§ MR. C. E. H. HOBHOUSE (Wilts., Devizes),
moved the Address in reply to the Queens Speech. He said: Mr. Speaker,—The fact that the Speech to which I rise to move an Address contains no lengthened reference to foreign affairs, is a matter of congratulation to the House. The vast-ness of our Empire renders it almost necessary, from time to time, that we should come in contact, in some part of the world or another with a number of foreign countries. We have lately been in contact with the French nation in West Africa, and the delimitation of our territory there has been satisfactorily settled by an agreement recently made 58 between the two Powers, which must be gratifying, both to ourselves and the French nation, for whom we entertain friendly feelings. Sir, in Europe at the present moment everything appears to make for peace, despite the fact that, since this House last met, the greatest guarantee for peace that this generation has seen—I mean the late Czar of Russia—has passed away; and while in him all lovers of peace have lost a great security for the continuance of European peace, and we lament his death and feel for the nation which has suffered so severe a loss, it must be welcome to us that his successor should, at the commencement of his reign, have evinced so friendly a feeling towards Great Britain. While the prospects of peace in Europe are bright, it is unfortunate that there should be in the East war going on between China and Japan—a war that must be fraught not merely with distress to them, but danger to our own commerce in those parts; and it is desirable, both in the interests of China and Japan and ourselves, that by either the mutual good sense of the two nations concerned, or the friendly intervention of some neutral Power, or the forbearance of the victorious nation, an end should be put to strife which, if it continue for a lengthened period, may lead to complications and difficulties, the end of which is not easily foreseen. Passing from this brief glance at foreign affairs to say something about domestic legislation, the first point that strikes one in reading the Queens Speech is a matter of congratulation, not merely to the Ministry, but to all parties in this House—that the policy of conciliation and clemency so successfully pursued during the past three years should have brought about a state of affairs so satisfactory that crime in Ireland has diminished to an extent hitherto unknown in the annals of the country. It must be, I think, satisfactory that, while Ireland was so agitated and disturbed some few years ago, it should, when the rule of restraint which formerly prevailed has been relaxed, have become so tranquil. In developing that policy of conciliation, some measure dealing with the Land Question is essentially necessary. If I may say so, the peculiarity which will mark the Bill shortly to be introduced will be that, while other Land Bills relating to Ireland 59 have been the result, if not perhaps the cause, of great divergence of opinion, the present Bill will be recommended to this House, not merely by one section of the Irish Party, but by the almost unanimous opinion and consent of the Irish representatives. It will receive not merely the cordial goodwill and cooperation of the Southern and Western parts of Ireland, but the assent of the Northern province of Ulster as well. To continue and complete our recent policy towards Ireland, I say there is no responsible man, in this House or out of it, who does not feel that some measure of relief must be given to the Evicted Tenants. The Bill which came before the House last Session, was condemned on one side of the House as extravagant, and on the other as inadequate. But whatever may be the character of the present Bill, legislation for the Evicted Tenants is urgently, I might almost say-desperately, needed. Passing from the consideration of Irish affairs, we come to the question of the Church Establishment in Wales. The revision of the connection between Church and State in Wales is imperative. In this House there are fifteen-sixteenths of the Welsh representatives bound by every pledge of honour to press for it. Two out of every three of the Welsh electors have voted in the hope that this question may be favourably considered from their point of view. And it is necessary and right that the Government should enter on the question not with the idea of maintaining any particular religious institution, and certainly not in the hope of diffusing any particular religious feeling, but rather that they should deal with it in the hope of allaying discontent, and satisfying what I think may be considered the lawful wishes and aspirations of the Welsh people. I would go even further and say, that when this question is settled in the direction indicated by the Bill, of which notice has recently been given, the Church in Wales—with which I am quite in sympathy as far as its religious needs are concerned—will not be weakened but strengthened. To continue the consideration of the legislative program me for England, I wish to refer to the question of the abolition of plural voting. I have never been able to understand on what principle the system of plural voting is 60 maintained. It cannot be on the consideration of wealth. It is well known that a man might own considerable properties in houses, land, or industrial undertakings, which could be concentrated in one constituency. The owner, too, of a small property, or perhaps only the nominal owner, might find an arbitrary line divides this small property into two, and places one in one electoral area and another in another. The richer man, who is supposed to have "a stake in the country," as it is called, finds himself reduced to one vote at a Parliamentary election, but the less wealthy obtains two or three because of the arbitrary division of his property. It seems to me that is not logical. Then it is not direct or indirect taxation which entitles a man to a Parliamentary vote. It is well known that a considerable class of the population, who pay no taxes directly or indirectly, have obtained votes. It seems to me that the reason why a vote should be given to a man is, that he may take some share in the consideration and creation of the laws under which he must exist. If that be so it stands to reason that a rich man ought not to have a greater voting power than a poor one has. The one ground upon which a citizen should be entitled to exercise the franchise is that he has given proof of his citizenship by having resided for a certain term in a particular town or in a particular county, and in that case he ought to have a vote for the particular locality in which he resides and for no other. I am glad to see the reference that is made in the most gracious Speech from the Throne, and the proposal that is put forward for the relief of that important industry by facilitating the construction of Light Railways. We know that it is impossible to aid Agriculture in a more important way than by bringing the producer and the consumer into more close communication and by enabling the produce to be brought to market in the most expeditious and cheapest manner. By the Local Government Act of last year provision was made for the creation of small holdings, and I trust that by the formations of these light railways we shall secure the profitable working of those holdings by enabling their produce to be brought to market at cheap rates. We are not yet aware, of the precise 61 method by which Her Majestys Government proposal is to be carried into effect, but at any rate the construction of these light railways will provide work for the large amount of labour that is at present unfortunately unemployed. In concluding my remarks, in the course of making which I trust that I have not unduly occupied the time of the House, I should wish to refer to the two measures relating to Scotland which are indicated from the Speech from the Throne. The one is the measure for the completion of the system of Local Government in Scotland, and the other is to bring about further legislation in respect of the Crofter population of that country. Both those measures I trust will prove of material benefit to the community living in the northern part of this Island. I beg to move the Address in answer to the most gracious Speech from the Throne.
§ *MR. W. H. HOLLAND (Salford, N.)
said, I rise to second the Address which my hon. Friend has just moved with so much ability, and in doing so I feel that I can rely upon the kindly forbearance and consideration of this House which is usually extended to those who occupy my position. We may congratulate ourselves that the Treasury Bench is so well filled and that its occupants have come here in such good spirits to discharge their arduous task. It is somewhat of a surprise that this should be the case in view of the alarming bulletins which we have seen in the newspapers of late concerning the misfortunes which have overtaken them. On one day they were said to be in a state of rapid decline; on the next they had so far recovered their strength and vigour that they were fighting amongst themselves like cats and dogs. Their physical condition was grave, but their mental ailments were graver still; so that the surprise to-day is all the more agreeable to find them looking so well equipped for the work which lies before them. Turning from the Treasury Bench to the Front Opposition Bench, we see a great gap there. By the death of Lord Randolph Churchill there has been extinguished a bright constellation from the firmament of this House. I had not myself the advantage of being a Member during the too short period of his Leadership, but I hoar on all hands that 62 the impression he then produced was altogether favourable, and that he won golden opinions by his courtesy and tact. With all our differences, Mr. Speaker, important as they are in substance, and ardent as they are in form, we are not blind to the good qualities of our opponents. Lord Randolph Churchill had many. A dashing Leader; brilliant in debate; of fearless courage, resolute will, ready wit—these were great as well as good qualities. And when great qualities are consecrated to the service of the State, their loss becomes a Nations loss, even in this case an Empires loss. And this Parliament as representing that Empire is poorer to-day in consequence. Her Majestys Government have referred to the friendly relations that exist between this country and foreign nations. Happily we are accustomed to such announcements, but the peace which we are now enjoying is largely due to the greatability with, which our foreign affairs are managed by the Foreign Office, and to the way Ambassadors and representatives at foreign Courts conduct their delicate and difficult tasks. I am sure that in all quarters of this House the hope is entertained that this happy condition of things may long continue. I think that it is one of the finest features of our political life that, although we may be divided by very sharp lines with regard to our internal affairs, yet when we approach the consideration of our foreign affairs we remember not whether we are Liberal or Tory, but that we are citizens of a mighty Empire, whose glory we are resolved, by Gods help, shall not be dimmed. I entirely concur with the observations which have fallen from my hon. Friend with reference to the death of the late Czar of Russia. In him the world has lost a great ruler, whose life afforded us one of the greatest securities for peace. Moreover, he was closely connected with our own Royal Family, upon whom no sorrow can fall without their receiving the sympathy of all loyal subjects. Great hopes are entertained in regard to his successor, with whom the most cordial relations have been established. It is happily not the case that increased cordiality with one Power involves diminished cordiality with some other Power. Cordiality is not a commodity of fixed and limited amount. Otherwise 63 it would be true that the more you gave to one, the less there would he left for another. But in point of fact I believe, Mr. Speaker, that a wise and considerate diplomacy can increase the cordiality of our relations all round. I am sorry to be obliged to refer to the lamentable war that at the present time is devastating China, and on grounds both of humanity—in which all Nations have perhaps an equal share; and of commerce—in which no Nation has a share for a moment comparable to our own—we can only hope that it will be brought to a speedy close. Her Majestys Government are to be commended for having promoted a concert with other Powers and for the vigilance they are continually exercising in this important matter. Public opinion has been deeply stirred by the occurrences which have lately taken place in Armenia, and it is satisfactory to know that the Government are fully alive to the responsibilities which have been thrown upon them by the Treaty of Berlin and other Treaties. We have a right to expect that the presence of delegates from Great Britain, France, and Russia will ensure that the excesses shall be thoroughly investigated, that the offenders shall be adequately punished, and that the witnesses shall be fully and effectively protected. Reference is made in the Speech to the Estimates of the coming year. Those Estimates will be of peculiar interest in view of the great fiscal changes which were made in the course of last Session. Then comes the "Bill of Fare" for the Session. I am sure the House will agree that it is by no means a scanty one. It contains many familiar dishes. Some of them indeed have proved to be a kind of pièce de résistance in previous Sessions. I will not ask why it shall be necessary to introduce and reintroduce some measures Session after Session in this way, because the reply would be of too controversial a character for the present occasion. First, there comes the case of Ireland. I appeal to the Leader of the Opposition, that surely it cannot, under any circumstances, be accounted discreditable to the present Chief Secretary, that crime in Ireland has fallen to the lowest ebb ever placed upon record. I think I might appeal to the House, which contains on both sides many capable statesmen, 64 whether it is not wise to use the present time of quiet, in order to settle, in a calm and just spirit, the thorny and passion-provoking question of Irish land. Next, there is a course provided for dealing with the Church Establishment in Wales, and I think that the least controversial remark that I can make on that topic is to ask whether, when a Welsh measure is demanded persistently and consistently throughout along series of years, it is not in the interests of representative Government, when it is demanded by almost the unanimous voice of the Welsh Representatives, that this measure should be met with consideration and attention at the hands of the House. The next course provided is one for which many are hungering—or, perhaps more correctly, thirsting—namely, a new Liquor Bill. This Houses previous Liquor Bills have, for