(a) DEBATE ON THE ADDRESS IN THE
LORDS AND COMMONS,
24 FEBRUARY 1835
1. Speech of Viscount Melbourne
Hansard 3 / xxvi / 76-82.
Viscount Melbourne: -. . With respect to the change of the Administration, I have nothing more to say than has already been said in public on many occasions. That step was determined upon by his Majesty. and approved, adopted, sanctioned, and carried into effect by the counsel and advice of the noble Duke opposite, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. For that change, therefore, that noble Duke is undoubtedly responsible. He advised it, and I apprehend that it is a constitutional doctrine which will not admit of doubt, that he is responsible for it. Whether that change were prudent or wise, it is certainly not for me or my colleagues to determine. It is for the country - it is for your Lordships - it is for the other House of Parliament to decide that question. But when I consider the situation in which we are placed -when I consider the position in which the noble Lords opposite have placed themselves - when I consider the position in which they have placed the country - when I consider our actual state, and our prospects for the future, I must say that r do not see any thing that justifies the prudence or the discretion of that determination.... But the Ministry having been dissolved, the present Prime Minister in course of time returned from the Continent, and on his arrival the Ministry was constituted as it now stands. They shortly came to a decision, which, in my mind, presents the strongest grounds of charge against noble Lords opposite, viz., the decision of dissolving the late Parliament. Your Lordships will be pleased to observe, that all this took place while the country was in an admitted state of peace and prosperity. ... The present Prime Minister, at a dinner given to him and others of his colleagues, at the Mansion-house, shortly after the formation of the Ministry, said, "It is impossible to deny, that since the occurrence of the important events that have taken place within the last six weeks, there has been calm and tranquility in this country, which, after the political excitement in which we have lived for some time past, could not have been anticipated."
...... The right hon. Baronet after some eloquent sentences, proceeded to state. "Gentlemen, I believe, if the public feeling of this country could be embodied into expressions, it would speak in words, to some such purport as this: -We are tired of agitation; we are tired of that state of excitement which, in private life, withdraws men from their proper stations, and which, in public life, exercises the energies of public men in any other matters than their moral duties. We will not yield to the pressure from without; we will not have this domination; we are content that the public opinion and the public will should be expressed through the authorized public channels, and by authorized public means." Now, I ask your Lordships, how it is possible that, any man holding these opinions, having these feelings in his heart, with these expressions in his mouth, could at that time have contemplated the dissolution of Parliament ?Why, we have here the strongest argument against such a step I ever heard in my life. Here is the exact statement of every evil that can arise from a dissolution of Parliament, of all the misfortunes which such a public contest as follows that act must produce. What tends to agitation, and takes men from their proper business so much as a dissolution of Parliament. What is a pressure from without if it be not a general election ? Is it not bringing the influence of the people to bear immediately upon their recognized and constituted organs If ever there were reasons for not dissolving Parliament, here they are in the speech of Sir Robert Peel, at the Mansion-house. But in what course are you embarking - you have had one dissolution, and you menace us with another ["Cries of No, no"] ........ Your Lordship will recollect that it is admitted, that the dissolution took place when the public mind was in a state of calm and tranquility - when the country was approaching to that state of quiet and repose which, it is to be hoped, we are some day or other to enjoy. If so the Parliament which has been just elected must be taken fairly to represent the opinions of the people. You cannot appeal from it with success. I recollect that the noble Lord, the Keeper of the Privy Seal, said, that the Parliament of 1831 was elected wider excitement, and that the people were deluded by the name and authority of the King. Now that last topic has been employed pretty liberally upon the present occasion, but it has been employed on the side of the Government, and that Government cannot pretend to allege that the present Parliament does not represent the will of the people. Now what is the character of the House of Commons ? Under what banners have its members obtained their seats ? Every one of them under the banners of Reform. Some have said, that they are willing to go further than others; but all have Reform in their mouths. Must we not conclude, therefore, that the country is in favour of the principle thus recognized The King's Speech is also, we are told, a Reforming Speech. Why then was it not pronounced to the former House Former dissolutions had definite and important objects in view. That of 1784 prevented the meditated change in the government of the East Indies; that of 1807 changed the policy of the country, most unfortunately with respect