§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House, at the rising of the House this Evening, do adjourn until Tuesday, 12th April, and that, at the conclusion of the proceedings on Notices of Motion at this Evening's Sitting, Mr. Speaker do adjourn the House without Question put."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
This Motion is an indication that we have reached the close of the first Act of the Annual Parliamentary piece. We are now invited to fix the duration of the entr'acte. Eight weeks have passed over our heads since the curtain rose on this play on 2nd February, and this is the usual time, and the most convenient time, for reviewing the progress of events during that interval, and of seeing how far we have advanced. Has the piece—has the play advanced as far as we might have expected? Has the plot become intelligible and clear? Is it likely to develop into a tragedy or a comedy? Is the dénouement likely to be that which the author of the piece desires? These are the questions which naturally occur 997 to us at this moment. Now, the first of the three portions into which this part of the session is divided by the customary holidays is, as we all know, devoted to the discussion of the general policy of the Government, either on the Address or on Motion made by private Members; secondly, to the submission of the Estimates for the year and their primary consideration; and thirdly, to the introduction of the principal and important legislative measures which the Ministers have elaborated during the recess.
Let us see how we stand in each of these particulars, taking them in an inverse order. Bills, Sir: There were twelve Bills named in the King's Speech of which only one of the first order has been introduced. It was introduced yesterday. It is a Bill which I regard, and which many Members of the House regard, as of the very highest importance; but it does not occupy that place, no doubt, in the estimation of about nine-tenths of the Members of the House—because it relates to Scotland, That measure has been introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland amid general good feeling and goodwill of the Scottish Members who are most interested in it, and we have shown that disposition towards it all the more because we recognise in it the hand not only of the Secretary for Scotland but his predecessor in office, in whom, in this matter, we had much confidence. If I might venture to tender advice to the Government I would say that they would do well to carry that principle of delegation a little further and to leave chiefly the final determination of the measure to the Scotch Members. In that case I am certain a thoroughly good Bill will be the result. But another Bill has just been introduced under our eves, not of the first order, but still evidently exciting on the other side of the House a most unusual degree of interest. When we return fresh from our holidays we are to be invited to tackle another question—the question of licences—and by that time Ministers, no doubt, will have made up their minds how far it will be safe for them to go in the task which they have deliberately undertaken of giving fresh relief, protection, and endowment to the liquor traffic. 998 The twelve Bills promised in the King's Speech was a meagre allowance for the session; but two of the twelve introduced is a still more meagre performance for the first of the three parts of the session.
Now I come to the Estimates, and what do they show? In the King's Speech we were told—Although the Estimates have been framed with the utmost desire for economy, the burden imposed on the resources of the country by the necessities of naval and military defence is undoubtedly serious, and the possibility of diminishing this burden is being carefully considered in connection with the general problem of Army and War Office reform.But what sign do the Estimates give of this burning desire for economy? There is a decrease in Army expenditure, naturally, because, excepting with Somaliland—and for that war nothing is taken—we are not at war. But there is a general steady increase in the Navy of £2,500,000, and an increase in the Civil Service Estimates of £12,500,000. The Government are proposing this increase to an already bloated expenditure, with full knowledge, no doubt, of the condition of the revenue, and of the disposition and capability of the taxpayer. We shall sec after Easter with what success they will accommodate the one to the other. But in the last sentence of the paragraph from the King's Speech which I quoted we are directed to look for relief to two things, quite distinct, but often confused— namely, Army reform and War Office reform. Of changes in the organisation of the Army the Estimates show no sign whatever, for they are based on the system already in force. But we have heard a great deal of War Office reform. Only three days ago the third part of the new scheme of the Committee was promulgated; and it is a relief to note that this time the impropriety of introducing the King's name has been avoided. But the publication is sufficiently curious owing to the very remarkable covering letter in which the Committee out-do all their previous performances. Their inspiration, if I may use the phrase, has become more plenary than ever. Every part of their proposals must be accepted, at the risk of vitiating the whole; and the Prime 999 Minister, their creator, is called upon to stand and deliver. What in the world will become of him and us all if lie does not? At the same time, ex abundanti munificentia, they speak nicely of him. They pat their creator on the back, which is a thing that requires some courage, and they go on in a crescendo scale. In the first Report they said tha tuseful work had been done under the right hon. Gentleman's auspices; but now they become more ecstatic, in fact, rhapsodical, for they say—We have before indicated our views of the incalculable value of the work of the Defence Committee, due to the initiative and resource of the Prime Minister.They suggest that—With few exceptions, none of your predecessors since 1815 were qualified by aptitude or inclination to undertake this special duty.This is an odd way, let me observe, of enforcing their irrefragable theory, that at the head of this Cabinet Committee must always be the Prime Minister, to proclaim in this public way the total insufficiency for the purpose of all the Prime Ministers until the right hon. Gentleman came on the scene. My right hon. friend here says, "including the Duke of Wellington." The Committee speak of an exception. It is a graceful thing to imagine that the Duke of Wellington is the exception. