Leader's speech, Hull 1899
Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (Liberal)
Commentary:The speech below is the one delivered by Campbell-Bannerman to a public meeting organized as part of the conference of the National Liberal Federation in Hull on March 8th, 1899 (he also spoke the next day at a meeting of liberal party agents and secretaries). This speech, given before an audience of “several thousand” according to The Times, was his first to the Party since his election as its leader in the House. It was chaired by Sir James Reckitt President of the Hull and District Liberal Federation and who is mentioned in the opening remarks. Introducing Campbell-Bannerman, Reckitt urged the new leader to operate under the motto of “Peace, Retrenchment and Reform” (which, though not especially distinguished, would later lead the Liberals to victory in 1905). In the speech Campbell-Bannerman reiterates support for Irish home-rule and then spends time addressing international policy. In January 1899, an agreement was reached to establish Anglo-Egyptian rule in Sudan. In practice, however, Sudan was administered as a British colony. Campbell-Bannerman criticizes this development, fearful of the pressure it places on human and fiscal resources already stretched by commitments in other parts of the world. With regard to domestic issues he addresses constitutional questions, particular reform of the House of Lords, and introduces three pressing ‘social questions’: temperance, housing and pensions. He talks about overcrowding in the cities, the schools and land taxation (all issues of continuing relevance). Campbell-Bannerman’s manner of speaking, at least as recorded in this text, is somewhat convoluted. He is prone to overdoing metaphors: for instance, that of a ‘journey’ employed at the end of the first paragraph and a peculiar one introduced by reference to an Ottoman ruler and concerning the biological sex of majorities. There is also some mixing of metaphors relating to fiscal constraint. Notably absent, however, is the kind of barracking of opponents found in many of the speeches of the day.
Sir James Reckitt, ladies and gentlemen, I am deeply moved by the cordial greeting of this magnificent assembly. I accept it as conveying to me who come straight from the House of Commons the recognition by combatant Liberals in all parts of the country of the gallant fight which is being maintained against heavy odds in that House in the defence of the Liberal cause. But I am well aware there is somewhat more. However I may desire - and I am exceedingly and sincerely desirous - to say as little as I can about myself. I cannot be blind to the fact that your cordiality is in some part at least addressed to myself personally, who have been recently invested through the great kindness of my Parliamentary colleagues with the function of speaking for them in the application of our principles to the politics of the day. That is a high and responsible position, the occupier of which is entitled to claim the generous confidence of the party at large, and he will not claim it in vain. Our party is not an inert and mechanical party; it is a party which moves and thinks, and therefore, to speak its mind is not the simple thing altogether that it may appear to be to one man talking with his neighbour at the street corner, or to another lounging in the armchair at a club, or even to a third writing an able article for a newspaper. But, ladies and gentlemen, difficult as it may be, there is a straight and a sure way. Here, as in other places, the highway furnishes the safest travelling; short cuts and devious bypaths, however tempting, may lead astray; and it is in the application of sound Liberal doctrine honestly and straightforwardly to the questions of the day that will be found the truest and at the same time the most convenient and the most expedient course for any one who tries to express the prevalent Liberal opinion of the country.
Acting thus, ladies and gentlemen, there need be no doubt or fear. I have never believed, for my part, in the cleavages and discords of which we have heard so much within our party. Differences there are, and always will be, but they are differences as to methods and opportunities - they very rarely touch principle - and such as they are they can be easily exaggerated. Ardent minds among us, inspired by some deep conviction, are apt to set things out of their true perspective, and in a large party such as ours there cannot fail to exist two or three gentlemen whose love of variety, or shall I say of notoriety, and even of pure, unadulterated mischief, may lead them to make the most of such little differences as they can discover. But those friends of ours who so disport and amuse themselves - we know them, we understand them, and we disregard them. But, for the most part, I observe that it is hostile speakers and writers who are especially exercised and shocked by the divisions they impute to us, and really I think we need not grudge those gentlemen the squalid enjoyment they may derive from the contemplation of that imaginative spectacle. But let me come to close quarters with this matter. Mr. Chairman. What are the main points upon which we are supposed to be at variance among ourselves? They are the question of the government of Ireland and the question of foreign policy. By your leave I will say something of them, the one after the other.
