§ On the Adjourned Debate upon the Motion that an Address be presented to Her Majesty in reply to the Speech from Throne,
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
moved the following Amendment:—And we humbly represent to Your Majesty that it is contrary to the public interest that, under the guidance of Your Majestys advisers, the time of Parliament should be occupied in the discussion of measures which, according to their own Statements, there is no prospect of passing into law, while proposals involving grave constitutional changes have been announced on which the judgment of Parliament should be taken without delay.The right hon. Gentleman said: Mr. Speaker,—Whatever else may be said of the Amendment I have placed on the Paper, I think it will be admitted that it raises a very broad issue, and one which is sufficiently distinct. We desire to challenge the whole Parliamentary tactics of the Government. And especially do we impugn that latest electoral device which is known as "filling the cup," and which consists in wasting the time of the House in the discussion of a number of measures which are not expected to pass, but which are introduced in order to confuse the issues and in order to avoid, or, at all events, to delay, the inevitable condemnation which awaits the primary policy of the Government. I have no right to anticipate a more favourable reception of this Amendment than has been extended to those that have preceded it. We know that hon. Members are very brave in private conversation, and indulge in bursts of independence when they are addressing their own supporters, but when they come to this House their courage oozes out of their finger ends, and, to use an expression of the hon. Member for the Eastern Division of Edinburgh (Mr. R. Wallace), are "called to heel" and follow the indications which are given to them by the Party Whips. Although we do not expect to defeat the Government, we do claim to put our case before the country 848 and to bring to an issue in this House the questions which have been so strenuously discussed on opposing platforms during the Recess. I have said that the Government desire to avoid, or to delay, the condemnation of their primary policy. The first question is, What is the primary policy of this Government? I am glad to say, in regard to that, that we are left in absolutely no doubt whatever, and I am grateful to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the clearness with which he spoke on the subject on the opening night of the Session. The primary policy of the Government is Home Rule for Ireland. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, with, I think, a trace of pathetic indignation in his voice, said, "You," meaning the Opposition, "appear to think that we shrink from it." I will frankly confess that some of us have that impression. Some of us do think that the Government itself as well as its supporters are rather reluctant to come to the scratch, and we have noticed that in recent elections the Government candidates have had their confession of faith positively wrung from them by main force and the efforts of the Unionist alliance; but after the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman there can be no doubt as to the intentions and policy of the Government. The House will recollect with what gravity, with what emphasis, the Leader of the House read from a document which he held in his hands, the first article, I will not say of a treaty, but of a paper, a portion of which he communicated to the House; and this first article was "We maintain the establishment of Home Rule as our primary policy." My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary added to that a not unimportant interpretation, because he said, "When we speak of Home Rule we mean Home Rule not falling behind the Bill of 1893." Now, Sir, the Government will not object, I am sure, if we tie them and their supporters to those declarations. "Home Rule for Ireland not falling behind the Bill of 1893" is not merely a part of the Government policy, not merely an item of the Newcastle programme, but it is their primary object. Everything else—Welsh Disestablishment, Local Veto, One Man One Vote—is secondary and subordinate, and everything else will have therefore to be considered not merely in 849 regard to its merits, but in relation to that primary policy which it is the main object of this Government to pursue. Now, I have to make another observation upon this declaration of the Government. I say that in accepting Home Rule as their primary policy at the present time they have put themselves out of harmony with the general opinion of the country. They have no longer a majority behind them, and I do not think that this is a statement which it would be difficult to prove. Will any one pretend that the primary object of the country is Home Rule at the present time? Is there any intelligent or fair-minded man who doubts for a moment that if that were the case, and if, therefore, the Government were certain of a great majority, they would not have appealed to the country when the Home Rule Bill was rejected; I know that the Government say they could not do that because they were not willing to assent to a claim on the part of the House of Lords to call for a Dissolution. I am not aware that the House of Lords have ever put forward any such claim. All that I understand the House of Lords have claimed is that a Bill which has never been submitted to the people, and which they believe the people would not approve, should be relegated to them for their decision before being passed into law. Be that as it may; I ask again, does anyone imagine that a scruple of that kind would have restrained the Government if they were certain that they would have had a favourable answer to their appeal? Let the House consider the circumstances. The House of Lords rejected this Bill by a majority of ten to one. If the Government believed that, by appealing, they could obtain evidence that the great majority in the country were in favour of the Bill which the House of Lords had so cavalierly rejected, they would have been able to strike a greater blow at the influence of the House of Lords than any Resolution which even their ingenuity could devise. The House of Lords rejected the Home Rule Bill—as the Home Secretary very wisely predicted they would reject it—because it had not been previously submitted to and had not obtained the assent of the people. If the assent of the people had subsequently been given, after an appeal to the people in this issue, we have it on the 850 authority of the Leaders of the House of Lords that they do not contend that they have the right to resist the clearly expressed and definite, will of the nation. Therefore, if the Government had believed, if they believe now, that they represent the majority of the United Kingdom, no tactics could have been more foolish, no policy could have been more unjust to the Representatives from Ireland or to the cause which the Government have at heart, than the policy which the Government have actually pursued of refraining from an immediate appeal. If we want any additional proof we find it in the admissions of the Chief Secretary. The House will remember the speech which he delivered the other day, and they will bear me out when I say that not once only, nor twice, nor thrice, but throughout that speech, the Chief Secretary treated the Dissolution of this House as equivalent to the ejection of the Government. They do not believe that they have got a majority any longer, and yet they cling to Office in a minority and attempt to force revolutionary measures upon this House. They know, they have confessed, that the predominant partner is against them, and certainly the predominant partner has not made any progress towards conversion during the course of the last few months. But is there anywhere that kind of enthusiasm in favour of this primary-policy of the Government which would overcome the opposition of the predominant partner? Where is it to be found? You find no trace of it in England. Do you find much in Ireland? I think it is one of the most remarkable circumstances of the times—I leave others to explain it—that during the passage of the Home Rule Bill and after its rejection there was not the slightest sign of agitation, of irritation, or of discontent on the part of the Irish people. Since that time there has been no movement which would go to prove that the Irish people were really anxious to secure the success of the Home Rule policy. I do not doubt for a moment that they have what I would call a speculative preference for it, and I do not doubt that at the next election they will still return a great majority of the Representatives. [Nationalist Cheers.] Hon. Gentlemen cheered as if they hardly expected it. But for my part I 851 do not entertain the slighest doubt that they will return a large majority of Home Rule Members. But whatever their speculative preference may be, there is no sign of that energy, of that earnestness, of that patriotic zeal, and of that self-devotion which alone can carry through a great constitutional revolution. I will give one illustration of what I say. It is perfectly well known—I do not say it as a taunt, but it is a matter of public notoriety that this agitation has always been more or less in pecuniary difficulties, and from time to time there have been appeals—no English, of course, being allowed to apply—appeals to the patriotism of Irishmen throughout the world. The hon. Member for South Longford was one of the latest to make such an appeal. He went into details. He showed most clearly that the trifling sum of £48,000, applied for purposes which he described, would be sufficient to put the question of Home Rule in a satisfactory position. I think—I will not say I am afraid—that he was not very successful in his appeal which was made to the people of Canada. But what I want the House to see is that that sum, and more than that sum, might have been obtained in Ireland itself if the Irish Nationalist population would have contributed not more than fourpence a head in favour of this great theory of Home Rule. They will not contribute fourpence a head, and the tenants of Ireland who have gained by recent legislation hundreds of thousands of pounds per annum, will not find a sum even of £48,000 in order to get a separate Parliament. We know perfectly well that the Irish people care very much about their land question. They seem to be very enthusiastic indeed. There is every sign of popular feeling upon the subject of Amnesty. We know that a number of them are very much interested in the question of national education, and that others desire that their municipal and purely local government should be put on a solid basis; but there is no sign of any special agitation or interest in the creation of a separate Parliament. If that is the case in Ireland—it is only a negative argument so far as Ireland goes—what is the case in other parts of the United Kingdom? Do you pretend that this enthusiasm for the "primary policy" of your Government, the policy 852 which they are sitting on that Bench alone to carry out, exists in Wales or in Scotland? If it exists in Wales, it must be in the vernacular Press; it is not apparent to the eye of an ordinary Englishman. The Welsh people are very properly engaged in their own affairs, and I do not believe they care—I do not believe they ever have cared—two straws for Irish Home Rule except so far as it had relation to the Parliamentary progress of their own views. Then there is Scotland. I appeal to the Members for Scotland, and I appeal especially to the Members for the Metropolis of Scotland. The case of Scotland is a strong one. On two occasions Scotland by a considerable majority has voted in favour of some kind of Home Rule, although on these occasions the Scotch people were not aware of the particular kind of Home Rule which was going to be proposed. Now, I ask the Members for Edinburgh—Do they say that at the present time the Scotch people are filled with a burning enthusiasm and a fanatical desire to promote the "primary policy" of the Government, and to carry Home Rule on a scale not less than that of the Bill of 1893? We have all read the manly speech of the Member for the Central Division of Edinburgh. I should like to quote to the House two or three words from that speech. The hon. Member, after saying that the Government had left the people under the impression that the Home Rule Bill was not dead, but was in a state of suspended animation, went on to say—I wonder how many men believe anything of the kind. If there are many, I cannot imagine who they are, and I should not know where to find them.We know where the hon. Gentleman sits. Apparently in that quarter he does not know where to find them.As a matter of fact it is generally believed that the Liberals and Nationalists combined cannot, at least in this generation, carry a Home Rule Bill on the lines of 1893. If that is the fact, why should not the Liberal Party frankly acknowledge it?Why not, Sir? Of course it would settle the "primary policy" of the Government, and it might lead to their ejection; but the patriotic gentlemen who sit behind the Government—they put their country far above their Party. Now, here is a very curious fact. The hon. Member for the Central Division 853 made this speech to his constituents in Edinburgh. What happened? Was he howled down? Was he asked to resign? Was he called Judas? No, Sir. As far as I can learn, he received a unanimous vote of thanks and confidence from those whom he addressed. And the same fate befell his colleague, the Member for the Eastern Division, when he pursued the same course. Well, how in these circumstances is it possible for the Government to pretend that they have the country with them? They know perfectly well that the country is against them on this question; that the great majority in England, at any rate, are actively opposed to it; and that the great majority in other parts of the United Kingdom are indifferent. Under these circumstances, I can understand, but I do not admire, the decision of the Government to remain in Office, and I do not think it does them honour. I do not believe that it is in the best interests of the country. But I suppose it will have to be written of this Government, as it has been written of a past Government, that "although they have forgotten how to govern, they have not learned how to resign." What has followed upon the decision of the Government not to appeal to the country, and not to resign after the Home Rule Bill was defeated? It is perfectly clear that they had only one alternative before them, and that alternative they have selected. They had to find a new issue; they had to discover a new cry which might possibly redeem their failure and retrieve their popularity; and they have found that new issue in the good old cry, "Down with the House of Lords." I confess I think they are objects for reasonable sympathy. They had a right to anticipate success from a movement of that kind. They are rather in the position of a dramatic manager who should have produced a new piece with startling effects and sensational incidents which did not take the case of the public. Then, what would he do? He would go to the repertory of the theatre; he would select some classic drama, some popular favourite, and he would bring this out in the hope of redeeming his fortunes and being able to start afresh. That is what the Government have done. They have brought out this favourite piece which on no previous occasion has 854 failed to draw, and on this occasion it has not taken at all. Now why is that? It has been mounted half-a-dozen times, but never before with such shabby accessories and with so weak a company. Sir, all previous agitations against the House of Lords have been accompanied by two conditions. The first condition is, that the House of Commons by a great majority has declared against the course that has been taken by the House of Lords; and the second condition is, that the country has backed up the House of Commons, and by an overwhelming outburst of opinion has shown clearly the drift of public sentiment. But on the present occasion both these conditions are absent. You have not got a large majority in the House of Commons. You have only a small majority, and it is getting smaller every day, and in the country your best efforts, the whole force of your organisation, even all the energy which you could bring to bear has failed to produce a single public meeting of the slightest importance solely on this question, Why is it? The reason is obvious. It is because the country sympathises with the House of Lords in this question, and not with the Government. The House of Lords is declared to be at be the present time the greatest obstacle to Home Rule. Well, the country is not going to abolish the House of Lords because it is the greatest obstacle to Home Rule. Then what has followed? The primary policy of the Government has failed; the secondary policy of the Government has failed. This is a Government of resources; they bring out their tertiary policy, and the tertiary policy is the great policy of filling up the cup. Is it not rather absurd? The cup must be a very capacious one. Think what the House of Lords has done? The House of Lords has upset, has destroyed, has pulverised the primary policy of the Government. Is not that enough? Unfortunately for the Government, it is not, and thereupon they proceed to fill the cup by bringing in measures which they say cannot be passed, and which I say are not intended to be passed, in the hope that, somewhere or other, among the lot, one may be found upon which they can pick a plausible quarrel with the House of Lords. I say that the Government have themselves declared that these measures 855 which they have introduced cannot possibly pass. The other day, when a similar statement was made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, the Chancellor of the Exchequer interposed, and he said, "You will not find that in my speeches." Perfectly true. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he will excuse me saying so, is an oldish Parliamentary hand, and I do the Chancellor of the Exchequer the justice to say that he knows too much to make any such admission. Then the Chancellor of the Exchequer, although a very important, is not the only, or the most important, Member of the Administration. Other Members have been less reticent than he has been, and notably the Prime Minister himself. Now, Mr. Speaker, when nobody will speak up for the Prime Minister, I am prepared to stand by him. I pin my faith on the Prime Minister, and I am not able to put him aside so cavalierly as his colleague the Chancellor of the Exchequer. After all he is the Prime Minister. Whether he ought to have been the Prime Minister, whether a better man might not have been found, these, Sir, are questions it would be impertinent for me to inquire into, and I should be loth to intrude a profane curiosity into the domestic arcana of Ministerial combination. But, Sir, as long as he is Prime Minister, I think for a short space even the Chancellor of the Exchequer might have patience with him, and for the short space during which he will be Prime Minister he is the only authoritative mouthpiece of this Administration. What does the Prime Minister say? I shall only quote one passage; it is sufficient for my purpose. Speaking at Glasgow on November 15, he said:—What is the use of talking of Liquor Veto, or Disestablishment, or any subject of this kind? I protest that I almost consider I am playing with you when I dilate at such length on such subjects, or on Bills which, in the present condition of Parliament, have no earthly prospect of being passed.That appears to be clear. I always hesitate in quoting the Prime Minister in consequence of an incident which occurred in the Recess, and I like to assure myself he has not been speaking ironically. On the present occasion there can be no suspicion of that, 856 because what he said at Glasgow he said at Bradford, at Cardiff, and at Edinburgh, and it formed, in fact, one of the great staple arguments of every single speech he delivered. Under these circumstances, I ask the Government how they can pretend that they have not in advance declared that this is to be a sterile Session. I do not refer to other Ministers, although I think some right hon. Gentlemen who sit upon that Bench must feel that they have also made statements similar to that which I have quoted. But I will refer to an observation of my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary. He said the other day that, while admitting the statements of the Prime Minister, he thought circumstances had somewhat changed since. He used very sporting phraseology. Apparently he had no fear of the Anti-Gambling League before his eyes, but he said that he thought the odds had shortened. And why did he think so? Because of a speech made in another place about the Land Bill by the Duke of Devonshire, and because of a letter about Disestablishment written by myself. I think when my right hon. Friend comes to reflect he will find these are rather slender reasons on which to base his conclusions. What did the Duke of Devonshire say? He said that he recognised that it was necessary to bring in a Bill to deal with the circumstances that had resulted from the expiry of the 15 years period in the Land Act, and he said if that Bill was a fair and a just and reasonable Bill he, did not doubt their Lordships would give it favourable consideration. I do not doubt it either. I should suppose that the whole question about the possible success of the Land Bill depends upon two things. It depends upon the nature of the Bill and it depends upon the time at which it is brought in. If that Bill is a non-Party Bill, if it is a fair and just Bill, then I should hope that a difficult question would be settled even in the present Session of Parliament. But if it is a highly controversial Bill, a Bill which is going to raise upon us once more the whole land question, if it is a Bill which is going to deal with evicted tenants, if it is a Bill which is to be brought in at a time when the House has already been engaged in protracted discussions, if there is to be no sufficient 857 time allowed for its consideration and it is to be closured in compartments, then, Sir, in such circumstances I should see little hope to anticipate that the prognostic of the Prime Minister would not be justified. Then, Sir, I come to the letter—the very important letter I think my right hon. friend called it—that I wrote to a gentlemen in Wales. I confess I think my right hon. friend did me and my letter much too great an honour. The letter, I may say in passing, was not intended for publication, but there was nothing in it which was new, which I had not said many times before, and which I am not perfectly prepared to say in public many times again. If I had known, however, that it was to be published without my consent, 1 should have thought it only fair to say at the same time that these opinions are my personal and individual opinions, and, as far as I know, they are not shared by a single member of the Unionist Party. I expressed in that letter a desire, which I have long entertained, for a compromise on this burning question. I have received the usual reward of would-be peacemakers, and have been roundly abused by both sides, and I must honestly say, in the present temper of Parties, I see not the slighest chance of any compromise being effected. Now, Sir, there is a perfectly frank and perfectly plain statement, and I ask my right hon. friend whether he supposes, in these circumstances, that there is anything in the letter which changes the situation since the Home Secretary said the odds were a hundred to one against the Land Bill, and since the Prime Minister said the Liquor Veto Bill and Disestablishment had no earthly chance of being passed. But, in order to be fair and to deal fully with the Prime Minister's statement, I must bear in mind that he made a very important distinction. He distinguished between those greater measures which have been put forward in the programme of the Government, and which he said had no earthly chance of passing, and the minor measures which have been put into the programme, which are to take the chance of what they can get, and as to which he declared some of them were useful, and, he had a faint hope, might be passed into law. Now, Sir, that depends 858 entirely on the Government; that depends upon whether they are willing to cut their coat according to their cloth. If they are going to proceed with these great controversial measures and only at the end of a long Session to bring in these minor and useful measures, I tell him there is no more chance with them than with the others. If it is their intention to give them the prominence to which they are entitled, then I say that, in the present terrible depression in industry and in agriculture, in view of the distress which, I am afraid, is deepening every day, and which is becoming almost a national calamity, I believe that this House would readily come to the consideration with an open and favourable mind of any remedies the Government might propose, of any social reforms which they might lay before us, without scanning too closely the credentials or questioning the authority of those who proposed them. It lies with the Government, and at present their policy appears to be exactly the reverse. Instead of giving to these measures, which are urgent, these measures which, after all, you cannot deny are the primary policy of the country—for it is to social reform, and to measures affecting the social well-being of the population that the majority in the country are looking—if, instead of giving prominence to these, you are going to deal with those highly contentious and controversial matters until the House has been wearied by the time wasted over sterile discussion, I say you are, with your own hands, destroying all chance you might otherwise have of passing useful and beneficial legislation. It appears as if the Government seems to think that the smaller their majority the more comprehensive and the more controversial ought to be the scheme of their legislation, and if they are ever reduced to that majority of one which Lord Rosebery declares is sufficient for him, I believe there is no interest in the country, and no article of our Constitution, which will be safe at their hands. The other night, the Chief Secretary said that we must make allowance for Party necessity, which is an overmastering element. The policy of the Government is certainly an illustration of his statement; but the course which the Government has taken cannot be held 859 by any impartial man to be a straight-forward course. Whatever its intention my be, it must, of necessiy, have the effect of diverting attention from the main issues—from the primary policy; and, whenever the appeal to the country does come, it will be, or it may be, indeterminate, because the Government have not chosen to make the issue clear. It seems to me, the position of the Government in introducing these measures is rather like that of another Government, the Melbourne Ministry, in 1841. The condition of the Melbourne Ministry at that period has been very well described in the interesting History of Our Own Times, which we owe to the scholarly labour of the hon. Member for North Longford, and the House will excuse me if I quote a few words from his description. He says:—The Melbourne Ministry kept going from bad to worse. There was a great stirring in the country all round them, which made their feebleness the more conspicuous. We sometimes read in history a defence of some particular sovereign whom common opinion cries down, the defence being a reference to the number of excellent measures that were set in motion during his reign. If we were to judge the Melbourne Ministry on the same principle it might seem, indeed, as if their career was one of extraordinary activity and usefulness. Reforms were astir in almost every direction; inquiries into the condition of our poor and our labouring classes were, to use a cant phrase of the time, the order of the day.That might have been written now. The hon. Member goes on to recapitulate the various measures which the Melbourne Ministry initiated, and then he says:—When they came to the last, when they were in most desperate straits, they resorted to the device of bringing forward a now proposal, which was all the more startling because many of them had previously repudiated it.And he concludes by saying:—The conversion of the Ministers into the official advocates of a moderate fixed duty"—for that I should read the abolition of the Second Chamber—was all too sudden for the conscience, for the very stomach, of the nation. Public opinion would not endure it. Nothing but harm came to the Whigs from the attempt. Instead of any new adherents or fresh sympathy being won for them, people only asked, 'Will nothing, then, turn them out of Office; will they never have done with trying new tricks to keep in Office?Mr. Speaker, we know from previous proceedings of the Government that 860 they will not appeal to the country. It is not our object in this Amendment to make them. I am quite certain that if we consulted only our Party interests we should be quite ready to give them more time to try the patience of the country; but our object is—as they have decided to remain, and as they have threatened us with a Revolution—to induce them to submit at once the terms of the Resolution to the House, in order that the House of Commons, in the first instance, and the country afterwards, may have time to give it consideration before they are called upon for a decision. Up to the present time, they have refused to disclose the terms of their Resolution—they have refused to unsheathe this terrible weapon, but they have given a reason for it which does not apply on the present occasion. The reason they have put in the forefront is this. It has been put forward by the Prime Minister in the country, and the other day in another place, that it would not be respectful to the House of Commons to anticipate the production of this Resolution. As I say, that is an excuse which cannot apply any longer. Even they will not assert it is disrespectful to this House to take it into their confidence. And I will venture to put another reason why they should no longer maintain this attitude of pretended mystery; and that is, that their secret is an open secret, and it is disrespectful to this House to refuse an authoritative confirmation of the statements of individual Ministers. During the Recess almost every Minister spoke on this subject, and as, in regard to the other matter with which I have dealt, some Ministers have been less reticent than others, and it is perfectly possible from a collation of these speeches to see exactly the lines on which the Government propose to proceed, I will call the attention of the House to two short extracts. One is from a speech made by the Secretary for War at Culross on the 8th of December. He then said:—The question was, whether the Representative House, which really reflected the opinion of the people of the country, should not be practically supreme, whatever power the other House might be allowed to possess in the way of offering advice as to amendment or alteration that might be required.And then the other quotation, which carries this a little further, is from a 861 speech of the President of the Board of Trade, who, speaking at Aberdeen, one week later, said:—If you desire my own personal opinion this seems to me the most practical course. The House of Lords may retain the right to suggest amendment and require the reconsideration of a measure, and a certain time might be allowed during which public opinion could express itself, which is a matter of great consequence in a country like ours, where the organs of opinion are so numerous and potent. When that time had elapsed the will of the people, if again expressed through their representatives, would prevail.Now, can there be any doubt whatever as to the interpretation to be placed on these two statements? The House of Lords under these circumstances is to remain as an advisory body. It is not to have any power to veto Bills, it is not to have any power to insist on any amendment, it is not to have any power to call for a dissolution; but It may suggest amendments or advise the House of Commons, and if the House of Commons does not care to follow its advice then the Bill will be passed exactly in the form in which the House of Commons desire it. The first remark I make on that is, that I am surprised such a proposal should come to us from the President of the Board of Trade. When we completed the discussion on the Home Rule Bill I thought we should not have occasion for a considerable time to refer to the authoritative statements on constitutional questions which we alluded to so often in the course of that Debate, but it appears we shall still have reason to go to our old friend, "The American Commonwealth." What does the right hon. Gentleman say in "The American Commonwealth?" He says:—It is only now that the belated philosophers of England have come to the conclusion that what is required is, that the House of Lords should not be weaker but should be stronger.Well, I confess I do respectfully express my regret that the President of the Board of Trade should have joined the "belated philosophers." But the second observation is this. This proposal, as defined by the Secretary for War and the President of the Board of Trade, is nothing more nor less than the resolution of the Leeds Conference. So far everything would be straightforward and plain; but the curious fact is, the Prime Minister has ridiculed and criticised the resolution of the Leeds Conference. He 862 said, to destroy the veto of the House of Lords and prevent it having power of revision, would be to put it in a position in which it would be no use at all. He said in that case it would only remain as a court of justice and as a state prison for able and eminent men. He forgot one of the functions which even then it would continue most usefully to fulfill—I mean that of a haven of refuge for able and eminent Members of the Liberal party. Lord Roseberys argument was, that to do these things which the Secretary for War proposes to do, would be equivalent to the abolition of the House of Lords, and then he went on to say he was a Second Chamber man, that he would have no part or parcel in handing over the Government of this country to the sole control of a Single Chamber. I do not say these observations of the Prime Minister are necessarily inconsistent with the other statements of Cabinet Ministers to which I have referred. I say, however, that they are very difficult to reconcile. I say that the Government alone have the clue to the mystery, and that therefore we have some reason when we ask them to enlighten us and to put an end to all doubts upon the subject. Why do they not do so? Lord Rosebery himself has shown on many occasions that he feels some necessity or some satisfactory justification of conduct which otherwise appears unexplainable. He has given us, as I have shown, one reason which no longer applies. What is the other reason? I say the reason is that the introduction of a Resolution of this kind must shortly be followed by a Resolution, and that it would be hard to punish the House of Commons. Why is he so tender-hearted for the House of Commons? When it is known to all that if the Government adhere to their principles the days of this House are limited, it may be to two or three months, or it may be even to two or three weeks, why does he think that we should pass this time in what he himself has pointed out must be a barren discussion? Why does he think that we cling to a precarious and inglorious existence? If he has any doubt on the point, we will tell him that the half of the House of Commons, or nearly half the House of Commons, are anxious for a Dissolution. We can tell him that as to the remainder there are 863 many, at all events, among them who feel that they have no longer strength sufficient to perform their work with efficiency, and would like to end what is an undignified position. Mr. Speaker, this Government is tottering. It can no longer represent with proper weight the interests of this country in the councils of Europe. It has not force behind it to enable it to pass its domestic policy into law. Lord Rosebery himself has appealed to the nation to give him what he calls the propelling power. I wish he would give the nation a chance. There are several kinds of propulsion. I think myself that considerable force was exercised the other day in Forfarshire, in Brigg, and in Evesham. But perhaps in those cases—We kicked them downstairs with such a sweet graceThat they thought we were handing them up.If that is so, I invite them to play their last card. I invite them to submit to the decision of this House their Constitutional Revolution; and I invite them, above all, no longer to shrink from the inevitable plunge, which will only be the more disagreeable the longer it is delayed.
§ *THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. H. H. ASQUITH,) Fife, E.
Mr. Speaker, there is one passage in the speech of my right hon. Friend for which I think, on behalf of the Government, I ought at once to tender him our grateful acknowledgements. I refer to the comparison which he made between the position of Her Majestys present advisers and that of the administration of Lord Melbourne. Lord Melbournes Government was supported in this House by a small but adequate majority. It constantly encountered the hostility of the House of Lords in the rejection, the obstruction, and the mutilation of its Bills; and at the end of its career, as my right hon. Friend has thought it opportune to remind us, it undertook for the first time a new departure in the assault upon the Corn Laws. My right hon. Friend apparently thinks that that is fit to compare with the attack which we are about to institute upon the House of Lords. Sir, how long, let me ask, did the Corn Laws survive that new departure upon the part of Lord Melbournes Government? Precisely five years, and we now know the estimate which my 864 right hon. Friend is prepared to give of the probable duration of the existing constitution of the House of Lords. Mr. Speaker, this Amendment is the third vote of censure upon Her Majestys Government in support of which the combined forces of the Opposition have been arrayed during the present Debate; and I think, particularly after some remarks that have fallen from my right hon. Friend, it might not be uninstructive to recall to the attention of the House the different varieties and phases of attitude which the Opposition has assumed in the course of the last few days. The attack began, Sir, from what I may call the regular Opposition with the Motion of the hon. Member for Hampshire, who asked the House to say that immediate legislation was required for the urgent needs of suffering Agriculture, with a happy afterthought for the unemployed. He was followed by the newest, but certainly not the least active, recruit to the ranks of the Opposition, the hon. and learned Member for Waterford.
§ *MR. ASQUITH
The hon. Member demanded an immediate Dissolution of Parliament in order that the opinion of the country might be taken upon the question of Home Rule. And now, Sir, the same hon. Gentlemen, who have voted in the course of a single week, first for immediate legislation for Agriculture, and then for an immediate dissolution upon Home Rule, are invited to-night by the Leader of the only remaining section of the Opposition to ask the Government to re-arrange the whole of their Sessional programme, to put upon one side all the measures of legislation announced in the Speech from the Throne, in order that we may do what? [An hon. MEMBER: "Resign."] Not at all. The hon. Gentleman has misinterpreted the Amendment. And I must confess that during the greater part of my right hon. Friends speech I thought he had not read the Amendment. No; we are to put aside all these measures of promised legislation in order that this House may enter at once, and without delay, upon the discussion of a new constitutional question. Now, what is the position of the Opposition in 865 relation to this matter? Although it is not for us to criticise, or at any rate to quarrel with, their tactics, I confess I could not help thinking that there was something a little peculiar in the arrangement which assigned to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham the authorship of this particular Amendment. Of course, Sir, I need not remind my right hon. Friend nor the House that the first measure to which, as soon as we are allowed to approach the transaction of the real business of the country—the first measure to which the attention of this House will be invited is the Bill for the Disestablishment and Disendowment of the Welsh Church. We know my right hon. Friends position in relation to that question. He has told the world more than once, I think, that if he had his own way Welsh Disestablishment would have had the first place in the unauthorised programme of 1885. He warned the people of Wales, in well-remembered language, before the las General Election, that every Welsh dissenter who voted for a Gladstonian was voting for the indefinite postponement of Welsh Disestablishment. He told the people of Wales, I think it was about the same time, that the great Constitutional question involved in Home Rule must for years to come occupy all our time. He drew a pathetic picture—I am quoting from memory, but I think my memory is accurate—of the Welsh and Scotch Churches, as a pair of sisters, waiting in the Lobby disconsolately for the hour of their Disendowment, while this House was engaged in wrangling and jangling over the details of Home Rule. My right hon. Friend has now the opportunity of giving effect to these promises to the Welsh people.
