§ SIR GEORGE GREY
Sir, I have to ask Her Majesty's Government, Whether as this House has sanctioned their proposal for the indemnification of officers on the abolition of purchase in the Army, they intend to take measures to prevent the future violation of the Law involved in the continued payment of over-regulation prices for commisions?
Sir, in answering, as clearly as I am able, the Question of my right hon. Friend, I will first state that the attention of the Government has been specially directed to the subject-matter touched on by that Question. With regard to the point raised by the terms of the Question itself—that there prevails, and is now known officially to prevail, a systematic and habitual violation of the law—the Government have considered that such a case stood in a category totally different from one of ordinary discretion, and from one simply of the miscarriage of legislative measures of reform or change in either House of Parliament. I will first of all state what I conceive, after 17 consulting the authentic records of the proceedings of the other House, to have been done by the House of Lords in reference to the Army Regulation Bill. When the second reading of that Bill was moved, an Amendment was proposed to the Motion, which stated that the House was unwilling to assent to the second reading until it had certain information. It is unnecessary for me to specify the nature of that information, because no part of my reply will turn on its character. The Amendment was carried, and the effect of the success of the Amendment was not to reject or destroy the Bill, but simply to set aside the second reading on the particular occasion when it was proposed, leaving it, as I understand, perfectly open to any Member of the House of Lords at any period to propose that the House should proceed with the second reading and the other stages of the measure. That being so, I beg to remind the House that the question of Army Purchase is a question which, not by the Constitution merely, which assigns to the Executive the ordinary administration of the Army, but by the action of statute, is taken out, if I may say so, of the hands of the Legislature as a whole, so far as regards the proper and legitimate character of purchase. By statute it is enacted that only such description of purchase as it may please Her Majesty to allow by Royal Warrant shall be legal, respecting which Her Majesty may be addressed to abolish it by Royal Warrant. The effect of that enactment is that, by an Act of the Legislature, the existence of purchase, so far as its legal basis is concerned, is made to depend on the action of the Executive Government; while, so far as concerns the indemnity to those who have paid prices for commissions by the regular machinery of the Constition, that portion of the subject belongs to the House of Commons. But although this is the case, and although in the abstract the legality or illegality of purchase, or its prices, are placed exclusively in the hands of the Executive, yet, the matter being one of such magnitude and interest, the Government would not have thought it reasonable within their competency for them to take any important or vital step with respect to purchase without having some recourse to the opinion of this House. That opinion, I need not remind the 18 House, we have obtained in the most authentic form, and after long debates the judgment of the House has been pronounced against the continuance of purchase, on terms and conditions set forth in the legislative measure which has passed the House of Commons. Proceeding hence to the House of Lords, that measure has conveyed to the other House and to the country the judgment of the House of Commons on the point so fully and absolutely that in that respect there is nothing to desire, and the Executive Government have felt that it is no longer incumbent on them or required of them by any consideration of public convenience that they should again solicit this House for a declaration which they Lave already obtained in the most authentic form. This being so, with the view we entertain of the illegality of over-regulation prices, and with the declaration before us of the Royal Commission, of which my right hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Sir George Grey) was Chairman, that those over-regulation prices could not be put an end to except by the extinction of purchase as a system—that declaration, of course, was liable, however authoritative it might be, to question and to confutation; but, cited as it has frequently been in this House, I think it only been referred to for the purpose of being accepted and approved—the Government have resolved to advise Her Majesty to take the decisive step of cancelling the Royal Warrant under which purchase is legal. That advice has been accepted and acted on by Her Majesty. A new Warrant has been framed in terms conformable with the law, and it is my duty, on the part of the Government, to state that at the present moment purchase in the Army no longer exists. When I say that purchase no longer exists, my right hon. Friend near me (Mr. Cardwell) judiciously reminds me that the expression is true in the sense in which it would have been true had the Army Regulation Bill, which is now in Parliament already, received the Royal Assent. It does not mean that purchase in the Army is extinguished from the present moment, but that a day has been named—namely, the 1st of November in the present year, from and after which, as provided in the framework of the Bill, there shall be no purchase or sale of 19 commissions in the Army. That being so, the state of circumstances in which the Resolution of Monday last was passed in the House of Lords has been entirely altered; and it is not for us to say what course the House of Lords in these altered circumstances may think fit to pursue. We, of course, trust that august Assembly may be disposed to proceed with the second reading and with the other stages of the Bill, in dealing with which, although with respect to the money provisions, strictly speaking, of the Bill the House of Lords could not consistently with Parliamentary usage introduce any alteration, yet in other respects it would, I think, be open to that House to use its discretion. It is not for me to presume to anticipate the particular course which will be taken by the House of Lords; but, in considering this matter, we have had no other object in view but simplicity, despatch, the observance of constitutional usage—[Lord ELCHO: Observance of constitutional usage!]—yes, I beg my noble Friend the Member for Haddingtonshire to mark the expression—I repeat we have nothing in view but the observance of constitutional usage and the speedy termination of a state of suspense, which we think most injurious—I will not say dangerous—to the Army, and calculated to delay the progress of a measure that is likely, in our judgment, to do full justice to the fair pecuniary claims of the officers, and the loss of which might make it difficult to find means of doing justice to those claims. Therefore, we propose to allow ample time to elapse in order to learn what course the House of Lords will be disposed to take with regard to the remaining stages of the Bill, and it would not be becoming or appropriate in me to forecast what course we shall take in case we should fail in prosecuting the Bill to its legitimate conclusion, as I sincerely trust we may be able so to prosecute it. But one thing it is my duty to state on the part of the Government, and that is that, come what may, under all circumstances, we shall use the best means in our power, mindful of the honourable pledges we have given, to secure at the hands of Parliament just and liberal terms for the officers of the Army. I think I have now explained fully and explicitly the acts and intentions of the Government. Argument in justification of them would 20 be at present out of place. My only object has been to state the facts clearly and conclusively. We have not hesitated to pursue the course that appeared to us to be recommended alike by policy and principle, and we have done that on our responsibility as Ministers of the Crown.
