§ MR. DISRAELI
* I take this occasion, as being, perhaps, the most convenient to the House, to make some observations on the conduct of public business during this Session. I think there are reasons which render it not inexpedient that the House should not be prorogued without offering some opinion on that subject. Whatever be the merits or demerits of this Session of Parliament, there is no doubt that it possesses, by general consent, one characteristic—that of having been a Session of unexampled duration. There is, however, a suspicion very prevalent that its efficacy has not been commensurate with the period of its existence. It is said that, after having sat now for nearly ten months—after having laboured with a zeal and an assiduity which have not been questioned—Parliament is about to be prorogued with a vast number of projects of legislation of great interest and value not passed, and many of them little advanced. Why, Sir, the very subjects recommended to our consideration in the Speech from the Throne have not even been dealt with by the House in the way contemplated when we first met. There is more than one reason generally offered to account for this unsatisfactory state of affairs—for an unsatisfactory state of affairs I am sure every Gentleman will agree it really is, because it amounts to the acknowledgment, if it be true, of a very great public evil—namely, that our system of government is inadequate to pass those measures that are required for the public welfare. One of the most popular causes which is assigned for this unsatisfactory state of affairs, and for the existence of this great evil, is that there is too much discussion in the House of Commons—too many speeches—too much talk. This is an imputation that has been heard before this Session of Parliament. It was not so rife, but yet it was an accusation prevalent during the last Session of the last Parliament. I think it was first urged as an obstacle to the conduct of public business by the Members of the Manchester school; and this year it has been brought forward by their distinguished loader in the most formal and precise manner. That hon. Gentleman, the Member for the West Riding, has even acknowledged to the House that, so far as he is concerned, he is so sensible of the evil of*From a published report.670 prolonged discussions in the House of Commons that he would consent, although opposed to all tariffs, to a sort of rhetorical tariff; and that for his part (and he spoke, I suppose, also, for his Friends), he has no objection that the time allotted to him for addressing the House should be settled by a Standing Order. This is evidently a popular idea, and it may be (but we shall have opportunities of discussing that point) a very good suggestion; but I would remind the House that it is only very recently that this inconvenience of too much discussion has been experienced by the hon. Gentleman and the other Members of his school. There certainly was a time (not very far distant, but a few years ago) when I do not think the hon. Member for the West Riding would have been satisfied with a limited period of time being fixed by the House of Commons for the addresses of hon. Members. I have listened to a great many able addresses from the hon. Member for the West Riding and his Friends, most of which exceeded that period of time which he wishes now to establish; and, far from thinking then that there was too much discussion, they were not satisfied with the House of Commons alone, but they built halls, and hired theatres, thinking that the House of Commons did not afford sufficient opportunities for the discussion of those great questions, and for the advancement of those great principles, which they wished to impress on public conviction.
There is another cause alleged for the unsatisfactory state of public business, and that is, the forms of this House—the constitution of this House—which are now discovered to be cumbersome and antiquated, and to offer a great obstacle and barrier to the efficient, satisfactory, and speedy transaction of public affairs. This is the view of the case which is, I believe, principally relied on by Her Majesty's Government. Her Majesty's Government have on several occasions objected to, or rather deplored the use of the forms of the House, which hon. Members have availed themselves of; and towards the close of this dying Session, with the sanction certainly—not to say the instigation—of Her Majesty's Government, a Committee was appointed to inquire into the conduct of public business, of which I was a humble Member, and before which you, Sir, were a distinguished witness. From the appointment of that Committee it is clear that the Government did consider that in the forms of 671 the House might be found the cause of that unsatisfactory state of affairs which we all lament. At the same time, it is clear, Her Majesty's Government by no means waved their acceptance of the other cause alleged by the hon. Member for the West Riding and his Friends. The noble Lord opposite, and the other Members of Her Majesty's Government, have, on several occasions, deprecated that propensity to discussion which they have considered to form an obstacle to the transaction of public business. They have often told the House that if hon. Members would not make speeches, and inquire into the merits of measures, unquestionably the measures would pass with greater promptitude; and though I look on Her Majesty's Ministers generally as the representatives of the second cause alleged for the evil we all acknowledge—namely, the cumbersome and antiquated forms of the House—still they may be considered as having accepted and acknowledged the justice of the other cause brought forward by the hon. Member for the West Riding and his Friends—namely, the propensity to over discussion—too much talk—and the consequent waste of time, occasioning the delay of public business. I think I have stated the case fairly. I would fix on Her Majesty's Ministers having themselves admitted these two causes as the real ones of the present unsatisfactory state of affairs, particularly as I observe in an official paper a paragraph which seems to ratify the truth of my statement. [Lord J. RUSSELL: Is it the London Gazette?] No, it is not the London Gazette; but I will show to the House that it is a paper to which are entrusted Government secrets far more interesting and more important than ever appeared in the London Gazette. I copied this official paragraph from what I consider, and I suppose Her Majesty's Ministers would consider, the only official journal of the Government—a journal which circulates all the secrets of the Cabinet the moment they are known—which announces all the Government appointments, from that of an Ambassador to the French Republic, to that of the last gauger of Excise. On last Sunday week I read in that journal the following official announcement, which proves that Her Majesty's Ministers, although they have by the appointment of the Committee I have mentioned shown themselves to be of opinion that the forms of the House constitute one of the causes of the evil, also believe that the view taken 672 by the hon. Member for the West Riding is also just. The paragraph begins—We have authority to state"—If this is a forgery, it is, of course, competent to the Treasury bench to contradict the statement—We have authority to state that the fish dinner, which was fixed for the 19th, is postponed till the 26th. This postponement is occasioned by the vexatious discussions in the House of Commons. This mania for talk among the Members has now reached such a pitch that something must really be done to arrest the evil. We have, however, authority to state that the fish dinner will positively take place on the 26th.Saturday, then, was the dinner of the Session, and Wednesday is the digestion. However, it is quite clear from that paragraph, allowing for all that irritability which is of course natural to men who lose their dinner—it is quite clear that the real feeling of the Government is, that there is too much discussion in this House. And I, for one, value slight means of obtaining truth like this more than I would any formal announcement even of the noble Lord opposite; because it is always at those accidental moments when men are thrown off their balance—little ebullitions of temper so natural, for instance, on the loss of a dinner—that you are enabled to detect the secret passion and the master feeling of the soul; and though the noble Lord has talked a great deal of the forms of the House, alluding in a way more delicate than the hon. Member for the West Riding to the propensity to discussion, it is quite clear that the Government are of opinion that the reason why the business of the country cannot be satisfactorily carried on is, that there is too much discussion in the House of Commons. I, therefore, propose, in a manner the most brief and condensed I can command, to discuss whether these two causes are the real causes of the evil which exists—whether it is to he imputed to discussion in this House, or to the forms of the Legislature, that, after having sat nearly ten months, we have done very little, and that very little not very well.
But before I enter into that inquiry, perhaps it would not be uninteresting to the House and to the country that I should state what, independent of our debates, this House of Commons, which it is the fashion to blame at present, has really done; and, in doing so, I will refer to a short paragraph in the report of the Committee on Public Business, which, though already laid on the table of the House, has accidentally not been circulated among 673 Members. It appears from that report that there have been this year forty-five public Committees, some of more than usual importance, with an average number of fifteen Members serving on each Committee. Then there have been twenty-eight Election Committees, with five Members serving on each Committee; fourteen groups on Railway Bills, with five Members on each group; seventeen groups on private Bills, with five Members on each group; and there have been also one hundred and eleven other Committees on private business. Of the public Committees, that on commercial distress sat thirty-nine days; that on sugar and coffee planting, thirty-nine days; that on the Navy, Army, and Ordnance expenditure, forty days; and that on the miscellaneous expenditure, thirty-seven days. There have, besides, been presented this year upwards of 18,500 petitions, showing an increase of 25 per cent above the greatest number presented in any former year, except 1843.
Here I would make one observation on these petitions, since considerable error exists out of doors among our constituents on the subject. There is an idea that the presentation of a petition is an empty form—that it is ordered to be on the table, and is never heard of again. Now, it is as well that our constituents should know that every petition laid on the table is scrutinised by a Select Committee of the most experienced and influential Members of this House—that every petition which, from the importance of its subject or the ability of its statements, appears to merit more particular notice, is printed at the public cost, and afterwards circulated among the Members; and I believe that at this moment the right of petition (although it is not permitted to make speeches on every petition) is a more important and efficient right than has ever been enjoyed at any time by the people of England in this respect.
Having, therefore, fairly, I hope, stated the causes to which is imputed the great evil we all acknowledge—namely, the apparent inefficiency of our system of government for the transaction of business necessary to the welfare of the State—I shall proceed to see whether those causes are founded in justice; and if they are not, whether it is possible, before the Parliament is prorogued, to ascertain what the real cause is. It would be, perhaps, convenient to recall to the House the circumstances 674 under which this Parliament met. Such extraordinary events have occurred since February, that we are apt to forget, while reflecting on the fall of thrones, the uprooting of dynasties, the toppling down of great Ministers whose reputation had become almost part of history, and who, for more than half a century, had moulded the government—one might almost say, of civilised Europe—I repeat, that while these catastrophes are fresh in our memory, we are apt to forgot (so long has been the duration, and so eventful the period of this Session) the circumstances under which the present Parliament met. Hon. Gentlemen should recollect that when this first Session of the new Parliament of the Queen assembled, we were then suffering from events which, though not of a reputation so European, or of a character so comprehensive as those I have just referred to, yet, as far as we were concerned, were not less strange, and far more sad. The inscrutable and omnipotent decree had gone forth and stricken one of the Queen's kingdoms with famine, and the great efforts obliged to be made by the merchants of this country in consequence of that terrible visitation, led—in addition, no doubt, to other causes—to a commercial crisis perhaps of unprecedented severity. There were uprootings of commercial dynasties in England not less striking than the fall of those political houses of which we have lately heard so much. Day after day. Gentlemen whom we had lived with in this House, and whom we respected and regarded—merchants of the highest European reputation—were during that crisis rudely torn, I may say, from these benches, if not with disgrace and dishonour, yet with circumstances of pitiable vicissitude seldom equalled. When Parliament met, there was this commercial distress of unprecedented severity—private credit was paralysed—trade was more than dull, it was almost dead—and there scarcely was a private individual in this kingdom, from the richest and noblest in the land down to the most humble among the middle classes, who was not smarting under the circumstances of that commercial distress, which was of a nature so severe and striking that it was one of the main causes alleged for calling the Parliament together in November. Her Majesty stated the reasons which induced Her to call the Parliament together then, and She was pleased to say that She "had seen with great concern the distress which has for some time pre- 675 vailed among the commercial classes;" and Her Majesty enlarged on that subject in terms which I will not now quote at length, as every Gentleman is acquainted with them. But let me ask the House whether, on that subject of commercial distress, there was, when the House met, too much discussion?
