HC Deb 06 April 1897 vol 48 cc639-41
SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT () Monmouthshire, W.

I wish to ask the First Lord of the Treasury whether he will assign a day for the discussion of the Address to the Crown of which I have given notice? [Ministerial cries of No!"]—[The Motion standing in the name of the right hon. Gentleman was as follows: Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT,— Greece and Crete (Employment of British Forces),—That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty that the Forces of the Crown may not be employed against the Kingdom of Greece or the people of Crete.]


As there is not a word in the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman which explicitly expresses condemnation of anything we have done, are doing, or have announced our intention of doing or our preparedness to do, I am forced to the conclusion that the object of the right hon. Gentleman is not to put a direct issue but to evade one. [Ministerial cheers.] In these circumstances I do not think it would be in the interests of the conduct of business in the House that I should grant a day. [Ministerial cheers.]


, who was received with Opposition cheers: The right hon. Gentleman appears entirely to have misconceived the object and the intention of that Motion. I may be permitted to explain the purport of it. The right hon. Gentleman asked me yesterday whether the Motion was a Vote of Censure on the Government. I should not say that it was a Vote of Censure on the Government, because a Vote of Censure can only be addressed to something that has actually been done; but there may be a want of confidence if we anticipate what is likely to be done, and what the Government have expressed their intention of doing. I will state what the Motion is. The Executive Government, of course, are primarily responsible for the employment of the forces of the Crown. This Motion is addressed to the Crown, praying that these forces shall not be employed against the Greek Kingdom or the Cretan people. That Motion, if it was carried, would be a restraint on the action of the Government if they propose so to employ them. Now, the Opposition have a right, and it is their duty, to put on record their view of the present situation. The right hon. Gentleman the other day invited us to raise some definite issue. We propose to raise such an issue; and it is this. So far as the information given us as yet by the Government goes, we hold that there is no justification for the employment of the forces of the Crown against the Greek Kingdom or the Cretan people. We challenge the policy of the Government on that point. [Opposition cheers.] It is necessary to do so now immediately before the Recess, because when Parliament met again we might find the country embarked in hostilities with the Greek Kingdom without any declaration by the Government to Parliament as to the object of such a policy. [Opposition cheers.] From that point of view this is, of course, a Motion of want of confidence in the Government. [Cheers.]


Let me point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the terms of his Motion are studiously ambiguous. [Ministerial cheers.] We have stated in the most explicit terms, we have by our action shown, that we are prepared to use the forces of the Crown to resist certain action of the insurgents in Crete. Is that or is that not using the forces of the Crown against the Cretan people? We have announced that we are prepared to blockade Greece, as the right hon. Gentleman did on a previous occasion. [Ministerial cheers.] Is that using the forces of the Crown against the Greek Kingdom? The right hon. Gentleman has only to modify his Resolutions so as to condemn one of these two propositions, the first of which deals with what we are actually doing in Crete, and the other of which deals with the announcement of our intention to do something in certain contingencies, and a direct issue will be raised between the two sides of the House. Unless he is prepared to make that modification in his Resolution, it does not seem to me that any other course is open to us except the one I have adopted. [Ministerial cheers.]