THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, I that, having brought these Bills into the House, he thought it right at once to state 1065 that he feared, even if the House should assent to the second reading, that there would arise very serious difficulties in passing them through Committee; so that he despaired of being able to carry them through their ulterior stages and to pass them into law. He was bound also to state that, since the first reading of those Bills, circumstances had arisen which he thought went a considerable way towards impugning the principle upon which they had been founded. He would briefly state the nature of the difficulties to which he referred. Hon. Members who had been present during the previous discussions upon the subject would, he was sure, do him the justice to remember that, while he maintained that it was the duty of Parliament to deal with the bribery and corruption which prevailed in certain constituencies, he nevertheless said, in answer to the objection which was raised, that the disfranchisement of those voters whom these Bills proposed to disfranchise, would be a violation of the immunity which had been held out to them, while, on the one hand, he asserted, as a lawyer, that, looking at the term of the Act under which the Commissioners were appointed, he had no doubt that the immunity was an immunity from the penalties of conviction or judgment by law in respect of bribery, and did not go the length of tying up the hands of Parliament, if Parliament thought it necessary to interpose for the purpose of rescuing the electoral bodies from the state of venality into which they had unfortunately fallen; yet that, on the other hand, he most readily agreed that if it could be shown that, either in that House or out of it, language had been held by persons in authority which was calculated to lead those witnesses to believe that a bargain had been made, that if they would make disclosures to the Commissioners they should receive as a reward complete absolution and exemption from all consequences, penal, legal, or legislative, in respect of the deeds of which they confessed themselves to have been guilty—then he at once and frankly declared that, if that were made to appear, he should be the last man to ask that House to disfranchise those voters; for though it appeared to him in the last degree important that Parliament should do something to purify those constituencies which had been proved to be corrupt, still he most readily acknowledged that even so important an object would be dearly purchased if it were obtained at the 1066 sacrifice of the public faith. Since the first introduction of the Bills, he considered that some case had been made out by those who had opposed them; and that, whether rightly or wrongly, a general impression had prevailed that those parties who had before the Commissioners made a clean breast of it with respect to their corrupt practices were not to be visited with the consequences, either legal or legislative. He was bound, also, to say, that in two or three instances the Commissioners had considered that the indemnity under the Act was capable of being interpreted in a larger sense than was originally intended; and this had perhaps given rise to the general impression that prevailed with regard to this indemnity. He knew that many Members whose opinions were entitled to the greatest weight, entertained strong doubts as to whether parties were not, under this indemnity, free from future consequences. This opinion was not confined to one side of the House; and though on other questions he might differ from hon. Members, still he felt bound on this to receive some of these expressions of their opinion with respect, from such Members as, he might instance, the hon. Member for Midhurst (Mr. Walpole), of whose sincere wish to put down bribery in every form there could be no doubt—and several Gentlemen of the Opposition, who, looking at the case of parties under the indemnity as made out, had expressed some doubt as to the propriety of proceeding with these measures; and he confessed this had made considerable impression on his mind. Practical difficulties had also since arisen, which rendered it almost impossible to carry these Bills through Committee. The schedules to these Reports, and on which the present Bills were framed, contained much and not unimportant matter, and it had been discovered that mistakes and inaccuracies had been made in copying them from. the Reports and transcribing them for printing; in some cases the names of parties were incorrectly written, and the result was that an innocent man was made to take the place of a guilty one. In some cases the description of parties had been transferred from one man to another, and in consequence uncertainty had arisen where the names of parties were the same. He had received communications from various parties who were so situated with reference to their names and descriptions, complaining that they had been called upon to bear the punishment for offences committed by 1067 others; and it was quite clear that he could not call upon the House to disfranchise any number of voters under such circumstances. Then came the question, before what tribunal could such cases be decided; it could not be before the Commissioners, for having made their Report their powers had ceased—it could only, then, be before a Committee of the whole House, which would then have to decide on evidence not given on oath, but which was founded on records which were taken upon oath; they would have a vast quantity of claims poured in, which would give rise not only to delay and inconvenience, but the result would also probably be unsatisfactory. In consequence of these difficulties, the Government felt that they ought not to ask the House to proceed with the present Bills. He confessed that this was a result which he could not contemplate with any degree of pleasure. There could be no doubt but that the state of these constituencies was a scandal and a reproach; there could be no doubt that there was in every one of these constituencies a large body of voters who, inured to bribery, valued their votes only as the means of obtaining money, and sold their franchise to the highest bidder; and although these persons did not constitute the majority of these constituencies, yet they were numerous enough in all to turn the elections; and the issue of such elections could only be looked upon as the result of bribery. The question then came, what could be done to prevent this? He owned it was humiliating that Parliament should be prevented from specially legislating to put down such practices; but they could not disfranchise the whole of such constituencies as Cambridge, Hull, or Canterbury. Such a course might be thought unjust, there being only a certain portion of the electors contaminated by corrupt practices, the great majority still forming a good constituency. In such cases Parliament could hardly be asked to disfranchise the whole; and the only course that remained was to proceed on the principle of these Bills, and he regretted that circumstances should have prevented their being carried into effect. Something ought to be done, for it was not possible for them to expect anything like a pure or fair election while bribery and corruption were practised as they at present were in some constituencies. They might hope that something would be derived from the measures which were at present receiving the attention of 1068 a Committee; but although they might prevent bribery from extending to places where it had not taken root, but where venality and corruption had become inveterate—as in the case of Canterbury, Cambridge, and the rest—he was not very sanguine that they would be able to extirpate it by any measure of general legislation. He hoped that the efforts of the Committee would be attended with a happy result; but when they came to another general election, he was afraid that they would still find it necessary to issue Commissions to probe still further these constituencies. He trusted that for the future no doubt would go abroad as to the true construction of the indemnity under the Act of Parliament; and he trusted that the assent given by a large majority of the House to the principle of these Bills would teach constituencies that, although in the present instance Parliament was indisposed to interfere, still that in future, when the Act of Parliament was looked into, they would perceive that, while it was compulsory on parties to give evidence even as to their own misconduct, still the only immunity granted to them would be that they were free from the penal consequences of the existing law, and that Parliament would not be prevented from interposing to deprive them of their franchise, given to them for the public good, but which they had abused to their own private ends, and shown themselves unworthy of possessing. The hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by moving, that the Order of the Day for the Second Reading of the Canterbury Bribery Prevention Bill should be read, for the purpose of being discharged.
§ SIR FREDERIC THESIGER
said, that, having given notice of his intention to oppose these Bills, the House would allow him to make a few observations with regard to the course now taken by the Government, He must do his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General the justice to say, that throughout the whole of these proceedings he had unquestionably conducted himself in the fairest and most candid manner. At the time when he (the Attorney General) introduced these Bills, he distinctly stated that, if the House should be of opinion that, either directly or indirectly, a compact had been entered into with those parties whom it was proposed to disfranchise, lie would be one of the last men in the world to stand up and say that such a compact should be violated, or that such parties 1069 should not be protected by the indemnity. He (Sir F. Thesiger) was obliged to his hon. and learned Friend for the observations he had made with respect to the Members who had been opposed to the Course intended to have been pursued by the Government; for he (Sir F. Thesiger) was aware that the course which Members in Opposition had taken was open to great misconstruction, and it might easily have been represented that their object was to screen from punishment those parties who had been guilty of bribery:—and, though he was at all times averse to making professions of disinterestedness, still he felt bound to say that he did not yield to any man in aversion to corrupt practices at elections, and he should always be ready to join in any effectual measure for the suppression or punishment of such practices. He believed that no better punishment could be devised than that of the perpetual disqualification of parties who had been guilty of such practices; and, therefore, if he had not felt that by consenting to these Bills he would have been a party to a breach of faith, pledged to these individuals, and also have been violating one of the first principles of justice, he should most unquestionably have left those whom it was proposed to disfranchise to their fate. He had, however, had a strong opinion as to these measures from the time when they were first introduced—being convinced that the voters whom his hon. and learned Friend proposed to disfranchise were morally as well as legally entitled to the indemnity which was held out to them when they gave their evidence before the Commissioners—and he had felt it his duty to interpose in the manner he had done. He begged that he might not be supposed to be making the slightest reflection on the Government, or those who took a different view of this subject from himself, for he believed that the Government originally entertained the opinion that they were entitled to pursue the course which they had taken, and he was himself of opinion that, were such course open to them, they ought to have pursued it. He would not enter into any arguments, as the Bills were withdrawn, to satisfy the House that the view which had been taken by those in opposition to the measures was the correct one, though he thought he might go the length of saying that he could satisfy the House, not merely on moral, but legal grounds, that the parties who had given evidence were protected by 1070 the indemnity given to them under the Act of Parliament. But he must make one or two observations with regard to the haste and carelessness with which these Bills had been drawn. His hon. and learned Friend had given them one or two instances of the inaccuracies in the schedules, but not all, for he (Sir F. Thesiger) perceived that, among others, would be found a proposal to disfranchise two women. It appeared as though the party who had prepared this schedule had anticipated the time when universal suffrage was to prevail, and had taken the precaution that Elizabeth Williams and Jane Moon should not participate in the general boon. He would give another instance of haste and carelessness more important than this; he found, on looking over the different Reports, that the Commissioners, in respect to several candidates, had reported that bribery was committed for their benefit, and with their knowledge and assent; and with respect to one of these persons, whose name he would not mention, the Commissioners reported in the same terms against him in respect of the elections of 1841, 1847, and 1852; but on looking into the schedule of the names of persons to be disfranchised on the ground of having given bribes for the name of this individual, he had not found it. From this it was evident there had been great haste and want of consideration in the mode in which the schedules had been prepared. He regretted, considering the view now taken by the Attorney General, and which he (Sir F. Thesiger) took to be the view of the Government, that this opinion had not been entertained at an earlier period—for they had all the materials whereon to have founded their judgment—and so have been prevented from presenting these Bills, which the Attorney General had confessed himself unable to proceed with. He considered that the present proceedings on the part of the Government fully justified the course which he had been prepared to pursue in the event of their having proceeded with these Bills. He did not wish to say anything disagreeable, but he was quite satisfied that the character of the House would have been compromised by an attempt to proceed with these measures, and he therefore naturally agreed with the proposal that they should be withdrawn.
§ MR. W. O. STANLEY
thought the course taken by the Government was liable to considerable censure, and that, when the public came to consider, they would be 1071 of opinion that Parliament was trifling with legislation on this subject, and was not sincere in the endeavour to prevent the corruption which pervaded many of the constituencies. He thought the course taken in these Bills was not justified by the Reports of the Commissioners, and that the total disfranchisement of the constituencies would have been the proper course to have adopted—the evidence before the House was quite sufficient to have justified that mode of dealing with those places. There had been great negligence on the part of the officers of the Crown with respect to this question. They had been intrusted with the preparation of a measure which would answer the ends of justice; those ends had now been defeated, and no proposition had been made on the part of the Government to punish those boroughs, which were a disgrace to the country.
