§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
My Lords, when on Monday last it was my duty to address a few words to your Lordships I certainly did so in the confident expectation, and I may be permitted to add, so far as I am personally concerned, in the sincere hope, that it was the last occasion upon which I should be required to address you on behalf of those Colleagues with whom I have been recently connected. Circumstances, however, compel me, from respect to your Lordships, again to address you with regard to matters that have occurred since that time, when I merely stated a fact which it was important for your Lordships to be acquainted with, viz., that at that time Lord John Russell, my noble Friend recently at the head of the Government, was, by command of Her Majesty, engaged in an attempt to reconstruct the Administration of which he had been the head. My Lords, when I made that statement to the House, Lord John 997 Russell was engaged with that view in communication with a noble Earl—a highly respected and distinguished Member of this House (the Earl of Aberdeen)—and with a right hon. Baronet—a most distinguished Member of the other House of Parliament (Sir James Graham)—for the purpose of endeavouring to effect that reconstruction upon a larger basis than before. But I have now to state to your Lordships, that before that night had closed, this attempt of Lord John Russell had failed. I will leave it to others to state the grounds upon which that failure took place; I am anxious only to lay before your Lordships the facts in the order in which they occurred, and to state to you what is the present position of affairs. My Lords, after the failure that evening of the attempt made by my noble Friend Lord John Russell to reconstruct the Cabinet, a communication was made to the noble Earl to whom I have already alluded, for the purpose of ascertaining whether he and his right hon. Friend (Sir J. Graham) were in a condition to undertake the formation of a Government. My Lords, Her Majesty having been informed that the noble Earl was not in that condition, and seeing that the noble Lord opposite (Lord Stanley) had in the conference with which he had been honoured by Her Majesty only informed Her Majesty that he was not then, as I stated to your Lordships, prepared to undertake the construction of a Cabinet, Her Majesty resolved upon again inviting the noble Lord to construct an Administration, and the noble Lord did not hesitate in those circumstances to make the attempt. The noble Lord undertook this duty on Tuesday morning. Two days passed before the noble Lord communicated to Her Majesty his inability to succeed in that attempt. That communication needed not have been made, perhaps, till this very morning, from the circumstance of the adjournment of the House to this day. However, the noble Lord naturally lost no time in communicating the fact to Her Majesty as soon as he was enabled to do so. My Lords, this communication took place at a late hour yesterday afternoon. What I have now to state to your Lordships, and all that I can state is, that I myself this morning, by Her Majesty's command, waited upon Her Majesty, and I found that it was Her natural desire, in a state of things most novel and almost unprecedented in the annals of this country—after making every effort in Her power to employ for the construction of a Government those 998 persons best qualified from their position to undertake such a task, and having failed in those efforts—that it was Her desire to pause before She took further steps, and to obtain the advice and the opinion, in this unforeseen contingency, of a noble and illustrious Duke, one of the greatest ornaments of this House—one to whom on other occasions Her Majesty has referred in moments of difficulty. That illustrious Duke is not at present in the House. He has been summoned to attend Her Majesty, and in these circumstances I can only state my belief that this House will acquiesce in the propriety of Her Majesty's views in proceeding fully to inform Herself before She takes further steps in this important and delicate state of matters. My Lords, I will leave it to others to add—what they have a full right to do, and what the public may expect—a full development of the views and motives by which they have been actuated; but I cannot sit down without expressing this, at least, that however much I may lament, as I do most sincerely lament, the result of these negotiations, there is at least one consolatory circumstance to me that has attended that result—it is, that throughout all the differences, throughout all the difficulties that have presented themselves in these negotiations, those difficulties and differences have in no one respect whatever turned upon any personal considerations; that it was the natural result of honest differences of opinion, connected with important principles, that created a bar in the way of those arrangements, but not a bar that could in the least diminish the personal respect and regard which the parties have hitherto entertained for each other. From my own knowledge, in reference to that part of the transactions in which I had the honour to take a part, I may be permitted to say thus much as to the manner in which the negotiations throughout were carried on by the noble Lord opposite, and by the other noble and eminent persons to whom I have referred. I will only, before I sit down, endeavour to impress upon your Lordships—not speaking upon my own behalf only, or in behalf of those colleagues with whom I have been connected, but in behalf of all public men, of whom, unquestionably, great sacrifices of private ease and comfort may at particular times be justly required—that there is one sacrifice they can never be called upon to make, because it is not only a sacrifice of themselves, but a sacri- 999 fice of the honour and dignity of the Crown—I mean that of a prolonged attempt, under any circumstances, to carry on the public business of the country without the promise of that amount of support which is indispensable to all Governments for the purpose of enabling them to maintain the honour of the Crown, and to maintain and promote the efficient carrying on of the public service. Such a state of things, in my opinion, if prolonged, can never fail to be detrimental to the honour of the Crown, injurious to the best interests of the country, and profitable only to those—not the most respectable class of politicians—who, in such circumstances, find a consequence which does not naturally belong to them, and which they would not otherwise possess. I feel strongly that if public men undertake to perform public duties, they ought to do so with the full prospect of discharging those duties with effect. I have now endeavoured to put your Lordships in possession of the facts so far as known to myself. If I have omitted anything, there are parties in this House who will be able to supply the defect; in the meantime I have nothing further to communicate beyond the short statement which I have now had the honour to lay before your Lordships.
