HC Deb 23 March 1907 vol 9 cc172-4
Lord Euston

presented a petition from the chancellor, masters, and scholars, of the University of Cambridge, taking notice of the bill for enabling his Majesty to avail himself of the services of all his liege subjects in his naval and military forces, in the manner therein mentioned; and setting forth, that the petitioners are anxious to express their serious apprehensions of the danger likely to arise from the said bill if carried into a law, to the established constitution of this country both in church and state, not only because it might eventually,place a dangerous power in the hands of those persons whose tenets are not friendly to our ecclesiastical establishment, but also because the principle of the bill leads to the total abolition of the Test act, and to other still more alarming consequences; and therefore praying, that the said bill may not pass into a law. On his lordship's moving that the petition do lie on the table,

Mr. W. Dickenson rose

not to oppose the motion of the noble lord, but in the fulfilment of his duty as a member of parliament to put a plain and simple question to the noble lord opposite (lord Howick). Twelve or thirteen days ago, that noble lord introduced into the House a bill (against which the petition that had just been presented was directed) enabling his majesty to accept the services of all his liege subjects, of every religious persuasion, in the army and navy. About five days since the noble lord intimated that it was not his intention to carry into execution the order for the second reading of the bill, but to allow it to drop, to be afterwards disposed of as the house might think fit. The noble lord stated, that this intimation was owing to circumstances which it was not then in his power to disclose, but which at some future time he would explicitly narrate. He wished to ask, if that time had arrived? The public mind was in a state of great anxiety. Many rumours were afloat respecting a Change in the Administration: without any wish for such a change having been expres- sed by the people, or any intimation for the necessity of it having proceeded from that house (hear! hear!). Among others, a rumour had been circulated, that his majesty's ministers had endeavoured to press on his majesty a subject to which the honourable and conscientious mind of his majesty was averse. (Hear! hear!) Was that rumour true? He (Mr. D.) had obtained leave to quit London for a fortnight. He should see many of his constituents at the assizes, and he wished to be enabled satisfactorily to answer the questions that would naturally be put to him. He thought it unnecessary to offer any excuse for this intrusion on the house, the particular circumstances in which the country was placed, he trusted, would justify him.

Lord Howick

replied nearly in the following terms: Sir, certainly no apology was necessary from the hon. gent. for the exercise of one of the first privileges of a member of parliament, that of calling upon his majesty's ministers for explanation upon any great and important subject. In answer to the hon. gent's. questions, I shall declare, as far as I can, consistently with my duty, what is the present state of the administration of this country, adding only, that, with regard to those circumstances which I do not at present feel at liberty to divulge, I shall rely on the candour and indulgence of the house, trusting they will believe that no man is more anxious, than myself that my conduct should stand fair with the house and with the country; and consequently, that the time must come when my duty to the king end to the public, and every consideration of private honour will induce me to make an explicit statement of the recent occurrences. In the mean time, I shall proceed, under the restrictions which I have mentioned, to reply to the questions of the hon. gent. To one of those questions I do not feel authorised at present to give an answer: it is that one which alluded to a rumour, which, if true, would, as the hon. gent. has implied, impute culpability to his majesty's ministers, namely, that his majesty's ministers had endeavoured to force on the king a measure which his conscience disapproved. On this point I will only say, that it is the duty of any minister, on any subject connected with the interests of this great empire. to offer such advice to his majesty as his judgment shall dictate. More I cannot now say. With regard to the other question proposed by the hon. gent., it only remains for me to add to the statement which I made when I signified, my intention of not moving for the second reading of the religious army service bill, that the circumstances which then prevented me from doing so have led to a situation in which I am now enabled to inform the house that, although I have not yet received his majesty's commands to deliver up the seals of my office, his majesty has thought proper to send for persons not employed as his servants, and is engaged in forming arrangements for a new administration.—The petition was then ordered to lie on the table.

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