When the House is charged with having such a propensity for making speeches, let me recall to the recollection of hon. Gentlemen that the impression of the entire country, after we had met, was that we had been called together by the Sovereign upon the occasion of a great exigency—upon an acknowledged specific case of universal interest—and that on that subject the House of Commons said nothing. There was, I believe, a feeling of blank discomfiture pervading all classes—pervading all parties—in the country and in the towns—because, when Parliament met, it did not immediately give to the causes of that commercial distress, by which the country had been stricken so severely, the advantage of a public discussion, which might have arbitrated between the contending theories and conflicting reasons, and arrived at some results which would have been a fair guide to public intelligence. There was, however, no discussion whatever on that subject. Of course, I do not moan to deny that when the House met, there was, upon the Motion for the Address, a desultory discussion for a couple of nights, in the course of which the commercial distress and monetary crisis formed two important elements. But we know that Parliament never meets without such desultory discussion; and no one ever heard an opening discussion in a new Parliament which was not general, and usually adjourned. In the present instance, it was insignificant, because there was a general understanding that the question was too vast to be encountered in that incidental manner, and it was supposed that the first business of the House would be a prolonged and complete discussion on that great subject; for let me recall to the recollection of the House the language of the Sovereign on the opening of Parliament. It was as follows:—The embarrassments of trade were at one period aggravated by so general a feeling of distrust and alarm, that Her Majesty, for the purpose of restoring confidence, authorised Her Ministers to recommend to the Directors of the Bank of England a course of proceeding suited to such an emergency. This course might have led to an infringement of the law.676 Now, I ask whether, on this great subject, in respect to which we were justified in expecting that there would be most ample and complete discussion, the House of Commons has shown too great a propensity to debate? I shall be told, no doubt, that although I have referred merely to a desultory discussion on the Motion of the Address, with respect to the commercial distress, and especially as to the conduct of the Government in regard to the advice given to the Directors of the Bank of England, still, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stamford did, on a subsequent occasion, bring the question formally before the House. That is very true; but, in the first place, I should think there are few who would maintain that there was any abuse of the privileges of Parliament when such a man, on such a subject, appealed to the House of Commons. I should say that, considering the experience of my right hon. Friend—the turn of his mind, the bent of his studies—it would have been satisfactory to the country, to men of all parties, that he, of all persons, should have originated an investigation into the subject—the management and constitution of the Bank of England, and the conduct of Her Majesty's Ministers during the crisis. But I do not suppose that that Motion of my right hon. Friend will he alleged to have been of an intrusive or impertinent nature. I do not suppose that the night occupied by that discussion will be represented, like other nights, as a waste of time. If so, I would remind the House that we had not the alternative of silence in that respect, for Her Majesty's Ministers had announced, through the highest medium, that they had counselled the Directors of the Bank of England to infringe the law. True it is that, in the same Royal Speech, they intimated that that infringement, notwithstanding their permission, did not take place; but my right hon. Friend, and those Gentlemen on this side of the House with whom he acts, could not agree that the criminality of an offence only consists in perpetration and action. We hold that the intention is just as guilty as the perpetration—that a man who tries to commit a murder is as guilty as a man who has actually committed a murder—and that, therefore, if a Minister counsels a public body to infringe the law, although the infringement may not take place, it is a case in which Parliament ought to come forward constitutionally to indemnify the Minister if it ap- 677 proves of his counsel. These were our opinions; but I am not clear that they would have been forced upon the House had it not been for the ostentatious manner in which the Government announced, in the Queen's Speech, their counselling the infringement of the law, and in which they led the House to understand that it was their opinion, as such infringement of the law had not taken place, that they required no indemnity. I think myself that the whole conduct of the Government with respect to that letter was so weak and whimsical that it is difficult to account for it except by supposing that they were—as naturally they may have been—in a state of very great perplexity. Why they should have been so long before they counselled the infringement of the law—why, when they had done so, they should have been so delighted that the Bank did not avail itself of the privilege—and why, having done all this, which amounted to nothing, they should have written the paragraph in the Queen's Speech to which I have referred-completely puzzles one. I scarcely know to what to compare their conduct, except something that occurs in a delightful city of the south, with which hon. Gentlemen are familiar—and which is now, I believe, blockaded or bullied by the English fleet. There an annual ceremony takes place, when the whole population are found in a state of the greatest alarm and sorrow. A procession moves through the streets, in which the blood of a saint is carried in a consecrated vase. The people throng around the vase, and there is a great pressure—as there was in London at the time to which I am alluding. This pressure in time becomes a panic—just as it did in London. It is curious that in both cases the cause is the same: it is a cause of congealed circulation. Just at the moment when unutterable gloom overspreads the population—when nothing but despair and consternation prevail—the Chancellor of the Exchequer—I beg pardon—the Archbishop of Tarento announces the liquefaction of St. Januarius's blood—as the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced the issue of a Government letter: in both instances, a wholesome state of currency returned: the people resume their gaiety and cheerfulness, the panic and the pressure disappear, everybody returns to music and maccaroni—as in London everybody returned to business—and in both cases the remedy is equally efficient and equally a hoax.
678 I think, then, there is some reason for the House to agree with me that, as far as this great question of commercial distress (which the hon. Member for Warwickshire is well aware has not yet terminated) is concerned, the House of Commons has not wasted much time. This is the most important subject which could possibly interest a great commercial nation, and yet I believe there are not a dozen Members in the House who have expressed their opinions upon it. I confess that, as far as our discussions upon banking are concerned, I have long relinquished any hope that their result would be as satisfactory as I could desire. I observe that, by the adroit tactics of a great master of Parliamentary stratagem, a combat always takes place between opposite opinions, with which those who originate the question have generally very little to do. The debate is always interesting—it is frequently entertaining—but the sound principles of banking are seldom advanced by such discussions; and to obtain that great end I confess that I look forward to only one means, and that a very painful one—another pressure and another panic.
I will now, Sir, refer to a subject of the utmost possible importance—the financial question; and I will ask the House, now on the 30th of August, after sitting for nearly ten months, calmly to consider whether, with regard to the financial statements and the measures which result from those statements, the conduct of the House of Commons has been of the thoughtless, unbusiness-like, unsatisfactory character which is alleged? I ask the House to inquire how much time has been occupied during the present Session by those financial communications and arrangements which it is the first duty of an English Minister to submit to the House of Commons? I ask the House to inquire whether, if time has been wasted, it has been wasted by the House of Commons—whether the speeches of hon. Members or the forms of the House have occasioned such an expenditure of the public time? On the 18th of February the financial statement was made to this House. It was exceedingly satisfactory, both to the House and to the country, to be told that when Parliament met after Christmas not an hour would be unnecessarily lost before the financial statement was made. There was a disposition on this side of the House to view the conduct of the Government with forbearance; and I believe, indeed, that 679 they were in some degree favourites out of doors. People said, "To be sure they are not men of business, but they have hard times. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is a most active man. True—ho got wrong in his deficiency bills, but that was an exceptional case. The Government are now sailing in still water, and they meet public business like men. When Parliament meets, not a moment is to be lost: the Prime Minister will be prepared, and we are to have the budget early in February."
Well, Sir, notwithstanding all the great events which have occurred in Europe, I still recollect that budget. It was communicated to the House quite in a grand style. It was not entrusted to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Tamworth itself could not have arranged a programme more magnificent and more solemn. The Prime Minister himself came forward. The considerations included, in a political sense, were not less important than those of a financial nature. It was clearly a budget that could not be entrusted to a mere man of routine—it demanded the expansive views and the high spirit of a statesman. The country was to be defended as well as the taxes to be paid. These were great questions for the House to consider; and when we were informed of our danger—when we were induced to express our determination to protect our country, our Sovereign, and our hearths—when we found there was to be an increase not only of the miscellaneous but of the military estimates—then the great sting in the epigram was apparent, and we were told the income-tax was to be doubled. Now, that was clearly a financial scheme which must have been most completely matured. It was not a scheme that was taken up in an hour, or drawn with a pen on the back of a letter. There must have been Cabinet Councils frequent and long, discussions secret and interminable, upon a budget which—in a moment of deficiency—required the country to increase its expenditure, and which attempted to accomplish two great ends—to defend the country and to fill the Exchequer.
I think, Sir, I am using no term of exaggeration if I express the feeling of the House, after hearing that budget, as one of considerable dissatisfaction. Every hon. Gentleman who represented a party or a section rose—almost even behind the Treasury bench—and expressed an indignant protest against the Government scheme. 680 But this was only a murmur compared with the roar which took place out of doors. A menagery before feeding-time could alone give an idea of the unearthly yell with which the middle classes—especially the inhabitants of towns—especially the advocates of liberal opinions—and more especially the disciples of free trade principles—met this demand. Day after day, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, and Bradford sent up their protests: meetings were held in the city of London at which the scheme was condemned; and persons were, in fact, so much alarmed that they had not time to investigate the causes of their condition, but there was a general impression that the income-tax was about to be doubled because we were going to war!
Well, on the 21st of February (the Monday following the Friday on which the first announcement was made), there having been several Cabinet Councils in the interval, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was put forward—(just as a great general, after arranging the disposition of his infantry, finding they cannot do all he expected, sends out a dashing commander of cavalry to make a charge which he hopes will set things right)—and made a most extraordinary speech. It was a sort of lament over the misconceptions which had unaccountably occurred with regard to the statements of his chief. One would imagine that, if there were any Parliamentary statement, any public narrative, which would be carefully and clearly prepared before it was submitted to this House, it would be the financial exposition. I had listened to the exposition, charmed by the classic eloquence of the noble Lord, and I certainly was not aware that it was enveloped in that Theban mist by which the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that it was encompassed. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is the man to put a thing right. He came forward and said that the greatest possible misconception existed as to the estimates—that it was true there was an increase upon the Navy estimates—hut that it was not a very great increase, and that it was occasioned by an expedition to the North Pole. This was the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman to show that we were not going to war, but that we were merely endeavouring to discover the North Pole—a luxury, I think, better adapted to times when we possessed a surplus in the Exchequer. Then the right hon. Gentleman acknowledged that it was true the 681 miscellaneous estimates were considerably increased; but, he said, you forget the expense of building the new Houses of Parliament, of keeping up the British Museum, and, last of all, the immensely increased amount of your printer's bill. That was the defence of the estimates made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer—a defence which heralded the most extraordinary proposition ever made by a Minister. To the surprise, very probably, not of the members of the Cabinet, but I am sure of every member of the Administration who was not in the Cabinet, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced his determination to propose the immediate reference of the Army, Navy, and Ordnance Estimates to a Select Committee; and on the next day he also proposed that the Miscellaneous Estimates should be submitted to the same ordeal. But, Sir, the storm did not lull. Submitting the estimates to Select Committees—a point on which, with the permission of the House, I shall afterwards make some observations—did not pay the double income-tax; and there were symptoms of popular feeling which almost might have led to the supposition that the tumults which afterwards broke out in various parts of the Continent were about to commence in this loyal country of England.
Well: on the 28th of February, the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume), having given notice of a Motion for the reduction of expenditure and the diminution of taxation, and there being also some other very inconvenient notices upon the books—on the 28th of February, ten days after the financial exposition of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, the Chancellor of the Exchequer came down to the House, and in the handsomest manner—keeping his promise to the House and to the public that they should have a budget in February—presented them with two budgets! On that occasion the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that misconceptions as to the intentions of the Ministry not only still continued to prevail, but were even on the increase; that there were already several Motions of a most inconvenient character on the books of the House; that it became necessary to review their position; that he had himself no doubt that the estimates might be considerably curtailed; that by borrowing money which had been destined for another purpose, and by not applying some money to the purpose for which it was originally intended—that is to say, by filching on the one hand 682 and screwing on the other—they could manage very well to bring the expenditure and the income to a balance without doubling the income-tax—an income-tax which the noble Lord had estimated would bring an additional 3,500,000l. into the Exchequer.
Now, let me remind the House that, from the 18th to the 28th of February, ten days were wasted in this House while the country was kept in a state of agitation; but was it the House of Commons that was guilty of wasting that time? Was there too much discussion here, or were the antiquated forms of the House tripping up the noble Lord and the Cabinet? Ten days were wasted, and we had not advanced a step. On the 28th of February we were still with an empty Exchequer, and the only chance we had of getting anything to pay even 10s. in the pound of the deficiency was by scraping some 600,000l., 700,000l., or 800,000l. from the estimates which had just been laid on the table with this announcement—"Gentlemen of the House of Commons—Her Majesty has given directions that the estimates for the next year should be prepared for the purpose of being laid before you. They will be framed with a careful regard to the exigencies of the public service." We had a deficient revenue; yet, with this statement on the table of the House, the Chancellor of the Exchequer found that the estimates had not been prepared with a careful regard to the exigencies of the public service.