MR. VERNON SMITH
said, he concurred in the proposal to withdraw these Bills, and he entertained great doubts as to whether they ought ever to have been introduced. He hoped it would not be understood that the Attorney General, in saying that in some instances a wide construction had been put upon the terms of the indemnity by one or two of the Commissioners, had sought to cast any imputation on those gentlemen, or that they had, in so doing, gone beyond their instructions. He hoped the noble Lord would supply an omission of his hon. and learned Friend. The hon. and learned Gentleman had told them that he trusted that something more efficient for the prevention of bribery than the present measures would result from the attention a Select Committee was now giving to several Bills; but he had not stated what course the Government intended to pursue with regard to the issuing of the writs for these places; and he would ask the noble Lord if he would do so? After the withdrawal of these Bills, any Member, having given seven days' notice, might move for the issuing of these writs in a manner which might take the House by surprise. He therefore wished the Government would state whether they intended to issue the writs, or whether they intended to ask the House to suspend them until they were made acquainted with the course which the Committee at present sitting might recommend the House to adopt?
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
said, that it was certainly a disappointment to him that 1072 the measure which he had introduced last Session with a view of appointing Commissions in order to ascertain where bribery existed, and then to punish and prevent it, had only been partially successful. He said partially successful, and presumed that he might do so, because he thought it a great matter that the House had now the means—which it had not before—of obtaining evidence on the spot, of bringing the evil home, and of ascertaining whether elections had been gained by bribery. This was certainly one step towards amendment; and he did trust that the measures referred to the Committee, and with which the Gentlemen composing the Committee were taking great pains, would be brought before the House in such a shape as would, at all events, tend to correct the evils which at present existed. It was the opinion of Government that the writs in the present instances should not be issued until the Bills before the Committee had been disposed of. If these Bills were approved by Parliament, there might be a chance that the disgusting scenes which had taken place at elections, as detailed in the Reports of the Commissioners, and avowed by the parties, would not be repeated at the next elections. If the Bills should be rejected either by this or the other House of Parliament, then he thought there would not be sufficient grounds to refuse to issue these writs, though he was afraid that then there would but be a renewal of the practices in those constituencies—of the disgraceful practices complained of.
§ MR. G. BUTT
begged to say a few words on what had fallen from the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, who would forgive him for suggesting, and, on reflection, would agree with him in thinking, that what he had just urged as a reason for the postponement of the writs was not a reason which ought to operate either with himself or the House. The noble Lord had said that the Committee now sitting was most anxious to do all in their power to submit the measures referred to them to the House in such a shape as would, to a great extent, cure the evils of which everybody complained; but the reason why the present Bills were withdrawn was, that though the letter of the Statute would justify the Bills, yet that the spirit of that Act would not do so—these Bills being withdrawn, though persons were found guilty by the Commissioners of bribery and corruption, yet they 1073 remained good voters. There was no reason why Canterbury, Cambridge, or Hull should not have representatives, and whatever might be the Bill which should come from the Committee, it could not contain any retrospective clause which could have any effect or ought to be any reason for not allowing these towns to be represented in Parliament. He therefore submitted that there was no reason why the writs should be withheld. With respect to what had fallen from the hon. and learned Attorney General, his very excellent reasons for not proceeding with these Bills were equally strong and cogent reasons against their ever having been introduced.
§ MR. T. DUNCOMBE
said, he had understood that the order that no writ should issue without seven days' notice was a Sessional Order of last Session only, and that consequently it was now competent for any hon. Member at any moment to move the issue of the writs for these five delinquent boroughs. If it was the view of the noble Lord that the writs should not issue until these Bribery Bills had been disposed of, a Resolution should be passed to that effect. He should certainly object to any writ being issued to these boroughs during the present Parliament, and he was obliged to say that, if they allowed these boroughs to go scot free, after the Reports of the Commissioners, the sooner they repealed the Act under which the Commissions were constituted, and the sooner they restored the franchise to St. Albans and Sudbury, the better. He should like to know under what circumstances they could possibly expect ever to get Reports from Commissioners so strong as those that had been made in reference to Canterbury, Cambridge—not so strong—Hull, Maldon, and Barnstaple—most of them old offenders in this matter? The Attorney General had made such a speech in opposition to his own measures as the hon. and learned Member for Stamford might almost have been jealous of. The Attorney General seemed not to be very sanguine that bribery would be put down, and yet nothing was to be done. He told them that, in the case of a general election, if bribery was repeated, fresh Commissions could be issued; but where, in the name of goodness, did they expect to get better Reports than those they already had? If they did not act on the Reports of those Commissioners, the sooner they washed 1074 their hands of the entire matter and let everybody bribe away as they liked the better. Quite enough had been made out for extinguishing these boroughs, though there was no case for disfranchising individuals in the way proposed by these Bills. There were no precedents for such a course, but they had the precedents of St. Albans and Sudbury for disfranchising the whole boroughs. He thought a breach of good faith would have been committed had the disfranchisement of individuals been proceeded with, and on these grounds it was not his intention to have voted for the partial disfranchisement of the boroughs; but he held that they had a right to disqualify the whole lot of them, or to add new constituencies to them. The case of New Shoreham was in point. There were certain voters to be disfranchised, and the whole borough was disfranchised, but a new constituency was formed by the addition of the 40s. freeholders of Bramber, and so they got rid of the Christian Club—a club sworn and bound together, "on the true faith of a Christian," to return the best man they could find for the most money. He hoped the House would go seriously to work upon this question; but, assuredly, if they let such delinquent boroughs as the present escape, all their professions about the extinction of bribery would only make them the laughing-stock of the country.
§ MR. DISRAELI
Sir, I think some explanation is due from the Government to the House, as to the views they entertained at the beginning of the Session, with respect to the probable progress of the public business, and what prospect there was of carrying the important measures of which, at its commencement, they gave notice. There are seven important measures of which the Government have given notice this Session; indeed, I cannot recall an instance in which so many important measures were introduced to the notice of Parliament by any Ministry:—a great many of these measures were brought forward with all the authority of being mentioned in Her Majesty's gracious Speech from the Throne. But those measures not thus announced were not of less importance than the others. Let us for a moment consider the character of these measures. They all of them touch upon the most considerable subjects which can engage 1075 Parliament. I have noted down, while this discussion has been going on, these seven measures. Of these seven, the Government have been defeated in three, and three they have withdrawn; the seventh will engage our attention when the present business before the House shall have terminated. They have been defeated on a Bill for the entire change of the law of settlement—on a Bill for the public education of one of Her Majesty's kingdoms—and on a Bill for the total reconstruction of Parliamentary oaths. They have withdrawn three Bills—one, the Bill before us, for the disfranchisement of a large number of persons, comprising a considerable portion of the constituencies of several boroughs; they have not introduced, but have withdrawn without introducing, a most important measure for a complete change in the Civil Service; which, so far as we can form an opinion of it, would have altered the character of the country and the whole spirit of our administration; and they have withdrawn a measure respecting Parliamentary reform. There still remains the seventh important measure—one for the reform of the University of Oxford. Upon three they have been defeated; three they have withdrawn —and upon the seventh they have received considerable, though partial, defeats. Now, we are entitled to ask what were the prospects entertained by the Government, when they introduced these important measures to our notice, as to the probability of their being able to carry them? Did they believe that they could pass a Bill for a reform of Parliament?—did they believe that they could have affected a reform in the Civil Service?—did they believe that they could have disfranchised the constituencies, or any portion of them, of offending boroughs—that they could have established a system of public education in Scotland—that they could have revised the whole Parliamentary oaths and changed the Protestant Constitution of the country—that they could, beyond all this, have settled the law of settlement, and reformed the University of Oxford? Did they believe, when they introduced these important subjects to the consideration of Parliament, that they had a fair prospect of carrying all those measures; and, if they had not any prospect of carrying those measures, were they measures which they ought to have so announced and introduced to our notice? These measures, 1076 whatever different opinions may be entertained as to their expediency and policy, have all one characteristic in common—all these seven measures are either assaults on the rights of the subject or upon the institutions of the country. That no one can deny. You met here to-night with the intention of disfranchising a considerable number of Her Majesty's subjects, and you were to proceed, after having read these Bills a second time, to a Bill which attacks the rights of the University of Oxford. You may, some of you, be of opinion that in both instances such violent measures ought to be had recourse to; but nobody can deny that one is an attack upon the rights of the electors of the country, and the other an attack upon the rights of the Universities of the country. No one will deny that the scheme of Parliamentary reform which the noble Lord introduced was au attack upon the institutions of the country. The noble Lord and his Friends may have been of opinion—though I am not assured of any one being of that opinion—that the measure was a most beneficial measure; but none can question that it would have effected great changes in the institutions of the country. No one who has given any consideration to the subject but must feel that the measure relating to the Civil Service—which, by the by, was announced in Her Majesty's gracious Speech—was a measure which probably would have effected a greater alteration in the whole habits and character of the nation than any other change which has been proposed. Abolishing, as it did, the present parochial system of education in Scotland, no one will pretend that the measure for Scottish education was not an assault upon an institution of that country. I do not think any one will say that the abrogation of the law of settlement did not affect one of the institutions of the country. After what I said just now of the Bill for altering Parliamentary oaths, I will say no more on the character of that measure. I am giving no opinion now on the merits of any of these measures, but I say this is their common characteristic;—and, if my view with respect to them be a correct one, it is in my opinion highly impolitic in any Government to bring forward measures of such a character, which they have not a fair prospect of carrying, and carrying them in the Session in which they were introduced. I shall leave it to the House to decide whether they think the Govern- 1077 ment had a fair chance of carrying these seven important measures, when Parliament met at the beginning of the year, or not. Supposing that the noble Lord had proceeded with that measure, so dear to his heart—reform of Parliament—supposing he had not raised the siege of the House of Commons, which he has maintained now for three years—does the noble Lord imagine he would, by this time, have succeeded in passing it through the House? And if he had been ever so successful, I want to know how other measures in the interval would have prospered? It is of importance to impress these circumstances on the attention of the House and country, because we must never forget we enjoy the inestimable fortune of having our affairs administered by men remarkably distinguished for their abilities—men who have made enormous sacrifices for their country—and for themselves. No man has made greater sacrifices than the noble Lord himself; for he has thrown over his old Friends and Colleagues, and connected himself with a coterie of public men who have passed a great part of their lives in depreciating his abilities and running down his eminent career. And if the noble Lord had succeeded in the object for which he made these enormous sacrifices, I should understand more clearly than I do at present the position of the noble Lord. But at the end of May to find that, out of seven of the most important measures ever proposed to Parliament, three have been withdrawn, and three have only brought defeats to the Government, I cannot help feeling that the time has come when it is impossible not to consider that we have not received that ample compensation which was held out to us for the break up of parties, for departing from the spirit and genius of our Parliamentary constitution; that we have not received that full, adequate, and ample compensation in well digested and statesmanlike measures which was held out to us; that, in short, when we were told that though the Government, to be sure, was to have no principles, it was to have "all the talents," we had a right to expect that the noble Lord would at least have done something—that, at least, he would have achieved something as compensation for this remarkable state of affairs, which has banished from him all his natural Colleagues to invisible positions in the House, and left him on that bench surrounded by those who have been decrying his career for the last quarter of a 1078 century. Sir, I think it necessary to offer these passing observations, because this is such a busy country—we have so much to do—that we have scarcely time to take stock of what our representatives are doing in the House of Commons. It is of great importance that the country should understand, now that the month of May is about to terminate, that the Government have introduced six of the most important measures which were ever introduced to the notice of Parliament, and that none of these measures have advanced or can advance a stage—three having experienced ignominious and complete discomfiture, and three having been discreetly withdrawn; and that, on the seventh, which still remains, they have already received two considerable defeats, and are destined, I trust, to-night to be still more signally discomfited.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
explained that he had not intended to reflect upon the conduct of the Commissioners in anything he had said of the errors in the schedules; on the contrary, he ascribed those errors to copyists and printers. With regard to the Commissioners having misled persons by holding out undue prospects of immunity, all he had said was, that in one or two instances the Commissioners, though using words in their announcements strictly and legally correct, had used words capable of more enlarged signification. He held one of those announcements in his hand, containing these words:—"All persons giving true answers will be indemnified from any penal process." Legally speaking, that was perfectly right; but the general interpretation had given rise to the impression that voters giving answers would be indemnified from all consequences. Nothing was further from his thoughts than to cast the slightest reflection on the Commissioners, who had most faithfully and honestly discharged the duties imposed on them.