§ *MR. ASQUITH
This Parliament has not yet sat three years, and already Welsh Disestablishment, which my right hon. Friend ten years ago thought the most urgent of political questions, is to be the first measure to be submitted to the House of Commons. Yet at thit moment my right hon. Friend thinks is right to undertake the sponsorship of a resolution which asks this House to put aside that measure. And why? In 866 order that this House may engage in another Constitutional controversy now that Home Rule is, at least for a time, out of the way. I cannot think that my right hon. Friend can have had these considerations in view, or very closely in view, when he undertook the authorship of this Amendment; and speculating, as I have been compelled to speculate, as to what his precise motive may have been, I think the most plausible explanation of his action is a desire that the question of the House of Lords should as soon as possible be brought upon the floor of the House in order that he may give to the country, whose curiosity upon the subject is vivid and real, some explanation of his own previous declarations. Now, Sir, I am not going to indulge in quotations. My right hon. Friend has been sparing in that respect, and I will follow his example. I am not going to indulge in a wealth of quotation. I will content myself with citing a single passage from the speech delivered by him—and it is most pertinent to the question now before the House—in Denbighshire, before the General Election of 1885. These were the memorable words he used:—I have no spite against the House of Lords, but as a Dissenter I have an account to settle with them, and I promise you I will not forget the reckoning. I share your hopes and aspirations, and I resent the insults, injuries, and the injustice from which you have suffered so long at the hands of a privileged Assembly.I ask the particular attention of the House to the words which follow:—"But the cup is nearly full." Yes, Sir, filling the cup, the right hon. Gentleman told us to-night, was the latest electoral device. It is at least ten years old, and the credit for the introduction into our political vocabulary of this most useful and picturesque simile ought, I think, to be claimed by its true and original author. "Yes," he went on,—the cup is nearly full. The career of highhanded wrong is coming to an end. We have been too long a Peer-ridden nation.Now, Sir, I should be glad to know, and the House would be glad to know—and if the discussion could be confined within reasonable limits I am not sure that we ought not to allow facilities for the purpose—what my right hon. Friend thinks has happened to the cup which was nearly full in 1885, and how he explains that in his view the House of Lords, which, as he 867 told the electors then, had "sheltered every abuse and protected every privilege for nearly a century," has become, as he apparently thinks it has, the last refuge of popular liberty. But I am afraid that we must postpone the gratification of our curiosity upon this point, and I will ask the House, for the very few minutes during which I address it, to examine what are the reasons which my right hon. Friend alleges for the Amendment he proposes. He founds himself entirely, as far as I can make out, upon our declarations, or supposed declarations, that certain measures announced in the Queens Speech as about to be submitted to this House have little prospect of being carried into law during the present Session, and upon the inference which he draws from those declarations, and which I shall show to be totally unfounded, that it necessarily follows that the time and attention of this House expended on these measures is a futile and fruitless expenditure of time and labour. My right hon. Friend has quoted certain statements made by the Prime Minister as to the improbability of the Welsh Disestablishment Bill, and of one or two other Bills, being passed into law this year. He has spared me—and I am obliged to him for it—what I confess I expected, the repetition of an expression of mine which I used at Birmingham and which has acquired, I observe, a certain transient notoriety, about "ploughing the sand." That poor little phrase has afforded, I am glad to say, meat and drink to the Unionist Party for the last two months. And not only to the Unionist Party, but to the Parnellite Party also. These new comrades—[Opposition Cries of "Oh!" and Ministerial Cheers]. I confess I was not prepared for such a manifestation of ingratitude. How many nights ago is it since hon. Gentlemen opposite followed the hon. member for Waterford into the lobby? These new comrades are rapidly learning to sit down without the least awkwardness at the same political table. [Mr. W. REDMOND: "We want to release our country."] I confess that I for my part do not grudge hon. Gentlemen opposite the slender contribution which I have been privileged to make to their rhetorical and argumentative necessities. As regards the use of that phrase, and as regards the corresponding declarations which my right hon. Friend has quoted 868 from the Prime Minister, I and my colleagues are wholly impenitent. I believe that it was perfectly true when I spoke at Birmingham, where the expression was first used; it was a perfectly true and accurate thing to say that, forecasting the probable action of the House of Lords in the future by their actual conduct in the past, the prospect of a measure like Welsh Disestablishment receiving the Royal Assent during the present Session was a remote prospect. How could I expect that the House of Lords would show any more deference to the opinions of the Welsh people in reference to their ecclesiastical institutions than it had shown to the opinions of the Irish people in respect of their civil and political institutions? But I did hope, until I listened to what fell from my right hon. Friend to-night, that a ray of light had penetrated the gloom. I confess that, like the Chief Secretary, when I read the letter which, it appears, was not intended for publication, though it seems to have been addressed to the editor of a newspaper, I did hope that there was some prospect in this matter of Welsh Disestablishment that we might not again plough the sand. My right hon. Friend has kindly declared that he will not intrude a "profane curiosity" into what he supposes to be our domestic difficulties. I will repay the compliment, and I will not inquire too closely as to what are the precise relations of the two parties which are separated, as we know, by a thin partition, and as to what kind of response is going to be made on the one side of the partition to the voice which appeals from the other side, in accents of warning and almost, I may say, of menace. My right hon. Friend says in his letter that—Disestablishment in Wales must come; and the only question is whether it shall be accompanied by a just treatment of the Church in regard to its funds. This can be secured now. If Churchmen would be wise they would urge their leaders to devote themselves to this part of the subject.I heard the other night, in the speech of the right hon. Member for St. Georges, a passage of almost, I was going to say, convulsive emotion, in which he elicited the enthusiastic applause of the Gentlemen who sit behind him by a withering reference to those who were engaged, or about to be engaged, in "the plunder of the Welsh Church." That 869 was the light hon. Gentlemans expression. I took particular note of it. Although I do not doubt that it is in strict consonance with the feelings and convictions of the majority of those who sit behind him, it appeared to me that they were somewhat strange and incongruous words to fall from the lips of a Member of the Cabinet of 1869—one of the authors of the Disestablishment and Disendowment of the Irish Church. However, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham advises the right hon. Member for St. Georges and his followers to compromise with sacrilege. They are to drive the best bargain, they can with the unclean thing. Are you going to take his advice? I get no response, yet surely this has a most vital bearing on the Amendment which is now before the House. Talk about "ploughing the sand!" It rests with my right hon. Friend and with those in whose counsels he exercises such a weighty and just authority—it rests with them to make the desert, if I may use the expression, "blossom like the rose." In this House, Sir, I am thankful to say that the prospects of a Welsh Disestablishment Bill are perfectly assured. There is, as far as we can forecast the future, not the least chance of its being defeated by the Representatives of the people. Let my right hon. Friend, who gives such sound and sagacious advice to his political allies, make his advice effective in that quarter where he can make it effective if he pleases, and let him get his Liberal Unionist Friends in the House of Lords to declare themselves on the side of religious equality in Wales, and I for my part shall not despair that, even during the course of the present Session, we may find that great and long-delayed Measure, which ten years ago, according to my right hon. Friend, was a "most urgent and paramount measure of political reform," has at last been passed into law. I will carry the matter further. I will assume that, not through any action of this House, but through the action of another place, this Bill and other Bills announced from the Throne are not to be carried into law during the present Session. Is that any reason why we should not introduce them? Is that any ground for my right hon. Friends allegation, or assumption rather, which 870 pervaded the whole of his speech, that if you cannot carry a Bill into law it is so much wasted time to bring it before the House of Commons. I am not of that opinion. In the first place, it is the duty of a responsible Government, which has come into power on definite pledges and promises to the people of this country, as far as its opportunities allow, and within the limits of its constitutional powers, to redeem those pledges and fulfil those promises by every means which the law allows. My right hon. Friend speaks of Home Rule, and quotes a phrase of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to which I entirely subscribe, that that is the primary policy of Her Majestys Government. Yes, Sir, but the primary policy is not the same thing as the exclusive policy. By way of parenthesis, I must pause for a moment when my right hon. Friend tells us that this primary policy of ours is hopelessly discredited and defeated; and the House will allow me to analyse the argument used by my right hon. Friend in support of that proposition. "Why, in the first place," he says, "the Irish themselves have ceased to care for Home Rule!" What is his evidence for that extraordinary and somewhat bold proposition? Why, that Ireland is quiet, and there is no crime, outrage, or agitation in Ireland.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
I beg my right hon. Friends pardon, but that is a little too important to be allowed to pass. I did not allude either directly or indirectly to crime or outrage.
§ *MR. ASQUITH
I accept the correction. My right hon. Friend did, however, allude to agitation; and, further, he said that the Irish people have not subscribed at the rate of 4d. a head to Home Rule. I wonder whether the Unionist supporters of the right hon. Gentleman, either in Ireland or elsewhere, would stand that test. I take the negative evidence which the right hon. Gentleman derives from the absence of agitation and from the failure of the Irish people to make this pecuniary contribution, and I put it against what to my mind is a far more important admission—namely, that at the next general election, as at the last, according to the right hon. Gentlemans calculation, the vast majority of the Irish representatives will be in favour of Home Rule. For our part we look at the freely 871 chosen representatives of the people, as the only constitutional organ for the ascertainment of their wishes. Then my right hon. Friend goes on to Wales and tell us, without any particular evidence beyond his own opinion, that the Welsh have never cared for Home Rule. Out of 34 members returned by Wales I believe there are only two who voted against the Home Rule Bill; and I am certain that hon. Gentlemen opposite will bear their testimony to the declaration that no more zealous and assiduous friends exist of the great national cause in which they are engaged than their fellow-subjects in the principality. Finally, my right hon. Friend proceeds to Scotland; and we are told that now the Scottish Members have ceased to be interested in Home Rule, this opinion being arrived at by referring to a speech recently delivered by my hon. Friend the member for the Central Division of Edinburgh (Mr. MEwan) and another speech in somewhat the same sense delivered by one of his colleagues in the representation of that city. My right hon. Friend, as he always does, made the most of those two declarations; and the House might have drawn the inference from the references that the two hon. Members had ceased to be Home Rulers, and had no interest whatever in that question. Unfortunately for my right hon. Friends conclusion, I find that one of the hon. Members in question—the Member for the Central Division—has only to-day written a letter in which he explains his position in clear and categorical language. He is asked this question:—The Advanced Liberal Association of the Central Division would like a categorical answer to the following question—'Would you loyally support a Home Rule Bill embodying the principles of Mr. Gladstones policy if brought in by the Liberal Party?The hon. Member replies:—As Mr. Gladstones policy is simply to give effect to Irish aspirations by granting them a Parliament to deal with Irish affairs, and I have so frequently expressed my sympathy with this object, both in speech and letter, 1 have no hesitation in answering 'Yes. without, of course, committing myself to the details of a Bill not yet in existence.So that the one witness which my right hon. Friend cites to show the backsliding of Scotland from Home Rule is the witness who, in answer to a categorical 872 question, declares that he is now, and always has been, a supporter of the principle. When I turned aside for a moment to deal with that argument I was saying that, in my view—and, I believe, in the view of the Government—we are bound to prosecute so long as we retain the confidence of the House of Commons the policy which we deliberately submitted to the electors, and which the electors approved at the General Election of 1892. I do not in the least agree that the sole test of the occupation of Parliamentary time is whether the Government is successful in bringing a Bill in and passing it into law in a Session. It is often of the greatest importance—I believe in the case of Welsh Disestablishment it is of vital importance—that the actual practical working of the scheme should be laid before this House and discussed in all its details, and, if necessary, recast and amended where it needs it, and then finally receive the sanction of the representatives of the people. Does any man mean to tell me if those stages are gone, on with in the case of Welsh Disestablishment that the question will not be advanced a long and important stage? ["No, no!" and a Voice on the Front Opposition bench, "Home Rule!"] The right hon. Gentleman quotes the case of the Home Rule Bill. Is there any intelligent and dispassionate critic of public affairs in this country who does not know that the position of the Home Rule question is vitally different now from what it actually was, now that an actual Home Rule Rill has received the assent of this House, and different in the sense of being appreciably nearer realization? Lastly, with reference to these points, the right hon. Gentlemans contention is, that we are not to occupy our time usefully here, that we cannot occupy our time usefully here, so long as a Liberal Government is in Office and a Liberal majority exists in the House of Commons, unless we concentrate all our energies and devote the whole of our working hours to those minor, non-party, non-controversial measures which the House of Lords is good enough to allow us to deal with. I would appeal to my right hon. Friend as to the somewhat unequal distribution of power between the two Houses. A Conservative majority and a Conservative Govern- 873 ment on these benches may carry without let or hindrance every measure they have submitted to the electors and which their Party desires. But reverse the position, and place the Conservatives opposite and the Liberals on the Government benches, and what does my right hon. Friend find? That we have to cut our coat according to our cloth, or, in other words, that we are to prove false to the pledges which we gave at the election, that we are to abandon what in our view and judgment are great and vital measures of political and social reform, to content ourselves with a humdrum, hand-to-mouth, unambitious policy in order not to offend the susceptibilities and not to ruffle the pride of the irresponsible, hereditary House. That is not the policy of Her Majestys present advisers. So long as we retain the confidence of this House we shall continue to prosecute to the end whatever remains uncompleted of the task which we believe was entrusted to us by the constituencies of the country; and if we are, by action for which we are not responsible, by forces over which we have no control, prevented from making those efforts fruitful in immediate legislation, we at least shall have the satisfaction of knowing that we have done our best to deserve the confidence reposed in us, and we shall appeal without fear for a renewal of that confidence when, and not before, that task is finished.
§ MR. J. GRANT LAWSON (York, N.R., Thirsk)
said, that when the question of the House of Lords came up for discussion it would be discussed, not according to what the opinions of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham were 10 years ago, and what was the action of the House of Lords 10 years ago, but upon the action of the House of Lords at present, and according to the opinions of the present Ministry upon it. He noticed, however, that the question of the House of Lords had receded into the dim and distant future. Was the question of the House of Lords postponed until the whole of the Newcastle programme was passed through the House? If that was so, then the chance of reaching the reform of the House of Lords was very remote indeed. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to miss the point of the right hon. Member for West Birminghams Amendment. In 1892 the 874 Home Secretary, in proposing an Amendment to the Address, said that the Address was rather in the nature of grace before meat. Did the right hon. Gentleman expect the House to be thankful for that which they were not about to receive? The point of the present Amendment was that the House was not about to receive those measures which the Address called upon it to be thankful for. In supporting the Amendment he desired to place himself in the position of a Member of the Ministerial Party and to see how they regarded the present plan of campaign of the Ministry. Lord Rosebery some years ago spoke in Scotland in a spirit of prophecy practically in favour of his right hon. Friends Amendment. That speech might have been forgotten if the Prime Minister had not referred to it again at Bradford in terms of self-commendation. In that speech the Prime Minister asserted that it was a foolish proceeding to do exactly what the Government were now doing. He had found the speech by searching in the political dustbin; it was made at a National Conference of Liberal Associations in Glasgow, in November, 1889, at which the Prime Minister took the chair. Lord Rosebery on that occasion declared that one great obstacle to all Parliamentary legislation was the House of Lords, and he spoke of a drastic reform with reference to the other House. Lord Rosebery went on to say that their programme would be maimed and crippled, and he invited the assistance of his supporters. No reason had been given why the campaign had not been commenced against the House of Lords. To raise a great issue in the country and then to proceed with other business was absolutely without precedent. There were few crises which could be compared with the great change in their constitution proposed to be made by the Government, but he thought he might fairly take the case of Catholic Emancipation. The policy was adopted, and in 1829 the Kings Speech referred to nothing else but Foreign Affairs and Catholic Emancipation. Again, in 1831, when Reform was the question, and to this the greatest prominence was given. The same thing occurred in 1846, with regard to the Corn Laws. The Government seemed to think they could throw down the House of Lords as easily as the Corn 875 Laws were thrown down, but how long had the Corn Laws stood, and how long had the House of Lords stood? The Corn Laws were thrown down because the Government had the people behind them. Had the present Government the people behind them? If so, why not appeal to the people? In 1846, Sir Robert Peel, in the Speech dealt with nothing else but the relaxation of Protective Duties, and this had been the practice of Ministers before the Queens Speech was turned into a sort of Party prospectus, to cheat unwary investors of their votes. It had been left to the present Government to be the first to bring in Bills which they predicted would not pass. Mr. Gladstone, in 1869, and Lord Granville again, in 1880, said that by using menace they were inviting the House of Lords to reject their measures. The Home Secretary had referred to the letter of the hon. Member for Central Edinburgh, but he had not read the last sentence of that letter. The hon. Member refused to pledge himself to the details of a measure which he had not seen. Yet, the Government asked Members to pledge themselves to an attack on the Constitution of which they had seen no details. The hon. Baronet (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) writing to the Daily News, condemned the policy of the Government in keeping back their Resolution, and in pressing on measures which they said would not pass. Depending on the chapter of accidents, said the hon Baronet, was the gospel of fools. The policy of the Government, he further said, was no less intolerable than it was absurd, and he objected to their wearing out their lives in dealing with measures which they knew would not pass into law. The hon. Baronet went on to say—The proceedings of the House of Commons always reminds me of a gamekeeper rearing pheasants in order that when they reach maturity they may be shot.That was hardly a proper comparison, for a pheasant when shot was of some value, but an immature measure was of no good to anybody. It would be a more correct simile to compare the action of the present Government to a gamekeeper setting a hen on eggs which he knew to be addled. The hon. Baronet said, speaking of the Bills mentioned in 876 the Queens Speech, and addressing the editor of the Daily News—These are exactly the class of Bills the Lords most fear and dislike, and what you recommend to us is to lay ourselves out to pass them through the House of Commons and send them their doom in the Lords. Let us remove the shoal before we have wrecked several more ships upon it.That was valuable and candid advice at all events. "Is it not better," said the hon. Baronet,—to secure the means of obtaining our object rather than to run with our eyes open in hopeless difficulties.So that in the opinion of one of the most consistent supporters of Her Majestys Government they were now running now into hopeless difficulties. They had talked in the country to many audiences of an indelible resolution; but looking at the programme set forth by the Government, that indelible resolution must be written in invisible ink, for it nowhere appeared on the programme. When they came to the House of Commons they had no indelible resolution presented to them. They had not even the transitory Amendment of the hon. Member for Northampton, which gave the Government so much distress at the end of last Session. Instead they had a Queens Speech, bristling with measures, a speech to which Ministers were writing postscripts day after day in answer to questions, and at the end of all they were to come to what the Government themselves declared to be the question of the hour. This policy of concealment could only have one object, and that was, to retain, if possible, the votes of some of their supporters unfairly and to confuse the issue before the country. The Government had thrown down the gauntlet and his right hon. Friend had taken it up. The lists were set, and all were waiting for the Government to come in and take up the challenge offered. Instead of their doing so they found them adopting the principle laid down in comic poetry, and they say "the time has come to talk of many things," but not of the indelible resolution they had flaunted before the country. That was a method only worthy of a Home Rule advocate endeavouring to avoid a discussion on Home Rule. The Government considered that the time had not come, that the cup was not full. 877 If their words against the House of Lords were justified, let them come forward openly and declare their intentions. If they maintained that their quarrel was just let them forthwith put the matter to the test. If they did so he was sure that the challenge would be taken up and that everyone would join in saying: "God defend the right."
