§ The DUKE of NEWCASTLE
, in pursuance of his notice, presented a petition from the Directors of the Manchester Commercial Association, praying that the country may as speedily as possible be relieved from the state of anxiety and suspense which at present so extensively prevails among all classes of the population as to the course of Commercial Policy which Her Majesty's Government proposes to adopt; and said: I should have been happy, my Lords, to have pursued the more usual course in regard to petitions sent up to your Lordships' House, and to have presented this petition without giving notice, or without even the few observations with which I think it now necessary to preface the presentation of it, had it not happened that in his speech on Monday last the noble Earl at the head of Her Majesty's Government, in dealing with another petition on the same subject, besides amusing the House with various jokes at the expense of the petitioners who signed it, denied the truth of their grave assertions, and expressed his doubts of the alarm which they professed to feel, and altogether impugned the justice of the prayer with which they concluded. As the noble Earl on that occasion laid great stress on the ignorance of those petitioners with regard to the subject with which they were dealing—[The 1262 Earl of DERBY dissented.] I certainly understood the noble Earl to say, that an auctioneer was not a competent judge on such a subject; but whether that be so or not, I wish to call your Lordships' attention to the petition which I have now the honour of presenting, and which I received the day after the former petition was presented, not indeed from Snaith, but from Manchester—not from an auctioneer and a surgeon, but from men whose entire lives have been devoted to the consideration of commercial questions—men whom even the noble Earl must admit to be intimately acquainted with such subjects—men whom, as a resident and large proprietor in the same county, and as a Member of this House, and as Prime Minister of this country, the noble Earl must regard with respect when they come before your Lordships for the purpose of expressing their opinions on any, but more especially on this, subject. The petition comes from the Manchester Commercial Association. And what is that Association? It is not a political association—it is not even, so far as I know, opposed in general politics to those of the noble Earl; but it is composed of men who combine together for no other object than to promote the general interests of commerce—of men who differ on all political points excepting this—of men who for the most part never belonged, I believe, to any party, either in this or any other House of Parliament—and of men who never come before us except on questions with which they feel themselves peculiarly conversant. I therefore think, my Lords, that you will agree with me that some deference is due to them, and that, however you may be inclined to dispute the competency of others to judge of this question, you must attach some importance to their opinions when regularly brought before you. I shall read their petition to your Lordships, as it is but short. Here the noble Duke read the following petition:—To the Right Hon. the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in Parliament assembled,The petition of the Directors of the Manchester Commercial Association, by their chairman,Humbly showeth—That your petitioners, being deeply conscious of the great advantages which have accrued to the general interests of the country from the adoption of a free-trade policy, feel called upon to deprecate in the strongest manner any attempt at the reversal of the commercial legislation of the last few years.That your petitioners are firmly of opinion that no return to protective duties can be perma- 1263 nent, and that any attempt at their re-establishment would only lead to continued and organised agitation.That a state of uncertainty is at all times prejudicial to the operations of trade and commerce.Your petitioners would, therefore, most respectfully but earnestly entreat your Lordships to relieve the country as speedily as possible from that state of anxiety and suspense which at present so extensively prevails among all classes of the population as to the course of commercial policy which Her Majesty's Government proposes to adopt. And your petitioners will ever pray.Manchester, March 10.Now I hope, my Lords, that I may be permitted to add my humble testimony to the truth of these' assertions, so far as my experience in my own county—a large manufacturing and agricultural county—is concerned. The noble Earl on a former occasion seemed to entertain doubts whether any mischief or inconvenience could result at the present time to the agricultural part of the community, from the state of uncertainty in which the country is left regarding the question of free trade, because, he said, the operations of husbandry were over, and would not be resumed for some months to come. But, my Lords, there are other more important matters respecting which this suspense must be of the greatest possible mischief. It must prove mischievous, not merely with regard to contracts between landlord and tenant, but with reference to many other transactions; and it leaves a doubt on the minds of the farmers of the country, which is greatly to be deprecated under any circumstances. I could easily show, my Lords, that if the agricultural interest be injuriously affected by this suspense, the manufacturing and commercial interests are still more so. The noble Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who is now sitting by the side of the noble Earl, must be well aware that already from various parts of the Continent we have received representations of the mischief accruing to them from this uncertainty existing in the English markets. [The Earl of MALMESBURY intimated his dissent.] The noble Earl appears to doubt the fact; but I have myself seen representations from Austria, Naples, and Denmark, all communicating the mischief which those States apprehend from the continuance of suspense in the operations of trade in this country. I may be told that countries like Austria and Naples, whose policy is so restrictive, have no reason to complain; but Denmark stands on a different, and I 1264 may add a higher, footing. I am not, however, looking so much to the interests of those countries, as I am, my Lords, to the interests of this country, which appear to be stagnated by the uncertainty which now prevails as to the continuance of free trade. If I should be told, in that stereotyped phrase which I have seen used in so many addresses to the electors of this country, that this is a matter of indifference, because you cannot fight hostile tariffs with free imports, I shall reply with the undeniable fact that this is by no means an undisputed axiom; for however little we may have met with reciprocity in other times, this I can say, that there never was a time in the days of reciprocity treaties and treaties of commerce when so large a relaxation of hostile tariffs was made as has been made during the prevalence of the principles of free trade. If any inconvenience is still felt on this point, it does not attach to the establishment of the system of free importations without any guarantee for their reciprocity, but it has arisen from the uncertainty which has prevailed as to our perseverance in the system during the last five or six years; and it is owing to the course adopted by the noble Earl opposite and his friends around him, and by certain hon. Gentlemen in the other House of Parliament, that this uncertainty has existed so long. I know that you may tell us—and justly and consistently with your views—that the fault lies with us, because we introduced the system to which you are hostile, and which you consider to be false, impolitic, and abortive; whilst we attribute it to obstinacy on the part of those to whom we are opposed, who attempt to maintain false principles of trade, and desire the revival of an obsolete and exploded system. But, my Lords, it is not merely as to the trade in corn that this uncertainty is prevalent. It prevails, and must continue to prevail, as to all other articles of commerce. I was glad to find that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies announced the other day in his place in the other House of Parliament, that it was not his intention to proceed this Session with a Bill which he had introduced there, but before he was appointed to his present office—I mean a Bill for the suspension of the scale by which the sugar duties have been graduated, and that he reserves for a future Session that question; but, nevertheless, there must exist great uncertainty 1265 with such an understanding as this as to what our policy is to be next year on this very important question—an uncertainty that must operate prejudicially on the colonies, derange all the views of colonial merchants, and produce effects that must he deplored. There is, indeed, one great interest in the country which I do hope will now proceed without any interference or uncertainty; for, although the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Control did agitate the ship owners greatly by the speech which he made on the hustings at Stamford, the noble Earl at the head of Her Majesty's Government has, with great wisdom, within the walls of this House, set the question at rest by stating broadly and explicitly on Monday last, that he adhered to the opinion which he had expressed when the repeal of the navigation laws was under discussion, that when that repeal was once carried, it must be final and irreversible. I will not, my Lords, on this occasion enter into any discussion on the policy or impolicy of the corn laws. I not only retain the opinions unchanged which I expressed when the repeal of them was under consideration, but I have had them strongly confirmed by everything which has occurred since; but in the circumstances of the present time I wish to make some further observations to your Lordships before I conclude with the question which I mean to put to the noble Lord at the head of the Government. I wish most sincerely to avoid, in what I am going to say, any observations which may create, I won't say any difference of opinion—for the whole question is one of difference of opinion—but any of those feelings which can produce a hostile debate. I shall say nothing on this subject, except what bears upon the question with which I am about to conclude—I mean the question regarding the position of the Government and the