§ LORD FERMOY
Sir, I feel that I owe an apology to the House for introducing to its notice a subject of such importance at this late hour of the evening; but, perhaps, the best way in which I can show my gratitude to the House, if I am listened to, will be to make my statement as brief as possible. If this were to be the only occasion upon which this most important question was likely to be discussed in this House, I would not take on myself the responsibility of introducing it at this late hour; but my belief is, that so important is this question, that for the remainder of the Session you will find it springing up in almost every question, and at every stage of your proceedings—and, therefore, as I am performing what I believe to be a duty, namely, asking the House to give its opinion upon a question which I believe to be of very great importance, I am not 2079 shutting out other hon. Members, if they choose, from bringing forward, on subsequent occasions, other Motions in reference to this subject. In bringing this subject before the House, my vindication is this, that whatever may be the feeling of the House on this question, there is outside its walls a strong feeling of indignation at the conduct of the other House of Parliament. ["Oh, oh!" from the Opposition.] Of course, I do not expect that hon. Gentlemen opposite will acquiesce in that statement. But let me make this remark in answer to the indications of dissent shown by the hon. Gentlemen opposite, that while we can point on our side to numerous meetings held all over the country, calling upon this House to vindicate its rights and privileges, the hon. Gentlemen opposite cannot point to one single meeting in which the opinion was pronounced that the Lords, in the course they took, were right. Now, in the first place, in support of the proposition which I have ventured to lay down, I evidence the meetings which have been held all over the country, and I evidence to you, also, the petitions which have been presented and laid upon the table, signed by over 100,000 persons, all praying that this House may take steps to vindicate its rights and privileges. We had besides that the other day, a meeting held in this Metropolis of delegates from all the large towns in England, at which resolutions were passed calling upon this House to vindicate its privileges. That meeting of delegates consisted of gentlemen from Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Glasgow, Warrington, Norwich, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Oxford, Ipswich, Rochdale, Ashton-under-Lyne, Leeds, and a number of others, amounting altogether to fifty of the principal towns. Now, what was the unanimous opinion expressed by those gentlemen in meeting assembled? Their first resolution is as follows:—That the House of Commons having affirmed by Resolution that it rests with itself to impose or repeal taxes, in the opinion of this meeting that House would be degraded by giving assent to the base policy of inaction suggested by Lord Palmerston—a policy tending to the surrender of the dearest rights of the people, and one which ought to be denounced as an act of treason against the Constitution.The next resolution is to this effect:—That no Government deserves the support of the Liberal party that is not prepared to vindicate the privileges of the Commons, and to secure the rights of the people; and that it is the duty of 2080 every Liberal Member of Parliament to urge upon the Government to act up to the spirit of its own Resolutions, and if defeated, to dissolve Parliament and appeal at once to the country.The next resolution is to the following effect:—That this meeting tenders its thanks to the Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone for his able defence of the Constitutional rights of the House of Commons, and relies with confidence on his promise to do everything that is within his power to secure those rights unimpaired.The last resolution is to this effect:—That this meeting calls upon every Member of the House of Commons to use any means that its forms allow to prevent the passing of Supplies, or Bills for the appropriation of Supply, until the aggression of the Lords has been defeated and their illegal Vote rescinded.Now, that is an indication of feeling, and no doubt a very strong feeling upon this subject, coming as it does from Gentlemen deputed from fifty of the principal towns of England. They have declared that to be their opinion, and as such we are bound to respect it. Then, again, if I refer to an event which has taken place within the last few days—I mean the election for Brighton; the only polling booth opened since the aggression of the Lords, I find the people have there, in a constitutional manner, evinced their opinion in regard to this question. If that be not sufficient vindication for my conduct upon the present occasion, I have only to refer to the declarations which have been made from the Treasury Bench, and made by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer and by the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary. That being the case, I feel that whether I look to the feeling out of doors of the people generally, in public meeting assembled, or in sending delegates to meetings, or I look to the result of the only election that has taken place since the aggression of the Lords, I am warranted in saying that whatever may be the fate of the present Motion in this House, outside the House a large majority of the people will give it their sanction and support.
Now, having made these few remarks in vindication of the course which I have thought proper to take, let me come directly to the point. What I propose to establish, if I can, are these two propositions—"That the rejection by the House of Lords of the Bill for the Repeal of the Paper Duties is an infringement on the rights and privileges of the House of 2081 Commons—and that it is, therefore, incumbent upon the House to adopt a practical measure for the vindication of its rights and privileges." With regard to the first proposition, I can promise the House that I will not weary them with going into precedents. I think that has been already fully, amply, and satisfactorily settled in this House. We have had, first and foremost, a Committee chosen from among the most experienced men in this House, for the purpose of searching for precedents bearing on this subject, and that Committee having reported, three Resolutions framed upon their Report were submitted to the House by the noble Lord the First Lord of the Treasury. Those Resolutions were unanimously adopted by the House, and I, for one, do not regret the step which I then took to procure their unanimous adoption. These Resolutions are based upon your investigations into the precedents, and I base my argument tonight upon the first and third of them. If I can prove my case by a reference to them, I shall have no necessity, nor is it my intention, to refer at all to the precedents. I take the first Resolution proposed by the noble Lord, which lays down clearly and comprehensively enough to satisfy me as to the extent of our rights and privileges. The first Resolution says:—That the right of granting Aids and Supplies to the Crown is in the Commons alone, as an essential part of their constitution; and the limitation of all such Grants, as to the matter, manner, measure, and time, is only in them.Let us see what has been the history of the Bill for the Repeal of the Paper Duties in this House, and of the Budget of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In that Budget there were introduced two questions, to which alone it is necessary that I should now refer. One was the repeal of the paper duties; the other the addition to the income tax. We assented in this House to the repeal of the paper duties. He proposed to us, and we adopted, to make up the gap in his Budget, an additional penny in the income tax. In that way we sent the Budget up to the Upper House. We repealed the paper duties because we considered them to be an impediment to trade and commerce, and a tax upon knowledge. But no matter on what reasons we did that, and in that way we sent the Budget up to the Upper House. What was done there? The Lords adopted the addition to the income tax, but rejected the Bill which was to relieve the 2082 consumers of paper of a million and a quarter of taxation. I say that was a manifest and a clear interference with our rights and privileges. Because I ask how it can be said now that the right to grant Supplies is in the Commons alone as an essential part of their constitution, and that the limitation of all such grants, as to matter, manner, measure, and time is also in them. How can that be said, when, not only as to the matter, but as to the manner and the time, the Lords have interfered and altered a measure referring to the taxation of the country?
