HC Deb 16 April 1878 vol 239 cc1375-99

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House will, at the rising of the House this day, adjourn till Monday the 6th day of May next."—(The Chancellor of the Exchequer.)


said, he thought that this Motion should not pass without a word from somebody. It was the most extraordinary Motion that had been heard in this extraordinary Session. They were asked to break up, and not meet again for three weeks. ["No, no!"] Well, three weeks all but a day. Last year they only adjourned for a week at Easter, and it did seem to him most extraordinary that, at a crisis like the present, they should be called on to take so long a holiday. If anyone had more right than another to complain, he thought it was himself; because it was only eight days ago since he had ventured to propose in the House a Resolution to the effect that there was no great emergency in existence to warrant the calling out of the Reserves. And how was he met? Why, by the whole of the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, to the number of nearly half the House of Commons, voting that there was a great emergency. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had just now said, in answer to the right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), that the gravity of the situation had not increased. He was very glad to hear it, but he had not said it had decreased; and, therefore, he was at a loss to know what circumstances there were to make them say there was no great emergency now, if there were a great emergency then. And what was this great emergency? As he understood it, it was this—that all their boasted diplomacy had failed, that all their diplomatists, who were supported at such great public expense, had not been able to arrange the terms on which the proposed Congress should be held. This was a most distressing state of things, and not the time when Parliament should be sent about its business for three weeks. What had the Government themselves done? They had called them together, in a most unprecedented manner, three weeks earlier than usual, for the purpose of consulting them from day to day. If the Government thought it safer and better to have them to consult with then, surely it was much more important now. The state of affairs was more critical than it was three months ago. Everyone knew, too, that they lived in a state of scare, and no one could tell what the newspapers would publish and send down to hon. Members in the country. The Government themselves had done not a little to contribute to the general feeling of alarm. First, they had their Vote of Credit, which, let them say as they liked, was a warlike measure—no one, at all events, could persuade him that a Vote for war stores was not a warlike vote. Then they had called out the Reserves, which was a still more decidedly warlike step. They got the money first, and then they got the men. He thought some consideration should be shown to the Opposition. The Government stood in a different position from what it did when Parliament met. At that time, Lord Carnarvon and Lord Derby were in the Government, and they commanded the confidence of the Opposition more than any of the other Members of the Government. He would not say they were the most able men, but they were more trusted by the Opposition than any of the others. Lord Derby, moreover, had himself said, since he left the Government, that he considered their policy a policy of rushing into war. Besides, there was something more which he would not avow, but which he thought still more clearly indicated an intention of going to war. All these facts ought to make them pause before they adjourned in this hasty manner. He did not see the Leader of the Opposition in his place. The noble Marquess did not like the Amendment which he (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) had brought forward lately, but he said that he might have supported it if that had been the last occasion they would have of discussing the policy of the Government. This was the last time they would have, at all events, for three weeks; and he did wish that some right hon. Gentleman would get up and say what the Opposition Leaders thought of this adjournment in the present critical state of affairs. What security had hon. Members, if they broke up to-day, that they might not some morning take up their papers and find a Declaration of War? The Berlin correspondent of one of the most influential papers, he observed, said that the question of peace or war was only a matter of a few hours. He hoped hon. Gentlemen would understand what he meant. He himself did not believe now, any more than when he moved his Amendment, that this great emergency existed. He believed, however, that it could be very easily created; and he, for one, was not prepared to trust the Government, after what he had seen them doing in the course of the last few months. How had the difficulties been caused with which they were now contending? Simply by the obstinate stupidity of resisting all means of accommodation in this matter. What could be more humiliating, more disgusting, than the telegrams they read every day in their clubs or other places of resort? They saw that Germany or Austria had made propositions which were likely to be generally accepted, and then they read at the end— "Sir Henry Elliot alone opposes on behalf of England." If the hon. Member for Meath would excuse him for saying so, England was nothing more than the Parnell of Europe. He did not want the Government to get up and say what they were proposing to fight for, because he knew that it was perfectly impossible for them to do so, and that if they tried they would only get sounding platitudes full of wind and fury, and signifying nothing. He did not want to put them to the trouble of giving them more of that stuff which they had listened to so often, and with so much disgust. One hon. Member—the Representative, he thought, of one of the Metropolitan counties—said the other night, that their object was to drive the Russians back to the Arctic circle. Well, that was, after all, about as rational a reason as he had heard for going to war. He did not ask the Government, as he had said, to tell them what their object was, but he begged them to let the House have a clear and distinct understanding that they would not take any decisive or irrevocable step which would lead the country into war. If he did not get that assurance, he would oppose the Motion for Adjournment, though only one man went into the Lobby with him.


