HC Deb 30 August 1841 vol 59 cc476-83
Lord J. Russell

said, I have now, Sir, to state to the House, that after the division of Friday night, her Majesty's Ministers thought it their duty at once to advise the answer which has just been communicated to the House, and humbly to tender their resignations to her Majesty, in order to enable her Majesty to form a new ^ministration. Her Majesty was graciously pleased to accept our resignations, and we, therefore, now only hold office until other Ministers shall be appointed to the offices which we respectively filled. Perhaps the House will allow we on this, occasion, and before I make the motion with which I intend to conclude, to state the impressions, in doing which I shall as much as possible avoid matter of controversy and debate, to state the impressions I entertain with respect to late events. It was our duly, as we believed, to propose the measures which were proposed in the late Parliament in reference to the trade and commerce of the country, and which we thought essential to its interests. Upon being defeated with regard to one of these measures, we advised her Majesty as soon as the business of the Session would permit it, to resort to a dissolution of Parliament. That dissolution having taken place, and the new Parliament being assembled, on the earliest possible opportunity, we advised her Majesty to submit to them the consideration of measures of the same nature, and to ask for the opinion of Parliament in reference to these matters. It has pleased the House of Commons by a large majority, to address her Majesty, stating that her Ministers did not enjoy the confidence of Parliament and the country. This decision left us no other part to perform than that of resigning our offices. I will not use any arguments to show why we think we were justified in prolonging the struggle until the present hour; but I say, that it was our conviction, that our duty to the Sovereign whose confidence we enjoyed, that our persuasion of the necessity of the measures which we advised, and our belief that the people should be consulted on questions involving their dearest interests, rendered it incumbent on us to continue the struggle to the present moment. I have, on former occasions, justified the course which we pursued on particular occasions, and in future debates I shall be ready to justify them again. But I am now only stating the conviction which we entertain. Sir, it has been our fate now to hold power for a considerable number of years; I will not say that as long as we could use power, as we believed for the benefit of the country, it was with reluctance we continued in office; but this I will say, that I do not think, the possession of power in this country can be accompanied by satisfaction, unless there are means of carrying into effect the measures which Ministers feel essential to the welfare of the country. I do not allude now to particular measures of less or minor importance, but to measures of great and transcendant moment. With regard to such measures, we began, in the commencement of Lord Grey's Administration, with the Reform Act— we ended by proposing measures for the freedom of commerce. With large and important measures we commenced—with large and important measures we conclude in pursuance of great objects we triumphed —in pursuance of great objects we have "alien. Another remark I may make, which elates both to Lord Grey and Lord Melbourne, as severally first Ministers of the Crown. Lord Grey, at the time of the Reform Act, and in the first year of that measure, enjoyed, together with his colleagues, great and almost unexampled popularity. Lord Melbourne, as being the first Minister of William 4th, became, at the accession of the present Queen, the adviser of a Princess, who came to the throne at the earliest period at which by law it was allowable to exercise the power Df sovereignty; it was his duty to offer that advice and give that information which a Queen, without experience, could not be supposed to have, and which was received with the confidence and reliance that became the frank and generous nature of the Royal Person now on the throne. Now, I will venture to say, that neither of these powers, neither the great powers of popularity which were enjoyed by the Ministry of Earl Grey, nor the power and favour of the Sovereign enjoyed by Lord Melbourne and his colleagues, was ever abused by either of them. On the contrary, while fault has been found with both of them for not having proposed measures which, it was said at the time, would be more to the advantage of their party, and the secucurity of their power, no one can deny that both have shewn great forbearance, and a great desire to preserve untouched and unimpaired the constitution of the country, and the prerogatives of the Crown. Having said this much with regard to the. Ministers under whom I had the honour to serve with pride and gratification, I may, perhaps, be allowed to add a few words with regard to the person who now addresses you. I will not pretend to say, that there will not be other persons holding different opinions, who will not bring to the administration of public affairs a larger capacity and more competent intelligence; all I venture to say, is, that while placed in the situation which I had the honour to hold, no considerations of a private nature, no wish for personal advantage diverted my attention from my public duties, and I have endeavoured to give every moment I could devote to their discharge. With respect to the merits of the measures which I have proposed, or of the measures which I carried into effect, I will not now enter into any dispute; all I wish to observe is, that I have endeavoured, to the best of my power and ability, to exercise such judgment as I possess for the promotion of the best interests of the country, and of the Sovereign whom I serve, and whom I had the honour to advise. Sir, this House having decided at the very commencement of the Session, that it will take measures for controlling the prerogative, and directing the executive authority of the Crown, I can only say, that although that decision may fall with undeserved severity as we think, upon us, I am sure that in all the future consultations of the House, I shall be ever ready to give that advice to the House which I think will tend to secure to it the affections of the people of the United Kingdom, and conduce to the welfare and prosperity of the great empire of which this House is the centre and support. I can assure the House that in whatever circumstances I am placed I shall express to it my conscientious convictions of the measures proposed, whether they be the acts of the Minister of the day, or of those who are opposed to them. I shall be always ready to give such an opinion as I think may tend to the permanent improvement of our institutions— never, as I observed on another occasion, never defending abuses as if they were institutions, and on the other hand never being ready to sacrifice institutions as if they were abuses. I have only further to say, with regard to the Members of this House with whom I have conducted public affairs for many years, that while I am grateful to those who have been my supporters, I wish personally to express a hope, with regard to our opponents, that in all our future relations there may be no feeling of personal bitterness between us; and if our resignation tends to the future welfare and prosperity of the country, I shall always look with satisfaction to the day on which that event occurred. I now, Sir, move that the House at its rising do adjourn to Monday next.

