HC Deb 16 March 1835 vol 26 cc1018-31
Lord John Russell:

I beg to ask the right hon. Baronet whether, after what passed in this House on Friday night, it is still the intention of the Marquess of Londonderry to proceed to St. Petersburgh as his Majesty's Ambassador.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer:

I will answer the question of the noble Lord without the slightest reserve. About an hour since a letter was sent to me by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, which he had just received from the Marquess of Londonderry. The noble Marquess stated, that after the debate on Friday, he felt that his power of usefulness as his Majesty's representative at St. Petersburgh must be greatly impaired. He had therefore thought it a public duty to relinquish the situation for which he had been chosen. I am bound to add, that that course was adopted by the noble Marquess entirely on his own judgment, unsolicited and unsuggested, either directly or indirectly, by his Majesty's Government.

Lord John Russell:

After what has fallen from the right hon. Baronet, I rise to say, that recollecting what passed in this House on Friday night, I think the noble Marquess acted rightly. Since he could no longer proceed as Ambassador to St. Petersburgh with any hope of public usefulness, I admire the manly way in which he has come to that determination; but, at the same time, I do feel bound to remark that this country is placed in a situation of new and great embarrassment by the appointment of an Ambassador by the Ministers of the Crown, which appointment can afterwards be set aside by the judgment of the House of Commons. I think, in the case of which we are now speaking, that the appointment was altogether so ill-advised as to call for the observations made by the hon. Member for Tipperary, and by other Gentlemen. I must say, that in the experiment we are now making, which experiment the right hon. Baronet calls a fair trial, we run a considerable hazard, that all the most useful prerogatives of the Crown will lose the dignity and respect with which they have been usually regarded. I own I come more and more to the opinion that we ought to revert, whenever we can, to that old practice of the Constitution under which the powers of the Crown were administered and exercised by persons in whom this House and the country had confidence—the House not being required to express its separate opinion upon appointments so much within the province of the Crown as the choice of Ambassadors to Foreign Courts. I feel that, in this case, it was most unfortunate that Ministers selected a person against whom such strong objections could be urged. I feel that it must greatly diminish the respect and consideration with which this Government is viewed by Foreign Courts, when it is found that the notification of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, that an Ambassador has been appointed may afterwards be cancelled, not by a direct vote, but by an implied censureof the House of Commons. I could not help giving expression to these feelings, agreeing as I did in the greater part of what was said the other night, especially as to the sentiments of the noble Marquess on the subject of Poland. On that ground alone the appointment was highly objectionable; but at the same time, I wish to say, that the blame did not rest with the Marquess of Londonderry, but with the Ministers who advised the Crown to make the appointment of which the first consequence was to dissatisfy the House and displease the country. I cannot but conceive, that such conduct tends in some measure, to bring into disgrace even the Throne itself.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer:

The noble Lord has assumed, that the retirement of the Marquess of Londonderry took place in consequence of the proceedings of the House of Commons. I do not mean to deny that it arose out of the discussion here—I meant nothing so unfair or so uncandid as to deny that the resignation was the consequence of that discussion; but I beg leave to remind the House, that it was only a discussion, and not a vote in the form of an Address to the Crown. When the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Nottingham, asked me, on Friday night, whether it was my intention to advise the Crown to cancel the appointment, or to withhold the completion of it, I did feel myself bound distinctly to state, that I should not consider it consistent with my duty as a public man to tender that advice. Some may suppose that the decision of the Marquess of Londonderry, though not directly suggested by Government, was made in consequence of some indirect communication. I beg leave distinctly to declare, that such was not the case. It was the single unsolicited act of the Marquess of Londonderry. No doubt, that appointment met with the disapprobation of those who expressed themselves in the course of the debate on the former night; but at the same time, I cannot help reminding the noble Lord, that even if a majority of the House had pronounced itself adverse to it, it would be some consolation to recollect that, I will not say the same majority, but still a majority, pronounced itself adverse to the re-appointment of Viscount Canterbury to the Chair. With respect to the observation of the noble Lord, upon the inconvenience to the public service of Government not being possessed of the confidence of a majority of the House of Commons, I can only say, that whenever the noble Lord, or any other man, thinks himself able to form a Government possessing more of public confidence, I submit that the proper course will be for him to give notice of that direct Motion. It may be some such Motion, probably, as the hon. Member for Middlesex has intimated will be brought forward, and then we shall be enabled to see by the result, whether the House of Commons is prepared to agree to a vote which would be tantamount to a direct Address for removal. Because a man, in the situation I hold, has a perfect right to consider, whatever may be the consequence of a resignation of the trust, that it is not upon slight grounds, nor for a slight disappointment or mortification, that he ought to feel himself warranted in retiring from the King's service. The true way for the House of Commons to displace an Administration is, not by a Motion which those who vote for it state—they hope will not have the effect of removing the Government, but by a Motion that will distinctly imply, that some other Government possesses more of the confidence of the House, with greater ability to preserve it by the discharge of its public duties. No man is more anxious than I am that that question shall be brought to a fair and speedy trial.

