IDttrr fa 4t Cahn.
THE CAPE CONSTITUTION DEBATE.
London, 16th Tidy 185L
Sin—I happened to be in the House of Lords last night. I send you niv impressions of the debate, which to me had the interest of novelty as well as that attaching to the subject itself. A discussion by such an assembly, of great constitutional principles of law and policy, is a refreshing change from the miserable wrangling about Papal aggression. As to the question itself, I say nothing, as your readers are of course in full possession of it.
Lord Derby's avowed object was to induce Parliament at once to give a constitution to the Cape of Good Hope by immediate legislation ; the neces- sity of such a measure being enforced by the alleged illegality of the new legislative body created by Lord Grey in that colony. The form adopted was , that of a motion to refer the papers to a Select Comrnittee ; a form which appeared rather to embarrass the object in view, as not being sufficiently de- finite, and also in itself exhausting the great desideratum—time.
Lord Derby began by disclaiming all party objects : and there was no- thing in his speech directly of that character ; but if his real object was to induce Parliament to set to work upon a legislative measure at this time of the session, I thought his speech generally an unwise one. He not only failed to conciliate the neutral Peers who would not side with him in a merely party movement—because his speech in fact had a party complexion, being a contrast of his own policy with that of Lord Grey—but lie opened a wide field of questions on which great differences of opinion exist, such as the Anti-Convict agitation, the state of parties, classes, and races in the colony; so diverting the debate from the main point. Had he contented himself with the simple matter in hand, I think he would not improbably have carried with him a few of the neutral or wavering Peers, of whom a handful would have turned the scale on the division.
But he could not let pass the opportunity of making out his own ease against Lord Grey. Ile did so with tolerable success ; and for that purpose he went into the whole history of Cape politics from the time he left office ; charging Lord Grey with misrepresentation of his (Lord Derby's) views, and, I think, proving the charge. But this introductory- matter served to defeat his object, by widening the field of debate and multiplying the points of difference.
Lord Grey did not fail to take advantage of the mistake.
Lord Derby ended with a short reference to the illegality of the new "In- structions"; leaving that point to Lord Lyndhurst, xvho was about to follow. The general effect of the speech was not perfectly successful. It left on the mind impressions of many matters involved in the question, instead of concentrating the attention of the House on the one main point, the neces- sity for immediate legislation. In many parts the speech was effective and brilliant ; the statements of facts clear and perspicuous; the arrangement (subject to the fundamental objection I have mentioned) skilful. But the case before the House, without the law point, stood as it were on one leg. He sat down, of course expecting Lord Lyndhurst to follow and fill up the gap. But the instant he sat down, simultaneously rose Lord Grey and Lord Lyndhurst on opposite sides of the House. I do not know which was entitled to precedence by the rules of the Rouse; but every one was in expectation of hearing Lord Lyndhurst, especially as, being an old and feeble Man, his convenience ought to have been consulted. There was in fact positive cruelty in compelling him to wait through two hours of Lord Grey's speech. However, Lard Grey clamoured for a hearing. The Duke of Richmond, somewhat abruptly, moved that Lord Lyndhurst be heard. Several Peers on the Ministerial side rushed to Lord Grey's rescue, and there was a slight approach to a scene. It ended in Lord Derby, in a graceful manner, sur- rendering on Lord Lyndhurst's part the right of speech. So the old man sat down, though apparently with reluctance. Lord Grey got up in a state of intense excitement; labouring under a diffi- culty of speech, panting and gasping, as it were to utter a thousand male- dictions on Lord Derby's devoted head. I expected a torrent of invective, and I really think that there was the animus male-loquendi in Lord Grey to an intense degree; but when he came to give utterance to his feelings, and express them in reasonable language, he found that there was very little which he could lay hold of; so it ended hi a few slight thrusts at Lord Derby, and then he plunged into the history of the Cape affairs ab ova. His man- ner of speaking is disagreeable. He does not want ideas, but words. He declaims in a mouthing way, but without fluency, and at times seems to la- bour under a feeling of spitefulness almost choking. The matter of his objection to Lord Derby's motion was unimportant. It rested mainly on upholding what he termed the authority and dignity of the Crown, by not giving way to a factious party. He denounced the Popu- lar party at the Cape, as being Anti-British, disloyal, and morally unfit to receive free institutions. This part of his speech (whatever may be said of it in other respects) was effective, and no doubt influenced the House. Having roused the sympathy of his audience by a harrowing tale of joint-, manity on the part of the Anti-Convict agitators, he savagely fastened it on Mr. Fairbairn ; whom he described as the ringleader of the party, and the most efficient instrument of the system ofj intimidation He connected this with the teatterin hand, by referring torthat gentremen-as oneaf the organs pi the party now .pressing for representative institutions, • . This was the mosteffeetive part a Lord 'Grey's-speesii. Accepting the tilde upon bisatatenient, it was impossililenot to feel striing prepossessions against a party-so represented. But it seemed to me ungenerous, at the least, to inakeso savage a personal attack ou a person not in a position to defend him- self. Of course nothing lint the clearest and most distinct evidence of the facti—impliCating Mr. Fairbairn personally in them—could warrant it; and neither the time nor the place could permit such an inquiry. His speech lasted at least twO.hodrs; and but for the impression made towards the end in the way I havementioned, it would have been a singular failure.