§ MR. DISRAELI
I must protest, Sir, against the First Minister making an important communication — one of the most important I have ever heard in Parliament—in answer to a Question—I will not say a pre-arranged Question. I will not think this is treating the House of Commons generally with the respect which is due to it. I am certain that the right hon. Gentleman has not followed the usual precedents which regulate the conduct of those who have occupied the position he now holds, and therefore, though I am the last person to wish to interfere unnecessarily with the general progress of business, yet, thinking this to be a matter of urgency, I throw myself on the indulgence of the House while I make a few observations, premising that, if necessary, I shall conclude with a Motion. The right hon. Gentleman had to deal with a question of great magnitude, and he dealt with it by Bill. The Army Regulation Bill, which he introduced, was, after much discussion, carried by a moderate majority. ["Oh, oh!"] Remembering what occurred at the last General Election, and the majority of which the First Minister has been in the habit of disposing, I am justified in saying that the Bill was passed in the House of Commons by a very moderate majority, being only half of the amount of the usual majorities for the Government. It may have been a sufficient majority; but it did not show that overpowering expression of feeling which the First Minister has on other occasions been able to obtain in this House. Well, the Bill passes this House and goes to the other House, where it is rejected—[Cries of "No!"]—where, at any rate, it meets with an Amendment, which has stopped its progress. No one for a moment pretends that the other House, in so dealing with the Bill, at all overstepped its constitutional privileges and rights. No one will insinuate such an opinion unless it be the First Minister himself. We are now told by the right hon. Gentleman that the Motion in the other House, which has virtually stopped 21 the Army Regulation Bill, if not negatived it, is to be set at defiance, and he says that the decision of the other House is of no importance, as he can effect the object he has in view by other means than by constitutionally appealing to the Estates of the Realm, for he can advise Her Majesty to exercise her Prerogative. This is a very high-handed course—I will not now say illegal course, for I reserve that point for future consideration. But it occurs to me to ask, if the right hon. Gentleman can deal with the question in the speedy and satisfactory mode he has announced tonight, why did he not do so at once? There was nothing in the Bill but abolition of purchase, and night after night we were assured by the Minister, with a triumphant air, that the re-organization of the Army could be secured without Parliamentary interference. The Bill was not required, we were told, to increase the Artillery, to establish Reserves on the principle of short service, or for providing experimental camps. Then, why did not the right hon. Gentleman take the course he has now announced at once, and why not have saved at least that paralysis of Parliament during the last six months, which was mainly caused by appealing to the House of Commons to pass the Army Regulation Bill? Look at the position in which the conduct of the Government in regard to this measure has placed the House of Commons. Is it not the fact that this House has been virtually deprived of its principal constitutional privilege during the whole of this Session, and has had no complete opportunity in Committee of Supply of controlling the expenditure? Is it not the fact that, at this moment, questions of the utmost interest to the country, only to be brought forward by the instrumentality of Supply, cannot, in consequence of the House being about to be scattered, be properly considered? I alluded the other night to an intended Motion respecting the loss of one of the finest ships in the Navy, occasioned, as it has been alleged, by the maladministration of the late Board of Admiralty. A noble Friend of mine (Lord Henry Lennox) has given Notice of a Motion asking the opinion of the House on the subject; but that Motion has never been brought forward in consequence of the whole time of the House having been 22 absorbed by this Army Bill which we are now told the Minister can settle in his secret councils and offices. There is another question of importance, regard being had to its immediate effect on the reputation and character of this country, and that is the Treaty of Washington. That great diplomatic act has been negotiated, and no allusion has been made to it in the House of Commons. There was a debate in the House of Lords, and criticisms of considerable importance were offered to the consideration of the country; but in the House of Commons we have had no opportunity of expressing any opinion on one of the most important diplomatic documents. A right hon. Gentleman sitting near me (Sir Charles Adderley), who wished to impugn some of the provisions of that Treaty, particularly in respect to their influence on one of the most considerable of our colonies, has in vain attempted to obtain an opportunity of asking the opinion of the House on the subject. Are we, then, to be told that it is only when the Committee on this Bill and the other Bills should be finished that the consideration of Supply is to be resumed? I say that the conduct of the Government in thus wasting six months of the Session has been most culpable — that is, has been most injurious to the influence, character, and reputation of the House of Commons. What has been its effect on general legislation? Most mischievous. We have constantly heard that this being a Parliament elected by householders great anxiety would be shown by hon. Gentlemen opposite for the interests of the working classes. We know that the working classes did expect much to be done for them by this Parliament in their favour, and certainly believed that the proceedings of this House would be in unison with those of former Parliaments, in which there was no want of sympathy for the wants of the working classes. They did expect Bills to be brought forward which, while maintaining the efficiency of labour, would have mitigated in some degree the extremity of toil to which persons in some occupations are still subjected. There is one Bill which for three years has been before the House, and which refers to certain subterranean employments, in the course of which accidents frequently occur. That has been entirely given up 23 in consequence of the right hon. Gentleman not settling this question of purchase in the free and easy manner he now has recourse to. I think this state of affairs most unsatisfactory. I do not see how the Government can vindicate the course they have taken during this fruitless Session, when the very measure which appears to have caused the delay of all other legislation is now declared to be absolutely unnecessary. I am not here to dispute the Prerogative of the Crown; but that is a very delicate subject, and I very much doubt the wisdom of the Minister who attempts to cut Gordian knots, which every now and then have to be encountered in dealing with popular assemblies, by an appeal to the Prerogative of the Crown. I hope the Prerogatives of the Crown may long exist and be long exercised for the advantage of the country, for the maintenance of our liberties, and the general welfare and interest of the community at large; but no Minister acts in a wise manner who, on finding himself baffled in passing a measure which he, no doubt, believes of importance, but which it is impossible after all that has occurred in this House can be considered free from something of the passion of politics, comes forward and tells the House that he will defy the opinion of Parliament, and appeals to the Prerogative of the Crown to assist him in the difficulties which he himself has created. I beg to move, That this House do now adjourn.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Disraeli.)
§ LORD ELCHO
Sir, I am not about to discuss the question of the advice which the right hon. Gentleman the First Minister of the Crown has stated the Government have recently given to Her Majesty; my object is simply to put a question to the First Minister. He asked me to take down the words he used—the words were "constitutional usage"—which I think rather strange phraseology to use as descriptive of such a course of proceeding. I should have thought the words "coup d'état" would have been more applicable; but whether "constitutional usage" or "coup d'état" be the correct description of the proceeding, the question I wish to ask is, whether the right hon. Gentleman will give the House of Commons an opportunity 24 of expressing their opinion on the course which they have recommended to Her Majesty; and, if so, when?