some reason or other, not been paid. Whether they have been too long or too heavy I need not say. In regard to the new Liquor Bill we understand, from the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day at Derby, that some alteration is to be made in the Bill, and that there is to be provided a sort of half-way house, not for purposes of refreshment, but for the votes of the people; and under this new measure it seems likely that a total abstainer may vote for prohibition; if he so choose, and a moderate man may vote for a reduction in the number of licences, if he prefer this course. I think that this additional option will mean a great improvement in the measure, and will be likely to enlarge the utility of the Bill, and ought to secure, in my opinion, the support of all sorts of Temperance reformers, of whom I understand even the Trade contains many. Another dish to be served up is Returning Officers Expenses. Increased Labour Representation in this House is generally desired; but these charges constitute an initial and often an insuperable barrier to its accomplishment, and I think that the introduction of this Bill is but the natural sequence of the Resolution passed by the House, on May 25 last. These measures constitute a somewhat large Bill of Fare, and if any course is not very well cooked, and done to a turn, we may be sure that hon. Gentlemen opposite, with their critical and fastidious palates, 65 will turn up their noses at it. I do not believe, however, they will have reason to complain, as the courses will be prepared by a first-class chef. The keynote of Her Majestys Most Gracious Speech from the Throne is, concerted action abroad—in China and in Armenia; and conciliation at home—in Ireland and in Labour Disputes. And in my humble judgment these are the best signs of good statesmanship; and I do not think that the Admiralty and the War Office with all their resources contain in their armoury such strong weapons as concerted action in regard to Foreign Affairs and conciliation in Home Affairs. This Assembly is now in a calm and peaceable frame of mind, but none can say how long this will last: it is always possible for a Session to come in like a lamb, but to go out like a lion. But whether there be calm or storm before us, hon. Gentlemen opposite wont think any the worse of us when I say that, so long as the Government continue to show unflinching determination, unfailing courage, and unwavering purpose in giving effect to the mandate of the electors—[Opposition Laughter, cries of "Oh!" and Ministerial Cheers]—and we understand it, because the mandate was ours and not the property of hon. Gentlemen on the other side—so long may they rely on the loyal and hearty support of hon. Members on this side of the House.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
Mr. Speaker,—The Mover and Seconder of the Address have performed, with tact and ability, a task which I always think one of the most delicate and difficult which can be thrown on the shoulders of Members of this House. I was especially grateful for some words which fell from the hon. Member who seconded the Address, in regard to the great loss which the public and this House have recently sustained by the death of Lord Randolph Churchill. Mr. Speaker, the hon. Member spoke, as it was right and proper that he should, only as a public representative of the people, not connected with Lord Randolph Churchill; with no ties of friendship, but merely giving his judgment upon that brilliant and too short career which has now unhappily been brought to a close. I thank him for the words which he let fall on this subject, and I am sure that they met an echo in the heart of every 66 man in this House. For myself I cannot regard this merely as a loss to the House and to the country, for I was connected by ties of intimate friendship with Lord Randolph Churchill through the whole period of his active public life, and to me, therefore, his death means not merely the loss of an eminent and most distinguished Member of this House, but of a friend with whom almost all the events of my public life are intimately bound up. I entirely agree with what fell from the hon. Gentleman when he said that the genius and ability of Members of this House are not the property of one Party alone. The dignity and honour of the House, its credit and authority with the country, largely depend upon the fact that we have succeeded in producing arid in educating a continuous succession of able public men, to whom can safely be intrusted the affairs of Parliament and of the country. The loss we have sustained, from this point of view, is great indeed, and I cannot hope that it will be easily supplied. I pass from this question to subjects more intimately connected with the Speech from the Throne; and, as following, in the usual way, that order which those responsible for that Speech have observed, I will say a word, in the first place, upon the subject of Foreign Affairs. Sir, it will be in the recollection of all Members in this House that, during the two and a half years that have elapsed since the present Government came into Office, we have never thought it consistent with our duty to the country to endeavour to turn any incidents that have arisen in that period in connection with the Foreign Policy of the Government to any Party account. I do not say that as desiring to claim any special credit or any special patriotism for the present Opposition. But I do lay it down as a general principle, which, in my judgment, all Oppositions ought to pursue, that, when the Government of the day is, so far as can be judged, endeavouring to the best of its ability to carry out objects which are held by both Parties to be objects of importance to the country, no good is done by discussing all the particular modes by which those ends are, to be, attained. In saying this, it must not be taken, of course, that we have admired every Diplomatic step which Her Majestys 67 Government have pursued during the past two years. If it had been necessary or desirable I might have pointed to certain transactions in regard to Siam, and their policy with respect to certain treaties in Africa; but I do not think that the Government is more likely to steer a judicious course if the Opposition were always to be putting their hand on the tiller. So long, therefore, as the objects of the Government are objects with which we agree, and believe to be sound in the interests of the country, the Government would, in my opinion, not do better but worse were we to adopt a course of criticism which might lead to misunderstanding abroad—a course which must embarrass a Foreign Minister, and which would not be likely to guide him; and we shall, therefore, abstain in the future from doing anything which, in our judgment, will in any way interfere with the conduct of the details of the Foreign Policy which the Government have rightly pursued. I make this statement of the general principles on which we act, because I do not mean to say one single word upon the first four paragraphs of the Speech; and I wish it to be distinctly understood, by all who hear me, that it is not because we do not think that they are matters of great public interest and importance, on which we may have our opinions, were it desirable to express them, but because I am convinced that harm and not good would be done by any public utterances which might very easily cause misunderstanding abroad, and cannot easily do much good at home. I, therefore, Sir, leave the first part of the Speech without uttering a single word of comment, advice, or warning with regard to any of the important matters with which it deals, and will proceed to ask a question with regard to the sentence which deals with the Estimates for the year. I do not know whether it was an intentional omission, or a regard for what I have no doubt has been our practice so far, but I noticed that there is no mention of the Navy, or of the expenditure on the Navy. The question of Naval Policy, if my memory does not fail me, stands at the present moment thus: Last year the Government announced a large, I do not say too large, far from it, but a large measure of Naval construction, 68 together with a considerable amount of expenditure on dockyards. The amount that was actually quoted, or put on the Estimates for last year, was adequate for the objects stated; but everybody acquainted with these matters is aware that the full pressure of the expenditure upon ships does not come in the year in which those ships are laid down, but in the succeeding years, whilst the ships are in course of construction. Under the system pursued by the late Government, there could be no question but that when the policy of Naval construction was begun it would be pressed on with the utmost possible speed until it was completed. I do not mean to argue whether our system or the Governments is the best, but it will be admitted by the Government themselves that theirs, at all events, does not carry with it that absolute necessity. It is in the power of the Treasury, or of the Government for the time being, if it happens to suit their financial policy, to slacken off the work which has been begun and not to press forward the building programme. I should like to have an assurance from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the fact that the Government is not bound by statute, as it were, to press on the work of Naval construction with the utmost rapidity is not going to be used by them as an ex-use for slackening off the work, and if we may expect that the full amount of money required this year for pressing on the Naval programme will be proposed by the Government, and ultimately, no doubt, voted by Parliament. I have no reason to doubt that the Government mean to carry out that policy, but I think, in view of the silence of the Queens Speech on the subject, it would be desirable that the House should be left in no doubt on the point, as it is of incomparably more importance to the Empire and the country than any other single question touched upon in the Queens Speech. Before coming to the programme of Domestic legislation I notice that there is a paragraph, which was very properly referred to by both Mover and Seconder of the Address, dealing with the diminution of agrarian offences in Ireland.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
How far this improved condition of things is due to 69 the action of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland I do not venture to pronounce, but that he is to be congratulated, and the whole House is to be congratulated, upon the happy state of things announced will, I think, be admitted as cordially on this as upon the other side of the Table. I noticed that the Mover of the Address, in a speech which was certainly not marked by any controversial bitterness, suggested that the improvement in Ireland was due to the policy of clemency—so he described it—which has been pursued by the present Chief Secretary. There was, perhaps, just a slight touch of controversial imputation in that observation, but I do not mean to take up seriously the challenge thus thrown down. I will only point out that as the diminution of crime appears, by the Chief Secretarys interruption, to refer to every species of crime and not merely to agrarian crime—although, I do not imagine that that policy of clemency has anything to do with pickpockets—there are other causes at work than those to which he has referred. The fact is that the improved condition in Ireland has not been going on merely for the last three years, but is the culmination of a continuous process dating back now for eight or ten years. Now, Sir, I come to domestic legislation. I do not mean to deal with these Bills in detail; some of them are very old friends. Only two of them, I think, are entirely new, one relating to a very old subject, the relations between Landlord and Tenant in Ireland, the other to the government of the Metropolis. With regard to the first of these measures, I notice that the paragraph dealing with the subject is ambiguous in its terms, and nothing fell from either Mover or Seconder to clear up the doubt which the language of the Speech from the Throne had suggested. The paragraph may be read as meaning that in this Bill are to be introduced clauses dealing with the evicted tenants. I should like very much to know from the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Chief Secretary whether that paragraph refers to two Bills or one Bill; whether, in other words, there is to be one Bill dealing with the ordinary relations between Landlord and Tenant in Ireland and with the evicted tenants, or whether 70 these two subjects are to be embodied in two separate measures. If they are to be dealt with in one measure, all I can say is, if the history of the past is to afford any guide for the future, that as there are no measures ever brought before this House which more naturally and more necessarily beget difficulty and prolonged discussion than Bills dealing with Irish land, if you are going to include in a measure of that kind a set of controversial clauses dealing with evicted tenants, which last year formed the subject of a separate measure, it appears to me you are unduly weighing any proposals you may lay before us, and that those who wish to see the Irish! land question dealt with in a spirit of practical legislation will have good reason to complain of your proceeding. The Irish Land Question has been in process of being finally settled, not only during the whole course of my Parliamentary career, but long before that course began, and sometimes the fact that Ireland is quiet, and more often the fact that Ireland is not quiet, has been given as the reason why at last this difficult and complicated problem should receive its quietus. If the measure is really settlement for all time of the Irish Land Question, it will be the greatest legislative feat ever performed in this House. I do not ask any questions about such familiar subjects as Welsh Disestablishment or Liquor Traffic, but I should like to ask one question with regard to the paragraph dealing with light railways and the agricultural depression. I think the Government have done well to mention this subject in the Queens Speech, as that depression is now reaching the rank of a great national tragedy, and I do not believe there is any man who knows anything about the state of our agriculture who does not contemplate its future prospects with something approaching absolute dismay. But I confess I should like to know a little more about this plan of light railways Are the Government still of opinion that these railways should be constructed at the expense of the rates? It has been my fortune to have had more to do with light railways in Ireland than any other man in this House, and if those railways have been a success it is because the Government of the day kept inflexibly in view two fundamental principles. 