HL Deb 09 July 1866 vol 184 cc726-51

My Lords, in rising to address you again from this Bench, as the First Minister of the Crown, I can assure you in all sincerity that I do so with no feeling of personal vanity or exultation. I feel, my Lords, too deeply that I have not sought for the high and onerous post which my Sovereign has intrusted to me. I know too well the difficulties by which I am surrounded, and I am sensible of the obstacles—the almost insuperable obstacles—which I shall have to encounter in undertaking the performance of the arduous duties which devolve upon me—indeed, I should have been most anxiously desirous to decline undertaking duties which must involve to me personal sacrifices of ease and comfort, and even perhaps of health—if I had not felt myself compelled, by a sense of public duty, not to shrink from the task imposed upon me. My Lords, for my own part, I should have been well content to hold that position which I have occupied for the space of seven years, honoured with the confidence of a great and powerful party—powerful to exercise no inconsiderable control over the public affairs of this country, and to give to a wise and prudent Minister of the Liberal party useful support by enabling him to check and control the eager impetuosity of some of his more impatient adherents. Such is the position which I have had the honour of occupying from the year 1859 down to the last general election and the lamented death of Lord Palmerston. And, my Lords, I must say, in passing, that it reflects the utmost credit on that great party which has honoured me with its confidence during that long period, that they should have so long consented to hold a position which, though of great utility to the country and honourable to themselves, was at the same time a position very dispiriting and disheartening to individual ambition—for they supported a Minister to whom they were by party ties opposed—and that during the whole of that long period their ranks were never thinned by defection arising out of the natural impatience of persons in political life to submit to continued exclusion from those offices and honours which are looked forward to as the legitimate rewards of efficient public labour. My Lords, I should have been well content to continue in that position—and I believe the Conservative party would have been content, for the sake of the country, to continue to occupy that position—had Lord Palmerston continued to hold the reins of office. But, with the death of Lord Palmerston, circumstances changed materially. In what I am about to say I have no desire to speak disrespectfully of the noble Earl, my immediate predecessor, nor should I wish to let fall one word hurtful to his feelings; and if I deal with the circumstances which have occurred since the death of Lord Palmerston it is only to justify my acceptance of the position which I at present occupy. I am told—I do not know how true it is, though I think it very probable that it is true, because there was no better judge of human nature and no man with more experience of Parliament than Lord Palmerston—I am told that it was a doctrine held by Lord Palmerston, and a proposition which he had always laid down to his Colleagues, that it was imprudent to propose a Reform Bill in the first Session of a new Parliament. I am further told that he based that proposition on the ground that, in the first Session of a new Parliament, it was impossible for a Ministry to feel the pulse of Parliament and judge of the amount of support which they would receive in bringing forward a large and extensive measure of Reform. Now, the noble Earl (Earl Russell). I think, admitted the other day that he had miscalculated the strength of the feeling of Parliament in respect to the question of Reform; because, as I understood him, he said it was not expedient and that it was not right of a Ministry to propose a Reform Bill unless they felt satisfied that they had such support in Parliament as would enable them to carry it. My Lords, I take it that in this matter the noble Earl was deceived by the aspect of the late general election. When he saw a majority of seventy for a Liberal Administration I believe the noble Earl fell into the mistake of not considering how large a portion of the support which that Liberal Administration received was given to Lord Palmerston personally, and how large a portion of it might be withdrawn in case the Government should bring forward any wide measure of Reform. I think that was very natural. Nothing was more natural than that if the noble Earl thought he would receive a sufficient amount of support, he should be anxious to bring forward yet once again a Bill on a question with which his fame is so intimately connected. If he thought he could carry a measure for an enlargement and improvement of the representation of the people in Parliament, I cannot blame him that he should have lost no time in bringing forward the question; but he will forgive me for saying that I think it was taken up too hastily and with too little consideration for the exceeding gravity and importance of the subject. I cannot but believe it would have satisfied all their supporters if Her Majesty's Government, on the opening of the new Parliament, had announced that it was their intention to deal with Reform, but that the question was so large, and one requiring such careful consideration, affecting as it did the various interests of the country, that they desired to have the interval of the then Session of Parliament and the subsequent recess in order to consider the details of the subject with that care that would enable them to lay a well-matured Bill before Parliament. I think that would have been a wiser, a more satisfactory, and a more judicious course than the one which the Government adopted. My Lords, what course did they take? They brought forward a Bill crudely and hastily prepared and founded on very imperfect information, which measure they expected to carry through Parliament without any alteration and without opposition. Now, I presume to say that was a great mistake, and a great miscalculation of the political feelings of the House of Commons. The House of Commons were not prepared to have forced on them a Bill first of all introduced in a fragmentary shape, and subsequently put before them in a more extensive but still unsatisfactory form—bearing every mark of crudeness and of want of consideration. Still less were they prepared to be told that unless they passed that Bill with all its provisions, their declining to do so would be taken as a Vote of Want of Confidence in Her Majesty's Ministers. I do not question the propriety or the policy of the resignation of the late Government; but I must express my opinion that if during the course of the Reform debates a different tone had been adopted—if the Government had shown their readiness to consider the various suggestions put forward—if they had treated the House of Commons with more fairness, and with the consideration to which they were entitled—I do not think in that case that the particular question on which the Amendment was carried against the Government was of such importance as to justify the resignation of Her Majesty's Government. But I admit fully that when a question, whether important or unimportant, is put forward by Ministers as a test of confidence or want of confidence, and when, after a declaration by them to that effect, the Amendment was adopted and there was a majority against the Government, there was not, in my opinion, any choice left to them as honourable men—they had no alternative but to accept the consequences of the vote and resign. Therefore, much as I regret that a change of Government should have taken place, I cannot find fault with the course taken by Her Majesty's Government in respect of their resignation.

