Page images

eriticise and oppose its details in Committee, and he therefore decided to absent himself from England for a time. He began his speech by reminding them of the definition of an independent member, as a member who could not be depended upon; and in that sense he admitted that whenever called upon to support an antiquated or reactionary policy he was independent. Yet he claimed credit for never having shown a disposition to make things "unpleasant" for the Government, even when he had opposed it in relation to the Irish Land Bill. On the other hand, he heartily supported them in having made Free Education one of the planks of the Tory platform, believing it would be one of the greatest boons which the Government could confer upon the masses of the people. There was one thing in connection with the registration laws which was a crying scandal and a disgrace to the country. The maintenance of the rule of Parliamentary electors was almost of as much importance as the maintenance of Parliament itself: but it was left entirely at the present time to amateur rival political partisans, each of whom was striving to keep off the register people who ought to be on it, and striving to keep on the register people who ought not to be there. He hoped the registration laws would be placed upon a sounder basis, but he was wholly opposed to reducing the time of qualifying a householder for a vote below twelve months. He expressed the hope that the Government would endeavour to find some mode of establishing a better understanding between capital and labour; and, although he did not believe in any attempt to limit associated labour to eight hours, he thought the limit should be enforced in the case of miners. He assured the English artisans, however, that no demand had been put forward and steadily adhered to on their behalf which had not been proved to have a good foundation or a good reason behind it.

On the same evening Mr. Chamberlain, on the first anniversary of the foundation of the Liberal Union Club at Birmingham, made a far more combative speech, declaring that the time had arrived when the character and objects of the Irish Nationalist leaders might be fairly estimated. Recent disclosures had profoundly modified the existing situation, and had brought their opponents much nearer to their conclusions. As a politician he had only to do with Mr. Parnell's character as a public man, and as a public man recent events had shown Mr. Parnell to be " absolutely unscrupulous, thoroughly untruthful, treacherous, and perfectly untrustworthy." Up to the present time their opponents had endeavoured to transfer their allegiance from Mr. Parnell to Mr. Parnell's late followers. But they had no more reason for their confidence in these men than they had for their confidence in Mr. Parnell. They were "all engaged in the attempt to mislead the British nation." It was admitted that one and all, though they pretended in public to accept Mr. Gladstone's Home Rule Bill as a final settlement of the Irish question, at the same

time in private agreed to accept it pro tanto as merely an instalment which would enable them to obtain further concessions. No future Home Rule Bill could be proposed which at the outset even would receive the support of the majority of the Irish people. Mr. Parnell and his followers had expressed themselves dissatisfied with the concessions which Mr. Gladstone made to them. Mr. Parnell demanded from Mr. Gladstone that he should concede to an Irish Parliament control of the Land Question, control of the judges, and control of the constabulary, and Mr. Gladstone had conceded every one of these points. But Mr. Parnell now said he must have control of the tariff, he must have power over the customs, and be able to protect Irish industry against British manufacturers; and, above all, he must. have an understanding that there should be no veto and no attempt to set up any supremacy of the British, the Imperial, Parliament. Mr. Gladstone refused these concessions, and it was to be hoped that he would stand firm. The result was, that if to-morrow Mr. Gladstone were to bring in a Home Rule Bill, he would be in the curious position of proposing to force Home Rule upon the Irish people against the wish of the majority of the Irish people, and, of course, against the wish of the majority of the people of Great Britain. How would it be possible, under the circumstances, to carry a Home Rule Bill in Parliament ? Mr. Gladstone had tardily consented to put Welsh Disestablishment as second on his programme. But what was the use of that if the first item on the programme was certain to bring about the defeat of the Government? And what about the labour question and the social questions? Bye-elections were not a conclusive test of the real drift of public opinion, but they indicated to wise men what was passing in the minds of the electors. And recent bye-elections showed conclusively that Home Rule no longer interested the masses of the people. When the Land Purchase Bill had been carried, and when a fair Local Government Bill for Ireland, which would give to Ireland the same local liberties as had been found sufficient for England and Scotland, had been passed, the great majority of the people would think that enough had been done for Ireland apart from the general interests of the United Kingdom. Their thoughts were nearer home; they were dwelling upon their own position and upon the question of the relations between labour and capital and on the unequal distribution of wealth. They were endeavouring to find in legislation some means of making their lives happier and better and broader and healthier. The resources of civilisation were not yet exhausted, and it was the duty of statesmen to find out the ways and the means by which these hopes could be realised.

