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January 27. Its object, he said, was to secure the interests of the tenant and render him as secure under a bad landlord as under a good one; and he gave interesting particulars of the effect of the first month's working-still incomplete—of the Small Holdings Act. Applications had come in from 45 counties for a total of 41,000 acres; and, with 12,000 acres of Crown lands also applied for, the total was roughly 83 square miles. The men applying were the right sort, men who had saved money and were anxious to remain on the land.
In spite, however, of a few such tokens of encouragement, the prospect as the session opened was on the whole unfavourable to the Government. The cotton trade dispute indeed had been settled, though, as it proved, only for a time; and the decline in economic prosperity was characterised by Mr. LloydGeorge at Cardiff on January 25 as a shallow depression. But sensational demonstrations were projected on the part of the unemployed; great efforts were being made by the trade adversaries of the Licensing Bill to impress the public, largely through advertisements in the leading journals, with the idea that any depreciation of brewery stocks must cause grave financial and banking disturbance; and, in view of the predictions by Ministers of increased direct taxation, an IncomeTax Reduction League had been formed, and had been addressed at its inaugural meeting by Viscount St. Aldwyn and Lord Avebury. The disturbed state of parts of Ireland was made much of by the Unionist party, though Mr. Birrell attributed it largely to the mutilation of alleviatory measures by the House of Lords ; and there were dangers ahead in the education problem and, for the moment, in the question of British Indians in the Transvaal. The Ministry, too, seemed likely to be weakened by the state of the Premier's health. The practical identification of the Labour Party with Socialism would probably further alarm the Free-Trade Unionists and the comfortable middle classes, who were already more or less unfavourable to the Government through their apprehensions as to the effect of old age pensions and the Licensing Bill. The Mid-Devon election had shown a conjunction of all the influences unfavourable to the Government, and was evidence that Tariff Reform was gaining ground; and the action of the “ Confederates” against Free-Trade Unionists, though vigorously resented by the latter, seemed to have affected the fortunes of the party little more than the renewed attack on Mr. Harry Marks by his dissentient constituents (ANNUAL REGISTER, 1906, p. 236) whose letter to the Speaker, calling attention to the unrefuted charges against their member, was declared by that dignitary to deal with a matter outside his province. As a result of the recent negotiations, the Irish Parliamentary party had reunited, and Mr. Healy and Mr. William O'Brien had returned to the main body. The Unionists hoped, however, to make a strong case against the Govern
ment in regard to Ireland and unemployment, and to assist its composite majority to break up.
THE SESSION UNTIL EASTER.
PARLIAMENT was opened with the customary ceremonial by the King in person, accompanied by the Queen, on Wednesday, January 29. The outdoor pageant, favoured by brilliant weather, was far more successful than on any previous occasion since His Majesty's accession. The popular reception of the King and Queen was enthusiastic, and the scene within the House of Lords was conspicuously impressive. There were two curious incidents ; certain militant women suffragists attempted to reach the state coach with a petition, and very nearly succeeded, and a candidate to the dormant peerage of De Morley presented himself in the House of Lords, but was removed before Their Majesties' arrival.