§ THE SPEAKER
having put the question, That the Order for the Second Reading of the Canterbury Bribery Prevention Bill be now read, in order to its being discharged,
hoped, before the order was discharged, the noble Lord would answer the question about the issue of the writs.
observed, that the noble Lord had since been told that the answer 1079 was good for nothing, and that no means existed to prevent the issue of the writs at any moment.
§ MR. BRIGHT
said, he understood the noble Lord to have suggested that the writs should not be moved until the Committee on the Bribery Bills had reported, and until those Bills had passed the House. He doubted extremely whether there was anything in those Bills which would be a fair answer to any one who chose to move for these writs. That was his impression as a Member of the Committee; and he hoped the noble Lord would wait until tomorrow before pledging himself against issuing the writs, because he doubted if he would be able to maintain it on the ground he had stated.
Order for the Second Reading read, and discharged.
On Motion, that the Order for the Second Reading of the Cambridge Bribery Prevention Bill be read, in order to its being discharged,
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
said, I wish to say a few words with regard to the issuing of the writs. I understood that an order of the House, or, if not an order, at least a general understanding, that seven days' notice should be given before the issue of a writ in cases of this kind, still remained in force; and if that order does not exist, I shall move to-morrow with the view of obtaining an order of the House to that effect. It is an important measure to be taken, and should not be adopted without due notice. As to what has been said with reference to the Bills now before a Committee of this House, there is a clause in one of those Bills which disqualifies voters who shall be found guilty of bribery; and my opinion is, that if you pass a Bill containing a clause to that effect, those persons who are in the habit of receiving bribes at Canterbury, Cambridge, and other places, will be deterred from so doing by a state of the law which exposes them to disqualification; making them, in short, infamous in the boroughs to which they belong, as being guilty of taking bribes; and that is a sufficient reason why no writs should be issued to these boroughs until that Bill has passed. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) has taken the occasion of these Bills being withdrawn to remark on the number of failures with regard to the measures the Government have introduced—some in accordance with the Queen's Speech, and some in consequence of notices by Members of the Government—and which have 1080 been either defeated or withdrawn; and he argues that, unless the Government had good reasons to suppose that these measures would be carried, they never should have been brought forward. Sir, I cannot say, from my experience of the reformed House of Commons, that there can be that certainty with respect to the fate of measures which there used to be when the Minister had the pleasing conviction that he could rely on a great number of boroughs, the Members for which he had either himself returned, or who were returned by those who were his immediate Friends, Colleagues, or connections. I cannot have the certainty of a majority being in favour of measures we may bring forward. The right hon. Gentleman himself, when he was a Minister and sat on this bench, brought forward a plan of finance on which he had bestowed considerable labour, but as to which he was not so fortunate as to obtain the sanction of this House; yet I suppose he did not bring it forward without expecting to be able to carry it—and such has been our case. He was, no doubt, disappointed. We have been very much disappointed. But, then, the right hon. Gentleman may say that he brought forward a measure on which, when defeated, the Government to which he belonged resigned—whereas we have not resigned. Well, but we have had some questions this year immeasurably superior in importance to any of the measures which he has mentioned, except that of Parliamentary reform, to which the right hon. Gentleman has alluded; and we have had some symptoms of the opinions of the House upon them. We laid on the table of the House all the negotiations that had taken place with regard to an impending war. There was a question on which the right hon. Gentleman might have tested the opinion of this House; and if this House had thought that "connivance or credulity" characterised the Government, as the right hon. Gentleman had stated, no doubt the House would have declared that opinion by a majority. But the right hon. Gentleman never ventured to do anything of the kind. He made a speech of considerable length against the Government; but he and his Friends scrupled to bring forward any direct Motion. Was it that the scruples of the right hon. Gentleman were so great—that they were so unwilling to disturb the Government in what was felt to be a critical position of affairs—that they displayed so much forbearance, and although they did 1081 indulge in a little criticism which would not hurt the Government, they would not offer a vote affecting that Government? But that could hardly have been the case; for when we required supplies to carry on the expense of the war, and when we prepared a measure of Ways and Means to provide these expenses, then the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends came forward to defeat that measure, and to deprive us of the means of carrying on the war. But the right hon. Gentleman was defeated in a division on that subject by a majority of more than 100. He certainly cannot say, therefore—although we have been unsuccessful in these measures—that he and his Friends possess the confidence of this House, because—be it the question to which I have just alluded, or be it the assault which was made upon the Government a few days afterwards upon the subject of Exchequer bonds—they were not only met by a reply from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which took away all the pretences upon which the character and conduct of the Government had been assailed, but again, on a division, a majority of more than 100 decided against the views which they entertained. Therefore, Sir, whatever may be said with respect to these different measures which we have proposed to Parliament, it cannot be said that the right hon. Gentleman and those who act with him do possess the confidence of this House, or that they have regained in opposition that good opinion which I must say they did so much to lose during the time that they were in office. The right hon. Gentleman is very much alarmed at the assaults which he says we have been making upon the Protestant Constitution of the country; and accordingly it must be a great relief to him to know that the Bill I introduced the other night has been defeated. What security the Protestant Constitution obtains in the maintenance of an oath by which we say that none of the descendants of the person falsely calling himself James III. has any right to the throne of England, I confess I cannot well imagine; nor what security there can be in a Protestant taking an oath to which Protestants cannot have the least objection, which does not in the least strengthen their Protestant principles or their principles of attachment to the Constitution, and from which a certain number of Members of this House, being Roman Catholics, are totally and entirely exempt. But, however, if hon. Gentlemen 1082 are of opinion that the Protestant Constitution of the country is made more secure by means of that oath, I can only say that I think that the contrary opinion will progress, and that if that is the opinion at the present time, it will not be the opinion some years hence; and that the country will come to find out that if a constitution or a form of government has not the attachment and the affection of the people, no form of words that can be devised will supply the place of that attachment or of that affection. I believe that our form of government does possess the attachment and affection of the people. The effect of the alteration which we proposed to make in the oath, or the form of words which we proposed to substitute for that which is at present prescribed, would have been, with respect both to Protestants and Roman Catholics, none whatever. The vote which the right hon. Gentleman gave had one practical effect, and one practical effect only, and that was, to exclude the Jews from Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman has repeatedly declared—I have no doubt, with great sincerity—his wish to see the Jews in possession of the privileges which are enjoyed by all the other subjects of Her Majesty. He thinks them peculiarly worthy of those privileges—I believe he thinks them more worthy than Protestants or Roman Catholics, or any class of Christians. Still, notwithstanding his great anxiety to see the Jews in possession of those privileges, the right hon. Gentleman sometimes stays away, and sometimes votes against them; the political convenience of the hour always seems to overcome his attachment to the cause. This is the position of the right hon. Gentleman, and this is the position of the Government. I regret that these measures have been defeated; but with respect to that greater measure to which I have alluded—a measure greater than any other upon which, during the present Session, the opinion of Parliament has been pronounced—I must repeat that the House has shown, both in discussion and upon divisions, that its confidence is with the Government, and is not with the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends.
§ MR. DISRAELI
The noble Lord seems to think that I am surprised that he has not resigned office; Sir, on the contrary, I should have been immensely surprised if he had. Many more defeats, if possible, more humiliating, and, if possible, more complete, must occur before the no- 1083 ble Lord will feel the necessity of taking such a step as that. I know the noble Lord too well in the position he now occupies, of governing the country upon sufferance; I have sat opposite to him too long; I have seen hint too often in the same position to feel surprise. Many a time have I seen him experience the most signal defeats, and I have seen him still adhere to office with a patriotism and pertinacity which cannot be too much admired. The noble Lord is in error, therefore, if he supposes that I was taunting him with not resigning office, or if he thinks I was expressing any surprise at his retaining the position which he occupies. The noble Lord, I say, is under a complete mistake. The noble Lord has told us also that all the papers respecting the difficulties between Russia and the Sublime Porte being laid upon the table, I made a speech, declaring that the conduct of the Government could only be accounted for upon the supposition either of connivance or of credulity, but that I did not take the opinion of the House upon the issue. But the noble Lord forgets that all the papers were not laid upon the table; he seems to have forgotten altogether that when I made that speech the most important papers were not laid upon the table. He totally forgets that Her Majesty's Ministers had announced to Parliament that they would place upon the table all the papers relating to the subject, in order that Parliament might consider and form an opinion on them, when, in fact, the most important part of the papers were kept back, and when, if it had not been for an almost unprecedented reference to that secret part of the diplomatic correspondence in a foreign journal, the people of this country would not only have been kept in total ignorance of what had occurred, but they would have been flagrantly misled upon the whole transaction, and would have adopted probably a completely different view from that which I believe is now entertained. I confess, Sir, I made a mistake in saying that the conduct of the Ministry could only be accounted for by connivance or credulity; it was too limited a view of the case. When we had all those papers before us, my opinion then became more complete and matured, and I say now, that their conduct can only be accounted for by connivance and credulity. Moreover, I am quite convinced that before long that will be the general opinion of the country. The noble Lord referred—not with much felicity, I think—to the failure 1084 of the financial measures of the Government of Lord Derby, and he then suddenly recollected himself, remembering that that failure had led to consequences very different from his own conduct. It was not a very happy allusion of the noble Lord to refer to those financial measures, so far as the conduct of the Government depending upon their failure or success was concerned; but as that allusion has been made—as the noble Lord has touched on the failure of the financial measures of the Government of Lord Derby—I hope—unwilling as I am to notice such things—that the House will not consider me as trespassing upon their time if I refer, also, to some measures of the late Government, with which the noble Lord, as a Member of the Opposition, had some connection. I must say this for the noble Lord, that, whatever may have been his inducement, from the first moment that Lord Derby's Government was formed, they did not find in the noble Lord a fair opponent. I will not say of the noble Lord, as he said of me some sixteen months ago, when I gave him a friendly intimation that he had better be looking after some of his Colleagues, who, in their sagacity, were insulting the Emperor of the French—I will not say of him, what he then said of me, that my conduct was imbued with the spirit of faction. It is quite unnecessary for me to say that, if I recall to the House what was the conduct of the noble Lord when the Government of Lord Derby was first formed. He had scarcely retired from office—from which, be it remembered, he was not driven by any efforts of ours, but by discourtly quarrels with his own Colleagues—when he went into fierce opposition; and against what? Against the measure for the establishment of the militia force upon the voluntary system. Night after night the noble Lord opposed that measure; he exhausted every combination of faction; he opposed it at every stage, and at last he exhausted even time patience and confidence of his own Friends. And now let me appeal to the House and the country, as to their opinion of that measure? Is it not recognised as one of time most successful measures that ever passed this House? Is it not the safeguard and time protection of the country at the present moment? But is that all? I recollect that there was another measure of the Government of Lord Derby. What was the conduct of the noble Lord and his Friends with regard to that? What did 1085 they say when we proposed to reform the Court of Chancery? They opposed our proposition with derision. "What!" said they, "are you going to put Parliament into Chancery upon the eve of a dissolution? that must never be; and it was nothing but the good feeling of the House, which the noble Lord on that occasion could not manage to suit his own purpose—nothing but the good feeling and the high spirit of the House which allowed us to pass those useful measures which were introduced in another place by Lord St. Leonards. Was not the reform of the Court of Chancery a most useful measure? But the country is not indebted for it to that distinguished statesman now the leader of this House—it is indebted for it to that Government which, from the first moment that it was formed, he opposed with every artifice of faction. And I ask this of the House now, suppose the reform of the Court of Chancery had not been accomplished by the Government of Lord Derby, would you by this time have obtained that important measure from "the Ministry of all the talents," those Gentlemen who make such enormous propositions, but who accomplish such slight results? What have those distinguished and gifted beings whom I see before me—what have they done equal to the establishment of the militia on the voluntary principle, and the reform of the Court of Chancery? But there was another measure proposed by the Government of Lord Derby, and which we did not succeed in carrying, very appropriate to the subject of discussion now before the House. Year after year, having disfranchised boroughs, petty boroughs, for corrupt practices, you neglected to fill up the vacant seats, and you left the numbers of this House incomplete. The Government of Lord Derby came forward and made a large, an enlightened, and liberal proposition; they laid down a principle, at least, which the noble Lord has himself since adopted for his Reform Bill. They said, "You should give these forfeited seats to the great counties which are not sufficiently represented;" and they proposed to give them to the West Riding of Yorkshire and to Lancashire; and how was that proposition met? We were opposed with all the sanctimonious rhetoric of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman could not permit a "Government on sufferance" to introduce a measure of Parliamentary reform. 