7 MARCH 1931, Page 37

Lord Eustace Percy's Plan Democracy on Trial. By Lord Eustace

Percy, M.P. (John Lane. is. 6d.) A TIME of national depression is always an occasion for newly invented remedies. It is the hey-day of the opportunist and

the quack who is hardly ever well enough informed to know that what he recommends has been tried before. It is a case of demand and supply—for suffering people turn very easily to fresh advisers. " Well, there is no harm in trying something else. It might fail, but nothing could be worse than what we are enduring." In such times as these there ought to be a welcOme for the reflections of Lord Eustace Percy who though

he presents new ideas thinks and writes with cultivated care. He tells us that his essay does not profess to be more than

" a preface to an industrial policy." It is true that he makes some bold proposals, but his main purpose is to persuade his readers into what he calls the right " condition of mind." That condition, he thinks; can best be arrived at by something re-

sembling what theologians have insisted upon as the only proper preparation for spiritual progress—repentance. He' points out that the present' discontent with Parliament and democracy is no sudden thing. It was long ago foreseen by clear-sighted statesmen and all the stages of its development have been noted. When speaking on the first Reform Bill in 1831, Macaulay said "The distrim. t with which the 'nationregards the House of Commons may be unjust. That it exists cannot be denied.. This alarming discontent is not the growth of a day or a year. The taint has been gradually becoming more extensive and more malignant, through the whole life time of two generations."

And in 1866 Robert Lowe said

Democracy you might have at any time. Night and day the , gate is open that leads to that bare and level plain, where every ant's nest is a mountain and every thistle a forest tree." •

For a long time the doctors prescribed the same tonic— extension of the franchise. The labourer genuinely believed that when manhood suffrage was achieved the disease of the people would be cured. But now we have to recognize that though every drop of the tonic has been drunk the disease is by no means cured. Lord Eustace says that much was hoped from the fresh blood of the Labour Party but that the policy of the Labour Government has been " as weak and aimless as ever, if anything rather more so." What are we. to do ? Lord Eustace, leading up to the desiderated condition of mind describes the crisis of Western civilization as almost wholly economic and he believes that it has nothing to do with the War but is a new phenomenon. Consider the British case. For a few generations Great Britain flourished by discovering and organizing new overseas markets, but the very monsters which we created have turned upon us. We taught them the value of well manufactured goods ; they have themselves become manufacturers and are our competitors. According to one of the latest historical theories a like sequence of events was the cause of the decline and fall of Rome. Our cost of production is high, yet everybody naturally shrinks from an attack upon wages. Some economists say that it is the wages, fixed with something like permanence at a high level, that make the abandonment of Free Trade inevitable. There were no pegged " wages when Free Trade was at its zenith. For our part we take some comfort in the reflection that the cost of labour, like water, finds its own level, though the movement is, of course, much slower than that of water. Lord Eustace, however, thinks that nothing but a tariff will save the workers' position. " Even so, he believes, there will have to be judicious economy and at least temporary sacrifices. He is convinced that Englishmen; with'their honoured family life, know how to find happiness and pleasure without calling in science -to their aid for the mere piling up of wealth as an end.

As for the governance of a nation content with this ideal he proposes that economic pOlicy should be separated from the ordinary administra- tion of the Departments. He wants a Ministry of EennOmic Developinent which would be in con- stant touch with the indUstries, that is to say, with both em- Moyers and trade 'unions. 'There Would then be a smaller Cabinet—here he is rather on Sir Oswald Mcisley's Which would be concerned only with policy: Of course he is not blind to the .Poss possibility of -reforming the House of lairds and giving it more work to do in relief of the present Parlia- mentary congestion, but hethinki on 'the whole that the con- gestion could be ended best by " a new deliberative body" representing local administration, commercial and industrial associations, agriculture and trade unions.

This body would have only advisory powers, but he suggests that it could acquire substantial authority by having a statutory duty to report to Parliament. We are greatly attracted by this idea which we have frequently put forward ourselves in a slightly different form. No doubt it would be impossible to detract from the final constitutional responsi- bility of the Prime Minister, but it would be fairly easy and most advantageous to place a shock-absorber between those who now make brazen promises and the electors who are only too eager to encourage this practice since they expect to profit by the outbidding of one. Party by another. All responsible men, whatever Party they belong to, would be glad to be relieved of this most demoralizing business.

As for the House of Lords, we agree with Lord Eustace again when he says that it would be better to exclude the electoral principle from a reformed House. The one fatal thing, we are convinced, would be to make a reconstructed House of Lords a rival to the House of Commons. Our national genius is to. build on existing foundations, and the present rather unforeseen popularity of the House of Lords must have some real cause. Lord Eustace evidently thinks that there is no real danger whatever of a dictatorship in, this country because our system gives us an Executive which can obtain all the strength and support it needs from Parliament. The only thing necessary is " to strip the Executive of its petty bureaucratic preoccupations."