Leader's speech, Nottingham 1910
Arthur Balfour (Conservative)
Commentary:This speech was Balfour’s last as Party Leader, and he began by outlining the Conservatives’ policies on land, the Navy and agriculture. Balfour then spoke at length about tariff reform, claiming it would not increase the cost of living, before discussing the Party’s policy on the House of Lords. The main aims of this policy were to ensure that the Second Chamber exercised its moderating influence on legislation, to make the House of Commons the dominant Chamber, to reduce the membership of the House of Lords, and to replace a proportion of hereditary peers with elected members.
My Lord Duke, ladies and gentlemen; I do not care to think how many years in succession I have taken a part in the proceedings of the National Union, or how often I have been one of the speakers at the great meeting with which our proceedings conclude. But surely never, never in our whole history, have we met at a moment more full of great possibilities for the nation, the empire, and the party, than we do at this moment. (Cheers.) Surely never have we come together to consult over the great political issues of the day with a fuller consciousness that on the decision to which the country may come within a few weeks hence depend the prosperity, the security, the reputation for political sobriety, which hitherto we have enjoyed among all other nations according to the judgment of even our severest critics. Now, we are met at a moment in which every mist of misrepresentation seems to exhale from the unauthorised reports of what went on at the recent conference. Don’t believe a word of them. (Cheers.) Don’t believe that there was the smallest want of absolute unanimity in all those on whom was thrown the duty of representing your interests, your views, your policy, at a conference which I believe - although ineffectual and unfruitful as it has proved - will not be without good results to the country, and which may well be a precedent for other conferences dealing with great national interests which may mitigate the evils incident to party divisions.
And don’t you believe for one instant that the decision at which we arrived is one which, had you had all the facts before you, you would have dissented from. On the contrary, I am perfectly certain that we should have been regarded as traitors to our cause had we gone further than we did go, further than we did go in the direction of that peace and goodwill between the Parties which, I readily admit, our four Radical colleagues in the conference were anxious to further. (Hear, hear.) I readily admit I believe we all desired an agreement, but if we had agreed upon the only terms upon which the agreement was possible you would have regarded us as not supporting, but as betraying your cause. (‘Hear, hear,’ and cheers.) Well, my lords and gentlemen, the conference has unhappily failed, and now rumour will have it that we are to be met with a surprise election. These military surprises, as history shows, are full of disappointments - (laughter) - for those who attempt them - (laughter and cheers) - and I observe that already the Government forces have suffered under a kind of misfortune to which all surprise expeditions are liable, and that one ardent recruit - (laughter) - in the shape of the Home Secretary - (laughter) - has already fired off his rifle - (laughter) - before he was within range of the enemy. (Laughter and cheers.)
We are forewarned, and being forewarned, we are forearmed - (cheers) - and, believe me, we look forward to the fight, whenever it takes place, with full confidence of the results. (Cheers.) We are prepared to meet our opponents across the floor of the House of Commons and the House of Lords - (cheers) - if that is what they want, but if they prefer to put this question in December, on an old register with general inconvenience, before the constituencies within the next few days, again we are ready. (Loud cheers.) We believe in our cause; we believe in our countrymen, and as your chairman has most justly said, we propose to wage no defensive warfare. (Cheers.) We are not going to wait within our lines until we are attacked. (Cheers.)
Domestic and Imperial Policy
We are going to show the country that we have a policy, an Imperial policy - (cheers) - a domestic policy - (cheers) - both of them consistent with our great traditions, both of them, as we believe, carrying with them infinite advantages to the whole community within these islands, each of them carrying out, and bringing to fruition, that long history of British freedom, in which we have never shown, in which the nation has never shown itself incapable of moulding and developing our old traditional institutions, copied and ill-copied as they have been in other parts of the world - incapable of moulding these institutions to meet our needs, so that we shall remain in the future what we have been in the past, the model and the mirror of all that a free and self-governing community should be, the guardians of everything valuable in the way of national self-development, of individual freedom - (cheers) - of sobriety of judgment, and of Imperial patriotism, qualities on which the empire has been based, and which, if we abandon them, or which if they abandon us, the empire, believe me, is inevitably doomed. (Hear, hear.) Now, my lords and gentlemen, the difficulty of a speaker on this annual occasion is that he is expected to survey the whole field of party politics, and it is impossible to do that. It is absolutely impossible, in any detail, and I must ask this audience, representing as they do every part of England, to take what I say tonight in connection with other speeches that I have made quite recently, developing what, at all events, my friends and I conceive to be the true policy of the Unionist party. I must therefore be forgiven, and I know that you will forgive me, if I pass with only a reference - a mention - over such immense questions as the Osborne judgement and our land policy. I have dealt with those in quite recent utterances. (Hear, hear.) I have dealt with them at considerable length, and I won’t repeat what I have previously said except perhaps to emphasise them.
