HL Deb 04 September 1895 vol 36 cc1676-87

said, that he would claim the indulgence of those of their Lordships who happened to be present that night, and of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack who presided over their deliberations, for venturing at such a time to bring under their Lordships' attention the subject to which his notice upon the Paper referred. In so doing, he should endeavour to give expression not only to his own views upon the question, but also to give expression to the views that he knew were entertained by many outside their Lordships' House, and which he was bound by pledge and promise to those persons to bring before their Lordships. In common with the great majority of the electors of the United Kingdom, he had rejoiced at the fall of the late Government. Various reasons had been given to account for the fall, but they had fallen, "unwept, unhonoured and unsung," save in peans of popular rejoicing that a separatist Government had come to an untimely end. He knew that in using the word "separatist" he should come under the censure of the late Prime Minister, who had said that those who used it did so knowing it to be false. He, however, used the word because he believed it to be true, and his reasons for that belief could be stated very shortly. What was Lord Rosebery but the executor of Mr. Gladstone upon this question of Home Rule; and what was Mr. Gladstone himself but the pupil, he might almost say the tool, of Mr. Parnell; and what view did Mr. Parnell take of Home Rule? He expressed himself on the subject in the clearest and most distinct terms, that he would not take off his coat for anything short of separation. He might use another term, however, which might please the noble Lord better, that of "disruptionist," which might more clearly describe the noble Lord's policy. As far as could be evolved out of the language of the noble Lord, his purpose was to give Home Rule everywhere, and to break up the United Kingdom for the purpose of piecing it together in some other form. The noble Lord's proposal might be aptly compared to a child or any other person taking a chronometer to pieces and then trying to put it together without the main spring, in this case, of the United Kingdom. Let them not quarrel about names, however; the fact remained that the late Government had ceased to exist. Every sort of reason had been given for their timely demise in the Liberal newspapers. He would not attempt to say who killed Cock Robin or why he died. The Liberal newspapers were not agreed about the death certificate. He thought that the death certificate of a native Indian doctor as to the cause of the death of a native woman was not inappropriate. The certificate ran: "I think she died or lost her life for want of food, or on account of starvation, or perhaps from other1 things of her comfortables, and most probably she died by drowning." He thought that the late Government had most probably died from drowning, and that they were drowned in the Harcourt-Lawsonian aquarium. But, be this as it may, they looked with satisfaction at the fall of the late Government, because there were many reasons for rejoicing. It had been succeeded by a Government which, if it did anything, would, he hoped, ensure the unity of the Empire against all attacks, and we should no longer have the chance of the people of this country being put under the heels of the Irish janissaries of the late Government, now so busily engaged in morally cutting each other's throats. He did not think we should see another era, for a time, of great revolutionary and constitutional changes. Their Lordships' House need not have any fear lest its walls should crumble under the blast of the brazen trumpet of his hon. Friend the late Prime Minister, which he blew so vigorously. And in the words of the old Scotch proverb, "The ill bird that fouled its ain nest," would now have to sit in its nest pinioned and powerless. As regarded the Churches of Wales and Scotland he believed they, too, were now safe from attack. He believed property was safe in the hands of the present Administration; and, as regards Budgets, he did not think we were likely to have from the present Administration another burglarious Budget, founded on the strange economic principle that, in the interest of the poor, it was necessary and desirable to penalise and pauperise the rich, and that it was sound economic doctrine to cause old historic houses to be shut up which were the centre of a social solar system, diffusing on the labouring population around, happiness, comfort and comparative prosperity. Then, foreign affairs, too, he trusted were safe in the hands of the present Foreign Secretary; and, as regarded the Colonies, they might look with satisfaction to the fact that they had at the Colonial Office now a Member of the Government who was not one of these "Little Englanders" who groaned under the weight of Empire, but would do all he could to consolidate our Colonial Empire, and draw closer into defensive and other bonds the ties that connected the Colonies and the Mother Country, and at any rate would not, like Mr. Gladstone, hold the view that "emigration is banishment," but that it was to emigration to our Colonies, with the full consent of the Colonies, that we should look for the relief of the congestion we might feel at home. But in the midst of the satisfaction they felt from the change of Government surgit amari aliquid There was something which gave cause for anxiety, and that was nothing more nor less than the spectre of Socialism, which they knew dwelt in the tents, assisted at the councils, and found its incarnation and embodiment in the programme of the three parties—for there were practically three parties—in the State in greater or less degree, and the fact remained—let anyone assert the contrary if he could—that we in England, or Great Britain, were the only people in Europe with a representative system that had not a clear and distinct party founded on principle and policy opposed to socialistic doctrine and practice. He wished now to prove his case. He would begin with the Liberals. Lord Rosebery, in his last speech on the Address said, in describing what the future policy of the Liberal Party would be: "My Lords, come what may, we, the Liberal Party, shall be true