§ MR. MARJORIBANKS
Sir, I cannot but feel that the somewhat exciting prologue to the Session of 1882 we have teen lately witnessing makes my task in speaking the opening words of the first act a somewhat more than usually difficult one. I must ask, therefore, a double allowance of that indulgence I have heretofore so often seen generously extended to those who are passing through their political novitiate; and on the present occasion especially do I ask the indulgence of hon. Members opposite, for if one-half of the denunciations that have been launched at Her Majesty's Ministers are well deserved, I, indeed, must be a rash and misguided young man to undertake my present duty, and thereby signify my entire acquiescence in their policy of the past, and my unwavering determination to support its development in the future. Since the 27th of August last year hon. and right hon. Members opposite, in a manner that reminds me of the ancient Ephesians, have never wearied of crying out—''Great is the iniquity of the Radicals! Confusion to their incomprehensible and 124 unprecedented policy!" and have never ceased proclaiming the consequent critical state of the affairs of the nation. I have no desire to deny the existence of a crisis; but I believe its gravity may be measured by the amount of fair play and free scope that can be secured for the working of the Land Act of last Session, to the ultimate benefit of all classes in Ireland; and, secondly, by the amount of real hearty desire to do right because it is right, and of honest determination not to sacrifice the right to what may seem the Party expediency of the moment, which is bought by men of all Parties to assist the elaboration of those New Rules by which the procedure of this House is henceforward to be governed.
The first subject to which I have to refer is free from all elements of Party controversy—Her Majesty's gracious announcement of the marriage of her youngest and last unmarried son, His Royal Highness the Duke of Albany. That Prince has not chosen his occupations amongst the exciting and stormy pursuits of military or naval life, but among the quieter ways of letters and science, and in the advancement of the moral, social, and educational welfare of the people. He has already given signal proof that he intends worthily to follow in the footsteps of his illustrious Father. That he should have chosen as his partner and helpmate in these objects a Princess of such accomplishments and such firm and high character as the lady with whom he is about to be united must be the cause of the most hearty congratulation by every loyal subject of the Queen. I am sure I speak the universal feeling of the House when I wish him all happiness and prosperity. Our Royal Family, in all its Members, shows itself ever ready to meet and fall in with the Constitutional changes and requirements of the country over which it presides, and ever ready to use its influence, connections, and opportunities to further the true interests of the nation. But lately Her Majesty's touching Message to Mrs. Garfield, when, after long weeks of lingering pain, death at last crowned the work of the murderous bullet of the assassin, and the respect paid by the British Court to the memory of the President so cruelly snatched away, have served to knit closer and closer 125 those bonds of sympathy and good understanding which exist, and I trust may ever exist, between this country and that great nation our kinsfolk across the Atlantic. We are always extolling the pre-eminent excellence of our British form of government, and boasting of our Constitutional and Limited Monarchy, surely it is at once ill-considered and unworthy to grudge the Members of our Royal Family the means to support them and our dignity in a fitting manner amongst their compeers. I hope that, should a Vote be proposed at some future time in connection with this auspicious announcement, hon. Members who usually raise opposition to such Votes may be induced—though they may feel bound to express their opinions—not to press their opposition to a division.
Most happily Her Majesty is able to announce that the most perfect peace and cordiality continue to prevail in her relations with all foreign Powers. In Greece, the cession of Thessaly by the Porte has been carried out peaceably and in good faith. It cannot, I think, admit of doubt that the firm attitude displayed by this country in the matter of Montenegro had a most cogent influence in bringing about this satisfactory result. I know the objection is frequently urged that Greece has not obtained as much as was given by the Treaty of Berlin. The only validity that this objection has proceeds from a misconception of the Berlin Treaty. That Treaty gave nothing whatever, but merely invited the Porte to make certain concessions to Greece; and for long it seemed as if this invitation would remain unheeded—thanks, however, in no small measure to the good offices and exertions of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen), effect has now, to a great extent, been given to that invitation. Greece has had her territory increased by one-third; she has thus acquired a larger area than that won by Germany from France after a terrible and bloody war, and finds her boundaries now extended to their ancient limits in her most glorious days of old.