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman has been wasting upon Parliament, Ireland, education, and other matters talents of the first order in strategy. I do not grudge him his laurels for achievements which I car well believe were most remarkable, although they are shrouded in obscurity, for as the world knows nothing of its greatest men, so the House knows nothing of the Committee of Defence. Even the Cabinet, does not know much about it. At least, I suspect it does not. But this Committee, this triumvirate, know all about it; and they are not only satisfied with the Prime Minister, but they are excessively pleased with him. They evidently think little of Parliament and possibly less of the Cabinet, except, indeed, the Secretary of War, whom they much admire because of his declaration that in all probability the Government would accept their recommendation en bloc, a declaration which is precisely that which he did not make. We are not used to this mixture of the 1000 pontifical and the hysterical in State documents. Their scheme, like most sublunary things, has its merits and demerits; decided merits, as I think, but also deckled faults. Let it he judged soberly, and not on compulsion, and the first thing for us to know is what the Government themselves think of it, and what they are going to do with it. Then when we know that we can come to our humble conclusions. One interesting thing which the Committee say is that a remedy for the condition of things disclosed by the War Commission was suggested in the Minority Report, and that to them "was entrusted the specific-duty of advising on the means of applying the remedy in question." That then is the genesis of the Committee. If there is this virtue in a Minority Report, why may we not go further? Here is this licensing question, which puzzles everyone. We have had a Minority Report on that question also which these nimble-minded gentlemen might put into shape and have ready a measure for the Government before the conclusion of the Easter recess. Then there is the question of rating, which the Government have undertaken. Again we have a Minority Report signed by some of the highest authorities on the subject in the country. What an admirable basis for legislation would be turned out in that case also by these competent and confident hands. I give the Government the benefit of this suggestion. Do I dare to go a little further still? We are not yet at the end of the embarrassments of the Prime Minister. He has trouble enough with licences, national defence, rating, and other things. But there is also the Church question. The right hon. Gentleman proposes to appoint a small and absolutely impartial Commission to settle the doctrines of the Church of England. Why ransack the country for impartiality when you have at hand this triumvirate, which in a few weeks will be quite idle, who think so well of him, and who, being entirely without experience in ecclesiastical as they were in military matters, will be admirably suited to settle the convictions of everybody?
But I have been led to discuss the extraordinary action of this Committee 1001 under the shadow of the Estimates. I now pass on to the question of policy. And here I am afraid I may get into trouble, because certain Gentlemen are so interested in some great question of public policy, that although they are unable to fix a day for it they are all very anxious to call the attention of the House to one subject or another, and I believe in that way they have placed some impediment in the way of the House employing themselves in discussing this question and this policy. But it is not my intention to go into the merits of any policy. I am circumscribed in the way in which I can walk to-day. There is the question of Somaliland, about which we should have liked to hear a little more; and there is the question of Tibet, which has been brought inadequately before the House. As I am practically debarred from entering upon these subjects, I shall naturally not attempt to say anything about them. But I come to South Africa. South Africa has been incidentally a good deal under discussion in connection with the question of indentured labour, but an event has happened in the last two or three days which is of so startling a kind that I think an opportunity such as this cannot be allowed to pass without referring to it—I mean the extraordinary language used by the High Commissioner reported yesterday. The High Commissioner is said to have declared that "he did not care two pence for the opinion of people 6,000 or 7,000 miles away"—in other words, for the opinion of the people of this country. This explains a good deal; but is this what is called "thinking Imperially?" Why, it is the rankest separatism. Why, this public servant was sent to the post he occupies and appointed to it on purpose to represent the opinions of the people of this country for which he expresses so much contempt. I ask this point-blank Question of the Colonial Secretary: Has Lord Milner been already rebuked and reprimanded for so gross a breach of propriety and so complete a misconception of his own position, and if he has not, what will be done to bring him to his senses? But the greatest of all present questions of policy is the fiscal policy, and it becomes more vague as we go on. Two things have been declared 1002 of it by the Prime Minister in that memorable letter in which he said, writing to the Duke of Devonshire—I see no difficulty in successfully carrying out the policy which for a fortnight you were ready to accept by the help of the Administration which for a fortnight you aided me to construct. On this point I feel no disquiet.Let the House observe that there are two things stated here. First of all, the Prime Minister sees no difficulty in carrying