to our principles." Let him ask, What are those principles? Could any man on the Opposition Benches, soi-disant Liberals, say that the Liberals of the present day had any connection with the Liberalism of the Grays, Althorps, Russells or Palmerstons, or with the Liberalism defined by Macaulay, Cobden, Fawcett, and other distinguished men? These men were dead, but their words would live forever as regarded what true Liberalism meant. He would rather quote a definition of Liberalism given twenty years ago by a very distinguished Member of the other House—he would not call him a Statesman, he would rather call him a politician now alive. He said:— If there is any Party which is more pledged than another to resist a policy of restrictive legislation, having for its object social coercion, that Party is the Liberal Party. Liberty does not consist in making others do what yon think right for them. The difference between a free Government and a Government not free is principally this, that a Government not free interferes with everything it can, and a free Government interferes with nothing except what it must. A despotic Government tries to make everybody do what it wishes, a Liberal Government, tries as far as the safety of society will permit, to allow everybody to do what he wishes. It has been the tradition of the Liberal Party to maintain the doctrine of individual liberty. It is because they have done so, that England is a country where people can do more what they please than in any other country in the world. It is this practice of allowing one set of people to dictate to another set of people what they shall cat and drink, when they shall go to bed, what they shall buy and where they shall buy it, what wages they shall get and how they shall spend them, against which the Liberal Party have always protested. True Liberalism then is based on liberty, the liberty of the Government, freedom from State municipalisation and bureaucratic control—in a word Liberalism is the antithesis of Socialism. These were true and noble words. They had the ring of Magna Charta and the Bill of Rights in them. By whom were they spoken? By a distinguished right hon. Member of the other House, of whom a Manchester evening paper recently, since the General Election, wittily said he had been "warned off the Derby course, and had turned 'Welsher.' "They were the words of Sir William Venables Vernon Harcourt. No doubt he had changed, but principles did not change, and the principles he maintained and held twenty years ago were no less sound now, and would and must in the long run prevail. Now there were two noble Lords in the House who had served under Lords John Russell and Palmerston; they were not here, but his words might go forth from the pens of "recording angels" above; and, if so, those noble Lords would read the question he would have liked to have put to Lord Ripon and Lord Kimberley if they had been present—would they, who had been in office under Lord Palmerston and Lord John Russell, stand up in their places and say, or declare in the Press, that the Liberalism of the present day had in any way the resemblance to the Liberalism described in the noble passage he had read? The fact was that the late Government were not Liberals, but Socialists, Socialism being, as Sir W. Harcourt said, "the antithesis of Liberalism." If they denied it he brought their own press into Court to prove it, because the fall of the late Government was ascribed by Liberal papers, alike in England and Scotland, to their dealings with Socialism and interference with everybody. And an excellent Liberal paper in Scotland, the Edinburgh Evening News, strongly urged that the Liberal Party had their best chance of success in the future by casting off Socialistic ideas and returning to the old and true Liberalism, such as the Liberal Party once practised and preached. He passed from the Liberals to the Conservatives to show that, though in a minor degree, Socialism also dwelt in their tents. He could quote at length from election addresses and election speeches, but it would be sufficient if he took two short Conservative programmes as showing the Socialistic tendency. They were called social reforms and improvements, but they were none the less Socialistic for that—the Socialistic tendency of the proposals the Conservatives were prepared to support. Take the programme of Mr. Byron Reed, who stood for East Bradford. He said:— I am in favour of wholesome social legislation and National administration, the provision of freehold houses for the English working classes, pensions for the old age of honest and industrious people, an eight hours system for those engaged in dangerous and noxious trades, and for others for the reform of the workhouse system, and many other things. Coming to London he found that Colonel Hughes, Member for Woolwich, went back to the dark economic ages of Sir W. Harcourt's Plantagenet ancestors, for he said he was in favour of a fixed minimum of 6d. an hour for the wages of labourers. Secondly, he said that others ought to receive trade union rates of wages with superannuation after a certain length of service, that there ought to be old-age pensions for sailors and soldiers, and that the present superannuation system ought to apply to arsenals as it does to dockyards. This proved his position, that there were Conservatives who flirted, if they did not, like the Liberals, go the whole hog, with Socialism. In his own county a Conservative candidate who went in for eight hours for miners was supported by Mr. Balfour, and what was the burden of his song? It was that "Codlin's the true friend, not Short," that the Conservative Party had done more in the way of social reform than the Liberal Party had done, and that their past was the best guarantee for their future. There was a little election leaflet, issued by a body with which he was connected, and it did not contain a word that would not have received the assent of former Liberal Statesmen; yet when it was put into the hands of an influential young Conservative, he said of it—"If I were to distribute a leaflet such as this, I should shock my friends." The conclusion he drew was that the Liberalism of past Liberals was not sufficiently liberal, in other words, not sufficiently socialistic for a young Conservative of