§ [Order read for adjourned Debate on Address in reply to Her Majesty's Most Gracious Speech. 5th February, see page 15.]
§ Debate resumed on Amendment moved 15th February, by Mr. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
§ *Mr. L. H. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
said, that at this season of the year and in the present weather, it was very imprudent to make any engagement, and if he had thought on Friday night, when he moved the Adjournment of the Debate, that his voice would be in the condition in which it then was he would not have ventured to obtain possession of the House. He was aware that the experience must be as disagreeable to hon. Members, as it was unwelcome to himself, but he was quite confident that he would receive from them all courtesy and consideration. The Home Secretary said, that the Opposition were guilty of making various inconsistent attacks upon the Government. He thought that objection was one purely of form, and that underneath the three principal Amendments to which the right hon. Gentleman referred there lay the same principle. They were founded upon the same valuation of the public situation. The opinion which animated the Movers of every one was, simply, that the Government had exhausted their authority; that their moral influence had suffered grievous disaster; and that, if they wished to regain their strength they ought to go to the country before proceeding further. If they persisted in going on the Government should confine themselves to what the Home Secretary called humdrum Legislation, by which they understood him to mean useful Legislation, which would be favoured by the Nation, but which did not admit of brilliant exploits of rhetoric or great strokes of tactics. If the Government would not do that they should go to the country upon the one issue of 973 Home Rule. They were formed as a Government upon that question, and although they had endeavoured to receive strength by the addition to it of other questions, it was their one title to public consideration. If the Government, as a body, had that question at heart in the way in which he believed some of their Members had, they would long since have endeavoured to get strength to carry this primary object further by appealing to the constituencies, whatever the result might be. But as the Government would neither go to the country nor confine themselves to humdrum Legislation, the Opposition protested that they should not degrade Parliament, and do little honour to themselves by putting before the House a programme of Legislation which they themselves, did not regard as practical, while at the same time they were keeping in the background a great constitutional movement, upon which they would not take Parliament into their confidence. He did not believe this opinion was confined to the opposition. In the solitary, or all but solitary supporter the Government had yet had, it had found expression. The hon. Member for Northampton had compared himself to a certain most patient and long-suffering beast, but even that animal could at times find a miraculous voice. The hon. Member had a great notion of Party fidelity and a high standard of respect for his official leaders. But it led him to this remarkable conclusion, that although he would not express by vote the opinion that the Government had better go to the country at once, yet he had no objection in doing so by voice. In other words, the hon. Member abstained from giving a formal and practical confirmation of his opinion out of the great respect he had for Her Majesty's Ministers. He believed that the hon. Member could not be alone among the followers of his Party in the estimate he held of the present situation. No doubt some other supporters, more or less devoted to the Government, would speak in the course of the Debate, and it was possible some of them would take a stand similar to that taken by the hon. Member for Northampton, and, shew that while unwilling to put the Government in a minority, they would be only too pleased if it would act upon the suggestions made in the course of the Debate, and take the earliest opportunity of 974 getting a fresh lease of life from the constituencies, if the constituencies felt disposed to give it. He was also inclined to think that hon. Members from Ireland, who cherished a profound feeling of gratitude for Her Majesty's Government, and who would not do anything to embarrass their policy, must in their own minds admit that if their cause was to be a prosperous one it would not be secured by a course of manœuvring legislation here, but by a frank discussion of the question before the country. He did not wish to go into ancient history or to trace the origin of the Government policy, but he thought they could carry it back very clearly to that famous document known as the Newcastle Programme. The persons who framed and the persons who accepted that document seemed to have forgotten one truth of our Parliamentary experience, namely, that if any great change in legislation was desired, it was necessary to pursue it as one object, which should be made the paramount object, and nothing should be allowed to embarrass its progress or interfere with its success. He did not care what they might look back upon—whether it was Free Trade, Representative Reform, or the Disestablishment of a Church—the one object which the Ministry had taken up and pursued had been made, if not the exclusive, at all events the paramount object of their labours; and, if defeated, they had allowed nothing to interfere with it, and, if they were checked in their progress towards its success, they had not gone aside to take up other subjects, but had recurred to it in a way which promised them the quickest means to their end. They had clung to it in a spirit of determined, resolute, and unwavering ardour. If they wanted supremely to achieve any object they must pursue the campaign in the spirit which Mr. Lowell, when he contemplated the historic struggle in his own country, described as pig-headed fighting. And that was the only way to succeed. They must be pig-headed. The Government, however, had not got the gift of pigheadedness, and they never had it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian no doubt took up the Home Rule question with the conviction that it was the supreme 975 object to pursue. His right hon. Friend, the Chief Secretary, shared that conviction. But how many of their colleagues shared it? He was inclined to think that if it had been shared generally by the Party and the Ministry they would never have allowed the Newcastle Programme to come in—apparently as a method of helping, but really as a means of enfeebling their policy. The test of their feeling was found when the Bill of 1893 was rejected. If they had believed in that Bill, and if they had believed that the country was behind them, the course pursued would have been a very different one. Why did they not achieve success and pursue the path open to them? In the first place, the Bill itself was the answer to such a question. Not even the most devoted adherent of the Government could have believed that that was a Bill with which they could go to the country. The Home Secretary said on Friday night that it was a great thing to have a Bill passed through the House of Commons, but he would put it to this test. Would the right hon. Gentleman have gone to the country more gladly and with a lighter heart after that Bill had gone through the House of Commons or before it was brought in? It had passed through the House, and what should have been the effect upon the mind of the Nation? If it had been a Bill embodying some good and sound working plan, it would, indeed, have added to the strength of the Party and have given them power; but not such a Bill as this one, which, it was confessed, would not have been pressed into law if left entirely to the House, because many of the supporters of the Government would then have shrunk from it. He ventured to say that if the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary proposed to advance the question of Welsh Disestablishment by getting a Bill through the House of Commons, he would have to frame it in a somewhat different fashion and upon some different principles to the one which was laid on the table last year; nor did it seem that that policy would be promoted by a proposal that the revenues and assets of the Church were to be wasted in an arbitrary and local way with a minimum of public advantage and a maximum of waste. If the Government had had the real feeling he 976 had described towards the question of Home Rule they would have gone to the country when that Bill was rejected. But why did they not do so? It was, perhaps, worth while to refer to the subject, since the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian had seen fit to defend the refusal of the Government to dissolve on the ground that he would not allow the Lords to dictate to him. That was not the question. The Lords could not force a Dissolution, but why did not the Prime Minister have recourse to it? It rested with the Prime Minister, under the Sovereign, to decide when an appeal should be made to the country, but when the Lords rejected the Home Rule Bill the Government refused to go to the country. Suppose when the Corn Law-Repeal Bill passed through that House the Lords had rejected it in their indiscretion, what would Sir R. Peel have done? Would he have acquiesced? No. He could not have sat down under its rejection. They knew, indeed, that some Lords abstained from taking action because they believed that Sir Robert Peel would dissolve Parliament if the Bill were rejected, and so bring absolute ruin to the Whigs. Cobden, in a letter to his wife, refers to the belief that Sir Robert Peel would dissolve Parliament if the Bill were rejected." It was the Bill which surpassed everything else, although Sir Robert Peel had other very important Bills in hand; and if the Home Rule Bill were to be regarded as a Bill of the same stamp—a Bill necessary to the well-being of the nation—they should have had a Dissolution immediately after its rejection in 1893. There was, however, wanting then, as there was wanting now, any such fixed, steady, determined support on the part of the nation for Home Rule. How could they, in the face of recent experience, speak of the nation as having settled into a determination to have Home Rule? How could they speak of high resolve to that end, which had remained unbroken, and was still fixed and unalterable? All this was wanting, and the Lords were justified in the rejection of the Bill by the circumstances of the time. They had been, indeed, expressly justified by Lord Rosebery himself; and any Second Chamber in the world would be justified in rejecting such a Bill and sending it back for further deliberation 977 and consideration on the ground that the country was not possessed by a dominant feeling in favour of the object. The Peers declared the nation was not in favour of the Bill, and so sent it back. The Bill differed essentially from the principles which the Member for Midlothian had himself laid down, and on that ground also the Lords were justified in sending it back; and under similar circumstances the House of Lords would be bound again to do the same thing. But what does that involve? The Government had in 1893 a majority which just enabled them to send the Rill to the other House. The other House then was the obstacle to the Bill becoming law, and they had not the power to overcome that obstacle. That was the situation. A casual, fluctuating majority—a feeble, uncertain majority. The proper course was to appeal to the country to give the Government a larger majority with which to remove the obstacle. What was the decision of the Government? They thought they might get a similar majority on another occasion, though the Chief Secretary as good as stated that an effective majority would not be got now, but that it might be got at some future time. The problem was how to remove the obstacle at the other end of the Palace, supposing a similar majority obtained again. What, had to be done in such a case? The Government saw that they had not got a nation behind them, and they hoped to break down the obstacle by other tactics. They fell back on a Resolution, but everyone who believed in the sovereignty of the people must fight resolutely against the suggestion that the House of Commons should arrogate to itself the power to declare, through a chance majority, what was the mind of the nation. The device to get out of the difficulty by a Resolution was compared by the Member for West Birmingham, on Friday, with the action of Lord Melbourne's Government in its last days, and the Home Secretary accepted the comparison. But let them understand the weight of the comparison. Lord Macaulay, it seems, said of that Government, "they had excellent cards if they knew how to use them." 978 And the historian of the life of Cobden adds—Unluckily for themselves they did not know how to use them, and everybody was quite aware that their conversion towards Free Trade was not the result of conviction, but was the last device of a foundering Party.And again—No friends were raised up. No great body was conciliated, nor attracted, nor even touched with friendly interest; and the chief reason for this stubborn apathy——how like it was to-day!—"was, as Sir Robert Peel said, that nobody believed the proposals of Ministers sprang from their spontaneous will, or that they had been adopted in consequence of the deliberate convictions of those who brought them forward. The conversion was too rapid. … and the motives of so speedy a change were too plain.This is the parallel which the Home Secretary accepted, but he consoled himself with saying, "In five years the Corn Laws were abolished." Yes, but they were not dealt with by the Ministers who resorted to that action, nor after their method. [Ironical cheers and counter cheers.] He was glad he had pleased all parties. The change that then happened supplied no parallel, for it was due to a great national calamity. He did not say the Corn Laws would not have been abolished before now, but the repeal of those Laws in 1846 followed the Irish famine in 1845. Looking forward to the future, and contemplating large changes in the Constitution of the House of Lords, he thoroughly believed the whole movement of political opinion and political thought in our time was against any popular Chamber, however representative, assuming the power of declaring that it was the nation. The action proposed by the Government tended in the direction of assuming for the House of Commons the uncontrolled and uncontrollable power of saying: "We speak with the voice of the nation, and we insist upon having our mandates accepted." in the freest and most democratic countries the tendency was not to destroy the Second Chamber, but to make it a strong component element with the First, so that the two together might represent the mandate of the nation, neither one nor the other being trusted by itself. Some means of overcoming a deadlock may be found, but 979 not by the abolition of the power of either House. He regretted that the President of the Board of Trade was not in his place. On Friday night the right hon. Member for West Birmingham quoted from his work on "The American Commonwealth," that the "belated philosophers of England" were coming to the conclusion that the House of Lords needed to be strengthened, and not weakened. The President of the Board of Trade was a little "belated" in this matter. It might not be known to every Member of the House, but three or four years ago a series of manuals for the political education of the people was advertised, including one which had never seen the light: "The House of Lords. By the Right Hon. James Bryce, M.P." The work was a little belated, or they might now have had the advantage of getting from it the mature and settled convictions of the right hon. Gentleman upon the subject. What was the Referendum in Switzerland? Was it not a confession by the people that the Federal Assembly could not be trusted to represent the national mind, and had it not happened over and over again that laws passed by considerable majorities in the Swiss Legislature had been rejected afterwards by the people? In America the popular vote had rejected over and over again what the most freely elected representative conventions had agreed upon. The authority of a single body to represent a community was thus shown to be unfounded. In Australia, with regard to Australasian Federation, there had been a growing inclination not to be content with the conclusions of elected representative Chambers, but to look also to the popular vote. Whatever changes were in store with regard to the House of Lords, he was sure they would not be in the direction suggested by the Government, but in that of strengthening an Assembly that was now too weak. On this question he felt commiseration for the Prime Minister. Our Constitution was defective in not allowing Ministers to sit in both Houses of Parliament, and to speak in each Assembly. He ventured to express this opinion during the Debates on the Home Rule Bill. [Sir C. DILKE: "Hear, hear!"] The right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean agreed with him, but did not 980 then give him the benefit of his support. He regretted that Lord Rosebery could not sit in the House of Commons as well as in the House of Lords. If he could have sat there they would have been spared the exaggerated estimates that were formed of him some time ago, and the exaggerated depression which now attached to his reputation. They would have known more accurately how to measure his strength and power. Lord Rosebery would probably have learnt something by being amongst them. At present it must be confessed that the Prime Minister was in peril. He was, perhaps in the greatest peril that a public man could be in—that of appearing a little bit ridiculous. The Prime Minister had been compared by one of his supporters to a clown in a circus, and they could not help feeling that there was some ground for the comparison. The Prime Minister threw down a challenge. The challenge was promptly taken up, whereupon the Prime Minister said: "We will talk about it another day." It was very unfortunate they should be in such a position of uncertainty, both as to the present action of the Government with regard to the House of Lords, and their future policy towards it. Lord Rosebery had told them his views with respect to the House of Peers in the past. He looked back to the time when the House of Lords was not separated from the House of Commons by great diversity of opinion. It was slower, more hesitating in its action, but there was not continual opposition between the two Houses. Lord Rosebery seemed content with the relations between the two Houses in the past, and would like to see them revived like what they were 30 years ago. That, he believed, was the only object of Lord Rosebery's desires. Lord Rosebery himself had said as much. That was all that Lord Rosebery said he desired, but, unfortunately, he had not the power to be able to adhere to his own desires; and so, instead of this modest proposal, which might with less difficulty become a practical proposal, he had been persuaded that it would be possible for the House of Commons to assert and to claim in respect of the House of Lords the same exclusive authority over Legislation that it had at present over Finance; that, starting with some Resolution which was not explained, it would 981 be possible for the House of Commons to obtain an exclusive authority over Legislation, so that, with regard to any particular project of Legislation, it might say that these were its demands which the Lords must obey, notwithstanding any objections they might entertain. Whoever thought of getting a great constitutional change made in this way had neglected, in the first place, to consider the conditions which made such a claim of authority in respect to Finance to be possible and practicable; and he also forgot that trend of opinion which was so antagonistic to the claims of a Single Assembly. But Lord Rosebery, having thrown down his gauntlet, having declared that a great Constitutional change was imminent, and having refrained from defining it, had allowed matters to drift. In these circumstances, they might conceive that this would possibly happen:—at the end of a long Session, just before their labours came to a close, they might have a Resolution brought in, quickly debated, and possibly affirmed, and then the decision on that carried to the constituencies, from which it was hoped to obtain some verdict which would endorse and enforce the conclusion already affirmed. In fact, though Lord Rosebery did not desire it, but shrank from it, and declared he would not himself be content with a Single Chamber, he was allowing the question of a Single and a Double Chamber to drift, so that it might pass from the consideration of authority, from the deliberations of statesmen in either or both Houses, and might have to be decided in the dust of the streets and the tumult of the hustings. He felt that Lord Rosebery was in a false position in allowing matters to drift on, to refer the determination of this great Constitutional question to the cries of public meetings and to agitation, void of deliberation, and of a violent and Party character. The referendum, with respect to each particular thing, and a referendum the answer to which was to settle everything, were two totally different proposals, and Lord Rosebery was allowing matters to slide. But he was not so much disturbed with that prospect—hateful as he confessed it was to think that a question of this grave importance and high character should be proposed to be settled by such means. 982 He was not, however, disturbed by it, because he had a profound conviction that the people of this country would not ratify any such plan, and that the nation would shrink from endowing either House with unrestricted authority. But on this account they claimed that at this stage of the Session they should be told distinctly what the Government proposed to do. Although he did not expect a national disaster from postponement, he did recognise in it a danger and a degradation to this House and to this Parliament. It was unbefitting to the Government, it was unbefitting to them, that a question of this magnitude should be treated in this fashion. At all events, let them come to close quarters. Let them have a clear declaration of what the Government wanted to do; let them understand it, and fight it out there. When they had discussed it, and turned it over and over again, under the light of experience and with such reasoning as they could bring to bear on the question, they might at length come to a conclusion, and then go to the country and see what the country would say. He did not shrink or quail from the result. He did not make his protest because he wanted to shelve the Government Bills. He had no invincible hostility to the Irish Land Bill, the Welsh Disestablishment Bill, Local Veto Bill, or other minor measures of the Government like the one for the Unification of London, but he did protest against their being put between them and this great Constitutional issue which the Prime Minister had declared was to be raised, but from which the Government appeared to shrink. He denounced the reticence of the Government, and with his friends claimed an open discussion. Do not let the Government go on fumbling and stumbling with minor Legislation, which, would come to naught. Let the Government give them a free expression of their judgment, let them have an opportunity of debating it, and then they would go to the country and see what the country would say. He should be very much surprised if they should get any verdict which would approve of the claim that that Assembly should be the uncontrolled mistress of the destinies of the Empire. He claimed that the Government ought to tell them now, at the commencement of the Session, what 983 they desired to do in this matter, and he strongly supported the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, which called upon them to make that declaration.
