§ MR. WARNER (Somerset, N.)
I think all will agree that the Speech from the Throne gives pledges for the continuance of that Radical and progressive policy so dear to the Liberal Party, and for which the majority of this House has striven so hard and so unceasingly during the last Session under the leadership of the greatest of our countrymen. I cannot mention the name of the right hon. Member for Midlothian without condoling with the right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Pencil who have lost so great a chief and one whose tact and unparalleled experience in Parliamentary matters it is impossible to equal. Put we, his Party, feel his loss not only on account of the great eloquence with which the right hon. Gentleman thrilled this House, not only on account of the influence that he cast over us and the whole country with his master mind, but perhaps we shall feel more keenly the loss of one who had so much tenacity of purpose and such an unswerving fidelity to all the principles and great measures adopted by the Liberal Party, and the loss will also be felt deeply by many Members like myself, whose earliest recollections are connected with the kindness and geniality of the great statesman. There is a blank left by the retirement of our late Leader which no mortal man can ever fill. The Speech from the Throne is his policy. It is the programme that that great statesman enunciated as the Leader and mouthpiece of the Liberal Party at Newcastle, and the best tribute we as a Party can pay to him is to fight for the cause he supported, and to carry the banner which he upheld to victory in the future. While affection to our late Leader loads us in that direction, 38 our duties and pledges to our constituents urge us in the same way, and I greet with pleasure the first measure mentioned in the Queen's Speech, which will be the one, perhaps, that he would take the greatest interest in, because it affects that country for which he laboured so unceasingly, and for whose welfare he sacrificed so much of his life. I refer to the measure to deal with the sad case of the evicted tenants in Ireland. I greet it with pleasure, not only because in itself it embodies a great and good principle, but, because I believe that it is the only measure that can maintain that satisfactory condition in Ireland which has been reached at the present moment until the great Home Rule Bill becomes law. [Opposition laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite may laugh, and may rest their hopes on the desertion of the present Prime Minister from that cause, but I would recommend them to read the speech which Lord Rosebery made to his Party this afternoon. Before entering further into the legislation proposed in the programme, I must say a word or two on the able way in which the foreign affairs of the country have been conducted under the statesmen who have had the management of them. We have already overcome the difficulties connected with the Chinese frontier on the side of Burmah. We have gone far in our negotiations in a friendly way—and that alone is a great thing—with Russia as to the definition of our frontier in Central Asia; the United States are carrying out the mandates of the arbitrators with reference to the Behring's Sea fisheries, and I trust that in the delicate matter of the collision of our forces with those of a friendly nation in West Africa the same amount of success will attend the efforts of those who have these subjects to deal with. I regret to say there is a necessity for a huge expenditure in providing for the defence of the Empire, but I may add that most of us on this side are prepared to support that expenditure. But to return to the legislation proposed to be undertaken this Session. Besides the measure affecting Ireland, there is a promise of most important Bills dealing with labour questions—with the Factory Acts, the Mines Regulation Acts, and with the provision of a Board of Conciliation for the settlement of labour disputes. I will 39 not detain the House by referring to these important measures affecting labour, because, although I take great interest in them, I am to be followed by one who has had a life's experience of the working classes, and whose study throughout his life has been labour questions. I regret, however, that the measure which was passed in this House during the last Session was not made law, and that there is not included in the programme a Bill restricting labour in mines to eight hours a day. Perhaps the measure most desired throughout the country is a Registration Bill—not a Registration Bill such as the Duke of Devonshire seems to think any Registration Bill must be, not a gerrymandering Bill, but a real, honest Registration Bill, which shall remove some of the grievances that now exist, even if it does not do more than put an end to the practice of disfranchising for two years a man who removes his home and deprive rate-compounding owners of property of the power of disfranchising their tenants. It will be hard for hon. Gentlemen opposite to refuse their support to a Bill which will give votes to the classes already enfranchised by getting rid of the difficulties which tend to keep the men off the Register. There is a measure perhaps more keenly desired throughout the country, but which I cannot hope to see gentlemen opposite join in supporting—a measure for preventing the mere fact of a man's holding property giving him extra votes. The Liberal Party are delighted to see that a man shall no longer be qualified by mere leisure and property for repeating the expression of his opinion at the ballot-boxes and so often overriding the wishes of the locality. But beyond these Bills there was a Bill for dealing with the liquor traffic. [Ironical Opposition cheers.] I am pleased to note that gentlemen opposite greet the mention of that measure with such pleasure, for I hope they will then support it. No Member of the House will be slow to support a Bill to give to Scotland that which has been got with such difficulty and labour for England—a Local Government Bill. Then there is the Bill for the disestablishment of the Scotch Church; and on this subject I should like to say that, although I live far removed from Scotland, I have always heard—and nobody seems to be able to 40 contradict it—that the only thing that keeps the great Churches in Scotland apart is the fact of there being an Establishment. I rejoice to see a measure for the equalisation of rates in London, not only because it is good for London, but because it carries out the best principles of the Poor Law of l834, and does away with a remnant of an ancient abuse—putting the heaviest burden on those least able to bear it. The Speech also foreshadows a measure which I think will be greeted with joy by agriculturists throughout the country—a measure to divide rates between occupier and owner, which will at least give to those who are employed in agriculture a less share of the burdens that they now have to pay. Lastly, I must express satisfaction that among the first of the Government measures will be one for the disestablishment and disendowment of the Church in Wales—a Church which has ceased to be a National Church, a Church which has no right to be called a National Institution, and which only remains to bring hatred on the Church of England, of which it is so decrepit and decayed a member. [Opposition laughter] Hon. Gentlemen opposite may dissent from that statement, but it certainly is a fact that the majority of the Welsh people look upon it as a very unimportant and un-National Institution. The programme before us is one which, from a Radical point of view, is good, and if it is carried I am sure most of us will be satisfied. I quite recognise the great difficulties that the Government and the Party have before them. But I believe those difficulties are over-estimated. Gentlemen opposite may do something towards helping in this work. In view of the necessities of their Party at the elections which they expect so soon, and which they so ardently desire, they would do well to use their best abilities in trying to influence their friends elsewhere to counsels of moderation and forbearance. Beyond these difficulties there is the difficulty of having lost our Leader. Against that I put the fact that we have still an unbroken Party. We have still sitting on the Treasury Bench the most Radical Government that ever sat there. We have still two great Leaders who are quite able to cope with the difficulties before them. We have in this House one whose eloquence and faculties of 41 leadership have been evinced over and over again. While for our Leader in the country we have a brilliant statesman—a man tried in the highest office—a man who has successfully dealt with the most intricate and delicate negotiations—a man who is honoured and respected and admired by the working classes—a man also who has shown great capabilities of leadership in another assembly in this great Metropolis. With such men, with such a united front, and with such a cause, I not only feel that this House will accept the programme, but that when the time comes to consult the country the masses of the country will turn with scorn upon the false Radicals and the self-styled friends of the people who dare stand aside or oppose those measures of democracy and progress which we so heartily desire. I have to apologise to gentlemen opposite for having made, perhaps, too much of a Party speech. I can only give as an excuse the present anxiety of Parties and my inexperience in dealing with these subjects as anything but a Party man. I thank the House very much for the attention with which it has listened to me, and I beg to move this Address in reply to Her Majesty's Gracious Speech—That we, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—(Mr. Courtenay Warner.)