There is another point which ought not to be overlooked. Our proposition not only shifted the burthen of taxation from one set of shoulders to another, but altered the form and character of the tax, because for an excise duty on paper, which was a permanent tax, we substituted a penny income tax, which is a terminable tax. Therefore, in that respect, the Lords have interfered not only in the matter, but in the time and the specialty of the tax, as well as with the amount of the exemption. The Act of the House of Peers thus completely invaded and deranged our privileges and rights, even as laid down in the first Resolution which we passed unanimously within the last fortnight.
The next question then—and a very reasonable and natural question—is as to the remedy which is to be proposed. To that question I do not shrink from giving the best answer I can. But before doing so, I may be allowed to repeat what I said last night, that a considerable, although not an insuperable difficulty, has been placed in our way by the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has, since the aggression of the Lords, dealt with the taxation of the country. It is quite clear, however, that if the rejection of the Paper Duties Bill by the Lords is an aggression upon our rights and privileges, the best way, in my mind, if not the only way, to redress it is to send them back the Bill again. The third Resolution, to which I have already alluded, points out, although perhaps not very clearly, the proper manner of doing so. It is this:—That, to guard for the future against an undue exercise of that power by the Lords, and to secure to the Commons their rightful control over Taxation and Supply, this House has in its own hands the power so to impose and remit Taxes, and to frame Bills of Supply, that the right of the Commons as to the matter, man- 2083 ner, measure, and time, may be maintained inviolate.As I read that, it means that for the future,—for I admit that it only deals with the future while asserting a principle which can apply to the present—if you think the Lords are about to interfere unfairly or unjustly with your rights and privileges as regards taxation, you can so draw your Bills and frame them, that the Lords shall not be able to touch them. The meaning of that I take to be, that you can incorporate with a Money Bill the repeal of the paper duties. I may be unfortunately suspected of being rather disposed to propose strong measures upon a subject of the kind, but I am merely giving my own opinion, and the Resolution which I propose does not bind anybody as to the means to be adopted. If the Resolution were carried by the House, the proper persons to carry it out and to prepare the fitting measures to the House would be Her Majesty's Government. I merely give my own opinion because I do not wish to shirk the question. What I should do would be this. We know by experience that the Lords have not always been right upon other questions. It has been usual in the history of the country, when the two Houses differed upon any important political question—when this House adopted a particular line or a particular Bill, and the other House rejected it—to give the House of Lords a locus penitentiœ, and send up again the Bill they have rejected. One of the best features of the manner in which the Lords dealt with this question was, that when they rejected this Bill they believed the feeling of the country was with them. That, I repeat, is so far a very good and cheerful feature. Now, suppose we can show, after a full and fair discussion of the question in this House, and out of it, that the feeling of the country is strong against the Lords, not on the question of finance, but as respects their dealing and interfering with our rights and privileges in reference to taxation—why, then, I say, by sending back the Bill again pure and simple, you may give the Lords an opportunity of passing it, as they passed the Reform Bill, the Catholic Emancipation Bill, and the Jewish Relief Bill, after many previous rejections of those measures. That is the constitutional course, and I, for one, should feel disposed to adopt it.
If it be said that the Lords would not pass it, we can then go, if needful, the 2084 further step, and incorporate the Bill with, some Money Bill which the Lords cannot touch. But I repeat that it is not my business to show what the Government ought to do; all I have to do is to show that I have a policy and opinion of my own. Unless something be done the three Resolutions, which are good enough for the future, as an assertion of our rights and privileges are perfectly useless on the present occasion. I hope, and indeed I assume, that I shall have the sanction and support of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Upon all subjects he has the happy gift of speaking forcibly and clearly, but if there was anybody through the whole length and breadth of the land who spoke clearly and boldly upon the subject it was the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He told us, in words to which I cannot refer now, that it was the duty of this House to take action. He expressed a desire to know under what form of constitution we were living when we submitted to this aggression of the Lords. I repeat, then, that if we do not take action, we complicate the matter very much, for it will be a precedent against us hereafter. The Report of the Committee recounts the Paper Duties Bill as one of the very Bills which the Lords rejected, and unless we take active means to restore our position on the constitutional ground, this will be pointed at as a precedent hereafter.
I may be told that the course I am taking is not a politic one. That is unfortunate, but I am not to blame for it. The question is, whether what I am proposing is clear, and a straightforward and a fair way of dealing with the question. I believe that on this, as on all other occasions in life, the best policy is honesty. Therefore, although I may not be successful to-night, or this Session, I hold that it is the duty of us who are the popular party in this country to take the course which we believe to be just to preserve and vindicate our rights, and if we fail, then let the responsibility be upon the shoulders of those who, although professing in principle the same views, will not go into the lobby, with us upon this question. If this policy be bad, I say that they have made it bad by their pusillanimity. Therefore I repudiate the language held as to the policy of the Motion which I, as a very humble individual, am bringing forward upon the present occasion. There is nothing so essential to the greatness of 2085 England and the durability of her representative institutions as that public men should keep faith with the public. I want to know, for one, whether Her Majesty's Government are satisfied with the present state of things. I want to know from the Treasury benches whether, looking back to the occurrences of the last month or two, beginning with the aggression of the Lords, and the rejection of the Paper Duties Repeal Bill, and going down to the adoption of the three Resolutions, they are satisfied that the House, as regards their rights and privileges, are placed in as satisfactory a position as before the rejection of this Bill by the Lords. I say, for one, that my belief is that it is not. I say that your three Resolutions do nothing to redress our position. It is a great deal, I admit, to have got that first Resolution by a unanimous vote in this House. It was never my fate to be present before in this House at a unanimous vote on a great question, and, therefore, I voted on that occasion with great pleasure. But, to use the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, "You must take action." Unless you do that, you will have done nothing as regards the present case. Now, Sir, I promised the House that I would he short in my address. Had I been fortunate enough to have got up earlier in the evening, I might have been more diffuse; but I say this, in concluding, that I believe out of doors you will find that the people every day are turning their attention more and more to this subject. My belief is, that every day it is gaining importance in the public mind. They will soon see that which is patent to the minds of, at least, every man near me, that the rights and privileges of the people of this country and of this House are identical. Our forefathers suffered to maintain the rights of this House against the aggressions of the Crown. Happily, we live now under a Monarch who will never make an aggression upon the rights of the people or of the Commons; but there is another aggression which has been made by the hereditary branch of the Legislature. It is our duty to walk in the steps of our forefathers, and, if necessary, to make sacrifices, as they made them, to vindicate the rights and privileges of the Commons of England.