1086 "A Government must give us proof of its strength; it must show that it is possessed of the confidence of the country before we will allow them to appropriate the seats of Sudbury and St. Albans to the intelligence and population of the north of England. You must wait till you have a Government worthy of the confidence of the Country." And here, no doubt, the vision of a due reforming Government passed before the right hon. Gentleman's prescient and prophetic glance. Well, now, what have you got in the matter of Parliamentary reform from this Government of all the talents? The West Riding and Lancashire have still to complain of insufficient representation. Sudbury and St. Albans lie still in the political dust-hole, and the Government absolutely has neither power nor will enough to deal even with the tainted boroughs which have been brought before the House to-night. So much for the measures introduced by the Government of Lord Derby before this Parliament was elected. "But," says the noble Lord, "you brought forward financial measures and failed." It is true. We did bring forward financial measures and we could not carry them; but we also did that which, I think, should be the conduct of every Government—at least, it will always be my part when I have the misfortune to propose measures and fail. I value the confidence of the House of Commons, and I, at least, will never consent to be a Minister on sufferance. But mark what was the conduct of the noble Lord with respect to those measures. Take the great and leading feature of those measures—the proposition on our part that a difference should be recognised in the assessment to the income tax of permanent and precarious incomes. The noble Lord described that proposition of ours as "a dangerous principle of finance;" yet what did he do? Why, immediately after he became Member of a Government which introduced and passed a graduated income tax—a measure which could only be passed on the pretence that matters were by it so arranged that the income tax after a certain period would no longer be levied. But what are you now doing? Why, you have a war, and you raise your principal supplies for carrying on that war by a graduated income tax—according to the noble Lord, the most pernicious and dangerous of all financial principles. Yet the assertion of a principle in our financial scheme, which was but a principle of jus, 1087 tice, could not be tolerated by the noble Lord, who yet became a Member of a Government by which a graduated income tax was introduced and passed. Well, Sir, what did the noble Lord next? The noble Lord, who is a man of inexhaustible resources, rallied on the question of education this year, and tried his great scheme in one part only of the United Kingdom. That scheme has been ignominiously defeated in this House, of which he is the leader. He parted from the Colleagues of his life, who had been faithful to him, to take into his bosom the ancient foes who had passed their lives in depreciating his abilities and in decrying his eminent career. He gave up the confidence—I may say he almost broke up the being of that historic party, the confidence of which to a man like the noble Lord ought not to have been less precious than the favour of his Sovereign. And for what did he do it? Not from any spirit of faction—not from any spirit of political jealousy or envy of Lord Derby or anybody else; but because he was devoted to great principles and was resolved to carry great measures—the great measure of education for example. To carry the great measure of education—that was the reason why the noble Lord broke up an ancient and noble party—long connected in its associations with the glory of this country. There were also other great measures, but perhaps hardly of equal importance, and not so pressing. There was the completion of the reform of this House—the fulfilment of the religious liberties of the country. Those were great measures indeed. We know what happened with that great scheme of education which the noble Lord brought forward last year. It evaporated most suddenly and completely. I don't know at this moment whether it was ever introduced into the House, but I believe it vanished even while the noble Lord was making his exposition. It was so carefully considered, so entitled to the support of the country, and it so completely justified the noble Lord in his desertion of that party which had trusted in him, that it absolutely never was brought under deliberation and discussion. Well, Sir, then we have the great question of Parliamentary reform. The noble Lord took the whole of last year to mature his Bill on that subject, though it was one on which, as First Minister of the Crown, he had already introduced a project to this House. He had been three years besieging the 1088 House of Commons, but he took another year for consideration, and this year a measure is brought forward. But who, I ask, occasioned its failure? I believe the noble Lord will find his chief opponents most probably among those new allies with whom he now serves. We witnessed the emotion of the noble Lord when he had to come forward in the House of Commons to announce the relinquishment of his favourite scheme. There were some who were inclined to view that ebullition of feeling with indifference or with mockery; some imputed it to the lower sentiments of our nature; I did not; I expressed sincerely what I sincerely felt, and reflection has never made me for a moment regret that sincere expression of my conviction. I could easily understand how a person of the noble Lord's temperament might be so affected, and I felt that the tone of Parliament was rather raised and elevated by it than the reverse. But I cannot forget—at least, when the noble Lord attacks me as he has to-night—that he has made that measure one of his reasons for accepting the strange and equivocal position which he now occupies in the Government of Her Majesty. But there was yet another Bill which might have reconciled him to all the sacrifices which he has been obliged to make—and that received a most memorable discomfiture on Thursday night last. When I made the remarks which have called forth the recrimination of the noble Lord, I was asking the Government what were the prospects which they had of carrying them, when they announced their Bills at the beginning of the Session, and I might ask the noble Lord now for some explanations as to the relation which exists between him and the Government of which he is a Member. All the great measures for which he made such costly sacrifices have been defeated or withdrawn, but the noble Lord still retains his position. The most eminent statesman in this country—one of the oldest and most experienced of the Members of this House—one who has been three times Secretary of State—who has been Secretary of State in each department—who was Prime Minister of England for a long term—one who is associated with the memory of great principles—who is beloved by large bodies of his countrymen—who was the leader of a noble historic party—without a department, condescends now to accept subordinate 1089 office under one who is not only a Minister not entitled to the confidence of the country, but who was his ancient and inveterate political opponent, and whom only four years ago he rose and denounced in this House (he talks of connivance!) as a conniver with foreign conspirators. And now the noble Lord comes down to the House, and tells us that the defeat which his Bill experienced on Thursday night has been occasioned by my being false to the principles which I had previously professed. The noble Lord said, that I pretend to be an asserter of the claims of the Jews to political equality with the other subjects of Her Majesty, and that I made that cause subservient to political schemes; that when occasion suited me, I left the House, and did not vote, and that when on the occasion I found it convenient to vote against it, I did not hesitate to do so. Now, I give to that statement an unequivocal and unqualified denial. I deny that I ever absented myself at any period of my life from any division in which the claims of the Jews were concerned. I give the noble Lord's statement an unequivocal and unqualified denial. The noble Lord is Leader of the House of Commons, and he ought not to make lightly any such statements of any man, and least of all of me, with regard to such a subject. He ought to have informed himself better before he made such a statement. Suppose I had got up, and said that the noble Lord made Parliamentary reform a more political convenience—that when it suited him, he made it convenient to quit the House, and did not vote at all on the subject; and then, again, when it suited him, he also knew how to give a vote against that principle. I might, and without much ingenuity, make a very colourable case against him on that head; but I should scorn to do it. I am convinced that the noble Lord is sincere in the views which he professes on the subject of Parliamentary reform, and that whenever he has voted against any measure of Parliamentary reform, he has done so from a sense of duty, convinced that by so doing he was benefiting the cause to which he wished success. But the noble Lord can make no colourable case against me. I never, on any occasion, have quitted this House—I never absented myself from any division in which the claims of the Jews were concerned; and if I voted against his Bill the other night, I tell the noble 1090 Lord that I do not consider that I voted against a Bill which could have benefited the Jews, but, on the contrary, that I voted against a Bill which I believe would have been of greater injury to the Jews than any measure ever brought forward. And, Sir, I will say more. I will even express my sorrow and my surprise that Gentlemen professing the Roman Catholic religion in this House should have deemed it consistent with their duty and their interest to support the measure of the noble Lord. I am confident that they never yet gave a vote which has more injured them in the estimation of the great body of the people of the country, and which more tends to weaken and injure their position, than the vote which they gave that night. I believe the noble Lord had no communication, direct or indirect, with the Roman Catholic body on bringing forward that Bill. I am quite convinced that none could recommend it, for I feel that Gentlemen of their acuteness must in a moment have seen that the noble Lord must have had some other object than advancing the cause of the Roman Catholics and the Jews in bringing forward that measure. What may have been that object, it is not for me to inquire; but I have a right to have my opinion upon it after the noble Lord has made these imputations against me. I believe the noble Lord has been much too easily influenced by counsellors who have already injured his position, and who will not rest in their endeavours until they have permanently sullied his once illustrious name. This I plainly tell the noble Lord. I have now endeavoured to vindicate myself from the attack which the noble Lord has made upon me; but I must repeat—because the subject is one upon which I do not wish to be mistaken that the noble Lord is in error—unintentional, I have no doubt—in stating that I ever left this House when a vote which concerned the claims of the Jews was called for.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
I wish I could feel that the course taken this evening by the right hon. Gentleman is one calculated to elevate the tone and the character of this House. I certainly gathered from the tone of the observations made by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Stamford (Sir F. Thesiger), in reply to the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General in proposing a Motion for the discharge of the Orders of the Day for the Second Reading of these Bills, 1091 that he assented to the proposition; and I cannot understand why these Bills or the withdrawal of them should be made the occasion of a party discussion and an acrimonious debate—a debate which can lead to no decision of the House upon any of the questions put in issue by the right hon. Gentleman. The tone of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Stamford was most becoming, and the discussion was carried on for some time in the same spirit and in the same tone, evincing a desire on the part of the House to take that course which was best calculated to eradicate corruption from the constituencies of the country. The question was about to be put when the right hon. Gentleman rose and made an unprovoked, a violent, and—for I must so call it—a personal attack upon my noble Friend the Member for the City of London, to which, on that question, he had no opportunity of replying, but to which he did reply when the next question was put, in compliance with the orders of this House. My noble Friend's reply was made, I think, in a tone of great moderation, and it certainly formed no justification for that further and still more violent personal attack now made upon my noble Friend by the right hon. Gentleman, and made with a vehemence of manner and gesture, and with an acrimony of tone and of language, hardly witnessed in those displays of which he has, unfortunately, in past times, given us so many examples. I am not going to follow the right hon. Gentleman through all those measures, which he calls assaults upon the rights of Her Majesty's subjects and upon our institutions, which have been introduced by Her Majesty's Government; but I rise on account of the taunt thrown out by the right hon. Gentleman against my noble Friend, for occupying the position which he fills, and for giving the Government of Lord Aberdeen the benefit—and I may say the undoubted benefit—of the high character he holds in the opinions of the people of this country and in the estimation of this House—a character which none of the invective of the right hon. Gentleman can in the least degree impair. The right hon. Gentleman has accused my noble Friend of throwing over his former Colleagues, and of lending himself to those who have been opposed to him all his life; and he has denied that the noble Lord, in taking that course, was actuated by any patriotic motives. He has accused my noble Friend of taking a course of which 1092 his past life, from the commencement of his Parliamentary career, is the best refutation; and I trust that when the right hon. Gentleman has sat as long in Parliament and has been as long before the country as my noble Friend, the esteem in which he will be held by the country will be equal to that in which my noble Friend is now held. I can only say that my noble Friend did me the honour to consult me as one of his former Colleagues, when, upon the dissolution of Lord Derby's Government, he was invited to take part in the Administration about to be formed; and I may say that his acceptance of his present position in the Government of Lord Aberdeen met with my hearty, sincere, and cordial approval. I felt—and I believe others of the noble Lords late Colleagues felt—that he would be shrinking from a public duty, and a duty which he owed to the country, if he allowed personal or private motives to interfere with his taking that share in the Government about to be formed which would be most conducive to the interests of the country. When the right hon. Gentleman endeavours to insinuate that there have been differences between my noble Friend and his former Colleagues, I could appeal to evidence, which perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would not like me to resort to, to show the uniform support which has been given by every former Colleague of the noble Lord in this House to the Government of which he is now a Member. Further, when the right hon. Gentleman expresses in this House a firm belief that the Government of Lord Aberdeen does not possess the confidence of the country, I would repeat what I and others have observed before, that I think it degrading to the party of which the right hon. Gentleman is the leader in this House, that these assertions should be made night after night without testing the opinion of the House and of the country in a proper and legitimate manner.
