§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I have to begin by apologising to your Lordships for the long postponement of the Motion for the Second Reading of this Bill after the First Reading. The reason, as perhaps your Lordships know, was to be found in circumstances over which I had no control, but I do feel that it has put your Lordships' House to very considerable inconvenience. The First Reading took place litany months ago now, and the arguments submitted on one side and the other have perhaps become a little forgotten; and I am afraid that makes it necessary and incumbent upon me, out of respect for your Lordships, to recite again to some extent the arguments which were then dealt with.
Let me say in the first place—because that is a point which was raised upon the First Reading—that there is nothing unprecedented in the course I am venturing to take as a private Peer in your Lordships' House. On the occasion of the First Reading the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition called attention, as he most properly should have done, to the necessity for safeguarding 68 the Prerogative in matters of this kind, and he recited the precedent of the Marquess of Lansdowne's action in 1911. If he had considered that precedent but a little further, he would have realised that the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, was a private Peer on the occasion when he was responsible for that Bill for the reform of your Lordships' House; and if he had gone a little further even in that same year and had looked a few pages further back in the OFFICIAL REPORT, he would have found that the late Lord Balfour of Burleigh, a very distinguished member of this House but also not in the Government, was responsible for a Bill which he promoted, called the Referendum Bill, nearly allied to this question of the reform of the House of Lords. I may also say to the noble Lord that they also, both of them, spoke upon the Motion for the First Reading, and spoke at great length upon the Motion for the First Reading; so that I think I may say to your Lordships that in what I have ventured to do up to now, I have not been at all unprecedented.
Although that is so, I should like to say at once that I realise that a private Peer is at a great disadvantage in making a Motion of this kind, because we are dealing with a measure of great, fundamental importance, and undoubtedly the persons who, above all others, ought to deal with a matter of this kind are His Majesty's Government. I frankly admit that. I would myself welcome the co-operation of the Government with your Lordships' House in this measure. I go further. What I would hope for would be not the co-operation but the initiative of the Government in this matter. But your Lordships who are familiar with this question are aware of how long this issue has been pending in the country and with what hope many of us have looked forward to some measure for strengthening and reforming your Lordships' House, and how long we have been disappointed. Therefore, I hope we shall be forgiven, those of us who are private Peers, if we submit this measure to your Lordships' consideration and the consideration of the country.
I must revert for a few moments to an argument that I ventured to submit to your Lordships on the First Reading; that is to say, to the argument of the 69 risk of the position in which this country stands once there is no proper treatment of the reform and strengthening of your Lordships' House. It is in fact, my Lords, impossible to conduct, the representative institutions of a democracy without an adequate Second Chamber. I do not know that the thing has ever been tried except, I believe, in the Kingdom of Greece. I know of no other country in which the Constitution provides only one Chamber. Every Constitution up to now; has provided for two Chambers, and if I say two Chambers, of course that means two efficient and adequate Chambers. The risk is very great. I gave some examples on the last occasion on which I was addressing your Lordships. The noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition treated my examples with a certain amount of contempt. He thought I had a distorted imagination, that. I frequented cinemas too often and lived in an atmosphere of that kind. I was only quoting the spokesmen of the Party to which he belongs. I think he was a little unkind to Sir Stafford Cripps in the way he treated the matter. Sir Stafford Cripps is at all events a live wire, unlike some occupants of the Labour Benches, and a live wire is a method of power, and when the Labour Party come back to power I venture to say that Sir Stafford Cripps will be a very influential member of it.
I am not going to trouble your Lordships with quotations more than I can help. I might, of course, have recited almost numberless examples. In the current Quarterly there is an article by my friend Colonel Cuthbert Headlam, dealing with this matter. I do not know whether the attention of all your Lordships has been drawn to it, but if not I would respectfully suggest to the noble Lord and others that a study of that article would convince them of the extreme doctrines of certain friends of the noble Lord, integral members of his Party—speaking with disdain of the present form of Parliamentary procedure; speaking of the necessity of ousting the Courts from the interpretation of the decisions of Parliament; suggesting that the Prerogative of the Crown will in the future be exploited in the interests of reaction; and proposing that the discretion of the Crown in the choice of the Prime Minister should be re- 70 moved. Those are the sort of extreme doctrines to be found in that article, with full quotations, as being the doctrines of the extreme section of the Labour Party. Not the extremist section. I am not speaking of the Communists. I do not think they have anything to do with the Communists. I mean the extreme section of their own friends.
I would, however, try, if I may, to bring home to your Lordships what may be expected from the moderate representatives of the Labour Party, if it should happen that that Party should be returned to power. I notice that one of their prophets said:A Labour Government would have to take vast powers and legislate under them by ordinance and decree.I do not say that it was one of the leaders of the Party, but I want to say that that is what is really in the minds of the Labour leaders. Sir Stafford Cripps said this:First we must have a mandate to make our legislative machine truly democratic and efficient, for without that we shall be able to do nothing. I will not recapitulate my views in detail on this topic, the abolition of the House of Lords and the House of Commons reform ….and there were other things added. So we see that those two advisers of the public were suggesting that what a Labour Government ought to do would be to legislate by decree and to abolish the House of Lords. That is the prospect which is in front of you if by a wave of opinion the country returned the Labour Party to power. I need not say, of course, that if these things, the abolition of the House of Lords, and what would follow from it—legislation by decree —were the settled wish of the country, we have nothing to say. The people rule here, and we should accept it; but the point is that what we are not prepared to accept is a temporary, ephemeral decision of the electors, possibly upon some wholly extraneous issue, and that on such an issue all these things with which the very safety and prosperity of our country are bound up should be sacrificed.
In the light of this sort of utterance, what do the Labour Party say? Here is Mr. Lansbury, speaking on June 14 last year:We shall use our power to pass all forms of legislative enactments—Emergency Power Bills, Orders-in-Council, Pro- 71 clamations by His Majesty the King, Provisional Orders, and all other forms of constitutional procedure.Then I noticed also a passage in the speech which the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition made upon the First Reading, of which I shall be very glad if, in the course of this debate, he would kindly give us a little further explanation. He said that his actiondoes not mean that we on this side of the House are content with the House of Lords as at present constituted.And then later:Some day, I think, this House will be taken over and dealt with by a Government which has a clear majority in the House of Commons, and, more than that, a Government that has a united body of opinion behind it.The House of Lords is to be dealt with! In the light of what I have already read to you, I think that this utterance of Mr. Lansbury and the utterance of the noble Lord can be easily interpreted. The use of every form which Mr. Lansbury proposes, and the dealing with the House of Lords which the noble Lord proposes, have only one meaning. They mean that your Lordships' House will be either destroyed or rendered impotent, and that, with the power which that will give the Labour Government, they will, under the Parliament Act, pass the necessary measures to enable them to legislate henceforth by decree. That is what is in store for the country.
Now in the passage which I have ventured to quote from Mr. Lansbury he spoke of constitutional procedure. It is because it will be constitutional procedure that it is so dangerous; and what I want, if I can, most respectfully to impress upon your Lordships is that all these things will be done, if they are done, by the friends of Mr. Lansbury and of the noble Lord opposite, under the powers which at present exist in the Constitution. There is no question of revolution. It is not a question of appealing to force. The Labour Party would have it in their power strictly within the terms of the Constitution to do these things. Under the Parliament Act they are all-powerful for the first two or three years, certainly, of the Parliament. They could operate under the clause, the celebrated clause of the Parliament Act, by which, having submitted a Bill passed by the House of Commons three times to 72 this House, they can, notwithstanding your Lordships' objection, pass it over your heads.
So that these things which I have described could be done. Under the powers which exist in the Parliament Act they could abolish the House of Lords. No one could stop them. There is not an authority in the world that could stop them. It is absolutely in their power. They could enact a sort of universal "Dora"; that is, instead of having to go through all the forms of Parliament, they would proceed summarily, and, having put into a Bill—we are very familiar with it, because we remember "Dora"—the power to legislate by decree, they would not want to go any more to the House of Commons or the House of Lords. They would not be exposed to the criticism which is the very life of a representative institution. There would he no appeal to public opinion against them, because the thing would not be discussed at all: it would be passed by decree. I sometimes cannot understand why some of my friends are blind, if I may use such a phrase, to the profound depth of the abyss which lies in front of them unless something is done.
I am surprised at many things, but I am surprised especially at the attitude of noble Lords who represent the Liberal Party in this House. They of course do not agree with the Labour line; in fact, judging from a recent correspondence, there is very little love lost between them. They value settled government and our institutions, and yet they seem to be willing to allow them to run these tremendous risks without stretching forward a finger to prevent them. I had in the winter a, friendly correspondence in the newspapers with my noble friend Lord Denman, and in that correspondence he laid it down that the Second Chamber should not have power to prevent a Labour Government, commanding a working majority in the House of Commons, from passing its measures into law within the average lifetime of a single Parliament. That was a sort of absolute doctrine that he laid down. Of course, that was never heard of in the British Constitution until the Parliament Act passed. It was never dreamt of that you should have an absolutely all-powerful House of Commons. But the Liberal Party have progressed so far that they now think, if my noble friend Lord 73 Denman represents them—and he is a very distinguished member of that Bench—that this absolute doctrine ought to be accepted.
I cannot share this astonishing dogma that anything the Labour Government want to pass, if they have a majority, they ought to be entitled to pass, whatever it is—whether it is the destruction of your Lordships' House or the destruction of the Crown for that matter (though I do not imagine for a moment that the Labour Party desire that). But whatever they desire, according to my noble friend Lord Denman, they ought to be allowed to do it without any check or hindrance within the limits of a Parliament. I cannot share that view, and I do not think, if I may say so, that such a doctrine is fair to the electors. I confess that I do feel that. some of us are blind to the position in which the electors are placed as a General Election. Just consider for a moment. They are not persons whose whole life is devoted to politics. They have many other occupations and preoccupations. They have got their trade or industry, they Can spend very little time, comparatively speaking, in considering politics, some of them hardly consider politics at all; and yet you are going to throw this tremendous weight upon them, that if they make a mistake in one Election because they are guided by other more prominent, though less important, issues —if they make a single mistake and return a majority of Labour representatives to Parliament, then they are to Lave no second chance. It is to be settled. They may be interested in a number of political things of less importance. Certain things may not be very popular at the time. There may perhaps be a Betting Bill or a Tithe Bill or other Bills which, excellent though they may be, may not be very popular for the moment; and these electors, who are thinking mostly about their own trade and industry, go to the poll and feel an impulse of inidignation at these smaller measures and vote for the Labour candidate.
Then the noble Lord says: "You have gone and done it. There is no other chance. If they come and want to destroy the British Constitution, we of the Liberal Party will say nothing—just let them do it." I say that is not fair 74 to the electors. You have no right to put them in that position, and it is not true democracy, but the reverse, which the noble Lord is professing. True democracy is to give the people a full opportunity of judging which they cannot have on the spur of the moment in a hurried campaign, and I venture to suggest, as so often before, that the true believers in the people, the true professors of democracy, are to be found on this side of the House and not on that. There must, therefore, I suggest to your Lordships, he an adequate Second Chamber, and it is in order, if possible, to provide what we believe to be an adequate Second Chamber that I am asking your Lordships to read this Bill a second time.
Let me just say one or two general words of introduction. What is an adequate Second Chamber? I am going to make an admission to noble Lords opposite. It must be in the true sense of the word conservative. I do not mean conservative with a big "C "; I mean conservative with a little "c." That is what it is there for. I mean, in order to give the people time to consider. It is essentially conservative, and if the noble Lord and his friends set themselves the task of creating a Second Chamber—I suppose they would really like to do without one altogether—they would have to make it conservative. It has no other meaning except a body which will act as a restraining and modifying influence. Therefore in this Bill undoubtedly it has a conservative tendency in that sense, conservative again with a little "c."
And may I say to the noble Lord (Lord Ponsonby) that what I am proposing is not what he said on the First Reading: it is not an imposture. I do not want to conceal anything. I do not want to gerrymander—I think that is what he said. It is not "a specious pretence." All that sort of strong language, may I say to the noble Lord, does not advance his cause one inch. This is a genuine attempt, if we deserve your Lordships' confidence and assent, to undo the harm which has been done in the past, doing not more than we can help, only as much as is absolutely necessary to undo the harm which has been done in the past, and to have an efficient Second Chamber. I am not going to say one word, of course, against the present constitution of your Lordships' House. Having been 75 a member of it for I do not know how many years, and having felt a deep regard for its members and for its forms, I am the last man in the world to say one word against the present constitution of your Lordships' House. It is an hereditary House undoubtedly, fundamentally, but it is heredity reinforced by very constant creations, and I think it has done its work in a way which has deserved and has received the confidence of the country. It has a great tradition and a great reputation, and in any proposals which we make to your Lordships for modifying it I hope you will believe that we are deeply resolved not to sacrifice this tradition and this reputation.
I come to the actual provisions of the Bill. They are briefly described in a Memorandum which your Lordships will see printed on the first page. The Bill is divided into two Parts. There is Part I which deals with the constitution of the House, and there is Part II which deals with its power. It is proposed for the constitution that the Lords of Parliament in the first place shall consist of Peers of the Blood Royal; that is Clause 1 of the Bill. The remainder of the House is mostly described in Clause 3, and in Clauses 4, 5, and 6 in greater detail; partly hereditary and partly an outside element; Bishops in the same proportion as the Peers who are to be retained, or approximately, and in Clause 8 we retain, of course, the Law Lords as they are called—that is to say, the Lords learned in the law who form the Supreme Court of Appeal.
Let me say one or two words about these elements in the proposed House. First of all, the hereditary element. As I have said, what is essential in a Second Chamber is that it should receive the confidence of the country, and the hereditary element, I stoutly maintain, deserves the confidence of the country. It consists of gentlemen very familiar with public administration in their counties and in their estates, many of them having served the Crown in office. They are trained in a great tradition of moderation. They have realised and announced over and over again that they will always accept the considered judgment of the nation when once that has been really ascertained. That is a matter, as I said on the First Reading, which is a delicate matter. It 76 requires considerable training and experience to know what the considered judgment of the people is. They have that tradition. They are independent. I am not going to say one derogatory word of the great assembly of this Parliament other than our own, the House of Commons. I am not going to say one word against them or their constitution, but they are liable to difficulties which we do not experience. They must consider the passing phases of opinion amongst their electors. They are very much, also, at the mercy of those who control the electors, people who, in a rather derogatory phrase, are known as wire-pullers; they are very much at their mercy. No doubt, being men of responsibility, they resist those tendencies, but they must have a certain effect.
Your Lordships' House is free from any of those difficulties, but there is one circumstance which may threaten the independence of your Lordships' House that has been very prominent in public discussion whilst House of Lords reform has been before us. Your Lordships well know the history of the Parliament Act, and know that that Act was carried by a threat of the Ministers of the day to create sufficient Peers to overwhelm the natural majority in your Lordships' House—what is called, I think, swamp, in the political jargon of the day—a most undignified proceeding, and not an appear to reason at all. It is an appeal to force. I think that that is a most objectionable method of settling the difficulty and quite unnecessary as the law stands, and quite unnecessary as the law will stand if your Lordships are good enough to accept this Bill. It is said that we are going to destroy the Parliament Act. We are not going to destroy the Parliament Act. We are going, if your Lordships agree, to amend the Parliament Act; we are not going to destroy it. The Parliament Act provides that if a Bill is passed three times through the House of Commons and sent up to your Lordships' House, then it is passed whether the Lords like it or not. We do not abolish that method. What we do say is that before your Lordships' veto is to be ignored there ought to be a decision, not of the existing Parliament only, but of the new Parliament.
77 Is it a great deal to ask? It appears to me to be a most reasonable thing. Here you have issues of very great importance, issues going down to the very foundation our position and our Constitution, and it is certainly not unreasonable that before this last appeal is made to the House of Commons a new House of Commons should be consulted. If the decision of the new House of Commons is signified by a single Resolution, coming as the members of that House would do fresh from the electors, that is sufficient to maintain in its full integrity all the protection which is sought by the Parliament Act in order that the will of the people should prevail. Noble Lords opposite have no right to have any success except by the will of the peole. It is not a question of "We have got into office and we ought to have our way while we are in office." Nothing of the kind. The thing is, what do the people of Great Britain want, and to ask for a Resolution of the new House of Commons coming straight from the polls as the final deciding circumstance which should permit the putting into force of the Parliament Act seems to me profoundly reasonable.
But, as I shall show, we do not propose even that without a limitation. I said just now that the House of Lords, as we should wish to see it, would be still partly hereditary. What do I mean by that description? I am speaking in the presence of a great number of your Lordships, and I do not conceal from myself that in suggesting a reduction in the numbers of the hereditary Peerage I am asking a great deal. That is perfectly true. It is not that I wish to speak with any kind of disrespect of noble Lords whose circumstances make it necessary for them to live, not in London, but in the country. I do not think that there is any reason why one should speak of them with anything except respect. They are not idle men; on the contrary, they work very hard for their neighbours, their counties, for the public in their counties. But, as a matter of fact, they do not and cannot live in London and be in constant attendance in your Lordships' House. I deplore that; I wish it were otherwise. I certainly do not find fault, do not even think that there ought to be any fault found with noble Lords who are placed in that position, but undoubtedly it does involve a difficulty. They cannot follow 78 the changes of political life and the issues of public opinion like noble Lords who are able to attend, and, therefore, the fact that they have the power to act does involve an element of suspicion in the public, perhaps undeserved, of which one ought to take account.
