HC Deb 14 April 1910 vol 16 cc1547-51

moved, "That this House do now adjourn."

In moving "That this House do now adjourn," I hope I may be allowed to make a short statement—which I would gladly have made earlier in the evening, and which, I think, could have been made at that time with much more regard to the general convenience of the House—concerning the future intentions of the Government. It is not usual for the Government to make a statement of policy in regard to contingencies which have not yet arisen, but we are confronted to-day, I venture to think, with an exceptional and perhaps a unique case.

The three Resolutions which you, Mr. Speaker, a few moments ago, put from the Chair, have two special characteristics. In the first place, having been approved in principle by the late House of Commons with an enormous majority, it will not, I think, be anywhere denied that they were prominently, if not predominantly, before the country at the recent General Election; and they have, during the last fortnight, been supported in every stage of their progress in this new House of Commons by majorities which have rarely fallen short of a hundred. In the second place, to us, who sit on these benches, the passing of the principles of these Resolutions into law by means of statutory enactment is a condition, not only of our usefulness, but even of our effective existence. Speaking at the Albert Hall on behalf of my colleagues and political friends in December last, before the election, I said—and I have not a word to withdraw or explain—that it was idle for us here to hold office unless we could secure safeguards—the safeguards which experience had shown to be necessary for the legislative utility and honour of the party of progress. Those safeguards these Resolutions, if they are put on the Statute Book, would provide. But until they take their place there, there is no legislation except the Budget, and substantially non-contentious matters which we can without risk of futility, and even of ridicule, undertake.

It is for these reasons, and on behalf of the Government, that I think it not only convenient, but necessary, to give notice to the House and to the country, now that these Resolutions are passing into the control of other people, of our future intentions. If the Lords fail to accept our policy, or decline to consider it as it is formally presented to the House, we shall feel it our duty immediately to tender advice to the Crown as to the steps which will have to be taken if that policy is to receive statutory effect in this Parliament. What the precise terms of that advice will ibe—[An HON. MEMBER: "Ask Redmond. ") —I think one might expect courtesy when I am anxious, as the head of the Government, to make a serious statement of public policy — what the precise terms of that advice will be it will, of course, not be right for me to say now; but if we do not find ourselves in a position to ensure that statutory effect shall be given to that policy in this Parliament, we shall then either resign our offices or recommend the dissolution of Parliament. Let me add this, that in no case will we recommend a dissolution except under such conditions as will secure that in the new Parliament the judgment of the people as expressed at the elections will be carried into law.


After what has been said by the Prime Minister, I hope the House will listen to a very few words from me. I understand, Mr. Speaker, that under the Rules of the House you will be obliged to interrupt these proceedings in a very few seconds from now.


I have to interrupt the proceedings at eleven o'clock.

And, it being Eleven of the clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed without Question put.


I move, "That the House do now adjourn."

11.0 P.M.


I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his courtesy, and while I am on that point I hope the House will allow me to say that the very last thing I ever desire is to prevent the ordinary liberty which is given by leave of the House to travel somewhat beyond what the strict Rules of Order demand. My complaint was not that the right hon. Gentleman went beyond the strict and narrow Rules of Order, but that it was done on an occasion which made it practically impossible, as the House will agree and everybody will admit, for any reply to be made at all to the observations he might make. I know that I need not inform the right hon. Gentleman that to him personally he is the last person to whom I should think of offering any discourtesy. Whoever had been Leader of the House, I should have quite honestly felt, within the limits of time when the gag was to fall, that that was not the proper moment for a very important statement of public policy to be made by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House.

The statement which the Prime Minister has just made everybody will admit to be of the very first importance. It represents, I presume, the culmination of those long negotiations which have gene on between His Majesty's Government and other groups, or another group in this House, or a group or groups in this House—[An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"]—and the Budget was to be the price of the agreement arrived at. The prize to be fought for was the Budget, and the question how much could right hon. and hon. Gentlemen give on that side, and how much was required by the negotiators below the Gangway. It really is a very interesting reflection now to weigh in the balance what is to be given and what has been received by the two parties to this transaction. As I understand, the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond) and his friends have agreed to swallow the Budget, their aversion of which they have not concealed, which is a growing aversion, as the feeling in Ireland makes more and more manifest. It will hardly be maintained by the most enthusiastic of the Nationalist representatives that the Budget is more popular in 1910 than it was in November, 1909. The right hon. Gentleman, on the other hand, had to consider his constitutional position as the Minister and Adviser of the Crown. He had to consider what the traditions of his high office were, and what the proper course was for him to pursue, if he was to maintain the character of his great office. I am bound to say that this negotiation, like some other negotiations, appears to me to have left both parties to it rather poorer than they were.

The Irish party are going to accept a Budget they dislike, and are going to accept it because they think that that policy conduces to that larger object they have in view, namely, Home Rule for Ireland. They are going to get what they do not want in the shape of the Budget, but I am not sure that they are going to get what they do want. [Several HON. MEMBERS: "Wait and see."] That is their position. The Government position is that they get the Budget on which they had staked their reputation, which was the peoples' Budget, which was to be passed without the alteration of a comma, and in order that it may be passed without the alteration of a comma, they have paid what seems to me an extravagant price. What has the right hon. Gentleman done? He made a speech on the very first day of the Session, in which in eloquent terms he described the policy which a Minister of the Crown, having to advise the Sovereign, ought to pursue in that delicate and difficult position, and we all heard him with interest and with a large measure of agreement. What expression has the right hon. Gentleman now given? In what position has he put the Crown by the statement he has made to-night? I am not going to dogmatise on the Constitution, and say that no circumstances can within the imagination of man arise in which it might not be the duty of the Prime Minister to go to the Sovereign, and ask for what are euphemistically called guarantees, which I believe translated into plain English means the nomination of 500 unfit gentlemen for the honour of seats in the House of Lords. [Several HON. MEMBERS: "Why unfit?"]

But while I do not dogmatise as to the conditions under which it might be right for a Prime Minister in extreme circumstances to destroy the Constitution, of which he ought to be the guardian, I say quite clearly that the idea of anticipating such advice by months, by clearly announcing to the House of Commons and the country that in certain unknown, undefined contingencies he is going to suggest that which is nothing short of the destruction of the Constitution, is, I think, beyond the idea of duty, which any predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman has held. He has bought the Irish vote for his Budget, and has bought it successfully. The price he has paid is the price of the dignity of his office, and of all the great traditions which he, of all men, ought to uphold.

Adjourned at Twelve minutes after Eleven o'clock.