§ MR. E. STANHOPE
Mr. Speaker, Sir, a fortnight ago it seemed as if a Recess which has been fruitful in calamities might possibly terminate in a disaster which would have coloured all our proceedings to-day. One who is just entering upon manhood, and who requires only health to enable him to develop and display those talents which he undoubtedly possesses, lay upon a bed of sickness; and although, Sir, the 38 state of his health and his devotion to studious habits has prevented Prince Leopold from being generally known to the public, it is scarcely necessary to assure Her Majesty that the people of this country, as they have always been partakers in her domestic happiness, have also, if I may say so, watched with affectionate solicitude at the bedside of her son. And I should be but an indifferent exponent of the feelings of this House if I did not venture to express our deep sympathy with Her Majesty in her long-continued anxiety, and our earnest hope that the improvement which has now begun may result in the restoration of His Royal Highness to robust health and vigour.
Sir, there is no custom more salutary than that which in the annual Speeches from the Throne, at the opening of the Session, devotes almost as largo a portion of the Speech to the consideration of our external relations as to the far more exciting topic of the domestic legislation which it may be the intention of Her Majesty's Government to propose. In these days of armed nations, when Continental Governments are vieing with one another as to the greatest amount of time that they can abstract from the lives of their citizens for devotion to military duties, and as to the largest number of soldiers that can be produced from a given population, it is very necessary for us, however little we may wish to enter into such a rivalry, to be reminded that a selfish and isolated policy, such as some would urge upon us, is for us practically impossible. As Englishmen, proud of our ancient traditions, jealous of our international obligations, interested in every habitable quarter of the globe, it is impossible for us to remain indifferent spectators of the events which are passing around us. And although we may with confidence depend upon an Army which, while small, we hope to make efficient, contented, and easily capable of expansion, and upon a Navy which ought to be invincible, yet it is well for us not to neglect any one of the advantages of our insular position. Therefore, it seems to me that this country, however much it might wish to join in the very philanthropic task of mitigating the calamities of war, has observed with great satisfaction the prudence of the Foreign Secretary, when he declined to enter into 39 the Conference proposed by Russia, without the express limitation that there should be no discussion of the usages and rules of maritime warfare. We are not in possession of the reasons for which the Government have refused to proceed further with the deliberations into which they did, in this limited way, consent to enter; but we may feel certain that Lord Derby, with the caution which has hitherto characterized him, will not allow the country in this matter to drift into difficulties.
There is no event second in importance to that which has placed the grandson of Ferdinand VII. upon the Throne of his ancestors. Young as he is, and necessarily dependent to a very great extent upon his advisers, he has a difficult and dangerous task before him. May he never forget those words which were addressed by a King of France to another young man, also aged 17, and also just setting out to assume the government of the Spanish people—"I exhort you to give them your affection, and to endeavour to gain theirs by the goodness of your Government." Called as he has been to the Throne by the voice of the people, if he can only evoke that national spirit which has before now risen superior to the greatest adversities, he may be able to conciliate political factions and calm ecclesiastical jealousies, and to deliver a distracted country from the wide-spread calamities of civil war.
But, Sir, it is not in its mention of foreign topics that Her Majesty's Speech is this year remarkable. It is the Speech of the Queen not only of these little Islands, but of a vast Empire. So vast is that Empire that most Englishmen find it extremely difficult to acquaint themselves with the various complicated questions which arise out of our colonial relations; and it must be almost impossible for a Colonial Minister, in adopting any particular policy, to feel sure that he is acting in accordance with the public feeling of this country. But I am satisfied that Her Majesty's Government, and the noble Lord who now holds the seals of the Colonial Office—to whom at this moment it is impossible to allude without a fooling of respectful sympathy—have not misinterpreted the public opinion of this country, in laying before us in detail, and without reserve, the policy which they have adopted, in the belief that it cannot fail to be deeply interesting 40 to us. The policy of disintegration of the Empire is dead. We are no longer to be invited to look forward to a time when the Colonies shall be ready for separation, and when we are to watch that separation with simple indifference. No, Sir; a truly Imperial policy is that which regards the Colonies as an honour and an advantage to this country. We believe that they are animated by a feeling of loyalty to the Queen and of attachment to the mother country which has survived official snubs and philosophical criticism, and which it requires only a liberal and statesmanlike policy to develop and confirm. In Her Majesty's Speech there is ample indication of such a policy. Why have we accepted the cession of the Fiji Islands? Not only because it gives us the possession of an unrivalled coaling station for our fleet—although that is an undoubted advantage—but because, in the interests of civilization, and in the interest of the numerous English settlers whoso lives and fortunes are inextricably bound up with the future of those islands, it was impossible for us to refuse to listen to the wishes of their inhabitants. And this cession gives us the further advantage of asserting the truly English principle of the liberty of the individual; and whether in reference to kidnapping in the Pacific, the slave trade of Zanzibar, or the pawns and domestic slavery of the Gold Coast, it is clear that the Government intend to lose no opportunity of putting an end, not by an abstract Resolution of this House, but by moral influence and active negotiation, to the traffic in human life.
It is hardly possible to imagine a Speech from the Throne in which every inhabitant of this country, especially if he belong to the poorer classes, could fool a deeper interest than the one to which we have just listened, because it deals so largely with legislation which has for its object the improvement of the condition of the people. Perhaps I may be permitted specially to allude to one paragraph in Her Majesty's Speech, as being the representative of a county which is alike illustrious for its agriculture and for the uniformly good relations which prevail between landlords and tenants. Those good relations are in part, at least, due to the custom which exists in that county. It has nothing in common with the system of tenant-right 41 in Ireland, or with that other system, so crippling to the incoming tenant, which has crept into some of our southern counties; but it aims at encouraging the tenant-farmer to put his capital into the land, and to keep it there as a permanent investment. So long ago as 1848 a Committee of this House declared that the Lincolnshire custom of compensation for unexhausted improvements was beneficial to agriculture, to the landlord, and to the tenant, stimulated the production of food, and gave increased occupation to the rural population. And it was confidently assorted that a system so desirable in itself must inevitably spread, and legislation was deprecated on the ground that it might tend to stereotype a custom which possessed this amongst other undoubted advantages—that its flexible character enabled it easily to be adapted to the requirements of particular soils, and to the improvements of modern agriculture. Sir, 17 years have passed, the custom has undergone modifications which have made it even more completely satisfactory than before both to landlords and to tenants, but it has not spread. I ought, perhaps, to apologize to the House for introducing my personal experience of this system; but it may be that the difficulties of this question can be met by an extension of the Lincolnshire custom, with proper modifications, to other counties also—although I believe that there are many more cases than are generally supposed in which the landlord, by agreement with his tenant, gives compensation for unexhausted improvements. I do not wish to make a guess at the intentions of the Government; but I am confident that when they bring forward their measure upon this subject, all of us who wish for the good of agriculture will lay aside local prejudice, and endeavour to co-operate with the Government in making it a practical one.
Passing over this somewhat special subject, I come to other measures having for their object the improvement of the condition of the people, and none can exceed in importance that which is intended to promote providence and self-help. No one can have failed to be struck with the remark made last year by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he said that it was lamentable to see how much good power was going to waste in this country. I think he made 42 out a conclusive case for legislation upon the subject. And though some of us might have preferred a more comprehensive measure than the Bill of last year, at any rate the natural jealousy of the working classes against any undue interference with the management of the societies which they have had the credit of founding need not be aroused. Perhaps the main principle of the measure of last year was the diffusion of information. Publicity is imperative, because it is the only means by which the individual can decide between sound and unsound societies, between societies which are well managed, and those which are fraudulent. I remember to have read in the Preamble of one of the old Acts for the regulation of Friendly Societies, that it was "desirable to protect poor persons from the effects of fraud and miscalculation." Ah! Sir, what a vain hope was that I trust that we shall no longer aim at the impossible, but instead of endeavouring to protect the individual, teach the individual how to protect himself.
