§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
Sir, I rise, according to notice, to move that the House at its rising shall adjourn to Thursday next, and in moving that Motion I wish to avail myself of the opportunity to make one or two observations on the course of business which is about to come on. Up to yesterday afternoon Her Majesty's Government had reason to believe that the question upon which the House would be called on to deliberate, was a choice between different methods of expressing very nearly the same meaning and intention—namely, the meaning that all parties in the House are desirous that every practical economy should be enforced consistently with the due maintenance and proper efficiency of the several branches of the public service. But a Notice was given yesterday at the meeting of the House, which in our opinion entirely alters the issue. It is no longer a question of the relative value of substantives and adjectives. The question which the House will now be called upon to determine is, whether the Gentlemen who sit on these benches or the Gentlemen who sit on the opposite benches are best entitled to the confidence of the House and of the country. Sir, I say this, first, from the particular form of the Amendment of which notice has been given; next, from the quarter of the House whence it comes; and thirdly, from, the character of the meeting in which we are entitled to assume it originated yesterday. Sir, we are quite prepared to enter upon that discussion. At the same time, we ought not to conceal from ourselves, and I am sure the House does not conceal from itself, the serious importance of that issue. We are of opinion, therefore, that it will be better for the House to go at once to the question fraught with serious and important consequences, instead of wasting time in discussing the comparative value of the Amendments which have been proposed. [*] Amendments, no doubt, deserving of consideration on any other occasion, but, as it appears to me, entirely superseded by the move made by the other side of the House. Therefore, without presuming to prejudge in what manner the House may deal with the Resolution of the hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld), or whether in disposing of it room may be left for any Amendment at all, my object is to suggest 293 that those hon. Gentlemen who have interposed Amendments between that Resolution and the Amendment of which the Government has given notice, would perhaps be kind enough to waive their privilege of precedence, and allow the House at once to come to a discussion of the great political question which has been raised by the other side. Sir, I beg to move that the House at its rising adjourn till Thursday.
[* The following Motions had been placed upon the Notice Paper:—
1. Mr. Stansfeld,—National Expenditure,—That, in the opinion of this House, the National Expenditure is capable of reduction without compromising the safety, the independence, or the legitimate influence of the country.
2. Lord Robert Montagu,—National Expenditure,—As an Amendment to Mr. Stansfeld's Motion:—
That Her Majesty's Government alone are responsible to the House for the Supplies which Her Majesty asks the House to grant, and that this House alone is responsible for the sums which have been voted.
3. Mr. Horsman,—National Expenditure,—As an Amendment to Mr. Stansfeld's Motion;—
That this House, while deeply impressed with the necessity of economy in every Department of the State, and especially mindful of that necessity in the present condition of the Country and its Finances, is of opinion, that the sums voted under the present and late Administrations, in the Naval and Military Service of the Country, have not been greater than are required for its security at Home, and the protection of its interests Abroad.
4. Mr. Griffith,—National Expenditure,—As an Amendment to Mr. Horsman's Amendment:—
To leave out all the words after 'its Finances,' and to insert the words, 'will always lie ready to make every pecuniary sacrifice that may be necessary to maintain the honour, the interests, and the independence of the Country.'
5. Viscount Palmerston,—National Expenditure,—Amendment as substitute for Mr. Stansfeld's Resolution:—
That this House, deeply impressed with the necessity of economy in every Department of the State, is at the same time mindful of its obligation to provide for the security of the Country at Home and the protection of its interests Abroad:
That this House observes with satisfaction the decrease which has already been effected in the National Expenditure, and trusts that such further diminution may be made therein as the future stage of things may warrant.
6. Mr. Walpole,—National Expenditure,—On Mr. Stansfeld's Resolution, in case it is negatived, and Viscount Palmerston's Amendment is put as a substantive Motion, to move to amend the second paragraph of such Amendment by leaving out all the words after the words 'trusts that,' and inserting the following words, 'the attention of the Government will be earnestly directed to the accomplishment of such further reduction, due regard being had to the defence of the Country, as may not only equalize the Revenue
and Expenditure, but may also afford the means of diminishing the burthen of those Taxes which are confessedly of a temporary and exceptional character.'
