HC Deb 01 April 1878 vol 239 cc289-98

Message from Her Majesty brought up, and read by Mr. Speaker (all the Members being uncovered), as follows:— "The present state of Public Affairs in the East, and the necessity in connection therewith of taking steps for the maintenance of Peace and for the protection of the interests of the Empire, having constituted in the opinion of Her Majesty a case of great emergency within the meaning of the Acts of Parliament in that behalf, Her Majesty deems it proper to provide additional means for Her Military Service, and therefore, in pursuance of those Acts, Her Majesty has thought it right to communicate to the House of Commons that Her Majesty is about to cause Her Reserve Force and Her Militia Reserve Force, or such part thereof as Her Majesty shall think necessary, to be forthwith called out for permanent service.

"V. R."


Mr. Speaker, I beg to give Notice that on Thursday next I shall move that Her Majesty's gracious Message be taken into consideration; and I shall also move that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, thanking Her Majesty for Her gracious Communication.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Her Majesty's Most Gracious Message be taken into consideration upon Thursday."—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)


I do not rise, Sir, to make any objection to the day that has been named by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the consideration of Her Majesty's gracious Message; I only wish to express a hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will take the House into consultation as to what would be the most convenient course to be taken in this matter. When the subject was first mentioned I was of opinion—as, I believe, was also the Chancellor of the Exchequer—that the day which was originally named—namely, this day week, was considered by the House generally as too distant a day for the consideration of this question, and that opinion, I believe, was expressed on this side of the House below the Gangway by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson). Subsequent consideration, however, I believe, rather induced a large number of Members, who had at first thought that the day named was too distant, to alter that opinion; and when it was announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Budget Statement could not be postponed to a later date than this day week, it appeared to a good many of us that there might be considerable inconvenience in the arrangement that is now proposed. It is impossible, of course, for me to say whether the consideration of Her Majesty's Message will lead to a protracted debate or not; but, considering the importance of the Message, and considering, also, the character of the Papers which have been laid upon the Table, it seems not improbable that a prolonged discussion may arise when we come to consider Her Majesty's gracious Message. Now, if that be at all likely, I think it is very evident it would be very inconvenient that a discussion of that sort should be interrupted by the Budget Statement on Monday; and I think it would, therefore, be desirable that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer should take the opinion of the House and endeavour to ascertain what would be the most convenient arrangement for Members generally. I myself, I need hardly say, have no very strong opinion upon the matter, but am an assenting party to the arrangement which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has now proposed. I think, however, it would be found that a good many Members are of opinion that this question might be more satisfactorily and conveniently debated on this day week instead of Thursday.


So many Members on this side of the House entertain the opinion that Monday would be better than Thursday for the consideration of Her Majesty's gracious Message, that I would move that that day be fixed. There is not only the ground that has been stated by the noble Lord as to the great inconvenience of interpolating a Budget debate, but there is also, I believe, a very considerable difficulty which, I think, the Chancellor of the Exchequer must have felt, with regard to the state of trade; for we are informed that the greatest possible inconvenience has been caused to trade by the great uncertainty as to taxation. This is not a year like past years, in which there has been no anticipation of an increase of taxation; but it is probable that indirect taxation must be raised, and, in view of that probability, enormous quantities of goods, and particularly of spirits, are being passed out of bond at the present low rate of duty. It is a singular thing that the proposal to postpone the Budget came from the hon. Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson), for the effect will be the withdrawal of a very large amount of spirits from bond, as there will be more time to do it in. There are other reasons for delay; for I still hope that, in spite of the answer which has just been given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the noble Lord, we may receive further Papers. There is a despatch here—an English despatch, no doubt written for the sake of form in order to be quoted—giving the views of Austria, founded upon a statement of Prince Gortchakoff. I am only alluding to that as an argument for delay. It states that the Austrian Government differs from our Government altogether as to going into Congress, because Russia has given assurances to her, and then details those assurances, which are almost identical with the statement of our own Government. Now, Sir, we are led to infer either that that statement was never made, or else that Russia, having made that statement, has gone back from it, or has made a different one, or that a fortnight later Russia has found it necessary to take up a different position. If so—and I venture to think that one of these facts must be the case—surely we must ask that there should be laid before us Papers distinctly showing which of these suppositions we must take. But there is this difficulty—that we are led to draw an inference from an inference. The only other despatch that I will allude to in urging reasons for delay is the despatch from Sir Henry Elliot to Lord Derby, stating that Prince Gortchakoff has declared to a trustworthy person—who is not named-that Russia will keep the Bessarabian question out of the view of the Congress. That would, of course, be a most important point if it were true; but I venture to think that the statement is not justified in fact, and that Sir Henry Elliot has been misled, I am told to-day that it is universally believed on the Continent that the despatch is erroneous, and that Sir Henry Elliot has been misled. Whether that is so or not, it is most important that we should know whether the statement in the despatch is true or is false. Then we certainly did expect that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have given us Papers distinctly showing the opinions of other Governments. We gathered that from his words, and I think we had a right to gather it. There is only one despatch, and that is on the 5th of February. That is the only other despatch relating to foreign Powers; and, as I have already stated, it refers to a state of things which no longer exists. We know nothing of what are the views of Austria, Germany, Italy, or, still more important, what are those of France. For these reasons, I think we should have further delay for the consideration of Her Majesty's Message, and therefore it is that I move to substitute Monday for Thursday.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "Thursday," in order to insert the word "Monday,"—(Sir Charles W. Dilke,)—instead thereof.


