HC Deb 03 April 1868 vol 191 cc826-9

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire (Mr. Gladstone) addressed to me yesterday an inquiry, respecting the adjournment of the House for the holydays; to which I replied that it might be convenient to adopt the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman that the adjournment should not be moved until after the conclusion of the debate. From what has reached me since, however, I am led to suppose that it would be for the general convenience of the House that the adjournment should be moved at once; although I would not press the Motion now if the right hon. Gentleman strongly objected to it. The Motion I have placed upon the Paper is that the House, at its rising, do adjourn until Monday, the 20th of April. As far as all human arrangements may be considered certain there can be no doubt that the debate will finish to-night. It is possible that there may be two divisions; but, under any circumstances, the House will divide to-night. The ground is a delicate one to touch upon; but I am sure that, in the present unimpassioned state of the House, I may safely allude to what is likely to happen. Either the right hon. Gentleman will have a majority, or he will be defeated upon his Motion that the House do go into Committee. I wish to inform the House what will be the course of the Government under these circumstances—and, in case of a general agreement on both sides, there is no reason whatever why this Motion should not be made at once instead of amid the confusion and excitement that may prevail at the conclusion of the debate at three or four o'clock in the morning. Of course, if the right hon. Gentleman is defeated, the question altogether falls to the ground. But, supposing for a moment—such a supposition, of course, appears most unreasonable—that the right hon. Gentleman has a majority, the course of the Government would be that which was clearly indicated by more than one of my Colleagues, and especially by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department. What I should propose would be that I should offer no further opposition to the Motion that the Speaker leave the Chair. I should be content that the right hon. Gentleman should go into Committee pro formâ, and immediately to report Progress; because I think it my duty to facilitate in every possible manner the right hon. Gentleman in proceeding with his Resolutions. I shall be quite ready to give him a day immediately after the Easter Recess, but upon this point I am entirely in the hands of the House. It might be inconvenient, in consequence of the Royal visit to Ireland, which may detain Irish Members in that country, for the House to go into Committee upon the right hon. Gentleman's Resolutions on the next day after we re-assemble; and the following Thursday has been appointed for the Budget, which, in my humble judgment, should not be deferred. It is of the utmost importance that the financial statement should be made on that day. Should, however, the following Monday, the 27th of April, be a convenient day to the right hon. Gentleman for going into Committee that day shall be at his service for the discussion upon his Resolutions, to which I need hardly say I shall give my most unqualified opposition. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving that the House upon its rising should adjourn until Monday, the 20th of April.


I do not know whether I am justified in interposing between the House and my right hon. Friend (Mr. Horsman) who had risen at the same moment, but I feel bound to make a protest against the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, though upon one ground only. I do not intend to persist in my opposition should the right hon. Gentleman not be disposed to give way, nor to press the question to a division. The ground of my opposition to the Motion is that there is a manifest inconvenience in altering to-day that which was settled last night and has gone forth this morning, and has been taken for granted by many hon. Members who are not now in the House. If, therefore, there had been any feeling shown by the House against the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman, I should have felt bound to press my objection. As it is, however, I by no means intend to insist upon it. I will now, with the indulgence of the House, briefly state my view as to the course that should be adopted with reference to the future progress of this question. I am bound to say that in a matter of this magnitude; if it had not been for the circumstance that by doing so we must have encroached upon the Easter holydays, I should have been more satisfied had we proceeded with the consideration of the Resolutions immediately. I should have been ready for that purpose to have made a sacrifice; but, on the other hand, I admit that such a course could not have been adopted without a great departure from precedent and from the customary usage of this House, and it would have been attended with inconvenience, especially as we must have devoted several days to their consideration. Moreover, the very last thing that I should wish to exhibit to the country would be any appearance of hurry in reference to this matter. This is a question which it is very desirable that the House should sift to the bottom, and as, for that purpose, the evenings of Monday and Tuesday next might be insufficient, and as I do not think anything would be gained by commencing the consideration of these Resolutions and then leaving off in the midst of the discussion, I am reluctantly prepared to forego the chance of making progress before the holydays. I have, of course, in the remarks I have made, been proceeding upon the supposition, which the right hon. Gentleman regards as so entirely impossible, that there might be a majority on the Motion for going into Committee. [Mr. DISRAELI: I said unreasonable.] Well, we have all seen so many things happen that were strange—the right hon. Gentleman himself has seen so many things happen that were unreasonable, that I think I may venture to contemplate as a possible result the Motion for going into Committee being carried by a majority. As to the arrangements after the holydays, I think the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman upon this subject is altogether proper and satisfactory. I do not think it right to ask him to alter the arrangement made for the Financial Statement, which, owing to the date at which Easter falls this year, is necessarily somewhat late. I am quite satisfied, with the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman, that the first day after that appointed for the financial statement shall be devoted to the consideration of this great and grave question. I have, therefore, no disposition to oppose the proposition that we shall go into Committee on Monday, the 27th of April.


I do not intend to oppose the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman; but I must say that I think the course he proposes to take upon this matter is a very unusual one. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire (Mr. Gladstone) brought forward his Resolutions, the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister said that a very serious and solemn issue was raised, an announcement that was followed by cheers from his supporters. But now, after the question has been debated for four nights, Her Majesty's Government come forward and state that, whatever may be the issue of the debate, and whatever the decision of the House, they will treat it with such indifference, if not with such contempt, that they will not give it even a respectful consideration. I recollect that last year when the right hon. Gentleman was out-voted on a minor question of Reform, he took two days to consider the course that the Government should take upon the matter. I think that out of respect for the House the Government should have waited to take into consideration the new position in which they may find themselves. They might have anticipated the possibility—however unreasonable it may be—of defeat; and have been prepared to announce whether they had arrived at the conclusion that it was for the public interest, and consistent with their own character, that they should carry out the decision of the House.

Motion agreed to.

House, at rising, to adjourn till Monday, 20th April.