The Land Problem
So far as our land policy is concerned, we as a party desire to see the number of freehold owners, large as it is now in spite of what our enemies say, increased. (Cheers.) We desire to see small occupations, where small occupations are economically possible, and when there are small occupations we desire to see them not occupations at the will of a County Council or of a Government Department, or of what is better for the tenant than either a County Council or a Government Department, a landlord. We desire to see them freehold ownerships. And we desire further to see that those occupiers of land who already have experience and knowledge of what the occupation of land means - we desire to see them where suitable arrangements can be made - sitting tenants, in other words - we desire to see the sitting tenant becoming the sitting owner, as may well often be the case. That is, in accordance with his interests and desires, and the general justice and equity of the situation. (Hear, hear.) Well, these are two big subjects, but I have got some very big things to talk about tonight, and these I must put on one side, for I have often spoken of them before. Neither shall I dwell upon those uncontroversial aspects of social legislation which I believe both sides quite honestly wish to carry into effect - I mean such things as reform of the poor law, or insurance against invalidity. (Hear, hear.) Both of them are great questions. The poor law is a tremendous question. (Hear, hear.)
As regards invalidity, we should indeed be false to our own traditions if we did not desire to see the policy of the Workmen’s Insurance Act - associated forever with the name of Mr. Chamberlain - (loud cheers) - extended to those other forms of misfortune which make the competent workman no longer able to support wife and family, or to give his normal contribution to the work of the community, or to support those who naturally look to him and are naturally dependent upon him. (Hear, hear.) These are questions of great difficulty, but they are not questions of party controversy - (hear, hear) - and, worthy as they are of extended treatment, it is not this evening that I propose to treat of them.
What am I to say of another topic, of which I should like to assert that it was outside party, but of which I am not sure whether it is outside party or not - the navy. (Cheers.) On this also I have pleaded in the House of Commons and out of the House of Commons - (hear, hear) - ever since it became evident that through the unhappy policy of the Government we had allowed ourselves to be approached in the race for naval supremacy by another great Power on the Continent. Whenever I have so pleaded I have been accused of being animated by party motives. A more baseless charge - (‘Hear, hear,’ and cheers) - never was levelled at any leader of Opposition. I venture to say, and my friends around me who have been associated in the work of opposition with me for these four or five years, that never in the history of an Opposition has so much trouble been taken to keep foreign questions and questions affecting the defence of the empire as far as may be possible away from all political controversy. (Hear, hear.) But after all, my lords and gentlemen, the navy is the very basis of our whole national and Imperial structure. (Cheers.) There is no use thinking what your order of architecture is going to be if your foundations are rotten. All these controversies that divide parties - as to the constitution of a Second Chamber, or whether there shall be a. Second Chamber - I won’t go over the whole list - what do they matter unless the British Empire itself is based solidly and securely upon sea power. (Prolonged cheers.) They matter nothing. Why talk about unconsidered trifles not worthy of the anxiety of a practical man unless we can look round the world and say with assurance, we are secure whoever comes against us. (Cheers.)
A Determined Fight
Whether or not the Government have now awoken out of their sleep, whether or not they do seriously propose to deal with the situation, which is full of peril, I know not. If they are still slumbering, no matter what charges of partisanship are levelled against us, we will fight for a strong navy. (Cheers.) If they have awoken we shall support them - (cheers) - we shall support them in the House of Commons against either the less patriotic or the more short-sighted element in their own party - (cheers) - and never will we attempt to make capital out of any effort that they may make to put the empire back again in the situation in which it was five or six years ago. (Cheers.) There are two questions which I must mention, otherwise I know I shall be reproached for having left them alone, but on which, with all I have got to say to you, it is quite impossible that I shall dwell. I mean the way we should deal - the way the party should deal, and insofar as they have power to deal - with the provisions of the Budget. Those are two questions which I believe have been thoroughly thrashed out today at the conference. I could not be present myself but that I understand to be the case. I would only say this: In our opinion it is absolutely necessary that we should do what we can to remedy the gross injustice which has been done to the licence holders - (cheers) - who have been treated, as we have often pointed out before, as no legitimate interest has ever been treated before. (Cheers.)