Mr. Hume:

I agree with the right hon. Baronet in thinking, that he has some reason to complain, that no direct vote of censure has been moved. I hope ere long that his wish for a fair and speedy trial will be gratified. Every man will form his own conclusions—

Lord Stanley:

I rise to order. There is no question before the House, and the course now attempted to be pursued is extremely inconvenient. Conversation may be carried to an indefinite length, and lead to no result.

Mr. Hume:

I appeal to the Chair.

The Speaker:

The Question is, that the Order of the Day for the House to resolve itself into a Committee of Supply be read.

Mr. Hume:

There is a Question before the House; and if not, it would be competent in me to conclude with a Motion which would satisfy the noble Lord, and enable him to make any observations in reply without irregularity. Therefore, there is no necessity for the noble Lord's extreme sensitiveness on the point of order, and violent alarm lest we should be guilty of a breach of it. The right hon. Baronet has used one expression, which seems to throw a reflection on the House for rejecting Viscount Canterbury, and electing another Speaker in his stead, as if that were a matter of complaint against the House, as we all know it is a matter of regret with the Ministers. I take it as a matter of reflection upon myself and upon those who acted with me, and I consider that the right hon. Baronet has no right to make it. The right hon. Baronet will judge for himself, according to the dictates of his own feelings, as to what constitutes a declaration of the confidence or the no confidence of the House; but it certainly seems that he is not at all inclined to take a hint, and that no slight indication of no-confidence will convince him. Nothing less will satisfy him than a vote, that he and his colleagues are unworthy to be trusted with the management of public affairs—nothing less will satisfy him, and nothing will satisfy him less. I trust that such a Resolution will be sufficient, and that it will very soon be adopted. But what I rose principally to observe upon, was the peculiar situation in which the country is placed by having an Administration acting as this seems to act. Whatever opinion I might entertain of the Marquess of Londonderry (and I must own that his conduct in this instance has raised him in my estimation), he, at least, has had the discretion which the right hon. Baronet and his colleagues have not. He has shown the good sense, I wish the right hon. Baronet had shown as much, not to run counter to the opinion of this House. On the contrary, the right hon. Baronet, when directly appealed to, said, that he should proceed to complete the appointment. Has he done so? This is one of his eggs; so that the Member for Middlesex is not the only oviparous animal in the House. The egg the hon. Baronet has laid, and sat upon in vain, is not a hen's egg, but that of a bird of larger growth, and with a longer neck, as the result, had he hatched it, would have shown. On a former night, and in a manner which he thought very facetious, he alluded to my egg: now here is his unfortunate egg, which he never could hope to hatch, because everybody knew beforehand that it was addled. My egg was at all events a wholesome egg, and would have produced a healthy chicken, had it remained in my nest, but it was unproductive because it was removed. The right hon. Baronet, with his cuckoo-note of "a fair trial," is the very reverse of the cuckoo in his habits; for, instead of laying his eggs in other birds' nests, for them to hatch, he pops into other birds' nests himself, and hatching their eggs, takes credit for a most goodly brood of Reform chickens. However, he did lay one unlucky virgin egg, and neither he, nor the noble Duke to boot, could bring it to perfection. It seems that he sets at defiance the majority of the House: and because his Majesty is anxious to favour the right hon. Baronet and his friends, wishing to keep them in office, he is resolved, as he fairly avows, to retain the Seals to the last, and to exhibit the novelty of a Cabinet retaining their places, but deprived of the confidence of the Commons. This I call a strange state of things, which must paralyze everything connected with the internal Government of the country. I should like, as a matter of curiosity, to see and to compare the two dispatches to the Court of Russia, the one announcing the appointment of the Marquess of Londonderry, and the other stating that the House of Commons had prevented it. I should like to see the terms in which the fact was communicated that Ministers had been obliged to cancel the appointment. I mean to make no reflection upon the noble Marquess; when he tendered his resignation, he did what the House and the country expected, but not what Ministers recommended. It appears to me, that so far from taking it as a matter of excuse, it ought to be matter of accusation against Ministers, that they had no communication with the noble Marquess. They ought to have had a communication with him, recollecting that in the discussion of Friday, excepting the noble Lord (Lord Mahon) who first replied, there was scarcely an individual in the House who did not deprecate the appointment. I am extremely happy at the result, and I congratulate the noble Marquess on his good feeling and sound discretion. Ministers deserve no credit for the result: they would fain have hatched the egg if they could, but they only addled it.

