, would agree with me—on which any member of the Party to which I belong could be expected to put forward a new programme. That is, of course, quite impossible, Even the noble Earl himself only hoper to secure by gentle means some endorsement of his opinion from his own Front Bench. The Labour Party are right in placing the hoper of our future in maintaining unimpaired the sovereignty of the House of Commons. That sovereignty would not be unimpaired if we created under these proposals a Second Chamber with a permanent majority in favour of reaction, as against the present great hope for progressive like and progessive legislation.
§ LORD JESSEL
My Lords, I am sure that we have all listened with very great attention to the speech of the noble and learned Lord who has just sat down. I really expected better things on him. My noble friend Lord Clarendon asked for bread and the noble Lord has giver him a very heavy stone. I assure your Lordships that Lord Clarendon and those who are acting with him have put forward this very modest proposal in no Party spirit whatsoever. Many of us on this side of this House and, as was shown by the speech of Lord Buckmaster, noble Lords on the other side too, are genuinely anxious that there should be some reform of the personnel of this House. In dealing with this question you are confronted with two considerations. The matter divides itself into the question of powers and the question of powers and the question of personnel. If you deal with both questions at the same time you get a double discussion, and if you deal with them singly you are always told that one depends upon the other. On the last occasion when this matter was discussed in your Lordships' House the question of powers was added to the question of the reform of personnel. To-day we were congratulated by Lord Buckmaster, and I think rightly congratulated, that we have not tacked on the question of powers to the question of the reform of personnel.
I cannot agree for one moment with the speech of the noble Lord opposite, Lord Parmoor, in which he talks of the enthronement of a permanent majority in this House. He has his remedy, as 507 Lord Buckmaster pointed out, in the Parliament Act, for getting through measures, and by the proposed constitution in the proposals put forward by my noble friend there is no question of rivalry with the House of Commons. The House of Commons is an elected Chamber and must be supreme. These proposals do not for one moment ask that members of this House should be elected, and therefore there is no shadow of doubt that there can be no question of competition with the sovereign power, as it is held nowadays, of the House of Commons. Anybody who has been in this House for some little time must be struck by two things, and they are, firstly, the paucity of the numbers of those who take part in the debates, and, secondly, the lack of interesting subjects that are for the most part discussed. I am perfectly sure that if there was a different system we should cure both those defects, and a much better House would ensue.
I will deal for one moment with the proposals. I think they are going to be of great benefit. There are a great many members of the House who do not care about coming here at all. Why ask them to come? There are, again, a great many Peers who have to come to this House who would rather stop in the House of Commons. I see before me two notable examples in the persons of my noble friends Lord Selborne and Lord Midleton. They did not want to come here. Why should they be forced to come here because of the hereditary principle? Attain, as you all know, one of the reasons put forward why the late respected Leader of this House was not called upon to become Prime Minister, was the fact that he was a member of this House. Why bar the nation from the services of anyone as Prime Minister, or other high office, because he is a member of this House? I think it would be of distinct advantage to the State, and to the House of Commons, if noble Lords could choose whether they would serve in this House or stand for election to the other House, or, if they did not want to come, whether they would be members of Parliament at all. I think there is a great deal to be said for these proposals from that point of view.
When we come to the second part of the proposals, relating to nominated members in relation to the numbers, of those in the House of Commons, I think 508 your Lordships will agree with me that it would be of the greatest benefit to this House, in considering the various measures which come before us, if we could have added to our numbers men who have had considerable Parliamentary experience. There are a great many, men who have sat in the House of Commons for ten, fifteen or twenty years to whom the labour of wooing a constituency, and the daily toil in the House of Commons, have become somewhat irksome, and who would yet be willing to come here and do a great deal of the work. There, again, I think the proposals would be of great advantage to this House. Whenever a proposition is put forward there are always objections, but I cannot understand the attitude of the Labour Party in objecting to reform of this House, except upon the ground that what they really have in their minds is the idea of single-chamber government.
