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to be moved in the House of Commons, 1871, v. 3, p. 433. See Earl Russell's

with a view to re-establish the minis- llecoll. p. 259.

try, when the mover received a letter


mands to form an administration/ Adjournments of
both Houses took place from time to time, until July 6,
when new writs were moved for in the House of Com-
mons on behalf of the incoming administration. But no
observations were made upon this occasion. On Monday,
July 9, however, the new premier, the Earl of Derby,
made his ministerial statement to the House of Lords.
He said it had been the wish of the queen, and his own
endeavour, that he should be able ' to form a govern-
ment composed, no doubt, in the main, from the Con-
servative party, but formed on an enlarged basis, capable
of including within it some persons either opposed to us,
or who had been supporters, or even members, of the
late government.' By ' enlarged basis ' his lordship
meant, ' enlarged, not as to principles, but as to per-
sons,' and not ' a government of coalition ; ' by which he
understood ' a government of men of different parties,
in which each, to a greater or less extent, sacrifices his
individual opinions for the purpose of obtaining united
political strength.' Being unsuccessful in his attempt
to obtain any such ' extraneous aid,' Earl Derby pro-
ceeded to form a ministry from the ranks of the Con-
servative party, which was accepted by the queen. His
lordship then explained the general principles upon
which he proposed to carry on the government. He
was followed by Earl Eussell, who commented upon one
or two topics of the premier's speech ; but no further
discussion took place. w After the return of the new
ministers, who had vacated their seats in the House of
Commons by accepting office, the business of the session
was brought to a speedy termination, and Parliament
was prorogued upon August 10. Although the Con-
servative party was in an acknowledged minority in
the House of Commons, ministers met with no factious

T But it was on Tuesday, June 26, form a ministry. Hans, D, v. 184,
that the queen intimated her desire p. 734.
to the Earl of Derby that he should w Ib. pp. 726-750.


or ungenerous opposition in winding up the public
business. Early in the ensuing session, ministers were
thwarted in an endeavour to induce the House of Com-
mons to approve of an ingenious expedient for settling
the basis of a new Eeform Bill, by adopting a series of
resolutions, upon which an acceptable scheme of reform
might be framed. But this proposal was regarded as
inconsistent with the true doctrine of ministerial respon-
sibility for all measures to be submitted to Parliament,
and they were compelled to abandon it ; they then intro-
duced a Eeform Bill, the fate of which is recorded in a
subsequent chapter/

27. Mr. Disraeli's First Administration. 1868.

1868. In the Session of 1868, the newly appointed ministry
of Mr. Disraeli after sustaining a minor defeat upon
a Government Bill to transfer certain fines and fees in
Ireland to the Consolidated Fund y were defeated, on
April 3 and 30, upon a vital question raised by Mr.
Gladstone in regard to the disestablishment of the Irish
Church. On the ground that this vote had ' altered
the relations between her Majesty's government and the
present House of Commons,' and required that ministers
should consider their position, Mr. Disraeli obtained an
adjournment of the House from Thursday to Monday. 2
On Monday (May 4) both Houses were informed that
ministers had advised the queen to dissolve Parliament,
' and take the opinion of the country as to the conduct
of her ministers, and the question of the Irish Church ; '
but had also stated, ' that if her Majesty were of opinion
that the question at issue could be more satisfactorily
settled, or the just interests of the country more studied,
by the immediate retirement' of ministers, 1 they would
resign at once. ' Her Majesty was pleased to express

Sue post, v. 2. y Hans. D. v. 190, pp. 1227-1234.

Ib. v. 101, p. 1679.


her pleasure not to accept the resignation of her ministry,
and her readiness to dissolve this Parliament as soon as Pariia-
the state of public business would permit.' Whereupon
Mr. Disraeli ' advised her Majesty that, although the
present constituency was no doubt as morally compe-
tent to decide upon the question of the disestablishment
of the Church as the representatives of the constituency
in this House, still it was the opinion of ministers that
every effort should be made with a view that the appeal,
if possible, should be directed to the new constituency
which the wisdom of Parliament created last year ; '
adding, that if ministers had the cordial co-operation
of Parliament, the dissolution might take place in the
autumn. a