to-day. Coming to the Liberal Unionists he took the address of Mr. Flannery, Member for the Shipley Division of Yorkshire. It was a programme of 38 items, all more or less of a socialist character, old-age pensions and all that sort of thing. At the end of it he gave Mr. Chamberlain's Social programme published in October, 1894; and this programme was comparatively short, consisting of seven points, namely, old-age pensions, working men's dwellings, poor law reform, compensation to injured workmen, better housing of the poor by Local Authorities, prevention of pauper immigration, and shorter hours for shop assistants. With all respect for Mr. Chamberlain, he questioned the wisdom of these proposals. The regulation of shop hours involved interference with the labour of adult males. If there was one thing the Legislature should be more jealous of than another it was interference with the labour of full-grown men; freedom in this respect was the birthright of every workman; it was the grossest tyranny to interfere with or check his right to labour, for what wages he chose and for what hours he chose. Thirty years ago, in the Drewett case, arising out of a strike of tailors, Lord Bramwell said:— No right, property or capital, about which there had been so much declamation, was so carefully guarded by the law of the land as was personal labour, and he added that a man's mind and will, his liberty to say how he would dispose of himself, his talents and his industry, were as much subject to the law's protection as was his body. As to dwellings, he disputed that it was the duty of the State or of a Municipality to build houses for working men or for any other class. All that the State or the Municipality should do was to take care that houses were in a good sanitary condition. If they were not, let them be shut up, and then private enterprise, like that of Sir Sidney Waterlow, would build healthy houses. If we began building houses for workmen, where should we stop? Should we furnish them also? And why should not the widow who had lost her breadwinner be also housed and shops found for traders at the public cost? To him the proposal of old-age pensions, as it had come before them, was in many respects comical. It was not that he did not sympathise with old people in difficulty and distress as keenly as their mistaken would-be friends. But the subscription on the part of the people must either be compulsory or voluntary. If it was to be voluntary, was it believed that a man would stint himself in early life of a pot of beer in order that at 65 he might get 2s. 6d. a week in addition to what he had subscribed? To him the thing was absolutely absurd. The reason given for proposing old-age pensions was that at present old people who were destitute had to become paupers and to accept relief from the rates. As regarded this question of pauperism, what difference was there, in principle, between getting half-a-crown a week from the Exchequer at the age of 65, and at 64, if need be, getting half-a-crown out of the rates? There was really no difference in principle at all. What was meant by Poor Law reform in this programme he did not know; but on questions of Poor Law and provision for old age he would listen to practical men who had devoted their lives to the subject rather than to politicians who suggested vote-catching measures. Being told of his intention to bring the subject before the House of Lords, Mr. Albert Pell, than whom no greater authority existed as regards Poor Law Administration, wrote to him and said:— Nothing could be more discreditable, either to their integrity or their intelligence, than the addresses and election speeches of many of the newly-elected Members of the House of Commons of both Parties. Social reform! What does it all mean? An attempt on the part of those who proceed, as if they were wiser than God Almighty, to relegate political economy to Jupiter and Saturn. … Just now it becomes a much more serious question, when Cabinet Ministers are going in for State-aided pensions, work for the unemployed, and reform of the Poor Laws, whatever that may be. I dare say you know that I served on the Royal Commission on the Aged Poor; anyhow, before we broke up it was made perfectly clear that the Poor Law had not broken down in the slightest degree; its administration was not what it ought to be, much too lax, but seemed to be improving, and, beyond all, that it was sufficient in actual service to meet all the real needs of the times—even bad times. What is wanted just now is a consistent party acting on fixed principles, approved by history and experience to be sound. So much for the opinion of a man, who, by his dealings with the Poor Law as it exists, unreformed by Mr. Chamberlain, reduced out-door relief almost to a cipher, at the same time increasing employment and the rate of wages. Whenever the Poor Law had been thus wisely administered the result, whether in town or country, had been the same. Mr. Loch, the able Secretary of the Charity Organisation Society, who perhaps knew more upon the subject than anyone else, had said in his work on Pensions and the Aged Poor:— To reduce or prevent old-age pauperism no National pension scheme is necessary; what is necessary is to carry out the remedial measures which the Poor Law Commissioners of 1832 proposed. The most important is to make outdoor relief the exception, and even to give no out-door relief to the able-bodied, whether man or woman. When this rule has been adopted pauperism of all kinds has decreased. He hoped that those words would be taken to heart by those who favoured wild schemes, and talked so glibly of old-age pensions and the reform of the Poor Law. As regarded old-age pensions, a warning voice had been raised from America by Mr. Goldwin Smith, who said that America was crushed at the present time by the payment of old-age pensions to the soldiers who served in the war, the amount being some 33 millions, which was about the figure of Mr. Chamberlain's scheme. Before the inquiry of the Poor Law Commissioners in 1832 the rural population in this country was absolutely pauperised, and demoralised to such an extent that labour was put up for auction and knocked down to the highest bidder. If farmers bid 6s., the difference between that and what was now called the living wage was