« EdellinenJatka »
members, than was formerly the case. The consequence of these changes has been that . . . it is found impossible by any Government . . . to bring [measures of importance] on at a time when they can receive fair deliberation.
The time at the disposal of the Government was, in other words, no longer sufficient for its work, and business suffered, not from any fault of the Administration, but from a defect in the arrangements of Parliament. The speech had no practical effect. It did not even induce an independent member to forego his right of occupying time by bringing forward an abstract motion on the Slave Trade. But it elicited one remarkable letter which in the light of later events is worth quoting.
PARIs, April 3, 1848.
MY DEAR JOHN,—In reading your speech the other day, upon the state of business in the House, I was more than ever struck with what I have felt for many years is the hopeless inefficiency of the legislative machine to work the accumulated business of the country. . . . The period must arise when the doctrine as to division of labour must be applied to legislation, as it has [been] to everything else; and laws must be prepared beforehand for the finishing hand of the whole House, instead of as now going through so many stages there. It would be very desirable if one could at the same time secure the preparation by the hands and in the manner where most knowledge of details could be procured—if, for instance, the Irish members met in Dublin two months before the regular session for the discussion of purely Irish measures; and that laws so prepared should be subject to only one decision, affirmative or negative, in the whole House. Some proposal, having some such basis, would satisfy all that was legitimate in the desire for home legislation in Ireland, but would preserve the supremacy of the Imperial Parliament. . . .—Ever yours,
This remarkable suggestion was not adopted. Time continued to be wasted in unnecessary debates, till at the close of August Mr. Disraeli was able to make an obituary notice of the protracted session the theme of one of his most amusing and animated speeches; while Lord John, in replying to it, repeated the argument which he had used five months before :—
I must remind the . . . . House that the supposed duty of the members of a Government to introduce a great number of measures to Parliament, and to carry those measures through Parliament in a session, is a duty which is new to the Government of this country.
Let me call the attention of the House to the fact that the Ministers of the Crown are chiefly appointed to administer the affairs of the empire. And when we see that sedition in England has been met with a vigorous arm by the Secretary of State for the Home Department; . . . that rebellion in Ireland has been suppressed by the measures taken by this House, and the energy shown by the Lord Lieutenant; . . . that revolution on the Continent has not shaken the institutions of this country. . . . I must say, as a member of the Government attacked, that the administration of the empire cannot have been so very defective.
No fair person will deny that there was force in the plea : though he may perhaps doubt, if it had been raised in 1822, whether Lord John himself would have thought that it would have entitled Lord Liverpool's Administration to a verdict of not guilty.
The members of the Whig Cabinet, however, were quite as sensible as the outside public that the events of the session of 1848 had not tended to raise the character of the Administration. Supported by an insufficient majority in one House, and confronted by a large majority in the other, it had not even the advantage which other Governments had derived from the advocacy of the newspaper press. The Times declaimed against it; the Chronicle, the traditional organ of the Whigs, had passed into new hands; and the cause of the Administration was left without a competent advocate. Lord Clarendon, who had already adopted measures with the same object in Ireland, was anxious that the Ministers should take steps to secure the support of a friendly newspaper. Lord John was too proud to involve himself in transactions of this character. However much he might have valued the defence of a newspaper if it had been voluntarily offered, he steadily declined to secure it by other means; and throughout his career he remained, by preference, without the advantage, which Lord Palmerston never failed to secure, of some competent journal, prepared to expound his policy and to explain his reasons.
If Lord John took no steps to instruct public opinion through the newspaper press, he made a great effort, before another session arrived, to win the confidence of the people by enlarging the basis of his Administration. Circumstances afforded him ample opportunity for doing so. The unexpected death of Mr. Charles Buller in December 1848, and the still more sudden death of Lord Auckland in January 1849, deprived the Government of one of its most popular members and of one of its ablest administrators, but afforded the Prime Minister the opportunity of offering office to some of the capable men who had served in the Cabinet of Sir Robert Peel. After communicating with Lord Lansdowne, Lord Clarendon, and Lord Palmerston, Lord John wrote to Sir James Graham," who was at Netherby, and asked him to come to London and see him respecting the vacancy at the Admiralty. Sir James at once put himself into the train, travelled through the night to London, and announced his arrival by a note from Euston Square, written at five o’clock on the morning of January 12. Later in the day he had a long interview with Lord John, and (to quote Lady John's account)—
inquired minutely into the proposed policy of Ministers—domestic, foreign, Irish, financial, &c. : even asked if the Cabinet were united, as otherwise he could not consent to enter it. John answered him with the utmost frankness. Sir James thanked him; said nothing could be more agreeable to him personally than to belong to a Ministry of which John was the head; that, if he did, it would be without a wish that any more of the Peel party, of whom he considered himself independent, should be asked to join ; that he should like to consult Sir Robert Peel and
* Lord John had previously offered Sir James the Governor-Generalship of India.