It will be in your Lordships' recollection that nearly a week elapsed between the tender of the resignation of the late Ministry and the announcement of Her Majesty's acceptance of it, after her return to Windsor. Immediately after the Queen did accept it, Her Majesty did me the honour to send for me, and in most gracious terms—which I cannot repeat, because I have not obtained Her Majesty's permission to do so—signified her desire that I should form a Government. The Queen turned to me, she was pleased to say, as the only person likely to form a Government which would have her confidence and the confidence of the country. Her Majesty was at the same time pleased to say that she did not fix any time, as she was desirous of giving me an, opportunity to consult my political friends with a view of seeing what prospect there was of our being likely to form such a Government. In consequence of that intimation from Her Majesty, on the following morning—Wednesday morning—I met a considerable number of those with whom I am accustomed to act; and I communicated to them Her Majesty's wish and my own, that I should endeavour to form a Government, composed, no doubt, in the main from the Conservative party, but formed on an enlarged basis, capable of including within it some persons either opposed to us, or who had been supporters or even Members of the late Government. My Lords, from one and all those Friends whom I consulted, I received an assurance that they thought it a bounden duty on my part not to refuse the task with which Her Majesty had intrusted to me. One and all expressed their individual desire to sacrifice all personal considerations and waive all, and make any official sacrifices, if by so doing they could enable me to form a Government on the basis which I laid before them. My Lords, I use the words "enlarged basis" advisedly in order to express a distinct meaning; because I do not think a Government on an enlarged basis is at all identical with a Government of coalition. By a Government of coalition one understands a Government of men of different parties, in which each, to a greater or less extent, sacrifices his individual opinions for the purpose of obtaining united political strength. We all know that it is always exceedingly repugnant to an Englishman to sacrifice his private opinion for expediency. But a Government on an enlarged basis is, I take it, something very different. What I proposed was a basis enlarged not as to principles but as to persons. I proposed that we should go beyond the arbitrary limits of existing parties, and form a Government composed of men whom party warfare has placed in different camps, but who only in a few and insignificant particulars differ on matters of public policy. My Lords, it is in the political as in the social scale. In the social scale we speak of the higher, the middle, and the lower classes. The distinction between the higher classes and the lower is broadly, prominently, and distinctly traced; but when you come to the middle classes the whole social system is so beautifully graduated—the scale descends so imperceptibly and gradually—that you find it impossible to mark exact distinctions of grade. There are the higher middle classes, middle classes, and the lower middle classes; and thus the social scale is joined by imperceptible links through all the ranks of society. In politics it is precisely the same. You talk familiarly of the Conservatives. As to Tories, I fear that few specimens of the old Tory of forty years ago, remembered by the noble Earl opposite (Earl Russell) and myself, now remain. You talk of Con- servatives, of Liberal Conservatives, and Conservative Liberals, of Whigs, and moderate Whigs, of Liberals, of Advanced Liberals, and of Radicals; yet with regard to a large portion of them it would much puzzle us to tell the difference between a Conservative Liberal and a Liberal Conservative, between a Liberal Conservative and a Whig, between a Whig and a Liberal, between a Liberal and an Advanced Liberal, and between an Advanced Liberal and a Radical. But there is a very wide distinction between a Conservative and a Radical, and I think there is as wide a distinction—at least I hope so—between a Whig and Radical. Yet it does so happen that the arbitrary line of party is drawn where the real difference of party does not exist. I do not say that between a Moderate Whig and a Radical there is not a difference of opinion greater than that between a Moderate Conservative and a Moderate Whig; but I say that the natural division of parties is not that which exists in an arbitrary division which does not represent principles. And I thought that the natural division, made from another point, would bring together a considerable number of those who now are nominally Members of different parties. In endeavouring to effect that object and discharge my duty to my Sovereign, I took the opportunity in the first instance of communicating with some Members of the late Government. And, my Lords, desirous more especially at this critical moment for the public interest that the threat of foreign negotiations should not be abruptly broken, I was anxious that those hands which had so long exercised the power of dealing with foreign affairs should still continue to do so; and therefore the first person to whom I made an offer of office was my noble Friend the late Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (the Earl of Clarendon). My Lords, I made that offer in all sincerity, believing that between my noble Friend and myself there existed no material difference of opinion on political matters, and believing also that it was of the greatest importance to the country that in that particular office his services should be retained. My noble Friend, however, did not deem it consistent with his party obligations or his fidelity to his late Colleagues to accept the offer—which I made him, as I have said, in all sincerity; but his refusal was couched in language so friendly and in a tone so cordial—which I must say was not more than I expected from my noble Friend—that it left a deep impression on my mind of the best feeling on his part towards myself. My Lords, I applied to a noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Somerset), another Member of the late Cabinet, from whom I received, in the same kindly and courteous language, a refusal. But I thought I had a fair right to expect success, and a more reasonable ground for expecting that success, in next applying for official co-operation to those Gentlemen who had belonged to the Liberal party, and who, though still belonging to it, nevertheless had found it necessary to separate themselves from it, and in so doing had brought about the crisis which led to the resignation of the late Government. My Lords, I addressed myself to one unhappily now no more, and whose premature and sudden death is a subject of the deepest grief and sorrow to all who knew him. My first communication was made to the late Marquess of Lansdowne, whose name I felt would be a sufficient guarantee for the Liberal though Conservative tendencies of any Government, whose adhesion to the new Government I had no doubt would have secured for it a considerable amount of support, and whose motives for joining it, if he had done so, nobody for one moment could have pretended to dispute. The noble Marquess expressed the most cordial good wishes and an earnest anxiety that the Government which I was attempting to form might be successful; but he stated his opinion—an opinion in which I was unable to concur—that out of office he could give to that Government a more