There is another class of measures to which our especial attention is to be directed. The greatness of any nation, and perhaps more especially of the English nation, must depend upon the physique of its population. What has been the principal feature of our life during the last quarter of a century? It has been the depopulation of our agricultural districts. We can no longer hope, as we formerly could, to draw fresh reserves of health and strength from that quarter. Our surplus population has migrated into the towns, where the rapid increase of building and the inability of our sanitary machinery to keep pace with it has placed them in the crowded courts and alleys of our great towns under circumstances most unfavourable to physical health. It is a vast work to undertake, for we have not only to improve that condition, but to educate the mass of the people to a conviction of the importance and necessity of so doing. Every step in sanitary improvement means the expenditure of some money. At every point you are confronted by a mass of local prejudice and local self-interest which it is most difficult to overcome, until the fact is gradually realized that sanitary improvement means not only better health, but possibly also de-creased pauperism, increased independence, 43 and may perhaps shed a few bright gleams across the somewhat sombre life which it is the fate of the mass of the population to lead. Nor is this the only difficulty. Everybody believes himself capable of being a critic of your policy. Most people look upon your measures with the narrow views which an intimate acquaintance with one particular locality is apt to engender; whereas in a country of such varied conditions and habits as England, however strict your principles may be, your rules must be eminently elastic. Then, again, you must not expect immediate results from your policy. You must often look forward only to the indirect results that time—perhaps, a very long time—and the co-operation of the many wise and able and energetic men happily to be found in all parts of this country can produce. You must generally anticipate discouragement, always delay. And after all, when you appear to be making some little impression upon the work before you, some little hitch in your legislative machinery, which hardly any human fore-sight could have averted, brings you to a standstill. Or it may be that the fruit will ripen only when those who deserve the credit of having planted the tree shall have passed away from among us. I believe that in undertaking this difficult and unselfish work the Government will receive the co-operation of all parts of this House, and the approval of the country. The work is great. I believe it has been truly said that if all benevolent and powerful men were to co-operate for this purpose for a generation, they could hardly overtake the consequences of previous mistakes and neglect. And it is, perhaps, with youthful enthusiasm that some of us look forward to a not very remote period, when the condition of the people may be considerably ameliorated, but it is not in the idle belief that all of this—or oven that much of it—can be effected by legislation—How small, of all that human hearts endureThat part which laws or Kings can cause or cure!Something, indeed, may be done; and if, when the history of the Session now opening comes to be written, the future chronicler shall find that the Parliament of to-day has not flinched from the task set before it; that it has done something to improve the condition of the people, 44 to encourage providence and self-help, to give to them purer air, purer water, and cleaner dwellings, to stimulate the production of food, and to give to our merchant seamen greater safety; that it has endeavoured to make justice more certain by providing easier means of setting it in motion; and by establishing a Supreme Court of undoubted authority, to give satisfaction to the suitors and to steady the principles of our law—then, Sir, in the annals of our glorious history, which has made the Parliament of England an object of envy and admiration to the world, the legislation of 1875, however humble and unsensational and un-heroic, may claim a not inconspicuous place.
And now, Mr. Speaker, certainly at too great length, but, I hope, without indiscretion, I have discharged, the duty which I can assure the House I have not undertaken without a duo sense of its difficulty and responsibility. And if I have abstained from prefacing my observations with any appeal for the indulgence of this House, it has not been because I have felt the need of it less than any one of my predecessors; it is because experience has shown that that indulgence, almost before it is asked for, is always in these cases freely and liberally bestowed. My anticipation has been realized in a manner for which I beg to offer to the House my heartiest thanks. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving—That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, to thank Her Majesty for the Most Gracious Speech delivered by Her Command to both Houses of Parliament:Humbly to thank Her Majesty for informing' us that Her Majesty continues to receive assurances of friendship from all Foreign Powers, and that the peace of Europe remains unbroken:Humbly to thank Her Majesty for informing us of the termination of the Conference held at Brussels on the Laws and Usages of War, and of Her Majesty's decision not to enter into further negotiations on the subject:Humbly to thank Her Majesty for informing us that the Prince of Asturias has been called to the throne of Spain, under the title of King-Alfonso XII., and that the question of formally recognising, in concert with other Powers, the newly-restored Monarchy, is under the consideration of Her Majesty's Government:45To assure Her Majesty that we rejoice to learn that the exertions of Her Majesty's Naval and Consular Servants in the repression of the East African Slave Trade have not been relaxed, and that we share the hope expressed by Her Majesty that they will bring about the complete extinction of this inhuman traffic:Humbly to thank Her Majesty for informing us that the differences which had arisen between China and Japan have been adjusted, and that the good offices of Her Majesty's Minister at Pekin have been largely instrumental in bringing about this result:To assure Her Majesty that we rejoice to loam that the past year has been one of general prosperity and progress throughout Her Majesty's Colonial Empire:Humbly to thank Her Majesty for informing us of the progress which has been made in the establishment of civil government on the Gold Coast, and that Her Majesty has procured the assent of the protected tribes to the Abolition of Slavery:Humbly to thank Her Majesty for informing us that Her Majesty has found it necessary to review the sentence passed upon a Native Chief in Natal, and to consider the conditions of the Tribes and their relations to the European Settlers and to Her Majesty's Government, with the view of ensuring a wise and humane system of Native Administration in that part of South Africa:Humbly to thank Her Majesty for informing us that the King and Chiefs of Fiji having renewed the offer of their Islands unfettered by conditions, Her Majesty has thought it right to accept the cession of this Territory:Humbly to assure Her Majesty that we rejoice to learn that an ample harvest has restored prosperity to the Provinces of Her Majesty's Eastern Empire, which, last year, were visited with famine, and that by the blessing of Providence the measures adopted by Her Majesty's Indian Government averted the loss of life apprehended from that calamity:Humbly to thank Her Majesty for informing us that the Estimates for the approaching financial year will be laid before us without delay, that the condition of the finances is satisfactory, and that the general prosperity of the People, supported by an excellent harvest as well as by the recent reductions in taxation, has been fully maintained:Humbly to assure Her Majesty that our careful consideration shall be given to the measures which may be submitted to us, and that 46 we earnestly join in Her Majesty's prayer that our deliberations may, under the Divine blessing, result in the happiness and contentment of Her Majesty's People.