country. And, first of all, I beg you to remember, my Lords, what has already ensued since the repeal of the corn laws some five or six years ago. That measure, as you know, broke up a powerful Government; it brought into hostile array what was before an united party; in some instances it turned sincere friends into political enemies; and it has done worse than this—it has rendered during five or six years the carrying on of a Parliamentary Government a matter of extreme difficulty in the hands of any Minister. I advert, my Lords, to this only to urge upon the 1266 noble Earl at the head of Her Majesty's Government to avail himself of the great position which he now occupies to allow this uncertainty to exist no longer, and to run as little risk as possible of the occurrence of any events which may preclude the final settlement of this question, which is now easy. My Lords, in these days of European change, you do not know, you cannot tell, in what state this country will be in the mouth of February next, although all is calm now. I therefore deprecate even for two months longer the continuance of uncertainty, and I deprecate still more the struggle which may arise out of it. I know that the noble Earl opposite is anxious to see it closed. I know his patriotism so well, that I am sure, however it may be settled, he will rejoice in being instrumental to the restoration of that tranquillity and repose which will attend that settlement. It will be necessary, my Lords, to remove this uncertainty by a settlement of the question one way or other before you can proceed in a satisfactory manner to those social questions and to those internal reforms which the noble Earl at the head of the Government, in the explanation of his policy, which he gave on accepting office, declared it to be his humble but useful duty to accomplish. Let the noble Lord recollect the state of the population and the magnificent scene in which he took part some time ago, and let him remember the reception of the Sovereign of this country by the thousands and hundreds of thousands who assembled last autumn in Manchester and Liverpool with one unanimous voice of loyalty and devotion. In former times such people met, not to greet their Sovereign, but for other purposes not so intimately connected with the interests of this country; and when the noble Earl reflects on that scone of universal satisfaction, I think he must agree with me that nothing should be done by which the happy circumstances of those days should be changed. I shall say no more on this part of this question, except so far as a dissolution of the present Parliament necessarily bears upon the whole question. Apart from this question of the food of the people, apart from this important question of the state to which the population may be reduced by the continuance of this suspense, I must now tell the noble Earl that there is arising at present out of the declaration which he made in this House on Monday last a question of considerable importance, which must and will grow from 1267 day to day, and which, if not settled soon by a change in the determination of the noble Earl, will (in my conscience I believe it) be of a dangerous character to the best interests of the country. My Lords, I go the whole length of saying that if the noble Earl at the head of the Government perseveres in his determination that the business of the country shall be carried on, and that an attempt shall be made to bring in measures of legislation, and to carry them through Parliament, while he is, according to his own confession, in an undoubted minority in one House, and in a doubtful majority in the other—[Lord REDESDALE dissented.] I will allow my noble Friend opposite to correct me if I am wrong; but I think that if he had listened to the speech of his noble Friend at the head of the Government, he would not have interrupted me. I would not have ventured to express an opinion upon this point until it had been tested by a hostile division, had not the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) manfully confessed on one occasion that he was in an avowed minority in the House of Commons, and in a doubtful majority here. I have, therefore, I think, a right to assume that as a fact, and to use it as such in debate. Well, then, if the noble Earl adheres to his intention of bringing into Parliament, where his position is such as I have described, legislative measures of importance, not of pressing and immediate urgency, I say that by that course, which is at once unconstitutional and unknown in the history of the country, he will be endangering in a very serious degree indeed the principle of representative government in England. I know, my Lords, that both out of doors and within the walls of Parliament an attempt has been made to defend this course by the example of Mr. Pitt. I am confident that the noble Earl himself has read history too well to see any analogy between the two cases. Mr. Pitt's case forms no precedent at all. What was Mr. Pitt's struggle with a powerful Opposition? Mr. Pitt's struggle was to pass a Bill in order that he, as the servant of the Sovereign, might dissolve the Parliament; and, without passing that Bill, a dissolution was impossible at the hands of any party—for the Bill in question was the Mutiny Bill. Such, I repeat, was the course of Mr. Pitt; but what is the course now proposed? It is not to dissolve Parliament as soon as those measures of pressing urgency are carried, but to introduce, and, if possible, to carry 1268 through Parliament, legislative measures of various kinds and of different degrees of urgency before a dissolution is decided upon. My Lords, I must say that neither the precedent of Mr. Pitt, which has been adduced by some politicians, nor the view which the noble Earl himself has taken of his own position at present, is a sufficient justification for such a line of policy. The noble Earl said the other night that he was in a peculiar position—that he had been forced into office. I certainly cannot agree in the truth of that assertion; I entirely dissent from it; nor can I for a moment admit that he had a right to make the assertion. It was answered so well and so fully on a former night by a noble Earl near me, that I feel it unnecessary to touch further on that topic; but even if it were as the noble Earl has stated, I say that there is no justification for his persistance in a system which is not fully recognised by the Constitution. My Lords, the real truth is, that the position of Her Majesty's Government at the present moment is, as the noble Earl must himself admit, a position of great anomaly. I deny that the noble Earl was forced into the Government by anything whatever; on the contrary I most fully admit that he sits upon those benches by what I may venture to call a right. Still, I repeat once more, his position is an anomaly. What, my Lords, are the circumstances under which the noble Earl is sitting there? He was at the head of a large party—indeed of the only large party in the country, save that of which a noble Lord in the other House is the acknowledged head. Nothing, therefore, could be more natural, or more in accordance with those constitutional rules from which the Sovereign of this realm has never swerved, than for Her Majesty to call on the noble Earl to form an Administration. The noble Earl has, therefore, no reason to apologise for his position; but still I say that it is an anomaly. He is not to blame if he finds it a novel one. But, my Lords, I think he is bound when he has carried the business of the Government to a certain point, to advise a dissolution. But I maintain that if he remains in the disposition which he announced to us on a former night, his position will be not only an anomaly, but also an unconstitutional position. Up to the poin that is necessary, the noble Earl may go; beyond that, everything he does must be done on his own responsibility; and when anything is done that is 1269 not necessary, the position of the noble Lord becomes one that is unconstitutional. The noble Lord, under the circumstances in which he is placed, was driven to an expedient which, I confess, it gave me great pain to hear of. The noble Earl, in the speech which he addressed to your Lordships in explanation of his reasons for taking office when he was in an avowed minority in the House of Commons, and in a doubtful majority hero, threw himself on the indulgence of his friends and the forbearance of his opponents. [The Earl of Derby dissented.] I am anxious to be corrected if I mistook the noble Earl's expression. I confess that this is a position in which, in my opinion, the Minister of a free country like this ought not to be placed; but it is the natural consequence of the noble Earl's determination to carry on measures of legislation for the country, while he is in a minority in the other House of Parliament; and it is an appeal which I believe no Prime Minister of this country ever made before, and which—with the high respect and admiration that I sincerely feel for his manly and chivalric character—I could not have believed that the noble Earl would be the first to make. But this, I say, is the consequence of the position which I have already condemned, and in which the noble Earl has placed himself; and it is one from which I am anxious the noble Earl should remove himself as soon as possible; and this must continue to be the consequence so long as the noble Earl performs the duties of Prime Minister without the confidence of the House of Commons; and so long as he attempts to legislate beyond what is required for the pressing emergencies of the country, he is, under the circumstances, pursuing a system which is perfectly unconstitutional. It appears to me, my Lords, that no legislation which is not immediate and urgent should be attempted at present, even if the noble Lord continues to persist in his opposition to the policy of free trade; if he does not declare his policy in respect to free trade, a dissolution becomes still more imperative; although under any circumstances I think that measure the only step open to the noble Earl. I have once or twice touched on the fact that certain measures must be passed before we can have a dissolution of Parliament. But what are they? We are sitting here, if not as an Opposition, certainly not as the supporters of Her Majesty's Government. [Ironical 1270 cheers from the Earls of Malmesbury and Lonsdale.] The noble Lords are welcome to their cheers, but I say distinctly that as long as the Government has any reservation of opinion on the policy of free trade, as