Perhaps, Sir, the Motion which has just been made, and which I should have been very happy to second if it had been necessary to do so, may afford me a convenient and regular opportunity of fulfilling the pledge which I have given—and given, indeed, on more than one occasion —to the House. It is strictly in conformity with the pledges given by me to the House in reply to Questions which have been put to me by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), that I should now proceed to read, with Her Majesty's permission, all the letters containing assurances as to the conduct of myself, or any Friends, which I have given to Her Majesty, in answer to the request of Lord Salisbury. I shall read these letters without note or comment of any kind, except to say that there is one of them from myself to Her Majesty, from which one or two sentences will be omitted, as they are sentences that have hardly any bearing upon the real points of the correspondence, but relate to matters which may possibly come hereafter into discussion. The first letter, Sir, is a letter from Lord Salisbury, dated June 17th, 1885. I It is as follows: —Lord Salisbury, with his humble duty to Your Majesty, respectfully submits the following considerations on the present conjuncture.It is very peculiar in this, that probably for; the first time in the history of England, except on 1624 one well-known occasion, the Sovereign will not have the power of dissolving Parliament between this time and November next. Until the Redistribution Bill had passed both Houses this state of things had not arisen. But now the Bill cannot be altered in this respect by the Forms of Parliament; and as the Bill must pass, it must be accepted as a fact that Dissolution is impossible.This wholly abnormal state of things places the Executive in a difficult position in the House of Commons. A Government which has not a majority in that House will have no means of securing that the indispensable Business of the country shall be completed. It is, therefore, in the opinion of the Leaders of the Conservative Party, indispensable that before accepting Office they should obtain from the Leaders of the majority in that House an undertaking to support them in the measures which are absolutely necessary in order to bring the Session to a close. The engagement which, in their judgment, is necessary is that the Liberal Leaders should undertake to support the new Government in the two following respects:—
- "1. That on all days on which the Government puts down Supply or Ways and Means, or the Appropriation Bill, the Government Business shall have precedence.
- "2. That if no other provision is made by the [louse to satisfy the Estimates that have been laid on the Table, and the Votes of Credit that have been passed, provision shall be made for the issue of Exchequer Bonds to the amount necessary for that purpose.With the support of the Liberal Leaders upon these points a Conservative Government would be able to wind up the Business of the Session so far as those measures are concerned which are absolutely necessary; but without it they could not do so, and could render no useful service to Your Majesty by taking Office.The second is a letter from myself, dated June 17th, 8.30 P.M.—Mr. Gladstone acknowledges with his humble duty Your Majesty's gracious letter inclosing a letter from Lord Salisbury to Your Majesty.As Your Majesty desires a prompt reply, and as Mr. Gladstone has had an opportunity of considering the substance of the matter pressed by Lord Salisbury, lie answers at once.Perhaps I may say that this was only received at 8 o'clock in the evening, and the answer was sent immediately.At the same time he would have been glad to have had an opportunity of obtaining advice upon the important question whether, as Lord Salisbury states, a Dissolution is impossible. Mr. Gladstone will only say that this is not his impression.He has, however, to say that in the conduct of the necessary Business of the country during the remainder of the Session he believes there will be no disposition to embarrass the Government serving your Majesty.He does not consider that it would be for the public advantage, from any point of view, to enter into specific pledges on points of Parliamentary action with respect to which he is not in possession of all the facts that bear upon them.1625He humbly asks leave to regard the assurance which he has above conveyed as a public reply to a public question.Then follows a supplementary letter from myself to Her Majesty of the 18th of June—Mr. Gladstone, with his humble duty to Tour Majesty, reverts to his letter of last night, and, upon the facts before him, having now had the opportunity of consultation to which he then referred, he agrees with Lord Salisbury in the words 'it must be accepted now as a fact that a Dissolution is impossible.'He prays Tour Majesty to consider this supplemental letter as being, like the letter of last night, a record of a public transaction.The fourth letter is a letter from Lord Salisbury to Her Majesty, dated the 18th of June—Lord Salisbury, with his humble duty to Tour Majesty, respectfully acknowledges the receipt of Mr. Gladstone's answer to Tour Majesty.With respect to the question whether an immediate Dissolution is possible when the Redistribution Bill is passed, ho begs to submit an opinion signed by Sir Hardinge Giffard and Mr. Gibson.Lord Salisbury has laid the two letters before his political friends; and they are unanimously of opinion that Mr. Gladstone's letter contains no pledge that he and his friends would give to a new Government the support necessary for completing the indispensable Business of the Session. Without such a pledge they feel that they would not be justified in assuming Office in the face of a large adverse majority at a juncture when an appeal to the constituencies is legally impossible. By such a step they would not be facilitating the progress of Public Business, and would be rather embarrassing than serving Tour Majesty.Lord Salisbury concurs with Mr. Gladstone in thinking that their letters to Tour Majesty on this subject should be treated as having a public character.Here is the opinion of Sir Hardinge Giffard and Mr. Gibson, which I will read, although there is no dispute whatever as to the fact, assuming the passing of the Redistribution of Seats Bill—June 18.We are of opinion that once the Queen's Assent is given to the Redistribution Bill a Dissolution is impossible. The old constituencies and the Registers applicable to them will have been abolished, and the new Registers applicable to the new constituencies will not have come into existence. Of course the Queen's Assent may be deterred and a Dissolution on the old Registers thus obtained; but we do not understand that course to be suggested.HARDINGE GIFFARD.E. GIBSON.No. 5 is a Memorandum drawn up by me at Windsor, and submitted to Her Majesty on the 18th of June in a formal document, with certain points— 1626Memorandum submitted to Her Majesty at Windsor, June 18, 1885.The sixth letter is a letter from Lord Salisbury to Her Majesty, and is dated the 19th of June—
- "1. Can Lord Salisbury suggest any amendment of my words which would make them satisfactory?