Motion made, and Question proposed,—
That the rejection by the House of Lords of the Bill for the repeal of the Paper Duties is an
encroachment on the Rights and Privileges of the House of Commons; and it is therefore incumbent upon this House to adopt a practical measure for the vindication of its Rights and Privileges.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
Sir, I hardly think that my noble Friend could seriously intend to call upon this House to enter upon the large and important question to which his Resolution relates,—beginning, as he did, at half-past eleven at night. My noble Friend, no doubt, was anxious, to record, in a manner more formal than he thought fit to do on the debate on the Resolutions I had the honour to propose, his opinions and sympathies on the question between the two Houses of Parliament. I do not quarrel with my noble Friend for taking this opportunity of recording his individual opinions; but I would humbly submit to the House that, after the grave and serious discussion which took place on this great and important question on a former occasion, it is not desirable to stir again in the matter at the present moment. The House, I think, may be well content to rest on the Resolutions it has adopted. Moreover, I would venture to submit that the first proposition of my noble Friend is little more than an echo of that which the House has already affirmed; while his second proposition points to a result which my noble Friend is not himself prepared to indicate. It is not enough for my noble Friend to say that if the House agrees to his Resolution, he throws on the Government the responsibility of discovering what he intended to suggest, and of carrying into effect his undefined and unexplained intentions. I beg to decline, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, the task which my noble Friend wishes to impose on them. As I stated on a former occasion, in answer to a question, I am well satisfied to rest on the Resolutions which the House has affirmed. I believe those Resolutions sufficiently record our opinions as to our own rights and privileges, and point out for the future the means to which we may have recourse, if necessary, to assert and make good those privileges and those rights. I shall not enter now into the subject, or detain the House longer from coming to a decision on the matter. I shall at once move the previous question, being of opinion that my noble Friend has not shown his usual judgment in introducing this subject on the present occasion; and that it is fitting the House should decline to enter further 2087 on the discussion of the question. Sir, I beg to move the Previous Question.
§ Whereupon Previous Question proposed, "That that Question be now put."
§ SIR JOHN TRELAWNY
said, he could not compliment the noble Lord on the speech he had just addressed to the House. It seemed to him that in the crisis of a revolution which the Conservatives had originated, the noble Lord had not shown proper respect to the House in dismissing a grave and important subject like this in a few sentences, and condescending to use as an argument against the Resolutions the late hour at which they were introduced. He wanted to know whether it was come to this, that the head of the Government, the leader of the Liberal party, could afford to treat the gravest interests of the House of Commons in this jaunty manner, as if of no consequence whatever. They had passed Resolutions which had met with the cordial acceptance of the right hon. Gentleman opposite—the leader of the country gentlemen of England—and which manifestly conveyed a censure on the House of Lords in the course they had pursued. Yet no action had been taken to indicate the rights of the Commons, and to resist the imposition of a heavy tax against their will. He complained of almost everybody in the House. [Laughter.] That might sound very ridiculous, but such was his feeling. He complained of himself as well as of the rest. He blamed himself for having let the China Vote go two nights since. They were never told whether that money was for the first China war or for the second, or for the Persian war. The accounts had not been made up for some years, and the Government could not or would not reveal the object of the Vote. That was only another sample of the treatment the House received. He had often heard it said in private that the noble Viscount was a Tory, and he had done what he could to defend him from that accusation. But whether the noble Viscount were a Tory or a Radical, it was clear that a serious aggression had been perpetrated on the liberties of the country and the privileges of the Commons, with impunity as far as the noble Lord was concerned. He had a right, too, he thought, to complain of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. At his instigation they voted a most unpopular tax—a 1d. of addition to the income tax, when their 2088 constituents expected a reduction of at least 3d. They consented to do that in the hope that they would at least effect the removal of an objectionable tax, which could not exist longer without giving rise to litigation. The noble Lords in "another place" rejected that measure which the Chancellor of the Exchequer recommended, and they all heard the right hon. Gentleman come down to the House and denounce the proceedings of the House of Lords in language on the verge of revolutionary—language almost as strong as any that was used at Chartist meetings out of doors. Their feelings were aroused by his eloquent invective; they sympathized with his demand for "action." But to what a lame, impotent conclusion had the matter been brought, when the right hon. Gentleman came down to the House last night, and swallowing his indignation and putting his tail between his legs, accepted the act of the House of Lords? He entertained a sincere respect for the noble Lord the Member for London, but he regretted exceedingly that he was not out of office at this time. If the Conservatives had been on the Treasury bench, and the Liberals in Opposition, what an eloquent vindication of constitutional privileges and denunciations of the conduct of the Lords would they not have had! He could not possibly overrate the importance of the present crisis. He could not disguise from himself that something had gone out of them—that some privilege, some power had been lost, and yet this only roused the mirth of hon. Gentlemen opposite. Was it come to this, that the loss of a valuable right, which would influence the destinies of their country for all time, was only cause for laughter? He did not scruple to say, and he said it with premeditation, that he would rather the French occupied Yorkshire at that moment than that this had happened. If the French were in Yorkshire, they might look with confidence to their being very soon removed; but he had no hope that the precedent laid down by the House of Lords, and acquiesced in by the House of Commons, could be as readily got rid of. An eloquent writer on the Constitution of England said, that what to-day was a fact to-morrow was a precedent, and the next day a law. They had gravely set to work to make a law of this proceeding of the Lords, and he could not compliment them on their handiwork. Though little was said about this matter out of doors then, the day would come 2089 when they would hear more of it. He could not compliment hon. Gentlemen opposite on their logic when they cheered because it was mentioned that there was not much feeling in the country, as though the House of Lords must be right on that account. Suppose the House of Lords had many years ago by an Act abolished the corn laws as far as they were concerned, would that circumstance alone have induced hon. Gentlemen opposite to acquiesce in such a proceeding? It might be all very well for those who wished to make things pleasant to pass this question by; but that would not do for those who were not represented in that House. They were now very much in the position of France before the Revolution, when she had a narrow suffrage and general corruption. The people out of doors were aware of this, and believed there was scarcely a public contract which was not in some way dealt with as a job. Men asked whether things would be worse if they had a larger suffrage. And though, perhaps, no very definite mode of action was perceived, the day was not far off when there would be a great disturbance arising out of these affairs. He sincerely believed he was acting as a true Conservative in recommending the House of Lords as soon as possible to retrace their steps, for now they would stand responsible for every calamity of a financial character that might happen to this country. Yes—he repeated that by interfering as they had done with the management of the finances, the House of Lords had made themselves responsible for every disaster which might follow from their meddling. They ought, therefore, to come down in sackcloth and ashes to retract their unjustifiable proceeding.
