HC Deb 31 July 1889 vol 338 cc1795-801

Order for Second Beading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. W. E. Smith.)

* MR. WALLACE (Edinburgh, E.)

In rising to move that the Bill be read a second time on this day three months, I feel that in some sense I am bound to meet the objections of those who having expressed their own minds upon the question naturally feel that the subject has been exhausted. My apology is the great importance of the question itself. I know it has been said that this is a subject of secondary consideration. I am not of that opinion. In spite of a remark the other day by one of the Members for Birmingham that there is something in the nature of Nihilism in representing the opinion of the people with a capital P, I venture to say from the knowledge I have of the people, whether with a small P or a great P, that this is a matter that creates great interest among the masses of the population. We are brought face to face with a critical stage of the great historico-political problem of whether and how an Hereditary Monarchy can be reconciled with Democratic Government. It is a mistake to suppose that the Monarchical system is necessarily bound up with the aristocratical system—and that the one stands or falls with the other. I am not of opinion that the reconciliation of the Monarchical principle with the democratic is impossible; but whether that be so or not, I am certain that the problem is not an easy one, and that we are justified in keeping it before the public for a continuance of time greater than that which has already been done. But I have a personal reason for continuing the discussion. I have not yet engaged the attention of the House upon this matter; but I desire, as a Scotch Member, and as one representing the ancient historical Metropolis of Scotland, where Royalist traditions still linger, to give my opinions upon this matter. During the past and the present week, both in the House and in Committee, I endeavoured to catch the eye of the Chair. Probably there is no more difficult process known to the Ophthalmic Art. I have hitherto been unsuccessful in my efforts. The other evening I thought I had my opportunity in the prandial period which the custom of the House assigns as the chance of the undistinguished Member. But the butterflies that bask on the Front Benches never seems to bestow a thought on the caterpillars behind them; and the right hon. Member for the Bridgeton Division (Sir G. Trevelyan) relegated me to that sickness of heart which is the proverbial result of "hope deferred." Further, Sir, I feel myself in a position which compels me to strike out for my own hand, seeing that I am standing here in the somewhat tragic, and certainly unarcadian situation of a sheep without a shepherd. I generally listen to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone), not only with that reverence which is due to his unique personality, but with the satisfaction which arises from hearing truth which commends itself to my own mind, stated with matchless eloquence and force. But on the present occasion I found myself bereft of that happiness, and I heard the right hon. Gentleman cheered, not from this side of the House, but by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I confess that the incident pained and bewildered me in a manner that I am not able adequately to describe. And when it came to the right hon. Gentleman's speech being described by the Under Secretary for India and the Chancellor of the Exchequer as magnificent, a horrible suspicion began to haunt me that our illustrious Leader must have made a mistake. Turning myself to his lieutenants I found myself involved in a "confusion worse confounded." I heard them wriggling over distinctions in comparison with whose subtlety the distinction between "Tweedledum" and "Tweedledee" swelled into Atlantic breadth. I found them declaring that while it was the height of insult to say "nay" to the Queen in the House on Friday, it was the pink of politeness to say "no" to her in Committee on Monday—a question of deportment more suitable to the intellect of a dancing master or a member of the school of the late Mr. Turvey-drop, than that of a sagacious statesman of the House of Commons. I have further taken upon myself to prolong this discussion because I desire, if possible, to draw from the Members from Ireland some expression of opinion that will be satisfactory to our Scotch people. One of the most remarkable features in this Debate has been the virtually absolute unanimity with which the Members from Ireland have supported the Government of Her Majesty and the Coercionist Party. How is this? I see it stated freely in the Press that hon. Members from Ireland, although they agree in conviction with us, have supported the Coercionist Party and the Government in order that they may gratify the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian and may promote the cause of Home Rule by clinging closely to that right hon. Gentleman. Now, Sir, I, for one, feel myself unable to believe that story. In the first place, it can be no gratification to the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian to have the homage of insincerity; in the second place, it can do no good to the cause of Home Rule to become estranged from the Liberal Party; and, in the third place, knowing as I do the character of hon. Members from Ireland, I am unable to believe that they have been acting contrary to their own convictions. I cannot help thinking that in this matter they are moved by a belief that what the Government is doing is right, and that what the Liberal Party is doing is wrong. If I were to believe otherwise, in what position should we of the Liberal Party find ourselves? On many platforms, both in Scotland and England, I have maintained that some of the Representatives of the Irish Party in this House are actuated by a true spirit of heroism, and even of martyrdom. But while I believe that my hon. Friends are actuated by true conviction and by the best of motives in this matter I also think there is something that is due to us of the Liberal Party, who have stood by them cordially through thick and thin; who have been boycotted and punished even to the extent that some of our Party are in prison at this moment for their sakes. Surely it is right, if they think we are wrong, that they should point out the error into which we