71 One was that the chance of a light railway paying its expenses—or being, on the other hand, a burden to those who had to do with it—was enormously diminished if that light railway was placed under separate local management and not under the general supervision and management of some great line of railway. You double the staff; you double the expense; you promote jealousy and friction in every direction; and, as it were, from every pore you waste money, of which there is very little to waste, believe me, out of the profits of the railway you construct. That is the first principle. Our second and even more fundamental principle was this, that no local cost should be involved in the construction of the railway; that is to say, that no burden, permanent or otherwise, should be thrown upon the rates of the locality through which the railway passes. I am as desirous as any man in this House to see those parts of the country which are not at present served by railways supplied with the necessary transport accommodation. I agree with the Seconder of the Address when he said that agriculture never was carried on under more hopeless circumstances than in those parts of the country where the producer could not carry his goods to the market. But if this is going to be an excuse for throwing a new burden on the ratepayers of districts already staggering under the load of local taxation, scarcely able at present prices to make agriculture a paying concern at all—if they are, in addition, to be burdened with rates for railways to serve districts that are going out or that have gone out of cultivation, then, I say, that any pretended boon like that suggested in this paragraph will weigh down an already sinking industry and will be a burden and not an assistance to those it is intended to help. I am sure that on that the Government can, without going into the details of their measure, reassure us, and we shall hail with satisfaction any words that fall from them which will convince us that the gift which they propose to give to the farmers and labourers of this country is not a pure and absolute delusion. I do not think it worth while asking any more questions about the details of your legislation, but I cannot sit down without saying something about your legislation as 72 a whole. I wonder at the gravity with which the Mover and Seconder of the Address went patiently through this long list of measures, not one of which, on the authority of its own friends, has the slightest chance of becoming law. These paragraphs in the Queens Speech dealing with your legislative programme are a farce, and they are known to be a farce by those who propose them. I will not say that this programme is a mere music-hall advertisement, for it is not nearly so amusing; I will not say that it is the announcement of an academic course of discussions, for it is not nearly so instructive. But although it is not like either of these things I will tell the House what it is not like also. It is not like the Agenda Paper of a business assembly. I believe it is the custom—at all events it was when I had a practical connection with these matters—for the gentlemen who have got to move and second the Address to take counsel with the heads of the Government—the Prime Minister in the House of Lords and the Leader of the House in the Commons—as to the line they should take on the various measures announced in the Queens Speech. What kind of a conversation I should like to know was that which took place on this occasion between the Mover and the Seconder and the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House? We have been vouchsafed by those important gentlemen with a great many announcements during the recess as to what they thought of this very legislation and its prospects of passing. One of the Bills most highly praised by the Seconder of the Address was that which promises to deal with the Liquor Traffic. Upon that subject we have had two pronouncements from the Prime Minister—I mean two statements have been made by him. One is that he does not think so much will come of it if it were to pass as its supporters—meaning, I suppose, the Chancellor of the Exchequer—suppose. The other proposition was that it had not the slightest chance of becoming law, not so much because of the wicked House of Lords or because of an obstructive Opposition, but because of the 73 inherent difficulties of the case. This is what he says:—I do not build such high hopes upon this Bill as some of its supporters. You will never deal with this question in a piecemeal fashion.I do not quote the whole passage, but by piecemeal fashion he means by this Bill, as is quite evident from the context. He goes on—If you want to grapple with this enormous question, all the force of a threat Parliamentary majority, all the time a full Parliamentary Session can give you, will be required.Have you got the full time of a Parliamentary Session to begin with? This precious measure, this instalment, comes at the end of a list which includes an Irish Land Act, a Disestablishment Bill, and an Evicted Tenants Bill. However rapid may be our decisions on these important questions, they will not leave a full Session to discuss the Local Veto Bill, and I assume, therefore, that one of the conditions mentioned by the Prime Minister for the success of this measure is absent. What is the other condition he mentioned? A great Parliamentary majority. Have you got a great Parliamentary majority? Are you in the way of getting a great Parliamentary majority? And if you have neither got nor expect to get it, then I want to know why we are asked to go through what the Prime Minister himself declares to be nothing more than a legislative farce? So much for the Local Veto Bill. Are you better off with the Welsh Church Bill? The Gentleman chiefly concerned in the Welsh Church Bill is the Home Secretary. I am not sure that I have the quotation, nor do I think perhaps that it is worth while bothering the House with it. But I recollect the substance of it well enough. He gave a perfectly candid statement to his constituents with regard to the length of time which, without obstruction, a Bill like the Welsh Church Bill must necessarily take in going through the House. Then, when he had finished that, he burst out into an eloquent lamentation over the fact that when all this Parliamentary time had been expended upon that measure, you would have done no more than you would do by attempting to raise a crop from the seashore. You would be ploughing the sand of the seashore. Are we called hero to plough the sand of the seashore? Is it a worthy 74 policy for the Government to pursue to advise Her Majesty to call Parliament together and to go through all the ancient ceremonial connected with the assembly of the representatives of the people for no other purpose than to do that which they themselves confess can end in nothing but vanity—in the words of the Prime Minister, to waste the time of the House in an absolutely "bootless and fruitless process"? I respected the Mover and Seconder of the Address, and lamented the false position in which they found themselves. They are asked to recommend us to begin this bootless and fruitless process, arid it certainly seems to me that a greater step towards the degradation of Parliament never has been taken than that which the Government now take. They call us here not to pass laws, but to further some obscure Party strategical purpose. That is not the use to which, in my judgment, this Imperial Assembly should be placed. You have announced your impotence, your legislative impotence, on every platform in the country. You have shown your sores to lamenting audiences of your followers in Scotland, in England, and in Wales. What is the source of this weakness? You say it is the House of Lords. [Ministerial Cheers and Laughter.] Let me tell the hon. Gentleman who assents to that statement that the House of Lords could not, if it would, resist the will of the people of this country. And if the House of Lords shall succeed in resisting your will, it is because you do not represent the will of the people. I remember, unless my memory altogether deceives me, that triennial Parliaments were part of the Newcastle Programme. I could imagine the Government saying that a Triennial Bill is not yet passed, and that, if a Government had reason to believe that it has the people of the country behind it, there is no reason why it should give up the reins of Office until this Triennial legislation should actually be passed into law. I assume, therefore, that the Government, in giving themselves a lease of life longer than they think appropriate for any other Government, have some ground for supposing that they, above other Governments, are blessed with the rising force of popular passion behind them. They may have some knowledge not vouchsafed 75 to humbler mortals with regard to the feelings of the country. I never myself venture to prophesy on these questions, for I frankly admit that the signs of popular favour and disfavour are not always easy to read, and may sometimes be mistaken. But I do not think a man could get up on either side of the House and say, that if it be the proper Constitution of this country that any Government not sure, after three years of Office, that it has the people of the country behind it, ought to dissolve, that duty is laid upon this Government above every other Government of which we know in recent times. Never has a Government attempted to pass such revolutionary measures upon so small a capital. They will never be able, even if they last the whole term of their possible career, to pass measures such as they now propose, to this House, with no more majority than the small majority they have at present, and the secret of that impotence, which they are the first and loudest to proclaim, is not that there is a House of Lords in political disagreement with them, but that they have not in the House of Commons at the present time that power behind them which is required if measures of this kind are to have the smallest chance of passing. From this House there is but one appeal, to the source of all political strength in this country, and that appeal they are unwilling or afraid to make. In my opinion, the new departure which the Government have chosen to make with regard to legislation, this deliberately announced intention to bring forward measures which they know cannot pass—to be brought forward, I suppose, for some purpose of self-advertisement—this departure, I say, is so grave an attack upon the functions of this House that before this Debate comes to a conclusion I trust some Member of authority will move an Amendment which will give us an opportunity of recording our judgment upon the subject.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (SIR W. HARCOURT, Derby)
My first task, which is a most agreeable one, is to thank my hon. Friends the Mover and Seconder of the Address for the able manner in which they have discharged their duties. Their speeches were characterised by great clearness and, on the whole, great moderation. 76 Then, through the greater part of the observations of the right hon. Gentleman, I was going myself to pay him the compliment of saying that his speech was most moderate; but, like the Irishman of whom one has heard, he thought it necessary to keep a gallop for the end against his adversary, and that part of his speech was indeed of a much more lively character. I am glad that the Seconder of the Address referred to the loss this House has sustained in the death of Lord R. Churchill. Those are sentiments with which we on these Benches desire to associate ourselves. We, feel that in the loss of Lord R. Churchill this House misses one of its principal ornaments. There was something original in his character; there was an independence in his ideas; there was a brightness and a force in his language which attracted to him those by whom he was most strongly opposed. Like the right hon. Member, I speak of him as a personal friend of many years standing, as well as a political adversary, and I feel sure that I interpret aright the sentiments of gentlemen on this side of the House when I say that we are saddened by the thought that we shall see him amongst us no more. There is another topic of a melancholy character which was referred to with great justice and wisdom by my two hon. Friends, and that is the death of the late Emperor of Russia, which I regard as a great calamity to the world. I am glad they referred to it, because I am quite sure that the expression by the House of Commons of its sympathy in these events greatly contributes to the friendship and peace of nations. The late Tsar rendered inestimable, service to the great cause of peace throughout the world. There have been times, no doubt, when it was thought that Russia was a disturbing element in Europe. That certainly was not the case during the reign of the late Emperor. His lofty character, his determined will, and his enlightened love of peace were among the chief guarantees for that gretest of all blessings to mankind, and it is in that capacity that I think that we are specially called upon to do honour to his memory. Happily, this great quality which he possessed, this virtue which was so conspicuous in his reign, has been inherited by and has descended to his 77 successor, and we sincerely trust that the happy dawn of an auspicious reign will continue the blessings of peace to mankind. To me it is a melancholy reflection that while we confidently believe, and I think I may say I know, that every Ruler in Europe and every Government in Europe ardently and earnestly desire peace, we should be called upon to be armed to the teeth as if we were in the presence of instant and universal war. That is not the doing of the Rulers of Nations; it is not the doing of Governments. I was much struck by a declaration made in the autumn of last year by Count Kalnoky, the able Minister of Austria, who said—It is not to us that you should come if you want disarmament, but you should go to those mischievous and irresponsible persons who take upon themselves day after day and month after month to sow dissension and jealously, and to preach hatred amongst the nations of the world.It is from this that arises that spirit of alarm which makes it necessary, as I say, that we should assume the attitude that all the nations have been apparently compelled to take up. I think these are matters upon which it is well that we should reflect. It is utterly untrue, I believe, that there is at this moment a single Government in Europe that is contemplating or desiring war. That is a great blessing; and when a great monarch like the late Emperor of Russia puts himself forward as one of the greatest advocates of peace, it is but right that we, who all profess to be friends of peace, should render a tribute to his memory. With reference to foreign policy, I need say no more. I thought, however, the observations made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite were very weighty and just, and I pay the same tribute to the present