Lord Stanley

The announcement which has just been made by the noble Lord will, I am sure, convince every Member of the House, on whichever side he may sit, of the impropriety of entering now into any discussion of those bygone transactions which have led to differences between the two great parties in the State, and ultimately, as we have just heard, to the resignation of her Majesty's Ministers. But I should do injustice to the feelings, I am sure, of the House, not less than to the tone and manner in which the noble Lord who has just sat down has addressed us, if I did not express from this side of the House, what I am convinced is felt by all—a cordial participation in the sentiment of the noble Lord, that whatever may have been our political differences throughout those great contests, no sentiment of personal bitterness has been engendered in the minds of any of its Members. Sir, it was my good fortune, for some time, to have the honour of acting in political accordance with the noble Lord; it has been my misfortune for some years conscientiously to differ from the course which the noble Lord has seen it to be his duty to follow; but, as I claim for myself, and for every Gentleman who has felt it his duty to oppose him, the belief on the part of the House, that we have acted from conscientious motives, and from none other, so I fully give to the noble Lord the credit of having been influenced by no consideration but the sense of duty, which, with a man of his high honour, must be paramount to every other. Every one who has watched his conduct, must regard it with no sentiments but those of admiration of the great zeal, perseverance, ability, and talent, with which, not only in the duties of his own department, but in the management of the political business of this House, the noble Lord has uniformly conducted the very arduous and difficult task which was assigned to him. I will go back to make no observations on the statement which the noble Lord has made of the course pursued in Parliament, further than to point out what appeared to me to involve some degree of inaccuracy on the part of the noble Lord when he stated, somewhat unhappily, that in resigning office he was content, having triumphed in the assertion of great principles, to fall in the assertion of great principles also. Now, the noble Lord must permit me to say, that having in the course of the last Session of Parliament, received no very unequivocal demonstration that her Majesty's Government as a whole, did not possess the confidence of this House, which the noble Lord justly says, is necessary to enable any Minister to carry on the business of the country, the noble Lord and his colleagues proposed certain measures, into a discussion of which I am not now about to enter; but the only one of those questions discussed by the House was negatived. It thus appeared manifest to the noble Lord and the House, that there were but two alternatives to be adopted by her Majesty's Ministers—the alternative of the resignation of their offices, or that of an appeal to the country with regard to their policy. No Gentleman, so far as I have heard, on this side of the House, denied that it was perfectly competent and constitutional for the noble Lord to resort to either of those alternatives. He advised her Majesty to appeal to the people, and the sense of the people, which has been echoed by the House of Commons on a late occasion, was pronounced unequivocally and dis-distinctly against the measures of the Government. But, Sir, when the noble Lord says, that on the first day of the Session, he felt it to be his duty to submit great measures to the decision of the House, which had been rejected, I must take the liberty of saying to the House, and the noble Lord, that this does not convey an accurate statement of the matter as it really was; because, neither by any possible acquiescence could the House have assented to the individual measures which the noble Lord proposed to introduce, nor by refusing to assent to the Address did the House in any way pledge itself as to the principles which the noble Lord said were under discussion. If I were to require an illustration of this, I would only point out, that whereas one sentence of the Address contained