The main objection seems to me to be that by these proposals you will ensure a perpetual Conservative majority. As I have said, from the ranks of the hereditary Peers, under these proposals, you will get a majority, but on the other hand that is cured to a certain extent by the nominated representatives of political Parties under the second proposal, and the third proposal, giving power to create life Pee[...] helps to redress the balance. I think[...] that is also an admirable suggestion[...] It would solve many a difficulty, and I am sure that if the Labour Party should be in the fortunate position, or unfortunate position, as the case may be, of having a majority in the next Parliament, they will gladly welcome that provision for the possibility of the creation of life Peers. I doubt very much whether there is really any fear as regards the limitation of the powers of the Crown, which seemed to be the principal objection raised by Lord Parmoor, and I am not at all sure whether my noble friend would not consent, when this matter is more closely gone into, that there should be no limit to the number of life Peers. I think, if that is conceded, it strikes at the principal objection of the Labour Party, although, as I have said before, I am not at all sure that their real objection is not that they are really in favour of a single Chamber.
509 May I finish by quoting to your Lordships an historic incident? When George Washington and the statesman who afterwards became President Jefferson were discussing the question whether there should be two Chambers or one, in the United States, Jefferson strongly argued in favour of one Chamber. They were having a cup of tea together, and Washington noticed Jefferson pour his tea into the saucer, in order to cool the tea. Then Washington said: "That proves my argument to the hilt, and shows how right I am in approving two Chambers, because you applied it yourself in a practical way in cooling your tea." I am sorry that there should be such opposition to these proposals from the Labour Party, because if they are a constitutional Party, as they profess to be, they must see that some reform of the personnel of the House is absolutely necessary. They will have to do it themselves at some time or other, if they are a constitutional Party, and it is of no use their setting their faces as a wall against proposals coining from these Benches, as being necessarily bad and necessarily incapable of improvement.
§ LORD TEMPLEMORE
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord who leads the Labour Party attributed, I think un-necessarily, the somewhat sinister motive to the noble Earl who moved the Resolution, and to those who are associated with him, that they had in view the establishing of a Conservative majority in this House. May I say in all honesty that I do not believe that that was their intention at all. I believe these proposals have been brought forward with a view of making the position of Parties in this House fairer, and therefore our proceedings more realistic, than they sometimes are at present. I have more than once heard the noble and learned Lord opposite complain of the preponderance of members who sit on the Conservative side of the House. I see the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, in his place. I have heard him more than once complain of this, and say that the preponderance was something like, I think, seventy to one. That may be so. But I say this in all honesty, that I quite understand the feelings and the objections of noble Lords to this state of things, and I can assure him that for my part, as, I think, 510 for many of those who sit around me, the position is no more satisfactory than it is to him.
I do not rise in any way to find fault with the proposals of my noble friend, but merely to call attention to one or two omissions which I think should be brought to your Lordships' notice. In fact, I am not quite sure that they are omissions, because, from a certain remark which my noble friend Lord Clarendon let drop, I think that the matters which I shall mention have been in the minds of those who framed this Motion. I refer first to the position of Peers who will not be elected to your Lordships' House. I think that something ought to be done to enable those Peers to be eligible to stand for the House of Commons. Whatever noble Lords opposite may say about the proposals of my noble friend, there is nothing undemocratic about that: it is not asking for them any privilege which is not enjoyed by anybody else, and I am quite sure that noble Lords who sit on the Labour Benches, with their Socialist idea of equality for everybody, can have no ground whatever for objecting to this principle. But my noble friend Lord Clarendon has referred to this, and so I will not go further into the point.