The Irish Question
Now, what is the position of us Liberals with regard to the government of Ireland I say ‘of us Liberals’ because we need not concern ourselves as to what the opinions of the Tories may be. On the Irish question we are confronted by the demand for self-government constitutionally put forth by the Irish people in 1885, expressed by a majority of four-fifths of their members in the House of Commons, repeated in 1886, again in 1892, and again in 1895. Never let us lose sight, in this question, of the change that took place in 1885. Down to that date, through all the years of this century, the old-established mode of governing Ireland by an alternation of bribes and coercion Acts - and I do not know which is the more demoralising to a free people - this old system had the support in Parliament of a majority of the members from Ireland. But in 1885, for the first time, the franchise was extended, the people could speak with their full voice, and they immediately demanded the abolition of the old system and the grant of self-government. How can we, how can any man who has imbibed and assimilated true Liberal doctrine, ignore a demand so put forward, provided it be a solid demand, maintained year after year, and not a mere caprice of the moment; and provided also it be not hurtful to Ireland or dangerous to the Empire? Hurtful to Ireland? That is an allegation of which we can hear no more now, because the Unionist party last year passed a Bill for the better government of Ireland in local affairs which involved and conceded the fitness of the Irish people to manage them; and, as for the Empire, no man can deny that it would be a cause of strength rather than of weakness to remove the canker of Irish discontent from its heart. And the supremacy of Parliament we hear talked of? Why, it has been amply secured, and secured with the full consent of the Irish leaders.
The Irish Demand
On this point I saw the other day a few words from one of those leaders which appeared to me to be so striking that if you will have patience with me I should like to quote them. ‘You are told that not only the integrity of the Empire, but the supremacy of the Imperial Parliament would be endangered. I shall show you that neither the one nor the other will be harmed. The statutory Legislature which we have accepted is not like Grattan’s Parliament, a supreme, co-ordinate Parliament, but it is a subordinate one. The Legislature that we have accepted will have only power to deal with exclusively domestic Irish business. Grattan’s Parliament had power to deal with Imperial affairs, and it repeatedly exercised that power. It had power to object to foreign wars undertaken by Great Britain. It had separate power to address the Crown against those wars. It had power to refuse supplies for the maintenance of the Army and Navy. The new Legislature will have none of these powers, but we shall have a more valuable power for our own interests, exclusively apart from Imperial affairs, which Grattan’s Parliament had not. We shall have the power of appointing and controlling our own executive government, and no Legislature, no Parliament, is worth a rush, or can secure the respect of those whom it governs, unless it has that power which is proposed to be given to us un der Mr. Gladstone’s Bill.’ Ladies and gentlemen, these are the words of Mr. Parnell himself in 1886, in the full plenitude of his power, and is it not surprising that they should be now so completely forgotten by the handful of men who strut and swell under the cover of his name? These being the elements of the case, how do we stand? We have a constitutional demand to which you and I as Democrats cannot refuse to listen. We have a desire for self government which you and I as Liberals must see to be the basis of good order and prosperity. We have a recognition of the patriotic feeling of nationality of which we and those who have gone before us have been the champions again and again. And we see the supremacy of the Imperial power and Parliament fully maintained. Why, gentlemen, how then can we, as long as we use the name of Liberal - how can we abandon, as they invite us to do, our Irish policy? We will remain true to the Irish people as long as the Irish people are true to themselves.