§ * MR. C. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)
In rising to second the Address of Thanks to Her Majesty for Her Most Gracious Speech, perhaps the House will permit mo to express my appreciation of the very distinguished compliment and honour which the Government have conferred upon me in asking me to discharge this duty, in the performance of which I am sure, from my own past experience of the House, that I shall be granted its fullest and most complete indulgence. This, I believe I am correct in saying, is the first occasion on which an hon. Member occupying a humble position in life similar to that which occupy has been called upon to discharge such it duty. J attach considerable importance to this 42 fact, not merely on account of the personal compliment which to me it involves—and that, Sir, is not without its interests and influence upon my mind—but more because of the principle which is involved in the incident itself. It is a guarantee, as I take it, that as far as this House is concerned equality of privilege and opportunity should no longer be limited by considerations of birth or social distinction, and, as such, I attach considerable importance to it. I think I may also be permitted to thank the Government for the compliment which they have paid to my class through me in asking me to discharge this duty. I hope also that I may regard the departure which the Government have made in this respect as a guarantee of their sympathy with progressive legislation. Reference has already been made to the sympathetic views of the Prime Minister (the Earl of Rosebery) on social and democratic questions. He has already given evidence elsewhere of his sympathy with the masses, and, with Lord Rosebery as Prime Minister, and with, as Leader of this House, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir W. Harcourt), who for the past 20 years or more has been one of the truest and most faithful friends whom the industrial classes have been able to count upon in Parliament, I hope I may take this now departure as a guarantee that they are determined to maintain a progressive and democratic policy in social and domestic affairs, and can assure my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if that be so, be may confidently rely upon the cordial and loyal support of all his friends not only in this House but also in the country. It must, I think, be a matter of profound congratulation to learn from Her Majesty's Most Gracious Speech that her relations with Foreign Powers continue to be of a cordial and friendly character. When we remember the vastness of her dominions, and take into account the diversity of the character and temperament of her subjects scattered here, there, and everywhere amongst the nations of the earth, and involving liabilities and responsibilities which may at any moment lead to serious complications and breaches of the peace, we cannot but express our profound congratulations to Her 43 Majesty that her relations with Foreign Powers continue to be amicable and satisfactory. Many people seem to think that working men take no interest in foreign policy or foreign affairs. That is a very great delusion. They take the keenest and the most watchful interest in these things, but I may be permitted to say on their behalf that they are not particularly in love with what is sometimes termed a "Jingo" policy. "Defence, not defiance" is the policy which they approve, and the Government may rely upon this—that if there were any attempt to resort to what has been termed a spirited foreign policy, they must calculate at the outset upon the his strenuous and most uncompromising opposition from the industrial classes in the country. This, however, is, I think, a contingency most remote. With regard to domestic affairs, it is also some satisfaction to us to know that by the administration of the ordinary law in Ireland agrarian crime has been reduced to the lowest point which has been reached within the last 15 years. That, in my judgment, is conclusive evidence of the wisdom of the policy which has been pursued by Her Majesty's Government in relation to Ireland. It is a demonstration, in my opinion, that a policy based upon considerations of clemency, justice, and impartiality will rarely, if ever, require to be strengthened and supported by repressive legislation in order to secure the maintenance of law and order. I think that in the comparatively tranquil and peaceful condition of Ireland is to be found the strongest possible justification of the policy of the Government in regard to that country. The measure promised in Her Majesty's Speech dealing with the case of the evicted tenants in Ireland is one which, I hope, will receive the sympathetic consideration of all Parties in the House. It is to be hoped that a reasonable settlement will be arrived at on this vexed and perplexing question, and that such settlement may prove an additional guarantee for the future peace and tranquillity of that unfortunate country. The question of registration will also command our attention during the Session. That is a matter of great and urgent necessity. There is no class in the community which suffers more on 44 account of the anomalies of our present Registration Laws than the industrial class. They, as a rule, are a migratory class. The precariousness and uncertainty of their employment compels them to change from time to time their place of residence, and such change of residence not infrequently results in long periods of disfranchisement, and loss of political rights. I maintain that that is a condition of things which ought not to continue. The system of plural voting which obtains often leads to a majority of the residents in a constituency being overruled by those whose only interest in the district is derived from the revenue which they gain from their investments in it. That ought not to be considered sufficient to give a man additional rights and privileges. I agree with the sentiment uttered by my hon. Friend, to the effect that wealth and social position ought not to carry with it additional political advantages. I will mention to the House an incident that has occurred in my own history since I became a Member of this House. Five years ago I was compelled to remove from my place of residence to another house which offered greater facilities for the effective discharge of my duty to my constituents and as a citizen, but in doing so I suffered this great disability—that I was disfranchised as a Parliamentary voter for a period of 17 months. While I had the honour of being permitted to take part hero in the making of the laws which were to be observed by myself and by my countrymen, yet if an election had occurred in the constituency in which I was residing during those 17 months I should not have been permitted to vote for the candidate of my choice. That is a ridiculously absurd and anomalous condition of things which ought not to continue. I therefore rejoice that we have promise in the Queen's Speech of a measure of reform of our Registration Law which will carry with it at the same time the principle of "One Man One Vote." Measures are also promised relating to Ecclesiastical Establishments in Wales and Scotland. On these questions I will not do more than to add that it seems to me these measures are dictated or demanded not merely as a matter of justice to Nonconformists, but as essential to true Christian progress; and I am sure of this—that they are 45 anxiously looked for by the great majority of Welsh and Scotch people. Measures are promised for the equalisation of rates in London, for the extension of local government in Scotland, and on the question of local control of the liquor traffic. These are matters of importance to London, to Scotland, and to the people of the entire Kingdom. The measure for the local control of the liquor traffic is one in which my constituents take a very deep and profound interest, and we are very grateful indeed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for having courageously taken up this question, and I sincerely hope that he may be able to make satisfactory progress with it during the present Session. I am afraid I have troubled the House at too great length; hut if it will bear with me but for a few minutes longer, I will say a word or two on the last paragraph in Her Majesty's Most Gracious Speech—the one which deals with labour questions, in which I am very deeply and closely interested. And here, Sir, I should be wanting in frankness if I did not express my regret at the omission of any reference in the Speech 1o the Employers' Liability Bill. That is the question which is agitating the mind of the working classes at the present time perhaps to a greater degree than any other question. I could not help feeling, having regard to the way in which this measure was dealt with in the last Session of Parliament, that we were about to commit a similar mistake in our treatment of labour questions which was made in relation to the question of Ireland in past years. The Representatives of the Irish people in this House—the men who were in the closest touch and sympathy with their race—stood up in their places and besought the House to do certain things and not to do other things upon which it was bent. They were like men crying in the wilderness. You turned a deaf ear to their appeals, no matter how sincerely they were uttered. The result was most disastrous. The result is a, matter of history, and, therefore, need not be repeated by me on this occasion. I fear we are very likely, from what took place last Session in relation to the Employers' Liability Bill, to commit a similar error or mistake in our treatment of labour questions. I do not claim ex- 46 ceptional right to speak in these matters. I claim, with my colleagues, to be closely associated with large Organisations of working men. I claim on their behalf, and on my own, to speak in their name, to voice their opinions in this House; and I regret to say that last Session, although one and all of the 14 Labour Representatives here who are closely connected with Labour Organisations appealed to you to pass the Employers' Liability Hill, our appeal was rejected. [Opposition cries of "No!"] Yes; you turned a deaf ear to it. ["No, no!"] I beg pardon of hon. Gentlemen who say "no." The result (dearly shows that they turned a deaf ear to our cry. [Cries of "No, no!"] You and your friends in another place. You mutilated and destroyed the Bill; and for what? For Party purposes. ["No, no!"] Why, what is it we are told now by some of the leading men of the Unionist Party? We are told that if a Unionist Government be returned to power at the next Election they will consider it their duty to place in the forefront of their programme an amendment of the Employers' Liability Hill. [Opposition cheers.] I am glad to hear you cheer that, but it would have been better if you had waited until I had finished my sentence. We are told that they will consider it their duty to introduce an Employers' Liability Bill at least as good—[Cheers, and cries of "A great deal better!"]