effectual support than he could do if connected with it by official ties. I differed from him in this view, and asked him to reconsider the matter. He left the room for the purpose of consulting with others who acted with him; and from that hour I saw him no more. In the course of that day another noble Lord (Earl Grosvenor), also connected very prominently with that party, called upon me more than once; and from him I endeavoured to ascertain whether those who had acted with him, and had brought about the resignation of the late Government, were disposed to give me an official support. I ought also to have said that the late Marquess of Lansdowne added that there were differences of opinion among those Gentlemen; that some of them might have been led to support and some might have even been led to take a part in the Government which I was endeavouring to construct; but that with regard to one distinguished Member—the Member with whom he was in most intimate relationship—we need not expect at all events official co-operation from him; and it was unnecessary, therefore, to make any personal communication to that Gentleman. After consultation with several friends, it was determined that a meeting should be held at ten o'clock that evening. That meeting was accordingly held, the proposition was considered, and at twelve o'clock Earl Grosvenor called upon me to state that those who attended that meeting had come to an unanimous resolution that, although they might be prepared to give us an independent support, not one of them could be prevailed upon to take office with us. That meeting was held at twelve o'clock on Friday, the 29th of June. I had then to consider, and to consider very seriously, whether it was my duty to attempt the formation of a Government without obtaining any extraneous aid either from those who were supporters of the late Ministry, or from those on their own side who had voted against them. Having reflected upon what it was then my duty to do, I felt that my refusal to undertake that task, however difficult, would hate been regarded as the signal for an entire dissolution of the Conservative party—as being a plain and avowed indication that it was incapable of forming a Government, and consequently that its opposition to the existing Government was an opposition of a purely factious character, and one that could lead to no advantageous results. My Lords, I do not believe that noble Lords opposite—I do not believe that any of those who value the Constitution of this country—desire that the Conservative party should be weakened or broken down. I believe all admit that the strength of that party is a material element in the strength of the Empire; and that if that party were to be dissolved and scattered it would be very difficult to carry on the Government with any regard to the existing Constitution. Well, my Lords, I came to the conclusion that I was not at liberty to run that serious risk—that I was not at liberty to break up the great party which had followed me faithfully, and with which I had acted consistently for some twenty years, and that, too, in periods of the greatest possible discouragement. But, my Lords, if I could for a moment have seen any other leader who, while keeping the Conservative party together, was more likely than myself to obtain the adhesion of a portion of the Liberal ranks, I say also without hesitation that I should have rejoiced and been relieved to have handed over to that leader, whoever he might be, a post which he might have been more able to fill. I could see no such leader—I could hear of no such leader; and I felt bound at all risks to undertake the arduous duty of forming an administration. I therefore, my Lords, communicated at once to Her Majesty on the following Monday, when I had the honour of seeing her, my readiness to obey Her Majesty's commands, and to undertake the formation of a Government. I deeply regret the delay and the interruption of public business, which will have lasted for precisely a month from the resignation of the late Ministry to the next meeting of the House of Commons after to-night. But I cannot hold myself to be responsible for any portion of that delay. It was on the Tuesday that I first received intimation of Her Majesty's desire that I should attempt to construct an Administration; and on the Wednesday week—that is, within eight days—I was able to wait upon Her Majesty, and to say that I was prepared to submit a list of names to fill up the chief offices in the Cabinet; and that list would have been submitted to Her Majesty on the Thursday, but for circumstances which are well known to all and which occupied Her Majest's attention. In the year 1852, when Lord Aberdeen succeeded me in office, he thought it necessary to ask for an adjournment in the first instance for a fortnight; and I venture to say that no one who has not tried it can have the slightest conception of the difficulty and the labour involved in forming an Administration. My Lords, a very moderate time may be required to construct an Administration where the fall of the previous Ministry has been the consequence of a long Parliamentary struggle, during which parties have fallen into their places and the various appointments have almost spontaneously arranged themselves. Then the victorious party enter into Office with all their preparations made, and without the necessity for much delay. But the case is very different when it is an accident which overthrows a Government, and more especially when you may have, in the first instance, to deal with parties not belonging to your own immediate party. But, my Lords, no man can tell the difficulty which attends the placing of some forty or fifty Gentlemen each in the position most accordant with his own wishes, and at the same time most consistent with the interests of the country. You may form the most ingenious combinations—you may construct theoretically the most perfect Ministry in the world; but unfortunately the refusal of some one individual to accept some one post that you may have designed that he should fill throws the whole machine out of gear, unsettles all your arrangements, and requires a fresh consideration of combinations. And the more nearly you approach the termination of your task, the more fatal is the refusal of some one Member who is just the person you wanted to fit into a particular situation. I say nothing about the manifold disappointments which must be inflicted even on some of your best and most faithful friends. It is impossible to put three times the number of candidates into one-third the number of available places; and it is also necessary to consider that there are often many candidates all fitted for one position, while there may only be one or two who are fitted for another, and therefore it is impossible to fit them in as you desire. But when you have made your choice of one or two, it is absolutely unavoidable that you should disappoint at least two or three others who may be equally qualified to hold the same office. And I may say frankly that, among all the annoyances and troubles caused by the formation of a Ministry, there is nothing more painful to a man placed in the position in which I have been than having to disoblige and disappoint the hopes of those whom he is most anxious to serve, on personal as well as on public grounds. But I venture to trust that, at the expiration of a limited time, I have been enabled to lay before Her Majesty and the public a list of names which will at all events afford a guarantee that in their hands the interests of the country will neither be neglected nor prejudiced.