§ MR. WHITELAW
In rising to second the Motion which, has just been made, let me say that I could not have presumed to occupy the position I now do, but from a sense that in my being called to do so, there was conveyed a compliment to the important constituency for which I have the honour to be one of the Members. I feel assured of the usual indulgence of the House to one in my position, and I will endeavour not to tax its patience. The topics in the Speech refer mainly to the action and experiences of the Government since we last met, and to the measures to be submitted on Government authority. Let me refer to some of those. Touching Spain, where the Government of Marshal Serrano has been displaced, and the Prince of the Asturias called to the Throne as Alfonso XII., we are informed the Government are considering, in concert with other Powers, the formal recognition of him as King. The public prints inform us that some other countries have already recognized the now order of things. The quietness with which the change was effected, and the apparently large concurrence of opinion in support of it, give, let us hope, good ground for believing that the future of this noble, though often distracted, country will be distinguished by stability of government and by the establishment of that confidence which is the necessary guarantee for progress, in the development of her rich resources, so full of promise for the increase of her own wealth and of her business relations with other countries. The House will be pleased to be informed of the settlement of the difficulties between China and Japan, which it at one time appeared must result in a war. Recent news state that the Treaty has already been given effect to by the Japanese withdrawing the army they had placed on Formosa, and by the Chinese paying the sums agreed on. Our satisfaction with this settlement is justly increased by the knowledge that it was mainly brought about by the wise counsels and good offices of Mr. Wade, Her Majesty's Representative. During last year this country regarded with approval the 47 cautious procedure of the Government in reference to the Conference at Brussels. It has been arranged to hold this year at St. Petersburg a Conference having similar objects in view. Our Government, not recognizing that good results of importance were likely to be arrived at, has declined to take part in the Conference. The progress of civilization and the force of enlightened public opinion may, I think, be trusted to secure all that the Conference can secure in mitigation of the horrors of war. There are probably larger questions than that involved, the bearing of which we may fear would be to weaken the smaller Powers in case of invasion, and to reduce the importance of naval strength. The country will approve the action of the Government, and will not, I think, be likely to countenance changes which might cripple the power of any country to defend its independence, or which would hinder those who are attacked in war from making the best use of every advantage they possess or can command. It is very satisfactory to observe the energetic endeavours which are being made by Her Majesty's naval and consular agents for the putting an end to the Slave Trade on the East Coast of Africa. Though the Sultan of Zanzibar does not represent a great Power, yet he occupies a position which enables him to be, in combination with Great Britain, a power of importance in putting down this Slave Trade. The horrors of the trade will be present to the minds of all, especially at this time, when we have but recently had presented to us the last journals of Dr. Livingstone. The devastations wrought by the slave traders in the interior of Africa, as told by Dr. Livingstone, are appalling. The revelations of that devoted man inspire an ardent desire to work for the breaking down of this horible system. As an outcome of this desire, missions, or rather little colonies, are being organized to proceed to Africa, to carry on work in the country traversed by Livingstone. These colonists are to engage in the spreading of the Gospel, and also in the teaching of industries to the Natives. The promoters of these missions or colonies regard it as a special inducement to their proceeding with the undertaking, that by settling them on the track of the slave traffic, they expect to contribute materially 48 to the stopping of the traffic and of the horrors connected with it. It is satisfactory to have the prospect of many efforts conducing to the same good end. Nothing will accord more with our national sentiment than arrangements for effectually (aiding this trade. I am persuaded the House will be glad to hope that the influence of the Sultan of Zanzibar, and every available influence, will be joined with that of the Government of this country for the extinction of the Slave Trade on the East Coast of Africa. It is most gratifying that the very grave Famine pressing upon part of India a year ago has been met with so much energy, attended with so much success. Let us render thanks that the Government of India have been enabled to devise and work out schemes of relief, which have resulted in carrying the stricken people through the famine with, I may say, no loss of life. Doubtless, there was much suffering and privation, and a few died from the effects of the Famine, but the common annual death-rate was not exceeded. The nation was deeply touched by the trials over-shadowing part of India last year, and was possessed by the intensest concern that every possible endeavour should be made to avert the bitterness of the impending calamity. The voluntary giving of our people was but a feeble expression of the interest the nation felt. Yet that voluntary giving could not fail to touch the Native mind with a grateful knowledge that British hearts felt for Indian woes, and desired to be present with the sufferers with comfort and relief. The discussion upon Fiji in this House last Session left us all prepared for the announcement, now formally made, that the Fiji Islands have been annexed to Great Britain as a new colony. The offer of cession was unconditional, and the Crown enters on possession untrammelled with conditions. I think there will be a general approval of the action of Government, and of the addition to our Colonial Empire of those Islands, which are very fertile in valuable productions, and which offer so good and suitable a station for shipping on the highway between Australia and North America. Last Session there was anxiety exhibited lest the settlement of Gold Coast affairs might prove to be not conformable to the sentiments of this country. The information given us in the 49 Speech concerning affairs at the Gold Coast is most reassuring, and should load us all to mark with approval the result of the work of the Colonial Office. It has made good progress in establishing a satisfactory rule in the Protectorate, and far from confirming or countenancing slavery, it has succeeded in inducing the protected tribes to agree to the abolition of it. Her Majesty's Speech informs us that the House will be consulted as to certain Acts which specially affect Ireland. These Acts were passed in the interests of public peace and security in Ireland. We have public peace and security in Ireland. No doubt there are those—perhaps, not a few—who will be disposed to allege that the present peace and security are due to the influence of these Acts. Ireland is tranquil. Tranquillity without such Acts accords more with the spirit of our institutions, and I am sure the House generally will be pleased that a measure is to be submitted to the consideration of Parliament, aiming at dispensing with the continuance of some of these Acts, or some parts of them. Whatever length the measure submitted may go, I am sure the House will be glad to go into resigning some of these guarantees for peace hopefully for the future—that is, hoping that Irish patriotism and Irish loyalty will prove fully equivalent to the removal of existing abnormal legislation, and that the absence of crime in Ireland will continue to prevail. For Scotland a Land Transfer Act was passed last year, and a most valuable measure it is. I trust the Land Transfer Bill now to be introduced will be perfected by Parliament, and this year become law. Touching the Judicature Acts, I would like simply to remark that if in the wisdom of Parliament, the Court of Final Appeal is to be removed from the House of Lords for other parts of the country, it will not be prudent for Scotsmen to suggest a different Court for Scotland. But I desire to take this opportunity of saying what I believe Scotsmen generally will support me in—namely, that Scotland has viewed with complete confidence and satisfaction, the discharge by the House of Lords of the functions of the Final Court of Appeal. As to the Landlords and Tenants Bill, it is perhaps too purely an English matter for me to appreciate it fairly. Besides, we do not know what it is to be. I confess myself strongly predisposed to think 50 that it would be well if landlords were induced to execute and pay for all improvements of a permanent nature—the landlords receiving compensation there for from the tenants, in the shape of increased rent. Whatever may be the provisions of the Bill, I am sure the House will be glad to have the matter brought before them on the responsibility of Government. General satisfaction will, I think, be felt with the proposal to establish in England the office of Public Prosecutor. The Bills relating to the Consolidation of Sanitary Acts, Artizans' Dwellings in Towns, and Pollution of Rivers, are Bills which the country will be especially satisfied are to be introduced. The need for such legislation is clamant, and it is well that Parliament should, in the absence of exciting political topics, devote itself to the consideration of the problem—how best to secure the health of the population, and also the purification of our rivers, alike for the purposes of health and for the purposes of industry and commerce. The number of sanitary Acts is confusing. The consolidation of them will make it possible, I hope, for ordinary people, with reasonable application, to know the sanitary law, and to make themselves of use in the working of it out. Concerning dwellings in towns, it is universally admitted that, in many places, dwellings are terribly crowded together; in other words, that the number of people living on an acre, or on a given space, is excessive, and is most detrimental to the health of the community. The number of people living in one dwelling is an important element affecting the health of the inmates; but probably a worse evil than that of too many people in each dwelling is the crowding of dwellings closely together—there, probably, the two evils are combined. There, sunshine cannot enter, and fresh air cannot circulate. Not only do such places exist, but I am afraid it is too true that houses but lately erected—houses now being erected—are liable to the same objections. Besides the overcrowding of houses, there are many defects in construction that might very properly be remedied by the enforcement of rules. The very high death-rate in some towns demands immediate action, to provide not only against the perpetuation of existing evils, but also against the increase of the area of population 51 presenting the conditions recognized as supporting a high death-rate. No doubt, there are many competing theories as to the causes of a high death-rate; but I do not think any of them will reject as essential elements in a remedy:—1st., a sufficient open area adjoining houses or a limited population per acre; 2nd., restrictions as to the laying out of ground, so as to secure the free circulation of air; 3rd., the enforcement of conditions in construction calculated to secure for the several dwellings independent ventilation, and such isolation as would prevent the inter-communication of the air of different dwellings; 4th., the watchful control of the connections of dwellings with sewers—or what may he better—the prevention of such connections. Houses are being erected in blocks elsewhere than in towns. Each block may be the nucleus of a new town. It will he well to consider whether the operation of this Bill should not be extended to blocks or ranges of houses in the country, so as to secure generally, in connection with houses, the physical conditions favouable to health. The City of Glasgow has, for years, been working out its city improvement scheme. A Private Bill was promoted and an Act got giving Commissioners power to purchase compulsorily the property within the limits of certain localities described in the Act. Those localities were the most densely-peopled parts of the city. Great works have been carried out—in the purchase of the properties, in the demolition of old houses horribly huddled together; in forming wide streets, and in laying out the ground adjoining these streets for the construction of new buildings. The people displaced by the demolitions have moved into other quarters, and occupy better and larger houses, and pay higher rents. The average density of the population per acre over the city has been, by the operations of the trust, changed for the bettor; yet the death-rate of Glasgow is very high. The moral and physical deterioration of the people, induced by long-continued over-crowding, is not to be remedied immediately. Time and perseverance in remedial measures are necessary. The rectification of such evils all over the country is no light matter, and will take time, oven if followed out with the most earnest perseveranee. 