HC Deb 05 March 1868 vol 190 cc1116-27

Sir, I have to ask the House to allow me to make a few remarks in consequence of the change which has taken place in my relations to the House since I last had the honour of addressing it. The retirement of Lord Derby from the chief conduct of affairs was unexpected. Personally, as well as politically, devoted to him as were his Colleagues, they were unreasonable in their expectations, and shrank from realizing the immense loss they must experience from being deprived of his guidance and his services. I have no language which can describe my sense of those services, but I will not attempt for an instant to dilate on the career or character of Lord Derby. I feel that it would be a great want of propriety, both in taste and sentiment, were I to do so. I hope and believe that Lord Derby will be restored to health, and not only to health, but to enduring health; and in that case he must always exercise in this country that influence over public affairs which is the consequence of his great position and greater character. Least of all should I think it necessary to touch on that character in this House. It is our pride and boast that he lived long among us, and that this is the arena in which were disciplined that political experience and those Parliamentary accomplishments for which he is so distinguished. I might add that I am here surrounded by many who have a personal recollection of that brilliant perception and that fiery eloquence which he certainly possesses more than most of the men I have been acquainted with. If I were—which I will not—to touch on any characteristic of Lord Derby, there is one which I should notice, because it is one of the principal causes of the great grief which his late Colleagues experience at this moment, and because it is a trait in his character little known to the world, I mean his great capacity for labour. He was always the most hardworking member of his Cabinet; nor do I think that any more lucid master of details ever existed. On the retirement of Lord Derby Her Majesty was most graciously pleased to intrust to me the office of forming a Government. Under any circumstances, I should think no one, when such a trust has been proposed to him, would not feel that if accepted he must incur a great burden and encounter great difficulties; and though in my case there are personal and peculiar reasons which aggravate that burden and multiply those difficulties, yet I did not think that I could, with self-respect, refuse an offer of such a character. I trusted to the support of my Colleagues; I trusted to the sympathy of a generous party; and, perhaps I may be permitted to say, I trusted to receiving fair and impartial treatment from a House of Parliament in which I have now passed half of my existence. Under these circumstance I have presumed to undertake the office; and I am bound, in gratitude to all of those who are now my Colleagues, to express my sense of the generous manner in which they have granted me their assistance.

In circumstances of this nature, when a new Government is formed, it is not unreasonable that the House of Commons should expect some intimation of the principles on which the new Administration is established. But I apprehend that in the present instance that desire will be limited and modified; because it is known that in succeeding to the position of Lord Derby I have succeeded to the policy which he inaugurated when, somewhat less than two years ago, he acceded to power. For twenty years I enjoyed his unbroken and unreserved confidence. Twenty years were passed by us in confidential co-operation without a cloud—absolutely without a cloud—and I must, therefore, be cognizant of his opinions and his policy on all the great questions of the day.

With respect to the foreign policy of the present Administration, we shall follow that course which has been pursued under the guidance of my noble Friend near me (Lord Stanley), I believe I may say, with the approbation of Parliament, and, I think I may add, with the confidence of Europe. That policy is a policy of peace—not of peace at any price, not a peace sought for the mere interests of England, but a policy of peace—from the conviction that such a policy is for the general interests of the world. We do not believe that that policy is likely to be secured by a selfish isolation on the part of this country [Mr. J. STUART MILL: Hear, hear!] but, on the contrary, we believe it may be secured by sympathy with other countries, not merely in their prosperous fortunes, but even in their anxieties and troubles, If such a policy be continued, I have no doubt when the occasion may arise—and periodical occasions will arise when the influence of England is necessary to maintain the peace of the world—that influence will not be found to be inefficient, because it is founded on respect and regard.