Opposition that he has rendered to the late Opposition—namely, that we never sought in foreign affairs the means for fractious attacks upon the Administration. It is that spirit which is a great guarantee of peace, because a Government may be driven by fractious operations of that kind into a position in which the peace of the world is endangered. The right hon. Gentleman has challenged me on the subject of the Navy, and asks why it was not mentioned in the Speech. It was mentioned last year because the Government 78 were about to make large and new proposals; but in the present year they are carrying out those proposals loyally and fully, and we therefore thought it unnecessary to make any further statement on the subject. Then the right hon. Gentleman touched, with caution and discretion, I thought, on the question of the condition of Ireland. He said that the, fact that Ireland exhibited a lower rate of crime than had ever been recorded before was only the natural consequence of the policy which he represents. [MR. BALFOUR made a gesture of dissent.] I am not going to enter into any dispute at the present time—I daresay we shall hear a good deal about this subject before we have done—but we on this side of the House hold different views as to the government of Ireland from those of the right hon. Gentleman. We believe that the policy which we have declared, and to which we adhere, is the real cause of the tranquility of Ireland, and that the people of that country now entertain hope, and that they place confidence in the pledges of the Liberal Party. We maintain the establishment of Home Rule as a primary policy. Did you suppose we were going to recede from it? Have we ever shown any signs of receding? We believe that a wise system of self-government is the only permanent basis upon which a reconciliation of the ancient feuds between England and Ireland can be in the end effected. That is our belief; that is the ground of our policy, and we have pursued and shall continue to pursue that great aim. We shall persist in it. Whilst maintaining the necessary safeguards for the unity of the Empire, we shall labour to carry into effect a plan which shall be satisfactory to the Irish people and the Irish Representatives. [Opposition laughter.] Gentlemen opposite cheer ironically. Well, I have been asked to speak plainly, and I hope I have done so. With reference to Irish land legislation, the right hon. Gentleman asks whether there is to be one Bill or two Bills. All I can say at present is that we reserve our discretion in the matter. Then the right hon. Gentleman next referred, in language I do not think too strong, to the deplorable condition of the agricultural interest; but, Sir, I think that every man will feel that it was impossible 79 that we should come forward with a series of remedies for that agricultural depression, when there is sitting a most able and competent Commission. [Opposition cries of "Oh!"] Do you say it is not competent? I do not see the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford here. I do not know why you should say that Commission is not competent. It has upon it a number of gentlemen as distinguished and as capable of forming an opinion upon that subject as any in the country. We have received no recommendations from them as yet. I observed that the Duke of Devonshire the other day referred to the Commission, but did not give any idea which he himself entertained of what was to be done in the matter. He pointed out, I thought, with that great common-sense which always distinguishes that Statesman, that it was absolutely necessary that we should await the recommendations of that Commission. Then the right hon. Gentleman asks me some questions about light railways. There again I cannot go into financial reasons without anticipating what has before long to be stated by my right hon. Friend near me, and I should be embarrassing this debate by a side issue which I think is not desirable. The right hon. Gentleman then proceeded to refer to some of the main Bills in the Queens Speech, and he said: "You I know there is not the smallest chance of any of them passing into law." That is his position.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Yes, that may be, but why do we think, and why does the right hon. Gentleman think, that none of these measures will pass into law? There is a Bill in which I have more confidence than he has, the Local Veto Bill, because when it comes to the issue I venture to say that the right hon. Gentleman will find that friends of that Bill sit, not only on this side of the House, but on that side. Therefore the words of the right hon. Gentleman upon that subject do not alarm me. But when he was dealing with that Bill he said— "Oh, it is coining after a lot of other Bills, and therefore there is no chance for it." That is taking credit to himself for those arts of procrastination in which the right hon. Gentleman and his friends are unquestionably past-masters. But 80 he came to another Bill, which he assumed was going to be the first Bill. Does he think, does he mean to say that that Bill will not pass the House of Commons? "No," he said, "not at all." That was not the view he took. He referred to a conversation he had with the Mover and Seconder of the Bill. I have not the same authority the right hon. Gentleman has, and which he exercises so freely, of knowing beforehand all the Bills the House of Lords is going to throw out.
§ MR. BALFOUR
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to interrupt him? I did not make one single prophecy of my own in the whole course of my speech. I relied entirely upon statements by Members of the Government, and principally the Prime Minister.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
If the right hon. Gentleman referred to my statements, I have never said that none of these Bills will pass. He has asked my opinion, and my opinion is that most of these Bills will pass. He knows best whether he has ascertained and has authority for stating that if the Local Veto Bill passes the House of Commons, the House of Lords will throw it out. If that is so, he knows more about it than I do. But if the House of Lords does take that course, the view of the country will be taken upon it. Now, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman, as I have said, is in this position with regard to the House of Lords—that he can always fulfil his own prophecy, which is a very strong position for a prophet to occupy. He says, on the Welsh Bill, that we are ploughing the sand. [Opposition cries of "Asquith?"] Yes, I know; but why are we ploughing the sand? On this measure and on others, what is the real position the right hon. Gentleman takes his stand upon? It is this—that no Government ought to produce any measure which it does not know beforehand will be passed by the House of Lords. He says—and let the House mark this—If you introduce a Bill which you know beforehand never can be passed into law, then you are ploughing the sand, and you are degrading the House of Commons by introducing Bills which the House of Lords will not condescend to pass.I wonder what would be the degradation 81 of the House of Commons, what would be the humiliation of this place if we accepted the principle of the right hon. Gentleman that before we lay a Bill—a Bill which we conceive to be just in itself, which we consider would be of advantage to the people of the country—we should say, "Will the House of Lords pass it?" That is the ploughing the sand with which the right hon. Gentleman taunts us. I was glad, at all events, to find that the right hon. Gentleman is a convert to triennial Parliaments. He says that Parliament ought to be dissolved at once; but I would submit to his consideration that a triennial Parliament rather assumes three Sessions, and this is the third Session of this Parliament. What he is in favour of apparently is biennial Parliaments. Why, on the principle of triennial Parliaments, he should attack us for endeavouring to carry out the legislation we think of advantage to the country in the third Session of the present Parliament I am utterly at a loss to understand. We know very well that to-night we are only on the preliminaries. The right hon. Gentleman is going to have an Amendment. He is quite right to have an Amendment. I was much afraid, in listening to his speech, that it was a gun which was filled up to the muzzle with powder, but in which there was no shot. At least, he has informed the House that he is going to have an Amendment, and we await, with as much curiosity as he awaits our revelations, his revelations upon that Amendment. I do not know that I ought to detain the House any longer. With most of these measures the House is familiar enough. They have been before the House and the country often, and will be before the House and the country until they are passed into law at the instance of the Liberal Party. Why are we to be reproached because these measures have been before the House and the country so long? If you are strong enough in the House of Commons to get rid of us, you will not get rid of these measures hereafter; and if you intend, with your permanent majority in the House of Lords, to resist the passing of measures of this character, if you say "You lay before, the country a miscellaneous programme," I would point, out that the country has pronounced in favour of 82 that programme. These are the measures which at the last election enabled us to turn your majority of 100 into a minority of 40. That was a pretty significant indication of the opinion of the country. As long as this Government, having been placed in power by a majority in the country even larger than in the House of Commons, remains in power, it is bound to pursue the measures to which it has pledged itself before the country, and we intend to do so until the House of Commons shall have pronounced condemnation upon us.
§ *MR. J. McCARTHY (Longford,.N)
Before dealing with the questions which are of so much interest to my friends and myself, I should like to join in the sympathy expressed by every one who has spoken of the death of Lord Randolph Churchill. I have had many opportunities of knowing Lord Randolph Churchill in this House, and I have had many chances of forming a knowledge of him outside the House. My friends and I can remember many sharp engagements in which we fought side by side with Lord Randolph Churchill, and we always found him a gallant knight. We knew, too, that he had much sympathy with our country, and we all feel that in him the country has lost a friend. Now, Sir, I wish to say a few words in reference to the question which naturally interests us most, I mean the question of Ireland, and the references to Ireland in the gracious Speech from the Throne. My friends and I are much gratified by the information given to the House in that Speech as to the diminution of crime, not only agricultural crime, but crime of all kinds, in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman the Loader of the Opposition seemed in some way to wish to insinuate that it was his own particular policy which had caused this diminution of crime. I do not think history will exactly bear that out. I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer explained very fairly and very justly that it is to the fact that Ireland feels that, she has such strong friends in this country, and that she has hope in the English democracy, that the quietude and patience of the people of Ireland is to be attributed. We might have expected we should be told that, on some occasion at the earliest possible moment, a Bill would 83 be introduced to repeal the Coercion Act. That, I believe, would be a measure which would not absorb much time of the House; and it would even find some, sympathy, I venture to say, among the members on those (the Opposition) benches. I hope it is not too late now for the Government to turn their attention to that measure, whereby they would give another guarantee to Ireland that the reign of coercion and terror is over. I will go further and ask the Government whether the time has not come for a complete amnesty. I think that every possible reason would support the wisdom of the course I suggest. It would be taken in Ireland, and all over the world where there are Irishmen, as another proof of the generous purposes of the Government—of their desire to efface the memory of past struggles, and to allow Ireland to enter upon a new era, unembittered by recollections of political conflict. I will not go into arguments which have been adduced many times before, and may have to be adduced again; but I say there are many reasons for believing that the men now in prison were unfairly convicted. I would strongly appeal to the Government to make their policy still more welcome by adopting the suggestion I would make. The Government have told us we are going to have a Tenants Bill; but I think also that something ought to be done at once for the labourers of Ireland. Their case has been brought before the House over and over again, and yet nothing has been done for them. We look to the Government in hope and confidence to make a strenuous effort to improve the condition of these men. The Leader of the Opposition referred to the fact that Irish land legislation was going on long before the opening of his own career. I can remember Irish land measures in this House as far back as the days of Mr. Sharman Crawford. Why has it been so? Simply and solely because the landlord party in this House and the landlord party in the other House voted against every measure brought in for the relief of Irish Tenants, resisted all such proposals step by step, fought over them as long as they could, and thus this question has come down from generation to generation, and is not yet closed. I sincerely hope that before long the question will have, passed out 84 of the region of legislation into that of history. I would remind the Government that famine is creeping over many parts of Ireland. We hear of agricultural depression here in this country, but let me remind the Government and the House that what is called depression in England means starvation in Ireland. There are numbers of reasons to account for it. There are the poverty of our country and the fact that its resources are undeveloped. It may also be said that in Ireland there is not that generous spirit displayed by landlords towards tenants that we find in England. All these are considerations of the most pressing urgency. Famine is creeping over the land, and there are many ways in which the Government may act promptly and generously to avert the evils which threaten the country. As regards land and other legislation, they have the confidence of the Irish people; and that gives a new chance to the Government. Ireland is absolutely at peace; it is full of faith in what can be done by this Government. I believe that no administration in this country ever had so great a chance of carrying measures to promote peace and contentment in Ireland.