could assure the House that no person had ever risen to address the House with greater reluctance than he did at present, and he might safely appeal to his past conduct in the quarter of a century during which he had had a seat in the House to bear him out in the assertion, that he had not been in the habit of trespassing frequently upon the indulgence of hon. Members. But though he had been a silent, he had not by any means been an inattentive observer of the events which had taken place during the important pe- 1093 riod in which he had occupied a seat in Parliament. Though perfectly free and unbiassed by party feeling, he entertained Conservative opinions which rendered it impossible for him to give his support to the present Government, but still he would never be a party to such attacks as that Which had been made upon the noble Lord to-night. Such attacks only tended to weaken the Government in carrying on a war which he cordially approved, and, so far from believing that Government had been guilty either of credulity, connivance, or collusion, he gave them his entire support in everything they had done connected with the war; and both with regard to their financial measures and in every other necessary arrangement they might rely upon every assistance he could render them.
Order of the Day for Second Reading read, and discharged.
On Motion that the Order of the Day for the Second Reading of the Kingston-upon-Hull Bribery Prevention Bill be read, for the purpose of being discharged,
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
said, I very much regret that there should be any occasion for me to address the House again; but, after the charges which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) has made, and the assertions in which he has indulged with respect to my conduct, I feel that I cannot remain altogether silent when there is an opportunity of denying those assertions and of repudiating those charges. Let me say, however, in the first place, that if I have done the right hon. Gentleman any wrong with regard to his abstaining from voting, or with regard to any vote which he has given with respect to the rights of the Jews, it has been unintentional, and I heartily regret that I should have fallen into any error upon the subject. I could refer, if I chose, to the divisions in which the right hon. Gentleman has not been present, and the divisions which recur to my memory; but I do not wish to enter further into a private controversy of that nature, I am quite persuaded that the right hon. Gentleman has intended to serve the cause of the Jews in the course which he has taken, and therefore I do not wish to prolong any dispute upon the subject. But when the right hon. Gentleman accuses me of a factious opposition to Lord Derby's Government, and when he proceeds to attack me for taking a part in the present Government, I must be allowed to question the facts 1094 upon which the right hon. Gentleman relies, and to deny the inferences which lie draws. The right hon. Gentleman accuses me of having entered into a factious opposition to Lord Derby's Government from its first commencement, and to have founded that opposition upon the Militia Bill. So far from founding it upon the Militia Bill, I did not ask the support of any of the party to which I belong on the subject of the Militia Bill. I came with great difficulty and after much consideration, to the opinion that that measure was not a good measure, and that it was one far inferior to that which I had introduced. I Voted against the second reading, and I stated at the same that I should take no part in the Committee. I adhered to that determination; and so far from the assertion of the right hon. Gentleman being true, that I pertinaciously opposed every part of that Bill in Committee, I took no further part in the proceedings than making a single observation upon one portion of it on one occasion; but I never took any part in a division upon it; and in one instance, when there was a majority of only fourteen on an essential clause of the Bill, I absented myself from the House in order that I might not take any part in the matter, having once given my vote against the principle of the Bill. Such, then, is the foundation for one of the facts stated by the right hon. Gentleman; and I may here say that what I really did object to was the new principle stated and started by Lord Derby's Government—that, not having the confidence of the existing House of Commons, they would not appeal to a new Parliament, and that for a period of ten or eleven months they proposed to carry on the Government of the country without possessing the confidence of the House of Commons. The measures which were taken by the Opposition upon that occasion succeeded, and Lord Derby at length confessed that he would be obliged to dissolve Parliament as soon as the measures then before Parliament, and which it was absolutely necessary to pass, enabled him to do so, and that he would meet Parliament again with a view to ascertain whether the Government of which he was the head possessed the confidence of the House and of the country. There never was so unconstitutional a principle brought forward as that upon which Lord Derby's Government proposed to found itself, and it was not till that principle was avowed by Lord Derby in the other House of Parlia- 1095 ment, and by the right hon. Gentleman in this, that I denounced, as I think I had a right to denounce, his Ministry, as a Ministry standing upon unconstitutional grounds, and I declare that they were bound either to obtain the confidence of the House of Commons, or not to retain office. The right hon. Gentleman says, with regard to the course I took at that time, that I constantly opposed the Government. Now, Sir, I did not often attend in this House at that time, and when I did, I sometimes voted with the Government—at least at times when they were in considerable difficulties, and I sometimes voted against them—I voted against them on the occasion to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred. I must, however, tell the right hon. Gentleman, that what most injured the Government of which he was a principal Member, was their own conduct. It was the way in which they carried on the Government, and the mode in which they attempted to obtain a majority in Parliament, which in fact destroyed their character in the country, and finally ruined their power. Well, then, the right hon. Gentleman says, that I opposed his plan of finance on the ground that it made a difference between permanent and varying sources of income, and that I overthrew the Government on that ground. Now, the utmost I did was to state that I entertained a doubt upon the subject, and that the proposal was entirely new. I took no part in the debate by which the Government was overthrown; but when it was overthrown a serious question offered itself to me, and I was obliged to give a decision upon it. That question was, whether, having taken a part, together with those connected with me, in overthrowing the Government, I could or could not take any part in the Government about to be formed. Now, Sir, I do not hesitate to say that if I had thought that a Government could have been formed either by myself or by any other party without a junction of different parties in politics, which Government would have been strong in the confidence of the House of Commons, I should have said it was better to have a Government of one party only than to have a Government formed of parties who had not hitherto acted together. But when I came to consider that question—when I came to consider the position in which I should have been placed had Her Majesty—which, from some intimation I received, I had reason to think might be the case—again 1096 sent for me to ask my advice, I felt that I should be obliged to say that I could not form any Government likely to obtain a permanent majority in the House of Commons. Could Lord Aberdeen with the assistance of Sir Robert Peel's friends have formed a Government? No; Lord Aberdeen thought that impracticable, and he declared to me frequently that to form such a Government was impossible. The Government of Lord Derby had been just defeated—after a dissolution—after every means had been taken (I will not now again enter into those means)—but after every means had been taken to procure a majority, that Government was not able to command a majority in the House of Commons. Was I then to contribute to bring Parliamentary Government into discredit? Was it not rather my duty to endeavour by every means to enable Her Majesty to form a Government which might have the confidence of the House of Commons? Sir, on this subject I did not act alone—I did not, after all, betray, or desert, or surrender the confidence of the great party with which I have been connected. My right hon. Friend (Sir G. Grey) who has just spoken has, I think, given you a testimonial that I did not surrender the confidence of that party; and, I may add, the man I naturally went to consult on that occasion was not one who had been constantly my enemy, and one in whom I could have no political confidence. The man whom I went to consult was my Lord Lansdowne; and I found with him a right hon. Friend of mine, as distinguished for his talent, as distinguished for his character, as any Member of this House—I mean Mr. Macaulay. I think I shall betray no confidence when I state what passed on that occasion. I asked Lord Lansdowne whether, supposing Lord Aberdeen were to have a mission from Her Majesty to form a Government, he thought I could be a Member of the Cabinet of Lord Aberdeen, and whether he thought it my duty to become a Member of it? We discussed various contingencies, and Lord Lansdowne ended with declaring that, in his Opinion, it was my duty—a duty which I owed to the public—to accept office under Lord Aberdeen. Mr. Macaulay declared his opinion still more strongly. He said—"I know you are not afraid of responsibilities; but you never will have incurred so awful a responsibility as you will incur if you do not lend your utmost assistance in forming a Government at the present moment." 1097 I consulted others, and among them my right hon. Friend who has just spoken; and they were all of opinion that the best mode of forming a Government was by uniting the Whig party with the party of the remaining Friends of Sir R. Peel, who were then ready to accept office under Lord Aberdeen. With regard to Lord Aberdeen personally, I must say I have always been on terms of private friendship with him. I have always respected his public character; and when I have had occasion to speak of his conduct in the Foreign Office during the Administration of Sir Robert Peel, I have said that, though opposed in many respects to that Government, I could not find that on any occasion the honour or the interests of the country had been sacrificed by Lord Aberdeen. Such was my public testimony to the conduct of Lord Aberdeen when I was in Opposition. The right hon. Gentleman chooses to say that when I spoke of my noble Friend the present Home Secretary (Viscount Palmerston) as not being the Minister of Austria, or of France, or of Russia, or of Prussia, I alluded to Lord Aberdeen. Sir, I made no such allusion—I meant no such allusion; but I meant to declare that though there was a coterie then formed in this country—composed, no doubt, of foreigners—my noble Friend was the Minister of England alone, and not of any foreign Power, and as such I defended his policy. I maintain that sentiment to this hour. I think that my noble Friend, as Foreign Minister of this country, upheld to the highest point the honour and interests of the country; and as I defended him in 1849, so I would defend him now. But, Sir, the question was whether, it being, as I thought, impossible to form a Ministry of the Whig party, impossible to form a Ministry of the followers of Sir Robert Peel, and unwise, if not impossible, to leave the Government in the hands of a party which did not possess the confidence of the House of Commons, and which, in my opinion, did not deserve that confidence —whether the men who had acted together on the greatest question which for some years had divided Parliament—namely, the question between protection and free trade —whether the men who had concurred on that question might not be able to concur on other questions and enter into office together. There were many of my former Colleagues to whom office was not proposed; there were some to whom office was proposed and declined; but, with regard to 1098 both one and the other, having the highest opinion of that party—having acted with them all my life—I felt sure that if they found their principles were the principles of the Government, if they saw that there was formed a firm Government, if they saw that which they considered a liberal course adopted, if they saw that liberal course tempered by the moderation which has always characterised the Whigs as a party, and which was so acknowledged and declared by Mr. Burke — if they saw that those principles were the principles of Lord Aberdeen's Administration, whether they held office or not themselves would be of no consideration, but they would as heartily and as willingly give their support to a Government so constituted as if they themselves formed a part of it. And, Sir, I have not been deceived in the men with whom I had acted. I do, indeed, form part of an Administration from which they have been excluded; but the Administration of Lord Aberdeen was naturally formed, in great part, of those with whom he had formerly acted. Since the formation of the present Government upon all general principles of domestic policy we have been agreed. I cannot, of course, pretend, after what has passed to-night, that we have been generally successful in the measures that we have proposed. I think we are engaged at present in a most difficult task, apart from any measures of reform of Parliament, of alteration of oaths, or of dealing with corrupt practices at elections. Should I be of opinion that the conduct of the war is not sate in the hands of the present Government—that that Government is not carrying on the war with the vigour which makes war successful, and with a view to a peace which alone could be safe and honourable, from that moment I should cease to be a Member of it. But, Sir, considering that this is the immediate, the great and the pressing question of the country, no taunts of the right hon. Gentleman would make me leave the Government with which I am connected—a position, God knows, one of far more labour and anxiety than of any pleasure, profit, or emolument. I repeat that, unless I were convinced that the present Government is not more likely than any Government which could be formed to carry on the war successfully, and to conclude it by an honourable peace, I should cease to be one of its Members; but, so long as I have that opinion, I shall trust to the House and to the country for putting a fair interpretation upon my con- 1099 duct. I rely upon this country, knowing that, while most enlightened upon general questions, yet it is occasionally apt to be misled, now as in former times. Yet I rely upon the justice of this country, which has hardly ever failed, in the end, to construe rightly the conduct of its public men.