Not to enter into a dry chronological account of all the sayings and doings of the past eventful ten months, I will pursue the financial subject to the end, that this House and the country may clearly understand what time has been wasted, how it has been wasted, and by whom it has been wasted, in respect of the exposition management of the public finances.
On the 30th of June, appropriate to nothing before the House, in the midst of a colonial debate, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, having reason, as he supposed, to answer an hon. Gentleman on the opposite benches who had made a speech of considerable ability and intelligence, suddenly and in the most impromptu manner threw his third budget on the table of the House. Now, what occurred on that occasion? I am not now going into the details of the sugar debates, to which I shall have to advert afterwards—I am keeping merely to the point of our finances. The right 683 hon. Member for Manchester and the hon. Member for the West Riding proposed the adjournment of the debate upon the Bill then before the House, on the ground that instead of discussing the great principle of which they were the champions—instead of debating the propriety of altering the law of 1846 with reference to sugar—the Chancellor of the Exchequer, by introducing his new budget, entirely diverted the attention of the House from the subject before them, and the discussion which took place was upon the financial state of the country. That debate, which lasted for two days, instead of being a debate on the sugar question, was a discussion of the third budget of the Ministry.
I should have remarked that in the month of February, when the first financial statement was made, my noble Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Lord George Bentinck) inquired whether the Government had included the corn duties in their calculation? They answered that they had not done so; but in the third budget—the budget of June—it was discovered that they had included the corn duties.
We had, then, three budgets during the period in which I have traced the affairs of the Session, commencing with the 18th of February and coming down to the 30th of June; yet we had not advanced a jot. Not a Gentleman in this House took advantage of such an extraordinary state of affairs to originate an inquiry into the condition of the national finances. The Government were let alone: they were treated with the greatest forbearance and indulgence; yet, from the 18th of February to the 30th of June, they had not in the slightest degree redeemed their promise to the House and to the country. All they had done was what, certainly, no Ministers bad ever done before: they had produced three financial projects, all of which were inefficient.
Now, let us see what other portion of time was wasted under the system pursued by the Government. All this time your estimates were submitted to Select Committees upstairs, and the Committee of Supply in this House was virtually shut. The Government could obtain nothing but a vote on confidence to pay wages or dividends. When the Select Committees were appointed, I took occasion, at the request and with the sanction of the Gentlemen with whom I act in political connection, to state the objections we entertained to submitting the estimates to Committees upstairs. I showed, in the first place, 684 that it was an unconstitutional course as regards the Sovereign—that, notwithstanding the very pompous announcement of precedents by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, his precedents availed nothing in the instance in question—that they were all precedents of Finance Committees for legitimate inquiries into the expenditure and revenue of the country—and that there was no precedent whatever for submitting estimates which had been prepared by the Ministers on their responsibility to Committees upstairs, thus shifting the responsibility from the Ministry to the Committees. I showed that these were, in fact, Select Committees of Supply, and that, if you had Select Committees of Supply, you might with equal justice have a Select Committee of Ways and Means—that, if a Select Committee was to prepare the estimates, there was not the slightest reason why, by analogy, a Select Committe might not inflict the taxation—and that the double income-tax might have been settled by a Committee of Ways and Means upstairs as the estimates were revised by a Committee of Supply upstairs. I stated some further objections with reference to the appointment of these Committees. I said that the course was unconstitutional as regarded Members of this House, because it deprived them of the constitutional privilege to which every Member is entitled, and of which almost every Gentleman in this House avails himself, of investigating in Committee the justice of these estimates, and expressing his opinion on subjects which may be interesting to himself and his constituents. The noble Lord (Lord John Russell), who did me the honour of answering me, said it was a perfect delusion to suppose that, because the estimates were referred to Committees upstairs, hon. Gentlemen would, therefore, be deprived of their constitutional privilege of criticism in Committee of the whole House; and he said that, when the estimates came down from the Committees, all the 658 Members would have an opportunity of exercising that constitutional privilege. It so happened, however, that the estimates did not come down till August, when four-fifths of the Members of this House were absent; and, practically, every Member has been deprived, in this important year, of his constitutional privilege by the manner in which the financial affairs of the country have been administered by the Government.
685 But, independently of this, Her Majesty's Ministers, by the course they have taken, have protracted the Session and have deferred the consideration of the estimates, in Committee of Supply, three months beyond the usual period, Why, after your three budgets and your two Committees upon the estimates, the estimates were barely passed by the end of August. And I ask with confidence whether, as far as the administration of that great department of public business is concerned, this House has been guilty of the waste of a single hour with respect to the question of finance? We had three budgets, two Committees, and six months and a half wasted by this Administration—these men of business, who were to give us a satisfactory financial exposition early in February; and the Prime Minister, with that almost sublime coolness which characterises him, announced late in July that his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer would take an opportunity, before the House separated, of making another financial statement.
Well, Sir, we had at last the fourth budget. We had, some time ago, the Government of all the talents: this is the Government of all the budgets. Alas, for this fourth budget! It came late, and at a moment when we wanted glad tidings; but, unfortunately, it was not characterised by the sunny aspect which was desirable. I shall never forget the scene. It was a dreary moment. There was a very thin House—the thinnest, I suppose, that ever attended a ceremony so interesting to every country, and especially to a commercial and financial country like England. I never saw a budget brought forward before an attendance so gloomy and so small. No; I shall never forget the scene. It irresistibly reminded me of a celebrated character who, like the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had four trials in his time, and whose last was the most unsuccessful—I mean the great hero of Cervantes, when he returned from his fourth and final expedition. The great spirit of Quixote had subsided; all that sally of financial chivalry which cut us down at the beginning of the Session, and which trampled and cantered over us in the middle, was gone. Hon. Gentlemen will remember the chapter to which I refer, which describes the period when the knight's illusions on the subject of chivalry were fast dispelling, and losing his faith in chivalry or finance he returned home crest-fallen and weary. The vil- 686 lagers, like the Opposition, were drawn out to receive him; and Cervantes tells us that, although they were aware of his weakness, they treated him with respect. His immediate friends—the barber, the curate, the bachelor Sampson Carrasco—whose places might be supplied in this House by the First Lord of the Treasury, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and, perhaps, the President of the Board of Trade, were assembled, and with demure reverence and feigned sympathy they greeted him, broken in spirit, and about for ever to renounce those delightful illusions under which he had sallied forth so triumphantly; but, just at the moment when everything, though melancholy, was becoming—though sad, was in the best taste—Sancho's wife rushes forward and exclaims, "Never mind your kicks and cuffs, so you've brought home some money." But this is just the thing that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not brought. Such was the end of the fourth and final expedition, and such is the result of the fourth and final budget. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, during the whole Session, has been bringing home barbers' basins instead of knightly holms; and, at the last moment, true to his nature, to his vocation, and to his career, he finds instead of surplus a deficiency, and, instead of reducing taxation, he commemorates his second year of finance by a second loan.
Now, I ask hon. Gentlemen to cast their eyes over the period I have sketched, from the 18th of February to the 25th of August—over the three budgets, the unconstitutional Committees on the estimates, and the fourth and final budget—and then I ask the House and the country with confidence for their verdict that whatever time has been wasted—whatever delay has taken place—has not been attributable to the discussions of Members, or to the forms of the House.
Her Majesty, in Her Speech, had been pleased to recommend two most important subjects to our consideration, in order that we might legislate upon them; and it is with very great regret that I find, on reviewing the business of the Session, that we have not complied entirely with Her Majesty's commands. That, at the first sight, is, I confess, an apparent stain upon the loyalty of her faithful Commons; and I shall now proceed, in as condensed a manner as possible, to see whether we are really guilty of that deficiency in our al- 687 legiance—whether it is our Fault that we have not obeyed Her Majesty's commands in these two respects—first in passing measures for improving the health of the metropolis, and also the public health; and, secondly, in adopting a measure with respect to the laws which regulate the navigation of the united kingdom.
Now, with regard to the first of those measures, a sanitary law has been passed. The Bill was introduced on the 10th of February, and it was ordered to be printed, as amended by the Lords, on the 27th of July, five months afterwards. One can hardly conceive that five months can have been wasted upon a Bill which, I suppose, was a very matured measure, and which was rather pushed by the Government, without there having been very vexatious opposition, or prolix and unnecessary discussion on the part of the House of Commons; but, without official statistics, such an opinion might be precipitate. Now, what was the form in which this measure, which has since become law, was first introduced? It was "A Bill for Promoting the Public Health," which we ordered to be printed on the 10th of February, 1848, price 8d. It came again before us as a Bill, as amended by the Committee for Promoting Public Health, and it was ordered to be printed on the 13th of March: the ordeal could not then have been too severe. We had then another Bill—another edition rather—called "A Bill, as amended by the Committee, and on recommitment, for Promoting the Public Health, ordered to be printed 15th May," but the price had increased to 10d. That is significant that the "project of law" was much more ample in size than when it was first introduced. We had a fourth edition: "Clauses proposed to be Amended" were sent round on the 15th of May. Then there was another edition: "A Bill, as amended by the Committee, on recommitment, on second recommitment, and on third recommitment, for Promoting the Public Health, ordered to be printed 25th of May, price 10d. "At last we come to "A Bill, as amended by the Lords, entitled An Act for Promoting the Public Health, ordered to be printed 27th of July, price 1s." The size of the measure bears an exact relation to the price; and, inasmuch as 8d. became 1s., so the number of clauses and provisoes that were on every stage recommended to our consideration equally increased. Now, when we remember that on these various occasions, be- 688 sides whole batches of clauses and new provisoes, there were endless alterations in the old ones—that the General Board itself, which was the essence of the whole thing, was changed during these discussions in its constitution, in the number of its members, in the nature of its functions and prerogatives—that it was once to have been a quinquumvirate with two paid members; then it was to have been an unpaid triumvirate; then a triumvirate with one paid member—that there is scarcely a function or a duty connected with the public health which has not been changed, transposed, and altered, during those five months of discussion—it is quite clear that this Bill was in a state which rendered a discussion in this House most profitable; that it was one of those instances in which Parliamentary criticism was not only a first duty, but a public benefit; and I do not think that anybody can remember the labours of many Gentlemen sitting on this side of the House, and especially of my hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley), in that respect, without feeling that an appeal to that legislation is precisely the instance which might be selected to prove the efficient services of the House of Commons. At the same time, I am perfectly willing to admit that the subject was one in which the labours of any Government should be viewed with great indulgence; all I urge is, that those five months, and those repeated editions of a legislative project, should not be adduced and referred to for the purpose of criminating this assembly. I am most willing to admit—I admit it with perfect sincerity—that if any other Member of the Administration but one, who combined such fine talents and such amiable dispositions as the Minister who had the management of the measure had undertaken it, I doubt whether it would have advanced to the ultimate goal; and I am sure that be bad frequent occasions, during those discussions, to show those qualities which have rendered him deservedly one of the most popular men in this House and in this country. I think, however, the House will agree with me that no one will pretend that the manner in which the sanitary law was passed can be the foundation of any charge against the House of Commons.
