I rise, Sir—as the House, I think, will anticipate—for the purpose, in the first instance, of communicating what has taken place since I apprised the House on Tuesday last that the Cabinet had submitted a humble communication to Her Majesty. The nature of that communication, although it could not be expressly stated, was perfectly understood to be the resignation of the Offices which we held by the favour of the Crown. That communication was made on the 9th, and reached Balmoral in the regular course on the afternoon of the 10th. Her Majesty acknowledged it by telegram upon the 10th, and Her Majesty's reply—Her gracious reply—was made on the 11th, accepting the resignation of the Government, and announcing, at the same time to me, that she had summoned Lord Salisbury to Bal moral. In that communication to Her Majesty of the 9th of June, I stated, on the part of the Cabinet, that their resignation grew out of the vote which had been given by the House of Commons on Monday night, and that it sprang from that source, and was founded upon that reason alone. Sir, of Lord Salisbury's movements I have no direct information; but I believe I am correct in saying that he left London last night for the purpose of obeying the commands of Her Majesty; and, if so, in the regular course, at the moment I am speaking, Lord Salisbury ought to be at Bal moral and in communication with Her Majesty. Sir, under those circumstances, and in his absence—it being impossible to have 1529 bad any communication from him—the House will feel that the general arguments which induced the House on Tuesday to refrain from entering on Public Business are still in full force. If that view is taken it will not, in fact, be necessary for me to make a Motion on the subject; because the Motion that I should make, if any such step were necessary, would be that the House should, at its rising, adjourn till Monday; and that is what I believe will take place in the regular course without any Motion on the subject at all. That being so, Sir, I have still to make a deviation in a particular case from the general rule to which I have just referred, and to submit to the House some considerations relating to a particular subject which was named on Tuesday last. A question has not unnaturally arisen, considering the very peculiar circumstances of the case, whether it might be expedient for the public interest and convenience that the House, even in the present state of things, without having, in the full sense of the term, what may be called a responsible Government, should proceed to deal with any Amendments that the Lords may have made in the Bill for the Redistribution of Seats—presuming that those Amendments may now be, as I believe is probable, on the point of being settled in the House of Lords, and may be likely to reach this House before possibly even so short a time as half-an-hour may have elapsed. Now, Sir, upon this subject I venture to make a recommendation, with very great deference to the House, conditional upon several circumstances, and grounded upon reasons which may be stated in the shortest way. I make it conditionally on the full and unqualified assent—I may almost say the desire—of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who sit opposite, and who are responsible for the conduct of the affairs of what I may call the principal Opposition in this House. I will venture to assume, on the part of another important, although not numerically so strong, portion of the Opposition, that there is probably a desire in that portion of the House likewise that the subject of the redistribution of seats should be settled. I assume that such is the case. Unless such be the ease, I should not persevere in the suggestion which I make. But, Sir, it is founded 1530 on considerations of importance. In the first place, I believe I am correct in saying that there are no differences of principle touching the substance of the Bill. I am happy to think that, not only are none likely to arise, but that none can possibly arise in relation to this great subject. The goodly ship, whose voyage we have watched with the greatest anxiety, is virtually in port. That consideration of the absence of differences is one of vital importance, and lies at the root of the recommendation which I now make. But further, Sir, it is well known to the House that there was, on the part of the existing Government, something in the nature of a compact with those who constitute the Opposition in this House having relation to the nature of that Bill, having relation to their anxiety to have the entire question settled at once and placed beyond the reach of any adverse contingency, having relation to their very great desire—a desire in which up to a certain point we concur—that the new franchise should come into operation in connection with the redistribution of seats and the new constituencies. That compact, on our part, as well as on the part of hon. Gentlemen opposite—they have the chief interest in it—is all but fulfilled. I feel that it will have been fulfilled when the Parliamentary Elections (Redistribution) Bill has passed both Houses of Parliament; and I confess it is a gratification to me, and I believe to my Colleagues, in quitting Office, if we can look upon that transaction as a transaction signed, sealed, and delivered, with nothing remaining for the future. The most important consideration, however, of all is that which I have not yet mentioned, but which is very familiar to the minds of all who hear me. It is that already, owing to the necessity of the case, the time has run so short that it will impose considerable difficulties upon the local officers throughout the country charged with the important business of registration to dispose of that duty in a satisfactory manner; and I do not exaggerate when I say that, as far as I understand the case, every day is of great importance, and that every day lost is a serious public inconvenience and evil. Now, Sir, in putting these circumstances together, if I find that I am right in my impression that there is a general de- 1531 sire, and particularly a desire on the part of those with whom we formerly communicated on the subject of the Redistribution of Seats Bill, that this Bill should be dealt with at once, not with standing the pendency of a regular Government, I should certainly advise that that course should be taken, and that this House, if so disposed, shall wait until the Lords' Amendments have been communicated, and shall then at once proceed to consider them. There is nothing unusual in that course. In regard to the general Business, it is more customary that we should have Notice; but if Notice were interposed, we should have to wait until Monday for the purpose of dealing with this subject; but if we determined that, upon the whole, we ought to set aside the main difficulty which arises from the position of the Government, it is quite obvious that we ought to take the full advantage which we are to gain, the prospect of which has led us to set aside that objection, and ought at once to proceed to dispose of these Amendments. That is all that it is necessary for me to say; and I have no Motion to make, having submitted this statement by indulgence, which indulgence, I have no doubt, will be extended in like manner to those who may have to inform the House whether my suppositions and assumptions as to the general feeling on this subject are correct. If that be so, I trust the justification will be ample for me in submitting the communication which I have ventured to make—that, by following a mode not very unusual, we should await the time when the Lords' Amendments may, in the regular course, reach us, and should then proceed to deal with them.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
Sir, I am desirous that the Bill to which the right hon. Gentleman refers should proceed as rapidly as possible, and, as far as I am aware, there is no reason why the Amendments made in the House of Lords should not receive the assent of this House; but we are in a peculiar position through not having the Amendments printed and put before us, and though my own feeling was originally that it would be desirable to proceed with them at once, yet communications have reached me from different parts of the House, from which I understand that there is some doubt in the matter. 1532 It is not a case in which we ought to proceed if there is any doubt, and I think we had better not proceed until the Amendments are printed.
I am certainly bound, and I am not indisposed, to accede to the wish which has been stated by the right hon. Gentleman. I am sorry that we should lose the time until Monday; but still we should gain the most part of what it is desired to gain, and therefore I withdraw any suggestion as to proceeding to-day; but I would still suggest that the sitting of the House should not be brought to a close, but that the Amendments should be brought down to this House and laid upon the Table, after which they could be printed and taken into consideration on Monday next.
§ House suspended its Sitting at a quarter to Five of the Clock.
§ House resumed its Sitting at a quarter past Five of the Clock.