§ The EARL of ABERDEEN
My Lords, the noble Marquess having stated the circumstances of the failure of the negotiations entered into by the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) for the reconstruction of his Cabinet, it is now incumbent on me to explain to the House the motives for my conduct, and the reasons which led to that decision to which I felt it my duty to come. My Lords, on Saturday morning, when the resignation of the noble Lord and his Colleagues took place, I had the honour of being commanded by Her Majesty to attend at the Palace. I did so on the evening of Saturday; and, after the honour of an audience with Her Majesty, at which I humbly expressed my readiness to co-operate in the reconstruction of the Government upon any conditions which should appear to be consistent with my own convictions, and which offered a prospect of promoting the public service, I afterwards, in Her Majesty's presence, met Lord John Russell and my Friend Sir James Graham. After mutual explanations upon these subjects, similar to those which I have now stated, we met Lord John Russell on the following day. The noble Lord communicated to us the basis 1000 of an agreement on which the Government was to be reconstructed, and the principal measures which he proposed to introduce. I think we received this communication from Lord John Russell between four and five o'clock on Saturday. We proceeded at once to consider the propositions; but, having been detained late at the Palace that night, we could only examine them with the attention they deserved on the following day. On Monday, therefore, having entered into this examination, we communicated to Lord John Russell our opinions on this subject. I need not enter into the various measures proposed for our adoption. On some we were entirely agreed, and on others probably mutual explanations might have led ultimately to an agreement; but our difference was confined exclusively to a single measure. I felt, undoubtedly, an invincible repugnance to adopt the measure of penal legislation towards the Roman Catholic subjects of this country by the prohibition of the assumption of ecclesiastical titles; and, indeed, I objected to any legislation of this kind upon the subject. My Lords, I am quite aware that this is not the proper occasion to enter into any full discussion of this subject. I hope that, at no distant time, we may have an opportunity of considering this question, and I shall then be ready to express more fully the views and opinions which I entertain; but I must, at the present moment, state to the House the deep convictions and feelings which induced me to come to such a decision as that I have stated, and which led to a result so important to the great interests of the country, by leading to the failure of that attempt with which the noble Lord was charged. I felt, then, that this legislation must prove utterly ineffectual. It is difficult enough at all times, by force of law, to give a criminal character to acts in themselves indifferent, so as to secure the willing obedience of mankind. But when such acts are performed from a sense of duty and religious obligation, your laws become a dead letter; conscience and opinion are beyond the sphere of your legislation. No doubt you may persecute. But we have had fatal experience of the inefficiency of such a mode of proceeding. We had for 200 years very successfully, very effectually, tormented the Roman Catholics; but, nevertheless, we found that, instead of diminishing, we only increased, the number of our victims. I thought I saw in this measure a retro- 1001 grade step towards a system of laws which I had hoped was utterly abolished and extinct, and which was at variance with the whole spirit of our recent legislation. I believed that, in the late proceedings which had taken place, no law had been violated, unless, indeed—which may be doubtful—those barbarous laws the text of which still continues to disgrace the Statute-book, but which have been long obsolete, and which have very recently been stigmatised by the Legislature itself. But, my Lords, though I felt persuaded that no violation of law had taken place, I was not the less sensible of the arrogant tone assumed by the Roman Pontiff and by his Cardinal, in the brief of the one, and the pastoral letter of the other; and I felt that this might very properly engage the notice of Her Majesty's Government and even of Parliament. But I saw no sufficient grounds for legislative interference, with the view of abridging the religious liberty of our Roman Catholic fellow-subjects, and impeding the lawful and regular development and organisation of their episcopal Church. My Lords, I found that my right hon. Friend (Sir James Graham) entirely coincided with me in this view; and I may mention to the House that this agreement was arrived at without the least concert or communication with each other. Since we parted in the course of last summer—at the close of the last Session of Parliament—I have had no communication whatever upon any subject with my right hon. Friend. In the distant part of the country where I resided, no doubt, I witnessed the excitement which prevailed throughout England on the subject; but I thought that the alarm and indignation which prevailed so widely were unfounded and irrational. I certainly felt no alarm myself, and I had no inclination towards indignation, but rather to a feeling more allied to contempt. But, my Lords, when I saw such sentiments expressed in quarters which, I confess, surprised me, I undoubtedly became more curious to know what was the opinion of my right hon. Friend and of others with whom I have been in the habit of acting, and for whose opinions I feel great respect. However, it appeared to me that this was not a subject upon which I could with propriety venture to question my right hon. Friend; and so, in point of fact, until the day before the meeting of Parliament, I had not the most distant conception of what his opinion was. He called on me, I believe, 1002 the very morning of the meeting of Parliament, and, to my great satisfaction, I found that his opinions in all respects completely coincided with mine. My Lords, this absence of all communication was the case with all those noble and honourable persons with whom I have been formerly connected in official life, and whose opinions I have always regarded with respect. Until the day before yesterday I was entirely ignorant of the opinions, with one exception, of any of my former Colleagues; and at this moment I am entirely ignorant of the opinions of some of them. I wish to state this to show that whatever those opinions may be, they are not the result of any concert or communication with each other, but have been arrived at in a manner perfectly independent and separate.
My Lords, it is true that the noble Lord to whom was intrusted the formation of an Administration did propose to us to make material alterations and modifications in the Bill to which I am now alluding, and to which we so decidedly objected. No doubt those alterations might have removed some of our objections to the provisions of the measure itself; but it is obvious that such alterations must have excited great disapprobation and disappointment amongst all those who represent the popular feeling upon this subject, which has been so much excited in hostility to the proceedings of the Court of Rome; while at the same time the very remnant of the Bill would have been equally regarded as penal, unjust, and offensive, by the great body of Her Majesty's Roman Catholic subjects. We, therefore, felt that it was impossible for us to make ourselves parties to a measure from which we could not anticipate any good, and from which we thought we had reason to apprehend very many and serious evils. My Lords, on the failure of this attempt of the noble Lord to form an Administration, Her Majesty was pleased to send for me to request me to undertake that task.
My Lords, I am fully aware how little able I should be at any time, and especially at so difficult a moment as the present, to conduct the affairs of this great empire in such a manner as Her Majesty's subjects have a right to expect. Nevertheless, there were circumstances in the actual condition of the country which might probably have led me to make the attempt. But, after what your Lordships have heard of my sentiments, and with the knowledge 1003 which I possessed that a measure of penal legislation had been introduced into the House of Commons with the consent of a great majority of the Members of that House, and believing, as I had full reason to believe, that a majority as large of your Lordships in this House entertained the same views upon the subject, your Lordships will not be surprised to learn that I humbly entreated Her Majesty to permit me to decline the task which Her gracious favour would have imposed upon me. I felt that in the present state of opinion it would be perfectly hopeless for me to attempt to enforce those views which I entertained, and from which I was determined not to, recede. I felt that I could be no party to any course which I believed would tend to rekindle the flame of religious discord throughout the country, and would inevitably increase the religious animosities and bitterness which unhappily prevailed. It was for these reasons that I declined the task. The opinions which I have expressed may be completely erroneous. Judging, indeed, from what has passed—if numbers were the criterion of right—it would be almost clear that I am in error. Nevertheless, I entertain a confident belief that a great change will at no distant time take place in the public sentiment on this subject; but, my Lords, whether this be or he not the case, I trust your Lordships will give me credit for sincerity in my convictions, for the deep sense of duty under which I have acted, and will believe that nothing would have induced me to follow the course I have adopted had I not been convinced that I was acting in accordance with the dictates of the soundest principles of wisdom and of justice.