to the Roman Catholics, and measures which we are ruing to this day were adopted. The dissolution of 1831 carried the Reform Bill. But what is the object of this dissolution, if the same measures are to be pursued, the same language held, as would have been held without a dissolution ? There has been no object in view but a change of men, by a wanton act of power. No reason can be seen for the act, except the introduction of a certain number of Tory supporters of the Ministry into the House of Commons, dragging them through the dirt, making them desert their old principles, and act against all the professions of their former lives. I can imagine no other motive for the conduct of the Government unless it be embarking us in dissolution upon dissolution - a desperate and fearful game, of which I see no end unless it be the fulfillment of the predictions of which you were so lavish at the passing of the Reform Bill, that it would be impossible for the Government of the country to be carried on under that dispensation .... The noble Viscount concluded by moving the following Amendment - "That we acknowledge with grateful recollection, that the Act for Amending the Representation of the people was submitted to Parliament with Your Majesty's sanction, and carried into law by your Majesty's assent That confidently expecting to derive further advantages from that wise and necessary measure, we trust that your Majesty's Councils will be directed in the spirit of well-considered and effective Reform; and, that the liberal and comprehensive policy which restored to the people the right of choosing their Representatives, and which provided for the emancipation of all persons held in slavery in your Majesty's Colonies and possessions abroad, will, with the same enlarged view, place without delay our Municipal Corporations under vigilant popular control, remove all the well-founded grievances of the Protestant Dissenters, and correct those abuses in the Church which impair its efficiency in England, disturb the peace of society in Ireland, and lower the character of the Establishment in both countries. That we beg leave submissively to add, that we cannot but lament that the progress of these Reforms should have been interrupted and endangered by the dissolution of a Parliament earnestly intent upon the vigorous prosecution of measures to which the wishes of the people were most anxiously and justly directed.
2. Speech of the duke of Wellington
Duke of WELLINGTON said, their Lordships would admit, that, after having been personally called on as he was by the noble Viscount who had just sat down, he should feel anxious to take the first opportunity which was open to him to offer a few remarks on what the noble Viscount had stated. The noble Viscount had directed a great part of his speech to show that the dissolution of Parliament was not necessary; and that he (the Duke of Wellington) was responsible for the dissolution, of the late Government He must beg the noble Viscount's pardon, and deny that he was responsible for those measures which caused the dissolution of the late Government and led to the formation of the present. That which led to the dissolution of the late Government was the absolute impossibility that it could go on longer without a noble Lord, who had ceased to be a Member of the House of Commons, by his removal from that to be a Member of their Lordships' House. He would beg to call to the recollection of their Lordships what had been stated by a noble Earl, who had for nearly four years been at the head of the Government, when Lord Althorp had resigned his office of Chancellor of the Exchequer and leader of the House of Commons. The noble Earl stated, that he could not, under such circumstances, continue at the head of the Government; for, by the resignation of his noble Friend, he had lost his right hand; and it would be impossible to carry on the Government with advantage from the time that that noble Lord had quitted power. But that was not all. The noble Viscount (Melbourne) had himself stated to their Lordships, as one of the grounds on which he had been induced to take office, that he had been assured that his noble Friend was willing to go on in office with him, and, therefore, that, with his assistance, he would consent to undertake to carry on the Government. But even that was not all, for he happened to know that, when the noble Viscount felt that he was likely to lose the aid of Lord Althorp, he declared that he should feel himself placed in great difficulty, for that the noble Lord was the very foundation on which the Government stood, and when that was removed, it was impossible to go on. When, then, the question of the Government came before his Majesty, he found it fairly put to him whether he would seek for other councils, and whether he would consent to other arrangement for the formation of a Government, or whether he would be content to abide by the particular administration which at that moment existed. Let their Lordships only observe the situation in which the King was placed, and ask themselves, what he was to think in the new position in which he found himself. The noble Earl had been under the necessity of resigning when the noble Lord, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, had sent in his resignation. The noble Viscount, too, had declared that he considered the noble Lord's assistance essentially necessary to him. But when his Majesty was left by the noble Earl, and when lord Althorp was removed from the other