But, closely allied to that, is the position of Members of Parliament who are heirs to Peerages. I never had the fortune myself to sit in the House of Commons, but I have often thought that it is perfectly deplorable and a great loss to the public service that, because a man succeeds to a Peerage, he therefore by the present law vacates his seat and is forced to sit in this House where necessarily, however good a will you have, opportunities for good Parliamentary work are less than they are in another place. The position, to my mind, is bad enough as it is, but if these proposals become law it will be very much worse, because at all events a heir to a Peerage now, if he has to give up his seat in the House of Commons, has this House to come to, and he may, and no doubt very often does, do exceedingly good work and rise to high positions in the State. But if these proposals become law these individuals will not even have this House as a place of refuge; all they will have is an opportunity of standing for election or for nomination under the proposals on the Paper. Your 511 Lordships may say that a good many of them would get here. I have no doubt they would, especially if they had the ability and the luck to become Ministers of the Crown and make themselves conspicuous in another place. But a good many of them would not, and it is for the sake of these people that I think the position ought to be safeguarded and the law altered in the respect I have suggested. The alteration I have in mind is a law enabling them, if they wish, to continue to sit in the House of Commons, and not to vacate their seats and come to this House.
I am in this matter thinking not so much about ourselves as about our heirs. After all, those of us who are going to support and vote for the Motion of my noble friend are doing it with our eyes open. Many of us are giving up what we value as a very high privilege, the privilege of sitting and voting in this House, and at times taking part in its deliberations. Our heirs will have no say in this matter, and I think, therefore, that we ought to take steps to safeguard their position as well as to introduce what, in these clays, I consider a most necessary reform.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD HAILSHAM)
My Lords, in a matter of such paramount importance as that which is the subject of the debate this evening, it would seem natural and right that the attitude of the Government should be defined by that member of your Lordships' House who naturally speaks with authority on such a matter, the Leader of the House. That is particularly desirable when, as in the present case, the Leader of the House is himself a member whose past record shows the deep interest which he has always taken in this problem. And therefore I feel I ought almost to apologise for speaking this evening, and I desire to explain that the reason for my taking any of the available time is only this, that it is impossible for this debate to be concluded in one day. There are, we are glad to see, a number of your Lordships who desire to make a contribution to it, and the Government have thought that it would be for the convenience of your Lordships, especially for those of your Lordships who are proposing to take part in the debate, that some indication of the Government's 512 attitude should be made on the first evening, and that the final speech on behalf of the Government should be made by my noble friend on the adjourned debate.
The first observation which, representing the Government, I desire to make upon this Motion is that we welcome most warmly the fact that the question has been brought forward for discussion, and we welcome especially that it should have been brought forward, not merely by the Motion which is now being discussed, but also by another Motion, originally put down by my noble and learned friend Lord Buckmaster, so that from different sides of the House there should appear simultaneously a desire that this subject should be ventilated and discussed. The second observation which I desire to make is this, that I think the country ought to recognise more fully than perhaps it docs the sense of public spirit which has induced members of your Lordships' House voluntarily to offer to surrender hereditary privileges which we know they value very highly. The noble Lord who has just spoken has stressed the value which he and others for whom he speaks attach to the privilege of membership of your Lordships' House, and I think that it is a matter of congratulation in the public interest that hereditary Peers, enjoying as they do privileges which they have inherited, and of which they regard themselves as trustees for their posterity, should, without any coercion from outside, be willing to give up a great part of these privileges, when they think that the public interest demands the sacrifice.
Because I am conscious of those two factors it is a matter of regret that I shall even seem to depreciate the value of these considerations by stating, as I have to state, that the Government are unable to accept the Resolution, and that the members of the Government in your Lordships' House will be unable to vote in its favour. I desire, if I may, to explain in a few words the reasons which have led the Government to that conclusion. Your Lordships will remember, as was pointed out by the noble Earl who moved the Resolution, that these proposals have a history in your Lordships' House. He has called your Lordships' attention to the debate which took place some eighteen months ago on the 513 Motion of my noble friend Lord FitzAlan. Your Lordships will all remember how, in the course of that debate, my immediate predecessor, Lord Cave, stated certain proposals on behalf of the Government, proposals which had formed the subject of prolonged consideration in the Cabinet, which were presented to your Lordships' House for consideration as the advice of His Majesty's Government and which, I think, met with a very large measure of support from the great majority of your Lordships who took part in the debate or in the Division. Your Lordships will remember that, however well those proposals were received in this House, it cannot accurately be stated that they were received with the same enthusiasm or the same endorsement either in another place or in the country at large.