My Lords, it now becomes my duty to avail myself of this, the earliest opportunity which I have been able to take, consistently with my duty, of explaining to your Lordships the portion of these transactions in which I have been engaged, and which I was precluded, by aft imperative sense of duty, and the absence of any permission on the part of Her Majesty, from explaining to your Lordships on, Monday last. I must commence with a period somewhat, though not much, antecedent to that to which my noble Friend has alluded. My Lords, Her Majesty's late Administration having resigned their offices in the course of Friday last—that is, the greater portion of them having come to the determination of re- 1004 signing their offices on Friday last, though, of course, they were unable to act upon it in consequence of the absence of the noble Marquess opposite, who was not then in town—on Saturday morning, I believe, an announcement was formally made to Her Majesty, that the whole of Her late advisers had unanimously tendered their resignation; and Her Majesty upon that occasion did me the honour of stating, that looking to me as possessing the confidence of a very large portion of the Members of this and the other House of Parliament, Her Majesty had called upon me to tender Her my advice as to the course which it would be most desirable to pursue under the circumstances. My Lords, I took the liberty, in the first instance, of requesting to be informed by Her Majesty upon what grounds the resignation of Her late advisers had taken place; and I learned from Her Majesty, that the grounds stated to Her for that resignation were the same in substance as those which were stated in the other House of Parliament by Lord John Russell, and m this House by the noble Marquess opposite—namely, that at no very distant period, a Motion which had been brought forward by Mr. Disraeli in the other House, in reference to the general distress in the agricultural districts, had been negatived by so small a majority, as to lead the Government to the conclusion that they did not possess that continued confidence of the House of Commons, which was requisite to the administration of public affairs; and that that opinion on their part was, further confirmed by the fact, that on Thursday last, the evening previous to the day on which the resolution of resigning was taken, they had been left in a minority on the Motion of Mr. Locke King, the majority of two to one against them being composed of their own ordinary supporters, a great portion of the protectionist party having been absent on that evening. My Lords, I must stop for a moment in my narration to express some doubt oil my own part, not inconsistent with the most entire respect for the noble Marquess opposite, and the most entire conviction that the two circumstances to which he has adverted led ultimately and finally to the somewhat sudden and abrupt termination of the late Government. My Lords, I must express my conviction that these were not the only, and I must be permitted to doubt whether they were the principal, causes of the resignation, of Minis- 1005 ters. My Lords, I cannot but think that that most important of all important questions which has been adverted to by my noble Friend the noble Earl above me, in a manner and tone which does the utmost credit to his frankness and sincerity—I mean the mode of dealing with that most difficult question which is commonly spoken of under the term of "the Papal Aggression," had much to do with the resolution to which Her Majesty's late Government came. I am not, of course, in the secrets of the Cabinet; I am bound to assume that the Cabinet had agreed upon a measure which they, as a Cabinet, intended to support; but I believe they saw before them, in regard to that question, difficulties as grave on the one side as on the other. On the one side they saw a state of Protestant feeling excited in this kingdom by the letter of the Prime Minister, not less than by the act of aggression itself, exciting them to extreme measures; and, on the other hand, a feeling existed in the minds of a large portion of their own supporters, extending even to some of their immediate adherents, and very much in accordance with the views stated by my noble Friend the noble Earl above me, that this was a question upon which no legislation was desirable, or ought to be sanctioned. I cannot divest my own mind of the strong conviction, that that measure, and the difficulties connected with it, were in a great degree the cause why the Government came to the conclusion that they were unable to carry on the business of the country. I cannot but think also that that feeling has been strengthened by the anticipated failure of the financial project announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am not surprised, therefore—although undoubtedly the course which the late Government has taken has not been such as to induce me to think that so small a majority as fourteen would be held by them a sufficient ground for resigning their offices—I am not surprised, with these two serious difficulties staring them in the face, and leading them into a position in which they must either go against their own convictions, or forfeit the support of their own ordinary adherents—I am not surprised that with these difficulties, and with the difficulties created by the universal dissatisfaction which appears to have been produced by the budget of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the not unwelcome occasion which presented itself on Thursday night by the defeat of the 1006 Government in a thin House, composed of their own adherents, should have been taken advantage of. Now, my Lords, not for a moment doubting the statement as to the immediate causes of the dissolution of the late Government, I ventured to state to Her Majesty one or two remarks upon these two causes assigned for the resignation. I hold in my hand now a copy of a portion of a letter which, by Her Majesty's express command, after the interview with which I was honoured, I wrote to Her Majesty for the purpose of placing upon record the advice which I had felt it my humble duty to render. From that letter I shall, with Her Majesty's permission, read to your Lordships, as the most authentic and correct record which I have, so much of those passages as will tend to explain the course which I pursued on that occasion:—He adverted to the two occasions specified by Your Majesty as the grounds of the resignation of Your Majesty's servants, and observed with reference to the Motion of Mr. Disraeli that it had been negatived, and although by a small majority, the minority were reinforced by a number of votes not hostile to the Government on other grounds, and on whose general support Lord Stanley and his Friends could not reckon; and with reference to the majority on Mr. Locke King's Motion, he observed—And, my Lords, I hold it to be a point not to be lost sight of, when it is stated that the Government fell by the votes of their own adherents—that the support of their usual opponents undoubtedly, had they been present, would have been given to them in opposition to a dangerous and mischievous measure; and when it is observed that in consequence of the absence of those opponents, upon whose support they rested, the Government met with a defeat, it is right that your Lordships and the country should know the facts of the case. Mr. Locke King's Motion for an extensive alteration of the Parliamentary franchise was carried by above 100 votes to 54. Of these 54 votes, 17 were votes of what I will call, for shortness' sake, the Protectionist party, and 27 more were votes of official men; and exclusively of those bound by official ties, the Ministry brought to their support 10 independent Members, and no more, I ventured to state these facts to Her Majesty; and I stated that, small as was the number of my Friends who voted on that measure, I believed their numbers would have been much greater but for an impression which undoubtedly 1007 prevailed "that Your Majesty's Ministers were not honestly exercising their influence to defeat the Motion." I believed that, and my Friends, and the House of Commons, believed it; and although, if they had believed in the earnest determination of the Government to act upon their own principles, they would have given them a generous and disinterested support, they did not feel themselves bound to attend in large numbers for the purpose of enabling the Government to defeat the measure, while it permitted so many of its own supporters to be absent. My Lords, after adverting to the particular circumstances with which the dissolution of the late Government was accompanied, my first statement to Her Majesty was, that after the part which I had taken in public affairs, after the expressions of which I had made use, after the opinions which I had uttered, after the pledges which I had given, seeing that if I had been a Member of the other House I certainly should have supported by my vote the Motion of Mr. Disraeli, regarding the distress among the agricultural class—avowed in the Speech of Her Majesty from the Tbrone—and declaring that it was the duty of the Government to take effective measures for the relief of that distress, it would be impossible for me, even if my convictions were less strong than they were—it would be impossible for me, as an honest man, to take office without a full determination to deal with that distress, and endeavour to apply to it, as a Minister, effective measures of relief. My Lords, I stated that if I could so far forget myself as to sacrifice my own honest convictions, the loss of honour which would be involved in such a course of proceeding would make my services worse than valueless. I said that I had entertained, and that I retained, the opinion that it was the duty of the Government, if it were impossible to do full justice, at all events to take steps towards mitigating the injustice under which the proprietors and occupiers of land in this country were suffering. I did not bind myself to any specific measure, although at the proper time I shall not shrink from stating the specific measure which I would recommend; but I did state that I would not take office on any other condition than that of endeavouring bonâ fide to give effect to my own conviction of the necessity of legislating for the relief of that class of Her Majesty's subjects. My Lords, I then proceeded to notice the position of parties in 1008 the House of Commons. And, my Lords, in looking at the difficult situation in which the country is now placed, it is not unnecessary or unimportant that your Lordships and the country should well know the position and the relations of those parties. My Lords, in the first place there is the party of Her Majesty's Government and of their adherents, with various gradations of opinion among themselves—with great differences of opinion, I may go so far as to say, between various sections of that party, those differences being still further increased by that which took place on a recent occasion, and which has almost led to the formation of another party—namely, the Irish Roman Catholic party, in the House of Commons. My Lords, there