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Chapter LX, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8


The Session of 1860 - Italian Affairs - The Cession of Savoy and Nice- Central Italy - Lord Normanby - Mr. Gladstone's Financial Statement - Commercial Treaty with France - The Paper Duties: their Abolition resisted by the Lords - Question about their right to Reject a Money Bill - The Duties Abolished by Resolution of the Commons - Affairs of India - Mr. James Wilson sent out as Finance Minister - Sir Charles Trevelyan, Governor of Madras, recalled for Insubordination - Death of Mr. Wilson - Mr. Laing succeeds him - Success of his Financial Scheme - Re-organisation of the Indian Army - Close of the Session - Massacres in Syria - The French Expedition.
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The session of 1860 opened on the 24th of January, Her Majesty delivering the royal speech in person. In the debates on the address, the affairs in Italy became a prominent topic of discussion, especially the part that France had played after the war, in demanding the cession of Savoy and Nice. In the Upper House, Lord Brougham expressed his opinion that the Italians should be allowed to work out their own freedom, without the interference of foreigners, whether French, Sardinian, or Austrian. No doubt they would do it, if Austrian interference could be got rid of; but that was precisely the difficulty which rendered the interference of the other powers necessary. Lord Derby objected to England joining any conference on the subject at all. On the 7th of February the Marquis of Normanby brought forward a distinct motion upon the subject. The noble lord - who had been distinguished as a Whig, and something more, and whose ultra-Liberalism when Viceroy of Ireland had exposed him to much animadversion, was converted to ultra-Conservatism by his residence as ambassador in Italy - became during this session the zealous partisan of the despots whom the people had deposed. He moved an address to the Queen on the subject of the proposed annexation of Savoy. Lord Granville, in reply, stated that he had assurances from both France and Sardinia that no compact existed between those countries for the cession, exchange, or sale of Savoy and Nice to France. Earl Grey remarked that they were all unanimous in condemnation of the proposed annexation; and said that if it were really true that a secret treaty had been entered into between France and Sardinia for their mutual aggrandisement, it would be difficult to find language sufficiently strong to denounce the iniquity and immorality of such a compact, which could only be described as a great crime against the civilised world. The Earl of Shaftesbury also used very strong language on the subject. The Earl of Derby referred to a special reason why Piedmont should not cede Savoy. She was bound by a specific treaty to Switzerland never to alienate that province. The language of Piedmont to France ought to be that it was impossible - owing to a treaty with Switzerland - that she could yield on this question; in which case France would surely not be so unscrupulously violent as to take those provinces by force. " All confidence in the steady policy and peaceful character of the Emperor of the French would be lost; and it would be said that Austria had been expelled by France from Italy, not for Italian independence, but for the furtherance of her own selfish ends. The present was a great opportunity for the Emperor of the French to establish a character for peace and moderation, by declaring that he entertained no idea of extending the French frontier beyond its present limits, or of destroying the balance of power in Europe; but that, on the contrary, he would maintain a policy of non-interference in the affairs of other countries; by which declaration he would establish a moral power throughout Europe, as great as the material power now wielded by France." Lord Stratford de Redcliffe concurred in these views. The motion was withdrawn. But, on the 14th of the same month, Lord Normanby brought forward another motion in reference to the new Government of Central Italy, which he denounced in the strongest terms of reprobation. The Marquis of Clanricarde ably answered the vituperative speech of Lord Normanby, and contradicted his allegations from his own personal knowledge. The fiscal burdens under which, according to Lord Normanby, the people of Sardinia groaned, the noble marquis declared to be as nothing compared with the taxation endured by Venetia, which was, in fact, absolute confiscation. The motion was for the production of papers, and it was agreed to.

There had been similar discussions in the House of Commons, which led Lord John Russell, on the 12th of March, to make a formal statement about Italy, the object of which was to vindicate the course taken by the Government. But the discussions led to no practical result; inasmuch as, whatever might be the feeling about the extension of the French frontiers by the annexation of Savoy and Nice, the House was unanimously of opinion that it should not be made a ground of war with France.