7. Sir Frederic Smith,—National Expenditure,—As an Amendment to the second paragraph of Viscount Palmerston's Amendment to Mr. Stansfeld's Motion:—
To leave out the words after 'observes,' and to insert the words 'that, although some reductions have been made in the National Expenditure, reductions may be carried much further without detriment to the Public Service, and that the present condition of the Finances of the Country renders this proceeding urgently necessary.'"]
§ Motion agreed to.
§ House at rising to adjourn till Thursday.
§ LORD ROBERT MONTAGU
Sir, I should certainly be glad to meet the wishes of the noble Viscount, and to consult the convenience of the House as far as I can. It is quite true that I did not give notice of my Motion in a spirit of hostility to the Government, nor, indeed, had it reference to any party or section in this House. It sprang solely from a sincere and honest desire to promote economy in the financial arrangements of the country in the only way in which that seemed possible—by insuring a better attendance of Members in Committee of Supply. I am exceedingly sorry to hear from the noble Viscount that this question is about to be converted into the stalking-horse of ambition, and the prostitute of our claims to power. I think it is a great mistake that such an issue should be raised on a matter that is really of the most vital importance to the country. I was present at the meeting of yesterday to which reference has been made, and I can assure the noble Viscount that no Amendment was either originated or discussed at the meeting; nor was that view taken of the Amendment of the right hon. Member for Cambridge University, in which the noble Viscount now says it is regarded. On the contrary, it was plainly stated at that meeting that this was not to become a party question, and that Lord Derby had no desire to turn out or embarrass the Government. I can only say, that if this is to be treated as a party move, and if we are not to be allowed to consider in a free and unfettered state whether economy cannot be enforced by the House, I shall wash my hands of the whole business, and have nothing to say to any of the Amendments before the House. I have no objection 295 to withdraw my Amendment on: the understanding, that if the other hon. Members who stand before the noble Viscount decline to do the same, I shall be at liberty to bring it forward.
§ MR. HORSMAN
I must own that I heard the speech of the noble Viscount with some surprise, because the issue which he has placed before us was one for which I was certainly not prepared. I need not say, as the noble Lord has just said, that my Amendment was not framed in any spirit of hostility to the Government—in fact, that the noble Viscount felt that it was more flattering than he deserved is evident from the tenure of his own proposal. Certainly, until I heard the notice of my right hon. Friend yesterday, it was my intention to have persevered in my Amendment; I did not think that I ought to allow the noble Viscount's modesty to stand in the way of my carrying a Resolution which amounted to approval of the policy of the Government. But when I heard the notice which was given yesterday by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walpole), I felt that the noble Viscount's claim to precedence was quite irresistible, and I have no hesitation in giving way. I hope I may be permitted to say one word on what has fallen so unexpectedly from the noble Viscount. I speak merely as one who shares the common interest which we all have in the order and regularity of the proceedings of this House, and have no interest whatever in the party question. But, looking at the Notices on the paper, I do not think that the noble Viscount is quite justified in the tone which he has imputed, or the colour which he has given to the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman. When I read the Amendment of the noble Lord in the Votes I immediately said that Government had thrown away the advantage of their position, and had delivered themselves into the hands of the House. The hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) raised a direct issue. He asks, what is to be our policy with regard to armaments? Are we to retrace our steps and go back to a system of gradual disarmament, or are we to continue a system of progressive and improved defence? That is the challenge of the hon. Member. But the noble Viscount does not seem to me to meet it, for at the close of his Amendment he adds an invitation to the House to express approval of the financial administration of the Government in 296 the past, and some confidence for the future. Now, that raises an entirely new issue. For my own part, not having approved the financial policy of the Government, but having of late carefully abstained from taking part in any discussion of it, I felt that the Amendment of the Government placed me in a difficult position. The Government having proposed that issue, I do not see how it was possible for the other side to meet it, except by an Amendment. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Walpole) adopts the views of the noble Viscount with regard to finance, economy, and retrenchment, but substitutes precise and explicit terms for the vague language of the Government Amendment, and indicates in what quarter a reduction should be effected. I have not heard any Gentleman on either side of the House expressing an opinion on this subject who has not said that, putting party feeling aside, ninety-nine out of every hundred Members in the House would prefer the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University to that of the noble Viscount. Perhaps I may express myself more strongly than I should do, because I have been so surprised by the decision of the noble Viscount. Having received an intimation that an appeal would be made to me to gave way to the Amendment of the noble Viscount, I came down ready to accede to the request, and without any intention of saying a word. But, when we are invited to lay aside the great question of armaments, and restrict ourselves to the issue whether one side of the House or the other is to govern the country—when we are asked to do this merely because one Amendment has been met by another which it clearly challenged, I say that the situation is falsely construed, and that the House is placed in a false position. I am not at all disposed to give hon. Gentlemen opposite credit for any very great degree of virtuous forbearance, but, on this occasion, I do not believe there was any intention to turn out the Government, and I cannot see how they could have avoided proposing an Amendment in answer to that of the noble Viscount.
§ MR. WALPOLE
I feel, Sir, that the noble Viscount has placed not only myself—that would be a matter of no importance—but he has placed the House in a position of great difficulty and embarrassment. I hope it is not necessary for me to state— 297 and I think my conduct in this House during the present and the last Session would be sufficient to justify me in stating—that I had no intention to move any Vote of censure or want of confidence in the Government. If it had been intended to propose a Vote of want of confidence I should not have been the man chosen on this side of the House to bring it forward. I must tell the noble Viscount that it was the last thing in my mind to bring forward such a Motion. When the noble Viscount told the House that he considered the question now raised to be this—whether the Gentlemen on the one side of the House or the Gentlemen on the other side of the House are to be called upon to conduct the Government of this country, I feel that it is hardly possible for me—due regard being had to the duty of this House—to consider attentively the merits of such a question as this, being one of finance and expenditure. I repeat, Sir, it is almost impossible for me to know what the course is which, under the circumstances, I ought to take. On the one hand, if I persevere in my Amendment, I may be the means of unseating a Government which I do not intend to disturb. On the other hand, if I take an opposite course, I may preclude the House from expressing an opinion, which I feel the House ought to express, upon a most important question. Until this moment I was not in the least aware what course the Government intended to take in reference to my Amendment. Had I entertained an opinion on this question, it would have been this—that the Amendment of which I have given notice was in effect a complete support of the Government proposition against the Motion of the hon. Member for Halifax, only adding to that proposition such an intimation as I think this House ought to give. This Amendment is so framed that it should not be supposed to coerce or dictate to the Government, but rather to suggest, the proper course which it should pursue during the recess in reference to our expenditure and finances. The noble Viscount says he will not allow the House to consider the question, unless the House is also prepared to determine whether the Gentlemen sitting on this or those sitting on the other side shall conduct the affairs of the country. I say, Sir, that such an alteration in the course of our proceedings this evening is a serious one—nay, more, it is one of great gravity. I will not, then, 298 undertake the responsibility of stating, at this moment, the particular course I shall select in case the Amendment of the noble Viscount is moved. I hope, then, that the House will think I am asking nothing improper if I request time for consideration, and if I decline to express an opinion at this moment as to the course I shall feel it my duty to pursue. The Motion of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stansfeld) will probably go on. The Government may take what course they please upon that Motion, and they will have my support in voting against it. But when the noble Viscount moves his Amendment, I entreat him to allow the House a fair opportunity—not to do anything to thwart the Government, not to do anything to censure the Government, not to do anything to disturb the Government—but to allow the House a fair opportunity of determining for itself—and it is a question for this House alone to determine—whether it will come to any resolution as to the mode and direction in which reduction is to be made, if at least reduction is to be made, and the finances of the country are hereafter to be administered, so as to bring our expenditure within our revenue, instead of leaving us in a financial condition which may be a matter of the greatest possible embarrassment to the country.