- "2. In my opinion the whole value of such a declaration as circumstances like these admit depends upon the spirit in which it is given and received, For myself and for any friends of mine, I can only say that we give the declaration, and should endeavour to interpret and apply it, in the same spirit in which we entered upon the recent conferences on the Seats Bill.
- "3. I am of opinion that it would be easy to convince Lord Salisbury himself that it is entirely beyond our power to give the specific pledges which ho requires.
- "4. I can confidently say that, so far as my knowledge goes, there is not the slightest intention to make an extreme or illegitimate use of the power of a majority, were it in our power to do so.
- "5. About the Dissolution, on the facts before us, there is no difference of opinion."Lord Salisbury, with his humble duty to Your Majesty, respectfully acknowledges the receipt of a Memorandum from Mr. Gladstone.Lord Salisbury begs to submit the following observations in reply:—1. The precise engagements asked for are as follows:—(a.) That Mr. Gladstone and his political Friends will support a Motion to give the new Government the time of the House—that is, precedence on all days on which financial Business is put down. The new Government, on the other hand, would engage not to bring forward on those days any other Business to which Mr. Gladstone objected, (b) That if no other provision is made by the House for the Credits already voted and the Estimates laid on the Table, Mr. Gladstone and his Friends will support a financial arrangement to this effect—that the Income Tax shall stand for the year at 8d., and that, in lieu of any other augmentation of taxation, provision be made for Supply either by Exchequer Bonds for the year or any other form of temporary loan.The object of this proposal is, on the one hand, to leave Mr. Gladstone at liberty to object to any new taxing proposals which the new Government may make when they are in possession of official information, and, on the other hand, to prevent any possibility of a deadlock.If Dissolution were possible the new Government would have no right to ask their opponents for security against a deadlock; an appeal to the electors would be the Constitutional resource, which it would be their duty to recommend to Your Majesty. But this resource having been cut off by the Redistribution Bill, Lord Salisbury and his Friends feel that they cannot take Office with any advantage to Tour Majesty's Service unless they receive from the Leader of the majority an engagement to concur in the measures which are indispensabic for closing the Business of the Session. A substitute for such specific pledges cannot be found in a general declaration that there is no intention to embarrass the new 1627 Government, for the precise bearing of such a declaration will be open, as events arise, to different interpretations.No. 7 is a letter from myself to Her Majesty dated June 20th, after having received that letter of Lord Salisbury—June 20, 1 P.M.Mr. Gladstone presents his humble duty to Your Majesty.He had the honour to receive between 9.30 and 10 this morning a letter from Sir Henry Ponsonby, written on Your Majesty's behalf, and inclosing a letter from Lord Salisbury to Your Majesty, dated June 19.Mr. Gladstone felt it necessary at once to call for the presence of all his late Colleagues who were within reach; and they met at 11, when Mr. Gladstone laid before them the letters which have passed.The conditions which it is deemed necessary by Lord Salisbury to require from Mr. Gladstone are stated with great clearness.It is a matter of the utmost regret to your Majesty's late Advisers and to Mr. Gladstone himself that Lord Salisbury puts aside without a word a portion of Mr. Gladstone's Memorandum, describing the spirit in which the declaration lately made by him would be interpreted and applied.This portion of Mr. Gladstone's Memorandum written on the 18th has received the entire and marked approval of his Colleagues, and he himself had hoped that here might be found a solution of the existing difficulty.He is concerned to say for himself and on the part of all the Members of the late Cabinet who have assembled that it would be contrary to their public duty to compromise the liberties of the House of Commons by giving the specific pledges which Lord Salisbury requires.No. 8 is a letter from Lord Salisbury to Her Majesty, dated the 20th of June, which passed through Her Majesty, and reached me on the 22nd—June 20.Lord Salisbury, with his humble duty to Your Majesty, respectfully acknowledges the receipt of Mr. Gladstone's letter.Lord Salisbury much regrets that he should have