said, he thought no one could view the present situation without being oppressed by feelings of anxiety and almost of alarm. He was glad to hear from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that there was no increased cause for anxiety; but the anxiety that already prevailed was of itself grave enough. What was the situation? They were told by Lord Derby that this country was not so much drifting into war as that it was rushing into war, that war was almost irrevocable, and that he had retired from the Government because of some unrevealed step even more dangerous than anything that had yet been determined upon by Her Majesty's Ministers. He (Mr. Courtney) thought that hon. Members must ask whether, under such circumstances, they could separate at all? It was true that they were weak, and could do no more than remonstrate with, or advise, the Government; but, at least, whilst they were there, they could raise their voices on behalf of the counsels of peace, and, few as they were, could represent the opinions of a large number of Her Majesty's subjects out-of-doors. No one could suppose that the division last week was at all an accurate representation of the feeling out-of-doors. The Chancellor of the Exchequer must admit that a considerable minority, at all events, viewed Her Majesty's Government with suspicion, and looked forward with something of alarm to what they were likely to do. Members of the Government were so engrossed from day to day with the details of Office, that he sometimes wondered how they could find time to meditate on the results of their action, or to estimate at their true value the circumstances of the position in which they were placed. They had but little time for that, and were tempted to exaggerate the events of the day, and forget what were their true relations to what had gone before and what was coming afterwards. When, sometimes, he thought of the present situation, he had been astonished by the littleness, the pettiness, the vanity of the particular dispute which threatened to involve Europe in war. We had arrived at such a point, that our only hope of peace lay in a Conference of the Great Powers of Europe on the situation in the East. If the Conference assembled, peace might be hoped for as the result of their labours; but, if the Conference failed, there was only one alternative—if not immediate war, some act of armed and hostile occupation which would be regarded as a menace or defiance, or, at least, a provocation to war. What, then, was the difficulty that was keeping England and Russia apart? The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the Government were most desirous to go to a Conference, provided it was free and unrestrained. Other Members of the Government said they were standing out against the Conference, because they were insisting on a stipulation which Russia would not grant. He fully admitted the proposition of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that they were entitled to have a free and full discussion of the Treaty of San Stefano, and of the settlement of the Eastern Question; but he denied that we had a right to say to Russia that she could not reserve to herself the right to decline to discuss certain questions. But let them realize what was meant by that proposition. Let them suppose that the Conference had assembled, and was discussing, Article by Article, the Treaty of San Stefano. When it came, for example, to the subject of the independence of Servia and the rectification of her frontier, some question might arise as to the propriety of that independence or of that rectification of frontier. That discussion might go on most freely; but would the Chancellor of the Exchequer not admit that it was the right of every Member of the Conference to say at the end, or at any stage of the discussion—"We cannot consent to this limitation being altered, or we must insist on that limitation being altered?" The freedom of discussion was not restricted by the statement of any Power, whether it was Russia, England, Austria, or Germany, that there was a point at which discussion ceased—a point at which the Powers separated themselves, or carried their protest to the length of ultimate withdrawal. That was a course within the liberty of our own Government, or of any other Power going into the Conference. It might be said that we could not discuss the question of the independence of Servia or the rectification of her borders, because the position of that country was recognized by the Treaty of Paris, and that the Treaty, until altered, was still binding. No doubt, the principles of that Treaty might be used argumentatively at the Conference; but Her Majesty's Government had, by their own acts, admitted that the obligations of that Treaty had ceased. Lord Derby's despatch of the 6th of May last, which had been called "the charter of our policy," stated, that as long as three points were respected, Russia might do what she liked with Turkey. By that declaration, all the other obligations of the Treaty were set aside. In claiming to rely on the stipulations of the Treaty of Paris, we were making a claim which no other Power had advanced. He entreated the Chancellor of the Exchequer to consider whether the Government were justified in the action they had taken by the pleas they had put forward. The language of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer was perfectly unexceptionable, but it did not cover the position the Government had taken in the face of Russia. It was stated yesterday, on authority which he believed to be accurate, that Prince Bismarck despaired of a peaceful solution of this question if the attitude of England were not altered. That, he feared, was true; and the Members of the Opposition would abandon their duty, if they did not on the eve of the Recess, call on the Government not to make themselves any longer the obstacle to the peaceful re-settlement of the affairs of South-Eastern Europe.