I think almost every reformer, or would-be reformer, of your Lordships' House realises that these considerations involve a certain reduction in the membership of this House, I mean in the hereditary membership of your Lordships' House. I am not going to use any vulgar phrase about backwoodsmen, because I do not believe in it. I do not in the least feel that there is any kind of objection to what circumstances necessarily force upon a great. number of noble Lords, but I do think that in the circumstances it would be better that those who cannot be present here themselves should be represented by those who can. That is the way I will put it. That is to say, their authority should be relegated to noble Lords who can take general part in the business of Parliament. Therefore that involves a certain reduction in the hereditary element. We have fixed the reduced number at 150 Peers. That and the limitations on the other element in the Lords of Parliament will have the incidental result that it will be impossible to overwhelm the opinion of this House by a sudden creation. All these things are of great importance.
How are these hereditary Peers who are kept in the House to be appointed By a system of election, of course, amongst their own colleagues, and by a system of proportional representation. I was asked upon the First Reading about that element. There is no doubt that any such representation of the hereditary Peerage must be. by a process of proportional representation. There is no, difficulty whatever about that. It is provided for by Clause 7 of the Bill. If noble Lords want to have any precedent, it has been tried in several parts of the world without any difficulty. I do not know whether it gratifies noble Lords opposite to say that it has been tried in the Irish Free State. It has been tried in South Africa. It has been tried with great success in New South Wales. There apparently everybody is satisfied with it.
79 I have said the number is 150, but of course there is nothing sacrosanct about that number. It may be that your Lordships would wish to vary the number, and of course we should be very ready to accept any such decision. There is a particular case which I may mention specially, perhaps, the case of the Scottish Peerage. The Scottish Peers are already Representative Peers and they sit by a provision of the Act of Union between England and Scotland. There are 16 Scottish Representative Peers who sit by virtue of the Act of Union. I certainly think it would be a very strong measure for us in this Bill to disturb the Act of Union between England and Scotland. For my own part I am quite free to say that if noble Lords from Scotland desire a modification in the Bill so as to preserve the provisions of the Act of Union in this regard, as far as I am personally concerned I shall be very ready to support them. I hope your Lordships will, too. That is an example which shows that we are quite prepared to modify the numbers if it should seem right to the House to make a modification.
I have dealt up till now with the hereditary Peerage, but there is also to be an outside element which is fixed at a similar number, at 150. As I said on the First Reading the actual provisions of the method by which this outside element should be appointed are not to be found in the Bill itself. There is the machinery by which they are to be appointed, the machinery of Resolution by both Houses of Parliament, but the actual provisions are not in the Bill. I am very anxious that Parliament itself, both Houses, should contribute their wisdom to determine the exact character and method of appointment of this outside element. Therefore it is that Clause 6 provides this method by Resolution. In the unofficial report, with which I think your Lordships are familiar, upon which this Bill is founded, two methods of appointing the outside element are mentioned: one eletroral, by election, and one by nomination—election, I think it is, by the county councils and nomination by the Crown. I will not conceal from your Lordships that in my humble judgment the method of nomination by the Crown is the one that ought to be preferred. I think there is a great 80 deal more to be said for it—more on every ground, on the merits themselves, and also because it is more in consonance with the tradition of the House that the authority of members of the House should come from the Crown itself. Therefore, on that issue I should be in faovour myself of nomination.
I would like to point out to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, who spoke of gerrymandering and all the rest of it, that if he had had time to read this unofficial report, which was published in The Times, he would have seen that there was a very strong desire upon the part of my colleagues not to incur this charge of gerrymandering. We spoke of a fair representation of Labour and Liberal opinion being possible by the means of this nomination principle. If he will give himself the trouble of looking at The Times of November 11, 1932, he will, I am sure, himself confess how very frank we are who wrote the report in our desire to avoid the charge of being purely one-sided in our conception of the new House of Lords. I need say very little more as to the actual provisions of the Bill. The non-elected Peers would, of course, be entitled, if they thought fit, to stand for the House of Commons. In Clause 11 that is provided. Then there is the question of women. We do not propose in our Bill, nor did we in the report, to touch the vexed question of women Peerages. But we did suggest that whatever method was adopted for the outside element, where it was election or nomination, that would be an abundant opportunity for making such provision for the representation of women in this House as might be thought fit. I must apologise for having taken so much time over the Personnel of your Lordships, House.
Now I must say one word about the powers which we suggest, the actual provisions in the Bill as to powers. First, as to money. The House is aware that, according to the best opinion, as the Parliament Act stands now almost anything could be passed under the section which provides that a Money Bill is to be passed straight through Parliament. Not even three times has it to be submitted to your Lordships' House. After an interval of a month it has to be passed into law. I do not for a moment dispute that the 81 House of Commons ought to be supreme in money matters. We have never Contested that for a moment, but we do suggest that it would not, be right under the cover of a Money Bill to pass a measure which really envisaged other things besides money—ordinary legislation which would be enacted, as it were, underneath. Therefore there is an amendment of the formula of what constitutes a Money Bill, which your Lordships will find in Clause 12 of the Bill. The object is as I described it and as described in the Memorandum. The new formula is designed… to make it clear that a Money Bill contains only provisions for the raising or appropriation of revenue and other like matters and for no other purpose.That is the provision as to the Money Bill formula. In the Parliament Act there are the general words "or other financial purposes," as well as those which I have described, and the words "other financial purposes" are so wide that they cover almost everything. Those words, of course, are left out in the new formula.
Then we propose also that the authority who should interpret this formula should no longer be the Speaker alone, but should be the Speaker presiding over a Joint Committee of both Houses. Of course we have nothing whatever to say against the high reputation of the present occupant of the Speaker's Chair, but I need not say to your Lordships that the Speaker is the servant of the House of Commons, and one cannot tell what gentlemen in the House of Commons will in the future be called upon to fill the Speaker's Chair. Therefore it appears upon every ground reasonable that a matter which concerns both Houses should be decided by a Joint Committee of both Houses, with the Speaker as Chairman, and that is provided for in the Bill. So much for the money clause. I am aware that in these money provisions we have not fulfilled the wishes of my noble friend Lord Strachie, who, though he sits on the Liberal Benches—
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I cannot help being gratified; but I can only say that we cannot go quite so far as he does in his suggested Amendment to my Motion for Second Reading; and that we feel bound—and I am sure your Lordships' will agree—to maintain 82 the right of the House of Commons to deal with what is really and truly genuinely financial business. That we do not desire to interfere with in any way. That is provided in the Bill.
I pass from the money clause to the other clause which I have already broadly described, a clause dealing with the power of the House of Commons to overrule a decision of the House of Lords. Our new clause is No. 13 in the Bill. I must remind your Lordships of what I have already said, I am afraid at too great a length, that as matters stand there is absolutely no limit to the power of the House of Commons. They may, as I have said, enact a sort of perpetual "Dora," or they can abolish absolutely lock, stock and barrel your Lordships' House. That is their present power. After the greatest and deepest consideration in the committee to which I have referred, we thought that the smallest measure of reform which would deal with that particular difficulty was the one which we have inserted in the Bill—not to give your Lordships any final authority, but to postpone the final decision for a Resolution of the new House of Commons. But even that we did not propose without a particular limitation. It was not to be a casual vote of the House of Lords which would give us this special relief; under the Bill it must be an absolute majority of the Lords—that is to say of the new Lords. As they stand reformed, it must be an absolute majority of all the Lords of Parliament voting together before the Bill is held over for the new Parliament. That extra precaution is inserted, showing, I venture to think, the great efforts that we have made to be as moderate as we can in providing a remedy.
I am afraid that I have been too long already, and I have only one or two more words to add. We are very far from thinking our Bill perfect. We are very far from thinking that any private Peers are in a position to dictate to Parliament what its reforms should be. We come, cap in hand, to beg your Lordships to help us. We would far rather that the Government should do it. We know that they are in a far better position both to draw a Bill and to pass it. In fact we can do nothing, we know—this Bill can never pass—without the consent or assistance of the Government. We have n illusions whatever on the subject, and i[...] 83 treating this Bill in your Lordships' House in its subsequent stages we shall not only welcome, but we hope for, your Lordships' assistance in amending the Bill. Any Amendment which the House wishes of course will be inserted in the Bill, but will be inserted with our cordial assent. All we want to do is to get the wisdom of Parliament—the wisdom of this House—to devote itself to the solution of this vital problem.
Please do not let any one think that we arrogate to ourselves any super-wisdom to guide your Lordships in this particular respect. But do, my Lords, realise the danger in which we stand. Let my last words be those, to reinforce what I said at the beginning. I am not speaking for the moment to noble Lords opposite—I shall not command their assent—but think of how your Leader, you who sit on these Conservative Benches, has warned you over and over again of the danger in which we stand. I noticed a passage in an utterance of his only a few days ago. These are Mr. Baldwin's words in a foreword to Politics in Review this year:We are faced with the intensive propaganda of Socialism, and if there be any who are inclined to hold this lightly, the success which it achieved at the recent election for the London County Council must surely have shaken them out of their complacency.That is what I am afraid of: the complacency of noble Lords.
Have we a right to be complacent? We are faced with this great danger of a temporary victory of extremists. Are we to do nothing, is this great historic House to do nothing, to stop it? Are we to have no reform, but only the old, old answer: "Let it alone; let it be"? My noble friend here is going to move the rejection of the Bill. I suppose there is no man in this House with whom I generally agree more thoroughly than with him. He would say—he will say, I am sure—" Why not leave this historic House alone?" My Lords, we have no right to leave it alone. Of course it involves sacrifice, sacrifice of many things which we hold dear, things which I myself hold most dear. But we must be prepared to sacrifice. I should hate to think that this great Assembly at the end of its great tradition should shrink from the sacrifice which is necessary in order to save the country. My Lords, I move the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª (The Marquess of Salisbury.)
§ LORD REDESDALE had given Notice that on the Motion for the Second Reading he would move that the Bill be read 2ª this day six months. The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is a source of great regret to me that in moving the rejection of this Bill I find myself in direct opposition to the noble Marquess, for whom, in common with the rest of your Lordships, I have the deepest respect; and it is, of course, a tremendous undertaking for one relatively so little known in your Lordships' House to oppose the noble Marquess, who so recently led the House with such great distinction. Nevertheless, it will be no novel experience to your Lordships to have to obliterate for a moment your personal feelings of respect and esteem for an individual, and look upon this matter solely on its merits. And your task will be made that much easier by the knowledge that the noble Marquess would be the very first to welcome, and indeed to expect, such obliteration.
§ I feel bound, in spite of what the noble Marquess has just said, to preface my remarks by expressing the opinion that a measure of such great importance, a measure in effect altering the Constitution of this great country, should, if they were going to support it in any way whatever, have been introduced by the Government and not by a private member. The fact that this is not the case encourages me to hope that the Government are to give it no sort of blessing whatever. On the other hand, I understand the noble Marquess to have said a moment ago that he and his friends could not proceed with the measure unless they had the support of the Government.
I observe that a similar Motion to mine—namely, one for the rejection of this measure—stands in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Snell. I naturally have no idea what the noble Lord is going to say, but it is perhaps not unreasonable to assume that his arguments will follow the line of those advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, when he moved the rejection on the First Reading. It is, perhaps, 85 unnecessary for me to tell your Lordships that my reasons for opposing this measure differ wholly from those of Lord Ponsonby, so much so that at the First Reading, strongly as I feel on this subject, I found myself unable to go into the Lobby with the noble Lord, and so subscribe to the terms of his Motion. I think for the first time since I came to this. House I was obliged to abstain from voting.
Lord Ponsonby clearly takes a very different view of the value of your Lordships' House from that held by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Haldane, who occupied the Woolsack during the first Socialist administration, and I should like to read to your Lordships two sentences from a speech Lord Haldane made during a debate on the same subject, at a time when he must have shared the most intimate counsels of the Socialist Party. That was in 1925. Lord Haldane told us this:It is not my business to give advice to His Majesty's Government, nor would they thank me for it. But if I did, I think it would assume the form of a single sentence: 'Let well alone.' Things are not worse than they were; they are better than they were, and. I doubt whether anybody elected from outside, anybody nominated by the Crown, or nominated by a selection from among your Lordships' members, which might not always be a selection of great wisdom, would do better than your Lordships' House, as constituted at present, has done.That was the view of one of the great leaders of the Socialist Party nine years ago.
I am, of course, perfectly well aware that logically the hereditary principle is not easy to defend and, indeed, so far as the noble Marquess is concerned, after what he said at the First Reading no such defence would be necessary; but logic is not everything, and one must be guided in all matters by facts and results, and the fact is that, generally speaking, a man who has spent all his life in politics and public affairs is more likely to have a son capable of following in his footsteps in that particular line, than a man who has never paid any attention to either, especially when that son has been brought up in the atmosphere of public work, and has always been aware that the day would come when he would have to bear his part as a duty, and a very welcome duty at that. There are natur- 86 ally exceptions. Men have come to your Lordships' House from the very humblest homes in the land, and it should be, and probably is, their proudest reflection that they have rendered service of incalculable value by so doing. The doors are closed to no one. Equally, there are examples, happily very few, of men who having started with every conceivable advantage and, having proved themselves to be utterly worthless, have fallen to the greatest depths.
You could not have a better example of the hereditary legislator than the noble Marquess himself, head of the Cecil family, whose political record is so well known to everyone. Who says there is nothing in heredity? Surely, just as an example, one reason why our textiles are the best in the world is that those engaged upon that work have been bred and born to it for generations. Why are our seamen the best in the world? For precisely the same reason. You can go on piling up examples. You do not hear the cotton operatives of Lancashire saying that they cannot go on making good fabrics unless they have the assistance of some North Sea fishermen. Neither do you hear North Sea fishermen affirming that they could catch larger and more fish of they could only call in some Cotswold shepherds to help them. Surely, each man must do that job for which by nature and training he is best fitted. I am a firm believer in heredity. The noble Marquess himself said at the First Reading:If you get rid of the hereditary principle you will wreck centuries of tradition.He also said:The hereditary principle penetrates the whole structure of our society.That of course is perfectly true; and may I remind your Lordships that denial of the hereditary principle is a direct blow at the Crown? Such a denial is, indeed, a blow at the very foundation of the Christian faith.
Where is this demand for the reform of the House of Lords? My experience is that you hardly ever hear of it except in this House. In the ordinary way, when you hear people talking politics they seem to me to be concerned with Locarno, Geneva and the Navy, or rather perhaps the lack of a Navy such as that to which we have always been accus- 87 tomed and upon which our very existence depends. You hear them discussing the conduct of foreign affairs, the plight of agriculture, the highly satisfactory results of the Government's financial policy, and the consequent decline in unemployment. These are the things you hear people talking about, not the reform of the House of Lords. In my opinion this House stands in no need of reform. All it needs is a restitution of the powers it held in former days, the repeal of the Parliament Act. It reminds me of a peculiar type of man, well known to every one of your Lordships, who although he is in a perfect state of health, is for ever convinced that some quack remedy of which he has heard or of which he has seen an advertisement will do him some good. He has no idea of what good it is going to do him, but he simply cannot resist trying it.
Are we in need of a remedy? I would ask your Lordships this, and I do hope that during the course of this debate, if I am wrong, I may be told so, but above all I should like to be told wherein I am wrong: Does any one of your Lordships know of a country where the laws and conditions of life generally are fairer and more generally satisfactory to every class of the population than is the case in this country? I do not know of one. I do not believe such a country exists, and if that is so, and if a system of government is to be judged by its fruits—and I for one know no other way of judging it—then are we not bound to admit that there cannot be any very serious practical defect in the system under which the justice and freedom we enjoy in this country have in fact been developed?
Now, who are those who wish to see this reform of the House of Lords, and why? I will tell your Lordships why they desire to see this reform. Their names will be furnished in the Division List. The reason they desire this reform is simply this, and they make no secret of it: they say quite openly they are afraid that in the event of a violent Socialist Government coming into power in this country that Government will wish to abolish the House of Lords. But they believe that if such a Government came into power and found a reformed Upper Chamber of some sort they would tolerate it. Well, would they? I do hope your Lordships will make no mistake about this. Of course they would not. If such 88 a Government came into power they would tolerate precisely nothing that interfered in any way whatever with their plans and arrangements, and they would abolish anything that did. Such people would find no greater difficulty in abolishing a Constitution dated 1934 than they would one of greater antiquity.
The abolition of the House of Lords would not be the end of the world. It has happened before, and history would repeat itself. The people of this country would not put up with single-chamber government for long, and the House of Lords would be reinstated, as it was once before. But of course, if all this had happened in the meantime, it would he the reformed House that would be reinstated, not the House as your Lordships know it. A House of Lords destroyed by its enemies would quite certainly rise again, as it did before. But a House of Lords destroyed by itself would be dead for all time. I should like to impress upon your Lordships what I believe to be the absolute truth, and that is that once you have given this Bill a Second Reading you will in fact have completed that destruction.