—no, not better, but at least as good as that of last Session. I challenge the right hon. Gentleman for West Birmingham when I say "not better." A declaration such as this may do for Party purposes in the country, but, to my mind, it is anything hut an evidence of high-minded statesmanship. Well, the measure having been lost in the last Session it now devolves upon us—and we accept the duty—to give unmistakable evidence to the country and to the House of Lords that neither they nor the Party opposite shall ever be permitted to carry a measure to amend the Employers' Liability Bill through this House which embodies as one of its provisions a contracting out clause. As I have said, I regret the omission of all allusion to this Bill in the Queen's Speech. I am certain of this—from the able, vigorous, and courageous way in which the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary 47 defended this measure in all its stages last Session—that there is no attempt to withdraw from the position which the Government then took up in relation to this matter. We prefer to wait until we can carry a measure without a contracting-out clause rather than pass one in the mutilated form in which hon. Gentlemen opposite endeavoured to force it upon us last Session. The measures which are promised for the promotion of conciliation in labour disputes, for the amendment of the Factory and Mines Acts, and for the reform of the procedure of inquiry into fatal accidents in Scotland, are all measures of wide and deep interest to the industrial classes. They all tend in the direction of promoting the safety and well-being of those who toil in our factories, our workshops, and mines. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary very wisely—if he will permit me to say so—a few months ago appointed a Committee of Experts to inquire into the conditions of labour under which men—and women also—are compelled to work in our chemical and alkali works. The Report of that Committee shows to what an alarming extent many of these operatives suffer in consequence of the noxious gases which they inhale in the discharge of their duties in the chemical and alkali works, and I hope that the measure which he is about to introduce will receive careful consideration from the House, and that we shall endeavour with all possible speed to carry it to a successful issue. Social questions at the present moment are occupying the mind of politicians and all political Parties. In that circumstance I see a very hopeful sign of the times. The social ferment and agitation which we are compelled to witness from day to day is but the outcome of a higher intelligence amongst the people. It is the necessary corollary and logical outcome of an extended franchise, and is based upon an honourable ambition on the part of the toilers to surround themselves and their families with more healthy and comfortable conditions of life. As such, it seems to me it must be fostered and encouraged by us. If this House is wise it will give a sympathetic consideration to the cry of the working classes, and do all in its power to mitigate the hardships to which they are at times subject. I am not a revolutionist in 48 this sense: I do not advocate extreme measures; I am opposed to all violent methods of procedure in endeavouring to obtain social reform. In my judgment, he is not a friend of the working man who gives such cowardly and foolish advice. But, at the same time, we must take warning by what has taken place in the Sister Isle. Wise and timely concessions will do much to calm the temper and the passions of the toiling masses, and will do much to promote the peace and goodwill amongst the people of this Empire. It is because I believe the measures which are foreshadowed in the Speech of Her Most Gracious Majesty will tend in this direction that I have the greatest possible pleasure in seconding the Address of Thanks.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That, &c."—[See page 41.]
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
I am sure the House will have heard with great satisfaction the manner in which the two hon. Gentlemen who have just sat down have discharged a task which, for my own part, I have always thought one of exceptional difficulty and delicacy. Neither of the two hon. Gentlemen is a stranger to us. Both, I am glad to think, have on previous occasions taken part in the Debates of this House, and the House has listened to both, and especially to the manly utterances of the hon. Gentleman who seconded the Address, with marked satisfaction on many previous occasions. I feel, as the House will readily understand, but little disposed on an occasion such as this to play the critic even to the smallest extent, though I may say that perhaps parts of the speech of the hon. Gentleman who moved the Address was couched in terms slightly more controversial than has been usual on such occasions. I listened with great interest but some surprise to a passage in the speech of each of the hon. Gentlemen which seemed to me rather more appropriate to an Amendment on the Address, for I noticed that the Mover of the Address expressed great regret that the Eight Hours Bill was not included among the measures mentioned in the Speech—a Bill which I may say the Seconder has a rooted objection to; while the Seconder, so it seemed to me, devoted not the least interesting and im- 49 pressive part of his most able speech to a discussion of the general policy which ought to animate the House and the Party to which he belongs with reference to a measure which has not made its appearance in the Speech from the Throne, But the hon. Gentleman will well understand that I do not wish to press these small details, and I am sine I only express the general view of the House when I thank them for the speeches they have delivered. Now, Sir, the hon. Gentleman who moved the Address I think only met the just expectations of Members when he alluded in very feeling terms to the great change which has taken place in the constitution of the Government—a change, I regret to say, necessarily reflected in the genera, proceedings of this House. J do not suppose that any such change has taken place in the personnel of this House, or any such loss been incurred to the general distinction and brilliancy of our proceedings as that which the Government opposite, and we, in our measure, must deplore—namely, the retirement of the late Prime Minister from the responsible post which he has so long and so brilliantly filled with so much distinction. For my own part, I can hardly imagine the House of Commons deprived of the services of that light hon. Gentleman who has so long occupied the very front rank on one side or the oilier among those who lead in our Debates. Long before, or before many of us who have now entered middle life were even born, the right hon. Gentleman was a Cabinet Minister, and already the centre of many hopes and many prophecies of success which have since been most brilliantly fulfilled. I believe the number of gentlemen who were in the House before I joined it is now a, comparatively small and dwindling band: but before that date the right hon. Gentleman had been Prime Minister of England for four years. He has been, within the memory of every single individual whom I am now addressing, ever since they entered the House, the great example of all that is most splendid and most brilliant in the conduct of Parliamentary debate and in the use of every species of Parliamentary eloquence: and, leaving all questions of Party politics on one side, deferring or, rather, putting out 50 of view any attempt to estimate the great public career, of which the most active part, I should imagine, has now drawn to a close, I feel that every Member of this House owes to the late Prime Minister a debt of personal and public gratitude in that he has maintained, through all the great Parliamentary and social changes, the high standard of public life which he learned to admire in a different age, and that he has continued to uphold the great traditions of the House of Commons, with which, I believe, no small part of the dignity and the utility of this Assembly is inseparably bound up. I pass from this subject to what is more directly germane to the present occasion—namely, the contents of the Speech from the Throne, in answer to which we are now asked to vote the Address. The Mover of the Address appeared, I thought, at one part of his speech to feel some anxiety lest we should be under a, misapprehension that with the change which has recently taken place was involved some alteration of the policy of that Party of which the hon Gentleman is a Member. I do not think any such suspicion has ever crossed the mind of any of us who sit on this side of the House. There has, undoubtedly, been a change in the name of the firm, but the business is conducted as usual. Even before we had the advantage of hearing the Speech from the Throne we never for a moment conceived that the retirement of the late Prime Minister would carry with it consequences affecting the general policy of the Party which has been so long led by him. But if any such suspicion had ever occurred to any gentleman they would certainly be entirely dissipated by the character of the Speech from the Throne. That Speech is a reflection—I will not say a detailed reflection or repetition, but in the main a repetition—of the Speech of last year; and such changes as there are in it have their natural explanation in the changed circumstances of the present Session. The first part of the Speech, which deals with foreign and colonial matters, need not long detain us. This part appears to me, I will confess, more remarkable for what it, does not say than for what it does say—for the omission of topics to which I should have anticipated some allusion would have been made, topics 51 which are important, and which, I think, should have been dealt with by those who framed the Queen's Speech. The Government, in framing the Speech, have had very clearly in mind the existence of Europe, America, and Central Asia, but I notice with surprise that there is not the slightest reference to Eastern Asia or to any portion of Africa. Both Eastern Asia and Africa have been the scenes of very remarkable and interesting events upon which we have some right to desire information, and to which we fully expected that some reference would he made in the Queen's Speech. In South Africa a war—not a war on a very great scale, not an important war, but nevertheless a war—has been carried through, and, I am glad to say, conducted to a successful issue. We should have liked to know something about the settlement, something about the arrangements which the Colonial Office proposes in regard to Matabeleland. East Africa presents a problem of even greater difficulty and intricacy. If I remember rightly, no less than two Commissions of Inquiry