§ THE EARL OF MALMESBURY
My Lords, before moving the adjournment of the House to Monday, the 8th of June, I wish to inform your Lordships that I shall move a Vote of Thanks to the Forces who have been so victorious in Abyssinia on Tuesday, the 9th; and on Monday, the 8th, I shall be able to lay on your Lordships' table the terms in which 1 propose to put that Vote to the House. My Lords, I move that this House do adjourn till Monday, the 8th of June.
§ Moved, "That this House do adjourn to Monday, the 8th of June next."—(The Lord Privy Seal.)1026
§ EARL RUSSELL
My Lords, I have given Notice to call the attention of your Lordships to the state of public affairs, because I wish to obtain some explanation from the noble Lord (the Lord Privy Seal), on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, and also because I conceive that the present state of affairs is one without precedent since the accession of the House of Hanover. I think there never has been u time when Parliament was proceeding quietly with the ordinary Business when it had been formally announced that the Government had nut the confidence of the House of Commons. I state this on no mean authority. The Primp Minister himself has stated, and the statement has been circulated throughout the country, that in consequence of the vote of the House of Commons with respect to the Irish Church he had thought it necessary to ask an audience of Her Majesty, and that at that audience he had asked of Her Majesty, in the name of the Ministry, permission to use the Prerogative of the Crown for the purpose of dissolving Parliament. Now a more authoritative declaration never was addressed to the House of Commons by the First Minister of the Crown. The right hon. Gentleman naturally and truly stated that he was an express authority on the subject. Her Majesty, on that advice, gave him permission to use the Prerogative of the Crown for that purpose, in order to take the sense of the people on the question of the Irish Church as soon as the despatch of Public Business would allow of the dissolution of the Parliament. But the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury did not take the course which Her Majesty had sanctioned—namely, that as soon as Public Business would allow there should be a dissolution of Parliament. There were, I confess, strong reasons for not taking that course. There seemed no object to be gained by putting the whole country to the trouble and vast expense of a General Election, when that election would produce no adequate result. Supposing that the right hon. Gentleman's prediction should be fulfilled, and that he bad a majority against the disestablishment of the Irish Church on an appeal to the present constituencies, still it was evident that before very long there must be another election, and an appeal to constituencies very considerably enlarged, especially in the boroughs of the country. Therefore, the opinion to be derived from 1027 the present electors would not be a final decision; and the country would have been put to a great expense and the Members of the House of Commons to very considerable trouble by a General Election under the existing system—and that, too, as I said before, with no adequate result. It is evident, therefore, that there were sufficient reasons why there should not be a dissolution at once; and the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, while not advising an immediate dissolution, has taken another course, which, however defensible it may be, is altogether new, and requires at least the attention of your Lordships. The course proposed is, in effect, that the present Ministers should continue to keep their places after having declared that they had not the confidence of the present House of Commons, and that the House should continue transacting its ordinary Business, and that that position should last for six months after the time at which the Prime Minister had advised a dissolution. I must say that that is an extraordinary and unprecedented state of things. There have been many instances in which a Minister who has been defeated in the House of Commons has tendered his resignation, and often the Minister so defeated has obtained the permission of the Crown to resort to a dissolution of Parliament; but I do not recollect any case in which a Minister, having advised that there should be a dissolution, that dissolution should not take place for more than six months after the advice has been tendered to the Crown. No doubt there is great convenience to be obtained by that course—a great convenience to the Minister, who would thus remain in Office, though not possessing the confidence of the House of Commons; and, likewise, it is greatly convenient to the Members of the House of Commons, who otherwise would have to undergo the expense of two General Elections instead of one, while the country is spared a great disturbance. At the same time, I must say that if Parliament and the country acquiesce in that state of affairs—a state of things which is without precedent, and difficult of justification—there are some conditions, at least, which we ought to have from the Executive Government. I think that the first condition should be that no time should be lost, and that there should be no unnecessary delay before the registration, which would afford 1028 the means of having a General Election