Sir, the right hon. Gentleman opposite who has moved the Adjournment of the House (Mr. Disraeli), has doubtless had ample opportunity of considering the remarks he should offer on this occasion; yet I must say, and I will undertake to show, that they are characterized by much inaccuracy, as well as, I think, by some exaggeration. I say by much inaccuracy, for the right hon. Gentleman says that the Government have fallen back on the exercise of the Prerogative; and having thus introduced the term which he thinks will be unpopular, though he expresses a hope it may long exist, he warns us against the danger of putting Prerogative in conflict with Parliament. Sir, this is an instance of the inaccuracy of the right hon. Gentleman's statement. We have had no recourse to Prerogative, and we have had no conflict with Parliament. We are supported by the deliberate judgment of the House of Commons. We are not opposed upon the question of purchase by the dissent of the House of Lords. The conduct of the Government, I admit, is impugned by the vote of that House; but the vote of that House does not assert the expediency of maintaining purchase. But, whether we are right or wrong, the right hon. Gentleman is wrong in asserting that we have proceeded by Prerogative. We have exercised a statutory power committed to the Crown by the deliberate action of the Legislature:—and for what purpose have we exercised that statutory power? What was the meaning and intention of that statute but to check illegitimate proceedings in connection with the obtaining and disposing of commissions in the Army? And what was the purport of the advice we tendered to Her Majesty except to give effect to the intention of the statute by bringing to a close those proceedings when they have assumed the character of positive and absolute illegality? The right hon. Gentleman says he does not know how the Government can vindicate their conduct. For my part, I do not know how he can impugn the conduct of the Government. He has made an effort to-day, and if that be the measure of his argument or rhetoric the Government have little to fear from him. The 25 right hon. Gentleman says the state of things is unsatisfactory, and that the delay of the ordinary business of legislation is intolerable. I must say, Sir, that I have a qualified satisfaction at least in agreeing to both these propositions of the right hon. Gentleman; but I will not provoke controversy, which might perhaps meet the purposes of some, by investigating the causes to which the delays in legislation are attributable. My noble Friend (Lord Elcho) asks if we will give the House of Commons an opportunity of questioning the conduct of the Government. Well, let us see a Notice of Motion of a want of confidence in the Government; let us have such a challenge either on the part of my noble Friend or anyone else, and so far as we are concerned there will be no lack of Opportunity for discussing it. But the right hon. Gentleman has carefully avoided, on this and every other occasion, committing himself to the maintenance of purchase. On a former occasion he burnt his fingers. He said too much at one time against the reduction of the franchise, and consequently his Motions were not so free on his coming into office as they would otherwise have been. Instructed by experience, he has taken very good care on this occasion that, should he assume the responsibility of affairs, none may be able to taunt him with ever having committed himself to the maintenance of purchase. The right hon. Gentleman has, I think, entirely failed in his endeavour to show that we are open to reproach in the course we have taken. At the same time, I will not enter upon any elaborate defence of that which I think has been but very feebly impugned. The right hon. Gentleman, however, stated two points which I will notice. He asked, first, "Why did you not proceed six months ago in the mode you now declare to be so satisfactory and perfect?" We have not declared it satisfactory or perfect in comparison with that which we at first adopted. We have declared it to be a mode which we felt it our duty to pursue in the face of the illegalities that prevail; but it is a mode which, for reasons often and accurately explained by my right hon. Friend near me (Mr. Cardwell), and by others, is known to be inferior to the regular, uninterrupted progress of a legislative measure dealing with 26 the whole question. The right hon. Gentleman opposite surely knows that it is only by a statute we can give a statutory title even to regulation prices: it is in the power of this House to vote them, but it is only in the power of the Legislature to grant a statutory title. It was for the Legislature to correct and to grant indemnity for those breaches of the law which, however frequent and flagrant they had been, and however imperative the duty to put an end to them, it would be pharisaical to consider as implying any reproach. It is only by statute that the revival of purchase itself by a misuse, as I conceive it would be, but still a possible use, of the discretion of the Executive can be prevented; and, lastly, it is only by statute that that object can be attained which we think honour, good feeling, and equity require—namely, that compensation may be awarded to officers in favour of overregulation prices. I trust, Sir, I have now given an ample and satisfactory answer to the first question of the right hon. Gentleman—why we did not proceed in this way six months ago, instead of consuming the whole Session with the subject of Army Regulation. Perhaps it is not so important that I should question the statement of the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the unsatisfactory state of business—which I admit; but I must show the exaggeration into which he has fallen. He says, for example, that my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire (Sir Charles Adderley) has in vain appealed to us for an opportunity of discussing the recent Treaty with America. Undoubtedly we have not been able to meet his appeal so early as we could have wished; but I want to know why it is so? My right hon. Friend might have taken his chance, if he had liked, as other Members have done—he might have balloted for and obtained a Tuesday or Friday evening, and there would have been no want of attendance during the discussion of his Motion. But my right hon. Friend did not avail himself of that opportunity. The right hon. Gentleman is not correct when he complains that we have been keeping back from the view of Parliament and from the possibility of discussion questions affecting our own conduct in connection with what I may call the national loss of the Captain—a question which he says it is almost impossible to 27 discuss except in connection with the Navy Estimates. Why, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman appears to be in a state of unacquaintance with even the proceedings of his own immediate political Friends. The fact is, the Notice given in relation to the Captain has never been connected with the Committee of Supply; it stands among the list of miscellaneous Motions, for which no day is fixed. So much for the Motion relating to the Captain. There have been plenty of opportunities when it might have been brought on; and I really know not why this question, so important and so fitting to be discussed, has not been brought before the notice of Parliament. We are very desirous it should be discussed, and I was about to state this very evening that we have been endeavouring, so far as remains with us, to clear the list for Tuesday evening, if that will meet the convenience of the noble Lord who has charge of the Motion (Lord Henry Lennox). In conclusion, Sir, I will only say this—we invite free and full discussion of a measure which we believe not only justified but required by the circumstances of the case, and that the course we have pursued is that dictated to us by our general sense of duty to the Crown, by our anxiety for the discipline of the Army, and by our determination steadily to pursue that line of conduct which we think most favourable to the interests and just claims of the officers.
§ MR. G. BENTINCK
said, he had no intention at present to enter on the discussion of the advice given by the Prime Minister to the Crown; but he quite concurred with all that had been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) as to the most important part of the business of the Session having been put aside, to which no answer had been given. He had before insisted on the necessity of adhering to the old constitutional practice of discussing the Estimates of the year, and he desired now to have an explicit statement from the Government when they proposed to proceed with the Army and Navy Estimates.