52 The consideration and discussion of this subject, resulting in the passing of an Act that would secure for town and country the amendment of such existing evils, and that would induce the abundant provision of houses meeting proper sanitary conditions, would be a work of the highest importance to the nation, and consequently one on which Parliament might most profitably employ its time. I anticipate there is work of this kind to be put before us in these Bills, and believe the House will be glad that such is the case. In the matter of the pollution of rivers a most difficult problem is presented. The law does provide they should not be polluted, but a great hindrance to the beneficial operation of the law is the difficulty, not yet satisfactorily over-come, of not knowing how to dispose of that which causes the pollution. A commission has been appointed to examine and report as to the purification of the Clyde. The report, let us hope, will throw light on the solution of this important difficulty. It does not appear that the very bad state of the Clyde raises the death-rate in the districts abutting on the river, yet who will undertake to say that the offensive exhalations from it would not in case of some epidemics greatly increase the gravity of the danger threatening the population? In any case it will be considered essential that the abominable condition of the river should not continue, and that measures be taken which will restore its waters to a tolerable state of purity. As with the Clyde, so with other rivers. That a Merchant Shipping Bill is to be introduced by the Government will be hailed with satisfaction. The subject has been for a long time before the country. The whole nation is deeply interested in all that concerns merchant shipping, and will expect the time and attention of the House to be given to the perfecting this Session of a measure well calculated to secure the greatest safety in voyages, and the development of a British Mercantile Marino of the highest character. There had in some quarters been so much said concerning the Labour Laws that it was thought necessary a year ago to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into and report upon them, in order that they might be considered calmly and reasonably, in the light of the full information 53 to be communicated to Parliament by the Commission. The labours of the Commission are not yet completed, but it is expected the Commission will issue a final Report soon. The impression will, I think, be a common one—that the importance attached to the complaints respecting the operation of these laws is not borne out by the evidence supplied in the Report thus far issued by the Commission. When we are put in possession of the final Report, and Government submits the measure referred to in the Speech, I am sure the House will address itself with care to the consideration of the measure, having in view the securing of the implement of contract by both employer and employed, and of complete freedom to everyone to guide himself in the conduct of his own affairs without being overborne in any case by intimidation or constraint. I feel I ought to apologize to the House for having occupied so much of its time. I thank the House for the patience with which they have heard me, and beg to second the Motion for the adoption of the Address made so ably by my hon. Friend beside me, the Member for Mid Lincolnshire.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That, &c." [See page 44.]
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
Mr. Speaker—Sir, I am confident that upon this occasion, if upon no other, I shall express the feelings of every Gentleman who sits upon this side of the House when I say that we all, without exception, cordially concur in that expression of sympathy with Her Majesty which was so well addressed to the House by the hon. Member who moved the Address for the anxiety which she has lately undergone through the illness under which Prince Leopold has laboured. As we understand, it was Her Majesty's intention to have opened Parliament in person, had she not been prevented doing so by that anxiety. And I am sure, Sir, that it needs no words from me, or from any Member of this House, to assure Her Majesty how deep is the interest which is felt, not only here, but throughout the country, in everything that affects her own welfare and happiness, and that of the family which is so well known among us.
Sir, in the circumstances under which it becomes my duty to rise at this early 54 period of the debate—circumstances which, I believe, are known to most hon. Members of this House—it is hardly, I hope, necessary for me to ask the House to extend to me its for bearance and consideration. I am a well aware as any hon. Member can be that, standing in this place where within my own recollection, I have seen Lord Palmerston, the right hon. Gentle man opposite (Mr. Disraeli), and my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone), I cannot hope or pretend to take the part which was taken by those distinguished men—I cannot hope to take the part which they have taken in the discussions of this House, or to exercise the influence they have exercised over its deliberations But, at the same time, I am aware that it may be for the convenience of the House, and that it may tend to the despatch of Public Business, that there should be some individual who shall be to some extent responsible for the conduct of Public Business on the part of hon. Members on this side of the House; and if my humble services can in any way tend to the convenience of the House or to the despatch of Public Business, I can only assure the House that, however inefficient, those services will be cheerfully rendered. I have now the satisfaction of passing from this subject, and I hope that it may never again be necessary for me to advert to a subject which must be so unimportant and uninteresting to the House as anything personal to myself must be.
And now, with the permission of the House, I will make a few observations upon the Speech from the Throne which we have just heard read, and upon the Address that has been moved in reply to it. On former occasions a great part of the discussion on the Speech from the Throne has usually turned upon some event or events which have happened since the previous prorogation of Parliament either within the United Kingdom itself or abroad, but with which this country has been more or less directly interested; but I am happy to say that upon the present occasion it will not be necessary for me to dwell at length upon anything which has occurred in the United Kingdom since we were last assembled here. Fortunately, the condition of our own country, and that of Europe also, has been one of the most 55 complete tranquillity, and nothing that I am aware of has taken place that will call for notice this evening. Indeed, I might have passed by altogether the allusions made in the Address to our foreign policy, had it not been that I wish to call attention for a moment to what appears to me to be a somewhat remarkable paragraph in Her Majesty's Speech referring to the recognition of the Government of Spain. The House is well aware that a Republic had been for a very considerable time established in that country; that various statesmen had been at the head of that Republic; and that for some months that Republican Government was presided over by Marshal Serrano. So far as I am aware neither the Republic nor the Government of Marshal Serrano had been formally recognized by our Government, nor had any question arisen as to what steps towards recognition should be taken. But, unfortunately, the change in the form of foreign Governments is so frequent that our Foreign Office has no lack of precedents to guide it in such matters—in fact, it would not be difficult to lay down something like an absolute rule which might usually guide the proceedings of our Foreign Secretary in such matters. That rule, I take it, would be that upon a change in the form of the Government of a foreign State, recognition is seldom immediately accorded to the now form of Government until we have some assurance that such Government is not only a de facto Government, but that it has met with that amount of acceptance from the people of the country as to give it at least a prospect of being a permanent one. On the other hand, I take it that the rule would be not to withhold our recognition from a new Government, which had a prospect of being permanent, merely because of any objection which we might entertain to the form of such Government or to its policy. That rule does not appear to have been exactly followed on the present occasion. As far as I am aware, there is nothing to show that the Government of Marshal Serrano was accepted by the people of Spain to any greater extent at the moment of recognition than it had been for some time before. The Cortes had been dissolved, and a great part of the country was still subject to civil war. I 56 admit that considerable embarrassment might have been occasioned had we separated ourselves from the course which was taken by other nations in this matter; and I do not know that it would have been necessary for me to call the attention of the House to the subject at all, if Her Majesty's Government themselves had not invited criticism upon it by the paragraph relating to it in the Queen's Speech. The House will observe that in that paragraph the Government have not stated the action they have taken in reference to the subject, and have passed over in silence the fact of the recognition of the Government of Marshal Serrano. They have not given us, nor even promised to give us, any information with respect to that recognition, nor the terms upon which it was accorded; but they do proceed to give us an invitation of a somewhat novel character. The Government, in that paragraph, say—The Government of Spain, presided over by Marshal Serrano, has ceased to exist, and the Prince of Asturias has been called to the throne under the title of King' Alfonso XII. The question of formally recognizing, in concert with other Powers, the newly restored Monarchy, is at this moment before my Government, and its decision will not be long delayed It is my earnest hope that internal peace may be speedily restored to a great, but unfortunate, country.That appears to me to be an invitation to the House of Commons to assist the Government in arriving at a decision as to the recognition by this country of the Government of King Alfonso. If that be the case, and if the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government does really ask the House of Commons to give him its advice upon a matter not usually coming within its cognizance, I trust that he will at least take measures to lay upon the Table such Papers as may be necessary to enable it to form an opinion on the subject.