The Speech, which was read by the King, stated that the cordial reception given to the German Emperor and Empress had been much appreciated, and “could not fail to confirm the friendly relations existing between the two nations.” After mentioning the death of the King of Sweden, the Speech characterised the Anglo-Russian Convention as enabling the two Governments concerned to maintain a peaceful policy, notwithstanding the situation in Persia; and touched on the joint treaty for preserving the integrity of Norway, and on the Hague Conference. It mentioned that the instruments attached to the Final Act were under the consideration of the Government, and that representatives of leading maritime Powers would be invited to a conference in London in the autumn to come to an understanding on certain important points of international law for the guidance of the new Court of Appeal (ANNUAL REGISTER, 1907, p. 347). References followed to the situation in Macedonia, with the fresh British proposals (post, p. 44) and to the Congo State. The Ministry were fully aware of the great anxiety felt regarding the treatment of the native population; their sole desire was to see the government humanely administered in accordance with the Berlin Act, and the King trusted that this would be effected by the negotiations in progress between the Sovereign of the Congo State and the Belgian Government. Reference was also made to the negotiations for arbitration on the Newfoundland fishery dispute, to the settlement of the difference respecting Japanese immigration into Canada (ANNUAL REGISTER, 1907, pp. 457, 459), and to the threatened famine in India. The usual paragraph on the Estimates omitted the customary reference to “efficiency and economy,” but promised proposals “ for making better provision for old age,” and Bills were promised to amend the law of licensing and education in England and Wales, to regulate the hours of labour in coal mines, to deal with housing and town planning, to amend the system of valuation of property for the assessment of rates and taxes in England and Wales, to improve and extend Irish University Education, to amend the Irish Land Purchase Act of 1903, especially with reference to the compulsory acquisition of untenanted land for the relief of congestion, to establish an authority for the control and improvement of the Port of London, and to consolidate and amend the law relating to the protection of children and the treatment of juvenile offenders. The Scottish Land and Valuation Bills of 1907 would also be submitted afresh.
The business of the House of Lords practically began with the admission of Lord Curzon of Kedleston, who had been elected an Irish Representative Peer on January 20. The Clerk of the Crown and Hanaper Office in Ireland appeared at the Bar and presented a return to the writ for the election of an Irish representative peer vice Lord Kilmaine deceased. It stated that Lord Curzon had received the largest number of votes, but that his name was not on the roll of Peers of Ireland entitled to vote at such elections, and that the next highest number of votes had been received by Lord Ashtown. The Lord Chancellor gave it as his opinion, after examining the Act of Union—and the Earl of Halsbury, his predecessor on the Woolsack, concurred—that Lord Curzon was entitled to take his seat, and that peer, who had been waiting on the steps of the throne, came forward and took the oath. (Subsequently (Feb. 12) a Bill was brought in by Mr. Swift MacNeill identical with one introduced in 1876 to repeal the statutes under which Irish Peers were created ; but it was dropped.] The address was moved by Lord Airedale and seconded by Lord Nunburnholme, who during much of 1907 had sat in the Commons for Colne Valley and West Hull respectively as Sir James Kitson and Mr. Guy Wilson.
The Marquess of Lansdowne, commenting as usual on the Speech paragraph by paragraph, laid most stress on the absence of any reference to Ireland, suggesting that the paragraph on Macedonia might have served with a few verbal changes. He charged the Government with preparing the destruction of the grazing industry, and ridiculed migration as a crazy policy; would people in Roscommon tolerate immigrants from Connaught? He denounced, also, the Ministerial refusal to resort to the Crimes Act. He condemned the assumption of the new and colossal liability involved by old age pensions, and, after touching on the licensing and education questions, challenged the Government to bring forward their scheme for dealing with the House of Lords, and asked for proper opportunity for the discussion of Bills.
The Marquess of Ripon replied, declaring that the Government were ready to meet any attack on their administration of the law in Ireland, and, after other speeches, the debate was adjourned. It covered the two next sittings (Jan. 30 and Feb. 3) and dealt wholly with the subject of Ireland. Great stress was laid by the Marquess of Londonderry, Lord Clonbrock, the Earl of Donoughmore, Lord Ashbourne, and other Peers, on the prevalence of cattle-driving, and, especially by the first-named, on the amount of other agrarian crime and terrorism existing. On the Ministerial side it was contended by Lord Castletown, Earl Beauchamp and Lord Denman that the existing evils were greatly exaggerated, and a notable speech was made by the Earl of Dudley, who expressed his belief that cattle-driving was due to the national demands of the people for a change in the system of Government, and that the demand for the Crimes Act was inconsistent with the whole spirit of Unionism. On the last day the Lord Chancellor and the Earl of Crewe defended the action of the Government, and the address was agreed to.
