§ The Earl of LATHOM
My Lords, I shall not, I know, appeal in vain for 20 that forbearance and indulgence which is always extended to those who address this House for the first time, and which I feel very greatly in need of. I esteem it a great honour in being permitted to address the House on this occasion—on the commencement of a new Parliament, and at the close of the war in South Africa. I think we can now safely say that the end of the war is in view, though it has lasted a great deal longer than any of us anticipated a year ago. During the whole time the work of the troops has been arduous and continuous, and it has been bravely and willingly borne. For the first time the Volunteers have made their mark upon military history, and, above all, the colonies have come forward in a most marvellous manner. That, I think, is one of the most cheering features of the war; for, whatever else may come out of this war, we know now that the colonies are for all time united with the motherland. We have lately had an opportunity of reading Lord Roberts's farewell to his troops. That farewell is a finer testimony to the good conduct and character of those troops than any that could be uttered by me in this House, and it is an ample reply to the criticisms which have been passed upon their conduct, and upon the disciplinary measures which have been adopted when cases of "sniping," as it is called, or of breaking up the railways have occurred. I cannot see how anything else could have been done in a country which is infested with sedition. The first duty of a general is to his own troops; and if danger to them can be averted by inflicting punishment of this kind upon the enemy, I conceive that it is his duty to inflict that punishment. It is a trite saying that all war is cruel; but I feel confident that the conduct of the war in South Africa will compare very favourably indeed with other wars that have taken place between civilised nations during the past century. I think your Lordships will agree with me that a stern and even justice is the best in the end. It is far more likely to bring about peace—for the time for mediation has long since passed. When peace is established there will come the question of the settlement of the war. Many valuable lives have been lost; but I venture to say that they will not have been spent in vain if a satisfactory settlement is attained. No settlement will be 21 considered satisfactory by this country which does not place the new colonies under a firm British rule, and which does not, above all, make another war in South Africa impossible. I have no doubt that you will receive and pass the enactments referred to in Her Majesty's gracious Speech. In conclusion, my Lords, I would venture to hope that we may soon have the great joy of welcoming home Her Majesty's victorious troops, and that, with the opening of the new year and the new century, peace may be once more established throughout Her Majesty's dominions.
§ Moved, "That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty in reply to the Gracious Speech from the Throne."
Lord MONK BBETTON
My Lords, in rising to second the Address which has been moved by the noble Earl, I must follow him in asking for the indulgence which your Lordships have always been good enough to extend to those who address the House for the first time. The brevity of Her Majesty's Speech will prevent me standing long between your Lordships and the speeches which you have come to hear. The noble Earl who moved the Address dwelt on the ties between the colonies and the mother country, which have been cemented by the war in South Africa. Is it not equally true that the common sacrifices made for the common cause during the war have drawn all classes in this country together, moved by the losses which have spread mourning through the land, even to the very Throne of Her Majesty? When your Lordships dispersed at the close of the last Parliament the world was unaware of the fate of those few hundred Europeans who were imprisoned in Peking. Admiral Seymour had made a gallant but ineffectual attempt to relieve the Legations; and we at home feared that we might at any moment hear of a tragedy not less frightful than that of Cawnpore. The outbreak in China was quite unexpected. Rumours there had been of an intended uprising, but they did not differ from those which on many previous occasions had proved illusory. The experience of the Indian Mutiny shows how difficult it is, even for those who have the resources of a Government, and a system of military intelligence, to forecast the uprisings of Orientals. The 22 Ministers at Peking had not those advantages. We were taken wholly unprepared; but within a very short time troops were on their way from India. The Government of India has had many difficulties to meet of late years owing to famine, pestilence, and war; and the promptitude with which it responded to the call of the Home Government for troops is deserving of your Lordships' praise. Her Majesty's Government did not rely only on troops from so great a distance. They opened negotiations with Japan, and persuaded that Government to send troops to China to prevent the insurrection from spreading. The campaign which followed has not been heard of so much in this country as it would have been had it not been for the war in South Africa. The difficulties of the difference of language, the difficulties of transport, the difficulties of the country, the difficulties of fighting with the thermometer over a hundred in the shade, the fact that prisoners were tortured and killed—all these were difficulties and dangers which had to be surmounted. The defence of the Legations, the determination with which it was conducted, the fire of artillery under which it had to stand, the women and children who were within its walls, and the massacre which was the only thing to be expected outside, will ever make that siege memorable. One thing is certain from these events, and that is that no Minister of Her Majesty must ever be left to the mercy of the Chinese again. He must be surrounded by fortifications, by troops, and by guns, or, at any rate, he must have them within easy reach. The punishment of the perpetrators of the outrages is a consummation devoutly to be wished for; but to undertake an expedition against the Court of China would be a dangerous and a great operation. The arrival of the Allies in Peking established the Concert of the Powers. That Concert was the only means by which the Legations could have been saved, but the experience which we have had of a similar arrangement in Turkey does not incline one to believe that it will lead to a rapid solution of the Chinese problem. The divergent interests of the Powers and their different points of view prevent the Concert from acting easily; but, at any rate, the Concert may be said to have the negative advantage of preventing any of its members from 23 taking any hasty or inconsiderate step. The agreement which has recently been concluded with Germany, the fortunate recovery of his Majesty the Czar, and the friendship of the United States of America, lead one to hope for a good understanding. The alternative to this Concert was partition. Suggestions have been made that we should garrison the Valley of the Yang-tsze with Chinese soldiers under British officers. I hope that it may be no part of the policy of Her Majesty's Government to create an India in China, either for ourselves or for any other Power. British trade in China has arisen on principles mutually advantageous to ourselves and to the Chinese. It has been founded on good faith and on the observance of treaties; and to upset and render hostile the Chinese by any such policy as that of annexation would be to undo the work which British traders have done in China during the last hundred years. The position of affairs created in China necessitates the expenditure on the Army which is asked for in Her Majesty's Speech. Your Lordships will, I hope, agree that that expenditure is as necessary as any which has been called for in South Africa. It is a heavy burden on the country, and there is no prospect of its getting lighter. It is not only for operations which have already taken place that money will be asked in another place, but, to use the words of a manifesto which has recently been promulgated in South Africa, "To make use of the experience we have gained to render the Army of the United Kingdom as perfect as it is possible for an Army to be." I beg to second the Address, and to thank your Lordships for the patience with which you have listened to me.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