I concur to a very great extent in the eloquent passage in the speech of the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. E. Stanhope) in moving the Address, in which he refers to our Colonies. There are but few observations which I think it necessary to make upon that part of the Speech from the Throne which relates to that subject. With regard to the paragraph in the Speech which relates to the affairs of Natal, the House will probably be of opinion that all discussion upon the subject should be postponed 57 until the Papers which have been promised have been laid upon the Table. The House will, however, observe that the proceedings of the Government of that Colony are spoken of in terms of very considerable severity. Although I have no reason whatever to think that the conduct of the Colonial Office in relation to the subject has been other than we can approve, I am sure it will be with very great regret that the House, after perusing the Papers, will come to the conclusion that up to the present moment we have not succeeded in establishing a wise and humane system of native administration in that part of our Empire. I have no doubt that, although we have no promise to that effect, Papers relating to our acceptance of the cession of Fiji will be laid upon the Table. The Government should be very grateful to the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire for having given a much better reason for our acceptance of that cession than appears to be given in the Speech from the Throne. I would not object to the cession of the Islands; but still, if we are to accept every cession of territory that is offered in every part of the world, which may offer important maritime advantages to our fleets, we may be entering upon a career of very considerable territorial acquisition. The hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire omitted—and I regret that in such a speech, so comprehensive and so eloquent, he should have omitted to mention a passage in Her Majesty's Speech that refers to the affairs of India. The House will look—and I am sure it will not look in vain—to the fright hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, to express in befitting terms its sense of what it owes to the Indian Government of Lord Northbrook for having so admirably met the calamity of the great Indian Famine. On behalf, however, of Lord Northbrook's Colleagues who sit on these benches near mo, I cannot refrain from offering my humble tribute to the energy and fortitude with which he grappled throughout with that grave difficulty, and to the moral courage with which he took his own course, in opposition sometimes to authority of very great weight. He has done enough, and not more than enough, to save the afflicted provinces, without unnecessarily disturbing trade or demoralizing the people by undue assistance.
58 Sir, the House will be glad to learn that the condition of the finances is satisfactory—at all events, the expenditure of the year will be met by the Revenue; and it would be still more satisfactory if we could be assured that the expression in Her Majesty's Speech has some prospective, as well as present significance, especially when it is coupled with the somewhat ominous omission from the preceding paragraph of all mention of economy. But I can hardly imagine that Her Majesty would have been advised to inform Parliament that the finances of the country were in a satisfactory state, if Her Majesty's advisers knowing as they do, though we do not, the necessity of the demands which will be made on us during the coming year, were of opinion that the wants of the coming year could not be met without having recourse to fresh taxation. If my supposition is correct, it must be a subject of congratulation to the House, and certainly to my late Colleagues who sit near mo, that, in spite of the distressing announcements which have been made out-of-doors, as to the state of the Army, and notwithstanding the somewhat alarming assurances which we heard within these walls last year from the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Admiralty (Mr. Hunt), those services can, in the opinion of Her Majesty's present advisors, be placed or maintained in the necessary state of efficiency without, at all events, any very large addition to the demands that have to be made upon Parliament.
Before I turn for a moment to the measures to which our attention is called in Her Majesty's Speech, there is one inquiry which I think it would be interesting to the House to make—namely, how far it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government, or how far it is within their power, to provide that the course of business shall correspond with the programme which they have laid before us. That inquiry, I think, will not appear altogether idle when we look to the results of last Session. The House will recollect that at the opening of last Session our attention was called to a measure affecting the law for the transferring of land; another for the extension to Ireland of the Judicature Act; certain Scotch Law Bills, and one for the amendment of the Licensing Act; and, further, a hope was held out that 59 although a Commission had been appointed to inquire into the relations between masters and servants, it would be yet possible for the Government to deal with the subject in that Session. Now, in the Speech at the prorogation there were only two of those measures—namely, the Scotch Bill, and the one for the amendment of the Licensing Act—mentioned as having become law; and the two in question had not received Her Majesty's assent in the form in which they had been originally submitted. That Session, however, had by no moans been an idle one; indeed, Her Majesty was advised to speak in terms of considerable satisfaction with regard to the legislative achievements of the Session. A paragraph of the Speech to which I am referring was devoted to the Act for the improvement of the health of women and children employed in factories. That was, I believe, an admirable Act; but for the introduction of that measure the Government were not responsible, and the passing of it was mainly due to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella); to whom I have no doubt Her Majesty's Government will readily give the credit he deserves. The Scotch Patronage Bill, which also passed, was the result apparently of an after-thought, but was certainly important enough to have merited mention in the Speech at the opening of Parliament. Whether it was the result of a happy thought is, perhaps, more doutbtful, seeing that it has already given occasion to a considerable agitation for the disestablishment of the Church of Scotland—a matter upon which but little had been heard before. Well, the Public Worship Bill had also a paragraph devoted to it, but for the introduction of that Bill we were not indebted to Her Majesty's Government; and the warmth of the support which it received from the right hon. Gentleman opposite—I can hardly say from the whole of Her Majesty's Government—seemed to date from the time when it became clear that its provisions would be extremely acceptable to the House; I should be unwilling to say that the Government adopted the Bill in consequence of the unpopularity which seemed to attach to the counter-propositions of my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich. There is one other Bill I must refer to, and must make an 60 inquiry of the right hon. Gentleman opposite about. I should wish to ask him whether the absence of all mention of the Endowed Schools Act is accidental; whether it has not been considered of sufficient importance to be alluded to in the Queen's Speech; or whether the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government has repented of the pledge he gave in regard to it. That pledge—which was given in answer to the hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Beresford Hope) and the hon. Member for West Kent (Mr. Talbot)—was to the effect that the clauses of the Bill which were with-drawn were not dropped, but simply postponed. It would, I think, be satisfactory to the House to know what are the intentions of the Government on that subject. Well, Sir, I have made this reference to the work of last Session to show that, at all events at that time, Her Majesty's Government were not disposed to exercise a very strict control over the course of business in the House. I should like to know—and I think that the House would like to know—whether we are expected to devote our attention seriously to the measures enumerated in the Speech from the Throne, or whether there is a probability that such measures may be sot aside to make room for much less useful but more sensational legislation.
Turning for the moment to those measures referred to in the Speech from the Throne, I come to a reference to the—Various statutes of an exceptional or temporary nature now in force for the preservation of peace in Ireland.That paragraph seems to me somewhat vague; but I need hardly say that no one will rejoice more than the Gentlemen on this side of the House if, acting upon their responsibility and with the full information that they possess as to the condition of Ireland, Her Majesty's Government find themselves justified in proposing a considerable revision of those measures; and it is equally unnecessary to say that we should still more rejoice if that policy should prove successful in its results. Referring to Ireland, I hope that whilst those who sit near me will be willing to do justice to the Duke of Abercorn and his Colleagues for the energy, fairness, and impartiality of their Irish administration, 61 Her Majesty's Government also will not be unwilling to do justice to their predecessors, by admitting that upon the present Government taking office they found the country was in that state of prosperity and freedom from crime which the Lord Lieutenant has more than once admitted, and which has enabled them to offer this great measure of conciliation to the people of Ireland.