The explanations of Irish affairs in the Commons' debate, however, were more satisfactory and fuller, though the debate ranged over a wider field. The proceedings began with an Irish episode, the formal announcement of the committal of Mr. Ginnell for contempt of court (ANNUAL REGISTER, 1907, p. 254) which was made in a letter from Mr. Justice Ross read by the Speaker. Mr. Redmond moved the reference of the letter to a Select Committee; but the Speaker held that precedents did not justify this course, and that the privileges of Parliament did not cover contempt of court.
The address was moved by Mr. Lehmann (Harborough, Leicestershire), and seconded by Mr. W. H. Davies (Bristol, S.).
Mr. Balfour followed, and after sympathetic references to the death of the Attorney-General and the absence of the Prime Minister—due partly to his own weak health and partly to the illness of his brother, sometime member for Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities - reviewed the administrative acts of the Government since the prorogation. On the Anglo-Russian Agreement he asked for a separate debate, criticising it unfavourably, however, as affecting English trade in Persia, and as containing no textual reference to the Persian Gulf. He expressed some doubts, also, as to the success of the coming Maritime Conference, and, postponing his remarks on South Africa in view of a coming amendment, he asked whether anything had been done by regulations under the New Hebrides Convention to protect the women and children, and to modify the admitted evils of the treaty. The programme of domestic legislation was intended either not to be carried at all, or to be carried under conditions making freedom of debate impossible. He hoped the process of Parliamentary decay would be allowed to go no farther. Mr. McKenna's administration of the Education Department he denounced as cynically partisan, and he laid special stress on the existing disorder in Ireland.
Mr. Asquith, after heartily endorsing Mr. Balfour's tribute to the late Sir J. Lawson Walton, replied seriatim to his criticisms. The Persian Gulf was not mentioned in the Agreement because it was largely Turkish, whereas England and Russia were the only two Powers with substantial interests in Persia. He regretted the disposition in many quarters to belittle the Hague Conference; it was a great thing to get the representatives of the Powers together for discussion; the results might not equal the most sanguine anticipations, but there was a serious and substantial advance. He deprecated any discussion at present of the question of British Indians in the Transvaal. Instructions had been issued by the British and French Governments separately to Commissioners in the New Hebrides to assist them in framing regulations, and these would await their report. As to Mr. McKenna's administration of the Education Department, the vote of 100,0001. in 1907 was embodied in the Estimates and the Education Bill, and, if the trusts of the training colleges had been interfered with, so had the trusts of elementary schools by the Education Act of 1902. But, in fact, the trusts were not interfered with ; it was merely stated that the colleges should only receive grants on certain terms. They might themselves make their trusts more elastic under the provisions of the Charitable Trusts Act. Mr. Balfour seemed to suggest that Mr. Birrell was deliberately neglecting to enforce the law in Ireland to make out a case for Home Rule. But his picture of Ireland was a caricature. The Government did not put the Crimes Act in force because they had been protesting against it for twenty years—mainly because it enabled a Government to use extra legal powers without coming to Parliament for them. But no Chief Secretary could ask Parliament for exceptional powers under existing conditions. Apart from cattle-driving there had been little crime. Cattle-driving the Government had never palliated; it was not only criminal, but stupid. They had used the resources of the ordinary law, but they recognised that they must remedy social and economic grievances, and he again intimated that there would be compulsory purchase of the grazing lands. In a session of reasonable length, with a better allocation of time and with devolution of non-controversial Bills and parts of Bills, ample time might be found to discuss such a programme as that of the Speech. At any rate, they meant to make the attempt. Judged by Mr. Balfour's standard, it might be excessive, but no item in it was not at once urgent and practicable.
Mr. John Redmond (Waterford) regarded the King's Speech as disappointing in its omission of national self-government for Ireland. He claimed Mr. Balfour's speech, in view of its remarks on the programme of the session, as an unanswerable argument in favour of Home Rule. But he congratulated