§ MR. G. C. T. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
said it was remarkable, considering the the strong language that had been used about the House of Lords by the Prime Minister and others, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not told them what was to be done with reference to that House; but the omission only showed that the main object of the Session was to be to maintain the majority of the Government and to keep them in office. In his speech at Cardiff the Prime Minister mentioned three or four measures; but it was remarkable that he forgot all about the Irish Land Bill, which now took the first place in the Queens Speech. It could only be inferred that after the speech at Cardiff, further pressure was put upon him by his Irish allies and supporters. It was, further, curious to observe the arrangement adopted that evening, from which it-appeared that the first measure to be brought in would be the Welsh Church Bill. It was quite clear that there was a good deal of friction between the Welsh Party and the Irish Party. The Government had to drive the two horses abreast and they had great difficulty in doing 85 so because of the rivalry between them; and it was about as much as the Government could manage to keep these two sections of their followers quiescent and to secure their support from day to day. It would be seen whether the Irish Party would be satisfied with this arrangement and whether the farce of last Session would be continued this with the result of the Government managing by the skin of its teeth to keep its majority and its place on the Treasury Bench. With regard to the Local Veto he had to put several questions last Session, and he always got the same answer; and no doubt it would be the same this Session. The late Prime Minister had said that a Local Veto Bill was little less than an imposture, and the Government were driven to bringing it forward simply to keep their followers together. As the Seconder of the Address said, it was a half-way house for securing the votes of the people; it was brought in with no other purpose than to keep faith with a certain section of the followers of the Government. This was an absolute farce, and the Temperance Party must feel that they were being made tools of by the Government. As a Londoner he must protest very much against the action of the Home Secretary in one matter connected with the Government of London, namely, the management of the business connected with the payment of the Judge of the County of London Sessions. It seemed to him to be a most unworthy position the Home Secretary had taken up. Although during the last three years he had refused his assent to the salary of the Judge, he had now agreed, at the dictation of the County Council, to recommend a certain salary, acknowledging that the salary had not been satisfactory. The proper and equitable management, of the Judicial Bench in London was of the highest importance; and for a Judge to be placed under the London County Council, and to be tabooed by the Council because he had not always acted as they wished, was a scandal to the name of justice, and ought to be put an end to without further delay. On the Conservative side they must protest against the farce of "One Man One Vote." It was proposed by a Government which knew perfectly well that it was only kept in Office by the unfair distribution 86 of political power throughout the United Kingdom. Last year some of the measures of the Government had to be got through by a majority of 10, yet, as a fact, England, "the predominant partner," was under-represented by no less than 20 votes, and if we had anything like a fair distribution of political power throughout the kingdom the present Government could not exist. They must protest, against any alteration in the system of voting until the anomaly he had referred to was done away with, and each person in the United Kingdom represented, as far as possible, the same political power. As to the Payment of Members, he hoped it would be resisted to the utmost. To throw the cost on the rates would be the most unpopular thing the Government could propose. Referring to the large number of measures which he said were "crammed" into the Queens Speech, the hon. Member remarked that Lord Rosebery had said in one of his recent speeches that they were put there as 'marks of sincerity and pledges of honesty." He was convinced of this—that they were inserted in the Queens Speech not with any idea of passing them, but solely that the Government might keep the various sections of their followers together. With regard to the agitation, against the House of Lords, Lord Rosebery was unable to arouse any enthusiasm on the subject, and every by-election showed that the country was more keen to return Conservatives than those who would abolish the House of Lords. Lord Rosebery possessed many advantages by being a Member of the House of Lords; in fact, he was the spoiled child of that House, yet he wish to abolish it. If he had not been a Peer he would never have been Prime Minister. The Chancellor of the Exchequer might have rocked him in his cradle before he thought of politics. Lord Rosebery would not have won the Derby, or been the millionaire he was, or Chairman of the London County Council, if he had not been a Peer. Yet he wished to do away with the House of Lords. The whole thing was a farce and a sham. Lord Rosebery was picked out for the very position he held because he was a Peer; he was assisted by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), who ran Truth on the scandal 87 of the aristocracy, but for whose existence the paper could not go on. Yet these were the men who wanted to do away with the House of Lords. The fact was, the present Government were in extreme difficulties. They knew that half-a-dozen votes would throw them out. They were anxious to find something the House of Lords would throw out, and in which they thought the country would resent their doing so. When the Home Rule Bill was thrown out by an enormous majority the country did not resent it; in fact, was relieved by its being thrown out. One of the prominent supporters of the Government (Mr. McEwan) had recently admitted that the proposal of Home Rule was a failure and a delusion. They knew the Government did not intend to introduce it again, and their supporters would unite in anything to prevent their doing so. The Government Finance Measure of last Session was a most complicated one, and it occupied a considerable time in discussion, although the supporters of Her Majestys Government, whether Irish, or Teetotallers, or Disestablishes, took no part in that discussion. The Government, not satisfied with having wasted so much valuable time, had made an attack upon the House of Lords. They found, however, that the attack would not answer, because the country wished to have a House of Lords; and because some of their supporters wished to become Lords themselves. The Government, in these circumstances, had thought it better not to mention the House of Lords in the Speech, and they had been compelled to content themselves by putting into it a few stale, humdrum measures, which they had no real hope of passing into law. The longer the present Government remained in Office the larger would be the majority against them at the next General Election, and therefore, in one view of the case, he should be sorry to see an immediate Dissolution. On the other hand, however, he objected to government by shams, and therefore he should rejoice to see the present Ministry turned out of Office. There were many pressing social matters which the Government ought to have given more prominence to in the Speech—such, for instance, as the condition of Agriculture and of Labour. Unless we could maintain the trade and commerce of the 88 country, nothing that Parliament could do would preserve our population from poverty and misery. Instead of bringing in a number of sham measures, the Government ought to have dealt with those great subjects, and have done their best to extend our manufactures and our output, and to widen the fields for English enterprise. The Government had run away from their pledges to bring in a measure of Home Rule, and the result would be that they would be brought face to face with their Irish supporters, and they would go out of Office with the general feeling that the Ministry had existed not for the good of the country, but of themselves alone.
§ *SIR A. K. ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
rose to say a few words on the important subject of conciliation in trade disputes, which had been only faintly referred to in the Queens Speech, and which could not be neglected without the most disastrous results to our manufactures and to the general community. It was our strikes and lock-outs which had been a principal cause of the alleged depression in trade, and which had added to the already heavy disadvantages under which we suffered in our competition with foreign countries. The strikes in the coal trade and in the docks at Hull had been the cause of suffering, and even of death, to large numbers of the population of that town, and they might have easily been prevented by some Board of Conciliation. The trade disputes in the winter of last year had far outnumbered those which had occurred in the previous year. Doubtless the Government had done something in a spasmodic way to put an end to those disputes, but more general action was necessary. A well-drawn measure dealing with the subject would receive the almost universal assent of the Members of both Houses of Parliament, who entertained no great divergence of opinion as to the general principles upon which such a measure should be based. Such a Bill should be voluntary in its character; should provide for an equal representation on the Board of the employers and employed; and should involve meditation rather than Arbitration; while it should not presume to fix the rate of wages in the future. A Bill of that kind, which had been prepared by the London Chamber of Commerce, had actually passed the other House of Parliament 89 with the support of the present Ministry. The experience furnished by foreign nations—for instance, that of the Conseils des prudhommes in France, which had settled 60,000 labour disputes last year—was entirely favourable to his proposal. He could assure the Government that the country felt most deeply on this question, and that the Trade Unions heartily supported the proposal. If the Government took up this subject they would effect a great social reform, and they might rely upon the entire support of the Opposition in the matter. He was glad that the Government had called a conference to discuss the subject of Light Railways, which would have the effect of bringing the producer and the consumer of agricultural produce into immediate contact, The localities would doubtless take a great interest in these light railways, and would recognize in them an assistance to agriculture. It was, however, only by a fuller introduction of the collective system and newer methods of culture that a remedy for agricultural depression was to be found. The light railways, if properly carried out, might be the means of doing much for the development of the country, and he wished to express his obligation to the President of the Board of Trade for this new departure. He hoped that they might look for a promise of an early measure on the subject of Deep Sea Fisheries, a question which touched the food and diet of the people, which, probably, had an ultimate bearing on the manning of our Navy, and for which Foreign Nations had legislated with advantage to themselves. He hoped that the work of the Sea Fisheries Committee of which he was a member would not be lost, but would he embodied in legislation, which would prove useful. He regretted the absence from the Queens Speech of any Registration Bill. This was a subject which could not too often be repeated until it passed, and the present state of our Electoral Laws was disfranchising instead of enfranchising. The insertion of a Registration Bill, Session after Session, was, therefore, a matter of great urgency. There need be no loss of legislative labours if the House only attended to its own procedure and did not trouble itself so much about the other 90 House, which, at any rate, did its business in an excellent manner. The procedure of the House of Commons should be simplified and rendered more in accordance with modern thought and practice, e.g., provision should be made for carrying measures over from Session to Session so as to avoid the scandal of throwing away the work of a whole Session. He hoped they would have the advantage of the presence of the Leader of the House on the next occasion when this matter was brought forward. If the two Front Benches meant business—and he sometimes doubted whether they did—there need no longer be the present records of wasted work.
§ MR. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN (Kent, Faversham)
said, that he rose to express his profound surprise at the way in which the agricultural interest had been treated in the Queens Speech. In the paragraph referring to this subject he could find no trace of any real intention to bring forward any measure of relief in mitigation of the distress now prevailing in the agricultural community, and, so far as he was able to judge the whole course of action of the Radical Party was adverse, inimical, and antagonistic to the agricultural interests. Yet whenever, as members or candidates, Radicals went before the agricultural constituencies they then discovered that it was the most important of our industries, and then it was that they promised the poor deluded voters all kinds of things. When they were elected there was not, however, one fad to which they would not postpone this greatest of all interests. The result of the Parish Councils Act had been, as he had predicted, to create ill-blood and dissension where none had previously existed; it had done no good to the labourers, who, moreover, did not want it; but it had had the effect of increasing the rates. Both parties were doubtless responsible for this. But there was another measure far worse for the agricultural interests than the Local Government Act or the Parish Councils Act, and that was the most cruel and unjust Budget of last year. it was a bad day for the agricultural labourer when that Act became law. All the smaller fads and schemes put forward scarcely touched the fringe of agricultural 91 depression; and until and unless a Statesman should arise from either Party who would make a thorough alteration in our out-of-date fiscal system, and would make this his chief aim and object, there would be no real relief from the depression and ruin which now rested on our commerce and our agriculture.