§ MR. H. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
, said that the right hon. Member for Birmingham gave at the commencement of his speech a reason why no Member of the Radical Party should vote in favour of his Amendment. He said the only question he wished to raise was an objection to the tactical conduct of Her Majestys Government. It seemed to him that the heads of a Party, particularly when in Office, ought to be left a perfectly free hand with regard to all matters appertaining to tactics, just as passengers in a ship ought to leave to the mariners all matters concerning navigation but when a passenger saw, or imagined that he saw, that the captain was steering among quicksands and rocks, at least it was his right, and almost his duty, to point out respectfully that that was not precisely the way to reach the port to which the ship was destined. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to be under the impression that the Radical fibre of the country was somewhat weakening. He thought that the right hon. Gentleman was mistaken. He believed they were all as sound Radicals as they ever were; but he was bound to say that there were some reasons why, perhaps, the Radical Party was not in so prosperous a condition as it was a year ago. It was not because they loved the Government less that the Radicals loved the Unionists more. A good deal had been changed in the course of last year. This time last year they had, as Leader of their Party, a man of the ripest experience, whose personal influence over the mind of the country had not been exceeded by any one of the present generation, and who to this added great powers as a Parliamentary tactician. When he withdrew, a Leader was planted upon them who certainly had the disadvantage, which every one must admit was a disadvantage in the leader of the Radical Party, of being a Member of the House of Lords. They were told that this disadvantage was 878 outweighed by the fact of the particular Peer being a man of such transcendent wisdom, and of such abnormal talents, that it were better in their interests that he should be taken as their Leader rather than any of the eminent Gentlemen who had been his colleagues, and sat on the Treasury Bench, every one of whom, he thought, was better fitted for the position. Whether experience had proved, or not, that it was wise to take this gentleman was for every one to form his own opinion. He only wished to say that the Radical Party was not responsible for the selection; and it was very evident that a reversal of the system that had been pursued by the Liberal Party since 1831, with the exception of only two or three months, of having their Leader in the House of Commons, could not have been very agreeable to every Radical in the country. But not only was the Leader changed, but the official policy of the Party was changed also. In Foreign Affairs there were two phases of thought, Jingoism and anti-Jingoism. The leaders of the anti-Jingoes were the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian, the Irish Secretary, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. They were told by their new Leader that a new doctrine ought to be inaugurated—the doctrine of continuity in our foreign policy, and, in order to carry that out, as the Jingoes would not come over to them, they were to go over to the Jingoes; that was to say, that the doctrine was so excellent that they were to purchase it at the entire sacrifice of all their principles. Moreover, with regard to foreign politics, they had, for the first time for a very long while, a Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary sitting in the House of Peers, and it was obvious that, so long as that continued, the House of Commons lost all direct control over the Foreign Policy of the Country. They had absolutely no more to do with it than with the movement of the heavenly bodies. With regard to Home Rule there had been undoubtedly a change in the attitude of Liberal officialdom. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian acted on the view that if there was an elected majority from all parts of the country, a Home Rule Bill ought to be brought into the House, passed, and sent up to the House of Lords. He did that, and the Bill was thrown out by the 879 House of Lords. Since then they have been told that no Bill could be expected to pass unless there was not only a majority of the Electors of the United Kingdom in its favour, but a majority of the electors of England, which was, as they were told, the dominant partner, It seemed to him that this view entirely justified the House of Lords in their action. No one could contend that there had not been a change of policy on the part of Liberal officialdom, both in foreign policy and on Home Rule. Was it surprising, therefore, that Radicals still remaining sound to Radical principles were not absolutely wild in their enthusiasm for what was called a Radical Government? With regard to the House of Lords they had seen somewhat the same result. The Radicals have long held that no man, unless elected thereto by the votes of all persons who possessed the Parliamentary Franchise, ought to exercise any legislative function; and that no democratic legislation was possible until that reform had been made in our Parliamentary system. He had often himself raised this issue in Parliament. When first he raised it there were exceedingly few who followed him, but in the last Parliament, wheu he moved a resolution embodying Radical views, he had the pleasure of being supported by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Irish Secretary; in fact, every Liberal or Radical who happened to be in the House voted with him. When they came into power he said, "Thank Heaven; now they are able to reflect their views and my views." The first Session was taken up by Home Rule. In the second Session, not only did they not announce that they were prepared to give effect to those views, but, when he moved a motion identical with that they had voted for when out of Office, they became recalcitrant, and, in fact, they voted against him. But, notwithstanding the fact that they were aided by the Conservative Opposition, he had the satisfaction of carrying that Resolution. It was true it was not embodied in the Address sent up to the Queen, but he knew that the Resolution had been passed by that House, and that the record of the fact could not be wiped out. No doubt it was felt that something must be done to meet what were thus stated to be the views of that 880 House, and what were certainly the views of almost every Radical out of the House; and the Prime Minister asked for guidance and inspiration. The Radicals were always ready to tender to their Leaders guidance and inspiration; and without a moments hesitation the National Liberal Federation, the great Parliament of the Liberal Party, to which it owed the Newcastle Programme, met at Leeds and gave the Prime Minister the guidance for which he asked. It was that every Bill passed by the Commons, whether the Lords liked it or not, after it had been passed a second time in the same Session by the Commons, should become the law of the land in that Session. Personally, he should have preferred that the Liberal Parliament should have passed a more stringent Resolution in favour of abolishing the House of Lords; but he was a loyal Member of his Party, and he loyally accepted the Leeds Resolution. He did so to a certain extent because he could not perceive that there was any real and substantial difference between what he wanted, the abolition of the House of Lords, and the proposal embodied in the Leeds Resolution. If that Resolution became law the House of Commons would be absolutely uncontrolled, and the Lords would have no more legislative power than Her Majestys Beefeaters or any such body of men. The Prime Minister, upon receiving the asked-for guidance and inspiration, at once took the field in person; but to their surprise this Telemachus refused to accept the advice of his mentors. He declared himself against the Resolution; he went further and ridiculed the Resolution, and he said he was perfectly certain that the House of Lords would not assent to it. Did the Prime Minister suppose they at Leeds ever thought the House of Lords would assent to it? They intended that the will of the people should be dominant, whether the House of Lords assented or they did not. They knew perfectly well that the House of Lords would not assent to it. It might be fairly said that, whatever the Prime Minister was for, he was not in favour of the Leeds Resolution, and that seemed to indicate a certain amount of cleavage between the Leader and the Party of which he was supposed to be the Leader. What were the views of the Prime 881 Minister? The right hon. Member for West Birmingham said they were no secret, but for himself he had failed to discover. To him it seemed that the Prime Ministers utterances had been entirely contradictory; the matter had been complicated by a sort of Jekyll and Hyde mode of speaking. The Prime Minister had said that at one moment he spoke as a man and at another moment as a Minister; and the Minister was always contradicting the man and the man contradicting the Minister. The Prime Minister intended to maintain the present position of the House of Lords, with its hereditary Peers and its Bishops; he was going to readjust the relations between the two Houses, but he did not hat the readjustment To the uncontrolled exercise of power on the part of one Chamber the Prime Minister said he consent; but he contemplated depriving the House of Lords of control. Where, then, would he get control over the Commons? The two propositions seemed to be absolutely antagonistic. It was as difficult to reconcile the utterances of the Prime Minister as it was to reconcile the apparent inconsistencies of the Athanasian Creed. Did his colleagues throw any light on the views of the Prime Minister? There were two most eminent colleagues, for whom he had a special admiration; but comparisons were invidious, and he would go no further. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was too wise to say anything; and the Chief Secretary for Ireland, who had held strong views on the question, followed the excellent example of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and he could not make much out of the speeches of their colleagues, for each had appeared to speak as a man and not as a Minister. The most satisfactory speech was made by the Homo Secretary, but he was entirely at variance with what had been gathered from the speeches of the Prime Minister. That the Prime Minister should maintain this singular mystery out of respect for the House of Commons was a most astounding theory, for no one wanted to know the exact words of the Resolution he intended to submit to the House, while all were curious to know what was the substance of it. Personally he waited patiently, thinking 882 he should get to know all when Parliament met. It met rather late, and it ought to have met earlier if the Government wanted to do business. The Queens Speech, however, did not help him, for, although it went into many details, it did not say a word about this wondrous revolutionary Resolution that was to be submitted to the House of Commons. He should like to know whether that Resolution was to be proposed in the present Session: if so, why no mention was made of it in the Address; and, if not, why it was not to be proposed this Session, and when it was to be proposed. Although the Prime Minister spoke of it as a tremendous revolution he was as reticent about it as if it were a Guy Fawkes plot. The Prime Minister came forward into the lists, threw down his glove, and challenged anyone to take it up; and, when some one did take it up, he walked off and said, "I will come at another time." We were not accustomed to these things on the part of statesmen; we appreciated them from the clown in the circus. Perhaps curious memoirs to be read by a later generation would disclose whether the Resolution had ever been proposed in the Cabinet, whether it had ever been discussed, and whether all that had ever been done was to defer the discussion to a more convenient season. This was a case in which there were absolute inconsistencies between the different statements made by the Prime Minister and also between his statements and those of his colleagues. He would read one only; it was from a speech delivered to that club of eminent prigs, the Eighty Club.He could not conceal his opinion that it would not be possible safely to govern this great Empire by one single Chamber without any check upon it. He did not think it would be a safe thing to trust to a vote which might pass by a small number on a great matter, because it might be liable afterwards to be reversed and might not receive the mature and complete opinion of the country.Could any one wonder that a milk-and-water agitation, carried on in that fashion, had fallen rather flat? The Prime Minister said in one of his speeches:—"I am going to take off my coat. Take off yours." He did not take off his. He wanted to know what he was to take it off for. If he had taken it off he would have had, like the Prime Minister, to put it on again. Let the 883 House compare the force, energy, and grim determination with which, if the right hon. member for Midlothian had put himself at the head of a movement of the kind, he would have acted, with the way in which everything had recently been done to prevent the country rallying to the cry against the House of Lords. The Leeds resolution meant nothing more nor less than the legislative abolition of the House of Lords. If the Resolution respecting that House were on the lines of the extract he had quoted of the Earl of Kimberley, he would not vote for it. He would only vote for the Resolution if it made it clear and specific that what was contained in the Leeds Resolution was the only issue which would be put before the country. The basis of the Government Resolution was to be an appeal to the country. He did not believe the Lords would yield to a Resolution of the House of Commons. Lord Rosebery admitted that they had a perfect right to ignore any Bill abolishing them. It seemed to him that they could also ignore any Resolution. He knew what would happen if a vague Resolution were passed and it obtained a majority in the country. Officialdom would unite with Toryism; there would be a compromise; and they, poor Radicals, would be hoisted on their own petard. For his part, he would never give a blank cheque on a question of this paramount importance to any Minister, no matter what confidence he had in him; still less to a Minister in whom his confidence was somewhat qualified. Whether there should be one Chamber or two was a matter of minor detail, provided the members of either Chamber were freely elected by all in possession of the Parliamentary franchise. The Amendment of the right hon. Member for Birmingham expressed a desire for a speedy Dissolution. [Cries of "No."] Well, if it did not, that was an additional reason for him not to vote for it. So far as he was personally concerned he believed a speedy Dissolution would be an excellent thing for Radicals. He did not think they had lost their hold on the country. He believed that if there was a Dissolution they would come back with a far larger majority. His main reason for wishing for a speedy Dissolution was that he thought it very possible their majority would not be so great if they 884 put oft a Dissolution and continued to sit there doing nothing legislatively. The Home Secretary in his speech seemed to back out of his remark at Birmingham, that they were to pass the whole of this Session "ploughing the sands of the seashore." If a farmer were found ploughing the sands they would regard him as a lunatic who ought to be placed under restraint. In the Bible he had read of the folly of a man who built his house on the sand, but they might consult that Book or any other, and they would not find any sane human being recommended not to plough the sands of the seashore, because no one, up to the year 1895, had thought any one would ever be so silly as to do it. Much was made of the announcement by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham that he intended to vote for the Welsh Disestablishment Bill. The Chief Secretary for Ireland seemed to think that the Member for West Birmingham had the Peers in his pocket, and the mere fact of his announcing that he would vote for the Bill would lead the Peers to vote in its favour. The right hon. Gentleman, no doubt, had great influence with the Peers, but he did not seem to think they would follow his example. As to the Irish Land Bill, the Chief Secretary for Ireland said the odds against its passing would now have to be "shortened," because the Duke of Devonshire had said he would give favourable consideration to the Bill. Was the Irish Secretary so young to that House as not to be perfectly aware that when an Opposition said they would give "favourable consideration" to a Bill they merely used a Parliamentary phrase, which really meant that they would obstruct it to the best of their ability? The fact was that if the Bill was a good one it would be thrown out or emasculated; if it was a bad Bill it would be allowed to pass. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had said the other night that they ought not to refuse to carry Bills through the House of Commons from the fear that they would be thrown out by the House of Lords. That was not quite a correct exposition of the situation. The Prime Ministers words had been quoted that they could not pass Bills until the relations between the two Houses had been adjusted. Surely if the attempt were now made it would be knocking the bottom out 885 of his own case. It was as absurd to keep sending Bills up to the other House as it would be to persist in proving the existence of a wall by knocking ones head month after month against it. The Radicals were convinced of the objectionable character of the House of Lords, and wanted no object-lessons to teach them this. The difficulty had always been to convince their leaders and bring them up to the scratch. If their leaders insisted on "filling the cup" or "ploughing the sand," they must not, hereafter, shelter themselves behind the Radicals. The Cabinet considered themselves to be tied to the Treasury bench like some victim in a Greek tragedy was tied to the rock. The Prime Minister said that they must go on because, after all, a majority was a majority. But there were, he submitted, differences in majorities. The Government might, it was true, have a majority enough to keep on, but they had not a working, militant majority. They had themselves said that their majority would never be a working majority so long as the Lords continued to possess their present powers. Yet the Government said that they ought to hold on. He contended that they had not a majority at the present time; and the only way to get a real majority was to appeal to the people. This ought to be their first business, just the same as if one wanted a cart to move along one put the horse into the shafts before the cart, and did not put the cart before the horse. If, however, Ministers thought they must plough on, then let them try to get the best possible advantage out of this somewhat singular proceeding. They had announced a Welsh Disestablishment Bill and an Irish Land Bill; also one man one vote. Let the Government take the Second Reading of the Welsh Bill and of the Irish Land Bill, and then let them refer those two Bills to large and Committees. Then let them go on with the One Man One Vote Bill, which applied to no one section in particular and would be of advantage to the whole of the country. If they were to gain by this filling of the cup system, they would, he believed, gain more by having that Bill thrown out by the House of Lords than by any other they could send up. When the Lords had thrown out that Bill, then, if the Govern- 886 ment Resolution with regard to the other House were a drastic one, let them bring it and dissolve. It must be admitted that there was an enormous amount of Radical legislation waiting to be dealt with. They had to do away with the House of Lords, to alter the mode of election to the House of Commons, to pass a Home Rule measure for Ireland and for Wales and Scotland, too, if they could. They wanted to disestablish the Welsh Church, as they had in the past disestablished the Irish Church. They wanted also to disestablish the Scotch Church in Scotland and the English Church in England—in fact, to disestablish any church they could lay their hands on. They also had a vast mass of social legislation about which they and their constituents were most anxious. Was it not nonsense—was it business—to waste the time of the House merely in proving that the House of Lords would not accept their Bills? He would give the Home Secretary a good electioneering tip—one good Bill passed into law was of more use to the Party than showing that a dozen good Bills could not be passed. He sympathised with right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench, but he did not believe that anything in the world was to be gained from the electoral point of view by the Liberal Ministry remaining in Office when they were absolutely powerless to pass any Bill, whether that want of power proceeded from not having a majority in the House of Commons, or from the existence of a permanent Tory majority in the other House. If Ministers insisted on ploughing the sands, the responsibility must be their own; he accepted his fate. He would be one of the asses in the yoke to plough the sands of the seashore. (Loud laughter and ironical Opposition cheers.) Some hon. Gentlemen jeered. He was a good Party man—at least he was a good Party ass. But an ass had feelings; an ass reasoned, in a dumb, misty sort of way. It was well known that Balaams ass remonstrated with his master, and the action of that ass had given him courage to venture to make the few respectful remarks which he had made. Like Balaams ass to his master, ho would urge the Government not to pursue a course which he was certain would lead to disaster. If the Govern- 887 ment would not accept his advice, while he was ready to join with his brother asses ploughing the sands of the seashore or to do any other absurdity which his Leaders in their wisdom might require, still he could not be expected to be enthusiastic at being the yoke to do work more foolish, more unprofitable, in his humble asinine view, than any poor patient Radical or ass was ever doomed to.