seemed to Mr. Gladstone to have put aside without a word' his reference to the spirit in which Mr. Gladstone undertook to interpret the declaration contained in his own letter of the 17th inst. Lord Salisbury had no intention of doing so. The closing sentence of his last letter to your Majesty was intended to convey that his objection was to the generality of that declaration —an objection which is not sufficiently met by a statement of the spirit in which that declaration was made.The declaration to which Mr. Gladstone refers was in these words—' In the conduct of the necessary Business of the country during the remainder of the Session, Mr. Gladstone believes there will be no disposition to embarrass the Government serving Your Majesty.' In the subsequent Memorandum he states that he gives this declaration (which is a declaration of his belief), 1628 and that he 'would endeavour to interpret and apply it in the same spirit in which he and his Friends entered upon the recent conferences on the Seats Bill.' Lord Salisbury does not entirely understand the meaning of these words as applied to a declaration of belief. But he is glad to have an opportunity of acknowledging the loyalty with which the arrangements at those conferences have been kept. He believes, however, that their success is mainly due to the distinctness of the ' specific pledges' which were then asked for and given on either side. The spirit which declines all ' specific pledges ' is certainly not the spirit in which Mr. Gladstone and his Friends entered on the conferences on the Seats Bill.Lord Salisbury is not able to understand on what ground Mr. Gladstone speaks of the ' specific pledges' asked for as compromising the liberties of the House of Commons. Lord Salisbury has only asked whether Mr. Gladstone will vote for a certain form of Budget, and whether he will support a motion for giving to the incoming Government (which cannot commence its work till after the beginning of July) facilities similar to those which are frequently, if not uniformly, given to the Government of the day at some period during that month. Lord Salisbury cannot see in this suggestion anything inconsistent with the liberties of the House of Commons.Though the language used by Mr. Gladstone on behalf of his Cabinet gives an emphatic sanction to the declaration already quoted, Lord Salisbury humbly submits that the declaration itself centains no definite assurance of support in respect of the matter mentioned in Lord Salisbury's proposals, and offers no security against an immediate recurrence of the present difficulty.That, Sir, is letter No. 8, which is dated June 20. It reached me on the 22nd, and I mention that fact because my closing letter is dated on the 21st of June before this letter had reached me. My letter is as follows: —10, Downing Street, Whitehall, June 21.Mr. Gladstone presents his humble duty to Your Majesty.He had the honour to receive soon after 1 to-day Your Majesty's gracious letter has at no time stated that nothing could be done in the sense indicated by Lord Salisbury, and had, indeed, reason to believe Lord Salisbury is already aware that, in his opinion, facilities for expediting Supply may reasonably he provided, but not so as to place the liberties of the House of Commons in abeyance.But his Colleagues have been of opinion that it would not be advisable to enter into argument or detail on the demands of Lord Salisbury, and Mr. Gladstone could not but concur, as his reference to the recent conferences on the Seats Bill has simply led to counter-arguments.With regard to finance, looking at all the facts and probabilities before him, Mr. Gladstone feels sure there is no idea of withholding the Ways and Means required for the Public Service, and he apprehends no danger on this score.The difficulty which he is unable to surmount lies in endeavours to define beforehand the course 1629 to be taken on questions the exact form of which cannot be foreseen.He remains, therefore, without power on his own part and that of his Friends to tender the specific pledges required "by Lord Salisbury.I have now read, Sir, with Her Majesty's permission, all the letters containing assurances as to the conduct of my Friends and myself which I have given to Her Majesty in answer to the request of Lord Salisbury.
§ MR. ROWLAND WINN
Since I moved that the House at its rising should adjourn until Friday, I have been informed that in consequence of an arrangement which has been made for the meeting of the other House of Parliament to-morrow, I cannot move the Adjournment of the House until Friday. I therefore beg to withdraw that Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.