§ MR. BRIGHT and Mr. DARBY GRIFFIHT rose, the House calling for Mr. BRIGHT.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I wish to remind the House of the exact state of business. There is no Question before the House. The Motion was disposed of before the noble lord (Lord Robert Montagu) rose; but, as the noble Lord had been appealed to, I could not interfere to prevent his making his personal explanation to the House, and the same remark applies to the right hon. Gentlemen the Members for Stroud and for the University of Cambridge.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is out of order in rising while I am addressing the House. I will leave it to the House to consider whether it is convenient that this preliminary discussion should proceed beyond those Members who have been personally appealed to. I again remind the House that there is no Question before it.
§ MR. DARBY GRIFFITH (who spoke amid the impatience of the House)
As I stand next in the list of Amendments on the paper, I hope that the House will 299 allow me the same opportunity of explaining my Amendment which, has been enjoyed by others. I confess that I have some reluctance to withdraw that Amendment, because it appears to me to be the best of all those that have been proposed. I will tell you the reason why—it distinctly raises the issue which has been adopted and raised by the Amendment of the noble Lord. The Motion of the hon. Member for Halifax refers to the future, and undertakes to recommend the House to say, that reduction can be made without reference to any facts with which we are acquainted. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stroud, on the other hand, undertakes to say, that everything which has been done in the past is perfectly unexceptionable. I an inclined neither to answer for the future nor to respond for the past. We have already completed the word of the Estimates, and must abide by what we have done. My Amendment, therefore, takes a middle course, and is, like that of the noble Lord, equivalent, or very nearly so, to the Previous Question. ["Agreed, agreed!"] The only question remaining is, as to the mode in which the Amendment of the noble Lord has been met. I entirely concur in the view which the noble Lord has taken of the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge. That Amendment raises no substantial, but only a verbal question, and could only be designed to effect a party triumph. I do full justice to the perfect sincerity of my right hon. Friend, and I am satisfied that his amiable disposition regarded the matter in the light in which he has tonight presented it; but, at the same time, I am convinced that the only meaning which can be attributed to the latter part of the Amendment is to spell the word l-e-e-k—that the noble Lord should swallow any leek that might be offered to him from this side of the House. I think that the noble Lord is justified in regarding this as a mere trial of party strength; and since, as an independent Member, I am not prepared to support such a proceeding, I shall withdraw my Amendment.
SIR FREDERIC SMITH
Having been appealed to by the noble Lord to withdraw the Amendment which I have on the paper, I am most happy to accede to his request. At the same time, I beg to assure the House, that I was not aware that my right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Cambridge was about to move 300 an Amendment when I put mine upon the paper. Had I done so, I should not have interposed between him and the noble Lord. In framing my Amendment, I had no feeling of hostility towards Her Majesty's Government. I am no party to any hostile movement, and I now understand that my right hon. Friend is equally free from any concern in it. This is a question of the defence or non-defence of the country. Upon that question I felt bound to go with the noble Lord in his first paragraph, but not to the whole extent of the second, because I feel most strongly, from a recent inspection, which has lasted several days up to last night, and I should consider it my duty as an officer to assure the House, that very considerable retrenchments may be made. I shall take the earliest opportunity of mentioning to the House certain works which are going on, the expenditure on which would be unnecessary and ruinous, and would make the taxation more than the people could stand, and which, if constructed, would cause weakness, and not give strength to the country.