As far as the other controversial branch - or one of the other controversial branches I ought to say - of the Budget are concerned, we think that the avowed policy of the Government should be explicitly embodied in legislation that agricultural land - agriculture already overburdened, already unduly taxed - should be wholly free, as they admit that it ought to be, from the oppressive action of the new taxes; that the serious effects which, as I am told, are being produced on the building trade and on all that depends on, or is connected with, the building trade, should be, insofar as possible, relieved. But, above all, if you are going to raise taxes from urban land, those taxes should go to the city communities in which the land is situated. (Cheers.) They should be used as they ought to be used, for the territory in which the land is situated, and not be dissipated broadcast over the whole area of the country with which they have no direct connection whatever. (Hear, hear.)
Now I comp to the three big questions on which I shall engage your attention for the rest of my speech. The first of these questions is tariff reform. (Loud and prolonged cheers.) Perhaps you will say what new have you got to tell us about tariff reform! (Laughter.) On the principles of tariff reform, ladies and gentlemen, I have nothing new to say. Tariff reform stands where it did. (Cheers.) It is now, what it has been for years past, the great constructive policy to which, in my judgment, the party stands committed. (Cheers.) I am told by some political observers - (laughter) - that tariff reform has lost its popularity - (laughter) - or at all events lost some of its popularity - (No, no) - since trade became good. (Laughter.) Well, a very able friend of mine on this platform has explained to the conference today that in his judgment the supposed improvement of trade is largely illusory. I hope it is not, but I venture to suggest that whether trade is good or whether it is bad, whether it is better or whether it is worse, has nothing whatever to do with the great policy of tariff reform. Whatever tariff policy you adopt, whether it be the foolish one which we now accept as traditional, or whether it be some extravagant aberrations in the other direction such as are adopted by some foreign countries - whatever policy you adopt, this, at all events, is certain: there will be ups in trade and downs in trade, oscillations will take place, there will be improvements and deteriorations. That has nothing to do with, and ought not to move by a hair’s breadth the judgment of any rational man as to what policy his country ought to adopt. It would be as reasonable to say that the improvement of trade, if there be an improvement, is due to Free Trade as to say that the increased price of living is due to Free Trade. (Laughter and cheers.)
The Price of Living
It is undeniable, it is common property of all parties, that the price of living for the poor has increased, and it has increased under a Free Trade Government. (Hear, hear.) I can’t help thinking what would have happened if precisely the same increase had occurred under a fiscal reform Government. (Laughter.) I haven’t the slightest doubt that at this moment the rooms of the Radical central office are choked to the ceiling with placards about the price of food, ready to be issued as soon as the word is given that a dissolution is imminent. What would those placards have been if the rise in the price of food which has occurred in the last few years had occurred when tariff reform was in force? (Hear, hear.) Is there a single Free Trade lecturer, is there a single Minister of the Crown, who would not have gone about saying, ‘Now you see the result - (laughter and cheers) - this is what we always told you would come (laughter) - the poor have got to pay more for the necessaries of life. You think you have got a great advantage to the country. But who are the sufferers?’ And tongues more eloquent than mine - (‘No, no’) - painters with a command of a more lurid shade of colour - (laughter) - would have pictured the misery of the poor brought about by tariff reform. (Cheers.) Well, fortunately or unfortunately, it is under Free Trade, and not under tariff reform, that food has risen in price. (Hear, hear.) I do not for a moment suggest - my methods are quite antiquated - (laughter) - and I am quite unable, however willing I might be, to imitate the happy methods of my opponents, and, therefore, I do not for a moment suppose that food has risen because trade is free. Of course it is not.
There are these great oscillations in price, as there are great oscillations in trade, and what we have always said is - and surely we have said it truly - that any variation in the price of living which could by any conceivable possibility follow upon the sort of duties contemplated by tariff reformers would be lost, drowned, submerged - would altogether vanish - in comparison with the natured oscillations to which we are all accustomed, and to which we all have to submit. (‘Hear, hear,’ and cheers.) Now, my lords and gentlemen, I told you that I had nothing to say new about tariff reform, nor have I as regards its principles.