Lord Dudley Stuart:

I do not wish to make any ill-natured remarks, after the noble Marquess has taken the only course that was left to him. I wish, however, to congratulate the House and the lovers of liberty and justice that the noble Marquess has found it necessary to relinquish the high office committed to him—that of representing this country at the court of Russia. I rejoice at it for this reason, above all others—because the noble Marquess ventured publicly to malign a gallant people, struggling for their civil liberties and their national independence.

Sir Robert Inglis:

Whatever opinions may have been expressed on Friday, there is no one who has heard what has passed to-night, but will cordially concur in the sentiment expressed by the hon. Member for Middlesex, that the Marquess of Londonderry has raised his character by the step he has just taken. I should not have obtruded myself on the notice of the House even for a few minutes, if I did not feel that the precedent of Friday night, followed up by the conduct of the noble Marquess, is pregnant with great danger to the Constitution. If the expression of the opinion of the House in a formal Address to the Throne had produced this result, I should be the last person to deny that the constitutional exercise of the prerogative of the Crown might have been employed to cancel the appointment. I should have thought such a course unfortunate; but it is still more unfortunate that a mere conversation, expressing the disapprobation of the House of an individual in whom the Crown (whether wisely or not is another question) had reposed confidence, should have produced the same effect. The King is thus deprived of the services of an individual selected as Ambassador to St. Petersburgh, for no reason that appears on the votes and journals of the House. If a mere discussion like that of Friday last can fetter the discretion of the Crown, it is a state of things deeply to be regretted. Although I took no part in the discussion on Friday, I cannot but recall to the recollection of the House that it was imposing the severest penalties, and visiting with the heaviest inflictions, an individual who received within these walls the highest distinction of a soldier's life. When the noble Marquess, then a General in the King's service, received the thanks of this House, he little expected that one of the returns made to him would be a censure, not deliberately passed upon motion and after notice, but in a conversation for which no person was individually responsible. Under these circumstances, I must express my regret, with all admiration of the high-spirited self-denial of the noble Marquess, that the House has set so pernicious a precedent.

Sir Henry Hardinge:

I confess I think that my noble Friend, the Marquess of Londonderry, could have taken no other step, and that he was bound in honour and spirit to adopt it. In my opinion, the charges against him are most unfounded and most unjust, and some circumstances were most ungenerously brought forward. Any one of us acting in public life to-day may be liable to such accusations to-morrow; but I do not rise to find fault with those who took part in the discussion on Friday; and having been for a long series of years connected with the noble Marquess, I should have risen in defence of his honour had I considered it attacked. I wish, however, now to observe, that when the noble Marquess speaks he does not always measure his words very accurately, and that it is hardly fair to quarrel with particular expressions used in the heat of debate. It is more particularly hard upon my noble Friend on the subject of Poland, because I know that his sentiments are diametrically opposite to those imputed to him. If there be one individual more than another who has a high respect for the opinions of his relation the late Marquess of Londonderry, it is my noble Friend,—and the late Marquess in no respect distinguished himself in foreign politics more than in solicitude for the welfare of Poland. I believe that that fact is well ascertained; and it is also known, that the present Marquess has always been anxious to follow the steps of his lamented brother as regards the Poles. Let me add, that I have avoided seeing the noble Marquess; and that his resolution regarding the embassy to St. Petersburgh is in no way, and in no degree, to be attributed to me. I am, therefore, not able to state whether he acknowledges the expressions imputed to him. I did not rise to provoke discussion, but to say that I knew he was a man of honour and spirit, and that this determination was his, and his alone.