I think it is a travesty to say, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, said, that they were overwhelmed with ridicule. I have no doubt that had the Government thought it right to exercise pressure upon their supporters they could have forced those proposals through Parliament. But it does not seem to His Majesty's Government that that is the right method in which to deal with a problem of this character. These are questions which vitally affect your Lordships' House; but they also affect the general public outside since they materially alter the whole machinery of government. They are, as I think we all agree, matters of great constitutional importance, and it seems to His Majesty's Government that in dealing with ft constitutional change of this kind endeavour at least ought to be made to secure a measure of general agreement as to the changes which have to be proposed.
It may happen that one or other Party in the State may refuse to collaborate in the endeavour to make the desired improvements. Nothing has been more striking to my mind in the course of the debate this evening than the contrast between the attitude of the noble and learned Lord who speaks from the Liberal Benches—I do not know whether to describe him as a member of the Liberal Party—and the noble and learned Lord who leads the Socialist Opposition. We had, on the one side, a statesmanlike attempt to make a real contribution 514 towards solving a difficult problem. We had, on the other, what I cannot help regarding as a rather cheap attempt to make Party capital. It may happen, of course, that one Party refuses to give its assistance. It may happen that the importance of the change is such that the Government of the day is compelled to make the change relying on the support of its own friends and supporters in the country and ignoring the fact that another Party refuses to give its help. Even if that be so, it is at least essential that there should be a large measure of agreement amongst the Parties throughout the country before that change is forced through, to show that the Government is not merely putting forward its own view but can say that it is speaking the conviction of that section of the community which has entrusted it with the reins of power. It was because we felt that the proposals which we put forward had not commanded that degree of general support which justified us in proceeding with them at once that they were dropped in the summer of 1927.
That was eighteen months ago. What is the position to-day? To-day there remain a few months only of the life of this Parliament—my noble friend said of the life of this Government, but I would undertake to correct; him upon that point. So far as this Parliament is concerned, there can be no doubt that it would be impossible to carry through a constitutional change of this magnitude, except, of course, by common consent which we know we are not going to get, within the few months which remain of its allotted life. Therefore there can be no chance of giving legislative effect to proposals for the reform of your Lordships' House during the currency of the life of the present Parliament. In those circumstances, there are brought forward these proposals which have not as yet received the careful consideration even of members of another House and certainly not the careful consideration of the constituencies. In the view of the Government we should have no right to commit the Conservative Party as such, of which we are the chosen representatives, to the approval of schemes which our own followers and supporters have not had time to assimilate or even adequately to consider.
515 The Resolution may be divided into two parts. The second part illustrates one method by which the object set out in the first part may be carried into effect. It also illustrates, I think, the extreme difficulty of evolving a satisfactory scheme for carrying that object into effect. Nobody can read the proposals without recognising, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, has recognised, the extreme ingenuity of them and without admiring the care and attention which must have been devoted to their compilation. But it is manifest that they offer at once a target for criticism and attack. I dissociate myself entirely from the sort of travesty of the proposals which constituted the attack from the Socialist Benches. I do not think that the representation of these proposals made in that speech was either fair or even sensible, but that I can leave to the noble Earl, who, I think, is to follow me, and to other members associated with the compilers of the scheme.