My Lords, I am sure your Lordships have listened with at least your usual pleasure to the speeches of the mover and seconder—certainly I have myself. The mover is the son of a noble Lord whom we all long remember in this House, and I do not think there ever was a more popular Member of it. The noble Lord's was not a long speech, no more than the Speech from the Throne, but I think, if I may venture to say so, it was a speech in extremely good taste and delivered very effectively. As to the seconder, he is the son of an old friend and colleague 24 of mine, and I wish him well. I hope that this commencement of a career in debates in this House will not, as the noble Marquess pointed out last session, be followed, as it so often has been, by a long period of silence. We are assembled now on the opening of a new Parliament. I do not think that it is possible that on the occasion of the first session of a new Parliament some allusion should not be made to the circumstances of the recent and very sudden dissolution, and to the manner in which the elections were, in certain quarters, carried on. With regard to the dissolution itself, it certainly was extremely unexpected, and on our part we have never precisely seen the necessity which existed for so sudden a determination. At the same time, I fully recognise, and I have always recognised, that a Government I has a perfect right to choose its own time to advise the Queen to dissolve Parliament, and it is not unnatural that it should choose a time which it thinks will be advantageous to its own party. This is one of the incidents of party warfare; it is not, perhaps, a very high-minded motive, but I am afraid it is a motive which actuates Governments from whatever side they are formed. But there is a more serious matter, and that is, whether the dissolution was an absolute necessity and an advantage to the country. I think it is to be regretted, without laying too much stress upon the point, that a large number of the electors should, by the state of the register, have been precluded from expressing their opinions I do not in the least pretend to say that to have waited would have bettered our party, but I think it would have been better in deciding upon the dissolution to have taken care that a large proportion of the electors were not debarred from exercising their right to vote. That is the criticism which I make as to the period of the dissolution, but I will add this—that, of course, the Government would desire to have, if I may so call it, a verdict upon their policy from the country, and I suppose they were under the impression that the war was about to close in South Africa, and that all that was necessary was a verdict in their favour. I do not think that the circuit stances and the result nave justified that expectation. I have said enough on that point, but there is another point to which I allude with regret, but I shall not preys 25 it far in this House—I mean the manner in which, on many occasions, imputations were thrown upon those who were standing as candidates in the interests of the Opposition—imputations which, I think, in many eases were absolutely false—imputations which ought never to have been brought, and imputations which, though they may be excused in the mouths of obscure people, considering the source from which some of them sprung, I think must have been heard by every right-minded man with regret. I shall not pursue that matter further except to say, in justice to my own feelings, that I saw the line taken on many occasions, imputing disloyalty and want of patriotism to men quite as loyal and patriotic as those on the other side. I looked upon that with feelings of not less than disgust. I shall not pursue that further because the chief offenders are not in this House. Not one man that I know of in this House has said or done anything that I can find fault with, certainly not the Prime Minister nor any peer who is a colleague of his, and if an attack is to be made it is far better that it should be made where those concerned can give their own answer. I will not do more than notice that, and I only do so lest it should be thought that I do not share the feelings which I know are strongly and bitterly felt in the party to which I belong. Now I turn to the Speech from the Throne. It certainly is a Speech of extraordinary brevity, and, I might almost state, abruptness. It is not thought necessary, apparently, to offer any introduction to the simple and very plain demand to vote a certain sum of money. Generally speaking, a demand for money is prefaced by some statement of policy. There is no statement here at all. I suppose it would not have been convenient to the Government to make any statement. If there had been any exordium I suppose it would have run something in this shape:—"That, seeing that the anticipations of the Government as to the close of the war have not been fulfilled, and seeing that the calculations of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he would have a sufficient amount of money to meet the expenses of the war in South Africa as well as the expenses in China have not been realised, therefore we have found it necessary to call together Parliament to fill up the gap which 26 it was not anticipated by our Government would have existed" Something of that kind would have been the preface to the Speech. It would, of course, have been very disagreeable, and I can quite understand why the Speech from the Throne is so brief. We are only told that more money is wanted and that we are to deliver it forthwith. The form of the Speech is certainly not very courteous towards Parliament. One did not expect a detailed statement as to the position of affairs in South Africa, but I do think that we ought to have had from her Majesty's Government some statement of their view as to their policy in the present situation in South Africa—some statement as to their anticipations for the future, some statement of the policy that they intend to pursue. We have had a general statement of policy on former occasions, but circumstances are changed. At the time when the war commenced of course you could only make a general statement of what might be the policy of the Government, but we have now arrived at a different position. There was one remark in the Speech of the mover of the Address with which, unfortunately, I cannot agree. I wish I could. He spoke of "the close" of the war. If there is one thing more plain than another it is that this war is not closed. Not only is it not I closed, but, if we are to believe the information which we obtain from the usual sources, for we get none from the Government, there is a recrudescence of the war. There is a state of things which is to a certain extent novel, and which seems to me, as far as I can judge, to be of a most embarrassing and dangerous character. You have, no doubt, broken to a considerable extent the organised forces of your opponents, but you have utterly failed up to this point in really subduing and pacifying the country. Neither do we see that there is any probability of rapid progress I being made in that direction. When I say that, do not suppose that I am about to censure the conduct of the military operations. In the first place, I am not a competent judge, and, in the second place, I have no desire to weaken the hands of those who have been entrusted with the very difficult task of subduing these populations by imputing to them any blame. Far from doing that, I have, as I suppose every noble Lord in this House has, admired the skill and success which has been displayed by Lord 27 Roberts, and my confidence in him has not been impaired. Neither shall I say one word which would imply a want of confidence in the noble Lord who has succeeded to the command. But we must look to the facts as they are. The difficulties are so great of subduing the populations, scattered as they are over so large a country, and apparently far better provided with horses than we are even now, that I think it is vain to expect any early termination of the war. I wish we could expect it. Many people are very much disturbed by what are alleged to be—I wish particularly to guard myself against the supposition that I am making this assertion—the cruel treatment of the Boers by the burning of farms and by the expulsion of women from their homes. I myself have that confidence in the humanity and the discretion of the distinguished commander who is now returning to this country that until I receive far more authoritative information than has yet reached me, I shall be slow to believe that there have been cruelties exercised by severe measures which could properly have been avoided. Indeed, I commit myself in no way to an assent of the assertion that there have been undue severities. That there has been severity to a considerable extent I suppose must be true, and I think it is only reasonable that we should inquire from the Government to what extent they believe these severities to have gone, and whether on the whole, in the opinion of those who are best able to judge, these severities are absolutely unavoidable. But there is something further than that. You may say that these matters are in the hands of the military commanders, and it is not for us to interfere. So far as questions of military measures are concerned, I should be the last person to suggest that you should interfere, but there is a question which cannot be determined by military commanders. That is the question of policy, and it seems to me that at this moment there are grave questions of policy presenting themselves to anyone who reflects on the facts and the condition of affairs in South Africa. What is the end of all this that we desire? We desire that the war or the struggle should close. We desire that as little bitterness should be left as may be compatible with the bringing of the war to a close. We desire that, as 28 far as possible—and the task is an extremely difficult one—we should avoid creating such bitter feelings of hatred against us on the part of the Boer population as may make it impossible for many years to come to govern them in the manner which will be satisfactory to us and in accordance with our usual mode of dealing with our white colonists. We also desire that nothing should be done, if possible, which can aggravate the discontent which, I fear, exists in parts of our own colony, and concerning which I shall be very glad to have authentic information from the Government. Is there no possibility in any way of reaching the minds of the more reasonable part—for I doubt not there is a more reasonable part—of the population of the Transvaal and the Orange River Colonies? You must remember this. Supposing you were at war with an