expressions relative to a particular part of the budget, it was supported by Gentlemen who agreed with the measures of the noble Lord, and by others who did not agree with them, but desired the adoption of a principle carrying them much further. It was also supported by other Gentlemen, like the noble Lord, the Member for Lincolnshire (Lord Worsley), who were altogether opposed to those measures, and protested that they did not by any means, in assenting to the Address, assent to those measures; but what this House said, and what I think the House was justified in saying, was, that under the circumstances in which the country was placed, the matters to which the Crown had invited our attention were considerations of too great importance to be deliberated upon incidentally in the House of Commons, which, after all, could come to no decision upon them, from the form in which they were put, and in the absence of any Government possessing the confidence of the House and the country. Therefore it was thought right on the late occasion, not to refuse assent to any of the recommendations which it pleased her Majesty to make, but at once to assert that they had not that confidence in her Majesty's present advisers, which should justify them in proposing measures of great importance to the consideration of Parliament. And I must take this opportunity of expressing my regret that the Speech was so framed as to be liable to a misconstruction in the eyes of the country, to which I am certain the noble Lord, of all men, would desire it should not be subject. I cannot but feel, that the advice of the Government to Parliament to consider these great questions, coupled with the words in which the Speech was couched, would lead in the public mind to an impression perfectly erroneous, and perfectly unconstitutional of course—that those recommendations were the recommendations of the Crown, and not of the Ministers who constitutionally advise the Crown. I do not wish, as I said before, to revive any topics of discussion in the present state of the House. I am satisfied that the noble Lord having bowed, as his constitutional feeling would lead him to bow, to the expression of the feeling of this House and the country, and paid that homage to constitutional principles which I trust every Minister will always be ready to yield, by resigning office when he no longer has the power of carrying his measures with credit to himself and satisfaction to the country, from this moment all feeling of excitement between the noble Lord and Gentlemen on this side of the House will, if it ever existed, entirely cease. I am confident that towards the noble Lord personally, no feelings are entertained but those of respect for his person, and admiration for his talents; and I give to him and the noble Lord at the head of the Government, who has for some time had the delicate and important duty of advising, as the noble Lord says, an inexperienced and youthful Sovereign—I give them both full credit for having in the course of their Government adopted those measures, and those measures only, which they deemed to be for the welfare of the country. I give them the credit of believing, that ceasing to hold office, they will not attempt to disturb those who may be called upon to undertake the business of the country by a factious opposition; but that while they steadily maintain in Parliament the views which, on political matters, they conscientiously entertain and are bound boldly to express, the noble Lord and his colleagues, in whose hands soever power may be placed, will witness with great satisfaction the progress of measures which will redound to the welfare of the country and the happiness of the people.

Lord J. Russell

I am extremely sorry, that any misconstruction has prevailed in any quarter. I thought it was generally understood, that the Speech from the Throne was the speech of Ministers. I am quite ready to say, that I hope no such misconstruction will continue to exist. The speech was the result of the advice of Ministers, and Ministers alone are responsible for it.

The question that the House at its rising do adjourn till Monday agreed to.

On the question that the consideration of the Lords Commissioners speech be deferred till Monday,