With reference to the other measures mentioned in the Speech, I think I need trespass but for a very short time upon the attention of the House. A Bill relating to the transfer of land, and one to complete the reconstruction of the Judicature were sacrificed last Session, although they had been introduced by the Government itself, to make room for some of those other measures to which I have already adverted, and I understand that it is not improbable that the difficulties which the Government have to deal with in passing these measures have been not a little increased by the delay; but I trust it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to prosecute them in earnest during the present Session. Bills are promised for the improvement of the dwellings of the working classes in largo towns, for the consolidation and amendment of the sanitary laws, and for the prevention of the pollution of rivers. I must, in referring to this paragraph, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings (Mr. Kay-Shuttleworth) upon the effect which his able statement of last Session has had upon Her Majesty's Government, and I will congratulate the Government on the promptitude with which they have acted on the suggestion then made. I agree with the hon. Member who seconded the Address (Mr. Whitelaw), and who referred to what had been done in this direction at Glasgow, and I have no doubt that he and other Scotch Members who sit on both sides of the House will be able to give Government valuable assistance in perfecting the measure. No information has been given as to the character of the measure; but I trust it will proceed upon the lines of the local Acts of Glasgow and Edinburgh, and will enable the municipalities or local bodies of large cities to make the necessary and required improvements. I think that when Government comes to deal with the improvement of dwellings in largo towns, and with the prevention 62 of the pollution of rivers, it if probable they will find that their labours would have been greatly simplified, and would have promised more satisfactory results, if something had been done to improve the present sys torn of local administration. It is possible that their well-meant efforts will tend to increase the confusion which it is admitted at present exists in connection with the work of local bodies. I hope that the Report of the Royal Commission that was appointed to inquire into the state and working of the laws with regard to trade is ready, or nearly so, to be presented to Parliament, and that legislation on the subject will not be long delayed. It is a subject that nearly touches the interests and even the liberties of a very large number of out fellow-subjects; it is a question on which large masses of our working population feel deeply and fool strongly; and judging from the opinions of others who are more competent to deal with it than I am, it is one upon which they have a right, to some extent, to fool aggrieved. I therefore venture to express an earnest hope, on behalf of myself and those who sit near me, that Her Majesty's Government will make an effort to deal with the question this Session.
Sir, I cheerfully admit that there can be no Government better fitted to deal with the question of Agricultural Tenancies than the present Government. I trust they will take it up—as I have no reason to doubt they will take it up—in a fair and liberal spirit; considering as much the case of the tenants as that of the owners of land, and considering also as much the case of the consumers as that of the producers of food. It may be doubtful whether there is room for great change in these respects. As I have said, there is no body bettor fitted to deal with the subject than the present Government, and I am sure that the House will cordially co-operate with them in considering any well-constructed measure with reference to it.
Having now briefly glanced at some of the measures enumerated in Her Majesty's Speech, there is one topic that is omitted from it on which I should like to say a word. Sir, the House will have observed that there is no mention whatever in the Speech of the subject either of Local Government or of Local Taxation, and I think their omission, especially 63 the omission of Local Taxation, is a matter that must excite surprise in the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite. Both the votes and the speeches of right hon. Gentlemen opposite, declared alike in opposition and in office, certainly would have led to the impression that they intended that this subject would not have been "conspicuous by its absence" on this occasion. In 1872, the right hon. Gentleman opposite, with, I believe, the whole of his Colleagues, voted for the Resolution of the hon. Member for South Devon (Sir Massey Lopes), which declared—That it is expedient to remedy the injustice of imposing Taxation for National objects on one description of property only, and therefore that no legislation with reference to Local Taxation will be satisfactory which docs not provide, cither in whole or in part, for the relief of occupiers and owners in counties and boroughs from charges imposed on ratepayers for the administration of justice, police and lunatics, the expenditure for such purposes being almost entirely independent of local control.And in the course of the debate on that Motion the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government said—This question, it must be remembered, has been actively before us for at least a quarter of a century. When it was first introduced to the notice of the House, the burdens of real property, though considerable, were by no means as excessive as at present; but during that period the expenses of the possessors of real property have constantly increased for public purposes, their control over that expenditure having almost proportionately diminished."—[3 Hansard, ccx. 1397.]Again, in mating his Financial Statement last year, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer made this declaration—But it is not simply because we have taken an interest in it, or because we have taken a course which pledges us to give early attention to the subject, that we put it first in the list of objects of consideration. We put it first because it seems to us, upon the whole, the object of the highest national interest at the present time. …. But it now seems to us that there is another side to the question of Finance which stands as much in need of attention and reform as did the side of indirect taxation in the days of Sir Robert Peel and in the year 1842, and that is the great question of our direct, and especially of our direct local, taxation."—[3 Hansard, ccxviii. 650–1.]And he prefaced the proposal he was then about to make by these words—We intend, therefore, to make proposals with regard to the relief of Local Taxation in the present year. They must be regarded not as absolutely final, but as proposals which we 64 think will meet the present emergency, and will to a great extent facilitate what we may have to do hereafter."—[Ibid. 657.]Sir, the right hon. Gentleman then proceeded to make certain proposals, and he gave relief to the ratepayers to the extent, I think, of about £1,000,000. But what is to be inferred from the absence of all mention of this subject in the present Speech? Are we to understand that the proposals of the Government last year were final proposals; or are we to understand that the consideration of the question has been indefinitely postponed? Or, in the third place, are we to understand that, the attention of Parliament having been previously called to the whole subject, the course of last year is to be again repeated, and further relief is to be given to the ratepayer, without making any attempt to deal with the question of the improvement of Local Administration? Now, if either of the first two courses are contemplated by the Government—that is to say, if their proceedings of last year are to be understood as final, or if there is to be an indefinite postponement of the subject—I think that would be an announcement which would certainly not recommend itself to the supporters of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. The late Government proposed to make concessions to the ratepayers to the amount of £1,200,000. That proposal was not accepted as satisfactory by right hon. Gentlemen opposite; and I cannot believe that the ratepayers will be willing to accept from those who have always professed themselves their warmest friends a smaller amount of relief than was rejected with something like scorn from Gentlemen who sit on this side of the House. But if the third course is contemplated by the Government, and we are this year to have a repetition of the policy of last year, I cannot but think it is a course that is open to the very gravest objection. We on this side of the House took but little exception to that course last year, because we yielded to the arguments of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who pleaded that he had not had time to consider the whole subject, and at the same time was unwilling to distribute the whole of his large surplus without granting some relief to the rate-payer. But the Government have now had time, if they choose to consider the 65 whole question. The question of Local Administration as well as that of Local Taxation is one which is almost universally admitted to require, and must receive soon, a searching examination. There is confusion of the area of rating, there is inequality in the incidence of rating, there is confusion and want of unity and waste of power in connection with the local administrative bodies. Sooner or later the matter must be taken up by some Government or another; and it cannot, I think, be otherwise than obvious to the House that that Government loses very great advantages in dealing with this important subject which gives away beforehand all that it has to give, reserving till some indefinite period the thorough handling of all the difficult and complicated questions of local administration.