enemy of the ordinary kind, and you had a Government to deal with, or even a revolutionary Government which had certain authority, you might approach that Government and say, "We wish the war to terminate, and if you are ready to submit, we shall be perfectly prepared to treat you in such and such a way." But there is no such authority here, and my belief is that in the present condition of those colonies the mass of the Beer population are in a state of great ignorance and great delusion as to the facts. I have no doubt whatever that their minds are poisoned by those who disseminate untrue statements both as to the 3onduct of our troops and as to the intentions of our Government. To dispel those opinions some mode must be found by which you can reach them and make them understand what the true state of the case is. That seems to me to be a question which belongs exclusively to Her Majesty's Government, and not to the military commanders. If they are of opinion that they could make any declaration of policy at the present time—I should say it ought to be made on the spot, and not only in Parliament —which would reassure the Boer population and would make them feel that the fate which is in store for them is one which will not only be tolerable but in many respects desirable; if they could be shown that as soon as the war terminates they would have all the privileges which can be accorded to men who are subjects of the Crown, short of the enjoyment of representative institutions, which cannot 29 come at once, but which will come, and might be promised when the country is sufficiently pacified—if an assurance of that kind were given I think it might produce some revulsion of feeling on the part of the population. And supposing it fails? You will, at all events, have relieved yourself from a large burden of responsibility; you will have made it clear what the policy of the Government is, and you will have made it clear to the whole world what is the intention of the Government of this country as to dealing with the Beer population when once they are subdued. I think that would be a great advantage to have gained. I believe, also, that it would have a very calming effect on the colonists in the Cape, and that seems to me to be a cardinal point to consider in the whole matter. I sincerely hope the Government will not take the line of doing what has been done on former occasions. I hope they will not say, "We stand on this. We are plainly determined that there shall be no going back to the former state of things; that there shall he plainly and simply the annexation of these countries to the British Crown and the bringing of them distinctly under British government." Those two propositions I cordially concur in. I think they are placed now beyond doubt. I have no doubt the great majority of the people of this country have made up their minds that there is no other policy, whatever criticisms may be addressed to what has brought us to this point—a matter which it would be useless to follow—no other course to be pursued. Therefore, the mere statement of that will not advance the matter at all. But, admitting the point that these countries should be brought under the dominion of the British Crown, and that nothing whatever which is given to any British Colony which is a dependency of the Crown should not be conceded to the Boers in certain circumstances, I sincerely hope that Her Majesty's Government will have come to the conclusion that the time has arrived, or very shortly ought to arrive, when they ought to make a general statement of their intentions in more detail, more precisely, and more fully than has ever yet been laid before Parliament or the country. I attach considerable importance to this, because, taking, as I naturally do—having previously had a good deal of connection 30 with affairs of this kind—a deep interest in these questions, I cannot but feel much disquiet at the present state of affairs. I feel they are of a kind to cause very considerable anxiety. I think the prolongation of the struggle in South Africa is in itself a great calamity. If it I goes on I think you may have a state of affairs created in those colonies which will render the government of them a most irksome and difficult operation, and for that reason I feel extremely anxious to learn that Her Majesty's Government have given their full consideration to the whole of the circumstances, and that they are prepared with some definite and clear policy which, at all events, may give us some hope that the war may be brought to an earlier conclusion than I think it will be if you confine yourselves simply to military operations. I do not know that upon the subject of the war I have anything further to say. The war is one which naturally occupies almost the whole attention of the country, and I cannot leave the subject—I think one ought never to leave the subject—without expressing my admiration for the courage; and perseverence shown by our troops—courage and perseverance never exceeded, I believe, in the annals of English history, bright as they are. Nor can I leave it without expressing that feeling which we all must have of the great losses which: have been suffered by men in all stations of life, in the deaths of many brave and distinguished young men, amongst whom perhaps, I may be permitted to mention the loss which Her Majesty has sustained by the death of that most promising officer Prince Christian Victor. I should now like to say a few words concerning China, as it is mentioned in the Speech from the Throne. I do not intend to go into the whole question of China. It is a very large question and a very difficult question. I think your Lordships must have admired the wonderful defence made of the Legations at Peking, and the admirable and cordial manner in which all the nations to which the Ministers belonged acted together in saving the Legations from capture by the Chinese. Nor can any one be insensible of the value of the Concert of the Powers, and the manner in which, to a great extent, they have acted together. I know very well the difficulties of a Concert of the Powers; and I do not think that we should be hypercritical with regard to 31 some slowness and some misunderstandings, provided there has been, on the whole, common action; and, so far as I can judge, there has been, up to the present time, as much common action as could reasonably be expected in circumstances so difficult. I may also say for myself, that I saw with satisfaction the agreement concluded by the noble Marquess opposite with the Government of Germany. I think it was a very useful and wise agreement. Of course it is open, perhaps, to some criticism with regard to the fact that the Germans have acquired rights over the province of Shantung; but, taken as a whole, I think the principle is one which the people of this country approve—namely, that there should be an open door to the commerce of all nations, whatever may be the advantages in particular spots where stations are established. I think that is a very useful and desirable agreement to have obtained from the German Government. As to the present state of affairs, I can only say that I am very anxious indeed to hear from the noble Marquess anything he may be able to tell us. It is extremely difficult to form any just opinion merely from the reports which we get from day to day of expeditions after Boxers, the probability of certain important Chinamen surrendering themselves to be decapitated, and various other interesting subjects. There is only one point upon which I feel, personally, some anxiety, although I do not think Her Majesty's Government are capable of engaging in so very unwise an operation—I mean the notion that we are to embark on an expedition into the interior of China, for the purpose of capturing the Empress and the Emperor, and thereby bringing the whole difficulty to a close. To my mind that would be a most alarming and serious undertaking, and I extremely doubt whether it would be concluded more quickly than the war in South Africa. As to what the cost would be, I leave to those who are judges of such matters to decide. I do not think Her Majesty's Government can contemplate any such expedition; but I hope that what we have seen in the newspapers, only yesterday, that some agreement has been come to between the Powers as to the demands to be made upon China will turn out to be true, and that possibly some way out of the difficulty may be found. Of this I am quite 32 certain, that any attempt to undertake to set up a Government in China, for which we are all to be responsible, or all the Powers together are to be responsible, would lead us into a quagmire, as I may call it, of difficulties, out of which we might never, perhaps, escape. Upon the whole, I do not say for a moment that the policy of the Government has not been a prudent one; but we have so little information of an authentic kind on the subject that I must reserve my opinion until I know more. For the purpose for which we are now assembled we have only these two questions to discuss, namely, the war in South Africa, and China. I have made a few observations to your Lordships on these two subjects, and I shall not detain you further upon others. I think it extremely judicious that other questions—domestic questions —are not introduced into the Speech on the present occasion; and that, as I am informed, the precedent of last year is to be followed—namely, that at the close of the present short session—and short, I trust, it will be—there will be a prorogation, and that there will be the usual statement of the policy of the Government at the commencement of the ordinary session of Parliament next year.
