HL Deb 20 December 1852 vol 123 cc1698-709

having laid some papers on the table, said: My Lords, it is consistent with the usual practice, and I think conducive to the public advantage, that a Minister, in announcing to your Lordships' House the dissolution of the Government over which he has been called on to preside, should enter into some explanation of the causes which have led to an event which cannot but be productive, in every case, of more or less of disturbance to public affairs. My Lords, the responsibility of lightly abandoning office is, in my judgment, not less than that of lightly accepting it; and it is right that your Lordships, that the other House of Parliament, and that the country at large, should be satisfied that those who were charged with the important duties of official responsibility should not throw up the discharge of those duties on light and trivial grounds—on minor differences of opinion among the members of the Administration, and, least of all, on grounds that partake of private pique or personal feeling. On the present occasion I believe it will be unnecessary for me to trespass upon your Lordships' attention for any length of time, because the causes which have led to the dissolution of the present Government lie upon the surface, and are patent to all mankind. It is unnecessary for me, my Lords, on the present occasion to advert to the circumstances under which the Government advised the dissolution of the last Parliament, or to the declarations we made previous to that dissolution, regarding the policy and the principles which it was about to pursue. A careful examination of the returns made by the different constituencies, and of the policy professed by the candidates at their several elections, rendered the position of the Government, and of the other parties in the State, a matter of no uncertainty, and of easy calculation. It was clear that there were of the supporters of the Government, on questions not involving the questions of free trade or a protective policy, but of parties who were generally disposed to give their confidence to Her Majesty's Ministers, 310 Gentlemen. There were three other parties—if, indeed, there were not more—the first including in it all the various gradations of opinion, from the high aristocratic and exclusive Whig, down to the wildest theorist and the most extreme Radical, those parties, in all their ramifications, comprising somewhere about 260 Members. The third party consisted of Gentlemen from the sister kingdom, principally representing the views of the Irish Roman Catholic clergy, and holding the extreme doctrines of the Ultramontane school—all of them pledged by their declarations to use their utmost endeavours for the overthrow of the present or any other Government which is not prepared to act upon their extreme opinions. Further, there was a fourth party, numerically small, comprehending from thirty to thirty five Members, Gentlemen of great personal worth, of great eminence and respectability, possessing considerable official experience and a large amount of talent— Gentlemen who once professed, and I believe do still profess, Conservative opinions. Those Gentlemen possess talents which would reflect credit on any Administration, but their numbers, as I stated, are comparatively small. In this state of things it was obvious that Her Majesty's present Government, though they had by far the largest party, and were nearly a moiety of the whole House of Commons, yet they did not possess the support of an absolute majority in that House, and that consequently, if occasion should he taken, if it should be the will of all the three other parties to whom I have referred to combine in carrying out a movement for the overthrow of the Government—those three parties so combining — whatever power they might possess for the formation of another Government — had full power to destroy and overthrow that which existed. We were not long to be left in doubt as to whether the will existed on the part of those to whom I have alluded, to overthrow the Government. Before we had an opportunity of bringing forward any specific measures, notice was given of a Motion by a Gentleman holding extreme opinions—a Gentleman of whom I desire to speak with all respect, because he has throughout consistently maintained and steadily supported the same opinions when they were unpopular which he did when subsequently ratified by public opinion, so that he at all events has a perfect right to plume himself on the consistency of his opinions—and to the hands of no man could a declaration of free-trade policy be more fitly consigned. But the hon. Gentleman, as I have said, holds extreme opinions; and in order that the Government might be placed in a minority on that question, before we had any opportunity of bringing forward our measures, it was necessary that a concert should take place among all the parties to whom I have referred, because, without such concert, the Government would still be in a majority. My Lords, we are speaking here of no doubtful question. We have had some curious revelations made to us by a right hon. Baronet a Member of the other House, who has lifted the curtain, admitted us behind the scenes, shown us the actors preparing for their parts, and discussing the most convenient phrases to be adopted in order to obtain that universal concurrence which was necessary to accomplish their object, and studiously concerting their measures, so as to place the Government in a minority. An incident, my Lords, of almost a dramatic character, interfered with the full execution of that well-considered and well-concerted plan; for when these concerted measures appeared