Necessity for Change
But who can watch the course of events even since the last general election, and not have borne in upon them with increased strength the absolute necessity for some change in our fiscal system? What are the foreign markets? What are the markets outside these islands on which we have to depend very largely. Very largely they are tropical markets, markets which are not under the control of great industrial communities. Directly they get under the control of great industrial communities what happens? You are put at a disadvantage then and there. Look what has happened in Korea, look what has happened in Japan. Japan is now one of the great Powers, and has followed the example of every other great Power except Great Britain - (cheers) - in protecting, safeguarding her own manufactures, and she has taken care not merely to safeguard her own manufactures, but she has put you at a disadvantage in a market which was once open to you along with the rest of the world, namely Korea. Are we to blame her? (‘No.’) Certainly not. She has followed the universal example. And again, are we to look on at this universal example - (‘No’) - with perfect serenity, a smiling countenance, and an approving nod? Are we, in other words, to find ourselves, and ourselves alone among the great commercial nations of the world without any weapon whatever - (‘No’) - for seeing that we get fair play in those markets on which the very livelihood of our population depends? (Hear, hear.) And if I turn to other markets, if I turn to the markets presented not by tropical regions, not by regions hitherto free from the domination of great industrial communities - if I turn to the self-governing portions of the empire, are there no lessons to be learned there as to the imminent and present necessity of fiscal reform? (Hear, hear.)
Trying the Sister States
I say that you are trying the self-governing and sister States of which this empire consists, you are trying them too highly when you defer indefinitely making any response to the preference which they so generously and gladly give to the mother country. Canada is naturally, necessarily, rightly making its own arrangements, utterly irrespective of our Foreign Office, or our Board of Trade, with this foreign or that foreign country. How could she do otherwise? We refuse to have anything to do in the way of reciprocity with her. (‘Shame.’) Naturally, while she maintains steadily her desire for Imperial preference she must consider her own interests. She is bound to consider her own interests. She is bound, therefore, to make treaties which may hamper the future of that fiscal union among different parts of the empire, that increased Free Trade from one end of his Majesty’s dominions to the other, which is the ideal of the fiscal reformer, and surely ought to be the ideal of every Free Trader. (Cheers.) Every class must gain by tariff reform, and if every class did not gain, and especially if the working classes did not gain, what would be the use of it? But we are told by some who are strong - undoubtedly very strong and consistent fiscal reformers - we are told that the working classes are afraid that the burden of a reform of which they admit the benefits, shall be thrown upon their shoulders out of all due proportion. Well, all I can say is that whatever were the benefits of tariff reform, if those benefits can only be purchased by throwing additional burdens upon the shoulders of the wage-earning classes in this country, I would not touch it. (Loud cheers.)
To Benefit Wage Earners
The whole object I have in view, the whole object my friends have in view, is to benefit the wage earning class. Then they say to me, ‘Well, it may be a benefit in one way to the wage earning class, but, after all, it will increase’ - and this is the eternal refrain - ‘it will increase the price of living to the working classes.’ I say it will not. (Cheers.) I say it will not for two reasons, which are quite distinct, and which I do beg of you who have got thrown upon you the duty of explaining this question in different parts of the country, thoroughly to understand. They are quite different reasons. This first reason why I say it will not throw any additional burden on the working classes is one about which there may be controversy. I say it won’t throw a burden, because it is ludicrous, as I think, to suppose that when your duty - on wheat, let us say - is confined to foreign wheat alone (cheers) - the cost of bread can be increased by any appreciable amount. That is my belief. I go further, and I say that even those who put at the highest possible the increase in the price of the loaf that would be made by fiscal reform, it is so small that it would not make a workman go from Nottingham to Derby if the price of bread at Nottingham were higher than the price of bread at Derby by the amount which this could possibly place on bread. (Hear, hear.) I say further with regard to that part of the argument that the duty of which I speak must expand those great fields of wheat supply, unlimited in amount, largely situated within the empire, from which wheat will come in free, and will come in freer and cheaper the more you encourage the extension of agriculture in those vast wheat-producing fields. (Cheers.) I put it very concisely; but that is one half of the argument. Believe me, it is not the most important part of the argument as far as this particular calumny is concerned.
No Increase to Cost of Living
I go further, and I say, grant for the sake of argument that the price of bread (we will say) is increased, it shall not increase the cost of living to the working man. (Cheers.) Now consider the great mass of voters in this country belong to the wage-earning class. They pay, they are ready to pay, they know they ought to pay, and they do pay a share of the heavy and increasing burdens which modern Governments exact from modern citizens. How do they pay it? They pay it in the shape of indirect taxes on articles they consume habitually - tea, sugar, tobacco, beer, and so on - (A Voice: ‘Cocoa!’) - yes, and cocoa. (Laughter and cheers.) The pledge I give, on behalf of the party which for the time being I represent, is that no increase, if increase be possible or be imagined in the cost of living due to any change in these taxes on articles or consumption in consequence of tariff reform, shall fall on the working man’s Budget with increased severity, because we have it in our power, and the power shall be exercised - (loud cheers) - we have the power of reducing those other indirect taxes, the taxes, for example, on tea and on sugar, At all events, on the consumption of the working man - that is the point - it shall fully compensate for any loss, if loss there be, which I do not admit. Do observe that these are two quite separate arguments, and it is no answer to the first to enter into a long discussion as to whether a 2s. duty on foreign corn will increase the price of bread, and how much it would increase it. I do not think it would increase it, but, grant that it does increase it, no working man or working woman shall suffer thereby. (Cheers.) It is possible that some of our opponents may disbelieve the promise. It is probable that many of them will misrepresent it. (‘Hear, hear,’ and laughter.) I venture to say that it is impossible, even for the author of a Radical leaflet, to misunderstand it. (‘Hear, hear,’ and cheers.) Well, perhaps you will say that is all old. It may be old, but it is worth repeating. I hope I have repeated it clearly and explicitly. (Cheers.)