long as we have not a declaration from the Prime Minister that no attempt will be made to restore the corn laws, so long shall I be in opposition to the Government; but the noble Earl may be assured that he will have no more factious opposition from me than had the noble Marquess who is now sitting near me when he and his friends were in office. I gave I to the late Government my support when I could conscientiously, and I shall do the same by the present Govornment; but I tell the noble Earl that as long as there is this important difference between us on the corn laws—the noble Lords may again cheer me if they please—so long shall I consider that I am the opponent of his Government. When that question of difference is set at rest, when the noble Earl shall pursue the same policy which he pursued when was a Colleague of his under the Administration of Sir Robert Peel; the noble Earl may rely that there is no man in this House from whom he will receive a more candid consideration of his measures than from me, and there is no man who will evince less anxiety to thwart his plans than I. I was about to say some minutes ago, when I was interrupted, that those who are in opposition to his Government only recognise two votes as absolutely necessary for the Government before a dissolution, namely, the Mutiny Act and the Vote in Supply. But I am confident that if the noble Earl came to the House and said, "There are some other measures which must necessarily be passed, and which I, as the responsible Minister of the Crown, think I could not carry on the Government without bringing forward"—if the noble Earl came before the House and gave that assurance, I am sure he would meet with the most ready assistance from all of us. And, my Lords, I say this with special reference to any measure relative to the defences of the country, though so far as my own opinion is concerned, I do not think that the noble Earl should bring forward a measure so important as that which has reference to the establishment of a militia in a condemned expiring Parliament; and I would wish the noble Earl to postpone it until a new Parliament is assembled. Then when we come to consider the important measure of Chan- 1271 cery reform, which is to be brought in in this House, and may perhaps pass here—I should think that the noble Earl at the head of the Government and the noble Lord on the woolsack would be greatly endangering that most important measure, if, in the present state of the House of Commons, that measure is laid before them. My Lords, I think that a measure in which so many interests are involved, will not he considered in a fair spirit in a Parliament which is not led by the Government—a Parliament which, from its devotion to other subjects, and the interest it feels regarding its own re-election, will he exceedingly unlikely to go into the important examination of a question that requires the greatest calmness and consideration. My Lords, I have already denied that there is any intention on my part to offer a factious opposition to the Government of the noble Earl, and the noble Earl can deduce so much from what the House of Commons has already done with regard to the Votes of Supply; but rely upon it that I am not speaking my own individual opinion alone of the unconstitutional position of the Government if they attempt to carry on the legislation of the country without a dissolution for three months from this time. My Lords, it should be recollected that the House of Commons, apart from the Government of the day, have a duty to perform; and when I see that it is in the power of the House of Commons to insist upon this point, I must greatly deprecate any act of the noble Earl which I think is likely to bring on a quarrel between him and the other servants of the Sovereign on the one side, and the representatives of the people in the House of Commons on the other. That quarrel may be short, but nevertheless it may be followed by consequences which may prove most injurious—and all for the attainment of an object that appears to me of the smallest possible value; whereas the importance of taking an opposite course must be palpable to all. The noble Earl on a former night said, that one of the great objects of his Government should be to raise a barrier against the progress of democracy, and to maintain the prerogatives of the Crown unimpaired; but I think my Lords, that, so far from raising a barrier against the progress of democracy by the course he is taking, he will throw down the barriers that already exist, and give encouragement and facilities for accomplishing a progress in that direction which the legislation of 1272 late years has tended greatly to reduce. And, my Lords, with regard to the opinion of the noble Earl respecting the prerogatives of the Crown, I go along with the noble Earl to the fullest extent, except this—I think that he will endanger the prerogatives of the Crown if he venture in this manner to strain them. With respect to the course that may be taken by those who differ from the noble Earl in another place on an important question, it is not perhaps for me to speak; but I feel assured that if the noble Earl shall give us a fair assurance respecting his intentions, there will be a general and confiding trust in the word of the noble Earl—that the question will be at rest from this moment—and that he will only have to ask for a supply, which will be most readily given. My Lords, it may be said that there may be some constitutional objection to making the announcement which I ask him to make; but I cannot see that such is the case. I have referred to precedents upon this point, and I have found some that must prove perfectly satisfactory. The noble Earl stated, or some other individual of his party stated, that the Commons' House of Parliament had nothing to do with its own existence—that that is a matter for the Crown—that it has to attend to its own business, and the question of dissolution rests with the Sovereign and with the Minister. That may be to a great extent true—the position may be sound—but with regard to the announcement I ask for, I beg to remind your Lordships that the Sovereign has on many occasions made such an announcement. In the year 1807, in the year 1831, and on other occasions, statements were made in the Speeches from the Throne with respect to the course which the Government intended to take with reference to a dissolution, and with reference to the summoning of another Parliament. There is also the case of Lord John Russell in 1841; who, upon being asked a question on the subject of the intentions of the Government by the late Sir Robert Peel, stated most distinctly, that under ordinary circumstances, it would be highly inconvenient and improper that any question should be asked with respect to what advice he might feel it his duty to give to his Sovereign; but he said that be looked upon an occasion such as that as one of a most extraordinary character, and would therefore most frankly and readily give an answer to the question of the right 1273 hon. Baronet; and accordingly he proceeded to state the course which he intended to pursue, and gave that information which I now seek to obtain at the hands of the noble Earl at the head of the Government. [See 3 Hansard, lviii. 1260.] My Lords, in the observations which I have made, I trust that I have not used a single observation which is calculated to meet with the disapproval of my noble Friends opposite, and I hope I have avoided saying anything which can be construed into anything personally hostile to the noble Earl. I have wished to avoid reference to irritating topics as far as I possibly could, but I can assure the noble Earl that I feel most warmly upon these two questions. I believe that the question of protection is one which should be submitted to the country and settled without delay; and I feel still more that the intention of persevering with a Parliament in which the Government is not in a majority, is one of far too dangerous a precedent in times like these, to admit of any one who sincerely loves his country and respects the Constitution, allowing such a course to be taken without at any rate protesting against it. I will now sit down moving the ordinary Motion, that the petition do lie upon the table; and I most sincerely hope that the noble Earl will be able to answer my question in a manner which may save a great deal of ill-will, and a good many ill words, both in Parliament and in the country. The question which I wish to ask the noble Earl is, whether he is prepared to assure this House that Her Majesty will be advised to dissolve the present Parliament with as little delay as possible, consistently with a duo regard to the public interest, and to the passing of such measures as are of urgent and of primary importance, and to call a new one as early as the public service of the country will allow?
§ The EARL of DERBY
My Lords, I am far from complaining either of the Motion of the noble Duke, or of the questions with which he has closed his observations, or of the tone and spirit which have characterised the whole of his address. I think, from the position in which the noble Duke announces himself to stand, it was as natural that he should put that question in this House, as it was that the noble Lord lately at the head of the Administration should, as I understand he has done this evening, put a precisely similar question to the Government in another place. I hope, however, that 1274 the noble Duke will not think I am treating him or the petitioners with any disrespect if I decline to renew again a discussion upon a question upon which, by your Lordships' favour, I had the opportunity of addressing you at considerable length a short time ago, and if I decline at present to enter into any general discussion upon the merits of free trade, or the policy which Her Majesty's Government may feel it necessary to adopt. One observation, however, I must make with regard to a remark which fell from the noble Duke, in which he said that he was; quite sure that my noble Friend near me, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and he supposed I myself, must be aware, that from various countries in Europe representations had been addressed to Her Majesty's Government with reference to the uncertainty and inconvenience which were at present experienced there in reference to the markets in this country.
§ The DUKE of NEWCASTLE
I did not say that representations had been addressed to the Goverment, but that communications had reached this country respecting that inconvenience and uncertainty.