§ SIR JAMES ELPHINSTONE
said, he merely wished to correct a remark of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government in regard to the Captain. He (Sir James Elphinstone) had given a Notice at the beginning of the Session 28 to call attention to the manner in which the Admiralty had treated the widows and relatives of those who had perished in the Captain, when he had hoped the Government would be prepared to vindicate the course they had pursued. He would have raised the whole question on that Motion; but he had been prevented from bringing it before the House in consequence of the Navy Estimates never having been discussed. When the Navy Estimates came on he would also show that they were characterized by extreme inaccuracy. He had also a Motion on the Navy Estimates relating to the conduct of the Government in granting contracts to their own political friends, which he was most anxious to have an opportunity of discussing; but at this period of the Session it was hardly likely they would be able to enter fully into the question.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, he wished to make one remark in reply to the right hon. Gentleman. The Prime Minister had stated that in the course the Government had taken they were not in conflict with Parliament. Now, it appeared to him that statement was extremely hollow, unless he meant that a majority of the House of Commons of itself constituted Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman had no excuse whatever for saying that the measure he proposed for the abolition of purchase had the consent of the other House of Parliament, far less had he any justification in saying that the course he recommended Her Majesty to sanction had the approval of the House of Lords. When the precedent was examined with reference to the previous history of Parliament, it would be found to rest on the most doubtful practice. The whole Constitution was based on the assumption that there were three Estates, without whose consent no law should either be altered, evaded, or defeated. Now, he held that the intention of the law had been defeated by the technicality—for it was nothing but a technicality—under which the Government had sought to cover the means by which they had set aside the authority of one of the Houses of Parliament. In a constitutional point of view the step taken by the Government was a most doubtful one; and he asked the Government, either by laying on the Table the Order they had issued, or by some more direct means, to afford an opportunity to 29 the House of expressing their opinion on, if not a novel, certainly the unusual procedure they had thought fit to recommend to Her Majesty.
§ MR. BOUVERIE
I wish, Sir, to say a very few words on this most important question. Nobody can regret more strongly than I do the Resolution come to by the other House of Parliament two nights ago. But nobody, I think, can deny that they were in the right, if they chose to do so, in coming to such a Resolution. My right hon. Friend at the head of the Government has noticed—what is certainly a strong point in the case—that they have not refused to pass the Bill which was laid before them. They merely agreed to a Resolution expressing their unwillingness to pass the second reading unless certain information they desired were previously laid on the Table; and if that wish and desire for information were honestly entertained—as we are bound to believe it was—by the majority of that House—for we must extend to their language and their actions the same consideration we should expect them to extend to us—if that desire for information was honestly entertained by them, I do not think any man of sense or judgment could gainsay their right to express their opinion. I must honestly say I do not think my right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) has justified the course taken by the Government, no doubt after anxious and careful deliberation, as entirely free from the criticism of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli). His point, as I understand it, was mainly this—the Government having proposed to ask Parliament, and having asked Parliament, to make this most important change in the constitution of the Army as it existed long before we were born—which has been part of the life-blood of the Army for more than one generation—having decided, and as I think wisely decided, to ask Parliament to assent to this change, and when one House of Parliament expressed the wish to which I have referred, the Government did not seek some other mode of reconciling the apparent difference between them and the House of Lords, but have had recourse to that Prerogative which in a case of this great importance ought to be allowed to sleep, and not to have been exercised by a Liberal Government in the face of those 30 principles of government by Parliament, and the bodies that compose Parliament, which we have been brought up to reverence. In the great struggle which the Long Parliament carried on with the Crown, which ended in the destruction of the Sovereign and the Constitution of this country, the point upon which the issue was taken was what was then called the right of the Militia; and even in those days, when the House of Commons really possessed the whole power of the country, their demand in reference to the Army was that the power of selecting those who selected the officers should be exercised not by the House of Commons alone but by both Houses of Parliament. But, as I understand this act of Prerogative now, it comes to this—that this grave and important change is to be made because those who are in the majority for the time being in the Commons exercise the Prerogative of the Crown in the name of the Crown, and are therefore able to over-ride the minority in this House and set at defiance the other House of Parliament. The main and principal clause in the Army Organization Bill, as passed by this House, was this—that after a day to be named by order of Her Majesty in Council, and in this Act referred to, no sale shall be made of any commission to any officer in Her Majesty's Army. Parliament was asked to agree to that, and this House, I think, wisely and rightly did so. The other House was asked to do so, and they passed the Resolution to which I have referred. But this clause has never been submitted to their judgment. They have put in a dilatory answer. They have asked for further information. If the Prerogative of the Crown was to be exercised in this matter, I take leave to think that it should only have been under circumstances of extraordinary pressure and emergency. We are told that the Warrant does not come into operation till the 1st of November. Well, then, I say before recourse was had to such a proceeding at least there ought to have been a deliberate judgment of the House of Lords on that clause. This proposal ought not to be offered to both Houses of Parliament, and one of them, when it asks for information, to be told—"No, your assent is not necessary, we will resort to Prerogative, which we might have exercised 31 six months ago, and thus have saved all the discussion and waste of time and trouble which the House of Commons have given to the discussion of this question. No doubt the difficulties of my right hon. Friend's position have been great; but I cannot help thinking there were other methods of procedure which he might have found without committing what I must be permitted to call an act of constitutional violence. I cannot help thinking it would have been more the part of a wise Minister, in a country like ours, and with a Constitution framed like ours, to have adopted some more simple and likely to be more effective means of seeing whether he could not get the concurrence of the House of Lords to the clause to which I have referred, rather than have recourse to this extreme and very objectionable measure.
§ MR. CARDWELL
Sir, my right hon. Friend who has just sat down is a high authority upon all matters connected with the practice of Parliament, with what is constitutional, and what is due to the law; but it appears to me that, in speaking upon this subject, he has, rather strangely, omitted that which is at the foundation of the whole question, and is its most material part. We are not dealing with an ordinary question which we can lay aside for a moment without any evil following; we are dealing with a case in which, according to the Report of a Commission of the highest authority, there has been an open and an habitual violation of the law. The Commissioners say—Among the chief incidents of the practice are the habitual violation of the law, supported by long-established custom.["Hear, hear!"] Do hon. Gentlemen who cheer mean that long-established custom can condone and render right a long violation of the law? Let me tell them that observance of the law is the sheet anchor of the liberties and of the order of this country. The Commissioners further say—There has been no real discouragement of the practice by any authority; there has been a tacit acquiescence in the practice.That may be an argument in favour of paying over-regulation prices now, but it is no argument in favour of the continuance of the custom. They say—There has been a decided acquiescence in the practice, amounting, in our opinion, to a virtual 32 recognition of it, by civil and military departments and authorities.What, then, is the case with which we have to deal? The law is openly and habitually violated, and the authorities who ought to enforce it are themselves judged by the Commission to be the parties to its continued violation. No Minister ought to be expected, and I am sure no Minister will be permitted by the House of Commons to be a party to a continued violation of the law. [Lord JOHN MANNERS: That applies only to over-regulation prices. A noble Friend opposite reminds me that the Report refers to over-regulation prices; but would he have us attempt to put a stop to over-regulation prices and leave the rest of the system in existence? He knows very well he would have been one of the first to say that would be a paltry mode of attempting to deal with the question. The Royal Commissioners say it is proved to be impossible to check violation of the law as long as you tolerate by regulation any prices at all for commissions. What, then, was the position with which we had to deal? It is said that we might easily have done what we propose to do six months ago; but what did we want to do six months ago? Not only to put an end to the continuance of the practice, but we also wanted, first, to prevent the practice being restored by anybody, which only a decision of Parliament can do; second, to give an indemnity against the penalties of the statute to those who had broken it, which only Parliament can do; third, to give a statutory title to regulation prices, which only Parliament can do; and, fourth, to make that provision for the payment of over-regulation prices which we have always believed to be just and equitable, which only Parliament can make. Then, it is said, this is an act of Prerogative; but what is Prerogative? It is action emanating from the independent authority of the Crown; but this is the exercise of a power under an Act of Parliament. It seems to be entirely forgotten that in the year 1809 there was passed one of the most stringent and severe Acts of Parliament ever placed on the Statute Book for the purpose of preventing the sale and purchase of offices. There was one exception, and that related to such purchases of commissions in the Army as it might from time to time please the Crown to fix by regulation. The power 33 conferred by that statute it has been found impossible to exercise without defeating the whole object and scope of the statute. It was our duty to leave no longer an exceptional power which we saw was defeating the aim and intention of the statute; and we have cancelled that power, thereby acting in pursuance of, and in conformity with, the statute. We have not exercised what can justly be called a power of Prerogative; we have placed ourselves, not in opposition, but in entire accord with the will of Parliament. I have only to add that undoubtedly the Royal Warrant cancelling the power referred to will be immediately laid on the Table of both Houses of Parliament.