What is this House of Lords which is said to stand so sorely in need of reform? It is the finest Second Chamber in the world, the envy of all civilised countries, not one of which has anything like it, or ever can have. It is composed of men from every walk of life. There can be no profession or trade which is not represented here. Its members are free to say what they please and vote as they believe: they are bound by no pledges extorted from them at election times by wavering electors. They are incorruptible by fear or favour. Taken as a whole they are an honest lot of men, whose one and only desire is the good of the country, which means the good of the people. They have no axe to grind, and even if they had they would not choose your Lordships' House in which to grind it. There are in this House, as outside, good and bad men, clever and stupid, hardworking and idle; but the truth is that the undesirables who do exist take no part whatever in the work and deliberations of your Lordships' House: indeed, they never attend. Surely, when you have an institution of this sort that has worked admirably for centuries, that has been abolished once by Cromwell but 89 found necessary ant reinstated by the wish of the people, amidst scenes of unparalleled rejoicing, it is wise to consider with the utmost care and the deepest deliberation before discarding it in favour of something reformed, new, and untried.
What would it be, this reformed House? It would be an elected Upper Chamber. Well, ask those countries which suffer from this with no alternative. They know that an elected Upper Chamber involves all the horrors of popular representation, with its pledges, wire-pulling, self-seeking, scheming and the like, and only to achieve in the end what is in fact single-chamber government. It is certain that if you are to have an Upper Chamber at all it must be filled either by the hereditary principle or by election. There may be something to be said against the hereditary principle but nothing compared with that of election. In any ease, I submit that you could not have a more perfect combination of the defects of both systems than is contained in the measure at present before your Lordships.
In advocating the retention of the present House of Lords no one can be said to be seeking any personal advantage. No one gets anything out of sitting here. There is no honour or glory; no reward of any sort is looked for or even to be had: a certain amount of expense, which some can ill afford, a certain amount of Committee work (sometimes incredibly dull)—the whole thing is regarded as a duty and as a very solemn obligation, and is for the most part quite cheerfully undertaken as such. In plain English my view is this: someone has got, to do the work in this place, and the question your Lordships have to decide, and the only question, is, how will the interests of the people of this country be best served in this matter If any man could persuade me that the people of this country would derive any benefit whatever from the abolition or alteration of the House of Lords I would be the first to support such an alteration. But I do not believe that the people would benefit in any single respect by the provisions of this measure; and for that reason, and for no other, I oppose it.
In my opinion it w mild be in the nature of a breach of trust to allow the passage 90 of this Bill and so alter the Constitution without a very definite and emphatic mandate from the electorate. After all, what are your Lordships doing here at all? You are here at the will of the people, in the service of the people. When the people of this country say: "We wish you would go and make room for a decent lot of trustworthy men who will really have our interests at heart," then, and not one moment before, will be the appropriate moment for your Lordships to turn your backs on this Chamber, regretting, and regretting bitterly, that you have fallen short of what was expected of you. Your Lordships have received no such message, and in my opinion the likelihood of anything of the sort coming to pass is extremely remote. I have been as brief as possible, because I know that very many of your Lordships will wish to take part in this debate. I seldom address your Lordships, because it is my invariable experience that by sitting still sooner or later I hear what I would wish to say said so very much better by someone else, and I am sure to-day will prove no exception. In conclusion, I would only add that I do most earnestly trust that the unusual business of further wrecking a Constitution which has been the admiration and envy of the civilised world for centuries will be attended with at least equally unusual caution. I beg to move.
Leave out all words after ("That") and insert ("the Bill be read 2ª this day six months").—(Lord Redesdale.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT SANKEY)
My Lords, you will notice that there are in the Paper six Amendments to the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill—four for the rejection of the Bill, one reasoned Amendment for rejection, and, finally, one Amendment of qualified approval; and I am making a short statement as to how I propose to put the Question in order to enable these last two Amendments to be put, if the House so desires. The first Question after the speech of the noble Marquess was: "That this Bill be now read a second time." An Amendment has been moved by Lord Redesdale, and instead of putting the Question: "That the word 'now' stand part of the Motion," I shall, in order to preserve the last two Amendments and in accordance with the precedents that have been examined on 91 similar occasions, put the Question as follows:
"The original Motion was 'That this Bill be now read a second time,' since when an Amendment has been moved to leave out all the words after 'That' for the purpose of inserting the following words: 'the Bill be read a second time this day six months.' The Question I have to put is that the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Motion."
The result will be that if, on a Division, these words stand part, the Bill is read a second time and no further Amendment can be put. If, on the other hand, they do not stand part, I must then put the Question: "That the words 'the Bill be read a second time this day six months' be inserted." If the House decides to insert these words, the Bill is rejected and no further Amendment can be moved. On the other hand, it would still be open to the House not to insert these words, in which case Lord Strachie could then move his reasoned Amendment for the rejection; and, if that was not carried, Lord Rockley's words of qualified approval could then be inserted. In this way it would be possible to give a chance for all the Amendments to be moved, but it is, of course, possible that the House will arrive at a definite decision for approval or rejection at an earlier stage.
§ LORD SNELL, in whose name also there stood a Motion for the rejection of the Bill, said: My Lords, in a sterner and more ancient arena even than your Lordships' House those who were about to die were privileged to salute their judges, and before the thumbs of your Lordships are turned down on the defenceless little group on these Benches I claim the privilege of saying that if we are to be sacrificed we should prefer it to be as units in a common slaughter in which your Lordships shared than as victims of a carefully designed and conspicuously unfair discrimination. Your Lordships may perhaps feel that the duty of presenting the views of the official Opposition to this measure which has been submitted to your Lordships by one of the oldest and most respected personalities of the House should have been entrusted to someone with a longer record of service than myself. I do not intend in the least degree to excuse myself to your Lordships, even though I shall have to try your patience a little longer than usual to-day, but I 92 feel I may remind your Lordships of the fact that our range of choice of speakers is far more limited than we think it should be.
§ My first desire is, in view of criticisms I shall have to make later, to say that there is no one among my noble friends who does not recognise and admire the persistent loyalty to conviction and the exemplary devotion to duty of the noble Marquess who has presented this measure. If our faith in his political sagacity equalled our respect for his sincerity we should, I think, receive with more patience the Bill that he has presented. My next duty is to remind your Lordships that this very difficult controversial question has not been brought before your Lordships by us. I think we should never have raised it, at least not in this form, but since it has been raised we shall deal with it with the courteous but complete frankness that I feel we owe both to your Lordships and ourselves. We have tried to the best of our ability to serve your Lordships' House under every sort of disadvantage, relieved only by the generous and never-failing courtesy of your Lordships in every Party. So far as I understand the purpose of the noble Marquess, it is still further to protect this House and the nation from the operation of principles which have been, at any rate, the inspiration of my own life—the principles of social organisation and co-operative endeavour, which, I maintain, are at all times better than selfish economic individualism, and those principles I must and shall advocate on all proper occasions. The noble Marquess believes that the views of myself and my friends are more dangerous to the welfare of the State than are his own, but there are many millions of our fellow-countrymen who believe the exact opposite. They do not believe, and we do not believe, that the future prosperity of England depends upon the permanence of entrenched privilege but upon the growth of social equality, upon co-operation, and upon the faith of the people that every Party in the State will deal with them with fairness and with honesty.
§ So far as I understand the mind of the noble Marquess, he regards this House as a self-anointed, superintending providence which is entitled to prevent the nation from obtaining what, at any given time, it most desires to have. Not 93 in plain words let it be said, not avowedly but almost disingenuously, by implication rather than by explicit declaration, it is proposed so to alter the Constitution of this House that the principle on which our country has hitherto been governed—the principle that when the will of the people has been ascertained at a properly conducted Election that will shall prevail—shall now be ignored and that the ultimate authority irrespective of the will of the people shall reside in this House.
§ LORD SNELL
On the First Reading of this Bill, the noble Marquess said:there is a danger connected with the authority of the people in legislation, a danger that it would not be the deliberate judgment of the people, but a passing majority that was responsible for legislation.That principle, as stated by the noble Marquess, is not to be effective when a Conservative Government is returned. He said:We should shrink from giving any chance to the Labour Party.And later:The dangers which await this country in the event of a Labour success are so demonstrably formidablethatthe Conservative Party, at any rate, and I should hope the Liberal Party too, are determined to resist those dangers"—resist, I must remind your Lordships, not by argument, not by an electoral success, but by, I was going to say gerrymandering but I will say manipulating the Constitution.
Then your Lordships' House is to become, by statutory authority, what we believe in practice it has always been, a jealously guarded committee of the Tory Party. The noble Marquess, in fact, proposes to make Toryism safe for eternity; the will of the people is to be honoured only when it returns a Conservative Government. There is no suggestion that this "would not be the deliberate judgment of the people, but a passing majority." But when a Labour or a Liberal Government is returned, then not the people but the House of Lords as to be the deciding authority. We believe that it is possible to call a device of that kind by many names, but no one would call it democracy, and very few 94 would dream of calling it politically fair. I remember that Macaulay dealt with a matter of that kind in relation to an even more authoritarian body than that which the noble Marquess proposes to establish. He said:I am in the right and you are in the wrong. When you are the stronger, you ought to tolerate me, for it is your duty to tolerate truth. But when I am the stronger, I shall persecute you, for it is my duty to persecute error.The new formula runs: When a Conservative Government is returned to power by the will of the people, it is the duty of all men to obey, because (to quote the noble Marquess) "the final, ultimate conclusive authority in this. country is the people," but when a Liberal or a Labour Government is returned to power by the same supreme authority, it is the duty of a Conservative House of Lords to restrict, to disregard or to defy the will of the people on the ground that when they voted they did not know what they were doing. Now, the operation of that principle gives the noble Marquess and his friends complete control both in victory and in defeat.
I do not want to follow the noble Marquess in his speech this afternoon too closely because many other speakers desire to take part, but your Lordships will have noted that once again there was the emphasis on the risk of a Labour Party being returned. Is there no risk in leading the people to believe that they are not properly treated? The noble Marquess has introduced again the question of leadership in the Labour Party. Fundamentally, that is our business and not his. But the noble Marquess has rather got into the habit on this question of treating your Lordships' House to a succession of bogies. It happens to-day to be Sir Stafford Cripps. I can remember when Mr. Chamberlain was the great bogy and when Mr. John Bright was the great bogy, followed by Sir CharlesDilke, Mr. John Burns, Mr. Keir Hardie and Mr. Ramsay MacDonald. This procession of bogies passes very quickly, and the noble Marquess is already out-of-date.
I should like to remind your Lordships that the noble Marquess is not the real parent of this Bill. If a blood test were taken of it, it would be found to be the off-spring of Fascist authoritarianism which has left a trail of blood and cruelty throughout the whole 95 of Europe. In politics, as in biology,like produces like. It pretends to offer security and national unity, but what it conceals are the concentration camp and the prison. I have been engaged in public advocacy for nearly fifty years, and I have never said one word in favour of lawlessness or violence, but have always pleaded that the will of the people expressed through the ballot box would be effective and final. I have been content to believe that my own ideals were perhaps born out of their due time and content to hope that they would be fulfilled in days that I shall not see. The workers have been constantly and splendidly law-abiding and we shall try our best to keep them so, but if the political dice are to be loaded against them, if now that they have organised power in the land, the Constitution is to be manipulated unfairly against them, then they may seek to defend their liberties by all effective means.
What is the kind of House of Lords which it is proposed to create? From the standpoint of equity there is less to commend it even than the present House. I dislike intensely criticising an assembly that has been generous to me and good enough to listen to my speeches without too obvious impatience, but I hope it will allow me to say—for I must be frank with your Lordships—that at its best it seems to me rather a picturesque anachronism, a solemn place in which it is almost improper to smile and really bad form to display enthusiasm for public causes. My admiration for your Lordships' House has never passed the bounds of decorum, but I confess that I would prefer to see it ended as a respected relic that has come down to us from ages past rather than, as the result of any suicidal assumption of partisan policy, it should be displaced as a public nuisance. This measure continues one of the most striking disadvantages which the present House possesses. The late Lord Salisbury, whom, when I was a very young man, I find the great privilege of hearing speak—and I hope I may say I did not differ from him more profoundly than I do from his distinguished son—said in Edinburgh in 1894:We belong too much to one class, and the consequence is that with respect to a large number of questions, we are too much of one mind. Now that is a fact which appears to me to be injurious to the 96 character of the House as a political assembly.What chance would there be of that proportion being altered in a reformed House?
The noble Marquess, on the First Reading of this Bill, said that the hereditary Peersare to be elected by proportional representation. Therefore noble Lords whose opinions differ from the majority, whether they sit on the Liberal or Labour Benches, will have all the representation to which their numbers entitle them.Well, my Lords, we are twelve in this Assembly. It is probable that at the next General Election ten million Labour votes will be given, and on that basis of twelve our proportion in the reformed House will be about two. I suppose that another result of it will be that we shall no longer be permitted to disturb the comfortable torpor of your Lordships' House. I can only say that if that sacrifice is required of me I shall try to bear it as I have tried to bear all the rebuffs of my life with what I hope will be a becoming fortitude.
What is the justification that the noble Marquess offers to this House? It was, he said on First Reading, to "put up a fence to prevent it [the country] going over the precipice a second time." The nation, happily, has never gone over the precipice the first time. That is a view which is not new before your Lordships' House. The Duke of Wellington, on the occasion when the Second Reading of the Reform Bill passed this House, rose and said:Reform, my Lords, has triumphed, the barriers of the Constitution are broken down, the waters of destruction have burst the gates of the Temple, and the tempest begins to howl. Who can say where its course should be stopped? Who can stay its speed?My Lords, history has proved that there was no justification for that very anxious despair. Heaven knows there has been no excessive speed in our legislation. The barriers of the Constitution have been strengthened, not destroyed; the gates of the Temple are still erect. The character of the British Constitution may possibly be changed by the Labour Party, but it will be by underpinning not by undermining.
I desire to make a few remarks on the Bill itself, leaving it to my noble friends 97 to criticise the details of an entirely inflammable measure. I will deal only with its main provisions. They involve 150 Peers chosen by both Houses of Parliament in which the Conservative Party is in the great majority. There are also to be 150 hereditary Peers, five Lords Spiritual, four of the Blood Royal and so many Lords of Appeal. There are 733 members of your Lordships' House, and one wonders who are to be the favoured 150. There are some 500 of your Lordships who rarely attend. But those who do not attend nray show a quite irritable desire to continue to exist. Your Lordships, we are told by the noble Marquess, are all determined to act as trustees on the ground, not of rights, but of obligations. They are to be the safeguards of the British Constitution.
Let us look for a minute at the sense of responsibility and trusteeship that is afforded by the present House. The number of Peers and Bishops, excluding the members of the Blood Royal and minors, amounts to 733. In the years 1932 and 1933 the number of working days were just 100. The attendance throughout those two years totalled 8,116, which, had the whole of your Lordships attended, would have been completed in eleven days. The average attendance, however, was only eighty-one. Thus 650 people, who we are told are here with obligations rather than rights and determined to act as trustees, were absent every day; 287 never made one attendance. Included among them there were eight Dukes, twelve Marquesses, fifty-eight Earls, thirty-one Viscounts, one Bishop and, I regret to say, 178 Barons. One noble Lord who is most keen about the establishment of authoritarianism in this land has never even put himself to the inconvenience of expressing his allegiance to His Majesty the King. With my standard of morals, for what it is worth, I should be ashamed to enjoy the privileges of your Lordships' House whilst ignoring its duties. The maximum attendance present in the House was on November 10, 1932, when 208 of your Lordships were present; thus more than 500 were absent. There is another test, that of actual participation in the work of the House. In the two years 1932 and 1933, those who spoke over five columns of the OFFFCIAL REPORT numbered 102. Of those, created Peers numbering 98 forty-eight spoke 1,652 columns, and hereditary Peers numbering fifty-four spoke 1,322; and when you remember that some of the hereditary Peers were on the Government Front Bench and had to make long official speeches, you will see that, judged either by attendance or by actual participation, the hereditary element has rather neglected those obligations of trusteeship to which we have been referred. I could continue those statistics for some time, but I pass on to a rapid conclusion.
I have said that this kind of experiment such as is proposed by the noble Marquess is not a new one. The same kind of proposals were made in the later years of the Commonwealth, and they were not successful. Cromwell set out to create a Second Chamber which would act as a "check or balancing power." It was to be composed of 63 persons to be selected by Cromwell himself. They were to be "men of rank and quality, who will not only be a balance unto you, but to themselves while you love England and religion." Cromwell appointed two of his own sons, three sons-in-law, and two brothers-in-law, or one-ninth of the whole House from his own family. There were seven English Peers, one Irish Peer and one Scottish Peer, five sons of Peers, and four baronets. Eighteen, or more than one-fourth, represented the hereditary landed families. It will not surprise your Lordships to recall that the experiment lasted only six months.