Let us see, now, whether we are the guilty occasion of the navigation laws not having been repealed. Now, I do not enter at all, on the present occasion, or as little as possible, into the policy of measures: 689 of course, as far as we, on these benches, are concerned, we are very glad that the navigation laws are not repealed, though equally, of course, we should never have offered any factious or vexatious opposition to the Government in that respect; but I am merely looking now to the instance of the navigation laws with reference to the conduct of public business. I find, in a return appended to the Report on Public Business, that the proposition respecting the navigation laws—a subject, the importance of which cannot be magnified, specially noticed and specially commended to our consideration in Her Majesty's Speech—was introduced into this House on the 15th of May. There were then two nights' discussion on the proposition, and subsequently there were four nights' discussion, ending on the 9th of June; and, excepting the formal introduction of the Bill afterwards, that is all the time that has been expended in discussing one of the most important alterations that probably any Minister, it will be admitted by all, could propose in Parliament, and especially in this country. Now, I ask the House, were six nights' discussion too much with respect to a proposition of a nature so remarkable—I will not say so impolitic—I will not enter into the policy—but I say of a nature so vast and comprehensive? I hold that we should have been acting with much want of consideration for our constituents, and for the country generally, had we not addressed ourselves to that great argument in a proper and ample spirit. My recollection of that debate is, that it was conducted with great talent on both sides, great knowledge, and great ability—that it was, on the whole, one of those debates of the Session that gave satisfaction to the country. Considering the nature of the subject—considering how the proposition was regarded, justly or not, as one that might affect the very springs and sources of our maritime supremacy—is it to be for a moment pretended that this was a matter on which, for the sake of saving public time, the House of Commons were to relinquish their high office of debate? No, Sir; I do not suppose that the noble Lord will allege that our conduct with respect to the discussions of his proposal for the repeal of the navigation laws were at all of a vexatious or frivolous character. That is not one of the discussions that have forced the fish dinner to be postponed for a week. But I have a charge against the Govern- 690 ments, as far as the conduct of public business is concerned, for their not having carried the repeal of the navigation laws. If the subject is of such urgent importance as to be the first recommended in the Queen's Speech, why was your project introduced so late as the 15th of May? I will tell you how it was—because the noble Lord, when Parliament met, chose to introduce a Bill, to which he devoted all the strength and energies of the Government, on a subject which was not introduced into Her Majesty's Speech—the Jewish Disabilities Bill. The noble Lord knows full well that, as far as my opinion of that measure are concerned, I am making no imputation upon the noble Lord for bringing it in. I gave to the noble Lord, at no ordinary sacrifice, my support upon that occasion; but though I agree with the noble Lord as to the principle which animated his legislation, I do not at all approve of his conduct as manager of the House of Commons. My opinion is, generally speaking, that upon all subjects of that kind—the emancipation of the Catholics, and the like—it is not advisable that a Minister should bring forward a project of change unless he is able to carry his measure. I believe the evils are great of a Minister failing in measures of that kind: the failure imparts a party spirit and a party bitterness to subjects in which party bitterness at all events, and party spirit as little as possible, should mingle. Besides, it is an imprudent and impolitic course with regard to those whose interests you advocate, because, when the Minister is defeated, the cause always goes back. It is known that the battle has been fought under the most favourable auspices, and you always find a reaction. It is very different if you are in Opposition. If the noble Lord had been in Opposition, he would have been perfectly justified, from his position, from the opinions upon religious disabilities which he has always most ably upheld, in bringing the subject before the House year after year, to see whether, by fresh cogency of logic and increased brilliancy of rhetoric, he could make an advance in the House and in the country, and, in fact, to gauge the progress of the question. I think, in the position of the First Minister of the Crown, he was not justified in bringing forward a measure of this kind unless he had a moral certainty of passing it. But it is quite clear that his bringing in the Jewish Disabilities Bill, and pressing it 691 forward, prevented his carrying the repeal of the navigation laws, and, so far as his conduct of the business of the Session was concerned, was a great mistake.
Perhaps I was in error when I said that pursuing the Jewish Disabilities Bill was the sole cause of the repeal of the navigation laws not being carried, because I think I showed the House that the main discussion had taken place on the 9th of June; and in a Parliament which sits to September, there is no doubt that even on the 9th of June it was possible to carry the repeal of the navigation laws, if nothing else had been urged. Now, what prevented it? It was prevented by the most remarkable circumstance of the Session, to which I shall now call the attention of the House, having, I hope, satisfactorily maintained my position that, both with regard to the measure for public health and the proposition for the repeal of the navigation laws, there had been no waste of public time by the conduct of the great body of independent Members of the House of Commons. The progress of this latter measure was arrested, I say, by the most remarkable circumstance of the Session—an event which gave a totally different colour and changed character to the remaining months of our sitting—which altered the whole tenor of debate—which influenced, in fact, the financial statement of the Minister—and which in one shape or other has, from that time to the present, entirely engrossed our attention, and a great portion of that of the nation.
The House will recollect that, when Parliament met, our sugar-growing colonies were beginning to experience the effect of the measure of 1846, the first and most felicitous effort of Her Majesty's Ministers. But who cares for the sugar colonies? Nobody attended to their complaints: they were recommended a little more competition—a little more energy—a little more enterprise; they were only to exert themselves, and they would do in time. Nevertheless, packet after packet arrived with accounts more gloomy, details more disastrous, till at last the gloom blackened, and the disaster assumed the aspect of despair. Fortunately for the sugar colonies, there is one Member of this House who, though not a Minister, or connected with Ministers, has some influence, and, what is more valuable, an intrepidity that cannot be daunted, and a perseverance that cannot be wearied. The noble Lord (Lord G. Bentinck) the Member for King's Lynn, 692 disregarding any imputation of wasting the public time when he thought a public interest was at stake, determined to see whether it was not possible that, as long as we pretended to have a colonial empire, there should be at least some appearance of justice on the part of the Legislature to those colonies; whether, if we would not relieve them, we would not at least inquire into their condition, they alleging that that condition was mainly, if not entirely, occasioned by our recent legislation.
On the 4th of February, Parliament having met again after the Christmas recess, my noble Friend brought before the House the state of the West Indies in moving for a Committee. At first, the Government would not grant a Committee to inquire—at first, all that could have been done would have been to make a statement, or to move for a Committee, and be defeated by the ready legions of the Administration; but accounts had already arrived in the beginning of February which made even Downing-street listen to the plaints of those distant islands, and we were informed in the quietest manner that a Committee would be granted.
§ MR. DISRAELI
Nothing is more painful to me than to make any misrepresentation—I thank the noble Lord.
§ MR. DISRAELI
The noble Lord is quite right—I am much obliged to him. On the 4th of February, the noble Member for King's Lynn made a statement, and a Committee, after some discussion, was appointed. But although the noble Lord is correct in saying that in December he agreed to a Committee, he will not find me incorrect in saying that on the 4th of February, when the Committee was appointed, he stated that he would not alter his policy. The Committee was nominated. It was little heeded at first. I believe, for the first month, except those immediately connected with the colonies, hardly a person was interested about it, or aware of its being in deliberation. The Committee was most impartially appointed, at least as regards the opinions which my noble Friend supports; for there was a preponderance of those who are favourers of the new commercial system. But at last, after a month or six weeks, rumours of the labours of this Committee, and the results of those 693 labours, began to creep about; they were whispered in the House; you heard of them below the bar: despairing West Indians were found in the lobbies; they learned that there was a chance of succour—that such a case had been made out that men who had entered into the Committee with preconceived opinions against them began to hesitate. The labours of the Committee, or of some Members of it, I believe, were of almost unparalleled severity. We heard the other day of a gentleman who had been knighted because his labours had lasted eighteen hours a day, he being also well paid for them. I think my noble Friend said that he sometimes laboured eighteen hours a day. I can bear witness to it in reference to other occasions; and though I was not a Member of the West Indian Committee, I believe there were frequent instances during that inquiry in which he laboured eighteen hours a day. The report of this Committee, of which I have already reminded the House in my narrative of the labours of the principal Committees of the Session—this Committee appointed on the 4th of February, and formed as to its majority of Gentlemen favourable to liberal opinions in commerce—the report, made on the 29th of May, recommended the maintenance of duties on a scale which would have given a differential duty of 10s. to the. colonies. But on the same day, "Lord John Russell (I quote from a written record) proclaimed the firm determination of the Government to maintain the Sugar Duties Act of 1846;" and the House will see that if the Government had remained firm in their determination, and if they had not indulged in useless discussions, they might have passed the repeal of the navigation laws. The noble Lord had declared on the 4th of February that he would not change the Act of 1846; the noble Lord announced on the 29th of May the firm determination of the Government to adhere to the same Act. Between the 29th of May and the 1st of June—the period is not considerable—how many Cabinet Councils were held between the 29th of May and the 1st of June? Although I have made some researches for this condensed epitome of our life of ten months, I have not been able to ascertain; but on the 1st of June, the same Prime Minister who was unalterable and firm on the 29th of May, came down to this House and volunteered a statement when we were approaching another and a necessary relaxation—the Whitsun vaca- 694 tion—that on the 15th or 16th of that month, when we should meet again, some Member of the Government would inform the House and the country what the Government intended to do with the sugar colonies. On the 16th of June, the announcement of the Government measure was made; and, not to enter into details too familiar with most of us, and wearisome at this moment, when I have already been obliged to abuse your indulgence, I may say generally of this project of the Government that it was an absolute departure from the principle of the Act of 1846, to which we had been twice informed the Government was unalterably devoted.
Why, Sir, does it not strike the Government—I think it must strike the House and strike the country—that if the Government had been less infirm of purpose in this respect—if they had not introduced all those discussions which for three months have engrossed our time—public business might have been advanced in a very different way from that in which I shall show that it has been. But the measure is brought forward. I do not enter into the various portions of the scheme, because I take it for granted that Gentlemen and the public have them fairly in their minds—that it was, in fact, to establish for a period a differential duty in favour of the colonies—that it also promised the advance of a large sum for purposes of immigration—that it proposed a change of the duty on rum—these and the other points are so familiar that I will not dwell upon them; and the more, because it is not my object to-day to enter at all into the policy of questions; and all that I want to do is to discover the causes why the public business of this country is not conducted in a satisfactory manner. Therefore, I say generally, the resolutions of the Government were brought forward, and were discussed by this House; the discussions upon these important resolutions took up ten days. Considering the question at issue—considering that the principles of our colonial empire were, in fact, under discussion—considering also and never forgetting the peculiar manner in which the matter was brought under our notice—the suddenness of it—the apparent hesitation and caprice of the Minister—it can hardly, under these circumstances, be said that ten days were an excessive time for the discussion of this great question.
But when I examine the details of that period of ten days, I find that nearly four 695 were absorbed by two episodes which really had nothing to do with the great question before us. There was, first, the third budget of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which, on the authority of the right hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. M. Gibson) and the hon. Member for the West Biding (Mr. Cobden), absorbed two days; and there were also two absorbed by that incident which is known by the name of "the missing despatch;" what was styled at the time in this House "a petty personality," but which I believe is pretty well recognised by the country to have been a great Ministerial blunder. "The missing despatch" took two days. I do not want to go back into the details of "the missing despatch;" but still, at the last day of the Session, before the curtain falls, I cannot help remembering the missing despatch, and some other despatches which have not been placed upon this table. I cannot help expressing my regret that we live in such times, and have come to such a pass in England, that the state of our colonies is such, that even the despatch of a colonial Governor cannot be safely placed upon the table of an English House of Commons. Ten days, then, upon the resolutions. I think I have shown that it is not the House of Commons that is responsible for the discussion upon the sugar question; the ten days of discussion were, in fact, only six upon the merits of the case: had they been sixteen, the merits of the case justified it.