have been issued by the Government into the affairs of East Africa—one in connection with the railway and one in connection with the expedition of that eminent public servant who was so soon called away from the service of his country; and in the case of neither of the Reports of these Commissioners, so far as I am aware, have we the slightest intimation of what their contents are, or what course the Government means to pursue in regard to them. We have been promised Papers; the promise has not been fulfilled. We are at this moment absolutely in the dark as to what view the Government take in regard to Uganda; what steps they mean to take to preserve the dominion and supremacy of the British flag and power in that district; and, in general terms, what their policy there is. Rumours have reached us, but I do not attach much value to them, that even the Cabinet themselves have never been able to come to an agreement upon the subject. Very likely that is not the fact; but if they have come to any agreement on the matter, let them tell us what it is, and let them inform us not only what they mean to do, but why they mean to do it, and what is the basis of facts upon which they mean to found their policy in 52 that country for the future. But if the silence about East Africa is singular, surely the silence about Siam is still more singular. I think the Government will not think I am making an undue claim when I say that the Opposition have been anxiously careful not to embarrass the Government during the course of negotiations, the delicacy of which we fully recognise. But I understand that these negotiations are now at an end, and that no question is pending between France and Siam except a comparatively trifling question concerning the trial of certain persons. In these circumstances, I am not aware of any sufficient reason why Papers should be further delayed. We have been given to understand that the delay which has occurred in settling the boundaries of the buffer State in the Upper Mekong has been due to climatic reasons which make it impossible for the Boundary Commissioners to make their investigations until later in the year. This, however, is a comparatively subsidiary question; the centre of the whole problem, so far as this country is concerned, depends not so much upon the buffer State on the North-East of Siam as upon the position which Siam itself is to occupy between the French and British dominions. The French, as I understand, have declared explicitly that they have no interests hostile to the independence of Siam. I hail that declaration with satisfaction, and I wish to know whether the Government entertain any hope of carrying out any arrangement by which France and England should mutually agree to protect the rights of Siam, and to constitute it a really efficient buffer State between two Powers, which, of all Powers in the world, ought specially to avoid all unnecessary causes of friction and disagreement. On these subjects I trust the right hon. Gentleman, when he comes to reply, will give us, if not full information, at all events the hope and prospect of full information being soon forthcoming. My next duty is to do what probably none of my predecessors in the post which I am now filling have ever bad occasion to do—namely, to comment on the paragraph which deals with the Estimates. Hitherto that paragraph has been regarded as one of the commonplaces of Speeches from the Throne. The old 53 form of the sentence ran somewhat in this way—The Estimates for the Public Service of the year will be laid before you, and they will be prepared with all due regard to economy.I observe that on this occasion the reference to economy has slipped out, and that the expression "provision for the defence of the Empire" has come in. I hail it with unqualified satisfaction as a recognition of that which we impressed upon the Government in November or December last—a fact which they then appeared to have learned very imperfectly—namely, that there was an immediate necessity for increased naval expenditure, and I gather that they have learned the lesson which we endeavoured to teach them with great success. I say this in no controversial spirit. The Government are, I hope, prepared to carry out the policy which we recommended to them, and we trust that when the Naval Estimates are laid before us all anxieties may be laid at rest, and that the Government realise that their primary duty is to see that the Fleets of this country shall be raised to that level of strength below which our national honour and even our national safety can be but imperfectly preserved. I now come to the part of the Speech which deals with internal affairs. The first paragraph of this section of the Speech says—The recent improvement in the stale of Ireland has been continuous and marked, and agrarian crime has been reduced under the administration of the ordinary law to the lowest point which has been reached for the last 15 years.As the House knows, I have no very profound belief in statistics, unless they are supplemented and confirmed by other sources of information. Undoubtedly, however, the information which reaches me from Ireland leads me to believe that her present condition in regard to agrarian crime has not been presented in too rosy a light by the Irish Secretary, and that the condition of Ireland in reality is such as all of us must view with the utmost satisfaction. So far there is no controversy between us, but I confess that I see in the words "ordinary law," which occur in this paragraph, something in the nature of a challenge to gentlemen who sit upon this side of the House. I never had the slightest objection to taking up challenges, and I am quite 54 ready to take up this one. If the implication of that paragraph has been rightly comprehended, the Irish Secretary, who, I suppose, is responsible for the wording of it, would have us believe that the condition of Ireland is due, firstly, to the law dicing enforced, and, secondly, to the fact that the law so enforced was the ordinary law. I am not sure that I quite agree with either of these points. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that among the complicated factors which control the condition of Ireland the administration of the law is only one. The Chief Secretary has had at his back an advantage which none of his predecessors have had. He has had at his back a powerful Party and organisation who have used their whole strength and influence and all the resources at their command to make the ask of the right hon. Gentleman an easy one, and to diminish as far as possible the condition of agrarian disturbance, out of which agrarian crime arises. Well, that has nothing to do with the administration of the ordinary law. It is a political accident; or rather it is the result of political design, which is not necessarily of a permanent character. We have, in fact, no right to believe, either from the history of Ireland in the past or from the declarations of Irishmen in the present, that there will be a continuation of this happy state of things. I believe that one distinguished Member of the Irish Party who support the Chief Secretary has declared that in a certain contingency there will be an agrarian agitation of such a character and magnitude as to throw in the shade all previous agitations: and an agrarian agitation of that kind, should it succeed, as to which I may express a passing doubt, must have the result of greatly increasing the amount of agrarian crime with which the Government have to deal. Then the Government have had the great advantage of a most prosperous and plentiful harvest. I will not dwell upon that; the advantages of it are well-known to everybody who, like the right hon. Gentleman, is responsible for the government of Ireland. No farmer anxious to avoid bankruptcy has ever studied the weather with more anxious care than I did when I occupied the Chief Secretary's position, or than he does himself, I am sure. But the right hon. Gentle- 55 man appears to lay down the proposition that he has not only reduced crime under the ordinary law, but that it is because he has used the ordinary law that crime has been reduced. That is not a proposition which will hold water for a moment. The difference between the Criminal Law of Ireland as I desire to see it, and as the right hon. Gentleman maintains it, may be said to depend upon two points alone—secret inquiry and change of venue. The right hon. Gentleman was glad enough to exercise the power of secret inquiry under the Explosives Act when he could do it. He only objects to its use in connection with crimes which are really not less dastardly and dangerous to the community than those associated with dynamite. I want to remind the right hon. Gentleman that the change of venue is an improvement in the machinery of the law which he actually enjoys during those months of the year when he can try crimes at the Winter Assizes, and we have to consider not how justice is performed at the Winter Assizes, where there is a natural or spontaneous change of venue, but how justice is executed when crime is tried at the ordinary Assizes, where no change of venue is possible. I hope we shall hear whether there is some special reason now why justice in agrarian cases is likely to be done by an ordinary jury in the district where a crime has been committed. I have never been able to follow the right hon. Gentleman's practice as regards the Winter Assizes, or to see why he tries some cases there and some at the ordinary Assizes. For instance, I have never been able to understand why he tried the case of three gentlemen, Members of this House, not at the Winter Assizes, where, if they had been guilty, they might have been convicted, but at the Spring Assizes, where, whether guilty or not, it was quite certain they would be acquitted. I recollect that when it was my unhappy lot also to have to prosecute Members of Parliament the doctrine then laid down by gentlemen opposed to me was that it was really an outrage upon the Representatives of the people. When I had to prosecute Members of Parliament, we did, I confess, attempt to bring them before a tribunal which would find them guilty if the evidence went against them; but the right hon. Gentleman has taken 56 care that a Member of Parliament when tried shall be acquitted. I must say that the "ordinary law," as thus administered, does not appear to me to be a better machinery for obtaining justice than the law with change of venue, Special Jury, and secret inquiry, which I should like to see established in Ireland.I pass from that to the paragraphs in the Queen's Speech which deal with legislation. The first of these paragraphs touches upon a measure which is intended to restore, as I understand it, the evicted tenants to their holdings. The phrasing of the Speech is as follows:—The condition, however, of a considerable body of evicted tenants in that country requires early attention, and a measure will be submitted to you with a view to