§ The EARL of DERBY
The noble Duke said he was sure that, from his position, my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs must have had information of those alarms and apprehensions which he says are entertained in various countries of Europe. Now, I certainly thought that I had myself been tolerably conversant with the various despatches and communications which my noble Friend has received since he has been in office; and since the noble Duke has sat down I have had confirmed by my noble Friend in that which I believed to be the case on his part, that so far as Her Majesty's present Government is concerned, no such representations as those which are supposed by the noble Duke, have reached Her Majesty's Government from any country or quarter. [Earl of MALMESBURY: Hear, hear!] The noble Duke, perhaps not very regularly—but I do not complain of him on that account—has referred to the language I held on a former occasion in reference to another petition which was presented to your Lordships by the noble Baron opposite (Lord Beaumont), and I am only anxious to set him right as to the manner in which I am supposed by him to have spoken with regard to the petitioners on 1275 that occasion. I did not, in the slightest degree, impute to those petitioners, as the noble Duke seems to suppose I did, any ignorance with regard either to their own interests, or to the subject upon which they were addressing your Lordships' House. All I said in reference to that petition was, that the parties who signed the petition were not many in numbers, and that the interests they represented were not great. I certainly did allude to one particular individual—who I have no reason to believe has taken the least offence at what I said—I did refer to him, and say that the peculiar interests he had in the question of land were not such as to create necessarily any overwhelming anxiety and uncertainty in his mind. I quite admit also, with the noble Duke, that the body from whom he has presented his petition to-night is one eminently qualified to give an opinion upon this question, and eminently entitled to have its opinion listened to both by this and the other House of Parliament. But I must take the liberty of reminding the noble Duke, that that petition certainly bears date some days previous to the last discussion which took place in this House upon the subject to which it refers. I understand from the noble Duke that it had been entrusted to his charge the day following that discussion; and therefore, whatever apprehension, anxiety, or uncertainty these petitioners might have felt, may, to a considerable degree, have been dispelled or mitigated by the explanation of the course Her Majesty's Government intend to pursue, which I had the opportunity of giving to your Lordships on a former evening. I must say, however, that I am obliged to the noble Duke for one admission—namely, that this is not an uncertainty which has been created within the last few days or weeks, but, according to the noble Duke, it is an uncertainty which has affected the course of trade—not in consequence of the accession of the present Ministers to office—has affected the course of trade, not for the last few months, but for the last five or six years. And this uncertainty, according to the noble Duke, must prevail and continue to prevail until a new Parliament shall be assembled. Yet during the whole of these five or six years of anxiety and uncertainty, it never occurred to the noble Duke, or to those whom he represents, to call upon Her Majesty's late Government to put an end to that anxiety and apprehension by referring the question to the 1276 decision of a new Parliament, which is the course he calls upon us to adopt as the only one that can relieve that anxiety. I said the other day, and I repeat it now, that I am happy to think that, in consequence of the recent change of Government, that anxiety and apprehension will be put a stop to at an earlier period than if the late Administration had remained in office. At the same time, and although I admit there is doubtless a very natural desire to have all doubt and anxiety upon this subject removed, I cannot, I say again, see in the circumstances of the country—I cannot see in the state of the public securities—I cannot, in any indication which I can perceive of the national mind and feeling, trace that intense anxiety, alarm, and apprehension which, according to the noble Duke, pervades every portion of the country. I am not sure that I should have entered into any other observations upon this question of the noble Duke, further than those which I had the honour of submitting to your Lordships' House the other night, as to the course which Her Majesty's Government felt it consistent with their duty to pursue in the anomalous circumstances, as the noble Duke allows them to be, in which we are at this moment placed, if it had not been for some constitutional doctrines which have been laid down by the noble Duke, and to which I hesitate at all events to give my full and unqualified approbation and assent. I stated the other night, and I now repeat, that there are questions—and questions of importance too—with regard to which Her Majesty's present Government are prepared to say that their opinions are not shared by a majority of the other House of Parliament, and I am not sure that they are shared by an assured majority of your Lordships' House. I stated with regard to those questions that if they were pressed forward for a decision, I admitted that Her Majesty's Government were in a minority, and that we should have to rely with regard to these questions upon the forbearance of our opponents and the indulgence of our friends. But I did not state, and I will not state, that upon such questions as Her Majesty's Government think fit and proper to submit to the consideration of Parliament, there is any proof or any evidence whatever, that either in this or in the other House of Parliament the Government are in a minority. I did not deny the inconvenience incident to carrying on the business of the country 1277 for any lengthened period with a Government who were unable to rely with confidence upon the support of a majority in the other House of Parliment; but I stated to your Lordships the other day, and I am sorry to be obliged to weary you by repeating it now, that I consider we are placed in circumstances in which we have a balance of inconveniences and a balance of conflicting difficulties; and between those inconveniences and difficulties, I think the danger and the inconvenience to the country (and it is that to which I look) is less from a temporary continuance of the present state of things, than it would be from a premature interruption to the business of the Legislature. It must be in the exercise of the discretion of Her Majesty's Government what propositions they may think fit to bring forward, and what measures they may think proper to submit to the judgment and consideration of Parliament. I am not, as the noble Duke seems to suppose, acting upon the precedent of Mr. Pitt, in the year 1784, which I freely admit has, at least, no very close analogy to the present position of affairs. I draw the constitutional doctrine from a much more recent example, and one which I am sure the noble Duke himself will be the first to listen to with deference and respect. In the year 1835, the late Sir Robert Peel found himself at the head of a Government which did not command the confidence of the House of Commons. He found himself in that position in a case far more strong than that which you can now apply to the present Government—because he found himself in that position, having recently appealed to the people—having dissolved Parliament, and having in that situation failed to obtain a permanent majority in the House of Commons, Sir Robert Peel was placed in a minority upon the Address in answer to the Speech from the Throne. He was placed in a minority upon the choice of Speaker. He was placed in a minority upon a most important Resolution in regard to the appropriation of the revenues of the Irish Church. And now, my Lords, just in passing (and my noble Friend referred to this question the other night), let me remind your Lordships of the consequence of an Opposition strong in that which they felt to be a Parliamentary majority; let me refer to the course which they thought fit to take on that occasion, and the consequences to themselves in taking that course. Strong, I say, as the Parliamentary majority 1278 was, the Opposition of that day thought it a good political move to pledge the House of Commons by a specific declaration upon an abstract question, that no settlement of a particular question could be safe and satisfactory unless it involved a specific proposition from Her Majesty's Government. Upon that question they defeated Sir Robert Peel's Government, and shortly after they succeeded to office—not upon that question, however; and having so succeeded to office, they found themselves compelled to abandon that very proposition which they had declared to be essential, and to come to a settlement which, from that time to this, has not been disturbed, upon that very question, not including that sine quâ non of a safe and satisfactory settlement. What was the course pursued by Sir Robert Peel under these circumstances, in a Parliament of his own choosing—in a minority, a perpetual and constantly-recurring minority? He held this language, and this was his constitutional doctrine:—I have been called upon to assume the responsibility of conducting the public business of the country. I will not shrink from that responsibility so long as I believe that I can conduct it satisfactorily, and can carry through such measures as I believe to be for the public advantage that I should submit to the consideration of Parliament.It was not then a question of dissolving Parliament, it was a question of the other alternative, namely, the resignation of the Government. [Cheers.] The noble Lord who cheers that will not deny that when a Minister fails to obtain the confidence of the House of Commons, he has these two alternatives—the resignation of his office, or the dissolution of Parliament. I presume that, under existing circumstances, the resignation of office is not that which would be pressed upon us by noble Lords opposite, as upon the former occasion to which I have referred, the dissolution was not that which would have been required of Sir Robert Peel. The two opposite alternatives are those which were then present in Sir Robert Peel's mind, and are now in the choice of Her Majesty's Government; and the mode in which he dealt with them is this:—I hold there is nothing unconstitutional in the post I fill, and in the fulfilment of my duty, to persevere in the discharge of those duties to which, my Sovereign has called me, in defiance of the majority that is against me upon any abstract question, and in defiance of any declaration on the part of the House of Commons that I ought to 1279 bring forward a particular question, and settle it in a particular manner. I will perform my duty until the House shall by its vote refuse its sanction to some measure of importance which I think necessary to submit to its consideration.That, then, is the constitutional doctrine which was laid down by Sir Robert Peel in the year 1834. Upon that principle he acted, and upon that principle Her Majesty's present Government are prepared to act also. But I do not deny the inconvenience of a doubt remaining upon the public mind with regard to any material question of policy to be taken on the part of the country; and I admit to the noble Duke as fully as he can desire, that an early settlement