But at last we got into Committee, and here is the Bill: let us see how the time of the House was managed on the Bill by the Government—whether, as the termination of the Session was impending, the noble Lord, conscious of the magnitude of the duties which he had left unperformed or neglected, and his faithful and skilful coadjutor the Chancellor of the Exchequer, already acquainted with the value of time from previous experience in his budget, came forward with a penurious spirit, counting their minutes and doling out their instants at the last: let us see how efficiently, how ably, they had prepared their Bill for the House of Commons; let us see whether this great fish dinner was put off because we wasted the public time; let us see what was occurring in the House of Commons in that week spent in Committee on the Sugar Bill, the very week in which the fish dinner ought to have taken place. In the first place, on the 16th of July, when we ought to have gone into Committee, 696 the trade had discovered—and the noble Member for King's Lynn brought the case before the House—that sugar refined on the Continent of Europe, before only admissible at a duty of three guineas, would in fact be admitted at a much lower rate. I need not go into the merits of the claim for refining in bond. I will not enlarge upon the injustice of not allowing to Englishmen the privileges allowed to foreigners. I only want to remind the House that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on behalf of the Government promised, in consequence of that discovery, to bring forward a general measure upon the subject of refining in bond which would remedy that great inequality and injustice.
On the 20th of July, before going into Committee, a Member of this House interested in this question, the Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. G. Thompson), made an appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who replied that the Government proposed to bring in a Bill to allow refining in bond for home consumption. On the very same day the Member for King's Lynn brought forward another informality in the Bill, arising out of the description of British plantation growth and produce inserted in the Bill, upon which the Government at that time were unable to give any answer. On the following day, the 21st, the Member for King's Lynn opened what he called his "masked battery" of twenty-five arithmetical blunders in the Bill; and on the same day other objections with regard to the arrangement of the Bill were made by the right hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Goulburn).
After all this—after, in fact, influencing the conduct of the trade, and receiving on their part from the Member for King's Lynn their thanks for the satisfactory manner in which the question of refining in bond was settled—the measure for refining in bond was withdrawn by the Government.
Of course, I need not say that when a Government comes forward in Committee and announces one day its intention of proposing a measure which is satisfactory to the trade whose interests are in question, and on another day withdraws the announcement, these are circumstances that in a free Parliament must lead to discussion. Why, what are we here for but to attend to the interests of these classes and these trades, many of whom are our constituents? The Government, when they had made so important a promise and 697 afterwards withdrawn that promise, cannot find fault with us because we have not passed over their conduct without criticism. The first Bill is withdrawn—a second Bill is introduced, in which the twenty-five blunders are dealt with; seven of them are corrected, and two new ones are created in correcting the seven. Sixteen of the old blunders are reprinted in this second Sugar Bill—a Bill introduced absolutely with a skeleton schedule! So matured are the projects of the Government—in such a business-like manner are their schemes submitted to this House—so determined are the Government that the House of Commons should have no opportunity to enter into vexatious discussions.
Will it be believed that it was found necessary to withdraw the second Bill also, and introduce a third, and in the third the Government confessed to the old sixteen blunders which they would not correct, and to the two new ones which they made in correcting others of the old, making altogether twenty-five acknowledged blunders of the Government, and leaving still seven unacknowledged, which we have authorised by our legislation—blunders of such a character as calculating that there are four greats in a shilling! But what is the result of all this? After ten days' discussion in the House of Commons upon the resolutions, with the Speaker in the chair, six days' discussions and seven divisions take place in Committee, solely occasioned by the imperfect preparation of these measures—these three graceful emanations of administrative genius—this skeleton Bill and its companions.
Now, I have carried you through the sugar question, I am approaching the end of the Session. I am well aware that I have trespassed upon the time of the House; these are the sayings and doings of ten months that I have to condense in these observations, and I have touched nothing of a light character. I have endeavoured to put the case fairly before the House in a clear if not an efficient manner, not mixing up subjects together, but tracing from its source to its termination the whole course of legislative and ministerial management in each particular branch. I have now put the House in possession of the facts respecting the sugar question; and I ask the House and the country, is it possible to substantiate, in respect of this, the largest and the most considerable feature in the second moiety of the Session, that 698 there is any reason for the people of England to lose their confidence in the privileges of their Members, or in the forms of this House, to which those Members are returned?
There is another very important point to which it is my duty to advert. In referring to the discussions upon the sugar question, which lasted for ten days, I mentioned that of those ten days, two were taken up by episodes, the "missing despatch," and the third budget; but there were other circumstances which absorbed our attention, and diverted our consideration from the great question before us. Almost every day during those ten days of discussion there was a writ moved for; there was the Derby case, the Sligo, and then the Derby again for two more hours; and this reminds me what an amazing quantity of time has been lost this Session in moving writs, and dealing with delinquent boroughs. I want to know—I have tried to ascertain—for all that I do is merely severe investigation, and I give no opinion except in asking you to draw inferences as we go on—how much time has been wasted about the conduct of delinquent boroughs this Session, and how far the House of Commons is responsible for that. It is a subject, I know, that has much engaged the attention of the noble Lord. We got into a mess at the beginning of the Session about delinquent boroughs. No one knew exactly what to do with them. The question arose whether, when there had been treating at an election, the constituency ought to be virtually disfranchised? Some were of opinion that they ought—others that they ought not; all was confusion. In fact, it was eminently an occasion which called for a leader of the House of Commons to come forward and condescend to guide public opinion and the conduct of the House. If the leader of the House of Commons—a man celebrated for his constitutional knowledge—of great historical attainments—a man who, when called upon to act, has the power of generalising from a large quantity of facts stored in his mind—a scholar as well as a statesman, and in my opinion certainly not deficient in courage—if, I say, a man in this eminent position of a great constitutional statesman and leader of the House of Commons could have spared some litte time from those councils wherein he arrived at a fixed determination not to change the sngar laws, to point out to the House what was the just and proper course to be pur- 699 sued with respect to the delinquent boroughs, we might, perhaps, have saved some of the valuable time which has been lost. The delinquent boroughs first brought under the notice of the House caused little debate. At last Derby came before us, and it was debated on no fewer than five occasions. The Harwich case was debated four times, Horsham six times, and Leicester twice. In all there were nineteen considerable discussions upon the question of issuing writs to these places. This was the consequence of the House having adopted no principle to regulate its decisions with reference to these questions. While all this irregular work was going on, and time was wasting because the House of Commons was not properly led, a great deal of legislation was in progress about the delinquent boroughs. The hon. Member for Flint, who is an extreme purist and a supporter of Ministers, ashamed of their not having legislated for the delinquent boroughs, himself introduced a measure on the subject, which he called the "Borough Elections Bill," which was called "No. 1." I find, by the official record, that this Bill was ordered, read a first time, and then No. 1. was withdrawn. Not satisfied with this result, the hon. Member for Flint set to work again with "Borough Elections Bill No. 2," which was ordered, read a first, read a second time, considered in Committee, and then withdrawn. All this time you were left without any principle to guide you in dealing with this important subject. At last the thing began to get interesting. It was seen that the Member for Flint, whose name certainly justified him in appealing to the House, had tried his "'prentice hand" at legislation, had failed, and the Horsham Borough Bill somehow got upon the table. The Horsham Bill was read a first and, after considerable debate, a second time. Matters had now arrived at such a pass (it was what the Italians call an imbroglio) that the noble Lord thought it was time to exert himself. He accordingly took the business into his own hands. The Horsham Bill was withdrawn, and a measure called the "Corrupt Practices at Elections Bill" was introduced, which, after several discussions, was passed through all its stages. That shows what a Government can do when it sets about it. But this ought to have been done before, and then the House would not have been troubled with the two Bills of the hon. Member for Flint, and the Horsham episode, nor with 700 the nineteen debates upon the question of issuing writs. However, the noble Lord having at last got the Corrupt Practices at Elections Bill through this House, sent it to another place where he can do as he likes. There a most extraordinary state of things prevails. In this House the Government has at least an opposition by courtesy; but in "another place" there is not at present even the semblance of an opposition. Three or four—I must not say noble Lords, but mysterious entities—were all who were assembled upon the occasion when the Corrupt Practices at Elections Bill came under consideration in another place; the other Members of that Assembly, on the 16th of August, were in different quarters, and employed in different work. The select few who remained at their posts were quite a constitutional party. They were all Whigs, and, having no one else to attack, they began quarrelling among themselves. The Lord Chancellor moved the second reading of the Bill, whereupon the Lord Chief Justice of England—the Attorney General of the Reform Bill recollect, and one, therefore, who knows all about delinquent boroughs, as all Attorney Generals do—declared that he had felt it his duty to come down to the House. I will avoid infringing the rules of debate by saying that, in another place, which is very well known, and much more useful than some people imagine, an eminent person did say that he had felt it his duty to come down there for the sole purpose of opposing the measure, and he declared that it was "liable to objections of every description." Whereupon, another person, for whom I entertain the highest respect, and who exercises in another place the functions which the noble Lord so ably discharges hero, got up and withdrew the Government measure. I make no comment on that proceeding; it is not my object to do so; but I call upon the noble Lord, who is a man of generous temperament, to bear all these circumstances in mind, and then I think he will not got up and complain of the abuse of the time of this House in some such terms as these:—"Here we are at the 30th of August, and nothing done; it is you, Gentlemen, opposite—it is your factious and malignant opposition who have wasted the public time, and destroyed the health of the Government—on you alone the responsibility rests."
I have now done with this subject; and I may observe that I was reminded of 701 these writs for the delinquent boroughs by what occurred during the sugar debate—that great question which it was the determination of the Government not to have introduced to our notice, but which the indomitable will of my noble Friend the Member for King's Lynn, of whom it may be said, quod vult valde vult, forced upon the attention of the House.
I ask the House, if it has done me the favour to attend to the argument which I have endeavoured to place before it, whether I have not given you some information which may enable you to form a judgment, as to whether the blame of legislative failure in the present Session rests with the House of Commons or with another quarter. I might point out that, during the ten months we have been sitting here, there has been sedition in England, insurrection in Ireland, and revolution in Europe. I should like to have seen the Whigs in opposition with such advantages as these. I think that then, indeed, the time of the House, if it had the power of sitting twenty months in the year instead of ten, would have been fully expended, but for what objects and with what results I will not stop to inquire.
I have already obtained from the noble Secretary at the head of the Foreign Department the admission that, as far as foreign affairs are concerned, in this the most important year which has occurred since I entered Parliament, when questions were every day occurring which would have justified much discussion, there has been manifested on the part of the House an extreme desire not to press upon the Government, nor to expend the public time by discussion upon topics connected with our external relations. For my own part I must say, that I suffer some twinges of conscience for not having performed my duty to the merchants engaged in that trade, by bringing forward the question of the affairs of the River Plate, as the noble Lord knows it was my intention to have done at the commencement of the Session. However, having painful experience of the complicated nature of those transactions, and feeling that all the energies of the noble Lord were required by, and all his time occupied with, other matters, I resolved not to compel him to turn to the dusty records in which the River Plate question is involved to make himself familiar with all the details of six missions, and to abandon my intention of submitting it to the consideration of the House.
702 So much for foreign affairs. As regards our own country, I think that the condition-of-England question has not occupied much of our time. There was an occasion when that question might legitimately have been brought under discussion—I mean at the moment when the monster petition was presented to this House. It was generally understood that such a discussion was then to take place, and but one feeling prevailed upon the occasion—namely, that it would be for the advantage of all interests that the question should be fully and fairly de-bated. I will not enter into the merits of that question: all I am anxious to do is, to bring to the recollection of the House, that with respect to the state of England no discussion has taken place in the House of Commons. As regards Europe and England, there has been no waste of the public time. Let us see whether there has been any waste of time with respect to Ireland.