a reasonable settlement of a question deeply affecting the well-being of Ireland.We have now reached the year 1894, and I think it was in the year 1892 that the Chief Secretary, in a letter to a friend of mine, a Member of this House, told us that in this matter of evicted tenants he meant business. The least you can do when you meant business in 1892 is to put your measure in the Queen's Speech of 1894, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman has only fulfilled general expectation when he gave this measure a prominent place—I may say the most prominent place—in the Speech from the Throne. Sir, I shall reserve, naturally, any comments upon the proposals to be submitted to us until we see them in their definite form; but I will express a hope that the word "reasonable" before "settlement," in the paragraph in the Queen's Speech relating to evicted tenants, is not a mere otiose epithet; but that the settlement will be an actual settlement, dealing with the real question at issue. I ought to warn the Government that, so far as I am at present advised, I still think our original scheme, embodied in the Act of 1891, which smoothed away the technical difficulties that might have prevented an arrangement between landlord and tenant, was a wise one. I think if the Government are going to ask us to vote public money, which, even in the present flourishing state of the public finances, is probably not over plentiful; if they are going to ask us to vote public money for the purpose of rewarding those who have admittedly 57 been used as instruments of a political plan of campaign—money which might have been devoted for the benefit of tenants who are certainly not less deserving, and who have endeavoured to the best of their ability to carry out their legal engagements, and have never been the slaves or instruments of any organisation whatever—then I think we shall look at the proposals of the Government with a very critical suspicion. I should think it a very serious menace to the future tranquillity of Ireland if we were to allow the people in that country to imbibe the lesson that as often as they thought desirable to got up a land agitation for their own purposes we were to see them out of the mess in which they had got, and especially do I think that lesson ill-timed and fraught with peril to the future when I know we are at this moment threatened by leading politicians in Ireland with a renewal of that very agitation in consequence of which these men have been turned out of their farms. I do not mean to argue as to a proposal I have not got before me, but I thought it only fair to the Government to let them know the spirit—assuredly not a hostile spirit—in which I view this very difficult question of the evicted tenants in Ireland. It will not be necessary for me to say anything about the paragraph which deals with registration and plural voting; but I have always observed that when the Party opposite get into any difficulty in reference to their substantial measures for the benefit of the community, they immediately set themselves to work to manipulate the machinery by which Members are returned to this House. I think there is very apt to be a great waste of time in looking so much at the machinery, and in mending it, when the machinery itself is never allowed to do anything. If you are to deal with this question, you ought, at any rate, to deal with it impartially, and not deal with one anomaly and leave another untouched. You should endeavour to make this House a faithful reflex of public opinion with regard to every class and country, and until you do that we shall not be convinced that the Party opposite approach this question in the spirit of reformers, and not in the spirit of gentlemen with an anxious eye to the next Election. There are only three other measures, two of them in the 58 Queen's Speech, to which I shall refer. They all, though different, have something in common. They all threaten, while unsettling, great interests. The first is the Local Veto Pill, the second the Welsh Disestablishment Pill, and the third the Scotch Disestablishment Bill. I have been favoured during the last few weeks with two or three letters a day, accompanied by resolutions, couched in precisely identical terms, passed by meetings that have been called to congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon the promise he appears to have given that the Local Veto Pill should be the most prominent Bill of the Session. I have no recollection of seeing the promise myself, but I gather that the right hon. Gentleman has given rise to a widespread expectation of that kind I gather that from the resolutions of the Temperance Party, which is a highly organised body, seeing that it has expressed its views so spontaneously in such identical language. I hope the Government will either do it or drop it. It is not fair upon the threatened interests that this sword of Damocles should be kept hanging over their heads. I think a somewhat similar criticism may be passed upon the measures dealing with the Welsh and Scotch Church Establishments. These are great historical Institutions, whose history is rooted in our past, and they are no mere survivals of the past, but are at this moment living, vital organisations, powerful for good. Why are you to hamper their efforts by keeping them in doubt Session after Session? It is not fair to them; it is not just, and I can assure the Government that the way in which they are treating the Church of Scotland at this moment is one which will be resented by the people of that country. The Mover and Seconder of the Address appear to think that the people of Scotland are only anxious to be disburdened of their Church. I take a very different view. I am not going to say who is right or who is wrong; I am not going to argue for or against Disestablishment, or to discuss the merits of the question; but I say that this is not a Pill which should be stuck away in the last paragraph of the Queen's Speech among the ruck of other measures which you do not mean to pass—which you only mean to use as an 59 advertisement, and which, while they are so used, disturb these great organisations and hamper their efforts. I might use a similar criticism in regard to a measure that is not mentioned in the Queen's Speech. The Mover of the Address was very anxious to free the present Prime Minister from the imputation that he was a luke-warm adherent of Home Rule. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that his labours in that respect were entirely unnecessary. Nobody doubts for a moment that the present Prime Minister is a zealous adherent of Home Rule. I believe there are some who have seized upon some ill-considered phrase used by Lord Rosebery with reference to the late Bill, and have founded upon that some conjectural edifice as to what his views were. We do not conduct public life in this country in that manner. Lord Rosebery joined the present Government in 1892 as a Government formed on the basis of Home Rule, which had Homo Rule for its central point, and a precise point dividing Parties in this House. Lord Rosebery is well acquainted with the traditions of political life in this country, and is a Scotch gentleman of the highest honour, and that Lord Rosebery, when in 1892 he joined the Home Rule Administration, cherished any secret doubts on the subject is a thing which there are none of his friends or of his political opponents who will not agree in repudiating. We admit fully that in this and in other respects no change of policy is to be anticipated from the change of personnel in the Government. I, for one, should he the last to suggest that any cooling in the zeal of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite for Home Rule was likely to occur in consequence of the great change which has recently taken place in their ranks. But that is not the point to which J wish to call the attention of the House. The point is this: Is it fair by Ireland, still more is it fair by England and Scotland, that this question should still be hung up? Last year it was brought forward, discussed, and rejected. How long do you mean to allow that rejection to pass unmodified by a decision one way or the other by the country? I indulge in no prophecy as to what the verdict of the country will be. I know too little about the springs which animate the political machine to 60 express a confident opinion, and I have seen too many prophets shamed in their prophecies to venture myself to join their ranks. But whatever the result might be of an election really called to decide upon this question of Home Rule, I say it would be better than the present condition of suspense. Think what yon are doing in Ireland; think what you are doing in England and in Scotland. In Ireland from day to day no man knows, except so far as he himself may make a forecast of the political future, whether he is to be ruled by an Imperial Parliament or by an Irish Parliament; he knows not whether the Laud Laws are to be settled within these walls or whether they are to be handed over to gentlemen who sit below the Gangway. Indecision and doubt must necessarily be cast over every transaction in land, and, indeed, in the tenure of any property whatever; and is it fair to Ireland, is it fair to a country, which of all countries in the world has suffered from want of security, that we should deliberately perpetuate this want of security by our own wanton action? If it is injurious to Ireland I maintain that it is not less injurious to England and to Scotland. It is not a good thing that the electors of this country should have perpetually hanging over them a question connected, not with social legislation in regard to which the hon. Gentleman who seconded the Address made such an eloquent appeal—an appeal to which every heart on both sides of the House should be responsive—and that their attention should be deliberately withdrawn from those questions by the course you have taken, and should be turned to Constitutional issues which, whether they be fraught with all the harm we anticipate, must, at any rate, be barren of good for the great mass of the community of this country. I would earnestly press upon the Government that, if they feel that from want of Parliamentary time, or from some inherent weakness in their own ranks, or because they doubt that they have behind them that force of public opinion which is absolutely required to carry through a measure of this kind, whether for these reasons or any other, they are not strong enough to bring this question to a satisfactory conclusion in this Parliament on their own terms, their duty to Ireland, to Scotland, and to 61 England alike calls upon them to put an end to this period of unrest and suspense, and to give once and for all to the people of this country upon a clear, definite, and precise issue the power of saying whether they will or will not carry out the schemes which were laid before them and discussed in the course of the last Parliament.
§ * THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir W. HARCOURT,) Derby
Mr. Deputy Speaker,—After a life of over 25 years spent in the House of Commons, I have had so much experience of its generous instincts that I am sure that, standing here to-night upon this occasion, I shall not appeal in vain to its indulgence. I am well assured that at this moment there is but one thought that tills every mind and every heart in this House. To miss from amongst our proceedings tonight that noble and famous figure which, longer than the memory, I think, of any man now listening to me can extend, has been the chiefest ornament and the most prevailing power in the House of Commons, is a sad and a solemn reflection. At such a time I know that all eves are "idly bent on him who follows next." We feel, I am sure, all of us, without distinction of Party, that the glory of this House has suffered the greatest diminution it could have endured. We recognise that we have lost, from among us a great source of life and of light, which illuminated and exalted our proceedings above the level of ordinary men. I know that what I can only call this "dark eclipse" is viewed with regret by all who sit in every part of this House, and that no man will refuse to that great Member of Parliament whom we have lost a tribute of admiration and of respect. For us who sit upon this side of the House, to whom he was the glorious and venerated Chief of a devoted Party, our feelings I can only describe as those of distress akin to dismay. For myself, and for my colleagues, I can hardly trust myself to speak of one who was to us the kindest and most constant friend. It is not for one who, with unequal steps, follows in the path that he has trodden to attempt to estimate the place which he occupied in this House, or that which he will occupy in the history of this country. The place that he occupied in this House it is superfluous as it would be impos- 62 sible, for me to attempt to estimate. It is unnecessary; for you yourselves, whom I have the honour to address, have seen, and heard, and felt, far better than any words can paint, what the late Prime Minister was to this House of Commons. We shall never again see anything which is simile aut secundum. If I may borrow a fine phrase of his own, we are painfully conscious of the fate that awaits those who, with unequal hand, attempt to guide the chariot of the sun. We cannot furnish forth that inexhaustible knowledge, that mature experience, those unfailing resources, that splendid eloquence, that fire which kindled passion and which roused enthusiasm, which prevailed as much by sympathy as by reason. But, at least this, I think, I may be permitted to say—that we may take as our great example what the right hon. Gentleman opposite, in his generous passing recognition of this great statesman, has dealt, and properly dealt, with as one of the greatest features of that great character—I speak of that dignified demeanour towards his opponents as well as his supporters, that stately and old-world courtesy, diversified at times by the pleasant humour we so well recollect, which in the midst of the fiercest struggles of Party raised the tone and maintained the reputation of the House of Commons, and has left us a most perfect model of what is due to (his Assembly from those who have the responsibility of guiding its actions. As Mr. Gladstone—permit me to use the name—occupied during his long and honoured life the first place in the House of Commons, so, I think, will his memory remain for ever amongst its greatest traditions. And now, Sir, we have to turn to the ordinary business of the time, and I must make some remarks on what the right hon. Gentleman has said. He said that there was no change of policy on the part of the present Government. Well, Sir, that was a perfectly accurate statement, and it did not require the acuteness and perception of the right hon. Gentleman, I think, to make that assumption. There is no change of policy. There is a change, it is true, in men, which we deeply deplore. We desire to carry on the same policy on the same principles as those which animated this Party under its late Leader. The right hon. Gentleman says we have repeated 63 the Speech of last year. Yes, Sir, we have repeated the Speech of last, year, because the Speech of last year contained the policy of the Party, and will continue to contain it until we have achieved the objects we contemplate, and it depends very much upon the right hon. Gentleman—if he will permit me to say so—to shorten the number of topics in that Speech by allowing us to carry some of them into law. Therefore, in the matter of repetition, I must hold him and his friends largely responsible. I am extremely anxious to-night to introduce as few controversial topics as I can. The right hon. Gentleman in his comments said there was nothing in the Speech about Africa; but that was not perfectly accurate. There is a paragraph in the Speech referring to some unhappy incidents which took place in West Africa, which we hope will reach a satisfactory settlement. Then the right hon. Gentleman says that, there is no statement with reference to Uganda. That is perfectly true. The lamented death of the late Sir Gerald Portal, a man of great, promise, who, the country had a right to expect, would distinguish himself in the future as in the past, has prevented us from arriving as soon as we had expected at a final decision on that subject. The right hon. Gentleman said he had heard rumours of disagreements in the Cabinet in regard to that matter. Well, Sir, there are many rumours. The right hon. Gentleman surely has had sufficient experience of rumours of disagreements in the Cabinet to know not to put too much faith in them. I am happy to assure him that there has been no disagreement in the Cabinet upon that subject. We recognise our duty, and we are willing and ready to announce it as soon as we are able to do so, but we are not in a position to announce it to-night. Then, as regards Siam, I would rather leave that matter in the experienced and capable hands of the Under Secretary than attempt to expound at, second-hand a very delicate matter of negotiation. The right hon. Gentleman, dealing with the paragraph relating to the Estimates, commented upon the absence of the word "economy." I have commented upon the absence of that word for a great many years. I had no notion that the right hon. Gentleman was so advanced in 64 age as to remember the time when economy was mentioned in the Queen's Speech.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I think the noble Lord is mistaken, but I will not dispute the point with him now. At all events, the facts do not correspond with it, and certainly it is a very long time since the House of Commons has attempted any feats of economy. I hope the right hon. Gentleman may hold out some prospect of reform in that respect. I confess I see little chance of it. The right hon. Gentleman used a phrase which I think he afterwards modified—that he had taught us a lesson on the subject of the Navy. I venture to reject that. He has taught us no lesson at all. We have always held, and hold as strongly as any other Party, that the supremacy of the British Navy should be maintained. We held that language last November, and the Returns which have been published prove the accuracy of our statement, that the supremacy of the British Navy at, this moment is unquestioned and unquestionable. We are prepared to take such measures as shall maintain that condition of the British Navy in the future. That is a statement which we made last November, and which, I believe, will be justified by the Estimates that will be laid before the House. The right hon. Gentleman then turned to a topic which I may call peculiarly his own—I mean the social and criminal condition of the Irish people. That is a matter in which he takes a strong personal interest, and on which, therefore, he is entitled to speak. He does not deny that the condition of Ireland is good—far better than it has been at former times—but he questions the causes of the improvement. He says my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary has peculiar advantages. Yes, Sir, he has peculiar advantages, because he enjoys to a greater degree the confidence of the Irish people. That is the only thing which is likely to improve the condition of Ireland. If you have a Government or a Governor who enjoys the confidence of the people you will find the condition of its social and criminal statistics far better than you are likely to find them under a system of 65 coercion. I am not going into this question of Ireland, but the condition of Ireland may, I believe, be shortly stated in a single sentence. The condition of Ireland under the law of coercion was a condition of disturbance; under a Government of conciliation it has been a condition of comparative tranquillity and peace. That is better, I think, than all speculation upon Winter or Summer Assizes. That is a satisfactory account of why the condition of Ireland is very different now from what it was under the previous Administration. I am unwilling to detain the House at great length, and I am not going to discuss the Bills which are mentioned in the Queen's Speech, as if I did I should raise collateral issues which I do not desire to do now. But the right hon. Gentleman in his comments on the Bills mentioned in the Queen's Speech adopted a very singular line of argument. He said—"Is this Bill going to be the first Bill? If it is not, you mean to drop it." And so he goes on with each Bill in succession—the Local Veto Bill, the Home Rule Bill, and the Disestablishment Bill. He says that because they do not stand first we do not intend to pass them, and we have no sincere desire to carry them into law. What is our experience of attempting to carry these Bills into law? We put them forward; we intend to carry them; but whether we do so or not depends on the manner in which they are treated first in the House of Commons and then in the House of Lords. If you have a system of protracted discussion so as to consume the whole time of the House of Commons in a manner that, whereas an ordinary Session could fairly deal with three or four of these Bills, you intend to spend the whole time on a single Bill so as to shut out all the rest, by what right do you come to us and say—"When you put these Bills in the Queen's Speech you do not intend to pass them." That is taking advantage, as the lawyers say, of your own wrong. It is you who, first of all in this House and another Assembly in another place, who take care as far as they can to prevent the progress of these measures. I repudiate altogether that statement