§ *THK SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (Mr. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN, Stirling, &c.)
said, his right hon. Friend, in supporting the Amendment, spoke mainly on two subjects. He first of all enforced his opinion that an immediate Dissolution of Parliament should take place, and this, in face of the fact that the Mover of the Amendment (the right hon. Member for West Birmingham), who ought to be the highest authority on the subject, declared that he had no wish whatever to force an immediate Dissolution. But his right hon. Friend was in favour of Dissolution on the subject of Home Rule, and although perhaps not altogether from the same motive as the hon. Member for Waterford, it was evident that it was rather to that particular Amendment than to this one that that portion of his speech was addressed. And then, his right hon. Friend, having practically discussed an Amendment which had been disposed of, proceeded to discuss further a Resolution which was not before the House. The latter part of his speech was made on the apparent supposition that this Amendment had already been carried, and they were at this moment discussing the celebrated Resolution that had been promised upon the relations between the two Houses of Parliament. His right hon. Friend stated very clearly his view upon the subject, saying that he would strengthen the House of Lords, that the idea of a popular Chamber uncontrolled was one from which the general feeling of the country was turning away, and therefore he posed before the House as an advocate for a strong House of Lords keeping in wholesome check the popular Assembly. The right hon. Gentleman, in an earlier part of his speech, complained that it was a misfortune that a book which had been promised by Mr. Bryce—as he then was—upon the House of Lords, three or four years ago, had never been published, in order that they might compare the opinions of that distinguished authority now with the opinions which he held two or three years ago. That might 984 be a great loss to this Assembly in coming to a conclusion in the matter. He could, however, supply the right hon. Member for Bodmin with the void in his case, not by any reference to the book, but by a reference to another authoritative expression of his right hon. Friend himself. The House would bear in mind that the right hon. Member for Bodmin had talked solely of strengthening the House of Lords. What were until recently the opinions of his right hon. Friend on this subject of the relations between the two Houses of Parliament? He said—I confess my experience of the present House of Commons, as well as of the last, leads me to think a Second Chamber might have its uses in moderating the action of a First Chamber issuing directly from popular suffrages and representing in an exaggerated form the predominant feeling at the time of an election; but the House of Lords does not supply this use. It has two capital defects. First, it offers no check to the extravagances of a party majority culling itself Conservative, and, next, its vote is, in appearance at least, absolute instead of suspensory. Perhaps we may feel our way in time to a House that shall, if somewhat slow, exhibit the attributes of a real Senate in maintaining its self-command in the midst of excitement and in subjecting to the criticism of common sense whatever comes before it from any quarter. But it will be necessary, before this can be realised, that the Upper House shall be reinforced by representatives of classes now practically unrepresented in it, and that the power of this Assembly should be restricted to a temporary or suspensory veto.They had not heard a word that night from his right hon. Friend of the temporary or suspensory veto.
§ *MR. COURTNEY
My right hon. Friend will pardon me. I spoke of a means of relieving difficulties that might arise.
§ *MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
As a means of relief ! It was a question of veto. What the veto was to be was really one of the main questions that were supposed to be involved in this matter. It was at least odd that his right hon. Friend should have omitted all reference to that. He had listened as a plain person to the remonstrances he addressed to them. There was only one piece of advice he gave them which he felt disposed to adopt. He said they would find it greatly to their advantage if they were pig-headed. They meant to resist the very transparent friendly advice which the right hon. Gentleman and that Amendment offered 985 to them. Now, although he was not disposed to be too severe a Party critic of the Opposition, he could not compliment them upon their tactics or congratulate them upon the success of their tactics in the opening days of that Session. They had already had three Amendments to the Address. They had the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Hampshire (Mr. Jeffreys), which had especial importance, because the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. A. J. Balfour) frankly told them he had had a voice in constructing it. If so, it reflected very little credit upon the ingenuity and astuteness of the Leader of the Opposition, because his object had been to capture a majority from the ranks of those opposed to him. That was rather a shy and difficult fish to catch. The way they had set to work was, that they loaded their hook with two or three different kinds of bait, a resource which, he was sure, no expert angler would adopt, because he would know that the result would be what exactly did occur—namely, that instead of attracting the fish it would scare it. Then, to come to the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. J. E. Redmond), that was an Amendment which, if it had any meaning at all, meant Home Rule and nothing less than Home Rule, and Home Rule at once, and a Dissolution as the readiest road to Home Rule. They could not accept it—many hon. Members below the Gangway opposite would not accept it—because they did not believe that it was to the interest of Home Rule; yet the right hon. Gentleman with all his followers, except those who were not blinded by prejudice—and there, were a few—marched into the Lobby with the nine Members who composed the Party of the hon. Member for Waterford. Lastly, they had that Amendment. It was announced with some degree of circumstance on the first evening of the Session. The first evening of the Session was, he might use the phrase, rather flat. The right hon. Gentleman did not pitch his address in a very high key, but in concluding he said, with an air of weighty importance, some Member of authority would shortly move an Amendment. They waited for several days until the Amendment was adumbrated, fabricated, and polished; and when the Member of authority was disclosed, and 986 the Amendment was tabled, they discovered that it was such an Amendment as to equal in its surprising character any Amendment that ever had been placed upon the Table of the House. What was the nature of the Amendment? The hon. and learned Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir R. E. Webster) made on Friday a long and most able speech, in which he made the best possible case for his side, but which he regretted to say—such was the general indifference as to the proceedings which occupied their time, and which were rather of the nature of a performance than of a Debate, greatly as he was respected and admired in the House—was not listened to by more than a score or 25 Members of his own side. He said one thing in the course of his speech which was to be admired. He said: "Both I and my hon. Friend the Home Secretary desire to avoid cant as much as possible." He should have liked it better if he had left out "as much as possible." It occurred to him as the words fell from the hon. and learned Gentleman that the Amendment before the House was itself the very embodiment of cant. Having drawn that conclusion at the time, he referred to a standard dictionary to see what cant really meant, and he found cant defined as an. empty, solemn speech, implying what is not felt. He should like to know where could be found a more apt description of that Amendment—for what did it say? The Amendment called upon them not to waste their time upon Bills which would not pass. Did it stop there? No. The mere statement of fact that Bills would not pass might have provoked the further question: "How did they know that they would not pass?"—and that would have implied an assumption on the part of the supporters of the Amendment that they arrogated to themselves a knowledge of, and a power over, the proceedings of the House of Lords which it would be hardly decent for them to claim. Therefore they dared not, in fact, say here what was said very freely in the country—that the great guardian of the liberties of the subject and of the Constitution, and of every other good thing except the majority of the Representatives of the people, was to be found in the House of Lords, and that the House of Lords 987 might be trusted to prevent the Representatives of the people there from having their own way. It would not do to say that in the House of Commons. So it was necessary to dig out from the copious oratory of the Recess certain casual phrases—["Oh, oh!"]—yes, certain phrases—if they did not like the word "casual" he would withdraw it—implying that there was difficulty, amounting almost to impossibility, of carrying Liberal measures through the House of Lords—[Sir R. E. WEBSTER: "The House of Commons"]—no, the House of Lords—except such measures as the hon. and learned Gentleman and his friends, by their peculiar mode of conducting Debates, might allow to go through. Then they treated those phrases as literally conclusive, and expressive of the formal decision of the Government. They founded a proposal which, if accepted, might defeat the Government, would upset the course of the Session, might possibly plunge the country into a General Election upon phrases which might have a considerable force of truth in them, but still which did not by themselves constitute anything like a declared policy or a declared opinion of the Government. It was the commonest and most favourite Party weapon in that House to pick up a phrase that had been used and fling it at one's adversary. It was a very fair method of political controversy, and it was most effective. It never was employed with greater brilliancy and more crushing effect than on Friday night by the Home Secretary. But, although, as he said, that was fair fighting, he had never heard before that a casual phrase or two of that kind, in an autumnal platform speech, was to be the basis and justification and plea for Parliamentary action of that serious nature. Every man who looked under the surface, and who was not either blinded or had his vision distorted by conventions of Party, knew that not only was that Amendment hollow in itself and in the plea on which it rested, but that it was insecure in its whole purport, and for the reason that they all knew perfectly well by indications that could not be mistaken, and from sources of information that were open to all of them, that there was no devouring impatience for a Dissolution on the other side of the House, and that many Members would be grievously 988 disconcerted if that supposed desire were granted. Turning from the form and the excuse of the Amendment to its substance, he would say very briefly what he thought of it. They were asked to abandon their intention of proceeding with a series of measures approved by the majority of the Electorate who sent them there two-and-a-half years ago. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin said he had no objection to the general scope of the measures of the Government, and yet he asked whether the Government intended to abandon them. The Government had done their best since they came into Office to fulfil the task which was imposed on them. In the first place they passed through the House of Commons a Home Rule Bill, which was rejected in another place. They then took up the question of Parish Government, and they passed their measure for that purpose, though in a somewhat mutilated condition. Last year they dealt with a Budget which embodied principles that had long been advocated by them. In that way the Government had gone on steadily through the Programme they had promised to do their best to accomplish; and now they were told by their opponents that they should discontinue their work—that they should absolutely discontinue it after two Sessions. They had been told not later than Saturday night that it was reprehensible, if not wicked, for a Party to have more than one measure at a time—his right hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin gave some countenance to the new theory—that if it were a Liberal measure, and, as usual, were rejected by the House of Lords, the Government should appeal to the country, and then go on repeating the process—introducing each Bill, having it rejected, appealing to the country—until the country was good enough to give them a majority which would satisfy the House of Lords. That would, in any case, be a novel, nonsensical, and absurd course; but it was a course entirely out of the question in the case of a Party of movement and a Party of ideas like the Liberal Party. [Opposition laughter and Ministerial cheers.] The Government measures were spoken of by their opponents as if they had been taken up for the purpose of catching votes and for the purpose of obtaining support, one for the 989 other and each for all. But, on the contrary, the reason why the Government had so many measures in their programme was that those measures were nothing more than the necessary application to the various public questions of the day of the ideas of Liberalism; and, if they were multifarious, they were multifarious because the subjects they dealt with were bound together by a common principle. He admitted at once that the Government were at a disadvantage owing to the abundance of their programme. For strategic purposes it would be much better for them if they could concentrate all their force upon fewer points. But he was bound to say that that was a disadvantage from which in his experience he never knew the Conservative Party to suffer. He did not remember a time within the last 20 or 30 years when the Conservative Party went to the country with any positive and distinct proposal of reform. Take the case of the late Government. They were elected undoubtedly for the purpose of opposing Home Rule. But they not only opposed Home Rule, but introduced Bills that had never been spoken of at the General Election. They introduced a Coercion Act, although many of their followers were pledged against coercion. They introduced an Irish Land Act, one of the main principles of which was, according to the Leader of the Government, subversive of civil society. They carried a County Council Act, which the Liberal Party had been advocating for years, and which they had flouted, and which was sure to be most distasteful to a large number of their supporters; and now the country had an example of the spirit in which they viewed their measure by the spectacle of the whole organisation of the Conservative Party bent to curtail and weaken the Act in the largest sphere of its operation—namely, this Metropolis of London. The Conservative Government also introduced an Education Bill, which it would be universally agreed was not a spontaneous growth of Conservative soil. Therefore, if he were to look for a Party who gaily took up heterogeneous proposals for the purpose of catching votes, he would find it on the Benches opposite. The right hon. Gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition, laughed a moment ago when he described the Liberal Party as a Party 990 of ideas. Well, suppose the Dissolution was declared to-morrow, and on Wednesday morning the right hon. Gentleman issued his address to the Division of Manchester which he honoured by representing, could the right hon. Gentleman name one single distinctive measure of reform, political or social, which his Party had ready for consideration? No, it was not the policy of the Liberal Party to live from hand to mouth, or to take up Bills and proposals according to the exigencies of the moment; and he was sure all fighting politicians on the Government side of the House envied the freedom of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition in that respect. Then it was said that, though the Government might introduce measures, those measures would not pass. But why should they assume that their Bills would be done to death by the House of Lords? Speaking for himself, he had great hopes of a different result, for, knowing how keen was the anxiety of the House of Lords to consult the interests of the Unionist Party, he thought the Government had no reason whatever to despair of their Bills. Therefore their proposals this Session were real proposals, with a firm intention behind them. They disagreed with the advice tendered them in the Amendment, and they were determined to prosecute the task which had been imposed on them by those who had placed them in power, and which, even if not immediately successful, might still be fruitful of good results. In the latter part of the Amendment the Government were invited to lay aside all their proposed Legislation, and produce the terms of their Resolution on the conflict between the two Houses. But the Government claimed the right to fix for themselves when this Resolution should be introduced—firstly, because it was their duty to discharge as well as they could the task imposed on them by the country; and, secondly, because they thought it well to choose a time that would be most likely to serve any proposal on the subject which they might make to the House and to the country. He supposed that that clause was put into the Amendment on the chance that the Government might be tempted, or taunted, or teased into letting out in a casual way in the course of debate that which they had resolved to keep to 991 themselves. He could well believe that that was the object of the clause, and, if any Member of the Government made an incautious expression on the subject, advantage would be taken of it. But if the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment had that intention, he would not catch him in the trap. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham had had his microscopic eye upon the Members of the Government during the Autumnal Recess, watching to see if any of them would let fall an unguarded expression. The right hon. Gentleman had followed him, as he told the House, to the humble but great borough of Culross, a place he was certain the right hon. Gentleman could not point out on the map. But the right hon. Gentleman was there in spirit, if not in person, when he (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) addressed about 20 of the most respectable inhabitants of the town. He would be frank with the House, and would say, in regard to the innumerable speeches they were all of them compelled to make during the Autumn, that there was sometimes great mischief lurking under them. Every one would see that if a man of some degree of prominence, and, perhaps, of responsibility, had to make speech after speech, and speech after speech, and touch upon delicate subjects, and could not repeat in one place any of the well-chosen phrases he had used in another place—it was more than likely that on some occasion or other he might break down, and, in order to turn a sentence or complete a paragraph, make use of some hasty expression stronger than he meant, and different in some respect from something else he had said elsewhere. That, as right hon. Gentlemen opposite knew, was the condition under which all Members of Parliament lived during what was called the "Recess." Pursuing his frank vein, he must confess that, when he heard Culross mentioned, he was in great trepidation as to what were the words he had used which were thought worthy of being brought before the House, for he had not the slightest recollection of them. But he found that what he said was this:—The question was whether the Representative House, which really reflected the opinion of the people of the country, should not be practically 992 supreme, whatever power the other House might be allowed to possess in the way of offering advice as to the alteration and amendment of Bills.Those words were perfectly innocent, perfectly in accord with common sense, and, he might add, perfectly commonplace. They were, moreover, perfectly in accord with the ideas of the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down; and, to his own still greater satisfaction, they were perfectly uncommunicative on the topics about which the right hon. Member for West Birmingham was inquisitive. He could not have done better if he had seen the right hon. Gentleman in the Autumn. He was relieved to find that this, which was selected by the right, hon. Gentleman as the weakest joint in his armour, would not even admit the tip of the right hon. Gentleman's dart. The hon. and learned Member for the Isle of Wight had also been watching the speeches of Ministers, and he had constructed a whole theory of the Recess which did great credit to his ingenuity. He had compared their speeches after the different elections, and kept a sort of time-table of Ministers' opinions, and he had found that the Government's zeal had quickened at one moment and slackened at another. He could assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that his imagination had altogether overmastered his reason, and that such differences as he imagined really existed. From first to last there had been no difference in the Government's opinion on this point; and the Government never had any other intention than that recommended by Abraham Lincoln—"to keep pegging away" at the measures in their programme. Lastly, the House had some words from his hon. Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. H. Labouchere), who devoted the last few sentences of his speech to drawing an elaborate analogy between himself and a useful member of the animal kingdom. He was surprised at the selection made by his hon. Friend, as he should have thought that there were one or two other animals much more apposite for the comparison. His hon. Friend's analogy failed, because the animal in question had none of the resourcefulness and brilliancy of his hon. Friend. On the other hand, his hon. Friend altogether lacked the simple-mindedness and, 993 to his credit be it, said, the stubbornness of that animal. The proof of that deficiency in his hon. Friend's character was shown on Friday night, when, after a somewhat elaborate argument against the course which the Government intended to pursue, he gratified the Government by announcing that he was about to support them. That showed how ready his hon. Friend was at all times to yield his own judgment to that of his friends. He had also tried to establish a contrast, like the hon. and learned Member for the Isle of Wight; but it was a contrast, not of time, but of Individuals. His hon. Friend appeared to pursue the Prime Minister with some degree of pertinacity, and he tried to establish a distinction of opinion on this subject between the Prime Minister and the rest of his colleagues. There were none of the Prime Minister's colleagues who would accept that distinction; and he could tell his hon. Friend that if he sought for proof of any divergence between the Prime Minister and his colleagues on this subject he would seek in vain. The Government resisted this Amendment because it was built on a hollow foundation; because it was their duty to the majority of the electors who placed them in Office to prosecute the task for which they were appointed; because it was the Government's right to choose their own time for opening that great question as to the House of Lords which they had indicated as certain to arise. In the meantime, the Government had every confidence that the House of Commons, having already within the last 10 days frustrated two Party manœuvres, would again defeat this one, which was even less worthy than the others, and would then, without further delay, address itself to its high function as a Legislative Assembly.
