§ Report of Address brought up and read.
§ On Motion, to agree to the Address—
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
Sir, I readily assented to the suggestion made to me last night by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because I felt the force of the appeal which he made to me with regard to the possible postponement 313 of that interesting question of the cattle plague on Monday night. Most sorry, indeed, should I be if any course taken by me should have the effect of postponing for one single hour the action of the House with regard to that most terrible affair. On the contrary, Sir, I do entertain a most earnest hope that the Government are at last about to grapple with this calamity; the present magnitude of which I am sorry to say I, for one, am disposed to attribute to their neglect and to their selfish fear of assuming that responsibility which, in my opinion, it was the bounden duty of Her Majesty's Government, as the Government of this country, to incur. I look forward, therefore, to the measure of Monday night in the earnest hope that the Bill will include those provisions on which I may say now there is really very little difference of opinion existing. If that Bill should not appear to satisfy the just and reasonable expectations of the country upon this most important subject, I hope that, independently of party considerations, general support will be given to the Bill that has been announced by my hon. Friend the Member for North Northamptonshire (Mr. Hunt). As the debate upon the Address concluded last night, I hope that I shall not be considered as unduly occupying the attention of the House if, for a few minutes, I advert to one or two subjects of great importance in the gracious Speech of Her Majesty that have not been touched upon at all. Let me say that I make no complaint of the debate that has occupied the House for two nights upon the Address. The course of that debate has been unusual, but I think I may say it has been highly beneficial. Two subjects of extreme importance have been debated upon these two nights, one of those nights being given to each subject, and I think that I may add that those subjects have been discussed with a degree of ability and of practical talent that has been highly creditable to the first debate of this newly assembled House of Commons. But there are one or two subjects in Her Majesty's Speech, the importance of which is so great that I think it would be hardly right, and, indeed, hardly respectful, if we should pass them over without some further comment before these debates are brought to a close. One of those subjects are the unhappy occurrences which we all unite in deploring—the unfortunate occurrences in Jamaica. The occurrences in Jamaica have been in the debate entirely unnoticed except in the two speeches to which I am sure we all listened with the 314 greatest pleasure, those of the Mover and Seconder of the Address, and which were so full of talent and of promise. Both of those speakers adverted to the Jamaica question, as it was, of course, indispensable to the position they occupied that they should; but I think that I should not do justice to the noble Lord and to the hon. Gentleman if I were not to admit in the broadest manner that the tone and temper in which they referred to the unfortunate occurrences in Jamaica showed a degree of forbearance, and moderation, and justice that left nothing to be wished for. ["Hear, hear !"] I hear that observation cheered on the other side of the House, and I, for one, say that I heard the observations of the Mover and Seconder of the Address with sincere gratification and pleasure; and in no part of their speeches did I more entirely concur than in the portions in which they stated their opinion that it would be now premature and improper for any Member to rise in the course of the debate and enter into anything like a discussion of the Jamaica question, or the conduct of the officers concerned in it. I subscribe entirely to that opinion, and it is with that feeling that I am bound to say that I think that it would now be premature and improper to enter into any discussion of the merits of the Jamaica question or of the conduct of the officers or others connected with it. This being so, I do think that this is eminently the moment when it behoves independent Members of the House to give expression to the regret—I had almost said indignation—with which we have observed that this reserve has not been practised out of doors during the recess. That by a portion of the public press, at various public meetings, and I am sorry to say by some Members—some eminent Members of this House—the conduct of the officers in Jamaica has been discussed, prejudged, and condemned. This has been done by men who had not the means of judging in their possession, who had not before them the evidence upon which alone a sound and candid judgment could be formed, and in reference to whom, therefore, it was impossible for the Government and the public not to have felt deep regret when they heard the opinions which have been expressed. I see the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) opposite, and I say frankly, that I think that none of the expressions of those who commented upon these transactions during the recess are open to so much censure—which I, for one, read with so much regret 315 —there are none as those used by the hon. Member for Birmingham. I hold in my hand an extract from a speech of the hon. Member, made last month in the town of Rochdale, and in it I find this sentence. Speaking of the trial and execution of Mr. Gordon, the hon. Gentleman used this language—I say from the beginning to the end it is a mass of illegality, and I believe there is not a Judge who sits upon the bench in the United Kingdom, who, speaking in his private capacity, would doubt for one single moment that Mr. Gordon was murdered.This might, perhaps, have been said in the warmth of public discussion. [Mr. BRIGHT: Not at all.] But I am sorry to say that I hold in my hand distinct proof that it was not, for on another occasion he used language to the same effect. At a meeting at Bradford, the hon. Member said—I take my opinion only from documents furnished here by those whose interest it is to put the most favourable interpretation on their conduct, and I say that murder is foul, and that there is no murder more foul than that done by men in authority under the pretence of law; I say if murder has not yet changed its name, and be yet a crime visited with punishment in this country, then I hope that the Governor of Jamaica and his accomplices will have to stand at the bar of justice for the murder of Mr. Gordon.