ready for execution, an Amendment was moved in another and an unexpected quarter, which placed the matter on a different footing, and prevented that union of Whigs, Conservatives, and Radicals, which was necessary for the Government to be placed in a minority. My Lords, the Government escaped defeat on this occasion by the falling asunder of the different materials of which that discordant combination was composed. We then proceeded to bring forward and to submit to Parliament the financial policy on which we proposed to conduct the business of the country; and after a lengthened debate in the House of Commons, by the union again of all the three parties, the Government were defeated in a House almost unprecedentedly full —a House, I believe, in which there were not more than six-and-twenty Members in the whole House, who, in one way or the other, did not record their opinions. In that House so constituted, the Government were subjected to a defeat by a minority of nineteen. If we had been defeated on some minor and incidental point — if it were on some detail of a measure, the general principle of which was assented to by Parliament—greatly as I should feel the position of the Government weakened by being subjected to a defeat even on a minor matter—greatly as preceding Governments have been weakened of late years by submitting to repeated defeats and repeated reversals of their policy—inconvenient as I should have considered such a state of things to be—still I do not consider I should have been justified by a defeat on a minor question in abandoning the duties confided to me by Her Majesty. But, my Lords, this defeat was on no minor question—it was on the basis of our whole financial policy—let me rather say it was ostensibly on the basis of the financial policy which was to be established in the country; but in reality and in truth it was, and it was known to be—it was avowed to be—a vote that was to determine the confidence or the want of confidence of the House of Commons in the present Government. I need not stop to prove that such was the issue really intended by the vote of the other House of Parliament—such was the issue laid before the country; and on such an issue Her Majesty's Government having sustained an unequivocal defeat, I felt, and my Colleagues felt with me, that no option remained for us but to tender to Her Majesty the resignation of those offices with which She had entrusted us, but which we were no longer able to perform with satisfaction to ourselves, or with the ability to carry out our own views and objects. On the morning after we had sustained that defeat—my Lords, I speak only of the facts of the case, I am not about to argue upon them; something I perhaps might have said with regard to the character of the combination, and the animus displayed in this settled purpose to overthrow the Government; but I wish to abstain from all expressions, the use of which can by possibility give rise to controversy or angry feeling—having had a distinct declaration of want of confidence on the part of the House of Commons, and having ascertained that my Colleagues unanimously concurred with me as to the only course we ought to pursue, I proceeded to wait upon Her Majesty, and to tender to Her, in my own name and that of my Colleagues, the humble resignation of our offices. Her Majesty was pleased to accept our resignation, and signified Her pleasure, which was acted upon in the course of the same day, to send for and take the advice of two noblemen, Members of your Lordships' House—both of them of great experience and considerable ability— of long practice in public life, and one of them—I speak without the slightest disrespect of the other—peculiarly distinguished, not only by long experience, but by his well-known moderation and temper, by the spirit of mingled firmness and courtesy with which he has on all occasions discharged his duties here, and which is admirably calculated to conciliate friends and to disarm opposition. The noble Marquess to whom I allude was prevented by illness from attending the summons of Her Majesty; and on the following day, in answer to a further summons from Her Majesty, the Earl of Aberdeen—the other nobleman to whom I refer—waited upon Her Majesty and received Her Majesty's commands— which he signified his readiness to obey— to undertake the formation of a new Administration. My Lords, on what principle that Administration is to be formed, how that Administration is to be composed—of what its materials, and of what views and principles, I know nothing. We shall, I presume, before long, receive from the noble Earl himself a full declaration of his intentions and views on these subjects. remember, and probably your Lordships remember also, that on more than one occasion the noble Earl has declared in this House that—the question of free trade excepted—he knew none on which there was any difference of opinion between himself and Her Majesty's present Government. I presume, then, that it is the intention of the noble Earl—and I shall believe it until I hear it contradicted by himself—to carry on the Government, if he is enabled to form one, upon strictly Conservative principles, and in a Conservative spirit. My Lords, how those principles are to be carried out at present, with such associates and with such support as I apprehend the noble Earl must avail himself of, I confess I entertain some little doubt and anxiety. But of this I shall say nothing—1 shall abstain from a single expression which can have the effect of prejudging the course to be pursued by the noble Earl. This I may say in his absence, as I would say in his presence, that I am confident he relies, and he may