There are, however, obvious matters which may be met, which may be capable of amendment, but which at least are matters that call for criticism and make one hesitate before accepting them. Let me indicate one or two, not as saying that these are matters which the Government would wish altered—I have no mandate so to do, and I do not even express the view of the Government—but as pointing out difficulties which would require consideration before the scheme could be accepted. One criticism of the House of Commons to-day is that it very often does not represent the political opinion of the country, that the political balance in the country is quite different from that which is represented in the House of Commons. It might at any rate be arguable that in a Second Chamber that balance ought to be redressed. This scheme, so far as it reproduces political opinion outside at all, reproduces and emphasises the exact balance of power as it appears in the House of Commons to-day. Let me point out another difficulty. There are here three different categories outside the Princes of the Blood Royal.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Ladies are included in the first category. The 516 numbers of the first two are carefully set out. No number is stated for the third category—that of the persons created life Peers by the Crown, which is intended, I imagine, to mean nominated by the Government of the day. Why is no number stated? I think one reason may be this. If you stated a number you would at once be confronted with a grave difficulty. The object of that third class is to ensure, I imagine, that the Government of the day shall be able to have a fair representation here even if under classes (a) and (b) they do not get it. If you make the number in (c) a small number, then it may easily happen that the addition of that small number would be insufficient to redress the balance and to give to the Government of the day a majority in this House. If, on the other hand, you make it a large number so as to ensure that the Government of the day have a majority, then you are in fact swamping the House of Lords permanently for the existence of every Parliament, and doing the very thing which many of us regard as a most unfortunate thing ever to do—swamping the House so that it shall always have to carry out the wishes of the Government of the day because it has people appointed here by the Government of the day for the very purpose of enforcing its rule. You will be doing that permanently at the beginning of every Parliament instead of only having the possibility of doing it in an extreme case, which exists now, and it might well be said that the remedy was worse than the disease. I am not saying those are great objections. I am not saying they are not difficulties which could be overcome. I have indicated them as matters with regard to which criticism is, I think, legitimate in considering this problem.
Let me indicate one more before I pass on. One of the great advantages, as I see it, of membership of your Lordships' House is that whereas in the House of Commons members change from Parliament to Parliament, and there is in each Election in the main a very large body of new men—practically a new body—in your Lordships' House, when once anybody has become a member, he remains a member for his life, and, therefore, acquires by dint of attendance here that tradition, that experience of the administration of Parliamentary business, that 517 education in the conduct of public affairs which renders your Lordships' House so valuable, in my judgment, as a Chamber which can revise rash projects and correct ill-considered decisions. If this scheme is carried through then you will have a fresh House of Lords elected for every Parliament, or nominated for every Parliament, just as you are having a fresh House of Commons to-day, and though it is true that some of the members of the previous House may be re-elected or re-nominated, just as they can be re-elected in another place, still you will have the loss of that building up of the permanent tradition and permanent atmosphere, I might almost call it, of legislative experience in this House which I, at any rate, regard as one of its most valuable attributes. Those are matters which deserve, I think, careful consideration, and for the Government to accept this Resolution now when we know we cannot carry it into effect, and when our Party has not had the opportunity to consider it or to express an opinion upon it, would, I think, not be fair to those to whose leadership we are entrusted.
But your Lordships may say: "Part 2 is an illustration of Part 1—why not accept Part 1?" I do not think I am going beyond my instructions if I say that, supposing Part I had only declared that it was desirable that there should be such a reform of your Lordships' House as to ensure to each political Party an opportunity of obtaining a fair position in the House, it would be very difficult for the Government to refuse its assent to such a proposal, but Part I of the Resolution goes a great deal further than that. It defines how that fair proportion is to be obtained. It begins by stating that it has to be done by limiting the number of members of the House. The noble Earl in moving the Resolution called attention to that word "limit." He said that no particular stress was to be laid upon it, and that it was only intended to indicate that the numbers of the House ought to be reduced. I fully understand that is the intention, but your Lordships will remember that if the Government give their approval to this Resolution it is not what the noble Earl has said in this House which will be repeated on the platforms in the constituencies. Words will be wrested from their meaning, as 518 we have heard them wrested from it this afternoon, and we shall be told the Government is proposing, if it is ever returned to power, to limit the numbers of your Lordships' House so as to ensure that the Tory Party shall always be entrenched in a permanent majority. That is what we should have to meet and which the language of the Resolution would enable unscrupulous Party speakers effectively to reiterate. That is a position in which we do not think it right to put ourselves or to put our Party.