give his answer in the evening; but that, if John wished it, he would give it immediately. John said he did not, and they parted after a conversation of an hour and a half. At eight in the evening John received a note from him saying that he had by accident missed Sir Robert Peel, whom on second thoughts he preferred not to implicate in his decision; that he had made up his mind, and would come and give John his reason at half-past nine. This set us speculating which way his mind was made up, till he came and declined. The grounds were that the Ministry were not prepared to go as far as he should think right in the Cobden line of retrenchment. Saturday morning.—John saw Sir Francis Baring and offered the Admiralty to him. Sir Francis came in the evening and accepted.
. One result ensued from the offer which was thus made to Sir James Graham. During the session of 1849, Peelites and Whigs drew closer together; and the strange distrust which had so frequently separated Sir Robert Peel and Lord John began visibly to wear away. The more aggressive attitude which the Protectionists displayed tended to the cohesion of their opponents. At the outset of the session the Protectionists in either House made the mistake of moving amendments: to the Address. These amendments, however, while they revealed the hostility of the aggressors, displayed also their weakness; and the Government set itself to the task before it, with a resolution which it had not displayed in the previous year. - Besides the legislation which the state of Ireland necessitated, and which has already been described in a previous chapter, the two chief measures of the session of 1849 were. the Bill for altering Parliamentary Oaths and the Bill for repealing the Navigation Acts. Both Bills passed the House of Commons by considerable majorities. The former met its inevitable extinction in the House of Lords; the latter was saved from this fate by the firmness of Lord John. He boldly staked the existence of his Ministry on the adoption of the measure. He used his direct personal influence to secure the
attendance of peers when the House was in committee, and VOL. II. G
proxies were not available; and by these expedients he carried his proposal, though the second reading was only passed by a majority of ten. Lord John used, in his old age, to say that the repeal of the Navigation Acts was carried by the votes of the bishops; and it is a remarkable circumstance that of the twenty-five prelates who took part in the division sixteen supported the measure. But, as a matter of fact, there was a majority, though the smallest of majorities, of lay peers in favour of it; and Lord John's remark afforded, perhaps, a proof that he was always ready to place the most favourable construction on a body of men who were not usually equally tolerant towards himself. Oddly enough, Lord Brougham found it consistent with his politicai opinions to oppose this great measure of reform. But the fact would hardly be worth mentioning if it were not for the happy remark which it suggested to Lord John. “There is no wonder,’ he said, ‘that Brougham thinks he knows something of the Navigation Laws, as he has been fishing for seals so long.”" The Ministry in 1849 acquired the increased reputation which always attaches to a Government successful in carrying
1 Lord Morpeth's unpublished diary, p. 79. The repeal of the Navigation Laws was resisted by the shipowners. But experience soon showed that their anticipations were incorrect. Many years afterwards one of their number thus admitted his error:-
SHEPPERTON, MIDDLESEx, November 9, 1868.
DEAR LORD RUSSELL, –It is now close upon twenty years since I addressed to your Lordship a series of letters, which contained a great number of plausible reasons against the repeal of the Navigation Laws, and had an immense circulation. Two years afterwards I discovered that all my reasons were very erroneous and unsound, and that your Lordship knew a great deal better what was for the interest of the shipowners than the shipowners themselves.
I have just launched a book entitled ‘The Log of My Leisure Hours, which it really is; and, as the 8th chapter of the 3rd volume is devoted to show, in a chit-chat manner, what fools we shipowners were, and how much we, as well as the nation at large, have gained by your great and wise measure of repeal, I have taken the liberty to request the publishers to send to your Lordship, for your acceptance, a copy of the ‘Log, and I remain, my Lord, with much respect, yours faithfully, - - W. S. LINDSAY.
THE RIGHT HON. EARL RUSSELL, K.G.