Page images
[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

The New Year-Tamers and Saches ar de Skere of head to church the
Partament The Drove o De Adiyor Donorod Pap
House ComIDIUS.

THE general feeling of contentment and semity which pervaded

public opinion at the opening of the New Your vet handly

justified by the condition of affairs at home or abivad. Whether

this optimism was due to general confidence in the Ministry,

the marked increase of national prosperity, or to general modity

ence to home, foreign, and colonial politics, it is difficult to deter

mine. It might have been thought that the year opened under

circumstances so inauspicious as to justify the most gloour pr

dictions. In Ireland the state of affairs showed that the power of

maintaining order had, for a time at least, slipped from the hands

of the Executive; and if the social war which had boon formally

proclaimed against the dominant class by the mass of this puple

had not broken out into civil war, it was rather becutes the brigh

leaders hoped to obtain more from passive resistance than from

active rebellion. The news from the Cape of Good Hops which

arrived on New Year's Day pointed to a general sympathy of thes

Dutch population with their fellow countrymen in the Teanecant

who had declared against the British rule; the Orange Free Ruth

taking the lead in the display of fellow feeling. The rising in the

Transvaal served to furnish an occasion, for which the Dutch hnd

long been waiting, to make a trial of strength with the British

Government. From Eastern Europe, news arrived at the sams



time, that neither Turkey nor Greece was disposed to accept the Arbitration Scheme offered by the Powers, as an escape from the appeal to arms, towards which both disputants seemed drifting. The Turkish Government, emboldened by the apparent paralysis of Europe, announced its intention of taking its stand on the basis laid down in the Porte's Note of October 3, whilst the Greeks refused to enter upon any negotiations which did not accept as their starting point the frontier suggested in the Berlin Treaty.

The appointment of Mr. L. Courtney as Under-Secretary for the Home Department, which was announced on New Year's Day, was. much canvassed by his political friends and opponents. The farmer attributed his acceptance of office, at this juncture, to an almost Quixotic desire to support an Administration which, in the management of its Irish and Cape policy, had turned a deaf ear to his warnings, but which now seemed to call upon every section of the Liberal party to help it to carry through its measures of reform. On the other hand, Mr. Courtney's appointment was interpreted as evidence on the part of the Government of the desire to relieve itself of an independent critic, who, in the previous session, and during the recess, had condemned the annexation of the Transvaal, asserted the need for strong, if not for coercive, legislation in Ireland, and on other points had expressed dissent from the policy of the party, in a fearless manner and with uncompromising logic. His admission to office after a comparatively brief Parliamentary career, coupled with the well-known fact that, on the formation of his Government, Mr. Gladstone had offered a post to Mr. Courtney, was accepted as further evidence that the Gladstone Administration had once more broken with the traditions of the Whig party, and was recruiting its strength by men rather of political importance than of social influence.

The condition of Ireland continued to attract both criticism and suggestion from numerous irresponsible statesmen. Foremost amongst these were Earls Grey and Dufferin. The former, in two long letters to the Times, explained at length his objections to the Land Act of 1870, and the principles on which agitation for its repeal ought to have been founded. He complained that the Act, "instead of allowing the owners and occupiers of land to settle for themselves upon what terms it should be held, took away altogether freedom of contract with regard to small holdings, and by a sweeping enactment all proprietors of land were made liable to claims from their tenants which largely diminished its value." The sort of divided ownership between the landlords and tenants created by the Act, was, he held, unfavourable to enterprise and improvements by either, and that to remove the effects of the deadly blow given to security, without which prosperity was impossible, a bill should be passed speedily restoring freedom of contract to those who desired it, and at the same time giving facilities for making voluntary agreements as to the occupation of the land, as afforded by Mr. Hamilton's bill.

Lord Dufferin's recommendations took the shape of a memorandum addressed to the Besborough Land Commission just before his return to St. Petersburg. Whilst thoroughly opposed to the change of tenure known as "the three F's," Lord Dufferin admitted the need of drastic legislation; he would substitute forced sales of encumbered and other property, and associate the peasantry in the good government of the country, by lending them money, on proper security, to purchase the lands thus brought into the market. He would regard the interest on the capital sum employed as a rent charge or land rate, to be collected by the authorities, with power to levy a rate in and over any limited area in which the farmers were in arrear. With reference to the question of "fair rent," Lord Dufferin would allow a special tribunal to be appointed, before which both landlords and tenants might be heard in support of claims for raising or lowering existing rents.

In the brief interval between the opening of the New Year and the re-assembling of Parliament, there was but little opportunity for Members to meet their constituents and to indicate their views as to the business of the approaching session. Mr. C. Stuart Wortley, at Sheffield, and Colonel Taylor, at Dublin, represented the unofficial and official views of the Conservative party, whilst Mr. J. Cowen, at Newcastle, expressed in his usual vigorous style the opinions of his own school of Radicalism. Colonel Taylor, referring to the disturbed condition of the country, attributed it to a wave of Communism which was sweeping over Europe, and blamed the Government for not having acted with greater promptitude. He maintained "that disaffection and disloyalty, and the upsetting of all social relations, ought to be put down before what were called remedial measures were brought forward." Mr. Stuart Wortley in like manner found fault with the "inactive philanthropy" of the Government, and complained that whilst public opinion was thoroughly roused on the subject, the Ministry gave no clue as to the policy adopted or about to be applied to Ireland.