of a still larger question, namely, who are to be the men and what are to be the principles by whom and upon which the Government of this country is to be conducted, are matters not of indifference, but matters for the earliest solution, of which I am fully as anxious as the noble Duke himself can be. I do not, however, hold it to be consistent with my duty to give to your Lordships or to Parliament any specific pledge with regard to the precise time at which I shall feel it to be my duty to offer to Her Majesty my humble advice that She should dissolve the present Parliament. Circumstances might occur which might render that dissolution dangerous to the safety and the welfare of the country—but I am ready to go so far as this to meet the noble Duke: without specifying distinctly what are the precise measures which I think it imperative to have passed before recourse is had to a dissolution—I say, my Lords, that I am anxious, as anxious as possible, that at the earliest period consistent with that which I deem to be for the public welfare and for the good of the country, the country should take an opportunity of expressing its opinion on the principles upon which and the men by whom the government of this country shall henceforth be conducted. And I will go a step further, and I will say that I think the next autumn ought not to be allowed to pass over, not only without the country having had an opportunity of coming to that decision, but without Parliament having had an opportunity of pronouncing, definitively and finally, its opinion and judgment upon the course of policy which may then be adopted on the part of Her Majesty's Government. I will give no pledge, however, that either in the month of April, of May, or of June, that appeal shall be made to 1280 the country. I say that before the ordinary time of commencing the next Session of Parliament these questions shall have been so far decided and adjudicated upon by Parliament, that the business—the ordinary and current business—of the next Session should not be interfered with by discussion upon the general commercial and financial policy of the country. Further than that, my Lords, I am hot prepared to give any assurance. It would be inconsistent with my duty, as a Minister of the Crown, to say that, under all circumstances, I will advise the Crown to dissolve Parliament at any particular time: but again I repeat, that I desire only to conduct such business of the country through the present Session of Parliament as it may be necessary for the good of the country to have passed. I do not think it necessary minutely and distinctly to specify the measures which I shall include in that category, except to say that amongst them, differing altogether from the noble Duke, I do include, as one of paramount necessity, the organisation of the internal defences of the country. But I say that, after having discharged the duties of the present Session, I am as anxious as the noble Duke can be that an early decision of the feelings and judgment of the country should be taken, and that Parliament should upon that judgment, and before the close of the ensuing autumn, pronounce its definitive and final decision.
§ LORD BATEMAN
My Lords, I am glad to be able to avail myself of the opportunity, which is afforded me by the noble Duke (the Duke of Newcastle) in presenting the petition just laid before you, of making a few observations to your Lordships upon the important question referred to in that petition. My Lords, you have heard, in common with myself, the calm and able speech with which this subject has been introduced to-night; but, calm and able as that statement is, I cannot, except in one part of that statement, concur in the sentiments expressed by the noble Duke. I find myself sitting on the same benches as those usually occupied by the noble Duke; both of us have spoken to-night from that part of the House which is usually denominated the neutral part; and yet I find the noble Duke refuses to give his support to Her Majesty's Government, because, in his opinion, they have not gone far enough in one direction; and I have hitherto withheld my support 1281 from the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) because I considered they had not gone far enough in a totally opposite direction. My Lords, I agree in that part of the petition before you, and I agree with what has fallen from the noble Duke, insomuch as relates to an early settlement of this important question. But I cannot conceal from myself that to come to that early settlement, under existing circumstances, seems to me very improbable, if not wholly an impossibility. I am free to confess, my Lords, that I was one of those who quite expected and fully anticipated that the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby), on his accession to office, would at once have come forward and stated to the whole nation what his intentions were, and what was the policy that he meant to pursue with reference to the great commercial question of free trade or protection. I confess that I was one of those who felt somewhat disappointed at the shelving of this question; I did think that it would have been a far more graceful and a far more straightforward course had the noble Earl stated at once, to the country, what course he intended to pursue, and whether or not he meant to abandon that policy which he has so ably and so often advocated with success in this House during the last five or six years. My Lords, I admit all this; but I am not ashamed at the same time to confess that I was iii error in having entertained this sentiment. I confess, my Lords, that after the eloquent statement which the noble Earl addressed to this House on Monday last: I say, that, looking to the circumstances of his accession to office—to the very great gravity of the questions upon which he was, and still is, called upon to decide—to the combined opposition that has been formed against him both indoors and out of doors—and to the dangers that might threaten this country, should he without hesitation give a decision adverse to the views of that faction—I maintain, looking at all this, that the noble Earl has pursued the wisest and the most prudent course, and that he is not called upon under present circumstances to say more than he has done on this most important question. I regret to see the nature of the opposition that has been combined against Her Majesty's Government. I listened, in conjunction with your Lordships, to the manly, eloquent, and patriotic statement made to you by the noble Earl On Monday last, and, for myself, my Lords, 1282 I am satisfied with that statement; and I ask you, my Lords, is it fair—is it just—is it doing as you would be done by, to withhold your support from, and to threaten with an opposition that has all the appearance of a combined faction, a Government confessedly in a minority from the circumstances under which they acceded to office? I say, my Lords, that it is not fair to harass the noble Earl in this way; and I, for one, will not be a party to any opposition of this sort; nor will I, in this House, nor out of this House, withhold from his Government that support to which I consider them fairly and justly entitled. It is not a mere question of whether we are, or are not, to have a fixed duty of four or five shillings; I ground my support to the noble Earl on a far wider basis than a question of a 5s. duty. I support the noble Earl because I look upon him as the champion of the agricultural interest, and as one who is anxious to relieve the pressure under which they have been so long suffering; I look back to the manner in which he has, in common with his party, so long advocated their cause; and his past conduct is a sufficient guarantee to me that he will bring forward measures for their relief. But I go further than that, my Lords. I look with dismay on the aspect of Continental affairs; and the progress that is being slowly made, step by step, towards that most fatal of all evils, democracy, in this country. My Lords, these are serious questions; and with these facts before me, I tell you that I give my support to Her Majesty's Government because I think you will have to choose between two alternatives—whether, will you support an Administration that is anxious to defend our constitutional liberties, to preserve us from hostilities abroad and from invasion at home; to defend and maintain the supremacy of our Sovereign, the rights of her people, and the dignity of her Parliament to uphold the Church, and to maintain our religion in spite of Popery? or will you, by withholding your support, give it to a party who by their recent acts have abandoned that high position, and who, by inviting into their counsels men whose opinions are well known to tend to overstep the bounds of prudence, have laid themselves open to be accused of having lent their countenance to schemes and to parties whose whole object is the subversion of those institutions which the present Administration are endeavouring to main- 1283 tain uninjured? My Lords, it is for these reasons I say it is not fair to embarrass the Government; and I tender them, for these reasons, my humble and unqualified support. I must now beg that indulgence of your Lordships which you accorded on a late occasion to a noble Lord on the opposition side of the House, while I say a few words about myself, and the position from whence I address your Lordships. It has been my privilege during the few years that I have sat in this House, as it has been the boast of all my family who have occupied seats in this House before me, and in another place, to have occupied a seat and to have called myself one of the old Whig party. My Lords, I regret that differences of opinion on a most important question (I allude to the question of free trade) has obliged me, during the last three years, to change that seat for one in what are termed the neutral benches in this House. Four or five years ago you granted me the indulgence you usually accord to Members who address your Lordships for the first time, while I seconded an Address which was moved for by a noble Earl (whom I do not see in his place) in answer to a Speech from the Throne. My Lords, it is upon this point that I particularly wish to make a few observations; because in public out of this House, and privately in this House, I have been accused of not having kept faith with the Government then in office, by not having given my vote on the question of the repeal of the Navigation Laws after having seconded that Address. Now, my Lords, I beg, here in my place in this House, distinctly to say that I seconded that Address under a protest from myself—and I think the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Lansdowne) will not contradict me—and under an implied promise from the Government that my doing so should not compromise my votes on the question of free trade. Before I sat in this House I foresaw the evils that must ensue to the class of agriculturists (of which I avow myself one) from the adoption of that change in our policy. I saw equal dangers threatening the shipping interest by the adoption of the repeal of the Navigation Laws, and I have never ceased to hold those same opinions ever since I have sat in this House. Those opinions to this hour remain the same. I have not and do not intend to change them; it is because I still hold those opinions, and that I see those of the noble Earl coincide more 1284 nearly with mine on that and other great questions, that I hesitate not at once to avow myself a warm supporter of his, and to leave the place from which I address you, for one on the same side of the House as that occupied by himself.