It was noticeable then, as now, that the idea was to reconstitute the Chamber with reference to those who represented particular views. The Army in its petition made an irritating demand: it asked forable and faithful persons, eminent in goodness and such as do keep adhering to the cause.That last touch, my Lords, is delightful. If only those who came to your Lordships' House kept "adhering to the cause"! Then the proportion of the Parties would be better, and different from what it is now. I hope I shall not be thought rude if I say that if anything is proved, it is that at any rate Liberalism is not hereditary. My noble friends on the Liberal Benches have my genuine and really respectful sympathy, because we, too, have our wandering sheep. But our sorrow is mitigated by the possibility that on some bleak and stormy night in the 99 not distant future some of them at any rate may once again seek the comfort and the shelter of the fold.
This Bill, I believe, is the most dangerous revolutionary measure that has been presented to any Parliament in my time. If it were passed into law its effects would be incalculable, but they could not be good. Your Lordships would scorn to accept advice from these Benches. That is both your privilege and your responsibility. I nevertheless conceive it to be my duty with my last words here to-day to advise you, in the name of political fairness and justice, in the name of the precious and hitherto undisturbed tranquillity of this Realm, to reject with haste and with emphasis this mean and dangerous class-war measure.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
My Lords, we stand in a very peculiar position tonight. On previous occasions when we have debated this question we have, I think, all agreed that a case has been made out for some change. The last two speeches have given expression, very eloquently and very completely, to absolutely divergent views of the situation. The first was the well-expressed speech in which the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, stated the case for doing nothing. He will permit me to say that it is impossible for those of us who have sat in this House for a long period to go back thirty years and imagine that all that was then agreed must now pass away, under conditions which make it more necessary than ever that we should take a step forward. With regard to the noble Lord who has just sat down, I hope he will not take it unfriendly if I say that his speech, based on the conception that a particular Party was to be entrenched for all time in power here, really took no note of the provisions of the Bill which, as I will endeavour to show him in a few moments, enable the Party entrenched on these Benches to be put into a minority under conditions which are conceivable and which, indeed, have happened in the past.
Our difficulty really is that noble Lords approach this question as if it were a new one. I have often wondered, since the Motion for the Second Reading of this Bill vas placed upon the Order Paper, how it can be that in this House, where we do not put forward Motions 100 simply in order to damage the Opposition but do so from sheer conviction, two leaders or former leaders of Parties in the House should find it necessary to put down Motions for the rejection of a Bill the principle of which was agreed by every Party in the House years and years ago. There are two facts—indeed three—which nobody can dispute. The first is that up to 1909, when a particular declaration was made, there had been a consensus of opinion of all those who had led this House that reform was necessary, and before 1909 there was one special Committee, presided over by Lord Rosebery, and on which sat amongst others Lord Halsbury, who certainly represented probably the most completely Conservative feeling that was ever known in this House, who produced a Report which even now would make a very considerable change in the composition of the House.
That is not all. In 1909 a new chapter opened. Mr. Asquith not merely passed the Parliament Act, but passed the Preamble to the Parliament Act, and passed it with an undertaking of his own—a statement that the reform of this House did not brook delay. That statement was taken up from those Benches and was fortified, and that statement is on record —as clear a Parliamentary pledge by the Party which he represented as any Parliamentary pledge that ever was given. And now what has happened since? Every operation either in this country or abroad has surely shown us the absolute necessity of the point of view then so universally adopted. Look abroad if you will. Look at the progress of democracy. In 1909, I do not think it is too much to say that democracy and Parliamentary government were at their height. Parliamentary forms were something like sacred. The object of democratic movement was to fortify Parliamentary action. How are matters to-day? I do not speak with that knowledge of foreign countries which the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, possesses, but I believe there is no one here who will question that progress has been all in the opposite direction.
Democracies in many countries in Europe, and even in the United States of America, are handing over a great deal of the Parliamentary power to one individual. Why? Because there is this desire 101 to get things done more rapidly; to get forward with the work. I am not sure that my noble friend Lord Salisbury has sufficiently weighed the fact that delays which were worth whatever they were worth when placed in the Parliament Act in 1911, now mean a much larger item in Parliamentary action than they did in those days, owing to the pace at which things have gone in the last twenty-five years. We ought not to put that altogether out of our minds, and in this astounding march of events I ask your Lordships to remember that the House of Commons has had immense additions made to the electorate. There is certainly-throughout this country a pressure, especially from the newspapers, for rapid and continuous action. I am one of those who believe that the present Government, the National Government, have tackled more questions and have succeeded in bringing about more action than any Government that we recollect during a similar period, but that is not the view which is taken by the newspapers. They are always attempting to ask the Government to give us more prosperity. Prosperity while you wait!
In those circumstances what has been the movement in your Lordships' House? In 1909, I submit, there was a far larger number of men advocating opinions which were then considered extreme than there are now members advocating opinions which are now considered extreme. However admirable the personnel, your Lordships less represent opinions in the country than in 1909. A few figures were given by Lord Snell, but I am afraid I must ask your Lordships to listen to figures which certainly have disturbed my mind immensely. I owe them to the courtesy of the Clerk of the Parliaments, who has made researehes which I think will clearly prove to most members of your Lordships' House what a deteriorating effect there has been on the attendance of this House, and the debates in this House, by the fact that so large a body of Peers belong to one side only. What are the numbers of Peers? In order that there should be no attempt to make a case by one Division or one year, I have taken three periods of five years each—five years from 1869, five from 1909, and the last five years—and I, or rather the staff of this House, have examined what was the attendance during those periods.
102 In 1869 there were 460 Peers; in 1909 there were 150 more; and in the present year there are 768 Peers, or, again, 150 more. Therefore, while in 1869 there were 460 Peers there are now 300 more available for attending this House. What effect has there been upon the attendance? In the first period, taking the whole of the five years, there were altogether 480 sittings, and over 100 Peers attended on 209 occasions. The average attendance was 160, or one-third of the whole House. In the second period from 1909 there were 545 sittings, of which 240 were attended by over 100 Peers, and the average attendance was 170, or just over one-fourth of the House as against one-third in the previous period. In the last five years the sittings were much the same, the number of those attended by over 100 were much the same, and the average attendance was 135 out of 766, or possibly 740 or 750 in the earlier years, and not one-third or one-fourth, but one-sixth of the whole House. Thus we have had a progressive deterioration in the attendance.
Why is that? I Because there are, I believe, taking the Conservative whip at, this moment nearly 500 Peers, taking the Liberal whip, I believe, about 100 Peers, and taking the Labour whip—I had been putting the figure at twenty, but Lord Snell tells us that the representation is only twelve. There are in addition 150 independent Peers and Bishops. The same thing happens with the smaller attendances. There are now three Parties in the House, and therefore a certain number must attend. In the first period of five years there were only seventy-three occasions on which under fifty Peers attended; in the second period there were ninety-three occasions on which under fifty attended; and on the third occasion 122 occasions on which under fifty attended, and then the average was only 32 out of 760. I wish it to be clearly understood that I am not snaking any attack on individuals who de not find it possible, generally, to attend this House. I attack solely the system which makes their attendance here utterly needless and useless. I know well a number of men who have got county duties to perform, and I know the irritation which is felt when you have been bidden to take the 103 chair somewhere, as I was to-night, and I have to write and say that I cannot attend because of business here. The incredulous smiles which come on the faces of those to whom one makes that excuse justify me in saying that a man may well be unwilling to put himself in that position when he knows that by coming he is merely giving a vote in favour of the Government probably by twenty to one.
There is another point. Take City men. The number of men who can guide us on finance is not very large in this House. I have over and over again asked men in the course of the day to come here in the afternoon for one of the Divisions which may take place, and the answer I have had is: "Well, I have a meeting, and it may be that what I say may greatly influence action. Can I influence any action by adding one more to the majority of the Government?" My Lords, it is impossible to argue the case. And what is much worse is its effect on our debates. It used to be said in old days that one of the justifications of having younger men in this House who had not had experience was that they got trained in oratory. That is all gone. There is nobody for them to address, there is no one to answer. I remember being very much struck by seeing a letter once, which was one of many, at a time when there was a disparity of numbers between the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party but when there was no disparity in power of speech. On those Benches opposite there were as many men who had held office and who could make effective speeches as there were on this Bench, and I can tell your Lordships of an occasion when, sitting on this Bench, were four such orators as Lord Beaconsfield, Lord Cairns, the late Lord Salisbury and Lord Granville; and yet Lord Beaconsfield, aged as he was, had in his own hand written to several of his supporters to beg them that, with the strong speeches that would be made in opposition, they would not leave it to the Government alone to justify the Party to which they belonged. That was the time when debating was really carried on because the Parties were near enough in numbers to make it possible.
But what is the case now? I can best illustrate it by a conversation which I happened to hear, I think three or four years ago, between a very well-known 104 editor and a very eminent member of this House. My friend had attacked the editor because he had given so poor a report of a particular House of Lords' debate and of a particular speech. And the editor's reply remained with me. He excused himself on the ground that his reporters avoided that Gallery like the plague. They said to him: "We can make nothing of the decorous whispers which pass between the Front Benches." And he said that "in the absence of those ebullitions of polemical controversy which you get in the other House I have to flog my best reporters"—that is the expression he used— "to get them to go into that Gallery at all." Do you think that the country is not aware of these things? Do you think that that which is really a deterioration in our proceedings is without effect?
Think what happened last Thursday night. You had a question on which the strongest possible opinion has been expressed—I am not giving my own view in any way—as to whether the landed proprietor is, as he has always been in the past, entitled to claim anything which is discovered between his property and Australia, at whatever depth. A strong view was taken by the Government on public grounds that oil should be bored for wherever it may be found. Whether they were right or wrong, that is a subject on which there is immense difference of opinion in the country. And what were the numbers by which it was decided? Recollect, the Division was taken after strong whips on both sides. I had at least half a dozen personal letters asking me to be present and vote for the views held, and the Division was not taken at one of those moments when numbers are decreased by the festivity of the hour, but between five and six o'clock. There were 42 for the Government and 33 against. Seventy-five out of 768! Can anybody say that seventy-five represents the views which may be held, and can anybody doubt that if by the mere fact of so few voting the Government had been defeated by nine there would have been very considerable feeling in many quarters?
If I might give one more instance, I happened to take part three or four years ago in proceedings on a Private Bill in which a great municipality sought to extend its boundaries. I had not the 105 smallest interest one way or the other, but it happened, rightly or wrongly, that your Lordships rejected the Bill and the municipality went, without it. I saw the promoters a few days afterwards and endeavoured to put the matter to them in the best light. They would not have objected had it not been that less than 100 Peers had taken the trouble to come down and vote on a matter in which they had been concerned, on which they had spent thousands of pounds, and on which they felt they had a right to some consideration on the part of a larger number of Peers.
I have left to the last the worst case of all. I wonder how many of your Lordships know how many of those who have the right—which I esteem a very high one, though I am not one of those who have ever had any doubt with regard to the conduct of this House—how many of those who have the right to sit here have in the last three years never gone to the Table to sign, and never taken their seats at all? We are now 768 in number; of those 190–190, my Lords, one fourth—have never taken their seats in this House. I for one say that those men have no right to come down here on a special occasion and record their votes. I hope I am not going too far, but I feel it is wrong and injudicious. The French have a motto:"Les absents out toujours tort,"and I think the British working man, to put it more colloquially, has not very much feeling as regards the rights of the man who does not do his job.
I think it is absolutely realised that the time has come when the question of representation must be considered, and if I may say one word with regard to what, fell from Lord Snell it would be this. Lord Snell has regarded this Bill as an attempt to entrench Conservatism in full power here for all time. I am not going into the details of the Bill. I do not agree entirely with all the details in the Bill, but perhaps Lord Snell will allow me to say this, that by a very slight change, a very reasonable change, in the numbers as put down by my noble friend, I have ascertained that, supposing those who are brought in from outside are brought in as they ought to be, in proportion to the representation of Parties in the House of Commons at the time—not 106 from the House of Commons or by the House of Commons, but in accordance with the feelings of the country at the time—there would actually have been a minority on this side of the House for six or seven years from 1910; I take that date because it was a very important time. With regard also to the position of hereditary Peers, I will only ask that some of your Lordships opposite who have doubts as to the qualification to remember that Lord Rosebery's Committee, which was thoroughly representative, desired that while there should be a proper representation of this House, which I regard as absolutely vital, it should be of men with certain qualifications so that outside it could not be said that it was a mere question of heredity.
There is another point. The noble Lord used several times an expression that the country was not to be, not jockeyed but words to that effect, into giving back the whole power to this House. There may be some of us who think that Lord Salisbury's suggestion that all Bills except Finance Bills, if rejected on three occasions and by a sufficient majority, should be referred back to the country, is too wide; but I believe very few of us do not feel that some provision to prevent one House from entirely changing the Constitution at one Election would be reasonable, and that this House ought to have some powers with regard to it. The noble Lord made a good Parliamentary speech, if I may say so, on that point, but, I would put it to him, does he really think that if the next Election were fought, as it might be fought, solely on the question of payments to the unemployed, the millions of votes passed on that question should subsequently be used in order to abolish this House, which has nothing, and can have nothing, to do with payments to the unemployed? That is the sort of thing Lord Salisbury is anxious about.
Before I sit down may I make one appeal to the noble Marquess, Lord Reading? I do not know anything that has ever happened in this House which has more astonished many of us than to see his name down as moving the rejection of the Bill. What is Lord Reading's special relationship to this Bill? He was a Law Officer of the Crown and one of the most prominent members of the Gov- 107 ernment of Mr. Asquith, and he was therefore a consenting party to the declaration that the reform of this House was an immediate necessity and did not brook delay twenty-five years ago. Think what his career has been since! There is no man who, by the favour of his Sovereign and to the full satisfaction of his fellow-countrymen, has filled so many high posts and has had so many opportunities of realising what the Parliamentary difficulties are in other countries. He has been Ambassador to the United States, where at this moment the Parliamentary difficulty is as acute as it is in any part of the world. He has been Viceroy of India, where the question of setting up a Parliament, in which he is engaged, is taxing all our statesmanship to the last degree. He has been Foreign Secretary; and there is no man in this House who, taking politics and finance together, is more conscious of the considerable dangers and difficulties of hasty action and of what is occurring in Germany, in Spain, in France, and in other countries. That he, now and here, should proceed not to make this Bill, as it could be made, one which is in accord with the views of any one who wants the amendment and not the destruction of your Lordships' House—that he should himself come forward as Leader of his Party to give the final stroke to this Bill seems to me one of the most inconceivable and unfortunate things that have ever happened in this House.
We know what the position of the Government is; we know that they have, say, two years in which to carry out a programme which is almost endless. Unless your Lordships by a very large majority signify your acceptance of your past responsibilities, of the opinions of those who have gone before us, you cannot expect the Government to move at all. I can only say that those who have made up their minds to thwart this effort on which my noble friend is so gallantly engaged—those who vote against us on the principle of the reform of the House of Lords have against them the opinion of every man who has led this House for the last fifty years. They have against them the opinions of Lord Salisbury and the Duke of Devonshire, of Lord Rosebery and Lord Ripon, of Lord Lansdowne and Lord Curzon, and my noble friend (the Marquess of Salisbury) who led us for many years with great acceptance, 108 and I believe also, if he were speaking for himself alone, of my noble and learned friend who now leads the House. In view of such evidence all I can say is that we at least may ask that in this measure of reaction we may feel we are relieved of any jot or tittle of responsibility for the mischievous results of such action.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING, who had also put down a Motion for rejection, said: My Lords, the speech of the noble Earl who has just concluded his observations naturally would lead me in any event to reply, and without delay. Certainly the answer to his speech "brooks no delay." But do let me say this to him: I think he has completely misconceived the position so far as I am concerned. I am not in the slightest degree affected by the observations he has made regarding the Motion which I have placed on the Table of this House in relation to this Bill. The proposal which I have made is that this Bill should be rejected, and to that proposal I adhere. I see no reason to change or to modify anything that I have already said on the First Reading of the Bill. But the noble Earl is quite wrong and unjustified if he assumes from that, that I close both my ears and my eyes to any proposal that might come forward for the purpose of reforming this House. That is a totally different consideration. I did think at one time, when the noble Earl was speaking, that he was intending to put some views before us which were of a more moderate description, and which might, at any rate, lead to a little more favourable consideration from other parts of the House.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
May I interrupt the noble Marquess for one moment? I did not like to detain the House long. I thought I had indicated all three points, and that there was power in this House, in Committee, to meet a number of the views which are not wholly extreme; in fact, the views of all those who do not wish for the destruction but for the amendment of this House. I did not like to elaborate the points in detail.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
I think I followed with great care what the noble Earl said, and he will forgive me if I say he has not really answered the point I am making. I do not know at this moment, nor do I think any of your 109 Lordships know, unless he has indicated them privately, what the suggestions are that he would make. Certainly he took up time—quite properly, I am not complaining of it—in addressing your Lordships, and during that period there was an ample opportunity, if he wished to take it, at the earliest moment in the debate of indicating the proposals he would like to see carried, and thus of giving us an opportunity of considering and discussing them during the course of the debate. I desire to take my standpoint quite plainly and frankly upon this. I believe that in the observations I am about to make I speak not only for myself but for all those who are associated with me in politics, even though there may be differences on certain other points.