said, he could not but regard so long an adjournment of the House with mingled feelings of misgiving and of satisfaction—misgiving, because it was patent that the state of affairs was critical; and satisfaction, because he entertained a hope that the Government would not do what would be almost a crime—certainly, a crime in the eyes of the Opposition—namely, engage in a war with Russia when Parliament was not sitting. He thought the hon. Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) was justified in asking the Government to give a pledge that they would not engage in war during the Recess. ["Oh, oh!"] He scarcely thought some hon. Members were aware of the feeling on this subject which existed outside the House. The country inspired by that instinct, which was often found wanting in a Governing Body, was daily and hourly raising its voice, and petitioning Parliament against war; while the people were sending Memorials to Her Majesty, praying that she would not allow England to be drawn into hostilities. Doubts and alarms were spreading through the country, while commercial interests were becoming entirely paralyzed. Why would not the right hon. Gentleman tell them, that in the present perilous juncture, the Government was doing all in its power to smooth the way for the Conference, and to induce Russia to join it? The late Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs said he cared little about our going into a Conference, but he hoped that was not the opinion of the Government. Why should Russia, after a long and bloody war, after her glorious victories over Turkey, and after enforcing to the best of her ability the decrees of the Conference of Constantinople, not be allowed a potent voice in settling the Eastern Question? Russia had never insisted on enforcing the Treaty of San Stefano, until every clause of it had been considered in Congress. She had never denied the right of any other European Power to consider every clause of the Treaty, and the difficulty about going into a Congress for that purpose had been raised by Her Majesty's Government. Russia did not dispute the right of Europe to discuss the Treaty. The statement to that effect, of Sir Henry Elliott, had been very energetically denied by Prince Gortchakoff. Russia did not dispute the right of Europe to set the Treaty aside. Russia had said from the first, that Europe assembled in Conference must settle the Eastern Question, and until the Great Powers met in peaceful Conference for discussion, there could be no solution of existing difficulties. Did hon. Members suppose that Russia would submit to the dictation of England? If she refused to do so—and she seemed inclined to refuse—what must be the result? If Her Majesty's Government persisted in refusing to enter the Congress and to discuss the Treaty there, there might be a long and a bloody war; and if England came out of it conqueror, as she probably would, the very same question as to a Conference would again arise.


