HC Deb 02 August 1855 vol 139 cc1692-7

Order for Committee of Ways and Means read.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


said, he rose to move the Resolution of which he had given notice. He had hoped that some hon. Member of greater weight with the House than himself would have moved in the matter, but as they were about to prorogue in a fortnight, and no one else had indicated an intention to take up the subject, he had felt bound, as a last resource, to endeavour to extract from Her Majesty's Government some assurance that, if during the recess terms of peace should be offered, Parliament should be called together and allowed to express its opinion upon those terms before they were finally accepted. His Resolution might be considered to be of too mild a character, and certainly he had previously drawn up one couched in. somewhat stronger language; but, wishing to avoid infringing on the Royal prerogative, he had subsequently been induced to modify its phraseology. If the noble Lord at the head of the Government did not feel it to be altogether his duty to give a pledge on the subject, it would, nevertheless, only be a graceful act of condescension on his part to take Parliament into his counsels, before the terms of peace were definitively arranged; while on the other hand, should Parliament adopt a course of which the Government could not approve, he would still have the prerogative of the Crown to fall back upon, and would be free to act as he thought best for the country. The Resolution might not be popular in the House, but the greatest anxiety prevailed throughout the country on the subject of Parliament being prorogued for as long a period as usual. He might now have confidence in the noble Lord, and so might the House and the country, but he maintained that the noble Lord was but human. [Laughter]. Hon. Gentlemen might laugh, but it was no laughing matter. He viewed it in a most serious light; he wished he had ability, power, and position to do justice to it, and then hon. Gentlemen would not laugh. [Laughter]. He could imagine that hon. Gentlemen would treat with derision anything he might say, but he warned them that when they appeared before their constituencies, as might shortly be the case, they would be called to account for their conduct. He said again, the noble Lord was but human, and the Government was but human, and they knew that to err was human. He did not demand, but he appealed to the noble Lord in the name of the people of England—to whom the noble Lord owed his position—to give an assurance, which would allay misgivings in the public mind, that no peace should be ratified without paying the Representatives of the people the compliment of calling them together—not to interfere with the prerogative of the Crown, but to ventilate the question. It was no party question; it was a question of great magnitude which he submitted to the House with the solitary observation, that if the House did not deal rightly with the country, he should leave the country to deal with the House.


seconded the Amendment.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words— this House, participating in the national anxiety that no pacific arrangement should be concluded with Russia which does not appear best calculated to secure an honourable, just, and lasting peace, wishes to impress upon Her Majesty's Government how great a satisfaction it would be to the House and the Country to receive an assurance that no Treaty or Condition of Peace would be finally settled without having Parliament previously called together," instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


Although, Sir, I cannot agree to the Motion of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, I am ready to admit that I entirely acquiesce in the principle upon which the Motion is founded—that is to say, the principle that no peace should be concluded which was not honourable to the country and consistent with the objects for which the war was undertaken. All I can say is, that if the House does not so far place confidence in the Ministry as to believe that they will never conclude a peace which does not accomplish this purpose, and fulfil these conditions, the Motion of those who entertain such suspicions ought to be very differently worded from that of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I think, in matters of this sort, there is no middle course. If the House distrusts the Government of the day—if they think that it is capable of concluding a peace betraying the interests and sacrificing the honour of the country, they ought at once to propose a Motion, the tendency of which would be to place in other hands the trust which they consider to be improperly performed. But, on the other hand, so long as Parliament is willing to leave to those who hold office that discretionary power which, by the constitution, belongs to the responsible advisers of the Crown, I think that this particular Motion is one which this House would not be disposed to listen to. Of course, in the first place, the hon. Gentleman admits that the power of entering into treaties and negotiations, and concluding terms with foreign Powers, is a function which, by the constitution, belongs to the Crown, and not to Parliament. It is for Parliament to judge afterwards of the conduct of the advisers of the Crown, who may be supporters of engagements between this country and foreign Powers, whether for peace or war; but it is not possible, according to the working and principle of our constitution, that Parliament should co-operate with the Crown in the conduct of negotiations and the conclusion of treaties resulting out of those negotiations. It is well known that when Parliament is prorogued, the period of prorogation is limited in duration, and it is moreover in the power of the Crown, if it should think that it requires the assistance of Parliament, to summon it at a very short notice, and to have recourse to its advice or its aid. If, in the course of the autumn, or early in the winter, circumstances should arise requiring that Parliament should be assembled, I can assure the hon. and gallant Member and the House that the Government will feel it their duty, and not merely feel it their duty, but it would be glad to have recourse to the assistance of Parliament in any matter upon which its assistance and co-operation may be necessary. I hope that the hon. and gallant Member, having expressed, I won't say distrust of Her Majesty's Government—for I do not think that what he said implied, on his part, distrust, but a certain amount of fear lest a dishonourable peace should be concluded—and having called the attention of the House to the honour of the country, and having given a warning, if I may say so, to the Government to take care how they betray the interests of the country, and enter into negotiations inconsistent with its honour and future safety—I hope that, having done this, he will content himself with the warning so given, and permit the House to proceed with the other business.