§ The PRIME MINISTER and LORD PRIVY SEAL (The Marquess of SALISBURY)
My Lords, at all events I have the privilege of entirely agreeing with what was said by the noble Earl opposite at the beginning of his speech and at its end. At the beginning of his speech I heard with great pleasure the well-deserved eulogy which he bestowed upon my noble friend behind me who proposed the Address. I enjoyed the friendship of my noble friend's father, and I think he was, as the noble Earl said, a most popular and acceptable Member of the House. I earnestly trust that the evidence of similar ability which can be traced in the speech of my noble friend will have a full development, and that he will become as well known and be as useful in this House as his father was. My noble friend, with whom I have closer connection, who seconded the Address, I think dealt with a situation of some difficulty with singular judgment. It was my misfortune to have to ask my two noble friends to make speeches upon very scanty matter, and I am bound to say that they produced much more 33 desirable and admirable results than I should have thought it possible to weave upon so small a canvas. To my noble friend's observations upon the difficult Chinese question I listened with the greatest pleasure, and I entirely concur in the eulogies which were bestowed. The other matter which has been spoken of by the noble Earl opposite, with, which I entirely agree, was the admiration which he eloquently expressed, at the latter part of his speech, of the splendid achievements of our soldiers on their distant battle field, and the skill exhibited by Lord Roberts and Lord Kitchener, who have had the guidance of them. I hope that the admiration which is felt for the officers and soldiers by all the people of this country will be, at all events, some compensation for the very severe hardships and the constant and wearing efforts to which, in the course of this unexpectedly long war, they have been subjected. They have the admiration of their fellow-subjects and of their Sovereign. I do not doubt that in the future the achievements which have been performed in this war will stand by some of the noblest which have been accomplished in our military history. Unhappily, as the noble Earl has said, there have been drawbacks. There has been a terrible loss of valuable lives. There has been the loss of that promising and able soldier, born of the Royal line, to whom so many were looking forward as likely to bear a brilliant future; but who, by an unhappy fate, has been taken from his Sovereign and from his country. He does not stand alone. There are many able and distinguished men, well known in this country, who will appear among us no more, and their memory will bring home to us the feeling that in a war of this kind even the most brilliant results are dashed by the terrible price at which they have been bought. I confess that, when I heard the noble Earl speak of our great achievements in South Africa and of the great Imperial interests which are involved there, it came upon me with something like a feeling of bathos to hear him ask me to defend the date of the dissolution. If I defend the date of the dissolution I shall have to deal with matters which I am afraid he will think trivial. The objection to the dissolution in the extreme winter is that people have to travel long distances and that they suffer considerably in doing so. The objection to a dissolu- 34 tion in the summer is that at that time members are engaged in their legislative duties, which are cut short by an appeal to the electors. I do not say that October is the only month for a dissolution, but I think that of all the months it stands first. There is less interference with public business and less inconvenience to those who have to vote. As to the question of the number of electors on the register, I must call the noble Earl's attention to the experience we already have. If my information is correct the great change by which the register is affected takes place at the end of May. I look back to the various dissolutions in the Queen's reign, and I find—I will not go into details—that quite two-thirds of them have been subsequent to the month of May. Therefore this scruple, which I have never heard of before and which I think has been invented for the purpose of this election, was never felt by our predecessors. I am bound to say I doubt if the noble Earl, in his anxiety to dissolve upon a full register, is entirely carrying out the intentions which Parliament had in the legislation which actually exists. I presume that the long residence which is frequently required on the part of the elector is part of the policy of Parliament. It is looked upon as an advantage that those who vote should know something of the locality in which they live and in which they vote. The result of the dissolution in October is that those who did vote were, so far as residence could confer a qualification, much more capable citizens for the purpose of voting. I entirely deny that the absence of working men—if there were any number of working men absent from the polls—was likely to incline more in our direction than in the direction of our opponents. As a matter of fact, many who sympathised with us were fighting in South Africa, and by reason of the dissolution coming before the war was over we really denied ourselves the advantage of their votes. I do not think this is a matter upon which I need dwell further. Still less do I intend to dwell upon the imputations which the noble Earl tells us were made upon his friends by Members of the House of Commons. We are absolutely forbidden to take part in the tourney of eloquence that goes on during the elections; and it is really very hard that we should be forbidden to speak ourselves 35 and blamed for what is said by those who do. The noble Earl may cross the hall and make what criticisms he pleases. I absolutely repudiate his right to make any attack upon us because of what has been said by Members of the other House during the election. I understand the noble Lord wants us to make a statement of our policy. He imagines that it is possible for us to say some pleasant things which will induce the guerillas who are now maintaining the relics of the war to throw down their arms and assume the attitude of peaceful citizens. I wish he had told us what sort of things he wishes us to say. Of course, if he means that we are to throw all our sacrifices away— if he means that we are to attempt the restoration of a certain amount of independence——
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Quite so; and by that the noble Earl took away from himself the suggestion of any possible terms which would be of any use for that purpose. The only tiling that these people will be satisfied with is in some way to restore to them that independence. Our policy is absolutely unchanged in that respect. We say that, without provocation on our part, they suddenly plunged us into war, and invaded her Majesty's dominions, and when that had been done we found that they had been preparing for five years gigantic armaments to carry this design into effect. We, at all events, cannot allow that such a process shall ever be repeated. We must place them, at the end of the war, in such a position that they never will be able to expose us either to the danger or to the terrible sacrifices we have had to go through during the past year. Well, then, if we cannot give them their independence, is there anything else that will induce them to throw down their arms except the sheer impossibility of carrying the war further? There is no such offer that I ever heard of demanded from us or proposed by them. Our policy was made clear and declared again and again by Lord Roberts in the proclamations that he made. It was impossible to put the matter into kinder or more benevolent phrases than he did. The 36 condition of British self-governing colonies is well known. It does not require to be described in great detail. That is what we wish to offer to these countries when they are fitted to receive it. They cannot receive it now—the feeling is too bitter. It will be some time probably before the state of society in these regions will be such that the benevolent rule of a British self-governing colony can be fully applied to them. I know not how long the delay will have to be. It may be years, it may even be generations; it must depend largely upon their own disposition and their own conduct. If they are resolved to exasperate the feeling of hatred which now exists between the loyal and disloyal parts of the population, if they are resolved to push this guerilla warfare, which can promise them no good, if they are resolved out of sheer hatred to push it to the bitter end they must be responsible for the inevitable result. They must delay the bestowal of those precious privileges which the other self-governing white colonies under her Majesty's rule enjoy, and the longer they refuse to recognise the inevitable and to join with the other inhabitants in submission to the authority of the British Crown, the longer the reign of force, more or less, must continue, and the longer the benefits of completely developed freedom must be withheld. The noble Earl asked me for some statement of policy. That has been the statement of our policy all the year. We have no ground for changing it. The war must be carried through. We must not allow it to be felt that anyone, by the issue of an audacious and insolent ultimatum, can force the British Government to humble itself and to abandon the rights which, as representing the Queen, it exercises. We can never allow, and never have allowed, that any shred of independence cam be left; but, so long as we are secured in the future of conduct similar to that which is observed by other colonies, nothing will give us deeper satisfaction than to be able to welcome them among the number of the prosperous and contented bodies which for so long have formed the brightest jewel of Her Majesty's crown. We are aware that we have no Government to deal with; but that does not seem to me to diminish the responsibility of those who are