§ The EARL of DERBY
Before the House adjourns, I trust Her Majesty's Government will allow me to put a question, or rather to make a single remark, which I hope they will not think an unnecessary one. Under ordinary circumstances, at the commencement of the Session, as your Lordships are aware, it is the practice, and I venture to think a very useful practice, for the Ministers of the Crown, through the medium of the Royal Speech, to explain to Parliament and the country more or less fully, though not descending 11 into minute particulars, the general measures which it is the intention of the Government to submit for consideration. I am well aware that at the present moment we are not at the commencement of a Session, and that we meet under circumstances which deprive us of hearing through the ordinary channel what the intentions of Her Majesty's Government may be. Your Lordships are aware that at the present moment, Parliament having been adjourned and not prorogued, and a new Government having succeeded to office since the delivery of the Royal Speech, we have no indication of the specific measures which it is the intention of that Government to submit to Parliament; yet the circumstances of the occasion are such as to render it not less expedient that the policy of the Government should be made known then, as if it were the first day of a new Session. I do not put the question in any hostile spirit, nor am I about to ask of Her Majesty's Government any expression of the general political principles on which legislation will be conducted. The noble Earl opposite, indeed, gave what it may be presumed might be intended as an explanation of principles on his first assumption of office; and although that explanation did not throw any great light on the general policy of the Government, but left us in a state of as much uncertainty as to the course which will be pursued, as before that speech was delivered, and although, certainly, we are unable to form any possible conjecture as to the line of policy, or the general political principles, from the antecedents and previous opinions of a portion of those who compose the Government, I suppose if I put the question, I should receive much the same sort of general explanation. My Lords, I am not therefore anxious to ask on what principles the Government is about to proceed; but I think I have a right to ask for a statement of the measures they intend to propose, as it is more desirable the Government should be practically tested by those measures which they will submit to the consideration of Parliament, than by the vague generalities in which the First Ministers of the Crown may veil the policy which it is intended to pursue. But I should be glad to hear from the noble Earl—and I should have been still more glad if the noble Earl had volunteered the statement, and rendered this question unnecessary—what are the principal measures he means to submit, and to which he thinks 12 the attention of this and the other House of Parliament may the most profitably and most usefully be directed in the course of the present Session, and especially which of such measures he proposes to proceed with in the earlier portion of this Session. The noble and learned Lord on the woolsack (Lord Cranworth) has given notice that on Monday next he will inform the House what the Government intend to propose with regard to the question of law reform. With regard to that question, I trust they will follow the course which has reflected so much credit on the assiduity and industry of my noble and learned Friend near me (Lord St. Leonards), which assiduity and industry, I am glad to find, from the statement he has just made, he has not abandoned with that office from which, I may venture to say in his presence, and even in the presence of the noble and learned Lord on the woolsack, this country has great cause to regret his removal. I hope the course of law reform entered upon so actively and energetically by my noble and learned Friend will not suffer by the transfer of the seals to other hands; and of this I am quite certain that to no hands could they have been transferred with less probability of those reforms being prejudiced than to those of the noble and learned Lord on the woolsack. But, my Lords, I am informed it is the intention of the Government—if that intention has not already been carried into effect—to make a statement in the other House of Parliament in the course of this evening, by the mouth of one of the noble Earl's Colleagues, indicating the measures which Her Majesty's Government will introduce; and although it may be quite true that we shall probably have the opportunity, by the usual breach of privilege, of ascertaining to-morrow morning, through the ordinary channels of information, the course the Government intend to pursue—even though the noble Earl himself make no statement. I think it would be more consistent with Parliamentary practice, and would show more consideration for your Lordships' House, if the head of the Government were to indicate the measures which it is the intention of the Government to introduce—more especially as I presume that the statement will be made in the other House upon the joint responsibility of the noble Earl and his Colleagues. I think it fully as important that that statement should be made here, because, from the 13 circumstances of the present year, the early part of this Session must be more than ordinarily occupied in the other House with business of a description in which your Lordships do not interfere, and that will necessarily postpone legislative measures, however pressing, to a period of the year when it is very difficult to obtain for your Lordships' House of Parliament the requisite time and attention for legislation. Easter this year occurs at an unusually early period, and before the recess the Government can only command a very few nights for bringing forward any measures beyond those financial arrangements which must be necessarily proceeded with at once; and during that time I am not-aware of anything being before your Lord ships' House. On the other hand, experience teaches that a very valuable portion of your Lordships' time has been year after year, in the earlier portions of the Session, consumed in doing absolutely nothing; and then, towards the close of the Session, an accumulation of business conies upon us in a manner that renders anything like satisfactory legislation almost impracticable, to the great disadvantage of your Lordships, and to the great disadvantage of the country. I think it most desirable that your Lordships should, as early as possible, he in a position to judge practically of the confidence you are able to place in the present Government—that you should be informed what are the subjects to which, as I presume, in the last six weeks they have directed their attention—what are the subjects on which the Cabinet have made up their minds, and what are the subjects they intend in the present Session to submit to the consideration of Parliament. As I have already said, I do not ask for the assertion of any general principles, but I ask for a declaration of the measures the Government intend to submit to Parliament. I think, more especially in the present state of parties, that nothing can be more desirable than that the Government—if they are desirous of conscientiously performing their duties and proving by the practical measures they introduce their capacity to govern—and yet not their capacity, for of that there can be no doubt, as there has seldom been embodied a larger amount of talent than in the present Cabinet; but I will say—proving that the talent they possess is turned to its full account for the service of the country; and that whatever political differences of opinion may have subsisted between them on former 14 occasions they are able to combine and co-operate together for the purpose of bringing forward measures which are useful and valuable to the country—that the Government should have an opportunity of earning the confidence of the country and establishing its claims to that confidence in a manner far more satisfactory than can be achieved by a mere declaration of principle, or by any announcement of the views which they individually entertain. They will have to be judged by their practice and performance, and not by their declarations of principle; and I venture to say on the part of myself and of those friends with whom I have the honour of acting, that if they bring forward such measures as we in our consciences can support and approve, they will receive from us not only no opposition—not only no desire on our parts to disturb the positions they hold—but nothing will give us more satisfaction than to find we are able to co-operate with them for the purpose of carrying measures useful and beneficial to the country, On the other hand, we ought to know what course it is the intention of the Government to pursue—we ought to know how far they will adopt and carry out those measures partly shadowed forth by the noble Earl opposite, and whether he is inclined to bring forward measures of such a character as it will be impossible for a Conservative Opposition to approve.