have fallen, so that we may be guided into better ways. Why are the eloquent lips of the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Mayor of Dublin (Mr. Sexton) so silent in regard to his unfortunate brethren of the Liberal Party? Only nine days ago the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) accepted an invitation from the city which I have the honour to represent, and never in all its romantic history did it accord a more enthusiastic welcome than was given to the hon. Gentleman on that occasion. Scotland folded Ireland to its heart in the sublime embrace of international brotherhood. If the hon. Gentleman accepted that token of affection, surely it is only right that he should say something for the purpose of guiding us, when we have fallen into error, into the way which he himself approves, and which I have no doubt he is able to substantiate by argument. These considerations seem to me sufficient to justify my personal action in prolonging the discussion a little further, and I wish now to state briefly the position from which I feel myself constrained to disapprove of this Bill. I look upon the Measure from the point of view of a Constitutional but not a yellow-plush loyalty. I think it is calculated to do great harm to the position of the Crown, and to create something in the nature of estrangement between the Throne and the people. In view of the Constitution the Sovereign is the lawful and Christian protectress of her subjects. We have only to look to the Coronation Oath to see that that is a fair description of the Constitutional aspect of the question. I do not wish to press the Christian aspect too far, but taking it generally, I maintain that the Sovereign holds her position on the condition of devoting herself self-sacrificingly and incessantly, and among other things to the good of her people—like other parents, undertaking the duty of providing for the members of her family. If the Sovereign is in the possession of means to provide for her family, we are bound to assume that it belongs to her Queenly position and desire to make adequate provision for them. The real practical question with the people is simply this: Is the Queen able to support her own family? We are told that we must not pry into the savings or the resources of the Sovereign. I believe that at the present moment it is impossible to do otherwise. Ministers have so managed matters, in the course of the discussion of this question, as to create an impression in the public mind that the Sovereign is amply able to discharge the duty of supporting her family. I have no intention of entering into details in regard to the past discussion, but I will give an inference which I think I am entitled to draw. I noticed that when the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey) asserted that the savings of the Sovereign were a quarter of a million, the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian corrected him, and remarked that if he said that it was one half of that sum he would be nearer the mark. When the senior Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) referred to information, in respect to the resources of the Sovereign, which had been given to the Committee, but withheld from the House, he merely said that the estimate of £3,000,000, which the hon. Member for Sunderland gave as the total savings of the Sovereign, was too large, but the hon. Member did not say that in such a tone as to imply that there was anything to prevent Her Majesty from making ample provision for her family. I am sure that the people of this country are ready to give all that is necessary to enable the Sovereign to perform fully and substantially the duties that are imposed upon her. The people of this country do not grudge the splendour which surrounds the Throne, but only those additions which are ridiculous and absurd. But when we ask for information on this vital point of the Sovereign's actual means how is it that we are met? We are either met with mysterious silence, or with vague and evasive statements. We are told that we have no right to know these particulars—that all we have to consider are the contractual obligations under which we stand towards the Sovereign. But even so, I do not think we ought to be bound by precedents, the youngest of which is 50 years old and created when the people in the large sense was not represented. Even in 1837, when Her-Majesty ascended the Throne, the country was still being run practically in the interest of the aristocratic classes. The people have now come to their estate, and it rests with them to say whether they will ratify the acts of those who then professed to be their agents and trustees. If the Crown has profited by the-action of unfaithful trustees, it ought not to take it ill that when the true beneficiary comes in a strict account should be demanded. In acting as they have done, I believe that the Government and their supporters have been debasing the true relations between the Sovereign and her subjects. They have been degrading the Sovereign to the position of a mere paid official who is more solicitous about her rights than her duties. They have been guilty, so to speak, of a double political blasphemy—namely, of placing the Sovereign before the people as an unnatural parent, who does not understand the happiness and duty of providing for her own offspring, and is content to throw them, as it were, upon the parish; a greedy Shylock—standing on the letter of her bond, insisting on her pound of flesh, but prepared to take an ounce less for prompt payment, though without prejudice. I believe that to be the real attitude of Her Majesty's Government in this Bill, and I have therefore no hesitation in taking upon myself the responsibility of moving its rejection.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Mr. Wallace.)

Question, "That the Bill be now read a second time," put.

No Division being challenged, Mr. Speaker declared that the "Ayes" had it.

MR. PHILIPPS (Lanark, Mid)

then rose to continue the Debate.


Order, order! The "Ayes" have it.


I rise to a point of order.


What point of order?


I wish, Sir, to call your attention to the fact that I was on my legs at the time the Question was being put.


That is not so. I distinctly saw the hon. Member rise after the Question had been put and decided.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for to-morrow.