Great interest was felt at the opening of this session about the forthcoming financial statement of Mr. Gladstone, and the Treaty of Commerce with France, which had been recently signed, but the terms of which had not been laid before Parliament. The 6th of February was fixed for the Budget, but the illness of Mr. Gladstone caused its postponement to the 10th. His speech on that occasion lasted four hours, and was distinguished by all his accustomed clearness, force, and eloquence. On the 21st of February, Mr. Du Cane moved a resolution against the Budget to the effect, that, while recognising the necessity of providing for the increased expenditure of the coming financial year, the House was of opinion that it was not expedient to add to the existing deficiency, by diminishing the ordinary revenue; and was not prepared to disappoint the just expectations of the country, by re-imposing the income tax at an unnecessarily high rate. A debate followed, which was continued by adjournment on the two following days; and the result was a division, which, in a very full House, gave to the Government a majority of 116; thus deciding the question of its financial policy and of the Treaty of Commerce with France. A more formal sanction, however, to this treaty was subsequently given on the motion of Mr. Byng, who proposed to present an address to Her Majesty, expressing the acknowledgment of the House for the treaty. The motion was seconded by Mr. Baines; but Mr. Horsman moved an amendment to the effect, that the treaty imposed unnecessary and impolitic restrictions on the Crown and Legislature of this country, and prayed for the omission of the 11th article from the treaty. This amendment was rejected by a majority of 282 against 56.

The financial measures of the Government raised an important constitutional question as to the power of the House of Lords. When the Paper Duty Repeal Bill, which had passed the House of Commons, came for the first reading in the Upper House, Lord Monteagle gave notice that he should, at the proper time, move for its rejection. The second reading was moved by Lord Granville on the 21st of May. Having explained the measure, he asked, in conclusion, whether it was desirable that the House of Lords, now so popular, should furnish ground for declamation and agitation by introducing a new system, and making its hand seen and felt in every burden that pressed upon the people. The question was, whether the Lords had a right to reject a money bill which the Commons had adopted. Lord Lyndhurst argued this question fully, and went into an historical statement and vindication of the privileges of the House. There had been controversies on the point in former times, and the House had abandoned the claim to alter or originate money bills, but not the right to reject a money bill. Lord Monteagle spoke on the same side. Lord Dufferin and Lord Clanricarde urged upon the House the impolicy of undertaking to decide, in opposition to the Commons, what taxes should be retained or remitted. Lord Cranworth admitted that the House could reject a bill, whether for relief or burden, but denied that it had ever refused to concur in the repeal of a tax under such circumstances as the present. The Duke of Argyll vindicated the policy of the Government, remarking that Lord Lyndhurst's precedents were mere money bills, which were different from supply bills, and that there was no instance, since the Revolution, of a supply bill being rejected by the Lords, and contending that to do so was against the whole spirit of the constitution. On the other hand, Lord Derby contended that the Duke's argument involved an absurd limitation of the powers of the House. The result, after a long and able debate, was that the bill was rejected by a majority of 89, the numbers, including proxies, being for the bill, 104; against it, 193. This result was hailed as a great Conservative triumph; but among the Liberal t party, both in the House of Commons and out of doors,, it excited a strong feeling against the Lords, who were believed to have arrogated to themselves unconstitutional power in subjecting the nation to a continuance of financial burdens, not being representatives of the people. The feeling of hostility, however, was mitigated by the consideration that, though constitutionally wrong, the Lords were right in deeming it inexpedient, at that time, to forego the income derived from the paper duties. There was, of course, great irritation in a large section of the House of Commons; but any further collision was averted by Lord Palmerston, who moved the appointment of a committee of 21 to search for precedents on the subject. The report of the committee was purely historical. The Premier, however, made it the basis of a series of resolutions which he moved on the 6th of July, to the effect that the right of granting aids and supplies to the Crown is in the Commons alone, as an essential part of their constitution; and the limitation of all such grants as to the matter, manner, measure, and time is only in them. In moving this resolution, the noble lord noticed one fact which furnished an excuse for the course adopted by the Lords - namely, that during the interval between the second and third reading in the Commons, the majority had dwindled down from fifty- three to nine; a fact which could not be overlooked. He advised the House, therefore, as the most dignified course, to be satisfied with the declaration of its constitutional privileges. Three amendments were proposed; but as Mr. Disraeli offered to Lord Palmerston the sincere tribute of his adhesion to the patriotic speech with which he had introduced the motion, the amendments were withdrawn, and the resolution unanimously adopted. The second resolution was, "That although the Lords have exercised the power of rejecting bills of several descriptions, relating to taxation, by negativing the whole, yet the exercise of that power by them has not been frequent, and is justly regarded by this House with peculiar jealousy, as affecting the right of the Commons to grant the supplies, and to provide the ways and means for the service of the year." The third resolution affirmed that the House had in its own hands the right to impose and remit taxes, and to frame bills of supply; and that this right, as to matter, manner, measure, and time, should be maintained inviolate. These resolutions were not believed by the Liberal party to go as far as the case demanded. Accordingly, on the 17th of July, Lord Fermoy moved the following resolution: - "That the rejection by the House of Lords of the bill for the repeal of the paper duties is an encroachment on the rights and privileges of the House of Commons; and it is therefore incumbent on this House to adopt a practical measure for the vindication of its rights and privileges." He observed that out of doors there was a strong feeling of indignation upon this subject, indicated by the number of petitions and of public meetings in the principal towns of England, at which resolutions were adopted denouncing the aggression of the Lords. Sir John Trelawny, Mr. Osborne, and others, condemned the course of the House of Lords. Lord Palmerston, however, deprecated the renewal of the discussion, and moved the previous question. It was generally felt that Lord Fermoy's motion was ill-timed. It was accordingly negatived by a majority of 177 to 138.