The Position of Home Rule
Twice we have essayed to embody this policy in a statute, and twice we have been foiled. I am not by any means sure that the next constructive effort will come, or ought to come, from us; but we are invited, nay, we are summoned, to place this in the front, before all other measures, and to promise it precedence whenever we are in a position to initiate great legislative changes. I repudiate the necessity, the expediency, aye, and the possibility, of any such promise. Putting aside the question of what is wise or unwise, I declare it to be impossible. It would be impossible for us to lay down any fixed programme for our action at the time when it becomes again in our power to act. Priority must depend upon the circumstances of the day, upon the feeling of the nation, upon the temper of the party, and, above all things, upon the amount and the quality of the party majority. I remember reading an account of a conference which was held in Constantinople immediately after the battle of Navarino between the Grand Vizier and the allied Ministers. The Ministers were not very sure whether the Turks had heard of the battle having taken place, and therefore to be safe they put their interrogatory in a hypothetical form, and they asked the Turkish Minister, if such a thing had taken place, what view he would take of it. The Turkish statesman’s reply was this. He said, ‘In my country we never proceed to give a name to a child until its sex has been ascertained.’ Now, Mr. Chairman, that is exactly my view of this question of a programme for the future. Why was it that the two Liberal Governments, which were in power from 1892 to 1895, although they carried some great and notable reforms, yet accomplished very much less than was expected and hoped of them? Why, it was because the instrument with which they had to accomplish their reforms was inadequate for the purpose - that is to say, the majority in the House of Commons was inadequate. Everything - to use the Turk’s most apposite illustration - will depend upon the sex of the majority with which the constituencies furnish us. It may be a masculine majority, great in stature, strong of limb and muscle, fit for a great enterprise; or it may be a feminine majority, equally excellent in heart, clear in mind, and full of generous emotions, but lacking the physical power to move great legislative weights. No, until we know what it is, or what it is likely to be, we cannot definitely assign its duties.
The Liberal Party and Imperialism
But now let me pass to the other of those questions on which we are supposed to be divided, namely, foreign affairs. But is it so? Let us see. The greatest of British interests is peace. Yes, but that does not advance us much, for how is peace to be secured? I should say by pursuing a policy towards our neighbours of firmness, of moderation, and of commonsense; I am sure not by either arrogance or weakness, and, least of all, by alternation of the one with the other. We hear a great deal in these days of Imperialism, and there are men who seem to think that by calling themselves Imperialists they have added a cubit to their stature. But the meaning of the word varies indefinitely according to the disposition of the man who uses it. If an Imperialist means a man who would maintain at the highest pitch the power by land and sea of the Empire; who would secure perfect safety for these islands from hostile attack, but who is not content to confine his view to these islands; who would preserve the territorial integrity and interests of the Empire; who would guard our rights of trade either within the Empire or beyond its bounds; and who would strengthen by every means in his power the ties that bind us to our kinsmen in every quarter of the globe - if that is to be an Imperialist, then, ladies and gentlemen, there is not a man here, there is not a man in this great Liberal meeting, who is not as unflinching an Imperialist as those who have the word always on their lips. We are not afraid of the responsibilities of Empire, we are proud to be the guardians of the heritage handed down by our fathers, nay, we do not shrink from adding to it if duty or honour compels us; but we abjure the vulgar and bastard Imperialism of irritation, and provocation, and aggression, of clever tricks and manoeuvres against neighbours, and of grabbing everything, even if we have no use for it ourselves, for the mere pleasure of preventing other people from getting it. Now, I would ask you, are not these sentiments that I have just expressed common to all of us in the party, whatever section of it we may belong to? On what, then, are we to say we are fundamentally divided from each other?