The House of Lords
I now come to what is new. I now come to the House of Lords, the question of the House of Lords. I gather from the utterances of distinguished Cabinet Ministers - (laughter) - who seem tumbling over each other to be the first in the field - (laughter) - with a showy misrepresentation that in their view the reason the conference failed was because a certain number of obstructive Tory peers refused to see the necessity of any change whatever in the existing system, I am conscious that I do great injustice to the vigour of their statements, and I have not got their words here, but if I remember rightly they suggest that there are a body of six hundred and odd gentlemen on one side, a body of forty millions and odd on the other, and that the six hundred-odd gentlemen on the one side are constantly occupied in refusing to grant the most reasonable requests preferred by the forty millions on the other side. (Laughter.) Considering that the charge against the House of Lords is that it is too Unionist, and that the Unionists in this country do not differ numerically very much from the collection of parties who are non-Unionist - (laughter) - and considering that whatever difference there may be will not improbably be a difference in favour of the Unionists after the next election - (hear, hear) - against the collection of parties who are non-Unionist, this arithmetical division of the community in the 600 and something peers, and 40 million and something people who are not peers, but who are always being deprived of what they want by those who are peers - it appears, it seems to me - (loud laughter) - to be a picture of contemporary politics which is so unlikely, it hardly amounts to a caricature. Now let us leave this region of Bengal lights and fairy lamps for the reality, for the daylight reality of facts.
Let me venture to lay before you as briefly as I can what I regard as the true policy that this country ought to pursue with regard to the Second Chamber - (hear, hear) - May I lay down these propositions? In the first place I say a Second Chamber is necessary. (Cheers.) Every great country in the world has a Second Chamber, and in most great countries the Second Chamber is a more powerful element in the Constitution than our Second Chamber is at the present moment. Very well, that is my first proposition. My second proposition is that if you have got a Second Chamber it must be a real and not a sham Second Chamber. (Cheers.) It must exercise that moderating influence upon the legislation for which Second Chambers exist, which they exercise in all sound Constitutions.
The Dominant Element
I lay down a third proposition, which is that in a Constitution consisting of two Chambers, it is not the Second Chamber which should be the dominant one, but it is the so-called popular Chamber, it is the immediately representative Chamber, it is the House of Commons which is now, which for generations has been, and which, in my opinion ought to remain in that co-partnership, the dominant element. I lay down these three propositions which I believe every constitutionalist of every nation will probably agree to. Now what are the evils that we have got to try and mitigate in any reform of this two-Chamber system, granting that it is to be a real two-Chamber system. We have got, in the first place, to remedy the deadlock. Deadlocks have been grossly exaggerated. (Cheers.) You would really suppose that when an ardent young Cabinet Minister - (laughter) - is describing the tyranny which a Second Chamber exercises over the first, that the first had never been able to do anything good or useful for the people, Well, when they admit they have done nothing good or useful for the people since 1906 - when that is admitted by them - I will consider the force of their argument about dead-locks. But I quite agree that it is not a good system. It is not a wholesome state of things when there are two Chambers so widely diversified in political complexion as were the House of Commons in 1906 and the House of Lords at the same time. I agree to that. Very well. That is one of the things that has to be dealt with. Then will you agree with me in another proposition, which is that if the two Chambers dissent, and if the question on which they dissent is of sufficient importance, there is but one arbiter? (Hear, hear.)