MR. GATHORNE HARDY
Sir, my right hon. Friend who has just spoken has with great solemnity informed us that he has a duty cast upon him that he would do his best to endeavour to fulfil; he told us that it was important after the Commission had reported that steps should be immediately taken for the purpose of preventing the violation of the law, and getting rid of the purchase of commissions. If that is so, there is still less excuse for the waste of the Session, for if my right hon. Friend had taken the step that has now been taken six months ago, he could have put an end to the system at once, without this delay and unnecessary confusion. My right hon. Friend says that this is not an exercise of Prerogative; but there is a recognition of the Prerogative in that statute to which he refers, and it is the Royal Warrant that instituted this process, and not the statute. Exception was made in the Act because it was not intended to interfere with the Prerogative of the Crown. Therefore I say that it is a question of Prerogative, and if it were a question only of statutable Prerogative, still it would be a question of Prerogative. He tells us that over-regulation price and regulation price are so interwoven that both must go together. But he tells us that he brought in the Bill for certain purposes, the chief one of which could be effected only by the Bill, and not by the step that he has now taken. He tells us that the chief object is to prevent the renewal of purchase; but he takes no step in this direction now. If the Prerogative can take away it can also create, and if Prerogative can destroy the purchase system, 34 the same Prerogative can set up that which it is now called in to destroy. I am not now going to argue a question upon which I am not fully informed, and which has come before us by surprise. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government said that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire was prepared with his observations; but how could he be prepared when there have been as many rumours as there are newspapers in London, each paper taking a different view as to the course of the Government? He waited to hear what the head of the Government would say, and though I am myself never surprised at any course which the right hon. Gentleman may take, whether for the extension or the destruction of the Prerogative—and he is equally capable of either—yet I am surprised at the cheers with which this exercise of Prerogative was received by hon. Members opposite, when it may one day be used in the opposite direction. Again I ask whether, if the Government had had a majority in the other House of Parliament, and were in a minority in this, they would have acted in the same way as they have now done? Whatever the right hon. Gentleman may say, he is setting up the Prerogative of the Crown against the rights and prerogatives of the House of Lords. On this subject I can add nothing to the clear and cogent argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie); I will simply say that I agree in every word that he has said, and I am sure that when the country hears what is the course that has been taken, it will not be received with the assent which it has now received on the other side of the House.
§ MR. HORSMAN
Sir, I am sorry to say I share in the surprise and regret expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie) at the announcement made by the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) was prepared for the intimation; but long as I have sat in this House I have never heard any announcement from the Treasury bench by which I have been so perfectly astounded, and I must say that the statement of the First Minister of the Crown derives additional importance from the circumstances in which we have 35 been placed during the last few weeks. Everybody has been saying to his neighbour how unsatisfactory, how deplorable is the state of things in this House—business confused, legislation abortive, Estimates postponed till they cannot be fairly debated, a loss of influence and authority on the part of the Government which is actually unprecedented, and all this imputed, rightly or wrongly—I do not say which, but I have heard it on both sides of the House—to the mismanagement of the Government. Further, our Parliamentary system has been brought into such discredit that you, Mr. Speaker, must view the state of things with some apprehension, and others in this House, the parties who are responsible for it, cannot view it with other feelings than shame and sorrow. In this state of things we hear that the House of Lords have rejected the Abolition of Purchase Bill; and no one can doubt for a moment that the manner in which that proceeding was met by the Government must tend sensibly either to aggravate or to diminish the difficulties of the situation. We were told that there was a Cabinet Council the next morning after the division in the Lords, and the Government had to consider by what wise and moderate course of proceeding they could conciliate their opponents in this House and maintain what was essential for the public interest at this crisis, or how they could, at least, lay the foundations for restoring—if not in this Session, in the next—those relations between the two sides of the House, without which my right hon. Friend will find to his cost no Minister can satisfactorily conduct the business of the country. But what is the course that has been taken? As if the present difficulties and embarrassments were not enough, they have taken a course that has further confused the condition of affairs in this House, and that can have no other result than to inflame ill-feeling, to provoke animosity, and to aggravate those difficulties we are all deploring. I make no objection to the course they have taken in abolishing purchase. I have long felt purchase to be dead and gone. But my right hon. Friend (Mr. Cardwell) asks us what is Prerogative? The Prerogative of the Crown is nothing more nor less than the will of the Minister of the day; and if he has a steady majority at 36 his back, and chooses to abuse that Prerogative, there is nothing to prevent him constituting himself dictator. Why was this Prerogative not used six months ago? The reason is very obvious. It is an antiquated notion that the Army is the Army of the Crown; the modern doctrine is that the Army is the Army of the nation, and therefore it is thought right that the representatives of the nation should assume the Prerogative that is no longer recognized as the Prerogative of the Crown. Let me ask, what has the House of Lords done? The Government, instead of availing themselves of the right of the Prerogative, thought proper to introduce a Bill for the Re-organization of the Army, and that Bill they would have proceeded with if it had not been that they found that it was unpopular on both sides of the House. The Notice Paper was crammed with Amendments; there were 20 pages, and the majority of the Amendments were to be moved from this side of the House; and therefore I say that the Bill was not popular on either side of the House. Then the Government discovered that all the reorganization part of the Bill was unnecessary, and therefore they determined to make it simply a Bill for the abolition of purchase, and so sent it to the House of Lords. I make only such assertions as I know the facts will support: I say this—that when the Government determined to divide the Bill, if they had called their party together, and asked them—"Shall we send up this fragment of the Bill to the House of Lords to be passed this year, or withdraw it altogether, and send up a complete and comprehensive measure next year, and proceed meanwhile with the Ballot Bill?"—I venture to say that 19 out of 20 Members on this side of the House would have preferred the latter alternative. ["No, no!"] This I will say, that I believe that the majority on this side of the House, if the Government had given them a choice, indicating no preference themselves, would have voted for postponement. What, I repeat, has the House of Lords done? They have merely adopted the original view of the Government, and stated that they wanted to have the whole of these proposals in one complete scheme, to be considered at one time. They said—"You are asking the people to bear a very heavy burden of 37 taxation, in order to get rid of purchase, and then, having done that, you have no security for an efficient Army." We know the good faith and sincere intentions of the Secretary of State for War, bait he can neither command nor foresee the future; and next year, when the Ways and Means have to be provided, and when the panics upon which the Bill was founded have passed away, and when the powerful influence of the band of economists behind me is brought to bear upon the Government, no one can tell that the opinions of to-day will be those of to-morrow. It has been said that the House of Lords is in collision with the House of Commons; but my opinion is that what the House of Lords have done is really in accordance with the opinion of the majority of this House. ["No!"] I do not refer to the upholding of purchase; I think that the opinion of the majority of this House is in favour of the abolition of purchase; but I believe that if the opinion of the House had been fairly tested, and if the House had been left to its free choice, it would have said—"We will have the whole question postponed until next year." I doubt very much whether the House of Lords have adopted an unpopular course. My own belief is that the feeling out-of-doors has been much more accurately represented by the vote of the House of Lords, than it would have been by the passing of this Bill. I admit that the Government have been placed in a position of difficulty; but I think that they have acted in an unfortunate and an unwise manner. While they have acted from a sense of public duty, and have done what they believed to be necessary to meet the requirements of the moment, it is impossible but that political opponents will believe that the act of the Government is intended, though I believe it is not intended, to supersede the functions of the House of Lords.