said, that the argument of the hon. Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) was that, as this was a time of emergency, the House should not adjourn for any Holiday. He must remind the House that, at the beginning of the Session, the Government announced that an emergency existed. What was the result? Parliament had unanimously declared its intention to support them in meeting that emergency, and in providing against unforeseen dangers. Subsequently, on January 24, the emergency had increased, and the Government proposed a Vote of £6,000,QOO. That Vote was carried by an enormous majority. This fact showed how completely the House endorsed the policy of the Ministers, and proved that the nation was anxious to provide against all possible dangers. Still the emergency increased, and the Government majority increased. Then Parliament considered the question of calling out the Reserves, and that measure was sanctioned by an enormous majority, The hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle succeeded in leading into the Opposition Lobby only 65 Members. And what did the hon. Baronet now wish to do? What did he say? He first denied that an emergency existed, and then he said that Parliament should not separate for a few weeks because there was an emergency. Did he understand the hon. Baronet to mean that he desired again to test the feeling of the House of Commons, and to see the policy of the Government supported by a still larger majority? No; it was absurd to suppose that he sought to parade an increased majority for the Government, while he himself led a dwindled minority into the Lobby. Let the House, then, consider further what he was driving at. The hon. Baronet asked what security was there that we should not get up some morning and find in the papers a Declaration of War? But if we did not separate for the Holidays, what security was there that the same thing might not occur? The country had exactly the same security against war being declared during the Easter Recess as while Parliament was sitting. It was the Prerogative of the Sovereign to declare war and to make peace; and it was not the prerogative of the Representatives of the people to do so. It was true, that if Parliament should be in Session, it might be announced orally in the House that Her Majesty had declared war; but what was the difference between an announcement in that House and an announcement in the newspapers? Ah! He knew what the hon. Baronet meant. He meant that if the Government did advise Her Majesty to declare war, then if Parliament should be sitting, he and his small minority should be able to hamper the Government in such a grave emergency. That he could understand. And for this emergency what, according to the hon. Baronet, were we to have ready? A House of Commons that could spend its hours as it had done last Friday—a House of Commons that could sit up all night until half-past 6 in the morning discussing an Irish Sunday Closing Bill—that was the House of Commons that was to deal with this emergency. If the hon. Baronet desired a House of Commons to assist the Government, it must be a different House from any that had lately been seen. He preferred to see the Government unhampered by the present House of Commons, although they should be held strictly responsible for any step they might advise. He put a great deal of trust in the House of Commons in the time of Lord Palmerston. He put less trust in the House of Commons in succeeding times. He had lost most of his former faith in Parliament; and he asked hon. Members whether they could put that trust in the House of Commons now, which they did in former days? Did they respect it now as much as it used to be respected? Far be it from him to say a word against the House of Commons. All he said was, that if a House of Commons were to sit continuously, or èn permanence, to assist Her Majesty's Government, it must be a different House from that which we had at present; and, in a case of emergency, he would rather leave Her Majesty's Government to deal with it unhampered by such a House as this, holding them responsible afterwards to the country for their actions. The hon. Baronet called on the Government to give a pledge to the House that the Crown would not declare war before we re-assembled on the 6th of May. A more monstrous proposition was never put forward than that which was invented by the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle, and repeated by the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk)—the Government to give a pledge that, before the House re-assembled on the 6th of May, the Crown would not declare war! They knew what had happened this year by giving pledges. An ill-advised word by Her Majesty's Government was construed into a pledge that they would not ask for the Vote of Credit, and would do nothing unless Russia took certain steps; and they found themselves as much hampered in consequence, as the Russians felt themselves free in every other direction. And now they were asked to give another pledge! What, with Russia within 15 miles of the lines of Boulair, with Russia overstepping the neutral zone created by her own Treaty, with Russia surrounding Constantinople and in possession of all the heights that commanded that town and the Bosphorus; and ordering the Sultan, as if he were a slave and a vassal, to stop the construction of the fortifications necessary for the defence of his capital! And the Government were asked to give a pledge not to go to war! The Sultan had received these orders from his conqueror and master, after—yes, after the conclusion of peace! And why? Because the Russians evidently intended to make a sudden spring on Constantinople, and desired that nothing should stand in their way. Was the Government to give the Russians perfect freedom to fulfil their intentions, by a pledge that, whatever they might do, war should not be declared until after the 6th of May? Was Russia to get a carte blanche and perfect freedom to carry out her nefarious designs, by means of a pledge that, whatever Russia might do, war was not to be declared until the House of Commons met again. He trusted England would never have a Government so fatuous as to give a pledge such as that. Then, the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney) had said that this was only "a petty dispute." That he could not admit for a moment. It was not, as he had said, "a dispute about words and forms." It was a dispute most momentous, on a matter most material. It was no less a question than this—Whether Russia should be allowed to succeed in an attempt to impose her mere will on the whole of Europe; thrusting aside Treaties, International Law, obligations, and the rights of Europe. The Treaty of San Stefano contained the will of the Czar, as imposed upon Turkey; and if Europe was not to be permitted to consider and modify it, then that will of the Czar was to be imposed also on the whole of Europe; and Treaties were, by the Czar's fiat, to be set aside, because they were concluded by the agreement of Europe, and not decreed by the will of the Czar! That was the point on which Her Majesty's Government had made their stand. The Prime Minister had stated that it was in defence of European liberty that the Government had taken up their present position. He said the truth. "Oh! but the Government," said the hon. Member for Liskeard, "had admitted that the obligations of the Treaty of Paris had ceased, by writing the despatch of May the 6th, 1877." He (Lord Robert Montagu) had always regretted that despatch; it was the relinquishment of firm ground, to take their stand on a bog. They should have adhered to their despatch, of May 1. Let the House remember, however, that it was Lord Derby who had contradicted the ancient policy of England, and the policy announced by the Prime Minister, when he penned that despatch of May 6. But Lord Derby could not bind the Sovereign, nor the people of England. Those, certainly, who had denounced it, could not be bound by it. The hon. Member might, however, perhaps remind him that Russia had sent the text of the Treaty to each Power, and had consented to discuss it with each Cabinet separately. Such conduct was very like the process of lobbying. Everyone knew what was meant by lobbying. Lobbying was often attempted in that House, and with success. One Member's vote was gained by putting a measure in one light; the support of another was acquired by hinting that his interest would be consulted. Concessions were promised and votes obtained, here and there. He had known an hon. and learned Member who was offered a silk gown to vote against a Reform Bill. [Mr. John BRIGHT: And he got it, too.] Yes; he got it; and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham reminds me that he got it after having spoken in favour of the Reform Bill. That hon. and learned Gentleman was no longer a Member of that House. In the same way, and by such a process of lobbying, by offers of concessions, by suggestions of impunity in evil-doing, by promises of advantages and strips of territory to one nation after another, Russia would manage all the Powers of Europe. As the mistress of Europe, she would gladly endeavour to allay suspicions and to conciliate enemies, provided only she might have her own way; provided she might escape being judged by Europe; and provided that her imperious will was not to be submitted to European opinion—was not to be thwarted; but only modified of her own proper motion—for she desired to be universal master. That was precisely the point at which the Government had taken their stand, as the Prime Minister had said, "in defence of the liberties of Europe." What had been the effect of this determination? A transformation scene had been performed in Turkey; and the various races, instead of looking to Russia, were turning to England. Since the fortunate retreat, or rather the esca- pade and happy despatch of Lord Derby, the Press of the whole of Europe, including the organ of M. Gambetta and the Radicals, had entirely changed its tone, and were singing in unison the prasies of the English Government. Why? Because England had set herself up against the Power which desired to be the arbiter of Europe. Now, the nations and Governments of Europe had become our supporters, because we were again upholding Treaties, asserting the supremacy of law, and defending the rights and liberties of Europe. [Mr. JOHN BRIGHT: Why do not they come forward and fight?] He was glad to hear the Apostle of Peace say—"Why do they not come forward and fight for it?" and he said to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham——