I am firmly in favour of a Second Chamber. I believe thoroughly in a Second Chamber, and until a better Second Chamber is proposed I believe in this House as a Second Chamber. Until, again, more effective propositions are placed before your Lordships for acceptance, I believe that this House as now constituted, although not perfect—no human institution is—although not perhaps quite logically defensible, nevertheless does excellent work, and I would not hesitate to say that this House has the respect and the confidence of the country, not so much because of the basis upon which it is constituted, but rather, I would say, in spite of the fact that it is constituted on an hereditary basis. Perhaps no greater compliment could be paid to those who compose this House than to recall that this is the case. One must of course bear in mind in all fairness that all who sit in this House do not sit here by virtue of heredity. I read quite recently—I can only give the figures as I read them; I have had no opportunity of checking them—that during the last sixty years half of the membership of this House has been constituted; in other words, and to put it more plainly, half of the members of this House are members because of constitution during the last sixty years. That was rather borne out by some of the figures to which the noble Earl referred.
I do not wish in the time that I am about to take, which I hope will be very short, to travel into the various arguments put forward by the noble Earl or 110 some of the other speakers who preceded him. What I do desire is to call your Lordships' attention to the proposals before us. Do let us consider them as practical measures. I listened with the greatest interest to everything that fell from the noble Marquess who moved the Second Reading of this Bill, and, if I may be permitted to say so—I am sure he will not misunderstand me when I do —I admired his speech to-day infinitely more than I did the one made by him on the First Reading, although I did at that time admit that I thought it was in every way excellent. But to-day he has, I think, surpassed even himself. He made a speech which would appeal, and must appeal, to a number of your Lordships. It was followed by a Motion which amounted to the rejection of the Bill, but on different grounds, needless for me to say after your Lordships have heard the speeches, from those advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Snell.
My grounds of opposition to this Bill are these. Assuming, as I must, that in substance the Bill will take in its final form the shape in which it is now presented to you, it is a Bill which I believe is fraught with real danger. I do not go quite so far as the noble Lord, Lord Snell, in my expressions of apprehensions with regard to it, but I do say that I think he was justified in this observation, which I wilt make in my own language, that if your Lordships were now to accept this Bill as it stands, to amend the Parliament Act in what was almost its most important provision, to prevent the will of the people prevailing in a single Parliament, to insist upon another Election taking place before the Government can carry important measures to which they attribute the greatest importance and in order to pass which they have been returned to power—I do believe that if you do that, and if that is the effect of the measure which we pass, not only shall we not be strengthening this House, but believe that, in the long run, and I speak after careful thought, it would result, in changes of this House which am sure none of your Lordships at present contemplate, and I rather am inclined to think that it would mean the abolition of this House and the Second Chamber.
111 For my own part I believe, and all those who are associated with me believe, in a Second Chamber. But I do ask your Lordships to think what this Bill means. There are two main principles—and I am not going into detail—involved in this Bill. One of them means the continuance of the hereditary basis for membership of this House. I will deal with that a little more in detail in a moment. The other, and to my mind almost the more important, is Clause 13, which proposes, as indicated quite clearly by the noble Marquess in his speech to-day, that on the third rejection of a Bill by your Lordships' House the Bill shall not go to the Sovereign for assent—
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
—as it would under the Parliament Act, but that there should be an interval. I ask your Lordships to bear in mind what that means, because it is in my judgment that interval which is of such importance in the matter we are now considering. The point is that there should be not only an interval of time but also that there should be the event of another Election, that there should be another Parliament elected, and that the new Parliament must first pass a Resolution affirming the Bill, which would then be sent up a third time to your Lordships before it would go to the Sovereign for assent. I think I have described what is in the mind of the noble Marquess and what is involved in his Bill. It is right, of course, that it should be said that that is only to be done by an absolute majority. I understand that what the noble Marquess means by that is that, assuming a House consisting of 320 members in all, there would have to be 161 members voting for rejection.
I ask your Lordships to pause for a minute to consider what that means. We live under a democracy we in this House, as of course the members in the House of Commons, follow the will of the people. The noble Marquess himself said quite emphatically that that was his view, that that was his desire, and he believed it was the desire of all your Lordships. But if you have a House of Commons, returned with a large majority or a small majority, which proceeds to pass a Bill to which your Lordships are opposed, you may insist upon a Dissolution before that Bill can become effec- 112 tive. That was the particular point fought out in bitter issue in 1910, which resulted in what is now known as the Parliament Act. That point had reference not merely to the Budget, but to past history over a number of years into which I do not wish to travel. Constantly Bills had been thrown out by your Lordships' House and what was said was: "We will pass them when there is a mandate from the country again"—that is, after another Election. The point made—I only mention it so that we shall bear it in mind—was that of course so long as there was a Conservative Government in power no such difficulties arose. It was when you had either a Liberal or a Labour Government that the question would arise.
I quite frankly admit, and I think it should be stated in fairness, that the answer which might be made among better answers by the noble Marquess if he were replying at once would be: "Yes, but a Conservative administration would not propose measures such as would come from the Liberal or Labour Benches." There is a good deal of truth in that. I am quite prepared to admit it. After all, the Liberal and Labour Parties are progressive Parties. Far be it from me to suggest that the Conservative Party is not a progressive Party, but I think we might use the small "c" to characterise the measures which would be introduced by the Party with the big "C" so that there should not be too much progress made. That is a position to which I think your Lordships' House ought to object. We ought not now at this moment, especially at this moment, to ask that the Parliament Act should be amended, and amended by a Government such as this Government is, for you cannot leave out the Government. The noble Marquess, though he proposes this measure as a private member, is bound to admit—nobody knows it better than he who led this House for so many years—that the Bill would be useless unless and until His Majesty's Government assisted and supported it. I take it that at this moment the Bill is not supported by the Government. I say that because I assume that if the Government intended to support the Bill they would have proposed it, but I am not in their secrets and I know nothing about it.
113 But I would ask your Lordships, when we went to the country in 1931 and the majority was obtained which caused this Government to continue in power with all the influence and authority it has had until now, had any one in mind at that moment that this National Government was to amend the Parliament Act, to go back to the days before 1911, to reopen the old difficulties that occurred then? I feel quite certain that any one of your Lordships who puts that question to himself must answer it in one way. I speak in the presence of a number of those who were members of that Government, both on my own side and facing me at this moment. I was a member of it myself. All I wish to say in general terms is that when we went before the country on that occasion, and placed our views before the country, and asked the country for its confidence, the people had no idea that we wore then proposing or had in mind at all an amendment of the Parliament Act for the purposes indicated. What we had very definitely in mind was the condition of the country, and the exigencies of the time brought about a tremendous majority which it would be vain to spend any time in analysing at this moment.
I would ask the National Government and the noble Marquess and those who support him to pause for a moment and ask themselves whether at that Election the will of the people prevailed. Was there any reason why they should not have expressed their views as they did, so that measures introduced by the Government based upon the vote which had been given to them should not be passed within the lifetime of that Parliament? Yet that is exactly what there would be power to do if the proposals of the noble Marquess take effect. The answer would be: "Oh, no, you cannot pass your Bill during this Parliament, whatever your majority. Those who gave their votes to you may have been mistaken. They may now see their mistake. They may have misunderstood the issue. It is quite possible they misapprehended all that was involved. Therefore there must be another opportunity given them before this Bill can become effective." I submit that that is a most dangerous doctrine.
Although the language which the noble Lord, Lord Snell, used on the point was very strong, I am not surprised that as a member of the Labour Party he did ex- 114 press himself strongly, and even vehemently; because our people have been, and are, law-abiding beyond a doubt. I think we are entitled to say, without arrogance, that we have been the admiration of foreign countries, largely because of the way in which our working people throughout the country have behaved during these times of difficulty; and in that I am perfectly sure the whole House will agree. Nevertheless, your Lordships are now asked, after what you have seen, after what they have done, and after the proofs which they have given of their courage in times of difficulty and of their calmness in times of great depression, to say that when such men have given a vote, they may so easily be mistaken that there must be another opportunity given. I can only say that to me this measure is for that reason one which is most objectionable, and, so far as I am able, I shall oppose it. So long as there is a clause of that character in this Bill, or in any Bill of this kind introduced into your Lordships' House, I shall do my best to prevent it passing into law, because I believe, as I have indicated, that it would really be a danger to the country if you were to pass it.
All that I desire to say in reference to the other part of the Bill, over which I passed a little hastily, that is, the part dealing with the hereditary principle, I will try to condense into very few sentences. My objection is not that there is nothing in heredity. The noble Lord, Lord Redesclale, said that he did not agree with those who took that view, but I do not think that that is the view of many of us who are opposed to the hereditary principle for legislators. No one would be so foolish as to suggest that there is nothing in heredity; but may I ask another question, I hope not discourteously or unfairly: Would any of your Lordships entrust your destiny to a man merely because he is the son of his father? Would you not require to know something more about him? Just conceive what you are asking the country to do if you pass a Bill of this character. The noble Marquess says that out of a House of 320 members, 150 are to be elected by the hereditary Peers; there are to be two Arehbishops and three Bishops, naturally of course the Princes of the Blood Royal, and the Lords of Appeal or those who have held high judi- 115 cial office, and then, in addition, 150 who are to be elected in some way which we do not understand, because it has not yet been put before us, but on some basis which is to be decided by a Resolution of both Houses of Parliament.
Just conceive for a moment what the Bill we are asked to pass means. Your Lordships are asked to consolidate in this way the hereditary principle as the basis of membership of this House, and at the same time to pass this part of the Bill, to which I have already made a rather long reference, interfering as I think with the will of the people as pronounced at the last Election. You are asked to do that; and what does the Bill do besides that? What else is there in it? There is, it is true, the reference to Money Bills and the Speaker's Committee, upon which I say nothing because I think that that is far less controversial than anything else that there is in the Bill. But leaving that aside, what else is there in the Bill? I submit to your Lordships that there is absolutely nothing; and I am speaking with the Bill before your Lordships. What is to be done with regard to the 150 members who are to be chosen from outside is not determined at all. Notwithstanding all the Committees which have sat, notwithstanding all the inquiries—and they have been many—and all the thought and attention given to the subject, notwithstanding everything that has been attempted, no means have yet been found of arriving at a solution sufficiently satisfactory to be put into a Bill, or even to command the assent of various Parties in the House.
At this stage, and with this Government in power, without whose assistance this Bill can never become effective, I say that it would really be a breach of trust, as I understand it, if this Government were to go out of their way at this moment to say that they supported a Bill of this character unless it had the support of all the three Parties in the State and of all those who are entitled to express their views. Because they have been placed in a position of trust as a National Government for a particular purpose: to look after the social needs and exigencies of the country, to help us out of the difficulties into which we have passed. I might (if I had any voice or time left) pause to ask them whether really at this moment the international 116 and the national situations and the problems involved are not sufficient to preoccupy their minds without their troubling themselves about this question, which has been a matter of domestic controversy for so many years—whether they have not enough to do in dealing, for example, with matters which have arisen with the Dominions.
I say to the noble Marquess in all sincerity that, although I am against this Bill and am resolutely opposed to it, particularly because of Clause 13, that does not mean that I should always be opposed to everything proposed for the reform of this House, or to give effect to the views expressed in the past and at the time of the Parliament Act. Quite the contrary. But I would remind him that we have not been taken into confidence in this matter; we have had no part in this committee. So far as I am aware nobody has consulted any of the Parties except the Conservative Party. The noble Marquess who has put forward this Bill has, I believe I am right in saying—he will correct me if I am wrong—put it forward as a result of the deliberations of a committee composed entirely of Conservative members of both Houses, and it had no other authority. If that be so, how can it be that your Lordships are asked to pass this Bill now at this moment, in the times of difficulty through which we are passing, with all the anxiety which must exist that we should avoid internal acrimony and controversy, with all the necessity which there is that we should work together, and above all that we should keep the confidence of the working people in the fairness and justice of the governing powers of this country, that they may be able to rely upon our doing nothing which would be taking advantage of them because of the last Election? I do believe that if you take that into account and bear all those things in mind, it is inevitable that your Lordships should refuse to pass the Bill as now presented to your Lordships' House.
§ THE SECRETARY or STATE FOR WAR (VISCOUNT HAILSHAM)
My Lords, I do not intervene in order to attempt to answer the arguments which have been adduced during the discussion to which we have been listening, however great the temptation some of those arguments may have afforded. I rise because I think it will he for the general convenience of 117 your Lordships' House that I should state at this stage what is the attitude of the Government for whom I speak on the Motion which is now under discussion. When this Bill was originally introduced in your Lordships' House in December last by my noble friend Lord Salisbury, I expressed the view that it was proper that the Bill should be given a First Reading in order that the proposals which had been formulated by my noble friend should be printed and that your Lordships might be given an opportunity of considering them on their merits; but I was careful to state that, in giving that advice to your Lordships, neither I nor His Majesty's Government were in any way committed to approval of the actual proposals which might ultimately be found to be contained in the Bill. The Bill now comes before your Lordships for Second Reading and for consideration on its merits.
For at least a quarter of a century past the question of the reform of the House of Lords has been a subject of much political controvery and discussion. It has given rise to a variety of proposals for the reform of the personnel of the House of Lords, and for an alteration in its powers. Those discussions have shown that grave differences of opinion existed as to the nature and extent of the alterations which are desirable in the constitution of the House, and equally grave differences as to whether any, and if so what, changes ought to be made in its powers. The Bill now before your Lordships deals with both topics. The first eleven clauses are concerned with altering the composition and constitution of the House. The last two clauses contain proposals for modifying the power of the House so reconstituted. When I addressed your Lordships in the First Reading debate I informed your Lordships that the Government had not considered the matters dealt with in the Bill. This is not to say that they are not matters of grave moment; on the contrary the proposals embrace constitutional reforms of a sweeping character, and it is difficult to conceive any matters on which it is more important to act with care and deliberation. But these subjects formed no part of the crisis which brought the National Government into existence, and it is certainly true to say that they were not one of the sub- 118 jects which were discussed at the last General Election.
I would add further that, although it is the undoubted right of any member of your Lordships' House to bring forward proposals on any matter which he deems it desirable to debate or to enact in the public interests, and while there is no private member of your Lordships' House who is better qualified to exercise that right than my noble friend, it seems to the Government that proposals for constitutional reform of this magnitude are best initiated by the Government of the day, if they are to be brought forward at all; and that in another place there is very little prospect of their receiving any real consideration unless they are brought forward as a Government measure.
So far as the present Session is concerned, it is perfectly plain on considerations of time alone that it is quite impossible to accept any legislation dealing with these matters, even if it were decided that such legislation were desirable. Whether it is desirable that such legislation should be introduced; whether such legislation, if it be desirable, ought to be brought forward during the lifetime of the present Parliament; whether it is possible to reach agreement as to. the nature of any changes which ought to be made, are matters to which the Government are giving consideration, but with regard to which it is hardly likely to be possible to reach an early decision. In these circumstances, the immediate question for decision is as to the attitude which the Government ought to adopt upon the present proposals. They have come to the conclusion that it would not be possible or proper for the Government to vote for the Second Reading, since that might be construed as involving an acceptance of the principles of the Bill and an assent to the proposition that it is desirable not only to alter the constitution but also to modify the powers of your Lordships' House in the direction of increase.
On the other hand, to vote against the Bill might be considered an affirmation of the view that no change is desirable either in composition or in powers, and certainly no such decision has been reached by the Government. In these-circumstances the members of the Government do not propose to take part in the Division which will take place on 119 Thursday. They desire to present no obstacle to the further consideration and discussion of the proposals contained in my noble friend's Bill, if your Lordships think it desirable to give it a Second Reading. Indeed, they would welcome the expressions of opinion from all quarters of the House upon the proposals themselves, both on the matter of principle which is now being discussed, and on the innumerable matters of detail, some of which amount in themselves to questions of principle, which will arise in Committee if the Bill receives a Second Reading. There can be no doubt that the expression of views from various quarters of the House will be of great value to the Government in considering what conclusions it ought to reach. I ought, however, to make it clear that it is not possible to hold out any hope that this Bill, or that any Bill dealing with this subject, can pass into law during the present Session; and I can only assure your Lordships that the question whether any legislation of this character ought hereafter to be brought forward is a matter which the Government are considering, but upon which we should not think it right to reach any hasty decision.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
My Lords, I rise in a situation of some little difficulty. I understand, through the usual channels, that it has been thought desirable that I should speak next, and I rise to do so, but I speak, as my noble friend who has just spoken will recognise, under conditions of extreme difficulty, because the whole situation has been transformed by the speech which he has just made. If I understood my noble friend rightly, and I do not think it is possible to misunderstand him, his view is that this subject is one which certainly requires grave consideration, that it is a subject which ought to be dealt with at some time, and that the Government are the people to deal with it, but that they are not prepared to say yet whether they are going to deal with it or not, and all that they are prepared to say is that they will not allow this particular Bill to pass the House of Commons. That, if I understand my noble friend correctly, is the position which the Government have taken up.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
Not that they will not allow the Bill to pass, but that 120 considerations of time make it impossible for the other place to consider it.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I accept the distinction, but recognise it makes very little difference how you put it, because the Government, if they liked, could find time, and therefore when I said that they would not allow it to pass I do not think I was going further than I ought to have gone. Nevertheless, in spite of this statement on behalf of the Government, I understand that it is still open to your Lordships to discuss the Bill, and I will shortly explain the views which I hold. I confess that I have the greatest difficulty in understanding the position of the Liberal Party in this matter. I really do not understand what they mean. They say very strongly that they are in favour of a Second Chamber, and that they would vote against any proposal to abolish the Second Chamber. They say they believe in the importance of a Second Chamber. I cannot believe that they think that the present Second Chamber is a satisfactory one. I cannot believe, for after all they are very intelligent men, that they believe that. They must see that the present Second Chamber is open to the greatest objection, and therefore I confess that I do not understand their attitude in saying that they are in favour of a Second Chamber, while declining to indicate in the slightest degree in what respect or in what way they would amend the present Second Chamber. No suggestion of any sort or kind have they made in that direction.