It would be affectation to deny that the state of Egypt gives cause for anxiety, and I cannot but feel that the greatest caution and reserve should be used by all Parties in referring to the 126 affairs of that country at the present time. I must, however, remind the House that the Anglo-Franco control was not established by the present Government, but by Lord Salisbury in 1879, who, at the same time, refused to admit Germany, Austria, and Italy to any voice in Egyptian affairs. I note, however, in passing, that those Powers, in conjunction with Russia, have within the last few days made an identical representation to the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs on the subject of Egypt. I do not for a moment wish to cast any doubt on the expediency of the dual control established in 1879, or on the benefits which have accrued from it to the Egyptian people; and this is not the time to discuss whether any other arrangements would have been preferable and more beneficial; but I do wish to lay the greatest stress on the fact that the dual control was distinctly a part of the policy of the late Ministry, and that they must be prepared to take their share of the responsibility of its maintenance at the present crisis. In my opinion, our interests in Egypt are few and simple, and may be included under two heads—first, security for a permament free passage of our ships of war and marine through the Canal; and, secondly, the growth in freedom and prosperity of the Egyptian people. It seems to me, at least, that any policy that could possibly tend to a permanent occupation of Egypt, or part of it, by this country, must at once be scouted as involving infinite and impossible responsibilities, and at the same time weakening, in the most alarming manner, the strength of our position in India. At present, we occupy that great triangular country, girt on either side with the ocean, on which, at least, we are and ought to be supreme, and on its base defended by the practically insuperable natural barriers of the mighty Himalayas. Once established in Egypt, the insular character of our position in India would be gone for ever, and we should offer to any enemy at any time an easy and almost indefensible point of attack.
The evacuation of Afghanistan has been completed with the exception of the small corner of Pishin, I believe to the great and general satisfaction of the people of India. The Ameer, Abdurrahman, has succeeded in consolidating his turbulent Kingdom, and has shown 127 himself to be possessed of marked ability, though it may be early days to form a final opinion of his capacity as a Ruler. It is impossible to award too high praise or give sufficient thanks to Lord Ripon for his exertions and success in carrying out his difficult task, both with regard to this evacuation, and to the repeal of the Vernacular Press Act. I trust that this last proceeding may please also many hon. Members opposite, when I call to mind the indignant and powerful protest made by the Duke of Buckingham, when Governor of Madras, against the first enactment of this impolitic law. The financial pressure caused by the heavy and unforeseen charges of the Afghan War compelled the Government of India to cut down its expenditure with the most unsparing hand. The £1,500,000 intended for allocation to famine insurance were absorbed. The progress of all Public Works were arrested, not only of extraordinary, the productive ones—that is, railways and irrigation—but even of works of the most ordinary necessity, as roads and sanitary improvements. The surpluses of Provincial Governments were called for, and all progress material and moral received a rude check. Under the present peaceful state of the country these restrictions have been removed—a succession of good harvests has done much to repair the losses and sufferings of those terrible famine years from 1876 to 1879. The Revenue is steadily increasing, and, favoured by the high credit of the country, the Indian Government have raised loans within the limits of Parliamentary sanction for the completion of Public Works in progress, and the commencement of new ones likely to prove remunerative. Works recommended by the Famine Commissioners, and likely to largely avert the evils of future deficient harvests, have also been initiated. In a word, the condition of our Indian Empire can be spoken of without a drawback as being in a state of high and increasing prosperity.
In South Africa the Transvaal has been thoroughly pacified. Some difficulties arose about the ratification of the Convention, which it was sought by the Boer Leaders to make conditional; these pretensions were of course inadmissible. Such a ratification must be all in all or not at all. The Convention was, however, at length duly ratified by the Re- 128 presentatives of the people, and I trust for long years to come our Colonists in South Africa may have peaceable, friendly, and prosperous neighbours in the Boer Republic of the Transvaal. In Basutoland, a most careful and just award of that experienced, efficient, and trustworthy public servant, Sir Hercules Robinson, and accepted as such by the Natives, has been repudiated by a small section of them. Hostilities have not broken out as yet; but the condition of affairs cannot be described as satisfactory. The deposed King of the Zulus, Cetywayo, is to visit this country during the year; and I sincerely trust it may be found possible to materially ameliorate his condition. His punishment has been altogether incommensurate with any faults he may have committed. It was surely natural that he should struggle to defend his country against the attacks of the foreigner to the best of his ability. I will appeal to my hon. Friend the newly-elected Member for the North Riding of Yorkshire (Mr. Dawnay) as to his character as a man. I am sure that his verdict, based on intimate personal acquaintance, will be a very favourable one.