[Mr. BRIGHT: Hear, hear!] The hon. Gentleman cheers, but I am glad to find that he is not supported in that cheer. I feel with deep regret that a Member of this House, a man of the just eminence of the hon. Member for Birmingham, should have allowed himself, by party or other considerations, to be led into the use of language that is, in my opinion, absolutely unjustifiable. The use of such language by any man, before the evidence arrived in this country, and before anybody could know the facts of which he was judging, the general, the universal opinion, I say, of dispassionate men must be that the use of such language was not only indecorous, but grossly unjust. Who and what is the man whom the hon. Member brands with murder? The hon. Gentleman says murder is foul. So also are false accusations. Who is the man thus branded with the horrible crime of murder? I have not the honour of a personal acquaintance with Governor Eyre. I think he was not in the public service when I, for a short time, held the seals of the Colonial Office. At all events, I have no personal acquaintance with him. I speak of him wholly without any personal bias. But he is known by 316 reputation. He is known to many friends and acquaintances of mine, and I never heard any report of him but one—namely, that he is a highly honourable public servant, and that if there be one quality for which he has been distinguished more than another, it is for the humanity and kindness and good feeling with which he has treated and considered the welfare of the native races in various colonies. I say that such a man is not one who ought to be branded with the crime of murder, unless upon the very clearest evidence and most ample demonstration. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Glasgow (Mr. Graham), in seconding the Address, said that justice must be done; and I entirely concur with him, and so will every dispassionate man upon both sides of the House. But, on the other hand, let us all remember—and I can hardly believe that there is a man sitting listening to me in this House who will fail to remember—that if Governor Byre did err, if he was led into any conduct of which we sitting calmly and safely in England may feel ourselves compelled to disapprove, he acted in a most grave and trying emergency and from a zealous desire to do his duty to his Queen, his country, and the colony committed to his charge. He was led into an error, if error it be, upon reasons which whether they are well founded we do not yet know; and let us be cautious how we form a premature opinion. He acted in the full persuasion and belief that the lives of the handful of Europeans who inhabited that island were not safe from attack by the 400,000 of half-civilized and infuriated negroes. I say, under these circumstances, it is cruel and unjustifiable for any man of eminence in the country, before large bodies of his countrymen, to endeavour to excite them and lead them away from a calm decision upon this question by charging Governor Eyre with a crime such as that which the hon. Member for Birmingham has laid to his charge. I hope that the House will agree with me that these discussions should not close with out some voice being raised to protest against this premature decision, and to assure Governor Eyre, that there is at least a portion of the Members of the House, and I hope that I may say that that portion includes in it Her Majesty's Ministers, who will not shrink from censuring any part of his conduct if it should be necessary, but who will do him justice, and who do not sympathize in premature and harsh allegations that ought never to have been 317 made. With regard, Sir, to the conduct of Her Majesty's Government in having issued a Commission of Inquiry into the massacres in Jamaica, I feel bound to say that I am not disposed to censure or find fault with them in that respect. I do think that they were somewhat premature in issuing that Commission, and that they would have done better, would have acted with more fairness and prudence, had they waited for further explanations from Governor Eyre, and for the real facts that occurred during these unhappy transactions. I own I am not free from the fear that Her Majesty's Ministers may have been unduly influenced by that scandalous scene that is said to have occurred in the Colonial Office between the Secretary for the Colonies and a deputation from the Anti-Slavery Society. But be this as it may, I think that sooner or later the Government must have been bound to issue a Commission to inquire into these unhappy matters. I am very glad, further, to bear my testimony to the fact that I think that the Government having decided to issue a Commission I doubt whether it was possible to exercise a better discretion in the selection of the persons who are to carry on that inquiry—I say I feel perfect confidence in the gentlemen selected, and I, for one, shall yield the utmost possible attention to their decision. I do not wish to detain the House, but having adverted to one paragraph of the Speech from the Throne that I think it was really right should be noticed by discussion, I will take leave to trespass upon the House for a few moments with reference to another subject of importance, Parliamentary Reform. I think I may add that, under all the circumstances in which that question stands, we have a right to expect from Her Majesty's Ministers some declaration upon the subject. I am not sure whether I may not say that the right is strengthened by what passed this evening. We should hear something, at least, in reference to this most important subject. During the recess—especially since the death of Lord Palmerston—this