My Lords, I have been too long a Member of this and the other House of Parliament—I have been nearly twenty years in each—to render it requisite that I should make any public profession of my faith; I think my political principles and views are sufficiently well known to your Lordships to make it unnecessary that I should now rehearse them in detail. But there are one or two points upon which I should like to say a few words—points of the utmost importance, and on which especially I wish that there may be no misconception. My Lords, it has been industriously reported that a Conservative Government is necessarily a warlike Government. Now, I believe there never was a rumour circulated which had so little foundation either in past facts or in the character, the motives, and the principles of the Conservative party. My Lords, the Conservative party consists, in a great measure, of men who have the greatest interest and the largest stake in the country; they are the men upon whom the consequences of a war would fall the most heavily; they are the persons who have the greatest interest in the peace and prosperity of the State; and, above all, they are the party who are the least likely to be carried away by that popular enthusiasm and those popular impulses which may hurry even a prudent Government into the adoption of courses—I might say, into the adoption of Quixotic enterprizes—inimical to the welfare of the country. Now, my Lords, if there be any one party more than another which is free at this moment from any disposition to encourage such projects, I say it is the Conservative party. My earnest desire, I can honestly say, is that the Foreign Office should contribute to the preservation of the peace of this country and of the world. Now, there are two modes of contributing to the preservation of peace, both of which are essential to the object in view. The one is the mode in which you deal with the affairs and policy of foreign countries; the other is the amount of your preparedness to resist any attack, from whatever quarter it may come. Now, with regard to the first my principle is this—that it is the duty of the Government of this country, placed as this country is with respect to geographical position, to keep itself upon terms of goodwill with all surrounding nations, but not to entangle itself with any single or monopolizing alliance with any one of them; above all to endeavour not to interfere needlessly and vexatiously with the internal affairs of any foreign country, nor to volunteer to them unasked advice with regard to the conduct of their affairs, looking at them from our own point of view, and not considering how different are the views and feelings of those whom we address. Above all, I hold that it is the duty of a Government to abstain from menace if they do not intend to follow that menace by action. I am told that we found fault with the noble Earl (Earl Russell) with regard to Denmark for not having taken a more active part in her favour. That, however, was not the ground of our complaint. The ground of our complaint—and I take it to be a warning for all future Ministries—was that the noble Earl had held language which was not to be justified except upon the supposition that he was going to act upon it, and when those with regard to whom he held that language relied upon the performance of the implied engagement, he felt himself compelled to withdraw from that engagement. My Lords, it would be the height of impertinence and of impolicy if I were to attempt to say a single word upon the state of affairs on the Continent of Europe. A short—I hope a short, but at all events a bloody war has been prevailing for the last few weeks—a war in the objects of which the honour of this country is in no degree involved and a war in which the interests of this country are very remotely, if at all, involved. With regard to that war individuals may have their sympathies with Prussia, with Austria, with Italy, with this or with that Power; but the sympathy of individuals has nothing to do with the conduct of the Government; and I hold that the conduct of the Government with regard to such a war as that now raging is studiously to maintain a strict and impartial neutrality between all the contending parties, only ready at any time to offer their good offices, if there should appear the slightest gleam of hope that, combined with those of other neutral Powers, such as France and Russia, they might lead to a termination of this bloody struggle and to the restoration of peace. Those good offices ought to be at the disposal at any time of other neutral Powers, and we ought willingly and gladly to cooperate with them for the purpose of using our influence to stay the horrors of war. And, my Lords, I believe that influence would not be less efficaciously exercised because it was attended by no menace and by no meddlesome desire to give unasked advice, because we could have no selfish policy and no desire of reaping any advantage for ourselves, except that one inestimable advantage of staying the effusion of blood and restoring to Europe the blessings of prosperity and peace. Passing from Europe, I cannot but turn for a single moment to congratulate the world upon the cessation of that fearful struggle which for several years desolated the United States of America, without remarking that though the position of a neutral is always one of considerable embarrassment, is always one which is looked upon with much jealousy by both the contending parties in a war, and more especially in a civil war; and, although our exercise of that neutrality may have been questioned by one side and the other—as I believe it was—I do earnestly trust that the restoration of peace and the wise course which the President of the United States appears to be taking, in seeking to reconcile and bring back to the Union the vanquished members who seceded from it—I do trust that the termination of the war will also terminate any feeling of irritation which may still prevail among the citizens of the United States against this country, and that nothing will interrupt the friendly and harmonious relations between two countries between whom subsist so many ties which ought to bind them together in indissoluble union. My Lords, it was also with no little gratification that I have observed that—although undoubtedly the latitude which is given in the United States to all expression of public feeling, and to anything short of an actual violation of the law, may have led many persons in this country to be somewhat impatient at the progress which that absorb and mischievous conspiracy, called Fenianism, was allowed to make in America—yet as soon as the law was plainly about to be violated, vigorous and decided measures, as I acknowledge with the utmost gratitude, were taken by the Government of the United States to prevent a violation of their own laws and the rights of friendly States by a lawless band of marauders. I should hardly have referred to these American Fenians, numerous as they are, but whose organization has been that of a vast number of dupes, headed by two or three arch impostors, out of whose credulity they have obtained large sums of money for the avowed prosecution of a scheme so utterly visionary that how any sane man could have entertained it is matter of astonishment—I should not, I say, have noticed these Fenians, supported as they were by a number of those loose characters who on the disbanding of the United States Army were naturally ready