continuing the war. On the contrary, it ought to point out to them that any 37 chances of any benefit to themselves or others by the course they are pursuing is absolutely exhausted and removed by the fact that they are serving under no Government whatever. The responsibility is with them. All we have to do is what we have done—to give, our utmost efforts so that the war may come to an end and peace be restored in South Africa. The noble Earl said something about China. He made a denunciation of distant expeditions in which my heart went entirely with him. I earnestly hope that no such expedition will be taken; but, while I express with the utmost, fulness that feeling, I do not think I can gratify the curiosity of the noble Lord by telling him the exact position in which the Chinese question stands, or the stage which the various problems we have to solve have reached. For instance, the noble Lord would not wish us, to say what we imagine are the exact feelings of the Chinese Government, or what we think our duty with reference to those feelings may be. If we were alone against China I should dispute very much the wisdom of such a course, but when we have four or five allies the noble Earl will feel that his curiosity is not justified. I can only say that the Concert of Europe subsists, and the latest intelligence we have shows that it has assumed a very reasonable vitality. I am more doubtful of the time at which a satisfactory result will be obtained than of the fact that the Concert of Europe will be successful. I have very little doubt it will be successful. All we have to hope for is that we shall attain all the objects we have put forward, and that in doing so the Concert of Europe will remain as much, a concert as it is now. I cannot offer the noble Earl any fuller explanation because not only should I be telling our own secrets, which I ought not to do, but I should also be telling other people's, which is a more condemnable proceeding. I can only say in answer to the noble Earl's speech—with regard to which, so far as it concerns foreign affairs and does not concern dissolutions, I have no complaint whatever to make—that our one duty now is to give all the assistance we can to the gallant men who are supporting the cause of England in the field, and to take care that nothing is uttered within these walls which shall hinder their future and, we hope, their speedy success. When that success has been attained, and we have 38 expressed our feelings of honour and gratitude to those who have attained it, then it will be the business of the noble Earl and his friends to ask for information and inquiry, and it certainly will not be from us that opposition will come.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
I have no wish to offer any observations on the somewhat Delphic revelations we have heard from the Prime Minister. I am concerned more especially with the topic which ho described as alien to our deliberations, but which seems to me to concern this House as being a permanent body in Parliament, and therefore the guardian of our constitutional traditions in no small or light degree. When this House separated in the month of August we had no information as to the intention of her Majesty's Government to dissolve Parliament. Of that I naturally make no complaint whatever, but from that day to this we have had no explanation vouchsafed to us of the reasons which induced her Majesty's Government to proceed to that grave act, to dissolve Parliament for the second time in five years, a Parliament, in this case, which had been loyal and unhesitatingly faithful to it, and to call upon the country for a new declaration of its opinion in support of this Government. The noble Marquess says that all the dissolutions in her Majesty's reign have taken place at times inconvenient with regard to the register. I did not follow him closely there, but let me take that as a general declaration of his opinion. He seems to me to miss the whole point of the contention in making that declaration. Dissolutions, as a rule, are matters scarcely of choice for the Government engaging in them. They are the result either of a hostile division or of the shrinking of the majority, or of those signals of ill-omen which are called by-elections, and which induce the Government once more to seek the advice and assistance of the country. In this case there were none of those features. The noble Marquess seems to think October the most ingenious month, which it is, in a sense, for the purposes of a dissolution, because it is an agreeable month for travelling, and because the people who are then engaged in voting have been so long on the register that they have become thoroughly acquainted with their duties as voters. That seems to me a strange reason, when you might by 39 postponing the election for three weeks have had a new register in Scotland, and by postponing it for three months have enjoyed the advantages of new registration in England. Surely the object of a Government that respects itself and trusts the country is not to go to the electorate without any cause being offered on a worn-out register in the month of October. The noble Marquess consoles my noble friends behind me by saying that if the army in South Africa had been able to return they would no doubt have registered their votes for the Government. One hears something of the correspondence of soldiers in South Africa, and I do not feel so perfectly confident as the noble Marquess of their unanimity on that subject. They have not been treated with such tenderness and care, with such regard to their creature comforts, that when they return they are likely to cast a unanimous vote for Her Majesty's Government. But let that pass. It is an incidental point on which I can offer no opinion. What I do offer an opinion upon is that this is a wholly unprecedented election, a wanton election, an election for which no cause or reason has ever been given or ever will, I believe, be given in this House or the other. We are told that peers have nothing to do with the election of the House of Commons; that they are not allowed to take part in the speech-making which unfortunately accompanies the election of candidates. Be that so or not, I know it is a constitutional maxim, but I do not think it will stand much examination. When you come to think that peers preside at meetings for the selection of candidates, when you think that they carry the voters in their carriages to the poll, and when you find that they are not unsuspected of finding funds for the election expenses, and when you remember that the only rule which forbids them in anyway to interfere rhetorically in an election is a Sessional Order of the House of Commons which expires with the House of Commons that passes it, I am given to be a little doubtful of the soundness of the constitutional maxim so comfortably laid down by the noble Marquess that peers have nothing to do with the election of Members of the House of Commons. Whether that be so or not, I do hold that grave constitutional questions are specially pertinent to this House. This House, not being affected, owing to its fortunate or unfortunate 40 constitution, by the General Election, is intended by the Constitution to be the repository of the Constitution and the guardian of its honour and its interests. Therefore, I know of no rule, written or unwritten, which is to debar the House of Lords from considering either the methods by which the General Election was carried out or the way in which it was fought. As I say, we have had no intimation whatever of the reasons which influenced this General Election, but I say that the circumstances are wholly different from those which usually occur. The Government had no shrinkage of their majority. They lost twenty votes out of a majority of 150 in the course of five years. If that is not a rose-leaf diminution of a majority I do not know what is. Then we were told in the usually not uninspired organs of public opinion that the dissolution was to take place when the war was over. Well, it is impossible to argue that the dissolution took place when the war was over. In the next place we were told that the dissolution was to encourage the Government in the prosecution of the war, and to put an end to all the lurking opposition that there might be to it in Parliament. Now that again is an obviously futile reason. Many faults are found with the conduct of the Opposition in the House of Commons, but it has never been fairly charged with thwarting the Government in the conduct of the war, with hesitation in the granting of supplies, or with any of the acts with which the Opposition in the time of Pitt were, in my opinion, not unfairly charged. The last division of the slightest importance in the House of Commons before the dissolution was one of a somewhat remarkable character. It was a division for the reduction of a Minister's salary, which is, in effect, meant to be a vote of censure on that Minister. In this case it was the Colonial Minister, who was attacked as being the supposed author of the policy of the Government in South Africa. On that occasion the Opposition, the meagre Opposition, was still further divided into three parts. Of these, the larger part voted for the Government. The next larger part walked out with the leader of the Opposition rather than vote against the Government, and the third, some thirty votes in number, voted against the Government. Now, no one will tell me 41 across this table or anywhere else that the Government dissolved Parliament as against these thirty votes in the other House. But again we are told that that was not the real object of the dissolution, that the real object of the dissolution was to show the Boers that this country is a united country, that this Parliament is a united Parliament, that the nation is behind the Government in the prosecution of the war, and that they have no hopes to rest on faction or party dissention in these islands. That again is an obviously untrue reason for the dissolution. And I will tell you why it is untrue. If the dissolution had meant that, the general election would have been