question of Parliamentary Reform has occupied rather an unusual degree of public attention. It has been made the subject of discussion at several public meetings, and of speeches from several hon. Members of this House of more or less political eminence. Some of the most remarkable of the speeches delivered on this subject of Parliamentary Reform were those which proceeded from the mouths of the hon. Member 318 for Birmingham (Mr. Bright), and the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster). The hon. Member for Birmingham, in addressing various meetings on this subject of Reform, intimated very plainly, with great openness—and I think with great justice too—what he thought the minimum degree of the alteration of the franchise which could possibly be proposed by Her Majesty's Government. The hon. Member for Bradford also delivered a speech to his constituents on the same subject. He held very strong and decided language. The hon. Member for Bradford said—I am quoting from memory, but I believe correctly—that he thought it absolutely indispensable for Her Majesty's Government at the earliest possible moment after the meeting of Parliament to come forward with a comprehensive and satisfactory measure of Reform. The hon. Gentleman then proceeded to advise his friends and constituents on the course they ought to take under such circumstances. He told those who were in favour of the Reform Bill not to prepare a Bill themselves but to go to the Government, and tell them that they had pledged themselves as men never were pledged before—as men of honour—to legislation on this subject; and, being so, they (the constituents) would not insult them by supposing that they would bring forward anything but a comprehensive and satisfactory measure. Well, Sir, in the very same paper in which this speech was reported, I saw also announced the hon. Member's appointment to the office of Under Secretary to the Colonial Department. In what light, then, are we to regard the hon. Gentleman now? Are we to regard him as the ultra-reforming Member of Parliament, or as the meek and submissive Member of Her Majesty's Government with his teeth drawn? I beg to say with all sincerity that I do not intend to imply any disrespect to the hon. Member for Bradford. During his occupancy of his seat in this House, the hon. Member for Bradford, I am bound to say, has shown much ability and great familiarity with the many subjects on which he has spoken. The hon. Gentleman has also taken a manly and decided course of action, and I do not believe that the hon. Member has entered into any intentional compromise upon those questions in respect to which he has expressed strong and decided opinions. Well, I am not quite sure whether the hon. Member for Birmingham has not also joined Her Majesty's Government. If he 319 has done so, his accession to office will complete the number of the happy family who now enjoy the sweets of office. If they are to be guided by the opinions of the hon. Members for Birmingham and Bradford, I am not quite sure but that it would be better that the hon. Member for Birmingham should be also a Member of the Government, in order that that hon. Member should bear his share of the responsibility of the measure of Reform to be introduced by Her Majesty's Government. This might have the possible effect of clipping the wings of the hon. Member for Birmingham. In addition to these facts, we have had a declaration from the Government that it is their intention to bring in a Reform Bill; and I think on one occasion the noble Earl at the head of the Government intimated a determination to stand or fall by that Bill. Under these circumstances, the Members of this House, and the public generally, naturally looked with the utmost anxiety and curiosity to Her Majesty's gracious Speech for an indication of the measure in question; and astonishment must have been very generally felt upon finding the terms in which the subject of Reform has been alluded to. The language of the Royal Speech is—I have directed that information should be procured in reference to the rights of voting in the election of Members to serve in Parliament for counties, cities, and boroughs. When that information is complete, the attention of Parliament will be called to the result thus obtained, with a view to such improvements in the laws which regulate the rights of voting in the election of Members of the House of Commons, as may tend to strengthen our free institutions and conduce to the public welfare.Now, I think we have a right to suppose that the information of Her Majesty's Government upon this subject was complete before the meeting of Parliament. But there is nothing whatever in the language of Her Majesty's Speech that can give us the slightest intimation of the time when the measure will be introduced, or enable us to judge whether the information required is to be given immediately, or to be postponed until next year. And there can be no doubt whatever that the intimation given us this evening by the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department on this subject has contributed in no degree to remove the uncertainty that prevails as to the period when this measure of Reform will be introduced by Her Majesty's Government. Under these circumstances, I feel I am fully 320 justified in making this inquiry as to what are the intentions of Her Majesty's Government. I do not think that this is a proper moment for a general discussion of Reform, or to enter into the question what that measure of Reform ought to be. I think, however, that this is a proper opportunity for expressing a strong opinion that this Reform question should not be dangled before the public for party purposes from year to year; but that we should know where we really stand, and what the intentions of Her Majesty's Government really are upon this subject. The information which we have this evening received does not appear to me to harmonize with the statements made by Members of Her Majesty's Government in other places; and, therefore, it becomes necessary that we should be informed by the Government what are really their intentions upon this most important question.
