Source Problems in English History

Contents:

World History

7.

The Times,

Dec. 10, 1909, p. 790. [Mr. Asquith in the Commons, Dec. 2d.]

When Mr. Asquith rose to move the resolution of which he had given notice, "That the action of the House of Lords in refusing to pass into law the financial provision made by this House for the service of the year is a breach of the Constitution and a usurpation of the rights of the Commons," he was again loudly cheered. . . . It was by insistence on the distinction between the genius and spirit of our Constitution and the bare, barren letter of the law that the liberties of England had been made and saved. . . . Ever since 1628, when the name of the House of Lords was omitted from the preamble of a Supply Bill, the Commons had constantly asserted with great emphasis their exclusive right to determine what the taxation of the country should be. . . . It had been put forward as a justification for the Lords’ action that the Bill in question was not really a Finance Bill. This contention Mr. Asquith brushed aside as the absurd contention of a bankrupt controversialist, there not being, he asserted, one single clause in the measure not concerned with the primary purpose of raising revenue. The affirmation that the Lords had not rejected the Bill, but merely referred it to the people, he examined critically, saying that if this precedent of a reference to the people were once adopted no Liberal government would be safe. The Lords would have the power to compel the Executive of the day to take one of three courses—to submit a new Budget to the other House, or to send up the old one again without making in it adequate provision for the needs of the state, or to advise the Crown to dissolve Parliament. . . . The real question . . . was whether, when the Liberal party was in power the House of Lords should be omnipotent. "We are living now [said he] under a system of false balances and loaded dice." . . . "We believe that the first principles of representative government are at stake. . . ."

8.

The Times,

Dec. 10, 1909, p. 790. [Mr. Balfour in the Commons, Dec. 2d.]

In his speech the Prime Minister had ignored vital points; for example, that the Commons had admitted in terms that the Lords had a right to reject a Finance Bill, though not to initiate or amend one. He went on to declare—and the declaration was received by the Ministerialists with mocking laughter—that manifestly such action as the Lords had taken must be of rare occurrence. . . . In support of the contention that the Lords could reject a Finance Bill, he referred to opinions expressed by Mr. Gladstone, Lord Spencer, Lord Ripon, and the present Lord Chancellor. . . . The central point . . . in the present controversy was this—Had the Lords, in insisting that the constituencies must be consulted on the Finance Bill, exceeded the functions which a Second Chamber ought to have. . . . If the people should want the Budget they would not suffer, for they could return a Liberal Government and the Finance Bill could be reintroduced. The course taken by the Lords accorded with the whole theory of the Second Chamber system. . . .

9.

Annual Register,

1909, p. 258. [Mr. Lloyd George, Dec. 3d, at the National Liberal Club.]

Dismissing the Bill [Finance Bill] after a few sentences, he said that its rejection had initiated one of the greatest and most promising struggles of modern times. The issue would be the supremacy of the House of Lords. Its insolence had grown by immunity. It was purely a branch of the Tory organization. He would not remain a member of a Liberal Cabinet for an hour unless full powers were accorded it enabling it to pass into law a measure securing that the House of Commons could carry bills in a single Parliament either with or without the sanction of the House of Lords.

10.

The Times,

Dec. 17, 1909, pp. 806–7. [Mr. Asquith at Albert Hall, Dec. 10th.]

. . . The House of Lords had not, indeed, raised, but has hurried on for prompt decision a larger issue still [he has been speaking of Tariff Reform]. I tell you quite plainly, and I tell my fellow-countrymen outside that neither I nor any other Liberal Minister supported by a majority of the House of Commons are going to submit again to the rebuffs and the humiliations of the last four years. We shall not assume office, and we shall not hold office, unless we can secure the safeguards which experience shows to be necessary for the legislative utility and honor of the party of progress.

[In the week of Dec. 5–12 it was officially announced that Parliament would be dissolved Jan. 8, 1910, and that writs would be issued on that day for a new Parliament.]