§ MR. JACOB BRIGHT
said, he disagreed in every sentiment which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Horsman) had uttered. He, for one, had listened with unqualified satisfaction to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman below him (Mr. Horsman) had spoken of what he called the discredit which had fallen on the Government 38 during the present Session of Parliament. Now, he did not wish to say anything on this subject but what he believed to be true. There had been some discredit acquired by Her Majesty's Government during this Session, but that discredit had been acquired by doing certain things which were strongly supported by hon. Gentlemen opposite. The chief discredit which had come upon Her Majesty's Government this Session was the discredit which belonged to a Government which expended unnecessary money. There was an enormous increase of the Estimates, which would never have taken place if there had been a considerable number of Members on the other side of the House faithful to what he believed to be the interests of their constituents. But when they were told about the obstruction to legislation and about the confusion which had come over things in the House of Commons this Session, he ventured to say that that obstruction and that confusion, so far as they existed, were mainly owing to the course pursued by hon. Members on the other side. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Gathorne Hardy) said that the Government was strengthening by this course the Prerogative of the Crown. He (Mr. Bright) took a different view of it. He believed that the Government had rather strengthened the prerogative of the people. He believed that the Government was increasing the influence of this House by such a course, and giving great satisfaction to those from whom this House had come. With regard to the House of Lords, they were generally in that House extremely unwilling to discuss the House of Lords, but his opinion was, that the feeling was growing in this country that the Members of that Assembly, knowing very little of the country in which they lived—[Laughter]—necessarily knowing very little from their peculiar social position, the feeling of the country was that that Assembly was rather too free in negativing the propositions which are sent to it by this House. One great cause of the obstruction of Public Business was the determination of the House of Lords to interfere with the conclusions of the House of Commons. And whatever the Government might have done to lessen its authority in the country 39 in the earlier part of the year, he was quite sure the course they had that day taken had placed them, in a position as strong as they were in on the first day of the Session.
§ MR. BIRLEY
said, he felt it his duty most emphatically to deny that the observations of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Jacob Bright) were the opinions of the people of Manchester. He was sure that all parties in that city would read with great regret the observations made by the hon. Gentleman in reference to the House of Lords.
§ SIR HENRY HOARE
said, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) would not be deterred from following the course he had indicated by the observations of the right hon. Members for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie) and Liskeard (Mr. Horsman). He thought there was something in the borough of Liskeard which rendered its representative peculiarly apt to worry a Ministry at moments of crisis, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would bear in mind the lesson which his constituents had read to one of his predecessors, for they might not be satisfied with his attitude on the present occasion, and we might some day or other hear of him also escaping for his life over the roofs of houses in some borough in Ireland. Hon. Members opposite who asked why, if this were a proper course, the Government did not take it six months ago, might as well ask a man why he did not at once break open a door which he could not open with a key because the lock was rusty. He must also remark that if, as the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), had said—this House was "fast losing ground in the estimation of the country," it was because hon. Members opposite had persisted in a course of obstruction to which they had resorted for the purpose of impeding legislation, in favour of which the country had distinctly decided.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
Sir, with respect to this discussion, which has arisen on the Question that I put to my right hon. Friend, I am anxious to say a few words, which I hope will not tend to produce any feeling such as I am afraid we are liable to by continuing in the debates on this subject a tone that I think ill-becoming the subject and this House. I hope also that nothing further will be said in this debate which will 40 be in the slightest degree characterized by a want of perfect respect for the other House of Parliament, as a co-ordinate branch of the Legislature, and entitled to freedom of debate and the exercise of an independent judgment in the decision of all matters. I confess I feel the extreme difficulty in which Her Majesty's Government are placed by what I cannot but regard the unfortunate vote that was come to by the House of Lords in reference to the second reading of the Army Regulation Bill; but I cannot, at the same time, feel that unqualified satisfaction at the present position of the question which has been expressed by the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Jacob Bright). I, however, feel it to be difficult, if not impossible, to point out what other course the Government could have pursued consistent with the obvious duty that devolves upon them, a duty which I have pressed upon them upon more than one occasion—namely, that of putting a stop to open violation of the law by the payment of over-regulation prices, particularly after Her Majesty had been pleased to appoint upon advice of her Ministers a Royal Commission to inquire into the alleged payment of those prices, and after the evidence and the Report of that Commission had been presented to Parliament. And when it is said that the Government have taken the course of appealing to the Prerogative of the Crown after Parliament has refused its sanction to their proposal, it must not be forgotten that the whole system of purchase rests, not upon Acts of Parliament, with one exception, but entirely upon Royal Warrants and Regulations which have been in force for a series of years, and which by the Royal Prerogative, and without the intervention of Parliament, have been altered from time to time during the last 150 years. When Prerogative is spoken of as obsolete in reference to the Army, I would remind the House that the last Royal Warrant dates only from 1866, and by that, I believe, a considerable impulse was given to this system of paying over-regulation prices, because by the terms of that Warrant absolute seniority among purchase officers was declared to be the rule of promotion in the Army. I have always felt, and it was expressed strongly in the Report of the Commission, that as long as the 41 officer knows who is to succeed him it is hardly possible to prevent a private arrangement being made between two gentlemen who are living together from day to day, and belong to the same regiment. It is in consequence of the Royal Warrants fixing the terms upon which purchase was to be effected, and also the rules which were prescribed for promotion, that the evil with which the Government have to deal has grown up. I think, therefore, they could not have taken any other course than that of exercising a power which is not obsolete, but has from time to time been exercised during many years, thereby placing an effectual check upon a practice which they are bound, as a Government, no longer virtually to sanction or to tolerate. But this question cannot be disposed of entirely by Royal Prerogative. It was with satisfaction that I heard the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) state that the Government would do their utmost to obtain for the officers of the Army those equitable terms to which I think those who have made those payments are entitled. That can only be done by Act of Parliament, and, therefore, this subject must be dealt with by Parliament. I hope that the expectation that the House of Lords may be induced to re-consider their decision with regard to the Army Regulation Bill, which is still open for discussion by the other House, may be fulfilled, and that we shall find that not only