said, he thought a question of commercial importance like the Budget should not be postponed for questions of a political character. Nothing could be more inconvenient than to change the day on which it had been arranged that the Budget should be taken. Some important changes in the mode of taxation would without doubt be proposed; and he hoped there would be no delay in laying them before the House and the country.


trusted that the Government would not give in on this question. The House had had enough of giving in to the Opposition. He trusted that the new era was not to be inaugurated by an event of that kind. In reference to the observations of the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke), he thought the questions which the hon. Member raised would be disposed of by the Paper which Her Majesty's Government had that evening promised to lay upon the Table, With regard to the anonymous character given to the "trustworthy person" mentioned by Sir Henry Elliot, he might say that the form of words objected to was the one always adopted in diplomatic documents. If the names of persons giving information were always given, no information would be forthcoming; and when the Government used the words "trustworthy person," it was always to be understood that, having made inquiry, they were satisfied as to the trustworthiness of their informant. There was, therefore, no real necessity for getting up a discussion on that point, unless some doubt were thrown upon the authenticity of the information. The hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Hankey) had said that the Budget ought not to be postponed. Hon. Members on his (Sir H. Drummond Wolff's) side of the House had understood that the hon. Member did not wish to postpone the discussion on the Royal Message, and consequently had treated him to a cheer. That cheer he was entitled, on the part of many hon. Members who sat beside him, to withdraw. He trusted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would look upon this communication of Her Majesty as a matter of far more importance than the Budget, which was a matter of comparatively local interest.


said, if, in the opinion of the Government, there should be an early discussion of the Message, the mercantile community would not wish the question of peace and war to be delayed in settlement. If, on the other hand, there was no such reason, there was undoubtedly great inconvenience and great loss in the delaying of the discussion of the statement of the Budget at a time when it was almost known that a considerable change would be made in the duties imposed on certain articles. He hoped, therefore, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would make as little delay as possible, in order that loss might be avoided to the commercial world.


I must express my acknowledgment for the statement we have just listened to from the hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir H. Drummond Wolff), and from the information we have received from him, although I was not aware that he had taken office. He has given us, with very great kindness, the most important part of the contents of a despatch not yet produced, and likewise, from his long diplomatic practice, has laid before us the rules of the Service in a manner which, coming from a Gentleman of his experience, must carry conviction to the minds of all. Notwithstanding these great advantages, I wish, in the first place, to say that I should be glad if my right hon. Friend could settle this matter without a division; because that undoubtedly would not be a very good introduction to the discussion of Her Majesty's Message, or to the discussion of the Budget, both of which questions are of great importance, although the hon. Member for Christchurch does call the Budget a matter of local interest. I am bound to say that, in my opinion, the object of my right hon. Friend was to meet the convenience of the House both in the day he originally fixed, and likewise in the change he afterwards made. Therefore, no blame whatever can attach to him whichever course he takes. It was said, very justly, that if Her Majesty's Government are anxious for the early discussion of the Message, it would not be seemly in others to interpose. I think there is very great force in that observation. But I would point out to Her Majesty's Government that there is one course of proceeding from which no advantage can arise to anybody, and that is the mixing up of discussions on two great topics—on two very great national questions. If we are to judge from experience—and like my noble Friend (the Marquess of Hartington), I have no knowledge beyond what I have derived from learning the views of many hon. Gentlemen who take an extreme interest—and many of them not a friendly interest—in this Message—it would be extremely sanguine to suppose that the discussion on the Message, if commenced on Thursday, could be finished during the present week. If my right hon. Friend were in a position to postpone the Budget beyond the 8th, no doubt the discussion on the Message could be finished, and the Budget taken afterwards as an entire discussion. I have gathered that would not be for the convenience of the Government and the public interest; and therefore I must assume that, under all circumstances, the Budget will come on upon the 8th. If that be so, I cannot myself anticipate any advantage to be gained from taking the Message on the 4th. We have already had two great debates on the Eastern Question during the present and last Session, and on each of these occasions, if I remember aright, the debate extended over not less than four or five nights. New complications have now been introduced, very great difficulties in relation, to the data, and our understanding of the data before us have been added to the difficulties inherent in the question; and I, for one, have no anticipation that it would be possible so to discuss the question that the debate might be finished in the course of Thursday and Friday. I may illustrate this by reference to what fell from my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke). He calls for more information, on the ground that at a certain period Austria objected to the course taken by Her Majesty's Government; that since that period there has been a complete change in the position of Russia; and that now we do not know what view Austria takes. That is the construction my hon. Friend puts upon the Papers. He is very competent to make it, and no doubt he makes it very properly; but it is not my construction at all. With great respect, my view is just the reverse—that the position is the same as it was when Austria made that declaration, and that the view of Austria remains authentically expressed by the despatch to which my hon. Friend refers. I think the Government will see it is absolutely necessary that this matter should be cleared up. We are really entitled to know, as the view of Austria has been once declared, whether that view still continues to be held, or whether it does not; and whether the declaration of Prince Gortchakoff, referring to the time when Austria gave her judgment, is a declaration in force or is not? I should like to point out the position in which we stand. The most authentic organ outside the Treasury Bench— namely, the hon. Member for Christ-church—has told us we shall have most important information; and I am bound to say the Chancellor of the Exchequer has told us also that the despatch to be laid on the Table to-night will contain what may fairly be called the views of the Government as presented to Europe. I am not in office—[Ministerial cheers]— and if that confession conveys any information to the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite of which they were not before in possession, they are welcome to it. But such being the case, I am necessarily not in a position to gain information on the subject. Obviously, however, that despatch will be one of great consequence and of great value. It will be very much for the convenience of the House that an authentic statement—even more authentic than the speech of a Member of the Government, because containing the views of the whole Government—should be in our hands; and it is hardly less important that for some few days it should be in the possession of the country, and considered by the public, who are so deeply concerned in these matters. On that ground, as well as on every other, I think the despatch produced on Tuesday could hardly with general satisfaction be taken into consideration and debated on Thursday. Therefore, I hope my right hon. Friend will meet the views of the House, and adhere to the original arrangement.