He was followed by. Lord Malmesbury ; who made a not ineffective speech, but, I think, did serious damage to the motion. He turned it into a direct vote of censure on the Government. Not knowing the party tactics, I offer no opinion on the wisdom of this course • but so far as the avowed object of the mo- tion was concerned, it was singularly unfortunate. It threw off at once that body of support.which might have been obtained from neutral and independent Peers net wishing to connect.themsolves with a mere party movement. This was the turning-point of the debate. The ground lost here was not after- wards recovered. . Then came Lord Cranworth ; always sensible, ekar, courteous, and judge- like. He gave his opinion on the law point unreservedly in favour of the Government—indeed expressing no doubt whatever on the subject. Probably if he had had the reply to Lord Lyndhurst, he would have made his points more successfully than they appear when compared with Lord Lyndhurst's subsequent speed'''. He was listened to with great attention. Then Lord Lyndhurst rose. He and the old Duke are interesting specimens of an age gone by—two pillars standing of a building fallen into decay. As they seldom take part in the business of the House, whenever they ao they command more than ordinary attention. Their rule seems to be, not to interfere "nisi dignus vindiee uodus." So the fact of Lord Lyndhurst coming down to declare an almost oracular sentence on a point of constitu- tional law marked the importance of the occasion. He scorned feeble and exhausted ; and apologized, though without com- plaint, of his physical inability, arising from his not having had the oppor- tunity of addressing the House at an earlier hour. He then referred to the opinion given by counsel as to the illegality of Lord Grey's new Instructions ; and with extreme propriety (strangely misMter- preted by the Chancellor, who seems utterly insensible to all such feelings) guarded himself from expressly adopting the opinion as his own,—obviously feeling that in his judicial character as a member of the House he might have to pronounce a formal judgment on the point. Even Lord Crauworth seems to have overlooked this.
Lord Lyndhurst then stated his views of what he considered to be the grounds of the opinion. Ile went through them point by point, in a slow, simple, lucid, and impressive manner; his voice low, sometimes inaudible, and now and then falling from exhaustion ; but his intellect as clear and vigorous as ever. It was impossible to detect a flaw in the argument, or to suggest an improvement in the method of arrangement. It had, however, the disadvantage of being a technical law point ; and, no doubt, the effect was lost on noble Lords not versed in the subtilties of legal reasoning. His speech does not read effectively in the Times report. When he sat down he left the legal part of the case exhausted. Though, as I have said, guarding himself against pronouncing a judicial opinion, his argument was so delivered as to show clearly that his own mind was in it, and that he adopted the opinion given against the legality, of the new Instructions. Ile ended with a few cogent reasons in favour of immediate legislation. Then up got the ford Chancellor—a strange contrast! alter the quiet, dig- nified, and judicial speech of Lord Lyndhurst, the bouncing, blustering exhi- bition of Lord Truro was singularly distasteful. It must have shocked an assembly so sensitive on points of propriety. It reminded one of Sergeant Wilde at nisi-prius, at a county assizes, before a jury of country bumpkins. It was the only blot in the proceedings. Such a head to preside over such a body! His speech had little method and no logic in it ; and consisted rather of a succession of jumps from quibble to quirk, mixed up with bold and con- fident statements of startling and unheard-of propositions of constitutional law, which almost threw an air of burlesque over the whole of his argument; and which Lord Derby treated as it deserved. Still his confident dictum as Chancellor carried with it official weight, and I have no doubt had its effect on some of the Peers. It also certainly justified Lord Grey ; who may properly plead the Chancellor's opinion in sup- port of the disputed Instructions. But the exhibition was an unseemly one, utterly unsuitable to the office, the place, or the occasion. By the time he sat down the patience of the House had been drained. So ended what may be termed the principal action of the performance. Then came an irregular skirmish. The Duke of Argyll stepped first into the field ; a young but promising Peer, with a degree of self-confidence a little beyond the boyishness of his appearance. His mind had been evidently prejudiced against the motion by Lord Malmesbury's speech. He spoke sensibly in the main ; grounding his leading objection to the motion on the Lateness of the session, and his own doubts as to some points of the projected constitution. He made several false points. His charge against the popular Councillors, of "ingratitude and disloyalty" for simply declaring that they sat in the Council by right of popular choice, and not as nominees, was merely absurd,—as if Sir Harry Smith had not summoned them in the character of popular representatives. It was here evident that Ministers had a chance of escape from defeat, and that the Duke of Ar,s•yll's views were likely to extend to other Peers.
So it proved ; for Lord Wharncliffe followed immediately, pretty much to the same effect, with a little more reserve., and with an appeal to Ministers to announce their intentions more explicitly. Up got Lord Grey, and, with professions of sincerity, stated that Ministers intended immediately to send out a draft ordinance to the Cape' to be perfected in the manner and through the forms originally proposed, and without delay.
The Duke of Newcastle then wound up the case, reducing it into the form of two alternatives. His view appeared to me highly statesmanlike. Declin- ing to take part with Lord Derby, or to vote with hou unless assured that the motion had no party object and would be limited to the single point of immediate legislation, he preferred leaving the matter in the hands of the Crown, provided the Crown would instantly legislate itself, and send out a constitution perfected from this country; but failing this, he pointed out with unanswerable force the objections to Lord Grey's proposed plan of pro- ceeding, and his intention to vote for the motion in preference to such a course.
The Duke of Newcastle speaks plainly, and without effort or ornament ; but I confess the manner and substance of his speech, though short, satisfied sue perfectly.
Lord Derby replied ; again disclaiming party motives, and falling foul of the poor Lord Chancellor, who sat wriggling on the Woolsack. I went away be- fore the division was announced—a out one o'clock.
So ended a debate highly characteristic (except in the case of the Chancel- lor) of the House of Lords, mid sustaining its reputation as the first delibera-