completed. It appears to me that there was great and unnecessary delay in the course taken last year. In looking back to the Session of 1832, I find that a very large and extensive measure of Reform was passed for England and the Scotch and Irish Reform Bills were also passed; there were Boundary Bills for England and Ireland, and, I rather believe, for Scotland also; and the Session ended on the 16th of August. I must say it seems to me that, in the course of last year, the Government, of which the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Derby) was then the head, seemed rather to have procrastinated Business, with a view not to pass the Scotch and Irish Reform Bills, so that there might be an unnecessary Session in the present year. That being the case, I hope the Government will assure us that, instead of interposing unnecessary delays, they will rather hasten some of the processes by which the registration is to be made out. There is no need, for instance, for so very long a time being allowed to the Revising Barristers. By the Reform Act of 1832 power was given to the Judges to increase the number of Revising Barristers if it were inadequate, to get through the business in the time limited. If that power were now exercised, no doubt considerable expedition in establishing the rights of the voters would result. I do not know that there can be great despatch obtained by a step which has been suggested—namely, that before the registration is completed there should be a dissolution of Parliament; because I believe that when there is a dissolution the elections in London, Westminster, and all places near the metropolis will occur in about four clays afterwards. But we may ask that there should not be any unnecessary loss of time, and that the Scotch and Irish Reform Bills and the Boundary Bill should be proceeded with as speedily as possible, so that the country may have the satisfaction of exercising the suffrage under the new Reform Acts, which many persons believe to be an improvement of the electoral system, but which the noble Earl opposite called "a leap in the dark," and which, as I believe, was very justly so described. At all events, we should know what we are to expect from it. The next thing which I think we have a right to ask is that there should be some definite policy announced by Her Majesty's Government. I think that whenever the dissolution 1029 occurs it would be unfair for the Government to ask the decision of the country as to who should be its representatives unless they announced certain principles. In the summer of last year I ventured to state that I thought there were three questions of great importance to be decided. The first is the question of church rates. There is no policy on the part of the Government with respect to church rates. Mr. Gladstone, who is in fact the Leader of the majority in the other House, and who introduced a Bill in respect to church rates, was impressed with the belief that the Government intended to oppose that measure; and it was only because the demonstration of force against it proved insufficient that they abstained from direct resistance to it. The Bill then passed by a considerable majority, and came to this House. We were then assured that the Bill, having passed the other House by a large majority, would be fairly treated in this, and the noble Earl opposite proposed that it should go to a Select Committee, not, as he represented, with the view of defeating it, but for the purpose of its improvement. Well, I trust that the Bill will come out of that Select Committee uninjured, and in such a shape that the House of Commons will have no difficulty in adopting the Amendments. But when I understand, as there was a great demonstration of force against it in the other House, and when I know that it has many enemies in this House, I feel doubtful whether some of the Members of the Government will give it that cordial support by which alone it can obtain the general assent of Parliament. Another subject to which I alluded as being of vast importance was the great question of education. I will not now anticipate the discussion on that question; but I hope that the Government have some measures in contemplation which will comprehend that subject in all its breadth—which will provide for the primary education of the poorer classes, the education of the middle classes, for the treatment of endowed schools, and, lastly, for the improvement of education in our Universities. I hope when the Reformed Parliament meets some measure worthy of its consideration will be proposed on these subjects. There is another subject of which I then stated I thought there must be a consideration at an early period. That is the state of Ireland. Everything shows that it is a question which requires immediate consideration. When the Suspen- 1030 sion of the Habeas Corpus Act in Ireland was passing through this House, and I was giving my ready assent to that measure, I said that I hoped the policy of the Government with regard to Ireland would be stated and developed. In reply to my observation on the subject the Government replied that the only reason for not stating that policy in this House then was that it would be more convenient that the noble Earl the Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant—himself a Member of the Cabinet—should state in the other House