11.

The Times,

Dec. 17, 1909, p. 806. [Mr. Balfour’s Election Address, Dec. 10th.]

The claim of the Government, stripped of the bad history and bad law with which it is obscured, is simplicity itself. They hold that the House of Commons, no matter how elected or when elected, no matter what its relation to public opinion at the moment, is to be the uncontrolled master of the fortunes of every class in the community; and that to the community itself no appeal, even on the extremest cases, is to be allowed to lie. . . .

The questions raised are three—(1) May there not be occasions on which an appeal to the people on matters of finance is necessary? (2) Is not this one of them? And (3) if these questions be answered in the affirmative, does any other machinery exist for securing the appeal except that which has been set in motion by the House of Lords? . . .

The truth of the matter is that the present attack on the House of Lords is but the culmination of a long-drawn conspiracy. The Government came into office, not to work the Constitution of the country, but to destroy it. . . .

The Budget, now waiting the sentence of the people, seems designed of set purpose to make every man who has invested his money in this country consider how he can remove it, and every man who is hesitating where to invest it determine to invest it abroad. The super-tax frightens some, the new death-duties cripple others, and, worse than all, the origin of the proposals and the principles on which they have been defended show clearly how thin is the dividing line which separates the policy of the Government from that of the avowed socialists.

[The result of the election was to put the Liberal party, with its allies, the Labor and the Nationalist parties, back into power with a total majority of 125 as against a majority before dissolution of about 334.]

12.

Annual Register,

1910, p. 20. [Excerpt from the King’s speech, Feb. 21st, on opening Parliament.]

My Lords and Gentlemen,—Recent experience has disclosed serious difficulties, due to recurring differences of strong opinion between the two branches of the legislature. Proposals will be laid before you, with all convenient speed, to define the relations between the Houses of Parliament, so as to secure the undivided authority of the House of Commons over finance, and its predominance in legislation.

[With the opening of Parliament the Finance Bill of 1909 was reintroduced; it passed the Commons again on April 27, 1910, and went through the House of Lords next day.]

13.

Annual Register,

1910, pp. 22, 23. [Debate on the Address, Feb. 21st.]

Mr. Asquith. . . . There was an overwhelming majority in the House absolutely pledged to deal with the veto, and the Government would ask the House of Commons to devote its opening session to this topic alone. To save time they proposed to proceed in the first instance by resolutions, which were to be embodied in a bill to be passed during the session, and on these he hoped that the House might pronounce before its spring recess. The Budget had to be reaffirmed. . . . The next step would be to obtain authority to renew, as they fell due, the Treasury Bills issued in consequence of the rejection of the Budget. . . .

14.

London Times,

March 18, 1910, p. 189. [Lord Rosebery’s Resolutions in the House of Lords Committee, March 14th.]

1. That a strong and efficient Second Chamber is not merely an integral part of the British Constitution, but is necessary to the well-being of the state and to the balance of Parliament.

2. That such a Chamber can best be obtained by the reform and reconstitution of the House of Lords.

3. That a necessary preliminary of such reform and reconstitution is the acceptance of the principle that the possession of a peerage should no longer of itself give the right to sit and vote in the House of Lords.

15.

The Times,

March 25, 1910, p. 215. [Mr. Asquith’s Resolutions in Committee (introduced March 29th).]

1. That it is expedient that the House of Lords be disabled by law from rejecting or amending a Money Bill, but that any such limitation by law shall not be taken to diminish or qualify the existing rights and privileges of the House of Commons. [Definition of a Money Bill follows.]