§ MR. G. J. GOSCHEN (St. George's, Hanover Square)
The Secretary for War, at the beginning of his amusing but uninstructive speech, said he doubted whether the Opposition would be satisfied with the tactics which they had employed. If the right hon. Gentleman is satisfied so far with the progress of the Session, I think we can say that we are equally or possibly more satisfied. The right hon. Gentleman said, with a shortness of memory which also characterised the Home 994 Secretary, that this was the third vote of censure on the Government. It is the fourth. There have been two votes taken—one with a majority of 12 on a great issue like this, and another with a majority of 20; and in both cases the Government have escaped by a smaller number of votes than their own selves. But there was a third vote of censure, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself called it, introduced by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. J. E. Redmond). The Home Secretary invented the phrase that we had become "the comrades of the hon. Member for Waterford" because we had voted in the same Lobby with him. On a later night we had the honour of becoming the comrades of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in order to assist him in escaping defeat by his own Party. I do not know whether it is safe for Her Majesty's Government under present conditions to lay down the proposition that if you vote in a particular Lobby you become the comrades of those who vote with you; because, if I am not mistaken, that may not be the only occasion on which we shall have to become the comrades of Her Majesty's Government. The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down said, that this had been more of a performance than a Debate. Yes; because no unofficial support had been given to Her Majesty's Government during the course of the Debate. There were two Welsh speeches made, not so much in support of the Government as in reply to an observation of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, that the Welsh did not care for Home Rule. But no other private Member, except the hon. Member for Northampton, has been drawn as a supporter of Her Majesty's Government. That is a striking fact; and I do not think that the oldest inhabitant in this House would be able to recall a case where on a vote of censure, as the Government themselves called it, the Government had no support whatever from their own side. The Secretary for War said that the Amendment was insincere. He made a great point of the declaration that we must be insincere because we believed in all the rhetoric of Ministers during the Recess; because we took them too seriously. Ministers had been engaged, as we thought, in 995 instructing the people. We thought that they were invited to Cardiff and other places in order to explain their policy to the people and to appeal for support. But the right hon. Gentleman has been very frank indeed. We are to take no notice whatever of all those declarations. Out of the House of Commons you may say what you like, be as indiscreet as you like. In stating his views on the House of Lords one Minister may pass as a Second Chamber man, another may declare himself an anti-Second Chamber man. That does not count. But you must not be indiscreet by one phrase in the House of Commons. The right hon. Gentleman told us that we should not be able to draw one single word from him. Is that their way of conducting business? He says: "No, we shall choose our own time." But you have chosen your own time. It was in the Recess that you opened up this question, and now, when your declarations and arguments and historical parallels can be submitted to the test of Debate, you are not going to say one single word lest it should be answered. I do not think that is a worthy attitude for the Government to take up, nor do I think that the great audiences who during the Recess have been favoured with the utterances of Ministers will be pleased to hear the ridicule which the right hon. Gentleman now pours on the performances of Ministers. I must confess to having shared the error of taking Ministers somewhat seriously. I confess that I read with care the speeches of the Prime Minister; and it is very singular that it is only after this House has met that hon. Members opposite have come to believe in the possibility of passing the measures which the Prime Minister said during the Recess could never be passed. What is the reason of their conversion? The fact is that in the case of indiscretions with regard to the House of Lords, the Party opposite have committed the same indiscretions, if they choose to call them so, with regard to the business of this House. They took up a different attitude; and I say they have misled the people with regard to this matter if they were not sincere. I believe there was to be an attempt to pass those Bills, and that forcing a quarrel on the House of Lords was the policy which was in the mind of 996 hon. Gentlemen at the time; and it was with that view the Government were urged to proceed with what they called their programme. The right hon. Gentleman was as facetious with regard to the Government programme as he was with regard to other portions of his case. He defended the plan of a great conglomeration of measures rather than the plan of fixing on a single idea. That is not the precise point. The point is that the Government think they have a mandate. That word has been used ad nauseam during the Recess, and it has appeared in almost every peroration of a Minister's speech. What is the mandate? The mandate is the Newcastle programme. Besides the attack which right hon. Gentlemen contemplated on the institutions of the country, I maintain that they are entirely modifying the Parliamentary traditions and Parliamentary methods This idea that a programme is to be drawn up at an election, and then that that programme must be worked through, Ministers being put, so to speak, to piecework during the time, is a novel idea, and I believe it is hurtful to the Constitution. Let me examine this doctrine of the mandate. What happened at Newcastle? There was a caucus; and, though not presided over by a Minister, it was presided over by the chief of the wirepullers. There are strange stories told of the despotism exercised by that caucus; but that caucus grew up, and Ministers made speeches. But the caucus was the master, and Ministers now say that they are bound by the mandate imposed on them by the caucus. All I can say is this—that was not the way in which Ministers of old managed the affairs of the country. I appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this point. A few months before the Newcastle caucus met, the right hon. Gentleman protested against the idea of programmes. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that "programme" is not an English word, that he did not want programmes. Now, what is the result? I think the House will feel that this is a matter of great importance affecting the whole of our Parliamentary position in the future. Are we to be governed by a set programme which is drawn up at a given time, or are we to be governed by a Cabinet which from year to year surveys 997 the situation and sees what are the demands of the people at the time? Can we fancy Lord Russell or the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) taking a programme which was laid out for them, and looking upon that as binding them during their Parliamentary career? There is no one who will hold that this used to be the old system; but now the Prime Minister becomes an agent of the caucus instead of being the master of his own policy. Everyone has protested against the idea that Members of this House should be simply delegates instead of representatives of the people. Now it is suggested that a Ministry is to be the agent and the delegate of a Party organisation. That is at the bottom of much of the difficulty in which the Government now find themselves; it is for that they say they have this programme hung round their necks and that they are bound to carry it out. The right hon. Gentleman believes they will be able to carry out further heroic measures during the course of this Session. He also asks us on what we found the idea that the time of Parliament is to be occupied in the discussion of measures with regard to which there is no possibility of passing them into law; and he laid at our door the charge that we are acquainted with the view that would be taken of them by the House of Lords. We are not acquainted with the, view of the House of Lords, but we are acquainted with the view held by the Prime Minister, with the view held by the country at large and by the Press of the Party opposite, and it is only right hon. Gentlemen opposite who believe that there is a chance of passing those measures. The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) took the same view as the Prime Minister; they differ on many points, but they agree that it would be a waste of time to continue with those measures. The Home Secretary thought that even if the measures did not pass the Government would have done their duty by the caucus and by the programme if those measures were forced on during the present Session, because their position would be so much improved by having passed them through the House. He instanced the case of Home Rule—a point which has been admirably dealt 998 with by my right hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard. I will not touch upon it, except to say that with regard to all those measures hon. Members who are opposed to them believe that you have not furthered, but rather retarded, their prospects. Our great difficulty is this. We find that hon. Members opposite are fond of using phrases and generalities which have a different complexion when we are enabled to deal with them in a concrete Bill. Take, for example, their splendid phrase of "self-government for Ireland." When put into a concrete form much of the difficulty was removed, and we were able to expose the phrase and its use. Then there is the question of the Local Veto Bill. When we see the phrase embodied in a concrete shape we shall be able to deal with it as effectually. Thus, I say, we can have no objection from a Party point of view to continuing the Session; and if the right hon. Gentleman opposite said that there might be Members on this side of the House in favour of continuing, as against a Dissolution, he might have had an instinct that it would serve our Party purposes. I think he was wrong, however, in believing that there is any large body of Members on this side of the House who do not think that an immediate Dissolution would be far the best policy for the nation at large. That is the conviction of the Unionist Party, but for Party purposes this state of affairs is not at all prejudicial. I say that we are glad when we can deal with concrete Bills; but the difficulty is to pierce a shadow or to battle with a phantom. I want to know what the country would think of a House of Commons, after it has engaged on Bills which they believe, as we believe, the authors think they have little hope of passing, which enters on the policy of "filling up the cup"? Hon. Members may retire from that position now; but they cannot have read their own Press, or many of the utterances of important members of the Party, without seeing that it is to be the avowed policy that measures are to be taken that are to widen the breach between this House and the House of Lords. Hon. Members opposite consider it to be a crime on the part of the House of Lords to vote against measures passed in this House; at the same time we were told in the Recess 999 that it would be admirable policy to increase the number of points of collision with the House of Lords. I tell those men who are in favour of such a policy that they are in favour of degrading the House of Commons to the position and to the employment of what are called agents provocateurs—to the position of those men who are to stimulate the offence in order that the offence shall afterwards be charged. Was the House of Commons ever put to a lower or more degraded use? The Home Secretary asked, with reference to the argument of filling up the cup, "Has the House of Lords, then, become the last refuge of the liberty of the people?" I think that the right hon. Gentleman ventured upon a very indiscreet question. It is not the last refuge of popular liberty. The Opposition in this House stands between the measures of right hon. Gentlemen opposite for coercing the liberty of the people, and the constituencies behind us are also a refuge to secure that the people shall be heard on a clear issue. There is no doubt that the House of Lords, by the confession of the hon. Member for Northampton, has, on this occasion, vindicated the right of the people to decide on an issue squarely and fairly put before them. I say that the people are being coerced by Her Majesty's Government. Hut the House of Lords is assisting the people of the country to prevent the Government obtaining votes which can be bought—I do not mean in any offensive sense—by legislative processes; the House of Lords are preventing the will of the people from being overridden by any such barter. Let hon. Members opposite notice this, the Member for Longford said that if the Opposition would vote for Amnesty he would cast in his lot and turn the Government out. Where then would be your Welsh Church, where then would be the Local Veto Bill, or the One Man One Vote Bill? There is no evidence that a vote given under such circumstance is given by convinced men, and surely this makes the position of the House of Lords a stronger one. The House of Lords will bend to the assured will of the people, of the majority of the people clearly expressed, but they will be serving the majority in Great Britain by opposing any measures not fairly 1000 carried in this House. There is only one point more to which I wish to call attention, but it is a very serious one. It is this—apart from our own position, is it for the good of the House of Commons, is it for the credit of the House of Commons that we should enter and pass through a Session such as this seems likely to be? I am afraid that this House has in some respects lost caste in the country. It is a fact which we must all deplore; it is a situation from which we ought all to endeavour to redeem ourselves, and I put it to every impartial man in this House whether we are likely to increase the credit of this House by attempting to legislate under existing circumstances. The Secretary of State for War thinks it a trifle to suspend over the head of the House of Commons and over the country a revolution which the Prime Minister has described as greater than any other in the last 200 years. Is it nothing to have to legislate under the shadow of such a revolution? The right hon. Gentleman calls us insincere; I am entitled to say that I cannot understand the state of mind which can induce the right hon. Gentleman to scoff at our view that, while such a revolution is hanging over the country, it is absurd to go oil with the passing of these heroic measures. But I say more, it weakens the position of the House of Commons. Everyone admits that the resolution is to be proposed at the end of the Session—I do not know if hon. Gentlemen opposite will carry on the suspense still further, but, in the meantime, the great majority of the House on both sides expect a dissolution. I say it is ill legislating with a dissolution impending in the immediate future. It is demoralising to both Parties in the House, it is demoralising to the constituencies, and that is a point upon which I might almost invite the agreement of hon. Gentlemen opposite. But more than that, we know, and the Government cannot ignore the fact, that the country generally, is more anxious for other legislation than the Local Veto Bill, the Welsh Church Bill, and the other heroic measures which they contemplate. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite spoke of legislation which was humdrum, hand-to-mouth, and unambitious, and said that they would have none of 1001 it; well, I think we have seen some hand-to-mouth legislation already. I am not sure that the sudden concession of the Committee on the Unemployed was not a hand-to-mouth policy. They do not, they say, wish for a humdrum or unambitious policy; Sir, at the present time the ambition of the Government is a curse to the country. It is not by these heroic measures that they are likely to promote respect for the House of Commons. We see new forces gathering power in the country; we see, as was said by the hon. Member for West Birmingham, new questions cropping up, but what is wanted for the discussion of our present economical, financial, almost our social position, is a strong and independent House of Commons. We want an honest House of Commons; not one which is thinking of the Elections, but one which is thinking how they can best grapple with these problems. That is what we want, and for that reason, all of us will be glad when the Dissolution relieves us from a position which, I believe, is profoundly prejudicial to the House of Commons. There is no situation which is more likely to disgust the people than the continuance of the present state of things, when we are wrangling about Bills which their authors themselves but lately said they could not pass; when we cannot find time for the urgent questions which the country wishes us to discuss; when there is to be a policy, not of peace and conciliation, but of strife and war to foster greater antagonism between us; and when the Government refuse to show even the outline of the scheme which their followers discuss and toy with in the unanswered rhetoric of the platform, while Her Majesty's responsible advisers refuse to the representatives of the people the privilege of debating its high issues on the floor of this House.