§ *SIR J. LUBBOCK (London University)
remarked that the country had been looking forward with great interest to the Queens Speech. There was much in it which was remarkable, but the omissions were even more remarkable than the substance. There was nothing about Home Rule for Ireland; and although the Government had been denouncing the other House on platforms all over the country, there was nothing about the House of Lords. The Chancellor of the Exchequer expressed much confidence that the measures mentioned in the Speech would pass the House of Commons, and said that if they were lost it would be in the House of Lords. But the Prime Minister gave a very different reason why they should fail when he said that the Government was likeA great piece of ordnance muzzled with balls, heavy and destructive in their character, but with a perfectly insufficient charge behind them to launch at the enemy.That seemed a very good description of some of the proposals of the Government. They were cumbrous. If they were successfully got off they would be very destructive to the country; but, fortunately, there was not sufficient powder behind them. He regretted that subjects calculated to relieve the present depression received so little consideration from Government. For instance, the depression in trade was greatly due to the disputes between Capital and Labour, most of which were perfectly unnecessary, as they arose from misunderstandings, which, if properly dealt with, could be prevented. The Government had a Bill on the subject, but he could not help thinking it rather ominous that this Bill was not going to be introduced on Thursday. Last year he had the honour of introducing a Bill dealing with the same subject on behalf of the Chambers of Commerce and the great London Trades Unions? Her Majestys Government said that they did not object to the Bill, but whenever it was brought on 92 they blocked it. The Chambers of Commerce then introduced it into the other House, and it was passed there with general consent. If there were some cases in which good Bills passed that House, and were lost elsewhere, on the other hand there were cases, and this was one, where useful measures passed in the other House had been lost in the House of Commons. He urged the Government to attempt to press the matter on, and to bring it on at a time when it would be properly discussed in that House. He very greatly regretted that no mention was made by the Government of any measure dealing with the excessively long hours of labour in shops. There was no class of the community who worked so long as small shopkeepers and their assistants, and that House had already unanimously passed a stronglyworded Resolution on that subject in March 1893. Her Majestys Government apparently were not going to do anything to give effect to that Resolution. He had always understood that when a Resolution of this character was passed the Government were bound to give effect to it; and he deeply regretted that the Government should entirely ignore this great and grievous evil.
§ *SIR F. S. POWELL (Wigan)
said he represented a district which, perhaps more than any other, suffered during the great dispute in the coal trade in 1892, and the sorrows arising from that unhappy condition of affairs were not yet abated. There was no doubt the depression and grief in that district would continue for a considerable period, and he felt that the Government were taking a heavy responsibility if they did not in the course of this Session take some effectual steps to promote a solution of these industrial difficulties. Both employers and employed suffered from these troubles, and it was to the interests of all that these disputes should cease. There was one omission from the Queens Speech to which he would refer, and that was in regard to the pollution of rivers. They had passed an Act two or three years ago dealing with the Mersey and Irwell, and the difficulties arising in Lancashire and part of Cheshire which, at that time, were of a gigantic character. The effect of that legislation had been that in many parts of Lancashire 93 the evils were greatly diminished, and he hoped that in the course of a very few years all those difficulties would have disappeared. The same observation applied to the West Riding of Yorkshire, and so recently as last Session a private Act was passed dealing with that large industrial district, the Mersey and Irwell Act being adopted with some modifications. In that case there had been activity of public opinion in favour of the new law. He felt thoroughly convinced that it was the duty of Parliament to take advantage of the great success of this experiment, and by general legislation to give to the whole of the country the advantages which local legislation had conferred on Lancashire and Yorkshire. If the Government did not themselves initiate legislation, he hoped they would support the initiation of private Members. He should have the honour in a few hours to ask the House, for the third time, to permit him to introduce a Bill for the prevention of the pollution of rivers throughout the country; and he hoped that, even if it was not thought right that this Bill should become law in the course of the present Session, the question might at least be thoroughly investigated by means of a Committee, and that it might afterwards be dealt with in a widely-reaching statute. He desired to acknowledge the action of the Local Government Board in regard to the Circular which they had recently sent to the Boards of Guardians throughout the country; but while adequate relief was given to real poverty, he hoped that sturdy vagrants would not be collected together into one centre by a too liberal administration of the law.
§ *MR. R. G. WEBSTER (St. Pancras, E.)
expressed his satisfaction at the statement in the Address relating to foreign affairs, and also at the announcement that in Ireland, whatever be the reason, offences of all kinds had reached a low level. They were told that this was Her Majestys Gracious Speech from the Throne; but they all knew that the Speech was in reality prepared or advised by the Government. He had never before seen a Speech which proposed so many Constitutional changes as this one. He would not go through all the proposals in the Speech. He should confine himself to one it was a very important matter, and he thought it ought to have 94 a whole Session devoted to itself; he referred to the paragraph which dealt with the Church in Wales. They had before them last Session a Bill which dealt with this question, and they had a right to ask—Why should this question be brought on again in this particular Session? Why should the subject be pressed upon the country at the present time? It seemed to him that the reason was this: the supporters of the Bill saw that unless this question were solved very quickly it would never be solved at all according to their views. The Bill was urged forward on the ground of what was called religious liberty." He could not agree with that, for, so far as he was able to understand, they had absolute religious liberty already. The proposal of the Government went a step farther: it went as far as spoliation of the Church in Wales. He did not see how the Bill could be defended on the principle of religious liberty. He had no idea of religious liberty unconnected with honesty and justice. He asked—Why was this attack on the Church to be made at the present time? The opponents of the Church knew that it was increasing in strength, and that unless this attack were made now there would be no chance of success. What said the late Prime Minister of this part of the Church as late as 1891?The Established Church in Wales is an advancing Church, a living Church, and I hope very distinctly a living Church rising from elevation to elevation.Contrast these words with the vitriolic bitterness with which the hon. Member for the Carnarvon district and his friends refer to the Church in Wales, either in this House or in the country, when he or they call it an Alien Church, and its bishops and other ministers of its religion, aliens and spies. Notwithstanding these angry chidings, its foundations remain unshaken. Its clergy continue doing their useful work, teaching the doctrines of brotherly love, and he would venture to say if Churchmen do their duty they had power to prevent the success of this movement; and he sincerely hoped that their defence of the Church will be conducted in a manner more worthy of the Christian name than the attacks. They should be told by the Government and their friends that there is some resemblance in the 95 case of the Church in Wales and the Irish Church. It is at best but a very slight one. In the case of the Irish Church, the statistics of an undoubted character proved that its followers were only one-tenth of the population. who can give accurate figures respecting the proportion of Churchmen and Nonconformists in Wales, and whose fault is it that they are unattainable? Not Churchmen and their friends in this House assuredly. When the Census of 1890–1 was to be taken we asked for a religious Census in England and Wales, as there was one in Ireland. This was stoutly opposed by the Liberationists in this House and outside, and they succeeded in preventing that Census being taken. They might well ask themselves why. If their case had been a strong one, if the Census had been likely to prove in their favour; if, in fact, they had not known that it would prove the Church in Wales to be a much stronger and more numerous body than they had given out, they would have had it fast enough. They prefer sham enumerations, bogus returns, with notices sent out to the Nonconformist congregations and a whip sent out to them to muster in strength, and the Churchmen taken in the usual numbers, with enumerators duly appointed by the leading members of Political Dissenting organizations; these valuable returns being forsooth collected by, in some instances, children of the age of 9 or 10 years. And it is on such returns, and on such absolutely unreliable ex parte statistics, this House is to be asked to legislate. What said the Member for Midlothian, on this subject?—We are encountered at the threshold of the question by the old statistical controversy, with regard to which we seem to have been thus far rather too much in the condition of men who are determined to keep themselves in the dark.And yet after this speech his supporters in this House decline to allow the clear light of day to burn on this important point in the controversy, and why, may we ask? We may almost affirm they hesitate to let the truth be known; and now I would like to furnish the House with a few reliable statistics. The number of Sunday school scholars in the diocese of St. Davids has advanced from 28,763 in 1880 to 32,923 in 1889. The number confirmed for the triennial 96 period ending December 1st, 1876, numbered 4,352, and for the period ending 1888, 8,545; that is to say, doubled. The number of communicants has risen from 26,589 to 39,401 in the same period, an increase of 50 per cent. Now, for a moment, let him refer to Burial statistics. When the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for East Denbighshire, brought in his measure, he said it would affect and remove a great grievance from 600,000 of the population of Wales. Now, if only half of what he said were true about his Burials Act the Nonconformists would have eagerly seized the relief given by its provisions. Well, what are the facts since the passing of that Act? In 266 parishes in North Wales, 1,440 funerals have been celebrated under the provisions of that Act by the Nonconformist ministers, while 20,298 have been celebrated according to the rites of the Established Church; and it is said that there have been numerous cases in which excessive pressure has been put on Nonconformists to adopt the provisions of this Act in the burial of their dead, and such pressure has been stubbornly resisted. Hon. Members opposite would try to set up the doctrine of a separate Church for England and Wales. That argument is a fallacious one, and they might as well attempt to set up the doctrine that the Church of the. Northern Province of York was dissimilar from that of Canterbury. On that do we want further evidence, than that from the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Midlothian himself, who said—There is a complete ecclesiastical, constitutional, legal, and, I may add for every practical purpose, historical identity between the Church in Wales and the rest of the Church.So, when we find that in the Queens Speech there is a clause to bring in a measure to disestablish the Church in Wales, we must be aware it really means merely the stepping stone to an attack on the Church in England.The operation of disestablishing the Church of Wales from the Church of England will not be an easy one. He suspected that it will be found that it is tied and knotted, and tangled. I might also say, in such a mass of legal bonds and meshes with the general body of the Church, that it would be a very formidable matter indeed to accomplish this untying process.These are, the words of the right hon. Member for Midlothian, not his. They 97 may have been said a few years ago, but time does not render the task more easy, rather more difficult, and this "formidable" measure, this complicated "untying process" is only one of very numerous measures the Government propose with a light heart to carry through this House this Session.