Sir John Hobhouse

allowed, that it was inexpedient to establish such a precedent as had been alluded to by the hon. Baronet, the Member for the University of Oxford; but the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer must admit the fault did not rest with the Gentlemen on his side of the House, but arose from what the hon. Member for the University might depend upon it would be the fruitful source of much more evil than had hitherto been seen—he meant from the Ministers of the Crown attempting to govern the country by a minority. If the Ministers of the Crown were in possession of the common confidence of the House—he meant if they were able to wield a majority, not large in itself, but still one available for the purpose of carrying on the Government, no such catastrophe as that which the hon. Member for the University of Oxford had alluded to could possibly occur, because when the Prime Minister made or sanctioned an appointment, he would know that, let Members talk against it as much as they pleased, when it came to the important point—namely, the vote, the majority would be with him. In consequence, however, of the position—he must take the liberty of saying the false position—in which the right hon. Baronet had placed himself, in consequence of his trying the almost unheard of experiment of carrying on the Government of the country whilst in an acknowledged minority in that House, the event which the hon. Member for Oxford deprecated had occurred. Some hon. Gentlemen laughed when he spoke of the right hon. Baronet being in a minority, but he did not see a smile upon the face of the right hon. Baronet and his colleagues; they knew that he was not exaggerating, because it was a matter with respect to which they had had two or three proofs since the meeting of Parliament. He begged leave to say, that he looked upon the course taken by the House, not so much as a vote personally against the Marquess of Londonderry, as another proof that the hon. Gentlemen opposite were not in possession of the confidence of that House. It was a condemnation, if it were any thing, of their foreign policy—of that policy of which it was supposed the noble Marquess was to be sent to St. Petersburgh as the organ. Certainly, the right hon. Gentleman (the Secretary for Ireland) had told the House, that he was aware, from private sources, that the noble Marquess's opinions were not such as had been described. He did not think it necessary again to go over those topics, which had been discussed at large the other night; but he must take the liberty of saying, that if the noble Marquess were friendly to the Poles, it was undoubtedly a most unfortunate circumstance that he should have characterized them by a name condemnatory, not only of their cause, but condemnatory also of them personally. The noble Marquess had thought proper to call the Poles rebels—and not, let him be permitted to add, in the heat of debate, but in an opening speech; and it might, therefore, be assumed that the noble Marquess in thus describing the Poles had only expressed his deliberately-formed opinion. Having said thus much in reply to the hon. Member for Oxford University, he could not sit down without tendering his humble tribute of praise to the noble Marquess for the course he had adopted. The noble Marquess had followed the line pointed out by his own honourable mind. The right hon. Baronet opposite, in telling the House that the Government had not recommended the noble Marquess to take that course, only asserted what every one without such declaration would naturally believe to be the case. In his opinion, the Government could not have abandoned the noble Marquess; and if he had been in the situation of the right hon. Baronet, he would have gone out of office sooner than have abandoned that noble Lord. Still he believed that had nothing occurred to prevent the mission of the noble Marquess to St. Petersburgh, it would have been the duty of the House to have sent an Address to his Majesty on the subject.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

begged to represent to the House, that he was placed in a difficult situation by debates arising out of questions put to Members of the Government. An hon. Member on the opposite side of the House got up and asked a question, which he answered, not expecting a debate; and he was after- wards precluded from taking any notice of what occurred. He would take advantage of the indulgence of the House to thank the right hon. Gentleman (Sir John Hob-house) at least for the fair spirit with which he had judged of the course taken by the Government—a spirit, let him add, worthy of a public man, and very different from that which characterised the remarks of the hon. Member for Middlesex. Supposing that he had said, in answer to the question which the hon. Baronet had put to him the other night, that he was prepared to advise the Marquess of Londonderry to retire, should he not have deprived the noble Lord of the grace and dignity of voluntary retirement? He could not conceive anything more unjust than not to have given to the noble Marquess an opportunity of considering the situation in which he was placed, and to have robbed him of the merit of deferring to what appeared to be the sense of the House of Commons. The right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir John Hob-house) had also done justice to the Government in another particular, namely, in inferring that they would not have abandoned the Marquess of Londonderry, after the appointment had been tendered to, and accepted by, that noble lord, at a period of great difficulty, and under the peculiar circumstances in which the Government were involved. The hon. Member for Middlesex had accused him of acting in opposition to the majority of that House. Now, he would ask, did he stand forward and declare the intentions of Government in a hasty and insulting manner to the House of Commons? A question having been put to him, he could not avoid stating the course which Government intended to pursue. If the opinion expressed by the House was meant as a condemnation of the foreign policy of the Government, he must be permitted to say, that that was too important a question to be disposed of, not by votes, but by a discussion springing up on the Motion, that the House resolve into a Committee of Supply. He could not, then, regard what had occurred as intended for a condemnation of the foreign policy of the Government, but only as the expression of the opinion of the House with respect to an individual appointment. What steps the House might have thought proper to take if the Marquess of Londonderry had not acted as he had done, it was not for him to say; but he had said before, and he now repeated, with all respect towards the House, and with no wish to slight its opinion, that he never would have suggested to the Marquess of Londonderry to take the course which, from a sense of his own honour, and the dictates of his own judgment, that nobleman had adopted; nor would he, until the opinion of the House had been expressed in a regular and formal manner, have tendered his advice to the Crown to revoke the appointment. He felt obliged to the House for having allowed him to trespass so long on its attention, and he would not avail himself of the indulgence further than again to state, that he considered it would be only fair on the part of the hon. Member for Middlesex to give him notice of the day when he intended to bring forward any Motion involving the existence of the Government. It, undoubtedly, was hardly fair in the hon. Member to be threatening the Government with Motions from time to time, asserting that they would be brought forward at an early period, and yet shrinking constantly from naming any particular day. The hon. Member for Middlesex had already threatened the Government with a Motion for limiting the Supplies, and, certainly, he should have been prepared to resign if the House of Commons had voted in favour of such a Motion; for that, undoubtedly, would have been such a demonstration of want of confidence as would have rendered it impossible for any Government afterwards to remain in office. Now, he told the hon. Member for Middlesex, that if he was anxious to bring forward any Motion against the Government, and could not find a day for the purpose, he would facilitate the hon. Member's views. But if the hon. Member would not name a day for any such Motion, it was hardly fair in him to deal out menaces which he was prepared to enforce.