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)
said these repeated Votes of Censure on the Address were a new, he might almost say a newfangled, institution, which were invented a few years ago by the Irish Members under the stress of their opposition to Coercion. He thought the old Vote of no Confidence had considerable advantages over the modern method; the latter had, however, been resorted to, partly, also, because so much of the private 1002 Members' time had been taken by the Government. Under the old classic form of the Vote of no Confidence, the House used to be asked to take into consideration the whole policy of the Government, and also the probable policy of their successors, whereas they were now confined to the narrow issue of the Amendment. In a Debate of that nature they would have been considering, among other things, the promises which some of them thought were made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian, in regard to our position in Egypt; the pronouncement in regard to what was called the continuity of our foreign policy; the condition of the War Office, where many Members thought there was an enormous waste of money, to which a Liberal Administration ought to put an end; and how it came to pass that the Secretary of State for War could have time to preside over the most important Committee which had been appointed by the House for a long time, immediately before the Army Estimates were brought before the House, to which his time, in the interests of the country, should be devoted. On the other hand, they would have had before them the probable policy of the successors to the present Government, their Labour policy, for example, which was certainly worthy of consideration by the House, not after, but before the next General Election, in order that the country might have an opportunity of pronouncing upon it. The narrow issue of the actual Amendment had been exhausted by the previous speakers. He placed no confidence in the allegation that the Government decided to postpone the action against the House of Lords after the Forfar and Brigg elections because of their adverse result; nor did he believe that a certain article which had appeared in a magazine was inspired, as had been suggested, by the Prime Minister. It seemed to him to be impossible that the Government should have come to a decision, and have afterwards changed their course of action, as the hon. and learned Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir Richard Webster) had suggested. The Welsh Members were promised last year that their Bill for Disestablishment should be taken first this Session; and he did not think the Government ever intended to place 1003 the Resolution against the House of Lords in front of that measure. Then as to the Irish Land Bill, the Chief Secretary twice pledged his reputation last Session to the statement that such a Bill was necessary to the good government of Ireland; and, noting such an opinion on the part of the Government, it was impossible to believe that they contemplated indefinitely delaying either the Welsh or the Irish Bill. The Labour Members, perhaps, had some right to complain that no indication was given that a pledge extended to them last Session, in regard to a particular Bill, would be fulfilled; still, the fact must be recognised that the Government were bringing in two other Bills very closely affecting the interests of the working classes. If the Government believed that they would be able to carry those Bills—Welsh Disestablishment, Reform of the Irish Land Laws, Factory and Truck—it was certainly for them to choose the time and opportunity for doing so. The whole point of the question was in the word "if." It had been stated by a Conservative politician of eminent fighting qualities that the life of a Liberal Administration depended upon its time and opportunity for Legislation. In its power to legislate was its power to live. Destroy the one and you destroyed the other. That was true, and therefore the whole case for the Government was, whether they believed they had the strength to carry the measures they had undertaken to bring forward. An important consideration also was, whether the Resolution which was to be introduced against the House of Lords was to be of a character that would be likely to carry the country and the House of Commons with it. The class to which the Government must chiefly look for support in their action against the House of Lords was the advanced Radical element in the constituencies; and the first condition of securing that support was, that those Radicals should know what the forthcoming Resolution would really mean, how far it was to go, and whether the Government were thoroughly in earnest and meant business. Bearing in mind the many occasions on which the House of Lords had resisted and thwarted the will of the people, both in England and Ireland—many of the evils in which 1004 latter country were due to the action of that House—it was somewhat surprising to hear men ask why such a strong feeling as alleged should exist against the Upper Chamber, and why that Chamber was so unpopular. Two hon. Members opposite had asked what the House of Lords had done lately against the will of the people. In 1893 and 1894 it opposed the will of the people, throwing out, or altering out of recognition, measures affecting the people of London, and had rejected proposals which were promoted by the County Council supported by overwhelming majorities of the citizens and of the House of Commons. He believed that this question in regard to the House of Lords would become a turning-point in regard to the political action of the younger and advanced element of the Radical Party in the constituencies; that it would largely depend upon how the Government acted in this matter whether the Liberal Party would retain their support. That younger Radical element had more confidence in the Commons Members of the present Administration than in those, Members who sat in the House of Lords. They admired the Budget of the Chancellor of the, Exchequer, the factory legislation of the Home Secretary, the Irish policy of the Chief Secretary, and the education policy of the Vice President; and they had hope and confidence in many of the younger men in the Administration—men like the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs and the Under Secretary for the Colonies. But when they turned to the House of Lords they believed that the old Whig element had still too great play; they naturally contrasted the speeches of the Members of the Cabinet in the other House with the speeches of their colleagues in the House of Commons. He did not share the views of the hon. Member for Northampton on all points, and he was not one of those who saw any objection to the choice of a Peer as Prime Minister. He could not, of course, speak of so delicate a matter as the passing over of the Leader of the House and his great services to his Party. But, apart from the personal question, many Radicals had a belief that the very fact of choosing a young Peer would give an impetus to Radicalism. They said he had every- 1005 thing to force him to be a Radical, for he would be suspected, being a Peer, of being a Whig. But they were, it seemed, mistaken in their calculation that Lord Rosebery was likely to be more advanced than many a Commoner. The Secretary of State for War had told the House that he could throw no light upon the terms of the Resolution. But the Government had been stating their views on the question very plainly in the country, and it did not require anyone to be a conjurer to see the general lines on which their Resolution must proceed. The Prime Minister had complained that his views had been misrepresented. What were those views? What were the views of the Government upon the subject of the House of Lords? Were they views which could reasonably be expected to raise the enthusiasm of the advanced element in the constituencies? Was there no reason to suppose that what had deadened the agitation, what had taken the whole life out of the movement against the House of Lords, was the great discrepancies and variations of language on the part of the Government and the doubt as to whether they were in earnest? In his last speech on the subject Lord Rosebery said:—My attitude on the subject of the House of Lords is what it was at Glasgow and at Bradford.What was that? At Bradford he said, "I am in favour of a Second Chamber," and "I am all for a Second Chamber." At Glasgow he said:—I, at any rate, will have no part or parcel in leaving this country to the sole disposition of a single Chamber.So important were these words that the Home Secretary, speaking at Birmingham a week later, went out of his way to comment upon them. He must have known the effect of these words in the constituencies was to take all heart out of the movement. What was the effect of the discrepancy of opinion that was revealed? He was aware of the new Government explanation of the difficulties. They said they had nothing to do with the question of a single Chamber or a Second Chamber. Then why did the Prime Minister drag that question in? They said the question was one of the predominance of the House of Commons. What exactly did predominance mean? If the country was with the Government 1006 the predominance was admitted. There fore the whole question was whether the country was with them at any particular time. And if the House of Lords was to have the power to send them to the country whenever it chose, then they would be in exactly the same position as before the Resolution declaring their predominance was passed. But if they were going to take away the power of the House of Lords, to send them about their business, they would then leave the country to "the sole disposition of a single Chamber." He agreed with the hon. and learned Member for the Isle of Wight that the words of the Prime Minister had entirely destroyed the Resolution of the Leeds Conference. Either the Lords had the power to force an Appeal or they had not. If that power was taken from them they were entirely powerless. Most of the Ministers in the House of Commons had either avoided the subject or had spoken in the sense of the Home Secretary. If he had singled out the Prime Minister it was only because he had spoken most frequently and most frankly; but Lord Kimberley had spoken in exactly the same sense. This wonderful confusion of views was not the result of absence of thought. The Prime Minister plumed himself on his knowledge of the subject. He had, he said, made it the main study of his life. In 1888 he brought in a Bill dealing with the subject before the House of Lords, and he then said:—The House of Lords without their veto would be a second-rate debating society.He (the speaker) would be glad to save the House of Lords from that sad fate. He was in favour of enabling the Peers to sit in the House of Commons. Lord Rosebery, in one of his latest speeches, said:—You cannot touch the constitution of the House of Lords without the consent of the House of Lords.That observation was made in reply to Radical Members, who saw behind the Prime Minister's declarations in favour of a Second Chamber that reform of the House of Lords which had been preached by the right hon. Member for Bodmin, and which he frankly admitted was intended to strengthen that House instead of weaken it. There was nothing against which he personally would fight so hard and so pertinaciously as against 1007 the so-called reform of the House of Lords. The Prime Minister said they could not touch the House of Lords without the consent of the House of Lords. Could they touch the veto of the House of Lords without the consent of the House of Lords? If they were to pass by the Prime Minister's words in 1888, then they would have to meet him with his other words and say: "You cannot touch the veto without the consent of the House of Lords itself." If they were only going to make those changes in the relations of the two Houses which would have the consent of the House of Lords, they would be very small. If all the Government were able to do was to act within the lines of Lord Rosebery's words, all he could say was, that there would be a great agitation about very little, for certainly very little reform could be expected from that quarter. Was this the greatest revolution that had taken place for 200 years? If the object were only to assert the predominance of the House of Commons, he believed it would have the unanimous approval of the House. He believed every Member would vote for that. The whole question was, whether the House of Lords was to have the power to dispute the judgment of the country. If the House of Lords were to have the power, then the Government were not effectively disputing their predominance; and if they were not to have it, then they fell within the statement of the Prime Minister. The last observation he had to make was one which referred rather to a domestic quarrel on his side of the House. There could be no doubt that a large number of Radical constituencies felt serious alarm on this matter, and the longer the Government went on allowing Peers to do their talking for them, the more would alarm be excited. Radical constituencies believed that Lord Rosebery really meant what he said in his later speeches, and that his later speeches were to be read in the light of his earlier speeches. The action of the House of Lords continued to paralyse Legislation, but the Government now asked the House to go on with Legislation. Lord Rosebery told them, in spite of the words of the Home Secretary and others, in his later speeches, that there was good and fruitful work before Parliament. There 1008 were two Bills of the Home Secretary's—the Factory Bill and the Truck Bill—which were pressed for by every consideration that could commend them to the constituencies. All those who represented Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire knew how these Bills were looked for. If the Home Secretary saw any hope of carrying those Bills into law in the present Session, he, for one, would say that it had been a fruitful Session. It was clear that the Lords Resolution was to be kept back until it accompanied a Dissolution measure—namely, One Man One Vote; and that an early Dissolution was expected was shown by the fact that there was to be no Registration Bill. But while Lord Rosebery had promised Legislation in that Bill to cheapen access to Parliament, he did not think the constituencies would believe in their honesty upon that subject so long as old-fashioned electioneering like that of Evesham went on. What he wished to press upon the Government was a domestic quarrel amongst the Radicals themselves. They were not losing supporters to the Conservative Party, but there was a growing feeling in Radical constituencies of hostility to both political Parties in the State; and every breach of a supposed pledge, every hesitation, every weakness on the part of the Government, went to help that feeling. It was the hon. Member for South West Ham, and those who thought with him, that gained by this. He feared the Government were going forward to disaster under the command of those whose ambiguous language he had described, and if Radicals were to prepare themselves for this battle, the Prime Minister's trumpet would have to give forth a very much more certain sound.
§ COL. LOCKWOOD (Essex, Epping)
said, that both the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for War seemed surprised at the fact that a third vote of censure should have been brought forward when two had already resulted in defeat, and a third defeat was in prospect. The reason why the Opposition had no hesitation in bringing forward a third vote of censure was, that they knew perfectly well that the issue which was now before them was not to be determined on the floor of the House, but by the constituencies and the country at large. It was to the country that they 1009 must go, and it was by the country that this issue would be decided. They had been taunted on his side of the House by the Chief Secretary for Ireland and by the Home Secretary, with the fact that they had been acting with new confederates; but, surely, Members of the Government should be the last people in the world to make that taunt, seeing that on a very recent occasion the Conservatives had gone into the Lobby with the Government against those with whom the Government generally acted. Would either of those two right hon. Gentlemen like, on that account, to call themselves the confederates of the Conservative Party? For two years the Conservatives had been asking for a Dissolution. Why, then, should they not vote for it? The Member for Northampton, the Member for Central Edinburgh, the Member for Mid Norfolk, and the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean, each counted two on Division, and one of them at all events, probably more, would go with the Government into the Lobby. Did the Government think that the speeches those hon. Gentlemen had delivered, in the House and out of it, would count in their favour when it came to a General Election? How were they going to explain to their constituents the fact that, after condemning the action of the Government in every line of their speeches, they proceeded to act against their consciences and vote with the Government they so heavily condemned? What answer, after all, had they had to arguments advanced from his side of the House? What answer had been given to the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Wight? What answer had been given to the right hon. Member for Birmingham? None yet. What were the principal points made by the Home Secretary in his answer? In the first place he got his foil in under the right hon. Gentleman's guard on an historical quotation. Historical parallels were always dangerous. But what were the other points made by the Home Secretary? That right hon. Gentleman had pronounced in favour of the Disestablishment of the Welsh Church, and that he had used the simile of "filling up the cup." There was not a man on the Opposition Benches who was not perfectly aware of that fact; but how did that answer the charge that the 1010 Government had abandoned their primary policy, and that they were bringing in measures they knew they could not pass, to waste time until the day came when they thought they could safely dissolve? That was the specific charge the Opposition made, and to that charge they got no answer. The cause of Home Rule had been set back for centuries by the production of the Bill in this House, and the electors of Forfar, Brigg, and Evesham apparently were of the same opinion. It had been said that the Welsh Members did not care for Home Rule. Many hon. Members on that side of the House thought so also, and they had reason for it from what they had witnessed in the House. If they cared for Home Rule let them dissolve and go to the country upon the definite cry of that measure. The procedure of the Government took him back to his military profession, and to a military manœuvre called "diminishing the front.'' That was a movement necessary when a battalion had to pass through a narrow defile, and having passed through they re-formed into line; it was not a pleasant but rather a difficult manœuvre, especially when the enemy were occupying the open ground in front. When the Government came into Office on the Home Rule Bill they advanced into the defile, and since then they had greatly diminished their front. What had become of the Home Rule section? It had broken up and passed to the rear. What had become of the Local Option section? And he might ask also what had become of the Welsh Disestablishment section, although it seemed now that they were to be put on the front and to bear the brunt of the battle? When they got through this Parliamentary defile, under what flag were the Government going to re-form? Were they going to re-form under the green flag without a Crown, or under that flag which the Chief Secretary declared he had nailed to the mast, or would it be under the leek? If under the latter they would most assuredly have to eat it. The other night the Leader of the House amused them with a simile in which he compared the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's, Hanover Square, with Hotspur. He meant, no doubt, to refer to Prince Hal, but it was a pity that he did not carry the illustration a little 1011 further and give them an additional quotation, and have said with the dying king—Heaven knows, my son, By what by-paths, and indirect crook'd ways, I met this Crown.
§ *MR. J A. PEASE (Northumberland, Tyneside)
stated that the supporters of the Government had been twitted by the right hon. Member for St. George's, and the right hon. Member for the Isle of Wight, for not having intervened in the Debate. He could assure the House no discourtesy was intended by their reticence. They, on that side of the House, had abstained for two reasons, the first, because, in their opinion, the Speech of the Home Secretary on Friday night had been a complete answer to the speeches of the Opposition, and the case for the Amendment had been entirely demolished. Secondly, because they felt responsible to their constituencies for any time they would occupy in protracting a debate, when, in their opinion, the time might be better employed. The hon. Member for Birkenhead had attempted to justify the action of the House of Lords in rejecting the Bills which were passed through this House, by pointing out that those Bills would have been rejected even if those who voted by virtue of the hereditary principle had abstained. But the charge was not merely that the other House was an hereditary body, but an irresponsible body, which, perhaps unconsciously, supported their own interests and neglected those of the country. The hon. and learned Member for the Isle of Wight had done his best to break down the arguments of the Home Secretary, but had not met with success; and it would be a difficult thing, he thought, for that right hon. Gentleman, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin as well, to prove the consistency of the Opposition in calling at one and the same time for Dissolution, Legislation in respect of the agricultural distress and the unemployed, and for the production of the Resolution dealing with the House of Lords. The late Attorney-General had stated the Government "dare not face the country." The Tories argued if the country was with the Government, it ought to be proved, if the country was against them, they had no right to hold office. If such arguments were accepted, no Government 1012 would be able to retain power for many weeks without constant appeals to the country. But the course of the supporters of the Government was clear. They had received a mandate from the constituencies, and as long as Bills were introduced carrying out that mandate, it was their duty to support the Government. The course of the Government was equally clear, and he thought so long as they had a majority they ought to continue to pass Bills, irrespective of what might happen to them in another place, over which neither the Government nor the country had control. The new comradeship which seemed to have sprung up between the Parnellites and the Conservatives had been repudiated by more than one of the latter in the course of that Debate; but all he could say was, that they could do with those votes on his side of the House, not merely because they wished to secure additional votes, but because if the Home Rule Members showed a united front in resisting the party opposed to Home Rule, so much the more would their Home Rule supporters in the country be encouraged, and so much the more rapidly would Home Rule be secured. They were not going to appeal to the country simply because the House of Lords had thrown out certain Bills, for they were not disposed to allow that House to dictate to the Government and to the House of Commons when they should dissolve. If the Bills foreshadowed in the Queen's Speech were rejected by the Lords, it would only show the extent to which the Upper House was out of sympathy with the people; then would be the time for the Government to go to the country with the irresistible demand for an alteration of the constitution and in favour of one which would be based upon truly representative lines. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham had remarked that the movement against the House of Lords had fallen flat in the country; the time was however, past, when it was any use to urge the Lords by passing Resolutions at monster meetings, and the working classes now were content to rely upon their votes, but there was not a single meeting of the Party in the country at which the question had not been discussed and had not occupied the foremost place in the proceedings, 1013 and about which the greatest enthusiasm prevailed. Truly, some of the bye-elections had not been recently favourable to the Government, but at the bye-elections sinister influences had been at work; at a General Election it would be impossible for a crowd of paid canvassers from Ireland to flood the constituencies. He thought they could await with confidence the production of the Ministerial Resolution respecting the House of Lords; and he believed that when brought forward it would destroy the power of that House to reject Bills passed by the popularly elected Representatives of the people.
§ MR. W. FIELD (Dublin, St. Patrick)
said, that the right hon. Member for West Birmingham had asserted that the primary object of this Government was Home Rule. He was sorry that he could not agree with the right lion. Gentleman. Judging from the utterances of the Prime Minister and other inferences, he was afraid that the Home Rule question had receded rather than advanced as far as the Government were concerned. In the speech delivered on Friday by the Home Secretary there was scarcely a word about Home Rule. It was not mentioned in the Speech from the Throne, and it had no place in the Sessional programme. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham had told the House that the work contemplated by the Government was the work of "filling up the cup," and the Home Secretary said that that cup was manufactured in Birmingham ten years ago. Although it had been going round ever since it was apparently not yet full, and the measure was to be made up with Welsh Disestablishment, a Local Veto Bill, an Irish Land Bill, and other measures. He was wholly in favour of the Disestablishment of the Welsh Church, for he did not approve of the union of Church and State. Wherever there was a fusion of the temporal and spiritual authorities very few civil rights were left to the subject. Therefore his deepest sympathy was with the Welshmen in their endeavour to disestablish the Church. But, as a Home Ruler, he should like Home Rule to occupy the foremost place in the legislative programme. He had been sent to that House as an Irish Home Ruler, and not as a British reformer. He was as 1014 much in favour of a Land Bill for Ireland as any man could be, and he also wished to see a Town Tenants Bill pass into law, because tenants in towns had received hitherto no protection whatever. But what was the attitude of the Government in respect of this Land Bill? They said they were willing to introduce it after Welsh Disestablishment. Why not before? It was a much more pressing question. And why did the Government object to supply information as to the counter stages of the Bill? If they were in earnest about it they would give the measure the first place in their programme, and if it should fail to pass they would dissolve and go to the country on the question of Home Rule. He had no confidence in the Government, and for this reason: Last year, they were told that an Evicted Tenants Bill was to be passed, and the promise of that measure was used as a means of keeping a majority of the Irish Members in attendance in the House in order that they might vote with the Government in support of British measures. Genuine Home Rulers ought not to allow themselves to be made part of a voting machinery for keeping the Government in Office, when it had not the power, even if it had the will, to pass remedial measures for Ireland. Some people said that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was "riding for a fall" on the question of Local Veto, and he thought that such a "welter weight" as the right hon. Gentleman would get a fall if he should attempt to push on Temperance Legislation this Session. He was himself in favour of Legislation of that kind, based upon reasonable ground, but he did not think that this was the proper time to appeal to the country on the question of Local Option. The Parnellite Members had been told that they were anxious to hasten the advent to Office of a coercion Government. If there was danger of coercion, why did not the Government repeal the Crimes Act? Why did they not remove that instrument of coercion? Why not spike the gun? There was, however, an almost worse form of coercion—namely, financial coercion. The Chancellor of the Exchequer extracted all he could from the Irish taxpayer and gave as little as he could in return. There was a measure before the House for granting £80,000 for the 1015 relief of distress in Ireland. That distress he ascribed to rack rents, absenteeism, the system of governing Ireland from this country, and other causes which had cursed Ireland for generations. He did not regard the proposed expenditure of £80,000 as at all generous. The money was their right, because the first duty of a Government was the preservation of the people, and a failure to fulfil that duty justified revolution. £80,000 was an inadequate sum. £250,000 had been obtained from Ireland by excessive taxation in the past and present years, and that amount ought to be devoted to relieving the distress. He remembered how last Session a sum of £200,000 was voted in a few minutes for the erection of a new picture gallery in Trafalgar Square. Surely the lives of Irish peasants were as valuable as any works of art! Instead of Home Rule being now in a prominent portion of the Liberal Programme, it was removed from election speeches. The Government ought to follow the advice of the late Prime Minister, who retired from Office because the Government would not appeal to the country on the issue of Home Rule. He wished to draw attention to a remark of Lord Salisbury on Saturday, in which he said if Home Rule was adopted by the electors the House of Lords would not throw it out. He thought it was time the Government appealed to the country, and until Ireland again blocked the way British electors would not realise the necessity, if they were to get their own reforms, of passing Home Rule. He was prepared to vote with the Member for West Birmingham, but on wholly different grounds. In his opinions he was diametrically opposed to the right hon. Gentleman, but he should vote with him on this occasion. One of the reasons why he thought Home Rule should be brought forward was the extraordinary attitude of the Prime Minister with regard to the other House. When he first came into Power he told them he would divest himself of his outer garment in order to face the fight, but somehow the political atmosphere, like the weather, has sunk below zero, and he had to put on his garments again. Here they had proposed a revolution without a leader, and he wanted to know were the Irish Home Rulers to wait until this revolution took place. It 1016 was a dangerous position for the Home Rulers to be in, and therefore he thought that the issue of Home Rule, apart from the House of Lords, the Land Bill, and the Welsh Bill, ought to be put before the country.