conducted by the Government on very different lines and by very different methods. The object of the Government, according to this hypothesis, would have been to prove that, whatever our domestic differences might be, at any rate there was one cause on which opinion was, as it really was, unanimous, and that was the prosecution of this war. What did the Government do? I am not at liberty to go to the other House as we have been recommended to do, and explain my views there. If the noble Marquess will gain me access to that assembly I will go there, but until I can do so, I protest against his asking us to appeal from this House to the other on the question. What was the way in which her Majesty's Government, by their only authorised representatives and mouth-pieces, conducted the election? They conducted it on the footing that every man who voted for the Opposition was a friend of the Boers and an enemy and traitor to his country. You may disclaim those methods in this easy House on these red benches, but you know well, everybody who reads the newspapers knows, that they were utilised in every town and hamlet in this country. For the credit of this country and for the credit of party government in this country, these methods should not be forgotten even in this hereditary House. I will quote two or three instances of what I mean. One was a placard which I copied in the Royal burgh of South Queensferry, with which your lordships may perhaps be unacquainted, but which is part of the constituency of my right hon. friend the leader of the Opposition in the other House. I took the liberty of copying the placard at the time, because I knew that if I did not, I 42 should be charged to produce my authority. The placard was couch d in this way:—"Electors, every seat lost for the Government is a seat sold to the Boers!" Then came the name of its reputed author, Mr. Chamberlain. Next occurred these words—indigenous, I trust, to South Queensferry, although I fear they were much more widely spread:—"Vote for the Government candidate and wrest the I seat from the Boers." I know you will say there is an error in that historic sentence, and that it should be "given" to the Boers and not "sold" to the Boers. I am not concerned about the difference,, but I will point out that the date on which I copied this placard was October 23, long after the general election was over, and therefore, whatever benefit might have accrued to Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman from the contradiction was long lost before that time had expired. But I do not very much care whether the word was "sold" or "given" For my part I prefer "sold to the Boers," because the words carry their own contradiction with them to all who know the traditions of Parliamentary public life in this country. "Given" is another thing. Ignorant electors may have been persuaded, and many no doubt were persuaded, by these placards, that votes given to the Liberal party were votes given to the Boers. As far as I can; recollect, 1,400,000 out of 3,000,000 votes were recorded for the Liberal party, and if it was transmitted to South Africa on the highest authority, that these 1,400,000 votes were given to the Boers, it is impossible to exaggerate the encouragement which the words could have given to our enemies. But it was not only an obscure candidate in South Queensferry—whose name I absolutely forget—who employed these methods, but the President of the Beard of Trade issued an historical placard in his constituency in which he said in the largest letters:—"Remember that to vote for a Liberal is to give a vote to the Boers." That right hon. Gentleman has since been admitted to the Cabinet, as I presume, an approval of his election methods; but, whether you approve of them or not, you profited by them, and it is too late now to bid one go to the other House and address them, I presume from the Strangers' Gallery, as to the malpractices of the dissolution. There is a worse case than that—a much worse case. A gentle 43 man, a Canadian by birth, and therefore an Imperialist by birth, settled in this country, and he was what is called a Liberal Imperialist—that is to say, he united the strongest Imperial views with Liberal doctrines in domestic concerns. He stood for the New market Division of Cambridgeshire. Both he and his opponent were absent in South Africa at the time of the election. Mr. Rose, the candidate of whom I speak, not only held Imperialist opinions, but he has given pledges of his devotion to the Empire. He had three sons. Before this election took place he lost two of them in South Africa fighting against the Boers. On the day ho received the announcement of the second death his third son set out for South Africa, and he is at this moment fighting against the Boers. That was a tragic Imperialist, indeed! I suppose he was not a sham Imperialist? and yet in the Newmarket Division the agent of his opponent—because his opponent, who is as honourable a man as himself, was happily absent —did not scruple to put up placards all over the constituency representing Mr. Rose as helping Mr. Kruger to pull down the British flag in South Africa, with remarks perhaps too scurrilous to mention. Surely methods of this kind were not calculated to assure the Boers that they had practically no supporters in this country? Surely a message such as that which described the Ministry as constantly stigmatising and flouting their opponents as traitors to their country, as sympathisers with the enemy in the field, conveyed more encouragement to that enemy in the field than any other news that could be sent to them. There is a Nemesis that attends methods of this kind, and I venture to think that the time will come when the party in power will look back with compunction and with bitter regret to the incidents which I have recalled in connection with the election. I pass from that matter to the results of the General Election. There were three as far as I know. In the first place they gave an additional majority of four votes to the Government. It hardly seems worth this derogation from the ordinary methods of honour, it hardly seems worth this vast expenditure of oratory, labour, and money to bring about this result, even at the price of stigmatising the Opposition as traitors. That was, however, the net 44 result. Then came the second result, which was a somewhat curious one. The instant that the election was over those who had been most urgent in building up a great majority for Her Majesty's Government and in succeeding beyond, I should think, their utmost expectations, at once began to denounce the weakness of the Opposition. After pulverising the Opposition they at once said, "Why are these wretched people so weak?" It is a matter with which I have nothing to do, but it seems a little inconsistent that a party enjoying this dominance of power, after knocking the Opposition throughout the country and defeating it by every means in their power, should complain of its weakness. There is a want of logic here, which docs not, however, materially affect the situation. The third result is more remarkable still. We were told throughout the election that the one thing we were bound to do at all cost was to vote for the only Government which could suit this country and which had the confidence of the country—naturally, Her Majesty's Government, and we were told as a reason for voting in their favour that they were indispensable in the first place, and that there was no alternative Government possible. The moment that the election was over we were told that the one absolute condition of the continued existence of confidence in the Government was that it should be reconstructed from top to bottom; and after that we were told there was an alternative Government, and it was in the pocket of the Prime Minister. I do not know whether any of the electors who voted for the one perfect Government felt that they had been at all hocussed or deceived when they found that the Government was imperfect and required total reconstruction. Of that I know nothing, nor do I know, nor do I inquire into, the secret process by which that reconstruction was carried out. The result of course is that, while Government is a matter of public importance, the means by which its reconstruction was carried out is a matter which concerns only the Government and the gentlemen affected. We have, indeed, one cry of anguish from Lincolnshire which represents some of the methods, at any rate, which were employed to reconstruct the Government; and in spite of the arduous exertions of my right hon. friend in the course of the election—and I think he 45 has played a very capable part in the administration of the Government—he was told that his services were no longer wanted, and that employment for him must be found elsewhere. In spite of that cry of anguish we have had no illumination thrown on the process which was used in the course of reconstruction. Nor do we know at all whether the change has been for the better. That time only will develop. Some gentlemen of less advanced age than some other gentlemen have come into the Government, and some gentlemen have left the Government; and I trust that what is the loss to the Government will be our gain as a branch of the Legislature, and that we shall be able before long to welcome some of them to this House. That, as far as we are concerned, is all we have to say. There is one other point of some interest. We are enabled to congratulate the noble Marquess on being the head of a family with the most remarkable genius for administration that has ever been known. I remember it was said in the history of the Jews that it was the practice of that nation to confine the priesthood to a single family; and I am not at all sure that this great backward stride towards the traditional methods of that ancient civilisation is altogether welcomed by some of the aspirants to office in her Majesty's present Administration. But there is a solace for every consideration. We have often felt in the festive season which is rapidly approaching that some danger may accrue to the country from the fact that some Ministers may be