The noble Lord should address himself to the Chair.


said, he did so; but he had heard the right hon. Gentleman use the remark he had repeated, and he said to him, in reply, those Governments would come to our support as soon as we saw it right to begin. So the question was—"Why do we not come forward and fight for it?" It had, this evening, been said that we were isolated. We were not isolated, and why? Because it was known that we were upholders of law, protectors of right, and defenders of Treaties, and that we stood up for the liberties of Europe. Aye; it was not the European Powers only that were with us; but, as they might see by the leading journal of that day, the various races of not only European, but Asiatic Turkey, who not long ago maligned us, were now looking to us for protection. A short time ago the Osmanlis cursed us, the Greeks hated us, the Armenians mistrusted us, the Bulgarians placed their hopes in Russia. They were all now clinging to our skirts for protection. The hon. Member for Liskeard said that the obligations of the Treaty of Paris had ceased; but he altogether denied that proposition, and insisted that the obligations of that Treaty were still binding, and that the Government were entitled to take their stand upon it as part of the Public Law of Europe. He should not have occupied the attention and time of the House on that occasion, had he not been filled with indig- nation, too strong for repression, against the speeches and proposals of the hon. Members who had preceded him.


said, he was as much a lover of peace as any hon. Member in the House; but he could not think that Her Majesty's Government would consent to bind themselves over to keep the peace during the Holidays. No doubt, an adjournment for three weeks was longer than usual; but, on the other hand, the House met three weeks before the usual time, and had now been sitting for three months; and, considering the Business they had done, he should say, judging by his own feelings, that if, instead of adjourning to that day three weeks, they were to adjourn for three, or even for six months, he did not think the country would be a loser. He supported the Motion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the interests of peace, because he could not think that such debates as those which they had of late had were conducive to a peaceful solution of the existing difficulty. For his part, he could not believe that any Government would take upon themselves the tremendous responsibility of rushing into war at a time when Parliament was not sitting; and with out taking counsel on a subject of such enormous importance with the great Council of the nation.


thought the great majority of the House had reason to complain of the time which had been wasted upon a Motion of adjournment when they had but a few hours to discuss important business. Particularly had they reason to complain of the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle, who raised the debate; and of the hon. Member for Liskeard, who had so very recently spent so much time in discussing the questions they had again brought forward. He hoped the discussion would not be continued, and that the Government would not attempt to enter into those questions. He trusted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would exercise the discretion which he usually did in replying to the hon. Gentlemen who had questioned him.


said, in the few words he intended to address to the House, he should confine himself to the question whether the present was a time when, consistently with its duty, the House of Commons could adjourn for the long period of three weeks. He should be the last to do the Chancellor of the Exchequer—or, indeed, the Members of any Government—the injustice of attributing to them such an ignoble motive as had been suggested by the noble Lord the Member for Westmeath (Lord Robert Montagu). The noble Lord seemed to suppose that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government he represented were anxious to have a long Easter Recess, because if they wished to go to war, they would be unhampered by the House of Commons——


I never said or suggested anything of the kind.


said, he was glad to hear the disclaimer of the noble Lord; but there was not an hon. Member who sat near him (Mr. Fawcett) who did not put that interpretation on his argument. They all knew that the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not want to be free from the counsel and advice of the Parliament he led; but they had a right to ask from him a specific answer on a certain point. On the 17th of January, Parliament was called together; and the emergency then was certainly not greater than it was now, because, when they were called together, the Government had nothing to propose. They were called together because, in the critical state of foreign affairs, Her Majesty wished to have the advice and assistance of her Parliament. Surely, it was not appropriate now that she should be deprived of the advice of her Parliament, when foreign affairs were even in a more critical state. They were all equally anxious to enjoy a holiday; but, in grave circumstances, their personal convenience and enjoyment was a matter of secondary importance. He wished to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, why it was appropriate that, at this critical juncture of European affairs, the Government and Her Majesty should be without the advice, and countenance, and guidance of Parliament for an unusually long period? He did not see what answer there could be to that question, unless the Chancellor of the Exchequer was prepared to rise in his place, and say that, on consideration, the state of affairs at the present moment was less anxious and critical than when Parliament was called together. No one would accept that announcement with greater gratitude than he. He was not going to say a word in the spirit of exaggeration; but the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself had admitted that it was a time of great anxiety. He said the chances of peace were not now less than they were a week ago. They accepted that declaration with satisfaction; but, a week ago, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said the position was one of emergency, and the time one of great anxiety. If that were the case, what was the justification for Parliament adjourning now for three weeks. An adjournment for so long a period as three weeks would cause considerable surprise; and, as he did not wish to be responsible for anything that might occur when Parliament was nut sitting, he should move, as an Amendment, that the House, at its rising, do adjourn until April 29.


seconded the Amendment.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the words "6th day of May next," in order to add the words "29th day of this instant April,"—(Mr. Fawcett,)—instead thereof.