is, besides the party with which I have the honour of being connected, a party numerous, no doubt, yet undoubtedly in a minority in the House of Commons on every occasion, and which, unfortunately, though it no doubt comprises men of talent and intellect, yet contains within itself, I will not say no single individual, but hardly more than one individual, of political experience and versed in official business. My Lords, I feel that that is a great disadvantage for any party to labour under. But there is a third party in the House of Commons, not, indeed, very extensive in point of numbers, but most important as regards the ability, the official experience, and the talents of a great portion of its members—I mean that small party in point of numbers, though important in point of talent and experience, which has adhered to the policy of the late Sir Robert Peel. My Lords, looking at the composition of the House of Commons, and considering the practicability of forming such a Government as should be enabled permanently to conduct the affairs of this kingdom, or which should at least carry with it some appearance of stability—for I think your Lordships will he of opinion, as undoubtedly I am, that nothing scarcely can be so mischievous as constant change from one Government to another, or the formation of a Government with the prospect of its being speedily removed from office, to the great disturbance of public affairs—I felt that I had a very delicate task to perform; and bearing this in mind I shall continue the extract which I had commenced. And upon the words which I am about to read, I lay the more stress, because the words themselves are not unimportant, as exhibiting to your Lordships and to the country the whole 1009 scope and tenor of the advice which upon that occasion I felt it my duty to offer to Her Majesty, and upon which some misconstruction has prevailed, My Lords, I think the noble Marquess will remember that when he made his statement in this House, I felt it my duty, while I forebore to offer any observation, to intimate at least to the noble Marquess that one expression had fallen from him upon which I might have desired to offer some comment; and in the other House of Parliament, I understand a statement was made to the effect that the representation made of this affair by Lord John Russell, though certainly not intentionally incorrect in point of form, was still calculated to convey an inference which was not justified by the facts. My Lords, the inference which would be justified by the naked statement on the part of the noble Marquess here, and on the part of Lord John Russell in the other House of Parliament, was this—that I had abandoned as hopeless the expectation of being able to form a Government. I do not mean to say that that expression was used; but when it was stated that I was not prepared to assume the responsibility of forming a Government, that was the inference which the world at large might draw. Your Lordships will see how far that statement was correct. Undoubtedly it was correct in form and in fact; but your Lordships will perceive with what qualification that statement, if made at all, should have been accompanied, which qualification was not contained in the statement itself, and which it would have been impossible to supply without entering into a full explanation. My Lords, after leaving Her Majesty that day, about a quarter past four o'clock, I did not return home immediately, I did not reach my own home till six o'clock. On arriving there I found a note from Her Majesty desiring that I would place in writing the advice which I had given; and I have since had the satisfaction of receiving from Her Majesty an assurance that there could not be a more correct statement of what passed than that which I submitted and now hold in my hand. My letter went on to say—After, stating to Your Majesty the position of the three main parties into which the House of Commons is divided, Lord Stanley observed that the policy of the present Administration had met with the general approval and support of the most distinguished men of the party which adhered to the late Sir R. Peel, and that they had never yet met with a defeat from Lord Stanley's political friends; that a very important member of that 1010 party, Sir J. Graham, had publicly declared his opinion of the necessity of closing their ranks' to resist the presumed policy of Lord Stanley's friends; and as Your Majesty has been pleased to inform him that no communication had been made to any one previous to that which Your Majesty honoured him, he ventured to suggest that, in the first instance, Your Majesty should ascertain whether it were not possible to strengthen the present Government as partially to reconstruct it by a combination with those who, not now holding office, concurred in the opinions of those who do, and professed their opinion of the necessity of union; that, failing such a combination, a portion of that third party might be willing to combine with Lord Stanley, whose difficulties in such a case would be greatly diminished; that if it should appear that both of these arrangements were impracticable, and if personal considerations stood in the way of the formation of a Government of those whose opinions appeared to prevail in the House of Commons, Lord Stanley, not underrating the extreme difficulties which he would have to encounter, would, if honoured with Your Majesty's confidence, prefer any responsibility, and even the chance of a failure and loss of reputation, to that of leaving Your Majesty and the country without a Government; and he added that he believed an Administration formed under such circumstances would be more likely to meet with support, even from moderate opponents of their views, than one which should be hastily formed without giving time to show the impracticability of a different arrangement. …. He feels highly honoured by being allowed to submit to Your Majesty unreservedly his whole views, and while he should be sorry that this project should fall into any other hands than those of Your Majesty, he has that entire confidence in Lord John Russell's honour that he is sure no ungenerous use will be made of any portion of it which Your Majesty may see fit to communicate to him.My Lords, I hope I have satisfied your Lordships that when called upon by my Sovereign, I did not in the first instance, hesitate to express my readiness to sacrifice everything but my honour in attempting to serve my Queen. My Lords, I hope you will be of opinion—I know my own motives, I am conscious of the sincerity of my own conduct, and of the integrity of the motives which actuated me—I trust your Lordships will be of opinion that I have shown no undue eagerness to grasp at power—and I hope you will also give me credit for having been influenced by no motive of personal ambition, and by no desire to place myself in a position for which I was not qualified. My Lords, I hope, on the other hand, you will give me credit for not having shrunk from the duty which devolved on me, as it might have devolved on any public man, considering the difficulty to which the Queen was reduced, of tendering my best services, even at the risk of failure in the attempt, and at the risk of loss of personal reputation in 1011 consequence of failure. My Lords, I hope I shall also satisfy your Lordships that, having entered upon that important task, I applied my best energies to the accomplishment of it—and that while I did not shrink from the difficulties, immense as they must have been under any circumstances, attending the attempt to form a Government, I did not unduly prolong the period of suspense by continuing to make the attempt when I had become convinced in my own mind that I should fail. My Lords, it was on Tuesday morning that Her Majesty again sent for me, informing me that the state of things I had anticipated had come to pass—that Lord John Russell had failed in the attempt to reconstruct a Government by combination with any other party in the State—and that my noble Friend, Lord Aberdeen, having been applied to, had stated his inability to form a Government by any combination with the present Administration, or from the members of that party which I hope it will not be thought offensive if I call the Peelite party. Her Majesty reminded me of the pledge which I had given, that, in the event which had occurred, I would not hesitate to face the difficulty. My Lords, I could not hesitate as to the manner in which I should respond to that appeal; and from Tuesday morning to Thursday afternoon I was unremittingly engaged in endeavouring to carry my object into effect. In the position of parties in the House of Commons, to which I have referred, it became a matter of the utmost importance to me to obtain, if this were practicable without a sacrifice of political consistency on either side, the assistance and co-operation of some of those who, though generally acting on Conservative principles, had yet been separated by the unfortunate differences which took place in 1846 from the great body of the Conservative party. My Lords, I will here frankly say that I foresaw a great difficulty in dealing with Foreign Affairs. My first object in endeavouring to remove that difficulty at the commencement was to ascertain whether, having failed to effect a junction with the late Government, my noble Friend near me (the Earl of Aberdeen) would be willing to undertake the duties of that department, which he formerly administered with so much credit to himself, and so much to the honour of the country; or whether he and those who acted with him would remain in what I cannot but think an unfortunate position for any party of statesmen, namely, 1012 that of being unable to form a combination with one or other of the two conflicting parties, and at the same time of being unable to assume office themselves; the consequence being, that with all their ability and all their influence, they only render the formation of a Government on either side impossible. My Lords, on receiving from my noble Friend a refusal, couched in language of the most perfect friendship, which I believe was quite sincere, I next sought to ascertain whether a noble Lord (Viscount Canning) who had served under my noble Friend in the Foreign Department, was willing to give me his assistance, by carrying on the administration of Foreign Affairs. I also failed in inducing that noble Lord to take part with me. I had conferences with various parties in this and in the other House of Parliament—I will not mention names—but with respect to one individual now present, I must be allowed to say that I never felt anything more deeply than the frankness with which he at once expressed his readiness to share the responsibility which I had taken upon myself by administering a department for which I thought, and for which I believe the country would have found him, peculiarly qualified. My Lords, Mr. Gladstone was expected to arrive in London on the following day, and I felt that it would be a great advantage to secure the assistance of so able, so honest, and so upright a man as Mr. Gladstone, in the House of Commons—one who is well versed in political affairs, and