To these arguments and assertions Earl Spencer at Rochdale (March 11), and Mr. Gladstone at Hastings (March 19), replied. The former dwelt upon some of the achievements of the Liberal

party in the past, and declared that the great questions arising in connection with labour and society would have to be dealt with by the same party. The majority of the Liberals were strongly in favour of free education, and must keep a careful watch on the Tory party, who, if they introduced a measure, would increase the Government aid to all schools in the country. Turning to Irish affairs, he declared that Mr. Gladstone had no wish to dictate to the Irish party as to who should be their leader; but he knew that if Mr. Parnell continued as leader the cause of Home Rule would be lost for a long time, and he felt it his duty to inform the Irish party of that fact. The English people had a right to demand that the Irish people should be led by men in whom they could have confidence, men of honour and probity, and he felt sure they would obtain that security. He did not believe that in the wildest moment of excitement any responsible Irish statesman desired separation from England; but it would be the duty of Parliament to see that securities were taken to prevent such separation. He thought the Irish should have the control of the police, but he was significantly silent on the point whether under this term he included the existing force of constabulary. He objected to the State becoming the landlord of the bulk of the Irish tenants, and said the question ought to be left to the Irish Parliament, at all events after a certain period.

Mr. Gladstone's visit to Sussex was a prominent incident in the campaign in Southern England which had long been meditated by the Liberal party organisers, and everything was done to give to the journey the appearance of a triumphal progress, with speeches at the railway stations en route to encourage the local Liberals. At Hastings Mr. Gladstone found as enthusiastic an audience as in any of the northern counties, and in numbers they more than sufficed to overflow the largest available building. In the course of his speech Mr. Gladstone said there had been little in the proceedings of Lord Salisbury at the Foreign Office to which Liberals ought to object. But, as regards the department of finance, the principles of the system were gradually being sapped by tacit and insidious methods. The power of the House of Commons depended upon its right to fix the expenditure of the country from year to year. If it were in the power of the Government, through the agency of its majority, to cast the burden of the present upon the future, the consequences would be the gaining of a partial and superficial credit which were not deserved. Secondly, there would be the storing up of future financial embarrassment; and, thirdly, a real invasion of those liberties which were essentially associated with the privilege of the House of Commons. Next to this power of annual control, it was essential that there should be a unity of the public funds. Further, there should be no concealment, so that anything which had been spent should be brought before the