With reference to our domestic policy, I say at once that the present Administration will pursue a liberal policy. [Cries of "Hear!"] I mean a truly liberal policy—a policy that will not shrink from any changes which are required by the wants of the age we live in, while, at the same time, we will never forget that it is our happy lot to dwell in an ancient and historic country, rich in traditionary influences that are the best security for order and liberty, and which form the most valuable element of our national character and our national strength. Speaking of our domestic policy, I must express the deep mortification which this Administration feels, and the late Administration felt, that in one of the most interesting and important portions of the United Kingdom we are obliged still to maintain the suspension of the most influential security for the personal liberty of the subject; but, Sir, upon the question of the suspension of the Habeas Corpus in Ireland, I will express the same opinion Lord Derby did when he was at the head of affairs. We look upon that measure not as directed against the Irish people, but as a means of protecting the Irish people from the machinations of an unprincipled foreign confederacy. And, Sir, though I do not for a moment pretend to conceal my deep regret at still continuing the suspension of that Act, I think that Parliament—that the country—that all sides—must find great consolation in this—namely, that in the enlightened age of tempered opinion in which we live, the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, the greatest security for the freedom of the subject, has yet been found consistent with a due, an impartial, and even a lenient administration of the law. I trust and believe that the agitations which have prevailed in Ireland are disappearing, and will soon altogether disappear. Then the House will proceed with increased zeal to undertake and carry such measures (as it has already done during this generation in many memorable instances) for the amelioration of the condition of that country; and I doubt not, if they proceed with circumspection—if they proceed with an anxious desire to concilate the enlightened and temperate opinion of all parties—they may be successful in greatly advancing the prosperity of that country and the happiness of its people. Sir, I will not dwell at this moment in detail upon this subject, because I know that the few observations I can venture to make on an occasion like the present may be misapprehended, and because I am aware that the interest which the House feels on such an occasion ought not to be frittered away. We have now immediately at hand an important debate on the whole condition of Ireland. I should have been happy to facilitate its introduction by giving the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Maguire), who has taken up the question, a day for bringing it forward; but that opportunity he already enjoys, and therefore my exertions can only be limited to facilitating the progress of the debate when it is brought on. Upon that occasion my noble Friend the Chief Secretary of the Lord Lieutenant will take an early occasion in the debate to state our general policy with regard to Ireland; and, if that policy be impugned, I and my Colleagues shall be prepared to vindicate it.

There is only one topic on which I think the House will permit me to touch before I sit down. It has been stated in my absence, and with great justice, that there has been unfortunate delay from concurrent circumstances in the progress of business during this Session. No doubt, the occurrence of an autumnal Session, and the unfortunate change that has taken place in the Government, have rendered such delay unavoidable. But I can only say that, so long as I continue to conduct its business, this House may rest assured that there shall be no luck of energy and no want of labour on the part of the Government in conducting the public business; while, at the some time, I may be permitted to add that it will be always most agreeable to me, so far as the position of that public business will permit, to facilitate the course of hon. Gentlemen opposite in bringing forward their Motions, and advancing those measures which they wish to bring under discussion in the House.