House, his Majesty, forsooth, was not to be permitted to consider whether his position was not materially altered by these events, and whether it would not be expedient for him to make some other arrangements for carrying on the public service. Everybody, indeed, but his Majesty was to be allowed to take into consideration the alterations which had taken place in the power of the Government by the loss of Lord Althorp in the House of Commons! Their Lordships, however, he was convinced, would not acquiesce in such a decision. They would see and declare that the Sovereign was fully entitled to take into consideration his own peculiar position, and the state of public affairs, and to deliberate whether it would be advisable for him to make other arrangements with respect to the existing Administration, or, if not, whether it would not be better for him to form a new Government altogether. Under the circumstances in which his Majesty was placed, he had thought proper to send to him (the Duke of Wellington); and he was happy to find that all those histories and stories which were propagated respecting Court intrigues - [Viscount Melbourne: "Not by me".] - He was quite certain of that But all those idle stories were now entirely laid aside. It was now fully admitted on all hands that there never was any such thing. For his own part he had had no communication of any description with the Court for two -ay, he might say,for three, months previous to the communication from his Majesty. He was then at his house in Hampshire; and it was much a matter of surprise to him at the moment as it possibly could be to any of their Lordships. Certainly, he was previously satisfied that some great change in the Administration must be the consequence of the removal of Lord Althorp from the House of Commons; but when the communication reached him, it was as much a matter of surprise to him as it could be to many of their Lordships, if they were to receive a similar summons to-morrow. When his Majesty sent for him, he might have accepted the offer his Majesty was graciously pleased to make to him. He might have come down to their Lordships in a higher situation; but he did not recommend that course to his Majesty, which would have been accessory to the gratification of his own ambition. He did not act as if he had a personal object to serve. He recommended to his Majesty that line of proceeding which he conceived would be most advantageous for his service, which was, that he should send for the right hon. Gentleman then in the other House of Parliament as the individual in the present times most fit and capable of discharging the duties of the King's first Minister. That right hon. Gentleman was then in another part of the world, at a considerable distance from England; and it appeared advisable to his Majesty, and to him that he should take possession of the Government for Sir Robert Peel; and absolutely necessary, at the same time, whoever might carry on the Government until the right hon. Gentle - man's arrival, that he should exercise no patronage, and take no step whatever which should in the least tend to diminish the full and free authority of the right hon. Gentleman when he might come to act His advice to his Majesty, accordingly, had been to put him provisionally at the head of affairs as Secretary for the Home Department and First Lord of the Treasury. But the noble Viscount (Melbourne) accused him of holding the Seals of the three principal Secretary-ships of State at the same time. But this, although gravely urged, was not a very serious charge. Having been appointed to any one of the Secretary-ships. a man was competent to hold the Seals of the other two, in the absence of those to whom they might be confided. It was true, that he had, as Secretary for the Home Department, held the Seals of the three Secretary-ships; but he had exercised no more authority than he should have done if he had been one of the three principal Secretaries, and his colleagues were absent And was there, he would ask, no precedent for such a proceeding ? Why, Mr. Canning, while he was yet Secretary for the Foreign Department, was on the 12th of April appointed First Lord of the Treasury, and he did not resign the Seals of the Foreign Department until the 30th of the same month; consequently, during the whole of the intervening time, he was both Secretary for Foreign Affairs and First Lord of the Treasury. He knew very well the difference that there was between the two cases. There were two Secretaries who had resigned their, offices but had not given up the Seals. But before the noble Viscount proceeded to blame a transaction of this description, he should have shown that some inconvenience had arisen from it. He said that no inconvenience had resulted from it. He might say, too, that during the whole time he held the Seals, there was not a single office disposed of nor an act done, which was not essentially necessary for the service of the King and of the country. Moreover, he might add, that Sir Robert Peel on his arrival found all things, as nearly as possible. in the same situation as upon the 15th of November. The noble Viscount (Melbourne), however, had observed, that the office of First Lord of the Treasury was incompatible with the other offices which he held. It might be true, if those offices were held for any length of time by the same individual. But, in the first place, he only occupied them provisionally; and, secondly, he would remark that constitutionally the First Lord of the