§ MR. BERNAL OSBORNE
Sir, I am convinced that the sentiments which have fallen from the hon. and gallant Member for Huntingdon (Colonel Peel) have expressed the sense of the House upon those numerous matters which, as Sancho Panza used to drag in his proverbs, have been lugged into this debate by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire, and I shall not attempt, after the speech of the noble Lord the Member for London, to follow that right hon. Gentleman through all those topics. A proper time for that will, no doubt, arrive, when I shall be able to show the House and the country that the statements of the right hon. Gentleman are not so exactly correct as they would appear to be on his showing. But the right hon. Gentleman, who has been—to use his own expression, coined for the occasion—the Finance Minister of this country—has risen in his place and given an unqualified and unconditional denial to an assertion of the noble Lord with respect to a measure on which he is supposed to entertain sincere convictions. I think the right hon. Gentleman would have done better had he refreshed his mind previous to giving these unequivocal contradictions. What are the facts of the case? I shall not dilate on the right hon. Gentleman's observations with respect to divisions—I shall not dilate upon the right hon. Gentleman's studied silence, except upon one occasion—or on what he calls his "peculiar and mysterious feelings." We have seen the right hon. Gentleman lurking, like a guilty spirit, about the lobbies of this house while the debate was proceeding. I have seen him myself when, to do him justice, he came down to vote for the Jews. But there was an occasion—in 1850—when I find the right hon. Gentleman was absent. That, however, might have passed; I should not have presumed to make a great point of his mere absence. But what will the House say when they find that the right hon. Gentleman, who gives such an unqualified denial to the assertion of the noble Lord, that on one occasion the right hon. Gentleman, notwithstanding his "peculiar and mysterious feelings" on the subject, voted against the Bill? I shall be happy to refresh the right hon. Gentleman, 1100 who is usually so accurate, upon this subject. It was in 1850, on a Motion that the House should pledge itself early in the following Session to take into its serious consideration the form of the oath of abjuration as it affected the Jews, with a view to relieve them from the disabilities under which they laboured. That was a pretty distinct Motion for the right hon. Gentleman to vote against—he who complained that the Jews had not a form of oath to themselves—who insisted that Christianity was under such great obligations to the Jews that they ought to enter Parliament in a way peculiar to themselves; and yet upon that question the "Ayes" were 142, and the "Noes" were 106; and among the "Noes" is to be found the name of the right hon. Benjamin Disraeli. If the right hon. Gentleman has strong feelings upon this subject—which I doubt—he is bound to come down to the House and introduce a measure himself for the relief of the Jews. But how stands the case? He has given an unequivocal and unqualified denial to the statement of the noble Lord, that he was ever absent from a division on the Jewish question. I have proved that he was not only absent on one occasion, but that on another he actually voted against the measure. [Mr. DISRAELI: No!] If this [holding up Hansard] is a misprint, then I retract; if it is not, then the right hon. Gentleman has been misinformed in giving the denial he did. I say to him, in conclusion, if he wishes his name to be as dear to the country as he lately told the gazing public the noble Lord's was, he had better not again hazard such rash assertions as this.
§ MR. DISRAELI
I need make no remark on the harangue of the hon. Gentleman. All I said was, that I never absented myself from the House whenever the question of the emancipation of the Jews was before it. The hon. Gentleman has referred to one division in which my name does not appear. It is sufficient for me to say, that at that time, owing to a severe indisposition, I was absent for some time from Parliament. Of course that was not what the noble Lord meant to charge against me. His charge was, that I left the House to avoid the vote. With regard to the other point to which the hon. Gentleman has alluded, it is impossible for me to rebut the charge without looking back to the Motion in question, to see what the technical terms of the Motion were, as distinguished from other Motions. [Mr. 1101 BERNAL OSBORNE: Hand the right hon. Gentleman the book.] I do not want to see the book. [Laughter.] It is easy for Gentlemen to laugh, but that does not alter the facts of the case. I remember that at a morning sitting the question was discussed, and there were some twenty divisions, and I voted, I think, on every occasion with time noble Lord; but there were some cross divisions on particular points, when, it is possible, I may not have voted with the hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Admiralty. I remember very well there was a great number of divisions, and there was one Resolution moved, I think by Vice Chancellor Sir Page Wood, that Baron Rothschild should now be admitted to take the oaths at the table. To that I objected, and, with the noble Lord, and with many other hon. Members who supported Jewish emancipation, I voted against the Motion. I cannot be sure of the particular vote, but of this I am sure, that if the matter be investigated, what I have stated will be found to be substantially correct.
§ MR. WALPOLE
I do not rise for more than a few moments to interfere in this discussion, but I wish to make an observation or two on one or two points. The first is with regard to the last remark which has been made by the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty. I have not looked through the division lists, but having watched pretty closely, and taken my share in all the discussions on this question, I think I may safely say, from recollection, that the vote of my right hon. Friend, to which the hon. Gentleman alluded, was not with reference to the main question whether the Jews should be admitted into Parliament or not, but with reference to the question whether Baron Rothschild should then take his seat in the House. ["No, no!" [Well, I cannot be sure of the exact question on the occasion; but I am bound to say this, whatever may have been the actual division, I know certainly that no one in this House is more sincere than my right hon. Friend in his desire to obtain for the Jew admission to this House and to seats in Parliament. I know that, in private as well as in public; and though I have been opposed, and unfortunately shall be always, I am afraid, opposed to my right hon. Friend on this question, yet I also know, and I feel bound to declare, that if there is one thing more than another for which my right hon. Friend is entitled to the respect of both sides of the House, 1102 it is for the manly and honourable way in which he has come forward in support of the Jewish race; and I think I might add that, were it not for the manly support which he has given to that question, his position, if he had consulted his own interests, would have been higher—if at least it could have been higher—than the position which he now occupies. But his Friends have not lost confidence in him because he has stood by his principles, though they do not agree with him on that particular point, and they never will withdraw their confidence from him while from honest conviction be pursues his course, though different from theirs, in the same manly and honourable way which he has hitherto done. The other point on which I wish to make an observation is with reference to an opinion which fell from the noble Lord—an opinion in which I think the noble Lord is entirely mistaken. The noble Lord said that the reason why he opposed Lord Derby's Government was because that Government had acted in a manner which was unconstitutional, and in a different way from that in which any Government had previously acted in the history of this country. Now, the noble Lord, I think, will bear in mind the first debate which took place after Lord Derby's Government came into power. On that occasion I made a few remarks, pointing out time peculiar position in which we stood, acknowledging, as we did, that we had not a majority in the House at that moment; and I said then, what I say now, that time reason why Lord Derby was in power was, first, because the noble Lord opposite had resigned his office, having lost the confidence of the House of Commons; and secondly, because there was no other party strong enough to take the reins of Government except the party that was headed by Lord Derby. I remember that I added—and I thought the observation was acquiesced in and approved of by the noble Lord—that if the House had no confidence in Lord Derby's Government, those who thought so might bring that question at once to a vote, and that it would then be for us to consider, in case we were defeated on that vote, whether it would be incumbent upon us to resign office, or to take the sense of the country by a dissolution. I am sure I added that Lord Derby and his Colleagues had no intention to remain in power for a single moment, unless they possessed the confidence of Parliament. And, then, I must say and stoutly contend, notwith- 1103 standing the charge of unconstitutional conduct, that the question of confidence never was put to the House by any one; we pursued our measures, and we obtained majorities on every important occasion during the remainder of that Session; we were therefore doing nothing contrary to the constitutional responsibility due from Ministers to Parliament and the country; we were acting from a sense of what was due to both; and we did not hold and never meant to hold office in any other manner than that which the Constitution most properly prescribes. I believe the noble Lord and his Colleagues thought, down to the very time when the vote of Parliament was recorded against us, that it was a doubtful question whether we had the confidence of Parliament or not, and therefore the charge of the noble Lord is utterly untenable. It is to protest against that charge, that Lord Derby's Government had held office for a single day after they were entitled to hold it, that I have risen. Whether or not we deserved the confidence of Parliament during the limited period we remained in office, whether we conducted ourselves in a manner that has or has not been beneficial to the country, history alone will determine; but this House and the country, I think, will say that we walked in the paths of the Constitution, and that the charge which the noble Lord has brought against us this evening is a charge which cannot be maintained—a charge to which the Government of Lord Derby is in no way liable.