In the House of Lords, Earl Grey denied the right
of ministers, on being defeated in the Commons, to ask
the crown for a dissolution of Parliament, unless there
was strong reason to believe that the House of Commons
had misrepresented the feeling of the country. In reply,
it was contended by Lord Chancellor Cairns, that the
present Parliament, having been elected under a prime
minister whose opinions in regard to the Irish Church
were known to have been adverse to those recently
expressed by a majority of the House of Commons, the
vote of the House on that question presented exactly
one of those occasions on which ministers might fairly
advise a dissolution. b

In the House of Commons, Mr. Disraeli asserted that
' practically it had been held to be the constitutional
right of a minister, upon taking office, to advise the
crown to dissolve a Parliament elected under the in-
fluence of his political opponents ; ' that the Earl of
Derby had waived that right upon his appointment, in
1866, because ' the Parliament itself was then but re-
cently elected, and there were other reasons of gravity

Hans. D. v. 194, pp. 1686, 1705, 1794. " Ib. pp. 1687-1689.


1868. and principle which induced him to hope that he might
be able to carry on affairs with the present Parliament.'
At the close of 1867, Earl Derby, having succeeded in
passing the Reform Act, might have claimed the right
' to take the opinion of the country upon the conduct of
ministers in carrying this measure.' But he was de-
terred from doing so because there were certain supple-
mentary measures connected with the settlement of the
Reform question which still remained to be enacted.
In the present session, Lord Derby resigned, and was
replaced in the premiership by Mr. Disraeli, the policy
of ministers continuing unchanged. Under these cir-
cumstances, Mr. Disraeli claimed that the original right
to advise a dissolution of Parliament had devolved upon
him. He added, that the approval generally accorded
to the administration of public affairs by the new minis-
try was such, that they felt free to appeal to the country,
and had no fear of the result. He had accordingly ad-
vised a dissolution upon the question whether or not
the Church in Ireland should be disestablished, having
' a profound conviction that the opinion of the nation
does not agree on this subject with the vote of the
House of Commons.' c

In reply, Mr. Gladstone denied the right of a minis-
try to ' inflict ' a ' penal ' dissolution upon the country,
for no other cause than its ' sitting in a Parliament that
was called into existence before the ministry itself.' He
argued that there were two conditions necessary to
justify an appeal to the country by a government whose
existence is menaced by an adverse vx>te in the Com-
mons. ' The first of them is, that there should be an
adequate cause of public policy ; and the second of
them is, that there should be a rational prospect of a
reversal of the vote of the House.' He denied the pro-
priety of a dissolution merely to determine the question

c Hans. P. v. 191, pp. 1695-1702.


whether an administration should continue in office, ises.
Admitting the right to dissolve where it was doubtful
whether the country would ratify the vote of the House,
he contended that the large majorities (of 60 and 65)
against ministers on the Irish Church question were ' a
sufficient evidence of the judgment of the country. ' d

Mr. Gladstone, moreover, protested against a post-
ponement of the dissolution which, according to prece-
dent, should be immediate to ' the autumn ; ' ministers
meanwhile proposing to submit to the House questions
of great constitutional importance. He also declared
his intention of following up his resolutions upon the
Irish Church with a Bill to suspend appointments therein
until after the meeting of the new Parliament. 6

Other leading members took part in the debate, and
vehemently opposed the contemplated delay in the dis-
solution of Parliament, and the continuance of ministers
in office for eight or nine months, until a new Parlia-
ment could pass judgment upon them.

Mr. Disraeli, in reply, stated that ministers were
willing to abstain from all unavoidable legislation, and
to limit themselves to passing the Scotch and Irish Ee-
form Bills, and the Boundary Bills, which would permit
of a dissolution in November, with an appeal to ' the
new constituencies.' But he repudiated the notion that
the adverse vote on the Irish Church question which
he believed to have been a conscientious vote on a sub-
ject of great importance was to be regarded as meant
' in any way whatever to imply a general want of confi-
dence in the government.' On such a matter there ought
to be no mistake or misunderstanding. ' If you wish to
pass a vote of want of confidence, propose one. Let the
case be fairly argued, let the House give a deliberate
opinion, and let the country judge.' If the Opposition

d Hans. D. v. 191, pp. 1708-1713. proceedings upon this Bill, see post
f Ib. pp. 1714-1717. For the v. 2.