made up out of the rates. How did that affect the people? This was the kind of language used:— Why should I work? I could get 12s. on the rates, or 10s., for doing nothing. Damn work, blast it, I am not going to do any. Much was heard about finding employment for the unemployed by the State or by the Municipality, and he was rather alarmed at the prospect, for he had read that Mr. Chaplin had stated that he had his gimlet eye on the unemployed, and that he had spent a whole day examining Mr. Booth's Colony for the unemployed. There were two object lessons for Statesmen to take to heart before they tampered with the Poor Law or old-age pensions. There was the demoralisation produced under the old system, out of which the Poor Law pulled the agricultural population of this country; and there was the attempt in 1848 of M. Louis Blanc to establish National workshops in France, which led ultimately, when the workshops were closed, to an insurrection in which 12,000 workmen were killed in the streets of Paris. These events showed that it behoved Statesmen in this country to be very careful how they walked in the paths pointed out to them in the programmes in election addresses, whether Conservative, Liberal, or Liberal Unionist. The future of this country depended, he believed, more at this time than at any other, on cautious, wise and experienced action with reference to these most vital questions on the part of our public men. It might be said that some of these proposals of Mr. Chamberlain and others were in themselves comparatively innocent, but it must be remembered that the principle of Socialism was to do away absolutely with private capital and property by the confiscation of the instruments of production by a labour-governed State, and all the schemes of social reform, as they were called, had in them the element of Socialism. If sound principles were once departed from, there was no knowing where they would stop. That was shown by the course of Irish legislation. Mr. Gladstone had told them that the legislation of 1870 was exceptional and final, but they knew what the result of that had been. This final exceptional legislation had crossed the Irish sea and settled in the crofts of Scotland, and if the late Government had remained in office they would have been in danger of crofter legislation in the south and lowlands of Scotland. Further, it had come to this, that in the vestry of St. James's two years ago the Grand Committee passed a resolution in favour of establishing a court in London for fixing the rent of business premises and shops, and to forbid all except primary dealings with land and houses in London. He had little more to say—only this—that from the information he had received as regards the General Election the fall of the late Government was due to a revolt on the part of a free people against attacks upon their personal liberties and upon the security of their property, and similar information had, he was told, been given to Lord Salisbury by the Conservative Election Agency. He would ask what moral was to be drawn from this state of things. The moral that he would draw from them was this—that if he were the Prime Minister, if he were Lord Salisbury, with his enormous backing, he should put his foot down upon these proposals, and would take his stand upon freedom of contract, upon security of property, and upon the rights of individual freedom. It was upon that basis that the commercial prosperity of this country was born and reared and rested, and their Lordships might be assured that it was only by adhering to principles such as these that that prosperity could be maintained. Further, if he were Lord Salisbury, he would do this. The Liberal Party had forsworn their principles; they had made Liberalism a living lie, and they had thrown their flag into the gutter of Party Politics. If he were Lord Salisbury he would take that flag up, and raise it aloft in the full knowledge and conviction that a people such as ours, on every page of whose history was written the love of liberty in all parts of the world, would rally round that flag, and would give him present, future, and continuous support. The people of this country loved liberty above all things. Liberty that gave the real charm to life. Liberty without which life itself would not be worth the living.


said, that certainly no apology was needed from the noble Lord for having addressed them upon this subject. He thought there was considerable practical wisdom in the speech of the Earl of Wemyss, but it was always easy to argue against abstract principles, and the difficulty commenced when they put these views into a Bill which was to become an Act of Parliament. If the Government were to attempt to carry out any of the views which had been denounced, there was evidently one voice which would be raised against them at considerable length and power. As to the poor law and old-age pensions, he had to point out that if we proceeded on logical lines—which, happily for mankind, we never did—the poor law itself was an infringement of economic principles. It had been argued, What right have you to support the poor? but he was glad to say a more Christian spirit had been infused into our legislation in that respect. The noble Earl had warned the Government against the errors committed by offending against economic principles; but there was a danger on the other side, and if the state of the law was such that the public conscience was shocked at seeing men who had endeavoured to do their duty to the State left without any provision in their old age, some rash and dangerous experiments might be tried. No Member of the Government had been committed to any specific course in regard to the poor law, except that in dealing with those who had behaved as well as they could in their position in life, but who were unable to support themselves, they had the right to live, at all events, and this the State had taken upon itself. Another principle laid down was that there should be a distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor. To that extent he believed propositions had been made by some of those now responsible for the administration of the country, but nothing more had been said on the matter.

House adjourned at a quarter before Six o' clock, till To-morrow, Eleven o'clock.