justly rely, on having more forbearance shown him by the great Conservative party with which I have the honour to act, than that Conservative party has experienced at the hands of others. I venture to promise that if the Government about to be formed be conducted upon Conservative principles, and with a view to resist the onward pro- gress of democratic power in the constitution—in that event, the noble Earl may rely on having, if not the cordial, at all events the sincere and conscientious support of the great Conservative party in this country. He will find, if the past cannot he altogether forgotten, that at least personal feeling shall exercise no influence on our conduct; and he will find that he will be encountered on the part of myself and my friends by no factious opposition, and that he will be met by no unprincipled combination. My Lords, for my own part, I need hardly say that personally to myself the surrender of office is no sacrifice, and costs no pain in personal feeling. It would, indeed, be a deep mortification to me if in resigning the trust reposed in my hands by my Sovereign, I left the country in a less advantageous position than I found it; hut I rejoice to think that, short as has been the period during which I and my Colleagues have held office, that period has not been without some advantage to the country—that period has not elapsed without some beneficial measures having been carried; and that we shall leave the country in a condition of as great peace and tranquillity as we found it. My Lords, I have no hesitation in saying that, in regard to the foreign relations of the country, we leave it in a more advantageous state—that our foreign relations are in a more friendly and in a more satisfactory position—than when my noble Friend the Foreign Secretary received charge of that department; and I rejoice to have this opportunity of hearing my testimony to one than whom no one has been more unsparingly, and, I venture to say, more unjustly maligned than my noble Friend. From first to last I have had no cause for anything but self-gratulation in having obtained in the Foreign Department the services of one who, without previous political experience, has brought to bear an ability, a diligence, and a good judgment on the affairs of his department, which reflect the highest credit upon him, and which I venture to say, without fear of contradiction, has extorted the applause and admiration of old and experienced diplomatists, against whose views he has on more than one occasion had to combat, and successfully to combat. If we look to the department of law, we shall find that greater improvements and reforms have taken place in that department during the last twelve months than have taken place for many years previous— reforms of a magnitude and importance which have gained the. acknowledgments both of the Members of this House and of the country at large. For these reforms we are indebted to the zeal and assiduity, and distinguished talent and thorough professional knowledge of my noble and learned Friend who sits on the woolsack, and for whom, when he quits it, it will be difficult, indeed, for any Government to find a successor who will not give the country cause to regret the change. I take no credit to the present Government for the state of our finances; but I think I may take credit for our having done this—for having for the first time broken the apathy, the dangerous apathy, which for so many years has existed, to the injury of the public service, in regard to the internal defences of this country. And if we leave the affairs of this country in such a state that there is no fear of hostility from abroad —in a state of friendly relations with all the great Powers—we leave it also in a condition of self-defence which is partially effected, and towards the full completion of which we have laid a ground which I trust will not be abandoned by those who may succeed us—who, I trust, will not be neglectful of those great elements of self-defence which we have called into operation —the old and constitutional force of the militia, and the increase of that naval force on which primarily, and in the first instance, the safety and honour of the country depend. My Lords, we leave the Administration with the country in a state, I hope, of tranquillity, of contentment, and of prosperity; at peace with all foreign Powers—with increased, if not with fully accomplished, means of self-defence and self-dependence. Under these circumstances, it is no personal sacrifice to us to surrender the reins of office. I rejoice to see that those who may succeed us, apart from those personal difficulties which I cannot hut think they have created for themselves, have a comparatively easy task before them. I trust that they will go on in a course of social improvement, and that they will place this country on that footing on which it ought to stand. I trust that, with regard to those great measures and objects to which I have alluded, they will complete the course which we have successfully commenced; and I hope that this great country will still continue to enjoy security at home, with tranquillity and contentment, peace abroad, and an increasing prosperity among all classes of the people, by whosesoever hands it may be the will of the Sovereign that the affairs of this great country shall be administered. My Lords, I have only further to state— though it it is hardly necessary for me to do so after what I have said—that I and my Colleagues hold our offices only until our successors shall have been appointed, and until the noble Earl to whom the task has been entrusted shall be enabled to present for Her Majesty's approbation, and