The EARL of WICKLOW
said, he admitted that the explanation of the noble Earl would be acceptable not only to their Lordships, but to the country at large; and he trusted the noble Earl would not be deterred by the demands or taunts of those to whom he was opposed from carrying forward in the present Session of Parliament those measures upon which he knew he had the support of the other House of Parliament, and to which the members of the Government he had succeeded must necessarily give their support. He alluded, of course, to some of those measures which his noble and learned Friend opposite (Lord Lyndhurst) enumerated so forcibly the other night. They were but few in number, and he thought they could be passed through Parliament in sufficient time to carry into effect the reasonable wishes of those who in Parliament and the country were desirous of an immediate dissolution. The noble Earl might recollect that in the year 1846, when the subject which was now agitating the country was brought forward, there was no more strenuous or more anxious supporter of a moderate fixed duty on corn than he (the Earl of Wicklow); so much so, indeed, that he took the liberty of moving an Amendment in their Lordships' House to the extent of that duty (5s.) which was now generally supposed to be the intention of the Protectionist Government to introduce. He had seen no reason since to alter the opinion he then entertained, or why a duty for revenue should not be laid upon corn as well as upon other articles of consumption. The phrase, "taxing the food of the people," when applied to a revenue duty upon corn, appeared to him an absurdity. The "food of the people" was taxed in other respects at this moment, and even upon corn itself there was a tax so far as the principle was concerned. But whilst still adhering to these opinions in their fullest extent, he thought that the day had gone by for carrying them into operation, and that any attempt now to impose a duty which at the time the subject was in agitation might have been highly expedient and desirable, was now no longer one or the other. On the contrary, he believed it to be exceed- 1285 ingly inexpedient, and that the noble Earl, when he came to review the whole subject, would see that there were other measures which would prove equally effective for the relief of the pressure on agriculture. He thought that, consistently with the wishes of the country, the noble Earl might devote his attention to the readjustment of taxation, and act in a manner which would give satisfaction to his followers and the country. He hoped that he would succeed in that undertaking. At the same time, he trusted that he would never make a proposition for the re-establishment of a duty upon corn, which he (the Earl of Wicklow) would at all times oppose, because he thought that such a measure would give rise to the most serious inconvenience.
§ LORD REDESDALE
thought their Lordships would be satisfied with the explanation given by the noble Earl at the head of the Government, that before the close of the present year a decision should be taken on the questions which would be submitted to the country on a dissolution of Parliament, so as to allow the business of Parliament next year to proceed in the ordinary way. He (Lord Redesdale) wished to call the attention of their Lordships to the serious inconvenience to which various parties would be subjected who had private business before Parliament, if, by a premature termination of this Session, the great majority of those measures, and all the most important of them, should be suspended without receiving a Parliamentary decision. More than 255 Bills had been introduced into Parliament during the present Session. In the course of a very limited Session those which were unopposed, or a portion of them, might have a chance of getting through Parliament: but, with respect to those which were opposed, there was very little chance of their having more than the favour granted of being "hung up," so that they should be put at a stage of advancement when resumed in another Session. He wished to call the attention of their Lordships, in reference to the petition which had been presented from the Manchester Commercial Association, to the serious injury which would be done to important private interests were an early termination put to the present Session, according to the prayer of the petitioners. There were millions and millions subscribed to the undertakings to which that private business related; and, though in the present Parliament 1286 the number of measures which had reference to new undertakings might be few in comparison with the number brought forward on previous occasions, still there were many schemes which had been brought before Parliament involving considerable interests and large outlay. And what was the state of matters with respect to the parties concerned in those measures? The promoters of each of those measures were bound to make deposits, and enter into future engagements under their subscription contracts, before they were allowed to bring in their Bill into Parliament, and would be obliged, in the event of an abrupt termination of the present Session, to keep their capital in suspense for another year, without having the option of investing it in any other transaction. He mentioned these circumstances, not that considerations of the kind ought to interfere with great public interests or great constitutional principles, but because they suggested grounds for protesting against an attempt to urge forward for no definite purpose any such early dissolution of the present Parliament as had been suggested. Having said so much on that subject, he would briefly allude to another point on which incidentally he had expressed an opinion, having interrupted the noble Duke who had opened the discussion, though certainly he had not intended that the noble Duke should hear his remark, for it was not his wish to interrupt any noble Lord who was addressing the House. He (Lord Redesdale) did unquestionably express the opinion that for practical purposes the present Government was not in a minority in the other House of Parliament. If the test applied were an inquiry directed to each Member of that branch of the Legislature as to which individual he would prefer to see at the head of the Administration, the noble Earl at the head of the Government would obtain a larger number than any other individual in favour of his occupying that position. A certain number would say the noble Lord lately at the head of the Government (Lord John Russell) ought to occupy that position; a certain number would be in favour of the noble Lord who not long ago held office as Secretary for Foreign Affairs (Viscount Palmerston); a certain number, again, would be in favour of a Radical Administration; and a certain number would be in favour of having the Prime Minister selected from the followers of the late Sir Robert Peel; but he believed, if they were 1287 to poll the Members of the other House of Parliament, there would be no individual whom so large a majority of them would wish to see at the head of the Government as his noble Friend the present Prime Minister. At all events, that was something to begin with. The noble Earl had a larger "following" in Parliament than any other public man. Parties could not always have what they wished. Without going back to the precedent of 1835, he (Lord Redesdale) would direct the attention of their Lordships to what occurred last year, when the noble Lord then at the head of the Government resigned because he believed he did not possess the confidence of the other House of Parliament. The necessities of the case required that the noble Lord should return to office. He did not appeal to the country, because he knew that if he had done so he would have weakened instead of strengthening his party, but continued to conduct the Government of the country in a House of Commons which he had admitted did not place confidence in him. A noble Marquess connected with the late Administration, candidly confessed that it was an injurious position in which the country was placed when it did not possess a stronger Government than that with which he was then connected. In considering the present position of affairs, their Lordships ought to look to what the country now desired, and what it was from which it was suffering. It was suffering from a weak Government. It had long suffered from a weak Government, and that condition of affairs was brought about by what might, in some sort, be called the unnatural position of parties. There was not such strength possessed by any one party as would enable it to give a strong Government to the country. He trusted that the result of a dissolution would show that they had passed through that transition state, and that the result would be that one party would be in sufficient strength to afford Her Majesty a strong Administration. That being admittedly a result to be desired, what it was necessary the country should have was a fair trial of the present Government before a dissolution took place. The country ought to have a fair trial of all parties which existed in the country before a dissolution took place. [Laughter.] What he said was, that the country ought to have some experience of the Government of the noble Earl, before an appeal was made to the country on a dissolution. 1288 It had been said of the noble Earl that he had put untried men in office. It was a matter of necessity that the noble Earl should do so. But this was not a question as to appointing untried men; but the question was, whether there was or was not incapacity for office; and he (Lord Redesdale) must say, that the parties who opposed the noble Earl were the last men who ought to complain of the confidence which the noble Earl had placed in his friends. The noble Earl was willing to try them; he had confidence that when placed before the country they would be found capable of efficiently discharging the duties with which they had been entrusted. It was necessary, moreover, he thought, that the Opposition should also be tried in their present position. Their Lordships knew that a party in opposition was a very different thing from a party in office. There were circumstances of such a nature which had attended the conduct of those who had been connected with the late Government since they had passed into opposition, that he thought the country would be benefited by having a little trial of the Opposition in that capacity, so that the country might know what was the position they intended to take up, before a dissolution and an appeal to the country. He could not help reflecting on what had occurred before; he could not help reverting to various things which in his Parliamentary experience had taken place. There could be no doubt that the effect of the Reform Bill was very considerably to increase the Radical party both in the country and in Parliament; and, if their Lordships would refer to the time when a Parliament was first returned after the passing of the Reform Bill in 1832, they would observe that in 1833 the Ministers of the day had a most triumphant majority, and carried everything their own way. They had, however, hardly got through that Session, when the pressure of the Radical party became strong; and it was only in 1834 that the state of circumstances arose which led to the separation of his noble Friend behind him (the Earl of Derby) from the then Government. If their Lord-ships recollected the circumstances which led to that separation, they would find that those circumstances arose under a condition of things which had gone on from, that day to the present. It was