§ *MR. H. E. KEARLEY (Devonport)
observed that it was a matter of satisfaction they were now reaching the last stage of a Debate which had proceeded for a fortnight, and which had consumed much valuable time. He supposed it would some day be deemed necessary to alter the procedure of this House, so that so much valuable time would not be occupied in the discussion of the Address. They should probably find later on that the Opposition would be complaining that they had not had afforded them adequate time for the discussion of the important questions that would be brought forward; but he must say he could scarcely realise how it could be expected that the Government would be able to afford a liberal modicum of time later on, considering the excessive waste that had taken place during these Debates. He thought it was practically unprecedented that the Address should be made the vehicle of three distinct Votes of Censure on Her Majesty's Government within a fortnight. Such procedure was the more extravagant when it was remembered that the principles laid down in these Amendments were mutually self-destructive and inconsistent with each other. That, however, need not be a matter of surprise when they considered the composition of the sections from which the Amendments had sprung. Whatever else this Session might be memorable for it would be remarkable for the foundation of a new triple alliance. The Government had been perpetually attacked by the Opposition, because they were supported by a majority that was not homogeneous. Lord Salisbury, with that eloquence peculiarly his own, once described the Ministerial majority as the sweepings of the United Kingdom, and he was especially bitter as to that part of it which he said was recruited from the south and west of Ireland. What had been witnessed in the last fortnight? They had seen the unscrupulous Opposition coquetting, as they did in 1885, with those very men from the south and west of Ireland. 1017 The fact that the Government had occasionally received support from those men, was deemed to be one of the blackest counts in the indictment against Liberalism. Opposition, like misfortune, made one acquainted with strange bed, fellows, and therefore hon. Members had been treated to the spectacle of the entire Tory and Unionist party being led into the Lobby under the command of those very men whom the Opposition frequently told the Government had been branded by the Parnell Special Commission as men guilty of treasonable combination and incitement to crime. There had been three votes of censure moved during the last fourteen days. The first was intended to proceed on territorial lines and to be in defence of territorial interests; but the Opposition had not the courage to let such an Amendment stand by itself; they required to saccharine it with the popular condiment of the unemployed, which they borrowed from the hon. Member for South West Ham. The hon. Member for Waterford, in introducing his Amendment, said the Government ought either to introduce a Home Rule Bill or dissolve. The hon. Gentleman claimed that Ireland blocked the way. He could understand the hon. Member's Amendment in favour of a Dissolution, but he could not reconcile the claim the hon. Gentleman made with his previous support of the demand of the Opposition that there should be Legislation on British agricultural questions. The hon. Member refused to support the Government in their proposed Liberal—aye, and Irish—Legislation, but he was prepared to co-operate with the Tory demand for Legislation, which would naturally have to proceed, if it were to be acceptable, on Tory lines. They would, however, be able to judge as to the extent of the hon. Gentleman's consistency by the attitude he assumed to night. What did the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham seek to do? He sought to substitute for the Government programme, which included an Irish Land Bill, a proposal to effect what he described as a Constitutional revolution. The whole tenour of the speech of the hon. Member for Waterford was, that it was altogether monstrous that the Government should think of putting the House of Lords question 1018 before the question of Home Rule. In view of such tactics it seemed to him (Mr. Kearley) to require a trinity of incongruity in the House to represent a unity of hostility in the Lobby. After the powerful speech of the Home Secretary he had been anxious to see whether any of the Friends of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, would endeavour to explain away the speeches the right hon. Gentleman made in Wales in 1886. The right hon. Gentleman's henchman, the right hon. Member for Bordesley (Mr. Jesse Collings) was in his place. He hoped they might have the privilege of hearing from him, explanations which were altogether wanting in the speeches of his Leader, The right hon. Member for West Birmingham told the Welsh people in 1886, to refuse Home Rule, because it would destroy their chances of Disestablishment. The Welsh refused the bait. But the right hon. Gentleman still said the Welsh cared nothing for Home Rule, but they cared everything for Disestablishment. The Member for West Birmingham had described himself as a Dissenter, ardent for Disestablishment; but now that the Government had placed Disestablishment in the fore-front of their Sessional programme, he was determined to punish the Welsh people for rejecting his advice by preventing Disestablishment being passed through the House of Commons. The right hon. Gentleman knew perfectly well that the Unionist Party never could, and would not attempt to, carry Disestablishment; and he knew also that the only Party who would attempt to carry it was the Liberal Party. And yet, simply because he disapproved of the policy of the Liberal Party in connection with an island 60 miles away from the Welsh Coast, he was determined that the Welsh should not have Disestablishment. Let hon. Members assume for a moment that Home Rule was capable of producing all those evils ascribed to it by its enemies, did it necessarily follow that other proposals of the Government must be prone to evil? If the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends could not undertake to accept anything at the hands of a Liberal Government he wondered they had not gone the full length and refused to accept from them additions to the Navy. But what was really the 1019 motive of the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman? Was it that he really had at heart the maintenance of the House of Lords? He did not hesitate to say that by putting the question of the House of Lords in front of the Disestablishment the right hon. Gentleman hoped to cover his own retreat and to escape an explanation of his own inconvenient utterances. In his other recantations—for instance when he abandoned Home Rule and now when he supported the Lords—the right hon. Gentleman had always pleaded imperial zeal, but he did not think any such plea could be urged to cover the retreat on the question of Disestablishment. The hon. Member hoped the Government would go steadily and steadfastly forward with their programme. It was true that, prior to the opening of the Session, the Liberal Party were somewhat disheartened, but since the House had re-assembled, and it was found that the Government were in good fighting form, he had no fear they would not receive the loyal support of their friends.
§ MR. VICARY GIBBS (Herts, St. Albans)
said, the hon. Member for Devonport was shocked at the amount of time wasted in discussing the Address. Well, the hon. Gentleman had himself wasted twenty minutes in advancing several ridiculous charges against the Unionist Party. The hon. Gentleman charged them with a terrible alliance because they had recently gone into the same Lobby with the Parnellite Members. It seemed to him (Mr. Gibbs) that natural justification for voting with anyone was agreement with the proposal they brought forward, and that exactly was the position taken up by the Unionist Party on the occasion referred to. The Unionist Party desired that the opinion of the country should be taken on Home Rule, and they therefore voted for a Motion to that effect, no matter what its source might have been. For the hon. Member to charge the Unionist Party also with co-operating with people of whose antecedents they had disapproved, was another absurdity. The hon. Gentleman knew perfectly well that on the same ground he might, with equal justice, charge the Unionist Party with being the colleagues, supporters, and confederates of the present Government. 1020 The hon. Member also seemed to think that it was very unreasonable in them to support one Amendment advocating an immediate Dissolution, and another advocating that measures should be taken to meet the agricultural depression. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman had not heard of what the lawyers called "alternative pleas." [Mr. T. M. HEALY: "The phrase is 'alternative and inconsistent pleas.'"] He was much obliged to his hon. and learned Friend, but he would adopt his own form of the words. It was perfectly logical for them to say that the Government ought not to trifle or palter with the question of the House of Lords any longer, but take the opinion of the country upon it; and that if the Government did not take that course, they ought to deal with the serious and important question of agricultural depression rather than the measures they had put into their programme. But the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean was more worthy of attention. The right hon. Gentleman was not the first Member on the other side of the House who had declared that he would vote with the Government although he disapproved of the policy of the Government. He wondered how many more hon. Gentlemen on the same side they would hear speak in the same terms? The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War had told them that they must not believe the tales told to them about differences between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House as to the course to be adopted about the House of Lords. Well, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean had told them that, while they could trust the Leader of the House, they could not trust the Prime Minister, and had followed that statement up with a most damaging and crushing attack on the Government and their method. The right hon. Gentleman had shown the tremendous divergence which existed between different speeches of different Members of the Government in the country; that they were not prepared either to abolish the Second Chamber altogether or to make it what Lord Rosebery had called, "a second-class debating society," and that in fact they were prepared to do nothing at all. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean con- 1021 sidered that the House of Lords was unpopular. The Unionist Party considered that the House of Lords was popular in the country, particularly on account of its action in regard to Home Rule; and in order to decide which was right—they or the Government—they invited the Government to bring the matter to the test of a General Election. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War twitted the Leader of the Opposition on the want of astuteness he had shown in dealing with the Amendment on the agricultural depression. Well, astuteness was not one of the merits on which the Unionist Party prided themselves. Knowing, as they did, the terrible sufferings which were being endured in the agricultural districts owing to the depression; feeling that the Government did not adequately realise the situation, and that instead of taking measures to deal with the distress, they proposed to waste the time of the House in a futile effort to destroy the Establishment in Wales; the Unionist Party did not pause to consider what was the astute course to take, but they took the straightforward course of expressing their opinion of the conduct of the Government, and of warning them of the fate they were certain to receive for their indifference at the hands of the constituencies. The Home Secretary, in his speech on Friday night, declared that it would not do for Members of the Unionist Party to say in the House what they had been saying up and down the country, that the House of Lords would exercise a useful function in modifying or rejecting measures sent up to them from the House of Commons. He was perfectly prepared to say it, and lie could not understand why anyone who pleased should not say it. It was not out of order or discreditable to say it. It was perfectly true that the House of Commons was directly representative of the country, and that the House of Lords was not. But when they considered the large number of questions that were brought before the House, and the rapidity with which opinions were changed—as was shown by the frequent spectacle of Members on both sides being twitted with opinions they had expressed directly contrary to the opinions they now entertained—it was only right that the country should get the opportunity of revising its judgment 1022 on an important question. Hon. Gentlemen opposite know that they could not say with certainty that they represented the feelings of the country; and therefore, it did not become them to go about the country proclaiming that they intended to introduce an enormous and drastic change in the Constitution, and then, when they met the House of Commons, decline to show their hand. That might be a sample of the astuteness, which the hon. Member for Devonport charged the Unionist Party with lacking, but it did not seem to him to be consistent with the best sort of statesmanship, or with the best regard for the dignity and credit of the House. The Secretary for War had given an amusing description of the disadvantages under which Members of Parliament laboured in having to make speeches to their constituencies. "They are but phrases," said the right hon. Gentleman, "and phrases do not indicate policy." But if phrases used by responsible Ministers in the country were to have no weight, and could be repudiated in the House, then, indeed, the making of those speeches was a "ploughing of the sands of the seashore," was a waste of time, and was an insult to the constituencies, which he was sure many constituencies would not tolerate. The Secretary of State for War said that the sources of information open to the Government made it certain that no one on the Opposition side of the House desired a Dissolution. He should like to know what those sources were. Personally, of course, no Member of Parliament desired a Dissolution, because no Member of Parliament desired the expense, trouble, and risk involved in an election. But politically, the Conservative Party were unanimous in desiring a Dissolution, and were perfectly confident, as were most hon. Members on the opposite side of the House, as to what the result of an appeal to the constituencies would be. The Government talked in a big way about the House of Lords when they were in the country; but their big talk shrivelled up to nothing when they came to the House of Commons. Like Bob Acres, in the comedy, their talk was full of "'Ods! swords, pistols and daggers!" till they came on to the ground; and then their courage oozed out of their finger-tips.
§ MR. M. M. BODKIN (Roscommon, N.)
said, that he, as a Nationalist Member opposed this Motion for the same reason that the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) moved it, namely, that it was a vote of censure on the Government for making Home Rule the primary policy. Though the right hon. Gentleman was not present, he was glad to see him so ably and faithfully represented by the right hon. Member opposite (Mr. Jesse Collings). What he had to say about the right hon. Member he would say with as much delicacy as possible, knowing that anything harsh would have even a greater effect on his sensitive representative than on himself. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham, from his point of view, was justified in his action. The Government had indeed made Home Rule their primary policy. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had declared in the plainest possible language and with the utmost deliberation that Home Rule was the primary policy of the Government; and the Home Secretary had repeated that declaration. They had further declarations from the Chief Secretary when he once again nailed the green flag to the mast and said that the Government would fight the battle of Home Rule to the last. For that reason the Government was entitled to the support of all Nationalists. As a Nationalist, he had no objection whatever to the attempt to deprive the House of Lords of what the Leader of the Opposition had called "their control of the popular Assembly." He did not regard such an attempt as in the nature of a Revolution; and he would give substantial authority for his view such as the right hon. Member for West Birmingham would recognise as most authoritative. Irish Nationalists desired to pass Home Rule, and they knew that the House of Lords was at present the only obstacle to Home Rule. But for the House of Lords Home Rule would now be the law of the land. He had never regarded this policy of depriving the House of Lords of its control of the House of Commons as being in any way hostile or rival to the policy of Home Rule. It was auxiliary; and whoever else opposed the attack on the Lords, the Nationalists would not hesitate a moment in responding to the call to join 1024 it. Whatever other country had suffered from the House of Lords, Ireland had suffered most of all. In the present Parliament, the only Bills which the Lords had ventured to reject were two Irish Bills, supported by a large Irish majority. They had indeed mutilated several British Bills as well; but they had not rejected them. Ireland was really governed and legislated for by the House of Lords because it had been proved over and over again that Ireland could have no Bill of which the Lords did not approve. The Lords would oppose any Bill which was supported by the majority of the Irish representatives. It was enough to damn a Bill in the House of Lords that the Irish nation desired it. He did not ask any hon. Member to take his word only for that statement. He held in his hand a rare and precious little volume, the author of which—with the modesty which was his most eminent characteristic—had desired to withdraw from the attention of the public. The book was entitled "The Authorised Edition of the Speeches of the Right Hon. Gentleman Joseph Chamberlain, M.P., with a Sketch of His Life"—not unfortunately brought up to date—"edited by H. W. Lucy." He found stamped on the cover the words "Supplied for the Public Benefit." He believed that the book had been very much for the public benefit, and he desired the public to be most fully acquainted with the passage which he was about to quote. Although he differed from the right hon. Gentleman in many matters he was in entire accordance with him in the following passage, which was described in the Authorised Edition as "Plain Words to the Peers":—I am going to ask you to follow me into an examination, into the baneful influence which this assembly exercises upon the great interests of the Empire.Since then, it had become the guardian of the Empire.I will ask you to have regard to the grievances of Ireland, and I will ask you to consider still another question which is perhaps more interesting, that is the Principality of Wales. With regard to Ireland, you know that the condition of that country is the constant preoccupation and anxiety of English statesmen. After centuries of a hollow Union, the people are still discontented. We hold our own, now in the 19th century, as we did in the 17th, by an overwhelming display of military force. We have been unable to rest ourselves 1025 upon the affections of the people; and this state of things, so discreditable to a free country, is due mainly, if not entirely, to the action of the House of Lords—to the action of that club of Tory landlords, which, in its gilded chamber, had disposed of the welfare of a people with almost exclusive regard to the interests of a class.He did not think that that chamber, so accurately described by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, in his Radical days, was entitled to, or would receive much sympathy from the Irish Members. In the same speech the right hon. Gentleman quoted with approval the saying of a certain Rumbold, a fugitive soldier in the time of the Stuarts, that he would believe in hereditary legislators when he found men born into the world, some with saddles on their backs, and others with bits and spurs ready to ride them. Since then the right hon. Gentleman had given his adherence to the principle of hereditary legislators. He had convinced himself that he was one of those born with a saddle, and he and his retinue were making broad their backs for aristocratic riders. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham said that the Irish Members represented no national sentiment in Parliament, and he said that Home Rule had a speculative fancy for the Irish people. He told the right hon. Gentleman, however, that the Irish Members came to Parliament as Home Rulers, and that they would remain there as such; and if for a moment they faltered in the sacred trust committed to their charge by the Irish people they would be driven from the places which they now occupied. The Irish Members and the Irish people did not change their principles and their convictions with the grace and facility which the right hon. Gentleman so eminently displayed. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman had been answered, however, completely and admirably by the Home Secretary. He and his hon. Friends enjoyed that display as thoroughly as it was possible to enjoy any scene in the Imperial Parliament. The audience had been assembled, and he might say that it was a very fashionable audience. The lesson taught to the right hon. Gentleman by that Debate was that he should not bring his audience until he was quite sure of the result. The display took a form which was 1026 possibly not anticipated by the right hon. Gentleman. The audience saw the offence, and it saw the punishment as well; and he thought the right hon. Gentleman might well have said to the Home Secretary at the conclusion of the combat—''Oh! thou hast overthrown me and my pride; The Duke has seen me fall!The House was told that the three Amendments which had been moved to the Address were, if not consistent, at least alternative; and one hon. Member who advanced this plea took his illustration from the law. As a lawyer the hon. Gentleman, no doubt, understood what alternative pledges were; and he would better the illustration of the hon. Gentleman by another example borrowed from his early experience of the law with reference to an action for the recovery of a boiler. The three alternative pleadings were—first, that the boiler was cracked when he got it; secondly, that it was whole when he returned it; and, thirdly, that he did not get it at all. He thought that this analogy of legal alternatives applied admirably to the three Amendments on the Address. He and his hon. Friends were opposed to this Amendment because it deprived the Irish tenants of a good chance of getting a good Bill through the House, of Commons dealing with the question of Irish land. He believed that the House of Lords would think twice before they rejected such a measure. He had very little confidence in the justice of the House of Lords, though he had considerable confidence in the fears of the Peers. Ulster was determined upon having this Bill, and he did not think that the House of Lords would care to run the risk and the dangers of a conflict. If they did he had no reason to fear the alternative, because the action of the House of Lords would prove to the farmers of Ulster that they could hope for no justice from an Imperial Parliament dominated by the House of Lords. If Ulster failed to get this Land Bill the action of the House of Lords would convert a dozen seats in Ulster at present held by Unionists to the Home Rule policy. The Irish Members still held to the belief that the Government meant good faith towards them, and they certainly meant good faith towards the 1027 Government. The Irish Members had promptly repudiated the charge of disloyalty on their part towards the cause of Wales; the Irish Members were willing to help the Welsh Members forward in the struggle which they had set their hearts upon winning. If the Irish Members were not Christian enough to do good for evil they at least were Christian enough to do good for good. He believed that Scotland would be true to the Irish cause in the future as she had been in the past; and he believed eventually the Irish people would secure their Bill, for Home Rule, he believed, was the primary policy of the Government. Home Rule held the field, and in his judgment it would soon win the field. He believed that the greatest Englishman of all, who had enjoyed in the course of his grand career so many triumphs, and no permanent failure, would live to see this last great cause to which he had set his hand happily accomplished.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)