to join in any desperate enterprize which promised them a share in the plunder, if it had not been for the purpose, in the first place, of acknowledging the vigorous measures which on the recent raid—for I can call it nothing else—were taken by the United States Government; and, in the next place, of pointing out, as a subject of the highest congratulation, that the inroad of these marauders called forth throughout the length and breadth of the British Provinces a unanimous shout of loyalty and enthusiasm, and a resolute determination to maintain the Government to which they belong, and the Throne to which they owe allegiance—a loyalty and determination shared alike by natives of all the Provinces and of all countries who had taken up their abode in Canada, and shared above all by persons of every shade and denomination of religion. I think it has been most gratifying to observe the spontaneous ebullition of feeling which was called forth by that invasion, however contemptible; and I cannot but hope, also, that this universal expression of feeling, and this unanimity which prevails throughout the British North American Provinces, may have a material influence in furthering a scheme which, the more it is considered, the more I think it is felt to be essential to the well-being, and unity, and strength of Canada—namely, the Confederation of the North American Provinces under a system of the freest possible Government, at the same time maintaining unbroken their allegiance to the Crown. I cannot but hope that this Confederation, which is earnestly desired by Canada, and which is certainly, in my judgment, infinitely for the benefit of the other Provinces, may take from what has recently occurred a fresh impulse which may lead to a successful termination. Passing for a moment to the policy which Her Majesty's present Government intend to pursue with regard to domestic affairs, I must, in the first place, say that I hold myself and my Colleagues entirely free and unpledged upon the great and difficult question of Parliamentary Reform. It is said— Felix quem faciunt aliena pericula cautum. But we have had experience not only of the dangers incurred by others, but of dangers incurred by ourselves—dangers, too, which had a very fatal termination, and I certainly shall consider well and carefully, before I again introduce a Reform Bill, the wise advice laid down by the noble Earl, my immediate predecessor, that no Government is justified in bringing forward such a measure without having a reasonable and fair prospect of carrying it; and the further observation made by the noble Earl on the cross-benches (Earl Grey), that a Reform Bill cannot be car- ried, that the representation of the people cannot be amended, except by a mutual understanding between the two great parties in the country. My Lords, I have never shown myself adverse to the principle of Parliamentary Reform. I had the honour of joining five and thirty years ago with the noble Earl opposite (Earl Russell) in carrying the first Reform Bill; and upon my accession to office in 1858, although I did not think that the question was one of primary importance or pressing urgency, I could not deny for a moment that there were theoretical anomalies in our present system which it was desirable, if possible, to correct; that there were classes of persons excluded from the franchise who had a fair claim and title upon the ground of their fitness to exercise the privileges of electors, and that there was a very large class whom the particular qualifications of the Act of 1832 excluded. Nothing, certainly, would give me greater pleasure than to see a very large increase in the number of electors, and to see a very considerable portion of the class now excluded admitted to the franchise. But, on the other hand, I am afraid that the portion of the community who are most clamorous for the passing of a Reform Bill are not that portion who would be satisfied with any measure such as could be approved by the two great political parties of the country; and I greatly fear that any measure of a moderate character which would be introduced—I do not mean to say it is an argument against introducing it—but I greatly fear that any such measure would not put a stop to the agitation which prevails, and would only be made a stepping stone for further organic changes. As I said before, I reserve to myself the most entire liberty, and after what has passed it is not, I think, an unreasonable reservation, as to whether the present Government should or not undertake in a future Session to bring in a measure for the amendment of the representation of the people. Of this I am quite sure, that if there is no reasonable prospect of passing a sound and satisfactory measure, it is of infinite disadvantage to the country that Session after Session should be lost, and that measures of useful legislation should be put a stop to, by continual contests over Reform Bills which, after occupying the whole Session, fail in passing, and only leave the Session barren of practical results.

My Lords, there are various measures, and to these the attention of the Government will be immediately addressed, some of which, perhaps, may be carried through even in the short remainder of the present Session, while some must remain over for serious consideration—measures not of a very brilliant or imposing character, but measures on which the welfare and prosperity of the country, or of particular classes in the country, materially depend. Nothing, for example, can be more important to the commercial classes, than a good system of bankruptcy; and giving the noble Lord opposite (Lord Westbury), whom I am happy to see again in his place, every credit for the intention with which he introduced his Bankruptcy Bill, I cannot say that it appears to me to have given universal satisfaction. In proof of that I may mention that the late Government themselves introduced an amended Bill, which is now before the other House. I can only say that the question is one which shall receive the early and impartial consideration of the Government. I cannot add that I hope the Bill which is now before the House will pass; but it relates to one of those subjects to which the attention of the new Government shall be directed earnestly, and as soon as possible. There is another question—a most important one—dealing with the position of a very large and helpless portion of the community—I mean the administration of the laws relating to the relief of the poor, and more especially to the treatment of the pauper sick in workhouses. My Lords, the reports which appear in the public papers on this subject are so revolting and disgusting, they disclose such scenes of hardship and misery inflicted upon those who have no power to help themselves, and those, consequently, who are most deserving of consideration and sympathy, that any Government would be most blame-able which did not turn its attention to these grievances and try to put an end to scenes so revolting. I venture to say that for the task of dealing with the amendment of the law, or—what is probably of more importance than the amendment of the law—with the administration of the law and the provision of proper inspection, I do not believe that in Her Majesty's dominions there is a man better qualified, or who will bring to bear upon the subject greater energy and earnestness than the Gentleman (Mr. Gathorne Hardy) who has done me the favour to accept the honour of President of the Poor Law Board.