said, he rose simply for the purpose of noticing the noble Lord's suggestion that possibly Parliament would be called together earlier than the usual period. The Motion of the hon. and gallant Member for A bingdon was not quite correct, as he had passed the line of power which the House possessed. The division of the different privileges of the Crown, the House of Commons, and the House of Lords, ought invariably to be preserved. If the House passed beyond their line of division, they relieved the Ministers from most important responsibilities. He was glad to hear the noble Lord express himself as he had done, because he had given to all who desired to discharge their duties efficiently the plan by which they ought to be guided. The prerogative of the Crown was a great prerogative in the making of war or peace, and the responsibilities of the Ministers were great. He, for one, was not inclined to relieve them from those responsibilities, by assisting in those councils, upon the question whether they should advise the Crown to conclude peace or prosecute war; but the country was exceedingly anxious that Parliament should be assembled at an earlier period than usual. [Cries of "No!"] He did not wonder at the murmurs of hon. Gentlemen, because it was not very palatable or agreeable, but it was the fact that the country was exceedingly anxious to be assured that in the event of any emergency, such as occurred during the last recess, Her Majesty should be advised to call her Parliament together. If that assurance were given, the hon. and gallant Gentleman would probably withdraw his Motion.


was about to reply, but was called to order by Mr. SPEAKER, who said the rules of the House did not allow a reply in such a case. The hon. and gallant Member then said he would divide the House.


He must explain, that what he intended to say was, that it would not be consistent with the duty of Ministers to make any pledge as to what they would do under different circumstances, whether they would or not advise the Crown to assemble Parliament earlier than usual. If any occasion should arise in which, in the opinion of the Government, they should require the assistance of Parliament, then, undoubtedly, it would be called together.


said, it would be unfair in the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Major Reed) to go to a division. The Motion as it stood was really a vote of want of confidence in the Government, and it was not fair at the end of the Session that the great Conservative party should be entrapped into a vote of want of confidence by him. The hon. and gallant Gentleman was inclined to make concessions to the noble Lord, and seemed satisfied with the declaration of the noble Lord that he intended to do that which, under the peculiar circumstances, he thought best for the nation. Really the hon. and gallant Gentleman was too much excited by his success in that House. But a little time ago he brought forward a Motion pledging the Government of the noble Lord to a reform of Parliament. Now, that would seem to have been enough for one Session. And, therefore, it was too much to ask the Government of the noble Lord that Parliament should be called precipitately together. The hon. and gallant Gentleman, however, had tonight made an admission which proved to him (Mr. Disraeli) that the Government was falling more rapidly into decay than even was generally imagined, for the hon. and gallant Gentleman had acknowledged that the Government were but human. But now let him ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman, was that his language a few weeks back? The hon. and gallant Gentleman said, he was the youngest Member in the House, a fact of which he (Mr. Disraeli) was not before aware. Well, but supposing he was, would he not have some regard for consistency? Why, it was only a few weeks ago that the hon. and gallant Gentleman described the Government of the noble Lord as "demoniacal," and, rising in his place, he addressed the noble Lord as a fallen angel, saying to him — Arise! awake! or be for ever fallen. Hence he (Mr. Disraeli) wished that the country should be made aware, at that the last hour of the Session, of what were now the opinion of an hon. and gallant Gentleman of Her Majesty's Government, which only a few weeks ago he described as being in possession of qualities almost infernal. He could only warn the hon. and gallant Gentleman, that if he should press his Motion to a division, he (Mr. Disraeli) would be placed in the awkward position of supporting Her Majesty's Government on a vote of want of confidence, the circumstances of which he wished his constituents and the country to be made aware.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.