Whether the limitation of numbers is desirable is a matter on which there may be discussion. Whether it is possible to ensure adequate reform without limitation of numbers is at least doubtful. Limitation of numbers was actually a feature of the proposals of June of last year, but it would be idle to close one's eyes to the fact that that precisely was one of the features which rendered the feeling among our own Party in another place very doubtful and hesitating as to the acceptance of the proposals. I am not saying for a moment that limitation of numbers is not desirable. I am not saying that even if it be not desirable it may not be essential in order to secure reform, and that, even if desirable the disadvantages are not far outweighed by the importance of securing reform. All these things may well be so, but what I am saying is that it would be a mistake for His Majesty's Government, at any rate in our view, that we should commit ourselves in advance to the proposition that we disapprove of any scheme of reform which does not embody as one of its essential features limitation of numbers, and thereby enable, for a Party cry, the accusation at the polls which we have suggested.
For these reasons it seems to us that it is impossible for the Government to accept the Resolution which has been laid before your Lordships' House; but in saying that I want to reiterate that we in no sense express an opinion hostile to the Resolution. Still less are we expressing any hostility to its introduction into this House. On the contrary, we regard it as extremely desirable that the matter should be dealt with. We regard it as a great gain for the country that the country should be made to realise the liberal spirit in which members of your 519 Lordships' House are willing to approach this problem. We regard it as of the highest importance that constructive statesmen of all Parties should approach this problem with the desire to meet an admitted danger. We think that it is especially valuable that such thought should be devoted to the problem by members of your Lordships' House, who by their experience here, and in many cases in another place, have gained a practical knowledge of the working of the Constitution which renders their advice most useful and most valuable. We believe that by the introduction of such a scheme, by its discussion here and outside, public opinion may be and should be educated.
By that process of discussion it should be possible to thrash out and gradually evolve the best possible scheme, and, as the people are educated to that scheme, to secure for its endorsement that measure of support which, as I have said, seems to me to have been lacking for the proposals put forward up to the present time. But we think that in the interests of the cause of reform it would be most unfortunate for the Government to commit itself to the endorsement of any particular scheme which has not been discussed, which has not been endorsed even by the Conservative Party let alone by the great body of public opinion outside. For these reasons, we are unable to give our own support to the scheme or to cast our votes in its favour if there should be a Division.
I have taken, I am afraid, rather more time than I had intended. I would only like to add that whilst I thank your Lordships most sincerely for the patience with which you have listened to me, I would remind you that on the adjourned debate you are to have another speech from the Government Bench. It sometimes happens that when more than one member of the Government speaks on any subject, especially a subject of grave importance, ill-natured persons are astute to try and detect differences in the utterances of the two statesmen. Let me assure you at once that I am confident that the expressions which I have used to-day are intended to convey the same policy as that which my noble friend is going to lay down with more authority on Thursday. If there should be un- 520 happily any kind of ambiguity in what I have said or any kind of difference in what he says, I would assure you at once that that is due to some fault in my expression or your intelligence of it and that you may accept his statement as the final and authoritative view of the Government.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
My Lords, you will have heard with interest the delightful frankness with which the Lord Chancellor ended his utterance to the House, but I confess that I think your Lordships will have felt some measure of disappointment that he was unable to make a more direct response to the appeal of my noble friend who introduced this question in a speech of such great moderation and, if I may say so, such great importance, and also of the brilliant speech of the noble Lord, Lord Buck-master. After all, what does it really amount to? The Lord Chancellor says that the Government cannot deal with this question until there is a measure of general agreement. How long are we to wait to have that measure of general agreement?
