The Ashburton Guardian. Magna est Veritas et Prævalebit FRIDAY, MARCH 29, 1889. THE SPLIT IN THE CABINET.
Recent telegrams have informed us that there is a serious misunderstanding among Ministers owing to the action taken by Mr Fisher as Commissioner of Customers being strongly dissented from by all, or nearly all, the other members of the Cabinet. Following is the version of the story as published by the " Wellington Evening Press," and which may be regarded as the case for the Government—meaning by that term Mr Fisher's colleagues : — For some time past the Government have been endeavoring to compel a strict compliance with the law of excise, and with that object have instituted a number of prosecutions against brewers for having sent out beer without paying the duty at the time, or for having omitted to make the prescribed entries in their books, or otherwise departed from the Bpirit of the law. After infinite pains and a large outlay of money, the Government succeeded }n obtaining a conviction and a penalty in spite of all attempts to take advantage of the multiplex technicalities of one of the most difficult of all laws to enforce. Having thus, as they thought, made sure of their ground, the Government proceeded to institute a large number of other prosecutions, so that the brewers should be compelled to obey the law, and none who had violated it should escape the penalty. At this point, however, a difference of opinion arose among them, and as it happened the dissentient was the Minister at the head of the Customs and Excise department, the Hon G. Fisher. Mr Fisher, it seems, did not hold with his colleagues that tfrero /should be a prosecution in every case where there had been a departure from the law, but was willing to accede to an arrangement by which the amount of duty not paid at the time when, strictly speaking, it ought to havo been paid, should be received at the Customs as a quittance in full. We are informed that one of those against whom an information Uacl been laid applied to the Minister to be allowed to settle the case in this way, and that the duty was accepted. The others, however, do not appear to have known that they could <hus avoid the annoyance and expense of a prosecution. Nor were the other Ministers informed of what had taken place. It only camo out in fact when the prosecutions were about to be gone on with. Then arose the djsagrecr ment which is nnw causing such a flutter in the Ministerial dovecot. As a rub when a split in the Cabinet occurs there are two parties, some of the Ministers taking one sid.e and some the other, but on (bis occasion Mr Fieher stands alone, all the other Ministers at Wellington being against him. The Premier, we are told, was especially incensed by his conduct, because he he'd not only that it was impolitic from an administrative point of view, but as tending to paralyse the efforts of the Government to enforce the excise law, and that it constituted an act of bad faith on the part of the Minister against his chief and colleagues. How, the Premier asked, could the Government proceed as a Government if one of their number employed his power as head of an important deoartment to frustrate tho designs jointly deteraT ne< * On v t^ 18m w > tnoUt letting them know anytu^J about it? Th . ere appeared to be no answT" to .^ question, and as the four other MiniatefJ —Mr Mitchelson, Mr Hislop, Mr Fergus, and Mr Richardson —held tho same view of Mr Fisher's conduct as the Premier held, the natural conclusion was that Mr Fisher should resign. Before doing that he claimed the right to ascertain tho views of the other two Ministers, Sir Frederick Whitakcr «nd Mr Btevens, to which, of course, there could be no objection. This accounts for his visit to Christchurch, accompanied by Mr Mitchelson, last Sunday week. Ihe two Ministers it is understood had an interview, or separate interviews, with Mr Stevens on Monday, and both sides of the case were fully laid before him. Mr Fisher returned to Wellington tho same evening, and Mr Mitchelson returned tho following day. Tho result of the consultation was not favorablo to Mr Fisher, but Hr F. Whitaknr still remained to bo consulted. It was dotermined then that Mr Fisher must resign liis seat in the Ministry unless ho could satisfy h'ir F. Whitaker that he might properly retain it after what had happened. He therefore went to Auckland to submit himself to Sir I'rederick's arbitration, and it was expected that tho matter would be decided one way or other in a day or two. Sir Frederick Whitaker, however, has not been able to decide without further consultation with his colleagues, and Mr Kevens, having been for two days at Wellington to discuss it with the Ministers here, is about to leave for Auckland with Mr Fergus to-day. The four Ministers — Sir Frederick Whitaker, Mr btevens, Mr Fergus, and Mr Fisher — thon hold a sort of Cabinet Council, the vim of the Premier and other three
Ministers at the seat oi Government being fully represented, and the question of Mr Fisher's resignation will depend npon the decision there arrived at." So much for tho story as told by the " Evening Presß." A somewhat different version is, however, given by the Wellington correspondent of the
" Otago Daily Times " who writes : — I am not at liberty at the present stage ot affairß to disclose the full particulars of what has happened, and is happening, and is likely to happen, but I may say this, that it is quite true that Mr Fisher and his colleagues differed both as to the Christchurch customs cases and as to the Wellington excise prosecutions. In tho Chrißtchurch case Mr Fisher was eager to prosecute, but the question as affecting the public revenues was clearly one for the Cabinet, and the Govern ment were Btrongly advised by their law officere to seize tho goods and compel the consignees to proceed for their recovery, as this placed the onus of proof on them, and not on the Government, while prosecution for penalties could still take place if they failed to prove their oases. As to the Wellingtou excise prosecutions, which were ordered by the Government in opposition to Mr fisher's wishes, it was perhaps only natural for him to be unwilling that his department should prosecute Wellington delinquents. His colleagues, however, did not see why the revenue should suffer through the law not being put in force against delinquents of any particular looality, and so the prosecutions were directed. I understand that Mr Fisher's resignation is exfremely probable, but it is not true that Ministers have been travelling up and down -about this matter. Mr Mitchelson has gone north on a totally different errand, and Messrs Stevens and
Fergus leave to-day in pursuance of an arrangement made long ago, and no conference or meeting or consultation is proposed or likely to be held. When they reach Auckland they will probably go on at once to the northern districts. Mr Hislop goes Bouth to-morrow, but this has neither more nor less to do with the Fisher dispute than the visit of his colleagues to Auckland." Mr Fisher has, no doubt, his Bide of the story to tell, but we shall probably not get his version of the matter until Parliament is in session. Meantime, however, it is sufficiently clear that it is quite impossible for him to pull together with his colleagues after what has occurred, and his resignation would appear, therefore, to be inevitable.