argued that the contention of the hon. Member with reference to the action of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham was not worth replying to; it pleased hon. Members, and it caused no great harm to his right hon. Friend. One of the most interesting features of the Debate had been the attitude of those hon. Members who proclaimed themselves to be the advanced Radical Party. As he listened to their speeches his estimate of the political insight of Lord Rosebery had increased immensely. Lord Rosebery might have argued in this way—It does not matter how I neglect this so-called Radical Party, or how I leave them out of account; provided I allow them to make strong speeches in and out of Parliament. I am always absolutely sure of their votes.It was contended that the narrow issue involved in this Amendment was whether or not the Government would disclose the Resolution affecting the House of Lords now or later. His opinion was that the Government had no Resolution to disclose at all, and he objected to the issue being narrowed in such a mariner. The question was a much wider one. It was whether or not the Government, which had lost the confidence of the country, which was going in opposition to the will of the people, 1028 should retain their offices merely for the sake of being in power. How was it likely that a Government with a Prime Minister holding the rank of a Peer, with a large proportion of the Members of the Government Peers, would be able to get up a crusade against the House of Lords. The Secretary of State for War had simply left the question where he found it. The right hon. Gentleman said that the late Government, although elected to oppose Home Rule, had yet carried out a number of other measures for the benefit of the country as to which they were not elected to deal with. It was true that the late Government, in addition to opposing Home Rule, did cast out County Government; but the right hon. Gentleman's own Government, having had it down in 1882, 1883, 1884, and 1885, did not carry that policy out. So with Free Education; the Government of the right hon. Gentleman had promised it, though the Unionist Government carried the scheme into law. The right hon. Gentleman's Government was a Government of promises, while the Unionist Government was, and would be, a Government of performances. The Debate would be extremely useful for its educative effect on the country, because it had made one or two things very clear. The first thing the country would understand from the Debate was that this Government was going to remain in power as long as it was possible for them to do so, not because they could do any work, but because those who supported them dreaded equally with themselves an Appeal to the country. Another thing made clear was that Home Rule was to be the main thing upon which the Government would appeal to the country. Hitherto, in nine cases out of ten, that question had been shirked or covered over with a cloud of other questions. Home Rule, having been carried through the Commons by means of the gag, was rejected by the House of Lords, and therefore there was to be an agitation against the House of Lords; but the Government knew the House of Lords had the country at its back; and so it became a question what was to be done. It was determined to bring in a wagon-load of other measures, not on their merits, not to be passed, but to furnish the pretext for a quarrel with the 1029 House of Lords, and to fill up the cup. By this sandwiching policy the agitation against the House of Lord was to be galvanised into life, and the electors were to be deceived into accepting Home Rule gilded with other measures. The parallel instituted by the Home Secretary between the position of the present Ministry and that of Lord Melbourne—which introduced Free Trade and carried it in five years—did not hold good, because, instead of there being any agitation in the country for Home Rule, such agitation as existed was against Home Rule and in support of the House of Lords. A Dissolution at the present time would put an end to the solemn farce of a Government without power wasting the time of Parliament; but, from a Party point of view, he questioned whether it would be well to have an immediate Dissolution. There were other cups that could be filled up besides that against the House of Lords, and the Government were fast filling up the cup of discontent with themselves in the constituencies. They were in the position of guests out-staying their welcome; they were sticking to Office after confidence had been withheld and power taken away from them. They might scrape through the present Session and add another barren Session to their record; but every week would fill up their cup in the country, and the longer the Election was delayed the larger would be the majority against them. The Government came into power not on Home Rule, but with votes given to them on a number of social questions, and what had they done? They had wasted two Sessions mainly on Home Rule. No doubt the Parish Councils Act was a good measure; but its value had been discounted, because it had been said that it would bring about a millennium, and disappointment was following the discovery that it would do nothing of the kind. This Session we are to have disestablishment, but it did not interest the general run of the constituencies, who wanted instead what they had been promised in the form of social legislation. As to Irish land legislation, the electors were saying—What! another Irish Land Bill; when the position of the Irish farmer is better than that of any other farmer in the world.1030 As to Local Veto, would hon. Members say the country was crying out loudly for that? The Government listened to organised groups of politicians and mistook their views for the voice of the country. Of each organised group they asked, "What do you want?" but large as was the voting power of these groups it was not to be compared with the voting power of the mass of the people. The Home Secretary set little store by "hand-to-mouth, unambitious measures" of social reform; but it was for these the Government came into power. Just before the last General Election there was held in London a conference of labourers, delegates from the rural districts; and with them the most urgent of all questions was the improvement of cottage accommodation, which figured largely in the election addresses of the supporters of the Government, as did also some well-considered scheme for enabling the labourer to end his days in decent comfort. What had been done to redeem these promises? He believed nothing; and he believed also the latter question, did not find a place even in the Newcastle Programme. Even hon. Members who had mentioned it in their addresses voted against the hon. Member for Cambridge when he brought it forward. The people were more interested in these humdrum topics than they were in Home Rule. Perhaps the weakest part of the Home Secretary's speech was the attempt to convict the Liberal Unionists of inconsistency by making quotations from their speeches. Of course that had nothing to do with the question before the House; but if you were to go back ten years, you could quote plenty of Liberal Unionist speeches against Conservatives and Conservative speeches against the Liberal Unionists. But since that time things had been much altered. The Liberal Unionists had joined the Conservatives. [Ironical Ministerial cheers.] Yes; but when did the supporters of the Government join? Take the speeches of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, of the right hon. Member for Midlothian, and almost, any occupant of the Treasury Bench; they were so violent against their present allies that they could scarcely be quoted in the House. The fact was there had been a re-formation of Parties since then. Before the 1031 accession of the present Government there was no one who wanted to know more than did the Home Secretary what his Party were going to do; he was almost a Liberal Unionist in the expression of his eagerness; but when he came to hold a brief for the Government he could describe the Liberal Unionists as political apostates. In the eyes of the country now there were only two parties, and two only—a section of the old Liberal Party, and what used to be called the Tory Party, but which was now the Liberal Unionist Party. The cry of Liberal and Tory helped the Government in 1886 and in 1892, because the traditions of the old Liberal Party were appropriated by them. Voters found out that they were trading on the old trade-mark of the Liberal Party, and the issue was now between Home Rule and no Home Rule. The cry of Liberal versus Tory had no more significance as a Party cry at present than that of Cavalier and Roundhead. The alliance between Conservatives and Liberal Unionists has been ratified by time. It was never stronger than at present. Both sections of the alliance were united in opposition to Home Rule, and a desire to carry out social legislation, and the alliance received approval in the result of the elections at Forfar, Brigg, and Evesham. At a General Election, it would be ratified by scores of constituencies. On the other hand, the union between the Government and the Irish Nationalist Party was not so strong as it was, it had not been ratified by the constituencies, and would receive less and less the approval of the country. The more Home Rule was understood the less the country would have to do with it, and this was one reason why a General Election was put off. But Unionists would have more time to make the country acquainted with it. In many parts of the country in 1892, it was difficult in the rural districts of England to interest any one in it. In the Evesham Division, when the labourers were told what it was, they would have nothing to do with it. When they found it would cost their county £7,000 or £8,000, they decided that they could spend the money in a better way. The nonsense of the statement that England was governing Ireland with "the iron heel of oppression" was being seen. The fact was that the Irish Nationalist 1032 Members were the absolute masters of the present Government. The attention of Parliament for the next five or six years ought to be given to social legislation. Parliament, it was true, could not raise wages, but it could improve the condition of the people by following out the lines of the legislation of the Unionist Government from 1886 to 1892. The country was fast seeing the necessity for a stronger Government than the present to carry out these principles; a Government without the millstone of Home Rule hung about their necks, and with the confidence of the country. With such a Government they would be able to carry out the legislation for which the country was waiting, and solve at any rate the questions which were pressing.
§ MR. S. STOREY (Sunderland)
said, the speech of the right hon. Member agreed with that of other speakers in one thing—namely, that the Session which they were now entering upon was to be a barren Session, and that the measures which the Government were going to submit to the House were not to pass into law, and that the only remedy was to cease their labours, propose the Resolution, if it existed, and immediately go to the country. Everyone knew that the House of Commons was the very worst business place in the kingdom, but if they were sometimes to examine matters in the light of plain common sense they might arrive at a more satisfactory conclusion. They had before them two clear alternatives. From the Government they had the proposal in the Queen's speech that they should at once proceed to pass the Welsh Disestablishment Bill, the Irish Land Bill, the Veto Bill, the One Man One Vote Bill, and five or six other Bills of less importance. He made no complaint of the length of the programme, because it was the common practice on both sides of the House to propose much more than they hoped in the end to carry. On the other hand the hon. Member for West Birmingham said the Government had raised one vital constitutional question in Home Rule, and a second vital constitutional question as to the position of the House of Lords, and urged the Government not to waste the time or patience of the country in trying to pass these Bills, but to bring 1033 in their Resolution. If the latter was a fair statement of the position, if they felt that the House of Commons had lost caste, he would submit respectfully that it was their business to redeem their character before the country. This consideration ought to be present before their minds: Was there a reasonable prospect of passing the Bills, or the majority of the Bills that were to be presented to them. If there were no such prospect they ought to follow the advice of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, but if there was they ought not to do so. He contended that the Welsh Disestablishment Bill had not been sprung upon the country suddenly, it was definitely before1 the people at the last Election; in the north he knew that for many a long year it had been a sine qua non that a Liberal candidate should be in favour of it. It was supported by an overwhelming preponderance of public opinion in Wales, by the United Liberal Party, and by the main Irish Party on principle. He wanted the House for once to realise that it was not on political grounds that the Nonconformists in this country were for Disestablishment. It was for religions reasons that they wished to see the Bill passed, in order to free the Church from State control. He was certain that if the Bill was pressed forward by the Government it would command not merely a Government majority, but a far larger majority, including not only Liberals, but the Nationalist Members, and also many conscientious Liberal Unionist Members, who would be for ever discredited if they did not vote for the measure. Could any reasonable man suppose that a Bill sent up to the House of Lords backed by a great majority of that House and by the mass of the people outside would be rejected by their Lordships? He did not believe they would do so, for the Marquess of Salisbury and the Duke of Devonshire had never disputed that authority remained with the House of Commons when its Members were clearly supported by the great majority of the country. The House of Lords had never asserted the right to reject Bills sent up to them in face of a great majority of the Members of that House and of the people at large. It was only reasonable to suppose that when 1034 the Welsh Bill was sent up to their Lordships under such conditions they would pass it. On this ground, therefore, the Government were justified in pushing forward this measure. All he could say was that if the House of Lords refused to pass the Bill they would be acting contrary to constitutional principles. Again, with regard to the Irish Land Bill. Everybody admitted that it was an absolute necessity that such a Bill should be passed, and when it was brought forward it would be supported by a preponderant majority of the House of Commons and by the public generally. In that case also it would, therefore, be the constitutional duty of the House of Lords to pass it, he did not say in all its details, but in its main principles. He might apply the same remarks to the Local Veto Bill. Everyone knew the enormous evils that existed in connection with our licensing system, and consequently that Bill also would be supported by a large majority of the House of Commons and by all classes of the people. In such circumstances, on what constitutional principle could the House of Lords refuse to pass it? Therefore he contended that if the Government pushed forward these Bills earnestly and in a business-like way there would be a fair chance of their being passed into law. The Government, consequently, were justified in going on with the Session and in introducing all those measures. There was only one thing that would prevent the Bills, or any of them, passing—resort by any hon. Members to the new-fangled method of obstruction. He was not going to blame either Party, for both Parties had resorted to obstruction before now. But there was one very unfair feature sometimes displayed in this obstruction—that hon. Members, because they objected to one particular Bill as a bad Bill, should therefore obstruct other Bills which came before them, whether they were good or bad, simply in order to whittle away the time of the House. He ventured to say that if such obstruction was displayed in regard to any of the great measures to which he had referred, the Government ought, if they were really earnest in the work, to meet that obstruction with the firmest and most dogged determination to carry them. If necessary, they were prepared to sit 1035 all this year, and part of next, in order that they might send these Bills to the House of Lords. It was because he held the opinion that that good work might be done, and that the character of Parliament might be retrieved, that he would oppose the Amendment. The second consideration which he would present to the House, as influencing his vote, applied rather to the Liberal Party than to the Opposition. It was this: Was there a reasonable chance that the Resolution as to the House of Lords, which was some time to be proposed, would be better, stronger, and more adequate if they had it a year come Easter, than if it was presented now? He did not think it would be any discredit to the Ministry if the Resolution did not exist at this moment, and he was clearly of opinion that if they had a little more time to think over it, the Resolution would be more satisfactory. He was extremely anxious that, when the Resolution did come before the House, it should be an adequate Resolution, but when he turned to the speeches that had been made, he could not satisfy himself that it would be. He understood that Lord Rosebery was utterly opposed to the Leeds Resolution. He was extremely thankful that that was so, for the Leeds Resolution was the most extraordinary proposal that ever came from an intelligent body of men. It would operate in this way: the House of Commons might pass a measure in June, and the Lords might reject it. Then it would be brought to the House of Commons again, and passed, and it would immediately become Law without any action of the House of Lords. That was the extraordinary proposal that the concentrated wisdom of the Liberal Party at Leeds proposed to the House and the Country. What self-respecting man, what able or ambitious man would remain in the House of Lords a single day under such conditions? The House of Lords would become a laughing stock and a sham, and the proposal of the Liberals in Council was, that they should settle a serious political and constitutional controversy by transforming one of the Houses of the Legislature into a sham. He was told that he ought to support this proposal because it secured the end at which he aimed—a single Chamber. But he did not like crooked ways of securing great 1036 ends; and he did not believe the public, who loved downrightness, would adopt that roundabout, way of carrying this Reform. His view, as one who had studied the question, was, that it would result in this—either there would be one Chamber, the House of Commons, controlling the affairs of the country, subject to a referendum, or there would be a second elective Chamber, with substantial, if not co-equal, powers with the first Chamber. If that was the complexion to which the matter must ultimately come, he was extremely anxious that they should make no mistake at the present time. To ask them to pass a Resolution which would practically leave the House of Lords with all its powers, would be not to lead but to mislead the Liberal Party—to lead them, not to victory, but to defeat. He would make another observation, and that was, that, if the Liberal Leaders thought that any campaign would be effectual which did not involve the abolition of the hereditary principle, they would find themselves mistaken. Some Liberals did not realise the strength of feeling that there was in the country on this subject. He knew that when one got to London it was very difficult to believe that this was really a democratic country, but there wore whole areas where it would be found that the objection which was felt to the House of Lords was an objection to the hereditary principle. The people with whom he was accustomed to associate were of opinion that the present state of things which permitted the hereditary principle to continue, which continued the Bishops in the House of Lords, which continued the representative Peers of Scotland, as representative of the Peers and not of the people of Scotland, was in itself an objection, and unless it were remedied no effective demonstration could be made against the House of Lords. His view at present was that this Resolution, if presented to-day, would be one which, so far from carrying with it the Liberal and Radical Party, would be very likely to break it up into fragments. He believed that the Government realised, and that every man realised, that a campaign against the House of Lords must be held, and, therefore, he gave his voice not for calling upon the Government to 1037 produce the Resolution now, but rather for carrying on the proper business of the Session.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir W. HARCOURT,) Derby