§ MR. BRIGHT
I shall not detain the House for many minutes. We have had a more lively discussion than we have had for some time past, in the encounter between the noble Lord and the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire. I will not say who has had the best of it, though I think the noble Lord has not come out of the discussion without some scars. I agree entirely with what the noble Lord says as to the motives with which he took office under Lord Aberdeen. Nothing that has happened, or can happen, will make me believe but that the noble Lord accepted office from the influence of motives which were highly honourable to him. At the same time, it is impossible to disguise the fact, that the elements of the Government were such, and to this day continue such, as to prevent the formation of a Government that can act for the welfare of the country. I recollect an ingenious Gentle- 1104 man in this House, and one too who is a great friend of the noble Lord, expressing his opinion that the present Government would get on admirably if they only avoided politics. And that appears to be about the course which the Government has pursued. One great question has been settled—a question which had for years divided parties in this country—I mean the question of free trade, and all those kindred questions that related to the repeal of taxes whenever there was a surplus. Accordingly, on all such questions as those the Government have succeeded admirably in their administration, because there was no difference of opinion in the Cabinet, and principles had been thoroughly settled. Last Session, and during the present Session, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not been unsuccessful—I may say that, upon the whole, he has been very successful. I do not refer to those measures which have been so much talked of in the City, but on all questions that relate to taxes taken off or taxes imposed. On all these subjects the Chancellor of the Exchequer was the salvation of the Government in the last Session of Parliament; and as far as his measures have been submitted to the House this Session, he has carried them by large majorities. But on all other matters the Government appears to be unable to advise, or to lead, or to control the House. It is clear that the noble Lord, who by courtesy is called the leader, does not lead this House, and the House does not follow him. The legislative measures which the Government has offered to the House have not been accepted in a friendly spirit;—though many of them are good measures, they have, unfortunately, been kicked overboard in a very unceremonious manner. With regard to the last measure of the noble Lord which was rejected—the Oaths Bill—I agree entirely with the noble Lord. I thought the Bill he introduced an admirable Bill—of course, putting aside my own particular objections to oaths of all kinds. I am amazed that any Member sitting on this side of the House should have voted against that Bill. I think it is a discredit to their intellect and judgment. The oath which the noble Lord proposed to substitute appeared to me to include everything which the most greedy lover of swearing could wish to be included in it; but, notwithstanding, it is true that the Bill was thrown out. The noble Lord cannot, then, in any sense in which the term was be- 1105 stowed upon his predecessors, be considered as the leader of this House. But if the Government of Lord Aberdeen, which I have no doubt was formed on the most patriotic principles—if the noble Lord, who, I have no doubt, entered that Government with the most honourable views, finds, after seventeen months' experience, that the experiment is a failure—if he finds that the whole promises which were held out with regard to what was to be done in Parliament for this country by a union of men who had hitherto been separated in politics —if all these promises have failed, then I am not sure if it is not the duty of the noble Lord and his Colleagues—who are, doubtless, as patriotic now as they were sixteen months ago—to form, at no distant time, other combinations, which possibly may be more successful. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire, I must admit, has made a fair defence of his Government. Though I voted against him when his Budget was overthrown, and when the Ministry, of which he was so distinguished a Member, fell, yet I gave my vote, and I have never concealed my feelings either in public or in private, with great reluctance, not because I thought the Budget of the right hon. Gentleman was fair in itself, but because I did not see in the then circumstances of the country any direct advantage that would result from the overthrow of that Government. But the Government was overthrown, and the first adverse vote was followed by their resignation of office. But if the right hon. Gentleman had only been reckless enough to involve this country in a labyrinth of interminable negotiations, or in negotiations which were only terminable by the calamity of a war more interminable still, the right hon. Gentleman might have been Chancellor of the Exchequer at this moment. On the theory of the noble Lord, the majority of nineteen, by which the Government of the right hon. Gentleman was overthrown, was not more decisive than that which threw out the late measure of the noble Lord; but if they had involved us in war—if they had undertaken the responsibility of this great calamity—it would then have been the duty of Government, and the noble Lord himself would have said, "As you have got us into this war, you must get us out of it again—you must take the responsibility of the war on your own shoulders." That is the condition to which we are now driven by the Government. We have a Government which is 1106 far from advising, or leading, or possessing the confidence of the House of Commons, and I am extremely sorry for it, because many of their measures are wise and just; but still, not having the confidence of the House, they tell the House of Commons that it is absolutely necessary they should remain in office, because, having involved this country in war, it is very inexpedient, in the present state of things, that they should quit the service of the Sovereign. Well, I do not say there is no force in this argument, that when men have involved the country in war, it is fit that they should have the responsibility of fighting it through. But see what a pernicious principle that is to advance in the House of Commons. Because, let a Minister be ever so reckless, ever so unprincipled, ever so unpatriotic, yet by a course of concealed and mismanaged diplomacy, let him involve this country in difficulties with a foreign country, and then we are told that the majorities of this House go for nothing—that reform Bills, corruption Bills, oaths Bills, settlement Bills—all that in ordinary times were thought necessary for the welfare of the country, and for our Parliamentary system—all these are to go for nothing now—we may not be able to pass a single measure except those which have reference to the imposition of taxes—but as we have led this country into a war, Parliament must support us, and all other measures must be deferred. Sir, I have a liberty to speak on this question, because I have from the first denounced the course which the noble Lord has pursued, and which has ended by involving us in war. Lord Stratford de Redcliffe in Constantinople, and the noble Lord and his Colleagues in this House, have led us into these difficulties, and it now appears that not only legislative measures, but our very Parliamentary system itself, is to be the sacrifice. I do not want the noble Lord to resign. I do not want Lord Aberdeen to resign. No man has ever heard me say a single word depreciating the character of Lord Aberdeen. I believe that if that noble Lord had been at the head of a Cabinet partaking of his own views upon questions of foreign policy, we should have had no war. And from all I have seen of Lord Aberdeen since he took office, I have never seen but that he is as liberal in all matters of internal policy, and in all the measures which he is inclined to lay before the House and the country, as any other Member of the Cabinet. Believing, as I do, that this 1107 war is unnecessary and unjust, and fearing that, while it threatens to undermine and destroy the constitution of Turkey, it is likely to do something also to undermine and destroy the constitution of this country, I cannot think that the question which has been raised between the right hon. Gentleman and the noble Lord is as one-sided as some Members on this side of the House appear to think. I confess that, looking to the future, I can see nothing clearly defined as to the foreign policy of this country. We are engaged in a war for objects on which the Government has never yet condescended to enlighten us, and as to the terms on which peace is to be procured, no one has any idea. We have an ally who was denounced by Members of the present Cabinet not more than eighteen months ago, and who is in possession, or will shortly be in possession, of no fewer than four European capitals—Paris, Rome, Athens, and Constantinople. And seeing that all this has been brought about by what I believe to be the mistaken and mischievous policy of the noble Lord and his Colleagues, I see no ground for the noble Lord calling for the confidence of this House, or for the continued support and approbation of the country.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
I do not rise for the continuance of this debate, though I agree with the hon. Member for Manchester that the noble Lord has come out of it not without scars. I shall not, however, continue the discussion; but, as a Member of Lord Derby's Government, I am content to leave the question where it is—thanking my right hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire for the able, spirited, and, I think, triumphant vindication of the Government of which we were Members. I must say that I think a very small portion of the house will agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Huntingdon (Colonel Peel) in speaking of the attack made upon the noble Lord. I think that all who heard, and all who may read this debate, will feel that the attacks were from the noble Lord himself; that the attack was made by the noble Lord, not only on the Government of Lord Derby, but upon my right hon. Friend personally, in consequence of his having made, in language which appeared to me not only temperate, but which the occasion justified, some observations on the extraordinary position in which the noble Lord and his Government were placed, in having abandoned half their mea- 1108 sures, and being defeated on the other half. I think the country will feel the full force of those observations which have fallen from the hon. Member for Manchester, that the noble Lord and his Government now condescend to stand in a position, with respect to every question which arises, which the noble Lord apprehended might come in 1852, and which he thought was deserving of consideration, whether the Parliamentary system of this country was not in danger of being brought into discredit by it. I will here leave the duel between the noble Lord and my right hon. Friend, in which I think that the hon. Member for Manchester is right in saying that the wounds have been sustained by the noble Lord. My immediate object in rising—and I must request the attention of the House to that object—is to make some observations upon the ungenerous, unjust, and absolutely unfounded language of the hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Admiralty with regard to the personal conduct of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Disraeli). The House is always just in personal questions, and I am quite sure that they will not now refuse their attention to the few words which I am about to say to them —not arguments of mine, but appealing to unanswerable facts—with regard to the charge which the hon. Gentleman has endeavoured to cast upon my right hon. Friend. I hope that hon. Member is in his place. The division to which the hon. Gentleman referred took place on the 5th August, 1850. The Motion submitted to the House was this—That the Baron Lionel Nathan de Rothschild is not entitled to vote in this House, or to sit in this House, during any debate, until he shall take the oath of abjuration in the form appointed by law.["No, no; that is the Amendment."] Hon. Gentlemen will be kind enough to be patient. I can easily understand they may be very sorry to have this little phantom that has been raised upset; but if they will do me the favour to listen to me, I will undertake to show that I am right. This was the Motion submitted to the House, and this was the main subject of discussion—That the Baron Lionel Nathan de Rothschild is not entitled to vote in this House, or to sit in this House, during any debate, until he shall take the oath of abjuration in the form appointed by law.Upon that Motion an Amendment was moved. I find that at least three divisions upon the general question took place, and 1109 the last was upon a Motion made—I apprehend resulting from the failure of the first Motion submitted to the House—the Motion ultimately was this—That this House will, at the earliest opportunity in the next Session of Parliament, take into its serious consideration the form of the oath of abjuration, with a view to relieve Her Majesty's subjects professing the Jewish religion.The House divided, "Ayes 142;" "Noes" against this proposition binding the House to a given proceeding in the neat Session of Parliament—"Noes 106;" and amongst the "Noes" I find the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire. The House will observe that the Motion against which my right hon. Friend recorded his vote was not a Motion for their admitting the Jews to Parliament—not a Motion even relating to the state of Baron Lionel de Rothschild—but a Motion pledging and binding the House to entertain this subject in the next Session of Parliament. Well, Sir, I have already stated to the House that this division took place on the 5th August, 1850. Will the House now permit me to read an extract from a speech which was delivered on that day—that very same morning—by my right hon. Friend near me? My right hon. Friend spoke at considerable length. Of course I will not trouble the House with more than an extract bearing upon the point upon which I am now speaking. My right hon. Friend found fault with the course which the noble Lord's Government had taken upon the subject of the admission of Jews to Parliament. My right hon. Friend then proceeded in this language—I have, I may add, when the question before the House has been the removal of the disabilities now in discussion, given the measures for such removal my unhesitating and unvarying support. I have, indeed, been sometimes accused of not accompanying the exercise of my suffrage with an expression of opinion on the subject itself.That accusation has, if I remember right, been renewed to-night.I remember that the noble Lord at the head of the Government did, not in a very generous, certainly not in a very constitutional, way last year, remind me that my vote was a silent veto. Sir, if I thought that anything which I could say would have tended to accomplish an object dear to my heart as to my convictions, my vote would not have been a silent one. But inasmuch as I believe that my opinions upon the subject are not shared by one single Member on either side of the House, I thought that it was consistent both with good sense and good taste that, after having once unequivocally expressed the grounds on which my vote was given, I should have taken refuge in a silence which, at least, would not 1110 offend the opinions or the prejudices of any hon. Gentleman on either side. The opinions I then expressed I now retain. They are unchanged; and were it not presumptuous to speak of human opinions as being immutable, I would express my belief that they are uuehangeable."—[3 Hansard, cxiii. 