who last year, in contradistinction to the party with which he is connected, supported a Motion which was brought forward by Mr. Disraeli with a view to the relief of agricultural distress. But, my Lords, after communicating with Mr. Gladstone, I found that circumstances rendered it impossible for him, consistent with his own views of propriety, to take part in the contemplated Administration. I was thus deprived of all extraneous assistance in the formation of a Government, and compelled to rely entirely on that party with which I was immediately and politically connected, and among which, as I stated before, there were few, if any, men possessed of official experience, and trained in habits of public business. My Lords, even among the members of that party I found that some of those who were well qualified to discharge public duties, were by various causes induced to decline—one, by the pressure of extensive private concerns, 1013 another, by disinclination to join an Administration which appeared to hold put no assured prospect of permanence; and a third by an undue depreciation of his own abilities. I say, from three of those individuals I received declarations of their unwillingness or inability to join an Administration. Under these circumstances, and looking at the position of the House of Commons, I thought it was time for me to come to a decision as to the course which I should pursue. On Wednesday morning, when I last had the honour of an audience with Her Majesty, I undertook by eleven o'clock this morning to communicate to Her Majesty whether the experiment on which I had entered was likely to be successful, or whether I thought I should be compelled to abandon the hope of proceeding. Yesterday afternoon there met at my house a portion of my noble Friends here, and my Friends in the other House of Parliament, who had consented to take part in the Government, should it be formed. The whole state of the case was then anxiously and deliberately considered; and I believe I have their strong concurrence when I state, that it was their view, as well as my own, that although I might have been enabled to present to Her Majesty a list of names of Gentlemen who would have been fully competent, with the aid of an assured majority of the House of Commons, to carry on creditably and practically the business of the country, yet I could not lay before Her Majesty a list of a Cabinet, especially of Members sitting in the House of Commons, strong enough to face a powerful majority in the other House of Parliament—a majority ready to combine for purposes of opposition, though unable to act together for the purposes of government. I could not undertake to say that the Cabinet which I could present to Her Majesty would be such as to enable me for any length of time creditably to carry on the public business in the House of Commons against a powerful and numerous majority. My Lords, I stated, further, to Her Majesty—and I am the more anxious to pay so, because misrepresentations have taken place on this subject—at the interview with which I was honoured by. Her Majesty, I stated that the difficulty would be very great of the formation of a new Administration under any circumstances, as, owing to the position of public business at this time of the year, they would be exposed to the necessity of sitting for a con- 1014 siderable time a minority in the presence of a powerful majority—for that in the state of public business it was not possible, nor would I venture to advise Her Majesty at this time to have recourse to a dissolution of Parliament for the purpose of testing public opinion. My Lords, I state this, because I know an im-impression has prevailed that what has been called my first resignation was the consequence of the demand on my part that Her Majesty would give me the power of dissolving Parliament—a demand with which it has been said Her Majesty refused to comply. For that statement there is not the shadow of a foundation. I hope I know my duty to my Sovereign too well to insist upon a pledge upon a question with respect to which no Sovereign ought to give a pledge. On the other hand, I am confident that Her Majesty knows too well, and respects too highly, the mutual obligations, if I may venture to use the phrase, which subsist between a constitutional Sovereign and Her responsible advisers, to refuse to me, or to any Minister who may be honoured with Her confidence, the ordinary powers entrusted to a Minister, or to depart from the ordinary understanding of being guided by his advice; and I am authorised on the part of Her Majesty distinctly to state that no person would be justified in saying or holding out the belief that if I had felt it my duty to recommend to Her Majesty the dissolution of Parliament, Her Majesty's consent would have been withheld. But, my Lords, in the position in which we should have found ourselves, in presence of a hostile majority—a dissolution being impossible in consequence of the state of public business, and unadvisable, perhaps, at this moment on other grounds—I say, my Lords, we came to the conclusion that in such a state of things we could not, satisfactorily, carry on the business of the country, and that it was my duty, therefore, to take the first opportunity of laying before Her Majesty my resignation of the trust with which She had honoured me. I made the communication which I felt it my duty to make to Her Majesty yesterday evening at five o'clock. The noble Marquess has stated what has taken place since. I have only to add, that, so far as my communications with Her Majesty were concerned, nothing could exceed the condescension and the graciousness of manner—and more than of manner—with which any proposition from 1015 me has been listened to—with which any communication or any advice which I felt it my duty to tender to Her Majesty, has been received; and the confidence with which Her Majesty has thus honoured me, only adds to the regret which I feel that I in vain endeavoured to perform Her Majesty's service. I have no complaint to make of any one. I did not take upon myself the task of forming an Administration; I have not endeavoured to thrust myself into power. It was by no act of mine or of my friends that the late Government fell; it was by its own intrinsic weakness, and from the division among its own supporters that that Government was dissolved; and when it fell, I felt no exultation at the event, and I felt no undue anxiety to seize the offices they had held. In the position in which I was, I should not have been justified in assuming the responsibility of office unless I was assured that that assumption was the only practical mode of forming an Administration. But entirely concurring, as I do, in the remark which the noble Marquess opposite has made, that whatever sacrifice a public man might fairly and reasonably be called upon to make, he could not for any length of time carry on the business of the country without the support of a majority in Parliament, and feeling that this was not a period to take steps for ascertaining the opinion of the country, I found it was only my duty humbly to request to be relieved from taking upon myself the responbilities of office, which I could not have discharged satisfactorily for any length of time. There is one point to which I wish to refer in justice to Her Majesty and the noble Lord, Lord John Russell. I have already alluded to a report which prevailed with regard to an alleged difficulty which was said to exist in the event of my recommending a dissolution of Parliament, which I did not only not venture to recommend, but expressly said that at the present time a dissolution was impracticable. I have already stated the circumstances under which this letter which I hold in my hand was written. Her Majesty, in the course of our communication, said She presumed I had no objection She should state what had taken place between Her Majesty and myself to Lord John Russell, to whom She was about to give an audience. Of course I said whatever I had stated was perfectly at Her Majesty's disposal to be used in whatever manner She 1016 pleased; and shortly after I arrived at my own house I sent this statement of what had taken place to Her Majesty, in order to prevent the possibility of any misconception. Immediately on my leaving the Palace, I believe Lord John Russell returned. Now, I wish to state those circumstances, to refute the reports which I see have been industriously circulated, either that Her Majesty was treating with, other advisers while carrying on a communication with me, or that the noble Lord had unduly thrust himself forward while other negotiations were pending. At half-past four o'clock my resignation was tendered; at half-past five Lord John Russell was sent for; and at half-past six this copy of what took place at my audience of Her Majesty was sent, and was by Her Majesty communicated to Lord John Russell. I mention these facts, in order that it may not be supposed by any portion of the public that Her Majesty communicated with one Minister while another person who had been charged with the responsibility of attempting to form a Government had not resigned that duty; or that, on the other hand, Lord John Russell had taken the presumptuous step of forcing himself upon the attention of the Sovereign while negotiations were going on with another person whom Her Majesty had intrusted with the duty of forming an Administration. I might here stop, so far as the personal explanations which I am able to make are concerned; but I cannot do so in the present strange state of political affairs, without adverting for a few moments to some of those leading topics which appear at this time to present an insuperable obstacle to the union of public men. That I am mortified—that I feel it as a mortification—that I have been unable to form a Government which could carry on satisfactorily the affairs of the country, I will not pretend to deny; but I trust your Lordships will not suppose that I entertain any hostility, apart from political differences, towards those to whom I am politically opposed. I may, however, be permitted to express my regret, not upon personal but upon public grounds, that I was unsuccessful in forming an Administration; for I might, I think, have brought to a satisfactory issue two or three important questions which appear to be the great stumbling blocks of politicians at the present moment. It may be presumptuous in me to say so; I might, perhaps, have been deceived in my expectations; but, 1017 having no object in concealment, and thinking that a frank declaration of opinion at this time from public men may not be injurious to the country or to the possible successors of one who has failed in framing an Administration, I will step out of the ordinary course which, under other circumstances, I should pursue, and will frankly state the course which, if I had been enabled to form a Ministry, I should have felt it most desirable to adopt with respect to these important questions—with reference to the financial condition of the country—with reference, as combined with the financial question, to the relief of agricultural distress—and with regard to that all-important