THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
On Monday, when proposing the adjournment of the House to Thursday, I said that I should probably then be in a position to ask for a further adjournment, by authority of and in communication with some person who would probably have received the Queen's commands by that time to form an Administration. I have received a communication from the Earl of Derby to the effect that it is his wish, with a view to the convenient progress of arrangements for that purpose, that the House should adjourn for not less than a week. Consequently, I came down here to-day prepared to move that the House adjourn to Thursday next. Without doubt, as far as the substance of that request is concerned, it will be readily acceded to. But it has been intimated to me by the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Walpole) that, independently of any question connected with private business, there are proceedings connected with the appointment of a Committee to try the Election Petition for the borough of Helston which it would be inconvenient to postpone. I also understand that the highest authority in the House concurs in that view of the case. I do not, therefore, feel any hesitation in so far deviating from the request I have received as to waive any formal Motion of adjournment from to-day until Thursday next. What I understand will be convenient is that the House should meet both to-morrow and on Monday for purposes connected with the Helston Petition. On Monday, I believe, there will be no obstacle whatever to an adjournment until Thursday; and that arrangement will, I think, meet with general assent on both sides of the House. What I conceive to be the substance of the communication and the desire expressed on behalf of Lord Derby is that no public business, as we understand the term "public business," shall be transacted from now until Thursday next; and, as I understand the matter, a formal adjournment may very well take place on Monday to Thursday.
§ MR. OSBORNE
Before the Motion for adjournment is moved I hope I shall not be thought to intrude myself unnecessarily on the House if I take the opportunity of making a few observations upon the posture of public affairs. I think that Parliament—at least this House—has exercised a most remarkable forbearance and reticence during the Ministerial crisis which has occurred during the last week. I think the keenest critics of representative Government can scarcely take exception to the conduct of a popular assembly which has displayed symptoms of neither curiosity nor impatience at such a time. What has happened? I will be bound to say that in the history of this country so remarkable a series of complications at home and abroad never existed as at the present moment. Why, Sir, what have we at home? A commercial and financial panic, the Bank discounting money at 10 per cent; and we are threatened with an attack upon our colony of Canada. Well, these are ingredients in the series of complications which exist at present. What have we abroad? A threatened revolution in Spain, war in Italy, and war in Germany. In the midst of all this we have been without a Government for eight days, and, by the adjournment that is to be moved to-day, we are about to be a week longer without a Government. We shall have been one entire fortnight without a responsible Government, with the world in the state in which I have sketched it! I want to know if the House of Commons was elected to sit quietly during this lock in the transactions of the State? I must say I heard the explanation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other night with some regret. Nothing could be more skilful and conciliatory than the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman; but, at the same time, I must be presumptuous enough to say that, however successful he was in vindicating his honour—which, in my humble opinion, required no vindication—he was not equally successful in vindicating the judgment of the Government. I do not understand why, at such a crisis, the Government have thought fit to abandon at once their places and their Reform Bill. ["Oh, oh!"] Well, I am stating my own opinion. Probably I am not so ardent a Reformer as the hon. Gentleman who vociferates "Oh, oh;" but as no party in this House, and no individual in this House, has at any time given a decided opposition to the 699 principle of Reform, I cannot understand why the Government have abandoned their places and abandoned the Bill. What is the position of Parliament with regard to this Bill? It is true many Amendments are on the paper; but the Government could hardly expect to carry so important a measure—laden as it was with that damnosa hœreditas of a principal supporter, the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock—without Amendments. I was rather surprised that the Bill had made so much progress. We had actually got into Committee where we had carried a most material reduction of the county franchise to £14. True, it was carried by a small majority; but yet in a House of Commons, many Members of which are hostile to any reduction, that most important reduction of the county franchise to £14 was carried. Well, Sir, what happened next? The Government were defeated, and I think upon a mere point of detail, by forty-four Gentlemen who sat on this side of the House, many of whom I know to be good Reformers and attached friends of the Government. [Mr. E. CRAUFURD: No!] No! There are some Gentlemen, particularly Scotch Gentlemen, who are so incredulous that they will believe nothing but their own opinions. I know that many of those forty-four were good supporters of the Government, who would have supported them, if it had come to a vote of confidence. Well, Sir, on that the Chancellor of the Exchequer resigned. I take upon myself to say—not speaking on behalf of my hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Craufurd), nor any of his kidney, but speaking as a moderate and a consistent Reformer, and no direct issue having been taken as to the reduction