Question proposed, ''That the words '6th of May next' stand part of the Question."


Sir, I should be very sorry to interpose between any Member who may wish to address the House on this occasion; but I really hope I may be allowed to say a few words, because I think what has passed tends rather to promote misunderstanding, and may have a tendency to promote the very danger which hon. Gentlemen are most anxious to avert. What are the facts of the case? This year, as everybody knows, Parliament met at least a fortnight before its usual time. It met on the 17th of January, and most commonly it does not meet till the 5th or a later day of February. We have a peculiarly late Easter, and therefore we have sat for an unusually long period without any Recess. Under these circumstances, it is not unnatural, in an ordinary Session, that we should ask for the addition of a few days to the Easter Recess; and several weeks ago, Questions were put to me upon this very question of the Easter Recess, in reply to which I stated, on the part of the Government, the arrange- ment which we intended to propose, and which I proposed to-day. That arrangement was accepted with general approval, was thoroughly well-known in the country, and everyone knew the arrangement was that Parliament should rise to-day and adjourn, so far as the House of Commons was concerned, for somewhat more than a fortnight. If, under those circumstances, and with that understanding, we were to alter the arrangement that has been so long announced, and to alter it on the grounds that the state of foreign affairs is such that it was not safe and right that Parliament should be adjourned for so long a time, what would be the inference? The inference would be one which, in the first place, I venture to say, would be entirely false—namely, an inference that we believed there was something in the state of foreign affairs which rendered it inexpedient and dangerous that Parliament should rise for these few days longer; and, in the second place, it would be also dangerous, because it would naturally give rise to discussions and observations which are just of a character, and would have a tendency, to render difficult delicate negotiations and proceedings. The hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett) asks—"How is it you can justify the unusually early meeting of Parliament under the circumstances under which Parliament had met, if you can now justify the comparatively long holiday which you propose we should take?" And he says the Government allege that their reason for advising Her Majesty to call Parliament together early was that Her Majesty might have the advantage of the advice of her Parliament, and that that advice is as much needed now as it was then. Her Majesty's Government have, undoubtedly, taken several opportuuities during the time that has passed of advising Her Majesty to recur to the advice of her Parliament, and to explain in the clearest manner to Parliament Her Majesty's policy, and obtain from Parliament, in the most distinct form, repeated over and over again, their approval and assent to the general lines of that policy. At this moment there is nothing. in our policy at all different from that which we have repeatedly declared to this House. There is no change in the views which we expressed in the debate which occurred only a week ago; and we are as anxious now as we were then to bring about a settlement of the affairs of Europe in the way which we believe to be the desire of the whole country. We desire to see a satisfactory settlement of the affairs of Europe, which have been disturbed by recent events, on a basis that will give us security for a real and a lasting peace. We see no reason for despairing of the settlement. Nothing in the situation has altered for the worse since the time we last had to communicate with Parliament on the subject, and we say with the most perfect confidence that we see no reason whatever to apprehend any inconvenience from the rising of Parliament for the time we have mentioned. Under these circumstances, I would put it to hon. Members whether they will not, by the course they propose, be occasioning the very danger they desire to avert—of propagating an alarmist opinion that there is some special reason to apprehend consequences of a somewhat grave character during the Recess. I can assure the House we make this proposal with no concealed designs, or any intentions of a mischievous character; but we do that which we have declared, weeks and weeks ago, we proposed to do, which is in itself reasonable, and which we have no reason to believe we ought to depart from.