question which has been stated by my noble Friend above me to have been the main point upon which he found it impossible to form an Administration. I begin, then, by saying, that financially I hold it to be an object not only of vital importance, but one to which the faith of successive Ministries has been pledged, that the income tax should not be permitted to degenerate into a permanent tax. In 1842 Sir Robert Peel introduced that tax. He introduced it for a limited period, with the express declaration that it was to enable him to deal with other portions of the financial system of the country in a mode which he hoped would conduce to the benefit of commerce generally, and would raise the revenue to an equality with the expenditure; and he pledged himself that at the expiration of that period the income tax should cease. Without that pledge there is not a man living who believes that the House of Commons, in 1842, would have consented to the imposition for an hour of a tax which has always been held to be the resource in time of war—which has always been deprecated in time of peace—and which, take it as you will, levy it as you please, must be full of anomalies and inconvenience, pressing variously upon different classes of the community with a complicated injustice that no modification can altogether remove. Sir Robert Peel anticipated, when he proposed the tax, that it would be continued for five years; but, in the first instance, he asked Parliament to sanction it for three years, expressing his assurance that Parliament would not refuse to continue it for the remainder of the time during which he believed it would be necessary, should circumstances prove that the system was working well. The first renewal, therefore, in 1845, was only the fulfilment of 1018 the original scheme of Sir R. Peel, and the extension for the remainder of the term which he had anticipated, and announced as in his opinion necessary, when he introduced the measure. The year 1848, when the renewal of the income tax was proposed, was a period, as your Lordships will recollect, of the deepest distress, following immediately upon the disastrous year 1847; and, to maintain the credit of the country, it was absolutely necessary to continue it. But we have now arrived at a very different state of things. We have, in the first instance, a surplus of 2,500,000l. to deal with. We have, it is said, a state of general prosperity in the country. I do not wish to deny the existence of that prosperity, though I fear I see indications in some quarters that it is not as permanent or as fully established as some of your Lordships may imagine. But, when the country is in a state of general prosperity, when we have a surplus revenue of 2,500,000l., and at the expiration of nine years from the time when the income tax was imposed, I hold that a further renewal of that tax, without any security taken either for its modification or abolition, would be virtually declaring that the income tax shall be saddled upon the country for ever. When I remember, too, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer declared in his budget that there were various other classes of the community as well entitled to relief as the class which paid the window duties, and that he stated that when he had disposed of the paper duties, the tea duties, and the tobacco duties, and had equalised the system of taxation generally, he would be prepared to deal with the income tax, I think it is not assuming too much to suppose, that if Parliament had again allowed the renewal of the income tax without any steps being taken for its limitation, they would virtually have imposed that tax upon the country permanently. A short time before the introduction of the budget it was generally understood to be the intention of Ministers to renew the income tax without alteration, and there was a very general feeling on the part of many persons in favour of an opposition to the income tax, while they demanded the total abolition of the window duties. I was consulted at that time as to the propriety of taking that course as a party move; but I did not hesitate to state that I never would be a party to any step or measure in Opposition, which, if I were charged with the responsibility of Govern- 1019 ment, I did not see my way towards being able to accomplish; and, believing that the credit of the country would not at this moment bear the entire abolition of the income tax, I stated that I could not support a measure which would leave a deficiency of at least 2,500,000l. in the revenue. I was, however, of opinion that a course should be taken declaratory of the determination of Parliament to deal with the income tax as rapidly as the state of the national finances would allow, and that its reduction should not be rendered a matter of impossibility by frittering away every surplus as it arose. I believe that, without interfering with the credit of the country, dealing with the existing surplus, without attempting to alter or reduce other taxes, in the course of this year a reduction of from one-third to one-half in the amount of the income tax might safely and beneficially be effected. I was desirous that Parliament should, by some resolution, pledge itself to the gradual reduction of the income tax, with a view to its final abolition; and I should have been prepared, if the duty had devolved upon me, to recommend to Parliament to grant only such a renewal of that tax as would reduce its amount by one-third or one-half; and I should have been prepared to pledge myself that any surplus revenue that might arise should, in the first instance, be applied towards the further reduction and final extinction of that tax. But I may go further, for I may state now that which I was not justified in stating—at least, I did not feel called upon to state—in answer to an appeal made to me a few nights ago by a noble Lord who is not now present. I will take this opportunity, therefore, of explaining to your Lordships, fairly and frankly, what are my views and intentions upon the subject of agricultural distress. I hold it to be an admitted and undisputed fact, that the land is at this moment the only suffering interest, and that it is labouring under an amount of taxation of various descriptions far exceeding the amount which falls upon other classes of the community. I believe also—and it will not be contradicted, I think, by any one—that the result of the measure of 1846 for the total repeal of the corn laws and the unrestricted introduction of foreign corn, has had an effect upon prices far more extensive than was expected, more extensive than was desired, and more extensive than could possibly have been anticipated by the framers of the Bill. When the corn laws 1020 were repealed, it was asserted, and endeavoured to be proved, that, under ordinary circumstances, from the state of foreign markets, the price of com could not, on an average, fall below 48s. We now see it at 37s. or 38s.; and, with no desire to check the free exercise of commerce, With no desire to reverse the general policy of the commercial system introduced by Sir Robert Peel, I say that, by imposing a moderate duty upon the importation of foreign corn, you might raise a very considerable revenue for the country, while you would not materially raise the existing price to the consumer; but you would, by the acquisition of a duty of 1,500,000l. or 2,000,000l., enable the Government more rapidly to effect that object to which I have referred as of great advantage to the community at large—the extinction of the income tax. I do not hesitate, therefore, to say that, if it were found impracticable, as I think it would be, to effect such a commutation of the system of taxation as to place all classes upon a perfect level, then, according to the best free-trade authorities, it is not adverse to the principle of free trade to impose, in favour of the class which is subjected to an undue share of burdens, countervailing duties to an amount sufficient to meet those burdens; and I believe that, by the imposition of a moderate duty upon the import of corn and provisions, you might raise such an amount of taxation as, at the end of the year after this, would enable the country altogether, and I trust for ever, to abolish the income tax. I venture to say that that relief of the finances of the country, and the removal of that pressure of taxation, would infinitely and immeasurably exceed any possible trifling alteration in the price of food—and trifling indeed it must be—which could touch the consumer. I do not want to enter upon the general question. I express my frank opinion, that the question of protection, or, if you please, the question of the unrestricted import of provisions, is one which must be settled by the country, once and for ever, whenever an appeal is made to the country for its decision. I cannot take the present policy as more than an experiment in the course of being carried out. Should the next general election prove that the sense of the country is in favour of the perfectly unrestricted import of all provisions, unaccompanied by those duties which, in other countries, are imposed for purposes of revenue upon all 1021 articles, and which, in this country, are imposed, and to a vast extent, upon articles of prime necessity for consumption hardly inferior to that of bread itself—I say, if that be the opinion of the country at the next election, I, for one, and I believe the majority of your Lordships and of Parliament, will respectfully bow to that expression of the sense of the country. But until I see that expression of the feeling of the country, when I find that the present system is working an amount of evil far greater than was anticipated either by its friends or by its opponents—certainly greater than I anticipated myself—I cannot, as an honest man, abandon the attempt to relieve the existing distress, by retracing the false step which has been taken, and to remedy the wrong done, by the imposition of a moderate import duty upon corn. We have been told that the labouring classes in the agricultural districts are well off. Now, in some counties and districts, perhaps, distress has not reached the labourer so soon as it has touched his employer: that may be so; but that is a state of things which cannot continue; it is as impossible for labourers to continue in a state of prosperity when the employer of labour is daily, weekly, and hourly seeing his capital diminish, and his means dwindle away, as it is for a river to continue to flow if you cut off all the springs by which it is supplied. I feel that an apology is due to your Lordships, particularly upon such an occasion as this, for venturing to state incidentally, but I hope frankly, the views I entertain, and the policy which, undoubtedly, I should pursue. I have no desire to reverse the commercial system of Sir Robert Peel; but to modify it in those cases in which a modification would, I think, largely recruit the revenue, and enable you to take off unjust taxes, as I conceive them to be, might not injure the consumer, and might arrest the progress of that ruin which I foresee rapidly coming upon the most important class of this country.