I think there is a general feeling in the House that, at all events, this Debate upon the third Vote of Want of Confidence in the Government has reached its limits. The real truth is, as I observed on Friday, and since Friday, that since the consummate speech of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, which, I think, may be described as having torpedoed the Amendment, this ironclad Amendment has gone to the bottom; and I do not think that anything that has been done since has retrieved its position, and that we may say of it that "All the King's horses and all the King's men will never raise up that Amendment again." I observe that even the Leader of the Tory Party on Saturday night—Lord Salisbury—complained—I do not know whether it was due to the weather, but had he been in the House of Commons he would have thought it was due to something else—Lord Salisbury said that the Debate was deprived of all enthusiasm, and I think we may safely say that since the speech of my right hon. Friend there has been very little enthusiasm in the Debate. It has dragged slowly along, enlivened, indeed, with a tight of imagination on the part of the late Attorney General. The hon. and learned Gentleman imagined a remarkable interview which he said had taken place between my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney and myself, and, I believe, the Prime Minister, and followed the example very common now-a-days of watching one gentleman to another man's house and then sitting down and writing a column of what had taken place. We know that is the habit of newspaper correspondents, but I can assure the House that, though I value very much the visits of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, I never advised him to write a magazine article. I never wrote magazine articles myself, and if a friend came to me and asked my advice I should give it him in most concise terms, and I should say, "don't." The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Wight knows that my hon. and learned Friend is a 1038 great patent lawyer. He was the first to originate his own patent, and I have not the smallest intention of infringing his patent. Therefore I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman will be satisfied on that point. But there is another cause why this Debate has flagged a good deal, and for that the mover of the Amendment is responsible, because he told us at the beginning of his speech—We do not expect to beat the Government, and it is not our object in this Amendment to make the Government appeal to the country.Now that has a tendency to damp the Debate, because, when the chief hangman announces to the public that a reprieve has arrived at the last moment, and when he says that he himself does not desire to put an end to the existence of the condemned man, the interest in the ceremony is at an end. Well, Sir, it is a little difficult to make out exactly what is meant by this last Vote of Want of Confidence. One of the great points in the criticism of Gentlemen who have spoken in this Debate is that the time of Parliament is being wasted. Well, we have spent a lot of this time in the Debate on the Address, and I would ask leave for a few moments to examine into what has been done. First of all we had the first Vote of Want of Confidence in the Government. I will not go into the details of it. I will describe it as the, Hampshire-cum-West Ham Amendment. Now, the Government were to be condemned in that Amendment because they did not occupy the time of Parliament with agricultural distress, the textile industries, and the unemployed. That was the first Amendment, and it failed. Then came the next Amendment. That I will shortly describe as a Unionist-cum-Parnellite Amendment, and the object of that Amendment was to declare that we were not to occupy ourselves with agricultural distress, the textile industries, or the unemployed, but were to devote the whole of our energies to nothing else but Home Rule and the dissolution of Parliament. If we are to dissolve upon that, what becomes of the textile industries, agricultural depression, and the unemployed? That Amendment failed still more than the previous Amendment. Then comes this third Amendment, which is 1039 inconsistent with both the previous ones. We are not to devote ourselves to agricultural distress, textile industries, or even to Home Rule; but we are to devote the whole of our attention, at once and immediately, to nothing else but the discussion of the position of the House of Lords. But the Mover of this Amendment says what we ought to occupy ourselves with is social questions, and not to raise the great Constitutional controversies; and so we have practically spent the first fortnight of the Session in the discussion of competitive and self-destructive propositions brought forward on the part of the Opposition. That is the way in which the time of the House is economised. I do not complain of this as a Member of the Government, but as a Member of Parliament I deplore such waste of public time. The right hon. Gentleman who moves the Amendment says we are a tottering Government. If we are a tottering Government, how kind and how benevolent are those who procure for us, in ten days, in the House of Commons, three votes of confidence! Nothing could tend more to the support of a tottering Government or to prop it up. With three votes of confidence you give them a start on setting out with their legislative programme. The right hon. Gentleman was good enough to saythat I am an oldish Parliamentary hand. I am sorry to say that chronologically he is correct, but in my salad days, when I was a young apprentice, I had almost learnt that the most indiscreet and blundering thing to do was to set up a Government at the beginning of a Session by a vote of confidence; and therefore I confess that I viewed the tactics of the Opposition with equal satisfaction and astonishment. There if something also which is a little remarkable about this campaign which has beer; waged against us since the beginning of the Session; and how have these votes of confidence been brought forward? First of all, under the semi-auspices of the Member for West Ham. That was the first attack. Then the Opposition march out into the Lobby, and are told by the Member for the City of Waterford; and then finally comes what is supposed 1040 to be the great attack in force. That hung fire for some time. We were told it was coming, but it was more than a week before we saw it. We were threatened with instant extinction, and you would suppose, as in the days of Sir Robert Peel, that the Leader of the Opposition would come forward with a condemnation of the Government. But no; this belated abortion with which we are dealing was brought into the world after its time. I do not know whether some controversy was going on as to by whom it was to be brought forward, but in the end the third vote of want of confidence is produced by one of the chief champions of Disestablishment. Why cannot you fight under your own colours? What has become of the old blue flag? There seems to be no true blue left, but there is a kind of mixture; I do not know what. There is, perhaps, the faded yellow of Birmingham, a little touch of green from Waterford, and a little spot of red from West Ham, and that is what the blue flag has come to. Is that the way to fight a great campaign on the part of a great historical Party? As an oldish Parliamentary hand, I confess I am sorry to see that the enemy hardly knows the moves upon the, board. There is something a little strange even in the form of this last Amendment. It is very difficult to know exactly what it is pointed at. It is said it is not intended to defeat the Government, and it is not intended to bring about a Dissolution. But why is it not to bring about a Dissolution when you are so anxious for it? But what is the exact drift of the Amendment? Is it with a view of setting up the doctrine that a Government ought not to bring forward in the House of Commons any measure which it thinks may possibly and probably will not pass? Now, is that a doctrine which is accepted by the Opposition? I have two things to say upon that matter, and it seems to be the pith of this discussion. First of all, I absolutely deny that there is any such doctrine, or that any Government, or that any House of Commons, ought to allow itself to be influenced by any consideration in discussing 1041 any measure which it brings forward as to whether or not that measure will pass the House of Lords. That is a doctrine that has never been heard before. I should like to know what John Bright would have said upon such a doctrine. What foundation is there for such a doctrine? What would have happened to all the great measures of Liberal Reform if any Government had ever accepted a doctrine of that description? Mr. Pitt, when he came into power after that great election which gave him an overwhelming majority, brought forward the Reform Bill which was the father, the progenitor, of all subsequent Reform Bills; and he, in the flush of his triumph, and plenitude of his power, was refused leave to introduce that Bill by a majority of 74. He was a Prime Minister bringing forward a great Constitutional Reform—a Bill which was regarded as revolutionary in those days. Do you suppose that Mr. Pitt thought that that Bill was likely to pass the House of Lords? Why, it was not passed in the House of Commons! What would have become of Catholic Emancipation if this doctrine had been accepted? When that reform was initiated Protestant ascendency was intrenched in the House of Lords; and are we to be told that a Government was estopped from proposing such a measure as that because there was no immediate prospect of its passing into law? The same question applies to the measures for removing the disabilities of Nonconformists and of the Jews. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian introduced the Reform Bill of 1884, there was but little probability that it would pass the House of Lords; and are we to be told that a measure of that character was not to be introduced because there was a probability that it would not be passed by that House? If this doctrine is to lie accepted, we must alter the forms of this House. When an hon. Member asks leave to introduce a Bill in this House he is asked by Mr. Speaker: "Who brings in the Bill?" and the names are given. But if this doctrine be accepted, Mr. 1042 Speaker must put an additional question—namely, "Have you got the leave of the House of Lords?" Yes; is there no respect left for the honour of the House of Commons? But I now come to the second head of this question, and ask—Is it true that the measures we have laid before Parliament have no prospect of passing into law? My hon. Friend who has just sat down, in his very able speech, has shown that, in his opinion, as in ours, there is a fair and reasonable chance that these Bills may pass. We have never held any other opinion, and I hold it more strongly to-day than I have held it before. Is Welsh Disestablishment beyond hope? The right hon. Gentleman the author of this Amendment said, that it would be bad taste on his part to inquire into the opinions and constitution of future Cabinets. But I want to know whether in the next Cabinet—the Unionist Cabinet—Disestablishment is to be an open question? We know that, in old days, the Catholic claims were an open question, and we know in what way open questions always end. The right hon. Gentleman declares that, even in his united Party, he stands alone in his attitude towards the Disestablishment question; but I doubt it. Why, we have heard the right hon. Member for Bodmin to-night, who reviewed the measures of the Government, and did not object to one of them; and I hope that, in respect of most of them, we shall have the advantage of his support. He knows better than I do whether the opinions of Cornwall are against Disestablishment, whether they are against the principle of Local Veto, whether they are against Irish Land Legislation. Well, we shall see. I am not without some hope. The right hon. Gentleman the Mover of this Amendment over and over again has assured the Welsh people that, if Home Rule were only out of the way, they will have Disestablishment at once. Well, he is going to vote Home Rule out of the way; and is he prepared with his allies to give Disestablishment to Wales?
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Then I have misread the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. I understood that he held out to the Welsh people that, if Home Rule were out of the way, there would be very little difficulty as to Disestablishment.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I think my right hon. Friend should read my speech more carefully. What I did say, on the only occasion to which I referred to the matter was, that, since Home Rule was introduced, the prospect of Disestablishment in Wales had been delayed. I believe that still, but I never said of my own motion that I could secure Disestablishment for the Welsh people.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I do not think there is much difference. What the right hon Gentleman practically said was that, if they had Home Rule out of the way, he would be on the side of Welsh Disestablishment. I think the Welsh people understood him in that sense. As to the Irish Land Bill, are the Government going to stand alone? Is the Member for South Tyrone going to vote for the Irish Land Bill?
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
The reason I have arrived at the conclusion is that the hon. Member made a speech in Ulster in which lie implored the people of that province to strengthen the hands of Mr. Morley.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
Allow me one word. It is quite true I made that speech, and I am going to stand by it; but we are not sure whether the Government is going to introduce the Evicted Tenants Bill into the Laud Bill, and if that is done no Ulster Unionist would ever give his undertaking to support Mr. Morley or any one else on that subject.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I confess that my hopes were based on the speech of the hon. Member made In last 1044 October, in which he stated what I may call the ethics of the Unionist Party. I was very much interested, because he discussed the course he had taken on the last Budget, as well as his course on other measures during the Session. Here is what he said as to the Budget—I will take one Bill as an illustration of what I mean—I refer to the Finance Bill, which was the great achievement of last Session. It occupied nearly the whole of the Session, and it was a Measure of great magnitude. Mr. Chamberlain hardly ever appeared in his place. Mr. Courtney, another prominent man in our ranks, voted steadily with the Government almost through the entire Session. It was a Measure the principles of which Liberals have been committed to for a quarter of a century. For 20 years I must have made speeches in favour of the equalisation of the Death Duties. I know I did in 1885, and it is almost impossible for a Liberal to argue in favour of a lower scale of assessment for land than for any other form of property. The Liberal Unionists wore nearly all in a very tight corner.Then the hon. Member said that he voted with "the Conservative wing of the Unionist Party." So that the Unionist Party has two wings. As to the Bills which are to be brought before the House the hon. Member said, "As a general principle I am not in favour of Established Churches." As a Liberal he declared he should Vote for the Disestablishment of the Welsh Church, and then he added—but the Conservative Party is solid against Disestablishment, and many of my Liberal Unionist friends are also opposed to it. What ought I to do under these circumstances?The hon. Member continued—Ulster owes absolutely nothing to Wales. The Principality has done its best to fasten upon us the most degrading form of servitude. I consider this to be a case where I ought not to assort my own personal views, which are more abstract than anything else, at the expense of allies and friends. I will not, indeed, vote against the principle of Welsh Disestablishment. I could not well do that, but I shall not vote for the Second Reading of the Government Bill, and in Committee, should the Bill get that length, I shall vote as the justice or injustice of each Amendment seems to require."That," he added, "is what I call the price of the alliance." Now, that disposes of Welsh Disestablishment. He will not vote for it, but he will not vote against it; and in Committee he 1045 will vote according to the justice of the case. Here is another matter, which is even more encouraging than Welsh Disestablishment. He says—There are other issues which put the difficulties much more strongly. Suppose the Government, instead of bringing in a Welsh Church Bill, brought in a Liquor Traffic (Local Control) Bill, my duty in such a case would be clear. It is true that the English Conservative Party are against that Measure. Mr. Chamberlain, and I dare say most of the Liberal Unionists, would follow them in doing so. I should at least vote for the Second Reading; and this illustrates in the clearest manner the point I am driving at. Few people in Ulster care about the Welsh Church, whether it is disestablished or not. A great many—most of the best people in Ulster—do care for Temperance Reform. In that case I should vote against our allies. I should vote against my own Leader and most of my friends.Well, now, that is most encouraging. The Local Veto Bill will have the support of the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell). But there are a good many Members besides who do not regard Temperance as a Party question. There are a good many Members, I believe, who are not supporters of the Government, who, in my belief, will use their best endeavours to arrive at a satisfactory solution of this question; and, therefore, when we are told that we are bringing forward a Local Veto Bill which we do not believe has any chance of passing, I entirely deny it. My hope is that this Parliament will not dissolve until it has made a serious and successful attempt to cope with this question. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's (Mr. G. J. Goschen) appealed to me and asked me whether in my early days there was anything like a Caucus and a Newcastle Programme, and he delivered a very able argument against the Caucus. But why does he address it to me? I was not the inventor of the Caucus. I was not the person who established the principle of laying down programmes. It is quite true that when I first came into Parliament that invention was unknown. But what, after all, is the Caucus, if you choose to call it so? It is only a method of endeavouring to ascertain what is the opinion of the bulk of the Party, and all Leaders of a Party must desire to know what are their opinions. Somebody said in the course 1046 of the Debate that in old days you only took one measure and stuck to it and did nothing else. Is that true? The first Parliament I entered, that of 1868, came in primarily to disestablish the Irish Church; but what did it do besides? It passed the Ballot Act, the, Education Act, and the Irish Land Act, and all without the instrumentality of the Caucus, because those were measures the Party desired should pass into law. The right hon. Gentleman in moving this Amendment gave me credit for a clearness of declaration with reference to the attitude of the, Liberal Party in regard to Home Rule. I should have been ashamed of myself if I had left that matter in any doubt. Sir, unfortunately, the right hon. Gentleman has abandoned the Liberal Party, but his memory cannot be so short that he does not know that among the, immortal traditions of the Liberal Party the greatest is this—that when it once espouses a cause it never relinquishes it. On all those great questions to which I have referred already—the emancipation of slaves, Parliamentary reform, free trade, the removal of religious disabilities—all these were causes which had the adhesion of the Liberal Party; they never abandoned them, but clung to them until they had carried them to a successful issue. [An hon. MEMBER: "Free Trade?"] Yes; did the Liberal Party not carry Free Trade? The right hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Courtney) said that Free Trade was carried by the potato famine. No, Sir; it was not carried by the potato famine. It was carried, first of all, by a Liberal Government declaring itself in its favour with certain qualifications, and ultimately the determination of Sir Robert Peel to announce the immediate, Repeal of the Corn Laws in consequence of letters written by Lord John Russell. Yes, Sir; the Liberal Party do not abandon the causes they have espoused. What cause have they ever abandoned? [An hon. MEMBER: "The Union."] Really, Sir, I did not know that the, ignorance upon Irish questions was so great. The Union was not the, act of the, Liberal Party. But there is a Party which has abandoned almost all great causes. 1047 There was the Party of Protestant Ascendency, and in a moment it threw it over, even in the House of Lords, because it feared what might follow. There was the cause of Protection. That was thrown over in a moment. People were taken by surprise when Sir Robert Peel came down and announced the Repeal of the Corn Laws. Yes; the Party which had defeated a £5 franchise in 1866 came forward next year and proposed it. The right hon. Member for Bodmin referred to the question of the Corn Laws, and said it was carried by Sir Robert Peel. Yes, Sir; it was. I do not know what is meant by that illustration. Did he mean that that was the future of Home Rule? I can almost hear the right hon. Gentleman getting up in his place and according merited honours to the unadorned eloquence of the hon. Member for Waterford City (Mr. J. E. Redmond). We all remember Sir Robert Peel, when he repealed the Corn Laws, said the honour did not belong to him but to the unadorned eloquence of Sir Richard Cobden. Stranger things may happen than that the future of Home Rule may be like the future of the Corn Laws. But, Sir, one of the great charges against us is that our varying policy prevents a square fight in the open. That is, the expression upon Home Rule. He said, "Let us have Home Rule, and nothing but Home Rule, before the country." Sir, there has never been a General Election at which you have not had many questions before the public. Men in public, as in private, life act from mixed motives, and you never can have any election which turns upon a single question. ["1886."] Yes, I will give you an authority to which you will pay some respect. The Mover of this Amendment, the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain), has gone through the country preaching to his allies, and saying, "Do not stand on a negative policy. If you do you are sure to be beaten." That is the square fight in the open; that is a negative to Home Rule. The right hon. Gentleman, knowing that, has invented a confused issue—an unauthorised programme for the next election. You say 1048 you are to have a plain and simple issue, the right hon. Gentleman says—I know perfectly well if we have a plain and simple issue on the negative to Home Rule we shall be defeated";therefore, he selects a collective issue, and turns it into an unauthorised programme, which is to confuse and prevent there being a square fight in the open upon Home Rule. The right hon. Gentleman was good enough to tell us that we have forgotten how to govern and not learnt how to resign. Now, what does he mean by saying we have forgotten how to govern? Does that apply to us in our administrative capacity? What is the charge you have brought against us in our administrative capacity? Is it against the conduct of foreign affairs? The right hon. Gentleman said the other night he considered that out of the arena of Party questions. Is it the government of Ireland that he charges us with? When has Ireland been more peaceful or in a condition of which England had less cause to be ashamed than at the present moment? As to domestic policy, are you prepared to affirm that the Home Office has been less well conducted under my right hon. Friend than it was in former times? As to Local Government in this country, you yourselves claim to have a share in the measure that was brought forward with such ability by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India. As to Education, I know you do not approve of everything we have done. Yes; but you cannot say we have forgotten how to govern. As to Finance, I must not speak, but if you choose to challenge us upon that issue either here or in the country, we are ready to meet you. Well, so much for the statement that we have forgotten how to govern. Then you say we have not learnt how to resign. No, Sir, because the House of Commons has not taught us. Upon what constitutional principle do you demand that a Government in a majority should resign? Why, it is not a very logical proposition that a Government that has a majority should resign in favour of a Party that has got no majority, which is in a minority. 1049 When has a Government which was in a majority resigned? I gave you one great example just now in the case of Mr. Pitt, when the Prime Minister, upon his own Reform Bill, was beaten by a majority of 74. He did not resign. That was rather a remarkable circumstance. Sir Robert Peel, in 1835, was beaten over and over again and he did not resign. But I will come to the cases of a majority. The Second Reading of the great Reform Bill of 1831 was carried by a majority of one. Was the Government that had a majority of one upon a question like the first Reform Bill bound to resign? If it had done so it would have betrayed its duty to its Party. No, Sir, they did not resign until they were beaten afterwards.—[Mr. BALFOUR: They dissolved.]—They did not dissolve upon that majority; they never dissolved until they were beaten in the House of Commons. They were beaten twice before they dissolved. The Motion upon which they were beaten was that of General Gascoigne, who, if I am not mistaken, was some relative of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, and, on that account, he may have some cause to remember the circumstance. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) brought in his Reform Bill his majority upon an Amendment of Lord Grosvenor's was five, and he did not resign or dissolve until afterwards, when he was beaten in the House of Commons. Now, will you exactly fix on what majority a Government ought to resign? I will give you a figure. When the great Government of Lord Palmerston came in and the Motion of Want of Confidence was moved by Lord Hartington in this House, the majority by which the Tory Party was defeated and upon which the Liberal Government was founded was 13. The Government of Lord Melbourne was frequently defeated in the House of Commons. We have not been defeated in the House of Commons, and I should like to ask upon what ground could a Government justify itself to its Party or the country if, while it possessed a majority in the House of Commons, it resigned? Have we been defeated on our legislative measures? 1050 ["Yes.] On which of them? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain), has borne testimony to the fact that never has any Government in so short a time passed so many important measures. You say indeed that our majority has been reduced. Yes, but what is the principal element in that reduction? You know perfectly well that the reduction in our majority is due to the fact that the hon. Member for Waterford and his Friends consistently support you in the Lobby. Well, then I say further that there is not the smallest foundation for saying that we have forgotten how to govern. We have adopted certain principles, and we are endeavouring to carry those principles into effect. You cannot say that in regard to our legislative measures up to this time we have lost the confidence of the House of Commons; and under those circumstances we feel ourselves absolutely bound and compelled, in honour and in duty, until we are condemned by the House of Commons, to carry out the policy which we were sent here to give effect to; and we will continue to do it until we are condemned by this House. I regret I have occupied the time of the House so long; and I hope when we have decided upon this, the third Vote of Want of Confidence, we may be allowed then to proceed with the business of the Nation.