Sir, I hope the House will soon be able to come to a conclusion on the Motion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but, before doing so, I wish to say a few words. I am not surprised at the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson), or at the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett). They are not unnatural remarks, nor is the Motion one at which we should feel surprised in the present state of affairs. But it is quite true, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer states, that this adjournment for a considerably longer period than usual has been a settled matter on both sides of the House for some time past; and it would, I think, excite great surprise in Europe, and would probably give rise to very considerable misconception, if the House were suddenly to come to a conclusion that it did not think it right to adjourn to the time originally proposed. I should, however, be quite prepared to run the risk of such miscon- ception, if I thought the interests of peace would be advanced by a shorter adjournment. I see no reason to expect any such result. I think the few remarks we have heard to-day do not tend to remove that impression. I cannot sit down without saying that, if it be possible for the Government to have incurred greater responsibility than they have already incurred, they have done it by this Motion. I cannot imagine that, in the present position of affairs, they do not feel that responsibility most deeply and anxiously; but, undoubtedly, in asking the House of Commons now to adjourn for three weeks, they are taking the whole responsibility upon themselves. I do not know that in the interests of peace we can do better, or do other, than leave upon them that responsibility. I must be allowed to say a word on the war-cry, or war-shriek, of my noble Friend behind me (Lord Robert Montagu). It did not meet with much response, I must admit, from the other side of the House; but if we supposed the Government were really advocating a war policy, our action would be very different from what it is, and we would not consent to an adjournment. The hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle has asked the Government for a distinct pledge that no step leading to war would be taken during the Recess. I do not know that such a pledge could be formally asked or formally responded to by the Ministry. It is true that peace and war are the Prerogatives of the Sovereign, and we could not ask the Government to pledge themselves as to the actual course they will take; but I cannot suppose, considering the proposal to adjourn for three weeks, and also the satisfactory statement which the Chancellor of the Exchequer made in the early part of to-day's sitting, that the Government can for a moment contemplate anything like a war policy during the Recess. This is not the time to debate the grounds of such a policy. I do not think I shall be contradicted on either side of the House when I say that the country would be exceedingly surprised to find itself committed to a war policy. As yet there is no ground, no pretence, for war; and, for myself, I cannot for a moment suppose that the Government would think either of rushing into war or of allowing the country to drift into war, no matter whether Parliament be sitting or not. I believe that the feeling with which any such extraordinary announcement would be received would be not only one of regret and of indignation, but of surprise. I trust, therefore, that the hon. Member for Hackney will not press his Motion to a division. Should he do so, I believe—and it seems to be the settled opinion of both sides of the House—that the course will excite a great deal of misconstruction; and, for the reasons I have mentioned, I should feel myself compelled to vote with the Government.


remarked, that if the House was in favour of peace, he could not help thinking that its proceedings during the last hour and a-half had been eminently unwise and ungenerous to Her Majesty's Government. The Government had reason to complain, after the frank declarations of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that hon. Members should press for still further assurances. That Her Majesty's Government did not desire to act without the concurrence and the confidence of the country had been shown in a remarkable way—namely, by their having anticipated by several weeks the usual period of assembling Parliament, and there was no doubt that they would exercise the same consideration for the feelings of the House, if, unhappily, the occasion should arise to require from them a different policy from that which they had announced. Wars were not made merely by State papers, by despatches such as those of Prince Gortchakoff and the Marquess of Salisbury, but by popular feeling, excited by questions and speeches such as we had had over and over again in that House. These speeches were reported and translated; they became the study of the Russian as well as of the English people; and it was by popular feeling excited on both sides that war was ultimately brought about. He trusted that the House would express its cordial confidence in the Government by assenting to the proposition which they had made.


wished to explain the reasons which had governed himself and those who acted with him—[Laughter] —in going to a division on this question. He did not know what he had said to call forth the laughter of hon. Members. He ought to have said "with whom he acted." He wished simply to explain the reasons why he and others felt it was necessary that, at all events, a formal protest should be entered against the proposition of the Government. It was not because the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not been satisfactory even to those who took rather an extreme view in regard to the policy of Her Majesty's Government. For his own part, he felt bound to say that he had listened with some pleasure and some hope to the declarations that had fallen from the Ministerial bench. The assurances of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that he trusted that things were in no worse position than they were a week ago, and that he thought there were prospects that Her Majesty's Government would be able to avoid getting into difficulties with Russia, would be received with satisfaction in the country; and it would be felt that if they had succeeded in drawing these emphatic declarations from the Ministerial bench, the object of this debate had not been lost. But, with regard to the immediate action which was proposed to be taken, he would only point out this—that, while they might have the utmost confidence that Her Majesty's Government were desirous of pursuing a policy of peace, and that they were doing all they could to bring about a pacific settlement of difficulties, they still felt that in such a crisis as the present, Her Majesty's Government might at least have reduced the time during which Parliament would not be sitting. Notwithstanding what had fallen from the front bench, it was a period of the deepest and gravest anxiety, and whatever might be the abstract Constitutional method of procedure, it must be felt that it was a most dangerous thing, in the present condition of affairs, that any Government should seek to free itself from the responsibility of coming down to the House from day to day to inform the country of the course of proceedings. He noticed that the hon. and gallant Member for Stirlingshire (Sir William Edmonstone) appeared to be ill. He saw that he was fanning himself. ["Order!"] He had a right to protest against conduct on the part of an hon. Member which appeared to him to be derogatory to the dignity of that House. In conclusion, he begged to enter his protest against this long Vacation, and that was the sole issue raised by the Amendment.


said, he had a suggestion to make, with a view to preventing a division, and conciliating hon. Members opposite. In France, when the Chambers were about to separate, a Committee was appointed to take care of the public interests, and he would propose that a Committee, consisting of the hon. Members for Carlisle, Hackney, Liskeard, Dundee, and Gloucester, should be appointed to watch over the affairs of the Empire during the Easter Recess. The House might then enjoy its Holiday in tranquillity, the country would feel satisfied that the Eastern Question was in safe hands, and Her Majesty's Government would be relieved of much anxiety.