While in the Estimates some reduction will be found in the Votes for the Naval and Military Services, I fear any great reduction in the total expenditure must not be expected, and this, in a great measure, on account of the great expenses connected with the administration of the law in Ireland, and with the endeavour to restore that country to quiet and peace.
The negotiations for a New Commercial Treaty with France have been long protracted; and though, no doubt, still further delayed by the Ministerial crisis in that country, the House may, I think, rest assured that no Treaty will be concluded which is not at least as advantageous to this country as the old one, and that indisputably so. I mean so distinctly of equal advantage that the question shall not be capable of debate in that particular.
Undue expectations have been formed as to the increase of Revenue. I believe I am correct in stating that, according to the most recent calculations of the best authorities, the Revenue is likely to do little more than just meet the estimated expenditure. It is, however, indisputable that the trade of the country is making rapid strides in improvement; 129 and the explanation must be sought in the fact that depression and improvement in trade are not accompanied pari passu by fall and rise of the Revenue, but that the changes in the Revenue follow at some interval the changes in the state of trade.
On the whole, considerable improvement may be stated to have taken place in the condition of Ireland. The evil there is too grave and too deep-seated to be healed, as it were, by the mere touch of the magician's wand; it was not to be desired that its surface alone should be skimmed over, and it was to be expected that the first symptoms of healthy action at the bottom of the wound should be attended with more active inflammation at the surface. Rents are, to a great extent, being paid when determinedly pressed for; juries are being found willing to convict, and evidence is being obtained against the perpetrators of agrarian crime. The Return of outrages for the month of January, eliminating threatening letters as of small account, is somewhat lower than that of the corresponding month of 1881, and this must be regarded as distinctly satisfactory when the circumstances of the two periods are considered and compared. In January, 1881, the cessation of the payment of rent was almost general, and attempts to enforce its payment were almost as generally abandoned; the country was in high state of expectation of relief to be obtained from Parliament, and so, altogether, the inducements to outrage were few. In January of this year, on the other hand, the most strenuous efforts were made to enforce the payment of rent, in most cases attended with success, and the Government has aided and supported these efforts with all and every means in its power; and, again, everything that can be conceded has been already given. The inducements to outrage were, therefore, far greater.
The Land Act has worked well, though it must be admitted the reductions of rent are greater than was anticipated by many, though I think the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant was not amongst these sanguine persons. My belief is that the attacks so lavishly made on the Sub-Commissioners will be found impossible to sustain, and the justice of their decisions in the vast majority of cases will 130 be most decisively established. The passing of the Land Act naturally incited the more extreme Land Leaguers to renewed efforts to strengthen their tottering organization. They made a determined effort to secure the adoption of a national "no rent "programme, the danger of which, and difficulty of overcoming if effectually carried into operation, both the Duke of Wellington and Lord Beaconsfield long ago foresaw. In that effort they have signally failed. The tenant farmers were not to be tempted by problematical advantages held out to them, but preferred to make sure of the bird they held in their hand. The fact of the Land Act becoming law, so to speak, cleared the decks for action; and the Government found themselves justified, when the necessity arose, of making vigorous use of the extraordinary powers granted them by Parliament in the commencement of last Session. It is most deplorable that so many Irishmen and Members of this House should be suffering confinement; but I think, in their soberer moods, they must recognize they have but themselves to thank for their position. When men are convinced it has become their duty to rebel against the constituted Government of the country, they must be prepared to endure with patience the consequences of non-success. I hope my words have given no offence to any hon. Member from Ireland. I wish to pay every respect to the honesty of their intentions; but I cannot refrain from putting it to them, as able and sensible men, whether it really is the best way of proving Ireland would be better governed by a Parliament of her own, in which they would take a leading part, to bring, seemingly in sheer wantonness, disgrace, discredit, and paralysis on this Parliament, of which they are already Members. Nor can I refrain from suggesting to members of the Irish Land League that our sympathy and fellow-feeling for the cause they represent would be infinitely increased if, instead of being satisfied with a mere repudiation of these abominable murders, outrages, and mutilations of men, women, and poor dumb animals, we found some of the power of their organization—some of its considerable funds—employed in the determined suppression of these dastardly crimes, and in aid of the production of the necessary evidence to convict their cowardly 131 perpetrators. It is said hon. Members in yonder quarter of the House intend to move a long series of Amendments to the Motion I am about to make. I appeal to them to act on this occasion with some moderation, and to spare us and themselves the pain of seeing in the commencing weeks of the present Session a repetition of the similar weeks of last.