That arbiter is the people of the country. (Loud cheers.) What nonsense it is to talk of the 600 peers on the one side and the 40 millions on the other, when all we ask is that there should be an appeal both from the 600 in the Second Chamber and the 600 in the Lower Chamber, to the people on whom both depend and for whose interests both exist. (Cheers.) The misrepresentation is patent, and the folly of the statement is equally clear. Before I tell you what I think ought to be done with the House of Lords, I have only one more proposition to lay before you, and that is that on any reformed Second Chamber you should graft your reform upon the Second Chamber which has been handed down to you from immemorial times. That is the way a great and continuous Constitution is built up. We have never, and it is our glory, broken with the past. (Cheers.) We are built on the past. We have never thought that the past was to dominate us. We have always thought that the past could give us material, institutions, traditions of which we could make use for purposes of the present. (Hear, hear.) That is sound statesmanship - (cheers) - and it was sound statesmanship at one time. It used to be common to both great parties in the State, although I see symptoms which somewhat disquiet me on that point. (Hear, hear.) Now, then. I have told you the general principle. I have told you within what limits we ought to work. Now let me tell you how I think the thing should be done. (Loud cheers.) Remember, in the first place, that the House of Lords under Lord Rosebery’s guidance has accepted the principle that no man, merely because he is a hereditary peer, should have a right to a legislative seat in that Assembly. (Hear, hear.) That has been done. That is not a declaration of opinion which we still await with anxiety; that is a declaration of opinion which is on record. (Cheers.)
The Working Second Chamber
Another point, on which I believe all are agreed, is that the second, the working Second Chamber should be greatly diminished in numbers. (Hear, hear.) On that, I think, there need be, and ought to be, no controversy. The third proposition I lay down is that in this diminished Chamber should sit persons qualified by admitted public service. (Hear, hear.) Do consider how much richer the Second Chamber is, and must always be, under our present system, how much richer it is for a certain amount of administrative and Imperial experience. All the great pro-Consuls, to use the cant phrase, all belong to the Second Chamber, your greatest soldiers, your governors, your greatest civil servants, all are members of the Second Chamber - never, or hardly ever, of the House of Commons. And don’t suppose that that is an old and forgotten tradition. Don’t suppose that it is one of the rags and relics of a feudal past. (Laughter.) Within the last few months, the present Government have appointed three Commoners to great positions representing their Sovereign abroad. They made every one of them a peer. (Laughter.) The Governor of New Zealand, a respected member of the House of Commons - once a member of our party - has been made a peer. The late Home Secretary has been sent to represent the King in South Africa - Mr. Gladstone becomes Lord Gladstone. One of the greatest and most difficult posts in the whole empire has just been filled by a most distinguished public servant, Sir Charles Hardinge, and Sir Charles Hardinge is now Lord Hardinge. Are you going to deprive yourselves of this wealth of administrative experience which, by the action of every Government, Radical and Unionist, is supplied by the House of Lords, and is not supplied and cannot be supplied by the House of Commons. The thing is absurd. I, therefore, assume I carry you with me, and I believe I carry every sober man in the country with me in saying that these qualified members of the House shall be members of the Second Chamber. Then I think there should be an element in the House of Lords selected by the peers. I am sure that is right. (Hear, hear.) It carried on the tradition, it keeps the continuity, and whatever may be said against the members of the Second House in their collective capacity, there is very little to be said against the members of the Second House in the districts where they live. (‘Hear, hear,’ and cheers.)
I have given you two elements now, observe, in the Second Chamber as I desire to see it reformed. But there is a third element which should at least equal the other two together, and that is an element brought into the Second Chamber by some external machinery, election or otherwise, but not by the Second Chamber itself, brought in from outside, forming an integral part of the body, representing, if the other members do not represent it - (laughter) - representing the community at large, the movements of public ideas, great bodies of external public opinion. This elected or selected body, if selected - not selected by the House of Lords itself - this elected or selected body should at least be equal, in my judgment, to the peers who sit there by right of public service, or the peers who sit there by election among their fellows. (Cheers.) Now, if you have a body of that kind, if you go beyond that, and have a body elected throughout, what is the inevitable result? The inevitable result will be in this country, as it has been in other countries, that the Second Chamber usurps the position of the First Chamber. You cannot have an elected Second Chamber, taken out of the very elite of the community, having behind them their electorate as we in the House of Commons have behind us our electorate, you cannot have them there and keep them in a subordinate position. They will be the respected, they will be the dominating assembly as they are in France, and as they are in America. (Cheers.)