Of course I understand the view of my noble friends on my left, who think that no change should be made on the ground that this is an ancient institution and you should not touch it. I believe that that is the sort of view inclining to revolution. Therefore I confess I do not agree with them, but I thoroughly understand their position. As for the Labour Party's position, I understand it fully. It is perfectly simple. They think no Second Chamber is really essential. This is a very weak Second Chamber: therefore preserve it as long as possible. The principle is perfectly clear and I have no quarrel at all with that point of view, except that I am going to give some reasons why I do not think that that is really the wise policy for a Labour Party to adopt.
What is the purpose of a Second Chamber? I think it has only got one 121 purpose of importance nowadays. The only function that seems to me really valuable in the Second Chamber is that it can take care that any legislation proposed is in accordance with the settled will of the people of this country. That is the only purpose for which a Second Chamber ought to exist, and any Second Chamber should be judged by the extent to which it carries that duty into execution. I hope my noble friend Lord Snell will acquit me of any desire of establishing what I think he described in a picturesque phrase as the permanence of entrenched privilege. That is not my purpose at all, but I do believe in a Second Chamber. I do think that a Second Chamber is desirable, and I think so because I think there ought to be some machinery for making it quite certain that in matters of importance the legislation proposed is in accordance with the real settled will of the people.
I say frankly that I do not think the House of Lords as at present constituted can possibly discharge that duty. That seems to me to be quite clear, because I do not think that a House that has so little representation of what is, after all, at least half of the opinion of the country can possibly be entrusted with the duty of deciding what measures ought to be further considered before they are passed into law. Therefore I do not think that the House as at present constituted can do the duty of a Second Chamber, and that is why I am unable altogether to subscribe to the view of the Liberal Party in apparently desiring a Second Chamber and not making any effort to reform the present one. It may said: "Well, but why is it necessary to have a Second Chamber at all if your only object is to secure that the will of the people shall be effective? Why cannot you trust the House of Commons?" May I venture to appeal to my noble friends on the Labour Benches? Are they satisfied that the present House of Commons now represents the will of the people? Is that their view? I do not think any of them would say that. One may doubt as to what would he the result of a General Election held to-day, but I do not think there is any single person in the country who suggests that you would have a House of Commons returned which was at all like the present House of Commons. Whether it would 122 be a majority on this side or that side may be a question, but that it would be a House of Commons like this it is impossible to imagine.
I heard Lord Reading, if he will allow me to mention his very interesting speech, make a very eloquent protest against the idea that the present House of Commons should be allowed to deal with such a question as the reform of the Second Chamber. He thought that a monstrous thing. Why?. Because they were not elected for any such purpose. Yes, but if they really represent the views of the people, if it is contended that whatever is the view of the House of Commons ought to prevail within a single Parliament, why should not they act on that? That is the contention which my noble friend put forward—that it is monstrous to say that the will of the people as expressed in the House of Commons should not prevail within that Parliament. Well, but then that means that whatever they propose ought to be passed into law within that Parliament.
The noble Marquess may hold that this particular measure was not in the minds of the people when they voted, and therefore it ought not to be passed. But that is just what is always said about any measure that is passed by the First Chamber to which there is strong objection. You will always find people who hold that that particular measure ought not to be passed because it was not part of the decision given at the last Election. And the only way that you could find that out is by some machinery of government by which that point could be put in some way or other to the people. There is no other way of doing it. And that is the purpose for which a Second Chamber should exist. If you do not have that purpose you do give a possibility of a tyranny being set up by a First Chamber without any appeal at all. That is the whole ease, and the question which is to be decided is whether it is possible to constitute a Second Chamber so fair and so impartial that it can be trusted to exercise this duty of delaying legislation until the will of the people is known fairly and justly, and not to exercise it with Party prejudice or the like.
I am bound to ay that I do not think the present House of Lords is so constituted. The figures given by my noble 123 friend Lord Midleton, and my noble friend Lord Snell, are sufficient to show that it is not a body which is really suitable to entrust with those duties. I admit that I have the very gravest doubt, to put it mildly, whether the Second Chamber, as proposed to be constituted by this Bill, would be such a Second Chamber as could be entrusted with those duties, because I am afraid—though I am sure that is not the intention of the authors of the Bill—that a Second Chamber so constituted would almost certainly have a permanent Conservative majority, and that is evidently not what would be desired. But, all the same, I think it very essential that we should try to consider whether some Second Chamber could not be constituted which would be impartial and which would be such a body as you could entrust with this very important constitutional duty, a duty which does seem to me an essential part of a democratic constitution.
It is not for me to draft Bills, but I do feel that it would be possible to have Second Chamber constituted something in this way—consisting, let us say, of 300 members, 100 appointed each Parliament by the Prime Minister of the day, to hold office for three Parliaments. The result would be that the House as constituted would represent the settled will of the country for three Parliaments. It would be entirely impartial in that sense. If there were a succession of Labour Governments it would be almost wholly a Labour House: if there were a succession of Conservative Governments it would be almost wholly a Conservative House: but if, as is the most probable case, there were an oscilliation of opinion, then you would have a fair representation of whatever that opinion was. I think a House constituted in some such way as that might well be the proper way of dealing with this very grave problem. And as far as the hereditary element is concerned, I personally would allow the hereditary members of the House of Lords to speak in that House, though I would not allow them to vote, unless they were also nominated as Lords of Parliament, with the right to vote in the way I have described.
I do not wish to detain your Lordships any longer. I wished to explain the position which I hold. I venture very respectfully to urge this on my noble friend and his friends: Are you quite 124 sure that the only protection that is necessary is the protection against the Left? Is it not, at any rate, possible that you may find yourselves faced with a revolution towards the Right? Look at the condition of Europe. There have been revolutions towards the Left, but there have been more striking revolutions towards the Right. My noble friend used some very strong language about dictatorships. I do not quarrel with what he said, but is it not a conceivable thing that a House of Commons elected under some great emotional stress—indeed, the present House of Commons if it had that desire—might be returned with a strong feeling towards the Right and might use its power to impose legislation which might not amount to dictatorship but might amount to a very serious interference with our liberties? Is not that a matter that ought to be considered? I think some change in our Constitution is desirable. I believe that change ought to take the form of a thoroughly impartial Second Chamber whose duty it should be to see that no measure involving a really serious change in our institutions should be passed until it was quite certain it was what the people desired.
I believe that a true solution of this question of the Second Chamber can never be arrived at by a Party decision, whether of the Right or of the Left. It can only be arrived at by agreement, and I appeal to the Opposition to consider whether this is not the time for them to take a really statesmanlike attitude on this question, and to see whether by some agreement a really satisfactory change in our institutions cannot be carried through, and this difficult question set at rest. After all, what is inevitably before us? Sooner or later we shall be plunged into another constitutional quarrel. They come back with a majority; they form their Government; they introduce their legislation. Suppose it is rejected in this House? Then they stage a great agitation, either for the wholesale reform or, more probably, the abolition of the Second Chamber. What is the result? Years are consumed in this constitutional struggle, and meanwhile the whole of their social reforms are held up, whether they are right or wrong, held up perfectly fruitlessly.
Is it not better to try and get rid of this question by agreement, if agreement 125 can be reached? I have listened very carefully to the speeches made in support of this measure. It seems to me there is a disposition now to see whether some common solution cannot be found, a solution which will not be in favour of one Party, not in favour of the permanence of entrenched privilege, but in favour of a real solution of the constitutional question that has long existed in this country, which has caused a great deal of trouble, and which can only be settled, I am convinced, by agreement between the Parties.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, I understand that the arrangement made is that the House should now adjourn until a quarter past nine, when the debate will be resumed, and I would suggest to those of your Lordships who are here that if it is at all possible your Lordships should return at a quarter past nine, not only because there will be some very interesting speeches, but also because it is a little hard on those members of your Lordships' House who are willing to take the less attractive time if they have not got a reasonable audience to listen to them.
§ [The sitting was suspended at a quarter before eight o'clock and resumed at a. quarter past nine.]
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, I would like to approach this Bill in the first instance from the point of view of a Scottish Representative Peer. In the Bill as it stands the Representative Peers of Scotland are relegated to a position very different from that which they occupy under the present arrangement. The position would be that the sixteen elected Scottish Representative Peers would be entitled, having been elected, to vote in the election of the 150 Peers to sit in your Lordships' House. That is not a position which we feel is one that would be right. We think that the proper position is that the arrangements of the Act of Union should be adhered to, and that the Scottish representation in the House should remain under the new system, if and when it comes into force, as under the old. As the noble Marquess in the course of his remarks this afternoon indicated—at least I understood him to indicate—that that was a position which he is prepared to accept, I do not think it is necessary for me to say more at this stage. The suit 126 able Amendments will be moved if the Committee stage is reached, and I would only say that we are very grateful to the noble Marquess for having consented to meet us to that extent. So much I can say from the point of view of the Scottish Representative Peers, and I am quite certain that that represents the views of all of them.
When I turn to the question of the merits of the Bill, that is a matter on which I expect there may be a division of opinion among the Scottish Peers as among other Peers in your Lordships' House. It has been suggested that we are to vote for this Bill and thereby indicate our willingness to undergo reform. If that were all I think it would be easy. There is not one of your Lordships who is not prepared, if need be, to sacrifice his own position, if that were a necessary part of the process of securing a more efficient Second Chamber, but reform of the constitution of your Lordships' House is by no means all that this Bill contains. The first eleven clauses deal with the reform of the constitution of the House. Then we come to Part II containing the amendment of the Parliament Act. If I may be permitted the expression, the sting is in the tail. Clause 13 is the clause which, I am bound to admit to your Lordships, troubles me most.
The noble Earl, Lord Midleton, said that there would be a heavy responsibility on anybody who rejected this opportunity of showing his willingness to assent to the reform of the House which is so urgently needed. As I say, if that were all it would be so easy, and if the noble Marquess who has introduced this Bill wants proof of the difference let him introduce a Bill consisting of Part I of this Bill. I do not think that there would be a three days debate on the Second Reading of that. I do not think I am doing the noble Marquess any injustice when I say that without Part II he would have no use for this Bill. That seems to me to he just the reason why it is so difficult to vote for the Second Reading merely as a gesture in favour of reform.
I do not dispute the need—in fact I am profoundly convinced of the need—for a strong and efficient Second Chamber. I am not ashamed to say that I believe in the hereditary principle. I believe that the Second Chamber ought to have an 127 element of the hereditary principle and I think the arrangements suggested in Part I of this Bill are very likely as good as anything we could have. As to the powers, if you have got the powers and if you could be quite sure they would be always wisely used, I should have no hesitation in saying: "Let us have reform on those lines." But those are two very big "ifs." For one thing we know perfectly well that we shall not get the powers and what I ask myself is: What is going to be the result of giving a Second Reading to this Bill? Will it be said that the House of Lords is willing to puts its head under the axe and be reformed; that we show our willingness to submit to reform and to become more efficient, more suitable for conducting our business than we are? Or is it going to be said that the House of Lords want to reverse the Parliament Act and go back twenty years and secure powers which the country has indicated it does not want them to have? That is what I am afraid of.
The noble Viscount who leads the House has told us that it is quite impossible that this Bill can go very much further. In the circumstances it seems to me that it is really sufficient to limit the discussion to that which we have on Second Reading. I am not convinced that it is wise to pass this Second Reading in view of the criticisms which are bound to be made. We had some constructive criticism from the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, before we adjourned, as to what might be done to better the constitution of the House, but I cannot believe that there is more to be gained by passing the Bill than there is by rejecting it. I would gladly be relieved of the necessity of choosing. If I have to choose, I shall want to be convinced that I am not committing myself to the principle of greater powers, and I cannot see how it is possible to give a vote for the Second Reading without committing oneself to that principle, which I think is a dangerous one. There is only one other word I should like to add which I should have said when talking of personnel. It is a small matter, but holding the opinion I do I think it is not right to leave it unsaid. If we are going to reform the personnel of this House, then I think we ought to have the introduction of women as members of your Lordships' House. I firmly 128 believe in the principle of equality in that respect, and I do not think it would be right for me to discuss the personnel of the House without making that clear.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
My Lords, I was rather disappointed when the noble and learned Marquess who represented the Liberal Party's views this afternoon gave vent to such very strong opposition even to the idea of considering the various proposals in this Bill. I thought the Liberal Party at any rate stood for free discussion. They do not seem to be very heavily represented here at this moment; but it did disappoint me to think that they really had given up altogether any idea of free discussion. You would have thought that their wish for free discussion would have been reinforced by the fact that twenty-three years ago through their leader, of whom the noble Marquess was a very prominent supporter and lieutenant, they pledged themselves to introduce some measure for the reconstruction of the Second Chamber within the lifetime of that very Parliament. Their energy in carrying out that undertaking has been very carefully concealed from the world at large.
The noble Marquess, Lord Reading, twitted us with supporting a Bill which emanated from a committee composed entirely of Conservative Peers. What have the Liberal Peers been doing all this time, since the pledge which they gave in 1911? Would it not have been better if they had been sitting in committee during that time, and had produced proposals which could have been considered either before or with the proposals of my noble friend Lord Salisbury? So I cannot share the view of the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, that whether one can or cannot agree with the whole of the proposals in this Bill, it ought not to be discussed at all. Some people have said—I think the noble Lord who has just spoken said—that the discussion on the Motion for Second Reading would be quite sufficient, but I think the details of this Bill are so elaborate and so difficult that it would be quite impossible within the compass of the time which a Second Reading debate can occupy to do justice to all the different points of view which arise. I cannot see any harm In passing the Second Reading and having a discussion in Committee; and at any rate ascertain 129 ing what the opinion of the House is, on many of the ingredients of this Bill. It may be that many of them will be rejected or amended. For my own part I cannot profess to agree with half the proposals contained in the Bill, but if it resulted in the end in some agreement on one or two points, it would he well worth while to have had a discussion in Committee.
I think we ought to be very grateful to my noble friend Lord Salisbury for having undertaken the very troublesome and somewhat thankless task of suggesting to us that we might discuss it. Having said that, I hope he will not mind my saying that I want to reserve my right to vote against a considerable number of the proposals which he has made. With regard to Clauses 3, 4 and 5, which relate to the future composition of the House, I hold very strongly the view that it is a great mistake to mix up hereditary and elected members in one Chamber. I would much rather have them all elected or all introduced here under the same principles under which they are here now. Except, of course, for the Peers of the Blood Royal, Arehbishops, Bishops and Law Lords, it is a very great mistake that one section of this House should sit under one qualification and another under a different one. But it is not possible to discuss that point without understanding better than I think we can to-day exactly how the other 150 are to be chosen—those who are not already members of this House. It does confuse matters a little to talk of the hereditary principle as if noble Lords who compose this House were all here under that qualification. There is a great deal to be said for heredity, but I do not want to go very far into that question now, except to say that in regard to animals or vegetables any sensible person wishing to make a good collection would pay the very greatest attention to heredity. Heredity in the human species is only coming into its own rather tardily. We are getting to consider whether mentally-defective people ought to be allowed to propagate their species. That is about as far as we have got up till now.
I venture to say that it is very easy to argue that there is great value in the hereditary principle even in the human 130 species, and that the son of a great administrator or statesman will have some of the qualifications of his father, but that merely regards the hereditary principle as such. We are not all here merely on account of the hereditary principle. This House is perpetually recruited from people who have done the greatest possible service to the country in various capacities, and thus it is made a very much stronger and more efficient body. What has the system in fact produced in this House? There are here—I take my figures from the last edition of Dod—143 who were Members of Parliament. At any rate they can be said to have met with the approval and support of the people of this country at an election. Then there are 104 Privy Councillors and thirty-eight Peers who have been members of the Cabinet. There are twenty who have been Viceroys or Governors-General, eleven who have occupied minor Governorships, and ten who have been Ambassadors. Besides that there are here, as everyone knows, a large number of noble Lords who have attained very great distinction in science, industry, law, local government, and so on, and there are three Field-Marshals, two Admirals of the Fleet and one Air-Marshal.
Although some of those noble Lords overlap one another in their qualifications, I do not think it would be far wrong to say that you could get even out of them, apart from those who do magnificent work in other than political directions, 300 noble Lords already in this House who would be as good as any 300 who could be selected under the proposals of this Bill. I should like to see the whole of the 300 selected from members of the present House of Lords. I am quite certain that no other process of selection would provide you with a better team, either from the points of view of ability, experience, or the variety of their lives and pursuits. If the question were raised as to how you could best balance the Parties in this House, I would far prefer that the Prime Minister of the day should have the right to put before His Majesty names of a sufficient number of Peers, to enable him, if he so required, to have a better balance of opinion in the debates in this House. Of course, the number would have to be limited, but I think that 131 would be a more satisfactory way of equalising the balance as between Parties.