I wish to make a few observations on the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. I shall, to put myself in order, conclude with a Motion. The right hon. Gentleman has stated that, in conformity with the usual practice, he thought it his duty to explain to the House the policy he intended to pursue, and he went on to say that his policy would be that of the late Prime Minister, Lord Derby. Now, what I desire is that the right hon. Gentleman should have explained more fully what that policy was. Is the right hon. Gentleman's policy to be that which was announced two years ago, or is it to be that of last year? Is the course of education of the party opposite to be continued, or is it concluded? I think the House is entitled to ask the right hon. Gentleman for some more frank exposi- tion of policy on such an occasion. Speaking personally, I must say for myself there was no need for the right hon. Gentleman to deprecate the judgment of the House on assuming the high position he now fills. That appeared to me to be simply his due. No one could have sat as I have done for near twenty-five years in this House in company with the right hon. Gentleman, watching his career, and seeing him gradually ascending in power and influence, without being convinced that he has fairly earned the position he has won. But, at the same time, I cannot help observing that the Government of the right hon. Gentleman appears to be affected by the same fatal malady which afflicted that of Lord Derby—it is too weak in Parliamentary power, and the new Premier, not having a majority at his command, will be unable to carry on the business of the country in a satisfactory manner. Lord Derby, on assuming the reins of power in 1866, admitted that this was the fact, for he stated in the House of Lords that he had, when forming an Administration, sought the assistance of Lord Clarendon, the Duke of Somerset, the deceased Marquess of Lansdowne, and the noble Lord the Member for the City of Chester (Earl Grosvenor), but that he had been baffled in his hopes of assistance in these quarters. Lord Derby's conduct in that instance was an admission that he knew that his power in Parliament was not sufficient properly to carry on the business of the country. In addition to that, the noble Earl stated last year in the House of Lords that he was determined, if possible, not to submit to the infliction he had had to endure on two previous occasions—that of attempting to carry on the business of the Government with a minority of the House of Commons, and that he would at no price any longer continue to act as a mere stop-gap for the Liberal party, but would endeavour to turn his minority into a majority. That was his policy; how did he endeavour to carry it out? We know that last year, instead of strengthening his party, he created an irremediable schism, and if his Government was weak when he formed it, it became weaker still by the secession of three of its ablest and most respected Members. Moreover, at the period I am referring to, a large section of the party on the other side of the House also seceded, and no longer gave the unlimited confidence to Lord Derby which they had formerly given; but, on the contrary, looked askance upon him and the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. I have often thought it would be a great advantage to Ministers if they could have their own followers facing them, instead of sitting behind them, and they would learn from the countenances of that party how much surprise, dismay, and disgust, was felt at many of the propositions which they made. If, then, the Government of last year was weakened by the secession of the three Gentlemen I have alluded to, how much more must it be weakened now, as the right hon. Gentleman himself will admit, by the loss of Lord Derby himself—a nobleman whose great social position, enormous wealth, distinguished Parliamentary career, great abilities, and high character, made him the keystone of the arch of his party? Is it to be supposed that when this keystone is removed that the arch is to remain as strong as ever, whatever may be the abilities of the right hon. Gentleman, or in however able a manner he may conduct the Government of the country? I am not saying this with the view of blaming the right hon. Gentleman for the course he has adopted. On the contrary, I think that if blame is to be attached to anybody it rests, not with the right hon. Gentleman, but with us who sit on this side of the House. Why is it that the hon. Gentlemen opposite are now in possession of the Government? Simply because the Liberal party, which has undoubtedly a large majority here, and which represents a vast preponderance of the opinion of the people of this country, does not deserve to be called a party. This may be an unpalatable truth; but it is the truth notwithstanding. We have leaders who do not lead, and followers who do not follow. Instead of being an organized party, we are little better than a rabble. In fact, we have none of the advantages of a party in this House, except that of numbers, which the right hon. Gentleman opposite lacks, and yet we have the privilege of having one sitting in front of us as our chief who is one of the most distinguished and eminent men that ever adorned Parliament. I say that this is a great public calamity. It is most detrimental and injurious to the public interests that the Government of the country should be carried on by those who are in an actual minority in the House of Commons. It must lead to a wavering, inconsistent, uncertain policy, and I think the experiences of the past two years ought to satisfy the House that such a condition of things is most unsatisfactory. Recollect what took place in reference to the proceedings in Hyde Park two years ago. The right hon. Gentleman whom I see opposite (Mr. Walpole) was made a scapegoat on that occasion; but, in point of fact, I think if we knew all the secrets of the late Government, we should find that he was but the organ of the Government to bring about a state of things which led us to the edge of anarchy and confusion, and made the Government of the country subject to the dictation of a mob. What happened last year with reference to the government of Ireland? It was understood that the Irish Government were strongly of opinion that those unhappy men who had been taken in array against the Sovereign of this country in Ireland ought to have had their lives forfeited for the crime they had committed; but such was the vacillation and hesitation of the Government, that when pressure came to be put upon them ["Oh, oh!"], they were unable to resist that pressure, or to maintain the opinion urged upon them by the Irish Government. These are examples—and forcible examples—of the disadvantage to the country at large, and to the interests of the public, of this unconstitutional state of things. And can the House suppose that this is the last instance that will occur in which this disadvantage will be apparent? Will there be nothing in the future—is there nothing coming—which will produce the same results, in which we shall see a Government not willing to take the responsibility of facing a hostile majority in the House of Commons, and afraid—and naturally afraid, knowing the feeble support they are likely to receive from their own followers—of urging with the whole strength of the Government their policy upon the House? We must have in the course of this year great financial questions brought before us. Now if there is one thing more than another in which it is important that the Government should be backed by a powerful and confiding majority it is in great questions of finance. When financial difficulties arise, when we are not sailing in smooth waters, when great demands have to be met, and when it is necessary to increase the burdens of the people, it is then that a Minister feels the necessity of having a large and confiding majority at his back, who will be ready to accept his decision as to what is for the interest of the country, and to support in this House the policy he desires to carry into effect. And can it be expected that when these questions come forward the right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues—and I give them credit for the utmost ability and skill—will be able to act with that ease and freedom which they ought, for the interest of the country, to possess, when they know that there will be this large majority facing them who would not be disposed to view their proposals with a friendly aspect, but would be ready to criticize rather than assist in carrying their financial measures? The existence of this state of things is not for the interest of the public; and it appears to me, moreover, that the right hon. Gentleman has lost a great opportunity for advancing those interests. As far as one can look to party questions and party divisions, it seems as if the old battle-fields of party were being swept away—as if the old standards of party were going no longer to be raised—and as if we must contemplate some amalgamation or union of those who most sympathize in their general views of present policy, apart from those great questions upon which our leading Statesmen have been separated from each other. Lord Derby himself seemed to have adopted in 1866 this reasonable and rational view, entertained not merely by many Members on both sides of the House, but by numbers of persons amongst the public at large, who are not violent or ardent politicians, but who wonder when they hear the cries raised at elections of "Disraeli" on the one side, and "Gladstone" on the other. Are there no questions of great public policy on which we could unite for the benefit of the community, and especially for that of the sister country? Is the Irish Church again to be the battle-field upon which the opposite sides of the House are to carry on their party contentions, and the question on which Ministers are to be turned out and new Ministries formed? The right hon. Gentleman opposite must be sufficiently acquainted with the spirit of the times to know that he cannot make that question the battle-field on which to stake the existence of his Ministry. As to the Irish land question, are we not all practically agreed, except, perhaps, my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill), who, by way of wiping out the results and effects of three great land confiscations in that country, proposes a fourth? Practically, are we not substantially agreed on both sides of this House, that some interest must be given to the tenant in that country for the unexhausted improvements which he has effected upon the land? Are there any other questions which are likely to divide parties in this House for some time to come? and if there are not, I think the public interests have suffered by the right hon. Gentleman having neglected to attempt at least some method by which he might bring to bear, for the advantage of the public, the talent which is to be found amongst Gentlemen opposite to him, as well as amongst those behind him, for the purpose of carrying, by a strong and united Government, those measures which he must be convinced are for the benefit of the country. I beg to move the adjournment of the House.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Bouverie.)


