100 years ago: A sham Second Chamber

24 March 2010

March 24th, 1910.

AT LAST Mr Asquith has laid before Parliament the text of the resolu­tions embodying the Government’s plan for settling on a new basis the relations of the two branches of the legislature. The purpose of them is obvious: it is to set up in effect a single-chamber Government, while pretending that we have two Chambers. It is no longer proposed merely to deprive the Lords of the power to reject or amend a Money Bill; the resolutions, if carried into effect, would place the liberties and property of the citizens at the mercy of a Ministry representing a chance majority. The gist of the whole matter is perceived in the definition of a Money Bill, which is to be understood as any Bill that, in the opinion of the Speaker, contains only provisions dealing with matters of taxation and the appro­priation, control, or regulation of public money. The words, “in the opinion of Mr Speaker”, are, no doubt, intended to give a look of innocence to the proposals, the chair being proverbial for its strict impartiality. But it has to be remembered that Mr Speaker is, after all, the servant of the House, and, in new conditions of Parlia­mentary life, he might very soon become the servant of the Cabinet.

. . . Mr Asquith is committing himself to the unicameral policy, while he pretends to be a two-Chamber man, and it will be necessary, in the forthcoming General Election, to bear that fact in mind. The issue is to be, not whether the powers of the Lords shall be modified, but whether we are to have two Chambers or one.

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