Treasury had no more power than any other Lord at the Board. It was perfectly understood, too, by all men, that the arrangement was not permanent, and that he only held the Government for another individual, who had been sent for by his Sovereign. Next, the noble Viscount (Melbourne) blamed him highly for having attended his Majesty, and facilitated his arrangements for the formation of a new Administration; and yet, strange to say, the noble Viscount himself it was, if he were not mistaken, who brought to town the order in consequence of which he had waited upon his Majesty. If there were anything criminal in attending his Sovereign, and assisting in carrying into execution the plan for the formation of a new Administration, what should be said of that Minister who brought a letter to town the object of which was to secure that attendance and co-operation, that Minister well knowing at the time what were the contents of that letter ? Was the noble Viscount, then, the man to bring him forward as a criminal for having attended to the wishes of his Sovereign, when he himself was of those commands which carried him into the presence of his Majesty, and to the performance of those services which the noble Viscount now repudiated ? If he were disposed so to argue, he might contend that the fact the bearer of the noble Viscount being the bearer of this letter showed the animus with which the noble Viscount had waited upon his Majesty, and the animus of the transactions between them, and also the animus of the communications between himself and his Majesty; but it was not necessary. He would only repeat that he never was more surprised than at the mode in which he had understood the arrangement was afterwards received by the noble Viscount. He trusted that he had stated enough to justify him in assisting to form a new Ministry. The next charge to which he had to advert was, that the Ministers had dissolved the late Parliament. With respect to this, it was true, that whatever Ministry advised the dissolution of a Parliament was liable to be called on for some reason which might have induced them so to do; but he had seldom heard of such a course of proceeding as that Ministers should be called upon on the first day of the assembling of Parliament, and told, "Give me some reason why you thought fit to dissolve; and justify your dissolution of Parliament. by showing that the effort you have made has been a successful one." But the noble Viscount after heaping his censure upon them for dissolving, added, that in all cases where Parliament was dissolved it was success which justified the measure, If, then, they had made an experiment which was to depend upon so peremptory a criterion, surely he ought, at least, to allow them a short time to wait and see fairly what had been the result. The noble Lord and his friends had dismissed in June a Parliament which was chosen in November. Their experiment he acknowledged was perfectly successful. He hoped, that the present experiment would also prove perfectly successful. At all event, it would be but fair to give them some little time for the prescribed justification, and not to assail them on the first day of the Session. And now as to this success, he wanted to know, after all, how great was that measure of success which the late Ministry enjoyed in the late Parliament, when it appeared to rest solely and exclusively on the shoulders of a single individual; so, that when he was removed to the upper House, the Government to which he belonged had found it impossible to go on. As to himself, he was convinced that the course he had pursued was correct, and by it he was ready to stand or fall. He believed that a great number of persons was disposed and determined to support the Administration, and he hoped the House would have the patience to wait and see what were the measures the Ministers had to propose. He was not aware that there were any other topics on which it was necessary for him to speak He had, he should think, said enough to show that there was no reason why their Lordships should see it expedient to adopt the Amendment of the noble Viscount He ought, perhaps, to say, as to the Municipal Corporations, that it was not the intention of Ministers in any way to thwart the Commissioners, and they were unwilling to pledge themselves to any particular system of legislation without knowing what the Report of those Commissioners would be. In that mode of proceeding, their Lordships must he was sure, be disposed to acquiesce, as his Majesty informed them that the Report would be laid before them in a short tine.
3. The explanation by Viscount Melbourne
Hansard, 3 / xxvi / 87-88.
I rise to explain the fact to which the noble Duke has alluded, of my bringing from
Brighton the letter which led the noble Duke to the presence of his Majesty. After I had had my audience of his Majesty on the 14th of November, 1 went into the room of Sir Herbert Taylor, and he requested me, as I was going to London immediately, to convey a letter from him to Sir Henry Wheatley. at St. James's Palace. I will not deny that I knew that that letter enclosed a letter to the noble Duke; but when so requested, would it not have been the most captious, churlish, ungracious conduct, if I had refused to allow my servant to carry it. and if I had said, " No! send a messenger of your own ?" and can any approbation of the act of sending for the Duke be implied from the manner in which I acted upon that occasion?
4. Speech of Sir Robert Peel
Hansard, 3/xxvi/215 - 227.