1868. objected to the course proposed "by ministers, it would
be their duty to propose a vote of this description,
which, if carried, would lead to an immediate dissolution.
The reason why an immediate dissolution had not
been already determined upon was, as everyone knew,
because ministers were 'placed, in reference to that
point, in circumstances of a peculiar and unprecedented
character,' wherein they would ' endeavour to arrive at
some understanding with the House which, while it
would facilitate the progress of public business, would
be of the greatest advantage to the country. ' f Next
day, a discussion arose as to an apparent discrepancy
between the terms of the ministerial statement in the
House of Commons and that given in the House of
Lords, a point which will be noticed in a subsequent
page. g But upon this, as upon later occasions, the
House showed an evident disinclination to favour the
introduction of a vote of want of confidence, and no
attempt was made, in either House, during the re-
mainder of the session, to force the ministers out of
office by such a method. h

Meanwhile, the Scotch and Irish Eeform Bills, and
the Boundary Bills, were proceeded with, and ministers
were obliged to permit very extensive and important
amendments to be made in these measures. Upon
one occasion, however, they stood firm, and refused to
be responsible for certain amendments which had been
carried against them in committee on the Scotch Eeform
Bill. A compromise was afterwards agreed upon, and
the Bill allowed to proceed. 1

On May 29, Mr. Disraeli repeated that the Govern-
ment were of opinion that they should expedite the
dissolution as much as possible, and confine their legis-

' Hans. D. v. 191, pp. 1742-1745, p. 1809.

1815. ' Ib. v. 192, pp. 435, 473, 485,

* See post, v. 2. 622, 841. See also the summary of

11 See Hans. D. v. 191, p. 1902 ; v. proceedings on these Bills, in the Ann.

192, pp. 648, 797, 1035, 1224 ; v. 193. Reg. for 1868.


lation, ' generally speaking, to that which was neces-
sary ; ' in other words, ' to the supplementary Eeform
Bills and the Estimates.' Various government measures
would accordingly be dropped. But it was urged that
there were ' special reasons ' why the Bribery and Cor-
ruption Bill, the Telegraphs Bill, and the Foreign Cattle
Importation Bill, should be allowed to proceed, either
wholly or partially ; although it was admitted that it
would be ' for the House to express an opinion ' on this
subject. Mr. Gladstone concurred in these arrange-
ments^ and finally all the aforesaid Bills were passed
through both Houses, except the Foreign Cattle Bill,
which encountered great opposition, and was with-
drawn. 1 ' Some difficulty arose on account of ministers
proposing to take the Votes in Supply for the whole year,
instead of for a limited period, and until the meeting
of the new Parliament, agreeably to precedent in similar
cases ; but it being shown that the course proposed
was advisable on the score of public convenience, the
Opposition consented to it, 1 and the session closed with-
out further strife. The dissolution of Parliament took
place on November 11, 1868, and on December 10 the
new Parliament assembled.

Eeviewing the relations of ministers towards the
House of Commons during the whole of this session, it
is evident that they were most unsatisfactory and ob-
jectionable. It would, however, be unfair to impute
blame, indiscriminately, to any party or person, for
what was really owing to a combination of circum-
stances, which prevented ministers from making that
immediate appeal to the country from the adverse vote
of the House of Commons which is ordinarily required
by constitutional usage. By mutual consent, the minis-
ters and the House of Commons agreed, that the disso-
lution should be deferred until the new constituencies

Hans. D. v. 192, pp. 1066-1068. k Ib. v. 193, p. 1775.

Ib. v. 192, pp. 1126, 1223, 1602.