pointed out that, owing to the fact that the payment of the Government dividends was due upon the 5th of April, the Bank of England would be placed in a position of great difficulty, unless the question whether or not the income tax was to be increased was settled beforehand. He should, however, support Her Majesty's Government in any decision at which they might arrive on the subject, because he felt that they would be acting under a full sense of their responsibility.


could bear testimony in support of the statement made by the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hermon). On a former occasion, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe) was Chancellor of the Exchequer, the debate on the income tax lasted for two or three weeks, and the result was that the Exchequer lost a large sum from the dividends being paid in the meantime without the deduction from them of the additional income tax. When there was a possibility that certain duties might be increased, it was a matter of the greatest interest to the country that the proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer should be made known as soon as possible.


I may say, in the first place, that this is not a matter which depends upon the convenience of Her Majesty's Government or of the House. If it were merely a question of the convenience of the one or the other, we should be most anxious to consult the convenience of the House rather than our own. With regard to the convenience of the public, there is a good deal to be said upon this matter on both sides. It will be in the recollection of the House, that, originally, I proposed that the Message should be considered on this day week; but there was an instinctive expression of opinion that it should be considered earlier. Undoubtedly, there is a great deal to be said in favour of considering the Message, and the statement of Her Majesty's Government thereon, as early as possible, although there are also inconveniences in delaying the Financial Statement. There are also inconveniences of a political character which might arise out of delay in considering the Message; but, at the same time, there are other considerations which undoubtedly weigh with me. If it is thought desirable and necessary that there should be a long debate on the subject of the Message, it would undoubtedly be inconvenient that that debate should be cut in two by the introduction of the Budget. I certainly should not feel justified in undertaking to put off the introduction of the Budget to a later day than Monday next. There is also another consideration to which must give some weight, which arises out of the production of Papers. I have already given to the House the only answer that I am able to give upon this point—namely, that there are in the possession of Her Majesty's Government no Papers which we think we can pro duce beyond those already published and that now laid upon the Table At the same time, I am bound to say that just before the House met this evening, on communicating with my noble Friend (the Marquess of Salisbury), who is about to undertake the charge of the Foreign Office, he expressed a wish to have a day or two in which to look into matters for himself, and to exercise his own judgment upon them. In these circumstances, therefore, on weighing the advantages and the disadvantages of the two courses proposed, although I should have been very glad to be able to make a statement on Thursday, yet, if a prolonged debate is to be had upon it, it may, on the whole, be more convenient to revert to the original proposal made by myself— namely, that we should take the Budget on Thursday, and the consideration of Her Majesty's Message on Monday. That course will entail the lesser inconvenience of the two. I do not know whether the House rally understands the matter; but it is the fact that Her Majesty's Message is in the nature of a communication to the House of Her intention to exercise the power confided to Her by Parliament of calling out the Reserve Forces. The exercise of that power does not depend upon any action of Parliament, and Her Majesty will, upon the advice of Her Government, proceed to exercise that power. Therefore, no practical delay will result from the postponement of the discussion on the Message. The form of the Address I shall propose will be simply a Vote of Thanks to Her Majesty for Her gracious Communication. It will amount, practically, to a mere form of acknowledgment of Her Majesty's Communication; but it will, of course, give occasion for a discussion being raised upon the foreign policy of the Government. In all the circumstances, it would be better that the discussion on the matter should be postponed until Monday next. If the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke) will withdraw his Amendment, I will myself move to fix Monday for the discussion.

Amendment and Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER moved that Her Majesty's Most Gracious Message be taken into consideration upon Monday next.

Motion agreed to.