CHANCELLOR OP the EXCHEQUER (Sir R. Peel, Tamworth): . . .. I shall in the first place, refer to the circumstances under which the present Government was constituted:
I shall defend the course which I thought it my duty to advise the King to pursue at the period of its formation; and give accurate delineations of the measures which it is the intention of his Majesty's Government to introduce; those explanations the House has a right to require, and I should shrink from that duty which is imposed upon me ff1 did not avow a willing disposition to afford them. I stand here as the Minister of the Crown - placed in this situation by no act of my own - in consequence of no dexterous combination with those to whose principles I have been uniformly opposed, and with whom I might frequently have made, had I been so inclined, a temporary alliance for the purpose of embarrassing the former Government. I stand here in fulfillment of a public duty, shrinking from no responsibility, with no arrogant pretensions of defying or disregarding the opinions of the majority of this House, yet still resolved to persevere to the last, so far as is consistent with the honour of a public man, in maintaining the prerogative of the Crown, and in fulfilling those duties which I owe to my King and to my country.
In vindication of the course which I have pursued, it is necessary that I should refer to the circumstances which preceded the dissolution of the last Government. I have been asked whether I would impose on the King in his personal capacity, the responsibility of the dismissal of that Government In answer to this question. I will at once declare, that I claim all the responsibility which properly belongs to me as a public man; I am responsible for the assumption of the duty which I have undertaken, and, if you please. I am, by my acceptance of office, responsible for the removal of the late Government. God forbid that I should endeavour to transfer any responsibility which ought properly to devolve upon me to that high and sacred authority which the constitution of this country recognizes as incapable of error, and every act of which it imputes to the advice of responsible counsellors. But whilst I disclaim all intention of shrinking from that responsibility, which one situated as I am must necessarily incur; I must at the same time unhesitatingly assert, what is perfectly consistent with the truth, and what is due to respect for my own character, - namely that I was not, and under no circumstances would I have been a party to any secret counselling or instigating the removal of any Government. But although I have not taken any part in procuring the dismissal of the late Government, although I could not from circumstances which are notorious to the world, hold communication with any of those with whom I have now the honour to act, much less with the highest authority in the State, as to the propriety or policy of that dismissal, still I do conceive that by the assumption of office, the responsibility of the change which has taken place is transferred from the Crown to its advisers; and I am ready - be the majority against me what it may - to take all the responsibility which constitutionally belongs to me and to submit to any consequences to which the assumption of that responsibility may expose in ..... I now come to the subject of the dissolution of the late Parliament. I have been asked whether I take upon myself the responsibility of that proceeding, and without a moment's hesitation I answer that I do take upon myself the responsibility of the dissolution. The moment I returned to this country to undertake the arduous duties now imposed upon me, I did determine that I would leave no constitutional effort untried to enable me satisfactorily to discharge the trust reposed in me. I did fear that if I had met the late Parliament, I should have been obstructed in my course, and obstructed in a manner, and at a season, which might have precluded an appeal to the people. But it is unnecessary for me to assign reasons for this opinion. Was it not the constant boast that the late Parliament had unbounded confidence in the late Government, And why should those who declare they are ready to condemn me without a hearing, be surprised at my appeal to the judgment of another, and a higher, and a fairer tribunal - the public sense of the people, Notwithstanding the specious reasons which have been usually assigned for the dissolution I believe it will be found, that whenever there has occurred an extensive change of Government, a dissolution of Parliament has followed. In the year 1784, a change took place in the Government, Mr. Pitt was appointed to the office of Prime Minister, and in the same year a dissolution took place. Again, in 1806, when the Administration of Lords Grey and Grenville was formed, the Parliament, which had only sat four years, was shortly after the assumption of power by those Noblemen dissolved. It was on that occasion urged, that a negotiation with France having failed, it became necessary to refer to the sense of the country, but I never will admit that the failure of the negotiation with France could constitute any sufficient grounds for the dissolution of a Parliament which there was not the slightest reason to believe was adverse to the continuance of the war, or dissatisfied with the conduct of the negotiation. In the year 1807, another change took place in the Government by the accession of Mr. Perceval to power, and then again a dissolution immediately took place. In the year 1830. Earl Grey was called into office as Prime Minister, and shortly after the vote in committee on the Reform Bill, the Parliament which had been elected in 1830, Was dissolved in 1831. Hence it appears that in the case of the four last extensive changes in the government, those changes have been followed by a dissolution of the then existing Parliament. The present, however, is I believe to be the first occasion upon which the House of Commons has ever proceeded to record its dissatisfaction at the exercise of the prerogative of dissolution.