2. That it is expedient that the powers of the House of Lords, as respects bills other than Money Bills, be restricted by law, so that any such bill which has passed the House of Commons in three successive sessions and, having been sent up to the House of Lords at least one month before the end of the session, has been rejected by that House in each of these sessions, shall become law without the consent of the House of Lords, on the Royal Assent being declared. Provided that at least two years shall have elapsed between the date of the first introduction of the Bill in the House of Commons and the date on which it passes the House of Commons for the third time. For the purpose of this resolution a bill shall be treated as rejected by the House of Lords if it has not been passed by the House of Lords either without amendment or with such amendments only as may be agreed upon by both Houses,

3. That it is expedient to limit the duration of Parliament to five years.

16.

Annual Register,

1910, p. 68. [Mr. Asquith, March 29th.]

The Commons must predominate; but a Second Chamber might usefully discharge the functions of consultation, of revision, and, subject to proper safeguards, of delay. Such a Chamber should be relatively small; its basis should be democratic, not hereditary; it must not be "governed by partisanship tempered by panic," and should be representative of and dependent on the will of the nation. The Government resolutions therefore were not put forward as a final or adequate solution.

17.

Annual Register,

1910, p. 77. [Mr. Lloyd George, April 4th.]

The real issue was the existence of a permanent anti-Liberal majority in the House of Lords. He dealt at length with its action since 1900; it accepted contentious Unionist bills for which there was no mandate, but rejected in the Parliament of 1906 five contentious measures out of six. . . . He ridiculed the fears entertained of socialism. If the people really wished for revolutionary measures, of what use would be the Lords’ veto? Of what use was the King’s veto in the French Revolution? The peers were just ordinary party men, and could not be an impartial jury. . . .

[In the midst of a complex political situation when it looked as if the King would be called upon by the government to create enough peers to put through the Parliament Bill, King Edward VII. died suddenly on May 6th. On June 16th it was decided that there would be a conference of eight men, four from each party, with a view to a Compromise. That conference broke up on Nov. 10th without result.]

18.

Annual Register,

1910, p. 241. Nov. 21st.

The Marquess of Lansdowne read out his resolutions. They embodied a scheme for settling differences between the Commons and the "reduced and reconstituted" House of Lords. A difference as to bills other than Money Bills in two successive sessions, and within an interval of not less than one year, was to be settled in a joint sitting composed of members of both Houses, provided that, if it related to a matter of great gravity and had not been adequately submitted to the judgment of the people, it should be submitted to the electors for decision by referendum. As to Money Bills, the Lords would forego their constitutional right to reject or amend Money Bills, purely financial in character, provided that effectual provision was made against tacking. . . .

19.

Annual Register,

1910, p. 237. [Mr. Asquith at the National Liberal Club, Nov. 19th.]

He commented on the change in the Unionist attitude, quoting Dr. Johnson’s saying regarding Dr. Dodd, "When a man knows he is going to be hanged in a fortnight it concentrates his mind wonderfully." In one sitting the House of Lords had been transformed—in principle into a brand-new modern Senate . . . but meantime an instrument was wanted to remove deadlocks, and give the Liberals an equal chance in legislation.

[On Nov. 18th Mr. Asquith announced in the Commons that the Government had advised the King to bring that Parliament to an end. Parliament was dissolved on Nov. 28th, and the election was ended before Christmas. The result of the election was almost exactly the same as in January.]

20.

Annual Register,

1911, pp. 27, 28.

The motion for leave to introduce the Parliament Bill was made by the Prime Minister on Tuesday, February 21. . . . Mr. Asquith . . . said that the situation was in some respects almost without precedent in the parliamentary annals of the country. The Bill was identical in every respect with that of 1910, which the electorate had since approved by a majority of 120 in the United Kingdom and 60 in Great Britain. He dwelt on the divergence, under an unwritten constitution between legal powers and constitutional practice, pointing out that the crisis was occasioned by the sudden assertion of a disused legal right.

21.

The Times,

May 12, 1911, p. 371. [House of Lords Reconstitution Bill, introduced by Lord Lansdowne in the Lords, May 8th. Memorandum of.]

One hundred Lords of Parliament elected by the whole body of hereditary peers from among those hereditary peers who possess any of the qualifications set out in the schedule.