Let me remind your Lordships that three of the most powerful members who have ever spoken in this House have tried to secure general agreement on this subject. The Earl of Rosebery and the Marquess of Lansdowne, who tried it, have both been Leaders of this House. The Earl of Rosebery was Chairman of the Committee which sat in 1908 and made recommendations. The Marquess of Lansdowne actually tabled a Bill. Still later a man recognised as a constitutional authority all over the world, Viscount Bryce, was Chairman of another Committee. It is remarkable that these three men were Liberals. All of them had held high office, all of them had the highest possible constitutional feeling, and they all felt that the constitution of this House was indefensible and that a change was necessary. They suggested changes which had a large measure of agreement, but they were not in sight of general agreement, and if my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor really means that the Government policy is to wait for general agreement, then this subject, as Lord Buckmaster put it at the beginning of the debate, can only end by another collision on the model of 1832.
521 We are out to try to induce the Government to deal with the matter before such a collision becomes imminent. The real absurdity of the position is best gauged on numbers alone. There are some points in the Lord Chancellor's speech upon which I would like light thrown and there are some points in Lord Parmoor's speech to which I take exception. What are these numbers? There are about seven hundred Peers. Some 475 are called together on the Whip of my noble friend, 105 I believe by the Whip of the noble Earl opposite, and somewhere between five and ten by the summons of Lord Parmoor. Then we have a suggestion, agreed to on all sides, that it is quite possible that you may have a majority in the House of Commons represented by a Party of five or ten gentlemen here. It is asked, how can the King's Government be carried on? I wish that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor would consider on behalf of the Government how the King's Government is going to be carried on under those conditions.
No objection was taken by the Lord Chancellor to the main scheme of the proposals, and, of course, there would be a great deal of discussion as to details. What he objected to was one word, which prevented the Government from voting for the first part of the Resolution—the word "limit," which, as my noble friend Lord Clarendon has already explained, was intended in the sense of "reduce." If anybody really thinks that there is a great constitutional or electoral proposition involved in the question whether this House should be reduced in numbers, or that there is anybody in the country who is going to cast his vote in favour of 700 Peers rather than 500 Peers, I think the Lord Chancellor will agree with, me that it is a very strange assumption. If that were the only difficulty, I certainly would counsel my noble friend to substitute the word "reduce" for the word "limit."
I quite realise that we cannot expect the House of Lords to adopt at a moment's notice every detail of a scheme which naturally requires to be most carefully investigated before its adoption, if it is to be the substratum of a Bill. But there are two points that have arisen during the debate on which I think we ought 522 to make the clearest possible challenge. Our object in bringing forward a detailed scheme was to wipe out of the public mind the misconceptions that have arisen as to the attitude of the majority in this House in consequence of the speech of the late Lord Chancellor. I know the difficulties under which that speech was made. Some people will say that perhaps that scheme had not received from the Cabinet the full consideration that we could have wished, but at all events the effect of that speech was to lay it down almost as an axiom that the Conservative majority now existing in the House was to be perpetuated for all time. My noble friend's proposals are absolutely at variance with that proposition. If anybody will take the trouble to think them out, it will be seen that they have quite a different effect. There are far more independent members in this House than most people think. Beyond the numbers that I gave your Lordships just now of those who take the Whip of the different Parties, it will be noted that about 120 Peers still remain, and there will always be, through proportional representation in this House, an independent element which is not to be counted upon by any Party. But, quite apart from that, if, according to the numbers in the House of Commons at the beginning of each Parliament or, as the noble and learned Lord rather adumbrated, according to the votes cast in the Election, which must be considered representative of the views of the people—if an election of 150 Peers is to be made under those circumstances, your Lordships will find that there is not a very large margin left to the Conservative Party of the majority which is now three to one.