And now, my Lords, a few words with regard to the condition of Ireland. In England, as I have said, it is our earnest desire, by the course of policy we pursue, to enlist the sympathy and maintain the independent support of those Members of the Liberal party who entertain views not materially different from ours, and who, I trust, if they approve the course we pursue, will not be deterred by any previous party considerations from giving to the new Government an independent and honourable support. In Ireland, unfortunately, the difficulties of acting upon a principle of fusion are different and more considerable. There, political animosity runs higher than in England; the divisions of party are more strongly marked; and, what is more important, religious differences, combining frequently with political differences, tend to embitter that animosity and make those differences more intense. Yet I believe that a Government in Ireland which shows itself determined to do its duty by all ranks and classes may hope to receive the support of a large majority of the Irish people, than whom there are no greater lovers of impartial justice. We do not propose in our government of Ireland to act on any exclusive principle. We desire to obtain the co-operation of all who have at heart the peace and tranquillity of the country, the maintenance of the rights of property, and the putting down of unlawful associations. These are objects which, apart from political differences, men of all parties can assist to promote. And we shall especially desire to obtain the assistance of a body of men who of late have, I think, been much neglected—I mean the country Gentlemen of Ireland. Without saying one word against that invaluable body, the Irish police, I certainly think that the Government of late have trusted too implicitly to information from the police, and have not made that use which they might have made of the local information and support which they would everywhere receive from the resident proprietors of Ireland, whatever their politics or religion. With regard to that lamentable and, I am afraid, widespread conspiracy against the Government which lately manifested itself in Ireland, although the exertions of the late Viceroy, Lord Kimberley—most active and meritorious exertions—have given a considerable check to that dangerous conspiracy, yet I would I could believe that the snake was killed, and not merely scotched. Disapproving as I do all exceptional legisla- tion for Ireland, nothing would give me greater satisfaction than to be able to state to your Lordships before the termination of the Session that the time had come when it was unnecessary to continue further the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, which was passed unanimously by this House at the instance of the late Government. But if Her Majesty's present Government, on inquiry, believe conscientiously that the time has not come for dispensing with that exceptional legislation—if they are of opinion that for the safety of the well-disposed and the protection of loyal and peaceable people it is necessary to continue the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act—if they feel themselves reluctantly obliged to ask Parliament for support under these circumstances, I am sure that we shall receive that support, in a candid and generous spirit, as readily as it was given by us to the late Government. Passing from exceptional legislation, our anxious desire will be to put down with a firm hand in Ireland anything like turbulence and violations of the law, from whatever quarter these proceed; to discourage and discountenance everything which tends to keep up religious or political animosity; to deal impartial justice to all; and to call to our counsels, without regard to party or to creed, all those who are willing to co-operate with us in securing the good government of the country and the preservation of the public peace.

My Lords, I have now ventured to lay before you, at greater length than I desired, a very summary view of the course of policy which the Government desire to follow. By that course we hope to conciliate additional support; we hope to obtain the independent support of many who, from motives of honourable consistency to party ties, feel themselves at present precluded from giving their adhesion to the present Government. And I do not conceal my hope—because I look to the real, and not the arbitrary distinctions of party—I do not conceal my earnest hope that the time is not far distant when there may be such a new arrangement of parties as to place on the one side those who are in favour of dangerous innovations and violations of the Constitution, and on the other side all those who, while they will not resist safe legislative progress, are determined to adhere to this Constitution and to those institutions under which this country has so long been loyal, prosperous, and happy. My Lords, in attempting to con- duct the Government of the country on these principles, I may succeed; and in that case I shall attain the highest object which can engage the attention and excite the ambition of any statesman. I may fail; and if so I shall fail with the consciousness of having attempted honestly and faithfully to discharge my duty, and with an earnest prayer that, under the blessing of Divine Providence, whoever may succeed me in that attempt, may pursue the path of safe and steady progress, strengthening, rather than subverting, the institutions of the country, and maintaining that balance between the various parts of our constitutional system—a monarchy limited, an aristocracy tempered, a House of Commons not altogether democratic—the consequence of which has been a progressive improvement in our legislation according with the temper and character of the times, and which for a period of many centuries has gradually led forward this country to a position reflecting the greatest glory upon the Empire and conferring the greatest amount of happiness and prosperity upon mankind.