§ *MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
Mr. Deputy-Speaker, the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has entertained us with his eloquence for something very little under an hour; but he has not been able during that time to touch on the Amendment. He has given us a good deal of excellent information and criticism upon a very large variety of subjects; but the Amendment and the arguments which have been advanced from time to time by various speakers in its favour have been boycotted absolutely from the beginning of his speech to its end. He has given us a good deal of English history—some of it good, some of it extremely bad. He has told us, for example, that the Party to which he belongs never abandoned a cause it once took up. The right hon. Gentleman is a distinguished Member of 1051 that Party. Can he pretend that he has not abandoned a cause he has once taken up? I have no particular love—in fact, I think I may say I have abstained from troubling the House with quotations from ancient speeches of those to whom I am opposed; but if it were worth while to deal with that kind of Parliamentary ware I could produce categorical speeches from the right hon. Gentleman against, I believe, every single one of the important measures of the Government. I could quote from him sentences to show that he would never associate himself with the disestablishment of the Church. I could quote from him sentences to show that ho would never associate himself with the plunder of the publicans, or with any measure injuriously affecting their interests. And, though I do not pledge myself to the statement, I could find in many speeches some quotation relevant to the House of Lords. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman associated himself too closely with the aristocratic traditions of English history for one moment to doubt that, if necessary, I could bring up quotations on that subject which would show that, whatever the Liberal Party may do, the most eminent Member of that Party is perfectly accustomed to change his opinion on all the subjects it now advocates. Then the right hon. Gentleman went on to make a parallel—we have been accustomed to parallels, by the way, in the course of this Debate—between the political events that occurred between 1839 and 1846, and those that are expected to occur in the immediate future. But of all the strange parallels that have been given to us in the course of the last two days, surely the strangest of all is the parallel between Mr. Cobden and the hon. Member for Waterford. Sir, the right hon. Gentleman, amongst other subjects of attack, quite irrelevant, I may say, to the matter under Debate, criticised the Tory Party for following the hon. Member for Waterford into the Lobby. But, so far as I am concerned, knowing now that in the opinion of the Leader of the House the hon. Member for Waterford is the closest modern analogue to Mr. Cobden, if there had been any shame on my part—and I do 1052 not say there was—for the part I took in supporting the Motion of the hon. Member it would be entirely dissipated by the statement of the Leader of the House. I do not intend to stop, for time is short, to discuss with the right hon. Gentleman another subject which he dragged into this Debate—namely, the constitution of the next Cabinet. I do not know whether it is imminent or whether it is not. At all events, whatever interest that subject may possess—I do not know whether interest is centred in it or not—but whatever interest it may have, I would submit that it is far outside the limits of the Amendment now under discussion. Well, Sir, there is another matter which the right hon. Gentleman brought in at very great length. For some time he seemed at a loss how to fill up the time allotted to him by the ordinary practice of the House, and he therefore gave us very long extracts from the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for South Tyrone, speeches in no wise directed to the question under discussion—speeches about the Land Bill, speeches about the Liquor Bill, speeches about various other subjects, which may some day be under discussion, but which are not under discussion at the present moment. The right hon. Gentleman says—How monstrous that a Statesman of the ability of the hon. Member for South Tyrone should, on certain subjects, bow his own opinion to the general feeling of the Party to which he belongs!The Leader of the House says "How monstrous!" but he cannot have listened to a most interesting and amusing speech we had from the hon. Member for Northampton. Then we saw, indeed, what it was to bow your opinion to the feelings of the majority of your Party. But I am certain that my hon. Friend the Member for South Tyrone, in the utmost flights of his eloquence, never was guilty of using unparliamentary language towards himself, and that he never described himself as a man "bowed under the Party yoke, obediently, stupidly, and patiently obeying the goad and lash of the Party Whip." Of all men in this House, the present Leader of the House is the last person who 1053 ought to reproach those who follow him humbly into the Lobby, openly and avowedly differing from him in speech, in order to keep him in the Office which he so admirably adorns. There is only one other point which I need allude to, before I come to the Amendment under discussion; and that is, the conduct of the Party to which I have the honour to belong in voting with the hon. Member for Waterford in an Amendment which he moved the other day. This has profoundly stirred the indignation of the right hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Treasury Bench. There has not been one of them who spoke on the Amendment, who has been able to restrain the expression of his indignation at the course which we ventured to pursue last Thursday. I cannot understand this new code of Parliamentary ethics. The Home Secretary, with a sneer which was very obvious, though concealed in the utmost graces of language, described us as "the new comrades of the hon. Member for Waterford." Ever since I have been in this House there has been one maxim which has never been contested, as far as I know, by any Gentleman in any quarter of the House, and that is that yon are at liberty—I put it no higher than that—to vote for a thing in which you believe whoever may be the Statesman who proposes it. I think that the Government are most ungrateful in reproaching us on this side of the House for having exercised that liberty. It is true that I voted with the, hon. Member for Waterford because I agreed with him, and when he next proposes a motion with which I agree I shall vote with him again. But the measure which I mete out to the hon. Member for Waterford I constantly mete out to the right hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Treasury Bench. How often have we rescued them from the Radical zeal of their own followers? When the right hon. Gentleman says that he has a right, and even a duty, to stay in Office until he is turned out by the House of Commons, I do not contest his position. But the right hon. Gentleman would have been turned out over and over again but for his "new comrades." I must say that I think it is a dangerous augury for the 1054 continuance of the present Government that they should let every gentleman on this side of the House understand that if he votes for the Government, even when he agrees with them, he must be counted in some sense as their supporter and comrade. I can only hope that the principle will not be taken to heart by hon. Gentlemen behind me. There is one more point. The right hon. Gentleman was good enough to criticise not only English history, the past of the Tory Party, the future of the next Cabinet, and other interesting and similar subjects, but also to comment on the tactics which the Opposition have pursued since the House met. He said:—Was ever such folly known as giving the Government the strength which is obtained from an unsuccessful Vote of Censure?''I do not know how high the Government put that advantage. I do not know what they think it adds to their strength. I confess, for my own part, I should have thought that a Debate like that we have had to-night, and a Division like that we had the other night would not and strength even to the strongest Government, and that a Government which is evidently, with respect to the opinion of its followers, cut and rent from one end to the other by divisions so profound as those which divide Gentlemen opposite, certainly was not likely to be strengthened by a majority of 12, or by the speech which I heard from the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean. That brings me to an observation which the right hon. Gentleman made, at the beginning of his speech. He said that the whole of the interest of this Debate had concluded with the eloquent speech of the Home Secretary on Friday. I admit, and everybody who heard that speech will admit, that the Parliamentary display of the Mover of the Amendment and of the Home Secretary, who answered him, on Friday night were worthy of the best times of the House of Commous, and were as brilliant an exhibition of Parliamentary dexterity, Parliamentary wit, and Parliamentary dialectic as we are ever likely to hear. Though there have been no speeches to compare with those two in eloquence, I am not sure that the 1055 speech of the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean did not exceed them in interest and in importance. What did the right hon. Gentleman tell us? He told us to-night—and his speech was not referred to by the Leader of the House—that he and those who agree with him, the militant Radical in and out of the House, drew a wide distinction between the right hon. Gentleman and two or three of his colleagues and those Members of the Government who sit in the House of Lords. He told the House that he for his part, while anxious to proceed to the question of the House of Lords, gave us to understand that if ever it was brought up in this House, he and the Members of his Party will be found supporting the view of the position of the House of Lords and of the Constitution of this country which the Prime Minister has declared in words which he can never explain away, never mitigate, alter, or diminish, that he is unalterably opposed to. What are we to say of a Party which governs this country by a majority of 12—I do not quarrel about the figures—or, say, of 20, whose majority apparently on the question of the revolution which they have gratuitously endeavoured to bring about is divided, not in any of the details, not in any mere superficial incident, but is vitally, fundamentally, and essentially cut into two irreconcileable Parties? Such a Government has no title to dictate legislation to this House, no title to the confidence of the country. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that when we state that the Bills which the Government have announced they are to bring forward are not likely to pass we are in error, that the Bills really had an excellent prospect of being passed into law. I am not going to discuss the prospect of those Bills. I can only say that every statement made by responsible Minister's throughout the country during the whole Recess, absolutely contradicts that position. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has not said so, because he has said nothing. It is easy to be discreet when you are absolutely silent; but the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have said so. I admit that an explanation has been given by the Minister for War. 1056 The right hon. Gentleman had before him those speeches, and some of his own among others, and what did he tell us? The Opposition have been "grubbing" about among the speeches delivered by Ministers in the autumn, and they have discovered, no doubt, a certain number of statements which appear to point in this direction; and the right hon. Gentleman added "Pity the sorrows of a Cabinet Minister." He must make speeches; when he makes speeches they must be reported; and in making those speeches it is an unfortunate necessity to make your sentences, if possible, grammatical and find a striking conclusion, to your paragraph. I gather from him that all these amazing professions about the possibility of getting legislation through Parliament this Session were in the nature of finding grammatical conclusions to sentences and forcible terminations to perorations. I have too great respect for the Gentlemen who sit on the Treasury Bench and for the Prime Minister to suppose, although accidents may happen to them and to all of us, that they should be victims to the constant misfortune of always being obliged to end most effective sentences by recourse to the statement of the fact that the legislation they were going to propose was destined to come to an inglorious termination. That defence of the Government, I venture to say, must be abandoned. I prefer the defence of the Home Secretary, who, having himself been the author of this unfortunate sentence and these too brilliant paragraphs, naturally did not wish to commit himself to the grammatical weaknesses with which he was charged by his colleagues. What was the Home Secretary's defence? He admitted, as I understand, that these Bills would never become law; but then, said he, think of the advantages of full discussion in this House; think of the immense benefit to Parliament and to the country of really threshing out these questions. Sir, when did the Government become converts to the doctrine of threshing out? They have been in Office two Sessions. The first two Sessions were intended, I suppose, to be practical Sessions, and then we had the gag applied. This Session is not to be prac- 1057 tical, but it is to be one for discussion. I hope the Home Secretary will maintain this new-born zeal for Parliamentary debate, and that it will not be brought to unkindly conclusion by means with which we have been familiar during the last 18 months. The Home Secretary seems to think that the Bills of the Government will gain by closer acquaintanceship, and he has all the partiality of a parent for the first Bill which is to come before us. He cannot believe that we can know more of the Welsh Disestablishment Bill without getting to like it. To see it is to love it, and to cavil over its details in Committee is apparently for Parliament and the country to be convinced of its trans-cendant value. Still, making full allowance for the partiality of the right hon. Gentleman, I must say that experience does not bear out his anticipations. As far as I have any knowledge of these matters, I should say that a Bill is never so popular as when it is explained on public platforms, and never so unpopular as when, it has run the gauntlet of discussion in this House. If I may offer a word of advice to the right hon. Gentleman, who does not expect to pass the Bill this Session, though he does expect to pass it after five or six years' agitation, as the Repeal of the Corn Laws was passed, I would say he will have a much better chance of passing it in five or six years if he does not require us too closely to scan its beauties on the present occasion. But I must allow I am a believer in the virtues of discussion if fairly conducted. If it is not a discussion on the merits of the Bill, not a discussion intended to have a practical issue, not a discussion anybody takes seriously, feeling personal responsibility for its results, then I say the House of Commons falls to the level, not only of a debating society, but far below it. We sink into a body of electioneering gentlemen who know what they say and hope for can have no permanent effect on the Statute Book, but may have an effect upon their seats. Anything more utterly demoralising to the House of Commons than that condition of things I cannot easily imagine. The Government have contrived, under the flood of an attack made upon the Opposition, to conceal partly from their own audience and partly from the country the real 1058 gravamen of the charge we make against them. What we say is that in the autumn of last year the Prime Minister, speaking on behalf of the Cabinet of which he is the authoritative mouthpiece, announced a Revolution. That announcement having fallen absolutely flat, he and his colleagues have over since been trying to minimise it and explain it away. They came forward like an ale-house bully. They thought they had some defenceless victim, but they find the victim is stronger than they imagined, and they have put off to an indefinite future the quarrel which they were the first to provoke. You cannot put a Revolution into lavender and under lock and key in this way. You cannot announce to the country that you are going to do wonderful things, compared with which the Reform Bills of 1832 and 1867 and the whole history of our legislation for 200 years sink into insignificance, and then say you don't mean much, and that there is this question and that before even you will deign to discuss this wonderful Resolution which is only to be carried through by the stern resolution of a coat-less and waistcoatless Party. What I complain of, and every man who values the dignity of this House complains of, is the outrage to which we, the representatives of the people, are made the victims by this procedure. We are asked to go through unreal debate and sham discussions to please the Government, to make ourselves the parties of wire-pullers who may or may not be dexterous, but who certainly do not represent the hands to which we desire to commit the destinies of this country, and I do not believe that in the whole of that Parliamentary history over which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House has so glibly run in his speech this evening you will find a case in which a Government has deliberately come down to this House and said to it, "We have a Revolution in store for you which is to be embodied in a Resolution, of which," as the Minister for War said, "we will not tell you the smallest fragment"—because I believe they have not an idea as to what it shall be—"we have a Revolution in store for you, to be embodied in terms not yet decided, to carry out a policy on which we are absolutely divided; but we mean 1059 to put it off for one month, two months, three months, so long as it suits us, because, on the whole, we are of opinion that, while there is much to lose by flaunting this revolutionary flag prematurely in the eyes of the people, something may possibly be gained by discussions on subsidiary measures," in the meanwhile. Sir, the House of Commons ought not to make itself a party to any such electioneering transaction as that, and it is because I think myself bound to disassociate myself, and, so far as I can, my friends, from any manœuvres so utterly discreditable to the ancient honour and glory of this House that I, without hesitation, vote for the Amendment of my right hon. Friend.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided.—Ayes, 283; Noes, 297.—(Division List, No. 6.)
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ Debate arising,
§ SIR W. HARCOURT rose in his place, and claimed to move—"That the Question be now put."
§ Question put—
§ "That the Question be now put."
§ The House divided.—Ayes, 279; Noes, 271.—(Division List, No. 7.)
§ Main Question put accordingly, and agreed to.
Resolved,—That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as followeth:
Most Gracious Sovereign,—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the Most Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
§ To be presented by Privy Councillors.