to introduce to this and the other House of Parliament a Government with which he may, in his judgment, feel himself capable of conducting the affairs of this country. Under these circumstances, my Lords, I received from the noble Earl this morning, a communication which I must confess did a little surprise me; because I certainly did anticipate, after what has taken place —after the conferences which have been held between various parties, and the decided steps which have been adopted to put Her Majesty's Government at the earliest possible opportunity in a minority—I anticipated that not four-and-twenty, certainly not eight-and-forty, hours would elapse before the noble Earl would be in a position to submit a programme of his future Administration to Her Majesty. Nevertheless, I received a communication from the noble Earl in the course of the day, requesting me to move the adjournment of the House to this day week. I informed the noble Earl in reply, that I would consult his wishes, and move the adjournment of the House; but that, looking to the period of the year, and to the inconvenience that would be experienced by many of your Lordships by being detained in town over Christmas-day— though, of course, all other considerations must yield to that paramount one of providing duly for the public service—I would, subject of course to his approval, move the adjournment of the House till Thursday, hoping that by that time the noble Earl would have made such progress in his arrangements as to be able to take upon himself the responsibility of the public service; but I added that if he had not made the requisite progress in his arrangements by Thursday, I would then move—and I am sure your Lordships will concur in the noble Earl's desire—that this House should be adjourned from Thursday to Monday next. My Lords, I have to thank you for the patience with which you have listened to me, and I now move that this House at its rising do adjourn till Thursday next.


My Lords, the noble Earl in the course of his observations said he was anxious to avoid everything that could give rise to controversy, or that was likely to create a hostile feeling. I regret that through a very considerable portion of his speech the noble Earl did not adhere to that determination. I certainly, my Lords, do not feel less anxious than the noble Earl to avoid everything that can promote controversy and to abstain from everything that can excite angry feeling; and, therefore, I shall avoid entering upon any of the topics except one to which the noble Earl has referred. I shall not stop to consider how far the course which the noble Earl has taken is in strict conformity with that courtesy which it is the custom that a Minister who has resigned office should manifest to one who has received Her Majesty's commands to form a new Administration, namely, to adjourn the House to the not unreasonable period desired by the latter. I shall not stop to discuss that question, as I am anxious to avoid as much as possible entering upon any topic which can excite unpleasant feeling; but I think there was one statement made by the noble Earl which requires to be contradicted now, even though the House is to be adjourned only till Thursday next; for I think it is due to the character of some Gentlemen who are not Members of your Lordships' House, and I may add it is due to some who are Members of your Lordships' House, and particularly it is due to the noble Earl who has received Her Majesty's commands to form a new Administration —I say it is due to them that some notice should be taken of a statement which the noble Earl made with the greatest confidence, and founded, as he said, on facts patent to all your Lordships, and on some explanations of a right hon. Baronet, a friend of mine, in the other House of Parliament. Now, I beg to give to that statement a most positive and emphatic, though at the same time a courteous, denial. The noble Earl stated that from the very commencement of the Session there had been a determination on the part of three parties, whom he enumerated, to overthrow his Government; and he quoted the speech of a right hon. Baronet in the other House of Parliament, to prove that attempts had been made to form a combination by which the Government would be prevented from bringing their measures before the country. My Lords, the very opposite of that statement is the truth. The part which he did take was announced by the right hon. Baronet as having been taken by him- self and others, in concert with my noble Friend, who is now absent; and I think it is absolutely necessary for me, or for some one of his Friends—very few of them are to-day present in the House—to rise in his place and to state the real facts of the case. My Lords, I say that the statement of the right hon. Baronet was this: that attempts were made by a few Gentlemen —himself included—to prepare a Resolution which should combine together the whole of the friends of free trade, and, at the same time, to separate that Resolution from all measures of hostility or even appearance of opposition to the Government, It was for that express purpose that my right hon. Friend's labour was bestowed on the preparation of his Resolution; and, my Lords, can there be a more conclusive disproof of the existence of such a combination as the noble Earl described to have been formed for the purpose of upsetting the Government, than the simple fact, that the very words which my right hon. Friend framed, were the words which were eventually accepted and adopted by the Government itself, though they did not receive the sanction and approbation of the hon. Gentleman who first gave notice of his intention