§ MR. BRIGHT
If we are engaged in an irregular discussion, it is owing to the course taken by the noble Lord at the head of the Government; and if the House is in any difficulty with regard to the Motions before it, it is on account of the declaration which he has made. He says, as I understand him, that before the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Walpole) there was not much difference of opinion—that the difference was a question of substantives and adjectives. Well, the substantives and adjectives of my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) are easily understood. They are not extreme; they are not offensive. I will undertake to say they meet the views of a large majority of Gentlemen on this side of the House. But the noble Lord was not willing to accept them, although he says there was little difference of opinion. We are all in favour of doing what we can to promote retrenchment. Why, then, could he not accept the Resolution of my hon. Friend? He objects to it for some reason which I am not able to discover, unless it be, as I am told, that it is not palatable for Gentlemen on that bench to agree to anything which is proposed by Gentlemen on this bench. That, no doubt, is an orthodox reason, and may be a very good one, but it is not satisfactory 301 down here. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walpole) has proposed a Resolution, which I wish very much my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax had proposed, because I think it rather better than his, and very much better than the Amendment of the noble Lord. Now, there is a mode of getting out of the difficulty. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge—we all know we may take every statement of his with the most perfect confidence—says that he has no intention of promoting a party contest, and so much is he amazed at the conduct of the noble Lord, that he positively for a moment draws back, and asks the House to allow him between this time and the time when the noble Lord's Amendment may become the Resolution before the House to consider what course he shall take. Well, we are bound to admit that the right hon. Gentleman has no object, in proposing his Resolution, dangerous or subversive of the existing Administration. If that be so—if we are all in favour of economy, and so much in favour of it that we do not object to any definite statement with regard to it—I should like to know why we should have any party contest at all? If the noble Lord does not like a proposition from these benches, why should not he take one from that (the Opposition) bench? I have seen him do it once this Session, and on one occasion when I thought the right hon. Gentleman opposite was wrong and the Government was right. The Government accepted his Resolution, and a great question for a time was settled. If the House is disposed for a debate, let us have a debate. But I ask the House—especially those sixty or seventy gentlemen who, a year ago, requested the noble Lord, in very civil and humble terms, to condescend in a little degree to diminish the expenditure of the country—Whether they now intend to set up the noble Lord as dictator absolute upon this subject? because he has told us in our hearing tonight that this is not a question to be discussed on its merits—that this is not a question whether the expenditure is too high, but whether the noble Lord himself or a noble Lord—I presume, in another place—is to be Prime Minister, and conduct the affairs of the country. Sir, I repudiate altogether any such issue as that. If we are in favour of reduction of expenditure, we have several propositions before us, and it is easy to take that which most 302 clearly and definitely expresses the economical disposition of the House. I am quite sure, that if the noble Lord asks Gentlemen opposite to join him in rejecting the Resolution of my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax, he has no reason whatever to ask, and I hope he has no reason to expect, that Gentlemen who sit on those benches so treated—when, he says there is no difference of opinion—should go with him into the lobby against what I call the definite but perfectly reasonable and judicious proposition of the right hon. Gentleman opposite.
MR. ELLICE (Coventry)
I thought the hon. Member for Birmingham would have concluded with a Motion. ["Order, order!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
It would certainly be convenient as well as for the regularity of our proceedings that some Motion should be before the House.
§ MR. BRIGHT
I understood the hon. Member for Devizes to propose a Motion for the adjournment of the House.
MR. ELLICE (Coventry)
I certainly should not have interposed any words of mine upon this subject were it not for the remarks which have fallen from my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, who has not given notice of any Amendment, but who concluded his speech with a Motion which enables me—["No."] I certainly do not wish to be disorderly, but I understood that either he or the hon. Gentleman opposite had proposed a Motion. ["No, no."] Well, as a person who very seldom troubles the House, but has hitherto taken an independent part in its debates, I think a few words from me may set the House right with respect to the position in which we stand at present. As I understand, my noble Friend the Prime Minister gave no notice of his intention to make any Motion on this subject till certain Amendments had been placed on the Journals of the House by different hon. Members, one more especially by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Horsman). I do not see what other course was open to my noble Friend if he did not intend the debate to go astray entirely, and to get into the hands of a dozen Members all with different views, save to state fairly and openly the manner in which Her Majesty's Ministers intend to meet this Motion. Although I do not like abstract propositions, I have not the least objection—in fact, I entirely concur with 303 the principle avowed in the notice of Motion given by the hon. Member for Halifax, but the blame of excessive expenditure is not chargeable on the present or any other Government; it is the fault of this House. For several years we have been pursuing a reckless course of expenditure—not only, as hon. Gentlemen below the gangway assert, with regard to the military and naval establishments, the outlay upon which may probably be necessary, but also upon the Civil Estimates. Once or twice I endeavoured to stop what I thought most useless expenditure.
