HC Deb 08 April 1835 vol 27 cc980-5
The Chancellor of the Exchequer

It was his intention, to move that the Mutiny Bill should be read a third time, and in making that Motion, he wished to avail himself of the opportunity which it afforded him of notifying to the House that he, in conjunction with all his colleagues in his Majesty's Government, and in conformity with their unanimous opinion, had felt it incumbent upon them, upon a combined consideration of the vote to which the House of Commons had come last night, and of their position as a Government in that House, to signify to his Majesty, that they felt it to be their duty to place the offices which they held at the disposal of the King. He did not hesitate to say, that they had taken this course with the utmost reluctance, and not without the deepest conviction of its necessity. They felt, that being in possession of the entire confidence of the King, and having received from his Majesty the most cordial and unremitting support—looking to the present position of public affairs, to the present state of political parties—looking to the strength, not only the numerical, but the moral strength, of that great party by which they had had the honour of being supported, they felt it was their duty, under existing circumstances, to continue the attempt of administering public affairs, as the responsible advisers of the Crown, to the latest moment that was consistent with the interests of the public service, and with the honour and character of public men. [Cheers.] When he did not hesitate to avow the reluctance, with which they had tendered their resignation, he believed he should have credit with a great majority of the House of Commons [much cheering from both sides of the House], that that reluctance arose from public considerations alone [renewed cheering], and was wholly unconnected with everything of a personal nature. ["Hear, hear.!" and much cheering, particularly from the Opposition.] He had a strong impression, that when a public man at a crisis of great importance undertook the public trust of administering the affairs of this country, he incurred an obligation to persevere in the Administration of those affairs as long as it was possible for him to do so consistently with his honour. ["Hear, hear!"] No indifference to public life, no disgust with the labours which it imposed, no personal mortifications, no deference to private feeling, could sanction a public man in withdrawing on light grounds, from the post in which the confidence of his Sovereign had placed him. [Much cheering.] But at the same time, there was an evil in exhibiting to the country a want on the part of the Government of that support in the House of Commons which could enable it satisfactorily to conduct the public affairs—which could enable it to exercise a control over the proceedings of the House—a legitimate and necessary control conferred upon it by the possession of confidence. ["Hear, hear."] There was an evil in such an exhibition of weakness to which limits must be placed; and he must say, reviewing all that had occurred since the commencement of the present Session—looking to the little progress the Government had been able to make in the public business of the country—looking at what had occurred on each of the last four nights—to the fact that Ministers had had the misfortune, on each of four successive nights, to be left in a minority—on Thursday last, on Friday last, on Monday last, and last, night—considering that that minority was smaller in relation to the majority than the minorities in which they had been at the commencement of the Session—adverting also to the fact that they had received the support of those who, not having a general and unlimited confidence in the Government, yet had given to the Government a cordial and honourable support [cheers] on every occasion on which it was consistent with their public principles to give it—adverting to all these considerations, he must say, that, in his opinion, the time was come when it was incumbent on the Ministers of the Crown to withdraw from the responsibility which office, under such circumstances, imposed upon them. In addition to these considerations were the nature and consequences of the vote of last night. That vote, he conceived, implied a want of confidence in his Majesty's Government, because, in his opinion, it was not necessary for any public purpose to come to that vote. ["Hear, hear!"] It was tantamount to a declaration on the part of the House, that it had not that confidence in his Majesty's Government which entitled that Government to submit to the consideration of the House the measures of which they had given notice. The noble Lord had signified his intention, if the vote to which the House came last night did not lead to the result to which it had now led, to follow it up with an Address to the Crown, conveying to his Majesty the Resolution respecting the Irish Church, which the House had affirmed. As he conceived that embarrassment to the public interests would arise from the presentation of that Address, and as he had no right to assume that the House would take a view with respect to the policy of that Address different from the view which it had taken with respect to the Resolution, it did appear to him and to his colleagues (whose views were in exact conformity with his own) that a public duty was imposed upon them, particularly since they felt that the time was fast approaching when resignation was inevitable—not to persevere in a fruitless struggle, which might involve his Majesty, public men, and the country, in additional and unnecessary embarrassment. [Much cheering.] The vote of last night was not only tantamount to a declaration of a want of confidence in the Government, but implying, as it did, the necessity of a total change of system in Ireland, so far as the Church revenues were concerned, it would impose such difficulties in the practical administration of Government in Ireland, by parties opposed to the principle of the vote, that they were fairly entitled to decline a responsibility which others were bound to incur. The vote of last night was not an abstract Resolution; the vote of last night was not one the practical execution of which could lie dormant. There might occasionally be points on which the House of Commons might express a different opinion from that of the Government: there might be cases in which it would be possible for Government to continue the conduct of public affairs, even in opposition to the House of Commons upon questions involving mere abstract principles, admitting of delay in their practical application; but the House of Commons could not leave the tithe question in its present state. ["Hear, hear!"] At present laws were nominally in force, but were actually disregarded. Nothing could be more dangerous than to leave the law in its present state,—to habituate the people to the daily violation of it,—to exhibit to them, a state of things in which those who were charged with the enforcement of law connived at its non-execution. It was not merely that the particular law would lose its authority; but the fatal example would extend to all laws, particularly to laws confirming and enforcing the rights of property. [Cheers.] Under these circumstances, it would have been the duty of the Members of his Majesty's Government, if they had continued in the Administration, to have pressed for an immediate decision with respect to the law as to the recovery of tithes in Ireland. The Tithe Bill of which they had given notice they could not have proceeded with, without previously proposing the Resolution for the remission of the claims upon the Irish clergy, on account of the repayment of the advances under the Million Act. He had no right to anticipate a different conclusion from that to which the House had already come—he could not anticipate that they would sanction the grant of a million without a distinct understanding that the Irish Tithe Bill was to be framed upon the principle of the vote of last night; and under these circumstances, having no reason to apprehend that a delay of a few days would make any material difference in the position of the Government—consi- dering that it was impossible to permit the vote of last night to lie dormant,—that the Government must proceed with the Tithe Bill, being firmly resolved to adhere to the principle of their own Bill ["hear, hear;"] being firmly re-resolved, not to adopt the principle of the vote of last night ["hear, hear;"] under all these combined considerations, they had, as he had said before, felt it to be their duty, as public men invested with a public trust, respectfully to request his Majesty to permit them to restore that trust into the hands of his Majesty. They, therefore, now only held their offices provisionally, and for the temporary execution of public business, until his Majesty shall have made other arrangements for the conduct of the Government. Under these circumstances, he should submit to the House, that, perhaps, the best course he could propose would be, that there should be a short adjournment. It would not be necessary that the adjournment should extend beyond Monday; and he should make the Motion for an adjournment at once, had it not been that there was an election Committee for which a ballot was appointed for to-morrow. Perhaps the House would feel that any discussion on public matters, in the present state of affairs, could not be proceeded with to any advantage. He had not the slightest hesitation in supposing, from the forbearance which the House had always shown on similar occasions, that the Motion would be unanimously agreed to; but lest any inconvenience should arise with respect to the Election Committee, the ballot for which stood for to-morrow, the House would perhaps meet to-morrow for the single purpose of that ballot, and when it was completed, adjourn till Monday. ["Hear, hear!" from both sides of the House.] The Motion also which he had now to make, and which he made merely in consideration of public interests—namely, the Motion for the third reading of the Mutiny Bill, he was quite sure would be cheerfully acquiesced in. ["Hear, hear!"]