Egypt and the Soudan
I should be sorry to set any limit to the governing capacity of our people and race, but at the same time it is with no small relief and satisfaction that we must see the gate closed upon one at least of the great spheres of expansionist ambition. We see the partition of Africa pretty well brought to an end. We see the whole of that huge continent, except two small States which possess a certain degree of organised Government, parcelled out among the great European nations, and in this way an end is put to the prospect or temptation of further expansion. I have never been one, for my part, of those who have found fault with our position in Egypt. We are there in fulfilment of a plain duty, of an obligation which in honour we could not refuse to discharge, and our presence in Egypt, and our influence in its government, have been amply justified by the splendid work done during our occupation - work which is admirable in the interest not of any pecuniary advantage to ourselves, nor even of material benefit alone to the country, but in view of the happiness and the moral welfare of the Egyptian people themselves. And while that work is unfinished there we must remain. But when we turn from Egypt to the Soudan we find that for good or for evil we have made ourselves responsible for a vast tropical region in which European health cannot be maintained, and where there are scarcely to be found the elements of civilisation. Step by step the British Government has been led to the assumption of this great duty. The Liberal party has from first to last declined to share the responsibility of recommending it to the country. It has now been assumed, and we have to deal with it. Yet I wonder whether those most exuberant in welcoming with enthusiasm this great enterprise have thoroughly realised what it means and with what resources it is undertaken.
Great Britain’s Responsibilities
We have our hands pretty full already in other parts of the world. We had a good deal on hand before, and recently in China indefinite vistas of difficulty have opened before us. We need not, as I have said, be faint-hearted, because of our limitless confidence in the courage and capacity of our countrymen, but what I wish to point out to you is that there are bounds even to our resources for these purposes, and that, at any rate, our resources, if we are to be successful in them, will require to be husbanded rather more carefully than they have been in recent years. In the classic words of the music-hall ditty round which so hot a controversy has floated, we are told that ‘We have the ships, we have the men, and we have the money, too.’ The ships, yes, Sir James Reckitt, we have the ships, and we can add to them as many as our circumstances demand; but, after all, while our strength lies in the command of the sea, and while a strong naval base is essential to us, it is not very easy to discern the immediate benefit and advantage of a sea base for an Empire in Mid Africa. But, leaving the ships, let us come to the men; let us think for a moment about the men.
The British Army
Our Army, which has more to do in the way of the duty of garrisoning tropical stations than all the other armies of the earth put together, is a voluntary army, and therefore a limited army. Its system of organisation is designed and, in my belief, is well calculated, to meet the duties required of it at the smallest cost, and, what is further, with the smallest withdrawal of useful labour from the service of the country. But by the duties already imposed upon it, it is strained to the utmost. If not at the very limit, we are amazingly near the limit of our recruiting power. The inhabitants of our new Empire are a warlike people divided into different tribes; our manner of upholding our position among them is not unnaturally the process of using one tribe against another, and of taking the assistance of some in order to strike down the resistance of others - a process which sometimes has unpleasant consequences, as we have seen; but a day may come when, either through racial prejudice, racial sympathies and antipathies, or religious fanaticism, these tribes may combine against us, and, of course, then we must always be ready to fall back upon the British forces. Time only will show what demands these will entail upon our military resources. All I can say is that it constitutes, as you will see, a new and a very important element in the case. But, after all, Sir James Reckitt, it will be said, ‘What does it matter? We are so rich. We can always pay our way out of any complication of that sort.’ That is our way - when we are not dangling our money-bags in the face of other people we are jingling the coins in our pocket with great self‑complacency.
The Czar’s Proposals
The other day, Mr. Chairman, the Emperor of Russia with a courage and a wisdom, and actuated by a generous motive which have won for him the admiration of the world, proposed to the Great Powers that they should confer with him and see whether it was not possible that the condition of warl ike peace by which the equipoise, the European equipoise, is at present maintained, might not be exchanged for a peace founded upon good will and confidence among the nations. Whether much tangible result comes immediately from the proposal or not, ladies and gentlemen, it marks a new era, at all events, in European history. But at once this announcement was met by the assertion that it was quite natural and proper on the part of the Emperor of Russia, whose Government was supposed to be in financial straits, and it was reasonable and was to be expected that Austria and Italy, so heavily taxed, Germany, with the burden of its huge army, France, with its great national debt - that all these countries should be only too glad if they could to jump at such a proposal, but that we Britishmen were superior to such necessities. We might give a platonic support to the idea, but we might be thankful that we were not practically in need of it, and here, again, we fall to the slapping of our breeches pockets.