Early in the year, when Parliament met, its attention was called, in the Queen's Speech, to the state of Ireland. The Government introduced a measure—I believe a very good one—which was fairly discussed and passed through both Houses. Nevertheless, it is a fact which must not be forgotten, that a noble Friend of mine in the other House, whilst supporting that Bill, took the opportunity of asking the Government whether they did not intend to go further. He asked them whether they did not think it advisable to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act, and to pass a law to make treason felony? The Government could give no satisfactory reply. They did nothing then, but subsequently they were obliged to adopt both of my noble Friend's suggestions. That circumstance alone, shows how friendly an Opposition the Government has to deal with. On another occasion a noble Duke expressed an opinion that the Government ought to renew the Alien Act. The Government said at the time that they did not know what they might do; but, in a few days after, they did as they were told. I put this question to the House:—when an insurrection took place in Ireland, and the Government felt it their duty to propose stringent and unconstitutional, but for the time necessary measures, what was the conduct of the House of Commons? Did the Government experience any inconvenience from an enforcement of those ancient forms which our predecessors created and cherished as the defence of a minority, and for the preservation of public liberty? The question 703 was for the rescinding of all the civil liberties of Ireland; but, the necessity of the measure being felt to be complete, was the opportunity taken by any hon. Member to make speeches attacking, or in any way hampering the Government? Did even any demagogue elevate himself on that occasion in order to excite the passions of a distant multitude? Left as we are without leaders, without a general manager of the House, split into sections—every thing at the discretion of individual Members—what upon that occasion was the conduct of the House of Commons? I say it was a model for any constitutional assembly in Europe. The traditionary good sense, the instinctive spirit of the English nation, proved themselves on that occasion—we showed a great example to Europe, and that this old Parliamentary constitution, which it is now the fashion to vilify as inefficient, unable to do its work, and not adapted to this enlightened and statistical age, as antiquated and cumbersome, could combine, if necessary, the energy of a despotism with the enthusiasm of a republic.
I have now tested the two causes which are alleged for the present unsatisfactory state of affairs. I am not aware that I have omitted any topic which I ought to have introduced. I think I have shown that the causes alleged are not founded in fact. If time has been wasted, it has not been owing to the conduct of Members or the forms of the House. Time, however, has been wasted, and it remains for me to acquaint you with the consequences of that waste of time.
I am going to read the bills of mortality for the Session of 1848. The obituary is almost complete, being drawn up as late as last Saturday night. This is what the country has lost. I hold in my hand a list of forty-seven Bills, all of them important, and many referring to subjects of great interest. More than two-thirds of them are Government measures, and, therefore, they ought not to have been brought forward unless demanded for the public weal. I will say nothing of the Jewish Disabilities Bill and the measures respecting the navigation laws: they have consecrated monuments of their own, and are not in my list. But hero is a list of forty-seven Bills abandoned, withdrawn, or postponed during the last six months—a consequence of the time which has been wasted:—Outgoing: Tenants (Ireland) Bill, Borough Elections Bill, Elective Franchise and Registration of Electors (Ireland) Bill, Polling Places 704 (Ireland) Bill, Audit of Railway Accounts Bill, Schoolmasters (Scotland) Bill, Tenants at Will (Ireland) Bill, Metropolis Police Bill, Agricultural Tenant-right Bill, Poor Law Union Charges Bill, Qualification of Members Bill, Tithe Rent-charge, &c. (Ireland) Bill, Borough Elections (No. 2) Bill, Horsham Borough Bill, Lunatic Asylums (Scotland) Bill, Qualification and Registration of Electors (Ireland) Bill, Election and Polling Places (Ireland) Bill, Light Dues Bill, Scientific Societies Bill, Roman Catholic Charitable Trusts Bill, Roman Catholic Relief Bill, Sale of Bread Bill, Highways Bill, Waste Lands (Ireland) Bill, Poor Law Officers' Superannuation Allowances Bill, Landed Property (Ireland) Bill, Bake-houses Bill, Life Policies of Assurance Bill, Cruelty to Animals Prevention Bill, Clerks of the Peace (Dublin) Bill, Appeals in Criminal Cases Bill, Smoke Prohibition Bill, Remedies against the Hundred Bill, Registering Births, &c. (Scotland) Bill, Marriage (Scotland) Bill, Landlord and Tenant (Ireland) Bill, Provident Associations Fraud Prevention Bill, Chancery Proceedings Regulation Bill, Charity Trusts Regulation Bill, Fees (Court of Chancery) Bill, Legacies to Charitable Institutions Bill, Officers of Courts of Justice (Ireland), Assimilation of Appointments Bill, Poor Removal (England and Scotland) Bill, Renewable Leasehold Conversion (Ireland) Bill.
I hope I have now shown that the Members of this House are not responsible for the waste of public time—that if there has been vacillation, it is not the House of Commons that has wavered—that if there has been weakness, it is not we who can be charged with infirmity of purpose. I have endeavoured to vindicate the House of Commons from the opprobrium of being the cause of a great public evil. I call it a great public evil: it is more; it is a great national calamity, because, what is the nature of the charge which is proclaimed? It is this, that the system of government which prevails in this country is a system incompetent to pass those laws and carry those measures which are necessary for the public welfare. I cannot imagine a state of circumstances more grave or more perilous.
Having endeavoured to persuade the House that the alleged causes of the present unsatisfactory state of affairs are not the real causes, I think it is but right—I think it is but frank—to state what I think the real cause to be. In my opinion, it is 705 not difficult to discover: it is not remote; it is neither distant nor hard to find. I shall fairly state it, with no personal feeling of any kind. I am willing to admit that hon. Gentlemen opposite, as far as personal qualities are concerned, need not, upon the whole, shrink from competition with any body of men in this House who may reasonably be called upon to administer the Government of the country; but I must say that, if I be asked the cause of the great evil at issue—this avowal of political in competency in the institutions of the country—I find the cause—there. [The hon. Member here pointed to the Treasury bench amidst the loudest cheers.] I see there a body of men who acceded to power without a Parliamentary majority. I think that they were justified by the exigency of the case in so acceding to power—nay, that their conduct was in accordance with the practice and the genius of the constitution; but, though they were in the first instance justified in taking office without a Parliamentary majority, they are not justified in retaining it under such circumstances; and their having done so has occasioned two results, both of a very serious description. In the first place, we have a Cabinet who, in preparing their measures, have no conviction those measures will be carried. After all their deliberations—after all their foresight—after all their observation of the times—after all their study of the public interest, when their measures are launched from the Cabinet into this House, they are not received here by a confiding majority—confiding, I mean, in their faith in the statesman-like qualification of their authors, and in their sympathy with the great political principles professed by the Members of the Administration. On the contrary, the success of their measures in this House depends on a variety of small parties, who, in their aggregate, exceed in number and influence the party of the Ministers. The temper of one leader has to be watched—the indication of the opinion of another has to be observed—the disposition of a third has to be suited; so that a measure is so altered, remoulded, remodelled, patched, cobbled, painted, veneered, and varnished, that, at last, no trace is left of the original scope and scheme; or it is withdrawn in disgust by its originators, after having been subjected to prolonged and elaborate discussions in this House. This is one of the great causes of that waste of public time which, in these days, is as valuable as public treasure.
706 There is another inconvenience resulting from the present position of the Government—in my opinion more serious, if not so flagrant—and that is, it is impossible to expect from Ministers thus situated those matured, finished, and complete measures which, under other circumstances, we should have a right to demand from them. Men in their situation will naturally say—"What is the use of taking all these pains, of bestowing all this care, study, and foresight, on the preparation of a measure, when the moment it is out of our hands it ceases to be the measure of the Cabinet, and becomes essentially the measure of the House of Commons? And, therefore, measures are thrown before us with the foregone conclusion that we are to save the Administration much care and trouble in preparing the means of governing the country. Thus it happens that the House of Commons, instead of being a purely legislative body, is every day becoming a more administrative assembly. The House of Commons, as now conducted, is a great Committee sitting on public affairs, in which every man speaks with the same right, and most of us with the same weight. No more the disciplined array of traditionary influences and hereditary opinions—the realised experience of an ancient society, and of a race that for generations has lived and flourished in the high practice of a noble system of self-government. That is all past. For these the future is to provide us with a compensatory alternative in the conceits of the illiterate, the crotchets of the whimsical, the violent courses of a vulgar ambition that acknowledges no gratitude to antiquity—to posterity no duty; until at last this free and famous Parliament of England is to subside to the low-water mark of those national assemblies and those provisional conventions that are at the same time the terror and the derision of the world. Sir, I trace all this evil to the disorganisation of party. I know that there are Gentlemen in this House who affect to deprecate party government. I am not now going to enter into a discussion respecting party government; but this I will tell you—as I have told you before, in a manner which has not yet been met by any of the Gentlemen who oppose my views on this subject—that you cannot choose between party government and Parliamentary government. I say, you can have no Parliamentary government if you have no party government; and, therefore, when Gentlemen denounce party 707 government, they strike at that scheme of government which, in my opinion, has made this country great, and which I hope will keep it great. I can foresee, though I dare not contemplate, the consequences of the system that now prevails. They are weak words that would describe them as prejudicial to the realm, perilous to Parliament, fatal to that high tone of public life that is the best security for national grandeur and public liberty. It is more than this: it is the finis fatorum of the great Dardanian house. I really believe that, if you persist in this system, it will effect results which no revolution has yet succeeded in accomplishing—which none of those conspirators that you have lately disturbed in their midnight conclaves have had the audacity to devise. I know no institution in the country that can long withstand its sapping and deleterious influence. As for the class of public men that have hitherto so gloriously administered the affairs of this country, I believe they will be swept off the face of our political world. For my part, I protest against the system: I denounce it. Even at the eleventh hour, I call upon the country to brand it with its indignant reprobation. But, whatever may be the consequences—whatever may be the fortunes of individuals or the fate of institutions—I at least have had the satisfaction of calling public attention to this political plague-spot—I at least have had the satisfaction of attempting to place in a clear light the cause of this great national evil. I have had more—I have had the consolation of justifying this great assembly, in which it is my highest honour to hold a seat, and of vindicating, in the face of England, the character and conduct of the House of Commons.