Sir, I think I have now concluded all that it is necessary for me to say, both as to what is contained and what is not contained in Her Majesty's Gracious Speech. Before I sit down, however, perhaps the House will permit mete make one somewhat general observation on the legislative proposals of the Government. They appear to me to be, on the whole, proposals of a wise, a salutary, and a beneficent character. They are proposals eminently adapted to be considered by the Legislature of a prosperous and a contented country in a time of peace and quietness. But, Sir, is the list of measures presented to our notice in this Speech in any degree analogous to that which anyone would have anticipated who had formed his opinions on the state of the country from listening to the speeches delivered during the last few years in this House? Let us suppose, if we can, the case of an individual so unfortunate as to be debarred from access to any information save that which he derived from perusing the speeches of Conservative Members, and the articles in Conservative newspapers. Let such a person be told that the Conservative Party had been returned to Parliament with a great majority, and at the opening of the first Session in which the Conservative Government have had full time to prepare their measures—let him be asked to suggest what he thinks will be the policy announced in the Speech from the Throne. He would naturally turn in the first place for a moment to Ireland he would say— 66 "I think that unfortunate country must by this time be in a dreadful condition. You have had the Church disestablished; religion and morals must have altogether disappeared; crime must be more frequent in that country than ever. You have robbed the landlords of a great portion of their property. You have encouraged the Irish people to believe that by a little more agitation they may easily got the remainder. What a state that country must be in! It must be by this time (he would say) in a state not only of 'veiled rebellion,' but of open rebellion. No doubt, the first measure which the Conservative Government will have to propose to the House will be to double the garrison of Ireland and at once proclaim martial law." Then, turning from the state of Ireland to the state of the Army, the same person would say—"The late Government insulted and plundered the officers, they must, therefore, be in a state not very far removed from open mutiny; and, as for the battalions of the Army, they must be entirely empty." Now, the first thing a Conservative Government would naturally be supposed to do, under those circumstances, would be to ask for largo additional Estimates, to remedy the grievances of the officers, and to have recourse to a system of universal conscription. Turning from the Army to the Navy, he would assume that it was impossible that we could have more than two or three ironclads in our fleet, and those of the most antiquated description. The first thing, it would occur to him, that a new Government would do under the circumstances would be to propose a large loan, in order to build additional ships. Looking at the Colonies, he would say—"Those people have been in office for five or six years, and they must have alienated the affections of everyone of your colonies; they must all be on the brink of separation, and no island in the Southern Seas can be so misgoverned that it would ever invite England to undertake the administration of its affairs." Finally, I think he would look at home, and he would say that in the midst of all this ruin and desolation, which was brought upon the country by the late Government, there was, however, one cheering prospect. He would say—"Whatever happens, whatever may be the state of mismanagement that is 67 going on, there is now one consolation, and that is, that the farmers and ratepayers will get some relief." he would say—"Our friends have been talking for years about the relief of the rate-payers; no doubt, £5,000,000 or £6,000,000 could be devoted to the relief of the ratepayers, and if that must be obtained by the imposition of a 6d. income tax it cannot be helped; it is what our friends always said ought in justice to be done." Now, I submit to the House that I have been drawing a picture which is scarcely, if at all, exaggerated. The materials for it I have drawn simply from the declarations which have been made by hon. Gentleman opposite in thousands of speeches, and in newspaper articles, both during the existence of the late Government and since their retirement from office. I now commend to the House the careful consideration of the difference between the wise and temperate policy actually presented by Her Majesty's Government for the consideration of this House, and that which, from the writings and speeches to which I have referred, we were not unnaturally led to expect.
§ MR. DISRAELI
I am sure that the practical way in which the noble Lord has dealt with the Address, which has been moved by my hon. Friend behind me, renders any apology unnecessary from him for undertaking to fill the post he now occupies. Hon. Gentlemen on his side of the House will, I feel confident, believe me when I tell them that we learnt from our respected opponents, with great satisfaction, that we were about to meet Parliament with a recognized authority in one who would undertake the chief business of their political connection. It has been the boast of the House of Commons for a long period that, oven when political passion runs high and party warmth becomes somewhat intense, there should exist between those Members of both parties who take any considerable share in the conduct of their business, sentiments of courtesy and, when the public interest requires it, even of confidence, which tend very greatly to facilitate the business of the country to the public advantage. I trust that feeling will in our time never cease, and I can truly Bay, without making or intending to make any observation of a personal or invidious nature, for Gentlemen on this 68 side of the House, that it is matter of satisfaction to us that the chief business of our opponents is to be conducted by one who, in the course of many years in this House, has obtained equally our respect and our regard.
Now, Sir, the noble Lord has been somewhat critical on those paragraphs in the Gracious Speech from the Throne which refer to foreign affairs, especially that which relates to recent occurrences in the Kingdom of Spain. I must, however, confess that I did not clearly collect the exact drift of the observations of the noble Lord on that subject. I understood that he complained in some manner of the conduct of the Government. He seemed to think we had been lacking in courtesy to Marshal Serrano, in having intimated that we were considering whether it was our duty to recognize the existing Government. That could hardly be the case, for so far as I am informed, Marshal Serrano has not been slow to recognize the Spanish Government himself. But then the noble Lord proceeded upon the assumption that the paragraph in the Royal Speech was drawn up with the object of obtaining from the House of Commons an indication as to the course which in its opinion, Her Majesty's Advisors should pursue in reference to the accession of King Alfonso to the Spanish Throne. Now, I can only say that that representation of the noble Lord, though I have no doubt it is sincere, is at the same time, entirely mistaken we have no wish whatever to call upon the House of Commons to assist us in the advice we should give Her Majesty in a matter which is highly important. The language employed in the Speech simply expresses the exact situation with regard to the question now occupied by Her Majesty's Advisers. They are, in concert with other Powers, considering the question of formally recognizing the Monarchy in Spain, and we shall be prepared to announce our decision upon it, and to vindicate that decision when required. The House will see that if we are acting in concert with other Powers, we ought to be fully and clearly acquainted with the opinions of those Powers before we resolve on our course. The noble Lord then proceeded to the question of India, and I am sure he could find no fault with the accuracy of the paragraph which, in the Queen's Speech, is devoted 69 to that subject. He seemed, however, to think that we had been somewhat scant in our acknowledgment of the great public services of Her Majesty's Viceroy, and of the manner in which he encountered that terrible calamity which at one time seemed almost to be inevitable in that part of Her dominions. But the noble Lord acknowledged that in the Speech from the Throne on the occasion of the Prorogation, when the subject was naturally touched upon, that the Government did full justice to the great exertions and the great virtues of Lord Northbrook, and I believe when the time arrives that that noble Lord may probably have occasion himself to address his countrymen on so important an event in his Viceroyalty, we shall have from him no indication that he has not been supported throughout those trying circumstances with all the possible energy and sympathy of those who at present advise the Crown.