In addition, one of the proposals of Lord Clarendon is that we should give power to the Government to add a certain number of life Peers. Lord Buckmaster suggested that power should be given to the Government to bring here for a definite purpose persons who are not life Peers but who will sit here as representatives of the majority in the House of Commons without Peerages. Whichever course is taken, there must be, even with the limitation of numbers, a constant influx according to the number of years that a Labour Government or any other Government is in power. 523 There will, therefore, be a constantly increasing number of those in whom the country is supposed to have confidence and a decreased majority for the Conservative Party, which would have been very small at the beginning, if it existed at all.
When you get a proposal which reduces the difference of Parties in this House from a proportion of three to one to something like an equality, I must confess that I think we have reason to complain that the Leader of the Labour Party in this House, instead of recognising the desire for justice shown by my noble friend, should have made the grotesque presentment of it that he gave to the House. There was not the slightest similarity between his version and the proposals that have been put forward. He said that we were trying to secure that at all times we should have a majority. That is not the intention of my noble friend and it is not to be found in his scheme. The noble Lord opposite also said that he was averse from single-chamber government, but the whole of his speech—I am within the recollection of your Lordships—pointed to a desire that at any moment the majority of the House of Commons should be free to swamp the majority in this House. Further, he was obviously prepared to contemplate that at all times this House must be in touch with the opinion of the Lower House, and that therefore, on the return of another Prime Minister, another swamping was to be regarded as perfectly legitimate. The whole of his speech was disappointing to the last degree. What we had hoped was that those who know that the state of ibis House becomes an impossibility if there should be a great change of public opinion and the Labour Party should be returned to power, would be the first to undertake to consider reasonable propositions for preventing a collision.
I have only two or three more words to say. I do not think that the Government can leave the matter where it is to-day. They can find reasons for putting off this question if they so desire, but they cannot avoid it, they cannot hide from the public the fact that the collision which may take place between the two Houses is one which is unavoidable under the present constitution of this House. It is 524 now quite thirty years since this subject was first genuinely ventilated in this House. Independent members, members out of office, members of the highest standing in this House have come forward time after time and the Government of the day have turned a deaf ear. Is that a fair position for the Government to take up? Is it fair to us who are loyal supporters of the Government to lose a great opportunity and to compel us to say that, from fear of what may bf said at the Election, the Government are unwilling to support my noble friend in the Lobby in a proposal the first part of which is no more likely to be harmful to them than the Motion of my noble friend Lord FitzAlan, which they voted for and passed eighteen months ago?
In point of fact they have actually gone back instead of going forward. I protest against that as a lame and impotent conclusion. I protest against it because I venture to pay that the business of your Lordships' House is being conducted year by year on less defensible lines than it ever was in the past. Year by year you have a slow trickle, like an oriental river, during the summer, followed by an avalanche. This is not fair, nor does it have the slightest effect in persuading public opinion to believe that we are an effective revising Chamber. And how can we stand for impartiality and then say to the public, who rightly or wrongly put in the Labour Party, that some 690 gentlemen in this House are out of sympathy with them? I hope that the Government will reconsider their decision. I hope that at the least they will leave this matter to the House to decide, and I hope that your Lordships will take a step forward and not a step backward.
I hope that, it being impossible for us at such short notice to arrive at a conclusion on a detailed scheme, the Government will assent to the reasonable proposition—That it is desirable that early steps should be taken to limit the number of members of the House, and to make suitable provision for an elective representation of the Peerage, and for such other representation or nomination as would ensure to each political Party a fair position in the House.Surely every reasonable man must feel that it is a Resolution for which he can 525 vote, and unless much stronger arguments are put forward on the part of the Government than have been put forward up to the present, I earnestly hope that my noble friends, who have, as all of us who support the Motion have, a genuine desire to see a large influx of representation of other Parties in this House, will ask your Lordships to divide upon the Resolution.
§ Moved, That the Debate be now adjourned.—(The Marquess of Reading.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly till Thursday next.