so much scattered that there would be no centre of administrative power in which we could feel that our interests are safe. But when the festive circle assembles around the noble Marquess at Christmas we shall feel, not, indeed, that the whole Cabinet is there—because I do not believe that even the palatial accommodation of Hatfield House could receive the whole of the Cabinet at one time; but there is an ample section of it, the inner section, assembled round the noble Marquess's family table, and that our interests and our future are safe. The real point of the reconstruction of this Cabinet which we all feel deep interest in is that the two great offices which were combined in the person of the noble Marquess, and either of which in the present condition of the British Empire I believe it to be almost beyond the power 46 of any single human being adequately to fill, have become dissociated, and while one has been handed over to the noble Marquess the late Secretary for War, the noble Marquess himself has once more resumed the headship of the Government, and has restored the ancient and traditional office of Prime Minister. Now he has, in doing so, taken the Privy Seal, and of course we know that the Privy Seal has in old times been held by a Prime Minister, Lord Chatham. It was in times when there was a large salary attached to the post, and some valid official duties, which interfered most seriously with the course of Lord Chatham's retirement when he was Prime Minister. But all that has been long changed; and about sixteen years ago all duties and all salary were so effectually removed from the Privy Seal that when I subsequently had the honour to hold that office I found there was no apartment attached to it, no private secretary, no messenger, no staff, no duties, and (not the least important), no salary. I hope the noble Marquess is going to develop that office somehow, and that we shall have from some Minister some assurance that arrangements are going to be made that he may fill a responsible office with the dignity appertaining to the post of Prime Minister, that his wandering feet may be found at rest somewhere, at any rate in a room—that some obscure apartment may be found in the official buildings, and that some adequate clerical and secretarial assistance may be furnished him out of the public funds. Whether that be so or not, I think it was a mistake to deprive the Privy Seal of his salary. It is a great mistake to think that it is an absolute necessity to chain all Ministers with high and heavy administrative office, because in that way you have no Ministers left to consider the great problems which lie before the Government. That work is as hard work as some of the administrative work, which absorbs too much of the time of our Ministers. But, whether that be so or not, I rejoice that the office of Prime Minister has been once more restored. I think we have felt the want very greatly. I believe that there are matters affecting the Administration which require the attention, the vigilant attention, of the Prime Minister without further delay. There is one delicate subject connected 47 with the Government with which the last Government has had some trouble, and with which the Government before it had some trouble—I mean the financial relations of the Ministry. Now, there is no more odious subject for anyone to enter upon than that. Of course we know that attacks have been made on the Colonial Minister in connection with shares held by himself and by some of his family, and in regard to contracts, and so forth. I do not mean to enter into any question of that kind. I have not studied the subject. I know nothing about it. It will be threshed out very properly, I have no doubt, in the House of Commons, where these matters are properly threshed out; but I will say that these charges, groundless as I am convinced they are, coming into connection with other circumstances, create a feeling that there has been a want of supervision on the part of the head of the Government as regards that instinctive, generous, and honourable delicacy which should actuate all Ministers in relation to their private affairs. I cannot tell you how I detest touching this subject. If there were anyone else to do so I should sit down and ask him to continue it, but I hold it to be a matter of public duty. In the last Government we made it a primary condition that all Ministers should disconnect themselves with all directorships, whatever they might be, in order that no disagreeable incident affecting those Ministers should be allowed to cloud the course of administration. And yet, in spite of that restriction which we laid down—to the considerable loss of some of our members—we did not altogether escape the disagreeable incidents to which I have referred. Now, my Lords, in the course of this Government there has obviously been no such condition laid down. I think it a most deplorable mistake. There is one right hon. Gentleman of great ability, nearly connected with the Prime Minister, who has gone to the Beard of Trade—a Department which is specially connected with companies of every kind. He is, I think, a director of several companies, and he would, I think, be well advised if he disconnected himself from those companies. I assure you that I am not speaking this in a party sense at all. I am much more the representative of the man in the street in saying this than the noble Marquess, who has no intercourse with him, 48 perhaps imagines. It is always a source of possible weakness, and it cannot be a source of any strength. It is the bounden duty, as I hold, of every Minister to disconnect himself with any partnership in any company which may in any degree conflict with his duty as a Minister. He cannot perform his duty as a director if he performs his duty Minister. In exchange for the high and honourable position of one of the Queen's servants, the public demands that he should give his whole and undivided attention to his office; and it seems to me that there is no practical difficulty in the matter. Let Ministers sever themselves from their directorships. For, if this Government should ever come to an end, I have no doubt the companies in which Ministers have been directors will only too gladly receive them back again. But, in the meantime, I urge most strongly that it is a source of possible weakness and discredit to the Government, and that it is a precedent of incalculable danger to future political life in this country. There is one other case to which I must allude, and it is this. Of all the changes which have been made in the Government none has given me so much pleasure as that by which a young and noble Lord opposite has become an Under Secretary. I think that his career has been most creditable, and I regard him as the most promising Member for his age in this House. But he has of late been connected with the Stock Exchange. Now, for my part, I feel confident that he has severed that connection before becoming a member of her Majesty's Government. Not that, even if he remained a member of a Stock Exchange firm, I have the slightest apprehension that any evil would accrue. He is a man of as undoubted purity and honour as any man in either House. But I say that the connection once established between the Government and the Stock Exchange—honourable employment as the Stock Exchange is—is a precedent full of peril to the interests of the country. There has been no such connection since the time when Lord North was in power, and when he stimulated and rewarded the unflagging energies of his party by issuing loans to them at a low rate, allowing them the difference between the low rate and the rate of issue to the public. I venture to say that, though these instances are innocent, and for the moment free from; objection with regard to the individuals 49 to whom I have referred, yet they are of the very greatest danger to the political life of our country. What is it that we are most proud of? It is not the things in which we are equalled by other nations—intrepidity, valour, and ability—but that in which we have boasted by long tradition we are superior to other countries. It is the unattackable purity of our public men. I do not doubt that they are as pure now as ever they were; but the wife of Cæsar must be above suspicion. There must be no possibility that, at a time when the enemies of the Government urge that the war has been undertaken in the interest of capitalists— a charge, in my opinion, as ridiculous as it is groundless—it is not at a time when people make charges of this kind that there should be any opportunity for these slanderers in the gates to rest on any foundation, however slight, and to say, "What can you expect from a Goverment which is connected in any way with companies or firms on the Stock Exchange?" Therefore it is that I have undertaken this eminently distasteful duty to-night, in a spirit which I hope is free from any personal feeling, and I hope that your Lordships will appreciate my motives for doing so. For in the whole ranges of subjects which I have treated—in the dissolution, the methods of the dissolution, and the connection of the Ministry with commercial life—I have had at heart the truest sense of the public interest, the truest love of my country, and the greatest and most vigilant anxiety that no precedent should be heedlessly set by the present Government which may in any way hinder or impair their usefulness or taint the future sources of public life in this country.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (The Duke of DEVONSHIRE)