1868. were organised. This prolonged, for several months,
the unseemly and unconstitutional spectacle of a
ministry holding office by sufferance, and unable to
exercise any effectual control over the proceedings of
the House of Commons ; a condition of things which,
it need scarcely be said, was palpably at variance with
the first principles of parliamentary government. 111

The Disraeli Administration having appealed from
the decision of the House of Commons, in favour of
disestablishing the Irish Church, to the constituent
body, Parliament was dissolved, by royal proclamation,
on November 11, 1868, and a new one summoned to
meet on December 10. In order to effect this an Act
was passed to accelerate the registration of voters en-
franchised by the new Eeform Acts (31 & 32 Viet,
c. 58). The elections resulted in an important accession
of strength to the Liberal party, 11 and in the return of
an almost unprecedented number of new members. As
soon as he was assured that the decision of the con-
stituencies was fatal to his continuance in power, Mr.
Disraeli resolved not to await the meeting of Parlia-
ment, but immediately to retire from office. Accord-
ingly he at once placed his own resignation and that of
his colleagues in the hands of her Majesty. His reasons
for adopting this ' unusual course ' p were communicated
to the Conservative party in both Houses on December 2
by a circular from Downing Street. In this paper Mr.
Disraeli vindicated the course taken by ministers in
appealing to the verdict of the enlarged electoral body,
justified his conduct in relinquishing office without
awaiting the assembling of Parliament, and announced
his steadfast adherence to his former policy in resisting

m See ante, p. 3. Ed. Rev. v. 128, ment of the Irish Church. Hans. D.

p. 572. v. 198, p. 669.

" Pledged to support Mr. Gladstone Ann. Reg. 1868, pp. 171-174.
in his measure for the disestablish- p Hans. D. v. 194, pp. 414, 415.


the disestablishment and disendowment of the Irish i868.

No doubt the general current of precedent is in favour of a
beaten minister accepting his defeat only at the hands of Parlia-
ment, and the custom is grounded on the salutary doctrine, that it is
only through Parliament that the nation can speak. r Incidentally
referring to his resignation of office, several months afterwards, Mr.
Disraeli told the House of Commons that, feeling the result of the
general election to be so different from that which they had counted
upon and predicted, his colleagues unanimously agreed with him in
thinking that it would be most painful to remain in the possession of
power and patronage a moment longer than was necessary. ' We
felt that this course was due to our own honour ; to the personal
convenience of the sovereign, and the progress of public business ;
and lastly, due to the incoming minister, that he should not be
thrust into office without time to prepare his measures.' 8

The same course was followed by Mr. Gladstone, in resigning office
after the defeat of his ministry at the hustings, in February 1874.
And Mr. Freeman regards these precedents as introducing a new
principle into the unwritten Constitution of England, of the direct
action of the electors at their polling booths to effect a change of
ministers without the intervention of the House of Commons.
While deprecating this change, he regards these precedents as point-
ing out a course which, hereafter, will be followed by future
ministers. 1

Mr. Gladstone having been the leader in whose
name the Liberal party had gained the victory at the
elections, he was the one to whom her Majesty natu-
rally entrusted the formation of a new ministry. He
was summoned to Windsor Castle for this purpose on
December 5, and in a few days succeeded in forming a
powerful cabinet, which included Mr. Bright.

Upon the meeting of Parliament on December 10
the ministerial benches were necessarily unoccupied, the
new ministers having vacated their seats by the accept-
ance of office. Under these circumstances, after the
election of a speaker, and the issue of the new writs, an
adjournment took place to admit of the re-election of

Ann. Reg. 1868, p. 174. Hans. D. v. 196, p. 739.

r Fort. Rev. N.8. v. 24, p. 205. Int. Rev. v. 2, p. 374.


ministers, and of some preparation on their part for
their ministerial duties. Parliament re-assembled on
February 16, when the queen's speech was delivered
(by commission), and business commenced. It is worthy
of note that with the exception of Mr. Disraeli's circular
above mentioned and of the ministerial explanations
which Avere given at the hustings no official explana-
tion was made to Parliament or to the country of the
causes which had led to the change of government.
The new ministers quietly took their places in both
Houses, and no explanations were given or sought for
upon either side. u

28. Defeat and Resignation of the Gladstone Ministry

in 1873.