of Parliament what was the whole policy of the Government with respect to Ireland. We were told in the month of March that within a few days—I think on the Monday following—the whole of that policy would be stated by the noble Earl in the House of Commons. It was stated in the House of Commons, and it embraced that portion of the Irish question which had engaged the special attention of your Lordships—namely, the position of the Church. I think I have got here what was said by the Earl of Mayo when speaking on that subject. He said—"There would not, I believe, be any objection to making all Churches equal, but the result must be secured by elevation, and not confiscation." That was a very important declaration. It was the deliberate declaration of the policy of Her Majesty's Government in the month of March last. Undoubtedly, equality may be produced by what is called "elevation" as well as by endowment; but I cannot see how with one Church in possession of establishment and endowment you could produce equality among all Churches—which is Lord Mayo's phrase—otherwiso than by giving establishment and endowment to the Roman Catholic and the Presbyterian Churches in Ireland—I say I do not see how equality can be established by elevation, if establishment and endowment are to be continued to the Protestant Episcopalian Church in that country, in any other way than by raising the Roman Catholic Church and the Presbyterian Church as regards endowment, and establishment to the same level as the Episcopal Church. Of course, every one supposed that was the policy of equality by elevation put forward by Her Majesty's Government—that their policy was to extend to the Roman Catholics and the Presbyterians privileges similar to those now enjoyed by the Established Church in Ireland. It is obvious that equality together with elevation could be produced in no other wav; and yet, 1031 after some three months, when we ask what this policy amounts to, it appears that the plan at one time entertained of giving a charter to a Roman Catholic University, which threatened to create a most calamitous division on the subject of education in Ireland, has been abandoned. Indeed, as far as I can see, the whole of that policy which was stated in such detail by Lord Mayo in a three hours' speech has been abandoned. It appears that the elevation of all Churches which the noble Earl proposes amounts simply to this—that the Roman Catholics will be allowed to lay out their own money and build their own churches—that, in fact, no law will be proposed to prevent them from laying out their own money in providing for their own spiritual wants according to the rites of their own religion. The policy of the Government is, therefore, to do nothing; but that is hardly a policy to require more than three hours for its exposition. It is a policy which ought to be fairly stated, at all events. When we ask what the Government mean to do to meet the evils of Ireland, I do not mean to say they ought to adopt any views which I may entertain; but, at all events, they should say, "We intend to do nothing. We think force is sufficient; force has been used hitherto, force will do in future, and we have no other policy." There are many other subjects with regard to which I think the Government might be asked to state their policy; but those are three very main subjects. Well, I ask next, what has been the conduct of the Government in respect to executive administration and the preservation of the public peace? I find a most remarkable assertion made by the Committee of the Reform League with regard to the preservation of the peace of this metropolis on a very memorable occasion. The late Government proposed a plan of Reform which the country generally appeared to approve. It was heartily approved by numerous meetings composed of very large numbers. It failed, however, to obtain the approval of Parliament. But when the party of the noble Earl opposite came into power, the Reform League appears to have thought that nothing but very great demonstrations of numbers and power would obtain a measure of Reform from the new Government. The Chairman of the Executive Committee, I believe, of the Reform League thus states what happened—Then followed the now celebrated demonstra- 1032 tion at Hyde Park on the 23rd of July, 1866. The Tory Government, having illegally closed the Park gates against the people"—I am not adopting this assertion—"the Park palings fell. The police and military, called in to the aid of the Government, were unable to clear the Park either that evening or on the two following days, and on the afternoon of the 25th the same Government which had closed the Park against the League and the people on the 23rd applied to the League to restore that law and order which the Government themselves had broken, and to preserve the peace of the metropolis from what threatened to be a very serious and dangerous crisis.My Lords, I am not entering into the question of the legality or illegality of the meetings in the Park; but that the Reform League was applied to when the Government were unable to restore order in Hyde Park I believe to be perfectly true. There are too many instances of their inability to preserve the public peace and order. Tour Lordships recollect the case of the men who were executed at Manchester for the rescue of persons charged with high treason.