One word now, my Lords, upon the important question of Papal aggression. My noble Friend above me (the Earl of Aberdeen) has stated his strong conviction, that no penal measures should be adopted now, or at any time, for restricting religious opinion. No man can feel that more strongly than I do, or more entirely concur with my noble Friend. I should be the last man to consent to the introduction of any measure which would de- 1022 prive any portion of my fellow-countrymen of the free and full exercise of their religious opinions, and the free and full performance of their religious duties. But I must draw a distinction between penal laws directed against religious opinions, and Parliamentary legislation directed against foreign aggression and interference. I know not whether the Pope and his emissaries have violated the law or not; but Lord John Russell, in his too celebrated letter, declared his intention to ascertain from the law-officers of the Crown whether the law had been violated; and stated that if it had not been violated, he would propose an amendment of the law. I think the act of the Pope, in itself of minor importance, was rendered infinitely more important by the insulting tone and offensive manner in which it was, in the first instance, introduced—announced as the act of an authority claiming jurisdiction over the realm of England, and assuming to interfere with the undoubted rights and prerogatives of the Crown, and with the independence of Parliament. I think that was a proceeding which it was impossible, consistently with the dignity of the Crown and of Parliament to pass over; but I cannot say I approve of the mode in which it has been sought to meet that insult. I cannot but think that the measure which has been introduced by the Government, bears upon the face of it the marks of passion and of haste rather than of mature and calm consideration; and for my own part I confess, if that were to be the extent of the legislation contemplated by the advisers of the Crown, I think, with my noble Friend above me, that it would be better not to legislate at all, than to legislate ineffectually. A strong feeling of indignation has been raised on the part of the Protestant portion of the community, vast irritation has been excited among the Roman Catholics, and, after all, a measure is introduced which will, I fear, be practically altogether inoperative. If the law had not been violated, I think the offence would have been more aptly met by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament, declaring in the first instance the unconstitutional character of the aggression, not recognising the validity of the titles which were assumed to be conferred, and declaring that in virtue of those titles the holders or assumed holders of them had neither precedence nor authority of any kind within this realm. [Lord ABERDEEN: Hear!] Yes; but then I am afraid I should have se- 1023 parated from my noble Friend, and been disposed to go further than he would follow me. I think the Bill of the Government does not touch the real danger. I think it touches the insult, and it touches it ineffectually; but the real danger is this—the gradual growth and encroachment of the power of the Pope, and of the prelates acting under his authority, in interfering with matters not purely and strictly religious, and in assuming to themselves powers which, if not in violation of the law of the land, are at variance with that law. While I contend that religious freedom ought to be strictly guaranteed, I say, on the other hand, that Papal aggression ought to be as strenuously resisted now as it was resisted in the days of our ancestors; but I frankly say, that I am not prepared to legislate upon this subject at the present moment. I do not think the amount of information before us as to the facts of the case justifies us in legislating; and this is a question of all others upon which, if you do legislate, you must legislate deliberately, upon full information, and in such a manner as to make your legislation effective. I believe the law is in a most anomalous state on this subject. The recent amendments of the law have left, in this case, the absurdity that it is declared high treason to introduce a bull or rescript from Rome; and, as the offence is still declared to be high treason, it is impossible to proceed against it as for a misdemeanour, and yet the penalty is altogether taken away; the law is thus rendered wholly inoperative. There are various points on which it is right that Parliament and the country should be acquainted with the practical results which would follow from the assumption of power, recognised or connived at, on the part of the Roman Catholic priesthood in this country. For example, what effect will the fact of the Roman Catholic bishops being enabled to meet in synod have upon the binding character of their enactments? Do they, by acting in an organised body, obtain an authority recognised by all Roman Catholics as a legislative authority, which when they are not so acting, they do not possess? If so, the question becomes of importance, not whether there shall be a Roman Catholic Bishop of Birmingham, but whether there shall be in this country an imperium in imperio, a body of men acting in synod, and passing laws which, enforced by the most awful of all penalties—the spiritual censures of the Church, have a power over 1024 a vast portion of the Roman Catholic population superior to that of the law of the land? In 1829 the Roman Catholic Relief Act introduced various restrictions which were called at the time securities for Protestants. That measure required that registers should be kept of the members of all religious communities, and subjected to banishment persons who were not so registered. Is that a power which it is necessary to possess? If it is necessary to possess it, why is it not exercised? If it is not intended to be exercised, why does it remain upon your Statute-book? We, since 1829, have connived at the gradual encroachments of the Roman Catholic Church. We have shut our eyes to her encroachments on the law, but we have shut our eyes intentionally. The Pope, by his late proceedings, has declared that there shall be no connivance at such encroachments—that there shall be no alternative between that which we prohibit, and that which we distinctly allow. I think it unjust and unwise to prohibit by law that which you mean to permit in practice. I conceive that there are grave questions depending upon the position of Roman Catholics in this country with regard to the rights of their own Church, to the disposition of property, and the manner in which trust property is held for Roman Catholic purposes. I think it is a subject for inquiry how religious houses of various descriptions are carried on in this country; and it is a grave question whether all religious houses should not be subjected to the power of visitation, in order that it may be ascertained that no persons are retained within them contrary to the law of the land. But upon the whole of this question relative to the position of the Roman Catholic population, with regard to this State and to a Foreign Power, I believe that Parliament and the country are equally ill-informed. If it be necessary that Roman Catholics should have communications upon purely spiritual questions with Rome, I say, do not shut your eyes to the fact that these communications take place; permit such communications as may be necessary for purely religious purposes, but at the same time effectually prevent any proceedings which interfere with the civil rights of Her Majesty's subjects. This is a subject which ought to be dealt with upon a great scale, temperately, deliberately, and upon full information; and the loss of one, or even of two years, if it were necessary, 1025 would be an evil of little magnitude compared with the evil of dealing hastily and ineffectually, passionately, and in an irritating manner, with this great and important question, the chief evils and dangers of which you leave wholly untouched by your proposed legislation. I should have recommended that, in both Houses of Parliament, inquiries should take place as to the actual relation in which the Roman Catholic subjects of the Queen stand towards the State, towards any foreign Power, and towards their own priests and prelates. I would have advised that this subject should be fully investigated, the present anomalies of the law really exposed, and amendments of the law suggested for the consideration of Parliament; and, though I know the difficulties of dealing with such a subject, I believe it would not be impracticable to introduce measures which should secure this country from the interference and usurpation of a foreign Power, and at the same time should not take from, but add to, the religious freedom of our Roman Catholic fellow-subjects, and place the Roman Catholic laity in a condition far more satisfactory to themselves than that in which they are at present—under the uncontrolled domination of the bishops and clergy of their Church.