Well, but possibly a more sober view will present itself to us if we look to the facts of our public expenditure in recent years, and if we see what the financial position is to which those facts point. Ladies and gentlemen, I leave you to infer with what feeling I say that I have been thirty years in the House of Commons. It is rather a saddening statement, perhaps, for me to make, but it has its advantages on this occasion, because thirty years are easily divisible by ten, and from 1868 down to 1898, which is the most recent year of which we have the complete figures, we have exactly thirty years, and therefore we can compare the three decades of time. In those happy days when I was a raw recruit in the House of Commons, the expenditure of the country was 71¼ millions. In 1878 it had risen to 82½ millions, an increase, as you will observe, of 11¼ millions. In 1888 the increase had not been so great, it was then 87½ millions - being an increase in the ten years of five millions. In 1898, having been 87½ millions in 1888, it was 116 millions, thus rising in ten years by 28½ millions. I include in the figures, of course, money spent on local taxation, amounting to 9½ millions; 116 millions was the expenditure in 1898, and therefore in those thirty years the increase had been 44¾ millions, and the increase was on an original expenditure of 71¼ millions. In speaking of these things, both in expenditure and in revenue, we use sometimes the phrase of ‘leaps and bounds.’ This is not ‘leaps and bounds.’ There are little ebbings and little flowings, but I think it is better described as a steady and relentless tide of expenditure.
The Cost of Toryism
The prosperity of the country has been great, otherwise we could not have endured it at all, but we should long ago have run into a deficit had it not been for the Liberal Budget of 1894. That Budget, Sir Michael Hicks Beach stated last year, would bring in to him, over the sum that was raised on the same head of income before the Budget was introduced, an actual increase of £4,400,000 a year. Well, how have they spent the £4,400,000 a year? Have they used it to mitigate taxation, or to ease the springs of industry? Not at all. Three millions have gone as a gift to the landed and clerical interests, and the rest has been mopped up, together with many other millions, in generally increased expenditure. Out of this last decade of ten years we Liberals are responsible for three years. It will be well to see how we stood in those three years. In our three years there was an increase owing to the addition we made to the strength of the Navy of £2,100,000, but we left the expenditure at the end of our time, when we left office, at £101,740,000. That was in 1895, and last year it was £117,640,000, so that in those three years there was an absolute increase of £15,900,100, or, roughly speaking, 16 millions sterling.
This Year’s Balance-Sheet
We have not yet the complete figures for the present year, although we are very nearly at the end of the year, and therefore we cannot speak of it, still less of the Budget for next year; but it is safe to say, at all events, that there has been no evidence of any great desire for retrenchment, because since Parliament met we have been presented with Supplementary Estimates. The Supplementary Estimates include all those little unconsidered trifles which, in framing the Estimates of the year, had been omitted accidentally, or any services of an unavoidable or unexpected kind which had arisen during the year. The Supplementary Estimates now on the table of the House of Commons amount to £1,859,914. And as to the new Estimates we have very little information except with regard to the Army Estimates, which have gone up according to one calculation about a million, while we hear of great further charges coming in the distance in the shape of loans for military purposes. I observe that already the friends and counsellors of the Government, in the Press and elsewhere, are divided in their recommendation of the sources from which the void in the revenue can be filled. There are some of these kind friends who think that a penny or two on the income tax would be the best thing to impose. There are others who view with pleasure and satisfaction the prospect of reviving the corn duty, to a reasonable extent to begin with; and there are yet others who think that sugar is a commodity which is too cheap and might be taxed, and its price accordingly raised. Gentlemen, in the middle of all these charming and alluring suggestions, do not you envy the position, the happy position, of the Chancellor of the Exchequer? As I have said, we have not the figures before us by which we can judge of the financial policy of the Government. We have not got them yet, but we see the drift of their expenditure; and I would say this, we may be a rich country, our resources may be immense, but they are not illimitable. And no treasury, however abounding, would suffice to fulfil demands so merciless as those in the high tide of which we seem now to stand.