Does Not Want an Elected Chamber
I, therefore, for my own part, speaking now as a member of the House of Commons - I don’t want to see an elected Second Chamber. (Cheers.) I do want to see a Second Chamber which has, and feels that it has in its members, men who owe their position there not to hereditary right, not to what is rather ludicrously called an accident of birth, but to some other cause more in harmony with modern theories of government. If you do that, you will have what I conceive to be the ideal. You will have a Second Chamber to which nobody can point and say, ‘This represents 670 gentlemen who have nothing but their fathers to boast of.’ (Laughter.) You will have a Second Chamber which will, I believe, carry with it the consent and respect of all, which will carry out those great functions which we must have carried out by a Second Chamber - the moderate functions which will have power, but not too much power, which will be a real Second Chamber, and will yet not drive the House of Commons from its position of priority. That is the policy I recommend. Perhaps you will say to me, ‘this may be a very good ideal of reform, but it will take time. Why not settle at once the relations between the two houses before you set to work to reform the Second Chamber?’ (Hear, hear.) I am glad to find that there is one gentleman at the back of the hall who feels the force of the contention, which I know, is felt strongly by the other side. The answer which I have to give is, in my opinion, complete, and I believe I shall convince my friend. I have told you that on great occasions when the Houses differ, the only appeal can be, and ought to be, to the people themselves. (Cheers.) But you cannot, of course, appeal either by referendum or general election - you cannot appeal to the people on every small occasion. That is granted.
Well, then, how are you going to deal with deadlocks? You can only deal with deadlocks by an amicable conference, between the two Houses, or by a joint sitting, in which the House of Commons shall have added to it members of the House of Lords, from a Second Chamber, or from the members of a Second Chamber. If that be granted, I put this question to every man who wishes seriously to consider the problem - and a most difficult problem it is - how can you settle these joint sittings, unless you know by whom Second Chamber is to be composed? I don’t suppose that those whom I am addressing have been thinking over this problem as I have been for the last five months, but observe, if you cannot have the two Houses sitting together entirely, and that may be - I don’t say it is impossible, far from it - but it may be impossible, the proportion in which the Second Chamber will be required in the joint sittings must depend on the constitution of the Second Chamber, and cannot be settled until the constitution of the Second Chamber is settled. You are driven to that conclusion by irresistible logic. If you attempt to make a permanent arrangement with regard to the two Houses, or to alter the constitution of the Second Chamber, I tell you, you postpone the alteration of the Second House indefinitely. You cannot re-alter your arrangements when you have reformed or re-altered the constitution of the Second House. You must do it, you can only do it, as part of a great settlement which places upon a new and permanent basis a bicameral, a two-Chamber system, adequate, fitted to deal with all modern necessities, and all modern problems, which shall not merely give that security to the Constitution which men of all parties ought to desire; but which will give to our opponents that which they so passionately claim, viz., the power of carrying out great reforms - or what they conceive to be great reforms. (Laughter.) When they are sent back in a majority to the House, without the fear that if the people of this country are on their side, it will be in the power of any Second Chamber to resist their will (Hear, hear) It is no effort to make the Constitution a mere instrument in the hands of one party. It is an honest and a genuine attempt to give that security which two Chambers alone can give, to give it without the destruction, the permanent destruction, of the House of Commons, to give it in a form which will graft the new institutions upon the old institutions which we have inherited from our fathers, and to give even to the gentleman who thinks himself most progressive, every hope of carrying any change, however important, if only he has behind him the great mass of the people of this country. (Cheers.)
The Threatened Revolutions
My lords and gentlemen, I really am ashamed of the length of time I have been speaking - (cries of ‘Go on.’) - but I want to ask one question, and really it leads to the conclusion of the whole matter. It is represented, mark you, the revolution of the Government Veto Bill, in its recent form, is presented to you as if it was the wish of the people of this country. At whose wish is this revolution to be undertaken and carried through? (Cries of ‘Redmond.’) Not at the wish of the Unionist party, not at the wish of the traditional Liberal and Radical party. (Hear; hear) The driving force behind this revolution are two other parties - (hear, hear) - two other parties in the State, against whose honesty I make no accusation, but who would almost, I think, themselves admit that in the sense in which we use the word patriotism, they were unpatriotic. (‘Hear, hear,’ and cheers.) When these excellent Cabinet Ministers tell you that they represent the people of the country, and that it is in obedience to the passionate will of the people of the country that they are driving you on to this revolution, they are themselves driven on - (cheers) - by these two parties against which the great majority of their own followers are in tacit, if not open rebellion - the Parliamentary Socialist party, which, whenever there is trouble in any part of our complex empire, always takes part against the representatives of this country. They have already captured the organisation of the trades unions, not the members of the trades unions. (Cheers.)