§ EARL FITZWILLIAM
was not surprised at the appeal that had been made by the noble Earl; but he questioned whether it was so particularly consonant with the precedent and practice of former times to call on the Administration, formed under the circumstances under which the present Administration was formed, to declare the particular measures which they intended to propose as the noble Earl assumed. His noble Friend would recollect that on the formation of the Government, the noble Karl at the head of it did declare distinctly that the object of his Administration would be to maintain, support, and extend the policy of free trade. So far, then, the principles of the Administration had been declared. How far it would be expedient, at the present moment, that Her Majesty's Ministers should enter into a statement of the particular measures which they intended to propose, was another question, and one into which he should abstain on the present occasion from entering. The question of law reform appeared to him to have been taken up by 15 the late Government, and to be now resumed by the present Government. The public had nothing further to expect than that the present Administration should carry into effect those reforms which were prepared by the last Administration, and which they had taken from those to whom they succeeded. Notwithstanding, therefore, the curiosity of his noble Friend, he hoped the noble Earl at the head of the Government would not give too much satisfaction to that curiosity, and not excite in the public mind too early a consideration of measures which it might be afterwards more prudent to abstain from pressing. He trusted that the noble Earl, from prudential considerations, would not listen too hastily to the question which had been put to him.
§ The EARL of ABERDEEN
My Lords, on the last day of the meeting of the House I laid before your Lordships in general terms the principles on which the Government had been formed, and on which they intended to act. In addition I alluded to the principal subjects which would engage the attention of the Government, with a view to future legislation. Those subjects have since that day occupied the attention of the Cabinet; and on those subjects, or the greater part of them, I trust legislation will take place, without delay. But as that legislation must for the most part originate in the House of Commons, I believe that it would not, as the noble Earl states, be following the precedents in this House to announce to your Lordships measures which are to be brought forward in the other House. With respect to law reforms, my noble and learned Friend (the Lord Chancellor) has already given notice of his intention to state on Monday next, the measures which he has in readiness or preparation to lay before your Lordships. Notwithstanding what has been done on that subject, I believe there is much yet to do; and no doubt the measures prepared by my noble and learned Friend will sufficiently show that it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to apply themselves earnestly to the work. I am glad to know that the noble Earl opposite is prepared to examine these measures with impartiality and fairness; and if he should be able to give them his support, undoubtedly it will very much facilitate their passing into law; but should they not meet his approval, I still trust the measures now 16 announced, or about to be announced, will be such as to merit the support of your Lordships.
§ The EARL of DERBY
; I rejoice to hear that measures of law reform are in a forward state of preparation for legislation; but though I receive that statement with considerable satisfaction, I am somewhat disappointed by the answer given by the noble Earl opposite, in which his conclusions differ from those of the noble Earl on the cross benches. The noble Earl on the cross benches appears to consider that any statement of the intentions of the Government would be wholly premature. No doubt, after the intimation of the noble Earl (the Earl of Aberdeen) that no information will be given to the House of Lords by the Minister of the Crown, my noble Friend (Earl Fitzwilliam) will look with as much curiosity and anxiety as I shall to the morning papers, for the purpose of discovering through them that information which I still venture to think it would have been more respectful to your Lordships' House to have communicated to your Lordships by one of the Ministers of the Crown; and my noble Friend on the cross benches will there find, by the consent of a united Government, a Colleague of the noble Earl at the head of the Government, in detail and in extenso, making that statement to the House of Commons with regard to the intentions of Her Majesty's Government, which the noble Earl thinks it imprudent and premature to make in the House of Lords.
§ EARL FITZWILLIAM
said, there was a difference between a Minister in the House of Commons declaring what measures it was proposed to introduce in that House, and his noble Friend (the Earl of Aberdeen) declaring in their Lordships' House the measures which his Colleagues would propose elsewhere.
§ The EARL of DERBY
I have always understood that Colleagues in one House were ready to answer for their Colleagues in the other; and I am sure that the noble Lord in the other House would not take the step of announcing in detail the intentions of the Government without the consent of his Colleagues here. But I will limit my question to asking the noble Earl opposite what measures he intends, upon the part of Her Majesty's Government, to submit to your Lordships' House in the course of the present Session?
§ The EARL of DERBY
Does silence mean none? Does the noble Earl, on the part of the Government, mean that no measures are to be introduced into your Lordships' House this Session?
§ The EARL of DERBY
May I be permitted to ask, again, what measures will be introduced into this House this Session? I have the sanction of my noble Friend upon the cross benches (Earl Fitzwilliam) for putting at least this question. Still no answer?
§ House adjourned till To-morrow.