My Lords, I will not attempt to follow at any length my noble friend through the rather numerous subjects on which he has addressed the House. Most of them do not appear to me to be very directly suggested by the Speech from the Throne, or by the motion for an Address, and we could hardly have expected that the noble Earl would have taken this opportunity to bring them forward. As to his observations on the interference of peers in elections, I am not disposed to differ from my noble friend in the opinion that 50 that rule has generally been treated, and perhaps may be advantageously treated, with a considerable degree of latitude. It is perfectly true that most of us take some part, previous to an election, and up to within a very short time of its taking place, in many of the arrangements connected with the election. I believe that there is no rule of this House or of the other House to prevent a peer from taking a direct part in the preparations for an election. Most of us, for instance, made speeches up to the date of the issue of the writs; and my noble friend himself took a certain part in the election. I am not disposed to blame the part which he took; but I do not know that the result of the interference of my noble friend in the election at Newcastle is one which is likely to encourage him to repeat the experiment. As to my noble friend's observation on the date of the dissolution, I have had some difficulty in following the exact point which he wishes to bring before the House. He said that the circumstances are unprecedented; but he scarcely explained in what manner they are unprecedented. The last Parliament had sat for five years. My noble friend has not said whether, in his opinion, it would have been to the public advantage for the late Parliament to sit for another session. It has generally been found that in the concluding session the other House is not so much disposed to attend to the work before it as during the earlier period of its existence. If the late Parliament had sat for another session that would inevitably have been its last session; and it is a question whether it would have been likely to devote itself to public business without considerable hindrances and difficulties which do not occur in the earlier periods of a Parliament. I am not laying down the rule that in no circumstances should a Parliament sit for six sessions. It is obviously for the Government to form its opinion as to whether it would be to the advantage of the country; and it is certain that the life of the late Parliament does not compare unfavourably with the average duration of other Parliaments in recent years. My noble friend's sole point, as far as I understand it, was that the dissolution was not taken several months later. I think I can point out that there would have been a considerable objection to that course. If Parliament had been dissolved in January or 51 February instead of in October, the result might conceivably have been the defeat of the present Government, and the access to power of another; and the new Government would have had to meet Parliament immediately, without having any time whatever to consider the measures which they ought to bring forward. Therefore, from the constitutional point of view, it was much more convenient that the dissolution should take place in October.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
Does the noble Duke suggest that if the dissolution had not been taken in October the Government would have been defeated?
§ THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
It is impossible to say what Government would have been returned. It is quite conceivable in either case that a change of Government might have been brought about. There is another reason why, the Government having resolved not to ask Parliament to go through another Session, the election should take place in October rather than in January. No one conceives that a prolongation of the period which precedes a general election affords any great benefit to the country. It is probably not to the advantage of the public that the contests should be prolonged. When the time comes that a dissolution should take place it is convenient, I apprehend, to every one concerned, and I think to the advantage of the country as a whole, that the electoral period should be as short as possible, and that the country should be able to give its decision without unnecessary delay and without raising all those personal and party questions which certainly are not of any very great advantage. I think, therefore, if the first point is granted, we were justified in taking the verdict as soon as possible. My Lords, I am not going to follow my noble friend into his criticism of the speeches made during the election. The noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Kimberley) has stated that if any such criticisms are to be made, it is fit that they should be made in the presence of those against whom they are directed, and who are in a position to answer them. My noble friend then entered upon some criticisms as to the composition of the Government. I scarcely think that the changes which have taken place amount to what he calls "the reconstruction" of the Government. I do not know whether my noble friend 52 wishes to lay down the principle that no changes are ever to be made, that if the country has given an expression of its confidence in a certain Administration it follows from that that no changes whatever are to be made in the personnel of that Administration. I cannot accept my noble friend as an entirely competent critic on the reconstruction of the Government. I think when my noble friend has reconstructed the Opposition he may be a better judge as to the reconstruction of the Government. My noble friend referred to the question of financial relations of members of the Government with companies. That is a question of some difficulty, and also, no doubt, of very great importance, but it is one which none of us anticipated would have been raised without notice. I may say that it is a matter which requires very great consideration, and that it was considered by the present Government and by the late Government. It is perfectly true that we arrived at a different decision from the late Government. It is a question that is surrounded by difficulties. In my own case—and I am, perhaps, one of the principal offenders—I may say I should have found it almost as difficult a measure to surrender my connection with certain companies of which I am a director as I should have found it to abandon any part in the management of my estates generally. It would have been a question of some difficulty to me whether, if such a rule had been made, it would have been possible for me to have accepted the office which I have the honour to hold. I do not say that the country would have been a great loser if I had taken that course. I only mention it to show that this is a question surrounded with very considerable difficulties. As to the reference made by my noble friend to a recent appointment of an Under-Secretary in this House, I am authorised by my noble friend to say that, before accepting that office, he made arrangements by which his connection with the firm will terminate at the end of this year. I know, as I have said, the subject is a very difficult one, and I did not anticipate that I should have been called upon to address your lordships' House. I have referred to some of the subjects brought forward by my noble friend, but I do not think it necessary to detain your Lordships further.
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
My Lords, the noble Duke challenged the statement of the noble Earl below the gangway that the dissolution was unprecedented. I think I shall be able to show that the noble Earl was justified in that statement. There have been only two instances since the Reform Act of 1832 of elections in October, and in each of those cases a special hastening of the register has taken place in order that the election might be held on the new, and not the old register. That, I think, also disposes of the noble Marquess's argument that October is a specially suitable month for a general election. October is nearly as late a period as elections can take place on the old register, and in Scotland it is the last month. In order to be able to vote in October, 1900, it would be necessary for the elector to have held the property in respect of which he was going to vote as far back as July, 1898. That seems to me a very unsatisfactory condition of affairs. The noble Marquess said that it is part of the policy of Parliament that an elector should long have been connected with his locality in order that he may know the wishes of the locality, and therefore be able to give his vote with knowledge. If the noble Marquess will apply his own rule to the out-voters throughout the country, then that great body would lose their votes altogether, because they had not that local habitation which would entitle them to claim to know the wishes of the locality. The noble Duke said, practically, that it was out of consideration for us that the election was fixed in October, in order to save a Liberal Government, if it came into power, the danger of having to consider matters with which it was little acquainted. It does seem to me that it would have been a more proper course to have postponed the General Election until after the war had been concluded and terms of settlement proposed. The speech of the noble Marquess will be received with great regret, not only among liberals, but among many connected with the party of which ho is the head, when they find that the noble Marquess was not prepared to make some statement as to the conditions which might be imposed upon the two Republics which have now been annexed. There will also be no little disappointment at the absence of a statement as to the circumstances under which farm burnings have 54 taken place. I admit that they must in certain cases have been necessary, but I do think that we ought to have been informed as to the principle laid down by the Government under which these very grave incidents have occurred. I think we were entitled to an assurance that only under the most grave necessity have such operations been undertaken.
§ THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
As it is desirable to be absolutely accurate in the matter, I ought to add to the statement I made just now. What I was authorised to say by my noble friend the Under-Secretary for India was that at the end of the year he would cease to be an active partner of the firm.
§ On Question, agreed to; Address ordered to be presented to Her Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.