§ MR. CLAY
said, that the hon. Baronet objected to the position of this question as furnishing a precedent for the course taken by the House of Lords. It was precisely on these grounds that he (Mr. Clay) deeply regretted the Motion of his noble Friend, not that he took a lower estimate than did the noble Lord of the importance of the subject with which that Motion dealt. It was the most important which had agitated the House since he had been a Member of it—not that he felt less keenly than the noble Lord, or than any man in the country, the position of humiliation in which the Commons rested under the attack and premeditated insult of the House of Lords; but because he was convinced that the blow aimed by the noble Lord would be 2090 weak and impotent, would fall short of the object he wished to strike, and would be the increase and the record of their shame. The traditionary power of the House of Commons depended on the support of the people whom they represented, and it was useless to conceal the fact that in this matter the people were not heartily with them. The majority out of doors believed that the refusal of the House of Lords to repeal the paper duty was financially wise. This was not his opinion. He gave his adhesion to the wisdom of that repeal; but it was the very general belief. Popular opinion never took nice distinctions, and in this case the people refused to separate the question of the financial sagacity of the House of Lords from that much more important question the violation of the spirit of the Constitution. Had his noble Friend never heard the Scotch motto which taught him to "bide his time"? He (Mr. Clay) was content to bide his in the confident assurance that no distant time would bring the opportunity, when, with the support of an enthusiastic people, the House of Commons might recover the position which for a time it had lost. Meanwhile, he considered the Motion of his noble Friend was in every way mischievous. It damaged the question of paper duty repeal, for repealers on the opposite benches would on this occasion naturally vote against his noble Friend, and the division list would be no accurate indication of the number of hon. Members who were in favour of the repeal of the Excise duty on paper. Still more did it damage the position of the House of Commons in its quarrel with the House of Lords. For what was this position? At present the Resolutions which they had passed were a protest—weak and insufficient it was true-—but a protest, more or less, that the House of Lords had violated the spirit of the Constitution, and, at least, there was no confession on their records that a majority in the Commons was not of this opinion. But the defeat of the Motion of the noble Lord—and its defeat was certain—made history and a precedent, and it would stand for ever and a day recorded on their Journals, that in 1860 a large majority of the House of Commons had decided that the House of Lords, in its rejection of the Bill for the repeal of the paper duty, had not "encroached on their rights and privileges." Was it not madness to invite such a record by this unhappy and ill-advised 2091 Motion. But there were other grounds on which also he objected to it. The most careless observer suspected that this unfortunate quarrel had caused difficulties—it might be differences in the Cabinet. Was it wise in hon. Gentleman below the gangway, by such a Motion as this, to increase those difficulties, probably most keenly felt by those Members of the Cabinet who more especially represented and sympathized with the opinions of the Radicals? If these difficulties were to become insuperable—which he, and many others on the same benches, would sincerely deplore—did not the Radical party owe to these right hon. Gentlemen to leave them the judges of the manner and the time when these differences should be insisted on, lather than to challenge them to a vote, which they might have some—though he hoped no invincible—scruple in avoiding, although they must feel it to be most inopportune. His noble Friend would perhaps say, what matter if the Government does break up. The fall of the Government might not very seriously matter to the Radical party; but it did matter seriously in what way the Government fell. Let hon. Members below the gangway remember for a moment the origin of the present Government. It was an experiment to try whether an administration, fulfilling the conditions of strength and permanence, which the country in the present state of Europe imperatively demanded, could be formed by a union of all sections of the Liberal party. It must be confessed that up to the present time that experiment had not been a very happy one. If he was asked where was the fault, he would say that which it is safe to state of all domestic quarrels, that there were faults on both sides. The Radicals complained that there was some want of the sympathy and consideration on the part of the Government for their position and opinions, which they had a right to expect. Should he give an instance? The Home Secretary, when he gave up the obnoxious clause in the Census Bill, might have done it with a better grace, and might have spared them a speech which, though clever and amusing, smacked too much of the lecture of a college Proctor to be very palatable to grown-up men. A few days before this, the first Minister, in answering a question on this same subject, might have conveyed his answer in some twenty courteous words, rather than in a dozen of very scant courtesy. But more than 2092 this, when the noble Viscount introduced his celebrated Resolutions, he might surely, out of consideration for the strong views entertained on the subject by his Radical supporters, have given to his speech some of the vigour which those Resolutions wanted. The effect of that speech, on the contrary, was most unhappy on the Liberal Members, and whatever little starch there was in the Resolutions was effectually washed out of them by the speech of the noble Lord. On the other hand, they, the Radicals, were much too ready, when the Government did not agree with them, to jump up with their denunciations that the Whigs—to use an Un-parliamentary phrase—were "throwing them over," and to remind them, somewhat ungenerously, that they kept their places solely by Radical support. These differences were small and undignified, therefore they were the more easily reconciled. The measures of the Government had been on the whole as liberal as they could fairly expect, and he must remind his Friends that if they believed that the compact between themselves and the Whigs was to be carried out by the Whigs turning Radicals, they looked to a one-sided bargain very little creditable to their sagacity to hope for—still less creditable to Whig honesty to have performed. The motto of their union should be, "Bear and forbear." If, then, the Government fell from the open attack of legitimate foes on the opposite benches, it would matter little to the interests of the Liberal party—they would be as united as ever—at least as ready to renew a league which would not have been proved to have failed. But if, on the other hand, the breaking up of the Cabinet arose from differences among the different sections of the Liberal party of which it was composed, it would be taken as a confession that the experiment of union had failed; that the Whigs and Radicals could not lie in the same bed, and the demand of the country for a strong and permanent Administration would be supplied by a new combination of parties, which would inevitably be unfavourable to the advance of Liberal opinions. For the reasons he had given he should upport the Previous Question.