has purchase been abolished, but also that means will be provided for the satisfaction of those just and equitable claims to which the officers are entitled. I have learnt with very great regret, since the decision of the House of Lords that several hon. Members who voted in favour of the payment of over-regulation prices, are determined to do so no more. I deprecate any such course on the part of those who informed me that they intended to pursue it, and I can only express my deep regret that there should have been made elsewhere that most injudicious statement that there were hon. Members of this House who, arrogating to themselves to represent the officers of the Army, intimated to Members of the other House that they wished that House to reject the Bill. I utterly disbelieve that any hon. Member of this House was authorized by the officers of the Army to make any such declaration, and I earnestly hope 42 that this House will not be disposed to visit upon the officers of the Army the indiscretion of the hon. Gentlemen who made that statement. I wish to add one word with reference to a speech that was made elsewhere by one bearing a name that is honoured throughout this country, especially by hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House—I mean the Earl of Derby—who, in the debate in the House of Lords, pointed out that it was not necessary to come to Parliament in order to abolish purchase, because that system rested upon Royal Prerogative, and the Government had the power to abolish it without the aid of Parliament, if they chose to do so. I wish to point out that the suggestion—I will not say the first suggestion—that Prerogative might be invoked to settle this question was made by a distinguished Member of the Conservative party in the other House of Parliament, and therefore I think Her Majesty's Government cannot well be charged with a violent strain of the Constitution in the course they have taken.
§ MR. CORRANCE
said, he thought that the House could scarcely look back upon its proceedings without a feeling of repentance, or possibly regret, for they had, as it seemed to some competent judges, been one series of blunders from the first. The first blunder that was committed by the Government was that of bringing forward a Bill nominally for the organization of the Army, which turned out to be a measure simply for the abolition of purchase. A second blunder was committed by his side of the House in proposing a premature Resolution relating to the question of purchase rather than to the organization of the Army. A third blunder was committed in rejecting the Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho) who had tried unsuccessfully to raise a sounder issue against the Bill. Some in this House might also be of opinion that the Amendment proposed by the noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond) in "another place" was a blunder. The step now adopted by the Administration was the crowning and, he hoped, the concluding blunder. He, however, rejoiced at this step on the part of the Administration, because it relieved the party with which he was connected from an enormous responsibility. He 43 rejoiced at it because, come of it what might, the Government had taken upon themselves exclusively this enormous responsibility, and their course must tend in all cases to bring them nearer to the patriotic object which they all had in view—namely, the re-organization of the British Army.
§ MR. VERNON HARCOURT
said, he was of opinion that on a mere Motion of Adjournment the great question which had been raised could not be satisfactorily discussed. The Government were charged, on the authority of the right hon. Members for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie) and Liskeard (Mr. Horsman), with straining the Prerogative. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Liskeard (Mr. Horsman) said it was perfectly well known that the Prerogative of the Grown was nothing else than the will of the Minister, and that there was nothing to prevent the Minister, in the exercise of the Prerogative of the Crown, constituting himself dictator. [Mr. HORSMAN: I said with a powerful majority at his back, abusing the Prerogative.] He did not catch those words. Then it appeared that his right hon. Friend meant that the Minister wanted something more than his own will—namely, a majority at his back, to become dictator. But who was his right hon. Friend that he should disparage a majority of the House of Commons—a majority which his right hon. Friend characterized sarcastically as a reliable majority? That majority was supposed to express the opinion of their constituents—it was virtually a majority of the English people, and that majority would be a check to prevent the Minister abusing the Prerogative of the Crown or from constituting himself dictator. If his right hon. Friend objected to the doctrine of a reliable majority he must object to something more than Prerogative—he must object to the fundamental principles of Parliamentary Government, because he (Mr. Vernon Harcourt) did not know on what Parliamentary Government rested if it were not upon those reliable majorities which supported the responsible Minister in carrying out a policy which the people approved. If the course the Government had pursued was an unwise or unconstitutional course, it was for those who believed it to be unwise or improper to come forward and challenge it. That would be the proper constitutional mode 44 of discussing the great question which had been raised. What was meant by "the Crown" in reference to such a question as this? Not the personal act of the Sovereign, but the act of the Queen as trustee for the people acting upon the advice of her Ministers, who were responsible to Parliament and to the people who elected that Parliament. The First Minister of the Crown had stated in the presence of the House of Commons what course he had upon his responsibility recommended to the Crown, and he (Mr. Vernon Harcourt) felt that those who entertained such opinions as had been expressed by the right hon. Gentlemen the Members for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie), Liskeard (Mr. Horsman), and Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), were bound to come forward and propose a vote of censure upon the Government. Prerogative was a word not loved upon those benches (below the gangway), and he confessed that he had thought, in the first instance, it would have been a more convenient course if, before this final and decisive step had been taken by the Government, the approbation of the House of Commons had been asked to a formal Address to the Crown. But upon further reflection, and after hearing the statement of the First Minister of the Crown, he was disposed to think that the course the Government had adopted did not materially differ from that which he had suggested, for the abolition of purchase had been already over and over again sanctioned by the the House of Commons. If it were true, as stated by the First Minister, that the exercise of authority which the Government had put in force upon this occasion was one which rested upon statute, he did not know how those who were the most jealous of the word Prerogative could object to the exercise of such an authority as that. It was perfectly plain that within the four corners of the Statute of 49 Geo. III., s. 18, a regulation might be made saying that no payment should take place in respect of commissions in the Army, and then it would become illegal to make any such payment. The 8th section of that statute was to the following effect:—Provided also and be it further enacted that every officer in his Majesty's forces who shall take, accept, receive, or pay, or agree to pay, any larger sum of money, directly or indirectly, than what is allowed by any regulation made by his 45 Majesty in relation to the purchase, sale, or exchange of his commission," & c.Now it seemed to him that the course of the Government had been taken under the authority or implied authority of that section of the statute, and therefore he entered his protest against its being stated this was an act solely of the Prerogative of the Crown. They could not with advantage pronounce upon so serious a matter without further time for consideration, or until the Warrant showing upon what authority the First Minister assumed to act was before the House. He presumed that a copy of this Warrant would be laid on the Table, and then, if any hon. Gentleman objected to the course taken by the Government he could raise the question, and the House would have an opportunity of discussing it.
