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and throughout the country with general expressions of loyalty, and in many parts of the United States with a friendliness hitherto unusual.
The Peace Conference assembled at the Hague was regarded by sceptical critics as little more than the humouring of a powerful monarch, whose army would throw the balance to the side on which it fought. The most extravagant claims were put forward by its partisans, who prophesied that the Congress would usher in disarmament partial or permanent, even if it failed to make war impossible, or at the best would lay down general principles, which there was no authority to enforce. When however it appeared from the president's opening speech that it was to turn its attention chiefly to arbitration and mediation between Powers at variance, the hope that some practical suggestions would be made revived, and its proceedings were watched with eager interest by others besides the members of the peace party.
Mr. Chamberlain on Old Age Pensions—Mr. Morley, Lord Spencer and Sir Wm.
Harcourt on the Liberal Party-The Bloemfontein Conference–The South African Imbroglio-Mr. Robson's Bill-Grant and Vote of Thanks to Lord Kitchener in Parliament–London Government Bill-Illegal Commissions Bill-The Telephone Bill-Lord C. Beresford on British Policy in ChinaThe Indian Tariff Bill-Youthful Offenders Bill—The London Government in the Lords—The Tithe Rent Charge Bill—The Bye-elections—Mr. Balfour and Mr. Chamberlain on the South African Crisis-Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman on the Liberal Party-Legislation by the Lords and Commons—The Niger Company and Mr. Chamberlain—The Transvaal Dispute-Debates in Parliament-Irish Agriculture and Technical Instruction-Colonial Loans Bill—Board of Education—The Indian Budget-Old Age Pensions, Commit. tee's Report-Prorogation of Parliament-Convocation and the Clergy-The Peace Congress.
It would be difficult to gauge accurately the influence or importance of the Irish National League of Great Britain, which was this year convened to meet (May 20) at Bradford. It, however, claimed for itself to be wholly free from those sectional dissensions which distracted the Irish party elsewhere. Mr. T. P. O'Connor, M.P., who presided, may have regarded himself as outside the rivalry of the Parnellites and the Redmondites, or the Dillonites and the Healyites, but this view was not altogether shared by lookers-on. In his address, disregarding his own axiom that “American subsidies varied inversely with Irish dissensions,” he assured his hearers that “the labours of the members of the league were dictated exclusively by the love which every true Irishman bore to his country, and by their unselfish desire to set it free. They therefore felt very much inclined to ask the people of Ireland why they did not act in the same spirit.” Mr. O'Connor perhaps had unwittingly furnished the answer himself, for his countrymen as a body were far too logical and too practical to consent to the total abandonment of supplies from America.
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Among the charges most persistently brought by Radical writers and speakers against Mr. Chamberlain was his altered attitude in office towards the question of old-age pensions. By the Radical Press he was accused of something worse than treachery, and was accused of having won his own and many other seats at the general election by promises which he had taken no steps to fulfil. The hasty appointment of another commission on the subject just before Parliament adjourned was taken as only a device to postpone still further the settlement of the question, and to relieve the Government, and especially Mr. Chamberlain, from the necessity of proposing a definite scheme. Mr. Chamberlain was keen enough to appreciate the hostile attitude of the Opposition, and probably therefore seized with satisfaction upon the opportunity offered him by a deputation of the Oddfellows' Conference in session at Birmingham (May 24) to express his views upon the problem before the public. The advantages which the great friendly societies had conferred on the country were well known, but he would venture to point out two defects. The great societies had caused a number of weaker imitations to spring up which were financially unsound. The great reason for deficits at present was the unexpected extent of the demand for old-age sickness, which in many cases amounted to almost a permanent pension. Under existing circumstances—“either you must increase your subscriptions or you must throw out of benefit numbers of men who are thoroughly deserving of it, who have entered the society in the expectation that they would obtain it, and who would be much disappointed, and would consider they had a right to regard themselves wronged, if they did not obtain it. If you really passed a resolution urging Government to secure a pension, say of 5s. per week, for every man and woman who reaches the age of sixty years, then I tell you frankly that you will have no assistance from me to secure a result which I believe to be absolutely impracticable, and which, even if it were practicable, would be most mischievous and undesirable in the interests of all friends of thrift.” A pension of 5s. a week for people of sixty years of age and upwards would cost 34,000,0001. per annum, and would necessitate a great increase of taxation. Even were that difficulty got over, such a proposal would do more harm than good, for it would mean one gigantic scheme of out-door relief for everybody, good and bad, thrifty and unthrifty, for the wastrel and drunkard and the idle man, as well as the industrious workman: “We must have some test. The one test I have always advocated is that a man through his working life should have contributed to a friendly society. ... Rome was not built in a day, and we are not going to have old age pensions in a week; but I have never given up my own faith that the thing is right in itself—that it is necessary and desirable—and that it may be so worked out as to contribute to thrift, and not to discourage it.
