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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 48

Speech at the Railway Station, Perth

Speech at the Railway Station, Perth.

When the special train reached Perth the station was found to be crowded, and Mr. Gladstone was received with the most vehement expressions of joy. Accompanied by the Lord Provost and Magistrates, the right honourable gentleman and his friends proceeded to the City Hall, and there received the freedom of the Fair City. Mr. Gladstone, in returning thanks, made a graceful allusion to the death of Mr. Roebuck, M.P. After the ceremony a start was made for the railway station, around which by this time an enormous crowd from the city and the surrounding districts had assembled. Immediately adjoining the station a small platform had been erected, and cheer followed cheer when, after receiving addresses from the City and County Liberal Associations, Mr. Gladstone, introduced by Mr. Parker, M.P., began to reply as follows:—

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My Lord Provost, Sir James Ramsay, Ladies and Gentlemen,—Sir James Ramsay has not read, has not caused to be read, the county address out of consideration for the limited time which is at our disposal. That was most considerate on his part, and I think that we do not lose hereby all that might be supposed on this account, that we can form some idea of what is in it. Let me say, ladies and gentlemen, I have had a varied experience during my short stay in Perth. In the City Hall just now I fell in with a Lord Provost Richardson, who in that City Hall was no politician. Neither was I. But I come here, and here I find a Lord Provost Richardson, who is perfectly intelligible in his statements of political opinion, and I really believe he is the same man. My friend Mr. Parker spoke of the influence that this visit might have on the city and county elections. But, gentlemen, I am not here to interfere in your elections. You do not want any advice from me. Your city is a virgin city. It has never been stormed by the adversary, and I believe it never will be. And as to the county, no doubt I am a spectator, a spectator only, but I am much mistaken if it does not, on the earliest occasion, follow the example of the city. I was very glad to hear the address of the city Liberals read, but the address of the city Liberals said that while it was pleasant to welcome me their pleasure would be still greater if Scotland should make me one of her representatives. Now, gentlemen, I want to get rid of that "if." You may depend upon it, except for the uncertainty of my life, or of human life, there is no "if" at all in the matter. The county of Midlothian, if it had not spoken sufficiently already, has spoken in this last week in a manner perfectly intelligible to us, and, depend upon it, perfectly well understood by those who are to oppose us.

Gentlemen, I came down here upon a very grave errand, and upon that errand I will say a few words, because the business is a common business

The serious Indictment against the Government.

—for us, for the men of Midlothian, and for you all. I came to advance a most serious indictment. The declarations that I have made have covered a very wide field; they have exposed a large open front. I have not been able, I admit, to read with perfect care all that has been written in the newspaper press of the country upon this interesting occasion. But so far as I have read, or so far as friends have informed me, there is only one statement of fact—and I have made a great many—there is only one which has been seriously challenged. I stated, gentlemen,

The normal duration of Parliaments.

in Edinburgh that it was an established usage for a great length of time that the Parliaments of this country should only address themselves to the regular transaction of the business of six and not of seven sessions. I wish here to repeat that statement, and to say that so far as the time of my own experience goes, and I believe so far as an earlier experience is concerned—but I will not now speak of that, because I have not had time to re-examine the whole of the facts—but so far as the last half-century is concerned, I say I will hereafter shatter to pieces the allegations of those who have impugned my statement. And the matter is of much importance; because my point, gentlemen, is this. I have never said that the Parliament might not, for grave cause, go through the regular business of a seventh session. I can conceive circumstances which would render it right and expedient, but the rule being that seven regular sessions should not be taken, I am entitled to ask why it is that

Special circumstances may be conceived rendering seven full sessions necessary.

rule is to be departed from on the present occasion? That is a most instructive question for us, because there is but one answer. The Government do not like to dissolve, because they dare not dissolve. They do not like to dissolve, because they naturally, and not dishonourably, not culpably, wish to prolong their Ministerial existence. They think, gentlemen, that they are conferring immense blessings on the country, and they very naturally desire that the flow of these blessings—which we may almost call a deluge—should not be arrested one day sooner than is necessary. But the practical point of the whole discussion is this; I omit the investigation page 82 of the facts for the present, I will deal with it before I go out of Scotland, [unclear: i] life and breath are given me. But the practical point is this: They do not dissolve, because they dare not dissolve, and the fact that they do not dissolve in and must be to you an additional incitement, an additional ground of confidence because it amounts to a moral demonstration that we are those who now represent the mature convictions of the majority of the constituencies.
Gentlemen, I came down here with a set of very ugly charges to sustain, for notwithstanding that, as I have said, her Majesty's Government believe them selves to be the authors and parents of innumerable blessings and benefits to the country, we have the misfortune to believe exactly the reverse. In fact gentlemen, their speeches could be made into speeches suitable for us by a very simple process. I will tell you what it is. If you would strike out the word "not" wherever they insert it—and if you would put it in wherever they do not use it, their speeches, depend upon it, would in a great degree save us the trouble of making speeches for ourselves. I will read to you, gentlemen because it is very short, the charges that I came to Scotland to sustain, advanced them in a letter in which I accepted the offer of the Liberals of Midlothian,