§ LORD J. RUSSELL
I must, in the first place, thank the hon. Gentleman for consulting my personal convenience as to the time of bringing this question before the House; I will next thank him, as a Member of this House, for the very diverting speech he has made, although in what it originated, or to what object it was directed, I am at a loss to discover. With respect to the origin of his speech, indeed, the hon. Member read a paragraph from a Sunday paper, referring to the day fixed for the fish dinner. I asked the hon. Member whether he was reading from the London Gazette. The hon. Member replied in the negative, but said, that the information contained in that paper was of a more sacred and confidential character 708 than any which appeared in the Gazette. This certainly was new information to me. At any rate, I can state that the whole story as given in the paragraph about the fish dinner being postponed from the 19th to the 26th is fabulous; that story, however, such as it is, seems to have formed the foundation of the hon. Member's address to the House. In commenting on what has passed during this Session, the hon. Member seemed to imagine that he had to defend the House of Commons from some charge which the Government had made against it. When I heard the hon. Gentleman pursuing this course, I was disposed to say, like the person who was told that reflections had been cast upon Hercules—Quis vituperavit? I can state, on the part of the Government, that no such charge has been made. During the Session we have received support in many instances, which were quoted by the hon. Member for Montrose yesterday. The measures which we have been able to bring before the House have been generally supported; and indeed some of those which have been abandoned or postponed, such, for example, as the proposed repeal of the navigation laws, were supported by considerable majorities. The hon. Member seems to suppose that we have attacked the House because some observations have been made about time being wasted in prolix and tedious debates. Now, I do not wish upon this occasion, when there is no proposal before the House for a change in our forms, to enter into a discussion whether any and what alteration in those forms may be useful for our present habits and practice. But this I will say, that there was formerly no practice more sanctioned and encouraged by usage than the practice of discussing the subject of petitions at the time when they were first presented. Hon. Gentlemen who presented petitions usually defended the sentiments expressed in them at some length; and I have heard debates go on till 9 or 10 o'clock at night, in consequence of the speeches made by various Members on the presentation of such petitions. And yet that practice has been abolished, nor has any complaint been made of a hindrance to free discussion. If that be the case, it shows that there may be some alteration in the forms of this House without injury to the essential rights of discussion, and without impediment to the freedom of debate. Hon. Gentlemen resisted when the proposal for that alteration was made; and I remember 709 that one statesman, by whom freedom of debate was certainly valued as much as any man—I mean Lord Brougham—loudly protested against the change, and declared that freedom of debate would be lost if the alteration were made. No evil consequences, however, have resulted from it; so little true is it that by a change of forms you sacrifice that freedom of debate which is essential to fair discussion. The hon. Gentleman has gone into a commentary on the proceedings of this Session, and has led the House through various measures, to some of which I shall allude. But let me, before I do so, remark upon one sentence which fell from the hon. Gentleman towards the conclusion of his speech. He said, that in this year there had been sedition in England, incipient rebellion in Ireland, and revolution in Europe. Now, let me call the attention of the House to the fact that the Ministers of the Crown are chiefly appointed to administer the affairs of the empire; and when we see that sedition in England has been met with a vigorous arm by the Secretary of State for the Home Department—assisted by his Colleagues—when we see that rebellion in Ireland has been suppressed by the measures taken by this House, and the energy shown by the Lord Lieutenant in Ireland—when we find that revolution on the Continent has not shaken the institutions of this country; and that, however convulsed the state of Europe may have been, we have preserved peace hitherto in the midst of these convulsions—I must say, as a Member of the Government attacked, that the administration of the empire cannot have been so very defective; sedition having been quelled, rebellion suppressed, and peace preserved in the midst of European convulsion. I am the more induced to make this remark, because however the hon. Gentleman may praise the ancient constitution of this country—in which I am most happy to second him, though perhaps my panegyric may be less eloquent than his own—I must yet remind the hon. Member and the House, that this supposed duty of the Members of a Government to introduce a great number of measures to Parliament, and to carry those measures through Parliament in a Session, is a duty which is new to the Government of this country. That duty may have been more or less well performed by the present Government; but it is a duty which was hardly known and recognised by the Governments and Ministers of this coun- 710 try at a former period. I will mention three Ministers who were supported by as large majorities as any which can be found in Parliamentary history. The first of these is Sir R. Walpole. It would be really difficult to name the legislative measures which Sir R. Walpole introduced. There was, indeed, a measure which he brought forward involving an alteration in the Excise laws, but he failed to carry it. I may mention also Lord Chatham, who was supported by a Parliamentary majority for six Sessions almost without debate, and with hardly a division, and yet, with the exception of a Bill which provided that soldiers' pensions might be paid in advance, with a deduction of 5 per cent, I do not know any Act to which the name of Lord Chatham is attached. Another Minister of the Crown, who was supported by a large majority, and of whom his supporters used to say that he was born to maintain the institutions of the country—I allude to Mr. Pitt—stands in the same position. With the exception of his great measure for the union of this country with Ireland, few legislative acts can be found to which the name of Pitt is attached; and it is well known that be attempted, but was not able to carry, a measure on the subject of tithes, which was not ultimately carried till the period of Lord Grey's Administration. I say, therefore, that it is not the sole or principal duty of a Government to introduce legislative measures, or to carry them through Parliament. I am bound to declare that in times of great difficulty and pressure, the chief portion of the time and attention of Ministers must be given to those questions of administration which devolve upon them in the exercise of the discretionary power vested in the Crown, and which every day may call forth. When, therefore, these questions of administration have to be attended to, it is more difficult than usual to watch the details of every measure which may be brought before Parliament. And yet, notwithstanding this state of things, and the difficulty which we felt in meeting them, I find that out of 125 Bills introduced by the Government during the present Session, 105 Bills have been already passed, or have received so much of the sanction of the House as to make it probable that they will receive the assent of the Crown during the present Session. Many of these Bills are of the utmost importance. The Crime and Outrage (Ireland) Bill has produced most important effects in suppressing 711 the system of assassination which prevailed there before the Act passed. The Evicted Destitute Poor Bill is likely, on the other hand, to be of great use in mitigating the cruelties of those evictions which sometimes take place in Ireland. With regard to the measure for the sale of encumbered estates, I own I consider that while it requires the utmost attention to its details, it is still a measure which may lay the foundation for a sounder state of society in Ireland; and I trust that the encumbered estates which may be sold may come into the possession of landlords who may be sensible of the policy of attending to the improvement of the estate, and the wants of the population. But the hon. Gentleman has gone through a number of measures with regard to which he says that the vacillation, or change of purpose, of the Government, has produced the most injurious effects. The first question to which he referred was the question relating to commercial distress. Now, every one knows what was the course pursued with regard to that subject. We were obliged, in the course of the last autumn, to take a step which might have led to a violation of the law, and which was certainly not justified according to the letter of the Act of 1844. We thought it necessary to summon Parliament to meet in consequence of our having taken that step. It was not for us to propose any measure approving of the conduct which we had pursued; but we summoned Parliament for the purpose of meeting any vote of censure which might be proposed. The party to which the hon. Gentleman belongs—because he declares himself to be not only the advocate, but a member of a party—had just at that time obtained an accession to its ranks in the person of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stamford. In the year 1846, when that party seceded from the support of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tam-worth, they displayed very great ability in assailing the measure with which they had then to deal; but it was their misfortune not to have amongst them a gentleman acquainted with official methods of transacting business. With the new Parliament, however, they had the good fortune to recruit the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stamford—a gentleman of great practical experience, of great official knowledge, and who had particularly turned his attention to the financial and monetary concerns of this country. Well, that right hon. Gentleman, 712 when the question of commercial distress was brought before the House, moved—That, looking to the state of distress which has for some time prevailed among the commercial classes, and to the general feeling of distrust and alarm by which the embarrassments of trade have been aggravated, it is the opinion of this House that Her Majesty's Ministers were justified, during the recess of Parliament, in recommending to the Bank of England, for the purpose of restoring confidence, a course of proceeding at variance with the restrictions imposed by the Act 7 and 8 Victoria, c. 32.Now, here is no matter of blame to us. We adopted a very strong measure—a measure which, if wrong, would have exposed us to the censure of Parliament and the country—and we called Parliament together to express its opinion on the subject; but the very first person who called upon the House to pass a resolution justifying our conduct was the right hon. Gentleman, who belonged to the party most opposed to us. The hon. Member then entertained the House very greatly with his accounts of the four budgets. The whole of the joke—of which I believe the noble Lord (Lord G. Bentinck), whom I see laughing at it opposite, is the real author—lies in giving to every statement made with respect to matters of finance the name of a budget. When the Minister whose business it is to attend to the finances of the country makes any statement, in answer to questions put to him, the statement is directly called a budget. The appellation is considered very witty, everybody laughs, and it is exceedingly pleasant to talk of a Chancellor of the Exchequer who has produced four budgets. But, Sir, I have known Ministers, before now, who have brought forward propositions on the subject of finance which have not been palatable to Parliament or the country. When I first had a seat in Parliament, I voted against the continuance of an income-tax for two years, which was proposed for the purpose of winding up the accounts of the war. On that proposition the Government of the day was defeated. The consequence was, that on the following day the noble Lord who was at the head of that Government gave up another tax—part of the war tax. The Government of that day, not having the means of paying off the war establishments which they had expected to obtain, did not press upon the House the views which they entertained; but in those days we, who were in opposition, were not so witty, and we never thought of saying that a Chancellor 713 of the Exchequer had brought forward three or four budgets. The Government of the day gave up the expectation they had of reducing the debt of the country, and the consequence is, that the debt of the country is larger than it would have been, and the country was freed from the additional income-tax. The hon. Gentleman finds fault with us for agreeing to a Committee on the Estimates, and he draws a very fine distinction between this Committee and the Committees appointed by Mr. Pitt, Lord Castlereagh, and the Duke of Wellington. But the objects of the Committees appointed by Mr. Pitt, by Lord Castlereagh in 1818, and by the Duke of Wellington in 1828, were in effect the same. [Mr. DISRAELI: They were appointed under a message from the Crown.] True; that was the difference; and the hon. Gentleman thinks that the appointment of a Committee of the House of Commons is contrary to the spirit of the constitution, and likely to lead to the most dangerous consequences, because there was not a message from the Crown that it was desirable that an inquiry by a Committee should take place. I accept that distinction, but, at the same time, I must say that I do not think that the absence of a message from the Crown is likely to be so exceedingly dangerous a precedent, What really would have been dangerous was for us to have left to the Committee to say what should be the number of men employed in the Army and Navy. But we did no such thing; on the contrary, we stated that the opinion of the Government was that a certain number of men ought to be employed for the present year, and that no expression of opinion on the part of the Committee would induce us to change that determination. Everything, therefore, which the hon. Gentleman says of that kind, I think is a mere delusion on his part, and has no foundation whatever. I must say, at the same time, that a great benefit has arisen from the inquiry which has been prosecuted with respect to the naval estimates, which has not only been of great use to the House, but which has been taken into consideration by the Government, and, for the most part, adopted. So much, then, for the precedent of a Committee on the estimates being an useless measure. The hon. Gentleman has adverted to the question of the Public Health Bill. Now, that is a measure which, so far from being ashamed of, I am very glad to have been enabled to introduce to Par- 714 liament; and I feel some pride in being a Member of a Ministry which has passed a measure touching upon an untrodden field of legislation, and which, in the present state of our social relations, is likely to produce the greatest benefit to this empire. The hon. Gentleman says that this Bill has been altered in this House; but I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman, who wishes the House of Commons to have an influence in carrying on the affairs of the country, could hardly desire that the Government should bring forward a measure and carry it unchanged, and that the opinions, the animadversions, and even the remarks of Members of the House of Commons, should hardly induce the Government to modify a measure which they had introduced. The hon. Gentleman next referred to the navigation laws. We had obtained the assent of the House to the principles of that change; but the discussions which had taken place on other subjects have, as the hon. Gentleman truly says, prevented our going on with that measure. When, however, the hon. Gentleman attacks us on the subject of the sugar duties, I think he might as well have mentioned what has been the history of the change in the sugar duties. In the year 1841 we proposed a measure giving a differential duty of 12s. per cwt. in favour of colonial as against foreign sugar. It was then thought advisable by those who represented the colonial interests to make that question a question of party, and, if possible, to overthrow the existing Government upon that question; and they succeeded in that object. They obtained a great triumph, resting