of the borough franchise proposed by the Bill, that it is very much to be regretted that Her Majesty's Government should have thrown up their cards on what is completely a point of detail. In my opinion they were not justified in abandoning this Bill or in abandoning office until they had tested the opinions of this Assembly as to the amount of the borough franchise. But they have not thought proper to do so; and, in consequence, what is the position of affairs? Why, it is unexampled. Here we have a very strong Liberal party—an overrated party as to its majority, I have no doubt, but still with such a majority that the Government might have obtained at any time, if they had liked, a vote of confidence. They rejected that vote of confidence almost with contumely 700 A person at the head of the State, whose name I cannot introduce into the debate, was of opinion that no case was made out for a resignation, and that the defeat of the Government was upon a mere point of detail; but Her Majesty's Government persisted in throwing up their hands; and what has become of us, the Liberal party? I do complain, as a humble Member and unit of that great Liberal party, that they have never been called together at any stage of these proceedings—that the circumstances of the case have never been explained to them—that the great Liberal party have been left in the lurch by their leaders, and that we are about to be transported to the other side of the House. It is a very good thing, probably, for the Liberal party; I have nothing to say on that point; but still it was perfectly unnecessary, in my opinion. There are, however, other considerations besides that. In abandoning office as they have done Her Majesty's Government have entirely wasted a valuable Session of Parliament. It is not only the Reform Bill that has been left as a bone of contention for future Sessions, but there are some most important measures that have been entirely thrown over, and have no chance of being discussed for another year. Let me remind commercial men of the Bankruptcy Bill; shall we hear anything more of that this Session? The Land Tenure Bill, which concentrated the Irish party, what is to become of that? Shall we hear anything more of it this Session? No, Sir; the Session has been entirely wasted, and the Liberal party has been left entirely in the lurch. I do regret that Her Majesty's Government have thought themselves justified in resigning in such a posture of affairs at home end abroad. What is to follow? I presume that, having regard to those right hon. Gentlemen who are now conspicuous by their absence, the Government of Lord Derby will follow. And what ought to be our course upon this occasion? The Government of Lord Derby (if it is to be a Government of Lord Derby), pure and unadulterated, have done nothing to produce this state of things. ["Oh!]" No, I am speaking of their opposition to this measure, and I say that theirs has not been an opposition like that which was given to the Bill of Lord Derby. ["Oh!"] The hon. Gentleman who cries "Oh!" (Sir Francis Goldsmid) was then in his long clothes; he was not then in Parliament. The Government that is to come, be it what it may, 701 has had its honours thrust upon it. The Members of that Government could not have expected that in the middle of June, with a foreign war raging, Ministers would throw up their hands on a mere question of rating or rental. What, then, is the proper position we are to assume on the other side of the House? Speaking simply as an independent Member, I think that, as we have been left in the lurch, we are bound to give any Government that comes in a fair trial and a fair hearing. I, for one, therefore, shall not enter into any factious opposition to the incoming Government; but, I think, as Her Majesty's Ministers have chosen to desert their posts, we are bound to see what the next Government will do. For my own part, I have no fear either for the progress of Liberal opinions or for the progress of Liberal measures. Whatever Government sits upon these Benches, I feel certain that it cannot and will not propose any but Liberal measures; and to any Reform Bill that is brought forward, if it be a wise and well-considered and not a hasty measure, I shall give that consideration, let it come from which side of the House it may, which I think is due from an independent Member of Parliament. However, I may regret that the present Government has offered us no explanation why for a period of eight days the country and the House have been left without an Administration—however much I may regret their abandonment of office—I think the House is bound, at all events, during this Session, to enter into no factious opposition to whatever Government takes office. Sir, I beg to move the adjournment of the House.
MAJOR STUART KNOX
said, he rose to second the Motion. He did not intend to enter into a discussion of the subject to which the hon. Gentleman had referred; but he wished to allude to a question of much more importance put by the lion. Member for Honiton (Mr. Baillie Cochrane) to the right hon. Gentleman who, until his successor was appointed, fills the office of Home Secretary. That question was, whether London was to be handed over to mob law? The right hon. Gentleman (Sir George Grey) told them that he had heard nothing about the matter. But last night London was in a state of siege. In one street at the bottom of St. James' Street a posse of police were placed to keep off the mob, and yet the right hon. Gentleman knew nothing about it. It was stated in the newspapers of that day that the chairman 702 of the meeting held in Trafalgar Square called upon his mob to attend him to Whitehall Place, opposite the window at which Charles I. was beheaded, in order that they might carry resolutions against that House, or, in plain English, to intimidate the House. I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will make such inquiries into this subject, and take such measures as may prevent a violation of the law.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Osborne.)