A Bill for the creation of elective quinquennial County Councils to relieve Quarter Sessions of much of their non-judicial work, and a Bill dealing with the Municipal Government of London, are to form the piece de résistance of the Ministerial programme; but the more detailed consideration of these I cannot do better than leave to my hon. Friend beside me (Mr. Firth), who has devoted so much of his time and talents to the subject of local government. This I am the more induced to do, because, while Scotland will share the benefit of any financial relief, it will not be possible to extend to us any change in the form of county government during the present Session. In the Bankruptcy, Corrupt Practices, and Rivers Conservancy and Pollution Bills we meet old friends crushed out by the stagnation of Business in former Sessions. I trust that the Resolutions now to be brought forward with a view of facilitating the progress of Business will save them from again meeting a similar fate. It is regrettable that some noble Lords and right hon. and hon. Members should have already adopted as their motto—Let Hercules himself do what he may,The cat shall mew, the dog shall have his day.I hope this attitude is in no small measure due to the exciting effects of country air, and that the atmosphere of this House, loaded as it is with the sobering influences of the traditions of centuries, will be so far calming as to induce them to give a fair and honourable consideration to the proposals of the Government. No attempt is intended to deprive minorities of their legitimate rights; and, should any proposal of the Government be fairly proved in debate to have any such effect, I believe I am fully warranted in saying any Amendments to remedy so undesirable a result would be received in the most conciliatory and friendly spirit.
132 The announcement that the Criminal Code will be proceeded with must be received with universal satisfaction. It would be regrettable, indeed, that the labours of those learned and distinguished men who originated and framed that Code should be lost. The Government have, I think, by their acts shown that the public is not likely to be deprived of a good measure, because suggested by political opponents. In this House the Criminal Code will be closely and honourably associated with the name of Sir John Holker. We must on all sides regret the absence from amongst us of one who had gained our warmest confidence by the manly and straightforward manner in which he always expressed his views, still every Member of this House will share with the public and the Legal Profession the feeling of gratification so generally and justly entertained that the Prime Minister, taking no heed of former practice, has, on behalf of the public, endeavoured to obtain from amongst the ranks of distinguished political opponents the presence on the Judicial Bench of one so able and so competent as the late learned Member for Preston. The important question of the Patent Laws is also to be dealt with. Scotland is to have an Entail Bill which must not be taken as denoting finality of legislation in regard to this subject; but only a temporary measure conceded at the desire of all parties in Scotland to tide them over till the time when the whole matter may be thoroughly dealt with on equal terms for the Three Kingdoms. Scotland also receives her much-needed Educational Endowments Bill, and Wales a Higher Education Bill.
Even at the risk of trespassing too long on the time of the House I must enter one final and very warm protest against either the question of Ireland or the question of the Rules of Procedure for this House being treated as matters of pure Party politics, over which Party advantages are to be lost or won. They are questions of far too grave a nature for such treatment. In the one may be heard the voice of a nation crying for relief—it may be she knows not what she wants or how the relief may best be given; but the cry proceeds from her agony, and our duty as a nation, and the dominant nation too, is to find the satisfactory and efficient means of relief and 133 apply it without delay. In the other, the whole power and honour and dignity of this House is concerned—the question is whether it is to perform those vast consultative, legislative, and executive duties of which it has become year by year more and more the focus, or whether it is to show itself unworthy of itself, and unworthy of the confidence of the electors who chose its Members and intrusted to them the care of the national interests. These are no questions to form the basis of struggles between inns and outs. The nation will weary, aye, is wearying, of being the sport and plaything of contending Parties. The time has come for united action on the part of those, whatever be their Party—and they are confined to no Party—who dearly love the ancient name and honour and traditions of this Assembly. Let them arouse themselves and try to come to an agreement, and there is no fear but success will crown their efforts. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving—That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, to convey the thanks of this House for the Most Gracious Speech delivered by Her Command to both Houses of Parliament:Humbly to thank Her Majesty for informing us that Her Majesty has given Her approval to a marriage between Her Son Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, and Her Serene Highness Princess Helen of Waldeck and Pyrmont; and that Her Majesty has every reason to believe that this will be a happy union:Humbly to assure Her Majesty that we rejoice to hear that Her Majesty continues in relations of cordial harmony with all Foreign Powers:Humbly to thank Her Majesty for informing us that the Treaty for the cession of Thessaly to the Greek Kingdom has now been executed in its main provisions; and that the transfer of sovereignty and of occupation was effected in a manner honourable to all concerned:To thank Her Majesty for informing us that, in concert with the President of the French Republic, Her Majesty has given careful attention to the affairs of Egypt; and that Her Majesty will use Her influence to maintain the rights already established, whether by the Firmans of the Sultan, or by various international engagements, in a spirit favourable to the good government of the Country, and the prudent development of its institutions:134Humbly to assure Her Majesty that we learn with pleasure that the restoration of peace beyond the North-Western Frontier, together with continued internal tranquillity, plentiful seasons, and increase of the Revenue, have enabled Her Majesty's Government in India to resume works of public utility which had been suspended, and to devote its attention to measures for the further improvement of the condition of the people:Humbly to thank Her Majesty for informing us that the Convention with the Transvaal has been ratified by the Representative Assembly, and that Her Majesty has seen no reason to qualify Her anticipations of its advantageous working:Humbly to assure Her Majesty that we share Her Majesty's regret that, although hostilities have not been renewed in Basutoland, the Country still remains in an unsettled condition:To thank Her Majesty for informing us that the Estimates for the Service of the year are in an advanced stage of preparation, and will be promptly submitted to us:Humbly to thank Her Majesty for informing us that Her Majesty's communications with France on the subject of a new Commercial Treaty have not been closed; and that they will be prosecuted by Her Majesty with a desire to conclude a Treaty favourable to extended intercourse between the two Nations:Humbly to assure Her Majesty that we rejoice to learn that the trade of the Country, both domestic and foreign, has for some time been improving, and that better prospects are opened for the classes immediately concerned in agriculture, although the public Revenue has not yet exhibited an upward movement in proportion to the increased activity of industry and commerce:Humbly to thank Her Majesty for informing us that the condition of Ireland exhibits signs of improvement; that justice has been administered with greater efficacy; and that the intimidation which has been employed to deter occupiers of land from fulfilling their obligations, and from availing themselves of the Act of last Session shows upon the whole a diminished force:Humbly to thank Her Majesty for informing us that we shall be invited to deal with proposals for the establishment in the English and Welsh Counties of local self-government, together with financial changes applying to the whole of Great Britain; that a measure will be 135 submitted to us for the reform of the ancient and distinguished Corporation of London, and the extension of Municipal Government to the Metropolis at large; and that measures will again he laid before us concerning Bankruptcy, the repression of Corrupt Practices at Elections, and the Conservancy of Rivers and Prevention of Floods:Humbly to assure Her Majesty that our careful consideration shall be given to these measures and others which may be proposed to us.And we earnestly trust that the blessing of God will attend and guide our deliberations.
§ MR. FIRTH
Sir, I have the honour to second the Address which has been so ably moved by my hon. Friend (Mr. Marjoribanks). In doing so, I do not propose to trespass very long upon the kind indulgence of the House; but I may unite with my hon. Friend, and with other hon. Members of this House, in the expression of our interest at the announcement contained in Her Majesty's Most Gracious Speech, that it is the intention of the Duke of Albany to ally himself with a Princess of the ancient House of Waldeck. Sir, I am sure that I shall be only echoing the universal intention of this House and of the people outside, if I say that we shall give to the noble Princess a cordial English welcome; and, further, that we regard with the utmost satisfaction the prospect that through this august union there will be transferred to the English Court the many fragrant personal and domestic virtues by which she has already endeared herself to every member of her distant home. Sir, it cannot be doubted that where, as in this matter, there is so apt a conjunction of excellent qualities, we shall have another illustration added to those already repeatedly given by the English Court, of the union of high public position with unstained domestic felicity.
Sir, the House will also receive with satisfaction the announcement that cordial relations continue to exist between Her Majesty's Administration and the various Powers on the Continent of Europe. The maintenance of such an entente cordiale intimately affects the welfare of all these Powers, as, with the development of commerce, national prosperity is becoming increasingly dependent on the preservation of international confidence.
136 In South-Eastern Europe the ratification of the Treaty for the cession of Thessaly to Greece, following the closure of the Montenegrin Question, removes a danger to European peace, the magnitude of which could only be measured by the conflicting interests of three Great Powers. The effect of the Treaty will be to increase the Hellenic territory by one-third, and to approximate the boundaries of modern Greece to those of that ancient Greece, the institutions, the arts, and the literature of which have had so profound an influence in moulding the history of mankind.
