NEWS OF THE WEEK.
LORD DEERE, like many other clever men, is his own worst enemy. An impression had been taken up by the public, that the "Rupert of debate" was an ardent, frank, chivalrous person : of this he seems bent upon disabusing them. When interpellated by the Duke of Newcastle a fortnight ago, Lord Derby stated that he meant to dissolve the present Parliament, and assemble its successor to enable it to express confidence or want of confidence in hie Ministry, before the autumn should have passed. He de- clined, indeed, to fix the precise date of the dissolution—he would not say that it was to be in April, May, or June; but the new Parliament should meet to decide the fate of Ministers before the usual time for commencing the routine business of next year. Now that this is read by the light of Lord Derby's explana- tion on Tuesday last, it has an ugly appearance of premedi- tated evasion. The naming of the months of April, May, and June, specifically, looks like an attempt to insinuate that the ',dissolution taiglit take place in one of them and yet to avoid an express promise ; and the original pledge that the autumn should • ,...)mt pass without a meeting of Parliament, faded ultimately into an intonation that this meeting should .be early enough not to interfere with the routine business of next year. At the time, "however, Lord Derby was understood to promise that a new tParliament should be elected, and called together before the end of autumn. This interpretation was expressly put upon it by ' other. speakers in his hearing, and acquiesced in by him. As a consequence, the Army and Navy. Estimates have been -:. voted with unprecedented despatch and abstinence, from criticism, and the Mutiny Bill has passed : whereupon,- Lord Derby evinces a disposition to become even more vague and inexplicit on the , head of dissolution than before. Lord Mint°, asking a question of , Lord Lyndhurst on another subject, referred casually to the gene- ral_ impression. abroad that we. might very _shortly expect a disso- lution of Parliament, and that a _very short and hurried session wetild follow the general election. Starting up, Lord Derby in- terjected a denial that anything had fallen from his lips which would lead any man to suppose that the present would be a session of unusually short duration ; and then he went on to correct Lord Mints in his further error of assumption that there will be a short and hurried integral session in the autumn. If we understand this last point, there will be no prorogation of the new Parliament at Christmas, only an adjournment; so that the first session of the new. Parliament will be unusually long instead of short, but that only because the autumnal sitting to dispose of the Free-trade question will be prefixed to it.
• But the first point; the denial that this session is to be of unusually short duration, was a blank astonishment to the whole House. -The Duke of Newcastle, in his grave exact manner, stated this,
• evidently with the general sympathy. Lord Derby restively de- nied the ipsissima verba that were quoted against him ; and when in the end he submitted to have them fixed on him, he still left the general impression that he was not meaning now what he meant a fortnight ago. If you scan the precise terms there may be no verbal contradiction ; but the acts look so shifty, tricky, and -disingenuous, that even Conservatives, who are English gentlemen, feel their party compromised by them,—as may be gathered from ,a letter by " a Puzzled Conservative," that will be found in a subsequent page.* Lord Derby and his colleagues would appear to fancy they may throw off the mask of decent reserve, as the greater part of the Supplies has been voted, and waste - tune by making-believe to transact business in a House of Com- -mons where they aeknowledge they are in a minority. The Mis- cellaneous Estimates, however, have .not yet passed ; the salaries
"What is Lord Derby's Government without Protection ?" See page 323.
and establishments of the Ministers themselves have not yet been voted ; and if still determined to trifle with the country by putting off the evil day of a general election and a distinct explanation of their policy, they may be punished by being made to feel uneasi- ness and insecurity with regard to quarter-day. The conduct of Ministers is contagious; the same want of reality and earnest purpose which marks it attaches to the whole Parlia- mentary proceedings of the week. There have been talks about the Ballot, about the Irish Tenant-Right Bill, the conduct of Go- vernment towards political refugees, and its relations to the Con- tinental powers; but all desultory, as if with a consciousness that there was no real business on hand. The discussion on the intro- duction of the Militia Bill was in some measure an exception; but even with respect to it the impression prevails that it is a measure beyond the competence of a Ministry in a minority, and only tole- rated till the winding-up of indispensable business may enable it to appeal to the country without risking an interruption of the necessary action of government. The principal difference between the new bill and Lord John Russell's is that by Which service in the Militia is rendered voluntary. This is an improvement; but it might in fairness have been mentioned that it is taken from an able pamphlet on the "Economical Defence of the Country," pub- lished early in 1848 by Mr. Frederick Hill.* It may also be _re- marked that Mr. Hill's proposal for embodying a Volunteer Mi- litia having only been adopted in part, the measure, like all half- measures, would probably fail to realize the expected advantages.
* Noticed in considerable detail in the Spectator of 11th March 1848.