My Lords, I cannot but express my satisfaction with the calm and temperate tone in which the noble Earl has expressed himself this evening; but I feel bound to say a few words with reference to one or two topics on which he touched. And, first, with regard to the attempts which have been made of late years, at different times, to improve the representation of the people. In 1865 there was a general election, and there was an almost universal expression of opinion throughout the country that some measure for improving the representation was required. In spite of what the noble Earl may have heard on this point, I cannot but believe that if Lord Palmerston had lived he would have been so influenced by those declared opinions that he would have thought it his duty to introduce a Reform Bill in the present Parliament. I thought so. We were committed by former declarations of opinion, and after full consideration we introduced a Bill which we considered a moderate measure. It was a moderate measure; because, as I showed your Lordships the other evening, 100,000 persons who would have had the franchise under the Bill of 1860 would not have been admitted by the Bill brought forward in the present Session. When, however, that Bill was introduced, we found that, moderate as it was, and admitting to the fran- chise, as it proposed, a number of persons who would have reinforced the garrison and strengthened the citadel of the Constitution, it was yet an object of suspicion, of dislike, and of opposition, on the part of, I may say, a majority of the House of Commons. Well, my Lords, I think that while the sincerity of our attachment to Reform might have been justly questioned if we had not introduced a Reform Bill, our sincerity might equally have been questioned if, having introduced it, and finding that it was met with the obstruction I have mentioned, we had let the Bill drop, and had stated our resolution to bring forward another Bill of the same kind in a future Session, with vague professions of our belief in its necessity. It, therefore, was our opinion, when we first met with a serious defeat, that it was our duty to tender our resignations to Her Majesty, and to persevere in the advice that she would he graciously pleased to accept them. The noble Earl has told you, my Lords, that he had no wish to obtain the office which he now holds, and I certainly do not mean to throw the slightest doubt on that declaration. I cannot, however, refrain from observing that, after the experience which the noble Earl has had of the earnestness of the Government in pressing forward their measure, and of the obstructions which were constantly thrown in their way, at one moment on one pretence and then on another—they being by that means prevented from proceeding with their Bill—he must have looked upon it as a most likely thing that we should resign, and that he would be the person who would be sent for by Her Majesty. The noble Earl was called upon by Her Majesty to form an Administration in our places, and I am much rejoiced that such was the case; for I cannot help being of opinion that that great party, which contributed more than 270 Members to the House of Commons to defeat us on what we regarded as a vital point, is the party which ought to have been invited to succeed us; for it is desirable, I contend, that those who thus defeat a Government and pronounce their policy to be wrong, and a different policy to be right, should not be held to be free from the responsibility of taking their places. I am, therefore, exceedingly glad that the noble Earl has taken upon himself the duty of forming a Government, and that he was not discouraged by the failure of his attempt to construct an Administration on what he has termed a "broad basis." Between a Government constructed on a broad basis and a coalition, I, for one, do not see any essential difference. I approve of a Government constructed on a broad basis, and I approve of a coalition so long as there is a general identity of opinion between the members composing it on the principal questions of the day. When I speak of a coalition as being perfectly right, I mean that not only do men change their opinions, but that events change so much that many persons may from time to time have some difficulty in arriving at a conclusion as to what Government they ought to support. Take, for instance, the great war with France. It was very natural that every man who was in favour of that war should support those by whom it was carried on, however much they might differ from them on questions of less importance; but there were others who differed from them on that point. But when the war was over, and when many who differed with respect to its prosecution found that they coincided in the views which those from whom they differed entertained on such questions as Catholic Emancipation, for instance, then they not unnaturally did not object to coalesce with men with whom they could not consent to act some ten or twenty years before. There is, therefore, no good reason why the noble Earl should not have applied to persons who, he thought, were now disposed to concur in his opinions on general subjects, although they may not hitherto have acted with him. But be that as it may, the noble Earl having succeeded in forming a Government out of his own supporters, that Government I will at once say is fully entitled to fair consideration. They ought to have time to mature their measures. Whether they deal with questions of foreign policy, or with colonial or domestic questions, I think it is but just that they should be allowed until the commencement of next Session to prepare and mature their measures, without being called upon at this moment to declare what is the precise course which they mean to pursue. I would now, with the permission of the House, address myself to another subject. While I admit that the noble Earl has considerable difficulties to encounter, I wish to point out to him and to the House, in justice to my late Colleagues, and in justice to the country, the facilities he enjoys for carrying on the Government of the country. I would mention in the first place the admirable manner in which the finances of the State have been managed by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer. He has done more to relieve industry and to promote and develop commerce than any person in his situation has ever done. The way in which the financial business of the country was conducted under Mr. Pitt, from 1784 to 1792, has been held up as a model of financial ability, but I believe my right hon. Friend Mr. Gladstone—having no doubt greater means at his command—has surpassed Mr. Pitt in financial skill and ability, and in the great success which he has attained. Then as to the tone and temper which he displayed in the course of the late discussions in the House of Commons, to which the noble Earl has alluded, I would wish to say a word. When Mr. Burke used to urge the House of Commons to be lenient and indulgent towards the North Americans, who were, at the time, our fellow-subjects, some of his friends were wont to say to him, "Depend upon it you who appear so eager in your advocacy on this question will be supposed by many to be so only because you have in it some private interest, although you have none." That error of taking up a subject warmly—if, indeed, it be an error—had its origin in Mr. Burke's case as well as in that of Mr. Gladstone in the thorough earnestness with which he entered into a question in which he felt deeply interested. I will not believe that it proceeded in any degree from a want of temper, or a desire to dictate to the House of Commons. Such earnestness belongs to great and generous natures, and it is eminently characteristic of my right hon. Friend. I have heard a person not officially connected with him state that during the whole course of the recent debates in the House of Commons, he never saw Mr. Gladstone once out of temper. But passing from him and those questions of finance with which his name is so honourably connected, I would wish to say a few words with regard to another Colleague of mine—I allude