Sir, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I do not feel in the slightest degree sore at the censure which he has just passed upon me with regard to observations which I have made upon the events which have taken place in Jamaica. I am a good deal used to the criticism of the right hon. Gentleman. In fact, I believe there is nothing which I have said anywhere—hardly anything which I have said in this House or in the country for the last twenty years—which the right hon. Gentleman has not found it necessary to condemn. I can assure him that he is very much mistaken if he supposes that I was actuated by any party feeling in anything which I said upon this distressing subject. If I had any party feeling, as the right hon. Gentleman interprets that phrase, I presume I should have been rather disposed to have said nothing that would be unpleasant to the Government and to the Administration, with whose general policy I hope to agree. The right hon. Gentleman might just as well be charged with having made a party attack upon me, standing, as he does, on the other side of the table, and cheered, as he has been, by the party of which he is one of the recognized leaders. But he charges me with having prejudged this question. Does he recollect that nearly every paper which advocates his politics in this country has been writing strongly in favour of Governor Eyre, and applauding the sanguinary transactions which have taken place in Jamaica? Does he know, further, that several speakers, well-known Members of 321 his own party, have spoken at different meetings in the same sense? I did not prejudge Governor Eyre. I took Governor Eyre's own statement—and I said then what I repeat now—that there is not a Judge on the bench in the three kingdoms who will undertake to say, either in private or in public, that Mr. Gordon was not clearly murdered. The right hon. Gentleman, perhaps, desired further evidence. I was content to take Governor Eyre's own statement. If it had been the statement of some paper in Jamaica, or some paper in New York—as news from the West Indies often comes to this country by New York—I should not for one moment have thought of condemning Governor Eyre, or even of discussing his proceedings. But it was when I saw his own despatch of four-score paragraphs, written with the greatest deliberation and the greatest precision, in which he stated his own share in the transaction, that I condemned him; and I put it to the House (the country knows perfectly well) whether any evidence which has since been received has in the slightest degree lessened the gravity of the charge against Governor Eyre. I recollect in this House some years ago, when the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley) sat here as Minister for India, that an hon. Friend of mine, the Member for Northampton (Mr. Gilpin), brought forward a case where an officer in the English army shot 500 Sepoys in cold blood. The noble Lord got up, not to defend it, for he knew that was impossible. He never in his life had—and he never will have in the course of his life—a more difficult and unpleasant undertaking than he had that evening, to appear to offer some sort of excuse for an atrocity unparalleled, I hope, in the history of Englishmen. There are persons in this country, many of them, who would have been glad that this matter could have been hushed up. They have not learned, after thirty years of Parliamentary legal freedom existing in Jamaica, to regard those unhappy negroes as subjects of the Queen of African descent. They were brought to that country not by their own consent. They or their forefathers had suffered every species of oppression and wrong; their cries finally ascended to Heaven, and the people of this country, outraged in their consciences by the continuance of that wrong, forced Parliament to give freedom to that black population. From the hour of their freedom until this hour it has been merely the freedom 322 granted by Parliament. It has not been sanctioned and guaranteed by the Assembly and Government of that island, and there are now many persons in this country, I am satisfied—I grieve to say it, I think it is a hideous thing amongst us—who do not feel the same sense of wrong and injustice when anything like this happens if it be inflicted only upon those unfortunate "niggers," as they would if white men had suffered in a similar manner. Now, I regard every life among those men—and it is right I should so regard them, every man of them, before the law and before the sovereign authority of the Queen—as important as any life in this country or in this House—and it is idle to tell me that when I stand on a platform before thousands of my countrymen, when this great question is in the balance, I am to consider, because they are black, the lives of 2,000 subjects of the Queen as nothing in comparison with the feelings of Governor Byre and his accomplices. I tell the right hon. Gentleman that it would want a very much stronger censure than his; and I tell those who sit behind him that it will want something more appalling than their cheers to keep me silent after the atrocities recently perpetrated in Jamaica. I believe, Sir, that at this moment there is not a civilized and Christian country in the world in which all thoughtful men are not directing their eyes to this country, to observe what will be the course of the Government on this question. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the Government was right in appointing the Commission, but not that they appointed it too soon. They delayed its appointment too long. I complained, in one of these speeches to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, that my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary allowed three weeks to pass from the time when he read that despatch to the time when it was announced to the public that that Commission was to be issued. I have understood that there were reasons for that delay with which I was not then acquainted. I did not conceive for a moment that the Secretary of State for the Colonies was a man hard and cruel, and unmindful of the interests of those whose interests he has been appointed by the Queen specially to guard; and now when the Commission has been appointed, and when the circumstances have been before the public, I have no complaint to make of him or of the Government. I am content now, and leave the matter for the 323 thorough examination of the Commission. I have no doubt that a thorough inquiry will be made and full justice done. There are others gone to that island from this country, Commissioners appointed by the public. Why, Sir, if such transactions as these could take place in the island of Jamaica, and there was no man to point a finger at them in this country, what might happen in all our other colonies and all the other dependencies of this wide Empire? And if law be not law to the negro in Jamaica, how long will law be law to the working people or to any of their friends in this country? I say, Sir, that the right hon. Gentleman has allowed, it may be, an official sympathy for Governor Eyre to weigh with him in this matter, and he has thought it necessary to give me notice that he would come down to the House and pronounce a solemn censure upon my conduct. I tell him that in all the public speeches I have ever made—and they are not a few, as the House knows—there are no passages in those speeches to which I will to my last hour more firmly adhere than to those which the right hon. Gentleman has commented upon. There is nothing in them that I have to condemn myself for—there is nothing in them that I retract—and if the "same circumstances happened again, I would repeat those passages, and, if God gave me power, with a more burning indignation would I condemn atrocities which have cast a foul blot upon the character of English Governors.