Liberal Domestic Policy
Now I turn to what are distinctly called domestic topics, although I know nothing in the whole range of politics so immediately and intimately concerning the domestic happiness and prosperity of the mass of the people as these very financial, questions with which I have been dealing. Now, there is no need for us Liberals to make a new profession of faith. We stand upon the old lines. If anybody requires to make a profession of faith it must rather be the party, if such party exists, which has no principles that it can avow, and which keeps itself in power merely by picking up here and there a few miscellaneous projects of legislation, some new and strange, others old and stale by which, peradventure, they think they may capture a few votes. The first and main object of our Liberal reforms is to strengthen the democracy. I can perfectly understand and appreciate the position of those who dislike the extensions that have been given to the suffrage and have resisted them; who regard them not only with regret, but with fear for the future. That I can perfectly understand, but what I cannot understand is what safety or advantage they can see in maintaining - having democratised our system so far as we have gone - what advantage they can see in maintaining small provisions which are anomalies and inequalities, which are of an irritating and unfair character, and in the end lead to disquiet and danger. We wish to make the whole system of Parliamentary representation a system whereby the mind of the country is evoked more completely and more equitably.
The House of Lords
But, above all, ladies and gentlemen, we desire to limit the power of the Second Chamber of the Legislature to overbear the appointed representatives of the people - that Second Chamber, which has nothing of representation about it, unless, as we were invited to do the other day, you count the Bishops as standing in it for the representative quality. This is the task, ladies and gentlemen, which we have set ourselves to, and neither threats nor sneers shall hinder us in it. We have been told, and we probably shall be told again, that we are wasting on the mere mending of machinery energies which other and wiser men would devote to measures directly profitable and, especially, pecuniarily profitable, to the mass of the people. A most foolish and short-sighted criticism, ladies and gentlemen, and a libel upon the intelligence of our countrymen. If our object is to produce from our legislative factory sterling, solid, social reforms, fraught with lasting benefit to the community, then the surest and shortest way to success is to perfect and strengthen the working machine in order to bring into full play the opinions and the desires of all orders of men among us. But I quite admit that if our object was different it would be comparatively a waste of time - if our object merely was to produce some showy pinchbeck schemes, made for purposes of advertisement and sale, and not for use. We have not very far to go to find something of that kind.
Gentlemen, there is probably no social question at the present day more loudly appealing to our feelings than the condition of the aged poor. Putting aside the higher spiritual sphere with which the great religious communities among us concern themselves, I should say, as it seems to me, the three subjects which most keenly act upon the sympathies of right-thinking men among us are these. There are three of them. The first is temperance, and all that I would say upon that subject is this - that I hope we shall not show ourselves too pedantic, too obstinate, in pursuing some particular method which we may sincerely consider the best, and I earnestly trust that the result of the inquiry and report by Lord Peel’s Commission may be that we shall have strongly supported by the authority of that Commission some provisions at all events which may do much to alleviate the evils which we all of us so greatly deplore. The second subject to which I would refer is the question of the housing of the very poor. I am not speaking of the question which affects what are called artisans’ dwellings, although I do not wish to disparage their importance also. What I think rather has touched the heart of the country is the story we have heard of the effect of overcrowding in our large cities - aye, and in many places which are not large cities - and the earnest desire felt to do something to cure that great evil.