not the Anti-Corn-Law League which then existed) but Mr. O'Connell, and what was called his Irish "tail;" and the question on which 1289 the separation took place was the question of the Irish Church. The separation of the noble Earl at the head of the Government from his Colleagues, gave a great shake to the Government of the time. The noble Earl, then Prime Minister (the late Earl Grey), warned his party against yielding to the continual pressure from without, which would lead to the destruction of the Government; and before the close of the year the secession of Earl Grey himself from office ensued, and the Government of Lord Melbourne succeeded. Within a few months Sir Robert Peel was called upon to form an Administration, against which the Whigs and Radicals made a combined I attack by a Motion respecting the Irish Church, agreed upon at the Lichfield House convention. Lord Melbourne was restored to power, and the Resolution which had been adopted with reference to the Irish Church had remained a dead letter from that day to this. The noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) had recently adverted to the meeting which was held in Chesham Place the other day; in fact something-like a Lichfield-house convention had been entered into; and it was right that the country should see what might be the effect of the Chesham Place compact before deciding among the various parties who would seek to be returned in the event of a dissolution. If a party was to be formed by those who were lately at the head of the Administration, was it to be formed in accordance with the opinions of the men who took a share in the proceedings of the meeting to which he referred? If, in short, the noble Lord at the head of the late Government and his Colleagues combined with the Radical party, with the view of bringing in a Radical Reform Bill instead of the wretched Reform Bill which he introduced the other day, it was desirable that the country should know that such was the fact before a dissolution. Some little experience would be useful to the country in regard to that point as well as other matters. He repeated that the country ought to have experience of the present Government and of the present Opposition; he thought the country should also have some experience of the noble Lords who occupied the cross-benches. The position which those to whom he referred held between two parties, rendered them the weakest of all parties to go to the constituencies; they were distrusted to a certain extent by both parties, and distrusted, he believed, justly. He would 1290 rejoice if the duration of the present Session were prolonged to such an extent as to give a fair opportunity of eliciting in some degree the opinion of those to whom he alluded, and if the result showed that every man was prepared to take up his position, either as a Conservative or in Opposition, he thought it would be beneficial to the interests of the country. Nothing could be more disadvantageous than that, in regard to those persons who might be returned to Parliament at the next general election, there should be any considerable doubt with respect to what they were. He believed there could he no doubt as to those who supported the Government of his noble Friend. No one could doubt the principles on which the Government would be conducted. He had said that he believed it desirable and necessary for the conduct of the government of this country that the two parties by which the Ministerial and the Opposition benches respectively had been always filled during the times when the Government was carried on constitutionally, should again exist. Bid any one doubt the party to which his noble Friend belonged? That party which might be formed to support him would be formed to support a Conservative policy. Had any one a doubt about that? [A Noble LORD: A Protectionist policy?] The noble Lord said, a Protectionist policy. He (Lord Redesdale) would not enter at length upon that subject. The noble Earl unquestionably entertained the opinion that the most desirable way of settling the whole differences which existed between parties in regard to the manner in which certain interests had been affected by recent changes, would be by a moderate return to a protective policy; but the noble Earl did not hold that this question was in itself of such vital importance that it should be destructive of all other interests, and destructive, in particular, to the formation of a Conservative Government. The noble Earl had declared himself a real Protectionist, in so far as he had formed his Government entirely of persons who were prepared to support that policy, if the country were prepared to demand it. To the decision of the country he had left that question; if the country supported him he was prepared to bring forward a proposition to enable him to do what he believed to be for the benefit of the country. If the country took a different view, he was prepared to consider whether there 1291 were not other means by which, with the general concurrence of those who cherished a disposition to give a general support to the Government, the question might be settled in such a manner as to satisfy the country. He (Lord Redesdale) believed such a settlement possible. He believed that there had been, on the one side, too much adherence to what was called free trade—to everything done since 1846; and that, on the other hand, there had been of necessity, from the principle of opposition, a strong and too rigid adherence to what was called the cause of protection. But the question must be settled; and he thought every one must feel that the manner in which, the noble Earl had placed himself before the country on that point, was as clear and open as possible. But could any person say that the question of a duty of a few shillings more or less upon corn, was one that vitally affected the future interests of this country—that fifty years hence it would make the slightest difference? There was the evil, that politicians in the present day did not look to the consequences of their policy hereafter, but everything was treated merely as to its effect on party relations from day to day. Fifty years hence it would not signify in the least whether there were 5s. duty more or less upon corn this year or another year. But the fact of a Radical Government being in power this year or next year, would be most deeply felt, and in the course of a few years would make a most serious impression.
§ The EARL OF ABERDEEN
My Lords, I was, I confess, prepared to be satisfied with the declaration made by my noble Frind at the head of the Government, in answer to the question which has been put to him by the noble Duke. But after the speech of the noble Baron (Lord Redesdale) I am almost in doubt what interpretation I am to put upon the declaration made by my noble Friend. As for waiting to see how an Opposition behaves, or how a third party behaves—of whom I am one—having sat in this House for forty years, I am afraid that it is not likely that the noble Baron will receive much new light upon the subject. I believe I have always acted consistently in this House. I have already mentioned the great subject upon which I differ from my noble Friend at the head of the Government, and to that difference I intend to adhere. But when the noble Baron treats that question as a matter of little im- 1292 portance, I can only say it is not so much the intrinsic importance of the question itself that is to be regarded, as its relation to the welfare and prosperity, and even the peace, of the country. Now, I think my noble Friend at the head of the Government gave such an answer as was consistent with his duty; but he must permit me to give my interpretation of it in contrast with that which we have received from the noble Baron. I understood my noble Friend to say, that, consistently with such measures as were of urgent and primary importance being passed—a matter which must always be one of degree—[The Earl of DERBY: Hear!]—he may attach greater importance to some than I may, but it is for him, of course, to decide—such measures as he thinks necessary to bring forward—that he would then advise Her Majesty to dissolve Parliament. But the important part of the declaration is this, that, be it sooner or be it later, a new Parliament will be called to decide that great question to which I have referred, in the course of the autumn. [The Earl of DERBY: Hear!] With that I am quite satisfied; and I should feel that pressing for any precise pledge as to time would be highly improper, and, in fact, unconstitutional. Indeed, for this House to interfere with the dissolution of Parliament altogether, is perhaps stepping out of its province. I am aware there are precedents in this House for such a course; for instance, Lord Chatham moved an Address to the Crown to dissolve Parliament; but what-eves Lord Chatham's merits as a Minister might be, certainly his conduct in Opposition is not for your Lordships to follow; and I trust, if any such Motion should be proposed in this House, it would meet with no concurrence from your Lordships. But I must just advert to a topic alluded to by my noble Friend, when he said that the precedent to which the noble Duke, I think, had referred, of Mr. Pitt's first Government, was not strictly in point. That is true, except that there is one respect in which the position of my noble Friend is singularly similar to that of Mr. Pitt in his first Government, namely, that of himself sustaining the whole weight of the Government on his own shoulders, I believe I may say that, without offence to his Colleagues, for probably they may be the first to acknowledge his superiority, his splendid talents, and his high personal character. In that, therefore, he strictly resembles Mr. Pitt. But when he alluded to the other precedent, of 1293 Sir Robert Peel, I must say he has quite mistaken the facts as they took place; for Sir Robert Peel began by dissolving the Parliament: he then met the new Parliament, and with small majorities against him struggled on for a certain time in the hope and prospect of converting his minority into a majority. And how long did he do that? He remained in office for two months only. Parliament met, I think, early in February, and I think—I had the honour of forming a part of that Government—we resigned on the 7th of April. Now, Sir Robert Peel had no remedy; but my noble Friend, if he were in the same position of being pressed by majorities against him, has the remedy which Sir Robert Peel did not possess, because he had already tried it. Therefore my noble Friend at any time may have recourse to an appeal to the country, to convert the majority against him into one of his favour, if he thinks proper to resort to it. It seems that is a course which my noble Friend is not prepared to take, though I recollect, sitting on this side of the House, the noble Earl always professed to be excedingly anxious for a dissolution, to bring the question to an issue. Now, I do not wish to press this so much; I take for I granted still that my noble Friend is not reluctant to take that course—[The Earl of DERBY: Hear!]—and therefore I wish with the most perfect fairness to admit that in this situation I think he is bound to carry the measures described as essential and indispensable to the welfare of the country, and after that to take the sense of the country, and to fulfil the promise he has made to the House. I therefore regard the answer of my noble Friend as quite satisfactory, and all that could be desired; it was only the strange gloss put upon it by the noble Baron which loft me no other course but to state my understanding of the matter.