Mr. Redmond’s Many Policies
They purpose, by a reversal of the Osborne judgement, to turn the trades unions for their old, original, historic purpose, into a great political machine, and if they succeed there is not the slightest doubt that they will destroy not only the trades unions, but the Constitution of this country. (Hear, hear.) Trades unions will cease to be what they ought to be, a great trade protection and benefit, a great association of the wage earners in a trade, and a great benefit association for the wage earners in a trade. They will cease to be that. They will become the mere engine and instrument of those who have social and political revolution as their ultimate ideal. (Hear, hear.) Well, that is one party. Who are the others? (Laughter.) The others are a party of whom at all events we may say this - they are perfectly open and perfectly candid both as to their object and their methods - (hear, hear) - more candid, perhaps, as to their methods than as to their objects (laughter) - because I have to admit on reflection that I am quite unable to understand precisely what the avowed and official policy of the leader of the Irish party is, because it seems to me, though perhaps I am unjust, it seems to me to be a United States policy - (laughter and cheers) - a Canadian policy, and an Irish policy. And I am not sure that he has not got a Westminster policy as well, but that may be because I have not had authentic reports of his speeches, and am unable to collate them; but as to his methods there is no doubt, and it is on the methods I wish you to concentrate your attention. The present Government talk as if they were going to destroy our Constitution in obedience to the will of the British democracy. They are going to destroy the Constitution in obedience to the will of American subscribers. (Cheers.) What does Mr. Redmond say quite openly? He says: ‘I mean - I, with my 200,000 dollars jingling in my pockets - I mean to use the difficulties and complexities of English political party life to extract for Ireland everything I want.’ He means, in other words, to use our British party system to give himself something, and to give himself and his friends something which neither party wants to give them. (Cheers.) He wants to use the whole of our traditional Parliamentary machinery, our party system with it merits and demerits; he wants to use the existing situation in which we find ourselves, to squeeze out of us, as the conqueror squeezes out of a conquered country, the terms which he insists upon, and that, and that alone, is the real secret of the revolutionary policy of men, who, had they their will, probably are no more revolutionists than you or I. (Laughter and cheers.)
Where Parnell Stood
Do these Irish gentlemen for a moment pretend that what they want is to improve the British Constitution for the sake of British subjects? (Laughter.) Not at all. ‘Smash the House of Lords, in order that we may get Home Rule!’ That is their cry. (Hear, hear.) That is almost their words - I believe it is their actual words. I believe these are the words which Mr. Redmond has used more than once, both in Ireland and America. At all events, I am not misrepresenting him. Now, is it credible that if the Government insists on an appeal being made to our countrymen, they are going to give up their heritage because this kind of pressure is being put upon the Government partly by Socialists, and partly by Home Rulers? (‘No, no.’) It seems to me to be highly incredible. Remember there is no concession on the part of Mr. Redmond, in some of his speeches at all events, with regard to what he wants in the shape of Home Rule. He stands where Mr. Parnell stood. He stands, therefore, exactly where the Irish party stood when, on two successive occasions, the great mass of our fellow countrymen said, ‘This is not justice to Ireland that you are asking; it is injustice to Great Britain.’ (Cheers.) And it is in order to get what the people of this country have twice refused that he is asking you for all time to shatter your Constitution. And he has asked it by the help of gentlemen whose motives, I am sure, are excellent, but who do not happen to possess the privilege of British citizenship. (Cheers.) Is that the way we are going to be governed? (‘No. ‘)
Britain for the British
Is it to that degree of degradation that party Government is to bring us? I have always been a party man. I have always believed that the destinies of this country were best entrusted to great organised parties in the House of Commons, but if either one - I don’t care which it is - if either of the two great parties in the State, whose beginnings go back for 200 years or more, are becoming the temporary slaves of this section of Socialists, or that section of Home Rulers, then I say the party system has broken down. (Cheers.) Then we are no longer a self-governing country, and we are not governed either by an absolute monarch or even by hereditary peers. We are governed by a log-rolling faction of men who care nothing for your empire or your country. (Prolonged cheers, the whole audience upstanding.) The appeal I make goes far beyond the limits of this room, it is far beyond the limits of the party to which we all belong. I appeal to every man, whatever his tradition, whatever be his party, or his upbringing, or his state in life. I ask him that Great Britain shall manage the affairs of Great Britain. (Loud cheers, the audience again rising.) And I ask that if and when we alter the fabric of our immemorial Constitution it shall be of our own free will - (loud cheers) - and not at the bidding of those who care nothing for our Constitution and nothing for our history. (Cheers.) So, and so only, can we hope to retain our self-respect as a nation and the respect of those other great nations whose friends and whose rivals we are. (Loud and protracted cheering.)