795.]Now that speech was delivered on the very day on which the hon. Secretary for the Admiralty has charged my right hon. Friend with having voted adverse:), to the admission of Jews. The hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Admiralty also used an expression which I believe he meant fur a quotation from the language of my right hon. Friend when he spoke of his "peculiar and mysterious opinions." I believe that I am right in stating that the word "mysterious" was never used by my right hon. Friend, and I give a public contradiction to it. It is needless for me to say more. I am not surprised that my right hon. Friend should not have condescended to answer in detail such an attack so made. But justice should be done. I think that the extracts I have read, made from a speech delivered on the day on which the vote in question was given, must show conclusively to the House whether or not upon that occasion my right hon. Friend meant to give a vote at variance with opinions and with conduct from which it has been my fate, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Midhurst (Mr. Walpole), always to differ, but which have been adhered to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire with a decision, a boldness, and an honourable consistency which, I believe, has tended to win him the confidence and regard of all Members on this side of the House, whether they agree with him or not.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I do not wish, Sir, to enter in any degree into the controversy of this debate; and I am glad it has fallen to my lot to offer the few words I have to say by way of explanation to the House at a time when the heat, which was at the moment certainly considerable, has, in a great degree, cooled down. It seems to me that, in a controversy of this kind, hon. Gentlemen can differ, and, no doubt, conscientiously differ, even on that question which I thought so clear—the question which was the assailant and which the defender in this passage of arms—and that is a warning to me not to enter, without necessity, into the discussion. I will therefore confine myself to an endeavour to set 1111 straight, in a temper, I hope, of perfect calmness, one or two points which it appears to me do not stand quite correctly before the House. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midhurst did not state with accuracy the position assumed by the Government of Lord Derby at the outset of his Administration, or the circumstances which gave rise either to the opposition or the objections to that Government in this House. He stated, very truly, that an agreement was come to that the necessary business of the Session should be wound up, that Parliament should be dissolved, that a new Parliament should be called before the close of the year, and that the judgment of that Parliament should be invited with regard to the question of confidence or no confidence in the Administration of Lord Derby. I do not mean to say that the right hon. Gentleman stated the whole of these points, but he must, I apprehend, be understood to advert to them when he says that that was a perfectly constitutional basis for a Government to stand upon. In that I perfectly agree with the right hon. Gentleman; but he will allow me to remind him —I hope without any words of acrimony—that that was not the original profession with which Lord Derby assumed office. The profession with which Lord Derby assumed office, and the declaration which fell from him in the most explicit terms, was to this effect—that what we had to do was, not to consider whether the Government that had been formed was supported by the confidence of a majority of the House of Commons concurring with it in political opinions, but, on the other hand, a totally different matter, namely, whether the time was not come to set aside the discussion of political and party questions, and to apply the attention of Parliament to what Lord Derby then, I think, described as questions of useful practical reform on which no difference of party need prevail, and which would find employment for a Government alike whether it had or had not the confidence of the House of Commons. That, Sir, was the original declaration upon the strength and upon the terms of which the Government of Lord Derby, by the mouth of Lord Derby in the House of Lords, proposed to administer the affairs of this country. To that, undoubtedly, objection was taken. I cannot be surprised the noble Lord the Member for the City of London felt great objections to such a proposal. Intimations 1112 were made with which, I have no doubt, many hon. Members now present are acquainted, which led to a different state of things. It was after that that the Government did come to what may be called an understanding with Parliament, and a declaration was made, both in this and the other House, which went clearly to the effect that the business of the Session was to be wound up, that a new Parliament was to be called, and that the opinion of the House was to be then taken upon the question of confidence in the Ministers. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman was quite justified in his reference to the "sanctimonious eloquence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer," and I think his own conscience may give him a little twinge on that subject. The "sanctimonious eloquence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer," as he chooses to call it, was exercised for this particular purpose; when a distinct understanding had been come to with Parliament, with a majority of Parliament—I am not speaking of any breach of faith on the part of Lord Derby's Government—but when a distinct understanding had been come to by a majority of the House to effect the necessary business to which the Session was to be confined, they were perfectly entitled to protest against the introduction of that which was no part of the necessary sessional business; but, as the right hon. Gentleman has described it to-night, a spice and specimen of Parliamentary reform. It was against that portion of the operations of the Government of Lord Derby that the "sanctimonious eloquence" was used, and, sanctimonious as it was, it had the effect of persuading a very large majority of the House not to take any step towards hampering the Government of Lord Derby or towards impeding the fulfilment of its engagements, but of confining it entirely to the discharge of that necessary business. The other point upon which I wish to touch is in reference to what has fallen from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester. I should be very sorry, indeed, that a misstatement so important as that into which he has, no doubt unintentionally, fallen, should, after having been made in the presence of a Member of the Government, go forth to the country without any contradiction or explanation—I mean that misstatement which was, no doubt, founded entirely upon a misapprehension of the language which was made use of by my noble Friend the Member for the City of 1113 London. The hon Gentleman the Member for Manchester said—I dont't quote his words, but I hope I shall represent their effect clearly—"The noble Lord admits that, for all legislative purposes, the Government have lost the power of guiding the House of Commons, but he makes a claim of this nature, that, although the Government have lost the confidence of the Parliament for the business of legislation, yet, inasmuch as the Government have likewise succeeded in involving the country in a dangerous war, the House of Commons must hold itself debarred from its right to withdraw its confidence in the Government, and its tenure of office shall be prolonged from this period until the war is finally settled." Such a doctrine as that undoubtedly never fell—I will not say from the lips of the noble Lord —but I never beard doctrines so absurd propounded by any hon. Gentleman, however little noted or distinguished in this House. To make an announcement that any Gentlemen who may have got possession of office have nothing to do but to involve the country in a war, and then to say they shall thereby acquire a lease of power which shall last until that war is concluded, really implies a height of impudence or of folly to which I do not think that any of us have as yet ascended. The doctrine of my noble Friend was, if I understood him rightly, of a different character entirely. He stated that, in reference to many measures of ordinary legislation, it was undoubtedly true we had failed during the present Session of Parliament in persuading the House of Commons to adopt our views; but, he said, there were other questions of extraordinary magnitude, which at this period transcend all questions of ordinary legislation—he did not say that those were matters upon which the House of Commons had no right to pronounce—that those were matters upon which the House of Commons had no right to give their confidence or withhold it—what he said was, there were great questions connected with peace and war which were now the direct and primary questions which threw all others into the shade, and with respect to those great primary questions the House of Commons had not thought fit to withdraw its confidence from the Government, but had upon every occasion given the most unmistakeable support to the policy of the Government in the shape of a triumphant majority. I hope, Sir, I have made it perfectly clear to the hon. Member and to 1114 the House that the doctrines of my noble Friend are entirely and essentially different from what the hon. Member supposed them to be, and I join with him, and I am sure I may say with my noble Friend, in protesting against a supposition that we were capable of propounding or entertaining such a notion as this, in error, he has ascribed to us. Sir, I think that nothing can be more invidious in Members of an existing Administration than a hostile review of the measures of former Governments. My noble Friend, as it appeared to me, confined himself—in a tone, as I thought, most calm and dignified—to so much reference to questions of that class as was absolutely extorted from him by the necessity of the case. No such necessity is incumbent upon me, and therefore I shall enter upon no such discussion; but I may, perhaps, with great deference to the judgment of those who have spoken, be permitted to plead that I do no think that the case of legislative impotence has been so fully made out against the Administration of Lord Aberdeen. The Administration of Lord Aberdeen has held office for just one Session and a half. The Session of the present year has been a Session during which there has been an extraordinary disturbance in the public mind. If we are told in the House of Commons that we have not been able to make that progress with legislative measures that might have been anticipated, and might have been desired, I think it is fair that those who so exercise the office of critics should recollect what is the effect of a European war upon the mind of the nation and the disposition of Parliament itself. I think that those who, naturally enough, are disposed to impute this want of progress to the Government should go back to the period of former wars, and should see what amount of progress in pacific legislation has been made by strong Administrations in periods when the public mind was at once excited, absorbed, and exhausted by the anxieties and the efforts of the war. But, if I may be permitted to advert in defence of ourselves to the last Session of Parliament, I do not think there will be found a recent Session in which a greater number of substantial and important measures were brought forward and successfully carried. I am sure, Sir, I am the last man who has any reason or any disposition to complain of the hon. Member for Manchester as to what he has said; but I am bound to appeal to his 1115 sense of justice when I say, I think that what he has stated is not a strictly accurate or true description of the occurrences of last Session. He will remember that measures of great political importance and difficulty, such as that relating to the Canada Clergy Reserves, and that measures of great complication of details, such as that relating to the government of India, were introduced and carried through Parliament during the last Session; and I think I can further appeal to him, when I say that I do not at this moment recollect a single case of an important first-class Bill which was withdrawn from the House of Commons or the House of Lords during last year, with one exception, namely, the Education Bill of my noble Friend the Member for the City of London, which was withdrawn for the simple reason that it was impossible to bring it into discussion until we had overpassed the limits of an ordinary Session, and the exhausted patience of the House made it absolutely necessary that some remission should take place. Sir, these matters, which ought not to be mentioned otherwise than in selfdefence—I trust it is not improper to mention—for, after all, it is impossible altogether to separate, in a question of this kind, the question of the credit of the Government from the question of the credit and character of the House of Commons. It was the House of Commons—it was the feeling of the House of Commons—that enabled the Government last year to conduct the legislative business of the country; and if, during the present year, the results have been different, I appeal to your sense of justice to consider whether that has been owing so much to carelessness, or neglect, or want of competence, as to that marvellous and profound change which seems to pass upon the temper of the people, and which passes upon the temper of the Legislature, which you may trace every night in every discussion of the Session, when the energies of the country have been drawn upon for a tremendous external struggle, and in being so called have been of necessity diverted from the pacific purposes to which in former years they have been, and to which in future years God grant they may be again directed.
§ LORD HOTHAM
said, that some petitions in relation to one of these measures had been entrusted to him, and though the Government had signified their intention to withdraw the measures to which they had reference, he should feel it his duty to 1116 present them. The first was from a solicitor at Hull, who stated that he gave a vote at the last election for that place, but that he neither canvassed nor took any active part in the election; that he had neither received nor paid money to any one on account of it; that he was not examined before the Commissioners as to the commission of bribery; and that he was not by any of the witnesses accused of having committed bribery, and yet his name had been included in the Schedule. He therefore prayed that this Act might not be allowed to pass, and that, if it did, his name might be expunged. Two of the other petitions were, one from a solicitor, and the other from a merchant and shipowner of the same place, containing statements to a similar effect, and praying to be heard by counsel at the bar of the house against the Bill. The last petition which he had to present, which was signed by nearly 400 persons, stated that in consequence of the proclamation of the Commissioners, a general opinion was entertained throughout the town of Bull, that those who gave their evidence freely and truly would be protected from all consequences whatever—not only from penal consequences, but from all disabilities and similar consequences. In consequence of this assurance they had given their evidence without hesitation or restraint, and they considered that the contract thus entered into by the Commissioners had been repudiated by Her Majesty's Government by the Bill brought into Parliament. Such a proceeding they considered to be contrary to the first principles of justice, and they prayed to be heard by counsel at the bar of the House against the passing of the Bill.
The order was then read and discharged, as were also those relating to Maldon Bribery Prevention Bill and the Barnstaple Bribery Prevention Bill.