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
I understood the question of the hon. Member for Honiton to refer to a public notice that has been given of an intended meeting in Whitehall Place, and I said that I had seen no such notice. The hon. Gentleman seems to suppose I stated that I was not aware that a meeting was to be held yesterday evening, and that the persons attending that meeting afterwards went to St. James' Place, where they were met by a body of police, who were ready to prevent them from doing any mischief, if such was their intention. I did know of that meeting. It was not very numerously attended. I am told that there were not more than from 1,200 to 1,500 persons there, and that some of them afterwards proceeded towards St. James's Place. Knowing that the meeting was about to be held, I had previously directed that a sufficient body of police should be in attendance to prevent the possibility of mischief being done. I am not aware that there was any intention to do mischief; but effectual precautions were taken to prevent it, and were taken by my direction.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
I hope that this House will not feel or manifest any alarm at the assembling of a limited number of persons about the doors of this House. It is very natural they should be there; but as for any mob taking possession of Palace Yard, or of this House, we have a mob that will put them down, if that is all. I have seen attempts to alarm this House and the people of London. I saw the mob demonstration of 1848, and I recollect the practical reply of the people of London. But I wish for a moment to allude to what has fallen from the hon. Member for Nottingham (Mr. Osborne); but before I do so I wish to thank the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the tone in which he thought fit to announce 703 the determination of the Government to this House. The hon. Member for Nottingham has very eloquently described the elements of disturbance which undoubtedly exist, and I think every Member of the House must have felt that the tone and the temper in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced the course which Her Majesty's Government have thought fit to take was such, that if any speech could have obviated the difficulties and complications of the time, the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was admirably calculated to attain that object. The hon. Member for Nottingham has complained of a loss of time. But all the circumstances to which he alluded must I think make hon. Members feel that we cannot spend our time better than in preparing for a future which the hon. Member for Nottingham has described in such very serious language.
§ MR. WALPOLE
said, he only rose for the purpose of stating that he entirely concurred with the Chancellor of the Exchequer that it would be convenient that they should only adjourn to-morrow and Monday, in order that they might appoint the Helston Election Committee. That petition had already been put off from time to time, and it was for the advantage alike of the petitioners and of the sitting Members that the inquiry should be undertaken at the earliest possible moment.
§ MR. WALPOLE
said, the Committee had been chosen that day; that it was proposed its nomination should be reported to-morrow; and that the members should be sworn on Monday.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I cannot let pass the few words that have fallen from the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) without tendering to him my very cordial acknowledgment—I will not say for the impartiality, but for the extreme indulgence and kindness of the expressions lie has used, addressing himself to a personal question in a spirit which, whatever differences of opinion may exist, never deserts him in this House. I must also say a very few words with regard to what has fallen from the hon. Member for Nottingham (Mr. Osborne), though I need not detain the House at any length on that subject. The hon. Member paid a just compliment to the House for the patience and forbearance it has shown in consenting 704 to a suspension of its sittings, and to a still greater extent of its discussions, on account of the resignation of the Government, and the delay necessary to the formation of a new one. That is, without doubt, a most just eulogium; and I only hope that nothing may happen to-night to diminish the value of the tribute which, unquestionably, the keenest critic must render to the conduct of the House. The House probably feels that an occasion of this kind affords no convenient opportunity for discussing the conduct of an outgoing Government and the sufficiency of its reasons for resigning office, or the prospects of an incoming Government and the principles upon which it is to be conducted. The time will come for dealing with those matters. As to the first of those topics, I cannot concur with my hon. Friend, because I think that considerations of commanding weight dictated the course which we found ourselves obliged to pursue. But I am quite ready to concur with my hon. Friend in this—that no factious opposition ought to be offered to any Government which can be formed on the present occasion. I am even able to go one step at least beyond my hon. Friend, because he in his promise to renounce a factious opposition most carefully limited his renunciation by saying that it was only to hold good during the remainder of the Session. But there are two points in particular which I think it necessary to notice, and I should wish my lion. Friend to observe that he is, perhaps, more master of the situation—at least with respect to one of them—than he seems to suppose. With regard to the Bills which have been under the consideration of the House, it would be premature, under present circumstances, to take any step. There is no doubt that a change of Government, and particularly at so advanced a period of the Session, must be adverse to the progress of legislation; but I do not know that we are bound to conic to any sweeping conclusion that every Bill, or even any Bill of importance, is as a matter of necessity to be dropped. That will be matter for consideration. I have no doubt that it may be my duty to propose, at the fitting time, that the Orders for the reading of certain Bills be discharged; but if at that time we shall propose the discharge of any Bills unnecessarily, my hon. Friend will have it in his power to argue against the Motion. My hon. Friend also referred to an opinion of an illustrious personage, which he stated to 705 be, that Her Majesty's Ministers were about to resign on a point of detail. Now, I am very anxious not to be misunderstood on that subject, and I must say that my hon. Friend has not conveyed the precise effect of what fell from me. My statement was that that was the opinion formed by that illustrious personage, and an opinion very naturally and justly formed on the partial statement of occurrences which could alone be conveyed to Her Majesty at Balmoral. I stated that that opinion so far influenced Her Majesty, as, in combination with her view of foreign affairs, to induce Her Majesty to postpone the acceptance of our resignation until after personal communications. But I never stated that after these personal communications it was the opinion of Her Majesty that her Ministers had resigned office on a point of detail. I have thought it necessary to say so much, because I hold it important that the precise elements of any explanation offered by a person in a responsible position should be clearly retained in the memory of those who hear it.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.