Mr. Gladstone's charges against the Government.

and I wish to be pinned to what I then said—it is a very good thing for public men to be so pinned. I charged them, first with the mismanagement of finance; secondly, with an extravagant scale of expenditure; thirdly, with having allowed legislation, which is always in arrear in this country, from the necessary pressure of the concern of so vast an empire—with having allowed that legislation to come into such a state that its arrears are intolerable and almost hopeless. I charged them with a foreign policy which has gravely compromised the faith and honour of the country. I charged them with having, both through their ruinous finance and through their disturbing measures, broken up confidence in the commercial community, and thereby aggravated the public distress. I charged them with having contributed needlessly and wrongfully to the aggrandizement of Russia I charged them with having made an unjust and dangerous war in Afghanistan, and I further charged them in these terms: "By their use of the treaty-making and the war-making powers of the Crown, they have abridged the just rights of Parliament, and have presented prerogative to the nation under an unconstitutional aspect, which tends to make it insecure." Now gentlemen, I was very anxious to go about the concerns of this Midlothian contest, which is, in fact, in some degree a Scotch contest. I am very anxious to go about it like a man of business: yet I grieve to say that, so many are the counts of the indictment and so heavy—so copious is the matter which it is necessary to bring out fully before the country in connection with the coming dissolution, that I have not yet discharged myself, though I have been pretty liberally heard on various occasions, I have not yet discharged myself of all that requires to be said. And therefore, with your permission, I will avail myself of the quarter of an hour that is at my disposal before the time appointed for the departure of the train for the north, in order to explain to you one of the

The abuse of the war-making power.

phrases that I have used in this letter to the electors of Midlothian I charged the Government with having abused the war-making power and the treaty-making power. Of the war-making power I will not now speak further than to say that I allude especially to the war is Afghanistan, on which I yet hope to find some opportunity of explaining myself more at length. To you I will speak, within the narrow limits I have described, [unclear: o] the treaty-making power; and, gentlemen, though you are a vast assemble meeting here in circumstances of some inconvenience, and though the subject is one not free from difficulty, I have so much reliance on your intelligence as well as upon your patience, that I am confident you will clearly understand what I want to convey to you.
Consider, gentlemen, I entreat you, what is meant by the treaty-making power page 83 It is a power under which the Crown of the United Kingdom is

The abuse of the treaty-making power

entitled to pledge the faith and honour of the country to any other State whatever and for any purpose whatever, unless I except the payment of money, but this exception is more apparent than real. Now that is a power so large, that it must be most dangerous unless very discreetly used. It is so large, gentlemen, that at various times it has attracted the jealousy of patriotic men; and attempts have been made in Parliament to limit the action of that power by requiring that treaties should be submitted to Parliament before they are finally concluded. [Cheers.] I do not wonder for a moment that you are disposed to receive with some favour a suggestion of that kind. The objections to that suggestion are not objections of principle. In principle I cannot say it would be unsound. They are objections entirely, in my opinion, of practice, and they come to this, that the nature of negotiation with foreign States is frequently so complicated and so delicate that it hardly can be carried on except by a single agency concentrated like the agency of Ministers; and that agency invested with the exercise of a large discretion. Now, my opinion

The treaty-making power was formerly safe and useful

is that the treaty-making power of the Crown, as it has been used by former Governments, was a safe and a useful power. About a year or two ago, I forget exactly how long, Mr. Rylands, a well-known member of Parliament, made a motion in the House of Commons to the effect that some control ought to be placed on this power. I, gentlemen, opposed that motion, upon grounds which I wish to state to you. I said the Crown, and the Crown acting through its responsible Ministers, is by far the most effective agent for the conclusion of the difficult subjects that are necessarily involved in the making of treaties. But then I said—No doubt you will object that it is a vast power which is thus placed in the hands of Ministers, and that it would be most dangerous if it were exercised without reference to the known convictions and desires of the nation, but, gentlemen, I also said my reply to the objection is, that after all the long years of my public life, I cannot