1873. On March 3, 1873, on motion for the second reading
of the Irish University Education Bill, an amendment
was proposed to substitute a resolution, expressing
regret that ministers, previously to this motion, had not
felt it to be their duty to state to the House the names
of the 28 persons intended to be submitted to the House
as members of the Governing Council under this Bill.
Mr. Gladstone showed that the practice of Parliament
admitted of these names being communicated to the
House at any time before the close of the Committee
on the Bill, and that it was ' not merely difficult but
impossible for ministers, consistently with due respect
to Parliament, to present this list ' . . . ' before they
knew what form the Bill would finally assume.' v Never-
theless, after four nights' debate, the amendment was
agreed to. It is evident, from the debate, that this
vote of censure was carried, not upon the validity of
the objection embodied in the amendment itself, but
upon the broader ground of combined opposition to the
government scheme for the reform of University Educa-

u Hans. D. v. 104, pp. 50, 217. T Ib. v. 214, p. 1104.


tion in Ireland. w Immediately after the vote was taken,
the House, on motion of Mr. Gladstone, adjourned for
two days.:* On March 13 both Houses were informed
that, in consequence of this vote, ministers had resigned
office, and her Majesty had accepted their resignations.
Whereupon the House of Commons adjourned until
March 17. But the House of Lords although it was
admitted that, ' as a rule, it is not convenient to pro-
ceed with legislation when there is no executive govern-
ment ' agreed to proceed with the second reading of
the Marriage with a Deceased Wife's Sister Bill, that
being a measure ' entirely apart from party politics,'
which had been debated by the House of Lords, under
analogous circumstances, in 1851. y

After making his announcement to the House of
Commons, Mr. Gladstone was questioned as to whom he
recommended to the queen to entrust with the forma-
tion of a new government. But he declined to answer.
As the forty days contemplated by the Act for an
address by either House of Parliament against schemes
of the Endowed Schools Commissioners were on the eve
of expiring, and notice had been given for addresses in
reference to certain schemes, the retiring vice-president
of the Education Board gave notice of a Bill to enlarge
the forty days to four months, so that such intended
addresses should not be prejudiced by the delay occa-
sioned by this political exigency. 1

On March 17 both Houses were informed that the
queen had sent for Mr. Disraeli, who was ready to
undertake, but had been obliged to relinquish his
attempt, to form an administration, and that Mr.
Gladstone had been invited to resume office. Under
these circumstances a further adjournment took place
until March 20. On that day fuller explanations were

Hans. D. v. 214, p. 1421. y Ib. p. 1869.

Ib. p. 1868. * Ib. pp. 1909-1912.


1873. given by and on behalf of Mr. Gladstone and Mr.
Disraeli, from which it appeared that, while Mr. Dis-
raeli was confident of his ability to form an efficient
administration, he could not undertake the conduct of
public business in the present House of Commons. He
stated, in justification of this conclusion, that the
adverse vote on the Irish University Bill had been
decided against the ministry by the unexpected com-
bination of Irish Eoman Catholic members (who it had
been anticipated would support the Government) with
the Conservative party, who themselves opposed the
Bill on the ground that it sacrificed the educational
interests of Ireland to the claims of the Eoman Catholic
hierarchy. That a large section of the Liberal party
had also opposed the Bill on the same grounds. The
general unpopularity of this Bill, and the discordant
elements that had combined to reject it, scarcely
seemed to justify (in Mr. Disraeli's opinion) the course
pursued by the ministry in resigning upon its defeat.
There being no common bond of union between Mr.
Disraeli and the majority of the House who rejected
this Bill, he could not expect to be able to carry on the
public business with the existing House of Commons.
Neither was he prepared at once to advise a dissolu-
tion of Parliament, although her Majesty freely offered
him this alternative. For he did not think it at all
desirable to dissolve on the Irish University Bill, and
he was not at present prepared with ' a matured policy
to present to the people ' in case of a dissolution. So
much indispensable business remained to be disposed
of, that if the Conservative party had accepted office
they would have had to conduct the affairs of Govern-
ment in the House of Commons for the duration of a
session of no ordinary length, with a large majority
arrayed against them, and liable (if not to wholesale
censure in the shape of a vote of want of confidence)
to daily humiliations and obstructions. They would


have been obliged (in view of a dissolution at the 1373.
earliest possible period) to accept the estimates of
their predecessors, which, as a general rule, was highly
objectionable. ' Nothing but a political exigency,
nothing but the existence of a question on which the

Online LibraryAlpheus ToddOn parliamentary government in England : its origin, development, and practical operation (Volume 1) → online text (page 23 of 85)