out the policy; secondly, he will do it with the present Administration. Why, then, did he not march, drums beating and colours flying, to the achievement of this great policy? Why put it off indefinitely? Does it turn out, after all, to be merely for electoral use? Then the inference is that the Government are satisfied with the state and immediate prospects of British trade—the drink trade alone excepted—that the protectionists, by whose favour the Government exists, assent to the Government being satisfied, and that the Member for West Birmingham and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who are at the head of the dominant faction, are acquiescent. Not a voice is raised by all the convinced and converted protectionists in favour of putting the policy into operation. In quietness, if not in confidence, they possess their souls. Silence also reigns in the country. The Press occasionally—yes, but then the demands of the daily circulation are inexorable and cannot be denied. But neither the organs of the late Colonial Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, nor the organs, if there are any, whose business it is to expound and promote the esoteric doctrines of the pamphlet—neither of these are clamouring for immediate action. The fire-eaters of the autumn have reduced themselves to the thin gruel of gentle criticism of imports and of the statistics of the Board of Trade. When a by-election occurs the Tariff Reform League is promptly bundled out of the constituency by the agent of the fiscal reform candidate. A country suffering under intolerable wrongs and smarting from wounds inflicted by foreign nations could hardly comport itself with greater fortitude if its injuries were incurable and there was nothing left for it but to die in the ditch. What a hollow business it all is! Let us think 1003 what the case is. A sovereign remedy exists for our industrial evils and is ready to be promulgated at the general election, and yet the Prime Minister, the man who can promulgate it, the man who is in possession of the nostrum, declares that whatever happens he will not resign, which of course is the only way—
THE PRIME MINISTER AND FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A.J. BALFOUE,) Manchester, E.
I never said that.
§ SIR. H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
Not literally whatever happens, but the right hon. Gentleman said that so long as he enjoys the confidence of the King and of this House he should not resign.
§ SIR. H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
The right hon. Gentleman picks his House. The calm with which this is taken shows how little weight the country really attaches to the frantic and frenzied campaign of the autumn, and to all the contortions, equivocations, and sophistications which have sustained His Majesty's Ministers under the weight of their professions. One thing, indeed, has come out by the avowals of the Prime Minister, that there is no contra diction between retaliation and the supposed other policy of preference and protection. They are complementary parts of a beautiful fiscal whole. And this statement has been translated—
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
The right hon. Gentleman said that of the two—may I say documents?—which were placed before the Cabinet, the one was not contradictory to the other. If it was not contradictory, and generally en the same subject, it must be helpful, 1004 ancillary, and complementary to the other.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The right hon. Gentleman accuses me, as I understand, of having stated at some place and on some occasion unknown, that the policy I have advocated in speeches and documents well known was part of a whole in which protection is included. That is inaccurate.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
We know there was a document which recommended or expounded the policy of preference and protection.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Where did you get that from? The right hon. Gentleman, perhaps, will quote Lord George Hamilton for that statement. He never made any statement so absurd.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
The right hon. Gentleman objects to the word protection. Well, if the right hon. Gentleman likes it better, and is more comfortable with it, I will substitute preferences and taxation of food. But this statement is translated into action by what will go down to history as the episode of the Wharton Amendment. That was indeed a momentous episode. It disclosed this state of things—that while the official policy, or phase, or formula held the field as the test of orthodoxy, the policy of the document was the real Party policy, the governing policy. There is lip service to the pamphlet and whole homage to the document. It is the document and not the pamphlet that keeps the Government in power. This interesting episode which, as I say, will be classical and historical, was admirably described by a sorrowing and embarrassed follower of the right hon. Gentleman. He was a staunch and loyal supporter of the Government until this new departure, but writing to his constituents afterwards he says—On Wednesday,9th March, an Amendment to Mr. Pirie's Motion was put down by Mr. Wharton with the sanction if not by the direction of the Government. This Amendment I was prepared to support, as it embodied the views I always held on the subject. It was not until five o'clock on the day the Motion was to be moved that I was informed that the Government had been instructed by its Chamberlainite 1005 supporters that this Amendment must be withdrawn. In obedience to this threat or command the Government at once withdrew their Amendment. I am further told by one of Mr. Chamberlain's supporters in the House, that they pledged themselves not to offend similarly in the future. Whether this be so or not, it is sufficient for me to know that the Chamber-lainite section of the Unionist Party can and does direct the Government policy as it chooses. Under these circumstances I frankly confess that I have no confidence in His Majesty's Government.That is the hon. and gallant Member for the Heywood Division. How long, I ask, is this to go on? Every-where—except in the matter of Chinese labour—indecision, confusion, vacillation, a tortuous course, and a misty atmosphere. So long, the right hon. Gentleman says, as the confidence of the Crown is given to him he will remain in office.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