Treaties should be in conformit with the convictions of the people.

now recollect a case in which any treaty has been made except in conformity with the well-understood general tendencies and convictions of the people. The subjects hare usually been long before the public. It may not be known what the precise materials of the treaty are, but it is known within certain bounds what they must be, and any right-minded Government has no difficulty whatever—as I can say from practica experience—in so conducting itself in these delicate matters as to have a mora certainty that though they have had no formal communication with the Parliament or the people, yet they are truly expressing the convictions of the parliament and the people. I will not now trouble you with references to instances, but if, gentlemen, you were to go back to the time of the Crimean war and the treaties at the close of that war—if you were to take the treaty made in 1870 with respect to Belgium, or, in fact, a whole multitude of instances upon which we might proceed—I do not hesitate to say that these treaties were instruments which, in each case, were agreeable to the national feeling at the time. Now that was the express ground on which I defended the treaty

Upon that ground alone the treaty-making power is defensible.

making power. I said in Parliament that it was impossible to defend that power upon any other grounds. I want to tell you what then happened. Sir Stafford Northcote, as the leader of the Government in the House of Commons, and as the man who, upon the highest subjects, is entitled to speak the sense of the Government—Sir Stafford Northcote rose after me, and he said—I do not quote his words, but I state their effect—he said, such was his concurrence with the opinions I had given as reasons for not entertaining the motion of Mr. Rylands that it would save him the trouble of entering at length upon the subject. Therefore, gentlemen, I hold that the Government were bound, in making treaties, to do nothing of importance except upon the principles to which Sir Stafford Northcote then assented. They page 84 were bound to make no treaties upon questions of a novel character and of vast importance with regard to which the country had had no opportunity of making up its mind. Now I want to know what it was that happened a very short time after that debate. To the perfect astonishment alike of Tories and Liberals, it

What the Anglo-Turkish Convention involved.

was announced, without almost the notice of a day, that her Majesty's Government had contracted what is called the Anglo-Turkish Convention. No human being had heard of the subject-matter of that Convention. Neither Tories nor Liberals had had the slightest opportunity of considering it. We were told one fine day that we had become responsible for the good government of the whole of Turkey in Asia. Look at your maps, gentlemen, and see what that vast country is; seething, I am afraid, with all the consequences of bad government. And here we whose own affairs properly belonging to us are beyond our power to deal with, so that they are constantly running into arrear, by the act of the Government, taken and done in the dark, were involved suddenly and without notice in the provisions of this Convention. Now what are these? I have given you one. We were to be responsible for the good government of the whole of

(1) The protectorate of Asia Minor.

Turkey in Asia. You are some times told it is Asia Minor. It is not Asia Minor peculiarly: it is all Syria, all Palestine, Assyria, Turkish Arabia. The whole of those vast countries are placed under our responsibility, and if, gentlemen, any functionary of the Turkish Empire misconducts himself in any of those countries that is now your affair. But that is not all, gentlemen. You have also undertaken by this treaty-made on a sudden and in the dark, while the Powers of Europe were assembled at Berlin, but without the knowledge of any of those Powers—you have also undertaken to defend the frontier of Armenia against the Russian arms. You, at a distance of three thousand miles, have undertaken to send your fleets and armies to that country to meet Russia on her own borders, and to repel her from

(2) The defence of the Armenian frontier.

the Turkish territory. And, moreover, you have made that covenant, irrespectively of the goodness or badness of her cause; for it does not say that you will defend Turkey against Russia on the Armenian frontier after convincing yourselves that she is in the right. But you are placed under an unconditional engagement. But then, along with all this, what other great provision is there? There is this provision, that you have

(3) The acquisition of Cyprus.