Mr. Cowen, in his address at Newcastle, entirely confined himself to the discussion of the various projects for dealing with the Irish Land Question. He admitted, at the very outset, that the Government proposal must, from the very nature of the case, be a compromise; but he expressed an earnest hope that one of its features would be the initiation of a scheme of arterial drainage and reclamation. If only four out of the six millions of acres of waste land which existed in Ireland were brought under cultivation, employment and food would be given to the half-starved population, and the spirit of disaffection would be removed. To achieve these results, he thought that the half-million tenant-farmers of Ireland who were tenants at will, should be made to feel themselves secure from arbitrary increase of rent or eviction. Rather than extend the Ulster custom to the rest of Ireland, he preferred a plan which

would make the occupiers owners at once; for he saw in the system of dual ownership many obvious disadvantages.

The Postmaster-General (Mr. Fawcett) was the only Member of the Government who during the brief interval broke silence. At Manchester he addressed a large number of persons assembled at the Reform Club, and congratulated them on the success of their efforts in Lancashire during the elections of the previous year. Without pretending to indicate the measures which the Cabinet had decided to introduce, he expressed his confident belief that the Government would spare no effort to maintain law and order in Ireland. He defended Mr. Forster from the sweeping condemnation passed upon him in turns by the Conservatives, the Irreconcileable Radicals, and the Home Rulers. He held him to be possessed of those two qualities most requisite in governing Ireland-calmness and courage. With regard to the action of the Lords, Mr. Fawcett held that they were not solely responsible for the defeat of the Irish Compensation Bill of the previous session. The Government majority, exclusive of the Home Rulers, was, on the meeting of Parliament, 112; but the second reading of the Compensation Bill only obtained a majority of 78; whereas, had it received the combined support of the Irish and Liberal parties, it should have been carried by a majority of at least 140; and the third reading was voted by the still more diminished majority of 66, in spite of the interval during which it might be presumed members had learnt the feelings of the electors with reference to the measure. He deprecated the position taken up by some advanced Liberals, who from their dislike to coercion would never sanction, with regard to Ireland, any exceptional measure having for its object the maintenance of order or the restoration of authority in that country. The pre-eminent question of the day in England, Scotland, and Ireland he held to be the Land Question, which he thought should take the path of freedom of sale. This should be the aim of all true Liberals, instead of discussing the size of farms or the conditions and limits of Stateprotection or State-help. Agricultural prosperity concerned the whole country; and agriculture, like commerce, would best flourish when released from feudal institutions and from statutory fetters.

Thus, on Jan. 7-too tardily for the advocates of a spirited policy of coercion, too soon for those who maintained the existing laws to be sufficient and special legislation needless-the second session of the tenth Parliament of the present reign was opened by commission, and the Queen's Speech, which ran as follows, was read by the Lord Chancellor :

"My Lords and Gentlemen,


"I have called you, at a period earlier than usual, to the resumption of your labours, as some affairs of more than common urgency demand your attention.

"My relations with Foreign Powers continue to be friendly and harmonious.

"The main question relating to the frontier between Turkey and Montenegro has been settled.

"The Powers are now engaged in communications which have in view the determination of the frontier between Turkey and Greece.

"Some important portions of the Treaty of Berlin, which have so long remained without fulfilment, continue to form an object of my anxious attention.

"A rising in the Transvaal has recently imposed upon me the duty of taking military measures with a view to the prompt vindcation of my authority; and has of necessity set aside for the time any plan for securing to the Empean wertlers that fil control over their own local affairs, without prejudice to the interests of the natives, which I had been desirous to conter.

“I regret that the war in Basutoland still continues, artwithstanding the efforts of the Cape Government. It would m me much satisfaction if a suitable occasion should present for friendly action on my part with a view to the restoration peace.

"The war in Afghanistan has been brought to a close, and. with the exception of the Candabar force, my troops have been recalled within the Indian frontier. It is not my intention that the occupation of Candahar shall be permanently maintained: but the still unsettled condition of the country, and the consequent difficulty of establishing a Native Government, have delayed for a time the withdrawal of the army from that position.

"Papers on the several subjects to which I have adverted, as well as further correspondence on the Military Estimates of India, will be presented to you.

"Gentlemen of the House of Commons.

"The Estimates for the Services of the coming vear are in a forward state of preparation, and will be speedily laid before you. "My Lords and Gentlemen,

“There has been a gradual, though not very rapid, improvement in the trade of the country; and I am now able to entertain a more favourable expectation of the Revenue for the year than I could form at its commencement.

"The anticipation, with which I last addressed von, of a great diminution of the distress in Ireland, owing to an abundant harvest, was realised; but I grieve to state that the social condition of the country has assumed an alarming character. Agrarian erimes in general have multiplied far beyond the experience of recent years. Attempts upon life have not grown in the same proportion as other offences; but I must add that efforts have been made for personal protection, far beyond all former precedent, by the police, under the direction of the Executive. I have to notice other evils yet more widely spread: the administration of justice has been frustrated, with respect to these offences, through the impossibility of procuring evidence; and an extended system of terror has thus

« PreviousContinue »