He had been anxious to give this explanation as briefly as he could, and in a manner the least calculated to give offence, or to excite angry feelings. [Great cheering from all parts of the House.] For himself, the whole of his political life had been spent in the House of Commons—the remainder of it would be spent in the House of Commons; and, whatever might be the conflicts of parties, he, for one, should always wish, whether in a Majority or in a Minority, to stand well with the House of Commons. [Immense cheering throughout the House, which continued for some minutes.] Under no circumstances whatever, under the pressure of no difficulties, under the influence of no temptation, would he ever advise the Crown to resign that great source of moral strength which consisted in a strict adherence to the practice, of the principles, to the spirit, to the letter of the Constitution. ["Hear, hear!"] He was confident that in that adherence would be found the surest safeguard against any impending or eventual danger, and it was because he entertained that belief that he, in conformity with the opinions of his colleagues, considered that a Government ought not to persist in carrying on public affairs, after the sense of the House had been fully and deliberately expressed in opposition to the decided opinion of a majority of the House of Commons. It was because he had that conviction deeply rooted in his mind, that regretting, as he most deeply did regret, the necessity which had compelled him to abandon his Majesty's service at the present moment, yet upon the balance of public considerations, he felt that the course which he had now taken was more likely to sustain the character of public men, and to promote the permanent interests of the country, than if he had longer persevered in what he believed would have proved a fruitless attempt, to conduct as a Minister, the King's service, in defiance of that opposition which had hitherto obstructed the satisfactory progress of public business. [The right hon. Baronet, at the conclusion of his speech, was most enthusiastically cheered from all comers of the House for a considerable time.]

Lord John Russell

said, he wished only to state that he was perfectly satisfied with the course which the right hon. Gentleman had proposed for the convenience of public business, and that he believed there would be no objection to the adjournment. He did not wish to make any comment on what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman, except to express his opinion that the right hon. Gentleman had acted entirely in the spirit of the Constitution.