become practically the masters of the island of Cyprus. [Laughter and jeers.] Well, gentlemen, I find this—I cannot name the island of Cyprus in any assembly of my fellow-countrymen without immediately drawing forth a flood of derisive laughter. But, gentlemen, this is no laughing matter. You have undertaken responsibility for that island. You have undertaken the good government of that island. And what have you done? I have no doubt that in many matters of administration we may have improved the government. It would be very difficult indeed to take over any Turkish island and not to improve the government. But I am sorry to say, gentlemen, that we have imported some new scandals into that island. I will tell you of two ordinances that have been passed by British authority. First of all, I ask you, was it a right or a proper thing, without the knowledge of the people of this country, to take over an island of that kind? I think it a very shabby trick to play the Turk. But independently of that, was it right for you people who were a free people to take over that island and govern it despotically? You are governing that island despotically by the hands of military officers. Is that a proper position for a free people to be placed in without its knowledge as well as without its consent? But you have done these things already. Under the Turk, any man could buy land it the island of Cyprus and go and cultivate it. We in our wisdom—because it is the nation after all: this is a self-governed country—I do not mean the people of Perth—not at all—the people of Perth would not have done it—but I mean the people of the country—have passed an ordinance, under which no man is page 85 allowed to buy land in Cyprus, unless he is either an English or a

Cyprus under British rule.

Turkish subject. Before Cyprus became ours, any Greek of the kingdom of Greece might have bought land in Cyprus; and remember Cyprus is inhabited by Greeks. Nothing could have been more natural and proper than the purchase of land by a Greek. That we have forbidden. But I will tell you what else we have done that is a great deal worse, and you will hardly believe it. Under the Government of this free nation, an ordinance has been passed, the effect of which is that the authorities of the island, who are chiefly military authorities, appointed by us, have power to banish from the island any man they please without putting him on trial for any offence. [Cries of shame.] Yes; you are justified in crying shame. It is a shame. It is a disgrace to this country; it is a scandal before the world. Gentlemen, I have given you three leading points. I will not speak now upon the worthlessness of Cyprus for the purpose for which we were told it was to be so valuable, because time would forbid it.
But now observe, I come to my practical conclusion—that the treaty-making power has been abused. It has been used for purposes in themselves objectionable, and it has been so used in contempt, as I should say, of the moral title of Parliament and of the nation to be aware of the principles on which a Government is acting, and of the ends that it has in view. That treaty-making power, in my opinion, is good while it is rightly and wisely used; it is evil and indefensible when used as it has been used by the present Administration. On that account, gentlemen, I say that this in its effect, whatever its intention may be, is, on the part of the Government, a disloyal conduct; because the effect of it is to prejudice the prerogatives of the

The effect of the abuse of the treaty-making power is to prejudice the prerogatives of the Crown, by rendering them odious.

Crown, and to impair their foundation by making them odious in the sight of the nation at large. That is all, gentlemen, that I will now say, because it is true that our time is about exhausted. But I wish you to see even from this brief exposition that I did not speak lightly when I said that prerogative had been presented to the country in a light which tended to make it insecure, and thereby to import organic disturbance among us—among a people who love their institutions, among a people who desire only to turn them to the best account, and not to be brought into the condition of countries that, less fortunate than ourselves, are obliged to be considering from day to day in what manner they shall remake the Government of the land. I beg your pardon, I want to remake the Government of the land—but by "remake the Government," I meant the institutions of the land.
These are, gentlemen, a small part of the whole case that is before you. It is a most grave case. Some portions of it, I think, I have been able in some degree to develop and explain in the county of Midlothian. I very much doubt whether it will be again very confidently asserted by any Minister that finance is the strong point of the Government. That was so stated. That very word was used at the meeting in the Guildhall on the 10th November; and when I read it, I recollected that there is a passage, found in a book of high authority, and commonly cited in these words: "Oh that mine enemy would write a book!" With a very slight change, I am disposed to alter that line, and to say—"Oh that mine enemy would speak a speech!" He could not have done better. Gentlemen, I want you to understand that the claim of the Government is that finance is their strong point. Pray understand it when they produce their defects, pray understand it when they propose their taxes, or pray understand it when they present to you the figures which

The issue is whether in this way we wish to be governed.

will measure the accumulation of debt upon the country. Gentlemen, let us all do our best to make clear the issue that is to be placed before the nation. That issue is—is this the way, or is this not the way, in which the people of the United Kingdom desire to be governed? Gentlemen, I bid you a grateful farewell.
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Mr. Donald Currie said, Within a minute or two we have to proceed by the train to Breadalbane, and I now ask you kindly to give three cheers for Mr. Gladstone, thanking him for having come to Perth.

This call was most heartily responded to, and with cheers for Mr. Currie, Mr. Parker, M.P., and the Earl of Breadalbane, the proceedings in the open air concluded.

Mr. Gladstone amidst the greatest enthusiasm at once entered the train and proceeded to the north.