HC Deb 24 June 1895 vol 34 cc1746-9

who rose amid loud cheers shortly before half-past Three o'clock, said: Mr. Speaker, it is my duty, before questions, to make an announcement to the House, because I think that that announcement will show that questions for to-day should be deferred. The Division of last Friday night upon the Army Vote for the War Office was, in fact, a direct Vote of Censure upon the Secretary of State for the War Department—[cheers]—than whom I will take on me to say no more able, more respected, or more popular Minister ever filled that great post. [Loud and general cheers.] I need hardly say that the Government absolutely associated and identify themselves with the responsibility of my right hon. Friend and his Army administration. [Cheers.] The course thus taken by responsible Gentlemen opposite has disabled the Secretary of State from proceeding with the Army Estimates, and has made it practically impossible for the executive Government to obtain those Votes of Supply which are necessary for the public service of the country. The Cabinet, therefore, have found it their duty, through the Prime Minister, to tender to the Queen their resignation of office, and that resignation has been accepted by Her Majesty. The Government accordingly only hold office until their successors are appointed. Under these circumstances I should, according to usual precedent, have moved the adjournment of the House so that no ordinary business could be transacted until the appointment of our successors, who will be responsible for the conduct of affairs. But, Sir, there happens to be on the Paper one Bill which it is indispensable should be passed and receive the Royal Assent before the end of the present week; I refer to the Seal Fisheries Bill. I shall propose, therefore, to proceed with that Bill, and that Bill alone, to-day, postponing all other Orders of the Day, and when it is disposed of, then to move the adjournment of the House. This is a course which has previously been pursued in the year 1886 and in the year 1885, when, during an interregnum like the present indispensable business was transacted. I shall, therefore, propose to postpone the first Order of the Day, which is Supply; and then I should hope that we shall be able to take the Committee on the Seal Fisheries Bill, and if it passes, as I hope, through Committee without Amendment, then it will be read a third time and sent to the House of Lords. Well, Sir, that is all that is necessary or proper that I should say upon the present occasion on the business of this House. Before I sit down I hope I may be permitted to say a few further words before I leave this place. In quitting office I relinquish also a position which I have always regarded as one of greater responsibility and higher obligation even than any office under the Crown. [General cheers.] It has always been my aim, unequal as I have felt myself to the task—[Opposition cries of "No!"]—to maintain the ancient dignity and the great traditions—[Opposition cheers]—of this famous Assembly. In that arduous duty, under circumstances of no ordinary difficulty, I have received great and necessary assistance. I desire to tender to the Gentlemen with whom I have the honour to act my grateful thanks for the constant, the unfailing, and the generous support which I have received from them in the duty which has been devolved upon me. I desire also to acknowledge the courtesy which I have invariably received from my political opponents—[Opposition cheers] —and, Sir, if it be not too presumptuous to adopt the words of one of my most illustrious predecessors, I would ask leave to say that for every man who has spent his life in the noble arena of Parliamentary conflict, the chiefest ambition must always, whether in the majority or in the minority, be to stand well with the House of Commons. [General cheers.]

MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.),

who was received with loud Opposition cheers, said: Sir, everybody, on whichever side of the House he may sit, will have heard with sympathy and emotion the touching words with which the right hon. Gentleman concluded his speech. ["Hear, hear!"] Whether or not it is to be really, for the moment, the termination of the responsible office which he has held with so much dignity for more than two years I know not. But whether it be so, or whether the right hon. Gentleman is destined to continue the duties he has hitherto so worthily sustained, all must feel that, so far as his glance is backwards, so far as he has made a retrospective survey of the work he has done in this House, he has not appealed to us who sit on this side of the House, still less to those who sit on the other, he has not appealed in vain for our sympathy and for our approval of the object which he has always had in view as a Parliamentary leader. Whatever we may think of the policy of the Government which he leads in this House, we all recognise the right hon. Gentleman as one of the greatest ornaments of this Assembly [cheers], and as one who has ever had the dignity of this Assembly in view. Sir, you will not, I hope, think I am travelling into unnecessary criticisms when I say that, while I recognise that the Government are the best judges of whether they can or cannot properly under the existing circumstances continue to be responsible for public affairs, while I have no title to criticise the interpretation they have put upon the Vote of last Friday, I should have thought that, taking the view they do, the proper and constitutional course for them to have adopted would have been to advise Her Majesty to dissolve Parliament. [Loud Opposition Cheers.] It must be admitted by all that for a Government in the position of that of which the right hon. Gentleman is a Member to resign is practically equiva- lent to a determination to put the burden of Office upon the Opposition. [Ministerial Cheers.] But the present Opposition have been themselves the subject of a deliberate and successful Vote of Censure by this House of Commons. In August, 1892, the Gentlemen who sit upon this Bench, all of them Members of the previous Administration, were made the subject of a Vote of Censure proposed by the present Home Secretary, which Vote of Censure was carried by a substantial majority. So that what in effect the right hon. Gentleman appears to desire is that those whose policy has already been deliberately censured by this House of Parliament should never theless endeavour to wind up the business of the Session. Sir, I do not think that is in accordance with the best constitutional traditions ["Hear, hear!"] and I greatly regret that the Government have adopted the course which they have adopted on the present occasion. That, Sir, I think, is all that is necessary for me to say upon the present crisis. The right hon. Gentleman has made allusion to one particular Bill which, he says, must pass into law in accordance with international obligations. Well, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman speaks upon that subject with authority, and I have no doubt that the Bill will pass without any great difficulty in the course of this evening. I do not criticise, therefore, the departure from ordinary practice which has induced the right hon. Gentleman to except that Bill from the general proscription which he has made against business, whether it be public or private. For whatever may be the issue of the present crisis, of which I myself venture to make no forecast, it is evident that that Bill, at all events, ought to pass into law without unnecessary delay. [Cheers.]