—No. This question, if it was ever seriously attempted, would occupy the time of a whole Session to itself, and it is only trifling with the patience of this House. To quote again the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothians words respecting the Disestablishment of the Church in Wales—Only go up to the Walls and gate, and look at the way the stone is built upon stone, on the way in which the foundations have been dug, and the way they go down into the earth, and consider by what tools, what artillery, you can bring the fabric to the ground.We know the way they will try, not by the gallant rush of a storming party to the breach, but by the underground work of the sapper—the false statistics, and the tongue of slander against the Ministers of Religion, and turning every Nonconformist chapel in the Principality into a sort of Radical Candidates Committee Room. When one reads this paragraph in the Address from the Throne, relative to the Disestablishment of the Church in Wales, we should, ere we accept it, even as a mere formality, recollect what it means. We are asked to disestablish a part of the Church of England. A Church established in this country to give religious instruction to all, rich and poor alike, not only in large centres, but in the smallest hamlet. It is, he maintained, at once the oldest and the purest form of State Socialism. The poor mans church we are asked to commence to attempt to destroy. This House, with all its power, even if it became as they wished, the omnipotent and sole Estate of the Realm, could never destroy it. But why in this age of Socialism in all forms in your Free Education Acts, in your Poor Laws, your Free Libraries, your roads and bridges free from toll or impost to the traveller or the wayfarer—why should you wish to put back the hands of the clock regarding religion, and make that alone on the voluntary system, which means religion will alone be within the reach of the well-to-do. It is not the time on the Address to 98 refer to the causes of Nonconformity in Wales by non-resident English Bishops and clergy having been appointed during the early Hanoverian reigns: suffice to say that is not the case now. The Church in Wales, equally with the Church in England, has aroused from her partial lethargy of the last century, and is a living force for active good in the country. The Bill of last Session was not only to disestablish the Church, but to despoil it, and he would warn Nonconformists in this House and in the country, that when spoliation once commenced it would not end with the funds of the Church, whether held by tithes or otherwise. Gifts and grants given by Nonconformists in the past, and now held by the various Nonconformists by trust deeds authorised by Act of Parliament, might be liable to be inquired into and diverted to secular purposes. But knowing, as he did, the condition of the agricultural interest of the country at present, he said that if they leave the Church pennyless, and it had to be supported by the voluntary efforts of the congregations, if they diverted the use of the Tithes from religious purposes, they should not fritter it away on secular purposes, technical institutes, and the like, but restore it to the land by abolishing the Tithe charge. But in reality the payments to a religious body spread throughout the land, whose duty it was to inculcate religion and morality amongst the people, was, to put it on no higher ground, a better insurance fund than teaching people to make new designs on silks and satins, or giving them the privilege of reading translations at free libraries of French plays and novels. Had the state of Ireland been so law-abiding and contented since they had despoiled the Church there, and frittered away the plunder so obtained? No; they opened the flood gates of spoliation on the sister Isle, and it had not stopped at the Church. Were they again to have presented to the House a measure so utterly repugnant to the feelings and sentiments of Churchmen as that which was presented last Session? That measure was grossly and deliberately annoying and insulting regarding the mode Cathedrals were to be dealt with. This objectionable provision was to be thrust down the throats of Churchmen by the descendants of the Whigs, who at one time were thought to be 99 staunch defenders of the Protestant religion in this country, by the aid of their Roman Catholic allies from Ireland, who, having in some way or other twenty more seats in the House than they were entitled to according to any just representative system, would vote the minority down, by about that number. He was opposed to this paragraph in the gracious Speech from the Throne, because there was the best reason for believing that, while the Nonconformity now so prevalent in Wales was of comparatively recent origin, the life, energy and spirituality which the Church was exhibiting would draw back "to the old hive" the children of those who had been conscientiously withdrawn from her fold, and also because it may be the duty of England, it may be her proud destiny, to guard civilization against the withering blast of infidelity and atheism on the one hand, or of priestly oppression on the other, and he asked can she fulfil those tasks if called on to do so without the bulwarks of her National Church?
§ SIR R. TEMPLE (Surrey, Kingston)
drew attention to the paragraph in the Queens Speech referring to our relations with other countries. The statement relating to the settlement of the French frontier in the neighbourhood of our territory in Sierra Leone was satisfactory as far as it went, because for a long time there had been grave anxiety regarding what might be called the Hinterland of our West African possessions. The paragraph stating that the relations of the country with foreign Powers remained on a friendly and satisfactory footing, he earnestly hoped represented the real state of affairs. He did not doubt the sincerity of the Governments belief in the truth of the statement, but, as British Legislators, Members of that House were bound to consider for themselves whether that belief was wellfounded. No doubt our relations with the United States, after the settlement of the Behring Sea Seal Fishery question, were satisfactory. We could also believe that our relations with Germany were good, especially since we had yielded to her on the question of the telegraphic communication and the belt or zone of territory in Eastern Africa. Were our relations really friendly and satisfactory with Russia and with 100 France? Now, as regards Russia, there was every reason to think that the Tsar entertained the most friendly feelings towards this country, but was there "no public opinion in Russia to which he must defer? Was there no strong party in Russia which would mould his will and even guide His Majestys intentions? Certainly there was, and that public opinion and that party was distinctly aggressive in an Imperial and territorial sense. So long as that was the case and that party had a dominant voice in Russian councils, so long there would be danger for England. He strongly impressed upon the Secretary of State for India—and he was glad that the office was filled by a Statesman so capable, so patriotic, and so able—that the question of the Pamirs most intimately affected the Eastern Empire of England. Until it was settled, with a proper regard for British Interests, it could not, he submitted, be affirmed that our relations with Russia were friendly and satisfactory. It was the well-founded belief of those who understood India that in all these territorial arrangements Russia got the best of it and England was worsted. In all the arrangements of partition between Afghanistan and the Turcoman territory after the capture of Merv we were thoroughly worsted. [Mr. H. H. FOWLER indicated dissent.] The right hon. Gentleman might not believe that, but all men who knew something of the country were firm in their belief to that effect; and they believed, moreover, that something of the same kind would happen in the Pamirs. It was well, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman should be warned of the danger which was impending over us in that direction. The reference in the Queens Speech to the war between China and Japan was mild and general in its language, but the future terms and conditions of peace between the belligerents excited anxiety in the mind of every patriotic Englishman, and why? Because one knew there was Russia looming like a black cloud in the background. He questioned whether the ordinary Englishman realised the enormous advantages gained by Japan. She had taken the Portsmouth of China and the Woolwich as well, and there was nothing except the ice and snow to prevent her marching and dictating terms 101 of peace in Pekin. If a question of cession of territory arose the Russian difficulty at once stepped in. Was Korea to be independent? Would Russia permit it? If not, then everybody would be drawn into the vortex. Or supposing Japan marched to Pekin, what was to become of the Chinese Empire? If China broke up, then there would be a scramble for the spoils of that Empire, While these tremendous eventualities were impending, and while they had the knowledge forced upon them by the sad experience of the last 30 years of Russian ambition, it was not possible to affirm that our relations with Russia were satisfactory. With regard to France, could anyone who read extracts from the Parisian Press believe that the French Parliament—he might say also the French Foreign Office—really entertained friendly feelings for us at the present time? Would to God it were the case. Look at the incessant jealousy of France about Egypt. Naturally enough, he admitted; but still we had our duty to do. We were to remain in Egypt until she was fit to govern herself, and, so far as he could see, that might be for ever. Then there was the case of Siam, as to which he pressed the Government for information, and to insist, that there should be some guarantee in the future for the independence of that country. These matters related to India in a serious and essential degree. If they were not satisfactorily arranged, India would not be safe. She would be between two fires, and, sooner or later, trouble must ensue. As to our relations with France, the last speeches made in Committee of Supply, in the Session of 1894, related to the territorial delimitation between the territory under French and British influence, from the sources of the Nile to our newly acquired territory in Uganda. It appeared to be astounding indiscretion on the part of the Government to have entered into an agreement with the Congo State without coming into a previous arrangement with France. It was humiliating to this country that France should say publicly that she, would not submit to such an agreement, and that England must withdraw from it. It was true we did not withdraw, but we entered into further negotiations with France; and what had been the result? UP to the end of last Session it was 102 eminently unsatisfactory to England. Had the position of affairs now improved? They did not know: but before the Session was much older they would have to insist upon knowing. These matters were really of the most supreme importance to England. It was said now that if such and such a measure were passed the country would be immeasurably richer. That seemed to be an important factor in Parliamentary matters. If that principle were applied to Foreign Affairs, he contended that England would be immeasurably richer if these, matters to which he referred were properly settled, and immeasurably poorer if they were not. Another paragraph of the greatest, and he might say melancholy, interest, was that which related to Armenia. There again Russia came in, but in this case she seemed to have behaved with a degree of forbearance for which he would hardly have given her credit. She might, have taken advantage of these troubles in Armenia to strengthen her position in Asia Minor, but, so far, she had resisted the temptation. If, however, Russia should be introduced into the heart of Asia Minor, what would be the position of England? England had given Turkey a guarantee, that she should be protected against Russian aggression, so far as her Asiatic dominions were concerned, and in order to fulfil that obligation she occupied Cyprus. Was England going to continue her occupation of Cyprus, and not protect Turkey against Russian aggression? He hoped that the reports received from Armenia might be exaggerated. Inquiry would show that, and he thought it would be a great pity to discuss the matter while the inquiry was pending; but he thought it right, to remind the House of the obligations under which this country lay, and of the great embarrassment she would be in in fulfilling those obligations if any misgovernment in Asia Minor should be proved. He was much obliged to the House for attending to his observations, but it was impossible to adduce more important matters for the consideration of the House. What he had said was only part of a preliminary skirmish. Other Members, better informed than he was, felt the same patriotic zeal in these matters, and were determined to press them to a legitimate conclusion. These 103 matters, he assured the Government, would not be allowed to drop, and whatever opportunity might be allowed by the forms and regulations of the House would be utilized for the sake of the best interests of England.