§ EARL RUSSELL
They were properly convicted—properly convicted of murder committed in the rescue; but I refer to the case as one in which proper precautions were not taken—had such precautions been taken there would have been no loss of life. Again, there has been the case of the working men from Staffordshire who went into Lancashire for a peaceable purpose, who were there subjected to acts of physical violence, and who were obliged to return again to Staffordshire because they could not obtain protection in Lancashire. Then the peace has been broken by the destruction of Roman Catholic chapels, and there, again, there was a neglect of precautionary measures. It was only after the steed has been stolen that precautions were taken to shut the stable door. There is another question on which, I think, we ought to call on the noble Earl to state explicitly what are the views of the Government. As I have already stated, the Government have themselves declared that they have not the confidence of the House of Commons. On the question of the Irish Church there had been at the time to which I alluded two divisions. In one of these there was a majority of 60 and in the other a majority of 65 against the Government. A third division has since been taken with a less majority, but still with a majority of 54 against the Government. It is clear, therefore, that 1033 on the subject in respect of which they themselves proclaimed that they had not the confidence of the House of Commons, they have not obtained that confidence since the power of dissolving was accorded to them. The key-stone of the arch on which the Constitution of this country rests is that a Minis try should not remain in Office unless it possesses the confidence of Parliament. The present Prime Minister was so strongly impressed with this conviction in 1841, that he quoted a saying of Mr. Fox, marked, as his sayings generally are, with superabundant energy. Mr. Fox said that the Minister who remained in Office without the confidence of Parliament was guilty of a high crime and misdemeanour. I do not say that; but I do say that the safety of the Constitution depends on the Government not remaining in Office when it ceases to possess the confidence of the House of Commons. I need not particularly refer to the events of old times, before this principle was acknowledged, when those violent means were resorted to; when Lord Strafford lost his life on the scaffold, Lord Clarendon was banished, and Danby was imprisoned; but from the time of Sir Robert Walpole to this day the machine has worked smoothly, and the safety of the Constitution of this country has depended on a change of Government being made whenever the Minister lost the confidence of the House of Commons. I am not now referring to the question of dissolution or to the appeal which may be made to the constituent body, as established upon a novel system. But I ask whether the Ministers acknowledge the principle, and whether they do not think it would be wrong to remain in Office after the dissolution if they were not supported by the confidence of the House of Commons? For that, I say, is the great key-stone of the arch of the constitution of this country. And I think, from the accounts which we had of late from the other side of the Atlantic, we may see the importance of such a principle, and that the absence of such a test is attended with great inconvenience. The President of the United States has been for some considerable time at open variance with the Congress of the United States. Had he been a Minister in this country a Vote of Want of Confidence would have displaced him; but as they have no such convenient machinery or conclusive test in 1034 America, they have thought it necessary to impeach him, and so, by obtaining a verdict of guilty, to remove him from his office. In this case we see the evils that follow from a course such as I have spoken of. I trust that at all events this contest will cease when the new Parliament is elected. If the decision of the new House of Commons be against the party to which we belong we shall bow to that decision; and I trust that Ministers will likewise bow to the voice of Parliament, and will not endeavour to set up an unconstitutional practice by attempting to sustain themselves in power in spite of the adverse decisions of the House of Commons.
§ THE EARL OF MALMESBURY
My Lords, the noble Earl (Earl Russell) has made use of the privilege which, no doubt, he possesses as Leader of the Opposition in this House, of calling Her Majesty's Ministers to account for the many and various delinquencies which he charges upon them, and also of seeking for an explanation of those delinquencies. But, unless your Lordships have a better memory than I have, you will hardly remember with any distinctness the disconnected accusations which he has brought against us. The noble Earl began by attacking us for certain acts done one or two months ago, as to which he was totally and completely silent at the time—
§ THE EARL OF MALMESBURY
I allude to the time when the Prime Minister had an interview with Her Majesty. From that he went to events which occurred quite recently; and from them he jumped back again to the cow historical causes and effects of the Hyde Park riots. It is rather difficult to answer a speech so fitfully expressed as that of the noble Earl; and therefore I must beg your Lordships to grant me all your usual indulgence while I try to make intelligible that which the noble Earl, like one of the heroes of Homer, has thrown a cloud around, probably to prevent any effective reply. It was first of all asserted that we have not the confidence of Parliament; and the noble Earl, as an ancient friend and supporter of the British Constitution, stated—and stated very truly—that for a Ministry to continue in Office which docs not possess the confidence of the House of Commons is not only a delinquency in itself, but may have the worst possible 1035 results upon the