I second the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman. I should be sorry to prolong this discussion; but, at the same time, I cannot help rising to deprecate the course which has just been taken by the right hon. Gentleman. It appears to me that if there be any one occasion on which it behoves us to act with great moderation, and even forbearance, it is that on which a new Prime Minister makes his first appearance in this House, not having had an opportunity of consulting fully with his Colleagues, and certainly having had no opportunity of stating to this House what the measures are which he is prepared to carry forward, and on which he must base whatever confidence he can hope to obtain from the House. Yet the right hon. Gentleman has just addressed to us a regular party speech, attacking the Government for a policy of which he knows little or nothing, as he admits, and measures which he supposes they are going to bring forward, or which they ought to or may bring forward. The right hon. Gentleman complains that the present Government are going to attempt to conduct the affairs of the country without possessing the requisite majority in this House. But I want to know why the Government of Lord Russell was expelled from power? Because they had not a majority. But the right hon. Gentleman himself says that, from the way in which his party acts, it does not deserve to be called a party—that it has leaders who do not lead, and followers who do not follow—and he certainly used language in reference to them which I should rather have expected to have heard from the other side of the House, Admitting the total disorganization of the Liberal party, and that they do not deserve to be called a party, he complains of the right hon. Gentleman who occupies the Treasury Bench for undertaking the Government of the country without a majority. The fact is, we have no party in this House now who, banded together by party ties, will go with their Leaders under any circumstances; and no Government can now obtain a majority in this House, or can maintain a majority, unless they adopt a policy which secures to them the confidence of the House, and unless they bring before it measures which are satisfactory to the House as well as beneficial to the country. Under these circumstances, the party undertaking the Government of the country must not look for support to a Parliamentary majority, but to the measures they introduce: and if those measure are satisfactory, the Ministry will obtain support from both sides of the House. There is one portion of the speech of the First Lord of the Treasury—that which relates to Ireland—which, I think, requires some explanation. I understood him to say that political agitation is rapidly ceasing in Ireland, and would soon disappear, and that when tranquillity was restored the time would have arrived for introducing measures for the advantage of the country. If that be the meaning of the right hon. Gentleman I think he is mistaken. The pacification of Ireland, I believe, and the cessation of all kinds of agitation and disorder in that country, must not be sought for by the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act alone, or from any penal measures whatever; but that result, so much to be desired, not only for the benefit of Ireland, but the whole of the Empire, must arise from remedial measures—from some re-payment of the great debt which this country owes to Ireland, and in that way alone can Ireland be made happy, peaceful, and contented. I trust the right hon. Gentleman will lose no time in considering the question of the Irish Church. I will not anticipate the debate which is to take place upon the subject by going into details now. I trust also that the right hon. Gentleman will be prepared to bring forward measures upon the Irish land question, not founded upon the principles advocated by the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill); but which will respect the rights of property while giving that relief which the Irish people require. If the right hon. Gentleman takes a wise and liberal view of the Irish question, and brings forward measures satisfactory to this House and to this country, he will be in no danger for want of a majority to carry on the business of the country. I am convinced that if the Government adopt a wise and liberal course they will find supporters in every part of the House, regardless of party.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.