§ MAJOR L. DARWIN (Staffordshire, Lichfield)
said, that the Home Secretary had not answered the arguments of his right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham, but he charged the Unionist Party with inconsistency. He did not agree with the Home Secretary, for the Unionists had put forward their policy perfectly clearly. They protested most strongly against the use made by the Government of the time of the House. If the Government could not show that there was some chance of their Bills passing into law they must have some ulterior object in view in bringing those Bills forward. When the Prime Minister likened his Party to a huge cannon, to whom did he refer as "the enemy"? Did he mean the people of the country or the British Constitution? If the Government confined themselves to the Welsh Disestablishment and Irish Land Bills they might succeed in getting through with them, but if they added a third—the Local Veto Bill—they might find themselves in an awkward predicament. He took it that there was but an exceedingly small chance of these measures becoming law, and if that were so the Government had no justification whatever for wasting the time of the House in their discussion. The policy of filling up the cup of the House of Lords was a double-edged policy, for if the Unionists were returned to power after a General Election upon that issue it would be held by the whole country as an approval of the action of the House of Lords in throwing out the Home Rule Bill, and in that event nothing would more strengthen the House of Lords or make it more likely that they would throw out Bills in future. He thought that all men of really Liberal principles ought to pause before they gave their countenance to such a hazardous policy. He contended that the Government were 888 not justified in bringing forward great Bills when they had a small majority which was growing less and less. It might be argued that the people were being sufficiently educated in regard to this question, but he did not think that education was yet nearly sufficient. It was perfectly easy for hon. Members to go before their constituents—packed meetings of Liberals—and when discussing the House of Lords question to use the most vague language as to their policy; but when they came to that House it was necessary that they should be more clear and explicit, and not try to hide their true policy. It appeared to him most essential that there should be, as early as possible, a Debate on this great question, in order that the most ample opportunity might be given to the country to consider the Resolution, and not a day ought to be lost in bringing it forward. Lord Rosebery had said that the Government were not educating the people in the object, but merely in the means of carrying it out. That was not Liberalism, nor was it what they ought to aim at. They did not yet know the elements of the Resolution, nor the way in which it was to be brought forward. The House of Commons was the predominant partner, it was paramount in the matter of finance and in everything else. He understood that this Resolution would propose that the House of Lords should have absolutely no power, they were to retain their coronets and everything of that sort, but as to their privileges they were to do nothing in particular. He could find no parallel to this extraordinary proposition. He thought they might assume that future Governments would ignore any such Resolution. It was time for the Government to declare their true policy, and no longer keep the country in the dark. He believed that what they were trying to do was to confuse the issues. Lord Rosebery had said that this question of the House of Lords ought to be discussed with calmness. Why then did the Government wait till close upon the General Election to bring it forward? It was perfectly certain that if it were left till then it would assume undue proportions and hide other questions. Whether the Government were making a feigned or a real attack upon the House of Lords, their object was to 889 cover a real attack on the Union between Great Britain and Ireland, and that was neither a Liberal nor a straightforward policy. The Session upon which they were entering would, he was quite certain, augment the feeling in the country that Parliament was a place for Party tactics rather than for legislative achievements, and these were sentiments which did great harm to the House of Commons.
§ *MR.LEES KNOWLES (Salford, w.)
said that the Government discredited themselves when, in 1893, they did not go to the country on the Home Rule Bill. Then they tried to dismember the Empire, and now they were trying to pull down the Constitution. He believed that the cry "Down with the House of Lords" was raised merely to unite the different factions which kept the Government in Office. The fact was that the Government and their supporters hoped and desired, for Party purposes, that the House of Lords would throw out their Bills, a course which could hardly be said to be consistent with sound political morality. The Government, moreover, appealed now for delay in regard to this great question. Why? Because they knew that the machinery of their government had broken down, and that if they appealed to the country they would be defeated. The hon. and learned Member for South Hackney (Mr. F. Moulton) admitted as much in an article he had recently sent to one of the magazines. This delay was wanted by the Nationalists also, for another reason—in order, as the hon. and learned Member for Louth (Mr. T. M. Healy) had stated in reference to the Disestablishment of the Welsh Church, to pay a debt of gratitude to the Welsh members for the services they rendered to Ireland in voting for the Home Rule Bill. A very strong ground for complaint against the Government was the uncertainty and indefiniteness they had shown in regard to the threatened Resolution against the House of Lords, not only as to its terms and nature, but also as to the time at which it would be brought forward and the way in which it would be carried out. Was the House of Lords to be ended, mended, or bended? Was it to have an Annual Veto or a Sessional Veto? The Government majority had 890 already dwindled from 40 to 12, and he believed the Cabinet itself was divided on the question whether there should be one or two Chambers. Among the Liberal Party there was not unanimity of opinion. The keynote of the agitation against the House of Lords was the rejection of the Home Rule Bill in 1893, but in his opinion no Second Chamber in Europe, however constituted, would have hesitated, under the circumstances, in refusing to pass that Bill and in demanding an appeal to the people upon it. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the present House of Lords was more reactionary than the House of Lords in the time of the Duke of Wellington, he seemed to forget that only last year that House passed the Parish Councils Act, arid it would have passed the Employers Liability Bill if the Government had assented to an Amendment desired by a large section of the working classes, which would have largely extended the benefits of the measure. Lord Rosebery stated at a meeting at Cardiff, as a reason for delay in bringing on the question of the House of Lords—If you do not consult the susceptibilities and the attitude of the House of Lords, the Liberal Government stands in a very good chance of ending its Session as a barren Session.Moreover, both the Prime Minister and Earl Spencer had expressed the opinion that Radical legislation under existing circumstances was impossible. Then he could not understand why the Government did not at once appeal to the country. If they believed the people were really in favour of the measures which they had promised and that the present Government would be returned with a majority, why did they not dissolve Parliament? Mr. Edward Dicey had appealed to Lord Rosebery to "drop the agitation against the House of Lords," because it "has died still-born," because "the spirits which Lord Rosebery has called from the vasty deep have declined to come," and because "the sooner this agitation is buried out of sight the better for the country, for the Liberal Party, and, above all, for its Author." But if the Government believed they would be backed up by the country, why did they not go to the country? If they were returned with a majority, the House of Lords could not, and would not, then 891 resist those measures of the Government for which the people would have again expressed their desire. The will of the people must always prevail through their Representatives when that will was clearly expressed. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had said that the House of Lords did not show a disposition to listen to the voice of the people—to the voice of the larger mandate of the constituencies. Did the Government themselves show a disposition to listen to the voice of the constituencies? The voice of the people had recently been heard at Forfar, at Brigg, and at Evesham. He would retort on the Chancellor of the Exchequer that if the House of Lords did not listen to the voice of the people neither did the Government. Such a constitutional change as was now proposed by the Government ought not to be rushed. It had been said by Lord Rosebery and other Members of the Government that when the contemplated Resolution had been brought before the House a Dissolution must immediately follow. That being the case, the proposals of the Government ought to be made public without any delay, because the country ought to be given ample time for reflection upon so grave a subject. In the turmoil of a General Election it would be impossible for the electorate to consider a proposed great and new Constitutional change with dispassionate calmness. The question ought to be referred to the country specifically, and unobscured by any generalities. The plan of referendum for a case of this kind was one which would commend itself. If the Home Rule Bill had been referred specifically to the country in 1892, it could not have been said, as it was justly said, that the Government were not returned to power upon the question of Home Rule. He thought, moreover, that the House, perhaps, took a rather narrow view of the question of a change the House of Lords. The horizon of their ken was rather near, because, as a matter of fact, this constitutional question concerned not only this country, but also England beyond the seas. Surely our Colonies and possessions abroad ought to be given a chance of expressing their views upon the matter. The policy which the Government were pursuing of clinging to Office was not in the circumstances a policy which would enable them to carry out a business 892 programme which would do good to the country. Let them appeal to the country, and if they should return with a majority let them initiate legislation for the good of the working classes in the community. The speech delivered earlier in the week by the hon. Member for the Leigh Division (Mr. Caleb Wright) had greatly surprised him. The hon. Member spoke in fluent language about the prosperity of the cotton trade in Lancashire. When he heard that speech he could not help thinking that some of his friends in Lancashire would be astonished by it. Then they knew that the hon. Member for the Ince Division (Mr. S. Woods), addressing the miners in Pendleton, had said recently—they had to regret that the coal trade generally was not in as brisk a condition as it might be, and in many parts of the country trade was in as bad a condition as ever it was.Surely trade questions were questions with which the Government might deal, with benefit. Let there be a Dissolution, and then whichever Party was returned let a business programme be initiated for the good of the kingdom generally. A programme of that kind could, he felt confident, be carried successfully both through that House and through the House of Lords.
MR. A. THOMAS (Glamorgan, E.)
said, that doubts had been expresssed whether Home Rule still occupied the first place in the Liberal programme. But after the speeches that had been delivered that night it was clear that Home Rule still held the field. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) had said that the interest of the country in the Home Rule question was waning. He thought the right hon. Gentleman could hardly have been confirmed in that opinion when he visited Cardiff some time ago. That the interest in the question was not waning in Wales was shown at the last election in Cardiganshire, when a Unionist candidate, who supported the policy of Disestablishment, was defeated by some 1,900 votes. Welsh Members had waited too long for Disestablishment to be willing to give it up now that it was within their grasp. A few years ago the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham advised the Welsh Members to vote against the Government in order to force them to bring the question on. The 893 right hon. Gentleman might have changed his mind on this question, but Welshmen had not changed theirs, and he was glad to know that it was to be brought forward again by the Government. Their allies, the Irish Members, now knew that the great question of Home Rule was still to the front. There was no reason, therefore, why they should desert the great Party which had done so much for them already and which Welshmen hoped would do so much for them also.
§ *MR. B. L. COHEN (Islington, E.)
, said that he was really entirely at a loss to know on what grounds Her Majestys Government had arrayed all their forces and exercised all their influence against the Amendment which was now before the House. It did not seem to him that in the powerful speech which was delivered by the Home Secretary, the right hon. Gentleman gave any reason whatever against the arguments of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, who moved the Amendment; and, indeed, in one or two passages, he gave, to his mind, very convincing reasons why that Amendment deserved the support not only of the House, but of Her Majestys Ministers. It could not be disputed, one would imagine, that, in the words of the Amendment, it was contrary to the public interest that a postponement should take place of the appeal to the country which the Government had themselves admitted to be indispensable. The Home Secretary said it surely could not be urged against them that they were not doing all in their power to hasten the passage of measures which they believed to be useful and conducive to the welfare of the country. It seemed, however, to him that that was just what the Government were not doing. The hon. Member for Northampton told them that he was a loyal Member of his Party, and by way of testifying his loyalty he said: "We intend that the will of the people shall be dominant." It seemed to him that was exactly what they on the Unionist side were contending for, and what the Government had resisted. It was the will of the people which they wanted to be dominant. They wanted to consult the will of the people, which they believed to be on their side: whilst their opponents believed it to be on theirs, and this was an issue which could only be solved by 894 an appeal to the country, which their opponents seemed to shirk. He said it was not only this necessity for an appeal to the country which had been acknowledged by the Government, but they had even told them the time it was to be made. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking on the 12th of March of last year, the opening day of the Session, said—You ask us when we are going to appeal to the country. I will tell you. When we have placed before the country the whole plan and scheme of the Liberal Party, when we have placed the country in a position to judge what has been the course of either Party in the House of Commons with reference to this plan, and what has been the conduct of the House of Lords with regard to it. That is the time when we mean to go to the country, and that is the issue we intend to put before it.He (Mr. Cohen) said that that time had passed, and as to the issue the Unionists asked for nothing better. He saw two distinguished Members of the Government opposite to him, and they would not dispute that they had done their best during the Recess, and had been supported by many of their eminent colleagues, to expose and pillory before the country the conduct of the Unionist Party in the House of Commons. They had also arraigned before the country the conduct of the House, of Lords. The conditions, therefore, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer told them must be fulfilled before the time came for an appeal to the country, had passed, the issues should be joined, and the Unionists were ready to challenge the verdict. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had said the whole plan or scheme of the Government had not yet been laid before the country. The country already knew sufficient of that plan to enable it to form an opinion in regard to it. Some constituencies had given their verdict. Brigg, Forfar, Evesham and South Paddington, the latter by default, had given judgment. Other constituencies were waiting patiently for the opportunity of expressing their view. The Government had failed to pass their Home Rule Bill, and they doubted whether they could pass their Welsh Disestablishment Bill, and their Local Veto Bill. Did Her Majestys Ministers expect to find salvation by means of their Factory Law Amendment Bill, or 895 their Light Railways Bill, which, by the way, was to throw the burden on the rates.
§ *MR. COHEN
said, he had not seen the Bill, and of course accepted the correction of right hon. Gentleman. But it surely had not escaped the memory of the right hon. Gentleman that the President of the Board of Trade had said he was of opinion that Light Railways could not be charged on the Imperial Exchequer. Was it then because the charge was not to be placed on local rates, that the Government looked to the Light Railways Bill to obtain for them the salvation which he thought they must have seen was not to be obtained by an appeal to the country, simply on Home Rule, or Welsh disestablishment? He must not call the policy of Her Majestys Government cowardly, but he asserted it was certainly not bold and straightforward; if Ministers sincerely believed in the value of the measures which they had submitted, and intended to submit to Parliament, but thought they could not pass them, why did they not adopt the only means of securing their enactment, namely, an appeal to the country, and the overthrow of the obstructive Unionist Party? Because forsooth the whole programme of the Liberal party was not before the country. He believed the more the country saw of the Liberal programme the less it would like it. The nervousness of the Government was really very touching. The unwillingness to show any confidence in their own measures was scarcely worthy of Ministers. He believed it had retarded useful measures for which the country was waiting, measures which were far more conducive to the health and happiness of the people than schemes for the destruction of the Church or the disintegration of the Empire. A policy of introducing Bills which the Government knew well would not pass, brought discredit upon the House of Commons, and to mark his disapproval of such vacillating and cowardly action on the part of Her Majestys Government, he should, without any hesitation, go into the lobby with the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for West Birmingham.
§ *SIR MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbright)
wished the House could divest 896 itself for a moment of purely party politics, and pay some heed to the view generally taken in the country in regard to what was going on within these walls. There never was a time, he thought, when the depression of agricultural and industrial pursuits was so keenly felt by all classes of the community, and for Members of the House of Commons to spend their time in party recriminations was not much consolation to a starving man. The points which had been raised to-night, opened up a very wide field, and he was surprised at the comparative emptiness of the House at this stage of the proceedings. It was, of course, known that the Debate could not conclude tonight, and it was also apparently believed that the Government would have a sufficient following to give them a majority. That, however, was no reason why they should not gauge the particular points in dispute, and ask themselves whether or not the Government were really doing their duty to the country, and were addressing themselves to the consideration of those matters in respect to which legislation was required. They knew that in order to satisfy particular sections and factions of their party, Her Majestys Ministers were obliged to enter upon large constitutional questions, the discussion of any one of which would absorb the greater part of the time of a Session, and leave matters of far greater moment to the working classes untouched. His experience in Scotland convinced him that a great change had taken place in the view the constituencies took of the Government. It was true a very large majority of the Scottish Members sat upon the Liberal Benches, but it was extremely doubtful whether the same number of Liberal representatives would be returned at the next Election, while it was certain those who were returned would not have the same following. In fact all the signs of the time showed that notwithstanding the able speeches which had been made in Scotland by the Home Secretary, Secretary for War, and the Secretary for Scotland, the Government were rapidly losing ground in that country. This striking change of opinion was mainly due to the fact that the people wanted something done by Parliament which would improve their social and industrial condition. It was on the 897 absence of measures of that kind from the legislative programme of the Session that the Unionist party really found fault with the Government; of course they admitted that the Government was under very great pressure; that they had given pledges and promises here, and pledges and promises there; that those pledges and promises which they had so lavishly strewn about on all sides in 1892 had now come home to roost, and that it was difficult for the Government to evade them and seek to give their attention to measures which would be highly useful to the country. As to the Governments quarrel with the House of Lords, the whole country was ringing with applause of the action of the Lords in rejecting the Home Rule Bill. In fact, there were very few Liberal Members who would defend the Bill in its entirety. They might all say they would vote for Home Rule, but there were a great many of them who would not vote, again for the Bill which was carried in 1893. It should not be forgotten how that Bill was pushed through the House of Commons. Could the Government have imagined for one moment that the Lords would have accepted the Bill after it had been pushed through the House of Commons at a high pressure speed, with the aid of the guillotine, which deprived the House of the opportunity of discussing a great many of its clauses? Why the hon. Member for the Central Division of Edinburgh (Mr. W. MEwen) said in a speech that when the fifth Clause of the Bill was reached, there was not a man on the Liberal side of the House who did not know that the Bill was doomed. [Sir D. MACFARLANE—I knew it before the Bill was brought in.] Then the hon. Gentleman was wiser than most of the Members. If the Bill had been drawn on lines giving extensive local self-government to Ireland the hon. Gentleman satisfied that it through the other House and possibly the Lords, by amending it, would have made it a far better measure than when it passed the Commons. But let the Government bring forward their Resolutions against the House of Lords. What was the use of vapouring about the 898 Lords? let the Government formulate their charge against the Lords! The Country was satisfied with the action of the Lords in rejecting the Home Rule Bill; it seemed to be satisfied with the insertion of the Contracting Out Clause into the Employers Liability Bill by the Lords, and it was in perfect agreement with them in rejecting the Evicted Tenants Bill. What the House of Lords did in all those matters was in accordance with ancient usage, and in the exercise of its proper functions. It was said that the House of Commons should be supreme, but it was the people that were supreme; it was for the people to decide who were right arid who were wrong, and on that ground the Unionist Party asked that the appeal should be at once made to the Electorate. It was acknowledged by the little work could The Government might bring in Bills; but on their own showing, those Bills were already condemned. That was the statement of the Prime Minister and several other Ministers. What then was the vise of going on? The country wanted some work done, and he for his part was eager to assist in passing social measures which would be productive of good, and really beneficial to the people; but he supposed the Government would try to go on with their Welsh Disestablishment scheme. That was a most uninteresting measure to scratch Members, though probably some of them looked upon it with favour, because they thought it would be followed by the Disestablishment of the Scotch Church. But it would be found that the Government had made a very false, move, when they tried to stir up an agitation for Disestablishment in Scotland. The Attorney General had admitted so much, in a speech to his constituents. In fact that agitation was the chief cause of the weakening of the influence of Government in the southern part of Scotland, and the longer the question was before the people, and the more they understood it, the stronger would grow their determination not to part with what was the property of their thoroughly popular and democratic Church. It had been his lot to speak at many meetings in Scotland during the Recess, and the experience convinced him that the tone and feeling of the electorate had undergone a remarkable 899 change. If the Government gave their attention to domestic matters—to matters affecting the poor law, old age pensions, and other questions affecting for good, not only the working classes, but all classes of the community, they would really be doing something to redeem the vast amount of time they had lost in bringing in the Home Rule Bill and other vexatious measures. But the Government would not give their attention to those matters. They were about to bring in a Local Veto Bill. A great many people were anxious that such a Bill should pass, but it was idle for the Government to expect—in face of the vast amount of opposition that would be brought to bear against it—to pass this Session any Bill like the House last year. There was another Government measure, the Registration Bill, which proposed the disfranchising of about 700,000 out voters. Liberal Governments in the past were always engaged in enfranchising, but the present Government deliberately proposed to disfranchise many hundreds of thousands of voters, who had a perfect right to vote in two places, as well as in one, in which they had property and other interests at stake. Last year a Scotch Parish Councils Bill was passed. He had done all he could to secure a good reception for the Bill, and to make it prove useful. But it was received with the smallest satisfaction, so far as he knew, in Scotland. The people feared that it would lead to heavy increase in the rates. He hoped they would be wrong; but certainly the rates would not be lightened. If the Government instead of embarking on rash constitutional measures, would introduce a social programme in which all parties could join, the Session might no longer be sterile, but might be one full of useful legislation. But if the Government decline to adopt that course they might anticipate a relentless opposition to these objectionable measures which they were apparently determined to bring forward.
*MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said, the confusion which had been noted in the policy of the Government seemed to him to be only the outcome of the 900 situation which had been disclosed on the authority of Ministers themselves. It was apparent that there was a dispute for the primacy, not of men, but of measures. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said it was to rest with Home Rule, but Lord Rosebery gave it to the House of Lords, for he had told them that the next election would turn not upon Home Rule but upon the House of Lords. The point of the Amendment was, that it was directed against the waste of time by Ministers in introducing measures which they themselves admitted would not pass into law. They were told it was no longer 100 to one against the Land Bill passing this Session. That, however, was because the Home Secretary had hedged—had covered one imprudent bet by making another in the opposite way. And the hedging bet had been made in consequence of information from the opposing stable—in consequence of something said by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham and the Duke of Devonshire. They had come to this—that the Ministry acknowledged themselves of malice prepense to have had the intention of bringing in a measure against the passing of which they were ready to lay 100 to one; they had walked with their eyes open into a bog, in the anticipation that they would be pulled out by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham and the Duke of Devonshire. There had been no explanation of the "ploughing of the sands," and although he was informed that the hon. Member for Northampton had likened his Party to a yoke of jackasses, he did not believe that the assistance all the four legged animals in the world could give to the Government, in the prosecution of this strange kind of agriculture, would ever enable them to reap a crop. The Home Secretary did indeed make one statement that bore the semblance of an argument when he said that the mere introduction of Bills, their elaboration, and their discussion would lead to some good results with regard to these Bills. If that was true, and if, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, the primary object of the Government was to advance Home Rule, surely the first measure they would introduce would not be Welsh Disestablishment or Local Veto, but Home Rule itself, their primary 901 measure of legislation, in order to subject it to this excellent and healthful process of elaboration, discussion, preparation, and mastication for future digestion, which the Home Secretary shadowed forth. Or why should they not apply the process to the famous Resolution? Did it not require elaboration? If the Government would furnish him with a satisfactory reason why they did not submit the Home Rule Bill and the Resolution to this process, he would go very near to voting against the Amendment. They were told that the hurricame of Home Rule and the earthquake of the House of Lords were to be produced to an astonished world at the proper moment, but meantime they were to be amused with the damp squibs of Welsh Disestablishment and Local Veto. That was mere trifling with the House of Commons and with the country. Lord Rosebery said, some five years ago, to a Liberal Conference in [Scotland—where a programme of subjects for legislation was spread out just as done in the present Queens Speech—that that programme was a foolish one, because it omitted the one question which must take precedence of the realisation of all their projects, and that was the drastic dealing with the House of Lords. That was as true to-day, and no doubt the Prime Minister told his colleagues that their programme was a foolish one, because it omitted the one question which must take precedence. But that was exactly what the Amendment said. The whole point of the constitutional changes alluded to in the Amendment lay in the assertion of the Government that the present relations between the House of Commons and the House of Lords constituted a serious obstacle to legislation according to the will of the people. If they were convinced of the existence of this obstacle, if they were convinced that it was such an obstacle as prevented the will of the English people from being carried into effect, why did they not take steps to remove it? Why run their heads against it without taking any steps whatever to deal with it, or to suggest any means by which they proposed to 902 deal with it? The Government, however, insisted on the foolish programme of a number of projects, without that which came before their realisation. It was not a reasonable view, and it was not Lord Roseberys view of the way in which the House should be treated in this Session, and in this Queens Speech. Lord Rosebery told his hearers at Cardiff that—We must bear in mind that our process of winnowing has to go on, when only a very few measures of the first class can be hoped to be passed through the House of Commons. … We are anxious that the Programme of Business for 1895 shall be a distinctly business programme.Hon. Members opposite were anxious that it should be a distinctly "sandy" programme—We are anxious, therefore, to announce in the Queens Speech next Session only those measures which we see a reasonable prospect of passing. … It is proper, therefore, in the Queens Speech to limit the measures to those which are quite practicable, and to lay before Parliament measures which we hope, if we have life and health, to carry through. The Government are pledged to such a policy.How had this declaration been carried out? The Queens Speech placed before Parliament eight measures as to which it was admitted that there was no pros-of carrying them into law. In the short space of a few weeks, an entire departure had been made from the policy to which the Prime Minister told the people of Cardiff the Government were pledged. Instead of restricting the Queens Speech to those measures which they could pass, they had filled it with measures which they could not possibly pass. What was the obstacle? It was not the existence of the House of Lords, for Lord Rosebery had said, again and again, that he would not think of attacking the House of Lords, in its existence. It was not, either, the constitution of the House of Lords; what then was it? It was the fact that there were too many Tories in the House of Lords. But there were too many Radicals in the House of Commons. There were 40 too many two years ago, and only the other day these proved to be 12 too many; probably next week they would be found 8 or 10 too many. If, to the right-minded Radical, the fact that there were too many Tories in the House of Lords 903 was an argument against that House, then, to the right-minded Tory, the fact that there were too many Radicals in the House of Commons was an equally good argument against the Lower Chamber. What was the meaning of this argument? Was it a complaint that there were too many Tories in the House of Lords, or was it a complaint that the majority of the House of Lords was out of harmony with the House of Commons? He imagined that the second was what would he called the real ground of complaint. If it was the first, it amounted to nothing more than the whine of a faction; and, as to the second, if the argument was that the majority of the House of Lords should be in harmony with the House of Commons, then, whenever there was a change in the House of Commons you would have to re-constitute the House of Lords. In this House, at this moment, the majority was Radical, and it was complained that the majority of the House of Lords was Tory. But at some time or other, however, they might prevail upon, or drive right hon. Gentlemen opposite to dissolve, and have a General Election; and the result of that might conceivably be a Tory majority in the House of Commons. Mark the result. Suppose in the meantime, a Resolution had been passed, and the relations altered, so as to give in the House of Lords a Radical majority, in consonance with the present majority of the House of Commons; after the Dissolution it would be necessary to call for a reconstitution of the House of Lords again; and he did not know when or where the process was to end. The Prime Minister had said, again and again, that he did not wish to end or to mend the House of Lords; he was quite ready to play the game, as it had always been played, only he must load the dice. The Prime Minister was so simple. Lord are Rosebery said that—The salient fact of the situation is that you can only deal with the House of Lords by Bill, or by Revolution; there is no third way at all.904 But, immediately, he proceeded to find a third way, and that was by a Resolution—Revolution, in other words, spelt with an "s" The Prime Minister considered this Resolution, and he asked his hearers whether this Resolution would be enough. "I frankly tell you," he declared, "that it would not be enough; we must have a mandate from the people." Therefore, the third way, which did not exist, having been found in a Resolution, was followed by the discovery that the Resolution itself would not be enough, and that what would be required would be a mandate from the people. Had a Prime Minister ever before been convicted of a concatenation of nonsense like this? It was perfectly surprising; and he could not understand any reasonable being listening to such a farrago, as it appeared when he placed these declarations in their proper order. They had been put before the people of the country in a false order, and he had now ventured to put them in what he considered to be their logical sequence. It was clear that all this was absolutely and entirely unreal. If was manifest that whatever the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Home Secretary might mean, the Prime Minister, at least, did not mean to enter upon a struggle with the House of Lords. It might be said of him, as it was said of the man who struggled with the Laws of England—No man ever yet wrestled with the Laws of England, but in the end they broke his neck.That, he thought, would be the fate of any man who struggled with the House of Lords. But if any man wished for a struggle with the House of Lords, there was no difficulty about undertaking it. There were precedents in the journals of the House for struggles with the House of Lords. There was the famous Resolution of 1649, which declared—That the Commons of England in parliament assembled do declare. … that whatever is enacted, or declared for Law, by the Commons in Parliament assembled, hath the force of Law; and all the people of this nation are concluded thereby, although consent and concurrence of King or House of Peers be not had thereunto.Was that the character of the resolution which was going to be submitted? No; it was too like the Leeds resolution 905 and this, the House was now distinctly told they were not to have. The whole history of these incidents shewed the unreality of this pretended campaign against the House of Lords, and that the Prime Minister had been forced into it against his will. The day after the Prime Minister first raised the standard against the House of Lords, the Daily Chronicle contained this sentence—It is not too much to say that if Lord Rosebery had disappointed the expectations of the great bulk of his following, the Liberal Government would have been out of office in three months, and for a time at least the Liberal Party would have been dissolved.Lord Rosebery was informed that he must make his declaration; judicious pressure was put upon him, and, as usual, he yielded to it. It must be manifest now to the Prime Minister that there was no reality in the agitation against the House of Lords. He did not believe there was any reality in the minds of any Gentleman on the Treasury Bench with regard to this earthquake which was to uproot the House of Lords. He did not think it was right or respectful to that House that the Government should come down and propose measures which they declared they had no chance of passing. This Amendment put the finger on the weak point; what the Government contemplated was not a policy, or legislation, but the waste of time of the House in order that they might a little longer, for a few months or a few weeks, sit discredited and disgraced on the Benches opposite.
§ *MR. R. J. D. BURNIE (Swansea Town)
said, the right hon. Gentleman, in moving the Amendment, referred to the opinion of Wales, but he did not understand the Welsh people, and although he had tried on several occasions to lead them astray he had failed. On one occasion, in the early days of the Home Rule controversy, in a well-remembered letter to the "Baner" newspaper, he had raised the cry of "No Popery," but to their credit the Welsh Nonconformists would have nothing to do with his policy. Later on, he went to Cardi- 906 ganshire, and there, addressing his new Welsh friends a few hundreds of times, he tried to persuade the Welsh people that the way to get Disestablishment was for them to throw over Home Rule. Again they spurned his advice. So long as the right hon. Gentleman continued his present policy he never would again command the affection or respect of the Welsh people. The people of Wales were too sound in their political convictions to he easily Jed astray. As to the Welsh people and the Irish people, the former felt that the latter had pointed the way. Ireland had had its Tithes question and settled it. Wales had yet to settle its Tithe question, Ireland had had its Church question and settled it a quarter of a century ago. Wales had its Church question, and it was about, as he hoped, to settle it. Then again the Irish land question was on all fours with the land question in Wales, and therefore Wales was in hearty sympathy with Ireland. When they came to the last great measure, self-government for Ireland, there again the Welsh aspirations were with the Irish people. The Irish people had pointed the way to Wales, Wales had grasped hands with Ireland, and it would be hopeless for almost any man to go back and get re-elected for a Welsh I constituency, though he might be in favour of the Welsh programme, if he opposed Home Rule for Ireland. He should have thought that the Conservative Party would have hesitated to bring in this Amendment, seeing that their forces when combined with those of the Member for Waterford and all other discontents had been defeated by majorities of 12 and 20. He ventured to think that in this Division they would have a substantial majority. It was his privilege to address many meetings, and there was no question that caused so much enthusiasm as when it was stated that Home Rule continued to be the primary aim of the Liberal Party. That Party had put its hand to Home Rule and it would not look back. Mr. Bright said that Ireland was the land of many wrongs and of many sorrows, a land whose past history had been almost all in shadow; and he believed the English, the Welsh, and the Scotch people realised that, and that they were determined, in future, Ireland should have a better prospect, and were satisfied that could 907 only be brought about permanently by a broad and generous measure of Home Rule. It was said that the Government at this juncture should appeal to the country merely because the House of Lords refused to pass measures submitted to it. It appeared to him a greater mistake could not be made. The Government would not discharge its duty unless it continued to deal with every point in the Newcastle programme until it was stopped by an adverse vote of that House. When that took place it would be time enough to go to the country. They had hitherto endeavoured to carry out the peoples mandate, given at the General Election, but an unrepresentative Chamber blocked the way. When an appeal to the country became necessary, the question would be whether the House of Lords were to rule or the House of Commons. He was confident that when the proper moment arrived the Government would do their duty, and, whether they moved by Resolution or by Bill, the whole of the Liberal Party would help them to remove out of the way that unrepresentative continuous stumbling-block to Liberal and Radical progress.
§ MR. ELLIOTT LEES (Birkenhead)
said, he understod that they were face to face with the greatest Revolution since the time of James the Second. Certainly nothing in the appearance of the House suggested that they were face to face with a great Revolution. He saw no sign of it on the Benches opposite. The Government had produced a Queens Speech in which no reference was made to these revolutionary proposals, and it seemed to him that the Government must be very vague in their minds as to what was a revolution and what was not. In the time of James the Second men played for high stakes. If they were unsuccessful they lost their heads. What was the origin of the whole of this attack on the House of Lords? The House of Lords rejected the Home Rule Bill, and the late Prime Minister bequeathed to his followers vengeance against the House of Lords, a bequest which they did not seem over anxious at 908 first to take up. Perhaps the Succession Duty was too high. At any rate, things did not go very well with the Liberal Party. They could not find a cry, and the greatest calamity that befell them was their defeat for the St. Leger. Many people liked to imagine what would have happened if Blucher had not arrived in time at Waterloo; if Hannibal had marched on Rome. He left to those speculative gentlemen the discussion of what would have happened if Ladas had won the St. Leger, if the Prime Minister—having won the Derby and St. Leger—had been able to go to the country on his horse and not on the destruction of the House of Lords. Some hon. Members opposite were in favour of a Second Chamber, others were not; but all seemed to be agreed on one point, and one point alone, and that was that they would like to abolish He wanted to know what Bill of late years had been destroyed by the hereditary principle. The Home Secretary said they were determined not to have Legislation thwarted any longer by irresponsible and hereditary legislators. Would any Gentleman tell him of any first-class Bill of recent years that had been thwarted by the hereditary legislators? Did hon. Gentlemen really imagine that the Home Rule Bill was? He did not know whether this point had been brought before the House before, but, if it had not, it was well worth the while of the House to attend to it. It was this, that the Home Rule Bill would have been defeated without the intervention of hereditary legislators at all. He did not know whether hon. Gentlemen who were in favour of a Second Chamber preferred the principle of a higher Electorate, or that of a Committee of men with seats for life. If the latter, they would have much the same sort of Chamber they had to-day. First holders of peerages were selected, because in the opinion of the Cabinet of the day they were worthy of a seat in the Second Chamber. He had taken the trouble to analyse the Division List in the House of Lords upon the Home Rule Bill. Of course everyone knew that the figures were 419 against and only 41 in favour of it. If he could show that more than 41 first holders of peerages voted against the Bill, what became of the assertion that it was defeated by the hereditary 909 principle? In addition to the bishops there were 51 Peers, themselves the first holders of their titles, created by the Cabinet of the day because they were thought worthy of a seat in the Second Chamber, who voted against the Home Rule Bill. It was true that 17 non-hereditary Peers voted in favour of the Bill, but these figures showed that out of a Second Chamber composed of men specially chosen by the Cabinet of the day, there was a majority of 51 to 17 against the Bill. Could any man in favour of a Second Chamber contend that the House of Lords, in throwing out the Home Rule Bill by a majority of 51 first holders of peerages to 17, deserved to be attacked on the ground of the hereditary principle. It was interesting to go a little further. He took out these figures upon the Home Rule Bill first of all; but the country did not care a little bit about the Home Rule Bill. He went through an election lately, and one of the questions his opponents asked was —"What has this election to do with Home Rule?" There was a Bill about which a great deal of froth and clap-trap had been talked, and on which hon. Members on the other side of the House had hoped to win the favour of the Electorate, the Employers Liability Bill. "It was a monstrous thins;" it was said, "that these men, sitting in their gilded chamber, should be allowed, simply because they are their fathers'sons, to vote down the clause which proposed to do away with freedom of contract." Lord Ripons Motion to agree with the Commons on the Employers Liability Bill was rejected by a majority of non-hereditary Peers. The numbers on the Division were—Contents, 23; Not Contents, 137. Among the Contents, those who were in favour of doing away with the freedom of the British working man, there were five holders of first peerages; and among the Not Contents there were 24. So, it appeared, after all, it was not the effete scions of an hereditary aristocracy who championed the freedom of the British working man in the House of Lords. No; the majority had been 910 Members of the House of Commons, or were Judges, or great Lawyers, or had served their country abroad, or had achieved other distinctions for which they had been thought worthy, by a Cabinet of the day, to sit in the House of Lords. He did not know that this Debate had been altogether worthy of the occasion. We were approaching a grave constitutional crisis, and hon. Members opposite had not shown any appreciation of the gravity of the situation. After all, the speech of the Home Secretary was only a brilliant reply, and there had been no speech giving reasons why a great constitutional change should be attempted. The liberties of the people of England had been won; there was no political inequality; but there was great social inequality; and the people wanted social reforms. They did not want the Constitution to be upset simply because a Party needed an electioneering cry. Let the House try to give the people the social reforms for which they were pining. If hon. Members, thinking of the days of the first Reform Bill and the Corn Laws, imagined they had only to make their cry big enough to raise the country, they would find they were much mistaken. The people knew something of politics now. They did not want more freedom, but they did demand happiness. Let Parliament make them happier in their daily lives. What they demanded they would know how to obtain at the General Election.