of the right hon. Gentleman. I say that these are measures to which we are sin- 66 cerely attached and which we are sincerely determined to push to an issue, and if we do not carry them this year we will carry them next, and if not next, then the year after that. You ask us when we are going to appeal to the country. I will tell you: When we have placed before the country the whole plan and scheme of the Liberal Party. When we have placed the country in a position to judge what has been the course of either Party in the House of Commons with reference to this plan, and what has been the conduct of the House of Lords with regard to it. That is the time when we mean to go to the country, and that is the issue we intend to put before it. When this Parliament was elected, this Government came into Office upon a distinct statement of the whole plan, beginning with Home Rule, going on to Disestablishment, and including the Local Veto Bill and the other Bills which are enumerated in the Speech from the Throne. That was what we placed before the country. You denounced it, but the country pronounced in our favour and against you. It is the mandate of this Parliament to carry that plan and that scheme into execution. When the House of Commons rejects these schemes, then, of course, you will be justified in condemning us, and if the country joins you, then you will succeed; but as long as we have the support of the majority of this House of Commons for the plan which was laid before the country at the last Election, and approved by a popular majority, we shall proceed continuously with that plan, in good report and evil report, and we shall use every means at our disposal to promote those measures and to carry them through this House. What may be done with them in another place is not our concern. The responsibility for that conduct will be ultimately judged of by the country. Our task is a plain, a direct, and a simple one—to proceed as far and as well as we can with the measures to which we have pledged ourselves. The right hon. Gentleman says—"How unfair it is to Ireland that you should hang up Home Rule. "Ah! Sir, Home Rule hung up has been a far better thing than coercion enacted. What has improved the condition of Ireland? What has led to that better feeling which the right hon. Gen- 67 tleman admits to exist? It is the faith and the hope which exists in the breasts of the Irish people that the great Liberal Party is true to their faith and will adhere to their pledges, and that they will do all that in them lies to give effect to that policy of self-government to Ireland which is the great legacy our great Leader has left to us. You talk of Ireland being injured by Home Rule being hung up. No doubt, I believe, Ireland would have been benefited if Home Rule had passed, but the hope and the belief that Home Rule is coming—
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
That, Sir, does not depend upon me alone. The hon. Member who asked me that question can himself, if he chooses, very much aid in that decision. If he will help us we will help him. We have done much to help him and his friends, and I think we have some right to expect that they, in their turn, will help us. The right hon. Gentleman, I am sure, does not seriously mean to impute to us any insincerity of purpose. He may believe that we shall not succeed; I am sure he will do his best to ensure our failure. That I do not doubt. Of that I do not complain; but do not let him charge us with having brought in those measures without a sincere and an honest desire to promote them to the best of our ability. I am sorry for having for a moment gone into more or less controversial topics. Before I sit down there is one matter of business which in my position I ought to bring before the House. This Debate, which has been so well opened by my hon. Friend the Mover of the Address in his excellent speech, and by my hon. Friend the Seconder, who made a speech which I am quite sure found an echo in the hearts and in the admiration of hon. Members in all parts of the House, is one which I am bound to tell the House—the House, of course, being masters of the situation—we have very little time to prolong. I will just state the bare figures of the time which is at our disposal. It is curious enough that very similar circumstances to those in which we find ourselves occurred in the year 1868, when Lord Derby resigned on March 5, and Mr. Disraeli succeeded him as Prime Minister. On March 31 the financial business of the House must be 68 completed; and on that occasion when the new Government came in every facility was given to it for passing the financial business. I observe that at that time the Navy Estimates were taken on March 20 without discussion—time, of course, being provided afterwards for their full and adequate consideration. The Navy Estimates were at that time taken without a statement. We do not propose to do exactly that—I only allude to the fact in order that hon. Members may see what measures the House of Commons took at that time under circumstances of pressure. What we must do before March 31 is this: There are the Votes in Supply—15 Civil Service and Supplementary Votes—the Army Votes, men and pay, and the Navy Votes, men and pay. There is the Vote on Account—Civil Services and Revenue Departments. Then the Ways and Means Bill must be passed by a certain time, and the Royal Assent must be given and the signature of Her Majesty obtained. The only way—and I lay this before the House, because it is entirely for the House to deal with the matter—we have to suggest is to call upon the House to keep on to-day with the Queen's Speech, and we hope that the House will be disposed to conclude the Debate upon it to-morrow. On Wednesday we shall have to ask for the whole time of the House up to Easter. I am sure that the House will not, under the circumstances, refuse that demand.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I do not know the distinction—March 31. Then we propose to take the Army Votes on Friday, and to give Monday and Tuesday—
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
The Supplementary Votes. On Friday we propose to take the Army Votes, and on Monday the Navy Votes—to move the Speaker out of the Chair—and on Tuesday, to take the Navy Votes for men and pay—of course, providing that an opportunity shall be given afterwards to discuss questions which may arise on those matters. It is necessary to get these Votes in order to get the Ways and Means Bill through. On Wednes- 69 day we should have the Report of Supply, and the Ways and Means Bill would be introduced. Now, L can make what I think under the circumstances hon. Members will admit is an agreeable announcement to the greater number of them. It is that if the Ways and Means Bill is taken, as it usually is taken—and there is no reason to think that there will be a departure now from that course—as a consent Bill, then the attendance of a great part of the House will not be necessary in all the stages of the Ways and Means Bill. It will, of course, fall upon us to keep a quorum for passing the Ways and Means Bill, but the greater part of the House will be released from attendance. The Ways and Means Bill would be introduced on Wednesday, and then, I suppose, most of the House might be released. On Thursday it would be read a second time, and on Saturday we must have the Bill in Committee. On the Monday it would be read a third time in the House of Commons—that is Easter Monday; then it must go to receive the Queen's signature at Florence. [Cries of "The House of Lords!"] Oh, yes. At all events, they have not yet thrown out our Money Bills. I dare say that may come in time; but they have not yet begun to do that, although, with a little practice, they may do so. The Bill will pass through all its stages in the Lords on Monday, the 26th. Then it is proposed to obtain the Royal Assent on Thursday, the 29th. That is the course which the Government have to suggest, if the House are willing to agree to these arrangements, or to something corresponding to them. We shall, of course, take no contentious business of any kind between Wednesday, the 21st, and Thursday, the 29th. Between these dates the greater part of the House would be relieved from attendance while the financial business was going on. It has been suggested to me that there an; matters which it might be desired to discuss in the time that is left. Among these is the subject of Indian finance, and there are other subjects for which I will endeavour to find time early after Easter. I will also endeavour to reserve a day for the discussion of the question of Uganda. I only throw out these matters for the consideration of the House, and I am not endeavouring to 70 bind them to anything. But I would like the House to consider these matters that we may proceed with the least inconvenience to all parties.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I do not know what day can be taken for the Vote on Account, but I will mention the matter again. I thank the House for the indulgence they have extended to me in allowing me to make this statement.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
To clear up the matter I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether I am right in understanding the position of the Government to be this—that they will take no controversial business of any kind other than Supply before Easter or before the 29th March? Will the Government take care when we are away during those days of Easter week that no Private Bill legislation shall be submitted, and that, in fact, the House will only meet for the formal business of passing the necessary stages of the Ways and Means Bill? Further, will the right hon. Gentleman pledge himself to find time for discussing those questions which legitimately arise upon the Estimates or upon the Queen's Speech some time after Easter, in consequence of our having to give up the time before Easter which is necessary to carry through the financial business of the House? When I say no controversial business I include the First Readings of the Government Bills, which have always been made the occasion more or less of important debate.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I wish also to interpose a question. I understood the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say that he hoped the House would shorten discussion owing to the stress in which the Government are placed, and that in return the Government would take care that Members were granted time for fuller discussion which might be required on chose Votes—I do not mean the Supplementary Estimates, but the great Votes. Do I rightly understand that?