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I entirely concur, Sir, in the propriety and wisdom of the course which has been proposed by my noble Friend near me (Viscount Palmerston), and I like- 2093 wise join in the regrets that have been expressed with regard to the conclusions to which the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone arrived when he thought it his duty to submit this Motion to this House, and to submit this Motion upon a subject of such gravity and importance, when the hand of the clock was approaching the hour of midnight. But, Sir, I cannot refuse to state the reasons why I shall support the Motion of my noble Friend, after the allusions which have been made to me by the noble Lord. When the noble Lord, feeling I dare say the difficulties of his position, which are not to be dissembled, was disposed to throw the responsibility for a portion of those difficulties, on the statement with respect to the financial demands of the public service which I made last night, I must say I think it would have been most improper on my part, both as respects the one side of the House and as respects the other, if I had not made it my sincere and honest purpose, in submitting that statement to the House, to leave the great constitutional question that has been opened within the last few weeks precisely as I found it. I do not think it my duty—I think, on the one hand, it was entirely at variance with my duty—to use that occasion for the purpose either of taunt or accusation against any man or body of men. I think, on the other hand, I should have been wrong if I had placed that statement in such a form as to weaken the position of the noble Lord and others with whom in principle I agree. I therefore think undoubtedly it was right to state, what I could not have avoided stating without absurdity, that a sum of money was in the Exchequer, in consequence of a vote of the House of Lords, and available for the services of the year—the estimate of which I made as nearly and as faithfully as I could. But, lest I should be unjustly accused of having receded from the opinions I had expressed, and which I conscientiously entertain, I spoke of that sum of money proceeding from the paper duties, and of the question of the repeal of the paper duties, as a matter dependent—which I believe it to be dependent—upon the pleasure of the British House of Commons. Now, Sir, that was the position in which I sincerely and humbly sought to leave the question without prejudice; and therefore, do not let the noble Lord state that he is placed in any difficulty because of expressions used or proposals made last night.
2094 With respect to the Motion of the noble Lord I concur entirely in the opinion that it is not fitting for this House to pronounce an opinion on the matter; and for these reasons. As has been stated by my noble Friend near me, the first portion of the Motion is but a repetition, in a form slightly more combative, of that which, as he thinks, and as I think, the House has in substance already assented to. With regard to the second part of the Motion, I confess I entertain to it more serious objections. The second part of that Motion suggests that it is incumbent upon the House to adopt a peculiar measure for the vindication of its rights and privileges. Now, Sir, to what does that declaration amount? It amounts to so many words and to nothing more than words. It does not advance the House one inch towards any practical solution of the question, but it goes to the country at large on the principle of being in earnest without any real pledge or guarantee for our sincerity or our Resolutions upon it. Sir, so far as words are concerned, it appears to me that upon this occasion we have used them in sufficiency. The words proposed by my noble Friend (Viscount Palmerston) in his third Besolution—words which were adopted unanimously by this House—were well adapted for the purpose, and being well adapted for the purpose ought not to be loaded with surplusage. It is no slight matter for this House to take new steps on a subject of this gravity. We ought not to proceed to accumulate Resolutions upon Resolutions. We have said all, in my opinion, that we can safely say. What remains is the question, whether we can safely proceed to action? If we can proceed to action by some measure for which we think the House is prepared, or on which we can induce it to act, then let that issue be raised; but do not let us give new promises of action which, after all, are mere declarations, and with respect to which I would even say they are scarcely honest promises so long as we speak of action vaguely in the abstract, instead of pointing—which would be difficult to do—to some positive and practical method of proceeding, whereby this House might bring to an issue the question on which its attention has been engaged. It is all very well for the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone—it sounds very well in the House; it will read very well to-morrow morning in the newspapers; and I have no doubt it will continue his 2095 popularity—for I have, indeed, no doubt of the public sentiments on this subject—in the important borough he represents, when it is found that, at all events, there was one chivalrous Gentleman who stood up in this House and said that, for his part, he thought, in difficulties in policy, honesty was the best policy:—My voice is still for open war, Of wiles more inexpert I boast not.But still, Sir, the test to which every Motion made in this House, and every speech ought to be brought, is its tendency to advance the public interest according to the conviction of this House and of the hon. Members who make it. I cannot say that it appears to me that, to pass a further Resolution on the subject where we have already resolved everything that the subject requires, would in any degree advance the public interests. We have, as is well said by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, made a temperate but deliberate statement of what we conceive to be constitutional doctrine on this subject. I agree with him it is open for any one to put his own construction on Resolutions in which he has concurred. We have no authoritative expositor in this House who has a right to bind the rest. We have agreed to a constitutional protest against what has been done by the other House, and if that protest has been made in terms of which the noble Lord did not disapprove, it will not be desirable and will not maintain the real dignity of this House to multiply protests of that character. The only choice, in my judgment, that now remains to us is to choose between action on the one hand and silence upon the other. On that account, Sir, I entirely concur in the Motion of my noble Friend near me, which, not pronouncing any opinion on the abstract merits of the proposition of the hon. Gentleman, relieves the House from the embarrassment in which it would be placed by being compelled to record a judgment on that proposition. I do not think it is an occasion upon which it is my duty to enter upon the merits of the question. On a recent occasion I expressed in warm and in strong language what I feel upon that subject. There is much more which upon a fitting occasion might be said, for all that has been said does not, in my opinion, express half of the difficulties, the dangers, and the practical embarrassments of the vote which, under the name and notion of financial wisdom, was lately passed by the 2096 House of Lords. It is not my duty to enter unnecessarily upon topics of an irritating character, at a period when it is impossible for us to discuss them with the hope of arriving at any practical result. Therefore, simply reserving my personal freedom to state again what I think to be the constitutional, and, as the hon. Baronet (Sir John Trelawny) has said, emphatically, the Conservative doctrine with regard to this matter, I think that our proper course now is to decline a multiplication of these verbal declarations, which, if multiplied out of place, degenerate into mere verbiage. The Motion of my noble Friend is excellently suited for that purpose, and I heartily concur in and shall cheerfully support it.