And the third question is that of poor old age. There are at least two distinct ideas as to the cure or alleviation which may be found for the evils affecting the aged poor. The one turns to a reform, a humanising of the Poor Law system, which would make it at once kinder and less humiliating than the system which is in practice at present; and there is the other idea of annuities or pensions to be secured after a certain age. We have all known for years that there were great difficulties in the way of this last proposal. We have only to think of it for a moment to see how many those difficulties are. There is the question of the source from which money for the purpose is to be obtained. There is the question whether the benefit to be conferred should be given to all or only to a certain number, and whether that number shall be the specially needy or the specially worthy. There is the question whether the beneficiary should be made to contribute. There is the danger of invalidating the sense and practice of prudence and thrift throughout our population, and there is the difficulty of interfering with the friendly societies, which have been established with so much advantage among us. These and other points show us how complicated a question this is, and the consequence has been that most of us, however keenly in favour of some scheme of the kind, have always spoken guardedly because we knew how difficult the question was. But there are, and always have been since the dawn of the world, certain people who are ready to rush in where more prudent intelligences are afraid to tread. The very party whose chief spokesman has now such contempt for our old traditional Liberal method of building up our social reforms upon constitutional support - that very party plunged six years ago into this troubled sea.
‘Apply to the Nearest Liberal Unionist Agent’
They saw no difficulty. They produced a plan which I referred to the other night in the House of Commons, which was Mr. Chamberlain’s plan. I do not know that I need read it to you, but they gave it in all its details with the figures and the conditions, and we were told that further information would be obtained from any Liberal Unionist agent. So easy was it that any Liberal Unionist agent could give it. Not, be it observed, any Conservative agent, not a Unionist agent, but a Liberal Unionist agent. It is a patent in which all the partners of the concern do not share. It is the peculiar possession of the Liberal Unionist agent and his employer. Well, really it was unnecessary to apply to the Liberal Unionist agent or to anyone else for more information, so explicit was it. All you had to do was to get the latest census return and find the number of people of particular ages, to send out for a boy in the third or fourth standard of arithmetic - you had better take him from the Board school, because in the Church schools they are so much concerned with his doctrines and his ritual that they may neglect such a humdrum subject as arithmetic - then, when the boy has done your subtractions, your additions, and your multiplications, be you away to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is full of millions, and the thing is done. Well, yes, but what are we to say of the votes which were obtained at the General Election on the faith of this definite, fraudulent prospectus? When some poor, over-sanguine gentleman obtains money under false pretences we hand him over to the majesty of the law, and he is ministered to according to the rigours of the law, but of how much greater punishment think you are they deserving who by an explicit promise such as this, never yet repudiated, but with no attempt at fulfilment, filch from the honest elector the usufruct of his birthright? We are told that this promise is yet to be fulfilled. We shall believe it when we see it, but I maintain that a plain promise so direct and circumstantial ought not to have been postponed to the end of a Parliament. It ought to have taken precedence even of the claims of the landlord and the Church schools. And, unfortunately, if the claim is recognised in the fading light of an expiring Parliament, it will not find, although it will require, an overflowing exchequer, for the surplus money will have gone to the parson and the squire. I withdraw one word, which was a slip of the tongue - the surplus money - for it turns out now that there never was any surplus money. There never was this spare cash, and here is a new vice discovered rather late in that system of doles and subsidies, so contrary to good economy and so demoralising, which the Government have indulged in. It is a new vice to find that we had not the money to do it with after all.