I feel, my Lords, how greatly I ought to apologise for having detained you at this length. I have failed in the task which the favour of my Sovereign assigned me; but I have been placed in a position of great difficulty, as indeed difficulties exist on all sides, arising out of the three or four complicated questions to which I have alluded, that keep apart men between whom, upon other questions, there may be comparatively little difference of opinion. However little authority I may pretend to, I was anxious that my views should not be misinterpreted, and I trust your Lordships will not think that I have unduly trespassed upon your time in making a full and frank declaration of the course of policy which, if I had been called to office, I should have ventured to recommend. I trust your Lordships will be of opinion, that, on the one hand, I have not been unduly ambitious of power, and that, on the other hand, you will think that I have neither unduly shrunk from responsibility, nor pertinaciously persevered in attempting to form a Government when I saw it was impracticable. And I hope, above all, that you will not see in any part of the course I have pursued anything which 1026 would be discreditable to my motives, or derogatory from that fair character which I hold to be the most estimable possession of all statesmen and public men.
§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
I will not follow the noble Lord through the various topics to which he has alluded in the course of his speech, but I am desirous of correcting some misapprehension which appears to exist with respect to my description of what passed between the noble Lord and Her Majesty. What I said was, that the noble Lord having been sent for by Her Majesty, and having been supposed to have been sent for to undertake the task of forming an Administration, the noble Lord had left Her Majesty, stating that he was not then prepared to undertake that task; and, if I am not much mistaken, I laid a considerable emphasis on the word "then," being aware that that did not infer the impossibility of undertaking the task under other circumstances. That was the state of things—the noble Lord was not then prepared; and, in consequence of his not being then prepared, my noble Friend (Lord J. Russell) was sent for, who would not have been sent for if the noble Lord had been so prepared; and, my Lords, upon that I thought it would have been travelling out of my part if I attempted to do that for the noble Lord which he would soon afterwards have the opportunity of doing for himself, namely, on behalf of the noble Lord, to develop and explain what were the particular circumstances which then prevented him from undertaking the task of forming an Administration. I am extremely glad he has had the opportunity now. I was aware that opportunity would soon afterwards present itself; but I am bound to say the noble Lord has availed himself of it in a manner and in a spirit, and with a manliness of purpose, that does honour to him. Now, my Lords, having set that matter right, I must refer for one moment to one most important topic of the speech of the noble Earl (the Earl of Aberdeen) who spoke immediately after me. In the course of the explanation by that noble Earl, he has thought it necessary to advert, at more length than I should have expected he would have done on this occasion, not only to the circumstance—which is quite correct—of the difference of opinion on the subject of the Roman Catholic Bill having been the chief, if not the only, difference which had occurred between him and my noble Friend Lord John Russell; but, in stating that difference, he has pro- 1027 ceeded at some length to characterise the measure proposed by my noble Friend in the other House of Parliament. I could not sit still in this place and hear that measure so characterised without protesting against the justice of the character he has given to that measure. I am distinctly anxious to state, that whereas the noble Earl has described that measure as one of a penal character against the Roman Catholic religion—I am not sure he did not introduce the word "persecution," a word which I hope was uttered in an unguarded moment, but I have only to state it was as far from the thought of my noble Friend—I am sure it was as far from my thought as it was from that of the noble Earl—to introduce or to carry any measure the effect of which should be to direct penal Consequences against the exercise of the Roman Catholic religion. I feel, and those who have thought with me feel, that such a measure might be necessary under the circumstances of that insult which has been offered to the Crown and to the people of this country, to pass some enactment vindicating the honour of the Crown and the independence of the country. I nevertheless think we ought to continue and tolerate the Roman Catholic religion, and that to interfere with its exercise by enactment would be a gross injustice and absurdity, and attended with the worst of consequences. I will not now enter into the provisions of that Bill; but I will say that the ground upon which it was introduced was simply that of protecting this country against foreign influence, that foreign influence making use of the Roman Catholic religion as an instrument; and the intention with which—I am not saying whether properly executed or not—but the intention with which the measure was introduced was to protect the Protestant and Roman Catholics—the Protestant laity and Roman Catholic laity—against intervention on the part of the Pope which had been shown to be mischievous and dangerous before, and might be mischievous and dangerous again. That is the distinction I wish to make; far from having at any time wished to debar persons professing the Roman Catholic religion in England or in Ireland from any of their privileges, or any of those powers which are necessary to that exercise, I shall feel it my duty at all times to facilitate that exercise, and to protect that religion; but, at the same time that I do this, I feel it is a duty incumbent on the Crown and Parliament to defend the prerogative 1028 of the Crown when that is openly attacked, and to maintain the independence of the country from any foreign authority, dominion, or influence whatever. Whenever a discussion on that subject shall take place, I wish it should take place with that protest on my part of what I am sure was the object of the late Government and of a great majority of both Houses of Parliament—to resist an insult on the Crown, and in no way to interfere with the exercise of religion; and I may state here, that independently of that disposition which my noble Friend late at the head of the Government naturally felt in his intercourse with the noble Earl and his right hon. Friend on this subject, he was prepared, independently of that wish, to make such alteration in that Bill which, while it attained its object of a distinct declaration against that foreign invasion, should at the same time remove any misapprehension which might possibly be entertained in this country or in Ireland, as to its possible effect on the exercise of the Roman Catholic religion and the full enjoyment of every Roman Catholic privilege by those authorities by whom alone the Roman Catholic religion can be carried on. I do not wish to go into the various topics to which the noble Lord opposite (Lord Stanley) has referred; but my noble Friend near me reminds me of one point upon which it is necessary to correct a misapprehension, a misbelief rather, on the part of the noble Lord. The noble Lord said, there was strong reason to suppose that, independently of the want of support of the other House of Parliament, other considerations had prevailed with the late advisers of Her Majesty in the course they had taken of resigning. I beg to say it was entirely owing to that want of support, as evinced, not upon one occasion, or of an accidental vote which took place at an early hour in another House—it was a general absence of that support in the other House, and no difference of opinion amongst ourselves, which induced us to take that course.
What I said was, I could not divest myself of the opinion that, independently of the two circumstances referred to, namely—the smallness of the majority on Mr. Disraeli's Motion, and the subsequent defeat on Mr. Locke Ring's Motion, there were other questions upon which the difficulties were so great—the fear of opposition from their own supporters was so great, that, independently of those two questions of Papal Aggression and the 1029 Budget, it had largely entered into their consideration in inducing the noble Lord to rfisign—an event that took place so suddenly, that, if I am not mistaken, the noble Marquess was Out of town at the time; the noble Earl hear him, if I am not mistaken, received the information while he was in the City that the Cabinet of which he was a Member no longer existed; and the noble Earl the Lord Privy Seal, although a near relative of the noble Lord, was as little acquainted with the intention of the Cabinet as he was with the Pope's intention, and that the noble Lord, when he wrote to the Queen announcing his intention to resign, had not consulted his noble relative.
§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
stated that he was out of town at the time referred to by the noble Lord.
§ House adjourned to Friday next.