But someone may say: "If you are so satisfied with the ability of the members of the House of Lords as at present constituted, why not leave it alone?" My answer to that would be that there are two points which I think are strong arguments in favour of a change. One is the large numbers of this House. My noble friend Lord Midleton demonstrated the great disadvantage of the overwhelming numbers of the members entitled to be present in this House. I think he proved his case up to the hilt, and if the only result of this Bill were to reduce the numbers of this House it would be well worth passing. The other argument, which always seems to me to be rather difficult to contend against, is that a man ought not to have the right to belong to one of the legislative bodies of this country merely because he is the son of his father, and still less because he is the great-grandson of his great-grandfather. That argument, I think, can very well be met by saying that, although the members of this House should be selected out of the present number of Peers, they would have to pass through the test of a very efficient tribunal of their fellow Peers. Therefore, they could not come here merely because they were the sons of their fathers, but they would come because being the sons of their fathers, they were also regarded as the right people to come to this reduced House.
With regard to the powers of the House, I again feel myself in some difficulty in supporting the Second Reading, unless I make it clear that I feel very great compunction about voting for Clause 13 of this Bill. As for Money Bills and proposals with reference to tacking, I am fully in favour of that. The noble Marquess, Lord Reading, in his very pessimistic review of this Bill, did suggest that some members of the Liberal Party, as it was in the House of Commons in 1911, had very great doubts about the wisdom of the proposals dealing with Money Bills. But Clause 13 does not seem to me to be desirable from many points of view. In the first place it seems to me too direct a repeal of the Parliament Act; and, secondly, it involves the consideration of any question in all the obscure variegations of a General Elec- 132 tion. Under Clause 13, if this House disagrees with a measure three times and the last time disagrees by a majority of the whole 750 members of this House, then the measure cannot become law until there has been another Election. I do not think that that is from any point of view a desirable proposition. I do not think any single question can be said to have met with the approval of the voters of this country during the confusion of a General Election, when every sort of slogan and catch-word and side issue is being dragged across the path.
I do not think it would have the effect which my noble friend thinks it would of getting a clear decision on any particular point, and it would be far better, if it were possible to do so, to introduce into this Bill the principle of a referendum. A referendum could be taken during the existence of any particular Parliament before the great excitement of a General Election was affecting the people of this country. It could be regarded, and should be regarded, as a matter in which, if the people voted against the proposal of the Government the resignation of the Government was not thereby necessary. That would help to do away with some of the Party bitterness that might be involved. The Government of the day might even wish for a referendum themselves on a subject which had been rejected by this House on one or more occasions, and I do not see any other way of getting any reasonable indication of the wishes of the people of this country on any single, particular measure than by a referendum.
People may say that it is very difficult to draw up a referendum in clear enough language, that it would be distorted by all the wire-pulling electioneerers and so on. That may be so. But it is far more easy to do that than to get any particular question singled out from the rest at a General Election and voted upon so that we may be able to come here and say: "The people of this country have voted for or against that particular thing." So I venture to hope that your Lordships will give this Bill a Second Reading; will discuss it most carefully, amend it drastically in Committee, and give us the opportunity of finding out what arguments there are for and against any particular clause, and what the weight of support for one or other may 133 be. Then we may be able in the future, if His Majesty's Government are willing to consider the result of our deliberations, possibly to make a change which would be for the great benefit of this House and the country.
§ LORD CARNOCK
My Lords, I rise to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill. I may start with flattery. I know that the composition of your Lordships' House is perhaps unique, but may I venture to say that your Lordships' House is not only unique in its composition, but unique for quite another reason, and the reason is that it does its duties as a revising Chamber with rectitude, probity, and knowledge. That can hardly be said about any other Second Chamber in the world. Your Lordships, I suggest, represent the feelings of the man-in-the-street—I say John Citizen or the "Little Man" of the cartoons—more nearly than another House, and why? Because the Party whip does not crack in this House. There are no sheep-dogs trying to drive us into an uncongenial fold. There are no constituents watching every vote or criticising every word which we say. Here, in this House there is a free vote, based nearly always on knowledge, conviction and experience, and, may I perhaps say, intelligence. It is for this reason that I do not believe your Lordships' House is unpopular in the country. It is true that we, as at present constituted, act only as a brake, and perhaps not a very strong brake. The car of State—I must say car, for if I say the ship of State I shall begin mixing my metaphors—can only be delayed and cannot be stopped, and some of us may fear that this car may drive to headlong ruin. I hope that unfortunate event will never happen. Nevertheless, the brake that we do have is better than no brake at all.
It is quite obvious that a Chamber based on the hereditary principle lays itself open to criticism and stone throwing. After all, we all live in glass houses. In this House we are living in a glass house, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating, for I may venture to say that this House, based as it is on the hereditary principle, performs its duty to the satisfaction of all thinking persons, and is probably the finest revising Chamber in the world. Naturally everybody knows the reason for this proposed 134 reconstruction. What is it based on? My Lords, it is based on fear, fear of changes in our political, in our financial, in our social lives. Thus it is hoped to fix on the car of State a brake more efficient than the one that at present exists. The swing of the pendulum might bring in a small majority determined to force revolutionary changes on this country, which would be profoundly distasteful to the majority of intelligent and thinking persons. There is the reason for this Bill; but I venture to say that whatever form of reconstruction is effected, if the desire for these revolutionary changes exists even in a small majority, your Lordships' House will be swept aside like chaff before the wind. However well constructed the brake may be those at the steering wheel will abolish it. The better and the stronger the brake the more eager will they be to destroy it.
I should think that the tendency in Europe at the present moment is not to strengthen Parliamentary procedure, but to abolish it altogether. I imagine that constitutions, however carefully drawn up and with whatever care they are safeguarded, are being torn up almost daily. Not so far from where I am now speaking, there is a Second Chamber with a sword of Damocles hanging over it by a very attenuated thread. And this Second Chamber is not an elderly one. It is a new one, made only a few years ago. For a time in the past this House did indeed prove itself a shield and buckler between the people and tyranny. May I quote from Professor Dicey's work on the Constitution? He is well known as an expert on constitutional law and so I hope your Lordships will allow me to read from the l920 edition of his work.
Writing after the Parliament Act was passed, he said:The passing of the great Reform Act itself was delayed by their Lordships for somewhat less than two years and it may well be doubted whether they have since 1832, even by their legislative veto, delayed legislation really desired by the electors for as much as two years. It must be remembered that the Lords in recent years at least have at times rejected Bills supported by the majority of the House of Commons which as had been proved by the event had not received the support of the electors. Hence it cannot be denied that the action of the House of Lords has sometimes protected the authority of the nation.135 As I say, I am quoting from the 1920 edition. Writing of the time before the Parliament Act was passed he said:No doubt the House of Lords do very rarely either alter or reject a Money Bill … they have only on special occasions exercised that power.Again Professor Dicey writes (of course before the passing of the Parliament Act):This veto in the first place has, at any rate since 1832, been as a rule used by the Lords as a merely suspensive veto.I quote from Professor Dicey simply to emphasise the fact that even before the passing of the Parliament Act your Lordships exercised no stronger powers than at this moment obtain. I feel therefore that our powers are really as strong as they were before the passing of the Parliament Act.
Now, my Lords, may I quite frankly tell you the reasons why I oppose and object to this Bill? The stronger this House is the more determined certain persons will be to get rid of it. It is not now unpopular in the country, but there is a danger that if it becomes more powerful it might become unpopular. The doctrine of primogeniture is part and parcel of our social system. To strike at this might raise questions which would be very difficult indeed to answer. The constitution, the composition of the House as at present formed has worked very well indeed, and has guided this country safely and with great prosperity—perhaps more so than any other country—through what I say are the most difficult years in the history of the world. So why change it? No other country in the world can say that; so why change it? Our finances are the admiration of the world, and our stability is an example to all; so why change it? May I quote a French proverb:"Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien." The whole question of the House of Lords is not a vital question at all; it is not discussed on Tower Hill and in Hyde Park; no tub-thumper mentions it, because he knows perfectly well that the people trust the House of Lords.
It is said that the number of members in this House is inordinate, and of course it is. I forget what the number is, but I must own that the House never seems crowded to me. Your Lordships must remember what noble Lords on the other side forget, that members only come to this House to speak on subjects with 136 which they are familiar. It is true that you can read long pages of speeches, but those pages are spoken by experts; they are not spoken by people who know nothing of what they are talking about. They are spoken by people who know. I, for instance, would not dream of coming into this House and talking about coal or agriculture, because I know nothing about them, but I occasionally come and talk about things about which I think, perhaps wrongly, that I know something. Those lists of statistics which noble Lords on the other side give us are quite wrong; they do not really show what happens in this House. I feel rather ashamed when I am talking about this subject; I feel that we should not raise this question of altering the composition of the House of Lords, for the reason that those persons who fish in troubled waters will jump at this chance. We are raising questions which have been quiet since the War, and I regret that these questions should arise now. We can conceive that the cry of "The Lords versus the People," which has been dead for a long time, may once again be heard. That is what I am afraid of.
I am also afraid of another thing. I speak with a certain amount of diffidence because I am talking about law, of which I know how ignorant I am, but there are noble and learned Lords in this House who will undoubtedly correct me at once if I am wrong. Supposing this Bill passes and we get a strong and powerful House of Lords, what then? It is said that whatever the Government decide upon they have to get through the House of Lords, but may I suggest this: there is a way of governing this country and not dealing with the House of Lords or with any House of Parliament at all; I mean by Orders-in-Council. It is quite possible to conceive that a Government who are determined to make such revolutionary changes in this country as they consider necessary may start to govern by Orders-in-Council. I am not sure, but I think they would be quite right in doing so. When I say that they would be quite right, I mean that they would be within their constitutional and legal power. It would mean governing, like foreign countries do govern, by administrative orders. I know perfectly well that if a Government governed by Orders-in-Council, it would be necessary 137 afterwards to pass an Act of indemnity. It is possible that those persons who have acted under the Ordinance may have acted illegally, and they would have to be protected. You can imagine an Order-in-Council abolishing this House, and an Act of Indemnity might come some time later.
I think I am right in saying that Pitt tried it and failed, but although he failed in the past it might be tried again and succeed. Therefore, I bring forward this point, that whatever be the powers in this House, they can be destroyed. Although the noble Marquess may by this Bill build a house, I fear he is building on sand. I hope that it will not be the case, but I fear that it is so. The house that I wish to see built is a house of bricks—the bricks of tradition, continuity, and history—and I think that a house built of those bricks will keep out the "big bad wolf."Before we pass this Bill, more revolutionary than the Parliament Act, more revolutionary than the Reform Act, I ask your Lordships to ponder well. Are we justified in committing hara-kiri for no reason? I myself would willingly commit the "happy despatch" if I thought there was good reason, but I feel profoundly that there is no reason whatsoever, and on those grounds I support the Amendment moved by Lord Redesdale.
§ THE EARL OF GLASGOW
My Lords, I propose to support this Bill, because the reform of this House as part of the Constitution is to my mind the most important question of the day. I wish to speak from a different angle to that from which most of your Lordships have approached this subject. It has been said that there is no mandate for this Bill—the noble Viscount the Leader of the House said so and I feel considerable diffidence in differing from him—but in my humble opinion there was a mandate for this Bill in 1931. The overwhelming majority of the National Government was given to safeguard the people from the inefficiency and ineptitude of the Socialists, who, by the statements of their leaders, are a revolutionary Party. What better way is there to protect this country from hasty and revolutionary changes, whether they come from Socialists, Communists, or even Fascists, than to strengthen the Constitution, and for us 138 to do our part and reform your Lordships' House?
I implore your Lordships to support this Bill. I have got a foot in both extreme camps, and I know what I am saying. I am in close touch with what is going on in the subversive world, and I understand well the ideals of the other extreme, the Fascists, and so I do not want—none of us want—to have either of those medicines given to us; but if we fail to strengthen the Constitution we shall get one or other or both. I want to see democracy given one more chance. I may be told that. I exaggerate, and that the Socialist Party are not revolutionary; but there are thousands of pink Socialists who are camouflaged Communists and who help by every means in their power the traitors who work in our industrial organisations, and these men, we also know, are well supplied with Russian money. All over the country there are organisations with innocuous names, to which old ladies subscribe, such as the British Anti-War movement, banned by the official Socialists and helped by the camouflaged ones. This movement, ostensibly out to stop war, has for its main object the supporting of civil war in this country.
The Socialist Party are not what they seem, and I hope that the people of this country will take their heads out of the sand and find out what is going on. As to exaggeration, I have heard noble Lords state in this House that Communists cut no ice and their movement is stagnant. I think it was the late Lord Ilosebery who, in reply to someone who said that the Liberal Party was as dull as ditchwater, said: "Yes, but there is a lot of life in stagnant water if you could only see it." If you could only see —that is the point I want to make. It is because hundreds of thousands of young men in this country do see it, and also because they see that all safeguards can be quickly swept away by a subversive Government, that they have formed rallying points throughout this country under a leader. It is certainly no exaggeration to say that, with the advent of the Socialist Party as His Majesty's official Opposition in another place for the first time in the history of this country, the stage has been set for that struggle between extremists—between patriots and traitors—which has 139 led to the failure of democratic Government in many countries in Europe.
This is no time to trust to luck or to hope we will muddle through, or, if the worst comes, go down with the flag flying, as was said in effect by Lord Redesdale. These are pre-War methods. We live now in a changed world. We have got to use foresight and look ahead. This Bill is designed to remove in great measure those anomalies which are the target for the enemies of the Constitution, and also of course for men of good will; and if this Bill passes your Lordships will gain, I believe, in the esteem and confidence of the nation. As things are at present, a chance majority in another place can sweep away all constitutional safeguards in three Sessions. If your Lordships in your wisdom see fit to support this Bill, sudden action to abolish your Lordships' House will be impossible without some sort of violent upheaval or some kind of dictatorship; and those who dare to strike the first blow on those lines have got to reckon with the people of this country. This country is the cradle of democracy. We want no dictatorships here, nor any further restrictions on our liberties: but if your Lordships do not support this Bill and do not see your way to help it on as far as possible, we will, I am sure, have moved a step nearer to that autocratic form of Government which is so prevalent on the Continent to-day.
§ LORD BROUGHAM AND VAUX
My Lords, on rising to address your Lordships for the first time I crave that indulgence which is usually afforded to one who has not previously enjoyed that privilege. The demand for Parliamentary reform arises in this country from various sources. On the one hand we have those who would like to see your Lordships' House abolished, and of this section there are two kinds of opinion. Firstly, we have the extreme Socialists who, retaining some belief in our democratic Constitution so far as the House of Commons is concerned, wish to see your Lordships' House abolished because they feel it stands in the way of their policies being carried out by a Socialist Government. Then we have the Fascists and Communists who regard Parliamentary Government as entirely unnecessary, and who desire to set up a dictatorship. On 140 the other hand we have the apprehensive Conservative who desires to see your Lordships' House made a barrier to Socialism, and secondly the moderate Socialist, rare though he may be, who does not wish to enter into the controversy as to the abolition of your Lordships' House and merely wishes to diminish its obstructive powers. All these groups of opinion have really the same view of your Lordships' House—namely, that it is bound to be either an ineffective anachronism or purely an obstructive piece of constitutional mechanism.
I suggest that nobody who, in principle, approves of democratic government can possibly agree with any one of these groups of opinion. To those who believe in dictatorship I would say that the possibility of any one brain being able to govern or direct our vastly complicated system is very small, and a fact that is very often forgotten is that dictatorship is only a temporary and opportunist measure. It has no principles. What is to come after? Are we to have an hereditary dictatorship, or do the supporters of dictatorship in this country really believe they can find a superman to govern the country? If so, they must have very great faith in the power and virtue of any Party, in which case their criticism of our Party system is very much misguided. Obstruction of the democratic impulse can only serve to stem the tide of progress, and to the apprehensive Conservative I would say: "You are mistaken in your beliefs. Merely to erect barriers against what you feel to be revolutionary legislation is not to prevent legislation; in practice it is very often the contrary." To seek fresh powers of obstruction is, as I shall try to show later, to accept a base and disrespectful view of your Lordships' House.
During the past thirty years the prestige of Parliament has been gradually diminishing until to-day we find that it is probably less highly regarded by the majority of people than at any previous time. This state of affairs cannot go on any longer unless we are willing to see Parliament superseded in this country by a dictatorship as has happened in many other countries. The great outstanding feature of our Parliamentary system is the ease with which it can adapt itself 141 to the needs of the day. Will it not be a great tragedy if to-day we fail to take full advantage of that adaptability and so reconstitute our Parliamentary system as to preserve us not only from dictatorship but from economic disaster? If we seek the main reason for the weakness in our present Parliamentary system we find it, in the fact that Parliament lacks most of the finest brains of the country owing to the circumstance that they are ill-adapted to the rough and tumble of constituency politics, and it all too frequently occurs that unless a man of brilliance happens either by birth or good fortune to become a member of your Lordships' House, the country is deprived of his services in the sphere where, at the moment, they could probably be best utilised.