as they did, their case upon the assertion that the admission of any foreign sugar whatever would be ruinous to the interests of the colonies. Several years elapsed, and opinions on free trade had gained great influence in this country and in the House. We passed another measure respecting the sugar duties, and then those who represented the interests of the sugar-producing colonies came forward and asked, as a favour, that a differential duty of 2s. less than we proposed in 1841 might be imposed. But again, following the course which they pursued in 1841, they made the matter a political and a party question, and they objected to the proposition of the Government—a proposition which they had not examined. This led to great debates, and these debates were continued by the noble Lord (Lord G. Bentinck) on other points, 715 not very closely connected with the subject to which they related. The noble Lord complained of a missing despatch, which never was missing, but which was in the Colonial Office, and which was in due time laid before this House. The noble Lord found fault with us for some arithmetical errors, but we defended those errors, and we rest content with the de-fence. [Lord G. BENTINCK: You adopted some of the amendments.] It cannot be denied that the measure which was brought forward with regard to sugar did take up a great part of the Session. I do not find fault with the discussion which took place on that question; and the hon. Gentleman is mistaken in supposing that the Government ever did find fault with fair discussion on any subject. The hon. Gentleman proceeded to comment on the conduct of the House with regard to writs and corrupt practices. I certainly supposed that this was not a question on which it was necessary for the Government to take the lead in this House; and I recollect acting many years ago with other Gentlemen who are now Members of this House, when I used to take my own line on this question, and when I was successful in carrying Motions for inquiry, and afterwards in passing Bills for punishing corrupt practices. It is by no means, in my opinion, necessary for the Government to take up these measures. At the same time, if I were inclined to complain of any opposition which has been offered during the Session, I should be inclined to complain of the opposition which was, in the first instance, offered to the Bill of the hon. Member for Flint, and afterwards to the Bill introduced by the Government for a similar purpose. A great deal of time was taken up with those measures, and so much time was taken up with them that, when the Bill went to the House of Lords, I was informed by a very great authority—not the Lord Chief Justice—that a noble Duke, who takes a great interest in the proceedings of the other House of Parliament, was of opinion that this Bill was not one which should be proceeded with during the present Session. We, therefore, thought it more prudent to postpone the Bill to another Session, rather than press it against the adverse opinion of the House of Lords. I have made a short statement with regard to some of the measures to which the hon. Gentleman has alluded. I cannot well answer the charge which the hon. Gentleman has brought forward, 716 when he speaks of a political plague-spot: it seemed to me that, though in three-fourths of his speech he undertook to defend the House of Commons, in the other quarter of it he made it the object of his invective. The hon. Gentleman had complained that there is no regular and organised party in this House. When, however, I sat on the other side of the House, I am far from saying that I did not belong to a party—because, I must say, that the existence of party tends, and that most materially, to the maintenance of the free spirit of our institutions. Having been a member of a party when out of office, and again in office, and having been united with men in whom I feel the greatest confidence, and for whose opinion I entertain the greatest respect—men whose abilities I esteem, and on whose constitutional knowledge I have the greatest reliance—I do not mean to controvert the statements expressed by the hon. Gentleman with respect to the necessity of party. But if the hon. Gentleman and the noble Lord have not been able to form a party according to their views and array an organised opposition to the Government, I do not think that the Government is on that account much to blame. Considering the labours which are imposed upon us, I think that the task of forming and consolidating a party in opposition is rather too much for us to undertake. If I may be allowed any criticism, I think that the noble Lord and the hon. Gentleman have rather mistaken the grounds on which they have attempted to form their party. There are many Gentlemen in this House—strongly attached to the political constitution of this country—strongly attached to the Established Church of this country—holding opinions reverenced and hallowed by antiquity—who, undoubtedly, might, if they so thought fit, combine and form a party, which, if inconvenient to the Government, would, I am nevertheless persuaded, be useful to the House and to the country. But, if the noble Lord and the hon. Gentleman persist in saying, that the cause of free trade has been betrayed and abandoned, and that they will endeavour in some future year to revive protective duties, I think that they are straining after that which is unattainable; and that there is no prospect of their forming a consistent and a coherent party while they endeavour to attain such an object. The hon. Gentleman has done us the honour to pay a compliment to several Members of the ex- 717 isting Administration. I do not mean to make a return for those eulogiums, when I say that the energy, the laborious zeal, and the untiring perseverance of the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn—the ability and eloquence which have been shown, not only upon this but upon other occasions, by the hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House—and the acquaintance with business possessed by many other Gentlemen who sit on the Opposition side of the House—ought to form materials for a party to which a considerable portion of the country may fairly look with confidence. If they do not succeed in forming such a party, it is for them to explain the cause of the failure. I have taken the liberty of giving them a hint, and that I think is as much as I can be expected to do. With regard to the whole of this Session, I think there have been several circumstances which will account for the great delay which has occurred in the transaction of public business. Some of these relate to the issue of new writs, and to matters which belong to the first Session of a new Parliament. Some of them, therefore, we may expect to be corrected in a future Session. I think, however, that it will be worth while for Members of this House to consider whether, while we preserve these valuable rules of debates, it would not be desirable for some Members to refrain from giving us so much of their opinions, and so frequently addressing the House at present. It would be invidious on my part were I to point out any hon. Members who might be considered obnoxious to this observation; when, however, the hon. Member says that he comes here to defend the House of Commons, I really must say, that the House of Commons is not the defending, but the complaining party. The House of Commons is the plaintiff in the cause; at least 49–50ths of the House complain of the other fraction of the House, on account of their being the cause of the delay which occurs in the transaction of public business. I am quite certain, that if the opinion of the majority of the House could be consulted, they would, on certain occasions, say, "Here is a speech which might well be spared; we have heard it five or six times before, and therefore we do not feel it absolutely necessary that we should hear it again;" but on the subject of the whole of the Session I must say, that the measures which have been passed form no insignificant proportion 718 of the Bills which have been introduced by the Government. Out of 125 Bills which have been introduced by the Government during the present Session, 105 have been passed; and it will be in the recollection of the House, that at the beginning of the Session, we had only two days a week, or eight days a month, allotted for the purpose of proposing Bills, and at the same time we had the estimates and financial plans of the year to submit to Parliament. I do maintain, above all, that, as I have already stated in the commencement of my address to the House, with sedition in England, incipient rebellion in Ireland, and a convulsion in Europe, the labour of administration is the chief business to which we ought to devote our attention. There have been moments when every one must have felt that a slight indiscretion might have provoked foreign nations—there have been moments when a slight want of watchfulness or care might have given an inconsiderable number of miscreants an opportunity of involving the country in confusion. Wishing to preserve the tranquillity of Europe—valuing peace above all price—and thinking that the war of 1793 was unnecessary for the purpose for which it was set on foot and maintained, we are prepared to devote our best energies, and our constant endeavours, to the maintenance of amicable relations with foreign countries. Valuing, as I do, our institutions, and believing that they are the best adapted of any which ever were framed for preserving the liberty of the community, I trust that whoever may succeed us in the task of future legislation will have to defend, and not to restore, the constitution of this country.
§ MR. HUME
regretted the observations of the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire as to party. He believed that party had been the bane of the country; measures were carried for political aggrandisement without regard to administration of affairs, and it was in that manner that so much of our national debt had been incurred. He would acknowledge that during the time he had been in that House, if he had observed one thing more satisfactory than another, it had been the break up of that aristocratic party which had hitherto ruled the country, and prevented beneficial measures being carried; he, therefore, must protest against the hope which the hon. Gentleman had expressed of reviving that party.
§ MR. OSBORNE
said, that on the one side of the question everything had been said by the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, and on the other by the noble Lord, and that debate would close like many modern duels. Both parties seemed satisfied; but there was another party whom neither the noble Lord nor his hon. Friend represented, and however able the speech of his hon. Friend, or however witty the speech of the noble Lord as to the measures of the Government, that party—namely, the people—would look with indifference on the attack of his hon. Friend, or the defence of the noble Lord. They had heard something of the fish dinner of the Government, and he really thought the House required some defence, because the noble Lord had said that owing to the tedious speeches of hon. Members the public business had been impeded; but it would have been much more apposite if his hon. Friend had defended the two hon. Members for Stafford and Youghal instead of the House of Commons. As the House was fond of statistical information, he would state that an hon. Friend of his had calculated the speeches of those hon. Members, and they amounted to five weeks ordinary debates of the closest printing—speeches, too, not from metropolitan Members, or Gentlemen representing large constituencies, but from Members for two small boroughs, the reputation of one of which was certainly not the most brilliant. But with reference to the fish dinner. He had the pleasure of dining at Greenwich a few days ago, and had some conversation with the waiter. He asked the waiter how the dinner of the Ministers went off. "Oh! Sir," said he, "they looked quite like a family party, but they were more moderate than the last Ministers." He agreed with the waiter—and he thought the country would agree with him too-the Ministers were like a family party, and were moderate men. He would refer to one of their measures, the Sugar Bill. Was there ever a greater failure than that measure of the great economist of the Government? With reference, however, to another measure—that of the Corrupt Practices at Elections Bill—he must say that his hon. Friend was too apt to presume on the ignorance of the House. In order to make a joke against the present Attorney General, his hon. Friend stated that the Bill was thrown out in the other House on the Motion of Lord Denman, who was Attorney General at the time of the Reform 720 Bill; but his hon. Friend was incorrect in his facts, for Sir T. Denman was Solicitor General and not Attorney General at the time to which his hon. Friend alluded. Upon another point he would observe that his hon. Friend the Member for Montrose had, in his opinion, been guilty this Session of a great abrogation of his privileges. Formerly, every individual grievance could be discussed on the Motion for reading the order of the day; but at eleven o'clock at night his hon. Friend had moved and the House had resolved, that no Motion for reading the orders of the day should be necessary; so that one opportunity of discussing such grievances was lost to the people. As to the four budgets to which his hon. Friend had referred, he himself believed that the long odds were that they should even yet have a fifth. Upon the sanitary measure he would only say that, if the Government were sincere in their desire to secure the health of the public, why did they not take off the tax on soap, and the window duty? He regretted, however, that his hon. Friend at the end of his brilliant speech had thought it necessary to astonish the natives of his party, by rubbing up the old Vauxhall transparency of traditionary influences; it went to ignore the existence of the people. What was it that prevented such men as Pitt, Chatham, and Walpole, from bringing in good measures, but the opposition of those Gentlemen who kept the traditionary influences of the country? He regretted also that in this debate the state of Ireland had been passed over. The noble Lord was about to visit that country. He trusted that the visit would not be of the usual character—a trumpet dinner at the Castle in full uniform, and a return home knowing all about Ireland. If the noble Lord went merely to pay such a visit, or consult with the distinguished individual at the head of affairs there, he might have as much information by post. As to the coercive measures they had passed for Ireland, they might have taken credit for them if they had passed measures of another kind. He would not, however, believe that the Protestant feelings of this country were represented by the fierce bigotry of those who had in that House pretended to represent them. The Protestant party must give up for ever the idea that the Roman Catholics had not a good right to self-government; and he hoped the noble Lord would, on going into that country, give effect to those long-cherished plans of 721 which they had heard so much, but had seen so little. Ireland was the difficulty of the late Government; but tenfold was it so of the present. They might take credit for their coercive measures; but the time would arrive when those clouds which were spoken of by a late Minister might appear on the horizon, and this temporary panic—for he could not dignify the late movement in Ireland by the name of insurrection—and the miserable movement of the Chartists here: he did not refer to the hon. Member for Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor), who, he believed, was the only red republican in the House, but to those miserable carpenters and others who were out of work—would result in a reaction that would require measures of a different kind from the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, and all the vulgar precedents in for governing the people.
§ MR. HUDSON
complained of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, after he had, in June, stated that he should content himself with deficiency bills, now coming forward and deranging the commerce and money market of the country by announcing his determination to take another course. He would take that opportunity of observing, that notwithstanding the late weather, he believed that the wheat crops were good; in fact, in the north of England he had never seen finer.
§ MR. DISRAELI
wished to explain, with reference to an observation of the hon. Member for Middlesex, that on turning to the red book he found that Sir T. Denman was Attorney General at the time the Reform Bill was passed.
§ Order of the Day read, and subject at at end.