One hundred and twenty Lords of Parliament elected for electoral districts to be formed by commissioners throughout the United Kingdom—the election to be by electoral colleges composed of the members of the House of Commons for constituencies within each Electoral District.

One hundred Lords of Parliament appointed by His Majesty, on the advice of the Ministry of the day, in proportion to the strength of parties in the House of Commons.

Seven Spiritual Lords of Parliament consisting of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York, and five Bishops elected by the Archbishops and Bishops of England and Wales.

Sixteen peers who have held high judicial office.

The term of office of a Lord of Parliament would be 12 years, one fourth as nearly as may be of each category retiring every third year. . . .

A Peer unless a Lord of Parliament would be eligible for election to the House of Commons.

[On July 20, 1911, the Lords passed the Parliament Bill in a form so much amended that it was clear that the government would not accept it.]

22.

Annual Register,

1911, p. 175. [Letter of Mr. Asquith.]

10 DOWNING ST., July 20.

DEAR MR. BALFOUR,—I think it is courteous and right, before any public decisions are announced, to let you know how we regard the political situation.

When the Parliament Bill in the form which it has now assumed returns to the House of Commons we shall be compelled to ask that House to disagree with the Lords’ amendments.

In the circumstances, should the necessity arise, the Government will advise the King to exercise his prerogative to secure the passing into law of the Bill in substantially the same form in which it left the House of Commons, and his Majesty has been pleased to signify that he will consider it his duty to accept and act on that advice.—

Yours sincerely,

H. H. ASQUITH.

[The Commons, of course, rejected the Lords’ amendmerits and sent the Bill back to the Lords, where it was accepted on Aug. 10th by a vote of 131 to 114.]

23.

Annual Register,

1911, p. 190. [Mr. Asquith, Aug. 7th.]

It was at the King’s strong desire and with his Majesty’s express leave that he was able to disclose communications hitherto treated as confidential. After referring to his declaration of April 14, 1910—which was communicated to King Edward VII., then abroad,—and saying that Ministers would have been false to their pledges had they gone into a dissolution, after the new reign and the break-down of the Conference, without some definite understanding, Mr. Asquith said that the advice to the King to dissolve was accompanied on November 15, 1910, with a statement which he read out as follows:

His Majesty’s Ministers cannot take the responsibility of advising a dissolution unless they may understand that in the event of the policy of the Government being approved by an adequate majority in the new House of Commons his Majesty will be ready to exercise his constitutional powers, which may involve the prerogative of creating peers, if needed, to secure that effect shall be given to the decision of the country. His Majesty’s Ministers are fully alive to the importance of keeping the name of the King out of the sphere of party and electoral controversy. They take upon themselves, as is their duty, the entire and exclusive responsibility for the policy which they would place before the electorate. His Majesty will doubtless agree that it would be inadvisable in the interests of the State that any communication of the intentions of the Crown should be made public unless and until the actual occasion should arise.

His Majesty, after discussing the matter in all its bearings, felt he had no alternative but to accept the advice of the Government. . . . The advice [Mr. Asquith continued] was constitutional; the circumstances were unique, and far stronger than in 1832.

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Chicago: "The Times,," Source Problems in English History in Source Problems in English History, ed. Albert Beebe White and Wallace Notestein (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1915), 350–363. Original Sources, accessed December 11, 2019, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=6BDF6CJWSCLJTS7.

MLA: . "The Times,." Source Problems in English History, in Source Problems in English History, edited by Albert Beebe White and Wallace Notestein, New York, Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1915, pp. 350–363. Original Sources. 11 Dec. 2019. originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=6BDF6CJWSCLJTS7.

Harvard: , 'The Times,' in Source Problems in English History. cited in 1915, Source Problems in English History, ed. , Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York, pp.350–363. Original Sources, retrieved 11 December 2019, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=6BDF6CJWSCLJTS7.