said, he wanted just to say a single word. His hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney), in the course of his observations, said that he did not claim that a majority of the people were opposed to the warlike feeling which was prevalent. He had no doubt that his hon. Friend had referred to England, because he (Mr. M'Laren) begged to say, from all the information which he had been able to obtain, that an enormous majority of the people of Scotland were opposed to war. He would just mention one fact in corroboration of that opinion. He had the honour a few days ago of presenting a Petition from the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, which was a body having a fair proportion of men of all parties in it. The subject was discussed at very considerable length, and it was proposed that there should be a strong expression of opinion to the House of Commons against everything leading to war. Thereupon the shabby expedient of the Previous Question was moved; but only four voted for the latter, while 44 voted in favour of a strong protest being made against war. He gave that as the opinion of a representative class of men, and he was satisfied that similar opinions almost generally prevailed in Scotland. He would mention just one other fact. On the occasion of the presentation of the freedom of the city the other day to a distinguished statesman, whom they all admired, he alluded to the possibility of war in language which nobody could misunderstand, and the approbation with which the sentiments he expressed were received was louder than that which greeted anything else that had been said by the noble Lord.


said, he should not vote with the Government if he did not think that their proposal was really in favour of peace. It appeared to him that the Government would not have adhered to their decision to advise the House to adjourn for three weeks if they did not think there was a reasonable probability of an amicable settlement of the difficulty. If after that they had proposed to adjourn—say, for only 10 days—hon. Members would immediately have said—"You are intending to go to war, and so are obliged to keep Parliament together." Nor were the circumstances the same as when Parliament had first assembled, for assuredly the hon. Member for Dundee and the hon. Member for Carlisle had given plenty of advice to the Government, and to spare. Under the circumstances, the best promise that we should have peace was the fact that the Government had proposed that the House should adjourn for three weeks; and, for that reason, he would vote with the Government.


wished to make an explanation. The right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) had sought to saddle him with what he called "a cry, or rather shriek, for war." Nothing had been further from his mind. It was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) who raised that cry and uttered that shriek. What he (Lord Robert Montagu) had said was that the policy of Her Majesty's Government, which, in the first instance, was said to have alienated from us all the Powers of Europe, had now drawn them together in our support on the ground that we were defending the rights and freedom of Europe. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham then interjected the Question—"Why do not they fight, then?" And he (Lord Robert Montagu) replied, that he was surprised to hear that desire expressed by the great Apostle of Peace, and assured him that those Governments were only waiting for us to begin, and would then be glad to fight by our side.


wished to give expression to a feeling which he was sure was largely shared in out-of-doors—that there was an apprehension weighing on the breast of every moderate man who desired the permanent welfare of this country, and that trade was paralyzed as long as the horrible spectre of war was seen—at least, by their imaginations—and felt, owing to the comments of public speakers and responsible advisers, to be a near possibility. He thought that the Government would dwell upon that part of the picture, when they came to consider the propriety of letting the great issue of war or peace turn upon the mere wordy complications submitted by two contending parties in a dialectic struggle. He thought that the view that what Russia had demanded was in the interest of Europe had not been sufficiently borne in mind by many of those who talked of the extravagance of her claims. It would be the fault of the Government, if they did not come to a determination whereby those demands could be shaped for the permanent benefit of the populations on whose behalf Russia had spent so much treasure and shed so much blood.


wished, with the indulgence of the House, to state the course which he desired to take. After giving the matter careful consideration, and after listening to the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which he was bound to say he regarded as most satisfactory—indeed, nothing could be more satisfactory than the right hon. Gentleman's strong declaration that it was the intention of the Government to do all in their power to preserve peace—he felt that he would best serve the interests which they all had at heart— the interests of peace—if he did not press his Amendment. He, therefore, begged leave to withdraw it.

Question put.

The House divided; Ayes 168; Noes 10: Majority 158.—(Div. List, No. 108.)

Main Question put.


said, he wished to call attention, before the Motion was agreed to, to the very great neglect of Irish Business which had occurred in that House. He had come over from Ireland, at the commencement of the Session, hoping that the Government would have given him something to do in considering the measures they in- tended to bring forward for that country; but, in that respect, he had been disappointed. He begged to suggest that, considering the great neglect of Irish Business, that the Government should lend the House of Commons to Irish Members during the three weeks of the Easter Recess, so that the Irish Members might have the opportunity, among themselves, in an Irish House of Commons sitting in London, of passing some beneficial measures of legislation for Ireland.


was afraid the hon. Member had not consulted the Speaker before making that suggestion.

Resolved, That this House will, at the rising of the House this day, adjourn till Monday the 6th day of May next.