§ MR. MARSH
said, that he was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman (Sir John Pakington) bear testimony to the high character of Governor Eyre for moderation, justice, and humanity. He was glad that the right hon. Baronet had brought forward the subject, as he himself knew that Governor Eyre was remarkable for his kindness and humanity to the Natives of Australia. As to the question of Reform, he believed that no Bill would be passed that Session, and that it would be useless to bring one forward. For his own part, he was quite satisfied With the Bill of 1832, and with its marvellous results. Since the passing of that Bill a vast number of measures had been adopted by the House, calculated to improve the condition of the working man. At present, the taxation of the country was so arranged as to lean as lightly as possible on the working classes. While an income tax has been imposed on the 324 upper and middle classes, the labouring man paid no taxes, with a few trifling exceptions, for what he ate, for the clothes which he wore, or for his house; and he was sure that the House was not about to stand still in the course on which it had entered. He believed that it would continue to do all in its power to forward the interests of the working classes. He was sure that every demand which those classes might make would be dealt with in a fair and liberal and generous spirit. He did hope that if a Reform Bill came before the House there would be no coquetting with such an important subject, but that hon. Gentlemen would fairly and fully speak their minds. For his own part, he would oppose any measure by which the present franchise would be lowered; he had seen the effects of democracy in Australia, and be hoped and trusted that England would not adopt a system which at the other side of the world had had such deplorable results. He could see no good result that could be effected by the introduction of such a measure, and if brought forward he could only again repeat that it should receive his most humble but determined opposition.
§ MR. BUTLER-JOHNSTONE
said, he congratulated the Government on the very modest position which the question of Reform occupied in Her Majesty's Speech. In common with the great mass of his countrymen, he had had some apprehensions with reference to the Reform question, and the manner in which Her Majesty's Government were likely to deal with it; but those apprehensions were in a great degree removed when he saw the distant and modest manner in which the matter was alluded to in the Speech from the Throne. He knew that men of experience and tried patriotism may have taken the place of the veteran statesman they had been accustomed to; but, at the same time, they feared that a shadow behind the Treasury Benches might prove fatal to them. Those apprehensions were not entirely groundless; for there were certain indications which led men to fear that the Members of Her Majesty's Government might drift into the arms of the hon. Member for Birmingham, and that the offspring of this union might be the ruin of the Constitution. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bright) had told the great Whig party that if they shrunk from this question of Reform they would become extinct. Now, he believed that the Whig party would become extinct—that a Whig 325 in England would be as rare an animal as a wolf if that great party listened to the behests of the Member for Birmingham. He congratulated Her Majesty's Government on haying received into its ranks so valuable an acquisition as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for London (Mr. Goschen); but, while he felicitated the Ministry, he should condole with the right hon. Gentleman himself. At a meeting in the City the other night the right hon. Gentleman seemed to consider it a case of very serious hardship that he was compelled to give up his occupation as a merchant, for a position so humble as that of a Cabinet Minister of England. Like the Lycian Prince—When Glaucus of his judgment Jove deprived,His armour interchanging, gold for brass,A hundred oxen worth for that of nine,he might apply to him the epigram of Martial—Tam stupidus nunquam nec tu, puto, Glauce, fuisti,Chalcea donanti Chrysea qui dederas.As had already been remarked in the course of the debate, nothing more strongly showed the importance of the Session on which they were about entering than the fact that up to this only three of the topics touched on in the Queen's Speech had yet been discussed.