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... It is my hope now that it may not be many months, at all events before the present Parliament comes to an endbefore something considerable may be done in the direction of which I have spoken.”
Whilst Mr. Chamberlain was endeavouring to smooth the path for his colleagues, Mr. John Morley was strewing it with obstacles of every kind gathered from various quarters of the empire. He had journeyed far away from his own constituents north of the Tweed, and had accepted the office of president of a Liberal association in the Forest of Dean (for which district Sir Charles Dilke was the sitting member), and at Lydney he delivered (May 25) his presidential address, which from its scope and style was intended for a much wider audience. He observed that there had been complaints lately of political apathy, but he thought it was not apathy but rumination. He had been challenged to explain or even make a scathing analysis of Lord Rosebery's speech, but he would not do so, for various reasons. Lord Rosebery had compared himself and other retired leaders to disembodied spirits. He did not believe in ghosts; it was nothing more than a dark horse in a loose box. People talked as if sectional Liberalism only came in with Home Rule; but in 1885 the differences between the Liberals under Mr. Chamberlain and Lord Hartington were as strong as those between Liberals and Tories now. Already in 1885 the great English boroughs had deserted the Liberals. Lord Salisbury the other day treated all questions of parliamentary representation as done with ; but that could not be while their ridiculous registration system and franchise system remained; and then there was redistribution. Lord Salisbury had spoken of the Liberal triumphs being due to extension of the franchise. They were equally due to finance, and he thought the country was again beginning to think that finance was safer in Liberal than in Tory hands. Mr. Chamberlain had ridiculed Welsh Disestablishment, and asked whether any one would be a penny better off. He did not much like that argument, but who would be a penny better off for the Soudan ? Mr. Morley hoped for much from the Peace Conference. Holland was a small country, but it had done much for Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and he hoped something great might come now. He was sure that Lord Salisbury would do all he could, but he was afraid there was a change in the ideals of the country. Sir C. Dilke, who followed Mr. Morley, found himself somewhat unpleasantly placed. He had never thrown in his lot with the little Englanders,” and had learnt during his stay at the Foreign Office to take a wide view of British responsibilities. He said while they rejoiced in the settlement of African questions with France, and at the use of peaceful language, they retained their contempt for a policy which had sacrificed Greece and the true interests of the United Kingdom in the Eastern Mediterranean, and for Lord Salisbury's
blunders, especially that by which he had given away in Madagascar an independence which had not been theirs to give; just as in Tunis and in Siam he had given away what was not theirs to give, against their interests. In China they could discover no settled policy; but he said not a word which could suggest that he was prepared to abandon Wei-hai-wei, or to submit without protest to the encroachments of Russia.