He will not resign as long as he enjoys the confidence of the Crown and of this House. When the right hon. Gentleman talks of the confidence of the Crown, I think he makes rather too free with the name and authority of the Crown. It is much better that he should adhere to the old fashion and take it for granted, as we know he can, that the Crown will act according to the Constitution. Is it really in accordance with the spirit of the Constitution that the Government—and the right hon. Gentleman is the Government—should retain power when the country demonstrates, on every opportunity afforded to it, that he no longer enjoys its favour? Technically, of course, he has still the support, but evidently the reluctant support, of the House of Commons [Cries of "No"]; but what is the authority of the present Parliament? We have always refused to acknowledge the full claim of the present Parliament to the continued sanction of the electorsafter the war and its settlement were concluded. [A laugh.] I could adduce a bushel of cases in which many of those who now laugh declared in 1900 that the war was the only subject before the consideration of the country; and at the head of the list I could quote the right hon. Gentleman himself. But now I would 1006 ask the right hon. Gentleman to put himself these questions; does the present state of things—of which he is as well aware as I—does the present state of things redound—I would say first of all to his own credit, but I know that is the last thing he considers. ["Oh, oh!"] I know that is the last thing he seeks; the right hon. Gentleman is not a self-seeking man. Does the present state of things redound to the strength of his Party and the prevalence in the country of such principles as may remain to it? Does if redound to the dignity of this House, of which dignity he is the constituted defender? Does it redound to the fame and stability of our tried, trusted, time-worn system of Parliamentary government? These are questions I now ask; these are questions that are asked in the country. ["By whom?"] By every body. By the answer which his actions give to these questions the right hon. Gentleman, his courage, and his statesmanship, will be judged.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The right hon. Gentleman is apparently very anxious that I should resign; but I am quite unable, after listening with most respectful attention to his speech—though it was no hasty utterance but the point of much careful reflection—to understand why it is he thinks it would be—I will not say to his or our benefit, but to the benefit of the country at large, that we should take so unusual a course, such an unprecedented course as far as I am aware, of resigning office while we retain the confidence of the House. ["Oh, oh!"] The right hon. Gentleman may think we do not retain the confidence of the House; but there is a perfectly well-known method of discovering whether that is so or not, and that is by formal discussion, and division on the subject. It is a familiar practice of the Constitution, the clear and only recognised method of determining whether His Majesty's Ministers for the time being do or do not retain the confidence of the House, which is the arbiter of their destiny. The right hon. Gentleman in working up to his appeal to us to resign office while we retain the confidence of the House travelled over a large number of facts and arguments which seem to me to have had very remote relation to the 1007 conclusion at which he eventually arrived. He began by discussing the condition of business. Here we are, he said, at the beginning of the Easter holidays with only two or three Government Bills introduced and the great burden of legislative work still before us. That is true, but who is to blame for it? If there is blame—and I do not say there is—on whom does the blame rest? We have not gratuitously occupied the time of the House with other matters. We have been sedulous, as every Government will be sedulous, I hope, under the new Rules to preserve the rights conferred on private Members by those Rules. ["Oh, oh!"] Can any hon. Gentleman say that those rights were better preserved before those Rules were passed? We have been sedulous to preserve those rights, and the Rules have worked as I expected they would work. But, apart from this, time has been taken up because the House wished to discuss the Estimates at consideraole—I will not say inordinate—length, and because partly on the Address and partly on other occasions there was a desire to devote time to the discussion of what in reality was a succession of votes of censure upon the Ministry. I do not deny that hon. Gentlemen opposite had a perfect right to do this, but it is rather hard to turn round upon us and say, Look at the result of all this, The fact may be deplorable; nobody regrets it more than I do, who am primarily responsible for the arrangement of business; but it cannot be said that we are to blame because business has not proceeded more rapidly. The right hon. Gentleman divagated into an attack upon the Committee for the Reconstitution of the War Office. He made at great length—I will not say a violent—but a spirited attack upon the gentlemen who formed the Commission, and turned them and their labours into ridicule, and implied that they, with very little personal knowledge of the work entrusted to them, had rashly set their hands to a scheme of reform that would not bear examination.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
What the right hon. Gentleman did say was that we should be well advised in turning them 1008 on to such questions as discipline in the Church and other matters, because they had no personal knowledge or experience on the subject. If that sarcasm had any meaning, I suppose it was that their qualifications to deal with Army reform were of the same shadowy description. I observe that one of the right hon. Gentleman's faithful supporters agrees in, that.
§ MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
The Secretary for War has told us that two of the Commissioners have had no military experience.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
He did not say they were not specially qualified for their task, which is the whole point of the matter. The right hon. Gentleman has commented upon a letter with which the Report of the Committee was accompanied, and which they regarded as part of their Report, and in which letter they lapsed into phrases complimentary to myself. Well, it is no breach of confidence to say that I expressed my own personal desire to the Commissioners that the letter should be omitted, not merely on account of those phrases, but because I did not think it added any weight to the Report; that was, and is, my own personal view. But the Commissioners were absolutely within their right in differing from me. They had an absolute right to present their views in the shape they thought they ought to take; and it was impossible for me, it would have been illegal and contrary to all precedent, to have published what to them would have appeared to be a truncated version of their Report. If I had been asked if the whole of the Report was there I should have been obliged to say it was not, and the right hon. Gentleman and his friends would have been the first to insist that the Report in its integrity should be presented to the House. Having expressed my regret that these gentlemen thought it necessary to publish that letter, let me express, in the most emphatic language I can command, my sense of the great service they have done to the cause of War Office reform and the interests of the country at large. The right hon. Gentleman appears to rate that service very low. I can only say that one of those 1009 gentlemen gave up a position as Colonial Governor solely to give his services on the Committee, and he with his colleagues has given gratuitously labours compared to which the ordinary work of Commissioners sinks into insignificance. They have not been content with meeting two or three times a week; they have sat de die in diem; they have spent health and strength upon their work, and, in my opinion, have performed services which are valued now by all reformers, and the value of which will not diminish as time goes on. Of course, I am not going to say now, any more than my right hon. friend said when the Army Estimates were on, the precise extent, or in what form, the Government will adopt the recommendations of the Committee; but the reforms we shall adopt, in their general principles, will be due to their efforts. This has been made perfectly clear by what has fallen from my right hon. friend in previous debates. But, Sir, I think the tone in which the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the gratuitous labours which these gentlemen have lavishly put at the service of the country is very little suited to encourage such services in the future from other public servants, and I desire most emphatically to dissociate myself and all those for whom I have the right to speak from the sneering tone he has adopted towards men whose services he, as an ex-Secretary for War, should, I imagine, have been the first to pay a tribute.
Having disposed of the three gentlemen who had done great service to the community, the right hon. Gentleman was still unsatiated, and he turned his benevolent attention from the Commission upon War Office reform to Lord Milner. He put a categorical Question to my right hon. friend which, if I understood the right hon. Gentleman rightly, amounted to this—whether my right hon. friend had or had not administered a prompt rebuke to Lord Milner because a Reuter telegram had quoted, or misquoted, three lines out of a speech which Lord Milner has delivered in South Africa. That is the right hon. Gentleman's idea of the way in which a great officer of the State, carrying out a task of unexampled difficulty in a distant colony of His Majesty's dominions, should be treated by; the Leader of the Opposition. I have not 1010 the least idea, nor can anybody have the least idea, what it was precisely that Lord Milner said, or in what context he said it. But if Lord Milner intended to imply a certain amount of benevolent contempt for certain opinions that have recently been expressed in this House upon subjects nearly connected with the prosperity of the country of which he is the Governor, then, Sir, I should be the last to complain.
Then the right hon. Gentleman came back to home politics and to our old friend the fiscal question, and he put, if I understood him rightly, this dilemma to the Government.
§ Message to attend the Lords Com missioners.
§ The House went; and, being returned,
§ Mr. SPEAKER reported the Royal Assent to—
- 1. Consolidated Fund (No. 1) Act, 1904.
- 2. Telegraph (Money) Act, 1904.
- 3. Metropolitan Improvements (Funds) Act, 1904.
- 4. Dumbarton Tramways Order Confirmation Act, 1904.
- 5. Kilmarnock Corporation Order Confirmation Act, 1904.