§ MR. CARDWELL
Sir, I can assure you that I have no desire to continue the discussion which has been raised with regard to Jamaica. The object which I have in view is identical with the course which Her Majesty's Government have endeavoured to pursue, and that has been, while insisting upon full inquiry into all matters which appeared to them to call for inquiry, to avoid prejudging any part of the question. I should ill fulfil that intention if I said anything which continued the discussion of the subject beyond the point to which it has been the pleasure of the House to entertain it. All, therefore, that I rise to say is, that like the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir John Pakington), I have known Governor Eyre only by the reputation which he has obtained and preserved in the service of the Crown. When I first heard, by telegram through the United States, that these deplorable occurrences had taken place, I sent for the Governor of Barbadoes, who happened to be in this country, and asked whether he could give me any assistance in explaining what these transactions meant. His reply was, "I can give you no assistance in reading this 326 enigma. But this I can tell you, that if the circumstances have been such as seriously to alarm Governor Eyre, they must have been circumstances of great moment." He went on to speak of Governor Eyre as a man of great courage and of great humanity. Although, therefore, I feel it my bounden duty to say nothing which shall prejudge the question, either in his favour or against him, I do think it right, in the meanwhile, to state what is a fact in the case, and that the knowledge of the reputation which he has heretofore borne should not be kept back from the House, The course which the Government have pursued has been spoken of both by the right hon. Baronet and by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, but there is nothing that has fallen from them which I think calls for any reply or remark from me. They agree on the main in approving the course which was pursued by the Government, though the right hon. Baronet thinks we were too precipitate, and my hon. Friend thinks we were not quite rapid enough. I am willing not to enter on that part of the question, but to leave it to the future consideration and judgment of the House. There is one point, however, on which I wish to set the right hon. Baronet right. He says—what has frequently been said—that he feared too much influence had been exercised, and that in the course which we pursued pressure had been put upon us particularly by a certain deputation to which he took occasion to refer. Now, the fact is that when that deputation waited on my noble Friend, who was not able to be present, and was received by me, Sir Henry Storks was at that moment on his way from Malta to this country, having received from me an intimation of the purpose for which he was sent for to this country, and of the appointment which has been so much canvassed.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
One word before the Question is put. In reference to the construction which the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich has placed upon an answer given by me to a question on the subject of Reform, it certainly never was the construction which I intended it should bear. The right hon. Baronet said it was very undesirable—and I entirely agree with him—that the question should be kept dangling before the House and the country as a party question from year to year; and I think he said the answer which I had given left it in complete uncertainty whether the Bill founded 327 on the information to be obtained would be presented in the course of the present or of the next year. I certainly intended to give rise to no such uncertainty. What I intended to say, if I did not say it, was that until the day for the introduction of the Bill was fixed, and until the Government were in a condition to lay the information on which that Bill would be founded before the House, it was impossible to say what the interval would be. As to the general principles of the Bill the Government are agreed; but as to its details the Government cannot, of course, lay them before the House until the information on which they are acting is complete. Of course, if that information had been complete when Parliament met the paragraph in Her Majesty's Speech from the Throne would have been in different terms. That paragraph pledges the Government to communicate the information when complete to the House. It is intended to express—and does, I think, clearly express—the intention of the Government at the earliest period at which they can do so to lay a Bill before the House founded on that information.
§ MR. T. B. POTTER
said, he had taken part in the great meeting held in Manchester on the subject of the Jamaica massacre. The antecedents of Governor Eyre were laid most fully before that meeting, and every credit was given to him for his conduct when he was in Australia. All that the meeting asked was for investigation, and the deputation to Earl Russell, of which he had the honour to be a member, preferred the same request. They judged Governor Eyre purely by the evidence contained in his own despatches. The meeting wished to do nothing condemnatory of him; they merely wished that the name of England might be vindicated from what they considered a blot on the national escutcheon.