§ MR. BERNAL OSBORNE
If I understand the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer aright it amounts to this, that, after having excited the noble Lord to move this additional Resolution, after having called the proceedings of the House of Lords a gigantic innovation, he is willing when he finds himself pressed for money to put all this in his pocket and to defer all considerations of constitutional necessity. I am in this position—I concur neither with the right hon. Gentleman, nor with my noble Friend the Member for Marylebone. The right hon. Gentleman now defines the difference between silence and action; but who was it that, forgetting the silence that was imposed upon him, got up and urged the House to action? It was the Chancellor of the Exchequer who, in a speech which we all remember, called for immediate action. If not for immediate action, at least for action; but now he adheres to silence. He is now, forsooth, performing that military movement which all hon. Gentlemen connected with the army know—marking time. How long that marking time is to continue he alone knows. At any rate, I know that I have been astonished at the speech he has made. I think it is a complete answer to the statement of the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Clay), that there are chances of differences in the Cabinet. I think my hon. Friend will be convinced that there are no such chances. At all events, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer is content to remain in office and mark time, and wait until the occasion for action arrives. Having said so much, I must add that I never felt more satisfied at abstaining from any vote 2097 than I do at my abstinence from supporting the repeal of the paper duty after the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer last night, because I think he convincingly proved that at the time he moved the repeal of that duty he was totally ignorant how the finances of the country stood. I say so much in justice to my own views, which from the first were opposed to the repeal of the paper duty. I make this complaint against the right hon. Gentleman, that he has placed me in this awkward position, that, agreeing with those who opposed the repeal of that duty, I am against my own will placed in conflict with the action of the House of Lords upon this question. I think that the House of Lords acted correctly and prudently, but I think that they acted unconstitutionally. That is not a position in which any Member of this House ought to be placed by a Minister of the Crown. But—what is more—this House acted wrongly upon that occasion, because I am well aware that there was a great majority of its Members who were opposed to the repeal of the paper duty. And when hon. Members talk about lowering this House—what lowered it was the House abstaining from coming to a direct vote upon that question. Many hon. Members stayed away. They threw the responsibility upon the Lords, and now they come forward and abuse the Lords for accepting it. We have been told that "honesty is the best policy." I believe that a man most advances the character of this House by telling the truth upon all occasions, and by acting upon the proverb which has been so aptly quoted by the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone. So much for the speech of the right hon. Gentleman.
I now come to the Resolution—it is nothing more than a Eesolution—of my noble Friend. On the same grounds on which I objected to the three Resolutions of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, I object to the fourth Resolution of my noble Friend. To be sure, I give my noble Friend this credit—that his Resolution is expressed in intelligible and grammatical language; but it is nothing more than a Resolution, and in moving it, at the same time that he talks of practical measures for the vindication of the rights and privileges of the House, he tells us that each Member may put any gloss that he pleases upon it. He has no more intention of acting upon this Resolution than the noble Lord the First Minister had of acting 2098 upon his. My noble Friend represents a highly important, wealthy, and intelligent constituency. I repeat it—there are few constituencies so noble, so informed, and so wealthy as Marylebone; and I have no doubt that the noble Lord is giving expression to the sentiments of many of his constituents; but, with great consideration for him and for them, I must say that his Motion is singularly ill-timed. For what was the course of the noble Lord upon a recent occasion, and I think the most proper occasion for the expression of his views—that on which these Resolutions were moved by the noble Lord at the head of the Government? The hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe) had given notice of an Amendment in these terms:—That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased not to Prorogue the present Parliament until a Bill passed by this House for the Repeal of the Excise Duty on Paper has been submitted to Her Majesty for the Royal Assent.I do not know what the noble Lord's idea of a practical measure is, but if there could be a practical measure that was one. What, however, did the noble Lord do? He had been chairman of a meeting of what was called the great Liberal party, and I am informed by those who were there that the great Liberal party on that occasion amounted in number to twenty-two. He got up and asked the hon. Member for Finsbury to withdraw his Amendment. The hon. Member for Finsbury, with that good sense which always characterizes him, withdrew his Motion, under the impression that it was really at the request of the great Liberal party; but what happened then? My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Plymouth (Mr. Collier), in a speech which even those who differed from him must admit to have been one of great merit and ability, moved a most temperate Amendment—an Amendment which might, I think, have been supported with perfect consistency by the noble Lord and those who agree with him. He was requested to withdraw that Amendment. It was supposed that we must all be what the noble Lord called unanimous, and I do not see what we have gained by our unanimity. But there is another Member for Marylebone besides the noble Lord, and one who has as sound views upon the constitution of the country as any man in this House. He had placed upon the paper an Amendment in terms stronger than those of the Motion 2099 of the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth, but he was not allowed by the Chairman of this great Liberal party, which met in the tea-room, to move it. I was amazed at all this. I had come down to the House to support the Amendment of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Plymouth, or that of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Marylebone (Mr. Edwin James). But what do I find now? I find that after the lapse of ten days my noble Friend, actuated, no doubt, by the best and the most patriotic motives, moves this Resolution—moves it, I am ready to admit, in a temperate, well argued, and good speech; but why did not he make that speech on the former occasion? Has the distinction between silence and action appealed to his feelings too! Why did not he support the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth, or that of his hon. and learned Colleague? In what a position we are placed! We have got nothing but these four Resolutions,—those three miserable Resolutions which were agreed to the other night, and this fourth one, upon which its Mover tells us that we may put what gloss we like. Under these circumstances, having voted against the Resolutions of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, I cannot support that of my noble Friend. We who voted in the