§ SIR R. E. WEBSTER (Isle of Wight)
I paused in rising in the expectation that we might have a speech, not necessarily from a Cabinet Minister, but, at all events, from the other side of the House, in support of that position taken up by Her Majestys Government which we are attacking by this Amendment. The position is, that the Government, notwithstanding that the course of their policy has been settled for several months, notwithstanding that it has been their settled determination to make an attack upon the Constitution of the country, and to bring about what the Prime Minister described as a revolution, Her Majestys Government have elected to announce the introduction of measures which, it has been said without contradiction, there is practically no hope of passing into Law, while they decline to give us the slightest intimation as to the form and 911 time of the attack upon the House of Lords. We have heard to-night three speeches from the other side. We have heard a most able speech from the Home Secretary, of whom I may be allowed to say that it is a satisfaction to us, his old comrades at the Bar, and some of us who may be called his old leaders, to see how fully he has justified the selection made of him to fill the high office he now holds. I can assure him that, however much we may differ upon matters of policy, we have but one feeling, so far as he is personally concerned, and that is one of gratification at the place he now fills in the House of Commons and the country. But the more we recognise the ability of the right hon. Gentleman, the more we, who have had experience of him, know of his powers as an advocate, so much the more are we astonished at the defence he was able to make to-night of the position of the Government. It is too much to say that there was absolutely no reply to the substantial attack made by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham. Personal allusions abounded in the speech. It seemed to be deemed sufficient to quote some speech made ten years ago for the purpose of holding up, for the moment, the right hon. Member for West Birmingham to the amusement of this House. Surely that is not practical or Ministerial politics. It is not sufficient for the Government of the day simply to quote the speeches of a political opponent without dealing with the substantial matter brought forward. I propose, with the permission of the House, to direct my attention to the few passages in the speech of the Home Secretary which may be called arguments. I think it is a compliment to speak of them as substantial arguments against the merits of the Resolution. He first of all reminded us that this was the third motion of want of confidence in the Government which we had supported. I waited, and those around me waited, to see whether he would point to the slightest inconsistency between our present position and our position on former occasions. We stated—and supported the view by arguments which met, at any 912 rate, with considerable approval from many members opposite—that the condition of agriculture and trade and labour was such as required the urgent attention of the Government, and we urged that these were matters of graver importance than the heroic measures mentioned in the Queens Speech. What inconsistency is there in supporting a motion in accord with what we have maintained for months—that the Government dare not face an appeal to the country. The Home Secretary spoke in a sneering tone of what he was pleased to call our "new comrades," suggesting that there was something unworthy on our part, because we were willing to join with others who, from their point of view, protested against the inconsistency of the action of the Government with regard to the proposal of Home Rule. It seems to me to ill befit a comrade of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to sneer at us because we voted with men with whom for the time being we were in accord. The Home Secretary seems to say:—You do not understand our position at all. We cannot pays our measures into law because we cannot get them supported by the House of Lords; but that would be no excuse, as far as we are concerned, for not introducing them into the House of Commons.But what has been the meaning of the almost plaintive appeals that the Prime Minister has made to his small and dwindling majority? I do not want to quote the passages from the Prime Ministers speeches which have already been referred to to-night, but the complaint of Lord Rosebery has been that the difficulties of the Government were not only because of the House of Lords, but because the Government could not rely on the majority behind them in this House as having sufficient force to enable them to press their measures. Will the Home Secretary think of the references made by Lord Rosebery to the fact that even under favourable circumstances you can only hope to pass one or two measures through the House of Commons, no suggestion being made that there was any possibility of passing these measures through the House of Lords, if there had been behind them, in the House of Commons, a substantial majority? But there is another passage in the Home Secretarys speech which I confess I heard with regret. He suggested 913 that the duty of the Government was to introduce Bills into this House without reference to whether they could pass them into law. I, having had many years experience of this House, protest against the House of Commons being degraded to that position. I deny that any Ministry in times gone by has considered the House of Commons to be even a first-rate debating society, or that it was the function of Ministers to retain their positions when they cannot carry their legislation to a successful issue. What was the principle by which past Governments have been actuated? If they could not command a sufficient majority to carry the measures of which they approved, or to force them through the House of Lords, they have appealed to the country to get fresh strength behind them. The Home Secretary is no doubt a much better historian than I am, but from my study of politics during the present reign it seems impossible to find a case of a Ministry—except possibly one, to which reference has been, made—which has retained Office when its Bills were being rejected by the House of Lords. That is not the only degrading aspect of this question. The Government have further degraded their Party into a number of constituent elements, which are employed in log-rolling one anothers Bills through the House. No secret has been made about it. The Member for North Louth made no secret of it the other night; and the real and only strength of the Government at the present time lies in this fact. It is my opinion that, in regard to a large number of the measures of Her Majestys Government, if the voting took place by ballot there would not be the slightest chance of passing them through the House of Commons. There are five or six measures of first-class importance in the Queens Speech, and the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have said that, with a good majority at their backs, they could not hope to get more than one, or possibly two, of those measures through the House, of Commons. Can it be pretended that the House is united in regard to the Local Option 914 Bill? I doubt whether the Government really have am intention to press that Bill through. On the question of Disestablishment my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary evinced great surprise at what he termed an expression of convulsive emotion on the part of my right hon. Friend, the Member for St. Georges, and the Home Secretary referred to that expression with surprise as coming from the author of the Irish Church Bill. My right hon. Friend, the Home Secretary, seemed to think that no author of the Irish Church Bill would be found opposing his Bill for Welsh Disestablishment. Is my right hon. Friends memory so short? Who was the principal author of the Bill for disestablishing the Irish Church? It is to the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Midlothian that we must go to find the strongest arguments against disestablishing the Welsh Church. If my right hon. Friend ever took the trouble to study the Debate on the Irish Church Bill lie would find that speaker after speaker stated that there was no parallel to be drawn between the Irish Church Bill and Welsh Disestablishment. I want no stronger arguments against my right hon. Friends Welsh Bill than those which were used upon the Irish Bill in the House and throughout the country. Both I and my right hon. Friend desire to avoid cant as much as possible, and I therefore regretted to hear him speak of his Bill as one for securing religious equality among the Welsh people. Let him test that by dividing his Bill into two parts, and let him say, for the present, that he does not care about Disendowment, and does not intend to proceed with this part of it. Does he think he would then obtain the hearty support of the Welsh Members? We are in favour of Establishment on account of the State. We are against Disendowment, because we believe that funds appropriated to religion are going to be taken away for other purposes. We say that it is degrading the House of Commons to discuss measures which could never be carried into law. I endeavoured to note the arguments of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, but it struck me at the time that, able and brilliant as that speech was as a contribution to this Debate, yet, as an answer to the main case made by my right hon. Friend, the Member for West 915 Birmingham, there was scarcely a mark which bore on the real subject before the House. One point I desire to press upon the House. It is this: in the beginning of 1894 the Government had practically determined upon this attack upon the House of Lords. Through 1894 they were endeavouring to see whether or not it would "catch on" with the country; and, down to a time which I will point out distinctly, the Prime Minister and his colleagues were all stating to the country that they believed it was going to be a successful cry. But when the elections went against them they abandoned it, and to this day we do not know whether a Resolution against the House of Lords is really going to be brought forward, when it is to be introduced, or even the general outline of the Resolution. Trace for a moment this agitation. On March 1, 1894, the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Midlothian, delivered his last speech in the House of Commons. He spoke with his old fire, and seemed to us to carry with him his supporters, who cheered him as enthusiastically as ever. And what was the legacy he left to his Party? In the last speech which he made in the House he said:—We have reached such a development as to create a state of things which we are compelled to say that, in our judgment, it cannot continue. The position of the House of Lords is so profoundly acute that it demands a settlement, and must receive a settlement at an early date.What was the next step? I confess Mr. Speaker, that I regret the speech of the hon. Member for Northampton, which did not seem to me to be worthy of a Member of this House; and I regret very much, quite apart from its tone, that a Member of this House should feel justified in confessing that, although every argument in his speech is against his Party, yet he is going to support them. But the hon. Member for Northampton has had more to do with this matter than might be supposed from his speech. On March 13th, of last year, the hon. Member moved an Amendment, and the memory of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was singularly short-lived 916 when he said the night before last that a defeat on the Address was equivalent to the defeat of the Ministry, for upon that Amendment his Government were defeated. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues were not obliged to take the hon. Member for Northampton seriously, but that view of their action is impossible, owing to the course of events. The matter was, no doubt, discussed in Cabinet; unquestionably it was discussed among the wirepullers of the Gladstonian Party, and, in consequence, on May 15, there was issued from the National Liberal Federation in Parliament Street, a formal notice addressed to the Liberal Associations in this country, calling upon them to give a definite and concrete expression of the feelings of the Liberal Party upon the question of the House of Lords. Nobody will deny that that circular was sent out in order to feel the pulse of the Liberal Party upon this question. That circular was dated May 15, and on May 25, the Prime Minister, speaking at Birmingham, said that the task of depriving the House of Lords of the power of thwarting the will of the House of Commons was one of immense difficulty, and that he, as a Member of the Government, asked for the support, the direction, and the enthusiasm of the nation. That was a perfectly clear indication. On June 20, the Leeds Conference was held, and I never have been able to understand what it is that should make Her Majestys Government attempt to throw overboard the resolutions of that Conference, fitting in, as they did, with the earlier speeches of the Prime Minister, except that they know now that the feeling of the country is entirely against them. But, Sir, I am not going to allow the Leeds Conference to be dismissed in this summary manner. Who were there? Members who cannot be called merely the rank and file of the Party. Besides the hon. Member for Northampton, there were the hon. Member for East Bradford, the hon. Member for the Cockermouth Division of Cumberland, Labour Members like the hon. Member for the Rhondda Valley, the hon. Members for Burnley and Middles-brough, and others. The resolutions of the Conference did not satisfy the hon. Member for Northampton, but they did state distinctly that, as soon as prac- 917 ticable during the present Parliament, a step should be taken to get rid of the House of Lords. We know now what as soon as practicable means; it means when the cry will have the effect of turning defeat into victory. But, Sir, it is perfectly clear that at that time it was supposed to be the signal for immediate action. Was this resolution regarded by the Leaders of the Party as being the mere vagary of irresponsible politicians? The Prime Minister, as soon as he received the resolution, wrote, on June 29, to a very distinguished Member of the Liberal Party, Dr. Spence Watson, and said that the resolutions passed at the Conference formed a valuable indication of the feeling of the Liberal Party upon the question. It requires no astute consideration to see that the Leeds resolution was dictated from headquarters. From March down to November of last year this question of the attack on the House of Lords was, it was supposed, becoming the one question Her Majestys Government had to deal with. I do not pause to remind the House how many Ministers have pointed to the action of the House of Lords as a stumbling-block to Home Rule, to Local Option, to Disestablishment, and to various other measures. The invitation of the Liberal Party was: "Let us deal with the House of Lords, and get all these questions solved." I have taken the House on to June 29. In August or July there was a demonstration in Hyde Park, which was not a great success, and certainly did not seem to evoke much enthusiasm among the democracy of the Metropolis. There was another demonstration, I believe, at Peckham, or in that neighbourhood; but beyond those two meetings there was not much display of public feeling. But Her Majestys Ministers were still satisfied that they had got a cry which was going to rally the country on their side, and there was scarcely one of them who, during the Recess, did not speak and point out how fundamentally this question of the House of Lords was at the root of the policy of the Radical Party. I might quote from the speeches of nearly every one of them 918 to show that I am right in my conclusion that the question was then prominently before the minds of Ministers. May I remind the House of two instances? On October 22, the Home Secretary, speaking in Scotland, stated that—the question of the House of Lords occupied the largest space in the thoughts of thinking politicians.Then came the classical utterance of the Prime Minister at Bradford, which I need not quote, for everyone is acquainted with it. But there was another Member of the Cabinet who spoke on the question as late as November 12—the Minister for War, and the right hon. Gentleman would never have spoken as he did unless he had consulted with the Cabinet as to what he should say. And let me note here, by the way, that, during the months of October and November, it was alleged that certain Members of our Party were circulating unfounded and slanderous statements to the effect that Ministers were not at one on this question—that there was a difference of opinion among them as to the policy to be pursued. The Home Secretary declared in a speech that there was absolutely no foundation in those statements, and that Ministers were at one on the subject. Well, what did the Secretary for War say? He said "the time had come when they could endure the present anomalous condition no longer." That was on November 12. But then the Forfar election had not taken place: the Brigg and the Evesham elections had not been decided. The right hon. Gentleman had suffered in mind so long and so keenly that, on November 12, he could bear it no longer; but he seems to bear it with much equanimity at the present time. Now, the Forfar election took place on November 17, and that of Brigg on December 8. On January 18 the Prime Minister went, I think, to Cardiff. His utterance there was the last despairing appeal before the Evesham election, and he used these words—The intolerable disabilities and degradations, which make our campaign against the House of Lords inevitable.I am sorry for the degradation of Ministers. I agree that they are disabled, but not that they are degraded. 919 I must say I think the language of the Prime Minister was somewhat hyperbolic; but, at all events, that was the position of Ministers before the election. I have now brought down the matter to January 18, and I have here to refer to a point which, though touched upon by one of the Members for Lancashire, requires further notice. There can be no doubt that Ministers had now begun to appreciate that matters were getting somewhat urgent. But the resources of civilisation were not exhausted. We observed in the official organs, as well as in the Times, certain inspired paragraphs announcing that an hon. and learned Member of this House had visited Downing Street and consulted the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that on the next day he had been in consultation with the Prime Minister. I refer to the hon. and learned Member for Hackney (Mr. Moulton). Now, I am the last person to suggest that the hon. Member was writing to order, but I wish to ask this—Did the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer know the outlines of the hon. and learned Members article before it was published, and, if they did not, do they approve of that article now? If they knew of the article before it was published, of course it must be taken as a semi-official utterance. It would not be the first time that Government have used a friendly pen for the purpose of expressing their views. I make no complaint against the Government, assuming that they knew of this article, for in that case they went to the best quarter they could for their purpose—they went to a learned lawyer. What did they go to him for? To ask him to draw a plea? Well, we lawyers speak of dilatory pleas, which are drawn when you are in difficulties, and when you want to put off a serious attack which is to be made upon you. The plea to which I call attention was what is termed a plea for deliberation. I make no sort of attack upon the Government for endea- 920 vouring to influence public opinion in this way. If the Government had nothing to do with the article, and say so, I shall, of course, accept the statement at once, and I shall use the article only as the utterance of a prominent Member of their Party upon whose assistance great reliance was placed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer during the Debates on the Finance Bill. There are some very remarkable passages in this article, which, I think I am entitled to say, was coincident with what I affirm was a change of opinion on the part of the Government. The first passage to which I will call attention is the passage in which the hon. and learned Member said that, if there was danger in appealing to the country upon the question of Home Rule, the dangers of forcing a speedy decision upon the more intricate and difficult question of the House of Lords were far greater. Does that represent the views of right hon. and hon. Members opposite? Do they think that if there was danger in appealing to the country on the question of Home Rule there would be greater danger in appealing suddenly to the country on the question of the House of Lords? If they did come to that conclusion they formed an opinion with which I heartily agree, for I assert that there is not the slightest ground for believing that this cry about the House of Lords has had the slightest effect in bringing to the side of the Government electors who would not otherwise have been prepared to give them support. The other passage, which I will read, is as follows:—Even those who are most desirous that we should get rid of the House of Lords will not forgive a rash and unsuccessful appeal to the country on the ground that it was well-meant or was in response to their ambitions.What is the remedy suggested, what is the course proposed, by the hon. and learned Member for Hackney as the way out of the difficulties? Here, again, the article smacks of Roseberyite influences. I am not aware that Lord Rosebery has 921 ever gone quite so far as the hon. Member, but some of his utterances have raised doubts on the matter, and that makes this Amendment one of very great importance. We ought not to be kept in the dark on this matter. The House of Commons has a right to ask Her Majestys Ministers for information. Ministers have been vapouring up and down the country on this subject for the past six months, and yet the Assembly which is to decide the question is to be kept in absolute ignorance. It seems to me absolutely impossible for Ministers to preserve the complete silence which has pervaded all their speeches in the House of Commons, whilst they have led the electors in the country to suppose that this was going to be the main matter which was immediately to be entered upon, and that it had to be disposed of in order that measures which the electors were supposed to want might be passed. I do not know whether, when this Debate comes to be canvassed, any one will hestitate to come to the conclusion that we have made good our case. We have submitted to this House that it is contrary to the public interest that Her Majestys Advisers, while they have told the country that they do not hope to pass measures, should occupy the time of Parliament in discussing them. We have submitted that it is degrading this House, reducing it to a level to which it ought never to be reduced. We have, further submitted that, proposals involving great constitutional changes having been proclaimed up and down the country, we in the House of Commons are entitled to a reasonable amount of information. I ask the House to come to the conclusion that the Amendment, however it may be answered in the Division lobby, has not been answered by argument. The Home Secretary, in heroic language, declared that the Government were not going to be tied to humdrum, hand-to-mouth, unambitious policies. Ambitious policies have wrecked many Ministers in years 922 gone by, and they will wreck this Government. I regretted to hear the right hon. Gentleman use the word "humdrum." What does he mean by humdrum measures? I believe him to be as humane and sympathetic a man as sits in this House. Can anybody look upon or read with unmoved feelings the accounts from day to day of the distress in this country, the depression in trade, and the circumstances in which we are? It may prolong for a short time your life if you decline to deal with these questions, but it will not redound to your credit in the future. I say for myself, I would far rather take part in some humdrum scheme to relieve those out of work, and to restore languishing trade, than lie a party to such heroic measures as One Man One Vote—schemes of which the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are so proud. But it is strange to hear a Minister talking of a hand-to-mouth policy. What have the Government been doing for the last 12 or 15 months? Will they honestly deny that theirs has been a day-to-day and hand-to-mouth policy? Looking at the promises that have been extorted from the Government with regard to legislation for Ireland, for Wales, and for Scotland, I say that they are an indication that Her Majestys Government are living from hand to mouth. As the right hon. Member for West Birmingham said, I care not one bit about the feelings of Her Majestys Government about the present Amendment. I want to defeat the Government as soon as I can, because I believe that their maintenance in Office is not for the good of the country; but I am quite satisfied it is in the interests of the Opposition, as a Party, that they should be allowed to go on for some time longer muddling the affairs of the nation. I do not suggest for a moment that right hon. Gentlemen opposite are clinging to Office for the sake of remuneration: I know they are men too honourable, and in their private life far above such 923 suspicion; but I say that they are clinging to Office for the sake of power—that is, the semblance of power which they have not got. This Resolution, I suppose, will be defeated by the votes of those who have contributed nothing to the Debate, and have not listened to a single argument. It will result in a temporary triumph of the supporters of the Government; but I take leave to predict that the effect of concealing their policy will be to make the present Session absolutely abortive, to make their supposed crusade against the House of Lords a more ludicrous failure even than it has been already, and, when the judgment of history comes to be given upon this Government, to show that they were careless of their own reputation, and did not properly consider what was due from them to the country whose interests they had in charge.