§ MR. AUBERON HERBERT
said, it appeared to him that it was not the purchase system, but a much larger question that was then before the House—namely, the relations between the House of Commons and the House of Lords. He fully acknowledged the great difficulty of the position of the Government, and he could not help expressing his regret that they should have approached the question in any indirect way. If there was to be any collision between the two Houses—and it seemed to him that they were on the brink of such a collision—then he, for one, would much rather that the question should be raised in a perfectly direct form, and without departing from the usual course of procedure. He did not know how many hon. Members might agree with him, but he was perfectly certain that there was a large body of persons outside of that House who had grown very impatient at the disposition of things, and who felt that a dangerous strain had been placed on the whole Constitution by this equal division of power between the two Houses. Those who wished to act in a really Conservative spirit would be the men who would bring this question as speedily as possible to a solution, and who would assist in rescuing the House from what he must say, was a constant degradation to it—namely, that at any moment measures which had been fully discussed in that House should be rejected by the other House, or what was worse still, that over their legislation there should hang a perpetual 46 shadow of the other House, so that constantly measures were limited so as to lose many features of importance, from a fear that they would not in their more perfect form meet with the approval of the other House. He was quite certain that the support of the country would be given to the Government whenever they chose to face this large question, and attempt with as much moderation and conciliation as might be possible, but yet with the utmost firmness, to arrive at this conclusion—that the House of Commons should not be shackled and impeded by a body which was wholly irresponsible.
§ MR. OSBORNE
Sir, I should have preferred maintaining a silence which is always decorous, particularly when your mind is not made up, and when, as is the case with my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir Henry Hoare), you have nothing to say. But I have been dragged from the retirement which on the present occasion I should have preferred by my hon. Friend the Member for ^Chelsea—I mean the hon. Baronet the Member for that borough. [An hon. MEMBER: They are both Baronets.] Yes; but very different men. Why should my hon. Friend, with whom I supposed I was on the best of terms, exhume me, drag me before the House, and place me on a pinnacle which I think he himself will never attain? Why, again, he should have attacked the constituency of Liskeard I am at a loss to understand.
§ SIR HENRY HOARE
I did not attack the constituency of Liskeard, but only the Member for that borough.
§ MR. OSBORNE
Well, Liskeard is in an unfortunate situation, for it has but one Member, and it has never yet been wooed by the nobility of the Gentleman who has just addressed the House. This, I will ask him. When I lost the confidence of my constituency I resigned my seat, and I should like to know whether the hon. Baronet is prepared to do the same as regards Chelsea? I recommend him to follow that bright example. With reference to this debate, I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Mr. Vernon Harcourt) that we have neither the temper nor the necessary information properly to discuss the question before us, and as it will come before us in another form, I think we shall best show our sense if we abstain 47 from giving any direct opinion until we know what the force of this Warrant is. I confess that at the present time I am imperfectly informed as to what effect the Warrant would produce; but I am not imperfectly informed of the sentiments of some of the Gentlemen who sit around me. I have heard some of those sentiments with not unqualified satisfaction. I regretted to hear the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester (Mr. Jacob Bright). He talked of the House of Lords in an offhand way, as if the abolition of that House would not abolish him. Contrast this with the calm, quiet, and, I think I may add, rather watery manner of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham (Mr. A. Herbert). I must say this. He has asked me once to dinner; but I hope now he will only ask me to tea. I say that these attacks by implication on the House of Lords do more than anything else to lessen the influence of this House in the country. I am not here as the apologist of the House of Lords; but I must say they have only exercised their constitutional rights. Will any hon. Gentleman or constitutional lawyer say that the House of Lords have not exercised their perfectly constitutional rights, not in rejecting, for they have not rejected the Bill, but in merely postponing the consideration of the question of purchase until a proper plan is brought forward for the re-organization of the defensive forces of the country? I am not prepared to say it was a well-advised step; probably it was not. Although I dissented from the Government Bill, which I think is a bad and an incomplete measure that deceived everybody, yet, considering that they had narrowed it to the question of purchase, knowing very well that purchase is not only dead and gone, but decently buried, I am not prepared to say that the House of Lords adopted a wise course to postpone its consideration. Nevertheless, it was a strictly constitutional course. But when those whom I may call the whippersnappers of politics jump up on these benches to attack one of the great institutions of the country, thereby endeavouring to gain a little ephemeral popularity out of the House, I must tell the enthusiastic Liberals behind me who constitute what is called a reliable majority, but which is also a very pliable majority, that if they desire to have 48 respect for themselves and for the Parliamentary system, it will be promoted by giving due effect to their sentiments in constitutional language in this House and not by running amuck at the other House of Parliament.
§ MR. WHALLEY
said, the question upon which the House had voted in reference to the purchase question was one entirely different to that which had been just raised. He wished to repeat the Question put by the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho), and to ask the Government to afford the House an opportunity of expressing its opinion on the course now adopted by Her Majesty's Government. If they declined to do so, and called upon the House to move a want of confidence, it was only his personal reluctance to take such a course that would prevent him from doing so. The Government had taken the House and the country by surprise in the course they had taken.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, that before the Question for Adjournment was withdrawn, he wished to ask whether the Government would be able to lay the Warrant immediately on the Table, and present it that night, in order that time might be afforded for considering any steps which it might be deemed advisable to take.
§ MR. CARDWELL
said, it should be presented to-morrow at the latest. He was not able to say that it was in his power to lay it before both Houses that night; but it should certainly be presented to them to-morrow.
§ LORD EUSTACE CECIL
said, he wished to ask whether the Government intended to bring in a Bill this Session to provide for the compensation of officers?
I have already stated that we shall wait a certain time to see what course the House of Lords takes with regard to the Bill before them. It is plain, I think, that that will be the best plan to adopt.
§ MR. BAILLIE COCHRANE
said, as the discussion on the loss of the Captain had been fixed for Tuesday, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would also fix a day for discussing the Motion of the right hon. Member for North Staffordshire (Sir Charles Adderley), in reference to the Treaty of Washington.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.