minority upon the previous occasion should, if we supported this Motion, place ourselves in a most miserable and contemptible position. I can well understand the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock (Sir John Trelawny). That goes to the point. I can understand it, although I cannot agree with the speech which he has made tonight. I think that he made a great mistake with regard to this House, and was unjust to the character of public men in this country, when he adduced the instance of the French Chamber. Whatever electoral corruption there may be in this country, I take it upon myself to say that the character of public men on both sides of this House is above impeachment and above the breath of slander. I much regret that my hon. Friend should have adduced that example, because I believe that, whatever may be the faults of our constitutional system, no man, either in or out of this House, can say that any breath of slander can attach to any public man in this country. To go back to the material question before the House, I must say that I am placed in a most awk- 2100 ward position. I have heard the speech of the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer. His action is deferred; he is evidently standing at case. I do not know what we are to look to from him, but I cannot vote for the proposition of my noble Friend the Member for Marylebone. I wish he had left things as they were or voted for the Amendment of his hon. and learned Colleague. As it is, I think, he is placing us in a ridiculous position, and to avoid that I am obliged to fly to that general refuge, the Previous Question.
§ MR. CONINGHAM
said, that whatever might be the opinion of the House with reference to the proposition of the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone, he could not but think that in the opinion not only of the House, but of the country, attacks upon the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer came with a bad grace from the part of the House in which he had the honour to sit. He was one of those who had deliberately recorded his vote in favour of the repeal of the paper duty, and he had seen nothing which induced him to change his opinion as to the expediency of that vote. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he brought forward his great and comprehensive Budget—the soundness of which would be vindicated by time—brought it forward in a speech of unanswerable logic, and throughout loyally supported it. He could not say that the support which it received from the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues was equally cordial. If the two noble Lords who were well known to exercise a dominant influence in the Cabinet had as loyally supported their colleague as he had loyally vindicated his opinions, he ventured to say that the third reading of the Bill would have been carried by a quite sufficient majority to prevent the Whig followers of the noble Lords from encouraging the Tory party to reverse the decision of the Representatives of the people. He ventured to say that the repeal of the paper duty would have been an infinite benefit to the people of this country; that the Peers, acting as they had done, had excited a very angry feeling in the minds of the people, and, if the House ventured to interpose between the people and the privileges of the irresponsible part of the Legislature, they would incur the angry vengeance of their constituencies when they again looked to them for support.
§ MR. DISRAELI
Sir, the House is placed in a somewhat embarrassing position by the two Motions which have been made from the benches opposite. The hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Clay) has given us an interesting account of the general state of feeling which pervades those benches. There is a proverb familiar to all of us, which I shall not quote, as to the locality where one should wash one's dirty linen. There might be a controversy whether that operation should take place in private or in public; but I think there can be no doubt that our political dirty linen should, if possible, not be washed in the House of Commons. I heard with great regret the causes of those misunderstandings between the two sections opposite, which hitherto have only been the subject of rumour. Now, that they have been mentioned I would suggest that instead of bringing them under our consideration, there should rather be some meeting held at some other place sufficiently public, where an arrangement might be made to the general satisfaction of the supporters of the Government. Let there be another meeting, for example, at Willis's Rooms. I did not myself expect that in the course of one short year a repetition of such an assemblage would have been necessary; but though annual Parliaments are out of fashion, these annual assemblies appear to be necessary to the maintenance of party discipline among the supporters of the Government. It is to be observed that it is not from questions of high political importance, which concern the public interest and which affect public opinion, that these unhappy misconceptions seem to arise. There is some diminished confidence on the part of the Gentlemen below the gangway, who always style themselves, and I suppose are entitled to be called, the "great Liberal party." There is some diminution of confidence on their part towards Her Majesty's Ministers, not because the question of Parliamentary reform has not been carried to a successful issue, not because church rates have not been abolished, not because that promising programme of administration which was held forth to the admiring gaze of the country a year ago has not been accomplished,—no, it is not in such great questions that these deplorable misunderstandings appear to have their origin, but rather in the absence of that interchange of courtesy, and that general blandness of demeanour to be ex- 2102 pected by those who support the Government from those whom they retain in office. In these days, Sir, when an Emperor has not been ashamed of confessing that he is a, parvenu, I am sure the "great Liberal party" will permit me to remind them, without offence, that they themselves are of a rather modern origin, and that, like all great Powers in similar circumstances, they are gifted with a peculiar sensitiveness and a prompt susceptibility which, with a view to success in life, it would be wise on their part to curb. But, whatever may be the cause of the position in which we are placed to-night, I must remind the House that the question before us is a very serious one, and that much depends upon the manner in which we encounter it. We are asked to decide upon the conduct of the House of Lords with respect to a recent transaction upon which I need not dwell, and we are invited to do so in no measured language, and in a Resolution which lays down a very distinct and definite policy. I have listened with great attention to the speeches of both the Ministers who have addressed us in this debate. The noble Viscount the Prime Minister only made a suggestion, by which he himself and his friends might be extricated from an awkward position; but the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave reason why we should support the suggestion which was made by his chief. The suggestion of the Prime Minister was, that the House should give no opinion upon the Motion made by the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone; but the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in support of that suggestion was, in fact, a speech which offered a variety of reasons why we should oppose the Resolution before us. What is that Resolution? We are asked to declare in the most formal manner:—That the rejection by the House of Lords of the Bill for the Repeal of the Paper Duties is an