§ MR. J. PARKER SMITH (Lanark, Partick)
expressed surprise that no answer was being given from the Treasury Bench to the exceedingly able, temperate, and courteous speech of the hon. and learned Member for the Isle of Wight. These tactics seemed to be an attempt at make-believe, to make it appear as if there was nothing in the attack. Those, however, who read the Debates would feel that something was lacking on the part of the Government and their supporters in this matter. In 1879 a strong Government was in power, with a great majority, but the signs of the times showed that that Government were losing the confidence of the country. Then it was asked—Why are the Government not anxious to have the judgment of the country? It is because they know that the country is against them. If it be true, as they still say, that the country is in their favour, I say that, after the favourable reply that they would receive to their appeal, they would come back to Parliament far stronger for the purpose of giving effect to the principles that they hold to be true than they are at this moment. They know perfectly well that a favourable appeal will strengthen their hands; they know perfectly well that an unfavourable answer will be the end of their Ministerial existence; and it therefore requires no great wit on our part to 924 judge why, when they have reached what I may almost call the Constitutional period, they do not choose to make an appeal at all.That was the language of the right hon. Member for Midlothian, who was then in Opposition, whilst the Government of the day was ceasing to hold the confidence of the nation which they had enjoyed when they first came into power. The right hon. Gentleman was urging them if they had any faith in the principles of representation to go to the country, and either come back with a renewed expression of confidence from the country, which would enable them to carry through those Bills they had in hand, or else let them give place to other men in whom the country had real confidence. That was the view the right hon. Gentleman took in Opposition, and it was the view he held consistently and took also when he was in power. The same position, with the Liberal Party in power, had occurred a few years earlier, namely, in 1874. The Liberal Government, which had come in in 1868 with a tremendous majority, full of vigour and power, with the declared object of carrying through a variety of legislative measures that were then the boast of the whole of the united Liberal Party, had, owing to time and differences, become weak and divided. The right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Midlothian, a high - minded and high-spirited Minister, would not stand that position. In the beginning of 1874 there was a thunderbolt. An address from the right hon. Gentleman appeared in the Times one morning, dissolving Parliament, and stating elaborately the reasons that had led him to adopt that course. He said:—The welfare of the country can never he effectually promoted by a Government which is not invested with adequate authority. That authority which was, in 1868, amply confided by the, nation to the Liberal Party and its Leaders, if it has now sunk below the point necessary for the due defence and prosecution of the public interests, can in no way be so legitimately and effectually restored as by an appeal to the people, who, by their reply to such an appeal, may place beyond all challenge two great ques- 925 tions—the first, what they think of the manner in which the commission granted in 1868 has been executed; the second, what further commission they now think fit to give to their representatives, and to what hands its fulfilment, and the administration of the Government, are to he entrusted.He went on to speak of the way in which the strength of the Government had been diminished, and then he continued:—Of this diminution of strength we were painfully and sensibly reminded during the Session by the summary and rapid dismissal in the House of Lords of measures which had cost much time and labour to the House of Commons. But we remembered that in the years 1868 and 1870, when the mind of the country was unambiguously expressed, the House of Lords had, much to its honour, deferred to that expression upon matters of great moment, and I cannot doubt that it would have continued in this courses had the isolated and less certain, but still frequent and fresh, indications of public opinion at single elections continued to be in harmony with the powerful and authentic, but now more remote, judgment of 1868.That was the spirit in which the right hon. Gentleman in those days treated the House of Lords, and treated the question of confidence with the country. If the right hon. Member for Midlothian were still on the Treasury Bench he should expect from him and from the Government a higher spirit in regard to their position, not that clinging to the continuance of power which they saw now, but a greater readiness to go back to the country and find out what the feeling of the, people truly was, and whether they really any longer enjoyed the confidence of the nation. The principle; upon which the House of Lords had gone was that stated and accepted by the Member for Midlothian in the passage of the right hon. Gentlemans address of 1874 which he had just read. Ever since 1832 that had been the policy upon which they had acted. They had felt themselves free to criticise, and not bound by the mere fact that a Resolution had passed the House of Commons. They had felt themselves entitled to look a little deeper into the real facts of the situation, and to satisfy themselves whether the view of the 926 House of Commons did or did not represent the real feeling of the nation. Where it represented the real feeling of the nation, Members of the House of Lords had given way. That was their policy in the first great struggle of 1832. Under the guidance of the Duke of Wellington they consistently followed that policy. Lord Derby in a most interesting letter, written in 1846, showed how, again and again, during the intermediate years when the Duke of Wellington had almost complete authority over the House of Lords, he induced the Members of that House to give way upon point after point, on which they themselves felt strongly, but on which it appeared the mind of the country was different from that of the House of Lords. That had been the action of the House of Lords in the past; and he saw not the slightest reason in anything which had happened, or in any utterance which had been made in the House of Lords lately, to suppose that would not be the policy of the House of Lords in the future. Right hon. gentlemen on the Treasury Bench talked about the usefulness of having got a measure through the House of Commons. If they wanted to see their measures passed into law, let them go to the country, come back with a majority, say of 100, then pass them through the House of Commons, and they would see how much difficulty those measures experienced when they got across the Central Lobby. If those measures were clearly declared as the will of the country, hon. Members would soon see that they would not find any too serious or too grave obstacles in the existing Constitution to them receiving the full force of law. There was something beyond all this. It was a fundamental principle of our public life that men should be in earnest—that when men announced a great change as being in their opinion essential, they should do their best to satisfy the nation at large that they really meant what they were saying. He did not believe in the policy of keeping projects up one's sleeve. It was 927 in his opinion, the duty of public men, when they had fully made up their minds on a grievous question, to take the public into their confidence. He did not wish them to be in any too great hurry to state what were their views before they had fully made up their minds, but he thought that men upon whom rested the greatest responsibility, whose words had more influence upon the minds of their fellow-citizens than those of any other men, should not throw out vague hints of their desire to do something, and to await the decisions on certain points of caucuses and wire-pullers before they made up their minds in which direction a change should take place. Statesmen ought to make up their minds clearly, and announce their views in a manly and straightforward way, trusting subsequently to the newspapers and to their followers to work out the details. It did more harm to the morality of public life than anything else could do to find men taking hold of questions of enormous importance, declaring their desire to do things which fundamentally affected the Constitution of the country, and at the same time to put them off, to postpone them indefinitely in the light-hearted way in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer postponed such a casual question as the Payment of Members. There were some things which would wait indefinitely, but there were others which must be carried through at once, if men were in earnest concerning them. Questions might be raised affecting a mans honour. What would be thought of him if he were to postpone arriving at a settlement concerning them until he had done all his other business? It was not his duty to express any view upon the tactics of the Government. Ministers might think it was better tactics to hold on for a few months—a good many of their friends differed from them on that point—but it was not within his province to deal with the question of tactics. As a matter of public honesty and honour, when fundamental questions were raised, it was, in 928 his opinion, the duty of honourable public men to press them forward, to express their opinions to the best of their power, and indeed, to follow the example which had always been set in previous times, whenever any great question had come to the front, and not to shilly-shally, and give the impression of merely seeking to put off the evil day.
§ *SIR F. POWELL (Wigan)
condemned the Government for their silence through the night. A powerful and remarkable speech had been made by the hon. and learned Member for the Isle of Wight, and, contrary to Parliamentary usage and courtesy, by which a speech from one Front Bench was replied to from the other, the Government had not thought it well to meet, if they could meet, the arguments of the hon. and learned Member. The policy which had been adopted by the Government throughout the night was the policy of delay and procrastination. By all the rules of Parliamentary Debate, the answer to a speech ought to come at once, while the effect of the speech was on the minds of the House; but the expectation of the Government was that, by delaying till Monday, the impression of the able speech of the hon. and learned Member for the Isle of Wight would have passed away. They had heard of the Government of all the talents. The present Government had not only all the talents, but that other great power of an impressive and profound silence. He did not believe that, in the whole history of Parliament, there was another occasion on which important and weighty speeches, such as those delivered that night, had been left unanswered, and that Ministers had taken themselves to the joys of other places rather than attend to their duties in the House of Commons. He was sure that, when the country read of the action of Government, there would follow a widespread dissatisfaction with their policy of silence. He happened to be in Bradford at the time Lord Rosebery launched 929 his attack on the House of Lords, and had had the opportunity of conversing with many Members of the Liberal Party about the speech. Without betraying any secrets, he could say that the expectations of those Gentlemen, with regard to the consequences of that speech, had been exactly the same as his own expectations. He expected nothing would follow the speech; and that had been the impression, also, of Members of the Liberal Party to whom he had spoken on the subject. But it was the duty of the Government, having spoken in such a manner through the Prime Minister, not to delay in taking action. Parliament ought to have been, summoned in the autumn of 1894, to consider the great Constitutional issue that had been laid before the country by the Prime Minister at Bradford; but, instead of doing that, the Government proposed to delay the matter until the autumn of 1895. If they looked back on what had taken place in America at the end of the Eighteeenth Century, when a great Constitution was being moulded for the people of that country, they would not find that there had been any delay or procrastination; whereas in this case, every mode of delay was being resorted to by the Government. The country was entitled to know what was the Constitution under which we were to live, and what was the plan of the Government—whether the Government intended to abolish, for all practical purposes, the House of Lords, and to govern the country by one Chamber only, or whether there was to be government by two Chambers, with the House of Commons retained in its present power and another Chamber acting instead of the present House of Lords. The question of the House of Lords ought to be formulated. The House ought to know whether there was to be a change in the constitution of that Assembly—whether the representative principle was to be introduced there, in whole or in part; 930 whether the Peers of this country were to lie exiled altogether from that ancient Chamber, or whether only a small portion of them were to remain after the analogy of the Scotch and Irish peerages. The country ought not to be kept in suspense and all minor issues ought to be postponed. If the Government chose to abandon the plan of altering or destroying the House of Lords, then let them proceed with other legislation; but if they intended to proceed with the policy which they had sketched out, then let the country have an opportunity of understanding their policy at the earliest possible moment, and of forming a decision upon it, in order that Parliament might proceed to the great work of alteration and reconstruction, or else to the wiser method of at once meeting the terrible exigencies of the present moment. At a time when there was so much distress and sorrow, when deaths were occurring in the streets from starvation, it was not right to leave this question in suspense. As to the general question of the defence of the House of Lords, he found, from reading the speeches of the hon. Gentlemen opposite, that they denounced the House of Lords with vague rhetoric and wild declamation, and showed that they had not mastered the history of the case, and were entirely ignorant of the facts. They said that the House of Lords had resisted the will of the people; but they did not condescend to particulars. He was sure that the electors of Great Britain were in entire accord with the House of Lords in what they had done in respect to the Home Rule Bill. As the Representative of a mining and manufacturing district, he was sure that a large proportion of the working-men was in favour of the action of the House of Lords upon the Employers Liability Bill. And as to the Local Government Act of the present Government, on the questions which had been at issue between the two Houses in regard to that measure, the country was 931 in favour of the House of Lords rather than the House of Commons. The proposals eventually sanctioned by the House of Lords were, in fact, the original proposals of the Government themselves. How could it be said that the Government were right in their original proposals, and that the House of Lords were wrong in sanctioning those proposals? He wished that those who condemned the House of Lords would first go to school and read some of the great text-books on the subject. Whig and Tory historians were alike unknown to these hon. Gentlemen. He believed that the House of Lords would, for many years, continue to exercise their great authority in this country under wise and prudent guidance. It must be remembered that if the House of Lords was to be reformed and reconstructed, and became a more powerful Assembly, the House of Commons would become weaker. Were those who were endeavouring to compass an alteration in the House of Lords fully realising the fact that the accomplishment of their object was really a defeat of that which they desired—namely, an increase of the strength of the House of Commons? He believed the relations between the House of Lords and the House of Commons would continue to exist during many centuries in the future, as they had existed during many centuries in the past. It was worth remembering that the temporary cessation of the House of Lords during the Commonwealth period was not a circumstance which led to any increase of liberty or of improvement in the freedom of the people. As 200 years ago that model period of violence on the one hand, led to reaction, on the other, so now an attack on the House of Lords, whether successful or not, would end, not in the weakening, but in the strengthening, of that great body—not in the enfeebling of their authority, but in giving greater strength to that which they possessed and enjoyed.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."(Mr. L. H. Courtney.)
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till Monday next.