§ EARL GREY
said, he entirely concurred with the noble Earl who had just sat down; he was satisfied with the declaration made by the noble Earl at the head of the Government, and he was entirely dissatisfied with the gloss put upon it by the noble Baron (Lord Redesdale). He understood the noble Earl to say, that he felt the extreme inconvenience of having the future commercial policy of the country for any long period in a state of uncertainty, and that it was desirable to have the question settled at the earliest possible period. He said that the opinion of the country must be 1294 taken by a dissolution, and by summoning a new Parliament as soon as possible, consistently with certain arrangements necessary for the due administration of public affairs. He (Earl Grey) thought that was all we had a right to expect. If the noble Earl admitted that that question was one which ought to be brought to a speedy determination, he was satisfied; but he thought the simple fact of announcing that wish and intention must render the existing House of Commons utterly incapable of considering with the necessary calmness, confused as hon. Members would be with canvassing for their new elections, the important measures referred to by the noble Earl. So much, indeed, did he think that that would be the case, that it appeared to him to be the interest of the Administration as well as of the country that the dissolution of Parliament should be immediate. The noble Baron, however, had a theory involving not only an ordinary but an extraordinary Session, because he said that it was requisite that all parties should be what he calls tried—and he thought that this discrepancy between the views of the noble Baron and the noble Earl ought to be explained. His principal object, however, in rising to address their Lordships at that moment was this: they might remember that in the course of the debates on Monday evening, the noble Earl stated that he was merely following the precedent set by the noble Lord at the head of the Government in 1846, in withholding any specification of his policy on which he took office, and meant to appeal to the country. The noble Earl, on Monday night, said, that in 1846 Lord John Russell had declined to state the views of the men who formed the Government, on many important questions. As far as his recollections served him at that moment, he (Earl Grey) gave the best contradiction he could to that statement; but, being only from recollection, with regard to circumstances which took place five and a half years' ago, he felt it necessary to be very cautious, and, therefore, he did not consider himself justified in expressing as strongly as he now felt called upon to do, his dissent from the statement of the noble Earl. What took place was this—[See 3 Hansard, lxxxviii. 1167, 1175]: His noble Friend, Lord John Russell, was called upon to make a statement of the views of his Administration: his reply was, that he had been so loner in the House, and that his views were so generally known on all questions then before the public, that it 1295 was unnecessary for him to make any general statement; but that with regard to the specific measure to which the question referred—the question of the Irish Church—he was perfectly ready to give an answer; and, as regarded that question, the answer of Lord John Russell was as clear and distinct as possible. Lord John Russell said, in his opinion, the existing state of things with regard to the Irish Church was not altogether satisfactory; but, he added, he had voted in favour of the Motion made by Mr. Roebuck for continuing the endowment for Maynooth out of the property of the Established Church—that this Motion had been rejected, and that though he thought the rejection wrong, he still supported the Bill as it stood, and was prepared to abide by the recorded sense of the House of Commons. Lord John Russell declared it was the opinion of himself and Colleagues, though knowing the state of the Irish Church to be unsatisfactory, that it would be of no advantage, and it was not the intention of Her Majesty's Government, to propose any alteration; but he went on to say—and this was the only part of his speech to which the noble Earl referred—"I certainly will not pledge myself, if at any future time there be a change of opinion in the Irish Catholics themselves as to receiving the endowment, and in the English people and the Scotch Presbyterians as to giving it—if there should at some future time be some general change of opinion, I do not pledge myself not to bring in such a measure." Therefore, the noble Lord stated, in terms as plain and as explicit as the English language furnished, that it was not the intention of the Government then existing to make any proposition on the subject. Now, if the noble Earl had made such a declaration with regard to protection, he (Earl Grey) would have been satisfied. If, he said, it was not the intention of the Government to propose any alteration in the commercial policy of the country—if he said he would leave it open to himself to make a proposal hereafter, if he should see a change of opinion, but at the same time stated distinctly that, as at present advised, it was not the intention of Her Majesty's Government to propose such alteration, then he (Earl Grey) should be satisfied, and should concur with the noble Baron opposite (Lord Redesdale) in thinking that the noble Earl had fairly placed the question before the country. But till he made such an answer, he did not conceive the question was fairly placed before 1296 the country. The noble Earl had said, and he concurred with him, that it was of the greatest possible importance that the constituencies should know, during the new election, what were the principles of the candidates they were about to elect. He believed the all-important question of the present day was, the freedom of commerce or not the freedom of commerce: let the constituencies know, during the elections, whether they really were electing persons in favour of freedom of commerce, or not. The noble Baron (Lord Redesdale) said this was comparatively an insignificant question. Now, he so entirely differed from him, that he believed if there was one question of overwhelming importance at this moment in the country—a question on which the welfare and peace of the country depended—it was the future policy of the Government on this important subject. When the noble Earl adverted to proceedings elsewhere, and to the conduct of different parties who were now opposed to Her Majesty's Government, he begged to inform him that if he wished things to be placed in a different state, he had only to procure from the Government a declaration that they did not mean to disturb the commercial policy of the country, because he concurred with the noble Duke on the cross benches (the Duke of Newcastle), that the doubt on this question, and the doubt only, induced them to regard Her Majesty's Government with such extraordinary distrust. Looking at the composition of the present Government,: it was not one which inspired him with confidence; but, as far as their declarations of opinion and principles went, he saw nothing whatever to lead him to anticipate the necessity of any decided opposition, except on the question of protection; but on that question—the reimposing of any of the restrictions which had been removed from commerce—the declarations of Her Majesty's Advisers inspired him with nothing but extreme distrust. What he heard from the noble Baron made him even more distrustful than before, for he had told them that it was the intention of the, Government to adopt a protective policy, if they were strong enough, That be understood to be the declaration of the noble Baron. Then the issue simply came to this—in the next election, if the people of England will make the Government strong enough, they will reimpose those restrictions which have been abolished. He repeated he understood that to be the de- 1297 claration of the noble Baron; and he only wished the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) had stated either the one case or the other a little more clearly, in justice to all those parties to whom it was of extreme importance there should be no doubt on the subject. He hoped the noble Earl would reply "aye" or "no"—was it, or was it not, the intention of the Government to propose an alteration in the existing policy?
§ Petition ordered to lie on the table.