§ COLONEL FRENCH
I rise to order. The right hon. Member is now discussing prematurely a Motion which stands upon the books of the House. There is no Question before the House; for my noble Friend at the head of the Government, though he intimated his intention to conclude his speech with a Motion, did not do so.
MR. ELLICE (Coventry)
Well, Sir, I move that this House do adjourn. ["Oh, oh!"] I was about to say that for the great expenditure which has been made I do not blame the Government so much as I blame the House; and that I think my noble Friend has taken the manly and right course, and put himself right with the House in stating the exact terms to which he would be willing to accede in reference to a Motion for the promotion of economy in the national expenditure. Then comes the Amendment moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Walpole), and of course I am bound to believe him when he states that he had not the least intention of making this Motion in any hostile spirit towards the Government. But look at the words of the Motion. The Amendment goes to this extent, that the House thinks it necessary to impress on Her Majesty's Government the necessity of economy. That is virtually saying that the Government are not willing to engage seriously in the work of economy without pressure. I do not mean to say that is the intention of my right hon. Friend, but it is the inference which may be legitimately drawn from the words of his Amendment. Could 304 my noble Friend have done otherwise than he has done? I cannot understand a Minister sitting on these benches, and accepting from the other side of the House a Resolution defining the terms and conditions on which he is to carry on the Government. I could understand my noble Friend if he were much given to accepting abstract Resolutions agreeing to the first Motion which was put upon the Journals; but I could not understand him concurring in that of the right hon. Member for Stroud, much less in that of my right hon. Friend opposite, although I quite admit his disclaimer of the imputation which I think it conveys. I cannot help saying that in the present state of affairs at home and abroad it is, I think, our duty to give strength to the Government, instead of weakening its hands by expressing doubts and limiting our confidence. However we may differ in this House with regard to particular administrative acts and to questions of relative economy, out of this House there is no man who does not think that the right man sits in the right place on the front Treasury bench. I believe if I were to ask the majority of people out of the House they would be of the same opinion. Then do not let this House agree by implication to anything that would weaken the hands of that Minister. What we want is not a Government from this or from that side of the House, but a Government which, in the opinion of the world, has the confidence of this House. If my noble Friend does not possess the confidence of the House, let that be distinctly stated, and let us have a Minister who does; but do not let us in the present difficult circumstances in which the world is placed, weaken the hands of the Government in whom the affairs of this country are placed.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ MR. SPEAKER
I regret to have to address the House once more on a point of order. It was competent to the noble Lord at the head of the Government, as leader of this House, to address hon. Gentlemen who had Amendments on the paper in reference to the proceedings of the evening. The noble Lord, moreover, made a Motion for the adjournment of the House. After that motion was disposed of, an irregular conversation took place, and the hon. Member who last rose to order was perfectly correct in his statement that on a Motion for the adjournment 305 of the House it is irregular to discuss subjects that stand on the paper of the day. To enter into a general discussion on the subject-matter of the evening, was not in order. I trust, therefore, that the House will allow me to put the Motion, that the right hon. Gentleman who made it will immediately withdraw it, and that the hon. Member for Halifax will be allowed to proceed with his Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
We shall adjourn tonight to meet to-morrow morning, which no hon. Member intends to do. ["Order, order!"]
§ MR. HORSMAN
Are we to understand that the noble Lord will move his Amendment after the Motion has been proposed and seconded?
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
In reply to my right hon. Friend I have to say that I cannot enter into any engagement of that kind.