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
Then will the right hon. Gentleman kindly say what opportunities the Government will afford for further discussion?
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I cannot state the exact date. I cannot accept exactly the very large and roving commission of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that all controversial questions must not be raised, because I cannot tell what those questions are. I said that certainly, as regarded the Navy, we should take the earliest opportunity of making the statement. On the former occasion in 1868, when the Vote for the Navy was taken on the 21st of March, the statement on the Estimates was not made until the 11th of May. I do not contemplate anything of that kind, but I think the Navy Estimates ought to be taken on the earliest possible day. I said, also, I desired to arrange for a discussion with reference to Uganda. Then, with regard to Indian finance, I have already mentioned that that is a subject which it is very proper should be considered at an early date. I cannot specify the particular date, but I desire that the earliest opportunity should be given for its discussion.
§ MR. T. HARRINGTON (Dublin, Harbour)
said that, as he made an interjection in the course of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech, perhaps it was right and due to him and to the House that he should briefly state why he so interrupted the right hon. Gentleman. He must confess that, for his part, he thought the Leader of the Opposition had given to the right hon. Gentleman an opportunity of speaking frankly and clearly upon this question of Home Rule for Ireland, and of stating what position it would occupy in the future legislation of the Party. He thought the reply of the right hon. Gentleman was disappointing in the extreme, and he thought it was ail the more disappointing because of the hopes that had been raised by certain other speeches and declarations which they had heard had been delivered in another place that day. They were told there was no change in the attitude of the Liberal Party towards Home Rule; but in the declaration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the hanging up of Home Rule had been better for Ireland than when Home Rule was agitated, he noticed a very distinct change in the policy of the right hon. Gentleman who sat on the Treasury Bench. Perhaps it was best that hon. Members opposite, no matter how safe 72 they might themselves feel as to the policy of the Liberal Party, should know the truth as a section of the Irish people saw these facts. What were they taught during all the days of the right hon. Gentleman whose loss to this House Irish Members of all shades of opinion, he thought, would join in deploring? No matter whether he was in opposition or at the head of a Government, the Irish Members always felt that there was in Mr. Gladstone a sympathy for Ireland, a sympathy with those suffering from oppression wherever they were found, in whatever country in the world it might be. It was a remarkable thing that while Mr. Gladstone led the Liberal Party he always declared that the question of Home Rule was urgent, that it overshadowed all other questions, that it blocked the way, and that it was by the removal of the Irish question from this position that the co-operation of the Irish Members would be obtained towards the settlement of those questions for which the right hon. Gentleman asked their assistance. He thought the right hon. Gentleman (Sir W. Harcourt), for his own Party and especially for Ireland, would be undertaking a very dangerous experiment if he were to continue in the belief that, because Ireland was peaceful while she was expecting Home Rule during the past years, the state of peace would continue in Ireland if the policy of hanging up Home Rule to the end of their programme of legislation was to be persisted in by the right hon. Gentleman and those who were responsible with him in the government of the country. They had heard a great deal of the peaceful condition of the people of Ireland. What he was amazed at was that the declaration of the improved condition of Ireland was not followed up by the fulfilment of one of the earliest pledges given by the Liberal Party—that the moment they succeeded to the Government of the country they would reverse the policy of their predecessors. The very first act the present Chief Secretary for Ireland said to which the Party would direct their attention would be the repeal of the Coercion Act. The Coercion Act might be in abeyance, but the position of the Irish Members and of the Irish people was this—that the Act, which was used as an instrument against one class 73 in Ireland, still existed in that country, and was still there for any political Party to take up. Was the Liberal Party going to go on in this form, and to leave the Irish people, who had hoped so much and believed in them, who had worked and made sacrifices in their cause, when the day of trouble came to the Liberal Party, to the tender mercies of those who passed the Coercion Act and worked it so unsparingly? It was a mistake to attribute to them a desire to free the hands of the Government unduly. They had made no demand that Home Rule should be in the programme of the Liberal Party for the present Session. But he gathered from the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he held out no hope of a renewal of Home Rule, no hope that Home Rule was to be again introduced into this House until the fight between the two Houses upon every item of their legislative programme had been fought out.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I must have expressed myself very badly if J conveyed anything of the kind. I was speaking exclusively of the present Session, and I think the hon. Member must surely have misunderstood me.
§ MR. T. HARRINGTON
said, he was sorry to say that the right hon. Gentleman's interruption scarcely carried him a bit further; but, even now, from him or from anybody on the Treasury Bench who would follow him in the course of that evening, they would be perfectly prepared and extremely glad to accept a, declaration that if Home Rule was not to be introduced in the present Session of Parliament when was it to be introduced? That was the point of his interruption, and the important question. They did not ask that it should be introduced now—this year—but they asked when it was to be introduced, if they continued to delude the people of Ireland with the hope, and set their Representatives to work with them in loyal union with regard to English measures, and deferred the realisation of their hopes until they had passed all their English measures, he would tell them that, so far from cementing an union of hearts between Ireland and the Liberal Government, they would be creating in Ireland more bitterness and opposition and more 74 hatred of their Party than was ever felt before.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
said, he desired to understand from the Chief Secretary for Ireland whether any statement was to be made on the introduction of the Evicted Tenants Bill. He thought it was highly desirable on a Bill of this character, of which they knew so little, there should be some statement on the introduction of the Bill, so as to let them know what were, at all events, the salient facts of the question. He also desired information on another point. Towards the close of the last Session the Chief Secretary was good enough to promise to appoint a Select Committee to inquire into the working of the Irish Land Acts. This was a matter, as the Chief Secretary knew, which was attracting a great deal of attention in every part of the country and in which the Irish tenants were very much interested. He should be glad to know if the right hon. Gentleman would give them some information as to when he proposed to nominate that Committee. The early weeks of the Session were always golden weeks for work of this kind, and he hoped the Chief Secretary would allow nothing to interfere with the nomination of the Committee.
§ MR. R. T. REID (Dumfries, &c.)
said, he heard with great pleasure the largo number of Rills which were announced in the Queen's Speech, but what he was rather concerned to know was whether the Government contemplated any reform of the procedure of the House which would give them reasonable expectations that these Bills might be carried through all the stages in this House? The Chancellor of the Exchequer would remember that the reason why many measures were not carried through in the past Session was owing partly to the action of another place and partly to the action of this Assembly—owing to the enormous amount of time which was taken up on the Committee stage of several Bills. He hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would bear that in mind, and that he would see that it was not an unwise or an unreasonable suggestion that the Committee stage of all Bills, or at all events of the majority of Bills, should be remitted to a Grand Committee, leaving this House free to 75 deal with the Second Reading and Report stage of the various Bills.
§ MR. S. WOODS (Lancashire, Ince)
said, he deeply regretted to intrude in the discussion, but he thought it would be a surprise to the House that there was no reference at all in Her Majesty's Speech to a very important measure affecting the hours of labour. He did not think there was any question upon which the attention of the working classes and of Members of that House was more centred than on the question of the hours of labour. It would be remembered that in the mouth of May last they carried the Second Reading of the Mines (Eight Hours) Bill by a majority of 79, and there was a very strong feeling of regret and disappointment that this measure was not at all referred to, either directly or indirectly, in the Speech from the Throne. He thought the Leader of the House ought to give some assurance to that large section of men that he and some of his colleagues represented as to the action the Government intended to take with regard to this Bill. Three weeks or a month ago this question was under the consideration of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, and they unanimously resolved that, if this matter was not referred to in the Queen's Speech, either he or some other supporter of the Bill should move an Amendment to the Speech. He should be very sorry to have to take that course, but he could not see what other remedy they had at their disposal if they did not get some assurance from the Government that they would deal with the question and give them an undertaking that this measure, at all events, should be passed into law. The miners were very determined about the Bill, and he hoped they would hear that the Government would take it over and pass it into law this Session.