Mr. Hume,

as one of the party opposed to the Government, did not think it right to allow the right hon. Baronet to select for them the day of attack. He begged the right hon. Baronet to leave them to choose their own time and day for that purpose. This was the second time that the right hon. Baronet had endeavoured to prevail on them to take his advice.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that the reason was because that was the second time that the hon. Member had threatened to bring forward a Motion against the Government.

Lord John Russell

would, with the permission of the House, reply to one observation which had fallen from the right hon. Baronet opposite. The right hon. Gentleman had called upon the House to express its opinion by some direct vote of want of confidence. Now, he begged the House to recollect that the ground on which the right hon. Gentleman had stood ever since the formation of the Government was, that though the House might not give the Ministry implicit confidence, they were entitled to a fair trial—to be allowed an opportunity of bringing forward their measures. If, then, a direct vote of want of confidence had been brought forward, he put it to the right hon. Gentlemen opposite, whether they would not have said to the Opposition—"You now preclude us from being heard; you want to condemn us without trial; and to reject our reforms, before you are able to judge of them." He (Lord John Russell) for one, would not expose himself to the chance of receiving such an answer, but he was willing to wait for the time and hour when the Gentlemen opposite would bring forward those great measures of Reform which they had promised.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that it would then appear from the noble Lord's statement that the course the Ministry was pursuing was the right one, for the noble Lord did not mean to refuse a hearing to the Ministry; the noble Lord was, in fact prepared to give them confidence, he was prepared to wait for their measures. He intended to propose tomorrow a Bill for the relief of persons dissenting from the Church of England in regard to the celebration of marriage; and another Bill in the course of next week, to promote the commutation of tithe in England. In the course of the present week also an attempt would be made to settle a question, the most difficult of all, and requiring; immediate attention—namely, the tithe question of Ireland. Now, he begged to put this question to the noble Lord opposite—if, in consequence of discussions in that House, and of votes, excepting the questionable votes on the Speakership and on the Address, he had thrown up the Government, would not the noble Lord, with his present sentiments, have turned and said to him, "You are guilty of a cowardly abandonment of office; you never meant to remove grievances; we never brought forward a direct vote of censure—we were prepared to hear your propositions, but you yourself have shrunk from the trial."

Lord John Russell

did not wish that those sentiments should be mistaken for his, because he was entirely in favour of the maxim which the right hon. Baronet was once for—that the men in possession of the Government ought to have the confidence of the House of Commons. Still, if the Opposition had brought forward any direct vote of want of confidence, the right hon. Baronet might have gained the votes of a great number of persons, on the plea of being unfairly treated.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

said, there could exist no doubt as to the Marquess of Londonderry's want of sympathy for the Poles, and that that circumstance of itself formed a sufficient ground of objection to his appointment as Ambassador to Russia.

The subject was dropped, and the Question again put that the House should resolve itself into a committee of Supply.