Crossing the Mediterranean, the House will be glad to note that the influence of this country in Egypt will be directed to the maintenance of existing rights, so far as such rights are consistent with the welfare of the Egyptian people. Where so many and such varied national interests are involved, it may be hoped that, however else they may conflict, they may be able to unite in procuring for that unhappy country a prudent development of such of its institutions as are for the public advantage, and a strengthening of those securities for good government and for public order which have so long been notably wanting to the Egyptian people.
It is specially satisfactory to notice the hopeful tone in which Her Majesty is able to speak of the present aspect of affairs in her Indian Empire. With the removal of anxiety as to its North-Western Frontier, and with the improvement of its Revenue, it may be hoped that that distant part of Her Majesty's Dominions has taken a new departure on the path of prosperity and of progress.
Sir, I think that the repeal of the Vernacular Press Act is cause for much public congratulation. The alleged necessity for such a measure constituted a grave and, as I think, an unjustifiable reflection upon the loyalty of the Indian people. Even if such loyalty were open in some places to suspicion, it were better—as was pointed out in 1878 by the Duke of Buckingham, then Governor of Madras—that there should be free outlets for the expression of Native opinion, and full opportunity through the Press of testing its under-currents, than that it should be, by a measure of this kind, thrown back upon sullen submission or secret conspiracy. In addition to these 137 practical disadvantages the Act was a grave infringement of Constitutional rights previously granted to the Indian people, in that it placed the control of their Press in the hands of an unfettered Executive alone, and thus, as was forcibly indicated by the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) when the Act was under discussion in this House, it swept away the securities against tyranny which were provided by the ordinary judicial tribunals of the country.
Of our Colonies Her Majesty has not said very much. Perhaps that may be taken as an indication that they are in that condition of prosperity and peace which is most conducive to their welfare. As to the ratification of the Convention with the Boors of the Transvaal, whatever difficulties there may be in other matters respecting it, all Englishmen will unite in satisfaction at the knowledge that we have now greater security for the good treatment of the Native races than we have ever before possessed.
Although the French Treaty is, at the present moment, unsettled, at any rate we have the assurance—which Freetraders will greatly value—that under no circumstances will Her Majesty's Government set its hand to a retrograde Treaty.
Sir, the condition of Ireland is still such as to cause the greatest anxiety to all who are responsible for the government of that country. It is satisfactory to note that Her Majesty is able in Her Most Gracious Speech to say that she finds ground for hope in the present aspect of affairs. It would, indeed, be cause for dismay if the work of the last Session of this Parliament in the passing of the Irish Land Act had been productive of no useful fruit. That Act may be regarded as a heroic effort to bring the Irish Land Law into closer accord with that welfare of the people, which, after all, is the true end of all justifiable government. It is a matter of happy augury that nearly 70,000 Irish tenants are anxious to take advantage of its provisions; and we may not unreasonably hope that when, through the action of the Courts or by private arrangement, those tenants attain an easier and an assured position, they will become centres of security for the maintenance of order and for the well-being of society such as have never before been known in the 138 history of that country. Whatever may be the difficulties of the present situation, it is not to be forgotten that they have largely resulted from inequitable laws; and in dealing with such difficulties we cannot wisely forget that whatever fortune may come to England through the future, the destinies of Ireland are also hers; and that, joined together by a natural position which cannot be changed, it would be not merely good statesmanship, but practical wisdom, to settle, as soon as may be, some comfortable conditions for our joint existence. If we of each nation, in regarding the other, remembered the words of the poet—Be to her virtues very kind,Be to her faults a little blind;the attainment of such a modus vivendi ought not to be difficult.
Some of the measures of which we are promised the introduction are of the first importance. The Criminal Code Bill, on its former introduction in 1879, secured a large share of public approval both within and outside the walls of the House of Commons. It constituted the first and only serious attempt hitherto made towards codifying any branch of English law, and, having been submitted to the critical examination of a Commission upon which sat the ablest and most experienced of modern jurists, it was presented to the House in the most authentic and complete form. The passing of such a measure would result in the removal of a cumbrous and technical procedure, and in placing in the hands of the people that accurate knowledge of the law which they are supposed to possess, but which is now in some matters so difficult to attain. The law itself, too, may receive useful modification. At present it is full of needless distinctions and bristling with inconsistencies; whilst as regards even the highest of crimes it is so unsatisfactory, and sometimes so unjust, that it is only enforced in a small percentage of cases, and so the deterrent object of punishment is defeated. When, in addition to these reforms, we have enacted provisions giving greater security for the proof of innocence, and have extended to persons accused of crime the right of appeal possessed in civil cases, the Legislature may turn its attention to the codification of the rest of our law—at once the most difficult and the most necessary of all legal reforms.
