Page:The House of Lords and the nation.djvu/42

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38
The Merits of the Case.

"That this House is of opinion that it would be desirable that Parliament should assemble in the early part of the Autumn for the purpose of considering the Representation of the People Bill already presented to Parliament in conjunction with the Redistribution Bill which Her Majesty's Ministers have undertaken to present to Parliament on the earliest occasion possible."

There the matter at present rests. The Lords have expressed their intention of not passing the Franchise Bill until the Redistribution Bill is also before them. The Government, so far as present appearances go, are resolved to endeavour to force them to do so. A few considerations will suffice to show plainly on which side lie the merits of the dispute.

The merits of the case. This, it must be remembered, is not an ordinary case of the Upper House declining to proceed with a measure which has passed the Lower House. The Bill in question is part of a measure which is to effect an enormous change in our Constitution. Would the Lords have discharged their duty to the country if they had consented to pass this Bill without having before them the whole of the measure of which it forms part? The answer cannot be otherwise than in the negative. In other countries alterations in the Constitution can only be effected with special solemnities and under careful safeguards. In the United States such a measure as the Lords are being attacked for not passing as a matter of course, would require to be carried in the first instance by a majority of two-thirds in each Chamber of Congress. It would then be submitted to the Legislatures of the different States, and would only become law if three-fourths of them pronounced in its favour. In France, after being passed in both Chambers of the National Assembly, it would have had to be considered by the whole National Assembly sitting as one House, and would only have been added to the Statute Book if a majority of the votes of all the members of the Senate and Chamber of Deputies counted together had pronounced in its favour. In England we have no such elaborate constitutional safeguards; whence some of our Radical friends appear to think that, in the words of Hudibras,

"The Constitution was intended
 For nothing else but to be mended."

To those of us, however, who do not accede to this view, it will not appear unreasonable that the Lords, before assenting to a part of the proposed amendment of the Constitution, should have required to have the whole of it before them; or that they