HL Deb 05 March 1868 vol 190 cc1104-7

My Lords, on Tuesday, the 25th of last month, I had to inform your Lordships that the Earl of Derby had resigned the office of Prime Minister, and that Her Majesty had been graciously pleased to command the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, my right hon. Friend Mr. Disraeli, to form an Administration as soon as possible." I say, my Lords, "as soon as possible," because I was not correctly reported in my former statement. I was supposed to have said—and a very natural mistake it was—"if possible," which words have since given rise to some remarks and witticisms on the part of journalists who assumed that I had made that statement. It is now my duty to inform your Lordships that Mr. Disraeli has formed an Administration, and that it is now complete. I think your Lordships, when you consult precedents and look back to circumstances analogous in their nature, will find that it would be hardly possible for my right hon. Friend to have met Parliament in his new capacity sooner than he has done, although he is most anxious, as we all are, that Parliament should enter at once upon the consideration of the very important questions which must occupy its attention during the present Session. My Lords, so small are the changes in the personnel of the Cabinet, being confined simply to two Ministers, that I may call it almost the same Cabinet as that which preceded it; but certainly I may say with confidence that its policy is and will be the same as that of the Administration of Lord Derby. Lord Derby, up to the last moment at which he resigned office, has been entirely cognizant of all our deliberations and resolutions; he has formed part of our councils as if he had been in London in person; and up to this very moment our policy, which will soon be developed in the House of Commons and to your Lordships, meets with his entire approbation. No doubt, from the character of the measures which will be propounded, this must be a very important Session. The Government has to proceed to perfect that great work of Parliamentary Reform which it began last year. The Reform Bill for Scotland and the Reform Bill for Ireland will have to pass through both Houses of Parliament. The general call for extended education for the people has received very serious consideration, and a Bill on the subject will speedily be presented to one of the two Houses of Parliament. We have had the misfortune to enter office at a moment when we find the liberties of Ireland shackled, and exceptional laws prevailing in that country. It is, indeed, a sad necessity, and it will be our duty, no doubt, to direct our most earnest consideration to the removal of those evils which exist in Ireland, and which are, with more or less truth, supposed to be the real cause of disturbance there. I think, however, your Lordships will agree with me that as, on a very early occasion—within four or five days from this time—an ample declaration of our Irish policy will be made to the House of Commons, it could not be advantageous to the public service, or for the convenience of your Lordships, that I should now go into details of what our policy is to be. If I were to do so, it would probably lead to misunderstanding and misrepresentation, and give rise to a desultory debate which would not be advantageous to the general welfare, and would not assist us in carrying through the measures we shall soon lay before the country. All I can now say is, and I repeat it here—that our policy will be the same as to its guiding principles as that by which Lord Derby's Government was actuated up to the last moment; that we are most anxious to remove all grievances which can be possibly removed without creating still greater anomalies and interfering with the spirit of the Constitution.


With regard to the change which has taken place in the formal character of the Cabinet, there can, I imagine, be no objection in point of precedent to such a change. It has not been unusual for the Leader of the House of Commons, when the Prime Minister has been removed by illness or, still worse, by death, to ask for an adjournment with a view to the formation of a new Ministry; but looking at the new Ministry which has been formed, I cannot avoid making the protest which I made on former occasions with regard to Lord Derby's Ministry, that I think no confidence can be placed in a Government which openly professes to say one thing and to mean another. We now know that for three years the Government has been carried on upon the principle that, having declared there ought to be no reduction whatever in the franchise, the Ministers of the Crown, while they were persuading people to follow them in that course, meant all the time to make a larger reduction in the franchise than was proposed by the Liberal party. The consequence was a course of deception—a course which might be called by another name—and which, I think, ought to prevent any reliance being placed in a Government which openly avow that they do not mean what they say, and which openly profess one thing and mean another.


I am really at a loss to understand the meaning of the allusion of the noble Earl. He says that the Government of Her Majesty—which was recently the Government of Lord Derby, and is now the Government of my right hon. Friend the late Chancellor of the Exchequer—has for three years been carried on on a system of positive deception; and that for the three years during which that Government has been in office, the pretence put forward was that no reduction of the franchise was intended to be effected, while, covertly and at the same time, the Government were meditating a considerable reduction, much lower than that which had been advocated by the noble Earl opposite when he was in Office. The true state of the case was this—that as soon as the Government of Lord Derby came into existence, as soon as the time arrived for the meetings of the Cabinet to be held, at which it could be properly considered, the subject of Parliamentary Reform immediately occupied their attention, and in the very next Session of Parliament, the matter was brought before the House with a proposal that was ultimately adopted by Parliament. Whatever opinions the Government of Lord Derby may have entertained previously; whatever opinions the necessities of the time forced upon them subsequently—there was no question and no hesitation that when the time came for proposing an adequate reduction of the franchise, that proposition was made in a way consistent with the Constitution of the country, and in an open and straightforward manner.


If the noble Duke wishes to know the meaning of what I said, I must refer him to a speech made by the present Prime Minister at Edinburgh, in which the course taken by the Government was not called a course of deception—it was not called, as Mr. Disraeli formerly called the Government of Sir Robert Peel, "an hypocrisy," it was called a "process of education." But the use of that word does not prevent the fact being quite clear, which the present First Lord of the Treasury did not endeavour to excuse or apologize for, of which he even boasted, that during seven years during which the fears of the country had been excited respecting a reduction of the franchise against which Mr. Disraeli protested in the House of Commons, afterwards congratulating the electors of Buckinghamshire that no such reduction of the franchise had taken place, during all that time he had been educating his party with a view to bring, about a much greater reduction of the franchise, and what he would at one time have called a greater "degradation of the franchise" than any which his opponents had proposed. It was by that means that many gentlemen who formerly were members of the party to which I have the honour to belong, expecting that the Tory party would never reduce the franchise, were induced to desert their own colours and go over to the party of Mr. Disraeli, believing that they were thereby insuring the country against any lowering of the franchise. That was the promise which induced these gentlemen to withdraw their adhesion to the late Government; and these also were the professions which induced the Earl of Carnarvon, Viscount Cranborne, and General Peel to join the Government of Lord Derby, believing that no such measure would be proposed. We can all remember in what indignant terms Lord Carnarvon, in the course of last Session, declared that he was no party to the attempt to persuade others to agree to the lowering of the franchise while they were themselves not persuaded that the lowering of the franchise was necessary. It is, I believe, a thing unexampled in the history of party that such a deception, or such an "education"—if you choose to call it so—should have taken place. It is a course of conduct, I must say, which not only men like Mr. Fox, Earl Grey, or Lord Althorp would have spurned, but which men like Mr. Pitt, Lord Liverpool, the Duke of Wellington, and Sir Robert Peel would likewise have disdained to adopt. It is a course of conduct which destroys all trust and reliance upon Governments, because we never know that what is declared to-day as the solemn intention of the Government may not be disavowed to-morrow as not having been their intention, and that their course may not be quite different.