to propose a Motion to the House of Commons on the subject of free-trade policy? Consequently the conduct of the Government itself proves that these Resolutions could not have had the effect, as assuredly they had not the purpose, now attributed to them. My Lords, I have already said I do not wish to arouse controversy; but it is due to my right hon. Friend in the other House—it is due to the noble Earl—that such a statement should not go forth uncontradicted. The opposite statement is the real representation of the case. There was a strong and earnest desire that the noble Earl and his Colleagues in the other House of Parliament should produce before the country their measures; and the course of my right hon. Friend, and of those to whom the noble Earl alluded as members of a party of thirty-five—the course they took with regard to the Resolution moved by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Villiers) are facts patent to all; and were it not for the broad statement made by the noble Earl to-night, I should have thought that contradiction was unnecessary. When the noble Earl talks of combination, I must say that he has himself informed the House of a fact which affords the strongest contradiction to the combination and preparation which he has assumed to exist; for he has informed your Lordships with some surprise, nay, even reprobation, that the noble Earl who was summoned to Osborne on Saturday; required a week in order to form an Administration. I will not now enter further into a discussion on this subject. We have heard before of Prime Ministers who were taken by surprise, and found themselves, or declared that they found themselves in a position which they had little expected. My noble Friend (the Earl of Aberdeen), when he appears in this House, will be capable of explaining to your Lordships the part which he has taken in all these transactions much better than I can do for him; but this I must say, that if the high honour and reputation of my noble Friend, both as a private individual and as a Member of this House, did not command from the noble Earl opposite an abstinence from the insinuations which he has thrown out against him—I think the duty in which, by the command of his Sovereign, he is now engaged, ought to have protected him from charges and imputations of this nature. I rose, my Lords, for no other purpose than to say that the statement made by the noble Earl, with reference to the existence of a combination for the purpose of preventing Her Majesty's Government explaining their measures to the country, is perfectly and entirely unfounded, and I was anxious to give it the most positive and immediate contradiction. I can assure the noble Earl that if, on any future and more regular occasion—for the noble Earl must forgive me for saying that his course upon the present occasion has been a most unusual one—but if on a future occasion he will raise any of these complaints, he shall be fully and fairly met; and if he has been deceived, for in justice to him I cannot believe that he is attempting to deceive, the facts shall be explained to him. It is most important that through such lips as those of the noble Earl the country should not be under any misconception as to the views, the honesty, and the straightforward conduct of those who perhaps before long will be entrusted with the duties of the Administration of this country. I beg pardon of your Lordships for having detained you with those remarks. I found myself placed in an unusual position; but with the affection I bear to the noble Earl (the Earl of Aberdeen) as a friend, as well as from regard to other friends of mine in the House of Commons whose characters have been drawn into this discussion, I could not refrain from offering a few remarks to the House. In conclusion, I will only beg your Lordships not to consider, because I have not now touched upon them, that there are not many other things in the speech of the noble Earl which may require on a future occasion explanation, and a no less positive contradiction, than that given by me to that particular accusation to which I have called the attention of your Lordships.


The statement which I made to your Lordships was derived from information which I thought, and still think, was not of a character to deceive me, and was one which I thought it my duty to make. I will not now enter into any controversy on the subject. I will merely state in explanation that I did not say that the Motion had been made for the purpose of preventing us from bringing our measures before the country; but I did say that from the first commencement of the Session there was an obvious concert between different parties, for the purpose of putting the Government in a minority, and that the Motion was made, and concert entered into on the subject, before we had the opportunity of explaining our measures to the country. I did not say that the specific object of making the Motion at that time was for the specific purpose of preventing Her Majesty's Government from explaining their measures. I am not aware that in anything I have said I have in the slightest degree deviated from the, courtesy due to the noble Earl now absent; and if I did not comply with his request in moving the adjournment of the House until Monday next, I have stated the reason why I have not so complied, and I also stated that if the noble Earl should not be ready by Thursday next, I should of course be prepared to move the further adjournment of the House from Thursday till Monday; with, of course, the distinct understanding that no business of any importance should be brought forward till then.

House adjourned to Thursday next.

Back to