§ MR. BOUVERIE
It is quite clear, from the very oracular and mystical paragraph which closes Her Majesty's Speech, that there is to be a Reform Bill. That fact, at any rate, seems to be established. But as the information is not complete on which that Reform Bill is to be founded, I presume that Her Majesty's Government have not completely made up their minds as to what the nature of that Reform Bill is to be. Taking that to be the case, we had two glimmerings of light thrown upon this subject in the course of the last week. The noble Lord at the head 328 of the Government (Earl Russell) stated in another place that this Bill would be brought before Parliament before the Easter vacation—I think he said he hoped before the end of the month. He has also stated, on another public occasion, that by that measure his Government intended to stand or fall. Now, that appears to me to be a sound and proper resolution. There has been a great deal too much paltering with this question. But what I am anxious about, and the point which I wish to urge on the consideration of Her Majesty's Government, is this:—If the measure is to be one by which they are to stand or fall, by which the fate of the Liberal Ministry and by which the domination of the Liberal party in the politics of this country for some time to come is to be determined, it should be a measure which will be worth standing or falling by. Now, there is some reason to suppose, from rumours and from utterances out of this House, that this measure—incomplete as it is declared to be by my right hon. Friend (the Secretary of State)—is simply to be a measure for the lowering the franchise in boroughs and counties. On behalf of a great portion of the Liberal party in this country—and I think of no insignificant portion of the Liberal party in this House—I venture to say that such a measure would not be a satisfactory adjustment of the great question of Parliamentary Reform. I feel satisfied the great body of earnest Reformers in this country are convinced, that one of the principal evils of the existing state of things with which they must grapple is the distribution of political power in this country. None of us—if I except some extreme theoretical politicians—wish to see political power simply distributed in this country according to heads of population; but we all know that there are in existence a number of wretched boroughs, which, for some reason or other, were retained at the time of the Reform Act, but which ought now no longer to be retained. These are either purely nomination boroughs, or else what are still worse—boroughs known to be the sinks of corruption. I say no Reform Bill will be satisfactory to the people of this country unless it attempts to grapple with this evil. But it is not the mere question of the existence of these small nomination and corrupt boroughs—there is at the bottom of this question something much more important, and that is the question of the distribution of political power in this country. Those who 329 look at the present state of that distribution, and see where the weight of the representation lies, will perceive that where the wealth, the industry, the activity, the intelligence, and the ability of the United Kingdom lie, the weight and preponderance of the representation are not be found. I see at the bottom of this desire for Reform—particularly with the middle classes, with the manufacturing, shipbuilding, mining, and industrial classes—the people who mate the greatness of this country—I see that much of their dissatisfaction arises from the fact, that the preponderance of political power is not in accordance with the industry, the intelligence, and the wealth of the nation, but is distributed according to some method which in old times was in harmony with these things, but has long ceased to be so. Take the county with which I am most intimately connected by property and residence—Wilts. There are returned from that county and its boroughs eighteen Members—exactly the same number, I believe, returned by South Lancashire, which contains more than five times its population, and to which it cannot for a moment be compared in respect of wealth, activity, and energy. Great as is the regard which I entertain for my native county, nobody could say if the two districts were compared that the representation of South Lancashire ought not vastly to exceed that of Wilts, Take, for another example, the part of the country with which I am politically connected—the county of Ayr? It is populous, wealthy, active, and industrious—industrious in all respects that make Great Britain what she is; it has a thriving population busily engaged in mining, shipbuilding, manufacturing, ploughing, delving, and weaving; and what is the representation of Ayr? It has one county Member, the one-fifth of one borough Member, and two-fifths of another borough Member, or an aggregate of one Member and three-fifths. Well, I say that these anomalies, if there be a Reform Bill, must be grappled and dealt with. And this consideration must be borne in mind—that if you are going to lower the county franchise to £10 or £15, unless there shall be a new distribution of power as between the occupiers of houses and the owners of land, you will throw the whole power into the hands of the householders, and deprive the landed proprietors of that weight in the country which hitherto they have possessed, as representing property. I am not going to discuss the Reform Bill before it is laid on 330 the table, but while there is a chance—while the measure may not be yet settled—while the information is incomplete on which it is to be founded, I wish to urge this on Her Majesty's Government—that if they make their attempt with what the late Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Leatham) called "a single-barrelled Reform Bill," they will be defeated, and they will only perpetuate the evils which they seek to remedy. This will be the result if they shall listen unwisely to the charming of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright), who, if I understand his utterances out of doors, has endeavoured to persuade his countrymen that it is desirable to take a one-barrelled Bill rather than wait for a reform of all the electoral abuses now complained of. I think we ought to do this thing en masse and in the whole, and not bit by bit. It may suit my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, for whom I have a great respect and regard—to profess admiration for his ability would be on my part simply impertinent—loving, as he appears to do, public appearances and platform oratory—it may suit him to keep this subject alive, for if the Bill were a one-barrelled Bill, he would still have one barrel left to load if he pleased and to discharge in this House; but this is exactly what does not suit the country, and will not suit this House. Let me assure my hon. Friend and the Government that the desire of the people of this country will be to have this question settled and done with, and not kept up as a source of uneasiness and discontent, preventing the introduction of other measures—measures for the improvement of the condition of our countrymen, which it is the duty of Parliament to pass, and which, after all, it is the whole object of those constitutional arrangements to promote. Therefore, I emphatically say—and I am sure I speak the sentiments of a great many in this House and out of it when I say so—that if the Government introduced such a measure as it is supposed they contemplate, not only will their Bill not be satisfactory—not only will it not receive the general support of the country, but they will make a shipwreck of the opportunity, now within their reach, if they seize it, of settling for the present century the question of Reform.