to my right hon. Friend the late Secretary for the Colonies (Mr. Cardwell). Never had a Colonial Secretary to deal with a question more distressing, and, apparently, more difficult, than that which arose out of recent events in Jamaica. There was no opportunity afforded, during the existence of the late Government, to have that question fully discussed; but I am persuaded that the course which my right hon. Friend took in reference to it—though he was blamed at first by many persons for having super- seded Governor Eyre—in sending out a man of high character and station and great experience, like Sir Henry Storks, will unhesitatingly be admitted to have been the wisest which he could have adopted. I think, moreover, that in sending out Mr. Russell Gurney and Mr. Maule as associates to Sir Henry Storks in the inquiry which he ordered to be instituted, my right hon. Friend did an equally wise thing, and I am confirmed in that opinion by the report which they have made. It appears to me that a greater amount of labour was never more intelligently expended in a difficult question; nor was one ever more efficiently treated than the Jamaica question has been by those three Commissioners. It would be easy to have taken in reference to it another course—to have said that Mr. Eyre should remain in his post, to have instituted an inquiry at home, and to have ended by inflaming angry passions both in Jamaica and in this country. But Mr. Cardwell took a course that satisfied the demand that there should be a thorough inquiry into the facts, and that justice would be done, and the result has furnished an example in the future government of our colonies, that the feelings and interests of the great mass of the population should be fairly and wisely considered, while order and authority would be supported. I must at the same time warn the noble Lord the present Secretary for the Colonies (the Earl of Carnarvon) that, although I think the late Government made a wise selection of a new Governor for Jamaica, the difficult questions connected with it are far from being solved, and that it may require extraordinary measures of relief in order to restore that island to a healthy state. The subject is, at all events, one which is worthy of the attention of a statesman, and the problem of how prosperity may be maintained, not only in Jamaica, but in some of our other colonies, is one which I would recommend to the noble Lord's notice for solution. There is another colonial question on which the noble Earl who has just sat down briefly touched in the course of his speech—I refer to the attack made by the Fenians upon Canada. On that point I may state that both the despatches and the private letters which have been received from the Governor General of Canada show that, in his opinion, though the invasion could have been put down and overcome, it would never have been overcome and put down so quickly had it not been for the loyal conduct of the President of the United States. I think the President has acted in the promptest and most friendly manner. The moment the laws of the United States were violated one of their most distinguished generals was despatched to the frontier, and by sending back to their homes those Fenians who were arrested, he at once dissipated all the hopes and frustrated the schemes of that revolutionary body. Lord Monck, at the same time, says that he never saw a greater display of energy and promptitude than characterized the conduct of the people of Canada in loyalty to the Throne and in supporting the efforts made by this country to secure to them the free institutions which they enjoy. That is a proof that the relations existing between us and the United States are most friendly in character; and this circumstance will make the task of the noble Earl more easy than it otherwise would have been. We have in this a proof also that during the last thirty years, or at all events, for a quarter of a century, the policy which has been pursued by this country towards Canada has been such as to increase the attachment of the colonists to their institutions and to the mother country; indeed, I have heard more than one distinguished citizen of the United States declare that there is no country in the world where freedom is more completely enjoyed than in the British Provinces of North America. I trust, therefore, we shall never hear again—I trust the noble Earl will not listen to the suggestion for a moment—that we ought never to assist Canada, that we ought not to yield a proper support to one of the brightest jewels in the Crown of Britain. The state of our relations with foreign Powers generally is a proof of the ability displayed by my noble Friend (the Earl of Clarendon) whom the noble Earl opposite has already complimented. I am persuaded that he enjoyed the complete confidence of the country, and that he would, notwithstanding the difficulties which may arise in connection with the settlement of the affairs of Europe, have been successful in restoring peace to the Continent in a manner consistent with the welfare of this country. It is impossible not to agree with the noble Earl that it is not wise to make too many comments on the state of European affairs. For my own part, I trust that out of this bloody war a state of things will arise more favourable to the freedom of Germany. Many difficult questions will doubtless arise in connection with the negotiations which it way be expected will take place after the cessation of hostilities; and, as far as I am concerned, I trust the noble Earl will not be interrupted or unduly pressed in any way in connection with the negotiations which he may think fit to carry on. The noble Earl has said very truly that we are not bound by any obligations arising out of recent treaties. The Treaty of Peace signed at Vienna between Austria, Prussia, and Denmark, and the Treaty of Zurich between France, Austria, and Italy, are treaties with which we have had nothing to do.


I would remind the noble Earl that I never alluded to treaties. I said that the questions which were likely to arise were such as did not at all involve the honour of this country, but very much interested us.


Perhaps, then, the treaties were in my mind when the noble Earl blamed me for the course which I pursued; but at the time to which he alluded two treaties signed by the representatives of this country were in existence; and, under those circumstances, it was hardly possible for us to refuse to express an opinion upon the case which had arisen. One of those treaties was that of 1815, with regard to Poland, the other was the Treaty of 1852, signed by the Earl of Malmesbury, with respect to Denmark. When those treaties were threatened with violation, it was not consistent with the maintenance of the honour and dignity of this country to suffer those violations to pass entirely sub silentio. It was proper to say, as the noble Earl said, and as I repeated, that the questions were very grave and might lead to serious events. The result has shown that we were not mistaken—the most serious consequences have ensued; the present war has arisen out of the Schleswig-Holstein question. But, whatever may be the result of the present state of affairs on the Continent, I trust that the past policy of this country will not be so entirely departed from as that we shall refrain from taking an interest in the independence of certain European States. I am sure that if the three great Powers, England, France and Russia, are agreed, it will be in the interests of peace and to secure the independence of the lesser States. Without such agreement I am sure Europe will be the scene of frequent wars. In conclusion, I can only say that I trust and hope that the principles of civil and religious freedom will not be abandoned merely on account of a change of Ministry.


hoped the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) would, in concert with France, take measures for reducing the enormous standing armies which were a source of financial difficulty to the people as well as a danger to the liberties of the people.

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