Then the noble Lord proceeded to the financial paragraph of the Speech, and on that lavished considerable criticism. The objection which he took to it seems to me, however, to be somewhat strange. He finds fault with it, because it is not prospective, and thinks that in the Queen's Speech we ought to favour the House with that interesting statement which, in the course of a few weeks, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will offer to your consideration. Now, I apprehend that hitherto it has never been the custom to insert a Budget in the Queen's Speech. What may be the future conduct of Governments in that respect when hon. Gentlemen opposite are in office I cannot say; but it will certainly require considerable investigation before we adopt that mode of introducing to the notice of the country the state of our finances. The noble Lord then went on to call our attention to what he appeared to regard as a very serious point. While on the whole, he seemed to approve the Royal Speech, and while he led us to hope that we should be perfectly unanimous in agreeing to the Address which has been moved with so much ability by my hon. Friend behind me, he said he wished to have some surety that the subjects mentioned in the Speech would over be heard of again, to learn something more of the 70 programme of measures which we propose to submit to the notice of the House during the course of the Session, and whether we shall adhere to that programme. The noble Lord has had considerable experience of Parliamentary life; he has been a Member of more than one Ministry, and a Member, I think, of a Ministry under whose auspices the business of the Session has differed considerably from the programme laid down. I cannot understand, therefore, why the noble Lord should say that the Government should take the earliest opportunity of stating what measures will be considered, seeing that circumstances may arise which may prove that there are higher duties to fulfil, and greater objects to attain, than short-sighted mortals—and I am afraid Ministers must be acknowledged to be short-sighted mortals—can foresee on the first day of the Parliamentary Session. I can give the noble Lord no security whatever that the business of this Session will at all realize the programme. At present, all I can say is, that with the assistance of the House, it is our intention to bring forward and carry the measures we have enumerated, but you may have revolutions—you may have great catastrophes—you may have ecclesiastical misconceptions—you may have a revival of those burning questions which were the pride of the Ministry of the noble Lord and his Colleagues. I cannot answer for what may be the consequences if such unhappy circumstances should occur; but, at present, this is our programme; and I trust that the business of the Session—when it is over—will offer, upon the whole, a fair fulfilment of the expectations which we have held out. "But," the noble Lord has said, "there were some measures introduced last year which you are to introduce again, and endeavour to carry; and there are some you have dropped, although you promised last year that they should be again brought forward." There is that favourite measure of the noble Lord and his Friends, the Endowed Schools Bill. The noble Lord has said, "Are you going to deal with the Endowed Schools?" Well, there is now a Commission, which the noble Lord may not be aware—ho is not bound to be aware—is acting with considerable satisfaction to the country. The decisions and conduct of that Commission—compared with those of the 71 former one—render it extremely desirable that we should take advantage of the experience of the Commission before we trouble the House again on the subject. There is another matter which the noble Lord says is very important, and which he calls upon us to deal with—although in its present position one could hardly suppose or anticipate that we should have noticed it in any other spirit than we have in the Speech—and that is the offences connected with trade. I think the subject is of great importance, but Her Majesty's Ministers are not aware of its importance for the first time. Last Session they would have been very glad if they could have dealt with that subject; but they believed the course they recommended the House to follow, and which the House unanimously agreed to—namely, to issue a Royal Commission, and to avail themselves of the information obtained by that Commission, was the right one to be followed under the circumstances. Until their Report is made we, of course, cannot move in the matter. We believe the Report will be made very shortly, and we shall not hesitate to introduce a measure founded on the recommendations of the Committee and our own opinions on the subject.
The noble Lord next turned to the question of local taxation, and, as I understood, made the great charge against us that our conduct had not been straightforward upon that subject. But I did not, I confess, gather from the noble Lord any proofs in establishment of the position he wished to substantiate. On the contrary, every statement he made tended in exactly the opposite direction. He said—"You have always pretended that you were in favour, as a party, of relieving a certain class in the country from the unjust burden of local taxation, and last year you took a million of money off their backs." we did do that, and it proved, at any rate, that we were acting in harmony with our statements. "But though doing so," said the noble Lord, "you despised our previous offer of £1,200,000"—showing the superior sympathy of the noble Lord and his Friends to the amount of £200,000. But I can only say that I, for one, disclaim the charge of the noble Lord, that I have treated with derision or refused that offer of 72 £1,200,000 to the victims of unjust taxation. That offer was never made. It was talked about on this bench when it was occupied by the noble Lord and his Friends, and there was a suggestion at the same time that they should rob the Queen's Exchequer in the shape of the house duty to the same amount. But no proposition of the kind was over brought before Parliament. Ours is a practical proposition. The moment we had the opportunity, we appealed to the justice of the House of Commons. We carried the measure we brought forward, and those who were unjustly taxed in our local fiscal system have now for a year been benefited to a great extent, and feel from that circumstance a confidence in the sincerity of those who for so long a time and so fruitlessly advocated the cause of justice. "But," said the noble Lord, "you never can deal with local taxation in this sort of way. What do you mean to do this year? Do you mean to propose again that a largo sum should be voted out of the public money to those who pay this local taxation, or what is your scheme? Until you deal with local taxation in a proper manner, founded on local administration and local control, you are doing nothing." Now, I must say that the statement of the noble Lord's, that there is nothing in Her Majesty's Speech which holds out the prospect of that system of local control for taxation which he so warmly urges is scarcely justified. At the proper time, no doubt, we shall state what we propose to do with regard to local taxation, but that time is certainly not the first day of the Session. But to come to the specific charge of the noble Lord—that we have no measure for local taxation, or rather local administration, in our programme—I would remind the noble Lord that there are four Bills mentioned in Her Majesty's Speech, which will shortly come before the House, all of which will indirectly touch upon that question. You will establish an improved system of administration more expeditiously, if you endeavour to overcome gradually the immense difficulties in the way, than if you brought forward some large, showy measure which, after it left the hands of the Committee, would be altered to such an extent that the devisors of it would hardly recognize in it any of its original features, and which the country would probably 73 receive with reluctance and disappointment. Those measures will lay the foundation for a system of local taxation. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has given Notice to-night of a Public Works Loan Bill, which is intimately connected with this question, and I think he will be able on Thursday to show to the House what are the practical views of the Government upon it.
I have now, Sir, touched in not unfriendly criticism upon most of the points—I believe all—which were mentioned by the noble Lord. I will not attempt to vie with him in the masterly picture which he drew of the contrast afforded between the measures brought forward by the Conservative Government and the speeches made, I know not where, and the articles written, which I never read, by what he calls the Conservative Party. There is a most ingenious, but at the same time most inconvenient course—which I have noticed among many hon. Gentlemen oppositse—and to-night the noble Lord has assumed the habit as if he had been born to it—of seeking out the most violent speeches made by the most un-influential persons in the most obscure places, and the most absurd articles appearing in the dullest and most uninfluential newspapers, and saying those are the opinions of the great Conservative Party. The great Conservative Party has been legitimately, and, I believe, very fairly represented on the bench opposite, when we were enjoying that freedom which is the noble appanage now of those whom I see before me. The opinions of the Conservative Ministry are now expressed from this bench, and we are responsible for them and will not shrink from that responsibility to I must protest against the grotesque reminiscences of the noble Lord. I trust from what I see that the Address in reply to the gracious Speech of Her Majesty will pass unanimously. I must say that that Address was introduced to our notice by a speech which the House will not easily forget. The manner in which my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Stanhope) vindicated the colonial policy of England, and the masterly way in which he treated the whole question of sanitary (reform showed that we have one among us who will take part, I have no 74 doubt most usefully and most honourably, in the debates that are impending upon the great question of the health of the people. My hon. Friend the Seconder of the Address (Mr. Whitelaw), from his local experience of Glasgow gave us, not merely upon the subject of the habitations of the artizans, but on the condition of the noble river that was once the greatest ornament of his city, information which I am sure will prove highly advantageous. There was one point in the speech of the noble Lord on which, I am sure, we shall be unanimous—and that is in our sympathy with our Sovereign in the hour of trial which she has recently experienced. It was, as the noble Lord accurately stated, the intention of Her Majesty, oven at a late period, to have had the satisfaction of opening her Parliament. It was a great sacrifice on Her part to give it up. But, at any rate, She may experience this consolation, that her Parliament sympathize with her in her sorrow, and now shares her own gratification that that sorrow has not disturbed her Royal hearth.
§ Motion agreed to,
§ Committee appointed, to draw up an Address to be presented to Her Majesty upon the said Resolution:—Mr. EDWARD STANHOPE, Mr. WHITELAW, Mr. DISRAELI, Mr. CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER, Mr. Secretary CROSS, Mr. Secretary HARDY, Mr. HUNT, Sir CHARLES ADDERLEY, Mr. SCLATER-BOOTH, Viscount SANDON, Mr. ATTORNEY GENERAL, Mr. SOLICITOR GENERAL, Mr. STEPHEN CAVE, Viscount BARRINGTON, Sir JAMES ELPHINSTONE, Mr. WILLIAM HENRY SMITH, and Mr. DYKE, or any Three of them:—To withdraw immediately:—Queen's Speech referred.
House, at its rising, to adjourn till Monday next.
House adjourned at hall after Seven o'clock, till Monday next.