139 The Prevention of Floods Bill is anxiously awaited by many thousands of persons who suffer from the present state of things; and the necessity for a reform in our Patent Laws is universally admitted. At present we are levying a tax of more than £100,000 a-year upon the brains of our people. The classes who work our machinery, and to whom opportunities of invention are most frequent, find their stimulus gone where the tax is prohibitive; and even where invention is made, the advantages are oftener with the capitalist than the inventor to whose skill it is due. When the cost is largely reduced, and when before the grant of a patent some competent authority has guaranteed its novelty and its utility, we may expect to find an impetus given to English invention which is now so especially necessary in order to maintain our manufacturing predominance in the face of severe competition.
The commercial community is awaiting with anxiety the introduction and discussion of the Bankruptcy Bill with which my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is so closely associated. Where the agency of the law is invoked to enable a man to modify or escape from his contract obligations, there ought to be satisfactory guarantees that such release will not be granted except upon such well-defined conditions as shall secure the creditor's interests, and, whilst just to the unfortunate, shall be severe to the fraudulent debtor. It was supposed that these ends would be secured by the provisions of the Act of 1869, whereby full control was given to creditors; but the result has shown this confidence to be misplaced, and the liquidation and composition clauses of the Act have been turned into gigantic engines of fraud, as the Reports of the Comptroller in Bankruptcy show the number of English insolvents is no longer controlled by the state of trade; and there is a rapidly-spreading opinion amongst some classes that with such easy methods of escape as the Bankruptcy Laws now afford, it is foolish to pay debts in full. A new system, to be satisfactory, will retain as as far as possible the absolute control of the creditor, but will provide such official oversight as shall be an adequate guarantee against fraud either in bankrupt or trustee.
140 There remain two important measures of Local Government, to which I may be permitted briefly to allude. The first is a scheme of county government for England and Wales, which, if carried, will probably illustrate in a new department of our national life the advantages of representative self-government. If the working of such a scheme prove successful, we may hope that it will be extended to the rest of the Three Kingdoms, so that all may be equally brought within the sphere of advantageous law.
The other measure to which I would ask leave to allude is, in the opinion of many Londoners, the most important of them all. For 45 years English Governments have uniformly hesitated to confer on the Metropolitan area those elementary rights of self-government which were, in 1835, conceded to the smallest towns in the Kingdom. The grounds of such hesitation may be found in the strength of some of the interests affected, and in the complexity and magnitude of the problem to be solved. At last, a powerful Administration has given us ground for hope that reform is coming; and, whatever shape such reform may take in detail, it can scarcely be doubted that in its general principle it will be in accord with the wishes of the inhabitants of the Capital. Speaking with a somewhat wide experience of every part of London, I may be excused if I say that I do not know any public question upon which there exists such practical unanimity as upon this; and whether the measure proposed should take the form of the constitution of a new, or the extension of an old authority, is immaterial, if only it contain the necessary principle of the direct control, by representative authority, of all matters of administration and all matters of expenditure. During long centuries of the past, the ancient Corporation of the City was distinguished by the skill with which it preserved and strengthened its own municipal institutions. The framework of those institutions has survived to our day; and if, by extension over the surrounding area, there were to be infused into it a new, and pure, and vigorous municipal life, we might have a result satisfactory in itself, and satisfactory also in that it preserved the continuity of the historic life of the Capital. In advancing such 141 a measure the Administration would, I think, have the scarcely divided support of the millions of London, irrespective of Party, and irrespective of class, and would earn for themselves the lasting gratitude of the Metropolis of the world. Sir, I beg to second the Motion of my hon. Friend.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That, &c."—[See page 133.]
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Sir Stafford Northcote.)
observed, that an admirable speech had been brought to a close sooner than most Members of the House expected, and certainly earlier than most of them could have wished; but, at that hour, of the night it would be unfair to ask the right hon. Gentleman to proceed with the discussion.