Lord Spencer, in his speech at Trowbridge (May 26), kept away from dangerous topics, and seemed a little uncertain whether “the additional gloom” caused by Sir Wm. Harcourt and Mr. Morley's retirement, or the “bright sunshine" of Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman's succession was the most distinctive feature of the Liberal situation. The hopeful view on the whole predominated; but he was careful not to darken the prospect by any reference to questions on which the party is divided. When he dealt with old-age pensions, he left it uncertain whether he approved or condemned them. He was in favour of a “large measure of Home Rule” for Ireland, a conveniently ambiguous term, which might stand for anything from County Councils to virtual independence. He declined to define imperialism, but he claimed for the Liberal party that it had drawn the component parts of the empire closer together. On the other hand, on the points about which the party was united he spoke with much decision. He would not hear of countervailing duties, and demanded local control for voluntary schools, on the ground that “the clerical managers of many of these schools hold doctrines which are repugnant to children who use them.” Lord Spencer, who spoke with the authority of an ex-President of the Council, evidently wished to give local control a very large field. The school board, or the parish council, or the overseers, or whoever might be the local authority for the purpose, would have to inquire not merely into the religious teaching given in voluntary schools, but into the opinions of their managers. It was not enough that the parents had the right of withdrawing their children from the religious lesson. The feelings of the children themselves were also to be considered, and if they disliked the Scripture teaching they ought to be able to make their views known to an independent authority. Lord Spencer, however, was careful to explain that it would not become the duty of the Liberal party to consider this question, any more than that of the House of Lords until “once more they have a large majority, and are in office."
Sir Wm. Harcourt also found an opportunity of expressing (May 31) the aims and views of the section of the Liberal party of which he was still the acknowledged leader. Speaking at Nantyglo, among his constituents, he spent a considerable time in discussing the meaning of jingoism, imperialism, and the little Englanders, regardless of his colleague Mr. John Morley's contemptuous definition that such work was “contending for the shadow of the jackass.” Sir Wm. Harcourt
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admitted, however, that if imperialism meant a policy which is the wisest and best for the empire, he and all others were in that sense imperialists; and he went on to describe the wise and sane imperialism which had made Britain great. With this he contrasted “the policy of expansion,” describing it as the policy of inflationists, who thought the more paper money they issued the richer they were. In his judgment it was wiser to build than to boom an empire, but he did not attempt to show that Lord Salisbury had in any way laid himself open to the reproach of doing the latter, although he was surrounded by less scrupulous and less far-seeing colleagues.
The bye-election at Southport occurring at this juncture showed that in Lancashire at all events the Jingo feeling was not strong enough to recover the seat which Sir H. Naylor-Leyland a year before had snatched from the Conservatives. On the present occasion the Liberal candidate, Sir George Pilkington, increased the Liberal majority from 272 to 535 upon an inincreased poll on both sides. Sir G. Pilkington had the advantage of being universally popular in the neighbourhood, and had formerly sat for the constituency. The contest was chiefly interesting as being the first which had occurred since the Ritualist question had been brought into the field of politics. Several Ritualists, considering that Mr. Balfour had shown them scant favour in his speech on the Clergy Discipline Bill, abstained, while at the same time the extreme Protestants, desiring to remind the Government of their power, also declined to support Mr. C. B. Balfour, the Ministerial candidate.
The meeting of President Kruger and Sir Alfred Milner at Bloemfontein (May 31), coinciding with the hopeful proceedings of the Peace Congress at the Hague, led many to hope that an understanding would be reached between the Transvaal and Great Britain without the sacrifice of independence on the one part or of the rights of British immigrants on the other. Although the chief point in dispute was that of the franchise, which one member of the Transvaal had described “as the only weapon they could use against their enemies," and therefore important to keep in the hands of its actual possessors, yet it was generally admitted that there were other grievances which needed redress. President Kruger himself at the outset of the conference was prepared to admit this, and declared himself ready to discuss all subjects except the independence of the republic.
The hopes generally entertained at home and abroad that these negotiations might pave the way to a better understanding between the Boers and the Outlanders of the Transvaal, and between the British and Dutch elements throughout South Africa, were disappointed. No bridge could be found by which either negotiator could retire from his standpoint,-President Kruger's insistence that all British differences with the Transvaal should be referred to the arbitration of a foreign Power, and Sir