country and its institutions. But then the noble Earl begs the question. He says we have not the confidence of the House of Commons; but how does he prove that? He may justly say that we have not the confidence of the House of Commons on a particular question; but I have not yet heard that the House of Commons has exercised its undoubted privilege—one that has been frequently resorted to in other cases—of expressing by a distinct declaration its want of confidence in the Government. I can only say that if the House has not any confidence in the general conduct of public affairs by the Government the discredit rests, not with the Government for remaining in Office, but with the House of Commons, which does not force them out of Office by a bold and straightforward Vote of Want of Confidence. And if the House of Commons fails in its duty, what is to prevent the noble Earl who sits opposite, or any of his Colleagues who sit near him, from inviting an expression of opinion by your Lordships by bringing forward a Motion of Want of Confidence? There must be some reason why this is not done, and I think your Lordships can easily imagine why such a Vote has not been come to, and why the noble Earl does not come forward to propose it. The plain answer must be that for the general purposes of carrying on the Business of the country the House of Commons and the House of Lords have confidence in Her Majesty's Government; and therefore all the constitutional arguments which we have heard—arguments which I have not the slightest idea of opposing—fall to the ground, because the premises will not bear the test of examination. Then, with reference to another complaint of the noble Earl, why, when the Prime Minister had the important conference with Her Majesty, and Her Majesty was graciously pleased to refuse to accept our resignations which the Prime Minister had put into her hands, why did not the noble Earl come forward at that time and explain to the House and the country how unconstitutional our conduct was in his eyes? Why, we did not hear a whisper from the noble Earl on the subject, and I think it is now nearly two months since those events occurred. Then the noble Earl entered into a discussion of various points to show that we had not the confidence of the country—or rather, that we ought not to have its confidence. 1036 But the noble Earl forgets that he and some of his former Colleagues, far from uttering the opinions which he now expresses, have on various occasions, with a generosity which we perfectly appreciate, actually gone out of their way to express satisfaction at the conduct of public affairs in several Departments. Sometimes in this House, sometimes in the other House, Her Majesty's Government have received the compliments of leading Members of the Opposition upon three or four very important subjects. The foreign policy of my noble Friend at the head of the Foreign Office has constantly been received with approbation in Parliament, and this feeling has been expressed especially by my noble Friend opposite (the Earl of Clarendon), who, I would say, knows as much of foreign affairs as probably any of your Lordships. Then, as to the management of Ireland by the present Lord-Lieutenant and Chief Secretary for Ireland, under the great difficulties arising out of the Fenian conspiracy, from individual Peers who do not agree with us upon general subjects, as well as from individual Members of the Opposition in the other House, we have received compliments upon our conduct of Irish affairs. As to our home policy, to which the noble Earl himself adverted in speaking of the execution of the Fenians for murder, very high encomiums have been passed from time to time upon the Home Secretary for the manner in which he maintained the peace of the country, and for the great sagacity which he exhibited and labour which he bestowed upon discovering and unwinding the threads of the Fenian conspiracy. In ten days' time your Lordships, I hope, will be called on to return thanks to the gallant military and naval Forces of the Crown for their deeds in Abyssinia. I would not detract one iota from the in estimable services of those troops and their officers; but they themselves would be the first to say that this success could hardly have been looked for if the civil servants of the Crown had not exerted themselves assiduously to arrange for the transport of the troops and stores necessary to carry out that most dangerous and uncertain expedition; and, therefore, Her Majesty's Government may claim, at least, some credit for the success which, under Providence, they have had in Abyssinia, and I do not think it likely that upon that score the House of Commons will express any disapprobation of our policy. I must con- 1037 fess that I did not quite understand the drift of one part of the noble Earl's observations. He thinks we act unconstitutionally by remaining in Office; and, somehow or other—for he docs not explain that point—he thinks that Public Business has suffered, that many important questions have been neglected and have fallen through, and that we are not as much advanced as we ought to be at this season of the year. Well, my Lords, such are the facts; but what are the causes? Allow me to ask your Lordships to take a retrospect of past events; they have been very important, and to a great extent they certainly have been unforeseen. I have no scruple in saying that in January this was the general view formed by public men of the course which public affairs were likely to take this Session. The great controversy which had been going on for some years had been partly closed by the efforts of my noble Friend the noble Earl the late Prime Minister; the Reform Bill for England had been carried; but the Bills for Scotland and Ireland were still outstanding. And if the noble Earl reproaches us for not passing them last year, all I can say is—remembering the time that the English Bill occupied—it was physically impossible for