§ MR. J. G. LAWSON (York, N. R., Thirsk)
desired to treat the Queens Speech as if it contained a bona fide programme which it was seriously intended should be carried out, although he could prove, by the showing of the Government themselves, that it did not contain any programme which could be so carried out, and what they should be engaged with this Session were not the matters contained in the Queens Speech, but another very different matter indeed. But, speaking on the supposition that this was to be a bona fide working programme of what was set before them this Session, he desired to offer one or two remarks upon the proposals with regard to light railways. Having heard this subject discussed amongst the farmers Clubs and Associations, and that morning at the Central Chamber of Agriculture, he felt it only right to call the attention of the Government to the fact that unless the agriculturists, in the matter of light railways, received some bona fide assistance, and were not made to provide that assistance themselves by being rated for the purpose of forming light railways, it would be but a poor crumb of comfort to offer to the agricultural interests. As the Bills of the Government were not definitely settled at this moment it was only right they should take every opportunity that presented itself of impressing upon the Government what were the conditions under which it was alone possible for the agriculturists to receive assistance from this proposal. If the scheme was to put upon the rates the expense of making the light railways, it would simply be taking money out of one pocket of the farmer and, perhaps, again putting it back into the pocket of the same or some other farmer. He hoped the proposal of the Government would be brought forward at a time when it could be adequately discussed with the view to the adoption of any practical suggestions which would result to the advantage of those whom it was desired to benefit. But he could hardly bring himself to believe that these proposals in the Queens 104 Speech were meant seriously to be the programme of the Session. It was a programme which was again crowded with a vast number of proposals, each one treading upon the others heels, and preventing progress being made with any of them. There were ten, if not twelve measures mentioned—all of importance. The Prime Minister, speaking at Cardiff, said the Government were anxious that their programme should be a distinctly business programme, containing only those measures which they saw a reasonable prospect of passing. If they did this, said the noble Lord, they simply confused the public issues, and the mind of the public at large. But here were ten or twelve measures of importance in the Queens Speech. Speaking on a previous occasion at Glasgow, the Prime Minister said they could only hope to carry one, or, at most, two measures of the first importance through Parliament in a single year. Did anybody deny that there were in this programme at least three measures of the first importance? There was the proposal for Wales to give to those who did not go to church the power to dispose of church funds. There was the measure for Parliament to give to the Irish tenants another slice of the landlords property. Then there was for England the proposal to give to those who did not use public-houses the power of shutting up and closing the trade of the publicans, and interfering with their business. Surely those were three measures of the first importance, and yet it was declared by the Prime Minister to be impossible to take more than one, or, at the outside, two of these measures with any hope, of being passed in one Session. The programme of the Government could not, therefore, be described as a business programme. Lord Rosebery, speaking at Cardiff, said that the campaign against the House of Lords was sufficient to tax the utmost strength of the Liberal Party at its very best. If that were so, in face of such a campaign, it was ridiculous to seriously put forward this list of measures. The House of Lords had been described by Liberal Statesmen as an impassable barrier, and the Chief Secretary for Ireland had said it was a huge dead weight of prejudice and passion. Surely, if that statement were true, the first object of those who believed it should be to call the other 105 House to account. Again, the late Prime Minister, speaking in the House of Commons in March, 1894, said the differences between the House of Lords and the House of Commons had reached such a development as to create a state of things which could not continue. But where was the effort to remedy that state of things, and to re-adjust those relations? The Chancellor of the Exchequer, too, had said that, when the House of Commons had put forward measures which they believed to be for the advantage of the country, they had been encountered by opposition in another place which destroyed the work of the representatives of the people. Why was this House to be asked to do all the work sketched in the Queens Speech, if the Government believed that the other House was waiting to destroy the work of this House? The right hon. Gentleman said this was a great subject, and he compared Parliament with a watch of which the mainspring was prevented from acting. When the mainspring of a watch was broken it must be renewed, and, until it was renewed, it was useless to wind it up in the hope of making it go. Yet the House of Commons was there to wind up a watch the mainspring of which was said to be broken. At Edinburgh and Birmingham the present Prime Minister cried aloud for guidance, impulse, and inspiration; and the inspiration came from the Leeds Conference, which passed a resolution calling upon the Government to abolish the veto of the House of Lords, "as soon as practicable during the present Parliament." The present Parliament was again assembled, and the head of the Government had spoken, but he had not said anything about carrying out the resolution of his supporters. The Chief Secretary for Ireland declared the Leeds resolution a valuable and important one, said that it was the expression of a reasoned opinion from a representative body, and assumed that it would receive "that attention from the Cabinet which the gravity of the situation required." Still, the Government went, on as if that resolution had never been passed. If the, Leeds Conference were not sufficient, there was a Resolution passed by the National Liberal Federation at Newcastle. The framers rejoiced at the commanding 106 position in which the Leeds Conference had placed the subject, and desired that the campaign should be vigorously pursued. It did not look as if that were to be in view of the legislation suggested by the Queens Speech. They were there to wind up a watch, the mainspring of which had been broken: "to shave with a blunt, razor," to adopt an expression of the right hon. Member for Midlothian; or, to adapt other phrases that had been used, ploughing the sands of the sea-shore, or attempting to fire cannon so constructed that it could not be discharged. The Prime Minister, during the recess, had excused himself from stating what he was going to do about the House of Lords, because the matter was such a high constitutional one that it could not be laid before any tribunal inferior to the High Court of Parliament. Now Parliament was assembled, and there was no suggestion that this high constitutional amendment was to be laid before it. Was it hoped that the divergence between the two Houses would grow less and that the question would settle itself? On the contrary, the Chief Secretary had said it was highly probable the divergencies would grow wider than they are at present. The President of the Local Government Board, speaking at Reading, candidly admitted that the question was one of great difficulty, because there were differences of opinion in the Liberal Party as to whether there should be one Chamber or two. Was it possible that it was in consequence of these differences that the Resolution was being kept back? At Cardiff the Prime Minister said that if the Government did not consult the susceptibilities of the House of Lords there would be a chance of a barren Session. Did they intend by the proposed measures to consult the susceptibilities of the House of Lords? If they had any feeling about the House of Lords would it not rather be in favour of wounding their susceptibilities and adopting the policy of trailing the coat? The real reason why the Resolution about the House of Lords was not brought forward was that if it was proposed a Dissolution would be imminent, and the Government were not anxious for a Dissolution. But there was every reason why a Dissolution should be faced by them. The right hon. Member 107 for Midlothian, in 1874, said that if a majority returned at a General Election had sunk to such proportions that it could no longer carry on the business of the country with advantage, there was no resource but to appeal to the people, and yet the right hon. Gentleman at that time had a majority of 60 or 70, but the present majority was perhaps nearer six or seven. It was ridiculous to bring them there to discuss a programme when what the Government had at heart was, not the programme, but something far different, which ought to engage their attention at once, and which, when it was entered upon, would require all the energy they could give to it.
§ COLONEL C. E. HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central) rose and, after intimating that he desired to move an Amendment if the general Debate on the Address were over, ultimately gave way to
§ MR. W. AMBROSE (Middlesex, Harrow),
who said he congratulated the Government on their action with regard to Armenia. But he remembered that, when the atrocities occurred in Bulgaria, although the Government of the day pursued a similar course, they received different treatment from the Opposition, who got up an agitation which influenced the following Election. It was said that in Ireland offences of all kinds had sunk to the lowest level, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer boldly attributed the decline to the prospect of Home Rule. Whatever effect that prospect might have, on agrarian crime, which was included in the returns, it could not be supposed to have influenced the burglar and the ordinary assassin and thief; and he challenged the Government to show that Home Rule had anything to do with the diminution of ordinary crime. The raising of the question recalled the period of the Kilmainham Treaty, when Members of the House of Commons who had been deemed dangerous by the Prime Minister of the day were set at liberty on the understanding that they would use their influence to repress crime, and outrage. He observed that in the Speech from the Throne it was said,—Proposals will be submitted to you for remedying defects which experience has brought to light in the working of the Law, of Landlord and Tenant in Ireland.There was hardly such a thing as the, Law of Landlord and Tenant in Ireland.
108 There was such a thing before the Act of 1881, but what was established by that Act was a system of dual ownership. Everyone knew that the legislation of 1881 had resulted in serious difficulties between landlord and tenant, and in his opinion further legislation would only tend to aggravate the evils which were a necessary and proper result of the Act of 1881. It was said:A Bill will be presented to you dealing with the Church Establishment in Wales.It was not from the words of the Speech, but only from the speeches of Ministers at public meetings, that hon. Members could understand what was meant. What the Government really meant was the disestablishment and the robbery of the Church. They meant sacrilege: they meant to steal the lands and buildings of the Church and appropriate to secular purposes. A more heinous offence by a nation could hardly be contemplated. They were to have, in addition, a Bill for the popular control of the Liquor Traffic. He would like to see the Liquor Traffic properly controlled; but he was not sure they would secure a proper control by putting it in the hands of such a body as was suggested, because popular bodies were apt to be carried away by passion and impulse. He was afraid it was intended to interfere with vested interests, and especially with the freedom of the people, to do what they liked in regard to their own refreshment and conduct. If there was one thing he should set himself against it was interference with a mans personal liberty. He noticed, too, that they were to have a Bill for the abolition of plural voting. He was sorry Lo see this further attempt to interfere, with the old principle of the constitution that taxation and representation should go together. Informer days the Liberal Party hold the view that those who had to find the money should have the control of it, but now it was argued that one set of people should find the money and another set of people should control and spend it. He saw no objection to a Bill for the payment of the charges of the Returning Officers at elections, but he feared that such a measure was simply held out as a bait to secure votes for the Bill for the payment of Members, and that when the, latter Bill was passed hon. Members would have to 109 whistle for the Returning Officers Charges Bill. Her Most Gracious Majesty was made to say:I regret that Agriculture continues in a seriously depressed condition.Why, Agriculture was almost destroyed in this country. Sir James Caird told the Agricultural Commission that at least 30 per cent. of the profits of the landowners was gone; that 60 per cent. of the profits of the farmers was gone, and that 10 per cent. of the profits of the labourers was gone. What, was the result? That it was impossible sometimes to grow corn in England at a profit. The same high authority told them that wheat must sell at 36s. per quarter if the English grower was to be paid. Land was going out of cultivation, and, as a consequence, our towns were full of labourers for whom there was no employment. Was there any remedy whatever? There was none promised by Her Majestys Government. They said:This subject is still under the consideration of the Commission which I appointed in the Autumn of l893. In the meantime, a proposal will be submitted to you for facilitating the construction of Light Railways.They began the Commission in 1893. They did nothing in 1893 and 1894. Here they were in 1895, and for this calamity which had overtaken the country they proposed the construction of light railways. It was utterly ridiculous. If instead of endeavouring to pull down the Constitution, and to pass all the various measures they enumerated, the Government would give their attention to the necessities of the trading, manufacturing and agricultural interests they might do some real good. The Speech was the more, remarkable for what it did not contain than for what it did contain. At one, time it was said that Ireland blocked the way. "Home, Rule holds the field" was the language of the late Prime Minister; and it was intimated that no English legislation could proceed until that question was settled. The Home Rule Bill was thrown out by the House of Lords. What was the course for the Government to pursue if they really felt that, they had a mandate to carry that measure? It was to have gone to the country at once, but that they dared not do. The object of the Government had been to complicate the issues before the 110 country, and mix Home Rule up with other questions—the Welsh Church, Irish Land, and the Local Veto Bill—so that at the General Election they might succeed on any point they could, and then come back and say they had a mandate to carry Home Rule and pass their Resolution with regard to the House of Lords. Lord Rosebery, in his speeches at Leeds and Bradford, had spoken of this Resolution, yet there was not a word about it in the Queens Speech. The House had a right to know what the Government intended to do, both as regarded the House of Lords and Home Rule. Was the matter to be held over them in terrorem for they knew not how long? If there was to be a Resolution with regard to the House of Lords, let the Government produce it at once, and not keep on passing Bills which they knew perfectly well the House of Lords would reject.