The Half-timer Question
But while it may be difficult, ladies and gentlemen, even for the genius of Liberal Unionist agents to arrange offhand a scheme of old-age pensions, one thing at least they could do. They could secure for as large a number as possible of the population the advantages of a hale and hearty old age; and how can they do that? By applying themselves to the other end of a man’s existence and seeing that he begins with a healthy and invigorated development of mind and body in youth. If that is so, where was this Government - the special patron of the poor and aged and therefore of the young and growing - on Wednesday last? My friend Mr. Robson brought forward an unanswerable case in favour of raising considerably the age of half-timers in order to prevent the children from having a stunted growth and a feeble constitution as well as a starved education, and the case, as I have said, was unanswerable. The Education Minister himself was a partisan of the case, and said it was unanswerable. It is not an ordinary case, ladies and gentlemen, because we sent this very Education Minister to Berlin - the present Government did a few years ago - and authorised him there, in our name, to promise to the Powers of Europe that we should do this thing, and on the faith of that promise they agreed to make other concessions, which they have made, and we have never made ours. It is quite ludicrous. One would have thought the case was strong enough now, but there is something still to be said. What was this Bill that was introduced? Why, it was word for word, letter for letter, a clause out of the Government’s own Education Bill of two years ago, which we introduced as a separate Bill, and yet the Government took no part in the division. They were all, with one exception, absent, were the members of the Cabinet, and they allowed it to go past. The House of Commons carried it against their apathy by 319 votes against 61, and now we shall see what they will do as to the future course of this. Bill. They have it in their power to help it, to say that it shall pass, and they have it in their power to prevent it from passing. It lies with the Government, and how can we believe in the genuineness of the Government’s desire to improve the condition of the people if an opportunity so clear, so urgent, as this is flouted - for what purpose? Everybody knows - for the purpose of saving a few Lancashire seats.
The Education Question
Ladies and gentlemen, I have detained you too long, but there are two questions on which I should like to say a very few words - two other subjects that have been before Parliament this Session. The first was before the House of Commons last night. Most of us were absent, having been here attending to the proceedings of the Federation. Our friend, Mr. Lloyd George, a fervid apostle of Liberalism, brought forward the case. We are familiar with the case as it stood, but there has been a new feature added to it within the last year. The case, as it seemed to me, had two branches. In the first place there was a very serious fact that in thousands of rural parishes, and it may be in others, the Nonconformist community see their young men and their young women shut out from any share in one of the noblest and best careers open to an intelligent young man or young woman in this country - namely, the teaching profession - unless they are content to stifle their consciences or to alter their opinions and to conform to doctrines in which they had not been brought up. And the second is, of course, that there is a certain actual influence upon the children in the sectarian atmosphere of schools where no popular element exists in the management. What is the new fact that has come out now, to which our eyes have been opened? It is this. We now discover something of the nature of the doctrine which may be taught in these schools that we did not know before, and also we see how little amenable a large number of the clergy of the Church of England are to the law. Let me say that this is a question on which I have the utmost reluctance to touch. I share the mind of very many people on this subject who are of opinion that the clergy must obey the law, and must be made to obey the law, but at the same time whose spirit and conscience revolts from the imposition in matters of doctrine and ritual of the direct interference of such a body as Parliament. We may have to do it, but it is a distasteful thing to do. As long as the Church is established we must insist on the Queen’s supremacy and uphold the authority of the civil Courts and of Parliament. But what we wonder at is how long it will be ere earnest and honest and good men in the Church discover how much better is liberty than privilege, and find the best solution of this great difficulty in the practice of a free Church in a free State.
Taxation of Ground Values
The other subject to which I would refer only in a word or two is a motion brought forward by my friend, Mr. Morton, who, I think, is here, probably modestly hiding, as his manner is, in some corner of the platform, upon taxation of land values. There is no subject, I believe, on which a stronger feeling prevails in the country. It is an intolerable injustice that an enhanced value should be given to land by the improvement and development of a locality, while the owner of the property who reaps the benefit contributes nothing to the cost. That is a plain statement of the case. It is not a question of political opinion - it is a question of mere justice, and we need not be surprised, therefore, that when Mr. Morton brought it forward the towering majority of the Government in the House of Commons fell to the modest figure of thirty-three. Now, gentlemen, these instances will have sufficed to show you how we are doing our duty to the best of our power in the House of Commons. The proceedings of the last few days show that you in your sphere are alive to your duty. Let us confidently labour each in our own way in the good cause, knowing it is not for individuals, it is not even for a party, that we are striving, not for a party as such - it is for the predominance in the public polity of our country of justice and freedom, and of the spirit of righteousness upon which alone the prosperity and welfare of a people can be surely based.