At the moment we have a two-chamber government, one House of which is elected and reflects in an exaggerated degree the inherent instability of democratic politics, while the other, by the illogical nature of its appointment and the emasculated condition of its power, is unable to correct time disequilibrium which is often liable to arise. We all know that honourable members who sit in another place are overworked, and cannot give sufficient time to the most vital functions in our economic life, because of the overwhelming work which the social problems of the country demand. Surely this is a most lamentable state of affairs. Reform there must be, not only as to the constitution of your Lordships' House but as to the Constitution as a whole. Do not let us treat this matter as one which only concerns your Lordships' House, for it really concerns the Constitution as a whole. Let me beg of you to regard this matter of reform more in terms of function than of power. What your Lordships' House needs today is not an increase of power to be used in a negative way, but the positive exercise of important Parliamentary functions. The proposals at present before your Lordships' House, if accepted, can only tend to intensify rather than diminish the inconveniences of government at the present time.
Your Lordships are being asked to say that the interests of the nation demand a Second Chamber with stronger rights of obstruction. These may be accompanied by certain changes in the 142 personnel of the House, but, nevertheless, they only amount to a further ossification of our Parliamentary system, and the net result would be to stem the tide of progress and to defeat the purposes of democracy. The contents of this Bill which the noble Marquess has introduced are nothing less than a method to disguise his feeling and, I am afraid, the feelings of several other of your Lordships, of mistrust of democracy. Let me tell your Lordships that democracy has a far greater mistrust of the widespread system of hereditary, votes than your Lordships have of democracy. The power of the hereditary principle to-day does not lie any longer in our political life, but purely in our social life. Your Lordships' House is treated with deep respect throughout the country so long as those who, I hope they will forgive me if I refer to them as Back-Benchers, do not arrive en masse and swamp any important measure with their votes. So soon as this reserve majority is brought into force, the prestige and confidence that remain to this House dwindle into the background.
I should like your Lordships to consider for one moment the Coal Mines Bill when I suppose your Lordships' House had a far bigger attendance than on any other previous occasion since the War. What happened? Your Lordships put down certain Amendments and, if may be allowed to say so, very excellent Amendments, which if they had been adhered to would have improved that Bill tenfold. But your Lordships had to give way gracefully to another place simply because the votes recorded by that reserve majority carried no weight, and did not give sufficient moral power to enable you to stick to your points, whereas if the votes recorded had been simply those of the noble Lords who attend this House regularly, I submit that your Lordships could have struck to your arguments and would have achieved far greater success.
The noble Marquess who introduced this measure intends to bring in some outside element, and although I am entirely in sympathy with his wishes I cannot at the moment see that that is either practicable or desirable. Before any such new element can be introduced into your Lordships' House, surely there 143 must be a formation of groups outside Parliament who would be in a position to nominate their representatives to the Upper House. It would be of no advantage to your Lordships should people from outside be appointed to sit in your Lordships' House unless they have some authority or representative standing. Not only would their valuable time be wasted, but it would only tend to enlarge the enormous block of Conservative votes which at present exists in this House. I am afraid the noble Marquess must have had that idea at the back of his mind the whole time, and that when he proposed to introduce Lords of Parliament who need never turn up unless there is an important measure to be passed or defeated, he hoped to enlarge the present block of Conservative votes. Surely, it is more important to try to place your Lordships' House once again in a position of being able to do useful work and help in the overwhelming task of Parliament instead of merely acting as a blockade.
Whatever the opinion of your Lordships' House may be to-day, there can be no doubt that at one time it exercised a function vastly more important than it does now. This power was held in virtue of much greater responsibilities. When your Lordships' ancestors were gathered together here in this House they represented almost the whole of the economic power of the country, which in those days was probably an agricultural community. The Lords Spiritual, moreover, represented the only creed and Church in existence. To-day the position is changed. Those two responsibilities no longer remain. The economic power is elsewhere and the creeds of to-day are many and various. Our simple organisation could not go on for ever, and we find that about 1600 we entered the mercantilist period, during which our economic structure became more complex. The merchant arose, and insisted upon an ear being given to his problems. He became a power in the State and we find that our purely agricultural economy became a mixed economy of agricultural and mercantile functions. With fresh discoveries the wheels of foreign trade were set in motion, and foreign trade with its double aspect of imports and exports combined together with certain theories about the balance of trade to produce a policy of mercantilism.
144 During this period, which lasted until about the end of the eighteenth century, the question of leaving private enterprise to itself never arose. We had ample Parliamentary machinery to cope with the problems of the day. But where the whole point lies is that while since that day vast changes have taken place in the social and economic worlds, we find ourselves to-day trying to cope with our work by employing the same machinery. Towards the end of the eighteenth century fresh problems arose. The industrial revolution occurred, which brought with it rapid growth in factory methods and machinery with the gradual decline of agriculture. Our trade grew and our population grew. But this was not the end of the vast mass of fresh work that was suddenly imposed upon Parliament. A new class arose, bringing with it fresh problems—first the industrialist, and later the financier, with even more subtle problems. All of this only goes to show how much more complicated and overwhelming is the work at present being imposed upon Parliament. Now if the principle that your Lordships' House should represent the active economic and political power was good and valid for the Middle Ages, it should equally be the case that modern classes and functions should be represented upon the basis of their functions. To deny this is to make tradition a (lead and encumbering thing instead of a living and glowing principle in our national life.
And here I would like to point out to your Lordships that my plea is not merely for reform, but for the revitalisation of the Second Chamber, and this can only be accomplished by giving it constructive and responsible work. The old function of the last defender of a beleaguered breach in a defensive wall is noble and picturesque, but it implies defeat. This theory of leaving private enterprise to itself is comparatively modern. As a Government policy it dates back to 1848, when Sir Robert Peel threw in his hand and forsook the old policy. That mistake we begin to realise to-day. Parliament has been recompelled to interfere, and to interfere with ineffective machinery. As I see it, Parliament more and more will have to assist in the development and adjustment of our basic industries, and if this is to he not mere interference, it must be in virtue of the fact that 145 Parliament contains representatives of every important industrial function. Now, it is up to your Lordships' House to assist the more important functions; it is up to us to reform ourselves in the quickest and simplest way so that we can once again be in that position of being a helpful wheel in the working of Parliament and not, as some of your Lordships would like to see us, purely an obstructive body.
I myself would merely like to see our numbers drastically reduced to the number the noble Marquess has suggested, 150. Let us not worry about bringing in outside elements until we see more clearly the best way in which the Parliamentary system can be reformed. If some such simple step as this reduction of numbers can be taken, it would have a very great effect throughout the country. It will go a long way towards restoring the confidence and prestige of this House, and, furthermore, it will clear the way for any new blood which may be introduced at a later date. No new powers for your Lordships' House would be tolerated in the country so long as this overwhelming number of reserved votes exists, and I submit, therefore, that if we wish to see restored some of our lost powers, such a simple step as I have suggested would be a great step in this direction.
Some reform of our Parliamentary system must come about very soon if we are to avoid the menace of a dictatorship. Unless our Parliamentary system adapts itself very soon to the needs of the day, and unless it consciously reforms itself so as to carry out the functions demanded of Governments in modern circumstances, it will be done away with here as surely as it has disappeared in Russia, Germany and Italy. We can preserve ourselves only by reconstructing our Parliamentary system, so as to retain democratic control without exposing ourselves any longer to the dangers of its inherent, instability. I ask your Lordships to refrain from seeking petty powers of obstruction such as the noble Marquess suggests in his Bill, and to cause a much more serious investigation to be made into the much larger question of the adequacy of our Parliamentary system as a whole.
THE EARL oF KINNOULL
My Lords, it is my privilege to-night to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, on the very eloquent maiden speech that he has delivered, and I am 146 sure I shall be voicing the wish of all sections in this House when I say that I hope he will be a frequent contributor to our debates in the future. It is with considerable diffidence that I venture to address your Lordships to-night after the spate of oratory to which we have listened, and I can assure your Lordships that I shall be as brief as I possibly can. The noble Marquess who moved the Second Reading of this Bill made his intention perfectly clear. He stated quite definitely that the intention of this Bill was to retard future Socialist legislation in the event of a Socialist majority being returned to the House of Commons. Lord Snell threw out the allegation of bogies. I rather thought myself that the noble Marquess, if I may say so with respect, visualised a sort of Stalin in this country. The noble Marquess appears to regard the people of this country as children—as people who do not know their own minds and who are liable to be led away and ensnared into voting for something that they do not want. I do not think that is the case.
First of all I would like to say this. I have said it at previous General Elections, and I say it every day of my life on public platforms, that at the next General Election the Labour Party will put forward a programme of Socialism pure and simple. Therefore there will be no excuse for anybody being led away by some remote, issue into putting into power a Government which will do something they do not want. I think the noble Marquess is going too far in suggesting that the people of this country, when they elect a Government, do not know what they are voting for. Now what would be the effect of this Bill? It would be to perpetuate Tory control. It is well known that this House is nothing more than a Tory committee. Noble Lords who sit on this side of the House—I think there are twelve of us—and a few noble Lords who sit on the Liberal Benches can do nothing whatever if the Government put on their Whips and want to get a measure through. But this Bill would perpetuate Tory control and give this House power to hold up legislation almost indefinitely.
If this were a question of whether we were to have two-chamber or one-chamber government it would be a different thing. Personally I do not know that I am in favour of two-chamber 147 government: it is a very debatable point; but if it is decided that an Upper House is needed, then surely that Upper House should be elected by the people. The noble Marquess in his Bill wishes to have the Upper House elected by hereditary Peers themselves. I am not quite clear as to how the representation is going to be secured—whether the noble Marquess intends that the representation should be as we are at present situated here, that is, a very small number of Labour Peers, a not very large number of Liberal Peers, and a vast majority of Conservative Peers; or whether he means that the representation should be as in another place, where the people have elected a certain number of representatives of all Parties, and that we should be equally representative here. If that were the case one might think more about it. There is also the proposal for a twelve years run without any election at all.
I was very interested in my noble friend Lord Sneil's figures. I was rather amazed by them, because it would appear from what he said that practically two-thirds of the members of this House never take the trouble to appear here at all. It is perfectly true to say that the vast preponderance of noble Lords who come to this House and contribute to the debates have been in public life, have been members of another place, and have retired, as it were, into this House. Well, if this Bill were passed, it would definitely mean that the hereditary Peers would elect their representatives, who would be practically the same noble Lords who come here to-day. In other words, the old gang would be back here with practically full power. It would be a virtual dictatorship of the House of Lords. It would therefore be a dictatorship of the Tory Party. In my opinion this Bill is the very antithesis of democracy. I have always thought that Conservatives, whatever their faults, were good sportsmen, but I must say that on this occasion I think they are not showing that sporting spirit with which I had credited them. Because they foresee a future when they may be down, they want to put a stop to it now. They always want to have the last word, and this Bill will not allow the people to choose.
I should like to refer to the speech of the noble and learned Viscount, the Leader of the House. I was very interested in his speech, because he made 148 it perfectly clear that the Government this Session do not see that they have any mandate to monkey about, as it were, with the Constitution. But what I do want to know is this: Does this mean that the Government are considering next Session that they have a mandate to do something about it? Does it mean that the Government are definitely going to undertake no proposals whatever for a Bill of this kind, or does it mean they are going to think about it in the meantime and foreshadow it in the next gracious Speech? I would like to ask the Government that question. I shall conclude by saying that this Bill, if it should ever become law, is bound to lead to a political deadlock whatever Party may be in power, whether Liberals, Socialists, or possibly even Fascists, and that deadlock may lead to consequences which it is perfectly impossible for any person to-day to foresee.
My Lords, it is getting rather late for your Lordships' House. It is only on such occasions as this that we have an opportunity of sitting after dinner. In fact I have been looking at old copies of the OFFICIAL REPORT, and I find that in the year 1927, seven years ago, a Resolution was introduced by my noble friend Lord FitzAlan, and as a result of that Resolution, which was on the same subject as we are discussing to-night, we actually sat after dinner. I hope that if the Bill which the noble Marquess has introduced comes into force we may sit in this House after dinner more often. In fact this House may be democratised, to use a word which was used by my noble friend just now, to a greater degree than it is today, in spite of the fact that certain members who have spoken this afternoon have suggested that this is not a Bill to democratise the House but a Bill to continue Conservatism or Toryism, as was said by one member.
I desire to congratulate my noble friend Lord Salisbury on having introduced this Bill. Various members who have spoken have suggested that the noble Marquess had no right to introduce this Bill as a private member, and that it would with greater propriety have been introduced by the Government. I entirely agree with that; but the Government do not come forward and introduce a Bill of this 149 nature, and therefore what is left to members of this House but that a distinguished member like Lord Salisbury, who has taken a greater part probably in the proceedings of this House than any other member sitting here to-day, should come forward and do what the Government have failed to do?
My noble friend Lord Redesdale, in moving the rejection of the Bill, suggested that there was no demand for the reform of the House of Lords, that he heard no one speaking about the question of the reform of the House of Lords, and heard them speaking on every other question but that. That may be so, because in certain quarters this question has been damped down to such an extraordinary degree that the ordinary person in the street does not talk about it; but I would like to remind the noble Lord that at conference after conference of Unionist associations both in this country and in Scotland, and at General Elections for the past fifteen to twenty years, this question of the reform of the House of Lords has formed the subject of the greatest consideration and has formed part of the various programmes which have been submitted at those conferences and at the General Elections. To come here this afternoon and suggest to your Lordships' House that this is a matter of which no one in the country is thinking at all seems to me an absolute inversion of what has actually happened.
I listened to the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Snell, on behalf of the Labour Party in this House, and I regret that he is not here now in order that I might be able to reply to him in his presence. I could not help feeling as he spoke, and certainly as his speech proceeded, that he was in a very difficult position. He seemed at one moment to be condemning the Constitution under which we were sitting in this House, and yet at the next moment he was telling us that it was a Constitution under which the Conservative Party had absolute sway; in fact, if I may put it this way, he is really holding the fort for the extremer members of his own Party, who, when they are ready, would like to sweep away this House altogether and get rid of us holus-bolus. He said there are certain extreme sections of my Party who brush aside the noble Marquess's reference to Sir Stafford Cripps, and he suggested that what Sir Stafford Cripps said 150 to-day might have no effect, or he inferred that what Sir Stafford Cripps said to-day might have no effect to-morrow. But as my noble friend Lord Salisbury has said, it is always the live wire that counts in the long run in a political Party, and we all know that Sir Stafford Cripps is a live wire. He might have added that Major Attlee, another member of the House of Commons and the present Leader there of the Labour Party, is also a live wire of that Party, and he thinks, according to his public speeches and according to a pamphlet published not long ago, exactly along the same lines as Sir Stafford Cripps. Therefore, to say that there is no risk for the future, to say that we need have no anxiety as to what may happen if the Socialist Party gets into power in the future, seems to me absolutely wrong.
I think that there is another reason as well why this House should be reformed. It is because, so far as I have been able to learn, there is a feeling in the country —and I have talked to a great many people on this subject—that the hereditary element as it exists to-day in this House ought not to continue, but that this House should be reformed to some extent to enable outside elements to be represented in it. As to what extent the hereditary element ought to be represented is a matter of opinion. The noble Marquess said in his speech that he had in his Bill arranged for 150 of the hereditary element to be included. That number may be the right number or the wrong number, but that at least some hereditary element should be left in this House is, I believe, an absolute essential. There are others in the country who think that the House ought to be reformed in order to exclude the hereditary principle altogether and to include only the elective principle, but if that were done I think that probably it would lead much more quickly to a difference of opinion between the House of Commons and this House than if there were only a certain number of elected members and a certain number of the hereditary members who already sit in this House.
My own view is that, whilst there may be many details in this Bill with which different noble Lords may disagree, today there is a demand in the country for a reform of this House, and that there 151 actually is a demand in this House itself for reform. That being the case, the noble Marquess in introducing this Bill has rendered a great service, and the House should respond to that by passing the Second Reading of this Bill at least in order that the details of the Bill may be considered in Committee. For myself I should like to see the Bill go further. I should like to see the Bill go through Committee, I should like to see it go through Report, I should like to see it go through the Third Reading stage, and I should like to send it to the House of Commons, in whatever form it may leave this House, in order that we might hear from the House of Commons what they think, first, of the question of the reform of this House, and, secondly, in what way it ought to be reformed.
There is one other point I should like to mention before I sit down, and that is to thank my noble friend the Marquess of Salisbury for the way he has acknowledged the representation of the Scottish Peers, that there should be no interference with their position under the Act of Union. My noble friend told us in his speech that if an Amendment is moved in Committee in order to preserve the position of the Scottish Representative Peers he will be ready to accept it. I can assure him that in Scotland the Peers will be very pleased to hear that, 152 and on behalf of the Scottish Peers and others in Scotland I should like to thank the noble Marquess for what he has said he will do in that connection. I only wish to say again that I believe the noble Marquess has done the country a great service in introducing the Bill and in moving its Second Reading. I sincerely hope that your Lordships will see your way to give the Bill a Second Reading and to pass on this great measure—because it is a great measure —to the House of Commons for their further consideration.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Lord Hastings.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to and debate adjourned accordingly.