The question of the paper duties, however, the abolition of which was assumed in the French Treaty, was yet to be settled; and Mr. Gladstone moved a resolution upon the subject, on the 6th of August, when he exposed and refuted the arguments of the paper manufacturers, showing that they were nothing better than the old fallacies of the Protectionists; and he argued, moreover, that the House was bound by the French Treaty to abandon the paper duty. So far as intention was concerned, the articles of the treaty showed, beyond the possibility of dispute, that our meaning was to part with every vestige of the protective policy. The House of Commons had given its consent to the treaty, and a specific pledge that it would take the necessary steps to give it effect. With regard to the absence of reciprocity, the protectionist interest in France was too strong for the Government. But Mr. Gladstone regarded the prohibition of the export of rags as utterly insignificant, because France was a dear country for rags, and was obliged to import them for its own use. Mr. Puller moved, as an amendment, " That without desiring to prejudice the question of a reduction, at a future period, of the duty on books and paper, this committee does not think fit at present to assent to such reduction." Sir H. Cairns stated the case of the paper-makers, and was answered by the Attorney-General. After speeches by Lord J. Russell, Mr. Disraeli, and Lord Palmerston, the amendment was rejected, and the resolutions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, abolishing the duties, adopted.

On the 1st of March, Lord John Russell experienced in his own person the wonderful changes in public sentiment which had passed over England in the course of a single generation. He still clung to the idea that it was necessary to do something to complete the great measure of Parliamentary reform, to supply its defects, and to adapt it to the altered condition of society produced by the marvellous development of manufacturing industry. Having been mainly instrumental in defeating the Reform Bill of the Conservative Administration, he felt it the more incumbent upon him to redeem the promises repeatedly made to complete the reform of the representation of the people. He did not find fault with his own great measure of 1832; on the contrary, with true paternal affection, he avowed his firm belief that no measure had so few faults. What he proposed to do was, in a simple manner, to supply its unavoidable omissions and remedy its necessary defects. He then went into details, to which it is unnecessary here to, allude. The public took no interest whatever in the question. This undeniable fact suggested a topic in his favour, the noble lord no doubt forgetting that he had relied on arguments and facts of an opposite kind thirty fears before. He thought that the Legislature ought not to wait for an agitation that would force demands upon Parliament. The concession of just claims should not be delayed because they were not urged. Leave was given to bring in a bill for England; Mr. Cardwell, Chief Secretary for Ireland, brought in a similar bill the same evening for that country, as did the Lord Advocate for Scotland. The second reading took place on the 19th of March; but the report of the proceedings describes the debate as so utterly devoid of interest that it was difficult to keep the House together. It was protracted by repeated adjournments from the 19th of March till the 3rd of May, when the second reading was adopted without a division. The 4th of June was appointed for going into committee on the bill, when Lord John Russell explained the course which the Government meant to take. But Sir J. Ferguson moved an amendment, on the motion that the Speaker leave the chair, seconded by Colonel Dickson, that the debate should be adjourned until the Irish and Scotch bills were before the house, in order that the three might advance pari passu. After a debate on this motion, the House divided, when it was rejected by a majority of 21, the numbers being - For the adjournment, 248; against it, 269. But as the public seemed to care little what became of the measure, and as it was now quite evident that it could not pass during that session, its noble author, on the 11th of June, had to make the humiliating avowal that the Government had determined to withdraw the bill.

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