§ SIR HENRY HOARE
claimed the indulgence of the House, whilst addressing a few observations to them for the first time. While deprecating the idea that he was about to prejudge or impugn the 331 scheme of the Government, he desired to say that he cordially agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. E. P. Bouverie) in what he had said with respect to no measure of Reform being satisfactory which did not present, at least for the present time, some prospect of finality. It was, however, to be feared from what they had heard, that the measure of the Government was one borrowed from the archives of the hon. Member for Birmingham. Whatever the Reform Bill might be he (Sir Henry Hoare) hoped it would not be such an one as would serve as a stepping-stone to future arrangements of a revolutionary character. He should be prepared to vote for such an alteration in the franchise as would admit a large accession of intellect and honesty; but not for such an one as would allow the influence of property to be outweighed by numbers. There were in that House a majority of sixty or seventy Members returned at the last general election to support the late Prime Minister, and it might he supposed that those hon. Gentlemen would remember the injunction, Nimium ne crede colori—that they would not follow blindly in the wake, or support the propositions of the Minister of the day. A great and eminent man, the late Sir George Lewis, when speaking some four or five years ago observed that it was the duty of the Minister who proposed a Reform Bill to adduce the evils which he sought to remedy, and to show that the remedy he suggested was likely to be attended with the results which it was intended to bring about. In framing a Reform Bill, population, intelligence, and property should be combined, and he must say that, in his opinion, the important agricultural counties had a right to look for increased representation.
§ MR. NEATE
said, he concurred in the belief that the question of Reform would not have been satisfactorily settled until there was a re-distribution of seats, and an extinction of a considerable number of the smaller boroughs. Whether the measures for a complete Parliamentary Reform should all be brought in at one time was, however, quite another question. He thought the Ministry were acting rightly if they separated the question of an extension of the franchise from that of its re-distribution; because, before Parliament proceeded to re-distribute the franchise it ought to know what the increase of the constituencies would be. Again, he thought 332 it would be well to have a separate measure for the counties and a separate one for the boroughs. The county franchise was different in important respects from that of the boroughs; and a man might be inclined to vote for the extension of the one though being of opinion that there was no necessity for an extension of the other. Such a person might vote against the second reading of a Bill embracing the extension of the two. Sir Francis Baring once announced in the House that it would be most convenient to deal separately with the two branches of the great question of Reform. He quite concurred in that opinion, and, indeed, he thought it might be beneficial to subdivide the question even to a greater extent.
§ MR. P. A. TAYLOR
agreed entirely with what had been said by previous speakers with regard to the unsatisfactory character of any Bill which should deal with the franchise only, and leave to the future the question of the re-distribution of seats. In his opinion, the coming Bill should be large enough to settle the question for some years to come. He quite admitted that there was an inconsistency in bringing in one Bill which should lower the franchise in certain boroughs and another which should deprive them of representation altogether; but he endorsed the opinion of the hon. Member for Birmingham, that the people who had waited so long and so patiently for Reform should be content with any step that was definite and positive, and not wait for any Utopian scheme of perfect Reform. He did not believe that any Bill dealing with the franchise only would be entirely satisfactory; but he would accept it, because he believed, with the hon. Member for Birmingham, that in the present constitution of the House it would be impossible to carry one of a more satisfactory character. There were, unfortunately, on our side of the House a number of men calling themselves Liberals, but who talked mere Toryism, and contended that legislation should be "for the people, not by the people." Again, there were Gentlemen on the opposite Benches who were unwilling to sacrifice the seats of nomination boroughs, or boroughs of corruption. He had no doubt that the hon. Member for Birmingham had been agreeably surprised at the exhibition of sentiment which had been made in the House that evening, every speaker having tacitly implied that there was a necessity for a Reform Bill, and that a Reform Bill, 333 to be worthy of the acceptance of the House, must be a comprehensive and searching measure, and deal not only with the suffrage, but also the re-distribution of seats.
§ Address agreed to; to be presented by Privy Councillors.