encroachment on the rights and privileges of the House of Commons; and it is therefore incumbent upon this House to adopt a practical measure for the vindication of its rights and privileges.That subject, Sir, has been already under the solemn consideration of the House. The leader of the House proposed three Resolutions upon it, which it is his pride and boast were unanimously supported. Why? Because this House must have thought that they were Resolutions which dealt adequately with the subject That, at least, was the impression that in- 2103 fluenced me in giving my vote, and I believe every hon. Gentleman on this side of the House. Those Resolutions asserted the privileges of the House in a manner so complete that even the noble Member for Marylebone says he is perfectly ready to rest his description of our privileges on the language of the first Resolution. Why, then, does he propose another? The Resolution of the Prime Minister asserted our right to originate Supply in this House. The Resolution of the noble Member for Marylebone asserts "That the rejection by the House of Lords of the Bill for the Repeal of the Paper Duties is an encroachment on the rights and privileges of the House of Commons." But what was the second Resolution of the Prime Minister? It was an acknowledgment of the right of the Lords to reject such Bills. The Resolution of the noble Member for Marylebone proceeds to say that it is incumbent on us to adopt a practical measure to vindicate our rights and privileges. Sir, I maintain that we have taken adequate and proper measures to assert our rights and privileges, and, therefore, I cannot agree to the Resolution of the noble Member for Marylebone on either of these heads. What is the course we have been counselled to take under these circumstances? On a previous occasion I supported the noble Lord at the head of the Government in the line he recommended, after, of course, due consideration with his colleagues, the House to adopt; and if I were to support a Resolution like the one now before the House, I should stultify everything to which I agreed previously; for, were this Resolution carried it would counteract all the effect of the Resolutions we passed at the instance of the Prime Minister. But what is now recommended by the Government? I was here, and every Gentleman who sits on this side is here, to support the Government in the policy which they had themselves counselled the House to adopt, and which this House, in a generous and confiding spirit, unanimously adopted at their instance; but is that constitutional, and, as I think, adequate settlement of the question, and all that we have done, to be erased and blotted out because an intemperate Resolution is proposed by the noble Member for Marylebone, and because it may suit the convenience of some Member of the Cabinet not to meet the Resolution by a direct negative? Sir, I think that the honour and dignity of the House of Com- 2104 mons—I will say the honour and dignity of the Ministry—require that we should stand by the three Resolutions which we passed as an adequate and constitutional settlement of the question in controversy; and that we should not weaken the position we then assumed. If, indeed, the Government were acting on that unwise counsel given some days ago, and were prepared for "action," then we should have, of course, their proposition before us, and we should consider the measure they might recommend; but I thought, after what occurred last night—after the temperate and wise measures which the Government then brought forward—that the Government had felt on due counsel that it was not for them to reopen a controversy which at one moment was menacing, and that they were satisfied that they had taken that temperate and constitutional course which had recommended, and still recommends, I believe, their conduct to all men of moderate and sound opinions in the country. I think that there is no other course to take but a straightforward one in the present instance, and disapproving the Resolution moved by the noble Member for Marylebone, I feel bound to meet it with a direct and unhesitating negative. We occupy no ambiguous position, which may render it necessary or convenient to us to take refuge in the shabbiest of all Motions that can be made. There are, no doubt, occasions when the Motion of the "Previous Question" maybe convenient to the House; but when a question of constitutional interest, concerning the privileges and attributes of both Houses of Parliament, is before us—which question has been recently discussed in all its branches—I think we should be taking a course which the country would never approve, if on this occasion, influenced by none of those reasons which may exercise an influence on other individuals, we take refuge in tortuous conduct and ambiguous language, and did not now uphold that policy which we have hitherto maintained on this question, and offer to the Government, if they are willing to meet the Resolution of the noble Member for Marylebone, that direct support that we have extended to them throughout the whole of this controversy. We ought not to mix ourselves up with a course which, I am sure, the country will never approve, and which no man of spirit, who thoroughly disapproves of the Resolution of the Member for Marylebone, can in his calmer mo- 2105 ments look to with any feelings of satisfaction. I am far from wishing that any division should take place which should give anything like a party triumph to Gentlemen on this side on account of the unfortunate dissensions which I trust will now soon pass away, among Gentlemen opposite. There is no reason why the noble Lord at the head of the Government should persist in this Motion of the "Previous Question," which under the circumstances is unusual and unjustifiable, and which, on reflection, I think, he can hardly himself sanction. I feel persuaded that there is at present in the House an overwhelming majority which will support him, if with consistency and spirit he maintains the principles with respect to this question of privilege which he has himself appealed to the House of Commons to assist him in upholding. I trust, therefore, that the noble Lord will drop that unfortunate proposition of the "Previous Question," and meet the Resolution of the noble Member for Marylebone with a direct negative.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
observed that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) had placed a construction on the Motion of his noble Friend (Viscount Palmerston) to which it was not justly liable. The right hon. Gentleman assumed that his noble Friend wished to evade the question, and leave in uncertainty the expression of the opinion of the House as to the course which had been taken by the House of Lords; but the motive which had actuated his noble Friend in moving the Previous Question was a desire to rest upon the Resolutions which had already been adopted by this House, and maintain the position in which the House then stood in regard to them.
§ LORD FERMOY
, in reply, denied that his Resolution went no further than those of the noble Lord. The Motion stated that the privileges of this House had been invaded, which the noble Lord had not set forth; and this was followed up by the declaration that the House ought to take some action which would compel the Ministry to propose a practical measure. He was placed in a position of some difficulty by the Amendment which had been moved, but he should, at all events, take the first step towards attaining his object by voting against the Previous Question.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and negatived.
§ Previous Question put, "That that Question be now put."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 138; Noes 177: Majority 39.