country from time to time, for the waste of five millions was a much smaller evil than the concealment of one, forasmuch as the latter might easily be redressed by the nation. An instance of the complex financial arrangements of the Government was that they had provided that for seven years to come 1,400,000l. should in each year be applicable to shipbuilding under Act of Parliament. That Act of Parliament could, of course, be altered, but only by consent of the House of Lords. At first it was arranged that this enormous expenditure of 38 millions in the Army and Navy should be concealed from the public. Of this 33 millions only were to be provided for by taxation, and 4 millions were the concealed contraction of public debt. The Chancellor of the Exchequer showed a surplus of 3 millions; but if he had shown that 4 millions of expenditure he would have had no surplus at all, but a deficiency of 1 million. It had been proposed to invest a large proportion of that fictitious and pretended surplus of revenue over expenditure in a Publichouse Endowment Bill; but, fortunately, the House of Commons had stopped that. Turning to Ireland, Mr. Gladstone said that the familiarising of that country with the doctrine that Parliament was to be the organ through which redress was to be obtained of Irish grievances was due almost entirely to that undoubted patriot Daniel O'Connell. It had been "ascribed" to Mr. Parnell in the newspapers that he had said in a speech on Sunday in Ireland that he (Mr. Gladstone) had opposed the claims of labour candidates because, acting with the Liberal leaders, he was bound to do so when they asked it of him. Now there was not a syllable of truth in this, for the Liberal leaders had desired from the bottom of their hearts to promote an increase in the number of labour representatives in Parliament. With regard to his action of denouncing Mr. Parnell in 1881, Mr. Gladstone said he had done so because Mr. Parnell had at that time expressed himself in language which appeared most dangerous to the Empire, with respect to the total separation of Ireland from this country, and because he was a determined opponent of the Irish Land Act. After Mr. Parnell emerged from his Kilmainham imprisonment he did not repeat the dangerous language, and he became a co-operator in giving effect to the Land Act. When in 1886 the policy of Home Rule was announced by the Government, the plan was frankly and magnanimously and patriotically received by the Irish National party.

"Our plan was based upon the twin ideas, first of all, of handing over to Ireland the full and efficacious control of her own local affairs. Secondly, of maintaining in a form not less full and efficacious the control of the Imperial Parliament over all those charges and all those interests which were imperial. If it happens in my lifetime that every fresh plan for Home Rule, as I trust may be the case, may be founded with a rigid fidelity upon those two bases-neither of which, in my opinion, can be

justifiably separated from the other-any infringement of the one would, if I am right in my view, inflict mortal damage on the other. Upon that basis we worked from the summer of 1886 to the winter of 1890, and with the result that upon certain chances which bye-elections afforded we obtained last year sixteen seats. With that before me I think I may venture to call it a matter of certainty that, if under those circumstances Parliament were dissolved to-morrow, a large and commanding majority would be returned for the purpose of converting Ireland into a blessing and source of strength to this country, instead of being a difficulty, an embarrassment, and an obstacle to the practical conduct of our affairs, to the application and pursuance of our vital interests. Well, gentlemen, then came that sad and painful time of the disclosures in the Divorce Court; and I must now speak with respect to the effect of those disclosures, because there you, in point of fact, are more deeply concerned than I am. It was not my business, gentlemen, to place myself upon the chair of the judge to pronounce judgment upon my fellowcreature with regard to any amount of delinquency, real or imaginary, great or small, of which he had been guilty; but it was your part, gentlemen, as the Liberal party of this country, to consider on what principles and on what rules you would be guided in the disposal of your votes. The Liberal party of this country knew very well that the according of Irish Home Rule depended upon them. I have never made any secret of it; if it were possible that the Tories would give Ireland a measure of Home Rule corresponding to the measure I have alluded to I should be delighted. I should give them the same support as if it were a measure proceeding from the Liberal party. But there is an impediment in the way of such a measure, not in the Tory conscience, which does not care much about it. I do not know whether it is in the Tory intellect; I do not think it is in that either. It is in the existence of that unhappy, unfortunate, illstarred abortion of a party which is called the party of Liberal Unionists. The Tories might give Home Rule just as they gave Roman Catholic emancipation. The Tory party lives by its defeat. It always comes up again like the figures in Punch,' when you think it has been fairly and finally disposed of by a great clout on the head. But the Liberal Unionists are in a different position, because the reason and ground of their existence is opposition to Home Rule, and if Home Rule were granted they vanish into thin air."

Coming next to the relations of the Liberals and Irish Nationalists, Mr. Gladstone said that after the disclosures in the Divorce Court they would not place the Constitutional leadership of Ireland in the hands of Mr. Parnell, who, however, had the support of the Tory press and most of the Tories in England.

"An idea has gone abroad that the action of the Liberal party must undergo some immediate change in consequence of what

« PreviousContinue »