us to do so. In January last, therefore, the organization of the Constitution was in abeyance; the Reform Bill for England had passed into law, but those for Scotland and Ireland had still to be adopted. Under these circumstances what were the expectations of nine men out often throughout the country? They thought this Session would be occupied in maturing the great question of Reform, and completing it in all its points—by passing the Scotch and Irish Bills; by passing the Bill for restraining corrupt practices; by passing the Boundary Bill; and thus having prepared a new arena for both parties to engage in a trial of strength and integrity, the country would decide in a fair field by which of the two parties it would be governed. This was the universal feeling: and although this feeling would not necessarily prevent the proposition of measures of another description, we purposely selected measures that were not likely to provoke opposition and political feeling; and in the like spirit we withdrew the Education Bill to which the noble Earl has referred. But a great misfortune befel the country; the noble Earl at the head of the Government (the Earl of Derby) was obliged to resign Office 1038 at the beginning of the year, and the whole aspect of affairs was altered. The armed truce which we expected would last till the Reform Bills had passed and until the dissolution in the autumn was suddenly broken; there arose new causes for political agitation, and these circumstances are in reality the cause of those defects in legislation on which the noble Earl has commented. My Lords, a new and extraneous question of the highest possible importance was broached; it was a question of far more importance, indeed, than the Reform Bills, because they involve only questions of detail as to the method of Parliamentary election and management. And that important question to which I refer was not dealt with after the manner in which it was brought forward by the noble Earl opposite some time ago; he proposed only a modification of the Irish Church by taking a little from, it here and adding a little there, by apportioning its possessions among itself and neighbours; but Mr. Gladstone came upon the scene and treated the proposal of the noble Earl with as little respect as if it had come from this side of the House. Mr. Gladstone declared at once—"This scheme won't do; it's mere milk and water. It's not worth having; it's like the drag which you ran thirty years ago—the Appropriation Clause." That was Mr. Gladstone's view; the remedy was not strong enough for him—he felt he could get no followers with such a programme; and having no more respect for a measure proposed by the noble Earl than he would have had for one proposed on this side of the House, he boldly and at once declared, not for reforming the Irish Church, but for its abolition. The noble Earl has asked me to state the opinions of the Government on one or two points, and among others he has asked what I think respecting the state of Ireland, and what would be the best means to adopt for its pacification. Now, I think the noble Earl is about the last man who should press that question, because when a noble Viscount connected with Ireland (Viscount Lifford) recommended interference with the Irish Church only two years ago, the noble Earl with considerable energy absolutely put him down and said the thing should not be. And I might ask what did the noble Earl then depend upon to keep Ireland in a state of comparative order? Force, my Lords. No doubt the noble Earl had some statesmanlike reasons 1039 for adopting that policy; he could not have summarily rejected the counsels of the noble Viscount from mere caprice, and rebuked him in a fit of ill-temper. I need hardly tell the noble Earl what are our views upon the subject of interference with the Established Church of Ireland. I would not remain silent on that subject if I were not a Member of the Administration, and as long as I have a vote in this House I will use it to support the Irish Church; and I will do so because I am convinced that Church cannot be disestablished and disendowed without carrying with it in its downfall the Established Church in England. These are not my opinions only; I hear them expressed by men who are best judges of what the result would be, and they are largely shared in by Dissenters, some of whom deprecate the disestablishment of the Irish Church. I happen to have heard, from both those Dissenters who favour, and those who object to this movement, the opinion that, if carried, it will be but the prelude to the total disestablishment of the English Church; and this opinion has been expressed on the one part with joy, and on the other with the deepest regret. I therefore give the noble Earl my opinion very plainly; and I believe my Colleagues entirely concur with me in the view I take. The noble Earl has touched upon the Roman Catholic University scheme. The proposition we made was rejected by the Roman Catholic Bishops because we made it a sine quâ non that a lay element should have part in the management of the University; and if the noble Earl will read the published Correspondence between the Earl of Mayo and the Roman Catholic Bishops he will be in possession of all the information he asks for. I think I have nothing more to say in answer to the noble Earl, except to add with regard to the j dissolution that the sooner the event occurs the better Her Majesty's Government will be pleased, and no one will welcome it more heartily than myself. If the noble Earl has not patience to wait until such time as the dissolution can be brought about with fairness to the electors, I can only entreat him to move in this House, and ask his Friends in the other House also to move, a Vote of Want of Confidence against Her Majesty's Ministers.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ House adjourned accordingly at half past Seven o'clock to Monday, the 8th of June next. Eleven o'clock.